Wednesday 25 February 2015

Back into the Fray

In my last post it was 9 October 1917 and Will was heading back to the front line after being on light duties for a few days following a compound fracture to his shoulder.

This turned out to have been a lucky break for Will, as the rest of the Battalion had experienced a real rough time at the front whilst Will was working safely in the stores and acting as the Orderly Corporal for the Company.

I am sure it will have been with great trepidation that Will went, by motor, to Ridgewood, to hit the front line again on 10 October.

As ever, Will's diary tells us what life was like for a soldier on the front line in WW1.

"10 Wed - Wet night, wet through.  Went into front line @ 6 o'c.  Rotten time.  Up to the knees in mud.  Absolutely rotten.  No letters from anybody.  Shell us pretty heavy."
"11 Th - Stood to @ 4 o'c until 7.  Slept in trench covered with water. No letters. Thinking of Ethel.  Shelled very heavy."
"12 Fri - Same as above.  Got relieved @ 8.30.  Got back @ 3 o'c and .........  Wet through to skin and cold as anything."
" 13 Sat - Came to Hooze Tunnels.  Rotten place.  Up to thighs in water & mud. Went up to front line with a ration party.  No coat on and got caught in a storm.  Wet through to skin.  Cold as anything."   
As always, we see that, even in the worse of times, Will still managed to keep Ethel in his thoughts.

The image below is taken directly from the Battalion War Diary, which was kept in the field. Over the three day period of 11-14 October, around 10% of the Battalion were either killed or wounded. The entry is very difficult to read, so is transcribed below.

"Casualties: Capt. S. Riddell killed; 2Lts A. J. Walters & R Coyles wounded; 12 O.R. killed; 77 OR wounded; 4 OR missing believed killed. Night of 14th to MICMAC camp."
Again, it looks like our William Preston Sidney was a very lucky chap.

The following week seems to have been a particularly dramatic week for Will, with the Battalion still on the front line, followed by the slightest of respite, before heading straight back for the front line again, where Will gets lost in No Man's Land and talks of the dangers of friendly fire.

"14 Sun - Took a party up to the Mound. Shelled all the way.  Moved from Hooze Tunnels to MICMAC."
"15 Mon - Arrived @ MICMAC @ 4 o'c in morning.  Wet through to skin.  Mud up to the eyes.  Fagged out.  No letters from anybody.  Cleaning up for inspections."
"16 Tues - Letters from home & Ethel (2).  Answered them.  Inspection by Colonel. Honours for different chaps.  Promised Cpl for gallantry in the field.  Letter from Ethel.  Answered it.  Bless her.  No striking thing happened."
"17 Wed - Rev 7. B 8. Parade 9 for gyms until 11.  Packed up for up the line again. Moved off @ 2 o'c for the Bund.  Landed @ 5 o'c.  Tea.  Gas guard from 11 o'c to 3 next morning.  Writ to Ethel."
"18 Th - Rev anytime.  Breakfast 8.  Drawing rations for 3 days up the line (front). Hard work & very tired.  Charge of the bombing section. Moved from the Bund up to front line @ 2.30.  Got lost and wondered about for 3 or 4 hours in noman's land. Landed in trenches @ 7.30,  Very cold & wet.  Shelled us.  Heavy barrage."
"19 Fri - Stand to 4.30 for 2 hours.  Kept very still & slept during daytime.  Still shelling like Hell.  Had some salmon for breakfast in the front line & tea (under a barrage) & Jerry coming over us in aeroplanes.  His very daring comes very low.  Be getting bit some of these days."
"20 Sat - Getting relieved by W Yorks tonight.  Windy.  Lot of chaps fired on our own chaps last time they relieved us with bombs, rifles & Lewes guns.  No one hurt for a good job.  Relieved by W Yorks 6 o'c.  Marched from F line to Bund.  Landed 10 o'c. Mud up to boot tops.  Very tired.  Soon asleep.  No letters."
Compared to this couple of weeks, the rest of October was fairly uneventful, with the Battalion spending a day at the Bund before moving on to another camp at Dickebush, where part of the Battalion, including Will's Company entrained for Wozerines.

They landed on 23 October 1917 and the following week was spent on cleaning up, guard duty, rifle practice and lots of inspections,

On 28 October the Battalion war diary states that instructions were received to recall all men from leave, courses etc.  On 29 October Will writes that rumours were going round of the Battalion moving to either Egypt or Salonica.

