Monday, 30 July 2018

Books - July Reading

I really hammered my way through books in July and as I read some real goodies I thought I'd do another round up, as I know people are always looking for book recommendations (I know I am!).

It's been all about the thrillers this month - which are my go to favourite reads. First up was A Quiet Vendetta. This was a book that had been sat on my to-be-read pile forever and a day. It's quite a brutal thriller and as with other R J Ellory books it feels like exactly the sort of book that would transfer to a Hollywood movie really well. This story is about a kidnapped Governors daughter and when the kidnapper comes forward and says he'll reveal where she is if a certain man will listen to what he says a story spanning decades of Mafia style crime unfolds.

July Reading

Having read: The Couple Next Door, I thought I'd give this ago. This really is a light quick read, perfect for the beach when you don't want much taxing. I did feel the abrupt style of writing didn't suit me. Again it would probably make a great movie.  It's pretty forgettable once read so I won't try giving you a synopsis.

July Reading

We almost read The Dry for book group. Only there was a second choice of book (it was thinner so the group opted for that!) I hadn't realised when I picked this up in the supermarket, that this was the second in the series with The Dry being the first. It's not crucial you read in order as whilst there is at least one character from the first book the story is very stand alone. I haven't read, The Dry yet, but after this I definitely will. A group of women go on a corporate team building exercise in the bush but get lost. When they get back to civilisation one of their number is missing... and a story unfolds in flash back and real time as to what really went on in the bush during the women's missing days. Set in Australia I'll be amazed if this isn't picked up for a TV series.

July Reading

Next, I switched to my kindle because I had this one to read before I could read the next in the series which I had in paper back. Whilst these do stand alone pretty well, I feel the Rizzoli and Isles books should be read in order so you get the main characters back stories in order and context. I had actually started reading this whilst I was reading Force of Nature, which I wouldn't recommend doing, purely because this novel has some characters go missing in the African bush on safari and it was a bit too similar to Force of Nature in parts for me not start getting confused as to which book I was reading at the time! Anyway, lots of twists and turns in this page turning thriller. 

July Reading

The next Rizzoli and Isles book was up next and I didn't like this one quite as much as Die Again. A good chunk of the book was told by one of the main characters and whilst it did create an is she/isn't she a killer uncertainty all through the book, it didn't seem quite as good as other Rizzoli and Isles books. That said I can see the potential for that main character coming back to feature in other novels.

July Reading

I rarely if ever read hard backs because I just don't like them and of course they are more expensive. So it was a nice surprise to spot this out in paper back in Asda. I'm not going to say anything much about this book because Val McDermid has asked us not to. It's the latest Carol Jordan and Tony Hill book. My neighbour got me into this great crime series and again read in order so you get the back stories.

July Reading

I'm still reading, but I'll leave off what I'm currently reading until I can do a full round up next time. Reading may slow a bit as I've started a knitting project. That deserves it's very own blog post soon. 

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

My Cottage Garden - Helping wildlife in the heatwave

If you're in mainland UK you're probably enjoying or suffering in the heatwave. If you read my post yesterday you'll see that I had a couple of unusual wildlife visitors to my garden since the heatwave:  a toad and a mole.

Well, yesterday afternoon I'd just watered my pots and veg and given my Mum a quick swill (she laughed but promises to get me back) and had gone into the summer house to sit on the sofa and read my book. Mum was dozing outside. I looked down and thought I saw something by her foot. I hadn't got my glasses on so I leaned forward to get a better look and it jumped into the nearby freshly watered pots. It was a frog. Now I have seen frogs in the garden, but not for 25 to 30 years when there were some froglets for a day. My neighbours had put in a large pond and filled it with frog spawn from a friends garden. The pond is long gone and I've not seen a frog in the garden since.

Spot the frog!

What all these sightings are telling me is that wildlife in the drought is really struggling. It's coming out in the open and risking predation because it's desperate for food and water sources.

So I thought I'd share with you what I'm doing to try and help wildlife in the heatwave.

1. I'm keeping my bird bath topped up but I'm also leaving lots more shallow containers at ground level topped up with water. My garden often has old pots and containers filled with rain water as it's not the most manicured garden.  If some of these containers are a little deep I'm adding rocks so that creatures like newts can climb in and out. (Yes, we've had newts in the garden before and found one doing some work about six weeks ago.)

water station for wildlife in the drought 

2. I'm leaving leaves in side borders that I'd normally collect as they look messy. I figure not only will the leaf mould help with water retention in these borders but they will help create damp and areas for insects that the likes of frogs and toads feed on. I also left my bolted cut-and-come-again lettuces in place as a toad was under some of them and I wanted to leave his damp holiday home in tact for him.

