Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Midsummer Magners

I'm going to start this blog post with the question on everyone's lips:  Where did summer go?  First Freedom Day is snatched from under our feet and now someone's turned the heating off.   

Here's me, getting ready for another Friday night in and planning what to wear for a weekend's outdoor trading with an ever changing forecast ranging from biblical to middling.

Yes, last weekend we were trading at the Mid Summer Mini & VW Bus Meet in our home town.  Naturally, the clouds gathered and the gods of wind got busy.  Mercifully, we had decided on a low key set up, treating the event as more of a PR occasion and deliberately selecting a few key items to add to our display.

People were desperate for human contact and there was a good turnout of campers on Saturday night.  Thankfully the sun made an appearance later in the day to greet them.  Soon, there was the sound of music (not the soprano nun type of music) and eau d'BBQ permeating the air.  Cider was consumed.  It was almost like old times.  Visitors were requested to take a lateral flow test prior to arrival, although, I was disappointed to discover that some elected not to.  This was particularly galling when you consider that some traders were so keen to do the right thing, that they had paid to take the gold star PCR test.  

I have to say I think the entire system is fundamentally flawed.  After getting used to twice weekly tests by virtue of being parents of a school age student, it seems ridiculous to me that to record the results of a test, you simply have to scan the QR code.  This does not provide evidence of a positive or negative result - that bit is down to the honesty of the individual recording it.  Am I alone in thinking that it's likely that there will be a large percentage of people wishing to cram into large events who might be tempted to report a negative test even if they are positive - particularly if they are symptom-free?  Maybe I'm a suspicious so and so, but judging by some of the conversations I overheard at the weekend, I'm genuinely worried at the level of resistance to vaccinations and continuing conspiracy theories.
Anyway, as promised, here are some photos of the classic Minis and VW buses that graced us with their presence.

Mini owners tend to lavish time and attention on their vehicles and the cars are usually in mint condition.  This one has been subject to the same level of care, but we loved the owners' bravery in embracing a slightly more "ratty" look, giving the Mini heaps of character.  We were thrilled to spot one of our logo stickers in the rear window.

This Beatles inspired Mini caught my eye with its Sgt Pepper roof rack.

Here's Hetty's owner huddled beneath the car's blanket in Sunday's Autumnal temperatures.

I have no idea what this is, but it was attracting plenty of attention.

I loved the little tea tray set up inside this Mini van.                        

Mr Bean was Covid compliant.

Spotted - a BMX enthusiast sporting one of our hoodies.

Pretty Minis all in a row.

And finally, my favourites - the seniors, aka VW split screens - living the dream.

Eventually I did get a little distracted by the poppies growing next to the spectator stand (the show's setting was the local Football/Rugby Club).

Incidentally, here's our lone poppy - delivered by the birds no doubt - and springing up in a crack between the stepping stones at the side of our house.

Ultimately the show was a success.  We sold well and my photos were shared by the British Mini Club.

In other news, I have discovered a way to make my morning coffee more exciting - a life hack of sorts.  I have been dairy free for a few years now and Alpro have introduced a new Barista soya milk, said to froth really well.  Sadly I don't have a posh coffee machine (I try to limit my intake of coffee to a couple of cups a day) or one of those little metal whisks/milk frothers (never had a need for one).  However, I purchased this milk out of curiosity and decided to decant some of it into an empty and freshly washed Mentos Gum container.  

A few shakes, which will also keep the Bingo wings at bay and hey presto!  Frothy coffee!  Now all I need is a curiously shaped stencil for the chocolate powder, or am I over-thinking this?

I'm also dipping into this book with a curious title.  

Save the cat?  Lotte needs saving from a life of unbridled luxury.

The one big lesson from the book so far is to nail the logline (or one line pitch for a story).  Here's mine in its current incarnation.  I'm always tinkering with it.  

"Spirited Shropshire lad Eddie, can't believe his luck when he cheats death in WW1 and returns home to live the rural idyll and sets about building his dream roadside garage, but fate has other ideas for Eddie, who is destined to live a big, eventful life in a small, nowhere town and has yet to face his biggest challenge."

What say you?  

Anyway, we're off to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Twenty years today!  There's a bottle of champagne chilling in the fridge courtesy of my father-in-law.  Cider is more Gareth's thing.  Apparently, the traditional gift is china.  We don't usually bother with gifts, but I decided to look it up for once.  We will have to see if we can find something interesting on our travels.

Next week's post might be a little delayed as we're taking some time away.  See you all soon!

