Tuesday, 17 January 2017

A Recipe For Florentines, And I Did Something Really Stupid

I've been doing a lot of baking recently. I got a great book from Mottisfont which has lots of charming regional old recipes from the National Trust's great country houses, I splurged on the January edition of Delicious (seduced by the header Comfort Food), and of course I rely heavily on Queen Berry for inspiration too. As a result, the kitchen is groaning under the weight of assorted brownies, lemon and poppy seed cake, cherry Bakewells, sticky marmalade cake, Cornish Splits, Bath Buns, doughnuts, camembert melt pastries, green Thai curry, vegetable and cheese bakes, Eccles cakes, raspberry ripple ice-cream. 

And Florentines.

Oh My.

Here's the recipe (only don't cook them in fairy cake cases because they like them so much they refuse to come out. Grease a bun tray instead and pop the mixture in there direct).

55g butter
45g brown sugar
2 teaspoons honey
25g flaked almonds
handful chopped hazelnuts
handful chopped almonds
handful mixed raisins, sultanas and cranberries
some glace cherries, roughly chopped
40 g plain flour
120g chocolate (I do both milk and white).

1. Preheat the oven to 180c.
2. Melt butter, sugar and honey in saucepan until well combined but not boiling.
3. Take off the heat and stir in all the other ingredients.
4. Drop small spoonfuls of the mix into the bun tray moulds and flatten the top a little.
5. Bake for 10mins till golden brown.
6. Cool in the tray then cool completely on wire rack.
7. Transfer to fridge for half an hour until cold. and set hard.
8. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of boiling water.
9. Spoon teaspoons or more of the melted chocolate over each individual Florentine.
10. Return to fridge to set.
11. Remove the Florentines from the bun tray and keep in a sealed container in the fridge (if they last long enough)

All this baking is to keep up with my increased food intake requirements courtesy of the running. Now fully recovered from the 14 mile run, I set off for last Saturday's Parkrun focused on obliterating my previous PB of 23:22. My goal for 2017 is to get into the 22 minute bracket, that seems like a respectably fast 5k time to me. I don't mind if I come in at 22.59, I just want to get in under 23 minutes. 

There were over 900 runners in the park on Saturday. I put myself about a quarter of the way down the field for the start, set off fast and pushed all the way round. No chatting to friendly old chaps for me this week :o). I ran my legs off and my lungs out. I knew the time was good, until I got to the final half k when I realised far from being up, I was in fact 40 seconds down.

Not quite sure what had happened, I had a quick mental conversation with myself that ran along the lines of there's no point running myself ragged for a slow time, so I took the accelerator off and slowed down, more or less trotting over the line. I had a chat with the guy behind me in the funnel, bemoaning my slow time, then I saw M and started to tell him I'd ended up slower than the last PB despite really pushing it, except I realised as I was talking and looking at the GPS that I wasn't slower at all: I was actually 16 seconds up. My finish time was 23:06. I was absolutely furious with myself. If only I'd kept running I'd have come in in under 23 minutes and got my goal of 22 minutes something. I don't think I've ever been so cross with myself. It was all I could talk about for most of the rest of the day (pity my poor family, eh?). It didn't even register that I'd taken 16 seconds off the last time and set a new PB. I've never been so disappointed in a faster time before!

M, of course, was typically sanguine. You've learnt something new: never stop racing in a race, and: you'll smash the 22 minute barrier next week, was his confident verdict. I'm just cross I let the opportunity go and now I have to do it all over again this Saturday and what if I'm slower?

M grinned at me fuming all the way home and when I asked him what was funny he said well, it puts paid to the myth you've been peddling that you aren't interested in racing times, doesn't it? 

Every cloud, eh?

Hope you're all well. L got his place at the A Level college he wants to go to, so we are all breathing sighs of relief :o)


Wednesday, 11 January 2017

What Running Is Teaching Me

Image result for half marathon inspirational quotes

The aftermath of running fourteen miles last week has been interesting, physically and intellectually. Physically, I recovered quickly. I was a bit achy in my left leg the day after but nothing major and on Saturday (two days after the run) I did a reasonably fast Parkrun with no problems in the lungs or the legs department. I wasn't especially tired but I was extra hungry for about three days and I was more thirsty than I have ever been for several hours afterwards. I slept deep and well and long the night after the run and woke feeling rested the next morning.

