This January has been significantly quieter than last year. Why that should be, I haven't a clue. Brexit uncertainty? Dreary damp weather? Dire climate change news from Austrailia and Antarctica? We just don't know.
Whatever, we haven't been inundated with endless visitors through the start of this year like we were last year.
The upside to that is that we've been able to do a little maintenance and have a stay or two at Roachside Cottage ourselves, culminating last weekend with a gathering of the extended family for which my sister prepared a bit of a banquet. The place was full to bursting and every spare plate, knife and fork was pressed into service. Even our very elderly aunt and uncle enjoyed themselves - after they'd managed to negotiate the windy transit from car to living room!
These are our last surviving family of the "old generation". they used to stride across these moors with their various dogs frequently in days long ago. Now, they can manage to get from the road outside and up the doorstep only with a couple of guiding hands holding their arms. I guess that, one day, we'll all be like that.
Safe to say, we all had a brilliant day, ate lots of good food and talked until mid-evening.
T'was good job we did that on Saturday - on Sunday, Roachside was battered by Storm Ciaran and today we have 3" of snow!
One of the "perks" of doing this job is that we occasionally get to be the beneficiaries of items of food which guests leave in our fridge or freezer box.
Frequently, the day after guests have left and we've serviced the cottage, we get to "create" some culinary delight to make use of these leftovers.
There used to be a TV show called Ready, Stead Cook, which my children used to watch on a Saturday morning, where contestants would arrive with some bizzare, random collection of ingredients and then the TV chef would have fun turning these into a "eclectic fusion of flavours and textures".
Now I'm no TV chef, but I do claim to be a fairly competent cook (people still come to my dinner parties!) and I have managed to make some very edible meals on this basis - veggie chilli with sweet potato & kale, sat on garlic toast is one I particularly remember. Quite often we manage a very decent root vegetable soup from the random carrots, parsnips, potatoes and half-onions left behind.
This weeks offerings were a bit meager by comparison - the "son & heir" had been up to Roachside with an old schoolmate from 20 years ago. Not too much left in the fridge;
Scout had a lunch today of fish fingers on naan bread & I have some funny foreign beer which looks for all the world like a urine sample!
Now I admit to being one of those people who regard the mid-winter festive season with an element of "Bah Humbug" - I have my own very good reasons for this, but I do recognise that for most other people, Christmas is a really special time of the year.
So, to ensure that our guests through the Christmas and New Year period feel cossetted in a warm, Christmassy glow, we've been digging out the decorations and scavenging our garden for boughs of holly and pine bristles.
I can't say that Scout and I have any special talent for arranging baubles & lights, but the place looks pretty seasonal to me. In fact, I almost felt the Christmas spirit myself when we switched out the main lights & placed another log on the fire!
When we'd done, it was off to the Trout for dinner, where we got talking to the chaps from the Swythamley Shoot. These chaps keep the spirit of the old Swythamly Estate going by stocking the area with pheasants during the year and then hunting them down with dog & gun, dressed in their traditional tweeds, white collars and ties.
They take great pride in their tradition and could have stepped straight out of one of the sepia photographs of the shoots hosted by Sir Phillip & his brother Henry in the earliest days of the 20th century. A long day blazing away at the low flying birds starts with a hearty breakfast at the pub & a glass of something warming and ends with a dinner and drinks after the sun has dropped below the western horizon.
I can see the appeal - it's all very "Edwardian Gentlemen" and it helps keep the rural economy buoyant.
Scout seemed a little concerned that they may not have left too many pheasants in the hedgerows for her to chase......they'd taken 63 birds with 9 guns!
Well here we are again, for the third Christmas in four years, Scout and I are "sans automobile".
A few days before Christmas 2016 our Volvo 4x4 "AbbaWaggen", parked off the road near to a friend's house, was hit by a brand new car (just 21 miles on the clock!), driven by a one-legged bloke unfamiliar with his new vehicle and trying to round an ice-covered bend at high speed in the dark. The damage was immense and, of course, the insurance company delivered us an ordinary 2-wheel drive car while the repairs were done. The work lasted over a month and on several occasions we were unable to venture out from our home 1100 feet above sea level at the top of a 1:3 hill.
In 2017, after returning from the hospital in thick fog on the night before Christmas Eve, we had to pull over to the roadside and stop as a pair of headlamps careered towards us. A moment after stopping, there was an almighty crunch as an already partially wrecked hatchback, loaded with 100 cans of larger and two big boxes of gin, ploughed into the offside and continued on it's way for a couple of hundred yards before mounting the footpath and stopping. (We later learned that she'd hit a bus and immobilised it before hitting our car) The driver absconded from the scene, despite my attempt to grab her. When she was tracked down an hour later, she assaulted a Police Officer while resisting arrest. She was later sentenced to a years imprisonment suspended for 2 years and ordered to undergo treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. The car was off the road only a couple of weeks this time, but it coincided with intense cold and snow - so we were marooned again.
Yesterday morning, Christmas Day, driving out of the driveway, the alternator drive belt broke - hence we have no electric power, no power steering & no powered brakes.
Ever tried hiring a van on Christmas Day?
After weeks of driving rain, drizzle and heavy cloud, the weather has turned.
This weekend, the sky cleared, the temperature dropped like a stone and the sun came out for a long anticipated appearance.
As we plodded alongside Rudyard Lake this morning, just after dawn, the air was still as can be and the surface of the lake was like the proverbial mill-pond. A good opportunity to take a few snaps of the lakeside houses sitting atop their reflections.
The Lady of the Lake is an extraordinary place. It sits four-square in deep water and is accessed over it's own footbridge. Aside from the obvious appeal of a house sitting in a picturesque lake, amongst mature woodland etc., it has some features which are only known to those who have been inside it or have had opportunity to slowly drift past in a boat or kayak.
For instance, it's downstairs bedroom has a window into the boat dock which is fashioned in the manner of the stern "captains cabin" window of a sailing ship. Tilted outwards at an angle, this window allows the reflected light from the water's surface to dance and play across the timber paneled ceiling. Imagine waking up to that on a spring morning!
This was where my father came in the late 1940's with his Scouting friends, long before I was born, to plan their expeditions in Arctic Norway, Finland and in the Pyrenees. They held their reunion weekends here also, well into the 1960's.
It came on the market a couple of years ago, just a few weeks after I bought Roachside Cottage. Had it been for sale just a few weeks earlier, Scout and I might now be plundering the remains of our life savings in a never-ending battle with rising damp, condensation, black mold and dry rot - on a scale we have yet to encounter with our cottage!
Of course, with the hard frost on the ground, today was a perfect day for the farmers to get out muck-spreading.
Fortunately, the high-definition camera on my phone records only pixels of colour, light and shade.......not molecules of pong!