3. My plum tree is dropping plums and I'm leaving them in situ and they are disappearing! Lots of animals and birds will like the sweet treats and get extra liquid from them too.

4. I've been putting out meal worms. Robins and blackbirds love them, so do other meat eaters that might be struggling to find meaty meals as insects etc die off in the heat.

So what are you doing to help wildlife in the drought and have you had any unusual visitors to your garden in this heat wave.




Tuesday, 24 July 2018

My Cottage Garden Highlights in July

Now before I get on with this post I must just mention how much the whole not being notified of comments to my blog via email is irritating me. It's a world wide fault with blogger and seems to have nothing to do with GDPR even though the timing was similar. Even ticking the notify box in comments did not mean I got notified of any comments! 

I finally thought I got it all sorted last week by following some advice about having to delete your email address and re add it as I left test comments and got notified...then I noticed today a comment that had been left since I hadn't been notified about. 

I am trying switching to moderated comments as that might now be a factor. But how I moderate comments if it still doesn't let me know that there is a comment there I'm not sure - so we will see and in the mean time I'm responding to comments on the actual blog, which I know is not as personal as when we could just ping emails back and forth. 

Anyway, enough of that and onto the garden round up. My garden, like many others in the UK is suffering in the heat wave. For those outside of the UK we have a heat wave that's been going on for over a month now and is said to be on a par with with the big heatwave of 1976. Reservoirs have dried up and the temperatures in the south east have been hotter than the Med and not just for our usual day or so. But literally every day and night. There is little flowering apart from bedding plants in tubs that love the dry conditions . In fact tubs and the veg are all I'm watering right now.

My cut and come again lettuce was close to bolting and was bitter tasting and so I thought I'd pull it out. I'd pulled out two clumps when I looked down and saw Mr Toad had been sheltering underneath. Never seen a toad in the garden before. Although Mum has twice in her 85 years at the cottage - just not in my life time. I decided to leave the other lettuces in place so he could have some predator cover while he does his good work of eating the nasties that might want to eat my veg.


Veg bed visitor in July


Veg bed visitor in July

The other Saturday I was sat on the side patio reading my book when I saw and heard some strange movements in the undergrowth. We'd had fledgling blackbirds hidden under bushes, so I assumed it was them. I went to investigate anyway. For ages I couldn't see anything, whatever it was was lifting up a whole tray of plants. For an awful moment I thought it was a rat, then up popped Mr Mole! 

July in my Cottage Garden

July in my Cottage Garden

No sign of mole hills or tunnels. When he decided he'd had enough he followed the edge of the wall around and crossed under the summer house coming out by another low wall, which it must have climbed, as I could hear him making his way along the fence line rustling leaves. He then disappeared behind the shed - presumable to go into the field. He was above ground for the whole journey and I got the feeling he knew exactly where he was going.

My Cottage garden in July

My quadgrows are full of tomatoes - so much so they toppled over with the weight of them. I have two with cucumber plants in them and am on my 6 large cucumber, with the promise of more to come. I am completely impatient for tomatoes to turn red.

Fledgling blackbirds have been all over the garden and boy are they noisy.

P1020658h

The only colour in my garden is pretty much from bedding at the moment. I went down with a flu type virus on July 1st and have been struggling ever since so I've not done more than water and potter. The thought of kicking up dust in the baked, hot front garden just doesn't do it for me or my hacking cough!

P1020670s

July in my cottage garden

So far I've had broad beans, a couple of courgettes, spring onions and these dwarf French beans chief gave me have produced a surprisingly big crop. Not eaten them yet though.
July in my cottage garden

I'm definitely growing all the Zinnias next year. I just have one this year that chief gave me.
My Cottage garden in July

Yes, it's been scorching nearly every day. We've had a couple of evening rain showers, but nothing significant.  Don't get me wrong I do like hot weather, but having not been well and seeing how older people like my mum are struggling with the weather, I sort of long for some good old British rain. Not least so I can stop with all the watering and get on with some weeding in ground that isn't like concrete.
Sun setting as viewed from the secret garden

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Books - Climbing Mount Toobie - Book by Book

When I said I was hoping to start blogging again a couple of people expressed their hope I'd be blogging about what I was reading, as it gave them plenty of ideas. I've started several posts now - after all I've read over 30 books in this first 6 months of the year. But when I look at what I've read I've mainly read books by the same authors and apart from a couple of stand out books, I didn't know where to start.

