Today I had a lovely trip out to the Chestnut Centre with Ian, Dad, Bryony and Mark. As usual the highlight was Manoki the giant otter. Until a couple of weeks ago he was the only one of his species in the UK, but his potential future mate Penumbi is now in quarantine in the New Forest and should be joining him in May.
I look forward to meeting Penumbi in the near future.
After leaving Ian's grandparents house in Millom we took a trip to the church in Bootle, Cumbria where his parents got married. Bootle is the nearest village to Seaton Hall, formerly owned by Ian's family on his grandfather's side. Consequently a number of Ian's relatives are buried in the churchyard.
This is the gravestone of Ian's great uncle Harry, beekeeper at Seaton Hall.
Ian, William and I are in the North at present, visiting family for Christmas. Much of our time has been spent in Formby and on the 23rd we took our traditional Christmas trip to the pine woods / sand dunes.
Sadly the red squirrel population has declined dramatically due to a virus and for the first time in my life I didn't see a single squirrel.
In Formby the Rotary Club collects money each year by taking the 'carol wagon' round the streets in the run up to Christmas. The carol wagon consists of a caravan or truck pulled by a tractor, covered with Christmas lights with an open end in which father christmas sits. As a child I would listen out for the carols playing and watch from the bedroom window.
I'm not sure if something similar occurs in York, but if it does it never went down my street. I'm pleased to say that our road is on the annual route of the Exeter 'Christmas float'.
Of all the people we know that get a live Christmas tree each year we always seem to be the first to get a tree. This is because we have yet to spend Christmas at home (in Exeter), so we get the tree early with the aim of enjoying it as much as possible before we head up North for the actual Christmas holidays.
This year was no exception and we headed out on Tuesday (after Pete kindly cancelled the weekly lab meeting). When we left it was sunny, but upon arrival at the nursery it was pouring with rain. Luckily we had decided to try getting the tree somewhere different this year - St Bridget Nursery http://www.stbridgetnurseries.co.uk/ in the hope that it would be cheaper than otter nurseries. It turned out to be just as expensive, but they were kind enough to have all their trees in the shelter out of the rain, which saved us a tree-drying-off period.
We opted for a nordmann fir. Actually I'm not sure that they had any other species. We were so busy trying to find one of the right height that I didn't notice if some were noble and others nordmann. We got a tree that was too tall for the lounge, but chopped off the top foot. I really like that it has some strong branches at the top as it means the decorations go all the way to the ceiling.
We had wanted to put the tree in the bay window as we did last year, but with the new shelving on the wall it became difficult to fit the sofas in with the tv in its usual place. Still, we've done our bit for the street with our reindiator.
Over the years I've bought and been given some lovely decorations. I shall blog about some of my favourites very soon.
Yes I did spell that right! We bought our reindiator last year, but it being close to Christmas when we got him we didn't manage to put him up outside the house. Instead he lived at the end of the bed throughout December, next to the radiator. Ian kept getting tongue-tied when trying to say reindeer and the name reindiator stuck.
This year we made sure that we were ready for him. Ian installed an outdoor power socket at the weekend and this evening we put him up. As I turned on the lights a little boy walking down the street with his mother went "oooooooooo". A wonderful first reaction.
The reindiator is very curious and is constantly turning his head to see up and down the street.
I was going to blog about this last night, but luckily I had already packed my laptop ready to come to the office today (monday being the day I pop in for a meeting or two). Last night I was not in a good mood (to put it mildly).
Last year we got a plumber in to fit out new bath, toilet and wash basin. Less than 6 months later the bath tap fell became loose and a few weeks ago it fell off entirely. This would be alright if they were the kind that you could fix from above, but it required pulling out the bath to get at and we didn't manage to put it back on. That and the fact that we haven't had a shower for a year prompted us to get in another plumber to fit the shower and fix the tap. We weren't too impressed with the last plumber so decided to go with a different company. The plumber arrived on Friday, told us the other plumber had made a complete hash of fitting the taps and then proceeded to promptly fix everything. We were very impressed with his speed and efficiency. 2 days later an entire bathfull of water flowed through the floorboards and into the dining room, coming through the light fitting and above the window. When we took the bath panel off we found that the pipe that the water is supposed to drain into had completely come away from the pipe attached to the plug. Now admittedly he could not have left it in such a ridiculous state because we have used the bath since he left, but he cannot have checked that it was fitted properly before he left. Unfortunately it appears that there was little holding these two pipes together in the first place. So... is it hte fault of the plumber who came a year ago and didn't attach the two pipes together properly or the fault of the plumber who came last week and dislodged the pipes when he moved the bath? Luckily the damage was minimal - being only to the wallpaper and carpet which we intend to replace next year anyway. Had it not been, whose insurance should it have come out of and who should we get to fix the two pipes together?
