The Next Adventure

I have just read my last blog from the 26th June this year. I cannot believe where the summer has gone as I look out the window of our study at the strange autumnal half-light created by Storm Ophelia and the dust from the Sahara. What an amazing few months with both good and bad news. A very close family member has been diagnosed with Hodgkins disease so has just started chemotherapy and we are strongly supporting them through this process. We have continued to reap the benefits and hard work in the Borrowed Garden. We have holidayed in our camper-van all too briefly. We have decided to run down our baking business by the end of the year and have bought a house in France through a television programme! So just as you seem to have found a direction of travel in ones life things come along, both good and bad, causing you to change course.

I will not dwell on the family illness as it is all too personal to place within the social media network.

The Borrowed Garden continues to be a wonderful experience. We have produced vegetable and fruit boxes across sixteen weeks for the owners of the land, family and friends, plus ourselves. Jill and I have not bought vegetables or fruit from a shop since early June. It has continued to be hard work, but to fill up a vegetable box for yourself once or twice a week makes it all worthwhile. Neither Jill nor I have produced such successful cauliflowers, carrots and onions before. This victory, plus staples from our past like tomatoes, beans and potatoes being cropped in abundance has been very satisfying. We have had trouble with white fly on our brassicas, but by and large keep the insect parasites at bay.

As we now start to put the garden to bed for the year it has been a most rewarding twelve months and this experience has further fueled our desire to have land of our own one day soon.

We are now in the process of making jams and chutneys for sale in a local Christmas Tree Farm shop, loaves and rolls for the businesses we still supply and Jill continues to support a wedding business with a regular supply of focaccia and ciabatta breads. Our last hoorah for our produce this year was to join friends in the village (The Guilsborough Apple Corps – established March 2017) for a cider make using our apples and pears at our local pub.

Our commitment to the Borrowed Garden has meant that we could only go away in the camper-van for brief breaks from June to September. These trips took us to Leicestershire, the Peak District and Devon where the sun continued to shine on these couple of lucky campers. We both relaxed and also worried whether the garden would survive without us watering regularly (though Jill’s youngest son was on hand to water the greenhouse).

Now for that house in France story…….

Well back in February I sent an e-mail to a television company who were looking for volunteers to ‘be on a show’ about property hunting abroad. They made contact with us in May and a couple of auditions later we find ourselves in France with a presenter and film crew for five days of filming. They showed us 5 houses in Brittany and we actually fell in love with the last one and put in an offer, which was accepted. By the end of November we will know if we are the proud owners of a house with nearly 5 acres of land in the middle of the French countryside. It’ll need some renovating and updating but is perfectly habitable at the moment. We plan to start this French adventure in early 2018. We are therefore both accelerating our learning of French by various means; Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, CDs and books.  One of these devices says that I am 41% fluent. I AM NOT!

We re-visited the property in September to have a second viewing which confirmed what a great find it was and toured the area to get a fix on what our new part time home will be like. We fell even further in love with the place and now have ‘frequent flyer’ membership with one of the ferry companies. We return to France later this year.

One last comment….the dolls house hobby is coming along slowly but surely; roof nearly complete and the lighting half done but working…..

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The Rhythm of Life

There is a song called ‘The Rhythm of Life’ from the musical ‘Guys & Dolls’ that I was in the chorus of many years ago.  It is a rather incongruous song, which does not fit into the musical in my opinion, but the chorus of it does seem to sum up what Jill and I are trying to achieve in this new adventure that we have been on since I retired from the police. I now believe that just recently we may have found the rhythm. The bakery business had rather been taking over our lives. Almost unintentionally, what had been an idea of a two day a week working model had become 3-4 days, plus all the admin that Jill had to do to keep accounts and orders up to date. Furthermore, much as we enjoyed opening the shop in our local pub, the financial rewards and required support from a regular body of customers was not emerging. Now if this was what we HAD to do to make ends meet we would have given the shop a much longer run, but we don’t have to! So after 13 weeks we jointly agreed to end this part of the business. Strangely our closure announcement on social media had nearly 500 hits, far greater than any previous post that we had placed on Twitter and Facebook trying to advertise the business. We do not have any regrets though; we still supply the pub with bread, plus a local deli and a wedding business. Jill also had this idea to start a weekly loaf club for some loyal customers. All of the aforementioned means that we only bake 1-2 days a week, do not have any wastage and have slowed down the pace of our life.

 

The other parts of our life are now starting to fit in rather than having to be squeezed in; family, ‘The Borrowed Garden’ and the camper-van.

The borrowed, walled garden now requires at least 2 half day visits a week, and regular quick trips (it’s only a 10 minute walk from our home) to water the plants. The garden has blossomed amazingly over the past 6 weeks. Tomatoes, aubergines, chillies and cucumbers are in large pots in the greenhouse. Potatoes are well and truly established in the ground, as are various beans (broad, runner, french, borlotti), sweetcorn, sprouts, lettuce, kale, kallets, cauliflower, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, onions , garlic, spring onions and radish. The work Jill has put in to move seedlings from smalls compost cells, to small pots to large pots is amazing, supported by me carrying loads of 75k compost bags and filling the pots with this and manure. The old Victorian greenhouse does look stunning , even if we do say so ourselves.

