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Wednesday, 26 August 2015

August

Soooo, I'm around 21 days late with this post. I had started writing it, and saved a draft, but to be honest, work got a bit manic and I worked late, a lot, leaving me very little time for anything to blog about, much less time to finish writing the blog!

So, I shall combine my 5th August and 5th September posts, write and post it a little early (and probably a little long), and then add a bonus mid-month blog in September. Deal? Marvellous! 

Writing Letters
Away back in July, my friend from school found some old letters she had kept from her friends from when she'd first moved to London. She tagged me in her Facebook post, and I didn't believe that I'd written to her. She assures me that I did, and we have since started writing to each other again.

I have actually really missed getting post. In her first letter, she mentioned feeling weird, because everyone is on Facebook now, so we don't need to catch up, but on the very next line, proceeds to tell me news that she hadn't put on Facebook! It's brilliant, and I'm really enjoying exchanging letters, not just with her, but with other friends who live far away too!

So, my challenge to you this week, is to put an actual pen, to real paper, and write to a friend who you don't see in person very often, and tell them about something that isn't on Facebook.


What I've been READING:

Oh, my word... well as you'll see further down, there was a week long camping holiday which I used to get all caught up on my reading, so there's been a few since the last blog post! To be fair, it has been nearly two months! I'll just list all 19 of them with a few lines about each one, rather than a full review each!


They do it with Mirrors by Agatha Christie [Miss Marple #6]

I have seen the televised version of this, but I had forgotten 'whodunit', however, I had remembered a few salient points, which meant I worked out whodunit, how and why, which I may not have done if I hadn't seen it on television first. The televised version has made a number of changes, but I don't think it affected the storyline.

I did enjoy the book, but it isn't one of my favourite Miss Marple books.

One City by Alexander McCall Smith, Ian Rankin and Irvine Welsh

This is a book of three short stories, one by each of the well known Edinburgh authors and with an introduction by JK Rowling. My favourite of the three was the Irvine Welsh book about an escaped tiger in Edinburgh.

The Bees by Laline Paull

This was recommended to me one of the lovely ladies at cake club. I wasn't sure, but I picked it up from the library and had a little read of the first page. Can I just say, the opening is dark, but it hooked me. I LOVED this book. I have been telling everyone I can to read it. I cannot believe how emotionally involved I became in a bee. If you haven't heard about it, it's the (obviously) fictional biography of a bee, Flora 717. It is dark, it is poignant, and it is so well done, you keep forgetting that Flora is a bee.

Chickenfeed by Minette Walters

This book fits two categories for this year. It was on the World Book Night List, which I am trying to read all of, and it is written by a female author whose work I haven't read before (I'm trying to read 10 female authors, who I haven't read before this year). It's based on a true story, so you know the ending going into it. It's dark, it's depressing, and I really didn't enjoy it. Sorry.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Book Club group read for the August meeting. I was surprised how much of this book I had forgotten, but it's still a brilliant read and I remembered why I took it home from school (homework: Read the first chapter) and read the lot before the next lesson.

Not a Star by Nick Hornby

This was a Quick Reads book from the library, I just grabbed it on the way out, and then started reading it without looking at the blurb... This is quite possibly the funniest book I have read this year. Lynn gets a video pushed through her letterbox by her nosey neighbour. She watches it, and her son is in the video showing off his natural erm... yeah. The story then looks at how Lynn, her husband, and her son, deal with this revelation. I don't want to ruin it for anyone, but it's funny. No really, really funny!

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

This book has been recommended to me repeatedly as an uplifting and spiritually refreshing book. I enjoyed it, but not as a revelation in spirituality, it was just a nice story.

The Beat Goes On by Ian Rankin

This is a collection of short stories featuring detective Rebus. They span his entire police career, and they range from quick wins, to satisfying outcomes, to surprising twists and comedy genius. I love Ian Rankin's Rebus books, but I think this collection is quickly becoming my favourite Rebus book, and the ability to dip in and out of short stories means I am likely to return to this one many, many times.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

This was recommended by a friend, a long time ago, and I finally picked it up from the library. I definitely enjoyed the book more than the film. It's light hearted fun.

