Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Days Out in Devon: Plymouth Volkfest

Guess what I nearly brought home from the annually held Plymouth Volksfest?  Actually I contented myself with an  intricately designed silver ring that I couldn't make in a month of Sundays.  Although my imagination was running away with me and I was sorely tempted by the idea of  my very own Dirty Pirate, I  regretfully decided against it.  Mr Lovelygrey might never have let me go away without him again!

This was a great start to the festival season in spite of the weather which was intermittently mucky.  But the pop up tent stayed up, didn't leak and has eventually been replaced into its neat little holdall, although not on site.  Those Volkswagon fanatics sure know how to organise a good event.  A  massive party in a  few fields provides the perfect excuse to show off their beloved vehicles as part of the festivities.  I was particularly fond of this zebra themed camper van complete with its monochrome interior, though I wouldn't swap it for my motorhome.  Complete and utter zaniness does not even go halfway towards compensating for its lack of private toilet.

It's impossible for Mums and Dads to enjoy themselves unless their kids are having fun.   The childless  can never descend into the depths where being with  disgruntled offspring leads.  Thankfully this great event that appealed Louis on many counts. The circus workshops and bizarre Western reenactments went down a treat but it seems that that home grown entertainment was the biggest hit.  A toy stall did a roaring trade in replica AK47s and the  family field with its grassy knolls and massive ancient oak trees was turned into an enormous battlefield each morning and evening.   Only a parent can be happy  hearing war cries and machine gun fire and relax, safe in the knowledge that these are the sounds that come from contented kids!

Monday, 30 May 2011

Back Soon

A quick one today that I've scheduled ahead. I did consider missing a day of posting but remember when Blogger was down recently?  Well, it caused such a hoo-ha.  Even though they don't follow publicly both Nana and Mama Lovelygrey are avid readers.  When a post didn't appear due to the technical hitch,  they both got a tad worried and thought that I'd either gone to meet my maker or done a Reggie Perrin.

So, to avoid distress to my loved ones,  I've rattled this out.  Louis and I will be back from our festivalling frolics later and hope that our exploits will have provided inspiration for a nattier post tomorrow!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Mini Church of Craft: Neat Knees!

May's Mini Church of Craft is long gone.  Naomi and I got together for a creative morning and gossip on the day that I initiated Louis into the pleasure of browsing in  charity shops. 'Red' Melanie couldn't join us as she'd thrown her left wing principles to the wind by going off on a cheapo caravan holiday courtesy of vouchers cut from the Sun!

Maybe  because I didn't photograph any pretty things, I forgot to blog about our meet.   I just played with metal clay and had nothing to show from my experiments at the time other than  congealed dried gunk that's a devil to remove from the fingernails, a fact I forgot to mention yesterday.  Naomi nearly finished a pearl bracelet that she's going to wear on her wedding day later this year.  She was going to forward a photo once she'd finished so I could show it off  but with all that matrimonial planning, her head must be in a whirl and she's forgotten.

However, I did photograph one of her latest acquisitions which is so neat it causes the jealousy to surge through every pore of my body.  This storage solution  for pliers was rustled up by her nifty woodworking uncle and for those adept with a jigsaw and router, like Mama Lovelygrey (big hint here, Mum!),  I'm sure that it would be a breeze to copy!  Even though I did manage to take better pictures where composition was considered before I clicked the shutter, I like this shot the most.  This shows off the tool rack to its best advantage and also gives us an idea of why Pete is marrying the lovely Naomi.   It must be because she has such great knees!

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Cracking Copper Gromit

Time for an update on my experimentation with copper clay which as I predicted has not gone completely smoothly. On the plus note I've ended up with these dinky thumbnail sized fish that are going to be incorporated into my evening class pendant after they've had their rough edges sanded away. I used three tiny fish beads to make a Siligum mould which I greased with hand cream, dobbed in the clay and popped it in the airing cupboard to dry. Then I used modelling tools and files to remove surplus clay before firing with a blowtorch. One fish sadly did not survive because I did not apply heat long enough for him to turn into metal.  His demise came through disintergration in the tumble polisher.  RIP little chappie!

Furthermore on the minus side, let me report on my failed reptile making activity.  The lovely Naomi lent me this cute mould but the rubber is very hard and I can't get my poor lizard to slip out unharmed.  Hence I've ended up with a whole lot of 'dry as a bone' clay in a ramekin which needs reconstituting with a drops of water. This can be quite  messy and a bit touch and go as I've learnt from experience using silver clay.   But once I've got some soft stuff back I can implement plan B and I'll share my success, or otherwise, in another post!

Friday, 27 May 2011

Calm Man

Last year Mr Lovelygrey stated that he was never ever ever going to a festival again - ever! He muttered something something about noise, crowds and the great unwashed. But Louis and I have decided that just because Old Grumpykins has baled out, it's not going to stop us. As yet I don't drive the motorhome so we needed a tent and plumped for this beauty, Decathlon's Quechua 4.2.

This is no ordinary family sized canvas holiday home with two separate bedroom pods and room to stand.  Get this -   it pops up in two minutes, a fact which I've verified by  pitching it in the garden.  But here's the rub and it will be familiar to all those whose kids have owned a play tent.  It's a devil to get back in its bag!

