The Keeper of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan

The Keeper of Lost Things - Ruth Hogan
The Keeper of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan

Just what I wanted, after the heavier reading provided by Grantas 87 and 85: An easy, speedy read.

As the blurbs on the front cover say, it is “charming” and “exquisite”. A tad twee in places, and some of the descriptions in the early chapters were a bit too overworked for my taste, but there’s a pair of enjoyable plot lines, with an array of short stories on the side.

Author page: The Keeper of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan

Herefordshire Week 004: Monday 20 – Sunday 26 January 2020

A different feel to this week. I think it’s because my focus is shifting from sorting to settling… and the need to find ways to meet people here.

And that was always going to be the tricky part. I remember Anne telling me in Tsum that she just joined lots of different things and gave everything a good few months to find people that she clicked with. Just don’t see myself in the WI yet. My plan was / is to find local walking groups to join, so with that in mind I took at look through the Golden Valley Groups Initiative‘s Groups to Join – Things to Do booklet that dad had picked up for us, and did some googling, and found details of the Hereford Mountain Club and Herefordshire Ramblers, plus their forthcoming walks. Neither research route threw up any info on the Ewyas Harold Walking Group that I’d got in my head meet outside the fish & chip shop every Friday at 10am. So on Friday I walked into EH ostensibly to buy some fresh bread from the Village Shop (turns out it comes from AJ Jones bakery in Hay-on-Wye), but timed to coincide with a 10am gathering…. Mission accomplished. I shall go along in a fortnight’s time which is the next Friday I’m here.

… Yep, next week sees the first of my weeks back in London. That’s come around quickly. I’m scheduling my visits around the bi-monthly KM Global Video Conferences. I’ll be able to join Hazel and Catherine at WW – in person after another FaceTime meet up this week, when they called from Pizza Express  – and I’m catching up with Tom on Thursday too. I’ll be spending Thursday night in Walton, taking the opportunity to check the flat. Then a day travelling back to Hereford.

But that’s all NEXT week! What about THIS week?

Tuesday afternoon, Weds and Thurs were all work. VOIP continues to be patchy at times, but generally connectivity was OK despite the thick layers of cloud.

I failed on the morning walks front, my excuse being that Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday the roads were still icy. Phil and I woke up to frosty mornings. Very pretty, but treacherous underfoot. Especially in our hill top location. I scouted out the gritting bins… On the plus side, with the sun out, we got to lunch in the conservatory twice.

Frosty Morning: Signposts
Frosty Morning: Signposts

Just about finished sorting – a few final bits of putting things in the roof / taking to the charity shop still to do, but at least dad and Jean have decided what can go where. They came for Sunday lunch, and Phil rustled up the BBC Good Food’s Vegetarian Wellington. Saturday’s prep took rather longer than the advertised 1 hour…

Monday morning featured gutter clearing by Chris aka Cathedral Property Services. I was happy to be inside, and as well as tracking down walking clubs and checking out WEA and U3A programmes, I booked trains to/from London for my February and March return visits, making the most of GWR’s January sale. I’ve got £5 PAD-HFD tickets for both trip. I also had a perusal of the Twitter list of Hereford accounts that Phil’s put together.

Most of the afternoon was spent making marmalade – Denton recipe, obviously! – and as usual my desire to minimize the quantity of sugar meant I was stirring and testing for setting point for longer than the recipe’s 45 minutes. And, as I discovered on Tuesday morning, the marmalade still hadn’t set solid. Oh well! I used the jam pan I have on permanent loan from Phil’s mum, Janet, and it coped with what used to require my two biggest pans. I doubt I’ll be running out of marmalade for a good few years as I upped the quantities by half, which has produced 15 jars.

Marmalade Made
Marmalade Made

Tuesday’s highlight was finding a detailed programme from Alfonso for September’s Picos walking holiday in my inbox. Steffi has sorted hotels. Muchas gracias amiga mía! Rather less excitingly, I sorted through the pile of work folders that had come to rest in the  old card table in my office, and filed them into dad’s desk. I’d made section dividers out of an old cardboard box.

