Friday, September 08, 2017


A bit of excitement in a quiet life this week.  As I mentioned in my last post, we are still looking for a couple of pieces of furniture to complete our new front room.  Checking out all the new and used furniture outlets in West Cumbria did not solve our problem, or at least not without spending over a thousand pounds, which is just not what we do.

A little research on-line suggested that the vintage furniture maker Ercol is having a spell in the sun again.  There is a style apparently, known as "mid-century," in which the shapes, colours and materials of the late fifties and sixties are once more in vogue.  Soon, I dare say, brown and orange will be making a comeback.  However, I find that I like the shapes of the wooden framed Ercol chairs, and the fact that they are small enough for the space we have.  This may be part of their general appeal.

So then I discovered an on-line site called The Saleroom.  This brings together hundreds of auctions, listing the lots on offer.  Browsing through it, I spot a pair of Ercol Windsor armchairs - and, what's more, the auction company is about fifteen miles from here, and the auction in two day's time.  I go to view the chairs, register as a buyer and place my bid with the company, because we are due to work a shift in the National Trust tearoom when the auction is happening.

On the morning of the actual auction, I discover something else: it is possible to follow the bidding for each lot on-line, and, after registering, to take part in the bidding remotely.  I suppose I must have known that this could be done from seeing some episodes of "Bargain Hunt", but I had no idea of how it was done until now.

We have a tablet device and a cunning little gizmo known as a mifi.  I set this up in the kitchen while I stood at the counter whacking out the pots of tea for two. The tension mounted.  Our lot numbers were 676 and 677.  It took an age for the auctioneer to work through all those other lots, although each one was over in seconds.

Just as our lots came up, there was a sudden demand at the counter, so we missed seeing our first lot go through.  We were there when the hammer went down on our second lot though - and we had secured it, at twenty pounds less than my maximum bid.  Would I have been able to restrain myself if the bidding had gone on up from there?

Later, we were able to check: both lots were ours. So all we needed to do was drive over there, pay for them and load them into the backs of our cars.  Next problem: how to transport them to their new home in Cumbria.

Sunday, August 27, 2017


To Cumbria, for ten day's walking, dodging the heavy showers which persisted throughout.

We took my husband's latest production with us in pieces and he assembled it in our improved front room.  This project is taking a while as it is 300 miles away from our home.

Notice the inset pieces of Honister slate, chosen from their scrap pile on an earlier visit.  The mantelshelf uses up the second half of an oak plank which was bought for the fireplace in our other room, so that was lucky.  We just need a little more furniture for the room and it will be complete.

Now, these are the two front pieces for a waistcoat, stacking up nicely.  This time I am going for the full challenge - a different pattern in every one of the lozenges.  I showed this to friends over lunch yesterday and realised that no one was able to see that they were different until I pointed it out.  It must be something to do with the way the grid remains the same, and the colours are kept consistent, so the eye is not looking for difference, but for repetition.

While in Cumbria, my husband put forward a new walk, up on the Solway Marshes.  This is very near the start of the Hadrian's Wall path and runs out across farmland and boardwalks.

  We saw very large numbers of these lizards sunning themselves on the path, but very few birds until we came to this pond where a huge flock of lapwings were busy.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Rat catcher

This week I had a chance meeting with a rat catcher - not that he was called that, of course.  There I was, serving teas in the coffee shop of the National Trust property where I volunteer when a workman came in.  I offered him a cup of tea.  He was wearing a shirt with the Rentokil name on the pocket.

First he said he had not come for tea, but to check on the mouse traps.  Then he told me that I had taught him English at secondary school.

This is something that used to happen regularly.  I would be window-shopping in a local town and some hulking six-footer with a beard would accost me: "You taught me in Year 8," he would say accusingly, as if wondering how I could have not recognised him.  But it has not happened for some time, and certainly not in our coffee-shop.

