Thursday 27 March 2014

Ceamy Sausage, Mushroom & Courgette Ragu

I know, another sausage recipe!  I promise you, we do eat other stuff too.

We first tried this dish on our first cottage holiday and it's been a firm favourite ever since. We stayed in a lovely cottage called Lindon Lea, right at the bottom of the Lake District, not far from Cartmel and Ulverstone.  It's where we planned our wedding, so the cottage will always hold fond memories too.

Sufficient dried pappardelle or tagliatelle for however many you are cooking for
25g butter
1 onion, chopped
2tsp fennel seeds, or 1 fresh fennel bulb, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Sausages, we always use Lincolnshire, but whatever you fancy
Button mushrooms, as many as you like
1 courgette, sliced
1tbsp whole grain mustard
100ml white wine
200ml crime fraiche
2tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  1. We always grill the sausages first and cut into chunks, a bit more healthy than frying!
  2. Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling water, according to the packet instructions.  Drain.
  3. Whilst the pasta is cooking, heat the butter in a pan and cook the onion until softened.  Add the garlic and fennel seeds (or fresh fennel if using) and cook for a further minute.  
  4. Add the button mushrooms and courgette and cook for a few minutes until the mushrooms are cooked - we like the courgette to still be firm.  Add the sausages.
  5. Stir in the mustard and wine and bring to the boil.
  6. Stir in the creme fraiche.  Mix with the pasta and scatter with the chopped parsley.

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Planning the Garden at Number 27 (pre-Martin!)

I moved into my house in 1992.  Ever since then the garden has been undergoing a very slow transformation, with still some way to go.

I think I said in a previous blog that having an overall plan is really important.  Otherwise, you do stuff, then you want to do more stuff, that doesn't fit in with the first lot of stuff that you did and you end up having to re-do stuff, which is frustrating to say the least.

Not long after I moved into my house, I bought a new computer.  With it came some free software, including a Geoff Hamilton's Garden Design programme.  I spent hours measuring my garden and transferring it onto the computer, where I turned it into what seemed like a good outline plan at the time.  I still have both my initial sketch and measurements and the original plan, as you can see.

 This is the initial sketch that I did.  The bottom is the patio, which is just outside the kitchen door.  When I moved in there was an old dilapidated shed at the bottom of the garden.  As you can see I had a very blank canvas!

This is the initial design I did on the Geoff Hamilton software.   This design also includes the shape of my house.  You can see, I was quite ambitious!!

In 2003, mum and I attended a Garden Design course at Tamworth College - I know, a bit random.  Anyway, the course was run by a lady that mum knew, as she ran a local nursery that mum used quite a bit.  Turned out that her daughter married one of my brother's closest friends, small world eh?  They have three children now, all named after flowers - Poppy, Blubell (yes, it is really spelled like that!) and Lily.

That's all a bit irrelevant really but I've mentioned the course as we all took photos of our garden in it's state at the time.  Here are mine - this is in 2003.  I know, it's more that 10 years after I'd moved in, I was definitely playing the long game - you just can't rush these things.
I had moved the shed!  Other than that, a bit embarrassing!
There was a bit of planting going on - some of these views are actually tidier than they are today!

All I'd really done by this point was to get a new shed, place it half way down the garden, which seemed like a good idea at the time as it gave hidden areas of the garden, get rid of the old one, tidy up the bits of border that were already in the garden and put some pots on the patio.  The patio set was a wedding present (my first wedding!) and let me tell you, green plastic was the height of sophistication at the time.

You can see that I've already gone 'off plan' by putting my shed on the right hand side of the garden, rather than the left.  This was because the left hand side of the garden gets the sun better than the right and I didn't want to waste this with shed.  You will see that I did not hold true to this thought as the years went on.

My house faces West, which means my garden faces East.  When you're younger you never really take much notice when people say that you should look for a house with a South facing garden.  Let me tell you now, they are right.  However nice my garden looks, at different times of the year, we can never really sit in the sun, apart from first thing in the morning.  You don't realise how disappointing this is until it is too late.  So, when your mum says you want a South facing garden, listen and take heed!

In the planning stage of my garden, I used to look at lots of homes and gardens magazines and cut out pictures of what I wanted my garden to be like.  I've included some below.  Those of you who know my garden, please don't laugh - I'm still working on it.

