Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed

Even the Prime Minister came under fire regarding the total lack of support during the aftermath of the storms

Yet again, as our cottage was plunged into darkness at 21.52 on Monday 23rd December, we were reminded of the pitiful response from the major power companies.

Our own network made almost £1bn profit in its most recent accounts, its Chief Executive was paid £1.7m and its Asian owners were paid a dividend of £135m.

Last week a Director admitted that the company were culpable by allowing too many staff to take annual leave over the Christmas break despite forecasters warning of damaging storms days before the event. A parliamentary Inquiry is now likely to be held at MPs insistance and the Directors will be asked to explain why 150,000 homes were without power for so long over Christmas.

When will we realise that all these companies are only concerned with profits and not with our welfare? Whether it's Tesco selling us cheap horse meat instead of beef, BT spending millions on Sport and nothing on infrastructure, British Gas and other companies hiking the cost of fuel so high that 30,000 died of cold last year or UK Power Networks making profits for shareholders at the expense of those of us left in the dark for far too long - we must insist that our elderly and vulnerable are taken care of BEFORE company directors or shareholders. We must ensure that our food is safe and our rights to fair treatment maintained.

We were completely without electricity for a total of 70 hours - right up until 20.30 on Boxing Day night. We were cold, dark and damp, but we had an open fire and a gas stove or two - yet being in the Cottage was miserable. 

But we had a lovely Christmas Eve at my Brothers house with my parents too and we had a wonderful Christmas day with the Grandchildren and my daughter and son in law looked after us so well.

Our power is back on, our cottage warm and light - our troubles over for now. Many, who were flooded over Christmas will not be trouble free for many months - the clearing up has only just started - my prayers go out to them, I hope you can all manage to have a Happy 2014 despite the mess and the damage and I hope that we will see an end to the cynical treatment we all receive from these companies. I leave you with a Band we discovered for the first time in 2013 - even though they've been around for 20 years or so - Show of Hands. This song has been in my head for a while now - I hope you like it and can see why.

Happy New Year

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Happy Christmas Everybody

To all my followers, readers, friends and family, may I sincerely wish you a very Happy and Peaceful Christmas, a wonderful New Year and an exciting 2014.

God bless us every one.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Skyfall IV - For Your Lies Only.

Five weeks, five days and about five hours later we were reconnected by BT Open Reach and it only took them a couple of hours to sort out the entire problem start to finish. The phone works and so does the Internet - finally.

Why it took so long, why we were lied to time and time again and why they sent a lonely engineer with a single hand held tool box to fix the fault only the day before - goodness only knows for we do not.

We received texts saying the fault had been repaired on 5 or 6 separate occasions, the engineers who turned up only to stand and stare at the broken line several meters above their heads could have made up a football team - and not five-a-side either. 

Even the CEO's office staff were lied to by Open Reach and were as perplexed as we were about the protracted delay, but we have learned several lessons: Facebook is wonderful and we have many friends who put themselves out to help us. This Blog had hundreds of hits so I guess people were interested enough to read about our problems and BT, who have spent hundreds of millions  of pounds buying TV rights to various Sports, have not set up sufficient infrastructure to serve the customers they have. Misplaced priorities? We think so and we will vote with our feet very soon. 

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Skyfall III - Cry Another Day

Still no relief from Storm St Jude....

The ongoing saga of BT's inability to have the common courtesy or honesty to reconnect our phone and internet after Storm St Jude damaged the line OVER 4 WEEKS AGO!

Despite having been promised that we would be visited on Wednesday 27th November - we weren't. We were then told that Open Reach would be along on the 28th to cut trees and on the 29th to reconnect - Open Reach were distinctly conspicuous by their absence.

The lady from BTwho has stayed in touch by e-mail is now joining us in the renting of clothes, the wearing of sackcloth and hair tugging that has become part of our daily lives. She has no idea what's going on.

On Monday 2nd December it will be FIVE weeks since we lost connection - we live in the country so have no 3G or, often, even any phone signal - we are therefore often un-contactable except by text. BT are still taking Direct Debits, are still beyond the reach of normal conversation and compensation looks like a dream never to be attained - as does reconnection.

Watch this space!

Thursday, 28 November 2013

River Kennet

It's not often one gets a chance to fish a chalk stream to catch as many brown trout as you want. In fact, more brown trout than you want. I once read that a definition of hell would be a fishing venue where you caught fish all day long. 

A beautiful specimen........

The Kennet most certainly is not hell - it's a magical, meandering, pretty little river with miles of inlets, side streams and cascade pools to explore and we turned up to be greeted with bacon rolls and champagne lovingly prepared by our host Phil Sharnock under whose kind auspices we were invited today. 

Sparkling sunlight...

