Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Wordless Wednesday: husband's Chinese cooking

Left to right: Jia Chang Dou Fu, Gong Bao Ji Ding, Kong Xin Cai

31st August 1985

Such a perfect evening in Horley, just by Gatwick [airport], staying in a guest house before my flight [to Beijing] tomorrow morning. The journey straining, because of my suitcase, bag, and typewriter, but at Reading, an hour's wait, resting my arms on the open window. The end of one of the few real summer days this year. Blue sky with fluffy white clouds against occasional dark grey. The country so green and soft and full from the last few months of flood.

Then this evening, through the churchyard to an old pub, where I ate outside, there being no room inside; midges in the air, and the air itself just chilling but kind and very still. The clouds turning orange as I read Graham Swift's Waterland. Dreaming. Neck tingling.

After eating, walking further through the garden to the river. Cows on the far side, steep banks, a willow, thick grass, the water quite swift. Never silent because of the 'planes and the road, but entrancing. The sky shading from pale blue through white to silver, and the pink, the silver reflecting in the water.

Back to the churchyard and into the church; nice young woman explains its history, mostly medieval. There is an old man who remembers being confirmed in the church during the war. Beautiful brass of the calmest of wimpled ladies.

Back through the graveyard. Earlier, when I had been eating, there was a fair American girl who came to talk to me, and now there are Americans who overtake me wandering. The most English of days.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Bird life

Hobbes has become an avid bird watcher, and we seem to be feeding half of Fife's birds through the cold weather. At our makeshift feeder, we have so far seen (European) robins, blue tits, great tits, coal tits, chaffinches, bullfinches (red status), treecreepers, blackbirds, wood pigeons and a pheasant.

Edited to add: yellowhammers, our second red status bird.

Decent snow at last and winter lessons

The boys have been frankly resentful of all the snow that the south of the UK has been getting over the last couple of weeks. Today, at last, we had appreciable snow here: the boys have built their first snow man and slid their first sleds. My very happy, rosy-cheeked sons are sitting in the kitchen now, eating leek and potato soup, having spent hours with local friends on the traditional village sledding field.

I've been learning new skills in the last few days too. This morning, I cleared my first driveway of snow and made a mental note to buy a lighter shovel. And having suffered another five days without central heating (we finally have it back now) I have come to grips with how to manage the wood stove. First thing in the morning, you start it up with lots of kindling and the maximum amount of air flow. You burn two or three logs very fast (field maple catches easily, because of the loose grain), until the stove metal heats up and you can feel its glow from six inches away. After that, you turn down the air flow and feed logs slowly for the rest of the day - at that point, our dense larch wood catches well, because the stove is already so hot.

I like very much the idea of growing our own fuel, but I suspect our little copse needs some managing - thinning and renewal, maybe coppicing. More skills to learn.

Monday, 9 February 2009

25th August 1985

A week 'til I go to China; I have stopped thinking about it really, stopped imagining what it might be like to live there. The only thing which keeps running in my head is arriving, being met. I am not even thinking that I will soon be teaching......

Sunday, 8 February 2009

We are getting very tired of this

Since we moved in here at the end of November, we have been without central heating three times. The first time we let the gas tank run out (we had been mistakenly informed that it would be topped up automatically). That took place during the first cold snap of the winter. Then ten days ago the motherboard on the boiler died, so we were without heat for about four days while we waited for the part. Once the motherboard was replaced the heating came on but couldn't be turned off. It turned out that the cut-off was also broken, making the whole system dangerous. So here we are, through the second cold period of the winter, without heat again.

Luckily, we have a wood stove in the sitting room and the gas oven in the kitchen puts off a good glow. This afternoon, however, I was working on the spare room, unpacking the last boxes from the move, and the thermometer was showing 4.5 degrees C (40 degrees F). Our excellent plumber/heating engineer hopes to have the part in tomorrow, but given the snow chaos in the rest of the country, I won't be surprised if it doesn't arrive. Hey ho.


Two boys, two pull-back cars and one excitable dog. I suppose there might have been hope that some science would be learned, but by the time one car developed an irreparable sideways trajectory, and the dog sat on the car, the ruler, the pencil and the results page, hilarity was the only result.

The dog was exiled to the kitchen and a little measuring took place, plus a lot of sitting-on-your-brother. We took apart the wayward pull-back car to see the spring, but couldn't break our way into the central mechanism, so contented ourselves with discussing gearing and trying to work out how to reassemble the car. Finally, we sat down on the sofa to put together thoughts on kinetic, potential, and elastic potential energy, as well as gravitational and centripetal forces.

Whenever lessons get too silly I always feel guilty; I have to remind myself that the boys would probably have learned no more in a science class at school from a teacher trying to deal with twenty or thirty pupils (all with wayward pull-back cars, if not with dogs).