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Race for Life 2009

26th. Jul, 2009 | 11:00 am

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On the move

25th. May, 2009 | 08:14 pm

I've migrated my journal from LJ to Wordpress.

http://joanneowens.wordpress.com/

I wanted something with more versatility, not to mention the stats Wordpress records. It was surprisingly easy to move everything across; even your comments have made it.

Now all I need is an RSS feed reader to keep track of my Flist blogs.

Please come and find me at my new home!

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All day I had a headache. Then a storm came and it went away.

17th. May, 2009 | 08:08 pm

Two things I've been up to in the last fortnight:

  • Working very hard to meet the exam board deadlines for coursework sampling. This was beset with irritants such as: one of the collegiate schools failing to send me their mark sheets in a timely manner; my own reluctance to get on with the utter boring-ness that is coursework marking. But it's all done now and I posted the last of it earlier this week. There'll be no more coursework to think about for the rest of this academic year. Strangely, I don't feel quite as triumphant as I have done in previous years, and I still feel really work-busy. What a shame. Perhaps I need half term to help me shift down a few gears.
  • Working very hard to prepare our house for sale. We've been spending lots of money on it in the hope of securing a quick sale when we eventually hit the market, which should be in the next few days. We've had double glazing fitted (followed by two days spent cleaning up broken glass and workman's blood. Ugh.), repointing done, guttering and downpipes replaced, and I've spent two solid days clearing out under-worn clothes. At last every item of clothing I own fits inside a drawer or a wardrobe. We've also tarted up the front yard with green slate and flowers. We're just about ready to sell our house. Eek. I'm not comfortable with such big change but let's not think about that today.

aloe vera notebook

Two things I'm looking forward to in the next fortnight:

  • Half term, which is a week away. I'm planning to tag along with Husband again to take in the following things: Tate Modern (again), Dover Street Market, Les Miserables, Star Trek at the IMAX. One of the things I love about my London visits is the getting there. I take the slowest (and cheapest!) train I can find, leave my laptop and school work at home, and spend a lovely couple of hours with nothing to do but read. Guilt-free. Can't wait.
  • Shopping and dinner with my luffliest friend this week. There are a few bits I'm planning to buy - I keep a list in my diary for the rare times I have a good reason to go into town, otherwise I rarely bother any more. Eating Japanese food with Jess is always a good reason. And I do have a half-empty wardrobe to replenish...!

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Brocton Coppice

3rd. May, 2009 | 09:09 pm

We ventured onto the Chase again today, armed with a proper map and a satnav whatsit. We weren't taking any chances after December's disaster. Inspired by this book, our intention was to forage for whatever leafy things happened to be available in early May, without actually poisoning ourselves.



One of the things I was worried about was the use of herbicide to kill the bracken, which would also render anything we found toxic. But when we arrived, the bracken didn't seem to be hindered at all, so we got on with our foraging.

We were in Brocton Coppice, an area so old and beautiful that you can imagine kings and lords hunting in it. Apparently some of the oaks are 1000 years old. There are signs reminding you that branches may fall at any moment, but we didn't let that bother us as we stopped in a clearing to watch the local wildlife.

grey squirrel

On closer inspection, we found that someone had sprinkled seeds all along the fallen tree, and the squirrels weren't the only ones to find it. A tiny colourful chaffinch was chased away by crows, which were in turn scared off by the squirrels who fought each other for the right to eat the seeds. Our stillness was further rewarded by a flash of red in the trees above, which turned out to be a woodpecker! I've never seen a woodpecker before, nor heard one pecking wood.



We were lucky enough to experience both today! My picture's not so great; these little birds move fast and don't seem to stay in one place for more than a few seconds. Just after I'd taken this picture, all of the birds and animals were scared away by a noisy family and their dogs. Tsk. So we continued our food hunt.



Mushrooms weren't our focus for today - it's a bit early in the season for them - but we did see these ones. We decided against bringing them home though, because our best efforts to identify them failed. Taking a chance on mystery mushrooms is probably not very sensible. Anyone got any ideas what they might be?

We eventually came home with nettles, young hawthorn leaves, goosegrass and jack-by-the-hedge. All of which Husband is busily cooking into something edible. I'll let you know how it turns out!

[ETA: We had homemade nettle gnocchi and a salad of the other leaves, supplemented with spinach from the fridge. Very tasty and nobody was ill. Hooray!]