This past 10 days or so I've been on a new book reading kick. I've been doing my best to reduce Mount To-Be- Read. Do you have a Mount Toobie - you know a pile or stash of books you've acquired and really mean to read but never quite have managed it? My Mount Toobie probably got out of control when I was a hard core Book Crosser - going to meets regularly and joining in with book swaps and Not-So-Secret online swaps. At times I literally had more books that I knew what to do with. Of course it's always good to have a selection of books to dip in so you have something for every mood.  Then of course I got a kindle and that created a whole other Mount Toobie. But as that takes up less space I'm not even going to worry about reducing the size of that! My  virtual library can rival the Bodleian as far as I'm concerned.

Anyway, I digress. My plan has been to go through Mount Toobie and either read or get rid of the books on it. Sometimes the moment just passes to read something. I really want to rationalise the books I have squirrelled away so I ask myself: Why didn't I read this when I had it? Do I want to read it and if no I'll pass on/wild release.

The first book I started off with was Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier.
  Summer Reading 2018 

I think I've seen the start of the film but I don't remember the plot and the story was totally unfamiliar to me. I think I'd been given this book by my sister in law who thought the book would be up my street. But to be honest I wasn't sure I fancied it. I've always said I don't like historical novels. Then some of the best books I've read have been historical novels! Anyway, I couldn't put it down once I'd picked it up. I loved the stories within stories and the amazing descriptions. I'm not particularly interested in the American civil war era but did engage with this story.

Inspired by the success of reading this I decided to read
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  Summer Reading 2018

Another book I couldn't put down. Why hadn't I read this before? Well, for every person that said I'd love it, there were others with cautionary warnings about this book and her other book The Little Friend. So listening to the naysayers I kept pushing this up Mount Toobie (or is that down?) Basically it's about a group of elite New England students that commit and act which leads ultimately to their downfall. It reminded me of something from the 1980's brat pack era.

Liza's England by Pat Barker was next up.

  Summer Reading 2018 

I'd read Union Street and Blow Your House Down and had picked this up in a charity shop because it was by the same author.  It was only when I started reading it I realised it was set in Middlesbrough where Chief is from. When I mentioned one of the streets that kept being mentioned it turned out Chief had lived in the street across from this one when he was growing up! He's since downloaded the book to read himself on kindle. This would be a great choice for book groups as there is so much in this book to discuss - history, great characters, great descriptions. If you like Pat Barker and haven't read this I would recommend.

After that I tackled Enigma by Robert Harris. Summer Reading 2018

This is a fictionalised thriller based on the Bletchley Park Code Breakers. I couldn't remember if I had this book because I'd seen the film and wanted to read it or if I had it then saw the film and didn't want to read it while the plot was so fresh in my mind. Either way I felt bad I hadn't read it as it was passed on by another book crosser and she was only getting shot because she wasn't going to re-read it any time soon and she wanted it read rather than languishing...hmm I think I've had it 10 years!

Next up I read The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.

  Summer Reading 2018

I remember buying this in the supermarket when you could get two books on offer. Then I think I was put off reading it because it's over 600 pages. Although I've since learnt that thicker books are often more gripping and easy to read than small ones. Anyway, I loved this and I definitely want to read more by this author. Again I'm wondering why I put off reading this.

Anyway, if you'll excuse me I have more books to read. So hopefully I'll be back with another book round up soon.



Friday, 6 July 2018

{Gertie} Our third trip to Lincoln Farm Park, Standlake

Lincoln Farm Park

The first trip Chief and I went on in Gertie together was to Lincoln Farm Park in Standlake, Oxfordshire. You can read about that trip here. We loved it and couldn't wait to go back, declaring it our favourite site. Last year when we tried to go back there was no vacancies and we had to look elsewhere. We always knew we wanted to go back and last weekend we got the chance to spend another two nights there. 

The site was not as we remembered it. Well, in some ways it was. But we felt the atmosphere had changed. Gone were the wardens on bikes that showed you to your pitch. In fact the only time we saw anyone remotely like a warden was when we saw a cart pass loaded with rubbish.  There were two things that took the shine off this trip and one was the pitch. One thing we'd loved about this site was the layout of pitches. We'd only ever managed to book standard pitches. But each one had been clearly defined with a decent sized hard standing and a nice patch of grass; flanked with trees and hedges to define its boundaries. The pitches - given the size of the park - were generous and far enough away not to feel neighbours were intrusive or we had a lack of privacy. Not so this trip. Our hard standing was wide enough, but no where near long enough to fit the whole van on. Which didn't really matter, but did lead me to suspect we had a tenters pitch really. It really felt they now cram on as many caravans and motor homes as possible. The problem with the closeness of neighbours on our far side was they sat up chatting and playing music right outside our window long after the 10.30pm noise curfew. Couple that with the near feral children running, cycling and throwing balls around the pitch - sometimes on the pitch (in fact I'd just got up from lying on a quilt to read when the quilt, my book and my legs got soaked in water that had been thrown by children.) Had there been wardens making checks as previously, I think everyone could have enjoyed their stay without spoiling it for others. Anyway, that's the negatives over. On to the rest of our fantastic trip.

