In and out in December…

the Grand Union canal.

It’s no secret that I tend to find the low-light days of winter something of a challenge, which is why I’m delighted to say that so far this year, I’m managing to stay pretty buoyant. Maybe it’s the generally mild weather we’ve been having or just a determined effort to stay relaxed. Whichever, all I can say is that we’re now really close to the solstice and so far, so good.

Part of my strategy for staying well is to get outdoors as much as I reasonably can. It used to be easier when the Delinquent Dog insisted on a decent daily walk, but the old chap isn’t up to all that these days and we have to content ourselves with short strolls near to the house. I miss getting out into the woods and countryside so much and try hard to get out when I can.

We’re lucky to live a short hop away from the Grand Union canal, which would have been the perfect place to walk the Delinquent Dog, had he not come hardwired with the urge to attack any other furry creature he might meet. Narrow canal paths do not lend themselves to quick avoidance detours – not without getting very wet at any rate.

I’ve taken to having a quick walk along the tow-path every few days without the boy (you can see how glorious the weather was from the picture at the top of this post on a recent stroll). And there have been occasional walks around the Park at Woburn – always a delight.

There have also been proper days out.

First, a trip to Worcester with both daughters. We were there a few days after Storm Arwen which had brought down one of the stone pinacles from the tower of the cathedral, which crashed through the roof below. If you look carefully you might be able to see where the tarpaulin is now covering the hole. The pincacle came from high up on the tower, so all-in-all I’d say it was lucky not to have been a worse outcome.

the damaged roof at Worcester Cathedral

We happened to be in Worcester on the final day of the Christmas Market, so it was fairly busy, but also rather lovely. Twinkly and smelling of mulled wine – quite put me in the festive spirit.

the Guildhall, Worcester at dusk.
excellent message I thought…x

Later that week, I met up with my brother in Worcestershire and we headed off to Hanbury Hall for tea and cakes and a wander around the house. This year they’ve decorated the house in the style of Christmasses of the 1970s and 1980s and oh my goodness! What a good job they’ve made. I haven’t laughed so much for an age.

We spent our afternoon remembering toys, films, tv, pop music and food from our youth. It was magical! Tacky, but totally magical.

It wasn’t just indoors that had been decorated. Every one of these little trees had a glitter ball on top – over 200 of them, how fabulous!

Meanwhile, back indoors, there has been more needlepoint. I’ve given up trying to think about what I’m doing and instead I’ve fully embraced the stitch to relax vibe that I used to have. For now, that feels absolutely the right thing to do. I’ve always thought that stitching was primarily a meditative practice and so it feels again for me.

this is the current piece – rocking orange…x

There’s something snuggly about sitting on the sofa in the evening, listening to the TV and quietly sewing. Well, it works for me.

It’s a funny old time of year and I hope you’re doing alright. Stitching keeps me relaxed and calm, but do whatever works for you. We’re all different.

Anny x



It’s lovely to see that people are still coming over to visit Mostly Motley, but having tried various combinations, I’ve now decided to concentrate my blogging over at Dreaming in Stitches for everything that’s not history related and Mists of Time for fellow history junkies out there.

Please do come over and visit either – or both – of these places and see if it’s for you – you’ll be very welcome.

Out of spirits…

We’ve had an anxious few days – Delinquent Dog has been poorly. Our quiet domestic routine has been disrupted and there haven’t been any woodland walks for a couple of days – funny how quickly that puts me out of balance. The days have felt much longer than they usually do, and by evening I’ve been happy to have a small single malt and early bed.

Hopefully he’s on the mend now and we should be getting back into our flow again soon.

Pictures from the Dallas Dhu Distillery – now a museum, which we visited back in August. I love the colours and textures associated with distilleries, old wood, copper and water – but for the smells, you need to go to a working distillery (naturally we went to a few of those too).





