Friday 29 July 2022

Planning A New Garden

The garden at our new house is smaller than the garden we left behind. There's a patio area, a grassed area and one small border. When we moved here the border was well stocked, however, on looking at the plants closer, they weren't what we wanted to remain in the border. There was a bamboo, known for being invasive, so that was hoicked out at the first opportunity, and there were various plants which are highly toxic to dogs. Archie's quite good and doesn't tend to nibble anything but grass, but we didn't want to take any chances so they were pulled up too. To be honest, I think that some of the plants, including the bamboo, had been grown in containers and perhaps planted out just before the previous owners moved out, as they came up really easily, and the rhizomes hadn't spread at all, thank goodness. It would have been a much harder job to make sure we'd got it all out if it were a mature plant.

So now we're planning a new border. It won't take many plants to fill it, especially leaving room for them to grow, but it's fun deciding what we want to plant anyway.

There's already a lovely hydrangea, not shown at its best here. It's a really deep pink, suggesting that our soil is alkaline. Hydrangeas actually change colour according to the pH level of the soil. The more alkaline the soil, the more pinker the flowers will be and the more acidic the soil, the bluer the flowers. White varieties of hydrangea don't change colour.

I gave up growing hostas in my old garden as they just ended up as slug fodder, even when I planted them in containers. Unfortunately, this one in my new garden looks to be going the same way, time will tell whether I keep it in the border or not but they're not very attractive with decimated leaves.

This wiegela was beautiful at the beginning of summer, it was covered in pink flowers, but it's not much to look at now. Is it worth keeping it for the short time it flowers, I'm not sure.

Of course, as well as growing plants in the border, we can fill some containers. I didn't bring very much with me from my old garden, even the blueberry bushes, which I grew in containers, were rehomed with Eleanor. The only things I brought with me were three rose bushes and a skimmia japonica. I used to have a cordyline quite a few years ago but it died, I suspect it had something to do with the fact that Eleanor tore all its leaves in half, longways! It ended up with twice the number of leaves it started with. Little monkey, she was only young then. I always liked it so I decided I'd get another to grow in a pot. When I saw some young specimens for sale in B&M I picked one up.

The garden is south-west facing and the border faces the house with a fence behind it. It gets a fair amount of sun and a fair amount of shade. If you have any suggestions of plants which might do well in these conditions, which work well in a mixed border and give plenty of colour I'd love to know. I'd like plants of different heights and some climbers to cover the fence too. Any ideas?

Monday 25 July 2022

Far From The Madding Crowd

I've never read anything by Thomas Hardy before so I didn't know what to expect when I started reading Far from the Madding Crowd.

"Hardy's powerful novel of swift sexual passion and slow-burning loyalty centres on Bathsheba Everdene, a proud working woman whose life is complicated by three different men - respectable farmer Boldwood, seductive Sergeant Troy and devoted Gabriel - making her the object of scandal and betrayal.

Vividly portraying the superstitions and traditions of a small rural community, Far from the Madding Crowd shows the precarious position of a woman in a man's world."

I found this a story of two halves. The first part was hard-going and I can't say I particularly enjoyed reading it, it went into so much detail about everything and it was quite laborious to get through, but it seemed to turn a corner half way through when I became fully engaged and invested in the characters and couldn't wait to turn the pages as I wanted to know more. I found Bathsheba quite annoying and her choices led to most of the heartache and tragedy in the story, but I'll confess that it ended as I hoped it would. 

This is a book I'd like to read again at some point in the future. Now, knowing the whole story, I believe I'd enjoy the first half of the book all the more if I were to read it again. 

I'd definitely like to read more from Hardy, so it's just as well that I've got Tess of the d'Urbervilles waiting for me on my bookshelf.

Thursday 21 July 2022

Oh Deer!

