Wednesday, October 29

Hampstead Rambling in the Snow

Angela and I are off work this week, as it is half-term here in London.
Half-terms come around every few months, but it was 1937 when it last snowed in London in October.

We put on our walking boots and walked a circular trip around Hampstead Heath via Kenwood, the Old Bull and Bush, West Heath, the Vale of Health and Parliament Hill, finishing with lunch in the Italian Cafe at Parli Hill.

It was amazing how few people we encountered.

The sun sent halos of light through the autumn sky

You could see that in snow, shadows are actually blue

And it seemed almost as if we had come upon the spirit of the Heath itself, energy writhing in tree form

All in all, a stunning day.

Sunday, October 26

Be Prepared!

The old Boy Scout motto is always worth heeding when it comes to planning for a day's hillwalking.

Torrential rain and viscious winds struck in the Lake District today, with rivers in the Buttermere area bursting their banks after the heavy rains of the last few days.

It is precisely this area that Angela and I were walking in only two months ago. It is an area of great beauty, but when the weather turns it becomes hazardous in the extreme. Hundreds of people were competing in the Original Mountain Marathon (OMM) when the weather broke. Conditions have been so bad organisers have been forced to cancel the event.

Luckily the OMM is an event for runners in pairs, and competitors have to camp out overnight, so all those caught on the hills should be suitably equipped.

We remember the steep descent down Scarth Gap to Gatesgarth Farm. Even in good conditions it requires care and concentration. I hate to imagine what coming down in a gale and torrential rain must be like.

During our stay we had an evening with a member of Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team. He gave us a slide show and explained the work his team of unpaid volunters did. I'm glad to say that our party gave generously when the collection tin went out. Those volunteers have been busy today, and will no doubt still be on the hills tomorrow mopping-up those who were benighted.

Wednesday, October 8

If You Want Something Done...

Ask a busy man...

Over the last few months Angela and I have attended a gardening course and a basic botany course. We have joined the Ramblers Association, and I am currently working with the local group the Hampstead Ramblers, to launch a blog attached to their website.

On top of this, I have started doing a GCSE Mathematics course, tutorials for which are clashing with the second gardening course we are currently doing.

Last Friday I had a job interview at my college, and on Monday I was told that I had got the job. So from the first of November I can effectively call myself a Librarian. I will be choosing and ordering books, liaising with teaching staff, cataloguing, managing a subject area collection and putting information up on the online Virtual Learning Environment.

Before I start learning how to do all of this, I have just over two weeks to tie up all the loose ends in my old job. So many things to try and pass on....

I would have written this on Monday evening but overnight a. the power transformer to the wireless router burnt out and b. the hard drive in my main PC died.

All this is a roundabout way of explaining why things have been quiet around here recently. Let's see if busy people really can do more....

Saturday, September 13

Hassness, or Heaven?

As usual, "a couple of days" has turned into three weeks. It is a mark of how great a time we had in the Lakes that we are still enjoying the memories.

The light dappling on Buttermere...

The contours of Ullswater...

A Himalayan Balsam in the sunlight...

But there are things you can't capture with a camera. Things like the way strangers become companions; the way a strange room rapidly feels like home. The comforting knowledge that there will be home made cake waiting for you when you get back from your walk.

We booked our walking holiday with Rambler's Holidays. You can find a review of Mickey and Paula's hospitality here.

If you ever get a chance to stay at Hassness, take it.

Tuesday, August 26

Hello, Hello, It's Good to Be Back!

After 50 odd miles of walking Angela and I are back, glowing with health and with only the occasional twinge in our calf muscles.

I will post some more about our stay, with relevant links, in a couple of days.

But as a taster, this was the view....

Buttermere from our bedroom window...

The rest of the photos are on my Flickr Photostream.

Friday, August 15


Apologies for the paucity of posts recently. Things aren't going to get better in the next few days. My wife and I are off to the Lake District for a walking holiday, though if the rain that is forecast arrives, we may be swimming most of the time.

I leave you with this piece of stencil art we found near the Thames a few days ago...

How NOT to walk..., concept by John Cleese, Artwork by Diva.