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

This one has had mixed reviews, well here's mine. I enjoyed this book. I think I preferred TKaM, but I don't think this book detracts from it in any way. Alas, someone spoiled the main twist for me, and meffed up the spoiler in such a way that what shock I was expecting was substantially lessened. It's still a good book though, and it really makes you think.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

No relation, that we know of, to Miss Pettigrew, written by a different author, set in a different time, and in a different place, but this book was fabulous. It was funny, moving, riddled with suspense and just really well written.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Don't get me wrong, I still enjoyed this book, but it wasn't as good as I remembered it. Still worth the re-read though.

Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet by MC Beaton [Agatha Raisin #2]

Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener by MC Beaton [Agatha Raisin #3]

Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembleby by MC Beaton [Agatha Raisin #4]

I didn't enjoy these three as much as the Quiche of Death, but I still enjoyed them. They are fun, easy to read, and I really, really, do like Agatha. There are some moments of absolute and pure cringe, comedy, and satisfying denouements.

The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie [Poirot #2]

Satisfying denouement, good plot, nice twist, Hastings is a complete and total prat. Sadly, he's still the narrator. Luckily, the plot and denouement more than compensate for his arrogance.

A Pocketful of Rye by Agatha Christie [Miss Marple #7]

I've seen the televised version of this and couldn't remember the end... I worked it out all by my own self! (Yes, this may be becoming a theme, my memory is clearly holding far more important things), This was a good one.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Sparks

Ok, here goes. I didn't like it. I know, and I'm sorry.

Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage by MC Beaton [Agatha Raisin #5]

Yes, I like to read entire series' in the right order... and? Anyway, this is back to Quiche of Death form, I liked this one, I worked out whodunit, I'm getting so good at this. This one had a chapter of book #6 at the end, and I'm kind of hooked already... library at lunchtime tomorrow I think!

Anyway, this gets me not just caught up on my 52 book challenge for this year, but (if I can finish one more book by Sunday of this week) 10 books ahead! It's week 35 (according to my 52 book challenge group, my diary disagrees but for 52 book challenge, we go off the group count) and I have read (and finished) 45 books so far in 2015.


Book Club:

To Kill a Mockingbird was a popular choice at book club, with people who had re-read it, and enjoyed it, and other people who hadn't read it before, and didn't understand why not. Most people had either read, or started reading Go Set a Watchman, which everyone who had read or was reading it, also seemed to enjoy/be enjoying.

We did discuss President Obama's summer reading list:

Apparently this is a tradition that he releases the list of books he intends to read whilst on his annual holiday, which this year is 16 days at Martha's Vineyard, and he hopes to read six books;
  • All That Is, by James Salter
  • All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
  • The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
  • The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow
Having just finished reading 8 books during a 7 day holiday, personally, I felt that the internet's description of this list as 'ambitious', seemed rather odd. I also felt it was weird that he released the list of books he intended  to read, before his annual holiday, rather than the list of books he had read whilst he was on holiday after the fact. Whilst I like the idea of adding these to my already fit-to-bursting reading list (luckily on is already on there), I don't think it's a good idea. I do wonder if President Obama actually read them, and if so, what he thought of each of them... I couldn't find anything on the internet to say whether he had, or what he had thought of them, however, most analysis seemed to agree that it was likely that he would read them, and at book club, it was presumed that he probably had chosen the books himself, and was likely to read them all.

It also lead to another question, does David Cameron, or the Queen, do a similar thing?

I couldn't find anything about the Queen's reading list online, although admittedly, I didn't search as hard as I could have done. I tried a little harder to find out about David Cameron's reading list. There were a few posts about what senior party leaders were reading in the Summer of 2014, but that was in the run up to a General election and not a usual or annual thing. The only articles I could find about David Cameron's Summer Holiday were (and no, I shan't provide links to them) that he wears fit flops, that he wore a wet suit to go surfing, that he had swimmer's ear, that he had been told by a lorry driver's organisation to take his holiday in Calais instead of the Algarve, and that he had been asked (not very persuasively) to return early to deal with the 'migrant crisis' as the 'curse' of his annual holiday caused a newsworthy event as soon as he went away... But nothing about his reading list!