Wednesday: It took them a few days, but the blue tits finally found Jean’s bird feeder on the pear tree. The squirrels are still oblivious.

The Blue Tits have Found the Bird Feeder
The Blue Tits have Found the Bird Feeder

On Friday, with work finished for the week and my morning stroll into Ewyas Harold complete, Phil and I booked tickets for a selection of films featuring in the Borderlines Film Festival that takes place during February and March. In the afternoon we headed into Hereford to get the car ‘entertainment system’ activated and the remote control battery changed in one of the keys, which was all done by the super-helpful folks at Newtown Motors, aka the Nissan Garage. They also told us they’d be replacing both airbags under Nissan’s warranty. And all that came to less than £20! I’d expected a “labour” layer, which there wasn’t. We really are novice car owners.

We had to leave the car with them for a couple of hours, so we had a potter around town via the Oxfam Bookshop, The Mousetrap Cheese Shop, Timpson’s in the Butter Market before coming to rest in Sensory & Rye for Artisan Coffee and a flapjack. And wifi… courtesy of which we discovered that The Temple Bar Inn reopened last Saturday and the new owners have posted the new menus on Facebook, and I emailed Sunanta’s Thai Kitchen for a copy of their menu. You order in the morning, they deliver in the evening – or you can pick up from their house in EH. Yum Yum.

Back at base we had another homemade pizza for dinner and watched Hustlers. In other TV viewing this week, we’ve worked our way through Country Music by Ken Burns. It has the same solemn voiceover as his Vietnam War series, which is somewhat disconcerting. It’s also not Ken Burns, which I’d not realised.

Homemade Pizza!

Most of Saturday was spent with dad, who, armed with his chainsaw, chopped off the remaining branches of the fallen willow tree. My job was to stack the bigger logs to dry out for fire wood and to drag the small stuff was dragged to the old quarry for a future bonfire. Everything is too damp / green to burn at the moment. We did try!

Dad in the quarry with all the small stuff for a future bonfire

As we come to the end of January, the snowdrops are multiplying, and some of the daffodil spears are sporting yellow buds. The peace and quiet is magic, the sheep across the road meander around their two fields and we watch the blue tits and robins on the new bird feeder. But despite all that, I ended the week feeling rather down in the dumps. Loneliness? A London ‘week’ ahead? Crashing down from the sociable high of hosting dad and Jean for lunch? Not sure.

But yes, weeknotes are going to be a Monday thing.

Granta 87: Jubilee – Granta Magazine

Granta 87: Jubilee - Various, Granta Magazine
Granta 87: Jubilee – Various, Granta Magazine

It may have been because I’ve been so immersed in moving, and with all the subsequent sorting out and settling in, that I found this volume of Granta essays and stories much slower going than Hidden Histories.

On the other hand, it might have been the weightier subject matter. I did skip a few of the accounts relating to 21st century atrocities.

That said, I did enjoy the pieces on Benjamin Pell and Bollywood.

An easy reading novel next, I think.

Publisher page: Granta 87: Jubilee – Granta Magazine

Herefordshire Week 003: Monday 13 – Sunday 19 January 2020

Another busy week of Sorting Stuff Out.

I think we both wish this stage was done and dusted, and that we could enjoy actually living here.

In no particular order here’s what the week held.

We found someone to come and clear the gutters. Chris from Cathedral Property Services turned up on time to take a look at the job and to give us a quote. He’s coming tomorrow [today!] to do the actual gutter clean.

Dad came over on Tuesday morning, in the rain, with two more bags of garden waste, and we fixed the fridge/freezer doors. Phil and I sorted out the extension cabling on Saturday. I cleaned the f/f on Sunday. We’ll turn it on on Monday!

Work week three went OK. The relentless rain and thick, thick cloud combined – I think – to make VOIP calls unworkable. Glad I have the work BlackBerry on hand as an alternative for making those direct and conference calls. I need to get better at ‘getting out of work on time’. It’s been 8pm finishes all this week.

