Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Some of the books that I read whilst on holiday

In reply to my last post, as to what to blog about, Campfire suggested writing about books read recently. This did start out as a bookish blog, but when one has been reading at the rate that I have over the last few years (although things have dropped off since mid 2011), it was just eating too much into my reading time to write about them all.

But anyway, here's a round up of some of the books that I read whilst on holiday.

I treated myself to the Greyladies Publication of Summer Pudding by Susan Scarlett, aka Noel Streatfeild. Greyladies have been republishing the Susan Scarlett novels and I always buy them. They're much lighter than the adult novels that she wrote under her own name, and to my mind they feel a little bit like her childrens books only for grownups. This one, penned in 1943, tells the story of a girl bombed out of her London office who goes to join her mother and sister evacuated to the countryside and how they all become involved in village life. Immensely readable.

At the airport, I bought the new Joanna Trollope, The soldier's wife, which was an extremely topical novel from the eminent novelist. This kept me occupied (with breaks for naps) for all of the 4 hour flight to Tenerife so was quite a good investment. I'm interested to know more about the research that Trollope did as this struck me as something which was probably quite true to the experiences of women married to men in the armed forces - one of my friends was for a time married to a Royal Marine, so that is the understanding that I have had. As usual, there is a good strong plot with various sub plots that make it engrossing to read along with the sense, not always present in her novels, of learning about something new.

I reread Enid Blyton's The secret Room - it's ages since I'd read one of the Five find outer books. The last Enid Blyton I reread left me cold as I remembered the plot line far too easily but this was excellent - it's the one where they discover disguises and much amusement is had by the unpolitically correct Fatty, Larry, Daisy, Pip and Bets, not to mention Buster the dog, and of course they manage to solve a mystery and outwit Mr Goon by the end of the book too.

I also enjoyed reading Lorna Hill's The secret which is the last in her Wells series. I'm still trying to track down a copy of Vicki in Venice (ideally in the Girls Gone By edition), but had had this on my shelves for over two years and just couldn't wait to get hold of the predecessing book before reading this. I didn't think it was quite as enjoyable as the early books - I like the way that some of the characters crop up again, but really I'd love to hear more about Veronica and Sebastien and the people from the early books!

Anyway, the husband is now home, and as he's got a quick turnaround before he goes out to band practice tonight I should probably go and feed him. A food related post later in the week I think.*

* Yes, I am struggling without cake and ate 2 sports flapjacks last night to compensate.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

So it's back from Tenerife to normality, and I have to confess to being pretty irritable today. I'm tired after a week of swimming, it's cold (well, cold compared to Tenerife even if it's much milder than when I left), there are mountains of washing to do (Mr W was away working for most of the week), and I tried and failed dismally to complete the 5k swim that I wanted to earlier (owing to tiredness). And it's back to work tomorrow.

Cake might make things better, but Mr W and I are trying to give up cake and chocolate and pudding for lent. I had an exemption for chocolate over the last week due to the excessive amount of swimming, but the lack of refined carbs (which is basically what I live on) is making me feel grumpy.*

On the plus side, I have been very lucky to have had such an amazing holiday, and I really benefitted from the sun and all of that swimming. Now that I'm back, the days definitely seem to be a bit longer (although it was a little difficult to tell last night as I insisted on keeping my sunnies on for the drive home), and I can see some spring plants appearing.

I definitely need to keep working hard at my swimming over the next few weeks as I have a lot of swim races lined up from the end of May - almost one every 2-3 weeks - so that is the plan, besides work for now.

*I'm trying to work out what I'll do with the extra time free from baking cakes, and concluded that more blogging would be a good option, but since I won't be baking, what will I have to blog about??

PS: The camp organiser has put up photos on his facebook page - you don't have to be a member to view them, so do have a look if you're especially bored here. I'm the one wearing the red hat.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Tenerife Part 4

It's the last day in Tenerife, and whilst I'm a bit sad to be leaving the sun and the awesome outdoor swimming pool, and going back from having super coaching twice a day to swimming on my own, I have to say that it WILL be nice to get back to my own comfortable bed and Mr W on Saturday.

