Welcome to family, friends and visitors. Here you will find interesting (hopefully) pictures of my part of the world, news of our household and probably, long ramblings about anything that catches my interest.

Wednesday 31 March 2010

"Is That A Badger? "

I woke before 5.00 this morning and lay in bed listening to the sounds of the gale outside. The rain lashing against the windows and the wind roaring in the trees. So good to be warm in bed and know that you don't have to get up for another hour. When I turned on the tv downstairs the first thing I saw were blizzards in Scotland and Northern Ireland with reports of power cuts and people trapped on roads. Here there wasn't any ice on the road when I walked up the hill but just as I got to the car it began sleeting. Lots of cold rain all morning which made us rather concerned about taking our children to do a Sports Relief Mile at the local secondary school. In the end we compromised by jogging around the playground for 15 mins. That way we could head indoors if it rained again. The weather actually improved and it is now sunny despite the icy wind. On the way home this evening I could see snow up on the hills of Exmoor.
Yesterday when I took the car up the hill I decided to spend some time framing shots against different aspects of the sky.

Shortly after I took this photo the black cloud unleashed a bitterly cold hailstorm. It was not so bad as long as I kept my back to the wind, otherwise - ouch.
One the storm had passed there was a lovely golden light and a rainbow.

While marching around the field to play with the angle of my shots I came across what I think is a badger sett. It's too big for rabbits or foxes and there were signs of a bedding pile. Farmers are not keen on badgers as they are believed to be the reservoir for bovine TB which is the scourge of all cattle farmers. Herds are regularly tested and any reactors have to be sent for slaughter and movement restrictions put on the cattle. In some areas the ministry has tried to eliminate the badgers (mainly by gassing) but this has not worked and is highly unpopular with the public. Unless every badger in the country was got rid of at the same time outlying populations will always move in to fill the vacuum where badgers have been removed. It would seem more logical to work on eradicating the disease within the badger population rather than the badgers themselves.

I have another reason to think that it might be a badger sett which dates back to an incident several years ago. One warm(ish) August evening the boys and I had headed up the hill to this spot (not far from the hole) to watch the Perseid meteor showers. I love anything like that and as we are lucky enough to have minimal light pollution (when it's not cloudy) our night skies are very clear. Wearing many layers of clothing we settled down on beach mats and garden cushions lying on our backs in the road to get the best view. I did hope that our neighbour hadn't been to the village pub and wasn't going to drive along squashing us all flat before we could get out of the way. We were well provisioned with biscuits (cookies) and chocolate and I think that was the year Linas brought along a guitar for a little light entertainment. It was a fun evening with the main conversations being; "Wow, look at that!" followed by a chorus of "Where?" and I'm sure a lot of exaggerated claims as to the number of comets seen. Everyone had torches so there was also a certain amount of complaining about torches being shone in people's eyes. Suddenly, Romas who was lying next to me said "Is that a badger?", I shone my torch in the same direction and there walking along the road towards us only a few feet away was a large badger. "Oops " we all went, including the badger who then disappeared. It's amazing how vulnerable you feel lying flat on the ground and I did notice that after I explained that a frightened badger can be quite vicious Romas moved to my other side leaving me on the periphery. Is that a badger ? has now become a family catch phrase and the memory of that evening will always be one I treasure.

Tuesday 30 March 2010

Snow Tonight?

This morning brought very heavy rain which started as soon as I began picking more leaves. The predicted sleet didn't arrive but it is incredibly windy. The new plastic roofing sheets on Linas' bike shed were heaving and lifting ominously so I've put some lengths of wood up there to add a bit of weight. They needed tidying away anyway. The sky looks rather grey and Metcheck says we will have sleet and snow overnight so I'm going to drive my car up while it is still light. Then I won't have to worry. More birds (and a pile of poo). This time a couple of pheasants that were walking around in Ron's field. Pheasants are not native birds but are captive bred, then released into the wild in spring to be shot in the autumn. People pay hundreds of pounds to come and shoot at them as they are driven into the air by beaters. Pretty pointless really. The main road into this area, the North Devon Link Road, runs along the back of the Filleigh Estates (owned by the Earl of Arran ) which run a big pheasant shoot. The sides of the road are always littered with the corpses of pheasants that have been hit by the traffic on this very busy main road. Pheasants are not very clever birds and do get hit on the country roads as well. The law does not allow you to pick up a bird, (or animal) that you have hit but you can pick up birds that some one else has hit.
This is the standard colour of the male birds but you also get nearly black birds and very pale birds. They generally run along the road before flying off with a great whirr and clatter.
Heard owls last night. I had thought that the whoo whooing that we hear a lot was Barn owls but apparently that's the tawny owls. Barn owls screech more and that's what we heard last night. Ron has a proper barn owl nest box in a ruined barn just 2 fields away and we often see the barn owls perched on the fence in the evening.

