Monday, 31 May 2010

The river otter

Today we ventured out (something that's unusual in itself these days) for a walk in the countryside and chose the river otter as we'd not previously had a walk down its banks. We walked south from the village of Otterton and ended up near Budleigh Salterton (though the river estuary stopped us from reaching it and having an icecream). Luckily wonderful icecreams were to be found at Otterton Mill.

We saw a huge variety of wildlife including my first ever mayflies. Many were flying upstream,
some were spent
and a few were in the vegetation on the riverbanks

We also saw some warblers (species anyone?)

a grey wagtail

some swallows

and lots of other insects including damselflies, an 18-spot ladybird, caterpillars on the nettles

and these lovely beetles

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Out with the old...

Our tabby cat William has never been fond from drinking from a bowl in the house. After a long phase of drinking from the ponds he has recently been making use of a black bucket of water only a couple of metres from the house. The bucket was never particularly clean - I believe it had cement in the bottom when he began to drink from it, but over the last couple of weeks it has got decidedly dirty after a load of mosquito larvae hatched and subsequently died in it. William seemed quite oblivious to the fact that the water had turned green and had lots of dead insects floating in it (you'll be relieved to know that I didn't take a picture), but this weekend I decided enough was enough and took his bucket away. I was kind enough to replace it with a clean one, although the new one is orange. I'm not sure if he can tell the difference in colour, but it's certainly changed our view from the kitchen! At least he's making use of it.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Buying this gift elsewhere?

It's been a couple of weeks since I've been on Amazon and even longer since I've been on someone's wishlist (other than my own around the time of my birthday).

I was very pleased to see a new (Ian tells me it's been there for a few weeks) button next to "Add to Basket" for each item on the wishlist: "Buying this gift elsewhere?", clicking on which gives the following message: "If you decide to purchase this gift somewhere else, you will need to reserve this item to keep others from buying the same gift". I'm not sure what reserving the item actually does, but if it also removes it from the wishlist then that's good enough for me. Now if an item is out-of-stock or over-priced on amazon it will still be possible to buy it for someone without having to tell them you're buying it and asking them to remove it from their wishlist. Hooray!!

Thursday, 27 May 2010

No news

I have a note taped to my monitor today - no news. It covers the left tab in my browser which is where I always have the bbc news page open throughout the day. Until a few years ago I never read and rarely watched or listened to the news. These days I probably read an average of about 30 news articles a day - that's a guess and on days when work is slow I read many many more. It's become as natural for me to check the news as to check my email (indeed if I have no emails then the news page is usually my next stop).

Today is the first day this year that I haven't read a single news article. The reason is that whilst I hardly ever watch television there are two series that I always watch - the X Factor and the US equivalent: American Idol - both reality type programs in which individuals sing and compete for the chance to win a recording contract. The X factor is shown live on UK television, but American Idol is shown a day later due to the difference in time zones. Last night was the final and I know that the result will be all over the news so I've been unable to take the risk of opening the news websites. Not being a big fan of sport I've never recorded anything and not wanted anyone to tell me the result before watching it so today has been very unusual for me. I look forward to finding out what's been happening in the world in a couple of hours when the winner has been announced on UK television.

Monday, 24 May 2010

I have ice in my glass

We had a wonderful weekend. After three busy weekends with trips to York, Preston, Cumbria and Bristol we stayed at home all weekend. The weather was really hot and I wore shorts right through the day on both Saturday and Sunday - something I haven't done here since 2007.

I was lucky enough to see a female broad-bodied chaser on both days and a trip to either of the ponds during the day guaranteed some damselflies and hoverflies. The lupins and sweet rocket began to flower and the back garden is only a few weeks away from breaking out into full bloom.