It was crisply autumnal, golden leaves glimmered in the low morning sun which reflected cleanly off the clear chalk stream water in beams of crystal light.  The trees were hanging on to the last of their russet and rufus leaves, the grass sparkled with a light frost and our breathe whisped around our mouthfuls of hot buttie as we swapped our thoughts about the day to come, spitting bread crumbs around us in a champagne spray of enthusiasm. 

We all had different plans; fly fishing for trout and grayling, feeder fishing for chub and roach, but I wanted to have a go at my preferred quarry in the winter - the pike.  I had brought along a couple of deadbait rods with some sprats, mackerel and smelt and I walked with my gear to the back of the estate, towards the old part of the river. 

Magical, meandering, pretty...

There were pike in the system but as the sun began its year end quickened journey to its highest point, they were proving hard to locate, the leaves ceased to crunch beneath my feet, beginning to whisper as the frost melted away before I saw any sign of a striking fish. But then it happened - a fish I thought to be around five pounds or so struck on the surface, scattering fry in its wake. I cast out the float fished sprat into the area and gradually drew it back towards me in short pulls, allowing the sprat to rise and sink enticingly as it moved.


I cast again to the right this time thinking the fish may have turned and suddenly the float bobbed, moved sideways and began to sink away as if it had a life of its own. I leaned into the fish which certainly was not a jack and it powered away with a strong surge. It fought well for a few minutes then gave up completely until the net was seen then it started to fight again, but it was on the bank soon enough. 

My youth came back to me in a flood - Hythe Canal in 1973 - a frosty, foggy day and my first deadbait caught fish on a sprat bought that morning from the fishmongers. They're often overlooked due to their diminutive size, but my wife had bought these recently and they shimmered in the low sun as they were cast across the stream. I've had a couple more on that bait since that day in '73 but not many. It was good to get another, and a nice double too. 

I did catch some trout in the afternoon after a tasty chilli lunch and more wine, ending a wonderfully bright, successful day with a wistful moon and a sudden chill in the air as Winter reminded us of its proximity. 

Another trout....

Many thanks to Phil for the day, to Sue his wonderful wife for the chilli and to John for the lift and good company. Some men love their fishing so much that they can talk about it for hours without it seeming at all boring - John is one such enthusiast and he made the journey both ways seem short. Great company, good fishing and a bright autumn day - now that is heaven. 

Pretty brown trout...

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Skyfall II - No Quantum Of Solace

Our seldom maintained generator

I write this post in a local shop which sells coffee and offers  free Internet access for its customers  – BT have, as yet, failed to reconnect our broken phone line and seem not to have any plans to do so in  the near future. As of today we have been 27 days and 6 hours without phone or internet access. We have called, e-mailed and texted on many, many occasions, we have been visited at least three times by head scratching Open Reach operatives, and told twice that we were back on even as the phone cable flapped disconnectedly in the breeze but as yet we have no hope of being reconnected.

UK Power Networks, having installed a generator in order to provide us with electricity after 85 hours in the dark and cold, then failed to maintain the machine, allowing it to run out of diesel - plunging us in the gloom for a further 5 hours the first time and 4 ½ hours the second time.

In fact, the second time, although we didn't actually run out of fuel, the maintenance Engineer was so late filling it up that in his panic, he accidentally hit the emergency cut off switch, turning off a generator that he was NOT QUALIFIED TO RESTART! 300 dark minutes later another man arrived to press the button!

We are not a third world country, we are not so remote that no one can reach us, no, we live next to a major arterial road to the South Coast – that is our problem.  We are alone in our plight – being the only property affected – that is our second problem. BT, Open Reach and all their engineers are unaccountable, uncontactable and uncaring – that is our third problem.

We shall continue to work in other peoples’ homes, coffee bars, restaurants and hot spots, we shall continue to pull out our hair and rent our clothing – but I can’t see any way out of this dilemma – at all.

Working to restore power - in the dark

Tuesday, 19 November 2013


The van driver blinked in the pre-dawn darkness  and leaned closer to his windscreen as the wild wind blew the roadside trees almost horizontal. He continued cautiously up the hill, vaguely aware of the lights behind him and the slowness of the oncoming traffic as those drivers also myopically peered through windscreens nervous of the flying debris and arboreal detritus that littered the road. On his way from Bexley to Hasting, he was seriously looking forward to his early morning tea - this days journey had been fraught with tension as the long predicted storm hit the south east in a fury of whipped branches and whirling leaves. 

His nose almost touching the windshield now, he flinched backwards sharply as he suddenly saw more movement than even this wind should produce; his foot hit the brake pedal and he hauled the van to the left as the falling tree toppled into his path, hitting the top of the windscreen, sliding down to remove the bumper and number plate. The van crunched and lurched to a halt, as the engine stalled, the vehicle swaying as the wind buffeted the right hand panels.The  Highways Agency Incident Support Unit that had been following the van pulled up behind and the three workmen quickly climbed out to check for injury.