Lincoln Farm Park

We didn't set up our bird feeder for the first time ever. Chief felt with all the noisy children and adults we'd get no bird life. It was fantastic to wake up and find we had a visitor after all.
Lincoln Farm Park

I hadn't take my DSLR - it was a bit nerve racking deciding to leave it at home. But I really wanted to get used to only using my new Lumix, as I hope to use this more for travels where taking my beloved DSLR would be too difficult/inappropriate. But I'm jumping ahead!

Lincoln Farm Park

On the right below you can see the large toilet/shower block.
Lincoln Farm Park

We didn't get to the site until late afternoon as Chief had had to work and then drive down from the North East of the country. We asked about private pool hire for Saturday, but they had no slots. Luckily they had a slot Friday night so we snapped it up and once we'd set up the pitch we headed off for a swim. The park boasts two leisure centres, each equipped with pool, sauna, steam room and jacuzzi (there is also a gym).  They have open sessions each day, but for £23 you can pay to have the facilities to yourself for 55 minutes.  Chief always treats us, as for us, it's a big selling point of the site.

iphone pics from Lincoln Park Trip

Leisure facility fun at Lincoln Farm Park

We couldn't be bothered to cook after our pool session so headed around the corner to The Black Horse for our evening meal. We should have booked as there was around a 45 minute wait to even see a menu! Once we did though, the food came our pretty quickly and turned out to be worth the wait.

Saturday morning, after Chief had cooked breakfast for us we headed off to to the Mosaic Trail which is a walk between Standlake and Newbridge. The map I'd printed off wasn't that clear or to scale and at first we headed off in the wrong direction. It was the perfect chance to take some pictures of the pretty main village of Standlake.

Standlake in Oxfordshire

Standlake in Oxfordshire

Standlake in Oxfordshire

Standlake in Oxfordshire 

Standlake in Oxfordshire

Standlake in Oxfordshire

The Black Horse where we had dinner on Friday and Saturday night.
Standlake in Oxfordshire

Along the Mosaic Trail are er... mosaics to spot of birds and other wild life.
Walking the Mosaic Trail from Standlake to Newbridge


Standlake is full of private lakes that used to be gravel pits. You can get glimpses of them through hedges and clearings.

Walking the Mosaic Trail from Standlake to Newbridge

Most of the walk was perfect in the hot temperatures as the path was covered by trees and created a cooling dappled shade.

Walking the Mosaic Trail from Standlake to Newbridge 

We rested at the picnic spot (and wished we'd bought a picnic) Do you like my new prescription sunnies?
Walking the Mosaic Trail from Standlake to Newbridge

Walking the Mosaic Trail from Standlake to Newbridge

There were little fish in the River Windrush

Walking the Mosaic Trail from Standlake to Newbridge

Walking the Mosaic Trail from Standlake to Newbridge 

Before too long we'd made it to Newbridge and The Rose Revived. After a very long queue for Chief we ordered lunch and drinks and sat outside under some willow trees.

The Rose Revived, Newbridge

The River Thames looks just perfect on a sunny day.
The Rose Revived, Newbridge

The Rose Revived, Newbridge

The Rose Revived, Newbridge

It's a great location but they need more staff as people were queueing out the door just to get a drink - never mind food!
The Rose Revived, Newbridge

Then it was time to head back down the leafy lanes to Standlake.
The Mosaic trail - Standlake to Newbridge

The Mosaic trail - Standlake to Newbridge 
Didn't expect to see these in the Oxfordshire countryside!
The Mosaic trail - Standlake to Newbridge

I couldn't stop taking pictures of this place. Just perfect English Country village scene.
Standlake oxfordshire

Standlake oxfordshire

Standlake oxfordshire

Then when we were back to our pitch I tossed down one of my quilts, put on my bikini top and read.

Relaxing on our pitch in the heatwave


Later we had showers and headed back to The Black Horse.  Heaving again - this really is a great little pub and if we return we'll book. Not too long to wait this time and great food. We had a slight query with our order and they dealt with it swifty and fairly. Mistakes do happen, but how they're dealt with really does make a big difference and we felt The Black Horse was spot on.

Saturday night meal at The Black Horse

Then back to our pitch to play with the features of my Lumix and do some more reading before we headed to bed.

Post pub relaxing

Unfortunately I woke up Sunday feeling really unwell and had a fever and have felt rubbish for the rest of the week. Chief packed up Gertie as we were due home, dropped me home and then headed back to the North East - begging the question - When and where can we go in Gertie next time?
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