Intellectually or mentally it had far more of an impact than I had been prepared for. I felt what can only be described as grey for several days afterwards. M recognised it instantly and told me all endurance runners experience this at some point in their training. It comes when you've pushed your mind more than your body.

I felt my centre had been knocked about, that the harmony that is usually in the middle of me had been buffeted, so I went back to running quietly three miles at an easy pace, concentrating on the simple rhythm of my breathing, on allowing the physicality of the act of running to flow through me, reconnecting with my core and simply enjoying the run, forgetting all about targets and training and aims and ambitions. I also walked the dogs through the fields and didn't think about running at all on the days that I wasn't. That all helped restore me.

I reckon it took about five days to get back to feeling normal. I suspect I pushed myself close to my current limit, but then that is what training is. If you don't test your limits you don't really know what they are. Training for any distance is about push, recover, push, recover. My fitness is at a point now where my body can cope with running 14 miles, but my mind wasn't properly prepared for it and that was a new experience for me.

The next test is to do the distance again and see what happens. I'm going to give myself a couple of weeks before I do that, with a longer run this weekend of 8-10 miles in the meantime. I will be more mindful of the mental aspect of an endurance run, and perhaps more respectful of the distance too.

Half marathons are the fastest growing competitive distance in this country right now. That's because they provide a real endurance test that is achievable with three months of training, regardless of how much running you've done before. They don't require the time commitment in preparation terms that a full marathon does, and they don't ask as much of your mind and body, but what they do ask is still significant, and so they represent a real challenge and achievement for many people.

M always says a marathon is a mental test- it's ultimately won or lost in your head. I'm increasingly interested in the connection between the physical and mental focus required to do longer runs because the thoughts you have on a long run definitely effect the way you run it. They can be the difference between carrying on and stopping, regardless of your actual physical fitness. I read a great quote that went along the lines of this: people give up because they concentrate on how far they've still got to go, instead of how far they've come. This is something I'm going to be mindful of now when I'm clocking up longer distances.

I started this training very focused on the physical effort required, which is perhaps understandable in someone training for their first half marathon. I thought carefully about managing that side of thing, having treatment if my joints or muscles hurt, making sure I had the right kinds of shoes for the right conditions, I thought about how I would incrementally work up my distances, working out a rough training schedule and being sensible about rest days. By comparison, I thought about the mental side largely in terms of positive thoughts and keeping go mantras, I didn't fully appreciate the mental fitness or strength you need to do a long run, and the effect running that kind of distance would have on it.

I don't know yet whether half marathon distance (13.1 miles) will be my thing. I went through a few days after the 14 miler thinking I'd made a mistake and didn't want to run that kind of distance again. I didn't want to feel like that again. But I've taken time to ease myself back in. I've acknowledged the importance of the recovery time being longer than anything I've needed yet. I've worked with my system, both mind and body, giving it time and listening to it, allowing things to change and develop, and I've spoken to M who is a hugely experienced endurance runner (my time over 14 miles was 2.15 hours, his time over 26 is 3!). He's done mountain marathons (Jungfrau), road marathons (London), Trail marathons (Clarendon) and beach/ cliff/ bog/ mud marathons (Grizzly) so he is a great source of experience and guidance for me. I've also allowed myself to acknowledge that the fall-out from that distance was, this first time of running it at least, harder and more different than I'd anticipated. And now I feel ready to carry on. I feel excited by the thought of pushing on again. I'm more respectful of the distance, but I still want to do it and I want to do it well.

Running teaches you so much about yourself; about your capacity, your ability to endure, how to train, how to identify and avoid the pitfalls and find a way to control the temptations (such as the classic one of running further and faster and longer without resting or building up properly - possibly I was guilty of this last one, the temptation to jump from 10 miles to 14 without doing some 11 or 12 mile runs between proved irresistible and I paid for it).

