The trials and tribulations of a life of leisure...


Monday, October 29, 2007

Penny to the Rescue...Again

I had really been looking forward to my day out in Edinburgh, so was really deflated when James phoned on Sunday evening to say Anne had been suffering from a migraine all day and was cancelling on me.

I decided to see if Jean wanted to come. Sandy answered the phone. Jean was out climbing munros with her walking group but he would get her to phone me back when she got in, which she duly did. She was exhausted - four munros climbed sounded far too much like hard work to me (and to her)... Anyway, she was too busy this week to come.

I then tried Penny with little hope, as I know she is very busy trying to get her shop ready for opening. She was not sure - needed to sort out the painter the next day so I was to phone her back in the morning.

So, at just gone 9 a.m. I phoned. She still needed to phone the painter, so would phone me back... and the trip was on. I just needed to ensure I got her back in time for her bridge match this evening.

We drove over the Lammermuirs to the A1. The oranges, yellows and golds of the trees were shown at their best in the bright autumn sunshine we had today. Penny then directed me into Edinburgh city centre and to the car park at St. James Centre, where we arrived at around 11.30 a.m.

I had a sort of plan, time allowing. I knew there were three Whistles outlets in Edinburgh - one in Jenners, one in Harvey Nicholls and its own store on George Street, which was the first destination on my list. But as we were heading there I spotted HN, so we diverted in there. We found the Whistles section, and I saw a very nice dress that was a definite possibility but I decided to wait until we got to the true store. So we headed back towards George Street.

East had the magic sign in the window - Sale.
A few shops further on and Ronit Zilkha clearance/closing down sale - store was in administration.
Waterstones next - had some vouchers.
Then Whistles, and the dress I had previously seen - but if I got a store card I would get 20% off. That was worth spending 10 minutes filling in the form.

It was time for a break - coffee/cake in one of the ubiquitous Starbucks.

2.30 p.m., back to the car and on to destination number 2 - Meadowbank Retail Park for TK Maxx. I had never been to this store before, but when I told Penny I wanted jeans and a handbag this was her suggestion. It came up trumps.

3.25 p.m. back to the car. We still had enough time to go to Fort Kinnaird. I dropped Penny off at Borders Books and I headed for M&S, where she would catch me up. I had been given all of Paul's vouchers (£85) that he had won at various bridge tournaments...

Olive Green light cotton dress
Red patterned dress

Ronit Zilkha
Black/print chiffon dress - an absolute bargain at £300 under the RRP!

Yellow/print silk dress

TK Maxx
Cream leather handbag - also a real bargain at £135 under the RRP
Four pairs of jeans - saved me having to make decisions :)

Black Coat

All in all an excellent day out and I judged my spending almost perfectly. On a budget of £400 I spent £403.47. Indeed, I could even argue that the M&S vouchers were not part of my budget, as I did not have free will on where I could spend them...

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Mumbai Preparation

The WSC is rushing towards me now. I am beginning to worry that I haven't got as far with my study as I had hoped, but saying that I have done more than I have for any previous world championships...

I switched to flashcard mode after the CotN tournament, which has increased the volume I have got through but at the cost of repetetive reinforcement. Only what is missed or is new (even if I correctly guessed the answer) goes into the cardbox.

To make it more interesting I have been mixing what I am studying. Ploughing on with eights in probability order - currently done 8250. Awkward letter combination sevens have added a bit more interest - BFPUVW pairs etc. Continuing with sevens in probability order (10250). Also a little work on the high scorers six and sevens. All the fives have been cycling through for a while now but I still struggle on some :(

Having some time off tomorrow for a shopping spree in Edinburgh with Anne - bankrolled by my prize money from CotN :)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Autumn Mix Jelly

The rosehips (1 lb) and brambles (3/4 lb) went into the jelly bag Friday night, producing half a pint of juice. The crabapples (unweighed, but I guess about 1 1/2 lb) and half a pound of sloes were strung up last night. I decided to cheat this morning and squeeze the jelly bag - this if for home consumption only and a little cloudiness won't bother me. I combined the juice - a pint and a quarter in total.

My Margaret Patten recipe book advised to only stir until the sugar is dissolved and then boil hard without stirring. I decided to try this - previously I have kept stirring throughout.