Monday 29 March 2010

Weather Warning.

The Metcheck web site has a big red banner running across it saying Severe Weather Warning. Once again sleet & snow are forecast for tomorrow. Oh joy!
It has been raining all day. At first it was just showers but the moment I put on my gardening clothes it set in for good, how predictable. So today I've done lots of housework. I wouldn't have to keep on doing so much if Peter & Linas would only refrain from cooking or eating or leaving dirty clothes around.
My bird watching has been confined to looking through the kitchen window. This house sparrow has been eyeing up the hole behind a stone in the wall by our bedroom window.
On closer inspection it seems to be suitable.

Definitely will do for a sparrow home. Last year was the first time we have had no house martins at all. We always had half a dozen nests under the eaves and this hole would regularly be inspected but found to be too small to use. I have no idea why they didn't come but it seemed to be happening in other places as well. The mud nests built on the other more exposed sides of the house did not usually survive our wet weather but there were always broods of youngsters chirruping away by our bedroom window. I deliberately keep the honeysuckle and roses well below the roof line so that the cats cannot reach any nests. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that they return this year.
Did a little more work on my shell necklace and started another pair of earrings.

Diet update, ( good motivator putting the weekly weigh-in on the blog). If I can lose another 2 lbs by next week that will be a whole stone gone by Easter.

Sunday 28 March 2010

Summer Time Begins.

The garden was full of bird song this morning as I continued picking up leaves, (and removed moss and the occasional weed). A wood pigeon cooing away was suitably pastoral with the mewing of seagulls and the occasional call of a buzzard. A pair of robins were involved in a courtship dance in the blackcurrant bushes. After a couple of hours rain and my back, stopped play. I had been bidding on a superking size bed for our room so I spent the afternoon having a bit of a sort out in there. Got out bid at the end but I shall keep on looking.
Had an exciting evening watching the final of Dancing On Ice, but kept yawning all the time as last night's change to Summer Time caught up with me. It will be good to have an extra hour of daylight in the evenings.

Saturday 27 March 2010

We've had sunshine today with a warm wind. The temp has been a balmy 12C, great for more gardening.
Celandines are technically wild flowers but a weed is only something growing where you don't want it so these are not weeds.

The end is almost in sight of the leaf picking job up in the scree garden, thank goodness. I found this tiny toad, no bigger than my thumb-nail sitting under a stone. I put him in a safe place to sit while I carried on with my task.

I also disturbed this insect, about 2" long it is not something that I recognised. Looking in my book the wings could be an alder fly but the colours are wrong. The nearest I could get was a giant wood wasp but it didn't look very waspish. Anybody recognise it?
I am very disappointed with last night's Chinese restaurant. Poor Peter and Linas cooked up some noodles, (I'm still full up from last night's overdose of fatty food), but when they opened the doggie bag boxes they contained; rice, noodles and 2 prawn balls. I know that there was beef in ginger and chicken in black bean sauce left at the end of the meal which has obviously been kept back. Huh!

Friday 26 March 2010

Exploring Cat.

I was busying in the kitchen this morning when one of the set of chopping boards that stands next to the microwave seemed to move. 'Strange' I thought so I moved the boards away to discover Elwen perched on top of the microwave. I have no idea what she thought she was going to find there.
And out she comes.
Another full day in school. Somehow I'm managing to fit in lots of creative activities, well, you have to make Easter cards so in the absence of any other instructions that's what we did (after the usual numeracy and phonics sessions). The classroom is now adorned with some weird and wonderful chicks with googly eyes and folded paper legs. Some of them look quite scary.
(Later- like after midnight), just got home from a meal at a smart Chinese restaurant with 11 friends from work as Marion is retiring after 24 years as a teaching assistant.
This was the well behaved look before the evening got started.