You learn discipline and focus and determination until it informs your daily life as well as your running life; you learn to go out in all weathers and in all conditions regardless of the pull to stay indoors, and you learn that going out in all weathers and conditions brings its own special buzz of achievement and that drying off and warming up afterwards is all the sweeter for having being wet, cold and muddy. 

Behind it all is the wonderful free simplicity of running: something that costs nothing but the price of a decent pair of shoes. Something you can do in your own time, by yourself or with friends, long distance or short, slow or fast, competitive or for pleasure. And in addition you get the obvious health benefits of being fitter, having stronger bones, muscles, heart, lungs, lower blood pressure, better balanced hormones, weight loss and increased mental fitness. There is a price to be paid for it all (some days I don't feel like running but I push myself and I always feel better for it), but it really isn't a great price all things considered and for me at this time in my life it's more than worth it.

I'm enjoying recording my experiences and what it's teaching me and hope it's of interest to others too. You know I love to encourage you all to take it up :o)

Hope all are well? I'm off to bake some gingerbread for L who is knee-deep in GCSE mocks and has requested some as recovery food :o)


Sunday, 8 January 2017

A Question Of Hardware

I don't have a good track record with computers. They misbehave around me. I've been through three in the past year alone. I've tried (semi) expensive, I've tried middle-of-the-road and I've tried cheap and they've all gone the same way. The last-but-one kept shutting itself down mysteriously and completely without warning. It was in grave danger of being thrown at the wall so I passed it on to L with dire warnings of how rubbish it was. It's not misbehaved once since.

This brings to mind an old builder who once did some work for me when L was a tiny baby. He had a shock of red hair, a Father Christmas beard, a huge belly and was permanently covered in brick dust. He never wore a watch because he said every single one he'd ever owned had stopped working within a week of him putting it on. He put it down to his energy interfering with the battery.

My enduring memory of him is tied up with the health visitor arriving to see L. The visit didn't start well- the door knob came off in her hand and she tripped over a pile of bricks stacked up in the front room. She'd barely regained her footing before this hairy vision in brick dust leapt over the bricks, scooped her up in an enormous bear hug and planted the biggest lip-smacking kiss you've ever seen on her cheek. There was a long moment of startled silence before I explained that she was the health visitor come to see L, not the friend he'd mistaken her for.

M is on at me to get a MacBook. I have resisted so far because of the price, but when you tot up how much has gone on the ones that have stopped working I probably should have just got a Mac in the first place and been done with it.

I'm tempted because the only bit of hardware that has worked consistently for me for four years is my iPhone. It's getting rather elderly and the battery has just begun to misfire. My sis in law recently splurged on an iPhone 7 and sings its praises, especially the camera. Which is another consideration, because I find I don't use my SLR camera all that much anymore- it's just too easy to put a small phone in your pocket rather than lug a big piece of kit around. If I got an updated iPhone and a MacBook the two could talk to one another and there'd be no more cursing when photos refused to upload to computers..... My resistance to the idea is being worn down by circumstance.....

L likes to shake his head sagely whenever we discuss Apple, conveying in one worldy-wise gesture the superior tech-savvy knowledge of a teenager for whom Apple products fall way beneath the cool/ reliable/ value for money criteria he holds dear. No longer being a teenager and therefore long ago having abandoned cynicism-chic, I've been sitting here this afternoon while M trundles down to Exeter to return J to uni, looking at the various financially-painful Apple-Related options.

It's a good excuse to sit down. Although my legs have recovered from the 13 miler on Thursday (a reasonably-paced Parkrun yesterday proved it, during which time I made friends with an old boy with a Father Christmas beard and a barrel-chest - I'm seeing a worrying pattern developing here - who gave me some sage advice about marathon training), the rest of me hasn't. I'm feeling tired so an easy afternoon seems just the ticket. M did a cross country championship race yesterday and fell over in the mud. They announced it on the loud hailer. Several hundred people heard. Honestly.

Maybe if I write some more nice things about Apple they'll give me a phone and computer for free?

Hope all are well,

CT :o)

Friday, 6 January 2017

Half Marathon Distance? Tick. And Beautiful, Ancient Bosham.