 

 

The challenge is now keeping the beds weed free and ensuring we water our produce regularly. Typically, we have had very little rain recently and we mainly water the garden itself by hand. We have had the odd failure or two. Borlotti beans do not seem to like the soil, some of the shallots have gone rotten and a session of weed killer spraying by the landowner’s gardener (to keep the garden’s paths clear) resulted in the loss of french beans, mint, other herbs and some sweet peas. That latter incident was a little soul destroying, but we recovered quickly and hopefully the newly planted seeds will catch up with the rest of the produce and add succession harvesting. We have so far held the natural bugs/pests at bay through a combination of water overflow piping (courtesy of B&Q) framework and second hand netting bought by Jill on-line from a farm in Scotland.

When the bakery business was at full tilt and we were working from 5am-midnight Jill and I would occasionally catch each other groaning. We never groan (other than when I bend over to weed!) in the walled garden, no matter how hard some of the work. We both love being outside and literally seeing the fruits and veg of our labours. On Monday mornings, come rain or shine there is no better place to take a well earned tea break, after a couple of hours of digging, planting, weeding etc, than in our ‘Borrowed Garden.’

In order to cope with the amount of produce we are starting to produce we have established a Vegetable box group in the village – 6 families, plus the garden’s owner & occasionally the gamekeeper/gardener of the estate. The first couple of weekly harvests have seen the boxes contain herbs, two varieties of lettuce, strawberries, homemade strawberry jam (what a bumper year for strawberries in both our gardens!), radishes and posy of flowers by Jill. So part of ‘the rhythm’ is that on Wednesdays we deliver veg/fruit boxes and on Thursdays/Fridays we deliver bread.

The Camper-vanning part of our life has seen us visit Worcester, Ypres (Belgium) and The Pembrokeshire coast near St Davids. On each camping trip we have had perfect weather (only one brief spell of rain in Worcester) and we are beginning to master the camper-van, the equipment required, car ferries and the campsites with their various rules and slopes.

 

We have had some lovely times with our 2 grandchildren, seen our sons and my dad (a two week stay here in Northamptonshire for him). We’ve been to a number of shows; Mamma Mia and The Northern Ballet’s ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’. I have achieved an ambition of appearing on BBC National radio (very briefly) and we were gifted a free third-hand table tennis table for our courtyard. I lost our first and only game 19-21 – well I am carrying an elbow injury (too much digging!) and I haven’t played since 2008! Play is temporarily suspended as our Labrador caught and chewed up our only ping pong ball!

 

Where did April go?

2 things are undeniable; life is too short and time moves very quickly. I have no idea where April has gone and now here we are in mid-May. I think one of the reasons for this occurring in my life is the rhythm that Jill and I live our life at. Monday we work in the walled/borrowed garden. Tuesday is our Saturday (a day to chill and relax/DIY/jobs around the house). Wednesday is walled garden II, plus baking for the local pub. Thursday is the preparation day for the deli. Friday is the long (6am-12am) baking day. Saturday we bake and open our shop. Sunday we rest. Combine this with a monthly weekend or so away in the camper-van, plus catching up wth family and friends = time whizzes by.

The @borrowedgarden has progressed nicely over the past month. Jill has taken on the mammoth task of planting seeds and transplanting seedlings…..

whilst I have mainly focused on the creation of larger borders in line with Jill’s designs for the garden….I’m the brawn, she’s the brains!

IMG_1236We are now at a point where broad beans, borlotti beans, lettuce, brussel sprouts, potatoes, onions, cauliflower, kallets (a cross between kale and sprouts), onions, parsnips, carrots, spring onions and garlic are in the ground. The weeds are being beaten and we have harvested some inherited asparagus (they must be thanking us for some heavy duty weeding) and chard.

And so the organic fight with nature with it’s bugs, butterflies, blights and slugs has begun. We stripped a local DIY store of it’s white plumbing pipe work and bends, with a shop assistant saying to us simply “Gardening?” We obviously don’t look like plumbers! This pipework will be used to keep the aforementioned bugs and butterflies away through the cunning use of fleece, netting and hope! You can tell how busy we are as at least once a week Jill looks at me with pleading eyes and says the immortal words….” Can we go and get some more compost please!” I think we have already spent our planned budget for the year, but we are pleased with the progress we have made so far. There is still much to do with the compost beds needing rotating, the fruit garden weeding and more beds to be dug to accommodate more vegetables. I love going to the garden. The best bit (apart from the planting) is our elevensies tea-break with a cup of tea and a treat from our deli toasted on our camping stove in the potting shed. We sit back and admire our progress and watch the red kites soaring overhead – living the dream!

