Tuesday, 30 October 2007

A great big snowball in the sky!

Jenny came home and insisted we go out more or less immediately to find somewhere dark and look at the sky, to see if we could see comet 17P/Holmes, and we could!

This photo is lifted straight from http://www.spaceweather.com/ because that link just takes you to the home page, and the content is bound to change. It was taken by
Laurent Laveder of Quimper, France and shows his daughter and stepdaughter pointing the comet out.

Apparently the comet exploded on 24th October, and it's now so big it's easily visible with the naked eye, though it lacks the exciting tail you'd normally associate with a comet.

Through some fairly ordinary binoculars it resolves into quite a big fuzzy blob to the left of Perseus.
As Jenny commented, she had Hale-Bopp for her 50th, and now this one for her 60th. Pretty good, we think!

It was good to find somewhere dark (thank god it wasn't cloudy!) and we could see the Milky Way quite well, but it did remind us just how polluted with light our night sky is.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Bitsa Blog

This is going to be a bitsa blog, 'cos it's so long since I've had a chance to post anything, there are several unconnected topics I'd like to write about.

One such is that I ordered some interesting wine from the Wine Society the other week, and it was delivered last Thursday. There was some stuff on special offer, but it didn't add up to the minimum requirements to qualify for free delivery (either a case of 12 bottles or total value £75 or more), so I poked around in the catalogue to see if there was anything to justify lashing out.

To my surprise I found several unusual wines which persuaded me it was worth it, so my case included a Moroccan shiraz, a Lebanese red (not Ch. Musar) and a Greek red. I've tried the Moroccan, and it really is rather nice. I'd not expected anything other than paint stripper from Morocco, so it was a surprise to see it in the Society's lists. Not surprised, given it was there, that it was worth the effort. Haven't tried the others yet.

And an unexpected bonus was to find my case was a case of 15 bottles. Members ordering between early Oct. and some time in Nov. get three free bottles of rosé, for no obvious reason. There was a leaflet explaining it, but I didn't spend long reading it.

On Saturday we decided we really had to try the squirrels I got last week, and thought initially of doing a coq au vin but with squirrel. Mopsa had convinced me of the need to cook and debone them first (she ate one in January and described it as similar to eating a Pirelli!), and I thought we were all set. Then Jenny found a recipe for a mediæval 'grete pie'. Our book prints the original recipe and a modern equivalent, so we followed that.

The recipe uses minced beef along with whatever game you feel like putting in (we used pigeon breasts as well as the squirrel), plus chopped dates, currants and prunes. Assembled with some gravy in shortcrust pastry it was simply delicious, particularly with fried bubble and squeak potato cakes . And I'm delighted to say it was twice as big as we needed, so we'll have the rest for dinner tomorrow night.

Yesterday afternoon Jenny finally decided her ring finger had healed enough to try putting on her wedding ring. I had to finish all the tidying up I'd started because of course, once on, it was likely to stay on, so I sorted the rough edges out and gave it a good polish (bench grinder with polishing mop attached) so it looked pretty much like new. Of course, having had the thickness of a saw blade removed by the hospital, it was actually smaller than before, so I had to hammer it on a ring mandrell (long, tapered steel tool clamped in a vice) to stretch it a little. When we thought it was big enough I was getting ready to file off the hammer marks, sand it with fine grade wet and dry and then polish it again, but Jenny decided she rather liked the hammered finish, so slipped it on and that is how it is.

Then last night we had Lorna, Richard and Jane around for dinner and served the meat-eaters crown roast guard of honour of muntjac. (Aside: this was one of the reasons I was so cross when they butchered the muntjac I bought last weekend - they either just threw the whole ribcage away or stripped the meat out and added it to the 'diced venison' they gave me. So it'll be months and months before we can do this again. Grr!) Richard had a skate wing fried in butter. Served with roasted and new potatoes, carrots from the garden and steamed cauliflower. Preceded by garlic mushrooms and followed by Mopsa's clafoutis (this is in a Mopsa comment in Mutterings and Meanderings). Yum. Oh yes, we started with one of the free rosés, then the muntjac was accompanied by Klein Constantia (South Africa) Marlbrook and a really nice Argentinian red that Jane brought. I started to lose track by the time we hit Lorna and Richard's bottle! Fortunately, the clocks having gone back, we were all ready for bed pretty early, so it wasn't too hard to get up this morning!