Image result for women marathon humour

We decided to do a long run through the frost first thing yesterday. A run that starts and finishes at home, covers about 10 miles and goes through woods and fields, along lanes, beside lakes, up hills and down valleys.

The first seven miles were painful. It was horribly hard work. I was slow; my legs wouldn't work properly and everything felt heavy and effortful. The hills were not steep but I could barely run up them. It was off road, but I'm used to off road. Half way round having crawled to the top of a hill and endured an old lady walking her dog scoffing about the lack of running I was doing (!), I considered cutting it short and heading for home, but I'm stubborn/ determined so I pushed on and things started to improve. My km times came down to 5.15/ 5.40 per minute instead of the 6 or 7 or more they had been at, my breathing  began to feel smooth, the leg heaviness abated and my running rhythm improved. My head switched on and all the negative you might as well stop thoughts disappeared.

This is what I'm learning from running longer distances: things develop as you go across ten miles in a way they don't over three or even six. The way you start a long run doesn't define the way you will finish it. Running teaches you so much about yourself; your capacity to endure and just what you are capable of.

We came out of the woods half a mile from home at about 9.5 miles, but I was feeling so strong I decided to push on and see if I could do 13.1 miles (which constitutes a half marathon). We added at extra loop which we reckoned was about 5k (3 miles) and jogged on along the lane. The dogs had come with us and bless their paws they did fantastically, especially Teddy who is now seven and a half and really doesn't much like running on roads. He did 12 miles in the end and I am so proud of him. We dropped him off at home on the last leg while I ran on up the hill to get the extra distance. I was like an automaton by then, unable to think about anything except putting one foot in front of the other and not stopping. It was trance-like. In the end I ran 13.8 miles in 2.15 hours, and was able to put in a sprint finish (it's amazing what knowing you're on the home stretch does to the mind).
I was completely out of energy at the end but managed to stretch and do some yoga in the garden. M ran me a hot bath - it's the best bath I've ever had. It felt so luxurious! I steamed in it for half an hour. I wasn't sure I'd be able to get out of it or that my legs would work, but they did and they weren't too sore.

Running burns about 100 kcals per mile, so I reckon I got through 1400. Ordinarily, a short while after running you expect to feel very hungry and need to refuel. I was really thirsty all day after getting back and drank pints of water but had no appetite at all for several hours. I forced down some fruit and cheese but I was starting to get a little worried at the lack of hunger. I have experienced it before. M puts it down to the body registering a certain degree of shock at the level of work it's done and tells me it'll right itself once I get more used to running those kind of distances. He had it himself after running an ultra endurance event of 60 miles (!).  Even so, I was glad to get tummy rumbles by about 6pm which coincided with my energy levels finally giving out.

M made the most delicious sausage pie (a la Nigel Slater) and I'd made some Bath buns earlier, so I stuffed those down with a medicinal pint of beer (good source of vitamins and minerals, eh?) and was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow soon after ten.

Today, I've been up and about and felt OK. I did a great impression of a little old lady hobbling along when I got out of the car earlier, and I have been very hungry today, but otherwise all is good. The half marathon in September presents no real fears now, because I know I can do the distance in a reasonable time. I'd like to do it in better shape and get in under 2 hours, but more training should sort that.

What I'm not yet sure about and won't be until I work at it more, is what distance will ultimately suit me. I have no urge at present to do a full marathon. I'm finding three miles easy and six miles is OK. Ten is a good challenge and 13 really tested me. I think I prefer endurance running to speed. There is a poetry to running steadily over ten miles which suits me and at the end I feel I've had a really good work out. We have friends who run marathons and love them, others who prefer 10k races. It'll be interesting to see how I feel at the end of this year having done a mix of speed and distance. I'd like to find what I'm good at and hone it.

I'll leave you with pictures of Beautiful Bosham (pronounced Bozzam), an ancient place on the sea which has more History than you can shake a stick at, and where we have spent the day breathing the sea air and buying a few bits of lovely Bosham-made pottery (I have a weakness for pottery jugs) :o).

Hope all are well?


