Halloween, Half-Term, London Poppy Day

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Yes folks, it’s that time of year again… Halloween and Half-Term, and London Poppy Collections. Halloween (today) is on a Friday night this year, which means that the little kiddiewinks can stay up later because it’s not a school night. More time for them to be out “Trick or Treating” or egging your door if you happen to be out or just not answer. Yes, call me Mrs Scrooge if you like, but I find it distinctly off-putting answering my door to something dressed up like an extra from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I don’t remember Trick-or-Treating when I was a child, and apparently it didn’t become common in the UK until the 1980s (so I only just missed it then!  ) although it dates back to the Middle Ages when people did something called “souling.” This was when the poor would go house-to-house on Hallowmas (1 November) and in return for food, would pray for the souls of the dead on All Souls Day (2 November). However, Trick-or-Treating was big business in the US and Canada as far back as the 1940s, and good old Walt Disney made a cartoon about it in 1952. (Thanks Walt, now everyone knows about it! She said through gritted teeth.)

Halloween itself, also known as All Hallows Eve or All Saints Eve is one of those Christian festivals believed to have Pagan roots. Or not, depending on which expert you choose to believe.

The Pagan bit related to the end of the harvest and beginning of winter. The Christian bit is about obligation for the souls of the departed, and even good old Will referred to it in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. (Sorry, I’m not telling you where, you will have to read it or go and see the play.)

Apparently, the souls of the dead wandered the earth until All Saints’ Day, so All Hallows’ Eve was their last chance to get vengeance on their enemies before moving onto the next world. Ah! Now I understand the weird and wonderful costumes that we see. And, apparently people wore masks to conceal their identities. (I’m not convinced that would work with ghosts, but hey, what do I know?)

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Yesterday was London Poppy Day, the day when service personnel and other volunteers go to a large number of Central London underground stations and so on to try to collect as much money as possible for the Poppy Appeal.

It’s quite a fun day and you get to meet some lovely people, some really generous people, but yesterday, for me, was the most humbling day of my life. We stop collecting at 7pm and all the collectors were huddled in a corner of the station so that the person in charge could put all the money into sealable bags and we could put all the excess poppies in a safe place until they would be collected the following day.

As we were standing there, a chap came over, someone I have seen about before. He handed over a big bag of coins. I couldn’t see what they all were but I can tell you that they weren’t all 1p pieces, and it was a heavy bag.

“Excuse me, these are from the homeless. I’ve been round and collected if from them.”

I felt like crying. I know that a lot of homeless people are ex-forces, but these are people that don’t have very much, and yet they dug deep to give to our troops. I can tell you right now, I wasn’t the only one who was really touched by what this chap did.

Way to go homeless people, everyone there yesterday was saluting you too!

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© Susan Shirley 2014

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Where’s my Mummy?

On Sunday, I went to the British Museum with my brother and sister-in-law. We like our trips to the BM, and this time we went to see the “Ancient Lives, New Discoveries,” exhibition, which is on until 19 April 2015.

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This exhibition focussed on the bodies of eight mummies of varying ages (and when I say ages, I mean the time in which they were mummified rather than the age when they died). Apparently, the BM has never been one of those museums that unwrapped the mummies that came into its possession because it usually causes damage to the remains and therefore devalues the scientific value. So what the BM has done is to use CT scanning technology to see what was going on inside.

The process of mummification is interesting, in how it evolved and what it entailed. Much like Gebelain man, in the very early days of ancient Egypt, the bodies were wrapped in a sheet and buried in the desert, often with pots (for the food for the body in the afterlife). A combination of the heat of the sand and the physical properties of the sand itself dried the moisture and fats out of the bodies pretty quickly leaving a naturally preserved “mummy.” (Sand is one of the methods used by head hunters to shrink heads. I’ll say no more at present. Please don’t ask how I know this, you really don’t want to know.)

After a while, instead of just putting the bodies in the ground, the ancient Egyptians started putting the bodies in coffins, which protected the body but didn’t allow for the mummification process to take place so they developed the embalming process.

The eight mummies were different ages when they died, and all had had different professions in life. It started with Gebelain man B, who would have been between age 20 to 35 years old at the time of his death, about 3500 years BC. This mummy is pretty well preserved overall, with most of the internal organs intact.

