If Life Gives You Green Tomatoes TWTW # 92

Greetings from my kitchen, where in between typing these sentences I’m making Green Tomato Chutney. It’s 8am and the smell is amazing boiling down the mix of tomatoes, apples, onions and sultanas to a thick pulpy mix.

This is a little bit of therapy, making something from home grown produce that will take well over an hours to prepare, but will keep me going in chutney for some time. More details below.


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I decided yesterday to pick the remaining tomatoes on the allotment to avoid them getting blight – the weather conditions have been right for this the past few days and I don’t want to lose the crop waiting for it to ripen when I could do something with it. It was worth doing too, as I had over 3.5 kgs of tomatoes. I separated off those that will ripen on the window sill and the rest are going to chutney. The recipe I’m using is here. I ended up with 9 full jars which is good going.

In addition to the tomatoes we’ve also been picking more patti-pans and squashes on the allotment this week. Otherwise things are at a bit of a crossroad between seasons where winter crops are growing but not ready yet and summer stuff is coming to an end.

I’ll need to think about my seed order soon too. I got a little caught out by shops being closed due to Covid this year, so am thinking I’ll be order all in one go instead of spreading them out over time from different suppliers like I have in previous years.


After some six weeks of delay by BT they finally got around to turning on our fibre connection this week. I can’t actually say things appear any faster, although theoretically when I test the line the download speed is about four times faster than before. I suspect where I’ll notice it is uploading files as that has increased by an even greater degree. The speed of the wi-fi has of course not changed, so unless I’m hardwired into the router that will determine the speed of most things.


I’ve had some work to do this week. An unexpected commission from a client that I’ve been working on between other things. It reminded me that I need to do something about the library of technical documents that I’ve been building over the last few years. It is all electronic and not stored in the same place, some split across different computers and folders. Ideally I’d like it all in one place as reference materials for future projects, but I need to take some time out to drag it all together, and also to make an appropriate structure for it to sit in. It’s not been top of my list of priorities, but it’s a pain when I need to look for something and it’s often stored in a folder of a project where I lasted worked on it.


I took quite a lot of photos this week, but they were on film, so I can’t share any of them just yet. I have at least posted the roll off for processing, so hopefully there’ll be something to share next time. They’re all standard colour 35mm so no more infrared yet. I also bought a new battery for one of my old film cameras, and am planning to use that next.


When you look at the face of the guy in this video preview and read the title you’re expecting something different to watch actually happens next:


 

I’ve been reading the Pandemic Kitchen Newsletter this week. You can subscribe for free and I’d recommend it if you are at all interested in cooking. There have only been a couple of editions so far, but you can look at the archives before subscribing if you’re not sure.

I’ve also been finishing the audio book of James Holland’s Battle of Britain. It’s a really good listen with first hand accounts taken from diaries written at the time and starting back with the allied retreat from Dunkirk, through to late 1940.


Schools return this week in most of England. Or at least they do at the time of writing. Given the way the government has handled the whole thing, you have my sympathy if you’re a parent wondering whether you and your children will be safe or are just simply trying to work out exactly what it is you are supposed to be doing! The whole eat out / lose weight; stay home / go to work; algorithm results / teachers results; government approach to organising the proverbial couldn’t be more farcical if it were a situation comedy. Thinking about it, you also have my sympathy if you’re a writer of political comedies and are constantly being out done by the real thing as opposed to the fiction you are trying to write.


That’s it for this week, and if you’ve made it this far thanks for reading. As always stay safe and take care.

Switcheroo TWTW # 91

No – Don’t Panic! It is still only Sunday. I thought that I would switch things up this week and post this weeks update on Sunday. It might become a permanent change.

It’s really a recognition of how my routines have changed over the past few months. It used to be that Sunday mornings were my time for doing things for my Mum, a regular date and time, shopping, cutting lawns or whatever needed doing.