Fear not, Calm Man has come to the rescue!  Follow the link to watch the video that shows how it's done in an instant  by this laconic hero without flapping, swearing and  sitting on the blooming thing.  I'll have to memorise this sedate process when I'm away at Plymouth's Volksfest this weekend or else take a whole load of rope so my hefty bundle doesn't pop back up in the car on the way home!

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Nectar!

It's due to being tipped the wink by Miss Thrifty that I've been trying to get the Lovelygrey household in with a chance of being considered as Britain's Savviest Family.  Nectar, (hence the picture of a beautiful butterfly in search of the sugary stuff!) are offering the opportunity for up to eight families to blog about their money saving experiences and will choose one who will receive the coveted title and some rather nice goodies including £1,000 cash that would go very nicely towards clearing s little bit more mortgage.  Click on the link if you want to enter too,  but be quick as the closing date is 30th May.

My own entry should be winging its way around the ether now but there's problems when I press the 'submit' button.  It refuses to budge and I get some unhelpful red text pointing errors that don't exist.  Grrr!  I'm onto Nectar and hopefully it will be ironed out in time  to have a chance of sharing our thrifty tips with a wider audience in true Lovelygrey style.

There's been a by-product of being made aware of this competition which I thought was worth sharing.  My rarely used Nectar card is likely to get an airing in future.  I thought it was mainly something to be used in Sainsbury's, where I shop infrequently, but I've found out that points can be collected from a range of online sites that I use regularly.    I was completely oblivious to the fact that Ebay and Amazon are part of the scheme and have given myself a little kick for not finding this out and adding it to my repetoire of pound stretching strategies sooner. Even if  I don't succeed in the main competition, there's a sense in which I shall be a winner anyway.  Thank's ever so much Miss Thrifty!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Treasure!!!!!

Here's an update on my new venture.  Following on from my Speculate to Accumulate post last week all my jewellery lots that I bought courtesy of Ebay have arrived safe and sound!  Now predictably there's quite a lot of tat and I might display some of that later in the week for your viewing pleasure! But I've amassed over eighty items that are saleable for my initial £200 outlay and I reckon that there's a profit to be had, albeit maybe a small one.  Anyway,   I snapped a piccy of just a few of  my favourite items so far.

I'm learning loads already. Larger and more expensive lots aren't necessarily going to be the ones that bring in the lovely lolly so I might steer away from them in the future.  It's the cheaper ones where there are bits and pieces that need a bit of TLC  or can be upcycled where it looks like the money's to be had.  My jewellery making skills are going to serve me well.   Another lesson learnt: don't put pearl necklaces in the tumble polish as beading string does not survive the process - oops!

Anyway I thought that I'd give a special mention to my favourite pieces so far.  Firstly there's a vintage Siam silver pendant. A bit of research suggests that this beautifully coloured enamelled piece depicts Nang Fa, the fairy of happiness.  And as they say on the antiques programmes, 'It's got a bit of age to it'.  The other has caught Louis' eye because of its piratey-ness.  It's a another lovely vintage pendant set with quartz which has an unusual opening bale.  For the uninitiated that's the bit that you put the chain through.  The mechanism just needs a nifty bit of silver work to tighten it up.   It's early days and I can see that I'm going to have to resist temptation to keep lots of the treasure for myself.  So, off now to research my markets pronto before I accumulate a hord that I just can't give away!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Silent Realm of Lovelygrey

No, this is not to illustrate how the shadow of a hand might be made to miraculously project like some or other beastie on the wall.  It's sign language for the letter 'T' (or so Microsoft tells me).  I might well need to learn this so that others can communicate with me and see if I want a brew.  Hearing loss has been creeping up since I had the lurgy a week ago and I'm now nearly deaf as a post.

It's not the first time I've been plunged into my near silent world. My ears got well and truly bunged up during pregnancy.  That had something to do with fluid retention which also saw me put on a hefty five stone whilst carrying a very average sized baby.  Marks and Spencer didn't make a maternity bra large enough and in my medical charts on the labour ward some cheeky blighter messed with my weight chart,  crossed out that I was overweight and classified me as obese instead!  Luckily the liquid that I'd been carrying around somehow drained at an alarming rate after labour - an impressive two stone reduction in the first two weeks of Louis' life and then the rest trickled away whilst I was on maternity leave.  My hearing came back  almost immediately only to disappear again last year because of my infection.

To a certain extent I perversely enjoy my peaceful cocoon.  I'm in a place where there's little audible distraction from the outside world.  As two way conversation is difficult I talk less so in a way, it's like being on a mini retreat.  But of course there are the disadvantages.  I can hear one person speaking clearly if they are facing me  in a quiet room but any background noise scuppers my understanding.  When I do speak I'm not sure if I'm too loud or too soft.  And there's a bit of intolerance and incomprehension to deal with too.

But another good thing comes out of health setbacks.  They give me a tool whereby I can empathise with others and increase my understanding of what it's like to be in their shoes,  probably an excellent lesson for someone who makes their living from therapy.  And I also learn to appreciate more and more how lucky I am that my difficulties are just transient and that good health and the ability to function on all levels  are very valuable gifts that shouldn't be taken for granted.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Days Out in Devon: Plymouth Pavillions and Pizza!

