We were very lucky to be joined on our second camping trip to France by our very great friends the Eastwoods, Mike, Angie, Dan and Emma. Although, Emma at that point was only slightly more than a twinkle in her Dad’s eye . Dan and Jamie soon became fast friends encouraging each other in hilarious silliness with Laura acting as surrogate mother, big sister, childminder/ entertainer and teacher.
From that point on we spent every holiday together camping. Us in our various vans and the Eastwoods, initially in “Southfork” a vast and labour intensive trailer tent, later a caravan and most recently a motorhome! Our holidays together continued even after they emigrated to Australia although they were far less frequent for obvious reasons.
Together, every summer we explored the glories of France gradually moving further and further south in our wanderings. Then one summer we accidentally on purpose bumped into our other close friends ….the Pearces. We had known Michael, Maggie, Lara and Faye for many years. They also had a VW camper, our children attended the same school, Maggie and I shared childcare so it made perfect sense to link up and enjoy camping holidays and adventures en masse.
We were also lucky enough to be joined at various points by other mutual friends on our camping trips and regularly we would be catering for over 16 people! Not an easy feat with just 2 hobs, a remoska and a BBQ; but enormous fun.
A beautiful Persian celebration of spring and New Year.
Today, Wednesday 20th March is the vernal equinox and marks the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere. It is also the first day of the Persian New Year festival, Nowrooz, which has been celebrated in many countries throughout the world for over 3,000 years.
The word Nowrooz is a combination of 2 Persian words now (new) and rooz (day) and can be spelled in several slightly different ways so please forgive me if I haven’t used the one you are most used to you.
In Iran the festival lasts for 13 days and marks the first day of the month of Favardin. During Nowrooz holidays people visit the homes of family, friends and neighbours.
So yesterday we all gathered at Laura and Arya’s house where we had been invited to celebrate Nowrooz with a sumptuous feast prepared by Arya.
Spring cleaning or shaking the house is usual before the arrival of Nowrooz. So Arya and Laura had spent several days getting their lovely home ready including painting and staining doors, re- covering their dining chairs and putting up fairy lights so that everything looked beautiful. In fact Arya had re-stained the bathroom door only hours before our arrival!! Luckily, that wasn’t too tricky or sticky to negotiate.
They had also prepared a Haft-sin table. Traditionally, the Haft-sin table has seven foods on it that all begin with the letter s- sin in the Persian alphabet
Sabze– wheat or lentil sprouts grown in a dish – cleansing
Samanu– sweet pudding made from wheatgerm – food
Senjed– olives – love and affection
Serke– vinegar – immortality
Sib– apple – rebirth and good health
Sir– garlic – spirituality
Sumac – deep red spice – nature and weather especially rain
As you can see there are other things on the table and these can include a mirror, candles, painted eggs, a bowl of water, goldfish, coins, a hyacinth, poetry (Shahnameh- long epic poem written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi about the history of the Persian Empire or poems bythe Persian poet Hafez). Can you spot any of these on Laura and Arya’s table?
On the thirteenth day of the New Year Iranians go out together to enjoy nature and have picnics outdoors. This is part of the Sizdebedar ceremony and the greenery grown for Haft -Sin is thrown away into running water….as is the goldfish. But I don’t think Bobby, their goldfish would survive being chucked into Meanwood Beck!
As ever Arya produced a fantastic banquet. For starters we had yoghurt and silken aubergine dips with traditional Iranian bread made in a pebbled clay oven – Sangak. Followed by baked Sea Bream, jewelled saffron rice, mixed salad, Laura’s personal favourite- Ghorme Sabzi- a gorgeous lamb stew. Arya also made a spicy lentil and tomato stew for Jamie, the only vegetarian guest.
Many apologies but there are no photos of the first two courses……think I had had too much prosecco and was too excited by the food and company!
For pudding there was a huge variety of Iranian chick pea sweets, Iranian pistachio nougat (Gaz) and to top it all a refreshing tea which Arya had personally brewed from camomile flowers, rose petals, black tea and saffron. As ever I was entranced by the crystallized, jewel like, strings of saffron sugar which were there for us to sweeten our teas to our taste. For once, I did not follow the English practice of adding milk to the tea and can declare it was all the better for that omission!
Over a year ago following a blanket that took absolutely ages to complete I solemnly swore to never, ever, ever attempt another large project using DK yarn and small motifs i.e. Granny Squares. All that horrendous sewing up !
So why oh why did I do it?
