Six on Saturday 27th February

It looks so nice outside, the sun’s shining bright and people walking past our house aren’t all togged up in hats and scarves. Unfortunately we’re still in self isolation until midnight tonight so we can’t go for a walk to soak up the sun, but, we can go in the garden. It’s still a bit chilly and damp for me to be tempted to do any actual gardening but I am gearing up for it. I can feel the enthusiasm creeping back in!

I suspect my first point will feature in many Sixes this week. Daffodils! Finally the first of them have opened out so we can see their beautiful faces.

Isn’t that just a photo of pure joy? I just love love LOVE daffodils and everything they stand for! As far as I’m concerned, the only downside to daffodils is that they’re poisonous to cats so I can’t fill our house with vases and vases of their beautiful yellowness! Even the water that they’re kept in becomes poisonous to cats as I found out to my dismay when our pussy cat Willow drank it some years ago. Willow’s not with us anymore (not because of the daff incident) but I still feel guilty that drinking the water made her poorly. Daffs must be really poisonous because the water literally made a reappearance within a matter of minutes, if not seconds.

Speaking of our feline friends …..

….. this one doesn’t belong to us (our girls are house cats) but he (we think) visits our garden every day and he’s learnt to trust us and happily strolls up for head rubs and fuss. He does have an owner (he wears a collar) and is obviously well cared for because his fur is always well groomed but he seems to enjoy our garden. We’re animal lovers so we do encourage wildlife to visit our garden whenever we can.

According to Monty Don, you should be able to organise your garden and its eco-system so that it all supports itself and you should have minimal issues with pests because the birds will eat the lily beetle larvae and the ladybirds will eat the aphids etc. etc. However, despite the aforementioned black cat’s best efforts, squirrels are far too quick and clever to be caught, which means they just carry on carrying on with their daily business largely unfettered.

This is evidenced in the above photo. All week, from my home office, I’ve been watching a squirrel diligently gathering grass and carrying it off to next door’s jungle presumably to build a drey. I was hoping it was doing me a favour by clearing all the dead fronds to save me a job, but, no! It’s been busily decimating my festuca intense grasses. Cheeky squirrel! It’s a good job he’s cute. Hopefully the grasses will recover and we’ll see baby squirrels soon.

Last weekend I did do a little bit of actual gardening until it started raining.

I repotted my blueberry bush. Luckily I had some ericaceous compost leftover from last year in the shed. It’s showing signs of regrowth this week so I’m hopeful that I might get lots of antioxidant rich blueberries in a few months.

I took delivery of three raspberry canes last week and I planted them in our raised bed and now I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I tried to grow raspberries a couple of years ago and they just died on me. Someone told me they don’t like to be planted too deep so I’ve planted these ones just enough to cover their roots. Someone else told me that cutting the canes to fifteen centimetres after they’re planted can encourage off shoots so I’ve hedged my bets and cut two of them but left one as it was when it arrived. I really hope I get some raspberries this year.

Finally for this week, is a little bit of cuteness! This Harry Potter meerkat has been keeping watch over my sempervivum pot for a couple of years. You can see in the second photo what the pot looked like when I bought it. More than half of the plants didn’t make it through last winter and the survivors looked a bit sad in the original big pot, so I decided to repot it in my wicker sheep.

That’s that for this week. I’m off to check out other Sixes now at the Propagator’s blog and after that I may go and wander round the garden dreaming of tomorrow’s freedom!

Diagon Alley Lego Reveal

Yes, I know I’m approaching my mid forties and I don’t have children to use as an excuse, but much of the past ten days has been filled with building Lego and I have LOVED it!

I shared some photos of my Lego Hedwig, Harry Potter’s owl, that my hubby bought for me in my Christmas Catch Up post at the beginning of January. Here she is in all her glory posing in front of our fireplace.

I have vivid memories of a cardboard box of Lego living in a white wardrobe in my bedroom at my Dad’s house sometime in the 80s, but I don’t think it held my attention for long. It more than likely belonged to one or both of my brothers. I think back then, Lego wasn’t aimed at girls. I wouldn’t have been discouraged from playing with ‘boys’ toys but if it wasn’t marketed towards me then it probably wouldn’t have occurred to me to want to play with it. Making Lego Hedwig made me realise how much fun it is though, and now Lego have got their marketing spot on and the second I saw their Diagon Alley set I knew I’d end up owning it. I ummed and ahed for a few days because it is quite a financial investment but, hard as lockdown is in so many ways, it does mean I’m not spending nearly as much money on things like diesel, lunches out and sale table plants, so I went for it.

It took a week to arrive (damn you Amazon Prime for giving me unrealistic expectations for every other delivery service!!) during which time I must’ve checked my inbox a thousand times looking for the tracking email. It was well worth the wait. Look at the size of the box!