Now I used to enjoy inventing ideas for making writing interesting and real.  One of my better wheezes was to put the students into small groups to produce an inside page of the local paper, emphasising the fact that they had to select which of recent events to cover.  The events were the interesting bit.  I made up a list of stories in one-line summaries, using the names of the students in the class.  For example, Local mum, Sharon Smith, gives birth to triplets assisted by midwife, Clare Jones. Or, Wayne Robinson has opened his fifth hairdressing salon in Braintree.

As the years went on I reused the list many times, substituting names from the current class each time.  It was fun to see other English teachers use the same material, and the same list of stories with their classes.

But here's the thing: It never occurred to me to include the profession of pest control in my list - and I imagine it would never have occurred to my former student as a possible career option - until it did.

He seemed remarkably content checking the mousetraps, and was able to give me some quite technical information about dealing with an infestation of bees in a loftspace, so it is obviously an interesting job.  Anyone for rat-catching, I wonder?

Tuesday, August 08, 2017


Some twenty-five years ago, it must have been, I bought this little chair in  sorry state.  More recently my husband took it apart to replace one of the stretchers, and even more recently put it back together and stretched webbing across the frame for the seat.

So, at last I have upholstered the seat, using Liberty's Ianthe, one of our favourites.  From the old sewing box came a length of braid in exactly the right colour for the trim.  My husband's late mother would be pleased that this is being made use of at last.

I'm still pondering my next knitting project.  I have some pale grey yarn in stock and a selection of J&S in various turquoises.  I'm thinking I might simply reprise the Museum waistcoat in the quite different colourway.  After all, I have the charts to hand.

I've mentioned the arboretum just north of here before.  This month they are hosting a really spectacular display of sculpture, around three hundred separate items.

Some are even floating in the ornamental lakes.

You would need a serious set of grounds to house some of these yourself.

We enjoyed seeing how they had been set out in the woodlands and walled garden.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Prinknash and Cirencester

On a dampish day, we set off for Prinknash Abbey.  One of the downsides to making use of guide book from our shelf, publication date 1986, is that a very flourishing pottery run by the monks has been closed for the last thirteen years and the whole community has shrunk to just a small group of brothers.  We walked up to the abbey building and visited the chapel where a few invisible monks could be heard at prayer.  Then we had lunch in the surviving coffee shop which is clearly still a place of pilgrimage for some.

On the same site, we found a bird reserve, which we enjoyed very much.  Rare to be this close to so many species.

With the weather closing down we decided to drive to Cirencester, an ancient foundation worthy of more detailed exploration.  We had time to visit the huge central parish church, and the museum, where immediately these wonderful mosaics caught our eye.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


We drove to Painswick, a real Cotswold centre, but with a terrible traffic problem.  In the churchyard, an award-winning conversion of an industrial building: the former grave-digger's hut has been transformed into a tourist information centre.  Later, we saw an even more imaginative repurposing: a Gents' toilet converted into a tiny art gallery called "The Loovre".  It still has the word "Men" above the door.

We walked out of Painswick and up to an ancient hill fort.  Of course if you have defensive earthworks you might as well make use of them - in this case, as a golf-course.

  From the top, in one direction, you could see down to the Severn Estuary.  The "Coloured counties" were all laid out before us.

A quarry, with massive blocks of Cotswold stone ready for processing.

Back across fields and woods to Painswick where we saw these Victorian stocks ready for use by the churchyard.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Cotswolds

A few days exploring deeper into the Cotswolds than we normally manage while duty visiting...  First, Stanton and Stanway, classic Cotswold villages of honey coloured stone, full of really quite substantial houses, interesting churches and old manor houses.

Here, a rood screen commemorating the loss of a younger son in the First World War.  George on one side and the Dragon on the other.

Then, wonderful carving on the manor-house gate - note the rabbits grazing. (click the picture to enlarge)

Next day, to Gloucester where the cathedral close is in the midst of a makeover.

Incomparable cloisters, with fan-vaulting.

A massive cope chest, allowing vestments to be stored without folding.

And some ancient graffiti.

In the town, this unusual set of figures above a jewellers.

Everywhere, signs of the many centuries of occupation from the time when it was a centre for retired legionaries.