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Finding Home

2nd. May, 2009 | 09:20 am

We're house hunting and I thought I'd enjoy it more than I am. So far it's been frustrating and faffy. I like to start things and get them done. I'm not a faffer or a ditherer. (But Husband is; maybe he's enjoying this...) So far we've:

Decided to stretch budget since we're looking for forever house; had brief foray into Rightmove.

Found amazing-looking house in amazing location, at top of new budget. Dubious about size but arranged to view.

Viewed house, loved it. Loved location. All round houselove.

Came home, measured furniture; house too small.

Rightmoved some more; found several more potentials and arranged viewings.

Cancelled two viewings; kitchens too small.

Viewed one last night, nothing special in spite of big money.

Drove to street of previously-arranged viewing, was horrible, cancelled viewing.

Awaiting return phone call about viewing another potential but not thrilled about it. It might be special inside but outside it's so average.

This process goes on and on. It's a bit miserable.

We're not in a hurry, really, but I'm impatient. And we're being quite picky about the ones we arrange to look at - I'm not even counting the other 90 houses which fit our search criteria but are, in some way, unsuitable. So far we've seen and dismissed seven houses, some of which we haven't even gone inside. I think we're right to be specific about this since we'll be spending a massive chunk of our incomes on it each month, but at this rate we'll end up staying exactly where we are. Which is all right, I suppose, but not where we want to be anymore.

I want a garden where I can grow things in the actual ground, rather than all in pots. I want a kitchen where I can eat breakfast and watch Husband cook (hehe). I want parking that's all my own, without the eternal compromise of shared facilities. I want to be near countryside I can see from the windows and a decent place to eat that I can walk to. I want plenty of space and lots of light and I don't mind paying for these things, but where are they??

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Healing

25th. Apr, 2009 | 11:43 pm

I'm in the midst of a Husband-free weekend, which has its positives and its negatives. I miss him, of course, but I do like pleasing myself. I work more when I'm alone in the house, too. Oh yes, it's Saturday and I've been working. There's just too much to do to confine school work to week days. I'm keeping my eye on that 15th May threshold, after which everything gets very much easier, work-wise. The countdown is on!

favourite boots

These are my favourite boots. I've had them for years and have worn them to death, almost literally. The heels were worn down so far that the leather had begun to wear down too. I took them to the cobbler today and had new heels put on them. Clearly the heels are the wrong colour! The original heels were the same light brown colour as the soles, but I had to choose between these black ones and a pair of beige-y, plastic-y heels. So black it is. They look a bit odd but they're better than the beige cheap ones, particularly as having the boots re-heeled wasn't at all cheap. In fact, I've bought entire pairs of boots which have cost about the same as these new heels. Admittedly those were cheapy, non-leather boots, but still. Expensive heels. They'd better last forever.

In other news, we're looking at a house on Wednesday, which should be interesting. It's in a wonderful location but the current owners want a vast amount of money for it. I'm a bit dubious about the size of the bedrooms for all that money, but it's hard to tell anything certain from estate agents' photos. I think I'm trying to find all of the negatives to avoid falling in love with it. Someone else is also looking at it on Wednesday and houses in the area don't appear on the market very often. It's sure to sell quickly. I find the tactical game-playing involved with the housing market extremely difficult. I'm not at all competitive, so none of this comes naturally to me. If the other people are able to move more quickly/offer more money/want it more, I'll be happy to let them have it. Husband may not have the same view! He's all about the competition. So stay tuned for more of the eternal house-buying saga.

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Flying London visit (me, not the city...)

16th. Apr, 2009 | 10:53 pm

Chocolate mice

I was in London again last night, to see Wicked for the whateverth time (Kerry Ellis as Ephaba was amazing, can't really state that enough!) and to mooch around the shops. My lovely friend, Wess, and I picked a gorgeous day for it. It was 22c in the capital yesterday according to the London Lite.

We usually make an effort to do something 'cultural' on our little visits; we've been to the Tate Modern, the National Portrait Gallery, and various other similar places. We partly go because you can leave luggage at these places for free and it's a pain in the arse to drag a heavy overnight bag around the city. It beats paying £7 to leave it at the station (and we once paid £5 each to leave our bags at our crappy hotel - thanks Tom, once again.) and we get to absorb some interesting art into the bargain. It still astonishes me that so many of our galleries and museums are free. I don't understand why they're not absolutely packed; tourists all seem to prefer queuing up for the likes of the Tower where they'll be fleeced out of £47 for a family ticket.

This time we decided to hit Oxford Street. Us and around two million other people. Neither of us really bought much but it was fun to shop, as long as you accept the fact that you won't be going anywhere quickly.