We had a lovely 'play date' yesterday as I believe they're called in uber-fashionable circles.   Or perhaps I'm behind the times and this phrase is redundant.  Who knows?  Anyway, Louis and I met up with friends Maire and Niall for a day out in Plymouth.  Our itinerary each time we go there is entirely predictable - lunch at my favourite chain restaurant and then against all generally held sensible advice, we swim and play on the water slides at the Pavillions fun pool with  extremely full tummiesl

Now  I've written about Pizza Express in favourable terms before. The food is flavouful, staff are reliably delightful and the atmosphere manages to combine being aesthetically pleasing and child friendly at the same time.  No plastic wipe down surfaces here.  What I didn't mention last time is that, invariably, it isn't necessary to pay full price for lunch.  Each time we've been, I've managed to print off discount vouchers from the Internet.  This time our three course meals cost £12.95 each courtesy of Vouchercodes, ideal now the boys insist on choosing from the grown up menu.  Niall, aged eight ploughed through a whole American Hot pizza but Louis was defeated by his 'not hot' version, so the remains of his were boxed up to take home for Mr Lovelygrey's tea.

Now, whilst we were there, the artwork in today's leading picture caught my eye.  Sorry about the slightly dodgy photography.  I'm sure that Ansel Adams would never have made the basic error of catching the reflected light fitting if he had taken the shots.   This collage with it's paper waves is  by artist Gerard Mermoz and depicts the Mayflower, a ship that firmly deserves its place in Plymouth's maritime history .  The manager of the restaurant also pointed out that the models of the Mayflower that had been used to create the pictures were also on display in the restarant.  Now,  I think that this second attempt to produce a decent image has, by complete fluke rather than by mastery of composition, worked out rather well!

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Dementia + Driving = Disaster?

I bet you're wondering about why there's a basket illustrating this post.  Okay,  it's a beautifully crafted piece of workmanship made by Deborah Muhl, an artist based in North Carolina, but wouldn't a picture of a beaten up car be more appropriate to illustrate today's ramblings?

Well, there is a tenuous link.   I'm writing this from the perspective of being an occupational therapist. There's an urban myth about my profession and, we are wrongly accused en masse of  forcing people to weave baskets.  Now I'd like to state that  I was monumentally bad at this activity when I tried it at college so I'm not going to inflict it on anyone else.  Our lovely craft tutor, Cynthia, had to finish mine for me and even then it was no great shakes.  No-one's ever stuffed a bunny in my company either.
We're also expected to know loads about toilet seats.  Et voila! there's something that  I can help you with.  The height of the average UK loo is 16".  I have the sad ability to spot even a slight deviation from the norm at a hundred paces!

I picked up this questionably useful skill when I worked on a physical rehabilitation ward.  It was there that I first read an factsheet from the Alzheimer's Society,  'Dementia and Driving'. 'No blooming way!'I thought, ' Dementia and driving simply aren't words that go together'.  But are they?

Since changing tack in my career seven years ago and moving to a mental health team for older people, I've encountered many people with the illness who still drive.  Let me say from the start, even though I work with the philosophy of enabling people to live as full  lives as possible, I'm not going to give blanket approval to this.  It is clearly dangerous for someone to be behind the wheel, if they can no longer problem solve, concentrate, control impulsive behaviour or have severe problems with disorientation, have lost the ability to sequence a set of steps in a task, react quickly etc,etc......Sadly in a rural area  I also  meet non driving spouses who disagree with this viewpoint.  By recommending that their husband or wife should no longer drive, I'm seen as cutting of their lifelines and condemming them to a very isolated existence.  Oh, and I don't condone the practice of  one man who whipped on the L-plates and was giving the wife lessons after his licence had been revoked.  Believe me, it's a true story!

What surprised me when I first started this job and became more well acquainted with dementia, was that there are quite a few people with the illness that maintain their ability to drive safely for some time after they've been given a diagnosis.  Forgetting names, being blissfully unaware of what's going on at national and international level in the world and not knowing the date or time are not necessarily barriers to the activity. If this post is relevant to you or a relative, I'd urge you to follow the Alzheimer's Society link above.  It's full of really wise advice, including how to prepare for the time when car usage becomes a no no.

PS: 'Yobbos', as Papa Lovelygrey calls them, rather than a forgetful old soul,  were probably responsible for the car crash depicted above.   I'm sure you'll agree that it's  less pretty than the basket!

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Hagar the Horrible..Oh No! I Got it Wrong!

Behold, the world's most popular Viking!  Now I've had a soft spot for Norsemen ever since I watched 'How to Train Your Dragon' with Louis.  This is by far and away the most entertaining kid's film that I've been forced to sit through since giving birth eight years ago. It's even gone up a further notch or two in the last few days after I realised that Gerard Butler supplied the voice of one of the characters, Stoick the Vast. If you don't know who I'm talking about put his name into a Google images search to see why he's knocked Sean Connery off his 'my favourite Scottish actor ever' perch!

I have gone severely off track  so I'd better come swiftly back to the point of today's post.  Let me introduce the metal clay artist Hadar Jacobson.  You've had a diversion into cartoon land because I get her name mixed up with the fiery little Scandanavian chap with a fondness for beer.  This is a jewellery maker whose technical expertise takes my breath away.  Just take a look at the intricacy of the pendant depicted on this book jacket and you'll see what I mean. It's even more surprising that she makes such beautiful pieces out of material that I have still to get to grips with.  Most of my efforts at using metal clay have left me with messy hands, work surface and carpet, a reduced bank balance and either  a) a dry lump of heavy mudlike material in various hues complete with some dusty stuff that ends up in the hoover or b) something that does a very good impression of a quagmire as I've tried to make a vain attempt to reconstitute a) and added too much water.