Now that she’s in long term care I don’t have that same commitment, the time and date have shifted. Normally I would write most of this post in advance. Sometimes a little bit each day, sometimes all in one go on a Monday morning. Now, although I’m still dropping things in during the week, I do most of the writing on a Sunday and schedule the post to go live on a Monday morning (because at the moment I’m busy doing something else). Seems a bit daft, so I thought today I’d write it, and then as soon as it’s done hit post. I realise that this might confuse a few people who subscribe by email or RSS but as I said – Don’t Panic! It’s still Sunday! Be chilled like our neighbourhood cat who I photographed mid-week lying on the ridge of our garage catching the last rays of the day. I’m not a cat person but I did like this photo. I also read recently as to how routines are not always about when you do something, but just the fact that you do it regularly. The doing is important, but not necessarily being a slave to the clock. Sounds good to me.


I’ve read Joe Country by Mick Herron this week. It’s the last book in the Jackson Lamb series – I’ve read most of that series this year – and there’s another due in early 2021. It wasn’t the best of the series, but it was still really good.

I’ve started reading Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi. It’s a little odd but I’m sticking with it as I think it has an interesting tale to tell but isn’t prepared to reveal all just yet.


My friend David has a new book about one of my favourite characters of the old West coming out soon.


I did our grocery shopping via click and collect this week. When I went to collect our groceries it had been raining just beforehand. Probably around the time that the crates with our groceries in where being loaded onto the van and our groceries were a little damp. Some were damper than others. The eggs for example were so damp that when I picked up the box, its now soggy cardboard resembled the consistency of mush and in slow motion the eggs parted company with the bottom of the box and fell back into the crate. I managed to save a few, but most broke on impact. The van driver was very good about it, despite the fact he had to clear up the mess and I got a full refund for the eggs.


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There seems to be quite a bit coming good at the allotment this week, the Uchiki Kuri Squash (Japanese Squash) are all just about ready. They’re an ideal squash for two people as they’re the right size to satisfy two appetites for a meal. I think I’ll be adding them to my list for seeds for next year.

I turned one into a squash, tomato and lentil pie on Saturday night, which will do us for tonight as well. The recipe came from Gill Meller’s Root Stem Leaf Flower cookbook.

I also wrote about the blackberry and apple that we had at the beginning of the week in another post in case you missed it.


 

Apparently I’m Sherlock Holmes – which fictional detective are you?


I really struggle to understand why people deliberately drop litter but some people are complete aresholes.

In some ways I think that the whole pandemic / lockdown thing has made me even more of a hermit than I was before, and when I see things like this I wonder just where society is going. I was brought up not to drop litter – to either take it home or wait until I got to a bin. Why is that so hard now, is it just that some people weren’t brought up that way or that they think someone else will clear up after them?


I’ve been reading about Covid-19 Long Haulers this week and how CFS/ME is on the rise. The government in the UK has long had a bias against CFS/ME (I can directly attest to this but it’s a story for another time), and I can see this being yet another area where they deliberately turn a blind eye to what is actually going on, as they have  done by revising the criteria by which you can only had died from Covid-19 if you die within 28 days of having had a positive test for Covid-19.


There’s a remake of All Creatures Great and Small coming to television. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned here before how much I love James Herriott’s original stories and the BBC production from the late ’70’s and ’80’s, which were very much a part of my childhood television. So I’m a little bit uncertain about a remake, but from the trailer I’m hopeful that it will be okay. We’ll see. I think I’m going to be doing some rereading anyway.


RIP Sir Ken Robinson


That’s it for this week. Hope I haven’t confused you too much. Take care and stay safe.

If Life Gives You Blackberries & Apple

If life gives you blackberries and apples, make stewed blackberry and apple.

We’ve been enjoying a healthy crop of blackberries for a few weeks now, but the bramley tree has only just started providing ripe fruit (apples are ripe if they come off the tree in your hand with no effort – if you have to tug leave them be).

On Monday this week we had both, probably the last of the blackberries and the start of the apples. So I rinsed off the blackberries and put them in a pan with a little water (about a tablespoon) just enough to stop them sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning and some of the bramleys – peeled, cored and cut into small chunks. Add sugar to taste – always a difficult thing in our house, Ann likes them really sweet, I like them a bit tart – and simmer over a low heat until the apples start to break down and get soft. Serve warm or allow to cool, with whatever you choose; custard, ice cream; both or chill and serve for breakfast as a compote.

If you have more time you could of course make jam / jelly, chutney, cakes and about a million and one other things.