There was a lot more scum doing it this way, but it was easy to remove the majority of it with a vegetable spoon without wasting too much of the jelly. Another tip in the book that worked well was dabbing the last of the scum with white paper kitchen roll. It was also a lot more relaxed in getting the saucers from the freezer to test for the setting point, and the jars from the oven when it was ready - which was a lot quicker than previously. Luckily I had just finished ladling it into the jars when the phone rang.

I then got back to the kitchen for the best part - scraping the jelly remains from the pan/ladle etc for tasting on a couple of cream crackers. It is scrummy...

Friday, October 19, 2007

Sloe Sloe Quick Quick Sloe

The weather this year has caused the hedgerow bounty to be very different to last year. The brambles were very late up here and are just coming to an end now. The elderberries were not worth worrying about. Crab apples are doing well. Rose hips not as good as last year. But, joy of joy, the sloes have been abundant.

On my first brambling expedition earlier in the year I discovered a stretch of blackthorn hedge. They weren't ready but I kept an eye on it.

On one of our dog walks I found another area down the side of a field. Things were looking good.

And then I hit the jackpot. On another dog walk we spotted blackthorn bushes everywhere, covered in sloes. Now I just had to wait for them to ripen.

The first time I went picking I decided they weren't quite ready, so satisfied myself with a couple of pounds of brambles. I waited a couple of weeks and then tried again last Sunday. Some bushes were ready - indeed were beginning to go over - and others not. I filled a punnet. Back out on Tuesday. I filled another two punnets. Nobody else seems to be picking them, and by now quite a few of the bushes appeared to be past their best - fruit beginning to wrinkle on the bushes. It seemed a pity to go to waste...

Janet had expressed an interest in coming with me. On the Sunday I had stopped at her house but the car was not in the drive so I had continued on without her. Same thing on the Tuesday. Yesterday was her last chance as Paul is away playing bridge for a long weekend, which puts a dampener on my outings. Again, she was out. Paul volunteered to come with me, bringing the dogs. Big mistake.

I had the equivalent of 'Are we there yet?'...
Have we picked enough yet? The dogs are bored... I'm bored... I'm not cut out for this... etc.

We had filled one punnet between us when Paul decided to drive the dogs home and then come back for me. I filled a second punnet. Next stop was for some rather nice large rose hips I had spotted on a previous foray. And yet another blackthorn covered in sloes. Last stop back at my trusty bramble patch for the last harvest of the year - I must have got about five pounds in total from there.

Looking back on last year Jean and I managed to pick about three quarters of a pound of sloes, fighting our way through the gorse to get every last one. This year I have picked eleven pounds, and haven't even touched the first two locations I found. I have bagged up and frozen four pounds which I will use to make sloe gin and sloe vodka. Another pound has been bagged up and presented to Janet on the lunchtime dog walk. I will wash/de-stem and freeze the rest this afternoon - they are earmarked for jellies/jams, along with the brambles and rosehips which are in the jam pan waiting to go.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Cock of the North 2007 - Day 2

I repeated my routine of the previous morning. I apologise for wearing my lucky shirt for the second day running, but it was working...

Game 11: Stewart Holden
Stewart opened with FALLS and I responded with W(A)XIER. FI(L)TERED from Stewart on move 2, but I could score well on the triple with HOLD to be only 10 behind. FRIZ from Stewart and I chose to use the hook to bonus with mANURER rather than play an eight onto the D. Stewart then used the D for bATTENED. I got his lead back to 4 with W(A)VED which also balanced well, and was rewarded with ENGRASP the following move. Stewart's JAILER was not enough to cope with my VET (40), TEMPOS (33) and CENTU (37).
W: 454-377

Game 12: Shane O'Neill
Shane started with BATH, allowing me to score well with JEED. QU(A) from Shane gave me a good spot to balance with POGO. Shane bonused to move 4 with VIRGaTE, and I took off the triple to keep in touch, and used the T for E(T)AERIOS on the following move - scores level at 184-184. Shane pulled ahead with (P)HOT, CURSE and WOX, but I bonused on move 8 with REVIsED to take a 30 point lead, that was soon wiped out by MAZE. My rack was not looking good, and I balanced with NOLL, with two more Ns and Ls unseen. My rack had improved to AADEGIN but I was still 32 behind with 4 in the bag. I played of the A for a mere 2 points to make a second opening - 5 of the unseen tiles would give me a playable bonus in either place, 3 just on the new opening and 3 made nothing. I picked an L. Shane then blocked the new opening, down went ALIGNED and I prayed I did not pick the C.
As it was if Shane had just played one of his Ss onto VIRGATE for 26, ignoring my play, he would have won...
W: 414-400

