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A Late Birthday Treat: Trip to Tigerlily, Edinburgh

I celebrated my birthday earlier this month and got some lovely gifts and cards, along with the promise of a little trip away with K a couple of weeks later. One of our favourite occasional treats is going to Edinburgh for lovely food and drink, an overnight stay, shopping and visit a gallery, museum or other place of interest, depending on the weather. Since we discovered Tigerlily, a gorgeous boutique hotel, we’ve always stayed there, seeking out the special offers and off-peak rates to make it possible a little more often. During COVID restrictions we haven’t been able to do this, so it was extra special to go back (with a little help from friends and family who helped with dog-sitting)

Edinburgh is compact but hilly and, in places cobbled, but my little Mobie folding disability scooter behaved like a mountain goat, taking all the challenges it met with relish, even the portable access ramp up the rather steep steps of our hotel (a former town house in George Street, part of the Georgian New Town district)

Checking into Tigerlily we discovered that we’d been given an upgrade to stay in Room 1 – Georgian Suite. What a lovely surprise! Decorated in sumptuous fabrics with modern furniture that complimented the original Georgian features and high ceilings, our suite included a four poster bed, two sofas and an enormous bathroom (you could have held a party in the shower alone).

It’s the little details that make something special, like the thick bathrobes, expensive toiletries and good quality coffee/fresh milk available in the room, even the Edinburgh edition of Monopoly!

We enjoyed a beautiful meal that evening in the hotel restaurant. The hotel is famous for its cocktails and our table was close enough to the bar to watch these being prepared (which is almost as much fun as drinking them). One of the Tigerlily mixologists (mixing cocktails is a science….honest!) once told me that the perfect cocktail should contain a good balance between strong and weak (eg spirits and mixers) and between sweet and sour (fruit, juices, syrups and bitters or sharp flavours like lemon or lime). It works! I’ve also been shown how to squeeze and flame the oil from a disc of orange peel to create a hint of burnt orange on the surface of a classic Cosmopolitan. It’s a great party trick! The entire staff team are dynamic, charming and friendly – nothing is ever too much trouble.

Breakfast the following morning , accompanied by lots of juice and coffee, set us up for a full day in Edinburgh. It is one of my favourite cities and not too far away for us to get to by car or train. I love the architecture and the way that every street seems to have amazing views towards a landmark building or statue or even to the Firth of Forth.

One of the big changes we noticed was the new St James Quarter shopping mall – four levels of shops and places to eat and drink under an elegant curved glass roof with an unusual spiral tower. Princes Street, once Edinburghs principle shopping street, now looks past it’s best, with the loss of the famous Jenners department store, Debenhams and several other brands. I hope that future redevelopment will turn Princes Street back into a destination worthy of its prosperous past, but sustainable, and different enough to compliment the modern mall.

I couldn’t resist a visit to the new John Lewis store’s haberdashery in the new centre. The department’s entrance is graced by a pair of massive textile sculptures – stags (known as Monarch and Glen), upholstered in fabrics and trimmings all of which are available to buy in the store. They look stunning.

K is a keen cook and particularly loves Italian food. We decided to visit the famous and long-established Italian delicatessen and grocer, Valvona and Crolla. Floor to ceiling wooden shelves are filled with jars of antipasti, tins of biscotti and packs of pasta in every imaginable shape. The refrigerated counter displays cured meats, cheeses and baked goods. There are even fresh vegetables and herbs, a whole wall of different kinds of olive oil and an extensive wine department. The staff were helpful and knowledgeable too, serving us samples to taste before we decided to buy some delicious pecorino cheese.

After that we walked/scooted to the Botanical Gardens, which took about 20 minutes. We’d been blessed with beautiful weather so it was a pleasure be out looking at the old builldings we passed. The Gardens are lovely – admission is free. Late summer/early autumn is not always the best time for such places as most of the summer flowers have finished and trees have not yet acquired their autumn leaf colour. We did see some seasonal specialities however, including carpets of cyclamen and autumn crocus in shades of pink, mauve and white.

The gardens contain some magnificent glasshouses which normally house important collections of rare tropical plants and trees. These have been carefully moved to temporary homes while the glass houses undergo a massive refurbishment, which includes replacing every single pane of glass. Closed until work is complete in several years time, the project will safeguard the future of these plants for many more years to come.

We always enjoy looking at the alpine collection, which includes a rock face featuring mound forming plants to show just how they would grow on a mountainside at high altitude.

It was certainly a perfect day to be outside.

After a lovely afternoon admiring the gardens in the sunshine we took a taxi to Waverley station, allowing plenty of time for the build up of rush hour traffic. We arrived back in the city centre in time for a drink and found an outdoor pop-up bar close to Waverley station. They were serving the Edinburgh Gin range of flavoured gins and gin liqueurs – I chose raspberry, with tonic, one of my favourites: a perfect end to to our brief time in Edinburgh.