More Than Meets The Eye TWTW # 90

Hot enough for you? This week has been a little bit unbearable at times, at times it reached 36.6ºC in our back garden, it’s a bit of a sun trap but that’s a bit ridiculous. Then again I’ve been talking about climate change professionally for most of my career to date so it comes as no surprise, unfortunately the time has really passed when we could have done something about it. The best we can probably hope for now is working out how to live with it. That and the other extreme weather; rainfall, flooding, landslips, lightning strikes, high winds, hurricanes and wildfires. Three people died this week as a result of a landslip, many older people will probably also die as a result of the high temperatures (or with them as a contributory factor) and that’s after coronavirus.

I feel a bit like I’ve been wasting my time all these years, there’s been a lot of talking the talk, but little walking the walk. So much opportunity has been lost.


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My infrared film came back from being processed. For a first attempt I’m quite pleased with the results. So much so that I’ve ordered some more rolls of the same film and I’ll be having another try when it arrives. I’m going to try an even darker filter this time, one that blocks out even more visible light. This will be more of a challenge because I’ll need to set the camera up first, and then add the filter (you cannot see anything through it with the naked eye), and it will also need longer exposure times.

The flowers are the most impressive. As you can see from the photo’s above the three infrared images are of the same plants of the normal regular colour images. I took some landscapes too. Again for comparison you can see the images of Portsmouth Harbour taken from the same spot with infrared and an iphone camera.


I fell down a bit of a YouTube rabbit hole this week, watching the videos made by Beau Miles. I started here:


I’ve been reading all sorts of things this week, more of what I was reading last week with London War Notes, but also some Sherlock Holmes short stories. I also have the next in the Jackson Lamb series – Joe Country – queued up on my kindle to read.


I’ve not spent that much time on the allotment this week, it’s been too bloody hot. I have been going down in the early hours of the morning to water, and spent a bit of time there at the weekend when it was a little cooler to pull some weed and do a couple of other small jobs.


That’s all from me for this week. Stay safe and take care.


It Could Be Gas Masks TWTW # 89

It’s been a hot week, temperatures in the high 20’s and low 30’s most of the week, and also humid. At the time of writing we’ve been waiting for forecast thunderstorms, but haven’t had any. We did take advantage of the hot weather to wash some of the dogs toys. It confused Ruby a bit as she couldn’t quite work out why we suspended them from the washing line – was this some new kind of game?

This week has been a bit busier than last. I took Wilson back to the vets at the start of the week for his repeat blood test. This came back later in the week with a slightly surprising result of being back in the normal range. This of course means that we have to go back for another test at a later date – around two months time – this means that we don’t have to change his medication for now, which is a good thing but doesn’t explain the reason for the earlier high reading, so that will have to remain a mystery.


I finished my roll of infrared film this week, and have sent it off for processing. I parked on top of Portsdown Hill to expose the last couple of frames and took some more panormas of the harbour. While I was there with my old film camera on a tripod another car pulled into the layby behind me and out jumped another photographer with a modern DSLR with an enormous zoom lense on the front of it. We said a quick “Hi”, and went on with our respective photos.

I haven’t had the developed images back yet, but should get them this week I hope.

I took out my oldest DSLR to take some photos this week. I have a sentimental attachment to it because I’ve had it for so long. Most phone cameras have a higher number of megapixels on them than this old camera, but we’ve taken a lot of images together. I started taking some pictures in the garden and when I looked at them on the LCD they were very underexposed. I thought it might be the display but they were the same looking at them on a computer. A bit of research on the internet showed that it’s a known problem with that particular model, and either I am lucky that mine has lasted so long without the problem appearing or I’m unlucky because it didn’t fail while the camera was still under warranty.

Either way the camera no longer takes photos properly but I’m not sure what I’m going to do about it. I have a number of lenses for it and they will still fit one of my old film cameras (which I haven’t used in a very long time, so I’m not sure what condition that’s in either). There’ll be some experimenting ahead.


My allotment time has been limited this week because it’s been so hot. Most of my time there has been spent watering. I did plant out some leeks mid-week, which seem to be doing okay in the heat. We also had a significant number of cauliflowers this week, and are still working our way through the mini-glut.


People have been receiving mysterious packages of seeds in the post.