Once everyone had tucked into lots of delicious food and a certain amount of wine, things got a little noisier as we all began to unwind from the stresses of work. In fact there was plenty of laughter & ribald humour, the group that had had arrived on the bus missed the last bus home, no problem as several of us didn't drink and had cars, and we were almost the last group to leave the restaurant. Even Peter benefited as I overcame my British inhibitions and asked for a doggie bag to take home. Doggie bags are almost unheard of in the UK, firstly because restaurant meal portions are usually of a manageable size and also because most Brits would find it highly embarrassing to ask for the 'left-overs'. I'm a bit of a rebel and less inhibited than most, also Peter had said in a plaintive voice when I dropped into his study to say that I was off out, 'They do doggie bags at the Han Court'. So now he has something tasty for tomorrow when I will have to be very strict with my diet to make up for tonight's extravagance.

Thursday 25 March 2010

Rain, Rain, Rain.

It's been a very wet day today. Everyone at work is stressed and tired and looking forward to the Easter Holiday which starts at the end of next week. I didn't have so much help in class today but the children were happily occupied making books about owls into which they stuck, with varying degrees of neatness, the poems, pictures and fact sheets that they had done over the last week. I had a few errands in town after work and was cheered up by the sight of several cherry trees already covered in blossom. Lots of people have camellias flowering in their gardens but I always think they look messy once the blooms turn brown at the edges. At home a few more of the tiny blue bulbs are flowering but I didn't spot anything else in the rain.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Linas To The Rescue.

The sickness bug seems to be going around school again and there was a quick change of plan for me this morning. Instead of my Year 1 class I had the Year 2 class instead. I was very pleasantly surprised to find extra help in class , one student and a parent , as well as the teaching assistant who is there each morning. I even was able to have children working on the class pc, that is until it froze up and refused to do anything. I knew Linas was in town so after school I phoned him and got him to come over to look at it. Of course he was able to fix it in 5 mins, faulty keyboard connections, but he did get told off by the caretaker for putting big muddy footprints across the carpet. We had a good day and the maths activity was fun but differentiated for all ability levels in the class and for the literacy I carried on with work they had been doing on character profiles. I'm back in there all day tomorrow but now I know where the children have got to this week I can plan the day tonight instead of thinking on my feet first thing in the morning.
A final update on my health, don't want to become boring on this topic. It looks as if there is about an 80% improvement in my hips so I'm hoping the third injection will take that up to 100% and be a permanent fix.
The scenery is still very wintry with the bare branches of trees outlined against the grey skies. Only by looking closely at the trees can the swelling of the first leaf buds be seen.
At the top of the next tree were members of the jackdaw gang hanging out around the freshly muck spread fields. Plenty of worms and grubs to be had there. They still come down to inspect the chimney and roofs but so far they haven't gained access. Also since Linas went to MIA last weekend he has put a telescopic sight on the semi automatic airgun I like to use and I've been able to home right in on them. You'd think that they would get the message.

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Dizzy Me.

Wow, was I dizzy last night, it was reminiscent of being very drunk but luckily without the nausea. This morning I woke early and lay in utter bliss rejoicing in the fact that there was not the slightest hint of backache. I hadn't been sent to the consultant because of my backache (doctors expect you to put up with backache and might if you're lucky refer you for physiotherapy) but because of hip problems which turn out to be caused by a spinal problem. I have yet to see if my hip problem responds so well. The back is a bonus because it is all the same thing. I had a follow-up phone call from the hospital tonight and I repeated my complaint about the theatre nurses. I'm getting so much more proactive in my old age.
Although it was dry enough to get out into the garden this morning I was still somewhat dizzy and did some jewellery making instead. Off to teach in the afternoon before returning home in the pouring rain. Luckily I have some garden pictures from yesterday to post.
Rainwater jewels nestle in the cabbage-like early growth of this sedum.

Now the fallen leaves have been cleared away the grey stones set off the orange hues of this grass.

Monday 22 March 2010

Chocolate Day.