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Tuna steaks with roasted veg

So tonight J had a Darwin College governing body meeting, so didn't get home until 9.30. As I rode home I was wondering what to cook, considering the possibilities, and decided on tuna with roasted veg on the side. The veg were all there at home, of course, so that was easy, and I dropped by Tesco to pick up the tuna.

The tuna was already wrapped in discount plastic bags, but I bought it anyway. Mistake. Should have known better. I mean, fish on a discount.

I had shallots, potatoes, half a red pepper, half a courgette and a couple of garlic cloves along with 2 halves of an immature gem squash. That was really interesting, as the seeds were unformed, so I just scooped out the 'paste' where they were starting. The skin was still too tough to eat, even though the squash was only 5cm in diameter, but the flesh was delish. I tossed them in olive oil with fresh thyme and marjoram, then roasted them for half an hour flat out.

I found wierdly shaped pieces of tuna in the plastic bag, 2 of which I fried, one went to the freezer. Tastewise they were OK, but not great.

Two and a half hours later, I find myself running to the bog. And again and again, all evening. Do I dare go to bed, I ask myself. This is not nice. Do I blame the tuna? I can't imagine roasted veg doing this to me.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Just passing time

I'm glad I had the wit to check out the United Airlines website this morning, because Jen's flight landed 35 minutes early. I just grabbed my handbag and drove like the wind. All went well until the short stretch between the M4 and LHR itself, where I got clogged up in slow-moving traffic. As I approached Terminal 3 my phone rang and it was Jen, wondering where I was. Fortunately she didn't have to wait long for me and we were soon on our way home.

I grabbed myself another couple of hours zeds, then got up, remembering I needed to buy something for dinner. I'd kept a couple of the squirrels out of the freezer, but Jenny wasn't keen, so I had to think of something else. I got a guinea fowl from Bury Lane Farm Shop and I'm going to casserole it with red wine vinegar and puy lentils, using a Tamasin Day Lewis recipe. I've got a rather limp savoy cabbage which should go well with it.

I think the real reason we're slightly uncertain about the squirrels is that we can't find much in the way of sensible recipes for them. There are endless recipes on the web, but most of them seem to assume you wanting to do this as quickly and simply as possible. I'm sorry, but any recipe that specifies a can of chicken or mushroom soup gets a click of the Back button. I do notice that most recipes suggest you cook the beasties, then debone them before continuing on with the recipe, so I assume their tiny bones are best kept out of the casserole. Don't recall having a problem before, and certainly they're no smaller than quail, but that was on the barbie. Might be more difficult submerged in sauce.

At the moment I'm thinking in terms of coq au vin, just substituting the squirel meat for the chicken.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Today's cock-up

I really do think this is quite funny. Fortunately. Today our friend Julia is celebrating a birthday with a zero, with a meal for about 20 in a local restaurant. Today is not her birthday, of course, just the nearest convenient Saturday. The other day when I went to check the time we were due at the restaurant, I couldn't find the email, but Lorna and Richard said they thought it was 7.30 and that sounded reasonable, so at 7.20 I went over the road to collect them and we walked up into town.

We were greeted with "You're first to arrive" but nothing else, but when we thought about it, it did seem odd that our host and hostess weren't there already. I asked what time we were booked in for, and burst out laughing when he said 8.30. Why didn't he say "Do you realise you're an hour early?" We could have stayed and had a drink, if we hadn't worried about being completely arseholed by the end of the evening, but instead we came home again. Lorna had forgotten to check her email, so I don't know where she got 7.30 from.

So that's how I have time to write this post! Now I'm going to pour myself a glass of white and read my book for half an hour.

