Sunday, 28 April 2013

Keep Calm and Have a Restoration Coffee

This weekend we visited one of my favourite places - The Old Dairy in Ford.  Part of the enjoyment of going there is the journey itself. In the Scottish Borders we are relatively close to Northumberland and the country roads that take you to the pretty Victorian village of Ford, wind in and out again between Scotland and England with the welcome signs changing frequently.  The girls cheer each time we cross back into Scotland.
The Old Dairy itself is described as a 'country concept store' and has a delightful coffee shop and, rather decadently, a champagne bar made from old marble fireplaces. I'm not sure what the first term is really but if the 'concept' is eccentricity then the label fits perfectly.  The place is a treasure trove of the re-found and re-claimed.  It cannot be described as an antique shop as it has none of the stuffiness and 'don't touch' atmosphere that usually comes with such places.  Instead you are encouraged to work your way around the old cow sheds (don't worry, they have been cleaned of their previous bovine inhabitants) and search through the collections of curiosities, the retro and well, just junk really.

Here's an extract from their website which describes their selection:
... it ranges from the very large to the very small. For example we have a pair of giant teak sinks brought from the Egyptian Embassy in London, lots of Victorian fireplaces and panel doors, plenty of antiques, (English and French) Arts & Crafts oak and copper, a plethora of vintage and up-cycled, along with new log baskets big enough to curl up in, blankets to keep you warm and cow hides to fall asleep on.

The owners, Lynne and Keith, are rather quirky themselves and having both worked as BBC radio journalists and travel writers they have successfully merged an exotic 'days of the Raj' kind of feeling with an English village twee. 

The Cheviot hills of Northumberland

No visit would be complete though without enjoying a cuppa in the Restoration Coffee Shop with its eclectic mismatch of china. Here you are easily transported to the 1940s with music playing from George Formby and Vera Lynn, a straw boater hat hung on the coat stand and wartime memorabilia hung from the ceiling alongside old agricultural tools. Fortunately they do not take authenticity as far as Spam sandwiches and Camp coffee; instead we enjoyed jaunty cups of their artisan roast and slabs of Manhattan cheesecake.

As to our purchases - S picked up a whole pile of The Beano comics and was delighted to find one from her birthday date. I found a charming egg-cup and I couldn't leave without a jar of award-winning marmalade, made on the premises by Lynne; the owners are both marmalade connoisseurs, if there is such a thing, and attend the marmalade awards annually always coming home with at least one prize.

Friday, 26 April 2013

This moment...

Inspired by Soulemama's {this moment} - a Friday ritual. A single photo -  capturing a favourite image from the week. A treasured and funny moment that I would like to pause and remember.

Woollens cycle maybe?

Sunday, 21 April 2013


H was asked by her slightly nutty English teacher what one word was spoken most frequently at home. She replied without hesitation that it was the word 'what'. After a little confusion and her teacher thinking she hadn't heard the question, H explained how most of her family have terrible hearing. I think, in fact, that I am the only person in the household that hears anything at all, at normal decibel range anyway.

(Image credit:
Many years ago when H was a newborn I came to think of The Wonderful Man as not wonderful at all as he never got up in the night.  Every night like the boxer's count I would drag my heavy head from its horizontal position, stagger about the bedroom in sleep-deprived drunkenness and complain, loudly, about his nocturnal deafness.  Gradually though I realised that he didn't quickly respond to her high-pitch mewing in the daytime either and whatever adult conversation I did manage to have with him, his replies were fairly limited (this of course may well be a male thing).  

I tested my theory that his hearing was completely pants by telling him one afternoon that I intended to change H's first name and have her christened 'Oswald' instead and would that be alright. He scanned my face, presumably lip-reading, and, seeing that I was smiling when I said this, just nodded vacantly in agreement. I made an appointment at outpatients for a hearing test but like many people he wasn't keen on anything remotely connected to a hospital or being examined and simply went to the GP and had his ears syringed instead! So for a long while I resigned myself to having to repeat everything, with actions, and solved the problem of night-time uselessness with a less than gentle shove or the fail-safe method of a sharp pull of the nostril hair - works every time.

It was only three years ago that he finally decided to do something about his hearing and went to see the audiologist and have that test.  I went with him (to make sure he went basically) and it was no surprise to me whatsoever to discover that, for various reasons, some genetic and others self-inflicted, he did indeed have some mild hearing loss in both ears. Mild?! I could clearly hear the beeps he couldn't as they played through his headphones!  He was issued with pretty nifty hearing aids but then much to my frustration he rarely wears them.  You see the problem is that he associates hearing aids with old age and that will never do plus he is, though he won't admit it, incredibly vain and they're just not, in his opinion, attractive. 

Both girls have taken after their father in more ways than looks and have had their issues with hearing too. H in particular has suffered repeated ear infections, though grommet insertion when she was younger helped. Like her dad too, she has bouts of tinnitus which can make good quality sleep difficult. All this goes to explain why 'what?' is such a frequent utterance in our house. Comical confusions and misunderstandings are many especially between similar sounding words. Here are some examples - 'comfy chair' and 'country fair'; 'Lion King' and 'violin'; and, most memorably, an entire and thoroughly baffling conversation about  'Disney' or as L heard it - 'dysentery'! 