The others were all mummified by more traditional methods – where they were embalmed and prepared for the afterlife, which was the Egyptian tradition.

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If you would like more information, the link to the BM website is here, but I fully recommend that you go to see the exhibition. It’s not free, but well worth the price.

http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/ancient_lives/meet_the_mummies.aspx#Gebelein_man

The whole exhibition was quite amazing. I apologise to my American readers for my British propensity towards understatement. What I really mean is that it was awesome! (I have never before spoken, let alone written, that word and I feel quite the rebel. However, I digress.) Gebelain man was both interesting and a little bit… strange? Freaky? I’m not quite sure what but Ali felt it too.

Something I didn’t know about the Egyptians before, although I probably should have realised had I given it any thought, was that they suffered dreadfully from tooth decay and associated problems. The reason I think I should have cottoned on to this is that I know that they ate a lot of fruit, which contains fructose. Dates and figs, lovely though they are, are filled to the gunnels with fructose and other sugars. The Egyptians would have dried them, as they do today, for preservation purposes, which just increases the sugar content per item. The poor Egyptians didn’t have Oral B and Colgate to help them out.

The other thing that struck all three of us was that a number of Egyptians seemed to have problems with atherosclerosis and heart disease. I know that there is a link between gum disease and heart disease (something to do with the bacteria) but the Egyptians didn’t seem to eat a great deal of meat. It seems that they didn’t get a lot of exercise and had a lot of saturated fat in their diets, at least the wealthy ones did. It’s been suggested by experts at the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology in Manchester that the poor people may got the atherosclerosis because of infection or smoke inhalation.

We’d booked to go for lunch at the museum restaurant after we’d finished at the exhibition, as part of the ongoing birthday celebrations. The restaurant is upstairs in the Great Court, which was designed by Sir Norman Foster. For those of you have never been there, my I suggest a visit? The BM is fantastic in itself, but the Great Court is a fine piece of architecture. Once open to the elements, it now has a wonderful glass ceiling, complete with self cleaning glass, which gives it an open, airy feel while being warm and dry. (Would that all the glass in my house was self-cleaning!)

There was a good selection on the a la carte menu. The usual starters and main courses but also a good range of salads (and not just two lettuce leaves and half a tomato type salads, Ali had a cauliflower salad, which she said was very good). They also had a selection of charcuterie plates and cheese plates, and a set menu. We thought that the set menu was going to be Egyptian themed, because of our exhibition, but it was Chinese themed, for the Ming Exhibition that is running concurrently.

The food was actually quite good, but then I suppose, as so many of the galleries, etc, are getting top chefs into their restaurants nowadays, it’s a competitive market, so they all need to be on top of their game.

© Susan Shirley 2014

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Plenty is Good…

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Well, it’s been an eventful week in the Shirley household (my week starts on a Sunday, hence two blog posts this week).

Sunday: Writing mostly, I didn’t even do the ironing, I thought I’d save if for Monday when I would be worrying about my girls. Sunday was not eventful, just productive, peaceful and pleasant.

Monday: Vets first thing. My two girls were not very happy about their visit, Mummy Shirley was even less happy when poor little Rhea’s vein collapsed before they’d finished getting the blood out and had to keep here there for a couple more hours. (They weren’t allowed to eat after 8pm the previous day, so they were both hungry, which never improves my cats’ tempers’.) Truth to be told, I think I was more worried than Rhea was, but hey. So, I left them both and went about my business. I got a call a couple of hours later telling me that Rhea was ready to go home but I could leave until Telesto was ready if I wished. No chance. I went straight to the vets and took my little baby home. She was absolutely fine and there was no sign of any trauma once she got home.

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I got a call from the vets about 3pm telling me that Telesto’s surgery had finished, they hadn’t needed to extract any teeth, and she was a bit dopey. They told me to ring back about an hour later to see how she was doing. I duly rang back and they told me I could collect her just after 6pm.

When I went to collect her at 6pm, I had a list of do’s and don’ts – don’t let her out for 24 hours, only feed her soft food, and other things that only applied if something went wrong. It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows my little darling that no sooner did I open the door of the pet carrier, than she ran to the biscuit bowl and started munching away. I put some soft food down and she made a good attempt at eating that, keeping Artemis away, until Oceana came downstairs and decided to push Telesto out of the way as she liked the smell of the food.