The van driver breathed out in a shuddering sigh and clambered shakily from the cab as the Highways men joined him to survey the damage. As they went over the events in shouted conversation to carry the wind, one of the workmen started to pull the six inch thick tree trunk away from the wreckage and out of the road, another joined him while the third began to direct the traffic, but barely had they begun when a huge rending crashing sound caused them all to jump, spinning around to stare back up the hill as an eighty foot long beech bough was torn from a tree and smashed down through the surrounding smaller trees. Falling heavily onto the road and exploding like a grenade sending debris spinning into the air, the branch sliced through tree limbs, phone lines and the power line which split the power pole like a cheese cutter as it fell to earth. The four men stared in shock at the destruction just a hundred feet in front of them.  

"Bugger," I said as the kitchen was plunged into darkness and the spluttering coffee machine sputtered to a halt. I saw the end of the explosion as I looked out through the window at the aftermath not twenty yards from our cottage. My wife rushed into the kitchen and together we walked out into the wildness of the wind and noise to assess any damage. 

Unbelievably our property had been entirely missed by the destruction but only by a matter of a few feet, however all our utilities, apart from water, had been cut off by the fall. 

We didn't know it then but we would be without power, heating and hot water for almost ninety hours and without telephone and internet access for weeks. Tragically, two people were killed by falling trees, so our plight was minimal, if exceptionally annoying and frustrating. 

In our little incident, no one was hurt, though many were inconvenienced, there was no real damage to property apart from the van and we have some more firewood to season. But the utilities companies proved to be incompetent, unhelpful and uncaring. Happy to take our money and increase prices time after time, both BT and UK Power Net were very slow to show concern, answer phone calls, or provide assistance with any show of speed. 

No surprise there then.  

More firewood...

Sunday, 20 October 2013

October Gardens

Collecting leaves....

Just because the evenings are drawing in and the temperature is dropping doesn't mean that you can abandon your garden that has worked so hard for you during the year. There are many things to keep you occupied if you want to be outside and, let's be honest, being outdoors in whatever sun autumn has to offer can only be a healthy thing. Vitamin D is in short supply through the winter months, so grab it while you can.  

Leaves are a wonderful compost composite, turning rapidly into a fine, airy loam that can be mixed in with general purpose compost to promote good drainage and lightness in your soil. Don't discard them, round them up using a lawn mower if you can, because then they will be partly shredded from the start. Store them in sacks or mix into your own compost heap. I used to have a spare wheelie bin that I put mine into, jumping on them initially, to get them all in, but to be honest a separate, covered pile will do the job, just turn them over every now and again. These days I mix all my leaves with my chicken poo which produces a rich, light but awfully pungent pile of unctuous goodness which is wonderful for vegetables but not necessarily for neighbourly relationships. 

Sweet peas can be planted now in deep pots (I'm using toilet roll holders) in a greenhouse or cold frame to ensure early spring flowers. Assuming we get an early spring next year. 

Saving Cardboard.....for sweet peas, peas and beans...

Clearing up this year's vegetable beds and mulching them or covering them for next year will keep the weeds down and will also help keep some warmth in the ground. Use an old piece of carpet or some plastic compost sacks, black side up so they're not too dazzling to the eye. 

Bean poles, bamboo canes and hazel rods can all be stored upright and kept in a dry place if possible. They'll last a couple of years if looked after. 

Lawns can be raked now to remove moss and other detritus. I also like to keep fallen leaves off as much as possible to prevent those ugly, bald patches that are a sure sign of wet, cloggy leaves lying in one spot too long. Buy a leaf blower, electric ones aren't too expensive and they'll keep a lawn leaf free. I also use a strimmer to cut the grass if it's too wet to use a mower. You can always run the mower over it when it's drier to tidy it up if necessary. A nice lawn makes a garden look so much better. Don't forget to keep the leaves! 

Shrubs can be shaped before the really cold weather comes. Cut ends and frost don't go together very well and many hedges and shrubs are better cut when the leaves have all gone and before the sap rises in the early spring. 

There are many vegetables than can be sown now and planted out. Early broccoli, cabbages, winter salads in a greenhouse or polytunnel, broad beans - and you can also pot up some herbs to be kept indoors. Just remember that cold windowsills and most herbs don't mix. Try and keep them in a warm but sunny spot. Over a radiator - but not too hot - or a warm bathroom shelf. 

Don't forget too that on the milder sunny days throughout winter much preparation for spring can be achieved, but generally, just keeping things tidy and clear will give you a good, fresh start next year. 

It's all about keeping your enthusiasm going through the darker, colder months, when the days are short and nights are long. You quickly forget the summer and can easily slip into a kind of semi hibernation when you think it's too cold to be outside. But some warm clothes and a bit of activity will soon get you warm, the hardest part is getting started. 