I don't really mind crowds and tourists in London - it's what you sign up for when you go there. It only bothers me when I'm late and rushing, which is almost never since I don't work in the capital. Husband hates getting trapped behind a crowd of tourists, especially near to any particularly photographable sights. They walk four paces, spread across the path, then stop dead to take photos. His hotel overlooks the London Eye, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament; his office is next to St Paul's. Wall to wall tourists. The worst place for them, and the most dangerous place for their four-steps-then-pause-for-pictures behaviour pattern, is on Westminster Bridge. It's not wide enough for them to do this! Still, the bagpiper who frequents the bridge seems to appreciate the crowds. He's there everyday, the traditional British piper... um.

bagpiper on Westminster Bridge

His rule is that you can photograph him, you can even put your arm around him and get a friend to photograph you both, but you have to give him some money in return. There's usually a small crowd gathered around him, possibly daring each other to get closer to the strange caterwauling emanating from him, but I rarely see anyone actually taking pictures of him. Today I did. I also saw the two female tourists rushing away from him in a slightly frightened fashion, as he shouted after them "That's f*cking rubbish!" while brandishing the change they'd given him.

Ah the legendary British reserve. It made me right proud.


Other noteworthy London sights from this week:

A man carrying a snake in his arms in Leicester Square. No box or bag in sight, just the man and his snake enjoying the sunshine. Scared the crap outta me.

A woman with what appeared to be a dead, stuffed dalmation on her lap, on a bench. She was stroking it in a distracted manner. Actually, it was hard to tell if it was stuffed or had rigor mortis...

Gotta love the crazies in the city.

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Kaboom

14th. Apr, 2009 | 05:33 pm

So my car was MOTed today, which I thought was going to be worst thing about this drizzly Tuesday. Smart gave me the usual not-very-attractive courtesy car and I used it to run around town and get all sorts of errands done. Supermarket, Post Office etc. After a few hours the garage called to announce that my car had passed its test and they wanted their courtesy car back now please. (It also had to have a software update - really?! Why does a car need a software update?? Anti-virus?)

Off I went, back into town, mooching along the ringroad, minding my own business. The lights at a junction changed to red and the car in front of me stopped; I stopped; the car behind me did not stop. She didn't even brake. I had just enough time to glance in the rearview mirror and form the thought "That car's not slowing down..." as it slammed into the back of the courtesy car, shunting me into the car in front. Ouch.

The man in front was first out of his car to check everyone was all right. The woman in the car behind burst into tears and just sat there. Tsk. Eventually we got all our details exchanged, including the names of my two lovely witnesses who confirmed that it wasn't my fault. Uh-huh, foot was on the brake, hit from behind... faultlessness was all mine! Sadly, the bouncy little courtesy car looked okay but sounded like crap when I tried to drive it. I called Smart and they sent someone out to collect the remains of their brand new only-done-140-miles car. Apparently it was trashed underneath, which is probably what saved me. The smashed up innards absorbed all of the impact - the doors still opened and closed, and I was mildly surprised that the radio continued playing after such a loud impact. So well done sturdy Smart car! Fortwos are stronger than they look.

In summary: nobody was hurt, aside from the lady's ego; I didn't have to faff with insurance because it was all on Smart; my lovely Roadster was not involved! This is most definitely the silver lining: if I was destined for a road accident today, I'm glad my car was safely somewhere else. I took it to be cleaned by way of celebration, and overheard the following conversation through my thinner-than-they-thought softtop:

Young Car Washer: So does this count as a sportscar?
Older Cocky Car Washer: Course it does. It's a 1.6 idiot.
YCW: Ah right, I wouldn't get insurance on something like this then?
OCCW: F*ck no! I got a quote for a [insert absurdly huge sportscar here] and it was like thirty-nine hundred. No one'd touch you to drive this.
YCW: Oh :(

Sound of driver door opening for YCW to wipe sill.

YCW: All right?
Me: Uh yeah, it cost £300 fully comp' to insure...
YCW: No way! Why so cheap?
Me: Well it's only 700cc...
YCW: [to OCCW] argh see! Y'don't know what y'talking about! 1.6 my arse!
Me: *snigger*

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Jardin

13th. Apr, 2009 | 06:30 pm

In my garden this year there are only flowers, aside from the blueberry bush and the cherry tree which really do their own thing with little interference from me. My veg-growing efforts didn't go so well last year, mainly because I got all lazy about harvesting them until it was too late. It made me sad when everything edible went to seed and became not-edible afterwards, so I'm avoiding the whole scenario this year. I know where I am with flowers.