I joined Wine Wednesday by phone and FaceTime. And, over the weekend, lined up Hazel and Catherine for an Easter visit. Brill!

On Thursday, in all the rain, we had a visit from the Western Power Tree assessor, who’d come to check how close to the power lines our trees are. Turns out they’re close enough to warrant a trim in the next few weeks. Not as close as the ones nearby that are regularly glowing mind you….

I’ve decided pre-work walks need to wait until early morning walks become viable. i.e. sunrise is earlier, and it’s lighter and warmer. I got out on Wednesday and Thursday, but once the temperature dropped Thursday night/Friday morning, I opted for mid-morning walks instead. Much safer underfoot.

Frosty Morning at Forty Acres

Highlight of the week was a day out in Hereford on Friday. After booking in for our “entertainment system” to be activated at the Nissan garage next Friday (turns out to be a more complicated job than we’d expected), we took boxes of stuff to the St Michael’s Hospice Holmer Road Home & Living Store / Warehouse, then toured the sheds on that stretch of the A49N. B&Q supplied a plug adaptor, mastic and a mastic gun – the door/window has a series of leaks along the top, Dunelm delivered a rimless sieve and a decent pepper grinder, Halfords provided a windscreen squeegee/scraper, de-icer, ice scraper, car washing liquid and recommended protective window washing/cleaning stuff, microfibre mitt.

We lunched, late, at The Beefy Boys (VG if you’re veggie/vegan, obviously VG if you’re not), then pottered around Hereford City Centre – Chapters Charity Bookshop, The Butter Market (discovered that the Fodder has a stall there where you can buy loose dry goods, there’s also a tasty looking deli, a coffee stand, a bakers, plus Timpsons, which is why we’d gone in there!), got cash (getting better at that!!), checked out Trekkit. Then back to The Old Market (aka the new shopping development, on the site of the old cattle market), for a coffee to pass the time before heading into the Odeon to watch Little Women. Then home…. via Waitrose – mainly for yoghurt so that we would have our first go with the Lakeland Yoghurt Maker on Saturday….

… which turned out to not be as nice and simple a process as the “bung it all in and switch it on” as the breadmaker. Sadly. Saturday morning’s “quick” go at our first batch required an hour or so prep – sterilizing the container, boiling the milk, allowing the milk to cool to 34C-42C. Our delayed trying out was due to the fact that you need a food thermometer to measure this temperature range, which we don’t have – have never had – and which the Lakeland online page/info doesn’t mention. We’d eventually managed to find a non-meat / non-jam food thermometer in the excellent Philip Morris & Son, on Widemarsh Street.

It didn’t help that Saturday was our first dry and sunny day here for over a week. A relief to be able to get outside and to stretch my legs, doing the Kerry’s Gate-Bacton-Abbey Dore walk before lunching in the conservatory. The first time I’d heard birds for a while, I realised. An afternoon of jobs – putting toys, surplus saucepans and flattened packing boxes into the roof, making cardboard filing dividers for dad’s desk, putting pictures away in the guest room wardrobe, catching up on computing and paperwork. We had a technicolor sunset at the end of the day too. Magic. And Ad Astra with pizza à la Phil for Saturday film night dinner.

Forty Acres - Kerry's Gate - Bacton - Abbey Dore Walk
Robin: Forty Acres – Kerry’s Gate – Bacton – Abbey Dore Walk
Skirrid Sunset
Skirrid Sunset

The spectacular sunset presaged a cold, cold night, and another day of clear blue skies, and sunny cold. Thick frost on the grass this morning, and icy roads as we discovered walking down to the Abbey. I spent the next few hours panicking about having to drive into town this afternoon and coming back again after dark. Even as we sat roasting in the conservatory. It all worked out fine. Phew. What will it be like once we get into proper minus temperatures…..? We’d spent the morning lugging garden waste to “mower turn”, and the fallen willow tree cuttings to the bonfire. Hot work.

Settling into Forty Acres: The fallen willow tree
Settling into Forty Acres: The fallen willow tree

The ponds are frozen. More snowdrops are coming through, and daffodil spears.