It was always going to be (in my dreams) a cottage style garden, with lots of flowers, colour and interesting features.  There was always going to be a summer house - I still believe this!

Whilst we do have a fair way to go to achieve the dream, we do have foxgloves, lots of them.  And a galvanised steel watering can.  So, still kind of on plan.

Like I say, it was always going to be cottagey and there was going to be a nice patio, pergolas, an arbour and roses round the door.

Well you've got to have a vision haven't you?

As this post is getting a bit long I think I'll break it here for now.  I'll post again and let you know what happened after Martin moved in and I'll show you how close I am to my initial plans and vision (or not, as the case may be).

I keep having to remind myself that, when it comes to garden design and you've got a busy life, it's a marathon and not a sprint!  I feel a bit like Forrest Gump, I've been running for years!

Friday 21 March 2014

Researching Will Sidney's War

Do you know what?  If I end up having to look for another job, I'd love to be a researcher.  I have really enjoyed researching Will's story, which has taken us in lots of different directions.

Personal Effects
Our research began with Will's personal effects, that we came across when we lost Peggy, Will's only daughter and Martin's mum.

We have three of Will's personal war diaries, covering the majority of 1917, 1918 and 1919.  These are fascinating and it was from reading some of the entries in Will's diaries that we were inspired to tell his story.  Hopefully we will be able to scan some of the actual entries, so you can look forward to seeing his first hand account of day to day life during the war, written whilst actually in the field. 

We also have lots of postcards, photographs and embroidered cards.  Some are dated so will be easy to tie to particular times and places referred to in Will's diaries.  Some hold no clues, so will be a bit more difficult to put into context.  We will do our best.

We then have a number of assorted bits and pieces, including dog tags, badges, original documents and medals.  All of which we have been able to research further with the help of Google.

Will's War Record
Every WW1 soldier had a service record, although only some 20-30% now exist.  A service record consists of a number of different army forms used to record information about a soldier during his military career. The numbers and types of forms in a man’s record vary greatly from soldier to soldier, as does the quality and legibility of the information they contain.

The records were thinned out before going into storage in the 1930s, by disposal of many documents.  The majority were then destroyed by fire at the Army Records Office on Arnside Street in Walworth, London, resulting from an air raid in 1940, during the 2nd World War.  The 20-30% that survived the fire are now held in collection WO363, also known as the Burnt Records.  This collection includes records of men who left the army between 1914 and 1921, but many are only fragments or have suffered damage.  These records can be found on line at or on microfilm at the National Archive in Kew.

We were very lucky and, as well as having Will's original Enlistment, Embodiment and Disembodiment papers, we managed to locate Will's WW1 service record on line, over 30 pages of really interesting and useful information, including dates of postings and his medical history, which makes for interesting reading.  These records have really helped us to pull together a timeline of Will's service, which we've been able to tie back to his diaries and some of his other mementos.

British Army War Diaries 1914-1922
Whilst trying to find out more information about Will's story we found out that each unit of the cavalry and the first 33 infantry divisions of the British Army in WW1 maintained a war diary whist on active service.

Some diaries record little more than daily losses and map references whilst others are much more descriptive, with daily reports on operations, intelligence summaries and other material.  The diaries sometimes contain information about particular people but they are unit diaries, not personal diaries.

Whilst searching to see whether Will's unit had a war diary that was available we came across another blog called Harry Lamin's War.  Harry Lamin was born in August 1887 in the East Midlands of England.  In 1917, aged 29, he joined up to fight in the First World War.

During Harry's time in the army, he wrote letters home to his brother and sister. They were kept and handed down to his grandson, who transcribed the letters, which produced a moving and poignant account of an ordinary man's experiences in an extraordinary situation, which is told within the blog.  The intention of the blog was to publish the letters exactly 90 years after Harry wrote them.  His first letter from the training camp was written on February 7th 1917.  It was published on the blog on February 7th 2007.  Each letter then appeared on the correct date from then on.

From reading Harry's story we found that he actually served in the 9th York & Lancaster Battalion, which was the same Battalion that our Will ended up in.  It would appear they would have served together, both in Flanders and in Italy.  On the blog we found that, as part of Harry's Grandson's research, he had managed to obtain a transcript of the Battalion War Diary from August 1917 till March 1919, when, the War Diaries stopped. The 9th battalion was broken up and dispersed, with most troops on the way home.