Monday, August 4

A Bit of a Ramble

As regular readers will know, we are off to the Lakes in a couple of weeks. We have been doing some walks at the weekend to get a bit of distance under our belts.

We have met Isambard Kingdom Brunel

And an Inquisitive Paddington Bear...

We have been obstructed by Nettle-Infested Kissing Gates

And Prickly Railway Staff who shove Customer Service leaflets under blinds when you complain about them...

Seen Vistas Watery...

And Timelessly English...

We have seen posters outside toilets to raise our hackles...

And to raise a Chuckle...

We have seen nature, improved by the cast-off spray of an aerosol paint can...

And in the unimprovable beauty of a Peacock butterfly on a waterside head of Teasel...

It might be exercise, but by God it's enjoyable!

Sunday, July 20

A Long Weekend

All the staff at my college were given this Friday off; a thank-you from the Principal and the Board of Governors for our "Outstanding" OFSTED inspection of a few weeks ago.Given an unexpected day off, a Phantom will often head for the challenges of The Great Outdoors.

I've been trying to lose a bit of weight and get a little fitter over the last few months. In only four weeks my wife and I will be going on a walking holiday in the Lake District, so any energy spent now can only be in a good cause...

Friday morning found me pitching up in the wilds of

This is yours truly trying to find the new Wembley Stadium.... It's around somewhere..

I managed to cover about 14 miles on Friday, overcoming guideposts knocked down

Bridges so narrow they had pedestrian-controlled traffic lights

And sometimes I just had to ignore all the warning signs and just keep ahead anyway...

I walked along some beautiful winding paths...

And scenes that had an almost Japanese-style beauty...

Today, my wife and I took another stroll, following the New River around Finsbury Park and round to Clissold Park. We finished by wandering through Gillespie Park Nature Reserve. Monet would have been happy gazing at the water lillies...

Just when I thought it was safe to relax and hang up the old Phantom Cape and Undies, our neighbour's kitten got stuck 15 foot up a tree at the end of our garden...

With a little help from some children in the adjacent garden we rescued the little bundle of fluff. Angela took it back to it's grateful owners.

A happy ending to a great weekend. What more could a Phantom want?

Thursday, July 10

And The Rain....

It Raineth!!
I was hoping to entertain and amuse my loyal readers with many a digital snap of Hampton Court Flower Show. As the legal Eagle and her Beau can attest (and affirm too probably), HCFS can be the most relaxed, sprawling and enjoyable excuse for an Horticultural Picnic one can imagine.

It can also resemble the last push for the Somme.

When my wife and I arrived it had been raining all night.The arrival of daylight did nothing to change this. It didn't rain constantly, it poured constantly.

Sadly, after a while it became more of an endurance test than an enjoyable day.

We brought back a Dahlia, a beautiful Fuchsia hanging basket, and half a ton of mud. Thank heavens we were wearing our new waterproof walking boots...

I only took one photograph....

This is the garden designed by Richard, the chap behind the Guerrilla Gardening website. We met and had a chat, and I got him to sign a copy of his book. There is a fascinating account of how this garden came about here. All the plants in this garden are reclaimed or unwanted, and at the end of the show they will all be going to good homes.

I'm off to clean the mud off our boots!!

Thursday, July 3

Just Desserts

You've heard of death by chocolate....
now prepare for Mortality by Meringue! But what a way to go....

Last Saturday found us both in the nest of the Legal Eagle and her Beau.
A delicious sherried chicken took care of the protein intake, but the Eagle is famous for her puds.This meal had one which approached perfection in its simplicity...

First take a Snowdon-sized mountain of fresh summer fruits

Then produce a veritable home made Mount Fuji of meringues, light, crunchy and irresistibly chewy in the middle...

Serve in good sized bowls, with cream or ice-cream (or Both!)

After dinner and its badinage, there was nothing else to do but indulge in a little light bondage bandage. Mrs P had an exam coming up and needed some willing victims for First Aid practice.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Sadly this is the only photo I managed to take that wasn't too blurred by the laughter-shake.

