Sunday, February 2, 2020


Couldn't not have a post today, with a date like that.

Despite it being 35°C, 80% humidity and a splendid thunderstorm last night and probably another tonight.

South Africa 0 - England 1 on that score as our Farmer Friend Host assured us that although it looked like it would rain, it wouldn't, as the wind was from the south, and it never rains on the farm when the wind is from the south, whereas we said we were English and we knew storm clouds when we saw them.

As of Friday we are back on 'load shedding' here again. Quite why they need power cuts due to an overloaded grid in the early hours of a morning, or on a Sunday is beyond me. We keep hearing snarky references to, "Well, that's Eskom for you!" on chat programmes on the car radio, so we assume that games are being played by the national energy supplier. At least this time there is an app/webpage that provides some sort of timetable, so one can (attempt to) plan one's electricity usage around it. Anyone would think this is a third world country...

Posted at 12:54 PM | Comments (5)

Thursday, January 30, 2020

SA 2020 Stop 2

After a hectic 6 days and 5 nights in Noordhoek, just down from Cape Town (local produce and food markets, wine-tasting, visiting gardens, seeing people drive over cliffs, and inhaling far too much welt-fire), we headed east and up a bit, to our next destination, also somewhere we have stayed before, so regular readers may recognise the views from the farm.

The journey is a little over 300 miles, and should have taken around 5 hours, but took 8, due to the never-ending road works this country engages in. I am convinced they are job creation schemes.

We stopped briefly to buy farm-grown fruit and veg at the PumpkinStall outside Worcester (pronounced with a ‘v’ not a ‘w’):

We were amazed that a year on (or maybe it’s 2 years on), there is still little progress on the replacement bridge at Robertson:

We stopped briefly again at Montagu to pick up our annual dried fruit import:

And then we were stopped again by a policeman standing dangerously in the middle of the road waving his arms, who informed me that he was doing a, “Random vehicle inspection madam, please, driving licences!”

I was initially in two minds whether to stop, as there was nowhere safe to so do, and he might have been a carjacker. I did stop, largely because Mr BW was shouting at me to so do, and there were several police vehicles on the side of the road (taking up all the safe space to pull in). As Mr BW got out to get the requested documents from the boot of the car, a township minibus (locals’ transport) nearly ran up the back of the car, and, had the policeman not stood up rapidly from where we was bending over to peer in the car window, would also have removed his posterior.

I refrained from saying, “It’s not me who you should be stopping mate, it’s your bloody countrymen who drive like maniacs - probably because they are as high as kites!” In the UK, without doubt, one of the other police vehicles would have given chase to the miscreant, but they were more interested in scanning the car’s tax disc and trying to work out our pink and green paper driving licences. Undoubtedly they’d never seen the like before.

“All is in order, you may proceed!” said nearly-cut-in-half officer. I doubt he intended to stop a hire car, particularly one containing foreigners, and he seemed most disappointed that all was in order.

On the subject of locals, the rebuilding of corrugated metal shanty towns is continuing apace. This settlement has been replaced since last year. What is amusing is that where there is even a tiny garden beside the new rendered brick building, a metal shack is put up in it. We can’t decide whether this is extra accommodation for relatives newly arrived from upstate, looking for work, or whether it is for old time’s sake:

When we arrived at our destination, a seed and ostrich farm in the middle of nowhere, having driven the 5 miles down a dirt road, we were met by a foreboding new electronic gate (the previous gate remains on the LHS, padlocked up).

Our farmer friend had emailed us the code, but it didn’t work. Mr BW tried it lots of different ways, then tried to phone for help (there not being a button to summon assistance), but there was no mobile signal. I tried to get the gate to open by squeezing through a gap and acting like a car (we knew it auto-opened on exit), but failed. Just as we were deciding whether to walk the half mile (in 35°C) to the farmhouse, or to drive back down to the main road to try to find a mobile signal, a worker on an old moped appeared in a puff of dust. “Must fast!” he repeated, several times. Eventually we realised that the number had to be tapped in very quickly, and the gate then magically opened.

This view you have seen before:

And while we had bats in the original farmsteading here that we stayed in the first year we came here, we hadn’t had bats in the old schoolroom, where we’ve stayed ever since. Bats at dawn (rather than dusk), in fact:

We love wending our way through the countryside, picking up locally made or produced foodstuffs for our meals. Here we have lunch of local sweetcorn, olives, 100% rye bread, curried peach chutney, gouda with wild garlic leaves, and beer:

It’s definitely too hot to be trying to work on a complicated crochet pattern. I needed something light in weight to bring to occupy me while Mr BW reads his 13 books, and had only this home-spun fibre to hand, and, being rather special, it needed a delicate pattern. Here I have (I think?) already done one increase too many too quickly (and I haven’t had a drop of wine or beer since yesterday!):

Definitely not a pattern to be done when anything other than completely sober… meaning that I shall either (a) drink less than normal in SA, or (b) not get this item finished. Hmmm, I wonder which it will be?

We have a few more days here in the silent, dark-skied, arid semi-desert, before we head further east and down a bit to the Port Elizabeth area. We’ve not been anywhere we’re visiting from here on, or ventured so far across or up.

Mr BW has a date with some of Mi1dred’s sisters that he met on the internet (I get to go too, oh joy), and we’re also hoping to get to the elephant park (one of the SA Nature Park reserves through which you can self-drive).


Monday, January 27, 2020

Foreign objets

One of the most exciting things for a collector of objets is to find a cheap source of original and hard-to-fine pieces.

South Africa is one such place. It has a huge stash of objets brought out by European settlers, and now, as the generations who understood the value of objets die off, they (the objets, not the dead people) find their way into junk shops and onto country market stalls.

It is also considerably cheaper than most of the UK places left. 'Vintage' has a lot to answer for.

I rescued this specimen from a market in Franschhoek at the weekend, for less than a fiver:

The photo is a bit indistinct, but it is a wooden type size gauge, about 16" long. Complete with two previous owner's names, scratched on. The best type of social history.