I hit a low spot on Wednesday afternoon, was absolutely shattered and got very cold on the swim. This lasted through to Thursday morning's swim and I felt quite miserable. In retrospect, although I'd been eating a huge amount, it probably wasn't quite enough to keep up with all of the extra exercise - things seem to have balanced out again now.

Thursday lunchtime saw a bit of a crisis when after skyping Mr W for half an hour, I logged on to check that all was well with my bank account - something I do every other day in the UK but hadn't since Saturday. all was NOT well, as there was a payment of £1100 to Admiral insurance, and a suspicious payment to O2. My car insurance is certainly not that expensive, is with Sheila's wheels, and is due in quite a different month. An anxious call to my bank, The Co-Operative, revealed that not only had these transacations taken place but there had been a lot of declined transactions from places that I'd not heard of. I should have realised that something was suspicious when I attempted to top up my phone with my debit card on Saturday and it was declined. The nice lady went through every transaction of the last month and then said that they would be able to refund the money, including that of the charges for being overdrawn quite so much, within 24 hours, and I'm happy to see that today the money is back. Very grateful that they were so helpful. Of course, I am also happy to prove Mr W wrong about taking cash abroad - if I didn't have some euro notes with my knickers in my suitcase, I would be a little bit stuffed now without my debit card (which has had to be cancelled).

After that I was quite worked up, which helped me overcome my lethargy of the last 24 hours and I was ready for a good swim in the 50m pool. After a warm up, the coach announced that we were going to do a "broken" version of our race distance - for me that is the 3.8km "ironman" swim. So, we wouild swim 4x400m (with 30 seconds rest between each one), 4x300m (20 seconds rest between), 4x200m (10 seconds rest), 4 x 50m (5 seconds rest). It was pretty intense, and I was pleased with myself for keeping up with another guy who is a seasoned ironman triathlete - in the event, I beat him by 7 seconds, and came in first out of the three of us doing that distance in 62 minutes 40 seconds (after the 4 mins 15 seconds of resting taken off). Am very pleased to achieve that at this point in the season - I still have a way to go to get round a 3.8k in under an hour but I'm making good progress.

This morning we had our last open water swim and we must have covered about 2km of swimming in the sea whilst the sun rose before a well deserved breakfast. I'm now back at the pool for our final swim in the 25m pool. Sadly, the bright blue skies of earlier have disappeared behind a cloud but I must make the most of the last session outside, won't be doing another one of those for a few months yet in the UK, although I understand that it's been quite warm the last few days?

Fly back at lunchtime tomorrow, so hope to be home in time for a late dinner with Mr W before I tackle the mountains of washing.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Tenerife Part 3

Here's a couple of pictures! There are palm trees here - and that's the 25m pool, and above that, the view from the cafe in the training facility.

back in the 25m pool this morning, after some good drills I could really feel an improvement in my stroke. Really excited about seeing the filming of my stroke tonight as I think I've come on a lot. Let's hope I can remember how to do it when we get back into the 50m pool tonight.

Now the sunglasses are on, there's not a cloud in sight, although there's a nice breeze keeping me cool in the shade. It's time for a banana milkshake and a flapjack - it's a hard life really! Rereading My cousin Rachel - seems weird to be reading a gothic novel in such brilliant sunshine. Not sure I'll be able to read it tonight - might be a bit scary since I'm on my own.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Tenerife Part 2

So, the wifi in the hotel isn't too good, which has thus far prevented me from skyping Mr W, so today I'm trying with the wifi up at the swimming pool which is all good so far, except that I forgot my camera cable so can't put any pictures up, which is a shame as I tried my new Fastskin Goggles today and I have some pictures of me looking really really cool!