Feeling lethargic

This is not right! It's a beautiful, if chilly, Saturday, I've got Jenny's birthday present to make and I really feel lethargic and demotivated. The day is not going well. First thing I did was collect a tail bag we'd ordered for Jenny's Honda 500. This is a fabric bag she can attach to the pillion seat to hold her stuff and which detaches easily when she arrives. Only we were expecting it to have a base which was semi-permanently fixed, to which the bag itself zipped and unzipped. Wrong. It's just a cubical bag that bungies onto the seat. Well, maybe it'll do, but it's not what we were expecting.

So then on to Bury Lane Farm Shop to pick up the muntjac we'd ordered. This turned out to have been butchered already and much more expensive than the last one as a result. Well, I can cope with that, since I don't have to cut it up myself, but it's not ideal. Because I don't get so much of the actual animal, they throw in a kilo or so of venison sausages, but when I get them home I find they've been sitting on the counter for so long most of them have nasty dried up skins and I really don't know how edible they'll be. Now I'm getting hacked off and am looking for faults.

He did supply me with 4 squirrels, but he wrapped them quickly and tied up the bag, and I didn't actually get to see them until I got home. Each is in its own, sealed plastic bag, which is fine, but one of them turns out to be 2 half-squirrels, which strikes me as a a bit dubious. I guess they use shotguns and sometimes it's a bit messy. I can tell you that they weigh 320 to 340 gm each.

So that lot is now all in the freezer, and I realise, writing this, that I've nothing lined up for tomorrow night's dinner. I'd best give that some thought now!

Friday, 19 October 2007

Not much to report

Jen flew to Austin, Texas, on Wednesday for a conference, cursing and spitting all the way. Because she's lecturing on Monday, she couldn't stay a Saturday night, which meant the flights cost her about three times what they needed to. And all for a 15 minute speaking slot. I'm not sure why she didn't just say "Sod that."

Wednesday evening I ate out in Royston with Lorna and Richard as usual, then last night cooked myself patatas a los pobre, which should translate as poor man's potatoes. I lifted the recipe from the very splendid Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart.

Peel, chop and par-boil some potatoes. Fry up a chopped onion and several garlic in olive oil. Chop the garlic if you want or leave it whole. Chop a few rashers of smoked streaky bacon and toss that in with the onion & garlic once they're softened. You can use smoked gammon if you prefer. If you feel like it, chop and add some sweet pepper. Any colour will do, but red is prettiest in this dish. Finally, add the potatoes to this mix. You may want to add more oil. Turn the heat right down, cover tightly and leave to cook for half an hour or so. Give it the occasional stir to stop it sticking to the pan. Alright, to free it from the bottom of the pan.

This is a simple, reasonably healthy dish, particularly if you're stingy with the meat, which is really only there for the flavour.

After I'd cleared up, I lit a fire, cracked open a bottle and settled down with my book. Few things can beat that combination. The book is Animal's People by Indra Sinha, and, amazingly for a Booker shortlisted work, is extremely readable. I've bought shortlisted books before, and they've always been dreadfully worthy. I am thoroughly enjoying reading this one, and stayed up rather later than planned last night because I didn't want to put the book down.

This weekend I'm hoping to make Jenny a silver pendant for her birthday, but the start I made last night was not promising. I may have to buy something (shock horror!). We brought back some nice opals from Australia at Easter, but I'm so out of practice, it's really difficult to do anything half-way decent.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007


OK, I know this was nothing to do with my post about grey squirrels, but the timing couldn't have been more perfect. This evening, on Channel 4 the Wild Gourmets were in Cumbria, where they shot some grey squirrels and then prepared "Peking squirrel" (ie, like Peking duck only with squirrel) - poached, shredded squirrel meat in a 5-spice sauce, with wild greens and spring onions, rolled up into those thin, thin pancakes with a wild damson sauce. And served them up to the locals in a pub, to widespread acclaim. Everyone that didn't end up on the cutting room floor said they loved it, and all were either going to sell it in their shops or serve it in their restaurants or eat it when it was on the menu. Brilliant!

