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Back then

Back ‘when I were a girl’ (said in a Yorkshire accent) I used to travel a lot with my parents.  Commercial air travel was still relatively new and I clearly remember how when we’d see air crew walking through the airport their heads were held high with pride, and everyone looked admiringly at them.  Have you seen the film ‘Catch me if you can’?  Well, if you weren’t around in the 1960s to see what I’m talking about for yourself, that film shows you pretty much what it was like to be air crew then.  It was the coolest job – seriously, those people were mini gods.  I remember having ambitions as a little girl to be an air hostess. I  have to tell you, however, that every time I said so to my mother that she would quickly retort: ‘You want to be a trolly dolly?  Really?  Ooh no, I don’t think so!’ (I did secretly keep on dreaming though).

A couple of months back an ad  for Virgin Airways was released on TV and it plays on this nostalgia because they are currently celebrating 25 years as an airline.  When we fly anywhere long distance nowadays I am of course swayed not only by price but by the convenience of the destination airport for us, plus those all important airmiles.  Still, I  have to say I have a tremendous soft spot for Virgin and will use them whenever I can.  This is partly because I have huge admiration for Richard Branson but mostly because Virgin were once incredibly generous with us.  You see we took the girls over to the States one year on an ‘all in’ Virgin holiday and to cut a long story short, our holiday fell short of expectations.  Nothing totally horrendous, just really not what we had expected.  When we got back I wrote to the company to say how disappointed we’d been, not thinking that I’d ever hear anything back from them.  Well, far from it.  A short while later I received a letter of apology and – here’s the thing –  a full refund for the holiday.  I was, and still am, blown away by this generous attitude, so is it any wonder that Richard Branson (already a business hero of mine) rocketed right up in my estimation?  It was probably also a clever business move on their part because over the years I’ve missed absolutely no opportunity to extoll the many virtues of Virgin.  There is no better advertisement than a totally smitten customer.

Here’s that wonderful ad … and they really couldn’t have picked a better piece of music because it’s one of my all time favourites ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. ‘ Ah them were the days’ (she said, back in her Yorkshire accent).

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Indoor / outdoor?

Yesterday I was preparing the house for an evening dinner party out on our new terrace (it was my daughter’s 21st, so not something I could postpone).  This coincided with the hottest day of the year so far, which would normally be 100% wonderful on such an important date, except that with new kittens in the house the usual rushing around and coming and going became that much harder.  We can at least open the living room doors into the newly constructed ‘kitten cage’ but still…it was hot is all I’m saying.

In the post party lull this morning I idly looked up on the web as to current advice on when kittens can be let out of the house.  It’s not that I’m going to do it now – they definitely need more time to get used to us and their surroundings (and need further vaccinations)  – it’s just that with yesterday’s events, it was clearly on my mind.  I was quite surprised at some of the views expressed on a forum after some poor woman had been wondering exactly the same as me.  Responses included the suggestions that anyone who lets their cat out is cruel (clearly aimed at the enquirer), that the cat will die within a year (!) but that, conversely, indoor cats could live up to age 20.  Curiously enough, so can indoor-outdoor cats because here’s the deal folks:  It depends where you live.

Now …I had typed up a whole blurb below about all the unwritten rules there are to pet ownership where I live but it’s frankly too ferkin boring to relay here.  The bottom line is – we’re an overwhelmingly responsible lot in this island and we in this house are minor experts on our feline friends because we’re cat fans and have shared our lives with a fair few over many years.  I can tell you that if keeping cats inside is necessary where you live because of traffic, dangerous predators or any other safety considerations, then of course you must.   However if you have the ability to safely let your cat come and go as it pleases then I personally have no doubt at all that they will have a better quality of life.  They are, after all, little predators, and it is in their nature to be curious, rummage, hunt and explore.  They do need to be neutered and vaccinated up to the nines of course (ask your vet for advice) but then for the sake of safety so should indoor cats.  They also need a cat flap that allows them to come and go as they please – I’ve never permanently locked our cats outside at night.  (You’ll have gathered from today’s entry that I’m quite miffed at the suggestion that I am a bad cat owner – trust me, ask our vets and they will tell you that we are anything but).

Our new kitties have been going bonkers, in and on everything, exploring and endlessly running at high speed like a couple of furry, spotty little tornadoes .  They’re intelligent cats and clearly already bored with the mere 2,000 square feet that is our humble (currently virtually sealed) home  ….compared to the one room they were in before.  Seeing them at the weekend, when they finally had access to a little bit of outside, with all those exciting sights and smells was just wonderful and it dramatically altered their behaviour.  Yes they still career around, yes they’re still kitten playful/naughty but they’re calmer,  more confident and more content.

Advice on vaccinations and general kitten care and health can be found here (RSPCA),  here (Pet Planet) and here (Animal Rescue and Care).