Tenerife so far is even more wonderful than I could have expected apart from the blasted wisdom tooth (really hoping to avoid a trip to the doctor or dentists for the antibx that I think I need). The food is AMAZING - wonderful buffets full of Verity-friendly-food - I've never seen anything like it. The swimming is fantastic - we are using a 50m pool and a 25m pool. Yesterday we swam in both, including a 90 minute endurance session which was quite tough.

This morning we got up whilst it was still dark and walked to the beach during sunrise to then do some open water swimming in a lagoon in our wetsuits! We had the place to ourselves until a 50 year old woman came in for a skinny dip - we tried to avert our eyes.

After a large breakfast (seriously, could not believe how much the guys were eating!) (well, even I had a large breakfast compared to my usual standards of nothing), we came back up to the swimming facility (about 15 mins walk away) to use the hydrodynamic swim flume, which is a little pool where you swim against a wall of water and they film you from all angles. Would have been quite cool apart from my huge phobia of drains in swimming pools, so it was an achievement for me even to get in.

We've now got a couple of hours before we hit the 50m pool for another hour and a half's swim. I'm hoping the sun will stay out as it's a little cloudy which makes it chilly when we stop swimming for some coaching. Then we'll have a session of swim analysis looking at the videos that the coach has taken, before heading back to the hotel for food. Last night we were booked for dinner at 7.30 but all practically mutinied at the thought of waiting so long, not least because we've all been in bed by 9.30, so it will be an early dinner and another early night I expect.

Hope all's well in England - it's difficult for me to keep up with Google Reader, so do put links to any interesting posts on your blog in the comments so I can have a look when I get back.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Tenerife Part 1

So, Mr W, Bernard and I got up this morning at 4am, and Mr W drove us all to the airport. After a bit of waiting around (and yes, a book purchase, which had to be zipped into my jacket owing to Ryanair's strict cabin baggage rules and my cabin bag already being stuffed to the brim) at the airport, and then a 4 hour flight, I was suddenly in Tenerife! Flew in over the sea (never done that before!) and greeted with sunshine, and a warm breeze. The weather here is about 19/20C today, quite windy, and some cloud, but it's a great improvement on the UK... I was met by another camp participant and we had a transfer to our hotel about half an hour away, which gave me a chance to see a little bit of the island, and now I've got three hours to unpack (why did I bring so much stuff?), try to get online (success) so that hopefully I can skype Mr W tonight, and to purchase some essential supplies (which necessitated an anxious conversation via text message with Mr W where I tried to establish the Spanish for "rice" (Verity friendly) and "wheat" (not Verity friendly). There is a view of the sea from my room window (how strange to see black rather than white/yellow sand) and the hotel itself has a lovely pool if I can muster any energy for any extra swimming. Or maybe I'll be able to collapse on one of those sun loungers...

PS: Wisdom tooth on the other side from the one that caused all the trouble in the Autumn is being tricky - please cross everything that I can get through the week ok!

PPS: Having waited 20 minutes to try to upload my photos and failed, I'm giving up for now which is a shame - I managed to get some on facebook so if you want to look me up there then do :)

Sunday, 12 February 2012

A hectic weekend

It's been a hectic weekend, but I have done lots of lovely things! Well, I say lovely, but I'm not sure the first one was.

On Friday night Mr W picked me up from work and we went straight to the cinema to see The woman in black. I've been looking forward to this for ages - the book scared me enough to give me nightmares for several days, fortunately I was a bit less scared by the stage version. However, the film should come with a health warning - it was at least ten times more scary than the book, and I can't believe it had a 12A certificate. I'm glad to have seen it, and although I am less than convinced by Daniel Radcliffe, the settings and the atmosphere were top notch. Plenty of moments when the film made you jump as well as be absolutely chilled by it. Even Mr W admitted to being scared. Came home and we had to put all of the lights on, and sleep with all of the lights on too.