And it was on prime time TV, so hopefully this will be the start of a movement to make grey squirrel a normal presence on our game counters, and then we might see the numbers start to decline a bit. Well OK, rise more slowly, if you insist I remain realistic!

And just to reinforce what I was saying about the impact of the greys on our native red squirrels, there are about 150,o00 reds in the UK and 2.5 million greys. Unchecked, Mr Wild Gourmet said, the reds could be extinct within 15 years.

I'll say that again. Red squirrels in the UK could be extinct within 15 years. Think about it.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Marine Reserves around UK coasts

We can all, apart from the fishing industry, see that our fisheries are in desperate trouble. Fish stocks are collapsing around us, the size of the fish being caught is dramatically less than 30, 40 or 50 years ago, we throw away vast quantities of ‘by-catch’, and yet, no-one is actually doing anything about it. The industry is in denial and the government just wrings its hands.

Each year, quotas are reduced a little, which is completely inadequate, stocks fall further, more reductions, more falling stocks, more job losses. Hopeless. And don’t forget the fishing industry that denies there's a problem is the same industry that fished out the cod on the Grand Banks off Newfoundland. There are still no cod on the Grand Banks, 75 or so years later.

Edit: Wrong, well at least, the last bit. The Grand Banks cod take increased up until the mid-70s, after which it fell by 60%. The Canadians extended the fishing limit for foreign vessels from 12 t0 200 miles. Using more sophisticated techniques and equipment, the Canadian take increased once more, stabilised in the 1980s, then declined until 1992 when it reached a record low. The Canadian government banned cod fishing on the Grand Banks in 1992, throwing 30,000 out of work. Stocks have yet to recover and it's uncertain whether they ever will.

Worse than this is the issue of by-catch, where large numbers of non-target fish are simply dumped back in the sea, dead or nearly so. Prawn fishing is the worst, but all fisheries do this, and it stinks. It’s a direct and inevitable result of the quota system.

And finally, many of our sea bird colonies are unable to raise significant numbers of young, because the sand-eel population has crashed, almost certainly because of industrial fishing which simply hoovers up the whole population and makes it into animal feed or fertiliser. The sea bird chicks are simply starving to death.

Seems to me, the answer is marine reserves where fishing is completely banned. The fisheries industry don’t like that idea, of course, but it does seem much more likely to help. New Zealand is introducing marine reserves which will eventually total 20% of the coastal sea area, and already they’re seeing spectacular increases in fish numbers. Sadly, I can’t find a website to provide a link to with any figures, but this one seems a good place to start.

And that’s what I’d like to see around UK coasts – 20% reserved as no-take, no dump, no disturb zones, where the marine environment can recover to something like its natural state. Within the reserves there’d be more, bigger fish, but of course, they wouldn’t stay within those areas. As the population density rose, they’d move out into the unprotected areas, where the industry could then catch more, bigger fish than they do at present.

It wouldn’t help the by-catch issue, but I need hardly say it should help the fish stocks and the sea birds, and if the stocks recover, there won’t be any need for quotas, and the by-catch issue will disappear.

The Grey Squirrel Menace

That may sound like an exaggeration, but in reality grey squirrels, introduced into the UK from the USA in the 19th and early 20th centuries, are progressively eliminating our native red squirrels, and if we don’t do something drastic, reds will be effectively extinct in the UK in the forseeable future. I know they are darling little bouncy bundles of fluff and fun, but realistically they are a menace that is wiping out significant parts of our native wildlife.

Greys are bigger than reds, can live in a wider variety of habitats and eat a wider range of foods, including immature nuts which the reds would leave until later, so they out-compete the reds, leaving them with less to eat. In addition, they spread the squirrel parapox virus, to which they are immune, but which kills red squirrels.

According to the UK Red Squirrel Group the two species can exist side by side for up to 20 years before the reds finally disappear, but disappear they will.

As if that wasn’t enough, grey squirrels also eat the eggs and young of many of our native songbirds, already in alarming decline.

Recently the Forestry Commission proposed a plan to make grey squirrels infertile, and there are numerous other plans to control the greys, all of which I urge you to support.