Being able to read the transcript of the war diary has been really useful in helping us to interpret some of Will's writing within his own personal diary, especially with regards to place names.

As the diary only starts from 1917, which is the same date that Will's personal diaries begin, we are continuing to research to see if any other war diaries are available going back to 1914.
This site has been a bit of a God send, helping us to find out exactly who William Preston Sidney was and where he came from.  Through building Will's family tree, we have been able to identify the majority of names of people that Will corresponded with during the war.  Sadly, whilst numerous letters are mentioned, we have no record of these and can only assume that they have been lost over time.

Google has been great for finding out background material about all aspects of Will's life.  From finding out about some of the items we found in his personal effects, to details of the battles he was involved in.  I hope to be able to weave this information into Will's story.

What's Next?

The next stage of the story will include what we've been able to find out about Will prior to the outbreak of WW1 on 4 August 1914.  We haven't been able to find out an awful lot but hopefully it will help to start to build up a picture of Will and the kind of young man that he was.



Sunday 16 March 2014

The Veg Plot - March

Getting Ready

Whilst you can just 'rock up' to the plot and chuck a few seeds in and hope for the best, it does pay to do a bit of preparation before you start.

I spent a couple of hours on Friday afternoon last week washing out pots and trays, mainly re-cycled mushroom containers and herb pots, in readiness for planting, cleaning up plant labels, sorting through seeds and deciding what I was going to plant, and where.

Sorting through the seeds is always a bit of a voyage of discovery.  Where do they all come from?  We have lots of half packets which, as they are still in date, should be fine from last year.  Some we've had free with magazines and some we were given as gifts.  Martin had two lots of Plant Theatre seeds for Christmas - a Funky Veg kit and a Psychedelic Salad kit.  Both are normal types of veg and salad, but all funky colours.

When sorting through and deciding what to plant, it's important to look at the 'plant by' dates, making sure you plant your oldest seeds first, but discard any that are actually out of date.

When planning what to plant, and where, we always try and take into account how long things take to grow and how much space they will need, this is particularly important when you don't have a lot of growing space.  It's also worth thinking about how much ready grown veg and salad is to actually buy.  If you're trying to save money by growing your own then you don't want to fill your growing space with onions - these will occupy the space for at least six months, stop you growing anything else for that time and you can always buy onions pretty cheaply anyway.

We have a couple of fairly small raised beds which we use for growing veg and salad, but we also have a wide range of pots and planters, which get brought into play throughout the year.

Another thing we've learned over the years is to try and avoid 'having a glut'.  Don't plant a bed full of radishes - you will have more than you can eat and no room to plant anymore!  This year we plan to plant little and often, so as we are eating one row of radishes, another is on the way.  Sounds simple I know, not sure how it will work in practice.

This year I think we plan to fill one of the raised beds with parsnips and beetroot.  We love both and we can just plant and leave them to it.  These are both happy to stay in the ground until we are ready to eat them - they don't tend to spoil if left and, a real bonus, the seeds are big enough to handle so that you can plant them where you want them to grow, with no thinning out required.

The other bed is half full of our self-set strawberries.  The rest we will give over to carrots, spring onions and a couple of varieties of salad leaves, including Little Gem, which is our favourite.  We are going to try and just plant a few of each type of leaves and then keep topping them up as we are eating them, as this is one crop that doesn't always last long enough for you to be able to eat ...... you can only eat so much salad!!

The climbing French beans I will start off in toilet roll middles, more eco-friendly re-cycling, and plant into a large round pot with a tall cane wigwam when they've got their first real leaves.  These are a real bargain as the seeds were all saved from last year's crop.  I should be able to do enough for dad as well as us.

Radishes, we will grow in some small pots we have and again will just plant a pot at a time on an on-going basis, as these do go to seed and get 'woody' quite quickly once they are ready for harvest.

We're also going to have a go at watercress this year, we've never tried this before so it will be a bit of an experiment.  We're also going to give courgettes and tomatoes a go from seed for the first time,  We normally buy these ready grown, but we have lots of seeds and thought we'd just give it a go.

Chives, Red Basil and Coriander will be in terra cotta pots on the window sill.

Last year I grew Cosmos, a tall white heavily flowering variety, which I planted out in any spare pots I had on the patio.  This year we are having another go at flowers and have chosen a red and a yellow Rudbeckia and Love in a Mist, which is blue.  We'll start these off in small pots and then transplant when the seedlings are strong enough.