Bosham Harbour

Bosham church with the Raptackle on the right
(an old barn elevated on pillars to be above the high tide mark, once used for housing boat rope)
Ancient Mass scratch dial in the church

Wooden chest dating from 1300 in the church

King Canute's (995-1035) daughter drowned near Bosham and is buried in the church beneath this stone 

Late 12th Century font with metal catches from the 13th C to close the water off and prevent it being used for witch craft.

Bosham church as depicted in the Bayeux tapestry
Crusader crosses at Bosham church (Crusaders would blunt their swords at the first church they came across upon returning from the Crusades. Bosham was a main port at that time, hence the crosses etched in the door stones).

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Planting Hedges In The Face Of Frustrating Environmental News

I read the news today that Andrea Leadsom (Secretary for Farming the Environment), is going to use Brexit to scrap the three crop rule, with a sinking but unsurprised heart. The three crop rule was brought in by the EU to encourage diversification on farms, benefitting wildlife and giving our over-worked soils a chance to recover. The links between the dominance of mono-culture in our farmed environment, the decline in wildlife and the denuding of soil nutrients is well documented, but it seems the Minister won't allow scientific evidence to inform her judgement. Why should she trouble herself with a basic understanding of how soil nutrients work, when there are such things as agri-chemicals which can be used to prop up exhausted soils forever, thereby giving the illusion of permanent fertility?

Ms Leadsom's view is that the three crop rule isn't needed in the UK because our patchwork of fields makes mono-culture less mono. But intensive farming on any scale relies heavily on chemical sprays and in smaller fields that means more field margins, whether they be hedges or woodlands will be effected by spray-back, something Europe has been working hard to minimise. Field margins are valuable wildlife resources and are currently offered a degree of protection by buffer zones, set-aside strips paid for by EU stewardship schemes, but presumably these will soon be on the way out too as they take up space that could be used for growing crops.

It's looking like wildlife will be, as feared, collateral damage of our choice to remove the protective wing of Europe from our land. But then wildlife is all too often seen as an unfortunate by-product of the natural world, an inconvenience that stands between us and a never-ending supply of the kind of crops we want and a booming economy. There is much truth in the old adage that people only save what they love or value. I don't know how we re-engage people to the extent that they care enough to make a noise whenever one of our politicians makes a decision that will directly negatively impact our wild cousins.

I am far more upset about this than I was about Trump, and Lord knows that was bad enough. I don't know how DEFRA can continue to call itself DEFRA without blushing. It would be more honest to call it DF, because concern for the non-farmed part of the Environment doesn't seem to come into it's decision making processes at all.

In the face of this depressing but predictable start-of-the-slippery-slope into the loss of yet more wild things and wild places, and as a defiant gesture to Ms Leadsom and her ilk, we have planted two hedges at home. One is at the top of the garden and one at the bottom. Neither are huge; one extends an existing hedge and will provide a wildlife corridor down the length of the garden up to the ponds, and the other (about 5m long) is brand new and will form a protective edge for the new perennial wildlife garden. Both contain a mix of native species: Hazel, Field Maple, Hawthorn, Privet, Guelder Rose and Spindle, chosen for their benefit to wildlife.

They've been in a day and already the Song Thrush has been poking about at the base of the newly planted saplings, turning earth over carefully looking for worms, annoying the Blackbirds who are very suspicious indeed of their speckledy cousin; the Robins have flown over to sit on the wall and watch proceedings (I am assuming one of them is the Robin who came into our bedroom yesterday and left two calling cards, before making his way back out into the garden unaided), and the wren flew off shouting at me loudly from beneath the baby hedge this morning. Threaded through the bottom of the hedge we have planted copious quantities of spring bulbs so the bees and butterflies, moths, hoverflies and beetles will be happy too.

Spring is heading our way. The Spring that the wild things listen to, not the calendar Spring that humans cleave to. The Long Tailed Tits have reappeared, as have the Starlings and the Siskins. Greater Spotted Woodpeckers are drilling in the woods and the Stock Doves have been making their engine-revving calls from trees by the lake. The Robins are securing territories, throwing back their chests to show off their impressive redness; the Ravens are checking out nest sites; Honey Bees are on the wing and I found a Peacock butterfly sleeping on the wall of the house last week. Great Tits are calling for mates and Mistle Thrushes are singing deep in the woods. The dominant Fox pair have been verbally beating the bounds at midnight, making certain everyone knows this is their patch by taking turns to shout and call and the Tawnys, who mate earliest of all the owls, have been singing to one another through the frost and the stars.