Meanwhile we continue to run the deli and try to keep our old cottage standing up and it’s own garden respectable looking. We have repaired 2 shed roofs (three if we include the work we did on one of our son’s shed), nearly finished painting the outside of the house (a project started last summer!) and had a lovely weekend in a camper-van visiting friends in Worcester.

The camper-van is fabulous and we are always learning new things about camping and normally come back from a trip needing to purchase a missing item or gadget that makes a camp site/camping easier to master. For example we now have a valuable ‘drive-away from awning’ attachment (am I really this dull?), which means we can use the camper-van more easily once we have pitched. We shall try this on our next trip.

In other news I continue to grieve about Brexit (I hate that term), get animated about a low 36% turn-out in the Local Elections and have no idea where to cast my vote in the June General Election. I have even taken to sending a long e-mail setting out my voting dilemma to all the candidates in my district to see if their reply can assist my voting choice. I await any response…..

Spring has sprung!

It is certainly true now that I have no idea where I found the time to work full time. Jill and I have such a beautifully busy life. We are very lucky. The past weekend saw us take a much needed rest from all our endeavours in our new Campervan, which we collected in mid February. We have named her ‘Summer’ due to the ‘ETE’ in her number plate translating to summer in French. She took us to Windermere, Lanarkshire in Scotland and North Yorkshire for some time on our own and to also visit old neighbours and my son, Jack. The sun shone on us throughout our trip. and driving many miles in the van was a surprising pleasure. Mind you we missed all the rush-hours!

This past month saw us get down and dirty in the Borrowed Garden (twitter @borrowedgarden). With spring fast approaching we bit the bullet and hired a turf lifter to create one new bed and extend two long narrow beds. To start with it was supremely hard work, until we released we were lifting up an old hidden pathway! We soon got into a rhythm, but it took Jill and I the best part of 8 hours to create our new beds. Having been lifted the turf had to be rolled, moved and stacked. We worked until the winter sun disappeared, but we were pleased with the results…..

We needed a further day to dig over all the new soil, plus an extra morning of adding manure to these new plots. The new beds enable us to plant potatoes, brassicas and root vegetables aplenty in the spring. Jill also started planting lettuce, broad bean, kalettes (which we love having for breakfast, with tomatoes on sourdough toast!) and pea seeds. All these she started to pot on later in the month.  Other tasks for the past few weeks included repairing the potting shed door, constant weeding, further pruning roses and fruit trees (lightly), transplanting a triffid like hop plant and buying loads of seedling compost to supply us for the next month or so. We also planted mushroom plugs into old logs in the hope of producing oyster and shiitake mushrooms in the autumn.

This busy month also saw us celebrate Jill’s birthday, have a romantic meal on Valentine’s Day at a local village pub and visit my dad down in West Sussex. We took the campervan to show him, but didn’t camp. However we did find a great campsite near Chertsey which we may use to break up future trips to the south coast. Much to our surprise Jill and I are now proud members of the Caravan and Camping Club; I have truly embraced middle-age. I will be joining Saga next! We have a trip a month in the van planned through until September. We have to plan our breaks otherwise we simply won’t find the time to go. It is not only the borrowed garden keeping us busy; Jill has re-modelled the Old Bakehouse Deli (www.oldbdeli.com). We now open 10am-2pm every Saturday morning in the village pub. This allows people to collect their orders and/or shop for our breads, pies and pastries.

It seems to be going very well, so we spend much of Thursday until early Saturday morning preparing food or baking. We wanted this new model to help the pub so persuaded the landlord to provide tea and coffees to compliment Jill’s £1 per slice cake. It is great to see the pub bar full on what was, previous to the shop opening, a very quiet Saturday morning. What with the shop, plus providing breads to the pub and a local delicatessen things are looking rosy for the business Jill runs. So much so she is now the sole director of a limited company; Old Bakehouse Deli Ltd. I remain her sole staff member; unpaid but in love with baking & her!

Our other main pastimes are walking the dogs and the occasional trip to the cinema or theatre (saw the hilarious The Play That Went Wrong). The dog walks have enabled me to experiment with photography. Some nice results, but much practice needed….

I have even found time to unpack the dolls (bake-)house model we purchased back in December but whether I ever find time to make it remains to be seen. A blog-story for another time perhaps.

The Borrowed Garden II

Well it has been a  while since I have written anything here. The main reason has been our trip to India. Three weeks in an amazing country, full of sights, sounds and atmospherics. I won’t dwell on it too long  here (you could write pages about the place); suffice to say Jill and I had a wonderful time visiting New Delhi, Varanasi, Jaipur, Udaipur, Mumbai, Cochin, Kerala Backwaters and Kovalam.

