It has been a fraught few days here at Cornflower HQ. A blocked drain sounds like a minor inconvenience - a sink temporarily out of action, say - but when it is the main drain into which everything, that is every basin, appliance, bath/shower, toilet, and rainwater downpipe drains, then the problem is more major.
That is what has been happening here since Thursday when a puddle appeared outside the back door and that puddle grew to become a black, stinking, sludgy swamp as no waste water of any kind could get away to the sewer and was backing up through a rainwater 'soakaway'.
To cut a very long story short, a pump was supplied to clear the back area by pumping the water into the garden; when it broke down, bailing with buckets was the only course of action (Mr. C. was even doing this in the middle of the night as the water rose higher and threatened the house). Meanwhile we managed to get hold of the 1888 plan above (drawn 60-odd years after the house was built) and our drainage man said he thought the next step would be to try to find the 'trap' marked 'C' on the bottom of the plan and jet the drain from there.
We spent much of yesterday digging in the front garden (luckily the plan is roughly to scale so we had a fair idea where to start) and we found this:
Beneath that slab is a brick pit around 12' deep. The drainage men came this morning, broke off the metal cover, put a ladder down into the pit, uncovered the trap and jetted the drain. All is now well.
Two things for Edinburgh readers to note: the council has a drains database which contains old records such as ours. I could get only part way into the site when I tried on Saturday, but it's worth knowing that it's there, and as long as it's not the weekend you could call or email for help if you can't access it yourself. Secondly, if you ever need a contractor for this type of thing, I'd recommend Peter McLeod of Drainage Solutions. He solved a big problem for us once before and he's come up trumps again this time, so many thanks to him, and to the unknown Victorian gentleman whose carefully drawn and extensively annotated plan helped us get to the bottom of things.
Son-of-Cornflower is up in the Highlands this weekend taking part in the Cateran Yomp, a 52-mile hill walk done over 24 hours, in aid of ABF The Soldiers' Charity which gives support to serving and retired soldiers and their families - a very worthy cause.
Good luck to Will and his team and all the other participants, and may the heavy rain which is forecast not dampen their spirits.
Over at Cornflower Books I've written about The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction which is to be awarded at The Borders Book Festival this weekend. The winning novelist will receive a cheque for £25,000 and this beautiful glass sculpture by Colin Reid, commissioned - along with another piece for their private collection - by the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch. Click on the download link at the top of this page to see an extensive photographic record of the making of the second commissioned piece - a fascinating, and at times unlikely-looking creative process which produces a stunning result.
"He stood now on the threshold of the library downstairs, looking at a bowl of coral-coloured tulips whose transparent delicacy detached itself brightly in the sober panelled room. He was grateful to the quietness that slumbered always over the house, abolishing fret as by a calm rebuke."
"For at the centre of all was always the house, that mothered the farms and accepted the homage of the garden. The house was at the heart of all things; the cycle of husbandry might revolve - tillage to growth, and growth to harvest - more necessary, more permanent, perhaps, more urgent; but like a woman gracious, humorous and dominant, the house remained quiet at the centre."
The colleges don't figure as largely as I'd expected they would, possibly because of the prohibitive location shooting fees they charge - a fact alluded to in the film - and disappointingly there aren't clips from the series to view alongside the locations, but it's interesting nevertheless, and even takes a look inside the 'tribute' Morse Bar in the Randolph Hotel where you can sample a special Morse champagne cocktail - something I doubt our hero would have drunk.
In the post this morning was a novel which may well be of interest to readers of this site, even if you're not in the habit of visiting Cornflower Books. Above are cover shots, and you'll find the full details here.
This is yet another of Hugh F-W's recipes, looking promising before cooking above, then ready to eat below. Opinion here was divided between the "I think there are better things to do with asparagus" and the "it makes a change from steaming them with Jersey Royals ...". I was firmly in the 'for' camp.
Buffalo mozzarella, a sprinkling of grated Parmesan, some softened onions, and the finer spears from a small bunch of asparagus. (And if you have the book, I can also recommend the kale and onion pizza on p. 186.)