I appreciate that juggling wildlife needs with farming is not a simple feat, (and also know that a great many farmers take their wildlife responsibilities seriously and do stirling work for wildlife- friends of ours among them) but do the politicians given responsibility for a department that's meant to keep an eye out for wildlife really have to be so firmly in one camp that they ignore the needs of the other completely?

I'm not sure they've understood the simplicity of the message that says if our wildlife goes we won't be far behind it. We are far more reliant on the complex web of subtle connections that links a bee with an ivy flower, and an ivy flower with a hedge, and a hedge with a woodland, and a woodland with a dormouse, and a dormouse with a weasel, and a weasel with a beetle, and a beetle with a bat, and a bat with a flower and that flower with our food than any of us yet fully understand.  

A couple of summers ago while doing some voluntary work for Butterfly Conservation a man asked a colleague why should I care about butterflies? What's a butterfly ever done for me? The answer that they provided him with the food he ate, the air he breathed, the water he drank, the soil he trod, the temperature regulation he relied on to survive didn't change his opinion, because the ways and means that these things work by are so subtle most of us never think about them. We take the support systems that make our lives on this planet possible completely for granted and never think that one day they might fail.

Allowing farms to turn thousands of acres over to producing one kind of crop alone is a step on that path towards ecosystem failure. You only have to walk through these mono-culture deserts in summer to feel the complete emptiness of the landscape- it is utterly devoid of any life but the crop that is growing there. Venture into a wildflower meadow, or a hay meadow, or a farm that rotates its crops and puts in wildlife strips and manages its hedges and coppices its woodlands sympathetically and you'll have trouble counting all the species you see and hear.

I'm on my soap box and I'm not apologising. I'm more fed up than I can say that with all the wealth of evidence pointing in one direction, the so-called educated people elected to look after our land are blindly going in the other direction.


Friday, 30 December 2016

Mottisfont, Ice-Capped. Ten Miles Across The Chalk, & A Six Mile Race

Mottisfont in the Mist

Four of the Six Swans A-Swimming on the river

Ice tracery on pine needles, courtesy of Jack Frost

The Twelve Days Of Christmas Cake

Three French Hens

Those of you who've been reading for a while will know that I don't do a lot of sitting around. Christmas was no exception, thank goodness. We did Parkrun at 9am, then home for some presents, then a light lunch, a walk with the dogs, some champagne, a little light baking fin preparation for Boxing Day (stilton and thyme puff pastry pies and spiced sausage rolls) and finally Christmas roast pheasant in the evening by the fire.

L made good use of his new Air Rifle. It took him approx. 5 minutes to work out that, once he'd set up the target (which has 4 ducks either side of a circular piece of metal, all of which stick to magnets if you shoot them correctly, while the circle springs them all back up and resets the lot) in the garden, he could open the study window, prop the rifle on the ledge and shoot away from the comfort of the computer chair all day long, which he did. So much for getting him outside into the healthy fresh air.

We spent part of Boxing Day in hospital visiting Uncle Charles, who, although still on oxygen and hard to understand, was improving. He'd already made an impression on the nurses who fell over themselves to tell me how much they loved him. It's the twinkly eyes that do it. The rest of the day we spent with Uncle Charles' wife who was not in a good way at all, having come down with a bug that left her unable to get up or feed herself. She hadn't said a word about this so we were both shocked to find her in that condition. At 89 it isn't great and she's still not well now. I can't remember the last time I spent two hours cleaning, polishing and hoovering my own kitchen, bathrooms and sitting room on Boxing Day, let alone someone else's, but it sparkled by the time we'd done and made her feel better so it was worth it.

