Spring Bank Holiday Weekend

Life is for living, so they say, and I completely agree. But living doesn’t have to be big and bold, it can be the small things as well. The things that make you smile, make you laugh. The things that bring you calm, bring you peace. The things that make memories you will treasure for ever. This weekend was full of experiences that tick the box in every way. I was enjoying myself so much that I completely forgot to take pictures of everything, so I’ll have to improvise.

The weekend began with a meal out on Friday night for my very good friend’s birthday.

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We went to the Albert in Tamworth which, as you can see, doesn’t look massively special from the outside, but the food was delicious, and the service was good, and the company was excellent.

On Saturday hubby and I went on a bit of a garden centre crawl! We went for lunch at Wyevale, which we seem to have got into a habit of doing and we need to break the habit because it’s expensive both in cash and calories! I didn’t buy any plants, but I did come out with this beauty.

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Next we decided to have a look in the garden centre at Homebase but it was very disappointing – loads of bedding plants and not a lot else – so we decided to pop into our local garden centre, Halls, as recompense. Good move! I picked up a couple of plants from the sale table.

On the left is a Leucothoe and on the right is a Hellebore.  Both were half price, but they’ll both be fine with a bit of care. This is my third Hellebore now, and I like them because they’re evergreen and they flower over the Winter and early Spring when the rest of the garden is sleeping.

On Sunday, we had a day trip and overnight stay planned. We put loads of biscuits down for these two …

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… reassured them that we weren’t leaving them for long and headed off down the M40. Destination?

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Huge excitement! This was the fourth visit for me, but the first for hubby. However, there were first time experiences for both of us. First up they’ve completely changed the entrance to the tour. Now, rather than the main attraction in the queuing area being the cupboard under that stairs which was Harry Potter’s bedroom for the first eleven years of his life, you’re greeted by this sight.

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Pretty impressive! It’s a Ukrainian Ironbelly Dragon.

After this, the first half of the tour was largely unchanged, but it was great to see hubby’s reaction to it all, and I’ll never tire of gazing upon Harry Potter artefacts.

We entered through the Great Hall which was as awesome as ever.

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See the women with Hogwarts house ties on? They were on a hen do – what an amazing activity for your hen do!

Just a few of the sets (and they are the actual sets which were used during filming). Top left and going clockwise, the boys’ dormitory – see the RW on the trunk under the closest bed? Ron Weasley’s trunk. Then Dumbledore’s office – this looks exactly as it does in Hogwarts in Orlando. The Burrow, residence of the Weasley family. The magic is very much evident here with a jumper knitting itself, dishes washing themselves and a knife chopping a carrot completely independently. Finally the Gryffindor common room complete with Hermione’s and Harry’s outfits.

This is Tom Riddle’s grave on the left, which is somewhat more elaborate than the grave that I saw in Edinburgh in February, on the right, which was allegedly the inspiration for JK Rowling to create Tom Riddle.

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After the sets is the Hogwarts Express which was the first major change to the tour a few years ago and was the reason for my second visit.

This is swiftly followed by the reason for my third visit, the introduction of the Forbidden Forest exhibit.

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As well as the giant spiders, which move in and out of atmospheric smoke, in the Forbidden Forest you’ll find Buckbeak the Hippogriff and Hagrid.

Next we moved on to the first attraction within the tour that was new to me.

4 Privet Drive. The house has been there from the beginning, but now you can go inside and there’s a scene in the living room of all the Hogwarts letters flying around.

Next we moved on to the reason for visit number four, and the part I was most excited about – Gringotts.

This is the bank run by goblins, and where anyone who is anyone in the Wizarding world has a vault full of treasure. This section of the tour was amazing! I didn’t expect them to have done it so well! It looks so like Gringotts in Orlando that it felt really strange not to be heading behind the head goblin teller to ride the Escape from Gringotts ride, but we soon found out that there was even more to the exhibit than just the main floor of Gringotts. There are other items on display and there’s even a replica set showing Gringotts after it’s been ravaged by a dragon, and there’s an exciting extra which I won’t ruin for anyone who might go.

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After I dragged myself away from Gringotts, I knew I still had two treats to come. Namely …

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Diagon Alley, and, the piece de resistance …

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Amazing, incredible day! I’d recommend a trip to anyone. Even if you’re not a massive Harry Potter fan, it’s still worth a visit. Oh, and the shop is AWESOME!

We reluctantly left the world of Potter behind, but were soon feeling excited again because we were heading for a visit with my ex-boss and and his wife who live nearby. R retired at the end of April, and we’d had this visit planned for months. I worked for R almost continuously for fifteen years up until I moved to my current job and we had a great working relationship which, over the years had developed into a great friendship. I’m very sad that I don’t get to see him very often now, but I’m happy for him that, after seriously paying his dues to the company for over forty five years (I know!) he now gets to relax and do the things that bring him joy. His retirement also gave me the opportunity to meet his lovely wife, and for the two of them to meet hubby.