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Hot Stuff

I don't need to point out the obvious - the weather over the last few days has been more than favourable shall we say?!  But this heat isn't just confined to the climate.  Our garden has become a veritable hotbed of seediness (get it?) in the past 7 days; wood pigeons, magpies, they're all at it!  Constantly.  Publicly.  Perhaps our most bizarre observation is the squirrels that have transformed our crumbly old tree house-come-woodpile into a love shack.  So to Gareth's relief, the re-organisation of this area will have to wait until the wildlife peepshow is over.  Unfortunately, it's quite disconcerting when you are trying to entertain in the garden to the bird-like squawking of a squirrel's mating call.  They even chase each other around the area in circles, all heady, in lust and oblivious to all around them.  If I only had a couple of Terry and June sun loungers and a Benny Hill soundtrack, we could truly be back in the 70s.

The garden gives and it takes away.

It's giving us great fern coverage this year, although I really should thank the woodland for these.

The Lavatera started small but is now charting a path to world domination.

The foxgloves, although not expected to flower this year, are in bloom and brightening up a dark corner of the garden.  They are just visible behind the church relic we received as a wedding gift.  No idea what it is (I haven't spent much time inside churches during the course of my lifetime), but it's in the photo to remind me not to keep banging my head on it.

In the same area, the wild geraniums have taken over where the spring bulbs left off.  We're happy for them to do so.

Since my last post, we now have two frogs in the pond and damselflies are regular visitors.

The honeysuckle is also growing well, but it's making my makeshift bamboo arch less of an arch and way more lopsided.

I also purchased some succulents from B&Q, as suggested by Vicky (Vintage Vixen: The Distancing Diaries - 13th & 14th June, 2021 (  They were originally intended to edge part of our driveway, but have ended up in a Belfast sink as the slugs have chewed the Cosmos back to ground level.  I think Lavender might be the way forward to edge the gravel drive, as it's poor soil and an area we tend to overlook and the Lavender won't mind too much.

I re-potted the Black Rose Aeonium I purchased after seeing one growing like a Triffid at Arlington Court a couple of years ago.  For the record, the spaceman had been orbiting Earth for some time before touch down.

Aside from the Cosmos, one thing I wish the garden would take is some of the bamboo.  It's certainly going to take up precious time as it's so invasive.  It's also currently covered in a mysterious sticky residue and needs tackling.  That's a job for another week.  Just the thought of it makes my temples throb.

In other news, I have perfected French plaits starting at the top of my head and no longer have to make like a Hindu God to do them.

I took some more macro shots in the garden.  I don't always take pretty pictures.  

The first was a happy accident - a Damselfly making its escape.

This abandoned spider's web, suspended between the metal chains of our windchimes also caught my eye - strength comes in many forms.

I've also completed a Treatment for my screenplay.  Hurray!  But I've missed the deadline for submissions to the BBC Writers' Room, which was apparently in January.  Boo!  I'm having a meeting with the story's mystery benefactor next week and will then start plugging away at it as and when I can.  Nigel, my chiropractor (and now business advisor) suggested I investigate funding options and offered to appear as a "tall, ginger farmer" should something ever come of this, which is very generous of him.  Quite why he wants to be cast as a farmer I didn't ask.

We also have our first show since before the pandemic at the weekend (MINI & VW BUS MEET - British Mini Club) - more of a low key, PR affair for us really and one we're happy to sponsor, as it's in our home town.  But my, how times have changed!  It took a 3 hour meeting with Public Health England to give this show the go ahead.  It's an outdoor show, but as expected, we have to take a lateral flow test (we're both also double jabbed), have hand sanitiser on our stand and even day visitors must pre-book their tickets.  Still, it will give me the perfect opportunity to hopefully get some great shots of some classic VW campers and Minis and to engage with strangers once more - at a safe distance.  Last time I was distracted by a balloon seller, so I'm making no promises.

The weather is also sure to break at the weekend, as whenever we roll out the gazebo, a mini tornado whips up from nowhere.  That said, I could do with catching up on some sleep.  The heat, various TV shows and music have all conspired to keep me awake this week.  Anyone who is watching Time or happened to catch the last episode of Inside No. 9 will know what I'm talking about.  

Randomly, this song has been something of an earworm for me too this week.  I've always loved Stevie Nicks (particularly 1970s/early 80s Fleetwood Mac Stevie) and once won a competition to go to a Q&A session with her at the Curzon Hotel in London, but logistics made it impossible for me to attend.  This is by no means one of her best, was never properly recorded in a studio and never featured on an album, but it's the staple opening track at many of her shows as her hardcore fans go wild for it.  It's a little too country for me, but for some reason was playing on a loop in my head a few nights ago and as a result I was still awake to hear the dawn chorus - the only thing that ultimately managed to dislodge it.  Anyway, I don't see why I should be the only one to suffer the curse.  I dare not watch it again, but if you get nothing else from this, check out those platform boots!  Sleep well.  