It might not be a good thing to be eating chocolate when I'm working so hard on my diet but I'd declared today Chocolate Day to take the sting away from having to go into hospital for another spinal injection. It wasn't quite as bad this time though I did have the same uncommunicative surgeon and I wasn't very happy with the standard of care by the theatre nurses. In fact, being the old fusspot that I am, and hoping that it might improve standards in the the future , I complained to the ward staff nurse when she came to do my obs after the procedure. And what was my gripe? Well, the nurse, (I think she was a nurse, last time I had an anesthetist who introduced himself), after chatting to me while doing the blood pressure then left me lying on the trolley being poked with needles by the surgeon while she stood to the side and chatted to the other nurse about what she was going to cook for her husband's supper. I am not a wimp but I could feel sharp needles poking into me and was wincing and drawing in my breath each time and I would have felt a lot better if someone had noticed and perhaps bothered to reassure me. I did not need to be overhearing how her husband doesn't like his dinner too late. Having looked forward to some guilt free chocolate I found this new Galaxy bar too sweet but the minty Aero was still good.
Yes, having decided to take matters in hand I have been dieting for 5 weeks now. I find it only too easy to abandon my good intentions so I made this smiley chart to keep myself motivated. Don't laugh, it works. The red faces are for good days when I've kept away from sugars and fats and the pencil days are when I've fallen from the straight and narrow. I weigh myself fanatically every day which I know you are not supposed to do and do the 'official weigh in ' on a Monday morning. I gave myself a week before doing the first weigh-in as I didn't want to give myself a heart attack. I'm aiming for a loss of 2lbs a week and have already reached my first goal which was half a stone by Easter. If I lose 21lbs, the ultimate goal, my BMI will be 25 and I'll be only 2 lbs away from healthy weight, yes I know that 2lbs should go as well. I'd love to be able to do some regular exercise but the combination of my back and arthritic knee makes it awkward. Last time I took up running, I hated the actual running and so got immense satisfaction when I was able to run 1.7 miles every day but the knee couldn't take it. Even the exercise bike makes it worse. So I'll just have to stick with reducing intake. Hopefully weekly updates will help me to keep eating sensibly.

Linas and I got caught in a heavy rain shower walking to the car, (the hospital thought he was taking me home as they don't like you to drive yourself), but since then there has been some wonderful sunshine. I was so tempted to go out to garden but one of the side effects of the injection is to lower your blood pressure which can make you quite dizzy.
Even bending to take photos was a little unnerving so I left this blackbird to enjoy the sunshine in peace and headed indoors to take things easy.

Sunday 21 March 2010

Here A Leaf, There A Leaf !

A good day for gardening once more. As I surveyed the scree garden the following questions ran through my head: Do I clear the leaves from around the newly pruned specimen plants before the new growth starts? Or do I get rid of the piles of leaves that had gathered around the grasses before the wind blows them across the already cleared parts of the scree garden? Or do I pick up the leaves on the path before they get crushed into many pieces making the whole job 10 times harder? Answer - Yes, yes & yes. In other words it all needs doing ASAP. So I did some around the path and some around the plants. One or two more sessions and maybe the whole job will be done. There have been a few casualties this winter. The lithospermum (lithodora) Heavenly Blue doesn't look too good. Neither does a big clump of osteospermum. At first I thought it was all killed by the cold but there are some green leaves appearing so I've cut everything else back to the green stems and will hope for the best. The rosemary looks to have the same disease as the one on the wall. Again I've cut back hard but it may soon be ending up on the bonfire. A phlomis itlaicum (soft grey leaves & pink flowers) looked dead last spring but I left it for a whole year just in case it decided to sprout. Unfortunately not, so that got pulled up and thrown. A ceonothus also looks dead but I'll leave it for a while in case it is merely sleeping. On the plus side a pretty pink & white dianthus given to me last year, is full of new growth. I don't intend to buy any plants to fill the gaps but will use spare plants that have self-seeded around the garden. There is a whole row of Frosted Curls in the scree garden path waiting to be re-homed once the ground has warmed up. The pond is full of life, little skaters whizzing around on top and tadpoles below. I wonder how long before the lake ducks come up for a feast which is what usually happens.
Sundays are usually quiet at the stables next door but today there was a constant stream of horse boxes to-ing and fro-ing for an equestrian event. It sounded like a dressage competition. I used to enjoy dressage but as I managed to fall off in a Prix Caprilli you can tell I wasn't that good, (still came second).