We fitted the last of the main cabinets in the kitchen (just the wall cabinets to go) and yesterday I installed the round turntable thing that goes in the corner cabinet. That was a huge relief as we didn't know if it could be put in after the worktop was screwed on and forgot to do so earlier. Our new pans now have a home and I found a shelf for the recipe books too :-)

I did lots of cooking during the weekend after our new pans arrived. Actually they were three dishes cooked in the slow cooker, but two required some cooking on the hob first. The red onion soup wasn't a great success (Ian was kind enough to eat quite a bit, but I found it far too sweet and slimy), but the Moroccan stew I made went down very well and Ian had two whole portions on the first night. I've yet to try the red cabbage with apple that I cooked yesterday, but hopefully there's not much that can go wrong with that. Ian also made a lovely salad to go with our meal last night so finally the days of micro chips and fish pies are over (I do like fish pies, but we ate quite a few in the absence of the oven so I'm going to need a break from them for a few weeks). I found the ice cube trays on Sunday afternoon and managed to freeze some ice by dinner-time. If you've seen the (excellent) Tom Hanks film Castaway you may remember him saying "I have ice in my glass" after several years alone on a tropical island. Our discomfort may have been slight in comparison, but I still repeated the phrase with glee.

The not so delicious red onion soup (with our beautiful walnut worktop in the background):

Unfortunately the weekend ended on a sad note with our cat William pulling off half his nose. Not actually half his nose, but it feels like it. One side of his nose has been receding (probably cancer) ever since we got him in 2007. It has always been difficult to hear him howl when he attempts to wash it and now it can be really painful for him. Ian spent half an hour holding his right paw so he couldn't wash whilst we were having a cuddle and watching a film, but the moment we stood up he really went for it. Both of us tried to grab his paw and Ian got scratched quite badly in the process, but to no avail. A bloody mess (literally). Generally I think he has a high quality of life and in between nose washes his nose scabs over and he seems okay (although he sneezes a lot now - more of an inconvenience to his target than himself), but each time he washes I begin to wonder how long he has left. On a more positive note he seems fine now that it's Monday morning.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

A home at last

One of Ian's favourite phrases (usually said in a hopeful voice during moments of chaos) is "a place for everything and everything in its place". It had not been possible to find a place for everything in our old kitchen. It's not that it was that small, but that there were so few places to put things. There was not a single drawer in the entire kitchen and only 3 ordinary cupboards. Pretty much everything had to be stored in one large unlit pantry and inevitably if you wanted to find something it was always stuck behind something else.

Our new kitchen is not fully assembled, but we are now beginning to find new homes for things that have been stored in boxes or on shelves in the lounge for the last six months. I have a thing about storage systems - the easier something is to locate and access the happier I am so I'm really pleased with the drawer inserts we bought at ikea for storing herb and spice jars. They seems simple enough, but are very sturdy and have little rubber feet to stop them sliding around the drawer:

Unfortunately they only came in an odd mistletoe pattern, but I think that will soon be covered up by the jars as I do more cooking and require more herbs and spices.

Noises in the night

Last night we had a pretty disturbed sleep.

First of all it had been a really hot day here and neither of us sleep particularly well when it's hot. Normally we don't open the bedroom window in the night if we can help it because our bedroom is at the front of the house and it can be noisy on the street outside. We also don't keep the bedroom door open because our cat William would come in, take up the entire bed and purr all night. However it was just too hot so we relented and opened the window.

Just as things were beginning to cool down we heard an enormous howl from a cat on the street. I remember asking Ian if he thought we would have heard that had the window been shut (i.e., do they normally howl that loud?) and we both agreed that William was indoors and that it couldn't have been him. Ian then drifted pleasantly off to sleep, but I stayed awake for long enough to hear the catflap (ours is incredibly noisy, but it does have the advantage of letting us keep tabs on our puss) followed by a single howl coming from the hall. William had been outside after all and he came back limping. We (or rather he) had a fuss on the landing for several minutes, during which I determined that the limp was his only ailment and that it wasn't too serious and then I returned to bed for some sleep.