Try and get out if you can. It can only do good. 

Watch out for some of the windfalls - they're very tasty...

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Woeful Wierwood - The PAC Day

Mike and Harry Fishing Again...?

Yesterday, the rain came down by the bucketload; the M25, M40, M4 and M11 all had problems throughout the afternoon and evening, water ran as rivers down country roads and cascaded into reservoirs and lakes all over the south-east.

Yes, as you can probably tell, I am laying substantial foundations in an attempt to excuse the fact that we blanked today on out first Pike Fishing trip of the season. Whether the rain caused the lack of Esox action or the high water temperatures (53F) or the bright sunshine I have no idea but only a couple of fish were caught all day on a water that certainly holds a few decent fish including some very nice perch. 

Harry and I neither saw a fish, felt a fish or smelled a fish - all day - and we tried just about everything. 

Dead baiting didn't produce, neither did trolled or drifted lures. We tried the deeper dam end, the shallower sanctuary end and most points in between, hunting high and low for features that might hold fish - even jacks. 

It is a sad fact that fills me with dismay, disdain and self-loathing, but not much of any of those really,  that I was pleased to hear that almost everybody else had also blanked. No, I'm not really that self centred -  it was just one of those days that for whatever reason know only to themselves - the fish decided to stay away. 

Not much else to do....

It happens, for what it's worth I think it was the large influx of dirty water into the reservoir yesterday that affected the pike and stopped them feeding. But we'll never know will we? I suppose that's part of the fun. 

Fun. Yes, I remember that. 

Dave Mutton drove a long way in the rain to facilitate this event, my thanks to him and his daughter for their efforts and for an opportunity for an early season attempt at the fish. 

Belgian Buns and Bewl Boredom

This was supposed to include a whole Bun...but..you know...

It was the Annual Harry and Mikes' Birthday Bash, but it was just into the second week of October - the vicissitudes of working life have kept us apart - but the weather was wonderful! Blue skies, late teens temperatures, and a light corduroy breeze rippling the lake and gently rocking the boat as we ate Belgian Buns. Yep, I know - shock, horror - Belgian! 

No, really - it was a beautiful Indian Summer Day and it was such a pleasure to be outside. It's been a fantastic summer, long and warm but for the mild temperatures and sunshine to cascade into October is a real blessing. 

Just as well really - because the fishing was a disappointment - apart from the first half hour. 

Expectation was as high as the weather front, although the latter was due to change within 24 - 48 hours and the former before tea time. Fish had been caught all week, trout love the back end of the year as the fry are feeding and if the weather is warm, insect life can be abundant - thick even -  and trout are eminently catchable. Naturally, something went wrong today - but that's OK, the company was as welcome as the weather.

As I mentioned, it started well. We edged out into the bowl and I had a Daddy Longlegs on the point with a black peacock hurl Diawl Bach kind of pattern on the dropper. After about 20 minutes I had a hard fighting rainbow of about a pound and three quarters on, which had taken the Daddy on a slowish retrieve. I sorted that out and bagged the fish, re-cast and immediately had another on the Daddy again. I suppose we could have been forgiven for thinking that we were going to need a bigger boat for all these fish, but alas, the breeze died, the temperature dropped as the forecast low made its presence felt and neither Harry nor I had another fish - or even a touch until late in the afternoon when Harry had a tug, on a damsel, I think.

A Rainbow shining in the sun...

It's like that sometimes - the fish had dropped deeper, moved away or stopped feeding altogether - who knows, but my Birthday gift of a fishing trip and our get together certainly turned an odd afternoon into a pleasant event, and we didn't stop trying, although at one stage Harry said it was almost a thoughtless process - a robotic method of cast and retrieve, cast and retrieve - we had to remember to think - to consider what we were actually trying to achieve, to dispel the boredom and put some effort into our machinations to fool, the trout.

And of course the Belgian Buns were lovely....for something Belgian...thanks Harry.

Indian Summer...?

Sunday, 6 October 2013

The Autumn Mist

...and stare with wonder...

The mist rolls across the meadow to the outer edges of the wood and as it moves, it covers, it blankets and it chills. Rabbits busy feeding on the wooded fringes flick their fur before hurrying down into the warm burrows, the sudden cold driving away all thoughts of food - warmth is all they seek now - warmth and comfort.

Overhead the mist swirls at the trees before shifting and slithering into the woods sending tendrils forth like an armed vanguard that touches and envelopes as it pushes forward. The badger that had been snuffling around the fallen horse chestnuts - sniffing for earthworms drawn to the surface by the aroma of decaying husks - feels the cold as it flows over him. His head lifts and his snout twitches at the air as he endeavours to detect any threat. Discerning none, he turns around and shuffles heavily back into the woods, away from the flowing chill, to his sett. 