 

We have now fallen back to earth as the blue skies have been replaced by grey ones with sub-zero drizzle. I am so glad we were absent for the majority of England’s  January. We have re-opened the Old Bakehouse Deli and will implement a new model, with a pop-up shop in the local pub, The Witch and Sow, from the end of February. Jill is exploring a couple of other outlets for our products too.

Since my last blog on 22nd November, we have made 10 visits to The Borrowed Garden. We are really pleased with the results, although there is still much work to do to be ready for the true planting and growing season ahead. A key thing will be to hire a turf lifter to further widen some beds and create 2 new ones. These new beds are key to allow effective crop rotation over the years. A job for early March I feel. The 2 of us have finished weeding the largest current vegetable plot and Jill planted shallots and garlic sets in this freshly turned earth.  All the cold frames have been weeded and at the beginning of December I added 29 wheel barrows of muck to the cold frames and asparagus beds. It is utterly soul destroying to know how much manure one has got to move, but I get my brain to pretend that it is some kind of healthy work-out rather than just moving muck!

Jill potted up many neglected bulbs and flowering plants at risk of frost damage.  We transplanted a rather sad looking crab apple tree and in the new year staked three fruit trees that were failing to achieve the vertical!  The second and third weeks of December saw us use our newly purchased tripod ladder to prune all the fruit trees in the garden, esplanading some of them. The heavy pruning produced pleasing results and we feel that the apple, pear and cherry trees were all saying ‘thank you’ by the time we had finished.

 

We widened the two other narrow and long vegetable beds, started to use our camping gas cooker for tea, toasted tea cakes and bacon sandwiches and at the beginning of February began to turn the sods in neglected compost heaps. We see this as another work-out kind of job. Rose bushes were pruned and potatoes placed in empty egg boxes to start their chitting process. Spring awaits us!

2017 looks full of promise with the walled garden, collecting our new Campervan in mid February and hopefully nailing our deli/bakery model…….

The Borrowed Garden

As the title suggests Jill and I have literally borrowed a garden! In the early summer of this year an offer was made to us to take on a half acre walled garden belonging to a couple who live in our village. With me retiring from the police it was an offer too good to refuse. The offer is non-conditional other than ‘a share in some of your produce would be most welcome.’ So on 1st November 2016 the garden became ours to ‘borrow’ for as long as we wish (with three months notice either-way). Our plan is to cultivate as much as we can manage within our lifestyle plan (deli, travel, family etc etc). The first step is to reclaim much of the weed infested borders…..

So armed with wheel barrow, fork, spade, rake, trowels and will-power we journey to the garden twice a week. We have so far weeded the herb border, moved lavender plants, lifted cosmos and dahlias, cut back overgrown jerusalem artichoke and crocosmia, nearly finished weeding the largest vegetable patch, weeded two further beds and a rhubarb bed in our first 6 visits.

Jill has also done sterling work on the overgrown asparagus border which will hopefully provide its first edible shoots next year. During one rainy Monday morning we also sorted out a large potting shed positioned at the rear of the greenhouse.

There is much work still to do; prune fruit trees, finish vegetable border, weed flower garden and further tidy the large greenhouse (of which we have permission to use half). Once done we can start to plant up the borders with our seed and other sundry plant/flower/vegetable purchases, based on Jill’s plans. We are contemplating blogging in detail all that we do in the garden, but are not sure of whether we will have the time.

The walled garden certainly helps us to insulate ourselves from the weirdness of the world at the moment. For the second time this year Jill and I woke in the early hours to witness frightening/sad news; this time the sight of Donald Trump winning the race for President in the USA. Another addition to my ‘things to do list’ might be to build a nuclear shelter!

Away from the walled garden we successfully winterised our own garden and continued to work on Rob and Claire’s new home and its neglected garden. We have been devoting  half a day each week to this task and it is amazing how much you can achieve in such a short timescale. We also helped create a new doorway in one of the future bedrooms of the house. This gave us a real sense of achievement and made Jill and I wonder if we could take on a refurbishment project of our own.

All this activity is a clear indicator that Jill’s wrist is well on the road to recovery. We are gradually re-opening the deli and it has been rewarding to see old customers return; we really love the interaction with them. We are about to embark on a busy period for the deli with us undertaking the catering for a sell-out amateur dramatic production in the village (over 200 attendees over three nights), ensuring the making and delivery of our jam and pickle products for the Welford Christmas Tree Farm and having a presence at the Guilsbourgh Christmas Fair on 3rd December. Jill has continued to teach me how different breads are made including spelt loaves. That being said it is re-assuring to have her assuming the lead role again and putting the deli back into her safer hands.

 

Earlier in the month we had a wonderful time with two generations of our family. It was one of the few times we have managed to get my son Jack and his girlfriend together with Jill’s sons Rob and Chris (plus granddaughter Arabella) and their partners. We all headed for the amazing Hollowell village fireworks (still only £1 entry fee).

 

The bonfire, fireworks and beer were perfect on a chilly and star-ridden evening……then all back to ours for burgers, sausages, games and laughter.