So, we're ready to go.  We know what we're planting, where and when.

Making a Start

Whilst Easter weekend is always our big planting weekend when Martin will build the plastic green house and we'll be really off, we have made a bit of a start today.  It was just so gorgeous we wanted to be outside and didn't fancy any real hard work.

We started off with the herbs, chives, red basil and coriander, for the kitchen windowsill.  We knew we had just the right pots, it was just a case of hunting through the shed to find them.  We even managed to fashion some home made 'cloches' from, you've guessed it, Diet Pepsi bottles, we always have plenty of those kicking around.

We then planted up the sweet peas in toilet roll middles and the Rudbeckia and Love-in-a-Mist in small pots, all for planting out later on.

We planted a tray of Boltardy beetroot, again for planting out later when it's a bit warmer, and some red chillis.

We finished off with a selection of tomatoes - Tigerella, Moneymaker, Gardener's Delight and Maskotka, a selection of large, salad and cherry.  As I've mentioned, this is a first for us and if everything grows well we will be giving them away to everyone we know!

Top Tips

  • Prepare
    • Clean your pots
    • Collect toilet roll middles and other pots that you can re-use
    • Clean up your labels
    • Sort through your seeds
    • Plan what to plant, when and where
  • Plant your oldest seeds first, discarding any which are out of date
  • Plant seeds as far apart as the packet says - we've tried squeezing extra rows in, it just doesn't work
  • Plan to avoid gluts, unless you absolutely love something and are happy to eat it every day
  • Plant stuff that's more expensive to buy, especially if you don't have much space
  • Prepare your plot, weed, fertilise and dig over if you need to
  • Protect your early planting from late frosts
  • Give yourself plenty of time - don't miss your planting window
  • Be patient and look forward to eating what you've grown
There's nothing nicer than having friends round for a Summer BBQ and sending the kids into the garden with a list of what needs picking.

and Finally .....

I thank that will do us for now.  All our planting will have to be kept indoors, on the dining room table, until we get the greenhouse built.  We'll definitely have another big push over the Easter weekend.  After all, why would you want to go out anywhere on a Bank Holiday weekend.  We will just keep our fingers crossed for good weather.

I think Martin's in the mood for starting some beer off now.  Who knows, maybe I'll let him do a 'guest blog', something for the boys.

Enjoy the sunshine everyone.

Friday 14 March 2014

In the Garden again - March

Mum comes round on a Friday morning.  She does my cleaning for me ..... I do pay her.  She keeps asking if she can retire, especially now  I have given up work.  I keep telling her that I didn't give up work so I could do my cleaning!  I also tell her that I know there will be a time when I have to do her cleaning, and that I won't be getting paid.

Anyway, this started off when I was working full time.  Mum had semi-retired and we thought it would be a real big help for me and a bit of extra income for mum..

Now that I'm off we kind of do it together.  You'd think it would take half the time, but it doesn't.  It actually ends up taking about twice as long.  Today, she was here at 8.30am, I wasn't even up, and she didn't leave till 2.30pm.

We do tend to get very easily distracted. Over the last few weeks we've spent lots of time looking at Peggy's treasures, chatting and having coffee and cake!  It takes longer, but it is more fun and we both really enjoy it.

Mum loves gardening and today was our first post cleaning gardening session.  We finished the cleaning by about 12.30pm and headed out the back for a good couple of hours.  My grass cutting man had been to give the grass it's first cut of the year so the garden already looked lots better.

We set ourselves the objective of tidying the border in front of the shed.  This is where we always start.  It's a nicely contained bit of border, with the shed at one end and the patio at the other, so it's a good 'bite sized chunk'.  The problem is that we never seem to get to the rest of the garden, maybe this year will be different.

Once we'd cleared all the winter debris, the planting looked a bit haphazard.  I never understand why plants don't seem to stay where you first put them.

Mollie the Witch

We ended up digging up the majority of what was in the border and re-arranged the plants in a far more orderly fashion - tall stuff at the back and lower growing at the front.  One of the things that got moved was a peony, mlokosewitschii, or Mollie the Witch as it is commonly known.  We bought this from Hidcote, a National Trust garden, a few years ago.  When we bought it, it was in flower, but we've not had flowers since, though we get lots of leafy growth.  I am hoping that moving it might shock it into flower.