Onward the fog flows, over the dying nettle beds, the sprawling brambles, their runners reaching and clawing, and on towards the largest chestnut tree in the woods. Here, in its topmost branches an old, wood-wise Tawny Owl blinks down at the wood mice as they busy themselves among the fallen conkers. Later, young boys will pick up these large kernels and stare with wonder at the deep, chestnut sheen of the freshly freed fruit, their pockets will bulge as they run back home to find fathers with bradawls and string and the talk will be of vinegar and heat and other tricks to promote longevity. But for now, the owl looks down benignly at the scurrying mice, having earlier eaten his fill and so he calls to his mate, his 'twoo' and her responsive 'tvit' deadened by the encroaching mist.

Dawn is now spreading her light through the canopy, the unveiling glow at war with the heavy damp air as they battle to claim the day, but for now the mist continues, pushing back the brightness of morning and gliding further into the wood. The dampness spreads and the wrens roosting deep in the bramble are not protected from its embrace and they fluff up their feathers, shifting slightly towards each other as they seek further warmth. The fallow deer reaching for the last leaves of birch as autumn tinges the edges of them with sienna and umber, lowers her head checking on her fawn, this year's baby but now well grown, and her nostrils twitch as the vapours of Autumn lap around her legs, she can now barely see the sulphur tuft mushrooms that kept her olfactory interest for a while before she started on the birch. The mist doesn't concern her, she has fantastic hearing and a wonderful sense of smell and she has heard already the clumping footsteps of the Gamekeeper  at the outer edge of the woods towards the farm.

He is up early to check his coverts and pheasant runs, he knows that a vixen has been checking around the birds for he has found her markings and he can smell her. He's not too concerned, she no longer has young to feed, but he never-the-less wants to be there to make sure she has no way in and no time to try.

...the Gamekeeper at the outer edge of the woods...

He lights a cigarette, leans on his stick and stands listening, waiting for the birds to increase their song into the first light crescendo he has come to know well. First the Robins fast trill, always ending with a sad note; then he hears a blackbird away overhead and closer by the loud tumbling warble of the wren - the smallest of birds with the largest of songs. He has already heard the Tawny Owls - old friends now - and he hears the badger snuffling back to his set, but the deer walk by within 25 feet of him, their soundless passage unmarked by the man.

...lifting wraith-like from the grass...

Then the mist swirls as if disturbed by some interloper, some unseen spirit pushing and shoving its way towards the seething dampness. This trespasser is the breeze and it's instigator, the sun. Rising above the distant trees, the October sunlight has brought warmth and with this rise in temperature has come the pressure that pushes the air inexorably backwards, back into the woods and beyond; back across the fields, the mist lifting wraith-like from the warming grass to dissolve into the early morning sunlight as if it had never been, until finally, the last vestiges of the early morning mist have disappeared entirely and sunlight dominates the morning, the battle is over, today the sun has won.

The Gamekeeper extinguishes his cigarette between thumb and forefinger, placing the butt in his jacket pocket, he takes one more look across the fields into the sun, squinting his eyes from the low glare before turning his back on it and melting into the wood.

...the sun has won...

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Making Jellies

Jellies - not the wobbly ones we had when we were kids - and what happened to them anyway? Do children these days still have jelly? What about Blancmange? Perhaps the jellies are still going, but as an adult I have moved on....lots of things are like that. Pogo sticks, roller skates and other dangerously innocuous children's toys that didn't hurt me when I was younger... I also heard that jellies aren't as nice as they used to be because of all the preservatives and other additions they are now laced with - sherbet lemons aren't the same either - The best jellies are those made with real fruit and not much else....

Anyway, I digress - how easy it is to go off on a tangent and allow ones thoughts to wander into areas not contemplated at the outset - oh oh.....

Jellies - not the wobbly ones but the preserves - are jams without the bits. This can be incredibly useful for quick preserving or for retaining the integrity of the taste without the texture which may not be required. Sometimes too, the fruit can be overly tough skinned (some plums, damsons, apples, gooseberries, currants), over pipped (raspberries, gooseberries) or stoned (apricots, peaches, plums etc.)

Jellies are also incredibly easy to produce.

This is a general recipe, for which only two real items of equipment are required - a large, good, robust pan and a jelly bag or muslin cloth. Jelly bags and stands are relatively cheap and available at most kitchen stores....like THIS ONE

There is also one absolutely useful tip that should not be ignored - but that comes later dear reader, so you must read on...

Another great thing about making jelly is that it happens in three distinct stages thereby not taking up a whole half day if you don't want to do it all in one - you can spread it over a day or two. You could even freeze the results after the second stage if you absolutely have to, if time constraints make finishing it all off difficult.