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The Summer garden: colour and scent

PelargoniumWhen I moved to my current home I inherited a garden permanently planted with perennial plants that just grow and grow and need little care except for an occasional gentle pruning session. That’s wonderful, but it doesn’t allow me to ring the changes now and again through the use of Summer bedding plants.  These plants are mostly regarded and treated as annuals, intended really to last just one season (although some can and do last longer – some of them self-seeding all over your garden if you allow them to).  What I love about these Summer plants is that they quickly allow me to be creative with colour in the garden, giving it a different look and feel in much the same way as changing a few accessories in a room will give a fresh new look to a space. 

Just recently we created some new borders along the edges of our terrace and now that May has come around I’m really back in my element, practising my exterior design skills, picking colour combinations of bedding plants and planting them out in the borders.  This year I’ve gone for a combination of pink and white, with an occasional accent of very, very pale lemon yellow.  My reason for picking this pale colour palette was very specific.  Our terrace was Gardening toolsnewly created this Spring and I’m anticipating many evenings spent outside, either lingering over dinner or sitting and enjoying the evening over a glass of wine.  The colour white, or anything near white will reflect back what little light is still available so that the pale flowers outside will act as tiny beacons at dusk.  If you want to be a purist and just work with white alone this can look absolutely stunning, especially when combined with silvery leaved plants against a backdrop of deep greens.    If, on the other hand, you’re looking to create the warm atmosphere of a Mediterranean garden then choose flowering plants that fall in the red / pink/ orange range. 

Another aspect of the garden worth considering is scent.  Most Summer bedding plants don’t carry significant scent Alyssumbut there are some little superstars that I think are well worth including.  Top of the list for me would be the humble alyssum.  Its tiny flowers produce the most heavenly honey-sweet scent so it’s no surprise that I’ve included many of them in my Summer planting scheme.  

The choice of Summer bedding plants is vast and the fun is in working out your own colour combinations and planting scheme.  Go to your local plant nursery, see what is available and take advice from the staff there, always bearing in mind the ultimate height and spread of your chosen plants. 

Just for quick reference, here are a few of my favourite Summer bedding plants:

Geraniums, redPelargonium / Geranium – essentially one and the same plant but they do look distinctly different.    Pelargoniums, which are susceptible to frost, have beautiful frilly flowers and unusual ‘crinkle-cut’ leaves.  Geraniums are sold as both Summer bedding plants and border perennials (plants that flower and/or grow year after year).  Some varietes have pretty, variegated (multi-coloured) leaves.  Flower colours: white, pink, red and red/orange.   Scent: The flowers have no scent but the plant itself has a distinctive and pleasant smell that always reminds me of Summer. 

I like these plants because they tend to be very forgiving and don’t mind the heat.  You won’t find them wilting at the end of a long hot day and if you forget to water them one day they won’t sulk and wither.

MarigoldMarigold:  Once so common in our gardens but I read recently that they have so declined in popularity that some varietes may disappear entirely.  Maybe it’s the colour range that puts people off because they are typically coloured bright orange.  In fact other varieties are also available from red/orange in colour through to yellow and even white.  (The very pale lemon yellow highlights in my planting scheme this year are from marigolds).  Again, they’re fairly robust little plants and have the added advantage that a few flower petals can be used to brighten up Summer salads.  I have also read that their presence in the flower border may help to deter certain garden pests.  This may be something to do with the distinctive smell of the foliage, which is in some ways is similar to the geranium.  Either way, this is also a smell that I associate with long hot Summers.

Alyssum: Only growing to about 4 inches in height, they are best placed at the front of the border.  What they lack in height they more than make up for in scent.  ‘Alyssum’ in Greek means ‘against madness’ and though I can’t vouch for that (!) what I can tell you is that the scent of these tiny flowers always, always makes me feel happy.  I have traditional white alyssum in my plant border and in pots dotted all over the garden but you may find other varieties available in pale pink, through to biscuit coloured and lemon.  This as far as I’m concerned is a ‘must have’ in the garden.

Lobelia:  Another plant for the edges of flower borders, this is also very often used in hanging baskets where it forms a cascade of small blue or white flowers.  Very pretty – and better still, it attracts butterflies to the garden.

Begonia: There are many varieties of this lovely plant growing to all different sizes.  In tropical or sub tropical climates they will go on growing.  Here in the UK they are treated as Summer bedding plants and the type I’m specifically referring to here are the miniature variety and often used as useful space fillers in Summer borders and pots.  Coming in a variety of flower and leaf colours they grow to no more than about 8 inches in height, have an abundance of flowers with deep yellow centres and healthy, fleshy leaves that make them appear particularly lush.