Filling the Gaps
We then found that we had a load of gaps, so I ended up digging up some foxgloves, aquilegias and forget-me-nots, which had self set in random places, to fill them.

The crocosmia had also gone a bit crazy, so I dug up a load of the bulbs and used them to fill a gap in the border in the front garden.

When we'd finished we were both absolutely shattered, but really pleased with what we'd done.  With any garden, it is definitely a case of a good effort at this time of year, makes for far more enjoyment later on.

Magnolia in Bud

One of the things we're always pleased to see in the garden at this time of year is buds on the magnolia - this was a wedding present and it generally speaking is in flower on our Wedding Anniversary.  It's looking like it's going to make a good show this year.

Before and After

The problem now, of course, is that one bit looks great, really tidy, which makes the rest look really scruffy.  This will hopefully spur us on to do more over the coming weeks.

Wednesday 12 March 2014

Who was William Preston Sidney?

Now there's a question ........... 

We knew that William Preston Sidney was born on 3 November 1894.  We know that his father was Thomas Sidney and his mother was Ada Sidney, affectionately known as Grannie Sidney.

We found the following newspaper article in Peggy's belongings.  It's about Tom and 'Grannie' Sidney, Martin's Great Grandparents, William Preston Sidney's parents.  It was published as a full page Local History spread in one of the Doncaster local papers on 19 August 1997.  I'm afraid I've had to cut it up to be able to scan it in, but really wanted to share it with you all (don't worry though, we have two copies!)

There were some really interesting snippets of information that we gained from this article.  Firstly it was really interesting to read that, at the age of 13, Tom became a carriage and wagon inspector at Doncaster station in 1876.  The railway was a big employer in Doncaster, and still is, it's where Martin's worked since he left school.

We were also really surprised to see how old Ada (Grannie Sidney) was when she got married in 1883.  She was only 13!  They had 5 sons, of which our Will was one, and 2 daughters.

The other really interesting piece of information that we got from this article was the part that talked about Tom Sidney's (William Preston Sidney's father) role as the Verger of Christ Church.  The article states that the Verger in 1886 was Tom's brother-in-law, a Mr W Preston.  He persuaded Tom to become his deputy and he eventually took over as Verger in 1911.

We wondered whether Mr W Preston could be our Will's namesake and this really took us on a heck of a journey.  Of course, there was always the possibility that the 'W' didn't even stand for William.

We hoped for the best and thought that, in our minds, there were 3 possibilities:
          • Thomas Sidney had a sister that had married a Preston
          • Ada 'Grannie' Sidney's maiden name was Preston and she had a brother, or
          • Ada had a sister that had married a Preston
    • We searched to see whether or not we could find any record of sisters for Tom Sidney.  We found that Tom had two sisters, Mary and Ann.  We were able to find out that both married, but neither to a Mr W Preston.
We then tried to find out what Ada 'Grannie' Sidney's maiden name had been.  Was it Preston?  No chance - it couldn't be that easy could it?  We did find out that her maiden name was Wilburn.  There was now only one option left, Ada must have had a sister and she must have married Mr W Preston.

Before we started to search for Ada's sisters, we decided to have a quick look to see if we could find a Mr W Preston, after all, we knew he was in Doncaster and we knew what year he was the verger at Christ Church.  We hit lucky and found a Mr William Preston, who married at Christ Church, in Doncaster on 23 September 1878.  Even better, he married a Minnie Hewitt Wilburn!

Eventually we managed to tie this Minnie Wilburn to our Ada Wilburn.  They were both showing as living at the same address in the 1871 census.  

This may not sound like a massive event, but Martin and I were thrilled to bits.  We think we can safely assume that our Will, born in 1894, was named after his Uncle, who had inspired his father to take on the role of Verger at Christ Church.
We wanted to find out where Tom and Ada would have lived when they had Will in 1894.  The 1891 census shows them living at 134 Cleveland Street in Doncaster.  The 1901 census gave us a bit of a conundrum.  Tom was living with his mother-in-law, Martha Ruth Wilburn, at 20 Prospect Place, also in Doncaster.  Two of Tom's sons, Harold and Herbert are also showing as living here.  William Preston Sidney, on the other hand, we found registered in 1901 as a visitor of, what looks like, a Mr and Mrs Simmermite, in Hoyland Swain in Yorkshire.  We have no idea what relation these people were to the family.  His older brother Charlie is also showing here as a visitor.