Stage One

Choosing your fruit needs to take into account the amount of pectin that fruit contains - it is the pectin that enables the jam to reach a setting point. Apples contain pectin and are therefore used in many jelly recipes - especially with soft fruits like blackberries, but any search on the net will determine the fruits which are high in pectin and those which are not, for example, orange flesh is low in pectin but the skin, pith and pips are high, so when we make marmalade we use the pips and pith during part of the process to extract the pectin required to give the jam its lovely jammy consistency.

Pectin added sugars are available and, of course, I use this in my Kelly's Chili Jelly recipe HERE This enables you to make pure fruit jams and jellies if you want to.

However, once you have chosen your fruit just chop it up roughly (if necessary) and put it all in your large pan with around 600 mils of water per kilogramme of fruit and boil it all until it is soft.

Stage Two

Set up your jelly bag or muslin sheet and put all the fruit into it  and allow it all to drip into a container large enough to take it about a litre and a half of liquid.

Now here is the one tip you must NOT ignore:

Do NOT squeeze the fruit, allow it to drip slowly, at its own pace. This way you will make a clear jelly, any pressure will result in a cloudy finished product. What we want is a sparklingly clean and clear final result so allow it to drip over night if possible. 

Using the jelly bag...

Stage Three

Measure your clean, clear liquid and then pour it into your large pan again. Once it has begun to warm up add three quarters of the amount of your measured liquid and stir in until dissolved. So if you had one litre of fluid, add 750 grams of sugar. Liquid weights and solid weights are the same here so weight equals volume. If you have an odd amount add a little liquid to bring it up to an easy calculation. Simple. 

Now bring it all to a rollicking, rolling boil and keep this going until setting point. 

I have written about this before HERE

Once it has set, pour it into sterilised jars as HERE 

you can make jellies from most things but this time of year with so many apples around I make Herby apple jelly with Bramley apples and either rosemary, sage or thyme chopped very very finely and added late in the boling process. Having added a lot of the herb during stage one, the flavour is mostly there anyway, this final addition looks nice and adds some last minute flavour hits. Try it with any meat dish, in casseroles, curries,  with mackerel and with cheese it's delicious.

Alternatively take a kilo of chopped apples, a kilo of blackberries and use the entire process above to make a wonderfully tangy jelly suitable for toast, sandwiches and scones....it is fun and it helps preserve summer for use in the winter....what could be better than a taste of summer days on a cold, wet January teatime?

Setting Point

I often talk about this when making jams and jellies, so I thought I would post it separately to ease the finding of it for everyone.

Take out the dish from the freezer and drop some liquid from the pot onto it. Push the liquid with your finger. If it wrinkles, setting point is reached and you can remove the pan from the heat.

You will get some notice; the liquid becomes gloopier, thicker and has a different smell, but keep your eyes on it, it can catch quickly and burn on the bottom of the pan, spoiling the taste. If not reached boil for a few more minutes and test again.

Once setting point is achieved, remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool down for 10 - 15 minutes. This is to allow the peel to be evenly distributed throughout the mix. If not allowed to cool it will all float to the top of the jars - aesthetically unpleasing...

Jar it up and seal the jars as detailed previously HERE.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Outdoors...Observations and Oddities

Walking with the Kelly Kettle for brews..

I'm not a patient person.

In fact my daughter has been known to call me The Dwarf Doctor - a man of little patients (!!!)

So it may come as a surprise to those who know me that on our recent trip to Scotland I spent some time just sitting around chilling out, reading my books, writing and playing guitar. I don't have much time for any of those things normally - as many of us who have the exigencies of life thrust upon us will know - leisure time is hard to come by.

Yet in Scotland I seem to have the ability to slow down - and this was not a pure holiday trip, work was commingled with holiday time but still this capacity to relax, unwind and not pester the life out of my wife - all of which are so difficult under normal circumstances and even on vacations take days to achieve - was accomplished almost instantly.

Not a soul to be seen....anywhere!

I think it's Scotland. Since I first drove through Glen Coe in November 1990 I have had a love affair with the country that has led, at times, to an almost insane need to get there, even if it's only for a weekend. Even now after 23 years Frankie knows that any trip to Scotland - even one with the most time demanding work schedule - will cheer up even the darkest of moods, the most miserable of days.

We saw these beauties on a walk straight out of our front door

I recently had a fantastic holiday on the island of Madeira (and if you get the chance to go you really should) but I noticed even there that it took two or three days to completely unwind and settle into "holiday time". It's a wonderful place and the ability for the islands to grow crops on even the most inaccessible or tiniest of plots fired me up to work extra hard on my own garden this year and with great success I might add, but nothing helps me to relax like Scotland. Nothing else gives me the ability to stop and look around, to slow my mind into the pace of the countryside, the beauty, the rolling fields, the monolithic mountains and the tumbling rivers like this country does. I even find myself driving slower on the motorway home..

