Finding work for idle hands: making, baking and more.

Redwings January 27, 2012

Filed under: Nature and wildlife — lauravw @ 9:56 am

Our garden has been alive with activity this morning. First there were the redwings – Scandinavian birds who don’t visit us for long, but show up when there is cold weather (which there is). In our neighbours’ garden there is a large shrub, covered in red berries. It hangs over into our garden, which means we get a great view of the birds when they land in it.

The redwings hung around long enough today that I had time to run and fetch my camera, and I took pictures of them from the bedroom window for a while (wishing I had cleaned the windows more recently so that my pictures would have been a bit sharper). This photo is from a few days ago, when one landed on our lawn.

After the redwings flew off, I heard a bit of noise outside and so went to the same window to have a look. Quite a few birds were squawking, and flying across our garden from east to west. It soon became clear why: a male sparrowhawk flew right across the garden. He flew low, close to the fences and passing right by a couple of our birdfeeders. I saw him fly into a tree a few gardens down, where he perched for a minute or two before flying away. Whenever a sparrowhawk has passed through the garden, it’s always quiet for a few minutes – I think the smaller birds go quiet and try to remain hidden in case there is a return visit.

Little by little the birds started to return, and again I heard noise. This time it was a local cat, chasing squirrels. Luckily there were three squirrels, and they seemed rather better organised than the cat, taunting him from a tree they had climbed.

Of course there is a reason for all this activity: this weekend is the annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, an event we have taken part in every year since we first had a garden of our own. We’ve found in previous years that as soon as we sit down to do the birdwatch, all the birds that regularly visit our garden disappear. So I rather suspect that the birds are being busy today so that they can hide for the rest of the weekend and avoid being counted.


Afternoon tea January 23, 2012

Filed under: Food — lauravw @ 2:45 pm

On Saturday afternoon we had two friends round for afternoon tea.

As you can see from this photo, I even borrowed a cake stand. I don’t have a cake stand of my own, and it’s not something I can use often – let’s just say our cat requires constant supervision, and it would not be wise to leave cakes on display for more than three seconds. It may sound like I’m being unfair, but she has a track record with this sort of thing… (Also applies to: lasagnes.)

These are tiramisu cupcakes, made using a recipe from a book I was given for Christmas – Life’s Better With A Cupcake. They were delicious – I shall be making them again very soon.

You make a simple cupcake mix using brown sugar, and then when you’ve baked them, you use a skewer to poke holes in the top. You mix up a simple sweetened coffee syrup, and drizzle it into the holes. The frosting is a mix of sugar, mascarpone cheese, and marsala wine (or, in my case, Kahlua). Happily, there was too much frosting, so I had to finish the leftovers.

We also served fondant fancies, as for some reason I find these to be a key component of afternoon tea. I love the lemon ones, and the pink ones, but can’t really understand why they bother with the chocolate ones – they don’t taste very chocolatey, and they clash a bit with the other flavours. Maybe some day they will be phased out, and I will be able to buy boxes of just the pink and yellow ones. Or maybe I should stop rambling and get on with some jobs round the house…!




See you in court January 16, 2012

Filed under: Places to go — lauravw @ 7:47 pm

Until today, I had never set foot in a court room.

A few weeks ago, a friend mentioned she was interested in going to the local Magistrates’ Court to see what goes on. I didn’t even know you could do this – but you can. Each of the courtrooms has a public gallery, and as long as you behave, you’re allowed to sit in and see justice being served.

Our local court sits from 10am, but someone I know who serves there as a magistrate advised us to get there for 10.30am – she said there are often delays at the start of the day, with witnesses failing to turn up, and papers needed to be checked. When we arrived, we had to walk through an airport-style scanner, and our bags were x-rayed. There is a reception desk, and I was told that’s the place to go first – to ask which of the court rooms is likely to be of most interest to the casual observer. There seemed to be quite a few court rooms in action, and they gave us the details of which ones were busiest that day.

We started in one of the smaller courtrooms, where the public gallery is simply a row of seats at the back of the room. Within a few minutes, it became clear to us that the defendants are made to sit there while they wait to be called up. So, when we moved on to the next court room, we sat a little farther down the row, putting a bit of space between us and them. During the afternoon, in a larger court, the public gallery was almost a separate room, separated from the rest of the room by a wall of glass. This made us feel a bit more secure, until things got a bit heated. The mother of a defendant, on hearing that he was going to be held in custody, started shouting and swearing and generally making a scene. Until she leapt up to press her face to the glass screen, she was sitting right behind us. The magistrate had her thrown out, then arrested and brought back in as a defendant. She was made to apologise and then allowed to leave – apparently, she could have been sent to prison for four weeks for behaving that way. Yikes.

We saw a cross-section of society there, but they were nearly all men. They were there for drink-driving, shoplifting, stealing motorbikes, assaulting police officers, and fighting. For the most part, things were conducted quickly and without any time being wasted – there were delays when translators were needed, or because certain witnesses had been unable (or unwilling) to attend. For most of the defendants, it was not their first time in front of a magistrate.

But for me, it was all new. I came away feeling satisfied that things seem to be conducted more or less as I would expect them to be, but disappointed to see just how busy the courts are – as you can see from this photo I snapped with my phone on the way in, it’s a big building, and if everyone behaved as they should, we wouldn’t need it. I was also a bit surprised by some of the fines and other punishments handed out – shoplifters in particular seem to get an easy ride, with little to deter them from having a go. The drink-drivers had their driving licences taken off them there and then, and the brawlers were given court dates and told they will face trial in the near future.

It was an interesting day.


Fieldfare January 15, 2012

Filed under: Flowers and plants,Nature and wildlife — lauravw @ 8:01 pm

I didn’t make a new year resolution to not post here, it just happened that way.

I thought you might like to see this picture of a fieldfare in our garden, brought here by the sudden change in the weather. They don’t live in England year-round, and it’s rare that we get one in the garden. We could see a few more of them a few gardens away, in a large tree that was providing a perch to plenty of fieldfares and redwings, who seem to travel round together.

While the cold snap has brought us these welcome visitors, it’s also done a number on my daffodils, which had bloomed rather early, fooled by the mild weather we’d been experiencing. If I’d known how much damage the frost would do to them, I would have harvested them and put them in a vase. A lesson learned for next time.