Second highlight of the week – our postman delivering a parcel for us while we were out, and leaving a message telling us where to find another item of post that wouldn’t fit through the letter box.

And looking through my diary, which doubles as my To Do List, and the photos I’m just getting up onto Flickr, I see that on Monday I did more sorting out in the kitchen – cleaned the chutney and jam store cupboard, pared down the frying pan and saucepan collection, reorganised what’s where on the worktop, decided which of the books on the bookshelf I’d like to keep and took down and photographed the pictures, paintings and plates that aren’t our style …. and went through my and Tom’s joint lego collection putting it into bags of the “same sorts of stuff”.

Forty Acres Plates
Forty Acres Plates: Nana Doris’ Welsh Ladies. Play spot the difference….
Lego sorting in progress

So, we really have got through a huge amount this week. Roll on week 4 – let the enjoyment commence! I need to take a leaf out of Phil’s book and get going on joining local groups to meet people. That’s No. 1 task for today.

Herefordshire Week 002: Monday 06 – Sunday 12 January 2020

Another week of slowing sorting things out here in Herefordshire. The snowdrops are out.

Sunrise, Mistletoe, Snowdrops: Snowdrops
Sunrise, Mistletoe, Snowdrops

Monday’s job was to convert the dining room into the TV snug. A success. We moved the dining table and chairs into the “hallway”, and now have a large table where things come to rest. In time I’m hoping it will be a nice place for a leisurely breakfast looking out over the trees and what we euphemistically call “the rose garden”. We also cleared some of the sideboard – jigsaws will go to dad and Jean for their jigsaw swapshop; toys will go to the St Michael’s Hospice Warehouse, which we are planning to visit tomorrow (Monday). All the glassware remains, ready for the Annual Birthday Party in March.

Tuesday saw an early morning start to return the hire car to Enterprise. The A465 morning rush hour traffic jam started at Belmont and continued to the Asda roundabout. We had a couple of hours to use before our rendezvous with dad-the-taxi, which we spent fruitfully in B&Q, Waitrose, Curry’s and Wilko. The range of opening hours resulted in much walking alongside traffic on the A49. You can see why people drive. The price for our taxi back out to Forty Acres was to help dad load the trailer with garden waste and to transport it to the cottage compost heap. Most of the cuttings were from a bay tree, so I kept a few sprigs to dry the leaves for cooking with.

Settling into Forty Acres: Morning sun on Ewyas Harold Common
Settling into Forty Acres: Morning sun on Ewyas Harold Common

Tuesday afternoon was our first experience working from our new home; and my first real working from home ever. So far so good.

I’m lucky enough to be able to continue my existing part-time pattern – Tuesday afternoons, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Phil’s an experienced remote worker, but for me it’s a new experience. Most of the time I’m working with people in other countries anyway, so it’s not vastly different other than in terms of my working environment. I’ve booked my trains for my first week back in London – I’m going back roughly once a month to join our global team video conference call and for other key events. I see these return visits as being akin to the Keeping In Touch days people have when they are on maternity/paternity leave. I don’t think I’ll mind working in greater isolation – I’m not a very sociable person at work, at least in terms of seeking out chats, coffees etc. If anything I can get too engrossed in my work. I could do with more occasional interruptions to get up and move about a bit more. One thing I know already is that I’m going to get a better office chair.

One big question about working remotely has been whether we can get a good enough internet connection. It’s essential for both of us to do our jobs, and our part of Herefordshire is still waiting for Fastershire to arrive. The roll out was due to start in Q4 2019 (and was due to start then ever since we’ve been planning to move here – a good 18 months). Phil emailed for an update (we’ve both signed up for updates but none has ever arrived) and – surprisingly – got a response. We’re now scheduled to start Q1/Q2 2020. We’ll see….. Let’s hope it’s not a Crossrail schedule. For now we have 4G wifi courtesy of Three, and although it’s a bit patchy at times, it seems workable.