In other news semi-retirement has allowed me to continue to neglect the length of my limited hair supply  and I have now stopped wearing contact lenses for the first time in over twenty years. A sign of the ageing process as it’s bi-focals for me from now on. It is amazing how much I have been missing whilst clinging onto the contact lenses. I can see close up and distances so clearly now and everything looks so much brighter (with both my vision and lifestyle!). With aid of the new glasses I continue to try to learn French with @Duolingo which is now rating my fluently at 4% after 17 weeks!! Retirement has also allowed us to finish the majority of our Christmas shopping via a brilliant day out in Birmingham (good old John Lewis!) and I have resumed my home-made wine escapades.

I have been making wine on and off for 3 years with some mixed results. My apple wine last year was awful (good for cooking though!) – tasting like an insipid cider. My pear wine is better (although only I will drink it!) – quite dry and very clear. My elderberry and runner bean (yes ‘runner-bean’!!) however, is a truly knock-out red wine, so I have repeated the make this autumn. With a bit of luck there will be 9 bottles of this excellent concoction available for Christmas consumption. I have also tried to reduce our glut of old home made jams by making Jam wine…..Yes JAM wine……I know it doesn’t sound too appetising and we will have to wait six months to see what this one turns out like (I have a feeling that more cooking wine is currently fermenting!!).

 

 

 

 

From 80 bpm to 64

One of the biggest changes I have noticed over the past 12 weeks since I retired from the police is that my resting heart-beat has dropped from 80 bpm to 64. I am not sure if this is due to increased exercise, reduced drinking or lack of stress? Perhaps it is a consequence of all three. I do feel really well mentally and physically; enjoying the hours I now have available to spend with Jill. As we only met 8 years ago and married last year (we are widow and widower) we have not reached this new time of our life tired of each others company or taking each other for granted (apologies to any partnership who have reached this stage of their life and are still brilliant together); hence spending quality time together is idyllic.

A further step along this developing new lifestyle was made when we received news that the camper van which we have purchased has arrived from Germany and the garage are about to commence the interior fitting. It is going to arrive six months late but that makes the excitement all the more powerful.

Jill’s broken wrist is on the mend, but has meant that the @oldbdeli.com has had to remain closed, apart from serving the requirements of the local pub (@thewitchandsow). Jill is planning to relaunch the deli at the village christmas fair in early December. Until Jill’s cast is removed (hopefully very soon) I have been perfecting my sourdoughs, been taught how to make ciabatta, focaccia and pizza dough, shown savoury biscuit mixes and I continue to help bake the amazing stromboli that Jill has invented for the pub. These makes are maxing out our Kitchenaid so we have decided to invest in a 5kg (20L) dough mixer before the poor thing blows up! We have also been producing our jams and chutneys which go on sale at the Welford Christmas Tree farm in December; summer chutney (our veg garden produce), marmalade, crab apple (foraged) jelly, plum (home grown) chutney and tomato (some home grown) chilli jam. We have also stumbled across field mushrooms on one of our dog walks, which we have either been eating for breakfast or drying in our dehydrator. I love foraged food!

We had a really busy meat preparation day last week in readiness for Jill’s sausage rolls and pork pie make for the Christmas fair and the food for a local amateur dramatic production by the Guilsborough Music and Drama Society (www.gmads.co.uk). We are both members of the society, but because of our changing circumstances this summer we could not commit to be in it’s latest production. Jill has therefore agreed to do the food for the London pub themed buffet for the production at the end of November. This massive meat mincing day further upset the kitchenaid so we think a new mincer is next on the ‘must haves’ list.

All this deli activity (despite us being closed) with Jill only having the use of one arm has meant my ‘to do’ list hasn’t changed since August.

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I think I should call it a ‘Don’t do list’ or ‘CBA’ for short! I have thought about deleting the list but that doesn’t make these jobs go away. With the possession of the @borrowedgarden excitedly looming, I do not see many of these jobs getting done before the end of the year. What’s even more problematic is that I have a habit of doing a job that is not even on the list e.g. renovating the stone cricketers in our garden.

There was a method in my madness, as I have painted these little darlings a number of times over the past 20 years and wanted to test if I was still capable of producing a good result.

Family has also featured heavily in the past few weeks too. Jill’s youngest son, Chris has secured  several new projects as a professional drummer and her eldest, Rob, has just bought a new house with his partner which is uninhabitable at the moment. The result is

a) that we see much more of the youngest’s two adorable children and

b) the eldest and his partner have temporality moved in with us.

All good stuff, but a further excuse for not doing any of the jobs above!

Rob and Claire’s new home will be amazing and has a large garden that is very overgrown at the moment. Jill and I have spent some time starting to cut back the overgrowth, whilst Rob and Claire focus on the inside of the house itself. I think they hope to be living there by Christmas.