Mick had to be up at 4.30am yesterday to travel to Basingstoke for a meeting, it's a long way from Leeds, it takes over four hours each way when the traffic's good. He didn't arrive home until after 8pm, he'd spent a long time cooped up in the car, so we decided to take Archie for a short walk so that Mick, as well as Archie, could stretch his legs.

There's a lane at the end of our street which is quiet and we walk Archie there. Cars can travel along the first part and then it turns into a track for walkers. Farmland runs alongside and last night we thought we were seeing things when we looked out upon the field and saw a deer.

We were watching it for quite a while and it was happy to just stand there, gazing around.

We know there's deer around but it's very rare we see them. I'll be watching out on our dog walks now to see if we see any more.

Sunday 17 July 2022

1000 Subscribers

I recently discovered the My Yarny Corner podcast on You Tube which is hosted by Alex. She started podcasting at the beginning of 2021 and she also uploads vlogs to her channel which are entertaining to watch so I've been right back to the beginning and watched everything she's uploaded so far.

I subscribed to the podcast at the time Alex was filming her June vlogs and I became her 1000th subscriber. She's now hosting a giveaway to celebrate the milestone of reaching this number of subscribers, and she gave me a pattern prize for becoming her 1000th subscriber. I was able to look on Ravelry and choose which pattern I'd like.

As you know, I do enjoy knitting and crocheting blankets so I chose the Habitation Throw pattern by Helen Stewart. I thought this would be a great pattern to use up some of the mini skeins of yarn I've still got left from various advent calendars, though it would look equally pretty knit up in one solid colour. I'm not going to start it right away, I've got a few things I'd like to finish first.

Thank you very much, Alex, I know I shall enjoy knitting this. If you enjoy watching knitting and crochet podcasts and haven't yet discovered My Yarny Corner, do pop over. Even if you don't enjoy knitting and crochet podcasts, pop over and watch the vlogs. Alex lives near the beautiful spa town of Ilkley which is on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales and she films some beautiful scenery.

Wednesday 13 July 2022

Through My Kitchen Window

One of the first things we did when we moved house was put out the bird bath. I could spend ages watching the birds in the garden, it's like a soap opera out there with all the petty squabbles, the comings and goings, the regulars and the newcomers. We don't get the variety of birds in our garden that we had at our old house, but we're encouraging more with the different types of food that we're offering.

The bird bath has been a hive of activity over the past week with the temperatures soaring. The birds are queueing up to bathe and drink from it.

These photos were taken on Monday when I just glanced through my kitchen window, saw a lot of activity around the bird bath and reached for my camera.

My parents used to love watching the birds in the garden. The house where I grew up backed onto farmland and we'd get quite a variety of different birds visiting, everything from sparrows and thrushes to woodpeckers, bullfinches and even pheasants. House Martins would build their nests under the eaves in springtime right above my bedroom window and I'd wake to the noise of their chicks chirping. I suppose I took it for granted that birds visit gardens and I could watch them any time I wanted if I just looked out of the window. When I moved into my own house I continued to feed the birds, as my parents had done, just as a matter of course, but it was then that I found a real enjoyment from watching them in the garden.

It's just as important, if not more so, to provide water as well as food for the birds, especially in hot weather when many of the natural sources of water will have dried up. Birds need water to drink but also to bathe in, which doesn't only keep them clean but also helps them to cool down.

It was a little cooler yesterday but the bird bath was still being well used, and as the temperatures are on the rise again with records set to be broken at the weekend, I'll make sure that our feathered friends are kept well watered.

Saturday 9 July 2022

Whatever Happened To Customer Service?

I worked in customer service roles all my life, until I stopped working back in 2010, and I'd like to think that the people who asked for my help went away satisfied and that I was a good reflection on the companies I worked for. I know I was valued in my last position as I was given an all expenses trip to Montreux in Switzerland one year, and an all expenses paid weekend theatre break in London another year. We had targets in different areas to meet and the company used to reward the top performers, measured by these targets, very well. Unfortunately, the company I worked for got taken over by another company who didn't value their staff, nor did they look after their customers. The company's customer service rating plummeted and I ended up leaving.