Merrily, Merrily, Merrily…

Oh Phil…

I have a bone to pick with Phil Rickman’s publishers. What do they think they’re doing publishing the latest Merrily Watkins novel at such a busy time of year? Now my poor family are going to have to fend for themselves and the tapestry is going to be neglected, while I immerse myself in the latest supernatural happenings at the vicarage in Ledwardine.

I suppose with an immense amount of will-power, I could have put The Magus of Hay on the shelf and waited for a quieter time, but come on – he’s not only given us the first Merrily book for two years, but he’s set it in Hay-on-Wye (my spiritual home). I mean really – how inconsiderate. I have no choice, I just have to read it…NOW!

IMAG3822Thanks Phil – please keep them coming…





Last week we…

Is it me, or do these school holidays seem to come around faster and faster?

Last week was a bit of a whirlwind. Number Two daughter was in Paris on a school trip until Friday, so Number One daughter and I went around and about. We managed a trip to London – culture and shopping again – we’re getting good at it. Then a visit to Stowe Landscape Gardens near Buckingham (I’ll post about that on Mists of Time as soon as I have a chance), and then we decided that we should carve a pumpkin, even though Number Two wasn’t going to be back in time to enjoy the trick or treaters.


And then, on Saturday, the highlight of our week – perhaps the highlight of our year – we went to Stratford, to see David Tennant in Richard II.


We booked the tickets so long ago, we’d had a lot of time to get excited about it, but in the event, it was even better than any of us could have hoped. I have absolutely no problem in admitting that it was the attraction of our almost all-time favourite Dr Who (I’m of the Tom Baker generation), that made us go along to what you’d have to say is not perhaps the top of the Shakespeare picks, but oh my goodness, how brilliant it was.

Our party included two fifty-something ladies, a seventy-something lady, two middle-aged men and four teenage girls, and each one of us came away absolutely enthralled. In my opinion, nobody does Shakespeare like the RSC – so many people think that Shakespeare is difficult to understand, but go to the RSC productions and they make it entirely understandable – if our teenagers knew what was happening, anyone could – simply marvellous.

So if having someone like David Tennant in the cast is what it takes to bring in the next generation of Shakespeare lovers – that’s fine by me. (Oh and he was incredibly good – of course).

Back down to earth now…





Melancholy and excitement…


Strange sensations today.

The girls have gone back to school after the long holiday. For the first time in ages, we had a real sunny summer and what a difference it has made to us all. Number One Daughter who faces the heavy toil of Year 11 really doesn’t want to go back – and who can blame her – although her request at 7.30am this morning to be home-schooled fell on unreceptive ears. Number Two Daughter, who starts at the Upper school today, is full of excitement – I’m glad I’m not a teacher.

Not having the girls around, makes me feel a touch melancholy, but on the other hand, I am finally able to get back to what passes as my ‘normal’ routine – last night I excavated my desk so that today I could blog for the first time in weeks – a certain relief is beginning to flow in the veins.

The start of the new school year always gives me a buzz, which hasn’t anything to do with school, but everything to do with new beginnings, fresh starts and heightened enthusiasm. Especially strong this September I suspect because the summer has been so good and I’m definitely more refreshed and reinvigorated than I’ve been for quite some time.

And in the spirit of clean sheets – I think I should repent of my sort of failure – which is to admit to having failed on the no new book buying challenge. I gave it my best shot, I kept a wish-list instead of pressing Buy With One Click, I avoided the charity shops, I tried very hard- but during the summer I just couldn’t hold out any more. I now know, that being able to read something that sparks my curiosity is more important to me than I’d realised before. And of course reading blogs is a potent way to be pointed in the direction of writers who I’d never otherwise have encountered – and I love that.

So for anyone managing to sustain the challenge, I admire you enormously – but now I have confirmed the disappointing extent of my will-power.

Over the last few blogging-free weeks, I’ve been thinking about what I want to spend my energies on for the next few months. This has boiled down to:

Getting back into regular yoga practise (as I get older, maintaining flexibility becomes more and more important – my mother was a tremendous example of what could be done, and I’m determined to follow her example – and I’m lucky enough to have an excellent teacher who integrates the spiritual elements smoothly, which I appreciate even more than the physical exercise).