I’ve been reading a couple of different things this week. I’m slowly working my way through London War Notes by Mollie Panter-Downes, reading a bit most days. These are a collection of articles that the author wrote for The New Yorker during the Second World War on her observations of reflections and observations of what was happening in London. There are some significant historical moments covered, and it’s interesting that whilst so many poor parallels have been drawn between WWII and the coronavirus pandemic, there are some genuine comparisons. Think gas masks instead of masks in shops and on public transport and rationing instead of panic buying and shortages. There is also a fascinating comparison between what the media is reporting and what Panter-Downes is actually observing. It also makes me think twice about using those phrases like “the new normal” and “the before times”. Assuming that we as a species can wake up to what we need to do to save our planet the period of the coronavirus will also pass and like WWII those people still alive who can remember it will diminish and we will only have these sorts of accounts to remind us what it was actually like. In the meantime I’m likely to be keeping to a diet of minimum external media.

I’ve also been reading A Man Without Breath by Philip Kerr – in reality I’ve only just started this but I’m enjoying it so far, a crime mystery set in Germany (& Russia) during WWII.


Worth getting up early on Sunday morning to photograph Uranus, even if the picture does look like I’ve captured a spec of dust on the lense.

That’s it for this week, take care and stay safe.

If Life Gives You Blackberries, Make Crumble TWTW # 88

If last week went quickly, then this week seemed to hang around a lot longer, different things happening but mostly mundane stuff, not a week of excitement. Perhaps that’s why it doesn’t feel like time was passing very quickly?

Austin Kleon wrote about how the coronavirus has changed the perception of time.

Time is running out for me to see comet Neowise though. I’ve had a few tries this last week, and although I’m pretty sure I did see it one evening, the light pollution is so bad here it’s hard to be totally sure.


My tomatoes have turned good, finally producing some good fruit and in reasonable quantity. On the allotment the tomatoes are a little bit further behind but there is still a good lot of fruit forming.

 

I also harvested our first cauliflower from the allotment this week, not huge but a reasonable size. We had it with some broccoli spears (also from the plot), cooked with some pine nuts and herbs and served with some pasta and feta cheese.

My remaining time on the plot this week has been spent watering and weeding.


Work has been quiet this week, no short notice commissions like last week, but the end of the month so the usual round of billing and admin to do. With it being so quiet at the moment, it doesn’t take long to do.


I’ve been reading a couple of Mick Herron novellas this week (The Drop, The List & The Catch). They’re in the Jackson Lamb series and fill in the gaps between the full books which I’ve enjoyed reading recently. I’ve also been catching up on National Geographic articles from the last couple of months.


My friend David had some poetry published this week – it’s rather good in my opinion, gritty but good. If you’re interested you can read it here.


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My Mum has some really good blackberries at her house at the moment and I harvested about half a kilos worth which I turned into a blackberry crumble mid-week. Just perfect served with some ice cream when it comes out of the oven. Even better it lasts for a couple of nights. Looking at the blackberries there might even be enough for round 2 this week.


Well that’s about all I have for this week, another short one. My week ahead is looking quiet. I have to take Wilson back to the vet for his repeat bloods, but otherwise not appointments at the moment. Whatever you are up to take care and stay safe!

It’s Got To Be Prefect TWTW # 87

On Wednesday morning I wrote in my diary that work was a bit sparse. That afternoon I was asked to do something at short notice. A few hours work, but a few hours of paid work. Funny how things work out.

Other than that little work blip my week has been split between sorting out things at my Mum’s house, doing chores at my own house and a little bit of creative time, dog walks and the allotment. That said I’m not sure where the week went Monday morning quickly became Sunday evening.


I found my old Prefect and Librarian badges in a matchbox in a draw at my Mum’s house. I thought that they’d probably been lost years ago, and in truth I probably haven’t laid eyes on them since about 1988. It was a bit of mixed emotions that I found them and some other papers and things from my time at school and university. These are items that I will keep and treasure and others that I will let go. I’m pretty sure that I don’t need my lab record books anymore, and reading through them didn’t really spark any memories for me.

By coincidence my friend @Documentally also came across his Prefects badge when he was tidying his “shed”, he wrote about it in his newsletter.