On the 27th we were up early to drive through the frost to a 10k/ 6 mile race on the South Coast. M shot off ahead at the start and came in top ten as usual in about 38 minutes, but I'd already decided to run a steady pace and use it as half marathon training, albeit under race conditions. There were over 300 runners and I came in the top third in 52 minutes, which I was chuffed with. I managed not to walk any of it too which was Good :o)

We followed this up with a ten mile run yesterday morning which took in some beautiful countryside up over the Chalk, cold, frost encased and sparkling. It went really well, I wasn't tired or leg sore afterwards so I am feeling on track for the Half Marathon in September, which I have now entered (so there is no going back). Between now and then we have two races a month booked in of various distances and terrains, so it should all help the preparation.

This morning, we took the two older children to Mottisfont, which currently has a Twelve Days Of Christmas exhibition on in the grounds and house. We got there early so not a soul was about. In the night a Hoar Frost had come down and blessed the land so everything was encased in long crystals of ice. It was freezing cold and breathtakingly beautiful- the whole place (which is special anyway) felt tinged with magic.

The other side of the day, which has been thick with fog and very chilly in a damp, unremitting sort of way we escaped out into the fields a little before dusk to walk the hounds who scampered about as if they hadn't run ten miles at all yesterday. There were Fieldfare in the oaks chattering and cackling, Blackbirds pink-pinking night-night to one another in the hedges and above it all, a Buzzard crying eerily through the gathering dark as he floated out across the fields, heading for the remnant of pink-tinged sky that indicated where the sun had set half an hour earlier.

Tomorrow, we're going running with a friend and then we're all set for a take-away from our favourite Chinese, a bottle of ice cold fizz and some homemade profiteroles to usher in the New Year (except we'll be in bed before midnight, because, you guessed it, we've got another long run planned for Sunday). Happy Days.

Happy New Year to you all, and thanks so much for following/ reading/ commenting during 2016.

CT :o)

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Early Morning Mist & Mincepies

The Marsh Tit returns

Christmas preparations continue apace here, mixed in with GCSE revision and running. Yesterday I made the mincemeat and then, when it had cooled, 46 mince pies. It took three batches of pastry (luckily I had enough eggs). We've eaten some already, they are A Bit Lovely. Made with the usual raisins and sultanas, but I add cranberries, almonds, apple, hazelnuts, various spices and a generous sloosh of brandy or two :o)

We had some bad news last night- poor Uncle Charles has been taken to hospital with Pneumonia. We were supposed to be taking them out to lunch on Christmas Eve. Hoping he'll soon be home as he's such a character and very much loved by us all.

I got up early this morning in order to run before driving down to Bournemouth. The dogs and I were out in the fields a little before sunrise, threading our way through ribbons of mist snaking in the valleys, startling the buzzard who has got used to us appearing after eight not before it, and admiring the cold pink flush of dawn smudging the skeletons of the trees. Poppy disgraced herself by running off into the wood after pheasants and not coming back until I'd roared for her for several minutes, thereby shattering both the ethereal peace of the morning and my own transcendental calm induced by running steadily through a wild landscape with no one else about, the air cold and the grass crisply frosted under my feet. I was Not Very Pleased. Fortunately, it was another mile or so back to the car and by the time we'd done that I was settled again. Teddy stayed with me the whole way, occasionally glancing up at me as if to say You see? I'm still here. I haven't been naughty and run off.

I've been doing a lot of dusk and dawn outings this week. Two walks as the light faded rewarded me with a flock of starlings a thousand strong singing in two oaks across the fields one day, and the same flock flying directly over my head the next. The collective whispering from their wings was quite something. We were also treated to dark-time flying of a small flock of Lapwing, who came unseen and unexpected out of the night and played in the air around us calling to one another. They are such acrobatic birds, far more so than their blunt-winged silhouettes suggest. It was quite eerie, watching their outlines framed against the brilliance of an indigo sky one minute, then seeing them disappear into the all-consuming identity of night the next. I heard them calling long after the light had gone.

I hope you're all well and feeling peaceful as Christmas approaches. We've got Parkruns on Christmas Eve morning and Christmas Day morning to cancel out all the feasting. Should I wear fancy dress, is the question. What do you all think? And if so, what should I wear? (fully acknowledging that I may regret asking that question!).

CT :o)