Category Archives: Blog

A Polish Odyssey

We landed in Gdansk on Saturday evening. The first slightly disconcerting moment came when we went to Avis car hire and found an empty desk. Fears of a long session of negotiation with another company, or finding ourselves stranded in northern Poland with no means of proceeding to our accommodation were soon dispersed when we lifted the red phone receiver and the attendant explained that she had just nipped home for dinner, but would be back in fifteen minutes.

Half-an-hour later, safely ensconced in a Ford Focus,  we found ourselves rattling along a very rough road. When landing in a new country, there’s always a charged moment when you discover whether your 100 km journey will take one hour or ten. Happily within a few minutes, we found ourselves on a very efficient motorway. There were a few giggles elicited in the intervening period however, as the nicely spoken man in the GPS machine tried to get his tongue round ‘ Ulica Juliusza Slowackiego’ and ‘Ulica Jana Wojnarskiago’.

Slipping quietly through the outskirts of Tricity, I was interested to see the beautiful classical northern European architecture admixed with starkly contrasting utilitarian Eastern Bloc high-rises.  I was also struck by the shops which included Tesco hypermarkets and a plethora of Lidls. It is easy to forget, when I so rarely leave Norway, just what a closed shop my adopted home country is to external supermarket chains. It was also disconcerting to see so many signs and not understand a word. With a smattering of French, German and Latin (as well as Norwegian) it is rare to find myself so much at a loss. Still, for me it only added to the frisson of discovery. I love new places.

And so, after a couple of hours, we arrived at our hotel. The Poraj Palac is a substantial country house hotel surrounded by gentle rolling countryside. The grounds and surrounding area team with wildlife. The evening air is filled with the singing of frogs from the nearby pond, the night brings the screeching of barn owls and in the morning, the cuckoos begin calling. The staff are friendly and the food is wonderful and fresh. English speaking travellers are few and far between. I feel very lucky to be here.

Poraj Palac
Poraj Palac
Room No. 12.
Room No. 12.

Artwork in the grounds.

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Mieszko bringing us cocktails in the garden.
Mieszko bringing us cocktails in the garden.

 

Evening view.
Evening view.

And, just for Jan-Arne, some photographs of the very colourful food.

Traditional sour rye soup.
Traditional sour rye soup.
Hungarian potato cake.
Hungarian potato cake.

 

Nut pancakes
Nut pancakes

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nut soup.
Nut soup.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roast duck with apple
Roast duck with apple

 

Mieszko's first ever iced coffee.
Mieszko’s first ever iced coffee.

 

Bottom

Monday morning, Marion and I headed up to Ognaheia. Sandwiches and coffee and some Norwegian scenery. I was feeling good.

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Monday night saw Marita, Jacqueline and me heading into Stavanger for some Continuing Professional Development (CPD). VetScan (the diagnostic imaging company, which carried out the MRI on Lusi) will be starting up in Stavanger later this year, and Stavanger Smådyrklinikk had invited a speaker from the UK to come and talk to us about CT scans. Although it was interesting, it went on later than I had thought, and as I drove home at eleven o’clock, I found myself feeling unusually tired.

Tuesday morning dawned, and I was still tired. I couldn’t really understand this, as there was nothing obviously wrong, so I drove to work, and dragged myself around, trying to find some enthusiasm for cleaning. I realise that enthusiasm for cleaning sounds almost like a contradiction in terms, but usually I find an odd enjoyment in it at work, but on this day I was very relieved when Magne claimed me to help him with an operation.

The patient was a young Yorkshire Terrier, which had an inguinal hernia, and happily for me, her anaesthetic was very stable. It’s always a relief when the oxygen sats remain steadily between 98 and 100 percent. I found myself watching Magne as he carefully worked around the defect, meticulously dissecting away some protruding fat and tying off the larger blood vessels. Having closed the hole, he turned his eyes to me and smiled.

‘What are you thinking?’ he asked.

I confess that at that particular moment, I wasn’t feeling all that well, and what I was actually thinking “I wonder if I passed out, whether Magne would attend to me first, or whether he would stay sterile and just call for someone to help me”, however it seemed melodramatic to say that and my brain seemed stuck. Faced with my dumb silence, he fortunately made things easier for my befuddled mind.

