ballet, Church, River Wye. Moles

Mysteries on the Wye

This morning my OH walked down to the river as usual after escorting me to church. The lack of rain in the last few weeks means that the river level has been slowly dropping again so that the island (more of a gravel bank really) in the middle has reappeared. Along with something else…

Above is the island as it appeared in late summer. Most of it is visible along with the gravel spits at either end. The river in front has lots of ripples, as you might expect given that it was shallow enough to ground canoes. Now look at the photo taken this morning from roughly the same spot – the river flows from right to left in both pictures:

The river is still higher than it was when the first photo was taken, so I wonder what’s causing the mysterious standing wave? Obviously there’s something stuck on the river bed, but what could it be? I think we should be told!

Another mystery is what’s happened to all the moles in our garden? We don’t have lawns as such, just areas of something that on average looks like grass. Usually we have to spend some time before we mow just kicking down the molehills, otherwise it’s like trying to push the mower over the Apennines. Walking across the ’lawns’ is an adventure in itself thanks to all the runs underneath that make your feet sink a little every few steps. But lately – almost nothing.

We like to think that it’s all thanks to our cat, who (when not eating or sleeping) is very good at keeping down all the mice, voles and shrews in the garden and has been known to bring in – and up – the occasional mole. We’ve even found the odd squirrel carcass now & again.

Although OH thinks that there might be another reason, and that the two mysteries might be linked.

Along the river bank there were lots of molehills this morning, some of them quite fresh. OH’s theory is that the local moles have been watching too many documentaries about their cousins the North American beavers (we know they’re not really cousins, but the moles don’t…) OH thinks that they’ve decided to give the life aquatic a go and so the standing wave is caused by their first attempts at a beaver lodge.
Personally I think all that unaccustomed fresh air has gone to OH’s head!

After much anticipation we went to yesterday’s performance of the Nutcracker ballet by touring company Ballet Theatre UK. It was a wonderful production, made all the more amazing because of the limitations of our small local theatre – actually it’s owned by the local boys’ school to which Son Number One goes. He was studying the souvenir programme closely over breakfast this morning, so maybe he hasn’t given up on his old hobby altogether.

Being a professional dancer takes passion, determination and dedication as well as raw talent, but if he did decide to take it up as a career then we’d be thrilled to little mint balls!.

The local church I attend is in desperate need of repair, like all too many small parish churches in England these days. While he was waiting for me this morning, OH noticed a strange line of damaged & discoloured stones on the wall above the doorway. Neither of us could work out what might be causing the stones to decay in a gentle curve (from bottom left of the photo, curving over the window and ending at the top right). There are no gutters or gargoyles above, nor does it correspond to any structure on the inside of the wall. Does anybody have any ideas?

OH has been trying to develop a conspiracy theory involving the vanished moles, but even he thinks that might be a bit too far-fetched.

