Friday, July 25, 2008

Yesterday, my friend Buffy added a comment – well, more like a question – to the comments for the piece I wrote on us buying a new car. Buffy asked “did the Husband get the Bang and Olufsen sound system?? You'll find him sitting in the car listening to his CD collection in the middle of the night, until the new car smell wears off! Lol”. Well that’s a story in itself.

Last Monday the Husband and I set off back to the car salesroom. The Husband has a set system for testing a new hifi system, whether it is the very, very good one we have in the living room, the much smaller and cheaper system I put in the kitchen, so that I can have music while cooking or the one in the bedroom, for music while getting ready for bed. The Husband takes several CDs, carefully chosen to test a new system with music both loud and soft, fast and slow (from memory he took Rachmaninoff, Finzi, Shostakovich plus Sting and the Police). He took all these on Monday, plus both our iPods and we tested out the Bang & Olufsen system in one of the cars in the showroom. I suspect he was already minded to buy the system; he certainly didn’t take any persuasion to buy it. When we plugged in my iPod we could see the playlist showing on a panel on the car’s dashboard – so it is easy to choose what to listen to provided, of course, that you do this before you start driving! The sound quality of the music system was excellent, so we’ve ordered it to be added to our new car. One of the good things about it is that someone looking in one of the car windows could not see the music system at all; it is invisible unless you dismantle the car’s innards. And it wouldn’t be worth while doing this to steal the hifi system as it will only work in the car.

I have been driving for 40 years and, up to now, I’ve been able to sit in any car and drive off without any problem as usually they all have the same switches and levers, etc only, perhaps, in different places in different cars. But then up to now they have all, including our current Citroen Xantia, been cars that work mechanically. Nowadays new cars are basically a computer on wheels. Cars nowadays have all sorts of switches and things I just do not recognise and I can imagine it will take me a while to work out what they are and what they do. The thing that does throw me completely is that the car doesn’t have a handbrake. Instead it has a switch that automatically turns on the handbrake when the car stops and turns it on again when the car starts to go again. But still, I’ll get used to it and everything else. Eventually.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The other day I signed an online petition.

The Petition actually stated:
"By comparison to many other European Countries, Britain has fewer public holidays and none at all for a period of some three months between the August public holiday and Christmas. Moreover, Britain does not have a "National" day. So what better way to celebrate our Nation than to have a National Remembrance Holiday falling on the second Monday in November each year to reinforce Remembrance Sunday which falls on the second Sunday in November? Such a holiday will serve to emphasise our commemoration of The Fallen who gave their lives to save Britain and also the on-going importance of the survival of our Nation. The National Remembrance Holiday will further serve to break that period between late summer and Christmas when there is currently no public holiday."

Yesterday evening I received an e-mail to say that the Prime Minister's Office has responded. This is what was said:-

More than 500,000 people have signed this petition, and we are grateful to you
all for taking the time to do so.

Your support is a clear sign of the strength of feeling across the United Kingdom that we must do more as a country to recognise the contribution of our Armed Forces, and in particular those who have died or been injured in the service of their country.

The Government recently published The National Recognition Study (new window), undertaken by Quentin Davies MP, which looks at the ways in which the Government, other institutions and the country as a whole can do more to recognise the service of our Armed Forces and Veterans.

One of its recommendations was the institution of a special British Armed Forces and Veterans Day, which would complement the events held around Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday in November to commemorate those who have fallen in the service of our country.

These proposals are being given careful consideration by the Government, alongside other representations we have received to institute a new 'British Day', and as part of these deliberations, we will of course examine the case for introducing a new public holiday.

There is considerable debate amongst supporters of a new special public holiday to remember our Armed Forces and Veterans or our fallen servicemen about when in
the year such a day should take place.

While there are a very large number of people - including signatories to this petition- who believe the Monday after Remembrance Sunday is the best option, there areothers - including the Royal British Legion (new window) - who do not support that proposal, because they are concerned that a public holiday then would not be inkeeping with the solemnity and special status of the Remembrance Sunday commemorations.

Quentin Davies MP has suggested holding the new day close to the current Veterans' Day at the end of June, while others have suggested holding the day to coincide with the anniversaries of the D-Day Landings in early June or of V.E. Day in early May.