(Image credit:

Friday, 19 April 2013

This moment...

Inspired by Soulemama's {this moment} - a Friday ritual. A single photo -  capturing a favourite image from the week. A treasured and special moment that I would like to pause and remember.

Captured by my very artistic daughter H!

Monday, 15 April 2013

Absurd surds and other maths madness

H wanders into the kitchen, maths revision homework in hand, "Mum, what's an irrational number?" she whines in a pleading voice as though I really might have the faintest idea of an answer. The words go in but are then instantly rejected by my right-sided brain.

"Unreasonable numbers that get upset easily," I venture unhelpfully.  She rolls her eyes, sighs deeply and then states the depressing truth:
"You really are of no use at all when it comes to maths," she complains.

To some extent she's right. Now she's 15 years old and building up to national exams I am of little help.  The problem is she's left me behind.  I can do fractions, decimals, even simultaneous equations. Averages do not faze me at all, percentages - no problem, and I know that Pi has nothing to do with pastry or a film involving a boat and a tiger. But this is a foundation level understanding only and H has moved on to inscrutable topics involving tangents and indices.  I cannot bring myself to look at the chapter in her maths textbook entitled 'Algebraic Expressions and Formulae" without feeling quite dizzy. 

In my role as a learning support teacher I often have to think of creative ways to explain mathematical concepts. In the junior school, for instance, there is great job satisfaction to be had when after marching around the edge of the playground a pupil finally understands perimeter or when the mystery of fractions are revealed by cutting up cakes. Even at secondary level I find the idea of a lift and floors below ground level helpful for the concept of negative numbers  (I know, I know, the proper term is 'integers' but what help is that!)  and I have always associated the hypotenuse with a hippopotamus - being the biggest side (ok, ok, the longest side - but you get the idea) *Pythagoras turns over in his grave several times*

My brain is all about words and pictures and I do not make logical connections. When H explains that she is asking about irrational numbers because it is to do with something called 'surds' I am none the wiser. This is an entirely new piece of vocabulary to me and I can't help but think about Serbs instead and have visions of human-sized numbers dressed  up in Serbian national costume running around the Balkans being irrational. I turn to the dreaded textbook which informs me that 'All real numbers are either rational or irrational'.  Are there unreal numbers then?!  I read on: 'Roots of rational numbers which cannot be expressed as rational numbers are called surds.'   Arrhh, all is mud. Seriously, what on earth does that sentence mean? They may as well have put 'the answer's a lemon' for all the explanation it provides.

I turn to the fountain of all knowledge - Google -  and come across a video on youtube made by some geeky guy in his bedroom. I didn't know that 'maths porn' like this existed and it proves enlightening. He explains in his nasally voice (and helpfully demonstrates on his scientific calculator) that surds are really just 'nasty square roots'.  It doesn't matter that I don't share his opinion that there are nice square roots, I have made progress and H and I solve the first three questions together.  The white wine seems dangerously low though at the end of it and I think it's time we employed the services of a professional, and sober, tutor rather than rely on social media, alcoholic sustenance and my maths-confuddled brain. 

Friday, 12 April 2013

This moment...

Joining in with Soulemama's {this moment} - a Friday ritual. A single photo -  capturing a favourite image from the week. A quiet and mindful moment that I would like to pause and remember.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Three Sisters

I am the youngest, by a considerable gap, of three sisters. They won't thank me for specifying the numbers, but my oldest sister is ten years older than me and my middle sister, eight years older.  Being the youngest had a distinct advantage as I came to benefit from the attention that is often the preserve of an only child; but, there were disadvantages too. By the time I was ten, I was, for all intents and purposes, an only child as both sisters had effectively flown the family nest.  My parents had already been through the difficulties of the teenage years and the transition into young adult before I had even reached high school; consequently,  I was often treated as though I was much older than I was. I came to be a solitary child, often with my head stuck in a book, who shunned active childhood passions like horse-riding and swimming and grew instead to like the sedentary pastimes of my older parents - tea rooms, antique shops and quiet holidays in quintessential seaside towns. My adventurous middle sister was making a life for herself down under and my eldest sister had married when I was ten and made me an auntie for the first time at 15. I was left to negotiate  my own way through teenage turmoil and coming of age often without much needed sibling guidance.  I've made it sound rather a sad little life but I was remarkably contented - just a little lonely. I looked up to both sisters, followed their adventures, both domestic and antipodean, and treasured any kind of family get-together.