This really confused us, why weren't they all living together?  Where was Ada and the rest of the children?

One of the things that shows you is whether or not other family trees are being researched that include the same family members that you are looking for.  We found another family tree that included William Preston Sidney and we thought we'd have a look.

We found our Will, Tom and Ada and the rest of the family.  From looking at Ada's record we could see that the other researcher had found her in the 1901 census records and this did give a bit of an explanation as to why the family were not all together.  In 1901 it appears that Ada Sidney, Will's mother, was registered as being in the Southport Convalescent Hospital.  So we would assume that the family were staying with friends or relatives whilst Ada recovered from whatever it was that ailed her.  Young Ada, Thomas (Junior) and Minnie Sidney were all showing as living with William and Minnie Preston, their Aunt and Uncle.

In 1911, when Will was 16, the family are back together again and showing as living at 45 Apley road in Doncaster.  At 16, Will's occupation was showing as being a Blacksmith's Apprentice.  We went to have a look at the house when we were in Doncaster earlier this month for Peggy's funeral.  It's currently a two bedroomed end of terrace house in a really old, traditional street.  It may have originally been a three bedroomed house, with no bathroom, but even so, it was a small property to house a family with 7 children!

Apologies for the quality of the photograph, but I took it on my phone and the sun was in the worst possible place.

We'll share more about Will's family with you as they appear in his story.

Monday 10 March 2014

In the Garden - March

So far, we've been really busy in the garden for March, and we aren't even half way through yet.

Last week Martin surprised me by jet washing the front garden, whilst I was out at a Governor's Safeguarding training event.

I didn't really notice it had been done when I got home as it was quite dark, though I did wonder why our garden was wet, when the rest of the street was dry.  I wondered why Martin grinned when I said there was something weird happening out the front and asked if the council had been out to the drains - I just couldn't understand why it was wet.

Anyway, it looked so bright and clean the next morning that it inspired me to get out the front and have a really good tidy up.  Just weeding, pruning and a dig over of the borders.  It only took me an hour but I was knackered when I had done, and I'd already had a get together with Davina.

It does look great though and I was quite proud of myself, though it did completely throw my day out.  Hey ho, the joys of pottering.

Yesterday was glorious - it was like Summer and we were up and out in the garden before the church bells had stopped ringing, and that's good for us.

We were set for a really good tidy up.  Martin was on the leaf sucker, which drove him a bit crazy as it kept jamming up and it was real hard going.

I did some real pottering, tidied up the herb pots, cut down lots of last year's old perennials and potted up the Hellebores.

We were amazed at the amount of butterflies about for this time of year and Martin managed to capture a few shots of one basking in the sunshine.

We were also amazed to see flower buds on the Tree Peony.  I've never had a Tree Peony before, neither has mum, and this one was another salvage from Beryl's garden a couple of years ago.  We put it in a pot as we didn't really have anywhere else for it, but you never say no to a free plant!  When we salvaged it, it had a pink flower on it, but last year, whilst there was lots of new growth, there were no flowers.  This year it looks like we will have two.  Mum will be so envious.

I then started thinking about, and there are lots of different views, is there room in the garden for bits and pieces, as well as plants and veg?  We think so, and have accumulated lots of bits on our travels and as gifts.

What do you think?  let me know, I'd love to receive your comments.

It's Spring!!

I've just had my first breakfast in the garden listening to the birds, warm enough for no fleece.  It feels like Spring is definitely here.

I've got that weird excited feeling when I know I want to do something, but I can't decide what.  I could go and peg out the washing, I could make the beds, I could straighten my hair, I could load the dishwasher, I could make the tea, I could prepare for my Governor's meeting tonight or ....... I could blog.

Well, here I am.

We've just had a really busy and varied weekend.  On Saturday we shopped big style and bought a strange mixture of items, a Bose bluetooth mini speaker for Martin's birthday later this month, a new front garden gate, a new shabby chic sideboard and a Mother's Day present (obviously I can't say what that is!). 

Whilst we did go out and about looking at speakers and sideboards, we ended up coming home and ordering both on line, through Quidco, another way to make your money go further.  We paid the same price, we've got free delivery and we get cashback into the bargain, why wouldn't you?