I have seen one before, in a local museum in the UK, but I can't find any similar items currently online, but maybe that is because Googling from SA isn't bringing up the best results.

The stallholder I bought it from told me that she had intended to use it as part of an altered art piece. How I hate 'altered art'. I'm having a museum room in the new house. Originally it was going to be the smallest bedroom (which is still quite large), but now, given our extension plans, I think it might be able to be the whole of the upstairs. Don't tell Mr BW, will you?


Sunday, January 26, 2020

Sunday sunshone

Yesterday Mr BW discovered where this, used in the last film, hides out these days, along with many other similar, including Mi1dred's older sister (who may not currently feature on the Register of Surviving Mi1dreds, but will once Mr BW gets home), about 300 rusty restoration projects - pot metal from around the world, a retired aeroplane, and several million pounds worth of other vehicles. All visible from the N1 - we usually see them as we rush to the airport from up-country on our last afternoon - and track-down-able if one follows one's nose.

Another market today: I loved the giraffe plate, but we had gone to pick up a pre- order of white tiles (some pictorial, in a similar style, some plain) to make a table-top, so the extra weight would probably not have worked. Next year...

The acre-big garden of the place we always stay for the first few days, in Noordhoek, was ravaged by the drought of the past 4 years, but is now back to its prior splendour, after the winter rains. This apricot brugmansia tree (ours at home only ever get to about 4 - 6 spindly feet, are in pots, and don't always survive the winter, even in a heated greenhouse) has never been in flower when we have been here before:

With the mid-afternoon sun streaming through its trumpets:

I've not seen this before, but I'm told that it is of the bromeliad family:

But I need to know which type, and where in the UK I can get one.

While I've been enjoying looking at my photos from the past couple of days and putting a few up here, I've managed to turn a rather lovely bottle of sauv blanc into slush puppy. The freezer is rather too efficent. Actually, despite my fears, it's rather good. Cheers!

I've just added a gratuitous picture of Hout Bay (not far south of Cape Town), and another view from the coast road, because, having just looked remotely at how little electricity the solar panels have made again today, it must be pretty awful weather at home, so I thought a bright picture ot two might warm you up.


Friday, January 24, 2020

We just can't stay away...

Favourite landing:

We got elly plates on the hire car again. 2 times out of 8 ain't bad. It doesn't take much to make me happy.

The view of the Beach from the Peak was sparkling:

Kirstenbosch on a Friday was magic.

We arrived by chance at the right time and were able to do the free 2 hour guided tour, with a fantastic older lady volunteer guide who was incredibly knowledgeable, and very energetic! She assured me that she hadn't been a professional botanist, but she was far too informed to not have been connected to horticulture in some way. We learned things and saw parts of the garden we'd never seen before.

The proteas are still my favourites though:

Or maybe the navy agapanthus:

I'm thinking that this stylised protea might make a good patchwork design:

One major change we've already noticed this year - solar panels seem to finally be The Thing. We've never understood why, in a country with so much sun, in recent years they have been burning diesel to make electricity. The radio informed us that this is "owner generated power" and has lessened the need for loadshedding (rolling power cuts in times of high energy requirement). This bank over the shade parking in a vineyard. They do, however, appear to be the first generation panels that are no longer widely fitted in Europe...

I remarked to a local that the powers that be seem to have solved the water problem in the Cape Area. "Oh, no," came the reply, "we've just had a really rainy winter." It's great to see the greenery green and the flowers flowering again, after the past couple of years of aridity.

I have a terrible cold that came out on the plane (the first of the winter) and is using half a box of tissues a day. Not the best thing when attempting to taste and buy wine from the vineyards for the rest of our month out here, and the 16 bottles to take home. It's mid to high 20s C and sunny, wiith a light breeze though, so hopefully that, and lots of vitamin C from fresh fruit will soon see me better. That, and observing our solar panels at home (via the web interface), which today managed to make the total - unimpressive - amount of 0.4kWh. Almost the worst ever daily yield. Being away from that climate definitely improves things.

We're travelling further afield this year, and will eventually be departing via Johannesburg, rather than doing our usual circular trip in and out of Cape Town. We're staying, as ever, in non-touristy spots, often on farms in out-of-the-way places. No idea what the internet coverage will be like off the tourist trail, but, watch this space as I'll post when I can.


Monday, January 20, 2020

It's a sign I tell you

Mr BW tells me that he heard on the radio that we currently have the highest pressure since 1958.

I'd agree with that.

Packing to go on holiday, and then to move northwards shortly thereafter, at the same time, is not easy.

Perhaps I need a nice sit down on our nice new cushion, made by me from tiny scraps of material discarded by my Patchy Ladies, with a background of cheapy material, dyed by me in various shades of green, on our nice new bench, carved by Mr BW from oak (the cast ironwork ends were salvaged from an old bench purchased in a junk shop for not very much):

It is currently residing in the polytunnel.

"Aren't you clever!" remarked one of the Patchy Ladies, on seeing the finished items, "Mirroring the angles of the letter carving on the bench and the swirls of the carved ribbon in your cushion design?" "Oh yes!" I thought, after the event. Subconscious design if ever there was such a thing.

It's a nice date today, isn't it?


Saturday, January 4, 2020

Time passages

Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight.

Ooops, oh dear, the title triggered a burst of Al Stewart, rather than what I was about to say.

On 1st January I was 30,000,000 minutes, or 500,000 hours old. I forgot, despite someone posting about it quite recently, and me leaving the tab open in my browser to remind me. On 15th June I will be 3,000 weeks old. Perhaps one of you would remind me, as these dates are quite rare.

Also on 1st January, while escorting Mi1dred on her NYD run, I found that the youngsters in the local police control centre are now unable to produce grammatically correct road signage on the digital display boards on main roads. "Happy New Year, Drive Safe!" they proclaimed. I sighed and wondered which year had been Peak Grammar. What have they got against the letters 'l' and 'y' I pondered?