Getting to grips with the garden: No chance of turning into a Gertrude Jekyll, just the realisation that much needs to be done and finally, after only living in this house for fifteen years, beginning to get a feel for what I actually want in the garden.

flower tub

And finally – don’t laugh, I’m going to teach myself Old English. I’ve been intrigued by the evolution of the English language ever since I studied Chaucer for A Level, but over the summer, the programmes about the Anglo-Saxons, with Michael Wood, sparked a new interest in the early origins. Each programme showed texts written from the time of King Alfred and his immediate successors, and had extracts of the texts being voiced, with subtitles. It was so delicious to listen to, but also I found myself desperate to be able to read the texts. I’ve investigated text books, although not yet decided which one(s) to go for – they seem to vary from strictly academic, deeply grammatical, to the Old English equivalent of Teach Yourself in a Weekend. If any of you wonderful readers have any old books on OE sitting around unloved, or any advice on teachers, courses or text books – please get in touch!

Of course all this will take place against the background of daily life and endless tent stitch – life’s never boring…

A churchy day out in York…

Warning: this post contains gratuitous references to bell-ringing. Anyone with allergies to bells should stop reading now.

York is one of my favourite cities in the UK, and I was delighted to be able to spend the day there last Saturday.

Now of course there’s more than enough to keep you happy and occupied in York for days on end, but we were there for a bell-ringing event, so inevitably the day was dominated by visiting churches.

York Minster is one of the granddaddies of gothic architecture and an absolute ‘must-see’ at least once in a life-time, but we started our visit to York with a very special tour of the two towers of York Minster that house the incredible Minster bells. For bell-ringers, the best bit was the fact that a peal was being rung during our visit, so we could see, hear (and feel) the sound of the bells in action.

The NW tower houses Great Peter, a huge bell, one of the biggest in the UK (10 tons), which sounds the hours, and the quarter bells.

If you want some idea of how Great Peter sounds try this YouTube clip here (but imagine it so loud your teeth rattle).

The SW tower holds the ringing bells. As they were being rung, I didn’t take pictures, (I was too scared I’d drop the camera into a swinging bell). We went up onto the roof of the SW tower to get one of the most amazing views of the city. The weather was so good we could see for miles. (Actually the sky was that amazing deep blue, but I’ve had to adjust the pictures to show the details). I just adore the gargoyles on the pinnacles.

Click on the pictures for a better view.

After enjoying our very noisy tour, we strolled along to St Olave’s Church in Marygate.

This was a wonderfully gentle antidote to the size and magnificence of the MInster. Of all the churches we visited on Saturday, this was my favourite. You know that feeling in some churches of serenity, calm, peacefulness – well that’s St Olave’s.

The font cover soars into the air – click the picture to see it better.

By contrast, St Wilfrid’s church, built close to the Minster is all about sturdy Victorian values. As an example of its type, it is pretty amazing, but my own response was to feel over-powered.

Some of the family went in search of other bells, but I went in search of refreshment (lager shandy – not my normal lunchtime habit, but it was soooo hot!).

Later we headed off to St Lawrence’s Church, just outside the city walls. The girls were competing in a striking competition there, so mother mode took over and I didn’t take photos – in fact I sought shade and a place to sit where I wouldn’t be in the way. St Lawrence’s is another Victorian church, built on the ground of an earlier church. All that now remains of the original church is the tower – a slightly forlorn relict. But the most poignant element for me was this derelict tomb – so sad and with a rambling white rose growing wild across it.


After the excitement of the competition, we took a very slow walk back to St Helen Stonegate, which was acting as the hub for all the ringing events. They had a little mini-ring set up and the girls enjoyed having a go – it’s quite different to the normal ringing we do. The lovely people at St Helen’s laid on lashings of tea and cake – they understand their audience very well indeed!