We did find time to reap that last of our vegetable garden’s harvest and start to tidy our own garden for the winter. There is still much to do before we take on the @borrowedgarden. Meanwhile Jill has been planning the seed purchases for this latter product. We have also purchased numerous bulbs (another ‘job’ not on my list!) to hopefully adorn our new terracing (not something we have done ourselves I hasten to add) in the spring. Our garden has produced some delights this year and the terracing will be great for next spring and beyond.

 

 

 

 

Apres France

As the Autumn arrives Jill and I are still unable to settle into any form of rhythm or routine; though we acknowledge that this may not be a bad thing. We both knew things would not settle down until the middle of September, but we had an unpleasant surprise in store which de-railed any thoughts of finding our way systematically through this new adventure we are on. On 11th September Jill, distracted by our dogs, tripped over on a step in our courtyard and broke her right wrist. She knew as soon as she fell the result, but we had to attend accident and emergency (A&E) locally to confirm that she had indeed broken her wrist in two places plus compressed the bones in her hand.

Northampton General Hospital A&E that Sunday was its normal busy self; full of sporting injuries, DIY disasters, neglected toe-nails (yuk!) and the vulnerable. Our 3 hour visit consisted of triage, two x-rays, three consultations with a fantastic nurse and three nurses eventually pulling Jill’s hand / wrist into the best shape possible and applying a temporary plaster. The staff were all brilliant. Our Government spends much of its time maligning and tinkering with the NHS, but our experience illustrated how skilful, available, efficient, caring and coimg_0335mmunicative the people who work for this impressive organisation are. Ten days later the excellence of their work was confirmed when a few more x-rays revealed that Jill doesn’t require an operation and a new plaster was applied in a rather natty ‘purple stylie’.

Unfortunately the plaster will remain in place for a further 4 weeks and then Jill will have a brace applied for two weeks. The injury caused an immediate change to our @oldbdeli plans. We were due to re-open The Old Bakehouse Deli for orders on the 16th September following our summer holidays, but the injury has changed all that. We had committed to make bread for the local public house (pub) and Jill had just come up with a new starter for the pub (more later), but one hand and an apprentice would not be able to produce the range products Jill offers our deli’s customers. We therefore decided to close for a further two weeks, whilst honouring our continued commitment to the pub, which is bread based orders. Jill posted the closure on our website and received some lovely supportive messages from our customers/followers.

Now this ‘apprentice’ is okay at making sourdough and ginger nuts, but not other breads and certainly not pastries! The ‘new starter’ mentioned above (more details on jillywallflowerwordpress.com ) was my first challenge! It is Jill’s version of stromboli, using a focaccia dough mix. There are two fillings – Mediterranean vegetables and Moroccan lamb. Having tasted Jill’s first batch I am already addicted to them! The staff at the pub were also raving about them after Jill took the prototypes over. As a result of the tastings ‘pre-injury Jill’ had agreed to supply a fair quantity of these breads during our first week back from France.

So the day after the application of a plaster to Jill’s wrist I awoke nervously knowing the challenge ahead; I was to make the pubs new starter! Thanks to Jill’s support the nerves gradually evaporated and through the day fillings, doughs and products emerged. Finally due to Jill’s one-armed and careful tutoring I managed to produce our first batches of stromboli for the pub on time, as promised.

 

Let’s hope the punters like them as they are on the top of the menu thanks to Jill’s creative skills.

This week we continue to service the pub through Jill guiding me carefully into the world of ciabatta rolls, plus my old friend the sourdough. Even the sourdough is presenting a challenge as although I have prepared the dough for the past 6 months, I have never put the final loaves together; leaving the skilful bit to the expert who I married. This latest batch of sourdough were indeed pulled together by myself with Jill’s well trained (right) hand smoothing off any of my rough edges. QED – Pub deadline achieved!

The ‘New Me’ Model

The injury to Jill has therefore meant that a number of our other plans have had to change to ensure the deli delivers and I support Jill as much as possible. The odd DIY /gardening job that I have managed to undertake since our return home has, however revealed a ‘New Me’.

New Me v1 – The planned patio extension has been postponed. New  me v1 illustrated that procrastination is a virtue. As a result of the delay we have changed and improved the planning of my mini-building project. The old me would have crashed into the job and produced something passable but sub-optimal!

New Me v2 – I did manage to tidy up our garden following our holiday and as a result discovered ‘New Me v2’. About twelve months ago I purchased a petrol multi-tool device to strip, trim and chain-saw in the garden. Well could I get the flipping thing to work when I needed to trim and cut our lawn and hedges? No! Now the old me (pressed for time, squeezing jobs in at the weekend etc, etc) would have had an out-burst of turrets ( I can drop f and c-bombs aplenty!) and chucked the thing into the bin. However I discovered a new, calm, soothed me who tried to solve the problem logically and when I could not fix the issue just gently replaced all the equipment into the shed and went about the task using a lawn-mower and old handheld shears and loppers. And now breathe….