‘What do you think? Is it closed?’ he clarified. With relief, I said I thought it looked good, and he continued with the task of closing up the wound. I don’t know whether  Irene sensed something was wrong with me, but happily she came into theatre and gave me a hand at the end of the op. I was very glad she was there, as I just felt dysfunctional.

Of course, after twelve, I have started to consult. Fortunately the flow of adrenaline did seem to help a little. It was another male dog with urinary tract problems, and so at least, after last week, I felt I had some idea of what I was looking for. Before they arrived, I went into the consulting room that Magne usually uses, and tried to sit down. Somehow as I tried to hoist myself up, the chair slipped away from me, and I sat down very suddenly on the ground. Limping through, I found Marita.

‘Have you broken your tailbone?’ she asked. ‘Do you call it a tailbone in English?’ I was able to assure her that I hadn’t.

‘It’s only my bottom that’s broken,’ I told her. I didn’t enjoy the consultation. I don’t feel it went very well, which I guess wasn’t surprising under the circumstances, but I do know that with Wivek’s help, everything was done very thoroughly.

Wednesday night was really odd. I had felt unwell most of the day, and the night was riddled with weird dreams. At one point, I dreamed that Magne was sweeping the floor, and with admiral logic, I worked out that I must be dreaming. After all, I concluded, Magne never sweeps the floor. Having at some level congratulated myself for my deductive abilities, I went back to sleep and for some reason Magne made another appearance, but this time he seemed to have gone crazy. This time I was more confused. I couldn’t be sure that I was dreaming as although I could be certain Magne wouldn’t sweep, it definitely didn’t seem impossible that he could go mad. With hindsight, the fact that Magne’s irrational behaviour involved turning over a table and sitting cross-legged trying to fish in the underside of it using a rod made of spaghetti might have been a bit of a giveaway. I think possibly I might have been a bit feverish at that point.

Suffice it to say, I didn’t go to work yesterday. I wasn’t looking forward to phoning in, but Irene made it easy for me.

‘Have you got the flu as well? she asked. ‘Dagny has been struggling with it all week.’ I don’t know whether it’s flu, or some other virus, but I am certainly exhausted. So if you have read all this, and it doesn’t make much sense, then I can only apologise that you have wasted the past five minutes. Still, at least I have made it out of bed today. Maybe by next Tuesday, I will be smart enough to start consulting again. For the moment, daytime TV is beckoning. Have a good weekend.

 

Lifjell and Nonsfjedlet

 

Charlie and I climbed Lifjell as the fifth of our 10 på Topp challenge. It runs until November, so we’ll have to get our walking boots on a bit more regularly if we want to complete the ten by then. The weather recently has been beautiful. Marion and I have been taking advantage of the late summer sunshine as often as possible, so lower down the page, there are also some photos of our walk up Nonsfjedlet.

Before the climb
Before the climb
Fantastic fungi
Fantastic fungi
The track winds up the fellside and then straightens out
The track winds up the fellside and then straightens out

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This mast isn't very beautiful, but it is the reason this climb is so straightforward. It's a wide track all the way up.
This mast isn’t very beautiful, but it is the reason this climb is so straightforward. There’s a wide track all the way up for vehicles.
I found it difficult to capture, but the further reaches of the archipelago were swathed in mist, islands rising from a sea of cloud.
I found it difficult to capture, but the further reaches of the archipelago were swathed in mist, islands rising up from a sea of cloud.

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So much sky
So much sky
And with Marion, a few days later, I climbed Nonsfjedlet
And with Marion, on a much clearer day, I climbed Nonsfjedlet
Looking over Ålgård
Looking over Ålgård
Half way up
Half way up
Layer upon layer
Layer upon layer

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I was fascinated by the flowing shapes of the rocks
I was fascinated by the flowing shapes of the rocks
And the fledgling clouds that streaked the sky
And the fledgling clouds that streaked the sky
But my eyes (and my camera lens) kept coming back to the mountains fading into the distance
But my eyes (and my camera lens) kept coming back to the mountains fading into the distance
And then back down
And then back down

Bergen Weekend in Pictures

Sorry I haven’t updated Always Vet in Norway this weekend. Charlie and I have been on a roadtrip to Bergen to watch James and Simple Minds at the Bergen Festival. Both bands were fantastic; both played a lot of new music. We stayed in a great hotel and found some wonderful restaurants. Saturday was our 18th Wedding anniversary so this was our present to ourselves.

