In which there is a missing cat, a cat chase and a hopeful outcome

On Friday night, I called Charlie in from the garden and he came sprinting across the lawn to me, neatly avoiding Belle as she launched at him from the side. Later, there were odd scuffling noises in the night, which turned out to be Charlie scratching at the laundry basket as he nested amongst the pegs. So far, so normal.

I saw him in the basket in the morning, petted his head, and trotted happily off to London. Some few hours later I had three missed voicemails and a text: ‘You need to call me. Charlie has hurt his leg and I can’t get to him’. It turned out that Charlie was holding up one of his hind legs in a way that boded no good, but was so resistant to further examination that he’d run away to hide in an old outbuilding in the field next to the house. Outbuilding 1 is on the boundary line between our garden, the field and the neighbour’s garden. It doesn’t seem to have a door because it’s not in use, but it does have a cat sized hole in the rusted corrugated iron. And there Charlie stayed, just visible through the hole.

By the time I got home, he couldn’t be seen, so had either removed further into the outbuilding or moved on somewhere else. Either way, he wasn’t giving us any signs of his presence and there wasn’t much to be done but hope that he’d come in overnight.

He did not come in overnight. I’m all for the cats having some independence and some time to walk by themselves but I’m also in favour of them eating. We went to look for him and finally found him in Outbuilding 2, which did have a door. He had curled himself up on an old cement bag, and was looking very unhappy indeed. He ate a few bits of Whiskas, leveraged himself up and walked unsteadily away for some privacy and a bathroom break. I had the basket ready to put him in… and as soon as he saw it, he adopted a surprising turn of speed and bolted straight back into Outbuilding 1.

So we took the side of it down. This still left some fairly solid corrugated iron at the bottom but there was enough of a gap to get in, slide down some rubble and hope that either Charlie would run back out of the hole (and into the waiting cat carrier) or realise there was no escape and sit mildly. There was another hole at the far side of the outbuilding, but up a slope of rubble and surely a three legged cat couldn’t…?

Oh, but he could, and went to ground in the neighbour’s garden. They were out. I fumed inwardly at the English obsession with gardens, privacy and trespassing and we went home to wait for the neighbours’ return.

The neighbours came home and we trooped round, with the cat carrier, a large towel, and a pair of gardening gloves in lieu of gauntlets. Charlie had ensconced himself behind their large pile of grass cuttings and beneath a web of sticks and branches. I carefully moved the wood away, stroked him a bit to calm him down. And he legged it through the wire fence behind him and into yet another garden.

You would not think a three legged cat could be so agile. It’s amazing what fear and adrenaline will do. On to the next garden, by which time Charlie had managed to jump up a few feet back into our garden, where we finally trapped him without anyone losing a limb in the process. Though all this, Belle was nearby, keeping a watchful eye on proceedings as though making sure no more harm came to her brother.

Now he’s spending his second night at the vets, after being diagnosed with a broken femur and biting a nurse’s finger in gratitude. We have no idea how the break happened, but he has no other injuries so it’s unlikely he was hit by a car. This morning, he had his leg pinned and plated, and tomorrow he’ll be home. The vets have all been great. Charlie is actually doing well but they’re keeping him in to monitor his pain management. He’ll spend three weeks in a crate (which we’re renting from the vets) and then, hopefully, he’ll be out wreaking havoc on the local wildlife again.

In which I hit the re-set button

Mostly, by taking a week off and having a few days camping and hiking in Wales. The rest of the week I’ve been at home, balancing my time between pre-move fixes and chores around the house, and doing nothing. It’s simultaneously obvious and easily forgotten, how important it is to have time just to be.

The campsite was ideal. Yes, hot water; no, electricity. The downside was it rained and I had wet hair for two days (I shoved it under a hat). The upside was I mostly forgot about my phone. It wasn’t enough time away (is there such a thing as enough time away?), but it was a good start. Successful camping is all about getting the basics right, and they were.