But I'm not one to be easily defeated.  Over the next few days I'm having a play with newly acquired copper clay.  Be prepared to be amazed by my creative efforts...or you can have a jolly good giggle if, as I predict, the experiment takes a nasty turn.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Old Bags...

.... with the persistence of the lurgy and sleepless nights this post could well be a description of what's currently under my eyes.  However, once I've got over the grim fact that it's morning, got myself into a standing position, coughed for England, cleared my chest and reached for the Anusol, the daytimes aren't going too badly.    Please follow my link if you're puzzzled about why someone with a stinking cold might need haemorrhoid cream!

Instead of my undereye abominations I'm going to talk about bags of a far more functional kind, my ethically sourced string beauties that are stocked by From the Beach.  This shop, that is listed under my favourite websites in the sidebar, stocks these old fashioned staples in versions that come with long straps.  I'm surprised that I haven't posted about these before although my favourite purple number with extra thick handles did make an appearance in a handy hint post that I produced way back in my early days of blogging.  In a shameless fit of self publicity I'm urging you to look this one up too especially if you have a tendency for leaving your Friday night delicacies  in the fridge at work!

Anyway back to the string bags which are absolutely brilliant, look totally funky and last an age.  They pack up small and hold an immense amount of stuff.  Even though the back care specialists out there would have a fit,  carrying home a whole week's groceries from the Co-op in just two of these has not been unknown  As their capaciousness is almost boundless, caution in their use is advised.   I seem to remember reading that they can hold up to a 40lb load, an amount that could have your favourite osteopath rubbing their hands  in glee in anticipation of huge fees for the repair of  dodgy backs and shoulders.  And don't forget to put bananas and grapes at the top of the shop as they make a right royal squishy mess that drips between the strings and down your leg if you shove something substantial on them!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Beautiful But Deadly

From Health-News-Blog.com
Is this a flower or perhaps some pollen viewed under the microscope?  I'll put you out of your misery and disclose that this object, that granted, is rather easy on the eye, is the genital herpes virus.  Eugh!

It's the persistence of viral symptoms that has prompted me to write this long planned article, although I hasten to add that my own particular set are firmly established in my upper body and not my nether regions!  Although I've been back at work for a couple of days I'm still coughing and spluttering, with an ominous blocked ear.  The last time I had one of those, the situation worsened to a degree where I went completely deaf for a week.  But enough of my hypochondriacal rumination. I want to show you more of these rather fetching beasties.

These delightful little pink pincushions are in fact the h1n1 virus.  The nurse that gave me my jab this year had been to a bigwig conference where she'd be told that this particular strain was so effective because of its excellent ability to stay attached to bits and pieces in the lung.  Note my highly scientific style here.  I did try to look this piece of information up for myself but the language got far too technical.  What I did establish was that the strain responsible for the 1918-19 flu epidemic was even better at being clingy.  Hence its even more devastating death toll.

From the Institue of Molecular Biology, University of Wiscosin
Okay, does anyone want to hazard a guess at this one which seems to come in a variety of colourways!  I'll give you a clue.  For women, it presents an annoying array of symptoms that they stoically ignore and continue their paid work, homemaking and childcare tasks.  But it affects men to a far more significant degree, poor loves.  They take to their beds, sniff and sneeze with ferocious audibility,  become monumentally irritable and drop tissues all over the floor.  Now, I think you're all intelligent enough to come up with the answer to this one yourselves!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Speculate to Accumulate

Taking action to combat work related stress has triggered thoughts about how I might start to produce an income that doesn't entirely depend on my NHS pay packet.  It's been just the kick up the backside I've needed to make headway towards starting my own business and perhaps towards paying off that darned mortgage even earlier!

Fear not, I haven't lost my marbles.  I'm proceeding in a sensible small scale way and will not be running to my team leader with a resignation letter. Nor will I be heading off to the bank manager, cap in hand, begging for a start up loan either. I want to keep overheads low and there's no way I'm wasting lolly on interest payments. Instead, I'm using some of my small nest egg of personal savings, those aside from the ones that the Lovelygrey family hold jointly.

I don't have any misconceptions about being able to produce a meaningful income by writing or making my own jewellery outside my full time working days. Realistically, there just aren't enough hours at the moment.  But,  if all goes well, I'm hoping to be able to gradually reduce my hours and have more time to devote to projects  that really float my boat. Perhaps inspired by a recent TV diet of the antiques programme, 'Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is'  I've decided to buy vintage jewellery and see if I can make a profit from its resale.   It's a project that fits nicely with my personal philosophy of recycling.   A little bit of research has shown that there's plenty of job lots of costume jewellery on Ebay, including some more valuable silver and gold pieces.  It looks like some of them will just need a clean, others might benefit from a bit more TLC... repair or adaptation.  What I don't fancy selling myself can go back on Ebay and make up an eclectic bundle for another would be David Dickinson to try their luck with!