First then some views from the Park Hotel. Charlie had asked for a room on the top floor and so there were a lot of stairs to climb, but it was worth it for the airiness and the clear skies above the beautiful city.

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Once we had settled in, we set off for the festival. James were playing first. I only took a few photographs but they played a great set. I do have an apology for Jan-Arne… going by Tim Booth’s outfit it seems that pyjama trousers really are in!

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And I must apologise for the blurriness of this final image, but Mr Booth must be the craziest dancer I have ever seen.

Later in the evening, as dusk gradually fell, we watched Simple Minds – Charlie’s favourite band. I will just put in a few photos here. For those who would like to see a full set of images, click here.
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Jim Kerr
Jim Kerr
Charlie Burchill
Charlie Burchill
Mel Gaynor
Mel Gaynor
Andy Gillespie
Andy Gillespie
Ged Grimes
Ged Grimes

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After the concert, it was time to go back to the hotel. 1.30am and the sun was setting…

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Next morning dawned another bright day so after breakfast and coffee, we headed off to Fløyen funicular railway. When we arrived at the bottom, we were fortunate enough to get to the front of the queue, so we had some fantastic views on the way up.

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Then we emerged to wonderful views of the city.

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Back down again, and we found a street that looked more Scandinavian than Central European…

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And a delicious burger.

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An old fire-station (which I had photographed earlier) was disgorging some amazing old fire-engines.

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Finally as we made our way back to the bus station, we discovered there was a Thai festival taking place.

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All in all, it was a wonderful weekend.

On Writing

Some of those who access this post will recognise I have shamelessly stolen today’s title from Stephen King… because one day I’m going to be as big as him, obviously. I’m not going to emulate him in trying to tell others how to write however, I just wanted to reflect a little on the writing process, and on the dreary experience of approaching a brick wall of literary agents. I think that is the correct collective noun, though of course (as ever) I hope to be proved wrong this time.

I find the whole process of trying to find an agent very distressing. I am fully aware there are other people out there who are much worse off. I could, for example, be trying to try and find a job to pay the bills. I am immensely lucky in having a very supportive husband. But the process of putting my work out there and then… well actually the rejections themselves aren’t so bad; it’s the long silences I find harder to bear. I find myself checking my e-mail box with ridiculous frequency. It would be easier if I knew that agents had down time. If I could stop checking over the weekend, for example, it would give me a break, but I know they read and respond at all sorts of odd times. They are very busy, that much is clear. Of course, if I had any of that thing known as self-control, I could have a break anyway. Sadly the self-control gene passed me by.

For the moment, it is “Tomorrow” I am trying to promote. An odd experience because I have done it before with the same chapters and a similar synopsis. The last time, I had the unmitigated joy of receiving a request for the full manuscript. In the event, the full MS was rejected within a day of being sent off, (rightly so as it wasn’t ready) but at least I have to presume that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the chapters I am sending. It is just a subjective matter of finding someone who likes them.

In the meantime, I want to get on with something else, and although I have been toying with putting together a detailed plot for a new book, I have also received some feedback on “Ready, Vet, Go!” and I feel inspired rather to head back and redraft that before moving on. One of the frustrations of teaching yourself to write is that feedback can be terribly difficult to come by. Informed feedback even more so. So then, I have to take what I can, where I find it. I have various friends who read “Ready, Vet, Go!” and the majority of them reacted positively. One or two never finished reading it, which I put down at the time, to life getting in the way. When I sent my chapters and synopsis off to the first agents, (for anyone reading who doesn’t write, this is the standard sample that literary agents ask for to assess your manuscript) I was fully expecting an enthusiastic response… or at least some response other than absolute silence or flat generic rejection.