We only saw a handful of other people on this glorious September day

However, there is one British phenomenon which upsets me so much that I am at times speechlessly bemused but which doesn't seem to happen in Scotland quite so much. Yet it does happen and due to the nature of the Scottish landscape, its beauty, its accessibility and its availability to all, the occurrence of these paradoxical events are all the more upsetting.

I'm talking about the outdoor trip to a car park.

This is the marvel that is outdoor picnics, drinks and sometimes even barbecues within 50 feet of a car. The great British drive to the Country, Seaside or Park, the unloading of camp chairs, flasks, food and all the paraphernalia of the kitchen just to sit within sight of the car, eat the food drink the drink take a long look at the wonderful scenery and then to turn ones back on it, get back into the car and drive away.

Where I live, in our country cottage we have a wonderful first hand view of this oddity as mile upon mile of cars pass by towards Hastings and the coast, beginning at about 10 am every Bank Holiday and returning at around 6 pm the same day. The thought of those thousands of people filling up every pebble of space on the beach, squeezing into every Fish and Chip Shop and fighting for every car parking space makes my blood freeze. We are so lucky to have about 770 acres of wonderfully cared for National Trust land on our doorstep yet of the 2000 to 3000 people who visit here every Bank Holiday Weekend only a few dozen or so walk the entire Estate, most of the visitors never make it past the Cafe and Shop.

Our coastline has endless miles of walks, available to all

This is so sad, I understand that we are all different and many of us enjoy these shared experiences, but sitting in traffic fumes for hours, jostling for breathing space and food is not my idea of fun. There is still an awful lot of outdoors available - in fact in Scotland there is a legal Right to Roam, to make the most of ALL the land and countryside, to walk for as long or as far as you wish. In England and Wales there are miles and miles of coastal paths, country parks, National Parks and footpaths lovingly documented and drawn up by assiduous, country loving people in every community - our local Pub even has cards of nearby walks available to all.

The Outdoors is there for everyone, walking is free and healthy and there is so much to discover. I don't even mind if you come and walk around here, just enjoy it and respect it, take your litter home;

Take only Photographs and Memories and leave only footprints.

And most rivers have miles of walkable banks - this is the Itchen

Sunday, 8 September 2013

The River Tay

A Typical Tay Brownie...

The pretty town of Kenmore lies at the eastern end of Loch Tay in the heart of the Highlands and we arrived here just as summer was ending with a late, warm flourish as if to give us a final reminder of how lucky we have been with the weather this year. Temperatures soared all over the country, but in Scotland that just makes early September just a little more special.

it was a mild, still morning as I drove through the village at 6 am towards the river which runs out of this end of the loch towards Pitlochry further east.  The baker was parked outside the hotel, but apart from a lone dog walker, the village seemed sleepy and slow. The sky was a pale pink in the east as the sun began its gentle ascent into the Scottish air and I struggled to see the fishing line in the early light as I threaded it through the rod rings, but within five minutes or so I had squeezed myself into the chest waders like too much sausage meat in too little skin - but they do still fit after all these years - just, and they don't leak either - and was headed towards the river Tay and a few brown trout, I hoped.  

It was a calm day, but the river is wild and fast in places so I carefully eased my way from the bank and, as always in these times, my main concern regarding the inevitability of my falling in was the welfare of my iPhone - a sad indictment of how these small items of technology have become absolutely indispensable - in fact as I sit here writing this blog on my iPad, my laptop is loading up some Show Of Hands CDs we bought at the Folk Festival last weekend in order to add them to my iPod and my iPhone is buzzing next to me as my e-mails start to come through - and I'm in the heart of the Scottish Highlands using Paul's dongle to connect. 

My father won't have understood a word of that last sentence!


For an hour or so I tottered around the river striving to remain upright, casting across the river and allowing the flies to drift to pretty much no avail. Time for a rethink.

I sat on the bank and re-tied my leader with brown chameleon, which was much finer and darker than my previous line, tied on two smaller flies - a nymph on the point and a pennell on the dropper. I wobbled and slid my way back out into the flow and cast diagonally into the centre of the river and on this first cast I hooked a trout of about 10 inches in length - I love it when a change makes a difference - it makes me believe I am thinking like a real fishermen....

I had three more in the next 40 minutes, one fish slightly larger and two smaller, on both the point fly and the dropper - this latter fish giving a startling, splashy take that almost caused me to topple over backwards - so the re-tie was a useful exercise in the end. It was time to drive back to home made bread and a bacon and egg breakfast in a wonderful house looking down on the placid loch and with two dogs trying to stare me into submission of my sandwich....

Early morning stillness...

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Bramble Vodka (Blackberry Vodka)

As I mentioned in my previous post and in an item from last year (HERE), Blackberry time is a good time. This year the berries seem much larger, the fruit sweeter and more abundant. Everywhere I look bramble branches are bowed under the weight of fruit, almost like apple boughs in autumn rather than blackberry bushes. So let's make the most of it and use it in pies, jams and Bramble Vodka!