On 2nd January, while cleaning out the tin and spice cupboard, I discovered that the best before dates on tins and jars are now so small that I struggle to read them, I got a fat black permanent marker and wrote the dates on the ends and sides of each can. In future I shall do this each time I put new tins in the cupboard. I am sure that best before dates are becoming shorter.

Also on 2nd January I realised, while looking at my passport, that in 2 years time I will get a bluey again. I delightedly relayed this information to Mr BW, but, as I spoke, I realised that there would be another cost to this than the pure financial. "I can have a bluey, but I also get an old person's photo..." Mr BW made the socially correct (or maybe, maritally correct) comment, but left it 10 seconds too late to so do.

On 3rd January I had an epiphany about why people waste so much food, wear clothing items so few times, and drive so badly. I shall whitter on about that another time. If I remember.

On 4th January - that is, today - BW is 17 years old. 17 years. Good grief. How did that happen?!


Tuesday, December 31, 2019


As the sun sets on another year, another decade, many people are reflecting on where they are and where they would like to be.

I was in bed the other morning, looking out of the window at the birdfeeder, which is just a couple of feet from the window, when I saw a sight that delighted but concerned me.

Woodpeckers are very partial to bees. But, they don't like other woodpeckers, so we drawing pin old or used CDs and DVDs to the outside of our hives, in an effort to dissuade the woodies from their quests by tricking them into thinking their reflection is a competitor.

I got to thinking about woodpeckers, and how I frequently feel like one... banging my head against a wall, trying to fight off 'progress' which I do not perceive as for the long-term best of the area, the environment, or, sometimes, humankind.

Just occasionally though, there are some sparks of hope that past efforts have not all been in vain.

I read yesterday in the free newspaper of a town in a neighbouring county that they are to create nearly a thousand new places for children with special needs, because the purse-string-controlling Powers That Be have decided that those needs cannot be met within mainstream schools. Not that they weren't told this more than 20 years ago by those of us working in this area at the time when They were determined to close much of the excellent special provision in the interests of 'integration'. As a result, the happiness and future lives of many children (and their familes) have been damaged. Let's hope that this new practice spreads more widely, as the education of all children will be enhanced as a result: and there is no need for segregation, just sensible co-located provision for differing needs. I'm sure that many mainstream teachers will also breathe a sigh of relief that they no longer have to try to teach the unteachable.

Over the FOTCR™ season, Freeview in many parts of England has been affected by 'high pressure'. I've noticed that the barometer has spent much of its time recently around where it would be if we had either snow or frost in winter or very hot weather in summer. It's been too warm for snow, but it's been damp, with only odd bursts of sunshine, so very peculiar. In his pre-early-retirement life, Mr BW was, at one time, heavily involved in the technology behind digital TV. The company he worked for advised those setting up the digital system that their required specification would prove to be too low powered, in the longer term. Despite the engineers' protestations, the purse-string-holding Powers That Be knew best. It looks like they were wrong too. It doesn't hlep those of us who have had fluctuating TV for the past few days though.

As I often say, all you have to do is wait.

So, what did we do over the FOTCR™?

Well Mr BW made me a wooden table, about the height of a chair seat, out of a nicely seasoned plank of ash, bought from the wood fair at a local National Trust property. It has two 50cm circles of tempered glass, top and bottom, with the top one being removable.

Sandwiched between them now is my collection of old cotton reels, which have been given to me, over time, by those of my aquaintance who want their cherished threads to live on after they have gone. They know I appreciate such simple things.

I had a lovely time on the afternoon of the 25th, arranging all the reels, and imagining their past lives. The Sylko threads have such fitting names. My favourites are 'elephant' and 'dark elephant', which are exactly the colours you'd think they'd be.

Amongst my collection I found some half-size Sylko reels, including one called 'khaki'. I'd never noticed this size before. The khaki reel had many 6" short lenghts of thread wound back around the reel, and I wondered whether it had belonged to a soldier who had thriftily kept all the leftover ends, just in case.

For those of you contemplating a 'digital detox' for the new year, I'd highly recommend the book below. One of the few books I've read that has real insight into the problems of our age, and how it doesn't have to be like that. There is a gem on almost every page.

I'm glad that I never fell into the social media trap. I'm the last person I know who only has a non-smart phone. I'm also the only person I know who can happily spend an afternoon playing with old cotton reels.

But, I'm a Simple Witch and I prefer to make my own entertainment than to have it made for me.

Wishing you all the best for the next decade: may it be as simple or as complicated as you wish.


Thursday, December 26, 2019

Sunny and mild and light

Yesterday morning, I looked through the kitchen window (slightly misted up from boiling potatoes prior to roasting, and what did I see?

A white cat, in a pot, behind a clump of Midwinter Fire Cornus:

Just after this she sat down, clearly sunbathing, with her head on the surrounding metal plant support. The height of laziness. Mr BW dashed outside to capture this moment, and managed admirably, but a white cat, however cute, who has been nosing about in a pile of fire ash is not a good look, and I can't be bothered to photoshop the picture.

Later, in another room, after dark:

I am forever grateful that we don't have anyone but ourselves to worry about on the FOTCR™, so we can please ourselves, rather than try (in vain, judging by reported experiences) to keep others happy. However, I think I am now completely vaccinated/desensitised about the festive annoyances, and nearly cured of any need to complain about them.

Which allows me to start on another pet peeve. The abuse of the adjective "super".

If you think something is "super cool" or "super cute" or if you are "super happy" please do not do not say it in my presence.

A most interesting piece on the subject here... and yes, it's another nasty creeping Americanism.

Posted at 10:00 AM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Happy Festivities to you all

This was taken back in November in Northumberland (our 18th visit over the past 15 years to the same place) in the grounds of our favourite National Trust property.

While preparing this image, I noticed that its number was 01919. Seemed appropriate.

My festive message?