ballet, country living, damson jam, The Nutcracker

A Writer’s Life…Of Damsons and Sugar Plums

If you read my September 14th blog for authorsoundrelations, you’ll know I was getting ready to make damson jam. That didn’t exactly go to plan. As I hadn’t tried this particular recipe before, I did everything by the book. That included using my jam thermometer. The recipe said the fruit and dissolved sugar would take between ten and twenty minutes to reach setting point. As it boiled, the sound changed from thin burbling to a thick, full throated “gloop”. After twenty -five minutes I was convinced – especially as the mixture was clinging to the spoon, but the thermometer still said “no!” I tried putting a blob of jam on a chilled saucer. It wrinkled even faster than good jam should, so I ignored the thermometer and potted the jam. It tastes delicious, but it’s a bit over-boiled and therefore pretty stiff. Next time I think I’ll go by instinct, rather than technology!
When Son Number One saw The Nutcracker on TV at the age of five, he immediately wanted to do ballet lessons. To my shame, I was horrified and spent the next few years impersonating Billy Elliot’s father. He never gave up, so eventually I booked him in for a trial lesson at the Fairie Feet School Of Dancing. I assumed half an hour in an all-girl environment on a Saturday morning would silence him. It did – but only because he loved it. Over the years he went through the grades, progressing from the basic black male ballet shoes to the white ones he coveted. Miss Joy and her staff were perfect teachers. Along the way, Son Number One impressed me with the mature way he dealt with the reactions to those who were, shall we say, curious about his hobby. I was worried he would be bullied, but luckily that was never a problem. You have to be tough to be a ballet dancer. You also need to put in the hours, and now he’s a teenager, Son Number One has computer game design and animation on his mind. Sadly, he’s decided to reclaim his Saturdays by giving up ballet. I never thought I’d say this, but I wish he’d reconsider!  
As a fitting end to my period as a ballet mum, we’ve just booked tickets for The Nutcracker, later in the year. I’m calling it my reward for washing all that sweaty kit, but I can’t deny there’s an element of wondering what-might-have-been. With my sensible head on I know it would have been at best a short, cut-throat career for him, plagued by injury and disappointment, but a writer only deals in dreams… 
The weather is closing in, ready for autumn. It’s a time of transition, like Son Number One’s change of heart. Do you feel like making a change? What are you going to do about it? 
ballet, Cooking, Daniel Dolan, newsletter, Tartiflette

Food, Men and the Weekend…

By Rémi Guillot

Tartiflette is a guilty secret that should be hidden from the health police at all costs. It’s full of the best-tasting things in life: crispy bacon, fried onions, potatoes, cream and cheese. You know what that means. The dish comes with a health warning in every mouthful – naughty, but extremely nice.  In the days before refrigeration, people worked hard on the land from dawn to dusk. When you spend all your time producing food, you don’t want to let any of it go to waste, and this is a delicious way to take in calories and use up leftovers at the same time.

Tartiflette might have been designed with today’s late-night fridge-raids in mind, but as all my family have sedentary jobs I only make it on rare occasions, as a treat. I put it together from scratch, with whatever is to hand. For instance, ham sometimes stands in for the bacon. If I use it, I just add it when the onions have softened as it’s already cooked. 

For four people you’ll need: 
Half a pound of bacon rashers, snipped into bits
2 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
garlic, to taste.
Roughly a pound and half of cooked potatoes, sliced
Half a cup of thin cream
Grated, meltable cheese

Fry the bacon bits gently in a pan with a little oil until they start to crisp. Add the sliced onions and crushed garlic (if used), and carry on frying the mixture gently until the onions soften. Carefully fold in the potato slices – you don’t want them to break up too much. Season with salt and pepper, then  carry on cooking until the potatoes start to brown. Stir gently now and then to keep everything an even colour.
Turn the mixture into a shallow tin, and drizzle the cream over the top. Add a thin layer of grated cheese, then toast under a grill until the tartiflette is piping hot all the way through, and the cheese topping is bubbling and golden.

After driving through a plate full of that wicked temptation, it takes will power to get moving again. Here’s some inspiration, in the shape of Daniel Dolan. Daniel shows what dedication and determination can do. Film of Daniel at work is included here
to show a little of what it takes. My own son saw The Nutcracker when he was five years old and from that moment on, he wanted to take ballet lessons. In those days I thought like Billy Elliot’s father, but I soon learned there’s no place for sissies in ballet, whether they are male or female. It’s really tough, but it’s character building, too. Much against my better judgment, I booked my son in for lessons a few years ago and he’s taken to it like a duck (if he was a girl I’d say a cygnet) to water. It’s been the making of him, and thanks to the wonderful Miss Joy, the hours he spends crouched over his computer are balanced by shorter periods of intense but carefully guided activity. 

Many places run ballet classes for adult beginners. When I watch Son Number One doing his exercises it looks very restful, but if I try out his movements, it feels too much like a workout. It uses up loads of calories, so it’s ideal for dedicated Tartiflette fans although I think I’ll stick to running!

This weekend I’ll be working on getting my Spring newsletter together. You can sign up for it by visiting, and clicking on the link. New subscribers will get my free recipe for French Bread – the perfect accompaniment for Tartiflette.