I also strongly recommend eating grey squirrels, not only to help control them but also because they are completely delicious! The local farm shop where I buy much of my meat and game, has told me they can get me grey squirrels in much the same way they supply me with muntjac deer. In the latter case, I get a clean, whole carcase, weighing about 6 to 9 kilos which costs me £4 a kilo, and which I need to dismember myself. The bit I find hard, skinning and gutting, has already been done for me. I just cut it up and stick it in the freezer.

An adult squirrel at this time of year I would expect to weigh 250 to 350 grams. Since that includes bones, I’d say it would feed one. I have no idea what he’s going to charge me, but I’ve asked for four in the first instance. I’ll keep you posted!

I’m not sure yet how I’m going to cook them. The flesh tastes somewhere between chicken and rabbit, so I imagine I could do Squirrel Nutkin au vin (yes, I know Squirrel Nutkin was a red, I’m just trying to be clever). We did barbecue one in the early summer, having marinated it in soy sauce and 5-spice, and it was absolutely delicious, but it’s October now, so past barbie time. We’ll definitely be working on the idea, provided the supplier really does come up with the goods.

And if you can’t bring yourself to eat them, please at least support an organisation that’s working to control them. You’ll be helping prevent the extinction of red squirrels and the decimation of our native songbirds, and that’s got to be a good thing.

Friday, 12 October 2007

A fragment of a translation of a poem....

This is a bit of Jerome Sams' translation of L'Histoire du Soldat by C F Ramuz and set to music by Igor Stravinsky. I heard it on BBC Radio 3 a while ago and absolutely loved it, though apparently some purists were horrified that it wasn't being done in the original French. If it had, of course, I would not have understood any of it, so I think it was a jolly good thing!

This is only a fragment, the bit I like best.

The thing you were before you changed, you can't be any more.
You can't add what you've now become, to what you were before.
You have to choose, you can't have everything, that's not allowed.
One happiness is all the happiness you get, and two's a crowd.

Wish I could write poetry like that.

The winner!

Yippee! I won DJKirkby's Wordless Wednesday, hooray! Thinks: must get the doors widened.

I need to ask DL about the link to his Blog Action Day logo, cos I'm not alone in just getting html when I tried to add it to my post. I ended up downloading and uploading the logo as an image, which I'm sure is not right.

Edit: OK I have a better solution to the logo issue. Right click the logo here and select Properties. Copy the image location and then embed it where you want, wrapping it in <img src="copied location" >.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Blog Action Day 2007

October 15th is Blog Action Day in which bloggers are encouraged to tackle issues of the environment in a variety of ways, but particularly by blogging a relevant post.

I plan to post something about grey squirrel control in the UK, as that's quite close to my heart right now. The event also encourages us to donate to a relevant charity, and I've been in touch with UK Red Squirrel Group in the hope I can donate to them. They are a sort of umbrella group which received some lottery money last year, but only about half of what they need.

If you're concerned about the environment, please join in, write an environmental post, but most importantly, publicise the event. There's an awful lot of bloggers out there who could send a very powerful message!

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Mega breakfast!

Boil some potatoes. I used Maris Piper. While that's happening, dice and fry some smoked streaky bacon. If you feel like putting in some mushrooms, do. Add some chopped rosemary and thyme. When the potatoes are cooked, drain them and crush roughly. You're not aiming for smooth mash here. Add the potatoes to the pan with the bacon. You may need to add a drizzle of olive oil. Mix it all up and press it down a bit, and turn the heat up. You're aiming for some crispy bits of potato, so you'll need to stir it from time to time. Meanwhile, fry a couple of eggs. When the potato looks about right, serve it, with the softly fried eggs on top. Mega!

Saturday, 6 October 2007

For those that like symbolism

Jen had the dressings removed from her hand on Wednesday, and her fingers are healing nicely. They're still a darkish pink, and a small area of the worst burn is still a rather weepy scab, but it's making good progress, so will be back to normal soon. You'll be relieved to hear that she won't let me take a photo! Apparently nobody at work noticed that the bandages were off. A bit like the dog that didn't bark in the night, she said.