And I hiked/scrambled/slogged up Snowdon, about which I’d been somewhat trepidatious. Much as I like walking, I don’t like going up. Snowdon was about going up in rain, into cloud. As neither of us is feeling at the peak of physical fitness, the deal was that if either of us wanted to stop, for any reason, we would. In the end, it wasn’t as tough physically as I thought it would be, so it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t get to the top. I did wonder ‘But why am I bothering?’ and the answer came ‘Because there’s tea up there.’

I learned a few things along the way. The views are amazing, but I don’t like scrambling for them. I can make it up a small mountain, but mountains are not my achievement. Tea is a great incentive. There is a place for fleece in my wardrobe, bought one morning when it was clear I didn’t have enough layers. Cheapshit waterproofs do not hack it in Snowdonia. It was good to move, to push it a bit, to have fresh air strongly laced with rain whipping my head clear. I need to make time for more of that.

Back at home, I’ve been trying not to lose my days to things I must do, because the working week is full of briars enough. Holiday is about what you want to do but I also needed to feel that it was strongly differentiated from work time. Days full of email and meetings rarely give you anything to show at the end of them. So I decided to enjoy the chores that had to be done. A couple of hours in the garden and it’s tidy again. A morning washing down exterior woodwork, in the sun, listening to the radio. I’ve replaced a shower hose – who knew it was that easy? Small tasks, small satisfactions but at the end of the day I can look around and see ‘I did that’. Good.

Hello? Hello? Is anyone still there?

Bit of an unexpected blogging break there, chaps. My laptop died unexpectedly, and it’s taken a few weeks to figure out what’s wrong and get it fixed. Back up your laptops, friends! I managed to upload my CV to Dropbox from email, but other than that, I wiped everything. I didn’t have much stored anyway, and really old photos are on my really old Mac, which still fires up if I can round up enough hamsters to power it, but still. Read my cautionary tale and be afeared! TimeMachine is synching with a shiny new external hard drive even as I type.

So, what’s been happening at Musings Towers, you cry? Well, in no particular order:

  1. The cats have killed the usual number of small birds and mammals, and memorably, one bloody huge pigeon. Belle made a valiant attempt to eat it, but after strewing feathers everywhere she gave up and slept for the rest of the day.
  2. I’m in shock (and anger, and disbelief and denial, and and and) about Brexit. Let’s just not go there.
  3. In partial response to the above, I started comfort reading fiction. I’m half way through A.S. Byatt’s Frederica quartet. I know I’d read The Virgin in the Garden and Babel Tower years ago, but I’ve never read the whole thing. Part of it was being read on R4 and it immediately became imperative to acquire the lot. Reading it has been interspersed with various other books, ranging from the last Terry Pratchet, to the latest Tessa Hadley, The Past. Fiction helps when the world’s gone mad, as it assuredly has.
  4. Not so much on the baking front, but this weekend I managed to make:
    1. Coconut macaroons that did not turn into coconut soup
    2. Some gluten free scones that didn’t rise at all, but to which all the baking powder (5tsp!) did impart a slightly metallic taste. I must be able to do better than that.
    3. Proper scones, to be eaten with proper jam and proper clotted cream.
  5. After several lovely years at this incarnation of Musing Towers, I’m moving. I will be sad to leave, but my landlords are getting on a bit and keeping the farm going is incredibly hard work, so they’re thinking about selling up and retiring into this house. I think my new place will be good, though. It’s in a village that has a shop, two pubs, a vets, a library and a doctor’s surgery. Inevitably, it also has a fair number of people in order to support all that but with any luck, I’ll never meet any of them. I’m moving over the Bank Holiday weekend in August, so I’m in that in between phase where I have to get all the moving out chores done here as well as planning packing and the purchasing of new bits & pieces for the house.
  6. After several years of being bored off my tits a lot of the time, I’ve finally knuckled down and registered for another OU course. I still can’t afford to do a PhD, and there’s no other classics stuff I can sensibly do, so I’ve taken a complete change of direction and gone for a degree in Psychology & Law instead. It will start in October, and I got very excited, anticipating the delivery of the usual OU box of readables I could dive into, but it turns out that this course is all online. Newfangled didactic methods, I never heard the like.
  7. In order to afford the OU course, I’m planning to give back my really quite nice convertible and swap it for something that isn’t a convertible and is therefore about half the price. I don’t much care what, because in my spoilt, princess way, if the roof doesn’t come down it’s not a proper car anyway, so who cares? Anyway, let’s hope that Mercedes-Benz will play along with the idea, ‘cos I don’t have a Plan B.
  8. Because some attempt at exercise was well overdue, I suffered through 5 personal training sessions. Every one of them left me aching, but I got stronger every time, too, and a decade plus old injury seems to have been fixed. ¬†I’m definitely booking some more, and it’s beginning to seem inevitable that I’ll start running again, too.
  9. Bringing us right up to date, I drank a bit too much sparkling stuff at Battle Proms at Blenheim last night, and am slightly suffering for it today. But there were fireworks, and cannon and musket fire as well as the music, and if Land of Hope and Glory only sounds ironic at the moment? This too shall pass.