Do leave me a comment.  I love reading them and it helps me discover more about you too.  I'm still a relative novice to blogging and hopeless at discovering new blogs unless someone reads, comments and gives me the blogging equivalent of a slap in the face with a wet fish.

Until next time!

Friday, June 11, 2021

Froggy Went a Courtin'

Time for another pond and pondering post I reckon.

Inspired by BBC's Springwatch, I've been hanging out by the pond a little more in the last few days.  In fact, there are times, when I sit for so long, mesmerized by the activity or what is in flower, that I would not blame Gareth if he came and placed a pointy hat on my head and stuck a fishing rod in my hand.  I could be mistaken for a garden gnome.

The pond has delivered on many promises so far.  

1.  Relaxation and Calm

Nothing relaxes me as much as spending time by water.  Admittedly a puddle doesn't quite cut it, but I love the reflective quality of water, sharing it with an abundance of other creatures and feeling its moisture on the breeze.  Check out this gorgeous marginal plant - Lychnis Flos-Cuculi, now in flower, having taken the baton and run from the Marsh Marigold.

2.  Plant Life

Breaking the rules, we did position our pond under a tree (it's hard not to in our garden) and so, for a time, feared that algae and other nasties might take over.  Certainly, for a while, we witnessed very little in the way of wildlife.  We have therefore made sure that we have plenty of oxygenating plants and  have recently added a lily into the mix.  There's nothing to report on this as yet, but in the meantime, you can make do with these fantastic lily pads, captured on the surface of a Black Country canal.

3.  Wildlife

This has perhaps been the most interesting aspect to a wildlife pond.  For some time, we had nothing of note (well nothing visible to the naked eye).  Then a pond skater moved in and seemed very content for a number of weeks - until we spotted a frog.  

Coincidentally (or not) the pond skater vanished.  History then appeared to repeat itself.  The frog was content for a few days and then it too mysteriously vanished.  

With a tiger on the loose, insisting on drinking the pond dry, we feared the worst...

...until 2 days ago, the frog re-appeared!  

Bigger, bolder...

...and more brown than we remembered, it emerged, and this time, left the comfort of its ledge beneath a log and began swimming around in the pond.  Weirdly, a lone pond skater also re-appeared.

As frog folklore would have me believe, frogs completely shed their skin about once a week and then consume the dead skin, so no wonder it's growing!  The photos were captured with my 70-300mm lens, tripod mounted to avoid camera shake, as I had to zoom in from afar.

This little video, showing just how much Froggy is enjoying the pond, was recorded on my iPhone and he didn't seem to mind at all that I was only inches above him.

I did wonder whether this frog was the original, but I'm pretty sure it is.  Whilst it does look darker in colour than when we first spotted him, apparently most amphibians can change colour, albeit to widely varying degrees.

A further mystery I've yet to solve, is the fact that all sources say that frogs and toads have four digits on their forelegs.  Unless I'm mistaken, this one, according to Gareth's pixelated phone shot, only appears to have three.  Further investigation is required.  The gnome will look into it.

In other news, I've been tinkering with old photos again.  This one was an old print of our son as a toddler.  I have restored it and made it black and white.  I so clearly remember that carefree moment on Saunton Sands, which cemented his love of the sea.  It feels like yesterday, but it can't be, because yesterday he left secondary school and now college looms large on the horizon.  In the blink of an eye, we've moved from sharing his innermost thoughts on Thomas the Tank Engine to largely being out of the loop.  So, bittersweet.

Life is definitely a journey full of twists and turns.  One thing I tell him is that the days of committing to one career are long gone.  Work hard, but don't fear change and always prize health and happiness above all else.    

Practicing what I preach, I have this week embarked upon a new chapter of my own; literally and figuratively.  I'm writing a screenplay.  By some quirky twist of fate, I have made the acquaintance of someone whose family story I'm desperate to tell.  Photography was the link and I tracked her down to ask her permission to photograph something very dear to her.  But, through our virtual conversations, a side project occurred to me - a lightbulb moment of sorts.  Our thoughts and aspirations I think are in sync and more importantly, she trusts me.  Large chunks of the story, characters and even snippets of dialogue and complete scenes are almost fully formed in my head.  I have zero expectations, but feel compelled to see this through - particularly after last week's lucky number 7 appeared in cloud formation shortly after I had the idea.  

With June 21st or "Freedom Day" hanging in the balance, something the supremely arrogant Noel Gallagher said in a recent interview struck a chord with me.  He commented that no one with creative leanings will say that they have had a bad lockdown, because most of them live inside their own head.  I can totally relate to this, not because I'm claiming to be some super creative, but I do have stuff (soul feeding stuff) I want to do and quite often feel that there aren't enough hours in the day to do those things because of all the other stuff we have to do.  Does this make sense to anyone else?  I quite often wonder what on earth I was doing with my time in my younger years.