The first response I received was from an agent I’ve been communicating with occasionally for years, ever since I wrote to James Wight (son of the late, great James Herriot) and he generously (and incredibly) telephoned me to put me in touch with his agent. They’ve been very kind, though they have steadfastly rejected me a number of times, but one thing they have always done has been to give me feedback. They commented that the chapters were well written, but that the plot seemed a little slow, and they were struggling to see a narrative hook that they could use to sell it to publishers. I wasn’t too downhearted at that, and set out to send it to other agencies. Resounding silence ensued. Having contacted twenty agents, I couldn’t honestly bring myself to carry on putting myself through the wringer. Only one more agency gave me feedback, this time to say “Your veterinary details ring true but you need a much greater depth of characterisation and a stronger plot.” For those of you who have never been through this process, it will be difficult to understand why I felt glad to receive such a brief and negative message, but I had honestly reached the stage when any feedback at all regarding my utter lack of success was valued.

It took a while to work out my next move. I really wanted to know whether there was a genuine fault with my narrative, or whether it was just that it hadn’t resonated with any agents, so I set out, via this blog, to find some readers who weren’t friends and family to test-drive my novel. It was an interesting experience. I posted on a Facebook forum, and very quickly received seven enthusiastic offers. Smiling to myself… obviously my three chapters were not so awful… I send out the book to my new group of beta-readers… and the result was another deafening silence. It was a very odd experience. When I contacted them, those who did respond invariably said that they had been enjoying the book, but life got in the way. Some of them cited bereavements, some just family pressures. One lady, after my prompting did finally finish, and said she enjoyed it, but I had to accept that even without more concrete feedback, a novel that can be put down so easily and forgotten, is fundamentally a novel that isn’t doing its job.

And yet still I had this problem of a lack of constructive feedback. I knew there was something wrong, just not how to fix it. I am an enduringly fortunate person. At this point my parents, for the first time, really engaged with my plight and stepped in. Perhaps this was because I had spent part of the summer holidays hogging their printer to send out four precious printed submissions (one of which prompted the “Veterinary details ring true” response). A friend of theirs was a professional playwright and poet, and better still she used to run creative writing courses. For the first time, I was able to receive some detailed feedback from someone who had read the whole work, and knew what she was talking about. She had some very positive things to say abut my easy writing style, and consistency. She suggested that to improve the work, I would need to inject some additional tension, and perhaps a little dark to counteract the lightness. She also suggested that to improve the characterisation, I perhaps could weave in some back-story for the protagonists. She was very upbeat about the prospect of me finding an agent. She said she thought it was just a matter of time and perseverance. She did have some negative feedback though on my subject matter. Her gut feeling was that the veterinary theme has been done to death, and that very few publishers would even consider it. She suggested I move on and work on other projects.

This was a very odd feeling for me. I have always felt that there continued to be such an interest in animal-stories that, so long as it was really well done, there would always be a space for another vet. Last year there was a blatant attempt by the BBC to reinstate James Herriot, which to me suggests that they would like to have a new veterinary series. The immediate audience response was to tune in (nine-million of them, I believe) and then to tune out again because… well in my opinion the characters were just not engaging.

Anyway, I put everything aside, and had been trying to start something new. A couple of days ago, however, I received an unexpected e-mail from one of the agents I contacted with “Ready, Vet, Go!”. Now I don’t know whether she was kind enough to give me feedback because she my submission had been “misfiled” (her word) and there had been an excessive delay. Anyway, for whatever reason, she was the third agent to give me feedback on “Ready, Vet, Go!” and this is what she said.

“I’m sorry that your novel is not one for which we would be confident of securing a commercial publisher’s support. I’m old enough to remember the James Herriot novels which I loved and I was initially intrigued by the idea of something similar. I do think your idea has potential, but I didn’t feel your narrative voice was quite strong enough to support the ambition of your ideas. I felt as if I was being retold a story, rather than the story itself.”

This then was something new. An agent who didn’t like my writing so much, but who definitely didn’t feel negative about the subject matter. I have honestly been toiling with starting to put together a whole new project. I am aware that agents want you to do that. You should always be writing “the next thing”. But really, it is hard to motivate oneself with so little feedback, so little positive affirmation that yes, at some point, someone will read and love my work. Hard to find the enthusiasm when there is wind and rain and grey skies outside. And so rather than starting something difficult, I have decided to go back and review an old friend. I don’t want anyone to feel I am just retelling a story. I want them to share the joy of standing in a cow-byre, ankle deep in straw and unnamed muck looking at a placid, motherly animal, in the knowledge that it really is possible to make life better.