We greatly appreciate your contribution to this ongoing debate, and whatever the final outcome, we hope that all signatories to this petition will see that we have very much taken on board their desire to see much greater national recognition for our Armed Forces.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Green Pea, Lettuce and Mint Soup

The other day I was looking for a recipe for a soup I could serve cold, as it has been far too hot and humid for one that had to be served hot. So I had a look through my recipe books and came across my copy of the New Covent Garden Soup Company’s Book of Soups. It had some wonderful recipes and I chose this one. So I had a go and found that it wasn’t good. It was absolutely delicious. And very easy to make. So, here it is.

Green Pea, Lettuce and Mint Soup

50g (2 oz) butter
2 small onions, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
350g (12 oz) potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
900 ml (1.5 pints) light chicken stock
2 handfuls lettuce leaves, about 200 g (7 oz)
125 g (4.5 oz) fresh or frozen peas
leaves of a small bunch of mint, shredded
150 ml (1/4 pint) single cream
Salt & freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter and cook the onion and garlic gently until soft in a covered saucepan, without colouring. Add the potatoes and stock. Cover, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Add the lettuce leaves, peas and mint. Cover and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Cool a little then liquidise the soup. Stir in the cream and add a little more water if you think it necessary to achieve the correct consistency. Season as necessary. Serve.

I used the type of lettuce with virtually no heart. I think that if I was using lettuces which have large hearts then I would shred them before cooking them.
I used frozen peas and when I looked at the mixture cooking in the pan thought that it would need many more peas. I was wrong – the amount in the recipe added just the right amount of flavour to the soup.
The recipe says that you can serve the soup cold or warm. I haven’t tasted it warm yet. I will do so. The recipe is so simple and quick and tastes so delicious I will certainly make it again.
I wanted to include a picture of the book’s cover but couldn’t find it online so I assume that my version of the book is not being published now although I see on Amazon that other books by the same company are being published.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Monday afternoon and evening I felt totally stunned, a feeling that began to wear off as Tuesday wore off. Why? Monday afternoon we bought a new car.

I am a great believer of buying a car that works, maintaining it properly and just keeping it going for as long as the car works and it is economic still to run. This is what we did with our current car, a Citroen Xantia SX 1.9 diesel. We have had it for 15 years, buying it very shortly after we married. We have had very few and those relatively minor problems with it over the years and it has never let us down (touch wood). Of course neither of us used it to drive to work. Taking the train to the center of London for work was both the most economic and far less stressful option of traffic queues and trying to find somewhere to park (our employer does not provide parking spaces for employees) and so the car has mainly been used for local trips and longer drives to visit both the Husband’s and my parents. So now, after 15 years the car has done less than 68,000 miles.

At the Xantia's last service we were told by my brother-in-law, a trained mechanic who has seen to the car’s servicing for years, that at the next service the car will need a new braking system, a new gearbox and lots and lots of expensive work done to the hydraulic system. As the cost of all this work will considerably exceed the value of the car we knew that we would need to replace the car before the next service and MOT in the third week in September. The road fund license expires at the end of August.

So we started thinking about possible replacements. We bought a copy of What Car magazine and read the comments and critiques of all the cars sold in the UK. I have also spent a fair bit of time looking online. We both agreed that our next move was to look around various car showrooms and to take several test drives of various cars before sitting down and discussing sensibly what car to buy. So we made our first visit to a car salesroom Monday afternoon.


We went to an Audi dealers in Chelmsford. We had test drives in two different cars (one of them an automatic which confirmed my total loathing of automatic cars). We chatted to the salesman about prices. And then out of the blue the Husband offered them a deal - What Car says that the most you can get off the model is £700, he asked for a discount of about £1,700 on the overall price. After a lot of thought behind the scenes they took the offer. And we shook on it. So we've bought a car. An Audi A4 Avant SE diesel. We are having only a couple of additions to it: an automatic handbrake switch, the reversing warning system the Stepson suggested (he drives his maternal grandmother’s car) and an adaptor for an iPod. And the colour of the car - Red (there were only three basic colours and we didn't like the other two - black and white - and didn't want to pay more for the metallics).

The car will be built to our specifications in Germany and shipped over here. We were told it will take 5 - 6 weeks before we finally get it. Then we will have to make moves to get rid of our old car.

At the moment the Husband is wondering whether to ask them to add a Bang & Olufsen sound system to the car. We'll see.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

At the moment the Husband and I are staggering around the house, mopping our eyes and, in my case at least, attempting to swallow a huge lump in my throat. We've just watched for the very first time Cinema Paradiso. It is wonderful, one of the best films I've ever seen. Charming, very funny in places and very bittersweet. It is a wonderful, wonderful film.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Sometimes you read something in the news you just can't believe is true. How on earth can anyone put on a bra and not realise that it is already occupied.