So I've spent a few days setting up a simple accounting system, researching packaging materials and, of course, raiding my savings for funds to invest in stock. For an initial outlay of a couple of hundred pounds or so, I'll have loads of stuff to play with and remarkably, my enormous haul of finds do include some precious metals.    Ebay wouldn't let me download pictures of all the lots I'd won so I can't show off my most anticipated purchases but here's one of the smaller ones that should arrive very soon.  Sure, there'll be some tat in amongst the treasure but I think I've spotted a few nice pieces. With luck I'll make some pennies but until I try I'll never know!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Busy in Bed

For the last two days I've been laid low by the lurgy, a headache-y, sore throat-y, sweaty variety,  that has also packed off my colleagues, Barbie Nurse and Scary Secretary, to their respective beds. All hail to the person who invented  the laptop! My portable entertainment system has provided intermittent amusement between my snoozes,  Lemsip drinking and bouts of cloud watching through the venetian blinds.  I've also completed the distinctly Luddite task of re-sorting a box of beads that I'd dropped on the floor a few weeks ago.  That might have had to wait a long time if I were my usual bright, bouncy self.

One of the things the advantages of being sick is that it's given me a little time for net surfing and I've been visiting one of my favourite haunts, the Victoria & Albert Museum website from where today's images originate.  Their online catalogue provides a veritable feast for the eye and I  always discover things to marvel at, inspire and covet.    For example, these scraps of material are not the fluffy cuttings left over from an upholstery project but originate from the 8th or 9th century!  And the thoroughly gorgeous metalwork ship dates from 1610.  If someone could steal it for me I'd be very grateful.  I want it so, so much!!!!

It's not just the stuff in the galleries that provide top quality eye candy.  There's an online shop too that's full of beautifully designed products.  I'm very taken by this Turkish Needle Lace Pendant by Arzu Keles.  But be warned, ye frugal and thrifty amongst you.  Only enter if you've thoroughly steeled yourself as there's plenty  to tempt!

Monday, 16 May 2011

Days Out in Devon: Old Walls; Old Walls

No, I don't need the firm hand of a copy editor to get to work on my title today as the duplication is intentional.  There really are two places to visit in Devon with the phrase 'Old Walls' in their title. Both are family farms where diversification has been needed to make the land  pay.  The owners of each venture have two very different solutions.

My old friend Ranger Ralph came up trumps again when he suggested a visit to Old Walls Hydro, where the owners Miles and Gail have been devillishly inventive, made use of the river running through the land and built a hydro-electric power plant with their own fair hands.  They are proud to say that this supplies the bulk of the electricity to a few of the surrounding Dartmoor villages through the National Grid.  What's more, this is not an ugly industrial eyesore. There's plenty of wildlife conservation measures to boot.  No dormouse or fish gets hurt in the process and even the butterflies seem to know that no-one's going to harm them here!

Miles and Gail give highly informative educational walks for visiting groups in a beautiful part of the county complete with some natty science demonstrations!   However, Old Walls is a working farm and not a tourist attraction so it's not possible just to turn up and visit.  However, I see that the Dartmoor National Park authority include tours of the farm in their programmes of walks. Needless, to say these come highly recommended from two members of the Lovelygrey family.

And the second place?  Well, that too provided a fascinating day out when I visited a couple of years ago with Mr Lovelygrey.  However it's not somewhere that would  grab Louis' attention as it's a small scale  vineyard  perched on a sunny hill near  Bishopsteignton which offers tours and tastings!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Nature's Gym

I took this shot on a lone morning cycle ride yesterday. It's much better exercising outside than in a posh leisure complex.  Okay there's no fluffy towels or steam room but the views from the hills around my home more than compensate.

Now my kind of cycling differs from that of Mr Lovelygrey.  Most Tuesdays evenings he ventures out in lycra with a group of the local dads and the trip inevitably ends up in the pub - if he doesn't come home dripping blood first.  And he has not one bike, but two, and always seems to be replacing them or buying gadgets to tart them up  Me, I pop out in whatever I'm wearing on a trusty old hybrid that's one of Mr Lovelygrey's rejects, taking my raincoat and a bottle of water if I remember.    The most important difference though is that I get off and walk up gradients that Mr Lovelygrey would think were woosy.

This yielded an unexpected benefit on my latest trip, my first foraging bounty of 2011.  Wild garlic was prolific up a shady part of a humungous hill that I was ascending on foot.  If I'd been struggling in bottom gear I wouldn't have even noticed its abundance. I used my handlebar box to gather my harvest, combing the verge and taking just a little from each clump.  This activity had an unexpected bonus.  It gave me an excuse for getting off and pushing my bike and I'm hoping that this ploy meant that the occupants of passing cars did not think of me as a pathetic wimp but rather a resourceful and knowledgeable expert in wild food!  I'm delighted with my pickings and it will mean that the great wild garlic risotto that I posted last year will grace our table tonight.  And unlike last year, the main ingredient was absolutely free.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

The Stress Test

I'm currently being shameless and pinching stuff that makes me laugh.  One of Louis' Diary of a Wimpy Kid books that he hasn't even started yet has been sequestered under the duvet and I urge you to raid the bookshelves of your kids and read this series if you haven't done so.  The childless will have to go to the library or buy their own.  I've also  nicked this picture from Tracey, whose blog raises more than a chuckle on a regular basis.  To give the sensitive amongst you just a little protection, I've edited out the swear word using Microsoft Draw.  This image is doing a canny job of summing up just how I feel  at the moment about work.

Now I am one of those rare beasties who normally love their job.  The patch of the countryside that I'm paid to drive around is breathtakingly beautful, my colleagues are a brilliant bunch and the work I do is rewarding and intellectually challenging.  My NHS pay and benefits package is not to be sniffed at either.  Well, okay it might be by investment bankers and footballers but I'm relating to those of us who live in the real world here. 