Anyway, that's enough armchair philosophy from me.  I'll leave you with a photo of blooming June.  

What have you been up to?

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Black Country, Fire and Culture

 Ordinarily we would be away somewhere, at least for some of the time, during Whit week.  But we're getting used to normal life being upended, spun in the air and landing somewhere quite different.

With UK accommodation now fully booked, we have been doing more of the same; working, gardening and in my case, exploring familiar territory, but challenging myself to discover something new through my lens.

Sunday was spent with friends at Dudmaston.  Sadly, there was way too much talking going on and not enough absorption of history and culture.  The weather was hot and for once, our picnic wasn't a couple of dog eared sandwiches slung into a ruck sack.  I dug out one of the two picnic baskets we received as wedding gifts and filled the bugger with all sorts of delights, including little cans of G&T.  Okay,  plastic champagne flutes don't really cut it when we really should have used gin goblets, but I think it's a marked improvement on sips of tepid water from a bottle.  Bob and Caroline brought the homemade scones, clotted cream and jam, so a pleasant afternoon was had by all - with little in the way of debate over whether jam or cream should go on first.  Incidentally, has anyone else tried Thunder and Lightning?  Traditionally clotted cream topped with golden syrup on bread, but these days applied to scones?  If you haven't, you really must.  It's delicious.

Another family day out took us to the National Trust's Warwickshire moated manor house, Baddesley Clinton.  Dating back to the 13th century and with its own medieval murder mystery, it's one of our favourites.  

That said, I was so disappointed that the second hand book shop was closed due to continuing Covid restrictions.  It's one of the best!  

The Canadian geese were pretty apathetic though, continuing about their business, navigating a sea of people enjoying picnics in the grounds to reach their grassy rich pickings.

As I said, there's always something new to discover and I was surprised to find that we had previously missed the footpath to the Grade II listed St Michael's Church.  I have always been fascinated with churchyards and had I been alone, I could have easily spent an hour wandering amongst the gravestones, seeking out the oldest inscriptions and photographing their strange angles and lichen covered texture.

Inside, I was more interested in recording evidence of visiting a public space during a pandemic (clearly not the first this building will have witnessed).  Here, the handrails were clad in paper and plastic.

An obligatory shot of a masked visitor.  Moving from room to room was at times painstaking, but made for a more immersive experience as only one household at a time could linger in each room.

I confess, I quickly became distracted by the other more aesthetically pleasing features.  The sheer drapes, leaded windows and shadows they cast were just stunning.

How many stories have been told by candlelight from the comfort of this chair?

And of course, every old house must have armour.  I think it's the law.

The remainder of the week's excursions were principally local; a snatched hour here and there between work, domestic drudgery and gardening.  I received news that my shortlisted photo submission to The Hive's forthcoming Reborn Exhibition had not been successful.  So, onwards...(I would say "and upwards", but it just doesn't work in this context).

One walk took us along the Wordsley to Stourbridge stretch of the Black Country canal network.  We've been so lucky with the weather this week and I love the interplay between light and shade.  Here's an aqueduct over the River Stour, bathed in beautiful sunlight.

Meanwhile, back on the towpath....

The network was teaming with life; animal, mineral, vegetable....teenage.

It's a fact that Elihu Burritt, the American Consul to Birmingham visited the Black Country in 1868 and said “the Black Country, black by day and red by night, cannot be matched for vast and varied production by any other space of equal radius on the surface of the globe”.  We may have lost much of our industry over the years, but Thursday night's sunset delivered something comparable to how the furnaces would once have illuminated the region's night skies.

I'm slightly obsessed with cloud formations.  Yesterday's walk took us through a farmer's field, passing under a particularly weighty display.

The Birds

So to this weekend's news. 

1.  I finally had a successful charity shop expedition, scoring a vintage 100% silk fitted blouse from Hong Kong, a Boden Breton top, a black Broidery Anglaise top, a vintage Jaeger black floral blouse and a 1980s (?) printed and lightly padded anorak, complete with shoulder pads.  The label is Compris by M Team, it's really not my style - other than I quite like the colour turquoise - but it spoke to me, so I bought it.  

2.  I saw a lucky number 7 in the clouds.

3.  When the sun shines, June is officially my favourite month.  Here's a short video I took on our daily walk, around 10 minutes from our house.  Just listen to those birds.

4.  Finally, yards from the spot featured in the video, was this cool Fiat 126 with Na Zadrowie emblazened across its rear window, which I believe roughly translates as "Cheers!"  

I will later get around to catching up on Instagram and blog posts, but for now, enjoy the rest of your weekend!

North Country Girl

Life moves at pace...but not in Ireland.  After a lengthy hiatus, I'm very relieved to report that the Emerald Isle hasn't changed t...