Other adventures over the past couple of weeks have included a trip to Coventry Cathedral to see a rock concert; Mogwai playing the soundtrack to the film ‘Atomic – Living in Dread and Promise’. This was a hugely evocative cinematic exploration of the atomic/nuclear world from the Hiroshima bomb to the present. The film did contain images of the Greenham Common CND protests. This made me realise that not only did I join the police in a different century, but at a time when there was a completely different culture and era – blue shirts, sideburns, moustaches et al! No wonder I struggled so much in the last few years of service.

 

After some harvesting of more blackberries from our garden, plus some chutney and jam making (garden (our allotment) chutney and tomato chilli jam), we img_0303had, potentially, our last holiday of 2016; a trip to Cornwall to celebrate the wedding of two good friends Viv & Anna.

Cornwall has to be one of my favourite locations in the UK. The coast line is stunning and we were staying near Looe so took advantage of this long weekend of celebrations to take a walk along part of the Cornish coastal path, together  with visiting the aforementioned Looe and Mevagissy. Having the time just to watch the tide come in and boats rise at the latter’s port was amazing. The wedding was a joy; located in a complex of holiday cottages each with its own hot-tub!

We felt honoured to be two of those chosen to share in Anna and Viv’s special day. We laughed heartily and met new friends too.

Jill and I concluded our trip to the South West with a visit to the wonderful Lost Gardens of Heligon near St Austell. Jill and I logged as much as we could to assist us as we approach the opportunity to develop the Borrowed Garden. I don’t envisage having the Mud Maid replicated there however much we love her!

Talking of the borrowed garden Jill has started to pencil a plan of the plot,

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Early plan

and the Suttons 2017 Seed catalogue has arrived. I have reached the age where such things are exciting!

I’ve got to go now as the alarm for the french baguettes I am baking with Jill’s help is ‘biddle-de-bidder-ling!’

 

 

Finding the ‘new normal’

Well since the last blog Jill (@jillywallflower) and I have being trying to find the correct life style balance linked to this new adventure that we find ourselves on. I don’t think we have quite got there yet!

We have just returned from a lovely holiday in France with my 90 year old dad. As he is alone we always holiday with him once a year. As he gets less mobile however it does become more difficult so this time  we decided not to fly. My dad finds the airport very stressful, especially since his ‘do you think I have a bomb or something?’ joke in the security check area. This time, to reduce the stress levels (on both borders staff and my dad) we departed these shores by ferry; from Portsmouth to Caen.

To break the journey we had 2 overnight stops in France in Alencon and then a village near Poitier, then to our final destination a gite in Tillou near Melle. Here we chilled for seven days in wonderful, sunny conditions. The added bonus was the night sky; so clear you could see the Milky Way with the naked eye. We also got my dad to swim in the pool too! With dad being a little immobile Jill and I would go for a long walk around the surrounding countryside each day, finding a few interesting sights including an old night club The Moulin de Royou (in the middle of nowhere!) and old communal village clothes washing areas. We did have a day in La Rochelle with dad. Homeward bound we stopped in Saumur for a night and then in a village near Liseaux. This allowed my dad to visit the grave of his brother killed in action on 29th August 1944 following the D-Day landings. It was a poignant visit for him as it was also my mum’s birthday when we went to the cemetery at Le Desir; he misses her so much too.

 

I did take my musical instrument (weapon?) of choice, the mandolin away with us to France and actually found time to practice, learning some new scales and a few more chords. I have set myself the task of learning some children’s songs for my granddaughters. I also continued with my daily 10  minutes french lesson via the app Duolingo (recommended by my son @j4ckphillips). It now says I am 7% fluent!

Jill took time out whilst we were away to plan the crop rotation of the Borrowed Garden with the aim of giving us constant produce through a whole year. This she placed expertly on an Excel spreadsheet.

The trip has rekindled our desire to purchase a place in France, so we may return there in November to start hunting down a place.

As the holiday drew to a close I released that for the first time in my working life I was not dreading it ending. No more ‘proper work’ to return to. No more thoughts of how many e-mails will I have?  Who might have made a complaint about me? What’s gone wrong in my absence? Will I still be based at the same police station? Nothing. No worries! An amazing feeling.

We arrived home to find the tomatoes, aubergines and peppers had survived in the greenhouse (thanks to the watering timer system we had installed), the grass was long and green, the french beans had gone ballistic and the courgettes had metamorphosed into marrows. The folks looking after our vegetable garden and chickens had said the latter had gone on strike. We thought they might be love lorn – but they are still not laying much a week after our return, so that “they missed us” theory is wrong. We think they are just getting old.