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What’s been cooking?

Lots of different cooking activity lately, from which I have learned that you can do what you like with granola but you need decent sized flakes of desiccated coconut to make successful coconut macaroons. Seriously. I made extremely sweet coconut soup and even when I decided that treating it like cake mix and baking it in cases might work, it was still a bit wrong. Don’t go there.

Becky’s granola by way of Nigella who got it from Andy in Connecticut

I’ve started making my own granola, based on a Nigella recipe but with reduced sugary elements because just the thought of fruit compote + syrup + honey + sugar makes my teeth itch. But it’s kind of fun to mess around with the ingredients, and it means I get to skip the raisins (I have never understood the dependency of breakfast foods on raisins) and use what I prefer instead.

Today’s recipe was:

  • 225g oats
  • 60g white sesame seeds
  • 60g sunflower seeds
  • 60g light brown sugar
  • 125g whole almonds (I’d have preferred pecans with the maple syrup but didn’t have any)
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp runny honey
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1/2 tsp Maldon sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • optional apple sauce or compote of choice
  • 125g dried apricots or dried fruit of your choice. I mean, I suppose you could use raisins. Freak.

Mix it all up, bang it in the oven on a couple of baking trays and leave it for about 20 mins or until golden brown. I will say that because I don’t put so much liquid in, the granola doesn’t clump as much as you might prefer. I don’t care, so I don’t worry about it, but if you do then throw in some apple sauce or similar.

Once it’s out of the oven and cool, add in the fruit. Don’t do what I did first time and bake the fruit with the rest of the mix, because then you end up with fruit that is caramelized if you’re lucky and plain old burnt if you’re not ūüôā

Store in airtight jars and you’ve got a couple of weeks’ worth of breakfast. At least you get to start every day with a sense of achievement/smugness, before everyday working life beats it out of you.

Gluten free lemon meringue cake

I made lemon meringue cake to take into the office and it destroyed productivity for the entire morning. The whole cake was gone by 10am and my colleagues were on a sugar rush like kids at a party. This cake has now become the benchmark by which other baking is measured, although probs best if we don’t tell senior management about it.

So far, so good but it’s my friend S’s birthday in a couple of weeks and she is gluten intolerant. So, today I’m practicing a gluten free version, which means I’ve basically made up the ingredients for the sponge layer based on limited knowledge and guesswork. I even looked up the point of bicarbonate of soda so I knew whether I needed to keep it or not.

Lemon meringue cake is basically a fancy sandwich cake. The biggest problem I had with it was maintaining the structural integrity of the top layer of sponge + meringue while maneuvering it into position. I don’t particularly like the texture you get with gluten free flour and I don’t think it’ll be stable enough to hold together during that process, so I’m going with almond flour.

For the full on gluten version, it’s off to Nigella again.

