Saturday, 31 October 2015

Stately Home

As becomes a couple of sad old empty nesters, Nigel and I have joined the National Trust
“Look at this one, he says as he peruses the website, “It’s got a knot garden and a Jacobean gallery,”
“But has it got a tea shop?” I ask anxiously.
“…and a corbelled garderobe and gargoyles…”
“What exactly are the opening hours of the café?”
Over the last two weeks I have visited five National Trust properties ranging from the woodland of the Ashridge Estate to the splendidly unchanged Chastleton House, used for filming “Wolf Hall”. 
“To think, that lovely Mark Rylance may have stood on this very spot.  I should think that he was as disappointed as I am that there isn’t a tea room!”

But the historic property where I had most fun was not National Trust at all.  It was the Red Lodge Museum in Bristol, where Perran took me.  The fact that there was no tea room there nearly ruined everything, but the day was saved by an unexpected opportunity to play Boogie Woogie harpsichord.

Saturday, 24 October 2015


We have not yet been six months in our new house.  But one of the things we couldn’t fail to notice was the wasps’ nest in the roof.  The other thing we couldn’t fail to notice was that we had a second wasps’ nest in another part of the roof.
In a time when bees are in short supply, wasps are useful pollinators.   Pollinators or not, we didn’t want to get stung.  So bravely I sent Nigel up to investigate.  The nests were within the construction of the roof and not in the loft space, and therefore not a threat.
We decided to leave them to thrive.  
We would plug the holes in the Autumn after they had left.  
And not eat any jam in the garden.  
It would not cause any problems.
However, the wasps were entering the house through a loophole in a window frame.  Quite soon, they died and dropped down without causing any trouble.  
Earlier in the summer, the wasps were tiny and quite cute. No threat at all.
But as the season draws to its close, the beasts have become more substantial with now record-sized wasps zipping about the house in an unpredictable and threatening manner.  
They behave as if they are outraged that mammals have built a nest in THEIR house.

I no longer feel quite so much of a conservationist.  
Now, where’s the Raid?

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Mrs Bean and the Greek Tragedy

As a birthday treat, Caroline kindly took me to a local production of the Burial at Thebes.
We carried drinks in plastic glasses to our excellent seats in the second row of the intimate studio theatre.
 Antigone was determined to bury her dead brother, but he had been a traitor so her uncle/ great uncle (sadly they were relations of Oedipus) threatened to execute her. Emotions ran high.

In the intimate theatre space, things began to get a little warm.

Creon and Antigone faced off, just inches from each other.  Just feet from us. Perspiration stood out on their foreheads.

I could feel a flush coming on.

Inch by inch I removed my jacket.  My chair-back put up a fight. Just as I thought I had succeeded, I kicked over my wine glass.  There was a plasticky clatter but I did my best innocent face.  It wasn’t only on stage that great acting was happening.

Creon was condemning Antigone to death.

Things were still too warm.  I felt in my back pocket for my hair band.  My seated position meant I couldn’t reach.   I squirmed in my seat as I tried to hook the hair tie.  People were beginning to look.

Antigone was saying she would rather be dead than betray her brother.

Finally I pulled the band out triumphantly and began to haul my hair into it when it snapped and pinged into the person behind me.


Antigone was about to be buried alive.  I would just have to put up with my flush.

Follow me on Twitter   @ClareFHobba

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Bake Off

Until now I have resisted it.  All my friends have been talking about it.  Many were visibly cheered when it reappeared. 
Finally, I gave in and watched it too.
The Great British Bake Off.
I assumed it would improve my baking.
It gave me something to talk about with friendly acquaintances.
It gave a heart-warming picture of multicultural Britain (a three-cheers, two-fingered salute to UKIP).
It offered an engaging picture of the different personalities involved.
When Nick and Jackie were coming to lunch, I thought about the delicacies to which I had recently been a spectator – chocolate soufflé, three-tier religieuse, macarons.
And I bottled it.
After all, even the mighty Nadia’s soufflé had not been fluffy enough.
I would just make something with which I felt comfortable.   Something which I had baked successfully many times before-
- I would use the apples Chris and Christine gave us and the blackberries we gleaned from the hedgerow and make a wholesome Autumn crumble.
I was so relaxed with my unambitious choice that I kinda forgot it was in the oven. 
Put it this way – I now have a new carbonised prop to use in my lessons about Pompeii and Herculaneum.
My baking actually appears to have become worse.

I don’t know if I can blame it on the Great British Bake Off, but I certainly intend to try.

Follow me on Twitter   @ClareFHobba

Friday, 2 October 2015

Speed Awareness

I got caught speeding. 
Everybody always has a very good reason for why they got caught speeding, generously peppered with mitigating circumstances.
But my story is simply general dopiness, with a little joie de vivre thrown in.
At the speed awareness course,  I and my fellow criminals queued to be registered.  There was the low hum of restrained British indignation.  The Indian Summer sun pulsed through the hotel blinds.  To have to give up a day like this!
Several of us stole glances at an extremely elderly woman, bent with age and with very sparse soft white hair.  Speeding eh?
When the policeman/driving instructor (I never disambiguated) looked at my licence he said,
“Oh, a doctor, what kind of a doctor!”
And I heard myself replying,
“Well clearly I was on my way to an organ transplant when I got caught speeding.”
The guy was staring at me. 
Fearing that I might be clapped in irons, I quickly amended,
“Just an academic doctor.”
Obviously, I then got picked on to answer a few questions in the session.  Smartarse!
At tea break (criminals get tea breaks?) everybody switched on their mobile phone like divers coming up for air.  Except me.  I call it mindfulness.  My family call it inconvenient.
Oh, and except the very elderly lady.  She told me her story in a cut glass accent.
“I was just leaving a wedding when it happened.  I hadn’t had anything to drink, you know – well, not very much.  I just felt light-hearted.  Light-hearted.  I think that was it.”
We went on to discuss the beautiful weather, then time was called.
As we made our way, she smiled up at me and said,
“It is wonderful though, isn’t it?”
“What is?”

“Speeding!” she replied happily.