Oh, and I finished the ironing and the rest of the housework.

Tuesday – Thursday: Work, so will say no more about that. The vet rang me about Rhea’s blood test results. There was a little bit of an understanding issue, and I’m not sure that I completely understand yet, because it wasn’t my usual vet. She asked me whether Rhea urinated… My immediate response was that, yes, of course she does. Apparently, Rhea has some red cells in her urine (which is probably nothing serious) so the vet wanted to know. Fortunately, I wasn’t at work on Friday.

Thursday evening, when I got home, I had to clear out the cupboard under the stairs. Not before time, I admit, but it was quite a shock when I had to throw out a full, unopened pack of 6 Plenty Kitchen Rolls, plus one from an opened pack. You know Plenty; they are one of the more expensive ones. They really do what they are advertised to do – they were absolutely sodden but they were completely intact. I assumed that this was all to do with the leak in the mains pipe, so thought no more about it.

Friday: Boiler service and the water company came to deal with the leak in the mains water pipe. The gas man came first, and I told him there was a problem with the water temperature, but he couldn’t find anything wrong. He thought it might be something to do with the changes in water pressure because of the leak, and to see what happened when they’d done that.

Next to turn up was my indoor plumber, Mike. He started doing what he had to do and then the outside chaps turned up. I am hugely impressed with them all (thank you J D McKay) and they did what they had to do in a very reasonable time. Mike told me that the damp in the cupboard was unrelated to the mains leak; it was coming from my shower, which is other side of the wall. Mike told me what I needed to do to dry out the wall and seal it, which I did this morning. So bad job to the plumber who didn’t seal it off when he did the repair 12 years ago, even if he’d told me what to do, it would have helped.

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Mike was right, the water pressure is better now and his sealing advice has stopped the water running through to the cupboard. Yay!

Another visit to the vet, to get my loyalty card for the cat food stamped, to find out I owe more money (hey ho) and that I may have got the wrong end of the stick about Rhea. Lindsey, the veterinary nurse, said she thought that the vet might have been worried that she had cystitis. Which she clearly doesn’t.

So that’s a quick update for this week. More soon.

Oh, and by the way, let me know what you think about the Wizzley banner at the top. If writers join the site through here, I get paid a little commission.  After seven months on Wizzley, I have just started to earn a bit.  You can order from Amazon through the Amazon link above the post.  I haven’t quite got Skimlinks and Google Adsense working yet (hint, hint to Bro).

©Susan Shirley 2014

 

 

 

The Priory Farm and Masala Garden

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I was staying with some friends in Norfolk last week, and visited a couple of fantastic restaurants that I thought were worth sharing with you.

The first one was the Masala Garden in Hales. This one hasn’t been open very long, it was a previously a pub, so is a pretty big restaurant. What would have been the bars have been converted into the dining rooms. The car park has room for 20 cars, so that gives you an idea of how many people can fit into the restaurant – my guess is 80 to 100 people.

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We had a takeaway on Thursday, rather than eat in. Geoff had a Lamb Palok, which is a dish with a thick sauce and spinach, which is a dish I’d never heard of before, but looked fab, and Geoff really enjoyed it. Kate had Chicken Bhuna and I had a Chicken Vindaloo. We had garlic rice, motor ponir and tarka daal, and Kate had plain naan bread. That came to £35, which I thought was very good value, and all very tasty. I wholeheartedly recommend this restaurant if you are up this way.

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The next one was the Priory Farm Restaurant in St Olaves. The restaurant is next door the English Heritage site of St Olaves Priory, complete with a couple of llamas in a field next to the driveway.

llama-359536_1280The main menu for the restaurant is good, but there is also a huge blackboard with the daily specials in front of you as you enter the restaurant. With a large number of starters, fish and main dishes, I could only suppose that they did a massive trade to enable them to justify the range of food available.

Kate and I both chose off the main menu for the starters – Kate had the Avocado and Crayfish, I had the Large Prawns and Mussels. I chose that because I thought light creamy herb butter” would be ok for someone like me who doesn’t eat gluten. Our waitress was really on the ball because when I asked for a gluten free roll, she asked me to hold on and said she’d check my starter with the chef. The dear man said he could make it for me gluten free. (He did and it was delicious.)