"We need to be working with this incredible world, not against it. Live lightly, take less - and give more - than your share. Take time to stop and stare and think. Think for yourself and question everything: challenge things that do not make sense, and don't ever give up the challenging and questioning."

What is yours?


Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Past times

Yesterday, at 9pm, 27 years ago, Mr BW & I met for the first time.
And the rest is history, as they say.
It's strange to think that although we seem to have been together forever, this time still isn't half my life, and indeed won't be until 2022. Hopefully that will be a year of celebration, with lots of zero year events.

There are some great 'Review of 2019' programmes on TV at present. 8 so far, on topics ranging from science, to film, media, the collapse of Thomas Cook, Brexit, obituaries, royals, and the fishing indistry, but they are on at varying times, so set your recording technology, or watch on iPlayer.

I've not felt like writing much on here of late.

It's not that things haven't been happening - they have - but, for us, it's been an odd year, involving lots of deaths or deteriorations in health amongst those close to us, and continually fighting off unwanted development on all fronts, including from the air. No sooner has one been turned down, than another one appears. Seems like the very worst of London comes to the area around us, courtesy of the green belt not being able to be built on, so development skipping over it and out to where we are. No facilities, roads already gridlocked at almost every hour, outside the development zone, in open countryside... but, the holy dollar pound rules, and if a developer can afford to pay (or pay off) the right professionals, and commission the right reports, they get their unjust rewards. We have plans to deal with this encroachment, because constantly fighting, and constantly waiting for the next attack, is not good for anyone, and spells aren't proving effective enough (although one can always hope that karma will be, if one waits long enough), but, for now, and in order not to jinx them, those plans must remain firmly under wraps.

The past cannot disappoint the way the future always can... and nostalgia has a lot to recommend it at such times.

Last night on TV, a look back to the festive TV of 1979. 40 years ago, and I spent the time crawling around on hands and knees as a few days before I had fallen from the top to the bottom of the stairs in Rickmansworth tube station, necessitating a trip in an ambulance to Mount Vernon Hospital. By the time I got to the hospital, my ankles were four times their normal size. "Are my ankles broken?" I asked the A&E doctor as he squinted at the x-rays as I breahted gas and air. "No, I don't think so, but you might wish they were, as this sort of injury will take much longer to heal, and be much more painful." He wasn't wrong. Thinking about it still makes me shudder now, 40 years on.

If you like cats... here are some cat nativity photos, although a couple look distinctly photoshopped to me.

And finally, for those who haven't yet discovered the joys of roast cauliflower (which we hadn't until last week), can I recommend it to you?

Basically, take a whole cauli, remove any leaves, cut it all the way across into as thin slices as you can manage (the thinner the better), then place these slices, and any bits that have fallen off, in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Rub on a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle over some flavourings of your choice (eg select from salt, pepper, ground chilli, citrus zest, curry powder (or cumin and coriander), smoked paprika, chopped rosemary etc etc - about a teaspoon in total) then roast in a really hot oven for about 30 - 40 minutes, turning a couple of times, until it is all really golden and crispy.

For added calories scrumptiousness, you can sprinkle over some finely grated cheese (cheddar, parmesan, or whatever you have) half way through (but then don't tun it further).

Eat as a snack, hors d'oeuvre, or as a side dish. Delicious.

I think it would work with brocolli too (although I haven't actually tried it yet), and I have a friend who always roasts sprouts (whole)... although I like them too much boiled to do that to them.


Sunday, December 22, 2019

Happy Solstice

It is no secret that I hate this time of year.

That is, hate in its entirety: weather, lack of light, lying to children, consumeristic excess, over-indulgence, drinking and driving etc etc.

I blame my mother entirely for my hatred of December, in that my emergence into this world was during the worst winter since 1895. However, as she died in September, and one shouldn't speak ill of the dead, even her, I'll just say that being cold during my early life must have led to my present hatred of all things Decemberly cold and wet and crowded.

The winter solstice is the moment in time when the Earth's tilt away from the Sun is at its maximum and the Sun's maximum elevation in the sky is at its lowest. In the Northern Hemisphere the day of the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year (the day with the least daylight and the longest night) and occurs every year between December 20 and December 23.

This year it's today.

So: Happy Solstice, Happy Yule!
The small village hall where I meet bi-weekly with the Patchy Ladies has a caretaker who is lovely, but struggles with literacy.

By the kitchen taps is a printed and laminated notice that reads, "Please turn of tap's tight."

This is his latest offering. Santa bog rolls and a laugh.

For the visually challenged, like me, here is a close-up of the wording:

We've decided to start the FOTCR™ early here at The Coven.

I've already made fresh cranberry sauce (although cranberries seem to be in short supply this year), and the first FOTCR™ dinner is shortly to be consumed. With veg at 15p in Lidl's and 19p in Aldi's it's daft not to. All shopping is done and we'll not be venturing to any shops until the New Year now.

In the past I have bought us a Yarg. But, after several episodes of late delivery and subsequent appalling customer service, I decided that this year I wouldn't bother.

However, I failed to inform MrBW of this, and he decided that his Mum would provide the goodies. But two rather than one.

Once again they failed to deliver on time - delivery was requested for 19th, but they didn't even dispatch until that day, resulting in us not being in when deivery was attempted, and then having the choice of a 28 mile round trip to collect from the courier's depot, or risking the two rounds of cheese spending the weekend in a less-that-ideal environment. We chose the former.

Yum. One eigth's gone already.

But, we also went to RHS Hyde Hall on the way home. The cornus (dogwood) in the new-ish Winter Garden, and the silver birches, were a delight:

Happy Yule, whatever you are doing.


Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Final Thoughts

A quick 'who should I vote for?' site is here.

How to spoil your voting paper properly is here.

Other than the obvious 'none of the above' (which apparently, according to a polling organisation commenting on R4 yesterday, applies to at least one in eight of us), there are many good reasons to spoil your ballot paper or vote for the Party least likely to win in your area: a key one is that the subsequent complaints that it is 'rigging' the vote will be perfect for driving necessary electoral reform.