From yesterday's BBC news:-

A teenager who thought movement in her underwear was caused by her vibrating mobile phone found a bat curled up asleep in her bra.

Abbie Hawkins, 19, of Norwich, had been wearing the bra for five hours when she
plucked up the courage to investigate.

When she did, she found a baby bat in padding in her 34FF bra. The reservations agent, who works at the Holiday Inn at Norwich International Airport, said she was shocked but felt bad for removing the "cuddly" bat.

"It looked cosy and comfortable and I was sorry for disturbing it," she said. She was sitting at her desk at work when she decided to investigate the strange movements in her underwear. "I put my hand down my bra and pulled out a cuddly little bat.

"That shocked me very much at the time, but it scuttled off under the desk into the dark. I was shaking from head to toe.

"It looked quite cosy and comfortable in there so it was quite rude of me to take it

"When I realised it was a bat the first thing that occurred to me was how did it get in there.

"I felt quite sorry for it. Perhaps I should have left it there and given it a good home.

"I did not notice anything as I put my bra on. The night before I had had one or two drinks and I was getting ready quickly.

"The bra was in my drawer but it had been on the washing line the day before.

"When I was driving to work, I felt a slight vibration but I thought it was just my mobile phone in my jacket pocket."

The bat was captured by one of her colleagues and released.

I haven’t been blogging much this year. Not for any major or horrid reasons, just that I’m having difficulty finding new things to talk about. Life keeps jogging along and I go with it.

The weekend before last was nice. Thursday 3rd was the Stepson’s birthday (22) and so he came up to see us all the previous weekend – he is working too hard on his studies to take off his birthday. So the Husband and I dropped down to Whitstable the Friday of that weekend, picked up the Father-in-Law and brought him back here to stay for the weekend. In fact the Father-in-Law thought we were crazy as we drove over there after lunch and insisted on turning around immediately to drive him back. When he saw how busy the M25 was by 4.00pm and how long the queues were for the QE2 Bridge at Dartford he then understood why we hadn't wanted to wait any longer. Saturday lunchtime the three of us met up with the Stepson and Stepdaughter at a good local Italian restaurant and after a very good meal we returned home for the rest of the day. The following day I cooked lunch ( a nice piece of sirloin but what a price! - £31, but it tasted wonderful and we had plenty over for other meals) and we all stayed together and chatted until after tea when we drove the Father-in-Law back to Whitstable.

Actually on the Stepson’s birthday the Husband and went up to Cambridge to meet him for lunch – the only time he was able to leave his studies. He really is motivated to do well. Afterwards the Husband and I had a quick look around the Fitzwilliam Museum for a couple of hours. It was a nice day, except the city was absolutely crowded with people. What we hadn’t realised was that this was the University’ Open Day for prospective new students. All of whom had brought their parents and some of them had brought their siblings also. As Cambridge University takes approximately 1 in 5 of prospective applicants it gives you some idea of the numbers involved. We had wondered why the car park at the Park and Ride was so full on an ordinary weekday. All was well during the day but the queue for the bus to take us all back to the car park was like a rugby scrum. We eventually got on the third bus going back and fortunately we had seats.

Other than that I can’t say we’ve done much. The weather hasn’t helped as we’ve had rain most days. The number of dry sunny days we’ve had over the last couple of weeks can virtually be counted on one of my thumbs. So I’ve had little opportunity to do much in the garden, which is growing and growing in so much warm and wet weather. The problem is that the weeds like this sort of weather too and so the best description for the garden at the moment is “unkempt”. This isn’t helped by the fact that when the Husband mowed the lawn he managed to cut the electrical cable in two by passing the mower over it. No-one was hurt, as he had used the circuit- breaker thingy, but his attempts to find a thing to repair the cable have been thwarted by the lack of such equipment in the shops. At one time lots of different electric equipment could be found but since the Health & Safety lobby has got going the amount of home electrical work that can be done by a householder rather than a qualified electrician is virtually none. He says he shall continue to look for the bits, especially as my look on the web this morning shows that a replacement cable from Flymo will cost about £16. So, Buffy’s requests for more pictures here of the garden will be answered once the weather clears up and my asthma allows me to get outside again. So, watch this space for that.