After a gap of far too many years, we decided to take a trip up the A66 to the Lake District.
Our base for the week was a gorgeous little cottage (originally housing for gunpowder mill workers) on the riverside in southern Cumbria.
With gently flowing water, trees and a bridge just outside the front door,
it was the perfect location.
Interesting neighbours, too.
There were opportunities galore for filling lungs with fresh air, gazing at stunning scenery, tramping across fells, wandering through woods, sauntering around lakes and just drinking in the peace and quiet.
Throw in picturesque villages to explore, waterfalls to visit,
but the views of Windermere from the summit were worth all the braking and pulling over into hedges.
There were treats, planned (yes, I'm talking shopping) and unexpected. On the last day, we made our way towards Ullswater
and Pately Bridge
and drove down an increasingly narrow and winding lane, looking for the farm I'd read about which sells yarn produced from the farmer's own sheep and goats. The timing was ideal as I was roped in (I didn't need asking twice) to help with bottle feeding a pair of Herdwick lambs (oh so very cute). Sadly, their mother is no longer producing milk but one of the lambs hasn't taken easily to being bottle fed and he just hung back (honestly, I was this close to weeping). Sadly, there are no pictures, it was all so spur of the moment, but they looked pretty much like these youngsters.
So, that yarn I bought.
Along with several balls of Herdwick double knitting, there's the softest angora.
Want to see it?
Cleaned and spun, of course.
The week away turned out to be the calm before the storm and returning home was a case of coming back to earth with a bang. The previous day there'd been a full on, break the door down emergency with the aged aunt who is currently in hospital. Intensive home care services will kick in after a short period of residential care which hopefully will be a change for the better given the escalating difficulties we've been experiencing.
I'm still in the process of arranging what I think is referred to as 'professional trauma cleaning' of Aunty's bedroom whilst the Boy and I have taken advantage of her absence to continue sorting her house (and thankfully there's been no further sign of her four footed tenants).
I've insisted, given the evidence of 'trauma', we turn up wearing homemade protective gear. With no access to hazmat suits, we tie Tesco carrier bags over our shoes, wrap scarves round our faces and wield Fabreze sprays. Now if only I could remember where the swimming goggles are stored.....
A good week, though if you're lucky enough to be still here, still breathing, every week is a good week.
This one started with flowers from the Boy on Mothering Sunday which were followed by a drive to Saltburn, a quick glimpse of the sea and a 'Little Creatures' felting workshop. I opted to have a stab (literally) at making a penguin and, in the process, won the prize for breaking the most needles. (I broke so many I had to hide the bits in my specs case.) The penguin wouldn't win any prizes but at least he was greeted with only minimal laughter during show and tell at home.
A midweek baking session resulted in a half batch of Jamie's brownies which didn't hang around the kitchen long, though the other two here didn't really get much of a look in.
A couple of books were read which, amazingly, I can still remember and recommend. Wolf Winterhas a small remote settlement in 18th century Swedish Lapland as its focus and, with skilful interweaving of reality and the spirit world, seeks to answer the question 'Who killed Eriksson?' I'm a big fan of Patti Smith and Just Kidsis her memoir, making good the promise to photographer Robert Mapplethorpe to write their story, from their meeting in New York in 1967 to his death in 1989 and everything in between.
We watched Nightcrawler, a film about decidedly creepy petty criminal but desperate for a job Louis Bloom, who discovers there's a living to be made filming crime scenes for TV news channels. This is a dark, edge of the seat thriller, at times cringeworthy, at times grisly, at times oddly funny, with a slimmed down Jake Gyllenhaal in the central role. Recommended.
There was a short break in London, primarily to visit the V&A's Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition. Whilst I was hoping for more biographical detail, the exhibition (photographs not allowed, sadly) was well worth the trip and, to quote Ross from Friends, O is definitely for Oh, wow! Afterwards, I met up with the Boy (who'd had an interview in Leeds earlier) and, with no definite plans, the remaining time in the capital was spent eating, nose following, pavement pounding (and acquiring the mother of all blisters), browsing, sign spotting, coffee drinking, dog admiring, book buying.
The week ended with a visit this morning to the market in the big park down the road followed by a rendition of the birthday song. Yep, my amazing father in law is now just one year off a century.
Home of fire and ice, volcanoes, glaciers, geysers, elves, Bjork and menus featuring fermented shark and sheep's head.
We were based in the capital and the country's only city, Reykjavik, hiked across snow and ice, experienced daytime temperatures which didn't rise above freezing point and dropped to as low as -15C, searched in vain until 2 a.m. for a sighting of the Northern Lights, marvelled at frozen waterfalls, oohed and aahed and dodged as columns of steam and water erupted from the ground.