Anyway... Next month's group read is The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, book club is on 6th September, so if you are reading it, please let me know what you think before then!


Cake Club:

August's cake club theme was 'Free From', there was a dairy free cake, a sugar free savoury cake (not the kind from the chippy), fat free cake and a gluten free polenta lemon drizzle cake. You can read Suzie's write up about it, here.


Next month is 'All Things Bright and Beautiful', I have a few ideas which should be fun, if I can pull any of them off.


In the Garden:

It's been a bit dismal. Slugs have eaten almost everything. However, the plum tree in the garden (that we didn't know was a plum tree until fruit happened, and can't really take credit for because it was here when we moved in) has been laden. We physically cannot get through the volume of plums it produces! Also, a few of the sweetcorn are looking good, we have one cucumber (not ripe yet), and one pumpkin. We have planted the bamboo that we brought from the old house, and painted the pergola red. Ssh, small victories.


Walking:

Twice, since my last blog post, I have walked to the pub for the quiz night, and walked home again after! We haven't won at the quiz, but it's fun! The walk to the pub is around 3 miles, and it's around three miles home too. Alas, while we were on our camping holiday, my fitbit ran out of battery and I couldn't recharge it, but I did some mammoth walks, we also went cycling, which the fitbit doesn't measure, but we found a well marked 4 mile route in the forest that we managed a few times, and we walked up to the Chinese restaurant and back one day (approx. 2 mile round trip) and to the pub in the other direction another night (around a 3 mile round trip), we also had a day trip with quite a bit of walking (we walked around 6.5 miles that day).

I've also been walking around Runcorn Hill whilst LittleBit has cricket practice on a Monday night. Alas, last Monday was the last practice for a while, but I might take her for an adventure around Runcorn Hill. It's a nature reserve, and it's deceptively large. I have been going every week and haven't walked the same route twice yet.

A few photos of Runcorn Hill



















The Zoo

Of course we've been to the zoo!! Not as often as we'd have liked, and no, I still haven't managed to 'do' what I consider to be the whole zoo, in a single trip... However, I have a new plan/hobby - I am going to compile a photographic tour of Chester Zoo... yes, you lucky person reading this (it's just me, isn't it?) right here in this blog... well, not this actual post, but, you know what I mean!

However, since my last post, the first phases of the Islands exhibit have opened. We've not visited since the second phase opened up, but we did get to go on the boat ride round; 



































Holiday:

I may have mentioned it a few times already, but this August, we went camping. I know, I know, if you scroll back a way, you'll see photo's of our family holiday to Majorca. However, we wanted to have a second holiday during the school summer holidays, and we decided to go camping (which we love) but we decided to go camping to Delamere Forest. Yes, I know how close we live to Delamere Forest, but we've never done any touristy things locally. We love the forest, we like the pubs and restaurants nearby, and there's a train station almost next door to the camp site which could take us into Chester!

So, we had a takeaway once we'd pitched the tent, and we read, walked and cycled. We didn't want to stray far from the campsite, and we tried to avoid using the car. The campsite has an entrance directly into the forest, and although we liked the idea of trying out the Segway, LittleBit isn't heavy enough yet, nor is she old enough to have a go at the Go Ape forest adventure, which made Beloved and I sigh with relief, I like the idea of the zipwire, but the rest of it looks HIGH, and high is one place I do not like. Beloved has promised to go with LittleBit once she's big/old enough though.

Delamere Forest Visitor Centre at Linmere has a cycle hire centre (but as we'd taken our own bikes, we didn't need to use their services, but they do also sell bikes, they also provide lessons for ages 8+ which LittleBit has asked for for her 8th birthday, along with a big-girl bike with gears, alas, she's just over an inch too short for the 20" wheel bikes yet...).
There is also a coffee shop/café and toilet block, with two pay and display car parks and a field big enough for LittleBit to practice her cricket.