I do hope these people didn't think I was spying on them from the chickens' run.

Me, (taken 15 months ago by Gemma. ) I'm not publicising myself, just posting this one for Elora as there was a problem with the e-mail attachment I sent.

Saturday 20 March 2010

Tasty Suppers.

I was going to spend the day working on my shell jewellery as the heavy overnight rain continued during the morning. But then the rain eased up and had stopped by mid-day so of course I had to get out in the garden. 5 hours later I had cleared one whole corner of the scree garden of the beech leaves that had fallen in the autumn. The rain had sort of stayed away, it was more low clouds that shed a gentle mist over everything. I cleared all the corner under the pampas grass taking care not to get poked in the eye, the only disadvantage of not having to wear glasses. I know that garden designers turn their noses up at pampas grass but in the right place it has its uses. It provides some useful height especially at this time of the year when nearly everything in the scree garden is less than 12" high and it makes a good screen for the outbuildings at the end of the garden. And our flat-coated retriever Zulu is buried beneath it.The winter flowering heathers are coming into their own. Soon that part of the bank will be a mass of colour. Down in the pond the frog spawn has all hatched and the edges of the pond are full of tadpoles.
Back up on the stone wall the red saxifrage shows even more colour.
Linas spent the day at MIA on an airsoft day. Apparently it was so misty that they spent most of the time getting lost and unable to see their opponents but still had a good time. He got home just in time to join us for a supper of lamb bhuna which I had made. Yesterday Linas cooked supper for us, a Filipino dish of pork adobo. He got the recipe from one of his MSN friends, bought a joint of pork and cooked it from scratch. It was really tasty and I might try cooking it myself one day.

Friday 19 March 2010

Signs Of Spring.

I thought we might be in for a good weather day as I emerged into sunshine driving down the hill towards town this morning. Unfortunately the rain had set in by 9.00 and continued all day. It is never much fun when the children are stuck in the classroom all day because it is too wet to go out. They even had to eat their packed lunches in the classroom. Despite all this the children were fairly well behaved and spent part of the day making owl faces on paper plates with moving eyes and 3-d beaks. They chose and cut their own feathers from a selection of wallpaper samples so every one was different.
As I drove home through the rain this evening I noticed that the muted greys and browns of the countryside are being enlivened by the occasional splash of brighter green. On the verges clumps of new growth of wild garlic, (ransoms), are appearing and even the bare branches of the bushes and trees are looking less sparse as the buds begin to thicken up. At home the honeysuckle buds are unfurling their sage green leaves so that it doesn't look as if the wall is covered with random sticks. I also noticed that those pesky jackdaws have been working on the wire netting I put up so I'll have to get the ladders out again and bang in a few nails to hold the netting fast. Should have done that in the first place.

Thursday 18 March 2010

The Rain Is Here.

It's been such a wet and grey day today that I thought I'd cheer the post up with a garden shot from a couple of summers ago. (For those that are interested it's 2 hardy geraniums, the common Wargrave Pink and Roxanne.)
The school day also ended on a depressing note as we had a presentation on 'safeguarding', the new term for child protection. We covered all aspects of child abuse from neglect to violence and worse, how to spot it and what to do about it in our professional roles. We also were given facts and figures on the numbers of children being abused in this country and some nasty case histories. Not nice at all.
I did manage to get out into the garden for a couple of hours this morning before the rain arrived. More leaf removal from the scree garden and a bit more of the ornamental grass bed dug over with roots, bindweed and a small ash tree removed. Hopefully I'll be able to get out there on the weekend.

Wednesday 17 March 2010

Fantastic Flames.

I've been teaching all day with nothing much to report. We had a little rain in the night and part of my journey to work was through the clouds that were perched on the top of the hill. The local farmers are busy flinging muck on the fields so the roads are once again covered with mud and worse. The air itself is full of the fragrrance of slurry. As a friend of Romas once remarked, "You know you're a real Devonian when the smell of cow's muck reminds you of home," or words to that effect. Yesterday I had a small bonfire, remembering to take my camera with me. A bonfire is a great subject, constantly changing and producing weird and wonderful compositions.