..bowed under the weight of fruit

You will need......


So, that's the easy bit, now comes the really easy bit.....put them all together in a demijohn or large Kilner jar....

Oh alright - you want a bit more instruction otherwise it's too easy to be called a recipe isn't it?

For every bottle of vodka you will need about 100 grams of sugar and about 200 grams of blackberries.

Put it all together in a container as mentioned above and shake the concoction once a day until all the sugar is dissolved.

Leave for a month.

Is it too sweet? Add more vodka
Not sweet enough? Add more sugar

Leave a month.

Adjust as above.

Leave a month.
Adjust taste if necessary - but it shouldn't be by now.

Remove the fruit though a sieve or preferably a muslin cloth - this latter produces an absolutely clear drink if you do it twice over two days...

Drink...or give away if you absolutely must...

Vodka seems to suit the sweet taste of blackberries just as Gin suits the sour taste of sloes.

Try it, but drink slowly....it's nicely potent.

Christmas is coming.....

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Summer, the First Time

Kite Flying....

It's not often you can look back on a summer and think "well that was a great one", but with the help of my Grandchildren, my wife's wonderful family and the brilliant long summer sunshine, I can this year. We've had barbecues, walks, outdoor charity events, kite flying, long evenings with friends around the chimenea, languid conversations over bottles of wine, birthdays, guitars, Harvey's local Ale, Shakespeare outside Scotney House and much, much more. 

And now, as the summer officially comes to an end, it's time to reap the benefits -  the fruits and the produce of the year's growing season and also to review the photographs and the memories produced by the long evenings and hot days. 

There was a series of articles in the press recently about children and the amount of daily activity they were getting; only about 50% of the children surveyed were active for at least an hour every day. How can this be? It's not that I don't believe the surveys - although these must necessarily be taken with a huge pinch of salt - but that children are inactive; they are always running around - aren't they? Or are our children now spending so much time on their iPads, iPhones, x-boxes and computers that exercise is becoming a thing that only previous generations (previous to technology) took part in?

When I spend time with my Grandchildren, or indeed my friends,  I want to get them outdoors - into the fields, the woods and the parks - I can't wait to show them stuff. Just this month my Sister in Law's children were holding grass snakes, learning the names of trees and getting to grips with making grass scream. My grandson Eli was watching his Dad run round the park with a kite because their was no wind and then he helped me pick a pound or two of blackberries. This is his first "real" summer - Summer The First Time - he's only two, but he loved it. 

Park Pickings...

Let's get the children out, it doesn't matter if it's raining - there are raincoats and wellies - there is so much to do and see, even in the winter evenings when it's dark and dreary it can be fun outside looking at stars and planets, having bonfires and jacket potatoes, campfires and chestnuts. Who doesn't love the sight of toddlers splashing in puddles - what  larks Pip, what larks.   

This time of year though there are fruits to be picked, wild or at your local Pick Your Own. Blackberries, raspberries, apples and plums are all ready to use in jams, pies and puddings - but not to forget the chutneys, alcoholic beverages and pickles that can also be put away for later use.  

Keep reading my blog and I will try to share some of the stuff that I've discovered and made. It's fun, it's active and it's healthy. 

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Runner Beans

Looking good this summer...

I thought I would continue my occasional commentary on easy vegetables even though the planting season is over as next years plans will soon need to be considered and I can highlight these posts again next Spring for all my wonderful followers....

And runner beans are easy to grow and, although they are wonderful to eat fresh, they can also be easily frozen.

The thing to remember about beans and peas is that they like deep roots - at the expense of foliage for some time - so if planting the seeds in pots to plant out later, use deeper pots than you otherwise might. Sometimes toilet roll holders are used as they are deep and can be torn off the rooted seeds when planting out. Just remember that they will take longer to get their roots established than many other vegetables and you may wonder why they're not growing - they are...underground!

Another tip when erecting your bean poles is to place them in an X shape rather than the traditional A shape or tepee type of arrangement. If you use these later two shapes then the beans will grow and fall into the inside of the trellis in the dark rather than on the outside in the sun.

The final tip is to keep picking the beans, the more you pick, the more you get - the plant will keep producing flowers and therefore beans when you pick the formed beans as soon as you can.

In every allotment, and in many gardens all over the UK in the Summer you will see runner beans climbing all over their supports, their red flowers catching the eye, the  beans dropping like green scimitars and swords beneath the leaves - they are all over the place because they are so easy to grow.

When you have picked them, string them if necessary and then cut them up and blanch them in boiling water for thirty seconds or so before plunging them into ice cold water to instantly stop them cooking. Then dry them thoroughly before freezing - you don't want to add any more water to them - and enjoy your beans all over Autumn and Winter!

Growing your own produce can be easy...