I haven’t ever written about Staphan O’Bell on here except for adding his last single, Five Years Went Fast, to my autumn 2014 playlist. I really should have mentioned his music before as I have a bit of a musical crush on him! His back-catalogue is upbeat and catchy with plenty of indie folk thrown in, and catchy melodies masking his lyrical poignancy. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but I can definitely detect a hint of the Damon Albarn in there, particularly on his song From My Rooftop (no link as it doesn’t seem to exist online!) and like Albarn, O’Bell’s songs seldom fail to elicit a smile and definitely provide something to bob your head to. It seems that Swedish songsters are innately capable of making really great pop songs. I’m not sure if it’s something in the water, or whether all of those long, dark winters make their songwriters overcompensate by writing really upbeat stuff, but whatever it is, I like it (and I’m sure you will too)!
Saturday 30 May 2015
Wednesday 27 May 2015
True to its name, the May is out in abundance both in the countryside and at the bottom of our garden. Each time we open the back door, our noses are met with the powdery, sweet smell of the early May blossom, before it starts to take on that slightly foetid odour that attracts the flies to it. Whilst different to the apple, plum and sloe blossom of April, this blossom is totally unique and yet no less splendid as it fills roadsides and hedgerows up and down this green and pleasant land of ours.
Even though we had a slightly reluctant walker with us, we had such a nice potter through the countryside. You might be able to tell that I’m so happy that the light, bright, spring greens are back again. No more – for a few months at least – will we see the dull, drab greens of autumn and winter. These bright greens are everywhere, from stinging nettles to ramsons to the Queen Anne’s lace and even on the pines and larches whose new needles are vivid and soft. We paused to admire the red campion outshining its green and white neighbours, enjoyed the pungent tang of the ramsons on the air (yes, that sea of white is all garlic!) and stopped to gaze at the vast expanse of the Tyne river. It really was a splendid day to get out of the house and enjoy the gloriousness of spring.
To celebrate a recent birthday, I made one of our new-favourite cakes: the America’s Test Kitchen Lemon Layer Cake. After making it a couple of years ago, it quickly became a family favourite as it is full of lemon curd, dreamily light frosting and moist sponge – what’s not to love (even if it is the oddest cake batter you’ll ever make)?! In a change from their recipe (because it was simpler), I made a proper Italian meringue topping, using 115ºC sugar syrup and egg whites to make a stable meringue that would work as a topping and – believe it or not – not be too sweet. The lemon curd wasn’t a hard set as I didn’t let it refrigerate the amount of time recommended as I needed to get it finished (my bad), which is why the cake is sloping and not in perfectly-even layers (the first one was!). However, despite that little hiccough, it was absolutely delicious and much-appreciated. It is one of those cakes that definitely has quite a bit of wow factor on the dinner table :)
Tuesday 26 May 2015
Wheeling, diving, plunging and shaking – all on the wing. It is so nice to hear their sharp little barking calls to each other. I am always awed at how far these little birds travel each year from their wintering grounds in Africa, just to breed on our shores.
Monday 25 May 2015
It never fails to amaze me how many birds it is possible to spot on a relatively short late-Spring walk along the beach. After a few seemingly difficult nesting starts where we’d see proper nests and then empty ones a week later, it seems that two pairs of fulmars have made their nests on this one little section of cliff. How do we know they’re serious? They had laid an egg (can you spot it?)! The fulmars did their egg-turning maneuouvre as we watched with baited breath, hoping that it wouldn’t fall out of the nest. The sand martins are back, too, and how glad we are that we have seen them! They are almost impossible to take photos of because they hurtle around, like all of their long-journeying, winged-insect-eating avian relatives, at break-neck speed. But when they return to their nest, you can sometimes, if you have a sensitive picture-taking finger, catch them for their brief pause! We also spotted a curlew on the wing and a cormorant too, as well as the requisite oyster catchers and pied wagtails.