Here we are circa 1970: Oh the hideous dresses and those sleeves!
Friends, fabulous colleagues, my own family unit (and growing menagerie of pets) have filled any feelings of isolation but I still find myself envious of extended families who live close by to each other and pop in and out of each other's lives and houses with happy frequency. For a variety of reasons I have ended up at the opposite end of the country to my childhood home. My mother and eldest sister live on the south coast of England and my middle sister has long made Queensland her permanent home; she officially became an Australian citizen a mere 30 years ago.  Despite the geographic distances though, as I have become older the gap in our ages seems to have closed.  Perhaps the experience of becoming mothers ourselves binds us more closely to one another and the lack of brotherly testosterone-fired rivalry often makes sisterhood more harmonious. We have six children between us all but my nephews and nieces are all grown up and two years ago I was thrilled to become 'Great Aunt Helen' - it sounds very Dickensian doesn't it! 

Here we are 2013 
This Easter holiday my Australian sister made quite literally a 'flying visit', breaking off from a business trip to nip over to the UK for six days.  Such excitement and anticipation ensued at this unexpected development. Sometimes as much as four years have gone by between visits and I have had only her virtual presence on social media to connect with.  The prospect of real physical hugs and a chance to reconnect properly to both my sisters meant that I was prepared to tackle the long drive down (I'm not a confident driver) almost the entire length of the country; flying at such short notice was too costly an option for the whole family.

What a wonderful time we all had together.  It was special and treasured for my mother too as she has not had all three of her daughters together for at least six years. We reminisced and laughed and I watched my sisters with my daughters as they made a fuss of them, teasing and encouraging them in the same breath, much like they did with me at one time.  Both have endless patience and a huge capacity for love and all of us share the same zany sense of humour though no-one tells a funny story quite like my middle sister. 

We gathered as much of the family together as we could for dinner and the merriment that followed I'll always remember.  13 people sat around the improvised table arrangement in the cosy dining room; makeshift extra seats included an office swivel chair and the table at our end was in fact a cleverly disguised Black and Decker workmate!

I feel so blessed to have sisters and I hope my girls will benefit from the same sisterly bond.  We are at different stages in our lives, live in different countries and lead very different lives but we are all part of the same loving family and blood, as they say, is thicker than water.

My girls with their glamorous Aussie aunt

This post is linking up with Suzanne at 3 Children and It for Oldies but Goodies blog hop.

Friday, 5 April 2013

This moment...

Inspired by Soulemama's {this moment} - a Friday ritual. A single photo -  capturing a favourite image from the week. A treasured and special moment that I would like to pause and remember.


Monday, 1 April 2013

And it was all yellow...

It's that time of year again - the long weekend of gluttony.  I'm amazed at how incredibly commercial Easter time is now.  When I was a child you considered yourself lucky if you managed one little egg with a pitiful amount of sweets inside; now children expect an avalanche of chocolate, be-ribboned Easter chick bags stuffed with egg-shaped mallows, at least one set of fluffy bunny ears on a hairband, their own Happy Easter banner and table confetti and a personalised and suitably decorated mug (with more of the brown stuff inside)!

Perhaps in these economically-challenged times, the retailers, in desperation, have gone all out to try and create another Christmas in Spring (Spring complete with snow and Siberian winds in our case). 

I think if you asked about the origins and meaning of Easter to many children they would struggle to answer now that it is so inextricably linked to cute baby animals and Easter Sunday a festival of chocolate. I was reminded of a conversation I once overheard on a bus between two gormless and woefully ignorant teenage girls:  
   One asked the other, "What is Easter about then?"
   The other replied, "It's when Jesus died init"
   There was a pause and then the ludicrous response: "He didn' live long then did
   he - cos he was only born in December?!"
I got off at the next stop shaking my head in despair.

The appearance of the Easter bunny is all a bit random though; I don't remember any mention of eggs, hares or their fluffier cousins in the gospels. This can only be explained by the fact that pre-Christian religion and traditions have become muddled up with the church festival.  Specifically, an old Teutonic myth that says one Winter day the fertility goddess Eostre was passing through a forest and found a bird dying in the snow from hunger and cold. The goddess turned the bird into a hare because they have warm fur and can find food more easily than any bird. And so the 'bird bunny hare creature' survived the winter and when the spring came the animal started laying eggs because, well, because it it was once a bird I suppose. Rabbird then decorated every egg leaving it to Eostre as a sign of gratitude. I relayed this little piece of interesting folklore to S but she just looked blankly at me with the same look she reserves for conversations about fractions.  All she wants to know is whether we can have an Easter egg hunt in the snow!

Hand-felted hens

Real eggs courtesy of Dotty and Betty
For the Wonderful Man, Easter means another trip up into the loft to fetch the Easter box of decorations (see it is getting to be exactly like Christmas). He does not take well to scrabbling about in confined spaces and he is not particularly interested in pretty tablecloths and ornamentation.  So it is only me really who appreciates the abundance of yellow and our growing collection of egg cups and bunnies. My favourite decoration is probably the oldest and most battered. As soon as 'chick family' come out complete with blu-tack feet and cocktail stick parasol he groans - "Not them again - surely we can throw them out".  This attitude will never do and he'll need to get into the Christmas Easter spirit if the bunny is to leave him anything other than droppings.

Chick family