I’m afraid I gave up taking ‘proper pictures after that. We went on to St Michael Le Belfry (the church where Guy Fawkes was christened), where the competition results were given. Suffice to say it was extremely exciting and quite out of the blue, our team won. I’m not going to embarrass any of them with ‘proud mother type’ pictures – but it was fantastic and I am incredibly proud of all the young ringers who took part.

During the afternoon, I’d re-visited some old-haunts in the city. I was disappointed to find that Taylors of Stonegate had been renamed Betty’s – I know it’s all the same firm, but Taylors had a certain something special. I nodded at the Judges Lodgings – which used to be my favourite place to stay in York, I’ve spent some happy times there. And of course, no visit would be complete without saying hello to this little chap…


Apologies for a rather indulgent post – it was a beautiful day I will always remember.

Now, get out into the garden and soak up some rays!

Squirrel Attack…

My advice is this – if you go down to the woods today – wear a hard hat.

They're up there, watching...
They’re up there, watching…

I’m used to trying to squirrel-spot before the Delinquent Dog does, because experience has taught me that if I don’t, I risk having my arm detached from the shoulder as he races towards them on the end of the lead. This has rewarded me with several good laughs, as I’ve watched Mr Nutkin and friends deliberately cross the paths in front of us, taunting the boy with their agility. Sometimes I’ve noticed that a pair will go in one direction and another will whizz round behind him.

Fortunately the poor boy misses most of them as he’s too busy sniffing the doggy Facebook notifications (trees), but we do get the odd attempt to climb trees – I keep telling him not to bother – it only encourages the squirrels to do it more, and let’s face it, even if he wasn’t on a lead, he’s hardly built for climbing, but he takes no notice.

What the Delinquent Dog thinks of squirrels...
What the Delinquent Dog thinks of squirrels…

But lately the squirrels have definitely upped the ante, not content with driving him wild and taunting him from the branches, they’ve now started bombarding us with missiles (bits of tree). At first I thought it must just be the wind, but now it’s happening on calm mornings, and with far too great a frequency to be a coincidence. And the force with which some of these cones hit the ground makes me grateful they haven’t yet quite managed a direct hit.

I listened out his morning after another incident and I could almost swear I heard a snigger from up above.

Of course you can’t see the little devils up there in the tree canopy, you’d have more luck trying to find Edward Snowdon in a Russian airport, but I know they’re there, plotting their next evil deed.

So be warned – wear something protective, but on no account wear anything that could resemble a target from above – we don’t want to help improve their aim.

Happy walking in the woods…



The Chef lives…

In the 1970s, my mum became the proud owner of a Kenwood Chef. She was an enthusiastic cake maker (and eater for that matter, although unlike me she had hollow legs, but that’s another story…). She must have used it practically every week for the next thirty plus years. When she died and we cleared her house, the Kenwood was still sitting in the corner of the kitchen, unaware that it had helped make its last cake.

It’s been boxed up in our garage ever since.

Until that is, a couple of weeks ago.

Because some niggling little voice has been calling to me from the garage – ‘Why not use the Kenwood – it even has a bread-hook you know…’ and I really fancied making bread…

So in it came. I gave it a good clean, out came the strong bread flour and yeast, in it went, on went the switch, it purred round and round – I smiled. It suddenly went berserk – I switched it off – and then back on again – it whizzed around maniacally, and a nasty electrical smell came out – and then it emitted one very loud and abrupt BANG! I cried.

The Kenwood after Techno-hero had his wicked way with the screwdriver.
The Kenwood after Techno-hero had his wicked way with the screwdriver.

But the advantage of being married to a techno-hero, is that he can take things apart and put them back together again.

He took out his screw-driver, did a considerable amount of muttering, googled  ‘Kenwood repairs’ and now, two weeks and a new resistor later, I have a functioning Kenwood. Hoorah!

According to Techno Hero, this is the blown resistor - umm, yes, he's probably right.
According to Techno Hero, this is the blown resistor – umm, yes, he’s probably right.