We watched a film in the afternoon, Martin had a free one from Skystore.  We dithered over what to pick and ended up with Gravity.  I did say that I wasn't sure how they could make a film with just two people in it, wondering about in space.  The final choice was Martin's and Gravity it was.  Grave error I would say.  I know this will be a controversial statement but we should know to steer away from films that win loads of Oscars, I just don't get it.  Anyway, I won't be recommending it to any of my friends ...... sorry George (Clooney) and Sandra (Bullock).

For tea, we had our first ever go at making Moussaka, or Mouse Cake as Martin used to call it.  He used to have it when he used to go out for lunch with his mum, when he was younger - Mouse Cake and chips.  I can't believe we've never made it and I had to go right back to an old 70s cook book to find a recipe (I know, I could have asked Google).  It was scrummy and we ate it whilst watching the first half of The Voice.

We'd had a really nice, lazy, but productive Saturday.

Sunday came and so did the sunshine.  We felt the need to get out in the garden and we spent most of the day out there (I'll blog about that separately).  We were both shattered by the time we came in, but couldn't resist a bit of research into Will Sidney's war.  Two hours later, but finally knowing why William Preston Sidney was called William Preston Sidney, we flaked out on the sofa with a Ginger Chicken Curry to watch the final of Dancing on Ice (Martin hates it, but I love it) and the Top Gear Burma Special (Martin loves it and I have to admit I don't mind it).

Wednesday 5 March 2014

Everyone has a View!

Objective 6 - 'Make my money go further'

When I first finished work I was interested in finding out whether there were ways of making money, without having to actually go to work.  I searched the Internet and found this article on Money Saving Expert which gives a number of ways you can make money on line.  I was intrigued by the 2nd tip which was about Online survey sites.  In the words of Martin Lewis 'it's all about stashing cash by filling in online surveys. All you have to do is sign up, wait for survey alerts to land in your inbox, then zip through the questions'.

Could it really be that simple?
There are lots of these surveys sites out there.  I've actually signed up for 6 and completed a user profile for each.  During February I kept records of all the surveys I completed, how much time I spent on doing this and how much I actually earned.  I've put together a bit of a summary to share with you ....

Survey Company
No of surveys in Feb
Completed surveys
Screened Out
time taken
Prize Draw Entries
Global Test Market
My Survey
Panel Opinion
Valued Opinions
Global Test Market
  • E-mail notifications are received for every survey that is available
  • Surveys seem to come through thick and fast
  • Rewards for surveys are made in either Market Points or Prize Draw entries
  • The minimum number of Market Points that can be exchanged is 174 and some examples of rewards available can be seen below:
    • 174 Market Points will get you a £5 Amazon electronic gift certificate, a £5 donation to a number of different charities or 500 Nectar Points
    • 182 Market Points can be exchanged for a £5 PayPal payment
    • 221 Market Points will get a £5 gift voucher or card for Boots, BHS, Homebase or WHSmith
    • 331 Market Points can be exchanged for 1000 Nectar Points
  • E-mail notifications are received when surveys are available, but these seem to be very few and far between for me
  • Again, rewards are made in Points which can be exchanged for either charitable donations or store vouchers
    • 1380 points can be exchanged for a £10 donation to a wide variety of charities
    • 1380 points can also be exchanged for a £10 John Lewis, Amazon or Compliments voucher.  Compliments vouchers can be used at a number of retailers including: Argos, WHSmith, Boots, Topshop, Accor Hotels, HMV, Interflora, TGI Friday's, and many more
My Survey
  • Another company which is very good at sending e-mail notifications letting you know when a survey is available
  • Again, surveys are fairly few and far between
  • Rewards are made by way of Points or Prize Draw entries
    • 345 points can be exchanged for a £3 PayPal payment
    • 360 will give you a £3 donation to UNICEF
    • 500 points can be exchanged for 500 Nectar Points
    • 550 points is what you need to exchange for a £5 Amazon voucher
  Panel Opinion
  • This one has been a bit of a dead loss for me
  • Whilst it does pay in cash, rather than points, the surveys are so few and far between it will take ages to earn anything
  • You have to earn £10 before you can draw your funds
  • Quidco doesn't seem to let you know when a survey is available, so you need to keep dipping in and out of the site to find out
  • Whilst not many surveys seem to be available for me, if you actually get through and complete one, the rewards are good. So far I'm earning on average £1 per survey
  • The thing with this one is that you need to earn £25 before you can take anything out at all
Valued Opinions
  • This is my second most prolific survey company and e-mail notifications are always sent through
  • I seem to get screened out of most of these surveys, but again, am earning on average £1 per survey that I actually fully complete
  • You need to reach £10 before being able to draw your rewards out