On Saturday, I went to a workshop organised by Free Cakes for Kids Oxford - a lady from the Sugarcraft Guild had volunteered to come over to spend the afternoon with us to show us various sorts of ways of writing on cakes. I learned to make a piping bag out of greaseproof paper (no more expensive ones from Lakeland for me!), and to use it to pipe royal icing with. I also learnt two different ways of making roses - bit more practice there I think! Nice to meet the rest of the volunteers.

Finally, on Sunday, Mr W and I had a masterclass with a man called David Thornton. Unless you are into brass bands, this name will mean nothing to you, but he is a virtuosi euphonium player who plays with the Black Dyke Band (my favourite band and arguably the best in the country). We are helping out another band with a competition called The Areas in mid-March (Mr W on trombone, myself on the timps), and he had been invited along to put the band through their paces. As a euphonium player myself, I couldn't decide whether I was relieved or disappointed to be playing the timps. Very useful workshop for the band and at the end he played a virtuosi solo "Grandfather's clock" which was great!

(Oh, and talking of Free Cakes for Kids, my butterfly cake that I posted a few weeks ago is their "cake of the month" and you can see their blog post with a mini interview with me here.)

Apologies if this week is quiet on the blogging front, a family member has to go to hospital for an overnight stay and I'll be on taxi and visiting duty. I also have a crazy amount of things in my work calendar to get done before I have a week off, and somehow I need to pack and leave lots of surprises for Mr W around the house.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

An evening with the Hummingbird Cake Days book

Apologies for lack of posting this week - snow, much else to occupy my brain this week, and getting ready to go away in 8 days time seem to have disrupted things. Still, at least I haven't be disrupted on the baking front and on Wednesday I spent a delightful hour and a half in the kitchen baking. I admit that I was sniffy about the first Hummingbird Cookbook (mistakes, oddities, and the requirment to own an inordinate number of different sorts of tins), but I have to say that the second one is excellent. Perhaps this is because they got the more mainstream recipes out of the way in the first book, leaving the second one opened to more interesting things! I did put my own spin on the three recipes that I tried, partly to de-gluten them but also to just do things my way!
Mr W had some good job feedback on Wednesday, and to celebrate I decided to make him a special cake. As he's out on Tuesday (Valentine's Day), I decided to combine the two. I made the black and white chocolate cheesecake slices. As you see, I didn't quite make slices as I used my heart shaped tin, and rather than putting the topping on at random, I wrote a secret message in it :) Although I made this gluten free, I haven't got around to trying it yet, and Mr W is adament that I wouldn't like it!

I then made the apple and oatmeal cookies - I modified these as I didn't have the patience to grate my apple, so I just put apple chunks in instead. Very tasty, although quite crumbly, but I suspect that that was due to my substitution of gluten free flour. Most have gone already and the remainder are earmarked for Mr W's packed lunches.

Finally, I had a craving for a really tasty and refreshing cake, so I decided on the orange almond and yoghurt loaf. I didn't have any yoghurt so made it without and it still tastes absolutely wonderful! Will definitely be making this one again!

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Weekend in the life...

After a busy week at work, it's time for cake making. I had two birthday cakes to make today and also made some biscuits - Mr W's family have a bubble of birthdays in early February and we're having a bit of a party tomorrow afternoon.

Michael was 16 on Tuesday, and as a total surprise for him, I've made him a cake to resemble the electric guitar he was given. (I had been planning to do one like his old guitar and had to hurridly change my plans when he had this exciting present). I know the neck is a little short, but it wouldn't fit on the tray, so we decided to cut it short! The rest is a replica of this guitar.

Emma is 11 on Monday and had asked her Mum for a cake with "drama masks" on; she is a budding actress. I found some moulds online, but neither sugarpaste, royal icing nor marzipan worked well enough with them, but thank goodness chocolate did. The cake is a sponge cake filled with white chocolate buttercream and raspberry jam and dark chocolate masks.

It would be impolite to reveal Mr W's mother's age, but it was her birthday on Thursday. I was told not to make her a cake, so have made her shortbread biscuits with her initial on

Happy birthday everyone!

Thursday, 2 February 2012


Mr W and I have been married for six months today!