Having been back home 5 days I can now see why people say ‘ I don’t know how I found the time to work’ after they retired. Since our return we have;

  1. Cut the lawn
  2. Produced two large deli orders
  3. Weeded our fruit garden
  4. Weeded and changed the contents of one vegetable bed
  5. Tidied potting shed
  6. Cleared up storage shed
  7. Harvested 3kg of blackberries from our garden
  8. Foraged 1.5kg of elderberries
  9. Tidied wood store and chain-sawed foraged wood for open fire
  10. Made watercress soup and concentrate with friend’s produce
  11. Jill has re-started her blog jillywallflower@wordpress.com
  12. Baby-sat two grandchildren
  13. Walked dogs
  14. Visited and measured up the Borrowed Garden.

No 14 was very exciting. We visited the Borrowed Garden armed with tape measure, notepad, pen and Go-Pro…

Unfortunately this WordPress version that I am using doesn’t support video so next time I will take photographs. Suffice to say the site is enormous. We have been allowed access to a greenhouse measuring nearly 10 metres by 3.5 metres and cold frames measuring 11m x 2m. We plan to extend the borders that the previous ‘borrowers’ have started to one which will be 15.5m x 4m, another 10m x 4m, a third one will be 12.6m x 4m and the forth will be 9m x 5.5m. There is also opportunity to move the hops we have in our garden to the Borrowed garden and to re-constitute the flower and herd beds. We will obtain access to the garden from November when the digging will commence in readiness for 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

The strangest thing….

…is that I have spent over 25 years looking after people, budgets and work-related targets and now all I need to look after is my family and myself.

The process of giving up work has been greatly helped by the fabulous weather we are having in the United Kingdom at the moment. Jill had said that maybe the weekend weather won’t be so important when every day can be like a weekend. If the sun shines on a Tuesday and Wednesday, but it ‘sheets it down’ on Saturday it is not such a big issue. My moods definitely seem unaffected by the weather. There was nothing worse than opening the curtains on a working Monday to find it dull and raining; followed up by standing on an exposed platform waiting for a train that was running late. Now I feel meteorologically unaffected! When I worked I used to spend much of my Tweeting time on the subject of miserable weather! (@mustaphamoment)

The mornings especially have been phenominal  weather wise….

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The retirement from the police has also been perfectly timed  (by luck) to coincide with the Rio Olympics, so messing up our body clocks to watch Mo win gold isn’t an issue. I also celebrated the venue for this event with a new flag for our garden.

The fabulous weather has undoubtedly helped with my fitness campaign; a small circuit of running, press-ups, sit-ups and squats. I have also used the space in the morning to start a bit of meditation via an app @headspace; very refreshing & just ten minutes long. I definitely feel more energetic and in better physical shape already. I can recommend Fitbits (other fitness devices are available!!) to get one off one’s butt. To describe how it feels to have this extra time to fill with the stuff we want or feel we need to do, is very difficult.

We have decided on a name for the walled garden thanks to Jill:-

THE BORROWED GARDEN

We now need to put some work into developing an effective crop rotation process, but are already excited about the idea of tidying the garden in November & December in preparation for 2017.

Jill has had another idea to explore too….. purchasing a small property in Brittany / Normandy to renovate. A couple of bedrooms, a manageable garden, old stone building etc. Linked to this aspiration/idea is the fact that we have purchased a new camper van. It replaces Jill’s T2 (which we miss greatly as we traded it in back in February this year). We have gone all modern but stuck with a VW. We should have had the new van (a T6) in August but it is now delayed until December, so our plan to travel Europe this summer was therefore scuppered! This has however given us an opportunity to take stock, see more of my 90 year old Dad (he is staying with us of a month or so), our granddaughters and look after our vegetable and fruit garden.

So Jill’s French adventure would involve living in the new van whilst spending the odd week or two here and there renovating a place.

The new model of the deli (http://www.oldbdeli.com) seems to be going okay, if a little quiet over the summer. I won’t say too much as you can find out more on Jill’s blog at http://www.jillywallflower.wordpress.com. I was impressed with our last set of loaves however.

IMG_0153The orders are up this week and doing all the bread for the local pub really helps.

I spent some of last week continuing to paint the outside of the house – nearly done – plus some internal DIY/clearing out. My next project is one that Sir Winston Churchill would have related to. We found some bargain reclaimed bricks and I am going to build a retaining wall and patio at the front of our greenhouse and potting shed. The photo  (right) below shows the idea rather than the final version – much work to do.

 

Winston used to lay bricks to keep the ‘black dog’ at bay. I am in a positive state mentally, but I am looking forward to pulling this project together by the end of October. The presence of my Dad will mean that I have a excellent site manager in place (feedback welcome Dad, just wrap it nicely)!

Coming soon a neighbour is proving us with our first lesson in home beer brewing. I have used brewing kits for a number of years with some success, but we want to produce our own mash so we can claim a ‘start to finish’ process. I bought the neighbour’s old brewing equipment off him last winter as he had upgraded, plus 3 years ago my son bought me some hop plants, so this will be the first year we can use them in the brewing process and they are looking good….

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Continue reading “The strangest thing….”