Overall Hints & Tips

  • Not all surveys can be completed on an I-Pad, some will need Flash
  • Not all companies notify you when surveys are available, so you will need to keep dipping in and out of the sites
  • Not all pay in cash and when they do, there will be a limit you need to earn before you can draw your reward
  • Some surveys are not available to complete for very long so you need to get in quick
and Finally ........
  • Am I going to make a fortune?  Definitely not.
  • Will I carry on doing them?  Yes, for now!

Monday 3 March 2014

Good bye February, Hello March

February has been really busy and whilst there has been sadness with losing Martin's mum, on the whole, I've settled into my Life of Pottering really quickly and am loving every minute.

March has started off with our trip to Doncaster today, to say our final good byes to Peggy.  The funeral went really well.  It was a glorious day with lots of bright Spring sunshine and blue sky.  The Spring bulbs were starting to make a real good show at the crematorium.

We arrived quite early and another service was just about to begin.  This was a really big funeral for a local bus driver and there were so many guests that both the car parks and the chapel were packed out, with guests spilling out of the back doors.

It was very different to what we were expecting for Peggy.  As the time drew nearer to our slot, Martin was pleasantly surprised, and a bit overwhelmed, to see that, in addition to a couple of ladies from Peggy's care home, there were a few other people attending.  One of Peggy's old neighbours, Liz, had seen the notice in the paper and decided to come along, as had one of Peggy's only two remaining cousins, Brian, who came along with his grandson.

Whilst the service was short and very simple, it was really nice and just what we had hoped for.  We had decided to walk in to the chapel to general classical music and it made us both smile to hear the same music that I walked into on our wedding day.

A celebrant said a few words about Peggy and her life and we all said the Lord's Prayer.  We then listened to 'Days of our Lives' by Freddie Mercury, Peggy's favourite, and it was all over.

We had a good chat with Brian and Liz afterwards, before heading off to our favourite local garden centre for lunch before heading for home.  We've decided that we're going to buy a miniature fruit tree for a big pot in our garden, in remembrance of Peggy - either a pear or a plum, so we'll have a constant reminder of her every time we're in the garden.

The rest of the month is looking quite busy, with lots more School Governor activity over the next few weeks. 

I also want to get cracking on with clearing up in the garden, ready for planting, as well as doing more work on my research into Will Sidney's war - we visited where he used to live in Doncaster today.

We'll end the month with our first cottage holiday of the year.  We always go away for Martin's birthday  and this year we've found, what looks like a nice, but not too expensive, cottage in Holmesfield, near Chesterfield.

It's just on the edge of the Peak District and not that far from Chatsworth, so I'm hoping we get a visit to the Estate garden centre in.  We will also be close to Hardwick Hall, which is a National Trust property, and Bolsover Castle, which is English Heritage.  This will give us chance to activate my leaving gift of a year's membership.  I am sure we will also manage to fit in some Geocaching!!

Thanks for following my journey so far, there's plenty more to come so please do keep reading.

Saturday 1 March 2014

Peggy Dunhill - 19 May 1927 - 7 February 2014

It's Peggy's funeral on Monday (3 March).  We will be heading back up to Doncaster for one more time to say our last good byes.  We are only really expecting Martin and I to be there, apart from some representation from her care home, so it will be a really small affair and we think it will be very sad.

The committal service will be held at the Rose Hill Crematorium, which is in Doncaster, where Peggy spent the whole of her life.  The final music that we've chosen to have played at the service is Days of our Lives by Queen.  It may seem a strange choice but Peggy just loved Freddie Mercury.  I'll always remember how surprised I was to see photos of Freddie on the kitchen wall the first time I visited her at home.

As none of you will have met Peggy, Martin and I just wanted to put together some photos at different stages of her life to share with you all.

The first picture is of Peggy with her mum and dad, William Preston & Ethel Sidney.  It's Will's World War 1 story that I am currently researching and will be sharing with you over the coming months.

Peggy - Aged 3 - 11
Peggy - Aged 16 - 21

Peggy & Roy

Peggy & Martin

Peggy & Martin