The month ended with the Battalion marching 5 kilos on 31 October to be inspected by Field Marshal Douglas Haig, who was the Commander of the British Expeditionary Force.

So, Will is now a Corporal with the 9th Battalion of the York & Lancaster Regiment.

Something was definitely in the offing for the Battalion, the rumour mill was rife.  You can find out what happened next for the Battalion in my next post.

Monday 23 February 2015

In the Garden - February

Well, it's been a while since I've had anything to report in an 'In the Garden' post but February saw our first tentative foray back out there, since November. 

Like last year it's not that there isn't plenty to be getting on with, but I was pleasantly surprised when comparing last year's photos at this time to what it looks like now.  Our hard work in the Autumn has definitely paid off and nearly everywhere is looking fairly tidy. 

Last weekend we made our first visit of the year to our local garden centre for potting compost, as Martin wanted to get some chilies started off. We weren't going to bother with chilies this year as they haven't been that successful for the last few years, but Martin had some seeds for Christmas and Monty (Don) said they should be planted in February. I think we've been planting them too late, so we decided to give it one last go. They are now covered up and sitting nicely on the windowsill waiting for some sunshine to get them started off.
This weekend we were back at the garden centre for more dirt. This time for farmyard manure, soil improver and ericaceous compost. We wanted to try to top up and breathe some life back into our raised beds, which have been planted pretty intensively over the last few years, with not much goodness being added back in. 
We also want to try and re-pot the blueberry, which we have had for a couple of years and has outgrown the pot it came in. Blueberries like acidic soil and hate lime, so ericaceous compost is absolutely necessary if we want this plant to continue to thrive. I just hope that moving it doesn't impede it's growth or fruit for this year. It does appear that this is the right time to move it, so it will definitely be on the agenda for the coming weeks. 

By the time we got back from the garden centre and unloaded the car, we just about had time to revive the strawberry bed, before the weather turned.  I cut back all of the dead growth and dug all the plants up, so that Martin could top up the bed with nice fresh soil and manure. We then replanted them all, gave them a light watering and a good spray with the bug gun as some were looking a bit worse for wear.
I have to be completely honest and say that it was a real big effort to drag ourselves out this weekend. It was cold and we knew it was going to rain and neither of us really felt like it. Hopefully a bit more sunshine and a bit warmer weather will get us motivated again.

We did have a very pleasant distraction from a new friend who just popped in to visit.  How gorgeous is he?
We just managed to get packed away and back in before the rain hit.

From an 'in flower' point of view, I had a look back at last year's February post and things are looking very much the same, with the Hellebores looking far better in their pot than they ever did in the border and the Snowdrops doing us proud again out the front.

The wallflowers that we planted up in the Autumn are still looking very healthy and all are showing plenty of signs of flower buds, so it will be interesting to see how then look when in full bloom.

We've also got good signs of life in the bulb pot that we've had now for a good few years.  The same can't be said of a new one that we had at Christmas.  It's looking a long way behind, with only about three little green shoots showing so far.  Hopefully a few warmer days will see it pick up.

I'm not sure where I'm going to go with the gardening updates this year.  I don't want my blog posts to be like my 'Garderners' World' magazine, just a repeat of what happened this time last year, though that doesn't stop me loving reading the magazine when it drops on the mat.

I am going to try and keep my posts fresh and whilst I am sure there will be some repetition, I am hoping to be able to report on different activities across the year. Watch this space ... Id love it if you followed our gardening year again.

Monday 16 February 2015

50 Things to do before I'm 60 - 1 to 10

Back in October, before my 50th birthday in November, I decided I'd like to put together a list of 50 things I would like to do before I am 60.

I easily managed to complete a list of about 35 things but then began to struggle with building it up to 50. 

Having thought about this somewhat I have now decided that I don't want to just make my list up to 50 with random meaningless stuff just for the sake of it. 

I am going to go with what I have so far and will continue to add to the list over the next few years as I am sure new things will continue to appear that I'd like to achieve. 

From a blogging point of view I thought it might be good to share my lists in groups of 10 and here are the first 10 that I'd like to share, some of which I have already ticked off or have made a start on.