Both ponds iced over completely for the first time this morning. I was surprised how quickly it happened given the size of the large pond - I thought we would have a day or two with a thin surface of ice first, but this was quite thick. Unfortunately I didn't get a photo in the rush before work, but will do so next time it happens.
Believe it or not that's what we were using to stop people seeing in the hall window for the last year (in the absence of any form of curtain). Finally we've splashed out and bought a curtain rail (though we've used a curtain from the spare room). I will now be able to match the pillowcases in pairs again. Hooray!!
It's amazing how long it takes to 'get round' to doing things around the house. The previous occupant was in a wheelchair and as a result the stair carpet has always been missing a section due to her stairlift. When we arrived there was a roll of matching carpet left for us in the hall and yet it quickly journeyed to the loft, not to be seen again until this week. I remember thinking that it was a top priority for sorting out and yet we quickly got used to the missing section. All it took was a couple of hours to redo it. Admittedly it's not the neatest job, but it's only temporary until we redecorate the stairs and landing. It does make the house feel much cosier.
Is it just me or has Christmas come particularly early this year? I have to admit that Ian and I been singing Christmas songs for at least 2 weeks and the Christmas things we've bought haven't actually made it into storage until December. Still, I was most surprised to see that Otter Nurseries had a wide range of Christmas trees available yesterday. Today we visited Bernaville Nurseries for the first time and they too had Christmas trees (though admittedly theirs were live in pots). Driving to the nursery we saw a house with Christmas decorations up outside - the big inflatable santa variety. Is it the same where you are?
Like my father I'm not fond of trick or treaters, but I do enjoy carving pumpkins for halloween. As a child if we could not afford a pumpkin we would carve a swede (not as easy as a pumpkin, but they still look pretty good). A couple of years ago we got a pumpkin carving set - consisting of some little saws and a tool for scraping out the pumpkins. They're very accurate and easy to use.
Last year Halloween came just after we got William and Ian decided to do a cat pumpkin. This became known as Williamkin and then I liked the name so much that I began to call William Williamkin.
This year we had smileykin (I've never done star-shaped eyes before and after I did he seemed to want a smiley mouth)
Mum is currently visiting us in Exeter. Today, despite the rain, we went to Stover country park - a place we enjoyed visiting with Dad a few weeks ago.
We took a walk around the lake and were pleased to find a raised boardwalk on one side. Up at mid-tree height we were able to watch lots of birds feeding closeby - coal tits, black caps, nuthatches and a jay.
We also saw two robins in different holly trees - very Christmassy.
The melon took a trip to Formby for our annual harvest dinner and then came back down to Exeter before it was eaten. We were a little concerned that it might not taste good, but it turned out to be delicious. Even I thought it was good and I don't even like melon.
So here are a couple of pictures of the melon eating...
Last week we went for my leaving dinner with some friends from the lab. Sonia recommended the Nobody Inn just outside Exeter - love the name. A lovely country inn that specialises in whisky and wines - their wine list was at least two thirds the size of my phd thesis (though of course we got so confused we ended up ordering the house white).
On their specials board they offered salmon with 'lemon moose'. Embarrassingly the waitress walked in whilst we were laughing at the spelling and to our surprise she said it would be most fun if there was a spelling mistake and could we tell her what it was. We explained the difference between moose and mousse. Five minutes later she came out with this lovely fellow (pictured here at home the next day - hope they didn't mind us snatching him)
For the last two weeks Ian has been cycling to Uni and leaving his laptop there in the evenings. I too have been limiting my own computer usage - some days I haven't even checked my email (a definite first for me). One of the fantastic things about having the internet is the million ways to get in touch with people, but it can also make what was supposed to be a quick 5 minute email check turn into a couple of hours in front of the screen. I regularly check 2 non-work email addresses, work email, email and messages on facebook, a dozen or so blogs and then as soon as I turn the computer on everyone starts to skype me (unfortunately often skypes are work-related). I have therefore been taking a break from it all, but now I am back so please give me a couple of days and I shall get to those emails you've not had a reply too.
Not spending 10 hours a day in front of the computer has given me time to do lots of other things. The house has been turned upside down with tidying and sorting jobs (unfortunately it's still at that half finished stage where it looks worse than it did before, but is actually much more organised), the area for the second pond has been cleared (mostly by Ian), the front garden is looking less like a waste disposal site and we are a couple of steps closer to finishing the bathroom.