There are a number of clearly marked footway's and cycle routes, along with picnic spots, and we, handily, have a map! We identified a 4mile route for cycling which was fairly gentle, there were a few hills LittleBit had to walk up, but for the most part, it was doable. Better still, the route crosses the free car park (so we can find it again a weekends in future), and, even better still, at weekends (and to our chagrin, only at weekends, even in the school summer holidays) at the entrance to that free car park (Barnsbridge Car Park) is a small layby in which an ice cream van parks.

We walked to the Fortune Palace Chinese Restaurant at the crossroads at Hatchmere on the Sunday afternoon, where there is a buffet available. There wasn't the widest range of dishes available on the buffet, but the food was good, the staff were friendly and polite, and it was cheap! We have eaten there before, and their set menus are rather good too.

On the Wednesday, we took a train into Chester, where, although we've all been many times before, for the first time, we took an open top bus tour of the city. It took about an hour, and the tour guide on board was very informative and we definitely learned a bit more about Chester. We had a quick spot of lunch, sandwich and chips in a pub, and then we went to the town hall where we met our guide. Lucius is a Roman Centurion, though he's originally from Chicago, and Lucius showed us where things were in Chester when the Romans were still in town. He talked to us about what life would have been like for a Roman Soldier, and talked to us about why someone may have joined the legions.

He left us at the amphitheatre, just outside the New Gate, from where we headed to the river for a 30 minute river boat cruise. The recorded commentary on the boat was quite interesting too, and we learned yet more about Chester. We had an ice cream at the riverside, yes, it's a theme, we eat ice cream wherever possible, before we walked through the Roman Gardens, which are a sort of outdoor museum of archaeological finds from throughout Chester, include a reconstructed section of a hypocaust.

After this, we walked through town, we may have stopped at one or two shops on the way, to reach the Mill Hotel, where we had booked onto an Afternoon Tea boat cruise on the canal. The cruise, with a lovely afternoon tea, took us to the lock steps, where we were able to see two narrow boats (one of which was from Preston Brook!) starting to operate the lock steps, which apparently take around 30 minutes to operate, each way! From the lock steps, which the hotel's boat doesn't traverse, we travelled back up the canal up to the shot tower, before returning to the hotel. There was a dvd playing of tourist information and history about the canal, and Chester, and having already had 3 different sets of information, it still had something new to tell us!

We didn't manage the wall walk, or a jaunt through Grosvenor Park on the day, as we'd filled the day up with other things, and we ended up in the Forest House for tea (which is obviously somewhere we go lots) before making our way back to the train station, and back to the campsite, in time to have a drink with a lovely Dutch couple, Ad and Bep, who we met on the way back from Chester, before we settled down to watch the meteor shower.

Sadly, although I had my camera with me, I didn't get any decent pictures of the meteor shower, but we did see some, and they are very pretty. On the one hand, that it was a cloudless night was good for watching the meteor shower, but it was a cold, cold night's sleep that night.

On Thursday, we packed a lot of things away, preparing to decamp on Friday, before we walked to the Vale Royal Abbey Arms. Yes, we've been before, but it was good. It wasn't cheap, it was, however, worth it, we each had a three course meal and not one dish wasn't lovely, we ate every mouthful, although we did try each other's food, as the plate envy was strong! We then walked back to the camp site, as the drizzle started. By morning it was a deluge, so, as any other ordinary family would do... we booked an extra night, and then took the car and went shopping! One of the things we bought was an electric hookup for next year's camping trip, which was less than half price. The rain stopped in the late afternoon/early evening, when we went back to the camp site where there was a chip van! We indulged, and I have to say, it was good food! The portions were huge and it was cooked fresh in the van to order, even the home made tartre sauce came in huge portions and was so much nicer than the stuff that comes in a jar!

Although it rained again during the night, on Saturday morning it had stopped, and we were able to dry and dismantle the tent, rescuing a small frog in the process!

We had no idea how tired we were until we got home and unpacked the car on the Saturday, at which point, we flopped in front of the tv and I think all three of us napped.

We'd definitely recommend a trip to Delamere and Chester, or even just taking a holiday somewhere local to you to find things you walk past every week, but next year, we were thinking of taking ourselves to a Scottish loch, until we met Ad and Bep, and now, we're thinking that we should go to the Netherlands!











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