So I thought it was about time I fixed her wedding ring. For the past 20 years we've done a bit of silversmithing, though we don't do much now. As a result, I have some 9 carat gold solder, so was able to solder her ring back together quite nicely. I also managed to fill a second saw-mark they made when the first nurse wasn't strong enough to bend the ring, so that's nicely tidied up, too. She can't get it on yet, as her ring finger is still puffy and tender, but the ring is almost ready for her to wear. I didn't clean it up too thoroughly, because I wasn't sure whether or not I'd need to stretch it to fit. As that involves hammering, there was no point bringing it back up to an as-new finish, which is what I'll do when the time comes.

And the rest of today has been spent in the garden. Pulling up tomatoes and hanging them upside down in the greenhouse to ripen. Not a brilliant crop, but tasty and nice to have. Chopping a chunk of Philostachis nigra (black-stemmed bamboo) off the main clump and planting it in a gap elsewhere in the garden. Pulling vast amounts of weed out of one of the ponds and thinking about doing the second one tomorrow. Jenny's been digging up masses of Japanese anemone which has overrun one of the beds. We've got wallflowers from the market in Royston to put in there and elsewhere.

Tomorrow we need to net the ponds as the maple next door is already dumping lots of leaves and we need to keep as many out as possible. Must also decide what to do about winter lights, tomorrow. We usually put a string of 100 or so plain white, non-flashing lights up into a silver birch tree, but most of the bulbs have blown in the existing set, so we'll have to buy new ones, I think. Sounds as though I've already decided, doesn't it?

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Pretending to be brave

Having recently acquired a multi-function printer, I thought I'd play around with scanning in some old photographs, and came across these, which are of me and my bike after I crashed it in November, 1997. I'd fitted electrically heated handlebar grips, to keep my fingers toasty on cold winter nights, and the next day was riding home from work. Sadly, the grip on the throttle dragged against the switch cluster next to it, but I thought that was OK, as I could easily open and close the throttle.

In quite heavy traffic, I was overtaking one car at a time, making good progress, but at one point changed my mind about passing, so let go the throttle. Which stayed wide open. As I closed rapidly on the car I'd been about to overtake, I panicked and grabbed a handful of brake, the front wheel locked up, and down I went at about 60 mph. I was incredibly lucky to bounce straight down the road, neither veering off into the hedge on the left, nor the oncoming traffic on the right.

But I learned the value of proper biking gear that day. I was wearing kevlar scuff resistant overtrousers, which were damaged but OK, a leather jacket which acquired a new hole in one shoulder, and Derriboots (lined, plastic waterproof boots, a bit like fancy wellington boots), which kept my feet nice and dry, but gave no support whatever to my ankle as I tumbled down the road. The ankle was not broken, but took a year to recover as much as it ever would. It was my only injury - the jacket and trousers, designed for the job, protected me brilliantly. First thing I did when I started riding the next spring was to buy a decent pair of motorcycling boots!

The bike flipped over when it bounced off the hedge and ended up back in the road. All the plastic bodywork had to be replaced (thank you, Norwich Union!) but amazingly, there was no structural damage at all, and I'm still riding the same bike.

Once the hospital had established that my ankle was only sprained, I took a taxi home. Jenny opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate my making it over the threshold under my own steam!


I finally started carving again! Somehow, for ages now, I've just not had the motivation to get out there and actually do something, but that all changed on Tuesday night. I'm carving a head for Lorna to give to her friend Dot as a birthday present, but it's been languishing in the shed untouched.

On Tuesday I realised that I wasn't happy with the way I was doing it, so took a fresh look and changed it. It's called Girl in a Wimple, which is deliberately provocative, a wimple being so similar to a hijab. Trouble was, I'd carved her face to be rather sweet and girlish, which is not at all my style, so I had at it with vigour, and now it's much more deeply set, more angular, more geometric, and I'm much happier with it! Did some more work on it last night and expect to do some tonight, too.