I've been covering two jobs for the last eighteen months now since my 'guru', a rather brainy occupational therapist with many years experience, retired to run a bed and breakfast in Llandudno.  To cap it all, when people leave, they're either not replaced at all or then there's an age before recruitment takes place so there's often less bodies about to do the same amount of work. Then those that eventually come have been appointed at a lower grade where less experience is needed and they undestandably need more control and aren't able to take as much responsibility. There's also a new computer system to get to grips with.    Consequently, the paperwork has piled up but I've managed to be philosophical about it.   Until, that is, last weekend when the pressure increased to a level where a metaphorical gasket finally blew and I woke in the early hours in a blind panic.

Hopefully, though, there won't be a repeat this Sunday night because I've taken action to regain control. I urge those of you in the same boat to think how they might do so too.   Even though, I'd been making my immediate manager aware of the situation and I know that she'd been passing my concerns up the line, it wasn't apparent that anyone was listening.  In fact, I'm sure that they weren't because nothing was being done about the situation.  They were too far busy doing whatever bigwigs get up to.

But now I hope they'll hear what I'm saying.  I've formalised my concerns in writing using the Trust's stress policy and I hope it's enough to get someone to give someone a kick up the backside and do something!  As part of the process, I've also visited my understanding GP who's agreed that my sleep difficulties and lack of concentration are work related and has, very importantly recorded this in my medical notes.  It's a weight off my mind that others agree the situation I'm in, where there's an ever increasing paperwork mountain, isn't my fault. Hurrah!  I'm sleeping again, even though I've had some funny dreams, including one about my meticulously fastidious colleague, Mr Metrosexual, rolling around unkempt on a grubby blanket at a festival drinking cider.  Now what part of my inner psyche does that come from!


PS:  Because she deserves some free advertising because of all the support she gave me over the years here's a link to Linda's B&B!

Friday, 13 May 2011

Dear Santa...

I thought I'd catch the old boy early.  After all it must be a time of year when he's twiddling his thumbs and feeling a bit neglected.  This aesthetically pleasing pod made by Headroom was featured in our employer's newsletter. They make these for individuals and companies to hire or buy for indoors or outside use and my inner hippy wants one please.  It's so reminiscent of my childhood days when I used to hide away from the family in the garden sitting in an aircraft inner tube and surrounded by a windbreak.  Looking back I could be a weird child.

One of these structures has been installed temporarily on a in-patient ward and it's 'right-on' credentials are significant.  It's a pod made out of sustainable materials and is equipped with headphones so that you can immerse yourself in a relaxing soundscape and de-stress.  Just the place to hide away when the Lovelygrey boys are arguing amongst themselves though they'd probably follow me in and continue their ranting.

Actually Santa, cancel the order.  I'm not sure that we've got anywhere in the house to put such a structure and it might be difficult to carry on a sleigh.  But it's given me an idea.  I could always sit in Louis' play tent listening to whale songs on the MP3 player on my camera phone.  Or more ambitiously I could gen up on my long lost lashing skills learnt as a Girl Guide, tie a few bendy sticks together and throw over a duvet!

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Working up to a Biggie

For those, like me, who deserve an advanced degree in toilet humour, written on loo paper of course, this might raise a giggle.  However, this post is not about bodily functions.  The title just denotes that today's offering will be short and sweet and that I'm slaving away to produce something more meaty that's going to appear in a day or two.

I'm back again on the topic of my Ship Ahoy Bangle, made of sterling silver, brass and copper.  This looked wonderfully shiny when I first finished it, just as I'd planned, but the base metals in it soon lost their sparkle.  A solution was needed and this clear metal sealer came to the rescue.  I covered the silver part of the bangle with a protective paper sheath before spraying the wave and boats per the product instructions on the tin.  They've gleamed ever since, and touch wood, they'll stay that way.

It occured to me that making others aware of the availability of this stuff could be useful.   Us crafters sometimes want metals to develop a patina of age to add to a design, but at other times this is a distinct nuisance.  And could a quick protective coating on objects around the home reduce the amount of polishing chores?  I'll shirk responsbility for the outcome and leave it for individuals out there to decide!

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Back Burner

Did I mention that I wanted to try printmaking yesterday?  Whoa, there sunshine!  Isn't there enough going on in my life at the moment?  With plenty of unfinished craft projects lying around and the calendar for the summer is already laden with festivals, courses and other lovely things to do it seems to wise to curb those wild fancies.

At least once a day I find myself thinking, 'Oh! I'd like to have a go at that'.  Thankfully, most of the time these notions flit through my brain transiently and I forget about them quickly afterwards.  There just not enough hours in the day to act on each passing fancy and it's a good thing that I don't.  My body would be a frazzled wreck and my brain would explode through excess activity.  I believe this to be a scientific fact.

Some of those ideas hang around or return with sufficient frequency that they're harder to get rid of.  Dinghy sailing, making chocolates,  learning to play the piano,  researching my family tree,  creating big pieces of sculpture, setting up a local Church of Craft,  investigating our village's twinning arrangings with a commune in Brittany all pop up. This is on top of my travel wishlist which is so extensive that it deserves a future post all of its own.  And of course there's that novel that everyone has inside them.  But to avoid creating stress in my leisure time I'm creating a back burner, a list of things that I haven't got the capacity to do at the current time.  It looks like I'm sure going to be busy in retirement!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Fantastical Forms

After yesterday's scenes of carnivorous carnage, I thought it was time for an aesthetically pleasing post. So  today I want to feature the work of a printmaker that I've recently 'discovered' but not in the Simon Cowell sense. I hasten to add that this was  a personal revelation and I doubt that  Angie Lewin was starving on the streets before she came to my attention and I introduced her to the world!  She's been quite a busy soul and her work has included producing fabric designs for Liberty, designing book jackets and making highly covetable limited edition prints.