A Year of Decadence

Because my birthday was spent travelling back from Seljestad, I didn’t have a cake on the day, so I was delighted when my friend Lynne invited me over for lunch on Friday and made me one. As usual, she listened to me very patiently as I rambled on about writing, she let me cuddle her beautiful baby daughter and we ate some wonderful food including a perfectly baked and tastefully decorated coffee sponge. As she handed me my slice, (we ate it before before the main course… actually we ate it after the main course as well, what could be better than that?) she commented that she had decided that 2014 should be a year of decadence. I can’t help being inspired by that concept, and so, on a dark Winter’s morning, not quite half-way through January, what better way to spend some time than in planning some of this year’s celebrations.

Burns Night – 25th January

A quick recce in the cellar indicates that we still have two haggi, one frozen and one tinned. Better still, I see that Burns night this year falls on a Saturday, so we will be able to toast the haggis with something a little stronger than Irn Bru (which is probably just as well as we don’t have any).

Candlemas – 2nd February

A new one on me this, though if it involves candles it is right up my street. Nothing better on a chilly winter’s day than a warm woodstove and a battalion of candles. In fact, given sufficient candles, you don’t really need the wood stove, as we discovered after Christmas. 38 candles in a room apparently warm it up rather well. Candlemas day marks the mid-point of winter, half way between the shortest night and the spring equinox. I prognosticate a lovely roast dinner in addition to a veritable plethora of candles.

Valentine’s Day – 14th February

Obviously this should be celebrated in the traditional manner… with lots of chocolate. Bring it on!

Shrove Tuesday – 4th March

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Need I say more?

Pancake Recipe.

St Piran’s Day – 5th March

A new one on me this. Apparently St Piran is the patron saint of Cornwall. Surely this must be a great excuse to make and eat Cornish pasties!

Vernal Equinox – around 20th March

There seems to be rather a theme developing here regarding food. I feel that perhaps the Spring Equinox should be celebrated by getting outside: maybe going for a special walk to the top of a hill. Obviously this will be weather dependent, but perhaps I will be able to don a hat and some gloves, and can drag my friend Marian off somewhere and indulge in a picnic and some hot coffee whilst admiring some wonderful vista. Sounds good to me!

N.B. Marian, if you are reading this, it was poetic licence about me dragging you. I know you have Bikje to do that!

Bal!
Bal!

 

Easter Sunday – 31st March

As well as the Easter Egg Hunt, Easter is generally another excellent excuse for another Christmas-style roast dinner. Bring on the honey-roast parsnips! Better still, I made two Christmas puddings this year, (technically last, for all the pedants who are reading this) and I feel that Easter would be the perfect time for consuming the second of these. I understand from Charlie that we may be spending part of the holidays in Seljestad, so if we can spend some time skiing, we will be able to work up an even better appetite for the feast.

17th May – is Norway’s national day

On 17th May each year, Norway celebrates its independence with marching bands and children’s parades. Despite being a national day, 17th May is very inclusive and everyone is welcome to go along and wave a flag. It’s lovely to see all the women dressed up in their Bhunad, but as I look at Charlie every year, proudly dressed in his kilt, I have to say that I prefer Scotland’s national dress for men.

Whitsun – 19th May

I can recall as a child having Season Pudding at Whitsun. Season pudding is made with bread and oats and onions, and is rather like a glorified and crunchy stuffing. Served with plenty of good gravy, it’s definitely one of my favourite meals. We only had it twice a year, the other occasion being Boxing Day and as I love it dearly, I think this is a tradition that I should definitely revive this year.

Anyway, the next big occasion after this will be the Summer Solstice on or about the 21st June, and we will be getting into summer holidays then. I want to look forward to the lighter days of summer, and for the moment not beyond, so I think I will stop there, and perhaps later in the year I can move on to look forward again to the autumn and winter festivals.

Revelling in inefficiency – and a cause for celebration

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It’s not the driest of weather today. In fact, it’s been pouring all morning and as it’s only about three degrees above zero, it isn’t conducive to going out. I was meant to go for a walk today with my friend Marian, however when she called to suggest coming round for a coffee, and perhaps a trip to the Co-Op, I wasn’t in the mood to say no to the change of plan.