How much this (and other recent) elections have cost is here.

And won't we all be glad when it's all over on Friday?


Friday, December 6, 2019

I need to know...

... is it illegal to tear up your ballot paper and post the tiny bits in the ballot box?

There is, as in previous elections, a 'which Party should I vote for' online tool.

It seems more complex than in the past, and takes significantly longer: 30 minutes if you pick all the 16 issue areas, and even longer if you don't click any 'maybe' boxes, as you then have to go back through that bit again, to pick your 'least worst set of lies' option.

Anyway, having invested more than half an hour of the life I have left, I still was none the wiser:

Interestingly, once you have your results, you can click to see what others in your constituency, and in your country as a whole, are finding. I really, really, really hope that what it says for our constituency happens. The smug arrogant uncaring uninterested lazy central-career-driven unrepresentative-of-the-local demongraphic doesn't-even-live-in-the-constituency has-more-than-replacement-number-of-kids item we had foisted on us when our previous excellent moderate long-serving MP retired at the last election deserves to be un-seated.

I continue to say that Brexit will never happen - even without John Bercow (who I consider is the central reason that it hasn't already happened and is the most responsible for the current undemocratic position we are in). So... one should vote for the Party that has the most other policies that accord with one's views.

Which brings me back to the question I started with.

Anyone else having the same dilemma?


Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Everything I know I learned from a book

One of my most successful campaigns this year has been to enthuse people to complain about our Tory County Council's plans to close one third of public libraries, and to staff the remaining ones mostly with volunteers.
At the beginning of 'austerity' County Councillors cut all library opening hours, and, in many areas, stopped evening and weekend opening altogether, although no libraries were actually closed.

But, these total closure announcements were made just after the (joke of a) consultation on cuts to mobile library services that serve the more rural areas - including where we are - had finished, and the plan to take half the vans off the roads had been rubber stamped, with no notice whatsoever being taken of public input to the consultation.

If you follow this type of process in your own area, I'm sure the joke of public consultation will be only too sadly familiar to you.

I wasn't involved in the 'official' campaign to stop the closures (these days I don't have the physical stamina to protest in person, or to personally spearhead or coordinate action), but I did load the bullets for many others to fire (young mums - it helps to have several social-media-active friends with very young children or grandchildren; older people's groups - it helps to know lots of crafty ladies who are often retired teachers, and still have a lot of contacts; national librarians groups - it helps to have a friend whose daughter is a dedicated and passionate children's librarian in another part of the country).

Many individually written submissions put in were directly elicited by people encouraged/cajoled/bullied by me. Individual submissions are always much stronger than signatures on petitions or responses to (often biased) consultation 'questionnaires'. And I have a suspicion that the phrase quoted in the early stage link, "an act of cultural vandalism" was originally one of mine (although I undoubtedly pinched it from elsewhere, back in the mists of time).

My early childhood was made bearable by the opportunity to escape into books, mostly borrowed from a lovely musty tiny public library in an old house with polished parquet floors and creaky stairs, and I believe passionately that electronic gadgets are a very very poor substitute to the tactile and olfactory experience of a real paper-paged book.

I heard on R4's Today programme this morning the shocking statistic that 380,000 children in this country do not own a book, and one in 8 schools no longer has a library. I would put money on most of those 380,000 children living in a home which has a smartphone though, and I know of several schools locally where the library has had to be turned into a classroom because new housing development in the area has not been underpinned with infrastructure.

The current Children's Laureate, Cressida Cowell, is trying to raise awareness and support the profile of those groups working to get books into chidren's lives.

Regular readers will know that we have travelled extensively, over many years now, in South Africa. In this time we have constantly been awed by the esteem in which libraries are held, and the frequency with which they are used, particularly by Township Communities. They still understand the importance of libraries as a route to education, and a better life. In many remote areas, the library is an important, prominent, and often architecturally beautiful, building in the centre of a small settlement. This is just not the case in the UK now. Stop a stranger in an unfamiliar-to-you town and ask where the library is, and you are most often met by a bemused unknowing stare.

I don't think that the history of libraries, and of public libraries in the UK is well understood, these days. If we lose the knowledge of an institution's history, and an understanding of what it can do and be, then, eventually we lose the institution.

If you're still into the practice of buying gifts at the FOTCR™, please consider buying books, particularly if the gifts are for children.

What has happened to libraries in your area?
Do you still use your local library?

Posted at 10:21 AM | Comments (6)

Friday, November 29, 2019

A Cautionary Note

This tip brought to you by a textile friend whose son works in cyber security.

I'd not heard it before, so am passing it on...

Fun as it may be to lead on all those nuisance callers: real or machine, do not say anything (at all) to them.

Just hang up.

With an increasing number of organisations using voice recogntion technology (including HMRC and banks), fraudsters are now targeting spam calls to known people at known addresses on known telephone numbers to get a speech sample.

I'm told that very little speech is actually needed to allow the fraudsters to digitally replicate your unique voice patterns, and then use these to hack into anything that now requires voice recogntion security.

Scary stuff: and there goes one of my favourite pastimes...


Thursday, November 28, 2019

Thought for the day

"Common sense and a sense of humour are the same thing, moving at different speeds."

- Clive James


Thursday, November 21, 2019

Explanation, please

Many years ago (probably around 20 now) when life was good in the business world, profits boomed, and big bonuses were frequent sightings, we purchased a Tempur adjustable bed with one such windfall. A 6 foot bed, made up of two separate 3 foot beds with memory foam mattresses, joined together at the top and bottom of the bases, with rising head and feet, storage underneath, and adjustable firmness.

It has turned out to be one of our best ever purchases.

And yes, I'll happily accept that while it may appear that we were old before our time, it is amazingly comfortable, and has prevented my many aches and pains being much worse than they are.

