Monday 30 June 2014

Quick & Easy Strawberry Jam

Honestly, I can't believe how easy, yet successful, this turned out.

We hadn't picked the strawberries for a few days and some had started to go over.  We were never going to eat all we picked, so time to make some jam.

Martin went off to Sainsbury's for some jam sugar and a lemon and I sterilised the jars.

Makes sufficient jam to fill 4 small jars
Preparation time - 10 minutes
Cooking time - 15 minutes

500g fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and cut into pieces
500g jam sugar
Juice of 1/2 a lemon

  1. Place the strawberries and lemon juice in a large pan and heat through until strawberries have begun to go soft.
  2. Add sugar and heat until thoroughly dissolved.
  3. Once the sugar has dissolved and the liquid is clear, boil steadily for about six minutes, or until at setting point.  To test if the jam is at setting point, spoon a little onto a cold plate, leave for a few seconds and then push the jam with your finger.  If the jam crinkles and separates without running back, setting point has been reached.
  4. Leave to cool for about 10 minutes.
  5. Spoon into sterilised jars, label and seal.
It really is that easy!!

Monday 23 June 2014

In the Garden - June

Activity in the garden has quietened down a bit in June. It's a good job really, as Martin has been working away in London for a couple of weekends so I've been home alone!!

Saying that, we have potted on the last bits and pieces out of the greenhouse - the chillis, courgettes and squash, and I have painted the second raised bed, so we have still done a few bits and pieces.

The weather this last week or so has been lovely and it's been nice to be able to be out, either just doing a bit of gentle pottering, or having a sneaky sit in the shade with a drink and a good book.

There is also lots of watering going on!

All the fruit and veg is coming on really well and we've harvested radishes, watercress and our first couple of bowls of strawberries.

Strawberries from the garden are so different from supermarket strawberries, they really do taste of sunshine.

The apples, cherries and blueberries are all also starting to fill out, so hopefully these will all do well this year.

The salad bed is also looking very promising, with both red and golden beetroot, radishes, spring onions and Little Gem lettuce coming along well.

Apart from a few exceptions, the borders are looking very green at the moment, with all of the spring perennials having been cleared away.

I have managed to pick some lilac roses though, which have done better than ever this year.  They don't cope very well with wet weather as the rain makes the buds 'ball' and then we don't get to see the full bloom. The sunshine this year has made a welcome change and we've been able to see them in their full glory.  They smell lovely too.

The pots and baskets on the patio are still giving a really good show, with the hanging baskets filling out nicely and the first of the lilies making a show in the summer sunshine.

The hostas are also looking good, having managed to avoid much slug damage at all this year.

Still to come, but well on the way, we have Agapanthus, Sweet Peas, lots of Crocosmia, Hemerycallis, Rudbeckia and a white climbing rose.

Jobs for the next month include lots of pruning, watering and feeding and, hopefully, the painting and hanging of the new front gate.  Watch this space!!

I'll see you back in the garden in July.  If anyone wants me in the meantime, I'll be in the garden with a good book and a Pimms - with home grown strawberries of course.

Monday 16 June 2014

Planning the Garden at Number 27 (Post Martin!)

If you've seen my 'Planning the Garden at Number 27 (Pre Martin!)' post, you will know that I moved into Number 27 in 1992 and by 2003 not much had happened in the garden.

Martin moved in during October 2007 and between then and June 2008 there was more activity and progress than I had made on my own in the previous 10 years.  I put it down to the garden design course I attended with mum (and Martin's help, of course!).

You can see this progress really clearly on the pictures below.  The left hand picture was taken in 2003, and the right during June 2008.

In just 8 months we had added a 2nd shed - absolutely necessary to house all of the stuff that Martin needed to keep ....... 'just in case'.  It must be a man thing.

We had also built an additional patio on the left of the garden.  You need to step down to this and sitting there really makes you feel like you are 'in' the garden.

We'd also extended the border across the bottom and the left hand side of the garden.  I must confess, we had a man in to do this!!  We then planted this out, including another three trees across the bottom for more privacy.

We then built our first raised bed so we could start growing our own salad and veg.  As you know from more recent posts, this is something we've really got into and have carried on with.

On a totally practical note we built a path to the shed.  That definitely was as a result of the Garden Design course.  One thing you should always do, is be able to get around your garden in all weathers.

We added a water butt to the back of our first shed but, as you can already see, this had started to become a bit of a 'spare wood' graveyard.  My husband has a real thing about collecting wood ...... 'just in case'. And, if 'just in case' never happens, he loves to burn it.