And now I'm soaking up that wonderful feeling you get when the logjam finally breaks and everything just moves right along. Magic!

Monday, 1 October 2007


A friend currently on holiday in India posted this picture on his blog. I liked it so much I had to share it with you! I want! I want!

Update on Jen's burns

It's a fortnight since Jenny burned her left hand with boiling fat, and I'm glad to be able to report that she's making good progress. She burned the index, middle and ring fingers, and the outer two are almost at the point where they no longer need dressing. The middle one was the worst burned, and is making slower progress, but even that is doing fine.

One irritation is the way the dressings keep falling off, and this was something which added to the delay in getting to Jane's for dinner last night. To protect the dressing while she showered, Jen put on a rubber glove, but taking it off removed all her dressings as well. At least the one on her middle finger should be tied up around her wrist, but we don't seem able to do this particularly successfully so far.

We're trying to get hold of some vitamin E cream to apply, since a nurse somewhere along the line has suggested that to aid the recovery. Others have mentioned it, too, but it doesn't seem easy to find so far.

And to add to her joy, her boss starts a year's sabbatical today, so Jenny is acting director of the Museum of Zoology for the next year, something she's not looking forward to. It means lots more admin and much less research, which is quite the opposite of the way she'd like it to be!

Busy weekend

Saturday's concert was mostly Royston Town Band, with a short spot by the excellent Royston Youth Choir, and a couple of slots for us.

The youth choir is a dozen or so children aged roughly between 8 and 16, mostly girls, but there's always been at least one boy I think. Pam Lambert, who runs it, is a friend of ours and fellow choristor in Royston Priory Singers, and she's obviously very talented in this direction, because the kids are always simply excellent. They start singing and everyone just bursts into tears! Most of the stuff they did on this occasion was 3-part harmony, some in rounds, often with movement as well, and all from memory. One piece, called Can you hear me? was a song from the perspective of a deaf person, and they did proper signing as they sang. I'm welling up just writing about it! Lorna and Richard (who use signing with some of their severely disabled pupils) were in the audience and said they could read the signs, so it was pukka.

Our bits went OK, though I discovered just how poorly I know Zadok the Priest! I really must do some note bashing on that some time. It's the sort of thing everyone just assumes you know, so you never get much rehearsal time, so it's up to me to bring myself up to speed.

On Sunday we sang choral evensong in a tiny church in a village called Friston, which is between Snape and Aldeburg, close to the Suffolk coast. It was a lovely day, so Jen and I decided to go on my bike, and set out at 2. It's a while since I've taken anyone on the pillion, and it took a few minutes to get used to the different dynamic of the bike, but we settled in pretty quickly, and arrived in plentfy of time, having taken about an hour and three quarters to cover the 80 miles.

There was some village festival going on all weekend, so the church was beautifully decorated with enormous bouquets of flowers everywhere you looked. We had a cup of tea and some cake in the village hall before starting to rehearse, which was very welcome. What I had was actually a bowl of rum with a bit of cake floating in it. OK, I exaggerate, but there really was quite a lot of rum and it was delicious.

In the service, the church was packed, which is always gratifying, and we had the Bishop of Dunwich in attendance. Maybe they came for the Bish, rather than us, but I don't care! Wasn't too impressed by his sermon, but he sang the responses confidently and accurately, so that'll do.

Coming home we opted to go a longer route, around the south side of Ipswich rather than across country the way we'd come, and it took no longer, despite being 20 miles further, since the road was dualled most of the way and I could crack on a bit. I eased off a little towards the end when it had become completely dark.

Irritatingly, my superduper oversuit allows a draft to circulate around my midriff, so I was well chilled by the time we got home. I had to stand under the shower for 5 minutes to warm up, which meant we were late getting to Jane's for dinner.

This angel had slowly casseroled some partridges with sausages and belly of pork, and had steamed a lump of salmon for Richard, so the 5 of us had a really delightful meal. Not forgetting the spicy pears in red wine sauce, of course, one of my favourites.

Knackered now, of course!