A couple of weeks ago, there was a clunk and a sudden drooping as I got out of bed with the head raised at 70 degrees. "What am I going to do now?" I wailed. "I can't cope with getting in and out of bed without bits being up and down!" "Let me look, I'm sure it can be fixed," reassured Mr BW. Fortunately for me and the many 'accidents' that somehow randomly occur to me, Mr BW can fix most things.

He pulled up the mattress and looked. He sucked his teeth in what is usually a 'workman about to impart large estimate' mode (well, from what other people say, I assume that's what happens as we don't often need the services of workmen, given Mr BW's skill set). "Hmmm. It's the metal strut, it's sheered right off. Could be tricky... I'll investigate and think further in the morning." I was waiting for him to say, "But never mind, you can have my side of the bed for the time being!" but sadly he didn't, so I had to make do with using several cushions to prop myself up, just like most people do.

I was worried. "If you can't fix it, we can buy a new one, can't we... this one is about 20 after all...?"

The following morning I turned on my little netbook, which had been by the side of the bed when it broke. I clicked onto a recipe page. Up popped an advert for... yes, you've guessed, adjustable beds.

Now, given that:

- I have never Googled 'adjustable beds',
- I have never before been served an advert for adjustable beds,
- adjustable beds have nothing at all to do with recipes,
- I hadn't had the netbook open since before the bed broke,

How did that advert pop up?

A similar thing happened just a few days later. I'd misplaced my Fiskars orange-handled embroidery scissors. My sharpest pair. I turned the Studio upside down looking for them, but failed to locate them. The netbook was in the same room. When next I turned it on, I was immediately served a pop-up for the identical scissors.

How did that happen?

I always cover over any webcam on any computer with paper and then with thick black tape.

Is there a microphone in the netbook that is constantly listening? It is nearly 4 years old, and has no VRS and no whizzy software. We won't have Alexa or Echo or any similar gadgets in the house, due to privacy and security concerns.

If there is such a microphone, how can it be permanently turned off? I don't use it for anything else.

George Orwell's ideas about Big Brother are as nothing compared to the apparent powers of the internet these days.


Sunday, November 17, 2019

Thought for the day

"The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to unerstand the meaning of life."

- Rabindranath Tagore


Wednesday, November 6, 2019

You're FIREd

And not an Alan Sugar or delusional picked-for-TV-entertainment wannabee oddball in their early 20s in sight.

It occurred to me this afternoon, as I was listening to a Money Box programme on R4 about retiring early, and what you have to do to achieve it, that there are at least 7 other people listed in my (hugely out of date but unalterable due to 'old code' impossible to update issues) sidebar who have also retired early. Most of them (sadly) left blogland long ago.

It was an interesting programme, although I admit to having shouted at the radio several times during it.

It's not that difficult, really.

Although... two years ago we were raking in around £300 a month in interest on (17 different) current accounts and 7 regular savings accounts, which is down to less than £100 a month now. Thank you banks. With CPI currently runing at 1.7%, and such offers dying on a near-daily basis, I am dubious about the future possibilities, unless you are in a hugely well paid job (which we weren't), and are comfortable taking huge risks with stock markets (which we're not).

I don't actually like the 'FIRE' acronym, or what its extreme proponents push (plenty of them available on a Google search, but, none I could actually recomment as I don't read them, or indeed believe in - most of - what they preach).

I'm actually uncomfortable being part of that 'movement' actually: I am sure that there are a lot of people who are retiring early who will run out of money before they run out of life, and will then need the rest of us to prop them up, and I don't think that is right.

I already know of several people who are stilll working, but taking money out of their pensions at 55 and 'blowing it', because they believe that The State Will Always Provide for those who haven't been prudent. Not sure what the answer is, but I am sure that it will become an increasing problem.

This, together with the huge complexities of the pension market that I alluded to last week, leave me hugely uncomfortable that those who aren't financially savvy, and can't do their own calculations, or live within their means, are very vulnerable to schemes and scheming individuals. My advice, as ever, remains: if it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is.


Thursday, October 31, 2019

Flying tonight

*cackles evilly*Halloween at The Coven

Last seen in 2004.


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Happy Birthday Mr BW!

Four and a half years after officially 'retiring', Mr BW can finally get his mitts on his retirement funds (with thanks to Golden Brown for delaying the process we'd always planned and saved for by 5 years). Despite working for the same company for the better part of 34 years, his funds are were in lots of different pots (several sales of the company, changes of pension providers and pension types, extra bits in AVCs and contracted out bits). Complexity.

All I will say about the process of sorting it all out is, it's next in the queue for companies to move in to fleece people who aren't good with figures and finance. Even the nice pot of final salary had 8 different options. Yes, 8! And the nice fat birthday present isn't in the bank today. Grrrr (but, realistically, we weren't really expecting it today).

I was absolutely determined that our savings pots weren't going to reduce in that four and a half years, and, despite all the banks continually cutting interest rates, and rates paid on current accounts if one meets their strict conditions, I have managed it.

It's amazing how little you can live on if you: practice 'repair, reuse, repurpose, recycle', don't engage in consumerism, don't eat or drink out, grow your own food, cook from scratch, make your own entertainment (by having creative interests and hobbies), generate much of your own electricity, can mend practically anything that breaks or goes wrong, don't need the latest gadgets or garments, and ensure you always get the best price for everything, particularly insurance and utilities. Mr BW has been giving talks to groups and running 'experience days' on subjects he loves, and this, together with h0ney sales, has nicely topped up the income from my pension. Actually, we've even managed to add to our savings, and we haven't gone without anything that we wanted. It can be done (but probably not if you have kids, have got divorced, moved lots, or haven't paid off the mortgage early).


Anyway, all my love and have a lovely day Mr BW xxxx
(and, as a special treat, you can have a day off from the spreadsheets... and we can have something other than blue string pudding and soup for lunch)

(pictures and prehistoric font size and colour use recycled from my post of 29.10.2003)


Monday, October 28, 2019

A thought...

...on bulldozers and ditches.