When not enjoying the huge array of wildlife that just happen to wander or fly past at this time of year, I get a little too carried away in the beauty of the sea and its reflections. This time of year is officially magical and pretty wonderful too.
Sunday 24 May 2015
May really is the most beautiful month, isn’t it? The wild garlic beginning to open and release its tangy odour; the bluebells opening and tilting their heads and fresh new leaves bursting forth. Speaking of trees, can anyone identify the two trees in the above photos, the pale-green leafed one (I thought it might be common whitebeam but now I’m sure it’s not) and the one that looks almost like purple sprouting broccoli? Searching for ‘trees that look like broccoli’ ends up yielding a more literal result and the pale green one has us stumped, though it grows everywhere up here and adds a lovely brightness to the surroundings.
On our evening walks, I’ve noticed some wonderful skies too. From perfect pastel affairs with thin, whispy cirrus clouds to the big, fluffy clouds (and sometimes grey rain-bearers we’ve had of late) above. Ahhh, May, you lovely month.
Friday 22 May 2015
For Mr VP’s birthday, we opted to go on a short holiday. Things are quite busy here at Chez VP at the moment, so a full week away wasn’t really feasible. To save us spending most of our short break on the road, we opted to stay reasonably local and visit the Borders; a region of Scotland that we hadn’t explored. I’m so glad that we did, as we had such a nice – if brief – time there. Our first (and main) port of call was a little town just north of Jedburgh called Melrose. I had heard that it was a nice place to visit and had connections with St Cuthbert as he began his monastic life in the town. Nowadays, it forms part of the famous St Cuthbert’s Way, a walk of just over 62 miles that traces his journey from Melrose to Holy Island, where he ended his days.
It seemed apt, then, that we began our trip with a little look around the mighty red sandstone abbey that is really Melrose’s centrepiece. Whilst not on quite on the same scale as Fountains Abbey, it is quite a sight to behold, and I must admit I was awed by how well it has been preserved. Vaulted ceilings remain intact, cornicings and intricate carvings, gargoyles and window tracery are all present and quite beautiful.
Some ruined abbeys have quite a dark feeling about them. Perhaps it is a leftover remnant of the dissolution and destruction of the monasteries and abbeys. Perhaps it’s just the centuries of not being loved or used for their intended purposes. However I didn’t get any bad feelings from Melrose. It is a very pleasant place to walk around.
Cross over the road and continue into the other part of what would have been the monastery and you can find the remnants of Medieval engineering – the great drain. This would have provided water and flushings for the whole site. Isn’t it impressively constructed?
Obviously, I gravitated towards anything that was blossom-based. It is so fleeting, after all, that one has to get one’s fill where and when one can! We had such a nice time together and really enjoyed our time away. Life has been quite busy of late, so having the chance to reconnect and enjoy one-another’s company is so important… And where better to do it than somewhere beautiful, eh?
Melrose town is quite a looker, too. Full of old industrial-age buildings, it is quite pretty and filled with nice shops to look around (particularly the book shop – love it!). It is also full of good places to eat – we recommend Burt’s Hotel. That big hill is one of two called the Eildon hills and the gap in the middle is where you walk if you follow St Cuthbert’s Way.
Another place worth a visit is the Priorwood garden which would once have been the abbey’s walled kitchen garden. To this day it has ancient apple trees and houses Scotland’s only dedicated dried flower garden. There is an exhibit and shop where you can see the drying room and buy some of the flowers. It’s very interesting, but not half as interesting as the apple trees!
This is the Leaderfoot viaduct and provided too good a view not to stop and take a photo. The river is the Tweed, apparently a very good place to go salmon fishing (though speaking to some fishermen it wasn’t a good time for it!) especially if you can find a knowledgeable Gillie to show you the best spots! The bridge is now sadly disused.
On the way home, we had to stop at the border and take a photo looking back towards Scotland. The drive was absolutely beautiful if a little windy (and windy!) and took virtually no time at all, so we have vowed that we must return for a longer break when we get the chance.