Tuesday’s trip to Curry’s provided the Roku Streaming Stick Plus TV plug-in. The cottage has no TV aerial, and we’ve zero reception. So, we’re saying au revoir to broadcast TV and moving over to 100% streaming – downloading and iPlayer-etc-ing. This week’s telly viewing comprised Dracula, Jonestown and Wisting.

Wednesday and Thursday were work-focussed; so much so that on Wednesday I totally missed Wine Wednesday. Hazel and Catherine sent me a photo – I do miss them! I was rarely the first to arrive at Bow Lane Wine Vaults, but if this week was anything to go by I really need to reestablish the WW finishing work deadline!

This week we also worked out our morning walk / run alternatives. I’ve a well established route from the Barbican to the London Eye and back, finetuned to last just over an hour, AKA 1 x In Our Time + 1 x The Allusionist in podcast listening terms. Before starting work on Wednesday and Thursday, and on Friday morning, I tried a few options for my early morning walk, Herefordshire-style. Headtorch on. The route to the Abbey and back proved relatively busy; the route to Kerry’s Gate, down to Riverdale and back proved much quieter – and hilly, which is good. Friday morning’s walk came with a technicolour sunrise and a massive moon, mewling buzzards and darting hedge sparrows. Magic. That’s the one.

Sunrise, Mistletoe, Snowdrops
Sunrise, Mistletoe, Snowdrops: Sunrise

With dad’s taxi service, we picked up the car on Friday – it’s a 10 year old Nissan Note, roomy for four tall people and plenty of space in the boot – and spent the rest of the day with dad, taking stuff to the tip and ferrying the fridge/freezer and washing machine dad and Jean had acquired for us back to the cottage. A lot of manual labour today!! More so for Phil and my dad to be honest. That done, Phil and I moved the remaining spare bed out of my office and into his more spacious office. And sorted the bedding. There’s a lot of bedding here…. much of it destined for the St Michael’s Hospice Charity Warehouse.

Saturday started with a wet walk, down to Quarrels Green and on to Upper/Lower Jury Farms, along the “main road” to the crossroads and back via Wellfield and The Foxes.

The rest of the day was dedicated to sorting out the kitchen, which was always going to be a mammoth task. As Phil says, this house is where things go when new stuff is bought so there is a vast collection of crockery, cookware, pots and pans – not all of which is required (or desired). Lots more things went into the charity shop boxes. We need dad and Jean to come and decide what they want to keep. They both say “get rid of everything” but I think our “everything” is rather more ruthless and widespread than maybe they’d expected. But that’s OK. Another of the tricky things has been working out where to have things, like where’s the best place for the kettle / tea / coffee etc, and where’s the best place for the breadmaker (and all its ingredients). I reckon we will be rejigging things for a while yet. We’ve confessed to moving the cutlery drawer….. And repurposing the main bin for recycling…..

Sunday – more kitchen clearance, plus our first weekly shop at Aldi and Sainsbury’s – where our amateur status was revealed by the want of a pound coin for a shopping trolley – plus a trip to Newtown Motors aka Hereford Nissan, to suss out getting the radio etc activated in our car. Then on to The New Barn for Sunday lunch with dad and Jean, and our Abbey Dore neighbours Peter and Suzy. Top tips on local hairdressers (Lucy’s in Peterchurch) and Thai Home Delivery from Sunanta’s Thai Kitchen in Ewyas Harold – two things we struggled with in the Barbican! Phil did the drive home.

Settling into Forty Acres: Our car!
Settling into Forty Acres: Our car!

Weatherwise we’ve had a lot of rain (with more to come). Turns out we need to get the gutters cleared. So far we’ve had no joy in finding someone to do them. That’s a job for next week. Friday and Sunday were lovely sunny days with beautiful blue skies. Gorgeous. I am looking forward to having finished all the “jobs” and relaxing / enjoying the area a bit more…..

To follow our progress moving to the country, check my Herefordshire Week Notes here each Monday. Phil is doing his version too. If photos suffice, mine are on Flickr: Adieu London; Hello Herefordshire.

(Don’t tell anyone, but I can hear mouse size scamperings in the roof…..)