Then it was time to board our train and head for home. I’m so lucky to have had such a lovely and indulgent treat for my birthday.

What’s your favourite city to visit?

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Welcome Wren!

Today we welcomed a new family member, Wren. She’s a fox red Labrador puppy and belongs to Daughter, though I’m almost as excited as she is!

This has been on the cards for a while and when Daughter’s friends bred a litter from their Lab, Missy, the opportunity presented itself. Visiting them to see the puppies and meeting Wren sealed the deal!

She came home today. I drove while Daughter cradled Wren in her arms, then the two of them went into the garden. Wren had a good sniff around, then began responding to Daughter’s voice and following her.

Before long she was even retrieving her new toys, in between cuddles from her new owner. I think they have matching hair!

Are you my new Mum?

Wren seems to be a very happy, calm but confident pup. She was really interested in exploring her new surroundings and her little tail never stopped wagging.

She was very alert to loud noises but not at all frightened.

What was that?

So much to take in! Exhausting!

We brought her into the house where there were even more new smells to explore.

I think I’m going to like it here.

Then all of a sudden it was nap time.

Wren was already used to a crate before she came and to make her feel even more at home we rubbed her blanket over her mother and sister to absorb their scent. Here’s hoping that she continues to settle in well. If things carry on as they did today Wren is going to be just fine!

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The Return of Live Music: Elbow

I love live music. It’s one of the things I’ve missed during the Pandemic. Last week I went to a gig for the first time in nearly two years.

Since I bought the tickets to see Elbow, the concert had been rescheduled twice, but it finally arrived. We were going to the O2 Academy in Newcastle, a small (2000 capacity) venue that makes me feel quite nostalgic for the gigs I went to in my student days, before there were huge arenas in every city.

We’d decided to make a night of it and had a meal at a nearby pub beforehand. Sitting there, that wonderful sense of anticipation began to build when I overheard the people at the next table discussing the band and other gigs they’d been to – they were heading for Elbow too. We finished our meal and went round the corner to join the queue.

I had booked accessible seating and arrived on my scooter The security staff were excellent, and guided us efficiently, via a ramp and lifts, to our seats, on a platform just behind the mixing desk.

K was highly delighted about this. We met at college where we were both members of the Entertainments Committee that put on gigs for the student body. He got really involved in the technical side and to this day, whenever we go to a concert together, we see two different gigs. I see the staging and the performance; he identifies all the equipment, listens to and assesses the sound mix and notes any issues: a hum on one of the speakers, a channel dropping out: things I rarely notice!

This is the most crowded place I’d been to since Lockdown. We’d been asked to take evidence of vaccination or a negative COVID test but this was not checked. I was reassured that there were ventilation ducts above where I was seating and I could actually feel the cold air. I had taken my mask off after I took my seat, but began to feel a little uneasy when the room filled up and there were people standing quite close behind me. I put the mask back on and relaxed.

Two reasonable support acts later , the main band were due on stage. If you haven’t come across Elbow before, you might know their biggest hit, “One Day Like This”, which was everywhere when it came out and became something of an anthem that summer. The band are from the Manchester area and have been going for years. We’ve seen them several times. Apart from the great music, Elbow’s frontman, Guy Garvey, always has a great rapport with the audience that makes even a large arena feel like an intimate little gig. As the band came on stage, Garvey said, “Sorry we’re late.” In that moment, the last 18 months melted away.

As Elbow performed a 90 minute set of old favourites and new album tracks, with stories and banter with the crowd in between, I remembered all the things I love about live music: that throb in your chest from the sub-bass; the joy of recognising a favourite song from the first few notes of the intro; being mesmerised by a good light show; singing yourself hoarse and noticing that those around you are all singing their hearts out too.

There was an acknowledgment that we’d all had been through difficult times over the last 18 months and that this was the first time back at a gig for many of us. It made the shared experience of being there all the more poignant.

All too soon the encore was upon us and it was time for one final song, which had to be One Day Like This, with Garvey conducting layers of voices in a final chorus. Marvellous.

Then it was over and I was just one of 2000 smiling people leaving the auditorium.

Have you been to any concerts since COVID restrictions were lifted? What did you see? How did it make you feel?

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Mend and Make Do Monday: Lacy Lingerie

I had a mishap when I was Ironing this lovely peach satin slip – the iron was too hot and I burnt a hole in it. I thought of a way to repair it -this is what I did.

I trimmed the melted edge of the hole off so the fabric wasn’t puckered.

I cut out a piece of lace a little larger than the hole, cutting around some of the flowers in the design.

I put the damaged part of the slip in an embroidery hoop….

…then pinned the lace motif in place and, using tiny stitches I sewed the lace into place, both round the hole and the edge of the lace. This is what it looks like on the wrong side.

…and on the right side. Job done!