Game 13: Azu Ogbogu
I opened with CAW and Azu's reply of FOOD set up AXING for 60. A couple of balancing moves and then I hat-tricked with ERUCTIN(G), GANISTE(R) onto AzU's PRALINE and GLAD(I)EST. I picked both the blanks with clunky consonants and dumped the K for 33. Azu tried a phony RE(G)REASE, and as I couldn't see a bonus from it on the triple I challenged it off and dumped my V. I then didn't bother looking for a bonus as I could score 42 with FA(S)H, and bonused the next go with UnBOOtS. Azu got a consolation bonus with (V)IRTUOSE.
W: 597-380

I had virtually won the tournament now with 3 games to go. Mark was 3 games and over 1000 points behind. I was Gipsonized :)

Game 14: Ray Tate

Ray's tactic in this game was to change and then bonus (TAILINGS, ENTERED). I hit back with (R)ESCALES, but was still slightly behind. The scores remained close, and then I made a mistake, trying cRAFTM(E)N - I didn't want to play RAFTsM(e)N as there were still Ds and a C unseen. Ray challenged it off and blocked the spot with QUE(E)N. From that point I was making openings and Ray was blocking, moving further ahead. SUB from me, and Ray used his blank to kill it, but gave me OXi(D)S to get me back within 11. GOE from Ray set me up for a good two-move playout and a scraped win on countback.
W: 373-371

Game 15: Brian Sugar
This game started well for me with CAREX for 47 and GEEK for 34 on move 3. When Brian bonused with PEASaNT I could respond with BEACON(E)D, but he immediately followed up with DILLIES. Brian moved steadily further ahead outscoring me consistently while I was struggling with a lack of vowels other than Is, but I had picked the second blank. MEWLS put Brian 119 ahead. I had a rush of blood here and played far too quickly, and this probably cost me the game. iRONIZE for 124, rather than the far superior iONIZER for 126.
L: 417-428

Game 16: Darryl Francis
Yet again I started well with RETOOK followed by (K)ANJI. A balancing play of LOR on move 3 was punished by Darryl's INFARES, but I could hit back with TREASON. MATZ(A) from Darryl for 78 was a bit of a body blow, but I was back in control with BOTTlES on move 7. Two moves later and Darryl bonused with URACILS which I could just about withstand, but followed by XI meant I needed a bonus. However, the only opening was above VID and looking at what was left even if my desperation chance of fishing for the last O or blank for OPAQUED paid off Darryl would block or take the spot himself. I decided on P(L)AQUE. This was the right choice as Darryl had HIREaGE...
L: 418-466

So, I couldn't manage the clean sweep, but I was very happy with 14-2 - a good work out in preparation for Mumbai where stamina will be needed. My rating has bounced back up to undo the damage from Durham.

Many thanks to Len for organizing the event, John on the computer and Amy 'Whiplash' Byrne for TDing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Cock of the North 2007 - Day 1

Allan and I had travelled down the day before. All was well until the M6. We eventually arrived at the venue, Leasowe Castle Hotel, at 8.15 p.m., and decided to eat in the hotel rather than drive to the restaurant a few of the others had gone to. This may have been a mistake as the service was slow and my steak was gristly so I could only eat half of it. I complained to the waitress but she didn't even apologise but I was too tired to make a fuss. We retired to the bar where a few others were gathered, and then I got a reasonably early night.

I got up early for me, and after a light breakfast had enough time to go back to my room and go through a few anagrams in my cardbox quiz before wandering down to the playing room. I know from studying at home that it takes me a while in the mornings for my brain to start functioning properly, and I hoped this would kick it into gear...