In terms of value for money - cost per recipe used - Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Veg Every Day
is worth every penny. I've lost count of the number of dishes from it which have become part of our regular repertoire, and we're still finding new ones to try. Last night's supper was a warm salad of green beans, new potatoes and olives, a simple, speedy collation of vegetables, very summery, very fresh, very tasty, and with enough left over for my lunch today.
If books on food history and baking are more to your taste, then look out for Great British Bakes: Forgotten treasures for modern bakers by Mary-Anne Boermans which is to be published in November. Many of us know Mary-Anne as one of the finalists in the 2011 series of The Great British Bake-Off, and in her new book she presents "tempting delights such as Gamrie Knotties, Marlborough Pudding and Almond Flory, and reveals the stories behind the
bakes, such as the fruit-laden Wood Street Cake Lady Anne
Murray purchased for the 14-year-old Duke of York (the future
James II) after his escape from St James’s Palace in 1648, or the
crisp gingerbread Parliament Cakes, named for the politicians and
notable gentlemen of 18th-century Edinburgh who came to Mrs
Flockhart’s tavern on the Potterow to partake of her fine fare".
I used to enjoy watching Through the Keyhole in the olden days when it was David Frost and Loyd Grossman, the latter giving a guided tour of some famous person's house while the panel back in the studio had to guess whose it was.
Along the same lines, if I were to ask you who might live in the Rome apartment, part of which you see above, you might be stumped until I offered the picture below along with a clue: two people who have seventeen pianos between them.
Watch if you can Kirsty Wark's programme on Sir William Burrell and his fabulous collection of art and antiquities: 9,000 objects spanning 4,000 years, a great passion pursued, money spent carefully, cannily, and with an eye for quality. It's quite a few years since I visited the collection and my favourite items then included the tapestries and other textiles, the medieval stained glass and stonework such as the magnificent portals; in addition to those, the programme covers many pieces including the Wagner Garden Carpet which are not usually on display - less than half of the total is on show.
"There are few things so pleasant as a picnic eaten in perfect comfort," Elliott added sententiously. The old Duchesse d'Uzès used to tell me that the most recalcitrant male becomes amenable to suggestion in these conditions. What will you give them for luncheon?"
"Stuffed eggs and a chicken sandwich."
"Nonsense. You can't have a picnic without pâté de foie gras. You must give them curried shrimps to start with, breast of chicken in aspic, with a heart-of-lettuce salad for which I'll make the dressing myself, and after the pâté if you like, as a concession to your American habits, an apple pie."
For our sixtieth pairing of books and food, I've taken Elliott Templeton's advice and made an apple pie to go with W. Somerset Maugham's marvellous novel The Razor's Edge. I suspect that pudding was a favourite with Maugham himself as later in the book, he (for as you'll see here he is a character in his own right) takes Elliott's niece Isabel for lunch near Hampton Court, and their "homely English fare" includes a deep-dish apple pie with Devonshire cream, but I've gone for a more modern version, a puff pastry apple tart glazed with salted caramel (recipe here). I hope Maugham would have approved.
I'd have sworn that it was much more recently than five years ago that Narcissus poeticus or Pheasant's Eye Narcissus appeared on these pages, but apparently it is that long ago, and how time flies. I bought three bunches of these flowers for £2 each in the supermarket yesterday, which makes me wonder how much the grower makes - I'd be happy to pay more for their charm and that lovely scent.
I didn't know until I looked it up just now that the essential oil from this narcissus is used in many perfumes including my own favourite Samsara (do you remember this rather fun post/comments?), and that led me to look for another 'review' of the fragrance to see how it would compare to the one I quoted in the perfumes post, the auditorium-filling "full, vast white floral chord". This very nice piecelikens the scent to the "wet wood, old books and dried roses" of Mughal palaces, so perhaps that's why I like it.
"The tiny, almost bashful Lily-of-the-valley lives in shady woodland and is a miracle to come upon. Delicate, graceful and spare, like the bridesmaid to a virgin queen, its restrained display is worth crossing the country to see ... Its vanilla honey scent is by far the sweetest of any British native - a pure gift."