William is a very timid cat for a male and doesn't often get into fights (he's even become afraid of pigeons as of late). His only method of defence when a cat comes into the house to steal his food is to fluff up his tail, howl and hope that the human that doesn't sleep deeply (i.e., me) will come to rescue him. Interestingly in the few years we've had him he has only once come home with a scratch on him, but this must be the fourth or fifth time that he's come home with a limp. It makes me wonder what actually happens when he sees another cat. We can only guess that he makes no stance whatsoever, other than to howl, and then proceeds to run away as fast as he can, at which point he manages to pull a muscle in his leg, probably whilst jumping up or down from something in a hurry. He's a bit of a coward really, but we still love him.

Thursday, 20 May 2010


One feature of our new kitchen is an induction hob. Apart from in the shops I've never seen one before so it was very exciting to switch it on and see what it can do. Unfortunately it seems partial to beeping and there seems no way to switch that off or lower the volume, but I'm sure I'll get used to that. After all various other things like the breadmaker also beep.

Induction hobs are faster, more energy-efficient and easier to clean than traditional electric hobs. Unfortunately they only work with certain types of pan. Ian already knew this, but thought that our steel pans would be suitable. Unfortunately they are not and nor are any others we've been able to find in the shops. The test to know if a pan is suitable is to place a magnet near the base and see if it sticks. If it sticks it will work fine on the hob. Our wok is the only pan we own that is suitable, but we're expecting a new set of induction pans to arrive today.

Will be very excited to be able to use the hob. It's amazing how little you can cook with only an oven - so many things require something to be boiled or fried before hand.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Knock-on effects

As pretty much everyone who knows me knows, my fiancee Ian and I have been renovating our house ever since we bought it in summer 2007. Some of the renovations have been minor, others major. Some jobs have involved help from various workmen, others we have done ourselves.

We are both of the opinion that if we're going to do something on the house or garden then we want it done right. Unfortunately that usually means that whenever we do something it takes a long time. I think that we do accept that more than most people would - for example most people would probably consider having wallpaper behind your head instead of bare plaster when you're reading in bed to be a necessity rather than a luxury, but we are pretty used to such things. However there comes a point when things do get frustrating. The trouble is that everything we do has a knock on effect.

For example, in December we began major renovations on our kitchen / dining room. Of course, not wanting to do things by halves we decided to have all the plumbing redone. Not wanting to do that by halves we decided to use this as an oppurtunity to replace the lead water supply to the house with a plastic pipe. Had I realised how much chaos that would cause I'm not sure that I would do it again. First the dining room floor had to come up for a couple of weeks - it would have been just a couple of days, but then once the floor was up it seemed a shame not to put insulation under it. Then the dining room floor went back down and the lounge floor came back up. This was less disruptive, but did cause the television to be moved from the corner of the room and in 6 months it has not found its way back (just move it you say... well we would except that since we moved the television Ian has removed the fireplace so it's now hiding a big hole in the wall!) Once the indoor stages had been completed came the outdoor stretch which involved Ian digging a 38 foot long, 2 foot deep tunnel from the pavement to the house wall. Of course this slightly upset the front garden and I'm afraid it has yet to recover.

A month ago we completely rearranged the study to provide access under the floor for an electrician working on the kitchen. Although luckily we didn't have to empty the shelves which take up one entire wall of the study we did have to disassemble and move both our desks and empty a large cupboard full of my photo albums. Since then we've been sharing my desk that we had moved to the other side of the room. The electrician finished his work yesterday and we were left with the decision as to whether to keep the chaos and do more work on the study (save having to move everything again sometime in the future) including having a new window put in and redoing the electrics (there's currently a single socket in the study which has to cater for all our computing needs) or whether to put everything back to normal. Until very recently I think we would have opted to keep the chaos, but the chaos is now all around is and so last night we began to put the study back to rights. What a relief!

A new beginning

For various reasons I've been frustrated with my blogging recently. I know that I haven't put much time into it and that that has been a direct result of my being so busy, but then if I've been so busy then that means that there has been lots to blog about. After much deliberation I've decided to wipe the slate clean and start again with a new blog.