For our main courses, we both had specials: Kate had chicken stuffed with stilton, wrapped in bacon, and I had the seafood platter which was grilled halibut, swordfish steak, red snapper and prawns. All this with vegetables of the day.

The food was great, and we were so full that we finished with liqueur coffees. If I tell you all this, with a bottle of wine only came to £62, well, I am suitably impressed.

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I wish I could show you the restaurant but I didn’t take photographs in there. There is a bar in the entrance hall-cum-lounge and comfortable armchairs where you can sit to have an aperitif. The main restaurant is a huge hall with four-seater booths around the edges. There is also an upstairs balcony area, but quite deep, so I guess there is enough room for at least four-seater tables up there (I didn’t go upstairs). I could see a stuffed reindeer up there, but apparently there is a statue of a monk on the other side. The waiting staff were really helpful and friendly and we had a great time.

If we’d gone earlier in the day, I would have had a little trip to the priory next door. The priory was founded in 1216, dedicated to St Olaf who was a king in the 11th century (and patron saint of Norway). Not much of the priory survives, it’s mostly ruins, but according to English Heritage, the refectory is impressive, with its vaulted undercroft. Actually, lots of places in Norfolk seem to have quite impressive undercrofts.

While I was up there in Norfolk, one of the little dumplings gave me a book idea. I need to go up there for a few weeks to do a bit of research, but watch out for that one, I think it’s a runner.

And, just for a quick update, the girls are going to the vets tomorrow so paws and fingers crossed.Amazon

©Susan Shirley 2014

 

Masala Garden:   http://masalagarden.co.uk/

http://masalagarden.co.uk/gallery/masala%20gardenmenu%20%282%29.pdf

Priory Farm:   http://www.prioryfarmrestaurant.co.uk/

http://www.prioryfarmrestaurant.co.uk/css/images/PrioryMenu012013.pdf

 

I wish I had shares in…

…my vets, my local cab firm and the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture pet meds.  These are the places I am researching for investment purposes.

I’ve written before about my beautiful girls, and at the moment, two of them are undergoing treatment with the vet.

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My poor Telesto has gingivitis and has to have her teeth scaled, which means a general anaesthetic.  Think about it: it’s bad enough being a dentist with some humans (no names, no pack drill!), imagine trying to scale the teeth of a scared cat with very sharp claws and equally sharp canine teeth while she is awake… No, it’s not working for me either.

I booked her in to be done on the same day that Rhea has to go for blood tests, which is next Monday.  Poor little Rhea has a problem with regurgitation, she has had all her life but it’s getting worse. The vet thinks she may have pancreatitis, which is apparently quite common in cats, but we need blood tests to check.  We’ll have to wait and see what happens there.

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So far, so good, except that I had to ‘phone the vets yesterday, about something unrelated, and they told me that it would be a good idea for Telesto to have blood tests done before the surgery, as she is, how can I say this politely?  A lady of a certain age.  Telesto is ten, which makes her about 56 in human years. I rather wish I’d known this earlier, but hey ho.

This meant that I had to take time off work this morning to take her up to the vets this morning, to get the tests done in time for Monday.  Blood tests meant that she was not allowed to eat after 9pm last night.  And if you have to starve one cat, you have to starve four.

Last night was not as bad as I had feared.  I had visions of being pounced on every hour on the hour, but cats are a little more subtle than that. And they had obviously all had a good munch before I took up the remaining biscuits.  This morning, however, was a whole different ball game.

For some reason, Artemis stayed downstairs last night (she usually sleeps on the bed), but I had a visitation from both her and Rhea once they realised that there was no food.  Although they are sisters, they have a very different approach to getting what they want.  It’s like they’re playing “good cat, bad cat.”  Artemis jumps on me and hits me; Rhea makes a huge fuss of me, cuddling and purring.

As you would expect, Telesto becomes my shadow and Oceana maintains a very dignified distance as though she doesn’t care one way or the other.  I did put biscuits down for the three of them once I’d put Telesto in the carrier, but strangely, they all went into hiding. Did they think I was trying to “chick” them, as we say in the office, or were they just showing “the sisterhood?” You never really know with cats.