I can see a great plan here... not to bury the Deal, but to bury the current incumbent by using one of his previous lies to achieve another. Hmmm, tempting.

I'm still predicting 'we're not leaving'.


Friday, October 25, 2019

Thought for the day

"British journalists have become part of Johnson’s fake news machine

It’s chilling. From the Mail, The Times to the BBC and ITN, everyone is peddling Downing Street’s lies and smears. They’re turning their readers into dupes."

- Peter Oborne

I am increasingly concerned about the state of news reporting - particularly political media reporting - in the UK.

Fortunately, Mr BW and I have doubting and questioning minds, and a solid academic background that enables us to understand the limitations of statistics, and the spin that is placed on almost everything these days.

Living outside of the social media bubble (and so not being subject to hive-mind and group-think and group-speak), and very connected to local politics (in a non-partisan way), because of our belief in protecting wildlife, biodiversity, the environment, and the countryside, from developers' greed and 'profit at any cost', we spend a lot of time shaking out heads in dismay at what we see, hear and read from what was once the best, most neutral, news media in the world.

Of greater concern is that very few people - even bright, articulate, educated people - seem to question the information that they consume, or the sources from which they consume it. As a nation we seem to have lost our 'intelligence'. To me, this seems to directly correlate with the rise in 'electronic information' and connectivity.

Politicians and political jounalists seem to use Twitter to compete with each other to show images or provide personal opinion, bias, and spin, which is totally unhelpful, and, on occasions, even damaging. It's a race to the bottom. What would once have been referred to as 'gutter jounalism' is now all the 'journalism' there is.

Since the rise of Laura Kuenssberg and her ilk, the BBC is no longer impartial. It seems to me that the BBC's mission statement, "to act in the public interest, serving all audiences through the provision of impartial, high-quality and distinctive output and services which inform, educate and entertain" is now completely and totally irrelevant. I object to having to pay £154.50 a year for a service that no longer adheres to its values, and is not objective.

The internet has not fulfilled its positive potential. The internet is totally out of control, and is in the hands of manipulative scammers, fraudsters, and others with only their own interests in mind.

All part of the long drawn out death of capitalism, perhaps?

This article shows how British political journalists have got chillingly close to providing the same service to Boris Johnson that Fox News provides to Donald Trump.


Saturday, October 19, 2019

Barbara Dickson on my mind

I seem to have been humming this tune for most of the afternoon.

So what happens now?

Another Suitcase in Another Hall

Never fool myself that my dreams will come true
Being used to trouble I anticipate it
But all the same I hate it, wouldn´t you?

So what happens now?

Where am I going to?

You´ll get by, you always have before

Where am I going to?

Call in three months time and I´ll be fine, I know

Well maybe not that fine, but I´ll survive anyhow

I won´t recall the names and places of each sad occasion

But that´s no consolation here and now.

So what happens now?

Where am I going to?

You´ll get by, you always have before

Where am I going to?

Don´t ask anymore.


I still say, it's not going to happen.

Democracy is dead. Long live democracy.

It was so much simpler in 1976.


Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Life, but not as we know (knew) it

The latest news (and Judge says proroguing is not illegal).

- From Led By Donkeys

And don't forget Parody Boris Johnson Twitter - scroll down to see video of IDS snacking in the HoC last night.

- The closest JRM's upbringing would allow him to get to actually putting his feet on the top table.

I maintain my long-term view that we're not leaving.

Posted at 10:40 AM | Comments (1)

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Thought for the day

"A nation of plenty so concerned with gain
As the seasons come and go, greater grows the pain
And far too many feelin' the strain"

- Isley Brothers - Harvest for the World (1976)


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Wednesday Question

Because comments elsewhere are sometimes worth recycling...

Is there something in the Labour Party Rules that says Jeremy Corbyn can't be ousted by a vote of no confidence from his own Party?

He is the one thing standing in the way of a different progress for the UK's future - as I understand it, only he can call a vote of no confidence in the current government and definitely have it approved (others can try, but the Speaker needn't give heed to the request), but no-one wants Corbyn to lead a Government of National Unity (which he is currently insisting on), so his call for a vote of no confidence won't be supported by enough MPs to be carried.

Give Labour a new leader (hence my first question) and there may be a chance. A slim may but at least there might then be some sort of effective Opposition.

Lack of a proper Opposition for the past x years is what has brought us to where we are now.


Monday, August 12, 2019

Three things that have amazed me recently

Our county police force and our local NHS Trust are both still running on Windows 7.

A local MP (now in the highest tier of government) replied to an email a good friend of mine sent just before that promotion with, "I am not minded to assist with this matter." No greeting, no sign-off, just those nine words. The lady in question is 80 and was asking for help with a problem of a sort that, once upon a time, was the bread-and-butter of an MP's work for their constiuents: rail commuters parking in her road all day (well, actually from 6am to 10pm) while they go to work in London, often blocking her drive so that she is completely unable to get out at worst, or, at best, to get out safely, a problem that the local council are completely failing to deal with, and the police aren't interested in managing.

People/journalists/politicians don't understand that wind turbines have to be turned off when it gets too windy. No, that major loss of power last week wasn't the Russians hacking the Grid (this time) (aside: is that running on Windows 7 too?), it was a demonstration of just how perilously balanced our ageing infrastructure is. And that's before every car is electric and needs 35kWh to drive 100 miles (that's around three times the electricity that the average UK home currently uses per day). Our major problems in this country aren't Brexit, despite what some would have you believe.


On a brighter note in these dire political times, I heard on R4 last week that Spitting Image (18 series, 131 episodes) is coming back (although I currently can't find a link from a reputable source to confirm this). Until it gets here, this is nearly as good.

I particularly like the August 9th question, "Alexa – why does America have a gun problem?"

Posted at 10:02 PM | Comments (2)

Wednesday, July 24, 2019


Posted at 12:39 PM | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

And so beginneth a new era...

... in which the UK gets Trump Lite.