I’ve been reading more Maigret – Maigret and the Informer – and Austin Kleon’s – Steal Like an Artist & Keep Going – also some other bits and pieces but not really completing anything else.

We’ve been watching  some old films including the old James Bond movie – You Only Live Twice – as well as continuing to avoid watching too much news and getting sucked into Doomscrolling.


I had some brassica plants delivered and I planted them out onto the allotment on Sunday. They’re plants for late winter or early spring harvesting so I won’t be eating them anytime soon. For now I have to stop everything else from eating them – slugs, pigeons and caterpillars in particular – I’ve netted and put out slug traps with beer and salt.


I don’t think I’ll be up for any bathtime ballet anytime soon.


Well that’s it for this last week. Have a good one and stay safe out there.

 

Annual Trip, New Procedure TWTW # 86

Well hello again, welcome!

It’s been a busy week for me, there seems to have been lots happening, some of it important and some less so but it has filled the time.

We had a trip to the vets for annual check-ups and vaccinations. You no longer go into the practice, but let them know that you’ve arrived via the reception window and then when it’s your turn the vet comes out to the car park to see you. If needed they then take your pet inside for whatever treatment is required. This of course pre-supposes that they can of course get your pet into the surgery. Neither of our dogs were keen to enter (they’re not at the best of times), and it took me walking across the car park with the vet to the door to convince them. We had some unusual test results for one so will have to repeat the exercise in a months time (assuming that the procedure is the same).


I’ve read a couple of books this week. Spike Milligan’s excellent Hitler, My Part in his Downfall which was a quick short read, and another Brother Cadfael. Ellis Peter’s The Pilgrim of Hate. I’ve since started reading the next in the series – An Excellent Mystery – these more recent books don’t seem to be as good, and so far there hasn’t been the usual medieval murder and I’m a third of the way through the story.


I’ve been taking a few photos this week, and my roll of infrared film arrived so I’ve loaded that into a camera and have been experimenting. I’ve read a few different articles about getting the best results and so have been trying a few different approaches. Ultimately I’ll see how the roll comes out but I’m about two-thirds of the way through it.


I’ve been enjoying see the world through other people’s views with Window Swap. Touring the world one window at a time.


I went to see my Mum on Friday. It’s the first time that I’ve been able to see her in the care home since she went in there. They’ve opened up to socially distanced visits in their garden just this week. Although the visit was short – only 15 minutes allowed – she seems to be settling in very well.


Thanks to the person who bought me a virtual coffee this week, I won’t name them as I don’t feel like I have their permissions to do so, but they should know who they are. Your generosity helps offset the hosting fees of the blog and is very much appreciated. Thank you.


Yellowstone’s Zone of Death where you might just be able to get away with murder.


Newsletter author David Charles is currently cycling around Britain and recording a daily vlog on YouTube. In part because in a world without Covid-19 he would be cycling to Athens on the Thighs of Steel fundraiser for grassroots refugee projects, but for obvious reasons that has been cancelled. so instead he’s heading out into the “post-Brexit, mid-Covid pre-apocalypse Britain”.

He’s just passed through my neck of the woods, and by the time this post goes live he’ll probably be somewhere in East Sussex / Essex I’d guess.


Our broadband upgrade didn’t happen as it was supposed to, so I’m scheduling this post ahead of time so that the internet can do it’s thing in case something happens next week and I’m unable to get online to hit the post button myself.

Stay safe out there and look after yourself.

Zoomed Out with Blank Exposures TWTW # 85

Hello! Another week has passed and here I am again, writing about what I’ve been up to in the past week.


I had both the roll of film I sent off for developing and some new rolls of film arrive on the same day this week. There should be plenty of more photos to come as I expose each of these rolls. I’m going to use another different camera on the next roll.

The roll that was developed was a little bit disappointing however. Not because some of the pictures weren’t good, but because I only ended up with 15 frames out of 24.

Looking at the negatives it looks like the camera shutter wasn’t working properly on some of the exposures, and although it was allowing me to advance the roll after pressing the shutter, the mirror didn’t appear to be lifting to expose the film. I’ve had a good look at the camera, but can’t replicate the problem. On the exposed film it was an intermittent problem so there are some “blank” exposures here and there throughout the roll and the last couple of frames. I will give the camera another go, but not straight away.