 I've spent this sunny bank holiday Monday pottering around outside, poisoning some things, (weevils, weeds) and feeding others, (clematis, acer) and planting the annuals which will grace my garden with summer colour. None of them are ready for photographing yet, but in the meantime...

pink tulips

The spring bulbs haven't done so well this year, sadly. All of them put out leaves but hardly any flowered. My snowdrops produced one single flower and I didn't even notice it until I'd broken it off. Doh. Most of the tulips were eaten by slugs before they had chance to flower - only these two made it.

grape hyacinth

The reliable old grape hyacinths are back and looking as vibrant as ever. Each year there are more of them and all I need to do is leave them alone. My kind of plant! These ones were given to me by Husband's mum, years ago. They must be happy in the pots I've got them in because they go mad every spring.

cherry blossom

Do you remember the blog I wrote last year about my apple tree that turned out to be a cherry tree? It's blossoming again this year and there's even more than before! Unfortunately a lot of it was on a bough I had to cut off because it was blocking the path to the back door, and it had a tendency to shower passers-by with rain water. But there's still a fair amount of blossom left. Now I just need to find a way of protecting the ripening cherries from birds; I only ate one last year!

And finally, look at this!

molly sanderson - black viola

It's the first true black flower I've ever seen! I've had black tulips and black roses before, and I've always been disappointed when they've actually turned out to be a dark red or purple, not black at all. But this viola (not quite a pansy, not really a violet) is definitely, absolutely black.

molly sanderson - black viola

There's no doubt about its blackness - I love it! The little goth girl inside me couldn't help buying it when I saw it in the garden centre this morning.

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All creatures great and small

12th. Apr, 2009 | 07:49 pm

Several years ago during the summer, as I rushed through the garden on my way to work, my eye fell on a huge, still rat. It was sitting in a shady corner of the garden, not looking very healthy, but definitely still alive. What's the difference between a wild rat and someone's pet? I have no idea so I called the RSPCA. A kindly man eventually turned up with a little cage and a big pair of gloves. He told me that it didn't matter if the rat was wild or not, he would take it to a vet. I realise it probably would have been euthanised rather than treated for whatever was wrong with it (poison?) but it was better than leaving it to die slowly in the hot sun.

With the rat safely scooped up and taken away, I went off to work feeling that I'd done a Good Thing, and my faith in the trustworthiness of the RSPCA blooming. For years I made a point of donating to them as a result of the rat incident.

Many years after that, I was driving home from a friend's house late one night. She and I had spent hours nattering and it was midnight before I began the short trip home. The roads were quiet apart from the occasional boy-racer, and my route took me along a country lane into a small, silent estate. As I rounded a corner past some houses I was confronted by a horse in the middle of the road!

I stopped my car and put my hazard lights on. As I got out and looked around I realised there were actually three horses milling about in the road, with no likely-looking field or stable in sight. They were all wearing soft halters so clearly belonged to someone but I couldn't see anywhere nearby that they could have come from. I led the nearest one out of the main road and into a cul-de-sac; the other two followed. I left them there and walked down the road a little way, looking for somewhere they could have come from. I assumed that a gate had been left open and if I could find it I would be able to get them to safety.

There was nowhere they could have come from. I walked for a long way and saw only gardens. I even got back in my car and drove around a bit, looking for a possible home for them. Even a makeshift home would have done.

It was too late at night to knock on doors and every house was in darkness anyway. Eventually I decided to phone the RSPCA in the hope that they'd be able to do something. They didn't. As long as the horses weren't injured (it was only a matter of time, I explained, given the roads and the boy-racers) then they weren't going to come and help me with them. So I phoned the local police station - deliberately avoiding dialling 999 - and they weren't interested either! Apparently, the police only deal with animals in the road if the RSPCA ask them to. Right. Very logical. What if it was the M6, I wondered.

I'd exhausted the options at this point and the horses seemed happy enough rolling around on someone's front lawn, leaving huge, deep hoofprints all over the place. I led the biggest one, with the others wandering behind, a little deeper into the cul-de-sac so they were less likely to roam back onto the busier main road outside, and I left them there. To this day I feel guilty about leaving them and I still don't know how the story ended. I can only hope that the lack of local newspaper coverage means that none of them were involved in any sort of car collision, but that's all. I still drive past there and wonder where they came from and where they went to.

I stopped donating to the RSPCA after that. It bothered me that a half-dead rat's life was somehow more valuable than three beautiful horses. Who gets to decide that kind of stuff?

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