I'm strangely drawn to stylised seed heads and this print on the home page of the Devon Guild of Craftsmen  caught my eye (top right hand corner- keep pressing restore if it doesn't appear first time).  A bit of research lead me to discover that there is a gorgeous book of Angie's work, Plants and Places, and the library service had just one copy.  After a long eagerly anticipated wait for it to arrive at my local branch I was not disappointed.  There's enough inspiration to keep me busy for an age.  It seems that someone else might feels the same way too as I'm unable to renew the book because it's been reserved by another borrower.  So shucks! rather than playing snatch for the next few months with someone with equally good taste, I've just had to go and buy my own copy.

Just in case these lovely images haven't demonstrated just why I made this purchase, I'll explain.  I'm a sucker for design with a 50s kind of feel so the work is a complete joy just to leaf through whilst supping a big cup of tea.   I'm sure that there's plenty here to guide my own work as I find both the forms and the unusual colour palettes inspirational.  Lots of the ideas are brilliant source materials for mosaics or  translate well into motifs for use on jewellery.   The book does not just include finished pieces but records the journey of how they have been produced. As such, it will also be a useful resource for improving the presentation of my own portfolio of work. Oh! and it's also left me with an near uncontrollable urge to try printmaking myself!

So thanks Angie for producing your work which has given me much pleasure and also for permission to use images on this post.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Luxurious Leftovers

I just had to take these shots  to prove that I'm not the type of girl who writes about saving money and then dines surreptitiously on ready meals from M&S each night.  It's sure to warm the cockles of the hearts of all you thrifty chicks and dudes out there.  But vegetarians look away!  What you see is some of the remains of a slap up meal being put to good use by Mr Lovelygrey.  No, the flesh and bones being boiled in the saucepan isn't footage from the next Hannibal the Cannibal movie but part of the simple process of turning leftover chicken carcass into delicious stock, a vital ingredient in a  future top notch soup.  Simply simmer the remains in water with seasoning, an onion and a carrot.

The extra yummy gratin put pay to the remainder of a pot of cream that had been bought for pouring over dessert.   Just add potato, onions, leeks and chopped bacon, then bake in the oven for a sumptuously moreish supper.     And there's even more to come.  Surplus cooked vegetables will be quickly whizzed in the food processor and given a new life as, the traditional English dish,  bubble and squeak.  As she lived through the wartime years when 'Waste not, Want not'  was a national mantra, I'm certain that this delicious way of using up surplus vegetables from a roast dinner is indeed food fit for our Queen!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Days Out in Devon: Saving and Spending in Newton Abbot

Louis and I had a great time in Newton Abbot yesterday afternoon. In the midst of the town's unprepossessing exterior there's a great compact shopping centre with a few of the chains, but lots of independents and charity retail outlets.  Oh! and there's both indoor and outdoor markets that are well worth exploring too. I've heard people saying on more than one occasion that it's their preferred haunt these days rather than those heady metropoles, Torquay, Plymouth and Exeter!   And, unlike some of the rather more frou-frou touristy places around these parts, you can still buy stuff that you need for everyday life rather than just treats and gifts.

The main reason for our trip was that so Louis could spend a birthday gift token in WH Smith.   He's a big fan of Wimpy Kid so it got used on  buying one of the books.  We then went on a charity shop spree, ostensibly to look for Beano Annuals and, ch-ching! we found two, one for the bargain price of 20p.  Here's my  lovely son waiting for me to finish browsing in the British Heart Foundation shop and attracting nostalgic comments from passing pensioners who enjoyed the antics of the Bash Street Boys, Dennis the Menace and Roger the Dodger in their younger days.  Louis also picked up four other books and a rather natty set of night vision goggles.  Total cost of his secondhand purchases, a very reasonable £6.20.

Here he is then off to the bank.  Hats off to the helpful staff at HSBC engage him when he visits. This time they helped him to pay his birthday cheques into the deposit machine and check his not insubstantial balance.

It occured to me that our very enjoyable trip  was a really worthwhile educational  experience. Louis is learning how to make his pocket money go further and save for the future.  It's certainly something we'll repeat in future to reinforce sensible spending and saving habits in a really fun way!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Antithesis to Top Gear

Excuse the grubbiness on display here.  Interior and exterior car valeting sometimes gets shoved way down the priority list in my busy life.  This belies the fact that I love having a clean car and have a weird non green fantasy about it too.  If I were mega rich (think Spice Girl here)  I would have a incredibly buff but slightly camp boy band lookalike following my own car around in a mini.  Every time I stopped he would make sure that it was in tip top super shiny condition.  I would also never have to put fuel in myself again as he'd do it for me.  Don't let it be said that I didn't warn you that this was bizarre.  The Freudians would have a field day!