The population of Iceland is about 340,000
Reykjavík is the world's northernmost capital
60% of the population live in Reykjavik
Icelanders watch more films at the cinema than any other nation
Beer was banned nationwide until 1989. Beer Day is now celebrated every year on March 1st
Icelanders consume more Coca Cola per head than any other country
The last names of Icelanders are derived from their fathers' first names plus the word ‘son’ for men and ‘daughter’ for women
Iceland has one of the highest per capita rates of car ownership in the world
Icelandic telephone directories list Icelanders by first name, alphabetically. To reduce confusion, directories also list people’s professions
The rate of literacy among Icelanders is the highest in the world
Contrary to popular belief, which may be fuelled by shops' displays of fluffy toy versions, there are no polar bears in Iceland
The Arctic fox is the only native animal
Geothermal water heats about 90% of homes
Cold water from household taps is pure spring water whilst hot water is provided by geothermal power plants and has a characteristic smell of rotten eggs
Instead of just walk, trot and canter, Icelandic horses uniquely have five gaits
Although Iceland is geographically and culturally part of Europe, half of it lies on the American tectonic plate and is moving westwards at an estimated 1-2 cm a year
Iceland is home of one of the world’s oldest democracies. The Althing, the Icelandic parliament, was established in 930
This was the first country in the world to have a democratically elected female head of state
The majority of Icelanders admit to believing in the existence of elves and trolls
At Christmas, Icelanders are visited by not one Santa Claus but 13. The so called 'Yule Lads', with names like 'Spoon Licker', 'Sausage Stealer' and 'Window Peeper, live with their troll parents and a big black cat in the mountains and take turns to visit the towns at night during the 13 days of Christmas. Every child leaves a shoe in the window, hopeful of being left a sweet or small toy and not a rotten spud
Watching Wolf Hall (well, trying to more like, given the squint inducing candlelit scenes which make it almost impossible to see what's happening and also not being a fan of Damian Lewis) and Fortitude (having difficulty remembering who everyone is but at least there's lots of lovely snow and ice and the occasional polar bear, though we've had some of our own here this week, snow and ice, that is, not polar bears)
ReadingThe OtherTypist (link in the sidebar).New York. 1924. Prohibition, speakeasies, rising hemlines, bobbed hair. Our unreliable narrator, Rose Baker, was abandoned by her mother, brought up by nuns in an orphanage and is working for the police as a typist. Crime busting business is booming and another typist is taken on, the glamorously captivating Odalie Lazar. And so Rose's life changing obsession begins. Highly recommended
Celebrating the mister's birthday with pizza and Pinot Grigio
Baking a chocolate cake. I didn't want to have the bother of making a buttercream for the layers and a ganache for the top and sides so came up with something which combined the two. 'How is it?' I asked. 'Chocolatey', replied the birthday boy.
Buying a new coat, a treat courtesy of some Christmas money and one of the last bargains of the sales
Failing to stop another book jumping into the basket in the shop when I'm supposed to be committed to reading from the book pile or the charity shop but as I paid for it with the remaining Christmas money it doesn't count, does it?
Realising I've been following a vegan diet for a year. I'm not missing milk or cheese or eggs or butter, have gotten used to checking every label and asking questions, so am more than happy to continue, though have to admit it's not easy when eating out or on holiday
Sitting on my specs. Fortunately, they were the spare pair
Enjoying the first bunches of daffs from the supermarket
Opening a box of posh soaps
Putting off packing for a little trip till the very last minute. Back soon
After saying a reluctant farewell to Bhutan, we took a short flight over the Himalayas to beckoning Nepal.