I’m also planning to experiment with some infrared film, there’s a roll of film on the way (and I already own a red filter, which helps to enhance the image).


I managed to corral all of my online meetings into one day this week, by the end of the day I was a bit Zoomed out (despite having to switch between different platforms depending on who the meeting was with). One of the meetings was only a briefing but as it was at lunchtime I turned off my camera and sound and listened in while eating my lunch, pretty sure no one noticed, but I wonder what else people get up to when they’re supposed to be in a meeting. Outside of that one day work has been quite quiet again this week, with a few emails to deal with but little else outside of that one day.


I finished reading The Book of Trespass by Nick Hayes earlier this week, my review is here. I’ve also read another review book, Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald who wrote H is for Hawk, that review is here. In other book news my “to be read” pile is increasing looking like Mount Tsundoku.


I had to go to the pharmacy this week, it’s the first time that I’ve been into town since non-essential shops have been opened. There were lots of people in coffee shops and the shopping centre has set up a “keep-left” one way system but a few people obviously don’t know their left from right. I’d estimate that about one in four people were wearing a mask, and whilst it’s not required please wear one. If you’re asymptomatic it will protect other people, and if you’re wearing one it helps to protect you from the selfish idiots. Wear a mask!


My allotment time this week was mostly spent weeding, the couple of days of rain we had helped them to flourish, I wish it had the same effect on my food crops!


I’ve been trying to catch a glimpse of the comet Neowise this week, but haven’t had much luck. It’s quite low in the sky at the moment, and only really visible in the early hours of the morning so it mostly obscured by houses if I’m looking from our garden. It should be easier to see later in the month, if not I might have to go somewhere with a better view of the horizon. Did manage to get some nice morning Moon pics though.


We’re off to the vets in the coming week, it’s that time for annual boosters, and at the end of the week we’re supposed to be being switched to superfast fibre broadband. It’s a free upgrade that we didn’t asked for and were just told was happening. So this time next week things will either be completely FUBARed or much faster, we’ll see.

Have a great week wherever you may be and stay safe!


Book Review: Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald

My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

This is a beautiful book, a joyous book but also a sad and thought provoking book. It is also possibly the best book that I will read this year, and I look forward to owning my own copy when it is published later this year.

This is a collection of stories from childhood through to adulthood and every place in between, stories from the UK and around the world. Each one is wonderful and unique in it’s own right and yet as a collection I don’t think I’ve ever come across one that is so well put together before. They are a nature insight, a personal story with feeling. Whether it is Golden Orioles or Fallow Deer, Swifts or Goat tipping (I’m not telling – you’ll have to read the book), these are all unique stories but instantly relatable.  Written with love and emotion; sometimes they make you smile, sometimes they make you cry and sometimes they send you off into your own personal rabbit hole about a particular species.

I savoured every story, I took my time reading and in some cases rereading a story, I learnt new things about species that I thought were familiar and new things about species I’ve never come across before. I was reminded about times I’ve had similar experiences and felt moved to go out and explore and experience something for myself.

I can’t recommend this book enough, whether you are drawn to natural history books or not this is worthy of your time and money and if you know someone who is into their natural history then this is probably the perfect gift for them.

Now I’ve finished reading, I want to go back and read the whole book again, although I will probably wait until I get my hands on a publication copy.

Vesper Flights is published on 27th August 2020 by Random House UK, Vintage

From the Publisher:

Animals don’t exist to teach us things, but that is what they have always done, and most of what they teach us is what we think we know about ourselves.

From the bestselling author of H is for Hawk comes Vesper Flights, a transcendent collection of essays about the human relationship to the natural world.

Helen Macdonald brings together a collection of her best-loved writing along with new pieces covering a thrilling range of subjects. There are essays here on headaches, on catching swans, on hunting mushrooms, on twentieth-century spies, on numinous experiences and high-rise buildings; on nests and wild pigs and the tribulations of farming ostriches.

Vesper Flights is a book about observation, fascination, time, memory, love and loss and how we make the world around us. Moving and frank, personal and political, it confirms Helen Macdonald as one of this century’s greatest nature writers.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a free copy of this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. No other payment has been received.