Game 1: Paul Thompson
I was pleased with how I played in this game with awkward racks at times. PAOLO to open with a vowel-heavy rack was hit with DEAFEST from Paul. OUT(AD)DED from ADDEOTU on move 3, as I had previously blocked the floating T with HIE, to regain the lead. I bonused on move 5 from AAABMOS for breathing space. 37 for WINING followed by NYE for 33 to kill off the opening I had just made. Paul bonused on move 10 with sAVAGER but was still more than 50 behind, but gave me a floater for NIT(E)RIES - I had been a little annoyed to pick an S after dumping the J as there is no seven. Paul played (S)OU leaving one in the bag. I could afford for him to bonus there, so blocked the 9-x to ensure the win.
W: 434-396

Game 2: Anne Ramsay
I broke my blank drought in this game, and just for good measure had all the Ss. ZILLA, HAKIM and a late (U)RETHANE added to Anne's misery.

W: 517-329

Game 3: Martin Harrison
An opening rack of EIIOMUU transformed into AUMAILs on move 2. ELANETS on move 6 followed by JUICE on move 7 for 87 meant I had a very healthy lead. Martin came back at me with SLOOMEd followed by SWOO(N)ING, but FRYIN(G) from a consonant heavy rack kept me a bonus lead ahead, which proved too much for Martin to overhaul.
W: 450-402

Game 4: Wayne Kelly
Another vowel-heavy opening rack and I dumped AUA. Wayne tried HEEDIER which I challenged off (HEEDY is okay). ZO(A) by me, knowing he couldn't benefit from the Z. Unfortunately neither could I, so I balanced with WI(Z) and then bonused with ETA(E)RIOS, with FEaTH(E)RY two moves later. I picked AACENOL. A face value ARE(N)ITES from Wayne, but there was another open N for my ANCO(N)EAL response. Wayne took off the triple with GR(A)VY. I was pleased to score/balance with FOV(E)A(L) but Wayned used the F for PUrI(F)IED. I was still a bonus ahead, and scored well with DINKS (38), AX (45) and then bonused again with ELEGANT.
W: 490-321

Game 5: Biyi Oyadiran
I opened with HOVEL, and opted for YEAR(L)ONG on move 2. ZUR(F) on move 3 and I still had a 20+ lead after Biyi bonused with RETI(A)rII. A consonant heavy rack, and I extended JA to JALOP. Biyi opened another 9-x with FOAM, and I had to balance again with DR(I)VEL, holding back the X. I was rewarded with (E)XTRA the following move. Biyi bonused on move 9 with STaND(I)NG. With 2 Ss I had no problems playing QIS to go 55 ahead, and picked the last S. (R)EACHED from Biyi emptying the bag blocked my AI(R)STOPS, but the game was mine.
W: 428-375

Game 6: Allan Simmons
Allan had won all 3 of our friendlies last week - it must be my turn to win. He opened with VAGROM, and I responded with (V)IBEX. (A)DIEU from Allan. I had AHNSTU?, and spent a long time trying to see something better but failing and played SUNHATs (I knew VAGROM does not take an S). I picked PINDARI from the bag to go 75 ahead. cREE(P)IER from Allan, but he was still behind and I scored well with PAWN on the triple. I maintained my lead, chickening out of (T)ULCHANS and playing (H)UNCH instead. I bonused again two moves later, choosing the lower scoring ASTABLE over (T)ASTABLE. JESSE near the end ensured victory.
W: 453-341

Game 7: Phil Robertshaw
I bit of a cock-up on the photo front here. It was quite dark up my end of the room, and the flash insisted on firing. In sorting them out later I managed to delete all of the ones I took of this game. Suffice it to say I broke Phil's run of wins against me :)
W: 454-362

Game 8: Mark Lane
Mark was having a very good tournament too... I wanted some breathing space.
I opened with a balancing GIG. WISP from Mark. Another balancing HUE from me. Mark also balanced with BRI(G). As is typical after playing my U I had picked the Q, but QI was playable. Mark also had an I. I had now picked another U and balanced again with DULL. JEST from Mark, and I opted for OE for 38 rather than bonusing with CEEOST?. WATChES on the next go. Mark was obviously struggling, AIA followed by a change, ZA (62) and FAY (48) for me. SOLDIER from Mark, but he was still over 100 behind. REMANDs by me on move 12 and a consolation bonus of CREATU(R)E from Mark did little to dint my spread.
W: 503-330