Total population is somewhere in the region of 29 million
The capital is Kathmandu, once thought by some to be the fabled Shangri-La
An estimated 2.5 million live in the capital and its streets are heaving with people and traffic
8 out of 10 of the world's highest mountains are in Nepal, the highest peak being, of course, Mount Everest (Sagamatha)
The word ‘Himalaya” in Sanskrit means 'abode of snow'
Nepal has the densest concentration of UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Kathmandu Valley comprises the three ancient cities of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, home to seven World Heritage Sites
Swayambhunath Stupa is the most ancient of all the holy shrines (there was probably a shrine here as far back as the 1st century) in Kathmandu Valley. It's also known as Monkey Temple because of the resident macaque monkeys which roam freely across the site
Nepal is the only country with a non-rectangular flag. The country's flag is maroon with two stacked triangles but we didn't spot it anywhere
The traditional greeting is 'Namaste', said with palms together on the chest and head slightly bowed
Nepal is among the poorest and least developed countries in the world with about half of its population living below the poverty line and many living in shacks
Althugh officially secular, Hinduism is the main religion of Nepal (90%) with a dash of Tibetan Buddhism (5%) and a pinch of Islam (3%) and a smidgeon of a few others such as Jainism and Christianity (2%)
Nepal is the birthplace of the Lord Buddha
Kathmandu is ranked among the 20 most polluted cities of Asia and the city is often shrouded in a thick haze
Nepal has over 80 ethnic groups and 123 languages are spoken
Rice is the staple food with Dal Bhat (lentils and rice) the national dish
November is rice drying time and the grain is spread on large tarpaulins. Any available space in villages and towns, including the central square, is filled with drying rice, watched over by women who periodically rake and turn it to ensure it is dried evenly
The favourite national snack is a plate of steamed dumplings or momos which can be either savoury or sweet. We were shown how to make these by a family in Kathmandu who invited us into their home to have lunch
Kathmandu has the most worryingly chaotic tangle of electric cables and wires ever seen
Nepal has the only living goddess (Kumari) in the world.She is a pre-pubescent girl selected from the Newari community. The Kumari is revered and worshipped and, whilst there are several throughout Nepal, with some cities having several, the best known is the Royal Kumari of Kathmandu who lives in a palace in the centre of the city. She appears briefly in an upstairs window at certain times. Photographs are forbidden
Sadhus are wandering holy men ('good men') who have relinquished worldly possessions and attachments including homes and families to dedicate their lives to attaining motska or enlightenment through meditation. The Sadhus cover themselves with ash or chalk, and paint their faces according to the deity they have devoted themselves to
Built in 1692, Tiger’s Nest Monastery (Taktsang Palphug) is one of Bhutan’s most sacred sites. Perched at the top of a cliff, it stands about 3,000 metres (10,000ft) above sea level. According to legend, Guru Rinpoche, also known as Padmasambhava and the bringer of Buddhism to Bhutan, flew to this exact spot from Tibet on the back of a tigress. He came to subdue a demon and then took residence in a cave where he meditated for 3 years, 3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days and 3 hours. The monastery was built around the cave which is still there and open for viewing once a year.
No trip to Bhutan would be complete without a sight of the monastery and so we set off very early one morning. From the car park, the white buildings of the monastery were just about discernible through the mist. With no expectation of reaching anywhere near the top but, having been advised that reasonable views could be had at the halfway-ish point, the aim was to try to reach the cafeteria there.
We eschewed the ponies which were available to carry people two thirds of the way and set off on the steep and at times (too many times) precarious path.
With frequent stops for water, a nibble of an energy bar and to catch our breath (hiking at altitude certainly affects the lungs more than the legs), we managed to reach the target of the cafeteria and, despite the lingering mist (and I was so grateful not to have to walk in bright sunlight and overpowering heat), were rewarded with a much better view of the monastery.
Of course, the ever present dogs were hanging around the picnic tables, hopeful of a biscuit treat. And there were puppies!
I could have quite happily stayed to play with the pups but was encouraged to press on upwards, 'just to see how much further we can get'.
Eventually, we arrived at the start of the approach to the Tiger’s Nest - a rocky outcrop overlooking a vast chasm, with the monastery on the other side. There were stone steps (and no handrails) carved into the exposed cliff face heading down into the ravine. Descending via the steps, a waterfall, festooned with prayer flags, came into view with the path continuing directly across it. Once beyond the waterfall, gruellingly steep steps, over 800 in total, climbed towards the entrance to the monastery.
I'm not sure how it happened but, dear Reader, we made it to the top and in good time, too. Photography is not allowed inside the monastery where we received a blessing from one of the monks and took a peek inside the original cave, thinking ourselves lucky that we'd picked the day of the year that it's open for viewing.
The descent was much easier, for me, at least, and I ended up about twenty minutes ahead of the mister, in the company of three German tourists.
After brief stopovers in Qatar and Thailand, we arrived in the eastern Himalayas for a stay in the tiny landlocked Kingdom of Bhutan.