I know that customer service these days isn't what it used to be but here are just three examples of poor service I've had since moving house.

I bought a light fitting from Next and when I took it out of the box, one of the shades was chipped. I returned it to the store but they didn't have another in stock so I ordered one online to be delivered to the store. Above is a photo showing how it was received. There was no product box included, the light fitting was just stuffed inside a cardboard box, the shades were encased in polystyrene which was broken and taped together, and the envelopes containing screws were open and the instruction leaflet was missing so I couldn't even check I had everything that I should. 

I called Next and they said they'd send another one out to my home address. I told the advisor that I'd moved house since I last had a delivery from them so she said she'd change my address and place the order. I received an email saying that my address had been changed and then I received another email saying that the order had been placed and it would be delivered to my old address.

I called Next again. They asked for certain numbers from my card in order to identify me (they hadn't asked for any security details from me on the previous call), but then said the numbers I was providing were wrong (I had the card in front of me). The advisor I was speaking to said she wouldn't be able to change my address but would cancel the delivery to my old address which was scheduled for the following day.

The next day, I received an email containing a photo of the parcel outside the back door of my old property. I called Next again and was told they'd arrange a collection of the parcel, though who with I've no idea as they have no contact details for the people who now live at my old address.

Mick ended up going into the store and asking them to order another light fitting for us to collect from the store, so I do in fact have the light fitting now but the query regarding collection of the parcel which was sent to my old address is ongoing. They've already credited my account with £20 as a gesture of goodwill, and they've now removed the value of the item which was sent to my old address from my account, but I know they haven't yet collected it as I'm getting an email every day informing me that they're going to attempt to collect it. I told the advisor right at the start of the query that the new occupants of that address are out at work all day but they haven't listened.

I had eight dining chairs delivered from Ikea. There were supposed to be covers for each of the chairs included in the order but there were only six. Mick called their customer service department and the advisor said she'd post two out and we received an email to this effect. When they hadn't arrived by the following week Mick called back and was told that they hadn't actually been ordered, even though he'd received an email saying they had. She was just about to place the order for them when their computer system crashed, meaning that Mick had to call a third time and go through it all again.

The chair covers still hadn't arrived yesterday and though they promised us a £20 gift card as a gesture of goodwill, this hadn't been received either. Mick called them again and was told they hadn't been sent out and that it looks as though there's a stock issue. I looked online where it shows there's plenty of these chair covers available in their stores. Why advisors try to blag their way through a conversation with lies I'll never know because it's so easy to find them out and trip them up. Mick asked to speak to a manager and was told she didn't have the facility to transfer the call so he asked for a manager to call him back. We're still waiting for the manager to call, along with the chair covers and the £20 gesture of goodwill gift card.

I called my pension company on the 4th of May (I kept a note of everyone I informed, how and when as I knew I couldn't trust them all to get it right) to inform them of my change of address. On Wednesday, over two months later, I received my annual pension statement redirected from my old address. I called them and was advised that they had updated my address but that it hadn't been changed in time to take effect on this statement. What? Two months isn't enough time for them to update their systems? I told the advisor that it's concerning that financial correspondence is being sent to the wrong address two months after they've been informed of a new address. She said she'd raise my concerns with the relevant department and I'd receive a callback.

Someone called me back that same afternoon and said they're looking into the matter and offered me a payment of £50 as a gesture of goodwill, though this hasn't credited my account as yet.

It's all very well being given, or in two of the cases above, not being given even though promised, goodwill gestures but what I really want is decent customer service. Companies rush their new employees through their training these days instead of investing in this area. Just think of the money they'd save if advisors were confident in what they were doing and mistakes weren't being made. The three instances I've detailed above all happened in the space of a week, it cost us time and the company money to sort each problem out and each one could have been very easily avoided. 