Game 9: Robert Richland
Unfortunately POPVIDS is not a word, so I opted for POP, having to dump VID on the next move. From AHRSSTT I played off TRASH and Robert bonused with MANDIRS. Still consonant heavy but with a blank I played off HM followed by B(OX). At last, DUSTILy to take a small lead followed immediately by CADGERs. Robert was pegging me back as I was struggling with non-bonus one-pointer racks (NOUN, TOLE). WOG followed by SNEEZE from Robert and he was only 12 behind. He got within 6 with FARCE, but used the last unseen E, and the remaining tiles looked pretty bad. JE(W) from me, YA from Robert. With GNNRTTU I played off G(R)UNT expecting to pick a vowel, but got an L. Robert had IIIIKOU...
W: 392-366

Game 10: Mikki Nicholson
I opened with the standard QI. ETAMiNE from Mikki on move 2. SHULE from me to level the scores. BEGOtT(E)N from Mikki on move 4, but I hit straight back with AGISTOR. OVA(R)Y from Mikki to retake the lead, but that let me balance a poor rack with IRID for 31. (V)ALUE from Mikki and I had choices for the Z, opting for ADZED. I now kept the lead, and ATTAINS on move 11 made the game safe.
W: 451-378

End of day 1, 10-0 with a very good spread, and two games clear of Mark who was a game ahead of a few others. I was absolutely shattered, and after a bottle of Becks headed for bed.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Garden Report 2007 - 19

October has brought sunshine.

The last of my bulbs arrived at the start of last week. I was mistaken in what was outstanding - 25 alliums and 30 dwarf tulips.

On Tuesday I got back out there in the afternoon when the temperature had risen sufficiently to make it enjoyable. I negotiated a route up to under the buddleia with a rubbish bag, trowel, gloves and fork - the alchemelias had to go. I made the mistake last year of keeping a couple, and they had obviously loved it up there and taken over again. Digging on a slope hampered by the buddleia is a little precarious, but at least the ground was soft. The only real problem I had was with a clump close to the berberis lower down as I couldn't get the fork behind them without being pricked.

Stage 2 of the plan was to plant up the foxgloves that had been thriving in the two sacks of soil from Anne that are still waiting to be dug into the high bank. There were two large ones and four smaller ones which I loaded into an old washing up bowl, and headed back to the cleared area and planted them up. I would recommend keeping washing up bowls for use in the garden - they are very versatile.

Stage 3 - I planted up the alliums around the foxgloves and all down the slope on the right hand side of the buddleia, where I had pruned the shrubs previously.

I then had a couple of days off - legs aching and other things to do. However, I was back out there again yesterday afternoon.

The verge had started encroaching on the small beds I had created along the bottom of rockery area, so job one was to get that back under control. As I was digging out the grass and weeds I found loads of baby heucheras. I went and got some of my small pots and potted them up, two or three to a pot. Over two dozen, and still more if there is demand. I then planted up the tulips, in two of the beds and in the rockery itself. To finish the job I split up a large clump of self-seeded pansies and replanted the larger ones back into the beds.

There isn't anything new flowering now, which isn't surprising. However, there is still a lot of colour in the garden. Spring (aubretia), summer (lupins) and autumn (gentians) are living side by side in the rockery at the moment.

The gentians are looking particularly good at the moment. I bought four different varieties last year from Lamberton nursery, which specialises in them. I was intrigued by the thought of white gentians but I think they are rather lovely.

But so are the blue ones...

The geranium is still flowering in the bad at the top of the drive, now well complemented by the schizostylus which are now flowering en-masse.

The beds I dug out in the middle of the long back are generally shadier and damper than the ones at the ends. This one even more so as yet another spiraea has grown out towards the road. However, the purple-leaved heucheras and pulmonaria are thriving in those conditions, so I am unsure how hard I should prune.

The hardy annuals that I sowed from last year's seed collection are still flowering. I will be back out collecting seed heads again soon.

The only 'new' thing to report is this oddity of a lupin. It threw up a flower spike, but each of the buds produced a miniature leaf. I think it is rather attractive.

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