Why didn’t I take a leaf out of one of Gary’s friend’s books! The story goes that against his better judgement he had been persuaded to go on a weekend “lads”sailing trip from Southampton to Cherbourg on a small yacht. He knew he suffered from dreadful sea sickness…Gary was once with him on a car journey which had to have an emergency stop so that he could get over violent nausea brought on by reading the car atlas. However on this occasion he was persuaded by his mates that after a few hours at sea he would get his sea legs and all would be fine and anyway the weather forecast was excellent.
Of course you have guessed what happened. He puked all the way to Cherbourg. He was so distressed by how ill he had been that whilst everyone else went off to explore the local bars he went and booked a return trip on a large and far more stable cross channel ferry. Then he nipped back to the yacht for a well deserved rest. He finally slept soundly as only those who have been wretchedly ill can. He woke up to discover that to his dismay the yacht had left the harbour and was homeward bound! However, on the bright side, he had finally found his sea legs and did indeed enjoy the rest of the trip.
But he was determined not to be fooled by this turnaround ever again and once finally home he made himself write out 200 lines which read….”I must never go on a boat ever again”.
So I feel that I need to write out 200 lines to say I will never do a big DK yarn project again.Because despite all that I said I did!
Today I have finally finished a cardigan ( Mod Tiles Cardigan by Universal Yarn) I began in November. It was already taking way too long , then when I sewed it up last week I discovered it was far too big! So I had to unpick it all, resize it and ………then of course decide to make it much longer than originally intended. Which of course meant I needed to do more flipping Granny Squares!
On Sunday and Monday night we stayed at the Camping and Caravanning Club site in Oxford. This is brilliantly placed for visiting Oxford.
We have stayed here on many occasions including when we came for Bob’s 60th birthday party and also when we came for his memorial service in Balliol chapel 7 years ago.
The amenities are fairly basic and show their age but are well cared for and kept clean by the friendly site wardens. It truly is the “friendly club”.
All pitches are on grass and during wet weather most vans are parked by the wardens on the roads ….a bit bizarre… but it uses available space to the maximum and prevents vehicles getting stuck or churning up the pitches.
Due to our immense ages we are able to claim an age concession on the site fees and so each night was priced at a mere £16.
Just a couple of minutes walk away is a bus stop with a frequent service into the city…..an adult day return is £3. Or you can walk in….about 25 minutes.
We took the bus and were soon at Balliol college.
My brother, Bob, had lived in Oxford for most of his adult life and had worked at many of the university colleges as a philosophy lecturer. Balliol was the college he was working at when he became ill and the one he felt he had the greatest affinity with. Additionally, the college had been very supportive throughout his short illness.
In days past …..and in all weathers…Bob could usually be found sitting outside the Buttery at Balliol with a glass of red wine, fag in hand, holding court to students,friends and colleagues. Discussing life, philosophy and using his acerbic wit to entertain those who gathered at the court of “King Bob”.
He loved to shock as well as entertain and wasn’t beyond spinning a few tall tales. I remember, at his 60th birthday party being asked about our Native American heritage!
Apparently, he had told college staff that we were descended from a famous Apache chief and had done so, so convincingly that it was an accepted truth!
So on Monday we headed straight for the Buttery to see the bench which students and colleagues had placed outside there in memory of Bob.
The inscription reads:
Bob Hargrave 1949- 2012 “Amidst all your philosophy, be still a man.”
Which, as most of you will know, is a quote from David Hume – “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding”
We also visited Balliol chapel where the college held a memorial service for him. I can remember him planning that service one cold, wet miserable afternoon outside the Buttery, full of dark mischief and tongue in cheek.
The small chapel is beautiful inside and all are welcome to visit it on days when the college is open to the public
The Ashmolean Museum is quite close by and well worth a visit, but the last time I was there I was pushing a cantankerous Bob around in his wheelchair and the memories are overwhelmingly too vivid and sad for me to wander round again.
So instead we headed off for a wander through Jericho, which is a historic suburb of Oxford. It developed just outside the old city wall and hundreds of years ago as a place for travellers to rest if they had reached the city after the gates had closed. Today it has a bohemian arty feel and in 2017 was ranked number 11 by Travel Supermarket in a list of the UK’s most “hip” destinations. It also has several literary connections. Thomas Hardy’s novel “Jude the Obscure” has a scene set in St Barnabas Church and one of the pubs is called Jude the Obscure as a homage to that. Parts of Phillip Pullman’s Northern Lights trilogy are also set in Jericho which is home to the water-dwelling “Gyptians” and this in turn reflects the way the real Jericho is bounded by the Oxford Canal. There is a lovely walk along the canal which leads back into the city centre and you can admire all the houseboats decorated with fabulous artistic designs which are moored alongside the canal.