We had also made some considerable improvements to the top patio.  We'd replaced the green plastic patio set with a wooden one - never again, I must say!!  Wooden patio furniture needs a lot of love and attention.

We'd also built a wooden, yes more wood, arbor, and you can start to see the appearance of a variety of pots and a bird table.  You can also see the new patio on the right.

These pictures show the left hand side of the garden, with the new border and first of the raised vegetable beds, considerably improved - even the grass looks greener!

Here, you can really see the impact that the work we've done on the bottom patio, shed and seating area, has made to how we can use this part of the garden.  We quite often sit and have breakfast here on a sunny morning.

Here's a better picture of the raised bed, fully planted.  You can see we've got a compost bin at the back of the new shed and the foxgloves are looking really good.  These are still spreading themselves around the garden to this day.

My next post will show you how the garden looks now, compared to 2008. Looking at it now, I think we did wonders in those first six months. Whilst there has been more progress since then, looking at these pictures now makes me realise that we really have slowed down - can't say it feels like that though!!

Monday 9 June 2014

Will Sidney's War - July 1915-June 1916 - First Posting to France

My last post ended with Will camped in Bulford Fields, on Salisbury Plain, with 'C' Squadron of the Queen's Own Yorkshire Dragoons (QOYD).

As we have no personal war diary for Will for this period, we have obtained a copy of 'C' Squadron's official War Diary.  Whilst this diary gives an account of the Squadron's first trip to France it is quite general, with not much detail.  I have tried to summarise the content, with occasional quotes extracted, to give a picture of the kind of activities that the Squadron were involved in during their first time in France.

The diary starts with:
" June 26, 2015 - Arrived at BULFORD from SCARBORO to act as Divisional Cavalry to the 19th Division as per War Office orders"
"The Squadron encamped in BULFORD FIELDS and remained there till July 19th equipping and preparing for service abroad."
 On 19th July 1915 at 12.00 noon:
"One half Squadron under MAJOR J L INGHAM entrained for SOUTHAMPTON and embarked on the 'HUANCHACO' for HAVRE."  
"The remaining half Squadron under CAPTN R THOMPSON entrained for SOUTHAMPTON and embarked on the 'KYEBASSA' for HAVRE."
"Establishment 6 Officers, 135 NCOs & men & 2 RAMC.  Strength on embarkation 6 Officers, 134 NCOs & men & 1 RAMC." 
Could this be the 'Huanchaco' referred to in the Squadron's war diary?

Built by: Wm Beardmore & Co Dalmuir
Yard No 490
Launched: Saturday, 15 June 1907
Ship Type: Passenger Cargo Vessel
Status: Wrecked - 24/02/1941
Remarks: Wrecked and broke up near Borkum on passage Lulea for Emden with ore
Last updated: by George Robinson from the original records by Stuart Cameron

I have been unable to find any pictures of the Chyebassa, but it seems she may have been the 2nd ship of this name owned by the British India Steam Navigation Company.  If this is the ship mentioned, she was launched in 1907 and scrapped in Italy in 1938.

The Squadron had a smooth sea crossing to Havre.  This was the start of a long journey for the men. 
  • They arrived in Havre at 5.00 am, on 20th July.  They disembarked and marched to their rest camp. 
  • At 10.00am the following day, 21st July, they entrained for St Omer, arriving there at 8.00am the following day. 
  • On 22nd July they detrained and marched to Serques, where they arrived at 10.30am, and were billeted for the night.
  • On 23rd July the Squadron was on the march again.  This time they left Serques at 9.00am and arrived at Hazebrouck at 2.00pm. 
  • They marched again on 24th July, to Manqueville, arriving at noon. 
This is where they stayed until 30th July.  The Squadron had been travelling, on foot, by boat and by train for six days.

There is no detail in the war diary as to what the Squadron did, whilst in Manqueville, but on 30th July they marched to Beaupre, where they billeted in a field until 3rd August when they marched again.  This time to Regnier le Clerc, again billeting in a field, before marching again, on 5th August, to Le Vert Bois.

They stayed here until 30th August. Whilst at Le Vert Bois a number of guard duties were undertaken.

We have a number of postcards, which we believe Will sent to Ethel during this first visit to France, though we can not be certain at what point there were sent.  They are part of a collection and can be seen below:

On 30th August the Squadron were on the move again. They marched to Quentin and were billeted here until 25th September. Whilst in Quentin it appears the majority of activity undertaken was working on drainage operations and communications trenches.