We leave you with

"Beau Brummel, or Pudsey's Revenge"...

Friday, June 13

Mrs Phantom's Garden Corner...

Good evening, and welcome to the first in an occasional series. I've left the Phantom in the kitchen, and have come into my domain.

I won't pretend to be an exceptional gardener; our garden is still very much a work in progress. But it is a place of sanctuary, a place to lose oneself mentally, if not physically...

Our great friend the Legal Eagle asked what she could do to counter the slugs and snails that have been happily munching through her Lupins.

As usual in life, there are no perfect solutions to the problems these irritating molluscs create. (The slugs I mean, not the Legal Eagle and her Beau). But at Phantom Towers we have come up with a couple of good techniques for reducing the damage they cause.

The stuff in the box is something we have tried for the first time this year. It's an absorbent ceramic in a gravel-like form.


[No, This blog is not being sponsored]

It works by the fact that it is both very rough and highly absorbent. It doesn't kill the critturs, but they sure as heck don't like going over it. I guess it's a sort of commercial version of the old idea of putting down crushed eggshells.

You simply surround you vulnerable seedlings and plants...

In this case Mangetout Peas. So far we haven't lost one..

And here it's protecting a young Hosta...

The other weapon in our war was also featured in the photo above. Let's zoom in..

Yup! It's the trowel. If you look carefully you will see the lower edge is serrated. That's for cutting the slugs in half... Snails can be picked up by hand, or you can use the extra leverage provided by flipping the snails on the trowel to make sure they travel into the next garden but one. Or you can just smash the little B****RS with the flat bit.

I'm afraid I didn't get the name "She Who Gardens At Night" by pruning in the dark. You go out with a torch and a trowel, and exact pro-active revenge on the slugs and snails who would turn your Hostas into lacework and your salads into breakfast.

Sorry for any sensitive folk, but the Gardening Phantom has her priorities worked out....

Tuesday, June 10

Barbecue 2 - Putting my blog where my mouth is!

Many apologies to everyone out there muttering "he's gone walkabout again"! Especial apologies to Welsh Dog, the Legal Eagle (and Beau), the Erdington Lurker, and most of all, to Amalee.

In case you haven't read her comment below, Amalee was facing going "to a barbeque party where the food will be kinda ok and the drinks a bit ropey". She was looking to me for inspiration, and I let her down...

I have been mad busy; happy and healthy, but busy.

There will be more of what I have been up to later, but, with no more ado, to the food.

The hot weather of the last few days has indeed found me re-acquiring the title I earned some years ago from a neighbour - The Man Who Cooks In the Garden. ***

Last Autumn we bought a lovely gas fired barbie. (Not having to wait 45 minutes to get to cooking heat makes a huge difference.)

A few of our recent dishes...

Pork Spare Ribs, Chinese Style

Chicken Kebabs (a working afternoon in my Mum's garden)

I have developed an all-purpose basic marinade that I can put together in two minutes flat. I shall demonstrate with this handy boned shoulder of lamb I have adjacent to the keyboard...

Get your friendly butcher to bone a shoulder of lamb for you. If you don't have a friendly butcher, find a butcher and smile. It may work. A whole shoulder of lamb will do kebabs for six people easily. I froze half the shoulder for later.

Ingredients for the marinade : two or three tablespoons plain yoghourt, the same of curry paste (Pataks are good), two crushed cloves of garlic, some lemon juice, and some fresh mint.
Dice your lamb into cubes a bit bigger than an inch square.

Chop mint and put in a large bowl with the paste, yoghourt and crushed garlic.

Add meat and marinate for a couple of hours, stirring when you remember to.

Finally skewer up, with onion, peppers courgettes or mushrooms to taste...

The finished kebabs, with red cabbage coleslaw and tomato and basil couscous.

I do hope I have made you all hungry again, even if it is late.

FOOTNOTE *** My wife's nocturnal slug hunting by torchlight led her to be called The Woman Who Gardens At Night. Very sultry and mysterious!

More Soon....

Thursday, June 5


Hi! I'm Bernard, and on my right, The Phantom!!!