We went out for a delicious Italian meal in St Albans, and as I knew we would, had a great evening and all got on like the proverbial house on fire. I have lots of family who live down south, so hopefully we’ll be able to meet up when I’m en route to them – gives me a good excuse to take a whole day off work as opposed to my normal half day!

We headed back this morning after having a guided tour of the garden, which I was very interested to see because R is a keen vegetable grower so I was intrigued to compare his fledgling seedlings to mine.

Speaking of which, despite having caught hubby’s cold (the only down side to the whole weekend!) I headed out to appraise our garden, and there’s good progress.

On the top row left to right one of the potato plants has buds. Strangely it’s the second earlies not the first, but hey, who am I to argue with nature? The carrot seedlings have developed their first true leaves so I definitely need to thin those out. The strawberries are starting to develop which means I need to sort out some netting to keep the birds off. They’re all mine! The peas are getting bigger so I’ll have to go on the hunt for some sticks for them to grow up.

In the greenhouse, bottom row left to right, I repotted the yellow courgettes because they’ve got quite big. I’m keeping two myself and I’ve got four more which are going to good homes. The purple carrots are now looking like proper carrot seedlings but they’re not quite big enough to pot on yet. Last but not least, the jalapeño seedlings and coriander plants are coming on nicely.

What a perfectly balanced weekend! Good food, exemplary company, an awesome day out and a bit of gardening! What could be better?

Oh, anyone know what this little fella is?

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He took a liking to me!

Happy National Pet Day

Evening!

Really really quick post tonight because I’m absolutely exhausted today after burning the candle at both ends. I was at a retirement do last night for a wonderful man, Robert, who was my boss for the majority of the last sixteen years. It was a lovely evening. Really lovely and, most importantly, Robert had a fantastic evening.

I mentioned in my last post that I had to rush off to desperately finish some crocheting. I was making an elephant as a gift for Robert. I got him a couple of other gifts, but I really wanted to give him something handmade so it had that personal touch. I managed to finish it at the eleventh hour – phew!

Here it is deconstructed.

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And drumroll moment ….

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Cute huh?

Talk of elephants leads me nicely on to the topic of the day – it’s National Pet Day. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to show some of my favourite photos of the various pets in my life.

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This is my hubby with our friends’ dog Pip. She’s a lovely dog with a great temperament. Hubby loves her (I think the feeling’s mutual).

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This is Charly who belongs to my brother in law and sister in law. This photo was taken after we’d done the Poppy Run a few years ago. Charly is proudly sporting her poppy medal.

Now on to our pets who are no longer with us. I don’t have many electronic photos of cats that I had pre-smart phones.

This is Sandy who was our cat from approximately 1980 until 1996.

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He was really tiny for a tom cat. He was around for the whole of my childhood and taught me how to care for and love animals.

Sherry was our next pussy cat. She lived with my parents and I, then my Mum and I, then she was just my housemate and she was still around when I met hubby.

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The first picture is my favourite pic of Sherry. It was taken on an early phone camera before you could turn the camera round to do a selfie so it was pure luck that I managed to get us both in. The second was taken in the communal gardens of our old flat.

Sherry was with me through thick and thin, through break ups, through my degree, my wedding. The day she died was (and still is) the worse day of my life. It was so emotionally traumatic, but I wouldn’t change anything because she was an amazing cat. I still think about her most days and she’s been gone almost a decade.

We had Willow next.

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Willow was completely different to Sherry. Sherry was super confident but Willow was the epitome of a scaredy cat. Bless her, she was happy to be with us  but she was scared of anyone she wasn’t familiar with. If the doorbell went she’d race into our bedroom and hide under the bed and wouldn’t emerge until she felt it was safe to do so.

Poor Willow met with an unfortunate end in a road accident so we made the decision to keep our current cats as house cats. I don’t think it would be fair to make a cat that was used to going outside into a house cat so we had them from tiny kitten so they have never known the outside.

I’m going to spam you with the gorgeousness that is Olive and Tinkerbell now!

Every cat that I’ve owned (or should that be that’s owned me?) has been from a rescue centre. One of the main purposes of National Pet Day is to promote adopting from rescue centres because there are so many animals – cats, dogs, rabbits, chinchillas and many others – that need forever homes. Take a look at their website if you’re interested.

Right, ‘boing boing’ said Zebedee ‘time for bed’. In the words of Bridget Jones ‘I’m off to Bedfordshire’.

Happy Mother’s Day

First things first, if you’re reading this and you’re not in the UK, Ireland or (apparently!) Niger, and you’ve just come over in a cold sweat, don’t panic Mr Mainwaring, Mother’s Day for you has either been and gone, or is yet to come. For us here in the UK, it’s today.