On 25th September the Squadron marched to billets near Locon.  Whilst here they:
"Received instructions re 'Clearing of Battlefield'.  Medical arrangements made for the evacuation of wounded at 2 advanced stations.  Four main dressing stations also established.  The following general arrangements were made - The Divisional Squadron, the Divisional Cyclists, assisted by the Salvage Corps to perform all duties in connection with - I - Disposal of prisoners, II - Burial of dead, III - Collection & disposal of war material, until they are required as mounted troops for the advance."
On 3rd October the Squadron were on the move again and marched back to billets at Quentin.  They worked on clearing waterways in the rear of the British lines.  The weather was fine and the ditch was dry.

They moved on again, to billets near La Bassee Canal, on 20th October, where they commenced work on clearing more waterways. The weather was now becoming very wet. Whilst here they also commenced building stables for horses.

For the majority of November the Squadron continued drainage work, though the weather was making things increasingly difficult, with water 3 feet deep in many places.

On 9th November it seems that some of the Squadron were caught in enemy fire:
"A party of men returning from SHETLAND ROAD were caught by hostile & shrapnel fire in the RUE DE BOIS.  One Sergeant was wounded.  This was the only casualty."
Towards the end of the month it seems that the drainage work stopped and the men concentrated on exercising & cleaning horses' saddlery for a few days, before receiving orders to march into the
reserve area, where they built new shelters for the horses and conducted a programme of training exercises.

Early in December the Squadron received orders to march to Paradis. Owing to the rain and the wet weather a number of the roads were under water. The Squadron spent December clearing out drains and dykes, exercising the horses and improving the billets.

On 25th December the Squadron war diary states:
"Arrangements made for Xmas dinner for the troops."
The list of Will's whereabouts in his own personal diary states:
"Christmas @ Paradise." 
It didn't much sound like Paradise to me.

This is a lace card that we found in Peggy's collection of Will's WW1 mementos.  It was sent to Ethel, Will's sweetheart, for Christmas 1915.

You can see on the reverse of the card that Will doesn't refer to the war or his situation at all.  He just wishes Ethel a 'Merry Xmas & a Happy New Year - with my very best love'

The small card on the right was inserted in the flap of the above lace card.  The flap lifts at the bottom of the Union Jack.

I would guess that the name and date on the reverse 'Bethune 1915' refer to the village and the date the card was made.

It seems that, on Boxing Day, the horses were inoculated with Mallein, by the Veterinary Officer, with no adverse reaction.  The Mallein test is a specific clinical test for glanders, which is a bacterial disease which used to be common in horses, which is contagious for humans.  The acute form results in coughing, fever and the release of an infectious nasal discharge, followed by septicaemia and death within days.  I'm guessing there was relief amongst the camp that the horses were disease free.  Glanders is still a notifiable disease in the UK, although it has not been reported in this country since 1928.

At the end of December the diary tells us that bi-weekly practices were instigated for all ranks with their new 'tube helmets', which were worn by troops in WW1 to protect against chlorine, phosgene & tear gases.

During January of 1916 the Squadron completed a number of activities including:

  • Providing a Corporal and men as Dispatch Riders with Signal Co
  • Improving billets and horse standings
  • Completing surveys of wire around the Croix Barbee system
At the end of January the Squadron marched to new billets at La Haye, which had been vacated by the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry, where they commenced a further programme of training.

In February the Squadron were instructed to patrol the roads at La Sart, in the vicinity of the rifle range. They also took part in a number of 'schemes' and a further programme of training, before moving onto fresh billets near La Gorgue, which had been vacated by the Household Cavalry.

Whilst at La Gorgue they completed further wire surveys and searches of local buildings for Government stores.  They also provided working parties each day, for the majority of March, to load wagons & convoy these to the forward area, where they were unloaded.

For the latter part of March, the Squadron were responsible for building breastworks at Pont Logy, where one man received a slight bullet wound in his wrist.

The weather for the month of March was changeable at first, including snow, but fine and warm later.

It was much of the same for April, until the Squadron received instructions to move into rest billets at La Haye.

On 19th April the Squadron left La Haye and marched to St Quentin.  They left St Quentin on 21st April and marched to Fressin to undergo a course of training, which lasted till the end of the month.

On 6th May 1916 the Squadron:
"Received instructions to proceed to YSEUX tomorrow."
"Above instructions cancelled."
"9th May - according to instructions the Squadron proceeded to HAZEBROUCK where the Regiment was assembling to act as Cavalry to II Corps under re-distribution scheme."
This is where the war diary ends.  We can not be sure as to how what happened next came about, but Will's list of whereabouts states that he left France for England on 5th June, 1916.

Having left England on 19th July 1915, Will had been in France for nearly 11 months, but was now on his way back home.

Monday 2 June 2014

Some things just never change!