On the occasions that I take two of them to the vets, I get a cab each way, but with only one, I thought I’d get the bus (I haven’t explained why I need shares in these companies yet).  That would have been an excellent idea, except that the buses were all full at 8.30am.  So I walked.  My darling Telesto weighs around 4.5 kilos and would not keep still, and my vets is around a mile and a half, a mile and three quarters from home.  I can’t say it was the easiest walk I’ve ever done but, on the plus side, I did my aerobic, cardio and weights all in one hit.

It was plain sailing once we got there, she was in Dianne’s words, “a little Angel,” and we did manage to get a bus home part of the way. Well, two stops actually, but, as I said, it’s good exercise.

As soon as I let her out of the carrier, Telesto dived into the biscuits, she was so happy. I should get the blood test results on Thursday, so hopefully, that will be ok. I think she is in pretty good health.

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The bit I haven’t told you yet is that the cost of the bloods for both of them and the surgery is over £400 and this is why I think I need shares in these companies.  What a money spinner! I don’t begrudge one penny of it, nothing is too good for my girls.  In fact, in the scheme of things, I think it’s pretty good value, but when you think how many people there are like me out there, who only want the best for their little babies… I think I should do a Victor Kiam….

 

 

 

 

It will only be a ten minute delay….

It will only be a ten minute delay.  That’s what they said.  Three times in all they said it, which by my reckoning is half an hour.  Then, all of a sudden, it was as though a bomb had gone off.

“Clear the train now.”

People right at the front of the train were clearly scared, I could tell that by their faces as they walked along the platform on their way out of the station.  I’ll be honest, I was thinking the worst.  I did think it was a bomb.  That’s the trouble when people say, “incident.”  My imagination starts working overtime.

This happened to me on Monday evening, when I was travelling home on the District Line.

“There’s an incident in the tunnel.  I’m sure you’ll all understand that we have to deal with incidents properly.  We’ll only be held here for ten minutes.”

My journey had been going fantastically well up until this point, so this “incident” really came as a bolt out of the blue.  Admittedly, after the second ten minute message had been announced, they did suggest that people find another route, but the trouble is, at Blackfriars, which is where we were, there is no other fairly direct route close by.  Walking to the next tube station can cost you quite a lot of time.  Plus, it reduces the amount of refund you get back from TfL (I’m on it with that, I think it’s grossly unfair, because that’s what I ended up having to do).

So, it was as I was leaving the station that I learned that there was a fire in the tunnel.  Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely want TfL and LFB to deal with “incidents” in the correct fashion.  I know what damage a fire can cause.  But the word “incident” is not a good word for me.  What does it mean?

 

Courtesy of Pixabay
Courtesy of Pixabay

Does it mean that someone has leaned on the doors and they’ve opened and someone has fallen out of the train (I’m never sure whether it’s true that that can happen, but the drivers do keep on about not leaning on the doors)?

Does it mean a bomb?  The last thing that crossed my mind was a fire.  How does a fire on the track start?  Is it dodgy wiring?  Do you see where I’m coming from?  I discussed this with a friend yesterday but his view was that telling people it was a fire might have caused greater panic.  What do you think about that?

I admit, I was starting to get a bit tetchy, but I was by no means the only one.  The woman opposite me was very irritated and threw in a few expletives before she exited the station as fast as her little legs would carry her.

Eventually, the station was evacuated, so I had to walk to St Paul’s, which is on the Central Line.  I’m not really sure what happened but there was a sort of “thwack” noise.  (I’m still thinking electrical, which doesn’t fill me joy, I’ve got to be honest.)  When I rejoined the District Line, further along, I was very lucky again.  A group of school boys joined the train and serenaded me until they got off.  Seriously.  They couldn’t have been more than 14, but they were very, very good.  The harmonies were fantastic.  I rather think that they’d have been in trouble when they got home, when they were chatting to me – between serenading me – the time that they had left school didn’t quite fit so methinks they’d been somewhere they shouldn’t have been…

Courtesy of Pixabay
Courtesy of Pixabay

I eventually got home at ten o’clock, which was half an hour later than I’d hoped for.  Still, I suppose I should thank LFB and TfL for their efficiency in dealing with the fire though.

© Susan Shirley 2014