I always feel it’s a mixed day. There are so many mothers who’ve lost a child, children who’ve lost their mother, estranged mothers and children, women who are, or have been, desperately trying to become a mother without success, and that must be so difficult. My own Mum is over a hundred miles away with the biggest car park in the UK (AKA the M25) in the way, so I don’t see her very often, but at least these days it’s easy to get a card and gift to her. Although, maybe I shouldn’t have bothered with the card!

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Does it make it any less lazy that I designed it on Moonpig and put pictures of flowers from our garden on it and then used my own wording inside? And I had it sent to me rather than straight to Mum so that I could sign it myself?

Apparently Anna Jarvis introduced Mother’s Day in the US after losing her own mother in 1908, but prior to her death she had tried to rescind it because she didn’t agree with how commercial it had become. Ironic perhaps that when she died penniless, her bills were paid by the greetings card companies that she so scorned!

I chose not to walk down the traditional motherhood path, my babies have fur!

I’ve spent the weekend pottering in the garden, actually it wasn’t all pottering. Yesterday hubby and I finished off the slabbing around the raised beds and greenhouse. It was so much easier with two. Hubby made short work of mixing the sand and cement leaving me to do the more precision work of laying the slabs. It looks pretty good, if I do say so myself!

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I feel like my seedlings should’ve sent me a Mother’s Day card. I’ve given them all they needed for life, I’ve nurtured them, I’ve worried about them, I’ve reassured them and I’m so proud of them.

This is how they’re looking now.

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Sunflowers, Calendula, Sweet Peas, Cosmos and Aquilegia. I say ‘and Aquilegia’ but they’re the only seeds that aren’t doing anything. I just googled it and the RHS site tells me the seeds need light to germinate so you shouldn’t cover them! It didn’t tell me that on the packet! I’ll have to go out and see if I can salvage the situation. I need to do some more sowing anyway because I got some Poppy seeds with the latest Gardener’s World magazine.

I’ve done some planting out today as well. I still have loads of plants waiting around patiently for their forever home so I decided to plant a few out. The problem I have now is that I planted loads of Summer bulbs last weekend and almost immediately I managed to forget where I’d planted them! I have a vague idea, but I really need them to throw up some shoots so I know where I’m safe to plant other stuff! I did manage to disturb a couple of them today – whoops!

After what happened to my Berberis when I planted it out last year (it lost all its beautiful leaves immediately) I get really worried whenever I plant anything out, especially if it’s been happily moseying along in its pot for some time, but I have to bite the bullet and keep everything crossed.

On the left is Leucothoe Axillaris ‘Curly Red’. This was a birthday present, so it’s been sat in its pot since September waiting for me to find somewhere for it to live.  It likes partial or full shade so I’ve put it on the side of the garden which is shadowed by next door’s huge conifers. The photo doesn’t do it justice, it’s really lovely in real life.

I wish I could tell you what the shrub on the right is. It was £1.50 from B&M Bargains and it had no label. I purposely kept it in its pot for quite a while so I could see if it flowered or did anything that might give an indication as to what it is, but it didn’t. My best guess is Cotoneaster, but it’s never had any berries so I’m not sure. Any suggestions are welcome!

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I also planted these out. They are Rose Campion and they were gifted to me last week by our cleaner at work. She’s so kind and she often brings me in various plants that have self seeded and multiplied in her garden. I’m less worried about these, firstly because I haven’t had time to get attached to them and secondly because they’ve been sat in a plant pot for the past week with barely any soil around them and just a little sprinkle of water, and they don’t seem to be any the worst. According to t’internet, they’ll have beautiful magenta flowers.

My daffodils are starting to fade already.

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It’s so bitter sweet. Fading daffodils means we’re getting closer to Summer which is my happiest season, but it’s so sad to see the beautiful yellow blooms turning brown and withering. I console myself with the knowledge that they’ll be back again next year.

There’s good progress going on with my established plants too.

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Just look at the amazing colours on my Polemonium. Isn’t it beautiful? It has tall waving flowers. There’s no sign of them yet, but to be honest, I’d be happy for it to stay like this. Stunning!

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I think this Geranium is the living embodiment of determined. I relocated it sometime during last Summer when it was ridiculously hot because I needed its space. I had to be quite rough with it when I was digging it up because it was really well established, and I seem to recall I didn’t even replant it on the same day that I dug it up. For a while it really looked like it wouldn’t make it, it wilted and lay completely flat on the ground, but now look at it. The epitome of perky.

Finally my wild flower. It was on the sale table and it just said ‘Wild Flower’ on the label so I had no idea what it would do.

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The first pic is when I planted it in August, the second was taken ten days ago and the third was today. It’s grown soooo much. I didn’t even expect it to make it through the Winter! I’m really impatient for all the flowers to open out. It’s going to be gorgeous – just look how many individual little buds there are in each little cluster.

I suppose I’d better go and get ready for the new week. There’s been very little garden time in the week recently, but now the clocks have gone forward so it’ll be lighter for longer in the evenings so I should be able to get some mooching in the garden done after work now – whoop!

Have a good week all.