Whilst we were on holiday in North Wales at the beginning of May I told you abut our visit to Swallow Falls, a must do activity when visiting Betws-y-Coed.

In my post I said I'd visited a number of times over the years and it never really seemed to change.

Well, I thought it would be fun to hunt out and share some older photos of me at Swallow Falls over the years.

This is me in 1986 and whilst it's fair to say that the Falls look very similar, I'm not sure you would say the same about me.

I have had mum searching the house high and low for another picture taken of me at the Falls when I was only 8 or 9, but no joy - she must have had a clear out.

Diet starts today!!!!!!

Good Bye May, Hello June

The 1st of June was red hot, could Summer be here already???  We spent the whole of the day in the garden, doing some serious pottering and we made our very first harvest of the year.  Hopefully there will be plenty more to come.

May also saw some really nice warm, sunshiney days and the month started out with our holiday in North Wales, staying in Buzzards View, a lovely remote holiday cottage just outside of Eglwysbach.

Whilst we were in North Wales I had an exciting Blog development.  I received the following comment from a company called My Taste. 
Hi, We have noticed that you have great recipe posts on your blog and would like to give you the opportunity to share them with the world!

We are a recipe search engine where you can find thousands of recipes from blogs and sites, we would be delighted if you chose to join us.

Please have a look at our website ( and if you would like to your blog and recipes listed, all you have to do is to register your blog from here :)

We hope to see you soon!
Well, I was soooooo excited!!  I've since registered my Blog with their site and my recipes are now included.  You can link directly through to from the green button on the left hand side of my Blog.

As well as some nice sunshiney days, we've had loads of rain (Yuk!!), two Bank Holidays (Hurrah!!), my sister Sarah's birthday, loads of activity in the garden and on the veg plot and a night out with some old work friends.  Busy, busy, busy - this pottering lark is not for the faint hearted!

I've also cooked moussaka, a recipe which I hope to share another time, a roast chicken dinner, I know, get me, and an adapted version of rocky road.

We've finally made a start on our first real inside project, with some preparation work being done for the decorating of the spare bedroom, and we've started to look at paint colours, so watch this space for how that progresses - I'm guessing it will be slowly.

I've entered both Martin and I into our first photo competitions and I've had my sewing machine out for making do and mending - that went ok, once I'd remembered how it worked!!

May ended with us picking up our new car.  A Mazda CX-5.  Whist it was sad to say good bye to the old Astra, I am sure we are going to have loads of fun with our new toy and there will definitely be no more madly missing my Mazda!!

June is looking like it will be busier than May, with a train trip to Gloucester to meet an old work friend on the agenda, a day spent with Hannah, my friend's daughter, taking photos together, lots of Governor activity, including an Open Day and a Summer Fair, Martin and I are manning the Tin Can Alley, and some more Saturday nights in with good food and good friends.

I think I will be ready for our next holiday, which is early in July!!  So far, it looks like we will be having a week at home, though I am sure there will be plenty of adventures to tell you all about.

Bye for now.

The Veg Plot - May

May has been a crazy busy month on the veg plot and there have been a lot of jobs that, if not done now, would have undone all of the hard work that we've already put in.

On the fruit side, we've had the first flowers on the strawberries, which are looking very promising.  We've also got the start of blueberries, Morello cherries and a few Braeburn apples. There is nothing on our plum tree, which is really disappointing, but the quince is looking good.

All of the seeds we planted are doing well and the carrots, spring onions, radishes and watercress (which we've never grown before) are all looking good.

We've planted out our beetroot, parsnips and shallots in the raised beds.  We had hung onto a few excess parsnip seedlings, just in case.  We're glad we did as we've had to replace some which fell foul to slug damage.
We've also planted out the French climbing beans, which we grew from bean seeds saved from last year's crop, in toilet roll middles, along with a batch of leeks, which we resorted to buying from the garden centre!

For technical reasons, we've planted the leeks in black and white!!  I'm blaming Martin.
We've thinned out salad leaves, which are now planted all over the place and we've also done well with our first tomato plants grown from seed. 

We've built up the two tomato greenhouses and moved the tomatoes to their final location.  We've got a real variety this year.  Two old favourites, Moneymaker, a salad tomato, and Gardeners' Delight, a sweet cherry.  These always do well, as long as we can avoid any signs of blight.

We're also trying two new varieties this year, Maksota and Tigerella.  We'll be interested to see how these turn out.

We've also potted on the courgettes, cucumbers and chillis and planted out the butternut squash. 

Now we've done all of that, it's just a case of watering, feeding, waiting and harvesting the fruits of our labour.  We can't wait.