Hand make Christmas and Birthday gifts
When I finished work a year ago, I knew I wanted to spend more time doing crafty and creative stuff. My first hand made Christmas and birthday gifts were beaded bracelets, which I made for all the ladies for Christmas 2015.

I really enjoyed making them and even managed to make a few to order, which was really quite exciting.  I now have a cupboard full of beads and charms so am sure that more of these will be made for birthday gifts this year.

Make bramble jelly jam 
Late Summer last year saw a massive foraging outing for blackberries, which resulted in both home made wine, from scratch, and bramble jelly jam, which is just delicious.  I know I will be making it again this year.

Have a posh afternoon tea
Back in the Autumn, my good friend Jo and I managed to find time to sneak in a posh afternoon tea at a local restaurant and it was just lovely, really chilled out with lots of time to chat.  We are already looking forward to doing it again in the Summer when we can do it 'Al Fresco'.

Photo by Aashish Rao Photography
This work is licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. 

Visit Balmoral Castle
A few years ago, Martin and I had an Autumn holiday in Banff, on the North coast of Aberdeenshire. On our way back we drove past Balmoral Castle. Since then I've always wanted to visit, as it just looked so pretty.  

The Castle is only open for a couple of months of the year so this year we have booked a cottage holiday near Ballater and have already booked our tickets to visit the Castle.

Make something in mosaic
Here's one that I seem to be dragging my heels on a bit.  I came back from our holiday on Dartmoor back in October, all fired up for having a real go at making something in mosaic.  I had lots of ideas and just needed to wait until I pulled together all of the equipment I needed to get started.
I've now got everything I need.  Tools, tiles, something to mosaic on, I just need to now get on and do it.  This is definitely one that I want to work on this year and am totally committed to actually producing something, as against just buying more bits and pieces.  Watch this space. 

Complete my online photography course
For my 50th birthday, my good friends Jackie & Phil, bought me an on line photography course, which I really want to work more on this year.

I have made a start with the basics, but need to try and put some real time aside to work through some of the projects that help me make more use of the features of our new DSLR camera.  At the moment I am only making use of a fraction of its functionality.

I am hoping that this will lead on to me doing more with my photography and perhaps publishing more photos on line, rather than just in my blog.

Holiday on the Suffolk Coast
Martin and I just love holidaying in this country, particularly exploring new parts of the coast. Neither of us have ever really visited the Suffolk coast and it is somewhere that we really fancy. It is definitely on the agenda for one of our holidays for this year.  We've just got to find the right cottage in the right location, which is proving tricky at the moment.

Christmas in a holiday cottage
For a few years now we've been talking about a family Christmas away from home in a nice holiday cottage. Well, we've already booked somewhere that looks very nice for this year's festivities.

Its called The West Wing and is on the Crow Hill Estate in Yorkshire

Holiday in all of the national parks of Great Britain 
Another thing that Martin and I love about Great Britain is the National Parks.  I would love us to have holidayed in all of them.  This may not be an objective that I fully achieve this year!

So far we have holidayed together on Dartmoor and Exmoor, in The Lake District, Northumberland, The Peak District, The North York Moors, The Pembrokeshire Coast, Snowdonia and The Yorkshire Dales, so we are not doing too bad.

That leaves us with The Brecon Beacons, The Norfolk Broads, The Cairngorms, Loch Lomond, The New Forest and The South Downs.

Our holiday this year to Scotland, near Ballater, will see us spending time in The Cairngorms, so that will be another we can tick off the list.

Upcycle my old placemats
Another crafty objective that I'd like to achieve this year is the upcycle of my old table mats and coasters.  I've made a start and hopefully it won't be too long before I will have completed this project.  So far it is looking pretty good and I think I am going to be happy with the end result.

So, that's the first 10 of the things that I'd like to achieve before I'm 60.  Some I've fully completed already, some are part way and some yet to be started.  You can be sure that I'll keep you posted with how I'm getting on.  Thanks for reading and letting me share.

Monday 9 February 2015

Back to Gloucester

Back in September I had a lovely day out in the summer sunshine meeting up with old friends from work for the day in Gloucester.

Last week I got to meet another old friend, back in Gloucester, but without the sunshine!! 

We have been trying to arrange a day to meet up for over six months, but one thing or another has always got in the way. This was the third date we'd tried and this time nothing was stopping us.