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Caring for glassware

GlasswareDishwashers are wonderful, time saving devices but unfortunately do no favours at all to precious glassware.  If you find that your  glasses are losing their sparkle and becoming cloudy it may well be because of the action of the dishwasher – a combination of the softeners that are put into many water supplies, coupled with the high temperatures and the detergent we use in the dishwasher.  

Delicate crystal or precious glassware is therefore best cleaned by hand.  If you don’t want to tackle the washing up straight after you’ve used your glasses, do at least give them a quick rinse so that wine or other liquids aren’t sitting in them for any length of time.  Wash individually in hot soapy water – ordinary washing up liquid will do – and then rinse straight away in hot clear water.  (Don’t rinse in cold water because the change in temperature may make the glass shatter).  Place on a draining rack and then dry with a lint free cloth.  (I usually dry with kitchen roll and then shine with a lint free cloth).

If you have items like narrow vases that are difficult to clean, use denture cleaning tablets to do the work for you but only leave for the recommended length of time.  Rinse and then dry.

Glassware that has a cloudy or milky appearance may be restored to a sparkle by wiping gently with vinegar on a soft cloth.  However, it’s worth saying that liquids can actually permanently etch the surface of glass, giving that same milky appearance. 

The moral of the story is simple: Never leave liquids sitting in glassware for any length of time.

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Filed under General house tips, Housework Tips

Cut flowers

Little Pom PomsCommercially grown cut flowers are treated after they have been harvested so that they last longer.  If you buy from a reputable outlet and follow a few basic rules, there is no reason why you shouldn’t have your flowers for a week or more.  Blooms from the garden are beautiful too, but don’t expect them to last as long.  In either case, the transient nature of real flowers, I think, adds to their beauty.  For me there is something rather sad about the fake versions, no matter how life-like they may look.

The flowers: If you’re buying loose cut flowers follow the basic design principle that things tend to look best grouped in odd numbers so buy three, five or seven stems.   My favourite flower is the oriental lily and just three stems of this in a simple glass vase looks elegant and beautiful, proving that buying flowers needn’t be overly expensive. 

The vase: I tend to prefer glass most of the time – because of its stark simplicity it goes with everything, making the flowers the star attraction.  Other containers do, however, work well and here is where you can use your imagination because if an item has at one time contained liquid, then obviously it can be given a second lease of life as a container for flowers.  Look for antique or vintage kitchen ware – jugs, teapots, tumblers or even little cups.  Old jars, rinsed out and painted with glass paint can look good.  If you have children around you could get them to paint a vase for you.  Even tin cans can take on a new lease of life.  Soak off the labels, clean them thoroughly and make sure there are no raw edges left around the top.  Again, group in odd numbers for maximum impact – three shiny tin cans, lined up in a row and filled with cottage-type garden flowers would look very pretty.

Whatever you use, it should be squeaky clean to begin with as bacteria kills flowers.

Preparing the flowers:  Cut flowers bought from the shop should ideally be dealt with as soon as you arrive home with them.  Unwrap them carefully and trim the stems – take off at least an inch but you can take more if a certain height suits your container better.  (In short containers like cups and tumblers flowers tend to look best if the head appears to float at the level of the rim).   Cut the stems at a slant using sharp scissors or a knife.  I keep a pair of small garden secateurs for this in the kitchen drawer as pre-prepared bunches of flowers often contain flowers with woody stems which play havoc with ordinary scissors. 

Remove all leaves that will sit below the water level otherwise they will start to rot, make the water cloudy and bacteria will begin to grow.

Flowers look equally beautiful whether ‘arranged’ or cut roughly to one length.  You don’t need to be an expert to make a pretty display.  I tend to take pot luck, trimming the stems, individually, to about the same length and slotting them into the vase where I think they look best.  About the only bit of advice I’d give is not to make them look too regimented.  Keep in mind how they would look in the garden, and let your creative eye be your guide.  

Once you have arranged them, fill your vase with lukewarm water into which you have dissolved some commercially prepared flower food – your bunch of flowers should come with a sachet of flower food, either in powder or liquid/gel form.  If you’re buying loose stems, make sure that the supplier gives you a sachet.

Positioning flowers in your home to make them last longer: Avoid direct sunlight, heat and draughts.  Remove faded flowers as they occur.

Butter Cream Rose

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Say cheese please

Teeth to be proud of!If you’ve had a meal ending in something sticky you might think that it would be a good idea to eat a crunchy apple to clean your teeth.  Apples, whilst being good for you in many ways, wont be doing your teeth any favours when used as a cleaner because the fruit acids in them tend to attack tooth enamel.  You’d be far better off eating a cube of cheese. 

Cheese helps to prevent the bacteria on your teeth from turning sugar into damaging acids, it increases the flow of saliva, neutralising any acids and helping to flush them away, and the high calcium and phosphorous content in cheese may also help by replacing some of the minerals in your tooth enamel. 

So next time, just say cheese please.

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