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A Jacob’s Fleece Challenge

A while back I had an email from a friend – someone she knew had some Jacob fleeces available. She knows I spin and wondered if I was interested. It turned out that the lady in question’s daughter was house sitting and looking after a small flock of Jacob’s sheep. They had been sheared and the fleeces would be thrown away or burnt if nobody wanted them.

I asked for four – two for me and two for my friend Y. The fleeces were at the other end of the country but another family member was visiting and brought them back so I could pick them up locally.

I didn’t know what to expect really. I have read about premium spinning fleeces where the sheep are coated to keep the fibre clean and free of vegetable matter (VM). I certainly wasn’t expecting that but when I unpacked the fleece I knew it was going to be a bit of a challenge.

It had been packed away wet and absolutely stank. It was pretty dirty, with discolored tips, lots of VM and a fair amount of second cuts (very short bits of fibre where the shearer had gone over the sheep twice).

I took it outside and put it on the skirting rack to remove the dung tags and as many second cuts and bits of VM as I could before washing it in the sink with washing up liquid and boiling water. Urgh! The water turned the colour of builders’ tea!

After repeating the process three times the water was running clear – hopefully I’d done enough to remove the lanolin from the fibre too. I hung it up to dry and thankfully the dreadful smell had disappeared.

I’ve recently acquired some fibre combs and these have come in handy to prepare the fleece for spinning. There is some wastage (those pesky second cuts). I’ve separated out some of the black and white fibre and combed it separately. Where the colours can’t be separated they blend to a rather lovely grey. The fibre feels quite soft with a lovely crimp……I’m looking forward to spinning it.

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Back In Harmony

Newcastle City Council’s staff choir has been going for several years and I’m a founder member. I was able to stay part of the choir when I retired and we now have a combination of retired and working members. We would meet for an hour every Tuesday at noon to allow staff to get there in their lunch break.

Choir had to stop in early 2020 when the Pandemic hit, along with all other social activities. There had been some early concerns that singing at volume might increase transmission of the virus, even if social distancing was observed, though this was later found to be less of a risk than had been thought.

After a while we began meeting on Zoom (and we’ve been doing that ever since, though it is limited to singing along to backing tracks while we muted our own voices. This avoids the cacophony that the slight time lags on Zoom would create otherwise.

Yesterday we met in person for the first time in about 18 months and it was wonderful! We did exercise caution as case numbers are still quite high here. I think we are all double jabbed with the vaccine – we were reminded to stay away if experiencing any COVID symptoms and wore our masks until we were ready to start, making sure we spread out for the session, which was held outside Newcastle’s Civic Centre. The building’s Council Chamber is a distinctive dome on stilts and it provided some shade from the midday sun during the mini heatwave that is taking place this week. It also has great acoustics.

About 7 of us, along with Emily our lovely Musical Director, were able to attend and two more members joined on Zoom. It was so good to see my choir friends again in person .We were all quite emotional about singing together after all this time and burst into spontaneous applause after our first song. It was particularly lovely to sing songs that we’d learnt online but never actually performed together in person.

There is something very special about singing in three or four part harmony. While you are singing the notes of your own part you can hear it blend with the voices singing all the parts creating beautiful harmonies together. It’s wonderful to be a part of that.

All to soon our session was over. I’m pleased to report that we hadn’t picked up too many bad habits during our prolonged period of Zooming – it still sounds great. We put our masks on for a group selfie – thanks to Teresa for taking this. We’ll be back for more weekly outdoor sessions as long as the weather is in our favour.

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Castles And Coast (With A Bit Of Knitting)

Today’s trip out took us first to the village of Etal. It’s a pretty estate village with a castle, which dates from around the 14th Century. Northumberland has many castles, a reminder of Anglo-Scottish conflict during the region’s violent past

Etal also has a thatched pub – thatched roofs are pretty unusual here in Northumberland.

We wandered down the road which ends in a ford over the River Till I’m not sure how safe it is to cross here as the water runs quite swiftly. We certainly didn’t try it!

On the riverbank we found Himalayan Balsam. This is an attractive plant with hooded pink flowers, but not a native species. It has become established in many areas (probably initially as a garden escape) and is now an extremely invasive weed. Its success is probably due in part to its method of seed dispersal. The ripe pods burst quite violently, spreading the seeds some distance.

Back in the village we had lunch at the Lavender Tea Rooms. I love the teapot sign! Behind the hedge is a pretty paved garden edged with rose bushes and lavender of course, with tables, so it was a perfect place to eat as we had the dog with us. We’ll not be able to lunch outside for much longer this year as autumn approaches.

We drove towards the coast in search of a beach walk for Buddy the Labrador. On the way we passed the imposing ruins of 12th Century Norham Castle.

We stopped for a dog walk at Cocklawburn beach.

Limestone was once quarried here and there used to be alLimeworks with a railway to transport the lime and workers cottages. The lime kilns can still be seen.

The sea was quite rough with some big breakers but they didn’t deter Buddy.

I got on with some knitting.