Ok, not much to give perspective, but it was big! It contained bags numbered one to twenty, but there were two for each number so forty in total plus the base plates and some roof plates and a bonus box twenty one.

Then there were four instruction manuals. As you can see from the back of the box above, the set was made in four parts which can stand alone or join together.

I tried really hard to pace myself to make the build last longer. This was partly enforced by having to work all day, but I still only managed to make it last ten days. I would estimate that it took me about twenty five hours to complete and I enjoyed every second!

Book one contained the instructions for bags one to five and it built Ollivanders wand shop and Scribbulus which sells quills, parchment and other magical stationery requirements.

Book two covered bags six to nine and contained lots of pink bricks which made Quality Quidditch Supplies and the Daily Prophet.

This build was three storey and even had detail crammed on to the roof. You can see the copies of the Daily Prophet newspaper stored on the roof and in the attic space.

The instructions for bags ten to fourteen were illustrated in book three and they produced Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour and Flourish and Blotts book shop where Hogwarts students buy their school books.

The detail in this block is amazing and so realistic. We had ice cream from Florean Fortescue’s at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando and it really looks like this. In Flourish and Blotts the characters can even read copies of Gilderoy Lockhart’s latest book.

Finally, the most ostentatious of the builds came in book four and bags fifteen to twenty – Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes.

Also incorporated in this build is Knockturn Alley. This is where you’ll find Death Eaters (followers of he who shall not be named) and other dark witches and wizards, hence I’ve positioned the Draco and Lucius Malfoy characters at its entrance. The detail in Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes is stunning too. There’s a mechanism hidden in the roof that allows you to raise and lower the top hat and you can see the various jokes and potions for sale on the shelves inside the shop.

The set can be displayed alongside each other and each block has a connector so they sit perfectly together. The set is over a metre long.

Or they can be put shopfront to shopfront to form a real street feeling which is really cool!

You’ll have noticed all the characters strategically placed in the most relevant places.

There are fifteen in all, although Harry is included twice – once in his Hogwarts uniform and once in the clothes he was wearing when Hagrid liberated him from the Dursleys and took him to Diagon Alley for the first time – ‘yer a wizard ‘arry’. For the benefit of non-Potter enthusiasts, in order left to right, the characters are Hagrid, Harry, Ollivander, Gilderoy Lockhart, Ginny Weasley, Molly Weasley, Ron Weasley, Fred and George Weasley, Harry again, Hermione, Draco Malfoy, Lucius Malfoy, the Daily Prophet photographer and Florean Fortescue.

Bonus box twenty one contains the pieces to built a welcoming piece and includes the second Harry model.

There really isn’t much room for improvement in the set, but if I was going to nit pick, it would be nice to have Hermione’s cat, Crookshanks to add to Harry’s owl, Hedwig, who sits on Scribbulus’ sign and Ron’s rat, Scabbers, who’s up in the roof space of Quality Quidditch Supplies. I suppose it could be argued that they are a random owl and rat, rather than being Hedwig and Scabbers.

It also seems quite odd to have the Daily Prophet photographer – Rita Skeeter would maybe be more exciting. Having said that, the photographer’s camera is quite cool.

That’s it! Everything else is perfect. I hope Lego are working on some of the other significant buildings in Diagon Alley and also Hogsmeade. Gringotts Bank would be an amazing addition as would Honeydukes, the Leaky Cauldron and the Three Broomsticks. Oh, and the Ministry of Magic.

Right, now if I could just wave my wand and magic up some space in which to display Diagon Alley that would be most welcome.

I’m really missing ……?

Everything seems really glum while we’re all in lockdown and I don’t know anyone who’s not missing someone or something at the moment (and most are missing multiple someones and somethings!) I’m doing my very best (and mostly succeeding) to keep my chin up. I’m very lucky that I have lots of home-based hobbies which I’ve been able to enjoy even more than usual over the past ten months – crocheting, cross stitch, gardening, reading, jigsaws, DIY and, of course, blogging.

I’ve been pondering on what I’m missing most from ‘normal’ life, and I came up with the following.

So, starting top left and going clockwise, first is a photo from just over a year ago when I went down to London to watch both parts of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and it represents a few things that I’m missing. First is days out, particularly trips further away from home than the local park and possibly involving overnight stays, the second is going to the theatre and the third is time on my own because this was a trip I took on my own and it was blissful me time.

Next is driving! Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely not missing sitting in heavy traffic, being cut up by Audis and BMWs or spending a fortune on diesel, and I’m happy that the environment is benefitting from fewer cars on the road, but I’m missing driving in free flowing traffic and I’m missing the headspace that I get from driving. I used to process the happenings of the day in my head on my way home from work and gear myself up for the day on the way in. There is also a sense of community from knowing that most of the cars around you contain people who are also commuting and contributing to keeping the world going. Home working has lots of benefits, but it is very insular.