I just know my mum is cheering from her fluffy cloud and my dad is thinking what a good job I married someone just like him.

So today, in their honour, the first cake from the repaired Kenwood – is mum’s favourite – a Madeira. (And a loaf is just proving now).

Madeira Cake from Nan's cook book.
Madeira Cake from Nan’s cook book.

I’m very happy indeed.

Here's to the next thirty years service.
Here’s to the next thirty years service.

Farewell thou good and faithful servant…

It’s a sad morning for us, as today we say goodbye to one of the oldest members of our household – the dishwasher.

At seventeen, I don’t think we can complain that it was a life cut short, rather we should celebrate all those years of devoted, trouble-free service (and as we live in an incredibly hard water area, we are indeed very thankful for the lack of problems).

It went out in a final flourish, shorting out the socket circuit in the whole house at exactly 6.03am – I know, because that’s the time the clock-radio went off, cutting John Humphrys and Today off even before it had a chance to get started.

At first I assumed it was a power cut and stayed in bed, but eventually I got up and realised that the lights were working. Coming downstairs, the smell of burning electricals was unmistakable, and it was quickly apparent where the smell was coming from.

But to its credit, it hadn’t died until it reached the very end of the washing cycle, so the whole load was clean – how thoughtful – a faithful servant to the end.

Now we have to decide whether or not to replace it – undoubtedly a hard act to follow. I did suggest to the daughters that we could manage without one, as I was sure they’d be willing to wash-up instead. You’d have thought I’d asked them to empty a septic tank with a teaspoon.

The dishwasher was the first appliance my husband and I bought together. We had it about a year before we got married, and I remember that at our marriage preparation classes, when asked what we thought was essential to sustain a happy marriage, I somewhat flippantly, but very honestly, said a dishwasher – and actually, I still think I was right. I have a theory that it’s the little things, like arguing about who’s doing the washing up this time, that sow the seeds for bigger, nastier arguments down the line.

So, the end of an era. I better go now and browse John Lewis online…



For the record – it was an Indesit.

A quick thought on diaries…

A spread from the 2012 Earth Pathways Diary

It’s about this time of year that the shops start to fill up with diaries and calendars.

When I left Corporateland and decided I didn’t need to tote a huge A4 diary with me everywhere I went, I started looking around for an alternative. After a few inevitable false starts, I found my way to the Earth Pathways Diary. If you haven’t seen one and you fancy something a bit different for 2013, I urge you to take a look – click here to go to their website.

Apart from being a very useful and well formatted diary, the Earth Pathways Diary contains a delightful mix of artworks and poetry on the themes of nature, Earth wisdom and living sustainably and lightly on our planet.

Take a look at some of the sample pages for the 2013 diary – here.

If you’re interested, you can order from the website.

I like the way this group has worked and continues to produce something beautiful and inspirational, without being subsumed into the mass market, so I’m just going to take this opportunity to wish them all a Very Happy New Year.



Ready For The Off…

So, today is the official opening of the Olympics, and therefore, as the next couple of weeks will undoubtedly be wall to wall crass radio and TV coverage, we’re off as far away from London as we can get without leaving Britain.

Our camping expeditions take a bit of organising, so we probably won’t actually hit the road until tomorrow or Sunday, but once I get into packing mode, I’m a woman possessed – nothing stands in my way! Once I’ve finished writing this, I’m switching off (well, perhaps just a little more browsing – and maybe even booking a camp site or two) – but basically, this is where the holiday starts.

Of course, this being England, our camping holiday appears to have been timed with precision to coincide with the end of the heat wave.

Yesterday, when number one daughter and I were walking the dog in near sub Saharan temperatures, we met this little fellow.

Can you make him out? I think it’s a slow-worm, but if not, please tell me what you think it is.

He was struggling in the hot sunshine the wriggle across a sandy path, into the shade. He got there without the dog being interested.

It’s not so hot today, which is better for me – I like to be warm, but too hot and I wilt.

Happy summer everyone. I’ll be back in a few weeks.