It's St Patrick's Day today. Although geographically we are not so far from Ireland it is a day that passes unremarked in this south west corner of the country. In fact I don't think that I have ever heard an Irish accent in all the 15 years that we have lived in North Devon. Up to the age of 10 I was at a school run by Irish nuns and I can remember celebrating St Patrick's Day with a cake & orange juice, singing Paddy McGinty's Goat & If you're Irish as well as playing the beetle game where you roll a dice to draw the different parts of a beetle. What simple pleasures we had 45 years ago.

A snippet of good news on the tv tonight. Road deaths and injuries in Devon and Cornwall have decreased by 40% in the last 4 years. Mind you, 60 people killed on the roads last year is still 60 too many.

Strange occurrence on tonight's news. At Buddleigh Salterton on the South Devon coast, thousands of starfish have been washed up for 1 mile along the beach. Apparently they are in a weakened state after spawning which can result in their being washed to shore.

Funny remark of the day. One small 4 year old child asked me, "Did you use to be Mrs Moran?". Mrs Moran is their class teacher and a good foot shorter than me. Perhaps I/she stretched in the night.

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Yellow Day.

Yellow is today's colour. Yellow sunshine, yellow winter flowering jasmine
and a bright box of 6" high narcissi by the front door providing a cheery welcome. The poor little crocus that looked so pretty are nearly all lying flat on the ground as early slugs have chomped through the stems. I'm so not a fan of slugs.
Chilly first thing in the morning as once more I went out to ping the jackdaws, must get Linas to put more ammo in, but warming up in the sun. I started work on a big overgrown ornamental grass bed which is more of project than a simple weed through. Needs doing as what was originally a gravel covered bed with grasses and large stones tastefully arrayed, has become a big overgrown mess with a few brambles and ash trees growing in it. It will be a little while before it is fit to be shown.
Taught in the afternoon. I had to control my laughter in the phonics session when on being asked to write 'ditch' one little girl mixed up d & b. I also overheard the same child say to her friend in a most outraged voice, as they settled to do their daily task of tidying up the book corner at the end of the day after 2 other girls had decided to have a go at tidying it up. " #### & ### did it and look at the mess they've made of it!"

Monday 15 March 2010

The Jackdaw Wars.

The campaign against the jackdaws still continues. They are absolutely determined to make their nests in the chimney and loft despite constantly being shot at with airgun pellets. They're quite clever birds this gang of about 14. Their latest tactic is to have 2 scouts in the tree just behind the stream and another 2 in the big tree in the corner of the garden. That way they cover both sides of the house. They are actually looking into the windows and any movement sends them all to a safe distance. This morning after my first successful foray out when the curtains were still drawn I resorted to creeping around below the level of the window sills to avoid being seen. It worked and they got pinged with a few pellets before flying off to the other side of the hill. I had put some wire netting in the gaps where they were getting into the roof space but the cheeky so and sos had managed to pull some of it out and drop it to the ground. I hauled out the big roof ladders and despite my dislike of heights climbed up and pushed lots of crumpled up wire netting into the gaps jamming it in hard so they shouldn't be able to dislodge it. Feeling rather proud of myself for braving the ladders I then put the ladders up at the back of the house and cleared out all the gutters. The nice weather man says that we will be having rain by the end of the week and that was an incentive to sort out the gutters before they overflow again. It might seem as if I spent the day out in the garden enjoying all this lovely sunshine we have been having but I also managed to fit in a visit to the dentist and take Peter up to the hospital again. The dentist permanently fixed the crown that fell off on Saturday and also ground down another (filled) tooth for a better bite on the other crown. After several hours at the hospital A&E they confirmed that Peter's wrist is at least sprained and have put it in a rigid support bandage. If it hasn't healed in the next 10 days then they will scan it to see if he has aggravated his old tendon injury. First thing this morning it was rather misty. Ron's horse was out in the field behind the house together with a lot of sheep. It's a terrible distraction when the lambs come along as we can see this field from the window on the stairs.
Things are happening in the garden. The buds on the azaleas are full of promise.

And even a common hartstongue looks exciting with the afternoon sun glowing through it.