The third photo represents eating out! Sometimes you just want someone else to cook and serve your food, but it’s not just that, it’s the looking forward to it, choosing where to go, choosing what to wear, being surrounded by other humans – it’s the whole experience.

Finally, I miss browsing in shops, garden centres or otherwise. I used to enjoy browsing round WHSmiths looking for nothing in particular, running my fingers over book covers and flicking through magazines. I could still go and browse some garden centres as they are still open, but it’s not the same when you have to wear a mask, you can’t break up your browsing with a slice of cake in the cafe and you’re scared to touch anything in case it might be tainted by covid!

Along similar lines, first in this second set is going out for drinks (and possibly some cake!) There’s something luxurious about sipping a cold Aperol Spritz in a beer garden or enjoying a cold glass of vino in the pub before a meal. It’s not the same when you have to pour it yourself and drink it in your living room with your washing drying on the radiator and BoJo on the telly telling you there’s a zombie apocalypse coming!

Next is my niece’s hand and the photo represents family. I’m so grateful that technology enables me to keep in touch virtually and that the rules allow me to see one family member at a time for a walk, but I miss my family that live further away. It was especially hard not being able to see people at Christmas. I haven’t seen my Mum for over a year, I’ve got nieces and a nephew who are growing up really quickly and other special people that I’ve only been able to see on doorsteps or far too fleetingly.

Skipping down to the bottom left now and you’ll see some of my lovely friends. I know I said only a few paragraphs ago that I miss me time, but it’s hard not being able to see friends and relax together as well. It’s all about balance. Zoom calls are a good substitute, and they do enable me to ‘see’ long distance friends that I rarely saw pre-pandemic, but it’s not the same as physically being in the same room.

I couldn’t find a photo to illustrate my last point perfectly, but my question marks are as close as I could get! I miss planning and spontaneity! I guess they’re the flip sides of the same coin but you really can’t do either at the moment. Planning’s out of the question because we don’t know what the rules will allow at any given date, but we also can’t be spontaneous because we have to weigh up every situation to determine if we really need to leave the house, and if what we want to do is safe, somewhat negating any spontaneity.

In addition to all this, what I’m REALLY missing at the moment is going on holiday so I thought I’d try to pick my five favourite holidays and live vicariously through my own past!

I don’t know if it’s just because they’re freshest in my memory, but my first two favourite holidays happened last year. The first was in January when we went on a Caribbean cruise on Harmony of the Seas, preceded by a couple of nights in Orlando. I wrote a couple of posts on this at the time so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much.

These pictures really sum up some of the best bits of the holiday and trigger off lots of other happy memories. Not that I need that – we were on this holiday this time last year so every day when I log in to Timehop I see the joyful posts that I wrote one year ago. The photo top left is the reason that we went to Orlando before the cruise. There was a new ride at Islands of Adventure – Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure – and I was desperate to go on it. We had to queue for two hours but it was sooooo worth it! The last photo, bottom right, is an air boat. This was a trip we did on our last day before we went back to the airport. It was absolutely freezing, but it was really good. We didn’t see any gators though – apparently it was too cold for them. The rest of the photos are of the cruise part of the holiday. The ship was just amazing! And huge! Ours was the one dwarfing the cruise liner docked next to it in the top middle pic. It had so many facilities – an ice rink, climbing wall, surf simulator, water and dry slides and, as you can see, a zip line. Hubby conquered his fear because he’s not keen on heights. It was really fun. Bottom left is us in the Bahamas where we swam with pigs which was awesome! The round window was in our cabin and it was just so relaxing to sit in it and gaze out at the sunny ports that we were docked at or the waves rushing by.

I could wax lyrical for hours about this holiday, but this post’s already turning out pretty long so I’ll move on to my next favourite holiday which was Edinburgh for my birthday in September.

I don’t know whether this holiday was so good because we didn’t know until the last minute whether we’d be able to go due to COVID rules, or if it was because we hadn’t had a proper break since January, or if Edinburgh just really is that amazing, but whatever the reason, we loved it. We had a little Airbnb which felt safer than a hotel and everywhere we went measures were in place and were being followed.

The photo of me with wine I suppose could’ve been taken anywhere, but it reminds me of how relaxed I felt and what a good day we’d had. The restaurant that we were in is Makar’s Mash Bar which, as you might expect, does lots of different kinds of mashed potato. The multi coloured photo is at Camera Obscura which was extraordinarily good. The next two are fairly self explanatory – the Royal Yacht Britannia and Edinburgh Zoo.