I set the alarm, which was a strange activity for me, got up early and walked down to the train station in heavy drizzle. After a nice relaxing journey, catching up with some reading, I arrived in Gloucester to absolutely torrential rain. 

My friend arrived a few minutes later and we decided a good plan would be to chill in the station cafe and wait for the deluge to pass. It soon did and our main aim for the day was to have a good wander round the cathedral before finding somewhere nice to have a relaxing lunch and a really good old catch up. 

On our wander towards the cathedral we hit every charity shop in sight!! 

Now, if anyone had told me 10 years ago that I'd be, not only doing that, but enjoying every minute, I would have laughed in their faces. 

Our charity shop trawling was not without objective. My friend's daughter gets married this year and she has tasked her mum with hunting out vintage floral china pottery for a traditional cream tea, so every time a new charity shop presents itself it is an opportunity too good to be missed. 

I was more than happy to tag along, looking for china that I could smash up for mosaics, or beads that may come in useful for my bracelet making. We did have to make a pact that I would only have second dibs on any china, as my friend would be giving it it a far better second life as she would not be smashing it to pieces. 

After a good old mooch, diving in and out of the rain, which resulted in a pretty milk jug for the wedding and some nice beads for me, we made our way to the cathedral and had a good old wander around inside. 

It was really impressive, with lots of nooks and crannies and interesting things to see. The Lady Chapel, the choir stalls and wall and ceiling frescoes were particularly impressive. 
When we came out of the cathedral there were hints of blue sky trying make an appearance so we had a walk around the outside before being hit by another deluge, which was our cue for lunch. 
We just happened to stumble across Lily's, which we had read good things about on line, so we decided to give it a go. We weren't disappointed. It was warm and cosy, the staff were very, very friendly and the food was great. A roast lamb dinner, followed by lemon meringue pie and a steak and Stour Budding ale pie, followed by chocolate brownie just met the spot perfectly.
We whiled away a good couple of hours enjoying the warm and the chance for a real good old catch up before heading back out, with just enough time for a couple more charity shops on the way back to the station, where I waved my friend off, before catching the 15.50 to head for home and a chippy tea for Martin!

Sunday 1 February 2015

One Pot Creamy Chicken & Spinach Pasta

This is an adaptation of a recipe that I have had on my Pinterest board for a while.  It's one of those where there isn't any real right or wrong way to make it.  I've used chicken, mushrooms and spinach as the main ingredients, but the options really are endless.

It is very quick and easy to make and took about 30 minutes from starting the prep to being ready to eat.  The measurements I've given are to serve 2.

Olive oil, for frying
1 onion, chopped
2 chicken breasts, cut into chunks
Mushrooms, cut into quarters
300g tin chopped tomatoes
250ml chicken stock
Pasta shapes, sufficient to serve 2
3 good handfuls of fresh spinach
A good dollop of creme fraiche
1 mozzerella cheese ball, sliced
Chunk of grated cheese
1 bunch of spring onions, sliced
Cornflour - for thickening if required

Fry the onion in the olive oil until softened, turn down the heat and add the chicken.  Continue to cook until the chicken is golden brown.  Add the mushrooms and continue cook for a few more minutes, just to start the mushrooms off.
Add the tinned tomatoes and stock and bring to the boil.

Add the dry pasta, making sure that it is all covered by the liquid.  Bring to a rolling simmer, cover and cook until the pasta is how you like it.  Thicken if required and stir in the creme fraiche
Add the spinach, a handful at a time, stirring until until wilted before adding the next handful.

Sprinkle the cheese on the top and leave to melt.
When ready sprinkle with the spring onions and give a good stir to give a delicious creamy texture.

We had this with garlic bread.

I have only made this the once and it was scrummy and will definitely be an addition to our list of favourite one pot dinners.  When I make it again I may add either some smoked paprika or Worcestershire sauce just to give a little bit of added heat.

A Year in the Life ...

Well, 31 January 2015 saw the last day of the first year of my new Life of Pottering.

When I first finished work I set myself the following objectives to give me a bit of focus to get me started on this new chapter in my life story:
  • Start a blog 
  • Be more creative 
  • Learn to take better photos 
  • Get fitter 
  • Keep in touch 
  • Make my money go further 
  • Be happy 
  • Add value to Society 
  • Keep on top of general household and garden activities 
  • Have less stress
I thought now would be a good time to reflect on the year and to see if I'd met my objectives and if I could answer the questions I asked myself when I started out on this new stage of my life .... Is there life after working for the same company for 30 years and can you really make a life out of pottering? 