Similar antics... waving words around, talking off the top of their heads with little regard for hard facts, buffoonery, teflonery (nothing sticks), inappropriate name dropping, dishevelled look, sexism, racism, homophobia, bluster, untruths, manipulation of statistics... all deliberate in cultivating their self-importance, their world, and their uncaring Capitalistic world view, in which money always trumps equality, the wishes of the affected majority, and common sense. What a load of de Pfeffel.

But, I continue to maintain my view that we remain in the Hotel California as far as the EU is concerned. My book is open... how long before Trump Lite revokes Article 50?

Posted at 12:05 PM | Comments (6)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Life Of

"George!" decreed Mr BW. "The Snail-let can be called George!"

"Why George?" I said, slightly miffed that my job as Chief Namer of Newcomers to The Coven was being usurped.

"Well, it's quite amusing, isn't it, you know... George and Mi1dred..."

I gave him a look of Extreme Witchy Distaste, and stated, in a That's The End Of The Matter way, "We are not calling the Snail-let after an ITV programme." A couple of years ago I finally met another person (an ex-blogger) who had been, as I was, denied ITV as a child on the grounds of taste. Old habits die hard.

"But, oh, inspiration just is not arriving... the Snail-let can't be called that, as it's too much of a mouthful..."

Inspiration then flashed, but not in my direction.

"Bri@n!" exclaimed Mr BW excitedly, "Bri@n! It's perfect!"

And so it was.

And today we go on yet another epic cross-country journey to collect him (one way and another we've done more miles in the past couple of months than we've done in the past couple of years... environmental credentials currently in little Blue pieces).

Anyone know where I can get a waterproof stick-on Bri@n decal?


Thursday, July 4, 2019

Shape shifting

"What," I asked Mr Farmer, who'd phoned about something else entirely, "are those strange shapes that have appeared in your field behind us?"

I tried to sound as if I did not fear that they might, just possibly, be the unfortunate result of over-zealous spells. They did, after all, have more than a passing resemblance to a Snail-let being towed behind a Broom.

"Ah. Ahem. They are... erm, yes, well, they are weed control patches. Nasty things weeds."

I sighed silently and wished that he understood what he was doing to the soil every time he drowned it with chemicals.

I know what he's doing: and I know that the reason he has to so do is that he doesn't practice sound farmering methods. If there's a quick and easy pharma-farmer-fix, he'll take it.

What he should be doing is employing cultural methods: rotating crops (he doesn't, he grows wheat almost every year), burying weed seeds by ploughing (he gave that up 20 years ago, now re-seeding into stubble), plant in spring not autumn (nope, he plants in late August most years), and leaving the field fallow occasionally (what, no income at all for a whole year? Never!).

I can remember* spending many days of my summer holidays in my early years of teaching helping rogue fields of cereal crops when I lived in the West Country 30-odd years ago. Great fun, but hard work. Mechanical methods don't damage a crop, or reduce its yield, unlike spraying off (killing) whole areas with chemicals.

The huge rise in food allergies are, I believe, caused by chemicals sprayed onto food that is ever-increasingly intensively farmed.

Increasing population = increasingly more glysophate in every bite.

It's hard being an organic gardener when tonnes of unknown stuff is being regularly and liberally distributed just over the hedge.

* (surprisingly, given the amount of local farmhouse scrumpy we all consumed afterwards)


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Note to self

Remember that when you debrief with parents after a frustrating meeting to discuss why a 13 year old's particular learning needs aren't being met within a school, the person who is failing to adequately identify, let alone solve or support, the problem (undoubtedly for many other students too), who happens to be the person in charge of that area, may be standing invisibly on the other side of an open window.

And that person may, as a result of what they overhear, decide to take early retirement.

I just wish that all my current community-supporting projects were turning out so successfully...


Tuesday, July 2, 2019

New adventures

Yesterday I did something that I said I'd never do. Never, never, never.

No, not join Farcebook or get a smartphone. Not that radical.

What we did was... we bought a snail.

"But it's a very very small snail," consoled Mr BW. "In fact, it's so small that it's a snail-let. And it has a solar panel."

Last week (and for several weeks before) we were searching for a small house.
But it proved too elusive, and tiny houses were just too reminiscent of our youth.

Plus, anything that we found in a rural-enough location to suit my sensibilities had all the same permanent risks of development roundabouts as we are suffering here.

And, realistically, running two houses, even if temporarily, for a couple of years, would have made a big dent in the Witchy Piggy Banks.

And then the environmental vandalism started in our lane. Hedges and trees being ripped out. Starting a process that is going to change the landscape from individual rural idyll to semi-urban anywhereness. We don't want to live in such a place, and we didn't choose to live in such a place when we moved here 24 years ago. It's heartbreaking.

We had to do something, so have spent what would have been the second home stamp duty on a snail. So it's actually cost less than half of what legal costs, purchase costs, moving-in costs would have been, and it should be a lot more fun.

A big bonus is that we can now spend more time visiting rural parts that we don't know, in the hope that we might stumble across the ideal future location, and we now don't have the pressure of moving from our main residence and selling the little house within 3 years to get the 2nd home stamp duty back.

Now, does anyone know anything about micro-caravans and the best places to stay that are small, uncommercialised, adult only, in the depths of beyond, and not necessarily with facilities?

Does anyone have any personal recommendations of such sites that they have visited - or of any organisations worth joining?

Is wild camping allowed anywhere in the UK?

Does anyone have a field we could visit?

Years ago, in another life, when I lived in South Somerset, we ran a CCC certificated site - which in those days involved cutting the grass in the field once a month, digging a new pit for emptying loos occasionally (and filling in the previous one), making sure the water tap in the yard was turned off tightly every night, and receiving £1.50 a night from people who stayed. There is now so much choice and it's all rather confusing.


Saturday, June 29, 2019

Thought for the day

In a time of destruction, create something: a poem, a parade, a community, a school, a vow, a moral principle; one peaceful moment.

- Maxine Hong Kingston