The total population numbers about 750,000
It feels like there are as many street/feral dogs as people. There are dogs everywhere
The street dogs are very well fed by restaurants and local people
The national animal is the Takin, Budorcas taxicolor. Created, so the story goes, by the Divine Madman who ate a whole goat and a whole cow and then, using the leftover bones, stuck the goat’s head on the cow’s body and, tadah! - the Takin
Bhutan is a constitutional monarchy
The current king is the country's fifth, referred to as K5
The current king's dad, K4, married four sisters in the same ceremony
Bhutan is the world's only officially Buddhist country
There are monastic orders throughout Bhutan with boys as young as seven, usually from poor families, entering monasteries
Usually associated with a spartan lifestyle, Bhutan's strand of Buddhism allows monks to own a range of possessions and they are frequently seen using mobile phones and iPads
Most people enjoy eating meat and fish but there are two meat free 'auspicious' months
Chillies are regarded as a vegetable rather than a seasoning and red patches of drying chillies can be spotted in every village
The national dish is chillies and cheese
Bhutan has the world’s highest unclimbed peak, Gangkhar Puensum (7570metres/24,836 feet)
Mountaineering on any peak above 6,000 metres (19,685 feet) is banned
The cost to visit Bhutan is set very high to discourage influence from outside and to protect national culture and the environment
Travelling the country independently is not allowed
Television and internet access have only been available since 1999
The national sport is archery. The target is small which the archers aim at from a distance of 120 metres
Tall visitors, like the mister, attract attention. 'How high you?' 'He look very good'
The selling of tobacco is banned
Bhutan is the only country whose largest export is renewable energy (hydroelectric power)
Progress and the success of governmental strategy and policy is measured by happiness - Gross National Happiness rather than GDP
Thimphu is the only capital in the world with no traffic lights
Every Tuesday is dry day and alcohol sales are forbidden
As part of the effort to preserve its culture, citizens are required to wear national dress in public, men wearing something resembling a knee length dressing gown with long socks, and women a full length skirt and short jacket
About two thirds of the population work in agriculture, the majority as subsistence farmers, and the aim is to be the first organic country
One of the largest statues of Buddha in the world is being constructed on a hillside overlooking the capital, Thimphu
Comics were a big part of my childhood. I loved them and the associated annuals (some of them, neatly covered in sticky backed plastic, still grace the bookshelves here) which appeared under the tree every Christmas. It probably had a lot to do with my mother. I don't remember ever seeing her read a book but she had daily newspapers (two on Sundays) and weekly magazines (Woman and Woman's Own) delivered to the shop she and my dad had and which was also our home, and at some point she added comics for me.
It started with Bunty, which would arrive on Tuesdays, and Judy on Wednesdays. But my appetite for comics grew and so the order at the newsagent's (Tunnels, which, thinking about it, we could easily have walked to as it was just at the end of our street) was expanded over the years. Eventually, Mondays meant Diana, Thursdays brought School Friend and later Girl, Sunday was Princess. Sometimes there was a free gift inside (oh, that Bunty bracelet with the black plastic Scottie dog charm) and even pen friend clubs to join (which I did and ended up writing to girls in Germany, Australia and the USA).
In my teens, the comics were ditched and I moved onto the wonderful Petticoat magazine. Every issue included interviews with Famous People and short stories but it was the fashion pages I, and no doubt everyone else who read it, pored over. This is where I found ideas for outfits and where I discovered names like Biba, Quorum, Clobber, Foale and Tuffin, Ravel, Bus Stop.
Unsurprisingly, none of the clothes were ever available in the shops in my home town, where Chelsea Girl and C&A reigned. If I couldn't buy by mail order (Anello and Davide managed to make me a pair of shoes based on cardboard cutouts of my feet) I relied on my brother, armed with a magazine cutting, to stop by the King's Road or Way In en route from Heathrow and whichever holiday he was returning home from.
Mostly, though, it was Aunty M, who had worked as a tailoress and was exceptionally skilful, who would step up. All I had to do was show her the picture in Petticoat, choose the fabric and she would set to with her sewing machine. She could make anything - skirts, dresses, trousers, jackets - which never ever had that homemade look. A burgundy crushed velvet coat was a standout. I kid you not, it was absolutely fab.
Wasting a half hour browsing eBay recently, I came across a listing for a copy of Petticoat (it had made its way to New Zealand) which I bid for and won.
It was something on the cover which set a bell ringing.
I remember ordering this ready to sew kit in the turquoise and green colourway, which Aunty M duly stitched in time for a holiday my brother, who was 16 years older than me, was treating me to.
And here I am wearing it. Aged 15. In Nassau, in the Bahamas. Looking nothing like the model but probably thinking I was the bee's knees. Probably reading a copy of Petticoat. Possibly with sellotape sticking down that hair under the hood.
I came across the photograph in an old biscuit tin full of all sorts which I brought from my parents' house and which also contained the postcard I'd sent at the time.
Clearly written before we were invited one night to listen to some singer who was performing in an airport hangar.
I'm not sure my friends believed me when I told them I'd seen Aretha Franklin.