I think I pretty much know the answer to both questions but still think it would be good to take a look back over the year. 

Early on there were some really sad times.  Losing Poor William on the very day that I finished work, followed by losing Martin's mum, just a week later, was not really the start that I had planned for. 

Whilst it was very sad to say good bye to both, losing Martin's mum did set us off on a journey of discovery with our finding of the war diaries of William Preston Sidney, Martin's granddad. I am still working through the story of his war years. Through our research we have both learned loads about both Martin's grandad and the kind of person he was and what WW1 was all about. 

We've started to get to grips with the new Canon and Martin has even had a photo included in a National Trust garden calendar. We've also had a go at film making, though I think it's safe to say it's early days. This year I hope to work through my photography e-course and do more from a photography point of view. 

Along the way there have been our favourite recipes, some new and some old, shared with you all, lots of jam, jelly and chutney making and plenty of garden activity

Highlights in the garden this year have to be the new fence and gate out the front and the new brick edge out the back. It was also great to be able to spend more time just doing what needs doing. Hopefully this year we will get more time to enjoy the garden, assuming we get some decent weather.

We are already starting to think about this year's cycle and it won't be long before we have a good look through the seed box and make our plans for this year. 

There has been plenty of time for holidays with time spent away in The Peak District, Snowdonia, Dartmoor and a week away in Norfolk with the family to celebrate my 50th birthday. We already have places booked for this year with two trips to the Peak District booked in and a week in a wooden cabin booked in the Cairngorms. We'd also like to try and get to Suffolk and the New Forest, so plenty more holiday cottage reviews are on the cards. 

There's been plenty of time for catching up with friends and family, combined with days out just catching up and just a spot of caching along the way. 

On the boring side there has been lots of thought gone into ways of saving and making money. After all, I can't replace what I spend with a salary anymore, which can be a bit scary at times. It's made me finally have a bash at selling unwanted stuff on ebay and have a good look at cashback sites. It's not going to make me a millionaire, but hey, every little helps. 

There has also been time for getting started with some totally new craft projects, including hand made beaded bracelets, which went down very well as Christmas gifts for friends and family, a tentative start at decoupage and big plans for working with mosaics. 

On a socially responsible note I've taken on the role chair of governors at a primary school not too far away and, as well as feeling like I am doing my bit from a volunteering point of view, this is keeping my brain very active. I've learned absolutely loads of new things and am really enjoying spending more quality time at school. I'm really starting to feel that I'm getting to grips with how things work and what we need to do. 

So, so far, so good! 

From an objective point of view, I don't think I've done too badly. Other than my objective of 'getting fitter,' which, I have to be honest, has gone a bit by the by, I think I can definitely tick off the rest, even though I will continue to develop some of them further in 2015.

In answer to my questions ..... 

There is definitely life after work, though I do sometimes miss everyone. It's hard not to when you've worked with people on and off for 30 years. I can see what some of my old friends are up to on Twitter and my brother does tend to keep me posted, as he still works for the same company. I have also managed to fit in a few meals out with old friends locally and a couple of days out with my old friends from further afield.

Can I make a life out of pottering. Well, I definitely think so, and a good life at that. 

So, what does 2015 hold .... More of the same I hope. 

This year I hope to finish off telling the story of William Preston Sidney and then we will decide what to do with all of his war memorabilia. 

I want to work through my on line photography course and think about where I want to go with my photography. Will it remain just a hobby or do I want to take it further. I'm sure there will be more recipes and more garden activity.

There will definitely be more caching and more time exploring this beautiful land we are lucky enough to call home. .

There will be more craft posts as I now have everything I need to get cracking on with my mosaic and decoupage projects. 

I also want to start posting about my '50 things to do before I'm 60' list. It's not really a bucket list, as I still plan to be alive and kicking by the time I'm 60. I just want to make the very most of this next 10 years. 

With Martin planning on retiring in early 2016, we also need to have a serious look at finances and find as many money saving ideas as possible, to make sure that this will be financially viable. 

Oh yeah, mustn't forget that never ending project - the guest bedroom.  This year I am determined that I will see that fully completed.

So, lots on the agenda for 2015 - best get cracking!