One of the places we were keen to visit was the pub called the Old Bookbinders which had been described to us as a “hidden jewel of Oxford” and “Oxford’s best kept secret”. The pub and surrounding area also has special resonance for “Morse” fans as the very first episode, “The Dead of Jericho” was filmed here and included the exterior of the pub which in the episode was called The Printer’s Devil.
The interior of the pub is filled with the most amazing and amusing bits of antiques and junk…..including an old toy railway complete with track and engines stuck to the ceiling!
But it was the food that had brought us….French bistro style and with a menu du jour of fantastic value £10.50 for 2 courses or £13.50 for 3. Food was fabulous and served by a lovely French girl. We really struggled not to speak to her in Franglais…and did mistakenly drop an automatic merci here and there!
It is now a year since Vi, otherwise known as Nanny, Gary’s mum died. So this weekend we were Eastleigh bound. Eastleigh being Gary’s home town and where his Mum and Dad had lived all their lives.
Naturally we would travel and stay in our Hymer motor home and naturally we would have a few stop offs on the way.
The first was at our favourite pub stopover situated between Towcester and Brackley in the picturesque village of Turweston, the Stratton Arms.
This is a cosy, traditional village pub. Phil the pub landlord thoroughly welcomes motorhomes and campers for overnight stopovers. He even has several electric hook ups in the car park, which can be accessed for a €5 a night fee. Fresh water is available from a tap outside the gents toilet.
When we stayed on Saturday night there were 3 other camping vehicles there.On other occasions there have been as many as 6 or 7 and Phil is very accommodating and has said he has never turned anyone away.
Of course the deal when you stopover in a pub car park is that you give your custom to the pub. Food there is home cooked, fairly traditional but excellent value. The two of us had a 3 course meal for a total of £36. No main course was more than £8. Hand pulled beer provided by Hook Norton brewery was, according to Gazza, lovely and well kept.
The car park overlooks a huge lawned play area and beer garden which is delightful in summer.
Sadly our lovely Vintage VW campervan was always breaking down, we did have the engine rebuilt twice, and parts were often hard to obtain due to its age and the fact that it had a rare engine size with an automatic transmission.
We also found it quite small and cramped for 2 adults and 2 children but we absolutely loved camping and went away just about every school holiday. So we bought a newer slightly larger VW with a high top roof.
Our friends and camping comrades said it was like a blue ice cream van. What do you think?
By now we took away lots of camping paraphernalia and to our friends I became known as “the gadget queen”. I was always on the lookout for that certain something to enhance our camping experience.
With a brand new awning and a slightly larger van we could pack so much more in! Like a frame, free standing hammock, round dining table, lounger chairs as well as more upright ones for dining, a table top freezer, 4 bikes and lots more! We even carted round a geranium plant….to keep the mozzies and flies at bay.
At first Laura and Jamie slept up top in the double bed in the roof, but that was rather small and as they outgrew it we soon started taking a small pup tent for them to sleep in. The main double bed in the body of the van was large and luxurious and Gary was well known to our friends for “luxuriating in the Van” with demands for cups of tea!
However the purchase of the Blue Van did not mean an end to our van breakdown adventures………
Finally made my choice of colours for the Temperature Blanket I intend to make during our 5 month stay on the beautiful Isle of Arran. I have tried to pick colours that I think reflect the colours of water, sky and landscape I have seen there.
I plan to use the gorgeous C2C Temperature Blanket MAL 2018 pattern by Esther Dijkstra as published in Its all in a Nutshell. But with some adaptations. As we are not there for a full year I intend to crochet 2 rows each day using minimum and maximum temperatures. I say intend as I often find that projects often seem to take a life of their own and end up being quite different in the end from my initial considerations.
I really enjoy C2C crochet and made my first blanket using this technique earlier in 2018 when I made my Be A Lochranza Deer blanket. This was made using Jess Coppom’s Be a Deer C2C Afghan pattern.
I was inspired to make this blanket by the many deer I saw at Lochranza last Easter.
Largely, my family will be so pleased to hear, I am using DK acrylic yarn from my gi-normous stash. The majority of which will be Stylecraft Special DK, I do so love Stylecraft yarns.
I am using DK even though I swore never to make a blanket again with DK weight yarn after my marathon efforts to produce the Opulent Blanket For Laura and Arya that I made using Veronika Cromwell’s Emerald Opulence pattern. That just seemed to go on forever.