There are so many people who don't take any sort of pride in their work either. You should have heard that very first advisor at Next, she sounded thoroughly uninterested, either that or my call had just woken her up.

I get to the point where I just can't be bothered dealing with yet another problem, and unfortunately, it happens all too often. I'll finish off with Eleanor's favourite saying. Why can't anyone just do their job properly?

Tuesday 5 July 2022

Beck Wood

It was a nice day on Sunday so we decided to go a little further afield to walk Archie. Travelling a few miles north on the A1, we came off at the village of Collingham to visit Beck Wood, which stands by the River Wharfe.

This is a lovely place to walk in good weather as it has a riverside path. There's also a riverside beach where you can rest at the end of your walk. The water here is the ideal place for dogs to cool off as it's nice and shallow.

It's very picturesque and well-kept, and there's also an abundance of wildlife here too.

We passed quite a few dog walkers and there were families enjoying the area too, but it was still so tranquil.

Archie's such a pest, always wanting to eat grass when he's taken on walks. Still, it's preferable to the slugs and snails he used to be partial to when he was a puppy.

The path we followed turned away from the river.

Collingham beck runs by the side of the pathway here. We saw something swimming which turned out to be a water vole.

Archie enjoyed having some new scents to sniff on this walk, and he made lots of new friends too.

On our way back to the car we stopped off at the little beach area. It wasn't a hot day but it was pleasant.

Archie finally had a paddle, he's usually eager to get in any water he comes across but he was far too interested in the other dogs and eating grass on this occasion.

Archie wasn't the only one enjoying the river, a group of friends with inflatable canoes came paddling by.

There must have been a dozen or so of them. When they reached the beach they disembarked and cooled off in the river.

It was a lovely walk and I think Archie enjoyed it too.

Friday 1 July 2022

Scuppered Plans

When the warm weather was with us, we took to walking Archie early morning and later on in the day, when the sun had lost a bit of its heat. It isn't only Archie who struggles in the midday sun, walking during the hottest part of the day isn't much fun for me either. It's been much cooler this week but we've still been walking at different times to usual.

On Tuesday, we decided to visit Temple Newsam, one of our regular walks. I thought it would be nice to show you the walled garden and how colourful it's looking. We arrived about 5pm and just as we were walking towards the gates we were met with a loud "Closed" from a groundsman who was approaching us to lock up. I didn't realise that the walled garden actually closed. It seems we'll have to revert to walking a little earlier if we want to visit this part of Temple Newsam.

Instead, we walked back up towards the house and decided to take a look around the back, an area we don't often visit on our walks. Archie enjoyed having a sniff around.

This is where you'll find the south garden, a formal 17th century design with beech and box hedges, trained laburnum arches and a pleached hornbeam walk.

It's all looking very green at the moment, not much colour about, but I did manage to find a few flowers in the border directly in front of the house.

I was saying to Mick that I can hardly remember what the inside of the house looks like now, I was just a little girl when I last took a look around.

Temple Newsam has featured heavily in my life. From the time I was two years old, our family home was within walking distance so we visited often, and as I was growing up, because we lived so close, I visited with friends. We'd walk or we'd ride our bikes. There was countryside surrounding the grounds but since then, so many new homes and businesses have been built around the area and there's such a lot of traffic. You wouldn't dream of allowing children to wander around by themselves now, how times have changed. We now live a short car ride away from Temple Newsam.

I just love hydrangeas but it's only a recent thing, they're a flower which has grown on me over the years.

Can you see all the seed pods hanging from the laburnum? I'd meant to visit this garden over the past few weeks as the laburnum walk looks fabulous when it's in bloom but I completely missed it. It's something to put in the diary for next year.

The warmer weather is supposed to be returning this weekend but looking at the forecast, it seems to be missing us. It looks like we're in for a bit of sunshine, cloud and rain. more of the same then.