Here’s what I’m trying as the alternative ingredients list, we’ll see what happens.

  • 125g butter
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 150g almond flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
  • 1 lemon
  • 4tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp milk
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • good quality lemon curd
  • 150ml double cream for whipping

Lemon curd

Just in case this post isn’t hitting enough middle class keywords, I made my own lemon curd yesterday, specifically for use in the lemon meringue cake. It it is ridiculously easy, to the point that I’m kind of embarrassed I haven’t done it before.

  • 4 unwaxed lemons, juice and zest
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs + 1 egg yolk
  • 100g butter, cubed

Put the lemon juice and zest, sugar and butter and melt in a bowl over a pan of lightly simmering water. Usual caveats about bottom of bowl not touching water apply. Stir occasionally until all the butter has melted.

Meanwhile, lightly whisk the eggs. Once the butter has melted, slowly whisk the eggs into the lemon mixture, keeping it all over the heat. Leave to cook for 10-13 mins, stirring occasionally, until it’s thickened and coats the back of a spoon. Leave to cool, again stirring occasionally, then spoon into sterilized jars. Keep it in the fridge.

[I sterilised my jars by washing them in boiling, soapy water and then baking them at 170C for 20 minutes].

Friday eye candy

‘It’s Friday, I’m in love’, as Robert Smith sang in a rare upbeat moment. Mostly I’m in love with the fact that I have the day off and am about to head to Sussex for the weekend; at least, ‘about’ if you interpret it loosely to mean when I’ve had another coffee and I’m showered, dressed, packed and know where I’m going.

However, general exuberance of spirit has also tipped me over into fond feelings for any number of items, starting with this hedgehog cushion from Anorak (to which I was directed via Domestic Sluttery). For a start, hedgehogs are adorable.

Hedgehog cushion
Look at the hedgehogs! Like little shuffling lemons.

Turns out they’re even more adorable when cast in sunny yellow on a navy background, pretty much guaranteed to brighten up the gloomiest of days. I have a room for this cushion. I just need a chair for it.

John Lewis velvet buttoned armchair
Chair of wondrousness

Perhaps, this chair. I do love this chair, because it is so ridiculous. Really, who has the sort of house into which a yellow (they’re calling it gold, but it is clearly yellow) velvet armchair will fit?

Answer: me. I could make it work, if only to house the hedgehog cushion. And it would glow like a jewel on dark days and brighten my world.

As there is an accidental summery, yellow theme developing, I shall stick with it. What would Friday Eye Candy be without shoes? On a different blog, that’s what.

Hobbs Hattie Sandal
Super sunny yellow shoes

Hobbs brought these to my attention a few weeks ago, ¬†but fortunately my local store wasn’t stocking them. Their shoes are hit and miss for me, so I wouldn’t buy them on teh interwebs because of the heartbreak if they didn’t fit and I had to return them. I graciously share them with you and I hope anyone who buys them enjoys a long and happy life with them.

Now, look. You’ve got a comfortable armchair and cushion, and a killer pair of shoes. What’s missing from this picture?

Far from the Madding Crowd Penguin classics

Obvs. A well dressed hardback is almost irresistible. I’m not even a huge fan of Hardy (why does Hardy get the fancy treatment but not Trollope? Dear Random Penguins, Barchester Chronicles in lush hardbacks, please, and be quick about it) but I still want this on a handy side table near my new chair.

And with that, it’s time I was off.

In which I book a reading retreat

Think of it. You take yourself off somewhere lovely for a weekend in which all you have to do is write. A generous host provides food, wine, tea, biscuits, sympathetic company. ¬†Writers’ retreats always sound amazing, and there was yet another fabulous sounding weekend being dangled in front of my nose on Twitter, and there was me still not being a writer. Damn writers, all they have to do is sweat heart’s blood and tears until they have crafted something that, if they are incredibly lucky, will get published, and if they are truly the child of the gods, will earn them a minimal living. They have all the fun.