But enough, let's go back to making some sense.  Way way back in July last year I wrote Striving for Seventy about my attempts to get top notch fuel consumption out of my Skoda Fabia. Just a month before it's due to go back on its lease I've finally achieved my goal. On the short journey between South Brent and Totnes which must be mostly downhill I hit the jackpot. Let's hope that the trip counter on my new Ford Fiesta Econetique will give me this satisfied feeling of frugality far more often.

And here's another motoring observation that would have Jeremy Clarkson's toes curling.  Aren't the hedgerows pretty at the moment?  Instead of marvelling at the performance of my vehicle whilst going about my business I've been savouring the pretty flowers that are running amok in the lanes.   They've brought joy at a time when I'm dealing with crisis after crisis.  Just watch out weekend motorists though.  The abundance of growth cuts visibility down a treat!

Friday, 6 May 2011

Aaargh!

Trauma reared its ugly head yesterday.  I'm hoping that at least one of my jewellery creations, Dangly Dolly or my Ship Ahoy bangle might be displayed at the  Contemporary Craft Fair in Bovey Tracey where there's a tent for work by adult education students.  To do that I had to submit an application for each piece by 9th May. Easy-peasy  I thought.  A leisurely weekend ahead to produce good photos of each piece using Mr Lovelygrey's fancy pants Canon digital SLR and then I'll cycle over to Bovey Tracey with  the paperwork on Monday's day off.

Except it didn't work out like that.  There's a typo on the application form and the closing date  for entries is shown as Friday 9th May.  Today is the sixth of the month so there's a mistake somewhere. But in the absence of  having anyone to ask for clarification at seven in the evening I  had to assume that there was an earlier deadline to meet.  Furthermore I was mistaken in my belief that entries had to be submitted to nearby Bovey Tracey.  My paperwork needed to be in Exeter - pronto.  That's fifteen miles away.  Aaaaaaaaargh!

Then the fun really started.  I wasn't happy with the hastily produced photos because it was impossible to get the lighting right and ended up using a better image of the bangle that I'd taken on my trusty camera phone even though this was not really tip top.   As for Dangly Dolly she might not get her starring moment at the show because I couldn't capture her in her full glory.  And then surprise, surprise both printers in the house decided to play up and it was over an hour before I could produce prints that were not blue  or too dark.  Eventually,  I hurtled down the A38 and hand delivered my less than perfect entries.  In due course,   I'll let you know whether I got away by the skin of my teeth or crashed and burned spectacularly.

In a way these shenanigans serve me right for procrastinating.  The pieces were finished ages ago but the delay was caused by my lack of confidence in the whole photographic process.  My phone is ideal for capturing images spontaneously, like this super ghostly self portrait that I snapped at Technoquest in Cardiff,  but it's not always the right tool for the job to show my craftwork to its best effect.  My skills at setting up shots are not always perfect as you might have noticed in earlier posts.  It's time to do some brushing up and maybe I've had another cue to rethink about whether my existing camera meets my needs.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Thought for the Day:Yes or No

I'm a stickler for casting my vote as many of our ancestors fought for our right to exercise this power. Indeed some of them lost their lives in the process.  So the postal forms have been sent back to be counted after the polling booths close tonight.  But am  I the only one who's less than overwhelmed by today's local council elections? 

I live in a rural part of Southern England so it almost goes without saying that the Tories would win around here even if their representative were a dead farm animal.  In these penny pinching days most other parties don't field candidates and there was only the choice of voting Conservative or Liberal Democrat in our constituency.  Silly me, there I was thinking that they were the same beastie these days.

So even though I don't really understand AV, and lets face it you have to be a genius to do so, I've voted Yes.  It's my hope that it will provide the incentive for other parties to start fielding candidates again and give us folk a decent level of choice in the electoral process.  And if the influence of the Monster Raving Loony Party is increased as a result, so be it.  It might just  be just the shake up that the UK political system needs!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Another One about Welsh Wales

We planned to nip into Cardiff Castle before we left the city on Bank Holiday Monday but it's huge and the admission charge is on the steep side. So we decided to save our visit for another time to get better value for money. However our reconnaissance brought us into contact with this 'proud  beauty'!  A phrase straight out of a Nigella Lawson cookery programme if ever there was one. This beguling leopard forms part of the Animal Wall near the castle.  To think that those lovely planners in the 1970s wanted to demolish him and his eleven chums.

So why didn't we fit this particular sightseeing adventure into this trip? Well, just to reiterate yesterday's observation; Cardiff is a family friendly city with plenty to do for all ages.  Our first day and a half was filled up with exploring  just a part of the impressive Cardiff Bay area, a substantial harbourfront where the Welsh Assembly is based.  It seems that there's still a lot more to see on future trips.  Bute Park looks like the type of place where a couple of families with active lads could spend an afternoon, as does the National Museum.  St Fagan's Natural History Museum, a site which houses examples of Welsh architecture that have been moved brick by brick also will merit a visit and it has the big advantage of being free.   Throw in a couple of bead shops and some swanky wine bars and it could be a spot for a grown up trip away with the girls too!

One of the attractions  that did feature on this family orientated break was Techniquest, a fascinating science centre where we whiled away a long morning before our tummies started rumbling.  Our only grumble was that there was an extra charge for shows at the site including the planetarium.  Here's a couple of the grown ups in the party getting into the spirit of the place investigating one of the simpler exhibits and exploring the effect of resonance using a rather ornate brass bowl.  I fulfilled a long time wish of mine and played a theremin,a weird electronic instrument played without touching it.  And we had to drag the boys away, an accolade indeed!