The middle row were all taken on my birthday when we went on a day trip to Loch Ness, stopping off at various picturesque sites on the way there and back. As you can see, we saw wee Nessie!

Bottom left is Holyroodhouse Palace which is the official residence of the Queen in Edinburgh. She stays here every July (well, presumably not this past July!) for three weeks. When I say here, obviously not in the ruined abbey but rather in the intact palace next door.

Next to Holyroodhouse palace are the slightly less grand toilets at the Elephant House cafe where J K Rowling wrote much of the early Harry Potter books. Fans over the years have graffitied the walls and, after initially painting over the scribbles, the cafe relented and the graffiti is now a tourist attraction and tribute to J K.

This next holiday feels like a really long time ago now. I think it was March 2013 and we escaped the cold British climate to the marvellous Maldives.

I would urge anyone who gets the chance, to go to the Maldives. It really is paradise on earth. I remember trailing behind the guy showing us to our water bungalow down the boardwalk in the bottom photo just looking around me in awe at how beautiful it was and not quite believing that we were actually there. I’m not sure I’d ever seen so many different shades of blue before.

I’ve included a photo of our terrace because we spent a lot of time on there so it feels very evocative of our holiday. There’s really not a lot to do in the Maldives other than swim, snorkel, read, eat and drink so if you’re someone who has ants in their pants then it may not be for you, but we loved our week of utter relaxation. The snorkelling is amazing! It was the first place that I snorkelled and it’s kind of ruined snorkelling for me because anywhere else I’ve been just isn’t a patch on it. You only had to be knee deep to be surrounded by all manner of fish but if you went further out there were rays too and potentially hammerhead sharks.

Most holidays to the Maldives are all inclusive. We had the same table every night and the same waiter which was really nice because we got to know him. The food was delicious. They did a different theme each night. Unsurprisingly hubby enjoyed the American night with the burgers but I preferred the Indian night when they did loads of curries and dahls with different kinds of bread.

Speaking of food, there was no shortage of that when we went to Las Vegas!

We got married in Las Vegas in 2008 and we went back there for a week in 2011. We took a bit of a risk getting married there never having been before, but luckily we loved it. I can understand how it’s not for everyone though. Everything is extravagant and larger than life. There are lions in the MGM hotel, a replica of the Grand Canal of Venice in the Venetian and you can see all those lights down the Strip in the bottom left photo taken from the top of the fifty percent size replica of the Eiffel Tower! That little bit of sky that you can see above the canal is actually the ceiling, kind of like the enchanted ceiling in Hogwarts’ Great Hall. The lions live in a pride in a huge complex a few miles away from the strip and a two or three at a time are brought over to the MGM a couple of times a day. All the animals that we saw in Vegas seemed well looked after, and it is fascinating to see them, but I always feel in a quandary over whether keeping animals in captivity is too big a pay off for the conservation work that is enabled through animal attractions. The final photo is one of my favourites. It’s me at Hoover Dam and I’m standing in two states! My right foot is in Nevada and my left is in Arizona.

Back to Europe for our final stop to say kali mera to Corfu.

We’ve been to the same hotel in Sidari in the north of the island three times and loved it each time. I’m sure we’ll go back sometime. The people are so friendly in Corfu, the weather is perfect and they have ouzo! A bit of an acquired taste, apparently, but I love it! One of life’s great pleasures is decamping to the bar after dinner with that sun kissed glow on your skin and a slightly dizzy feeling after a day in the sun, to relax with a nice glass of ouzo and lemonade.

Unlike the Maldives, in Corfu there’s lots to do. One of our favourite days out is to go to Kassiopi just around the coast. On our first trip here we stumbled upon Karavi beach which is only accessible by scrambling along the cliff edge through the undergrowth. Once there, you’re rewarded by an almost deserted pebble beach that’s probably only about twenty metres across at its widest. The picture bottom right is me sitting in the shallows on Karavi beach and loving life. The photo’s slightly blurry because we got suntan lotion on the lens (this was pre-decent camera phones) but I really like the arty effect that it produced.

The rocky outcrop is colloquially known as monkey rock – you can see why. This was taken on a day trip to paradise island which is another beach only accessible by sea, this time a long expanse of pebbles where they have a beach barbecue.

The ice cream is a treat indeed! They’re a bit like a cornetto but they have crunchy chocolate going through them and they’re about twice the size! I’ve never seen them anywhere but Corfu and it’s almost worth going just for one of them!

I’ve been writing this post slowly all week, savouring my photos and my holiday memories and although it has made me yearn even more for a time when we can go on holiday again, it’s also made me feel very lucky that we’ve been able to enjoy these times and that we have them to look back on to get us through these lockdown weeks and months when things seem otherwise somewhat Eeyoreish. I hope you can find some sunshine and happiness in the photos.