I've learned 2 key lessons from my exploits this week
1) always stir paint for at least 10 minutes - I realised this when I accidentally painted the bathroom yellow when it was supposed to be soft oatmeal (closer to peach). I did stir the paint a lot and was considering complaining that it wasn't the same as the tester, but having slapped it on the wall I had to finish. Luckily a marathon stirring session for the second coat has resulted in the colour we actually chose. Phew.
2) Never ever ever remove the filling from a futon if it looks like it's going to be tricky putting it back in. We realised this back in Tor Close when we considered washing the cover, but William having been sick all over it this week we thought it worth the risk. Big mistake. We now have a binsack full of bits in the wheelie bin, 2 binsacks (aaah - a new skype conversation. Should have known I wouldn't get through this blog without an interruption) of broken stuffing that could potentially be useful for bean bag type items, and a very thin and uncomfortable futon that will cost £200 to replace. Ugh.
Ian regularly checks the local freecycle listings. We've obtained a number of items of furniture, gadgets and things for the garden this way. Recently we got an enormous number of seed packets from someone in a little village in East Devon. Most are annuals and all are out of date, but generally I've had no trouble with out of date seeds. Will give them a try in the Spring and see if I can grow some for sale (most of the packets are duplicated at least 3 or 4 times and I could fill the garden 5 times over if they all germinate).
Not a very polite name I know, but this is how we have come to refer to the chubby white cat that frequently makes himself at home in our front garden. This in itself is not a problem, indeed when our only contact with him was in the front he was known as 'white puss', but now he has become more of a menace his name has changed.
Earlier in the year we were woken in the middle of the night by William howling on 3 or 4 occasions, to find that fat puss had decided to come in the catflap and have some of Williams food. Upon coming back from a weekend away for my birthday we found William hiding behind the television. When he finally came out (to go hide behind the sofa instead) we found that he was limping and had scratches on his face and head, which we can only assume were inflicted by fat puss (though of course we may have the wrong culprit, but he is the only cat we've seen in our back garden this year).
William is currently hiding behind the television after another painful encounter. We managed to tempt him out for some food and before he hid again I pulled a cats claw from the top of his head (I assumed it was a bramble thorn before I pulled it out). He appears to have no other injuries.
Ian has now stated that he is going to keep a supply of tennis balls handy and throw them at fat puss if he dares show himself again. Look out puss!
Yesterday Ian and I joined the library. Apart from university libraries I haven't been a member of one since I lived in Formby. This of course is terrible, considering my parentage, but the truth is that I've always owned more books than I had time to read. This of course is still the case, and will only be exacerbated by my reading library books, but I am no longer concerned about that.
Our trip to the library was very exciting. Several of the sections quickly caught our attention, including history, natural history and a wonderful languages section. Exeter central library has language courses for over a hundred languages, admittedly most are accompanied by cassettes and not cds, but we do have a cassette player as part of a stereo in the study. I think it will not be long before we borrow some Russian and German and I was very pleased to see the Japanese 'teach yourself' course. Dad was kind enough to get me the book for this, but to listen to the cassette as well would be very helpful.
We came away with a varied selection of books, from a history of Jerusalem to a book on treehouses (not that we own a tree big enough to put a treehouse in, but the pictures are incredible).
I can honestly say that I would never have joined the library had I not resigned from my job. Although I would have found time to borrow the odd book or two the whole idea would have left me more frustrated at my lack of reading time than those couple of books would have been worth.
I have started a list of all the things I want to do in my time off. This includes finally learning to drive and learning to cook. Not that I can't cook, but I've never really played around with recipes or new foods. This is partly because I don't like handling meat and until this year have never owned a vegetarian cookbook.
Whilst Dad was down in Exeter we went to Otter Nurseries and I bought a book of soup recipes. Yesterday I made pepper soup. At least it was called pepper soup and it had 4 peppers in, but really it tasted of orange, despite the juice of a single orange making up such a small proportion of the liquid. The soup had the right consistency and definitely didn't taste bad, but I just wasn't sure about the orange flavour. Ian (having more of a sweet tooth), thankfully was more impressed so he will finish it off tonight!
For once in my life I have made a bold decision and have resigned from my job at Exeter University. I'm going to take a few months off to do all the things I've been wanting to do since long before I started my phd and to decide what kind of job I would like to do.
I have decided not to restrict what I'm blogging about here. I suspect it will become a jumble of all the sorts of things that I get up to in my time off.