So I suggested that someone should offer a reading retreat, and it turns out that they already do. Therefore have I booked myself on it, and therefore shall I head off to Sussex in June to sleep in a bell tent, be plied with food and wine, possibly go horse-riding or have a massage, and in between read, read, read.

Blessed as I am with a relative degree of independence, disposable income and no children, I could, of course, do most of that any weekend, without paying extra for the privilege. But I don’t, because life gets in the way and even on my laziest weekends, I still have to get off the sofa and put the kettle on (feebly raises back of hand to pallid brow in ‘woe is me’ gesture). The idea of a weekend when all I’m supposed to be doing is reading and the boring stuff happens by magic (aka other people’s effort) is pure decadence. Hurrah!

Another year older and what do you get?

This year, half a share in a chess set, a gold bee necklace (I’d just re-read Angelmaker but the bee is not mechanical), the usual tenner from the APs and a weekend away camping. Handily, the latest boyfriend’s birthday is on the same day, so he has the other half-share in the chess set. I am comprehensively rubbish at chess, so it’s an aspirational present, in that I aspire to something more than ‘Remind me how the cute little horse moves again?’

We set off to go camping in the sort of weather that makes sensible people shudder, draw the curtains and pop the kettle on. Between Google directions and sheer luck, we navigated the wilds of Norfolk and found the farm where the pitch was booked. There is some slight irony in paying to stay in a field on a horse farm for a couple of days, when the rest of the time I pay to live in a converted barn on a horse farm, with a view of a field. (This has been quite some problem in booking cottages for weekends away. I’m usually looking for somewhere quiet and rural, and I favour old places with wood-burning stoves. My sister pointed out that I should just stay at home and save ¬£350, and she’s right.)

The tent was pitched by torchlight in the teeth of a gale, while the rain poured down in a most un-birthdaylike way. I sat helpfully in the car, reading out the instructions, until it was my turn to contribute by dishing up the magnificent birthday supper. So I opened the thermos of tea and doled out the bread and cheese.

While I cannot sleep through the slightest urban disturbance, rain drumming on whatever-the-modern-equivalent-of-canvas-is, horses whinnying, cockerels crowing and wind rustling the tent don’t bother me at all. One night spent sleeping on hard ground is also great for straightening my back, and thus is it proven that I’m not a real princess. Sigh.

The camp site was within decent walking distance of Wells-next-the-Sea, so that was Saturday’s plan. Fortified with tea, leftover bread and cheese and ginger biscuits (because you’re allowed scratch meals when camping, that’s part of the fun) we set off in search of beach huts, amusement arcades and chips.

Beach huts

Behold the beach huts! If you ask me, Well-next-the-Sea has more than its fair share, and most unreasonably, none of them are mine. Also, what you need with that amount of sand to play with, is a great, lolloping dog. Probably of the Irish wolfhound variety. Meanwhile, back in the real world, it was time for the trip to turn seedy.

For the most part, gambling bores the arse off me but I do like the two-penny waterfalls that are still to be found in seaside amusements. So I recklessly threw away a whole pound, and all the incidental winnings on the off-chance of winning a horrible plastic keyring. I came away about ¬£1.40 down, a wiser woman, and let us hope that I have learned my lesson that gambling doesn’t pay.

(That was the seedy part, in case you couldn’t tell.)

The calculations as to appropriate chip-eating time were complex: there was a 5 mile walk back to the camp site and we had no intention of dragging ourselves further than the village pub once we got there. That meant chips were probably dinner but we also had to be back before it got dark. Then, as everyone knows, chips are best eaten while walking along a sea-front, but in accurately named Wells-next-the-Sea, the sea itself is too far from the chippy. Like, totally ZOMG, how were all these factors to be reconciled? After exploring every shop in Wells, buying a paper so that the big crossword could provide the evening’s entertainment and identifying the marina as the next best thing to an actual sea front, it was finally time. They were the best chips I’d had in ages, too.