I’ve never really understood those who love to shop, and yet this morning, bathed in the brightness of the fluorescent lighting, and with parts of the store all set out for Christmas, it was infinitely more cheering than going to the beach. On the way home, she mentioned that she had to do the hoovering. It’s a hard job, she told me because they have two cats and a dog but, she added, it always helped nowadays that she could think about all the exercise she was doing as she manoeuvred back and forth.

Funnily enough, I too have been feeling the same about certain aspects of life here. Charlie (my husband) has set me up so that I can use the Striiv app on my i-Phone. It used to be, as I went outside and hauled the wood into the house (for the wood-burning stove) that I would thrust as much wood as I could into a bucket, and then stagger back into the house with it, making as few journeys as I possibly could. We didn’t light the fire so very often. This year however, I find myself happily wandering back and forth to the woodpile in the garage carrying three or four logs at a time and smugly thinking of all the steps I am taking, of the energy I am building up to buy new things in MyLand, and how many calories extra I will be able to eat as it transfers its step information over to MyFitnessPal. Obviously this is all very sad (it may be that there is going to be a recurring theme of me being sad in my blog), but somehow I seem to get pleasure these days from so many small things.

At this time of year here in south-west Norway, it seems that there is almost invariably a spell when there is just rain on rain on rain. It can come down for days on end, and the skies are grey and the days are short. It would be easy to get down. So it’s just as well for me, that every year, at this time, I have a wonderful cause for celebration. For three years in a row, 2009-2011, every year, at about this time as the rain came down, the ground water began to rise.

And in each of those years, as the waters rose, into our cellar came a delightful surge… of sewage from the septic tank. This would result in a sickening stench throughout the whole house and days of having to wade through diluted human faeces every time I wanted to get to the washing machine. Somehow, it invariably happened when Charlie was away on a trip.

The first time it happened, we thought it was just a septic-tank blockage. At great expense ( to the insurance company) a massive hole was dug in the driveway and the waste pipe from the tank was replaced. The man who came to help also told us that maybe the blockage was to do with the ground water. Thirty year floods, he said comfortingly, leaving us with the impression it would be a long time before there was likely to be any recurrence. So when it returned the next year, we were somewhat disappointed to say the least. And when it came back the year after that, we decided that whatever the cost, we had to do something about it. When you sell a house in Norway, you are obliged to buy insurance to cover for any problems the buyer might have and we had high hopes… however sadly you have to claim within three to five months of the original problem. The fact that we hadn’t known it was a problem until it recurred was not relevant apparently, so we had to cover the cost ourselves.

Nonetheless, we did so, and so, every year at about this time, as the heavens open and the deluge comes… at least I am able to celebrate in the happy knowledge that however high the water may rise… at least the contents of our toilets have travelled safely away into some unseen sewer. And I am enduringly glad that I won’t have to spend Christmas looking at them again.

November

I went on Monday to collect the new winter tyres for the car. For the first time we have bought studded tyres. They are mainly needed here if you are going to the Mountains often, however after several hair-raising trips to the airport in the middle of the night last year, I am very glad to have them. Winter temperatures have suddenly arrived, so the timing is about right. The main roads here have runnels just where your tyres normally interact with the road, when they fill with water and it freezes… well lets just say that I think this year, the car will handle much better.

Winterdekk

I realise this is a sad thing to be excited about, (hey I am sad, get used to it) but I have been looking for ages for a glass pudding bowl, and on Monday I finally ran one to ground in a second hand shop. All the new ones I have seen have handles, and they don’t fit into a pan for steaming. I’ll be making the Christmas puddings shortly. A bit later than I would have liked, but apart from the bowl situation, I had to wait for Charlie to go to Britain to buy suet. You can’t get it here, though you can order it from The British Corner Shop. The good thing about making my own, is that I can omit whatever I want. I have never liked dried mixed peel, so out it goes, to be replaced by raisins. And you can’t get sultanas or currants here either so I will replace those with… raisins! As I had no stout last year, I decided to experiment and I’m pleased to say that Southern Comfort flavoured Christmas pudding is devastatingly good. I’d recommend it to anyone. Anyway, for the recipe, please go here.