Phil is one of my oldest mates.
I was a Guard of Honour at his wedding 50 years ago, when he was my Scout Leader, and later we worked together for some years in the gas industry.
He turned 70 last Friday and several of our colleagues thought it would be a good way to celebrate if we went out for a walk on the hills. After a few locations were discounted due to some of us being a bit less fit than we’d like to be, it was decided that we’d meet up at Roachside and take a wander over to the Ship Inn for some lunch.
Early morning the weather was pretty dreary, but after we’d all gathered, had a cuppa and those who hadn’t been to Roachside before had had a good look round, the sun had come out and a gorgeous day stretched out in front of us.
Off we went and it wasn’t long before one of our number, who’s not been too well lately, was obviously having breathing problems and making very slow progress. Hence, it wasn’t a difficult decision to just walk to Roach End and back down the road to have lunch at The Lazy Trout.
Now when five old blokes get together for lunch and there are three items on the menu which all have “pulled beef” in their title, you can guarantee that something like an episode of “Last of the Summer Wine” is going to unfold.
Now I have to say the ladies in The Trout are brilliant. They are patient to a fault. They don’t mind taking orders from people who change their minds or want something extra with this, or don’t want tomato with that.
Our waitress really got the measure of us, in a very good-humoured way. After about six attempts to clarify what we wanted, with four of my vocal buddies chipping in simultaneously, she handed one of my mates her tablet thing and said “do it yourselves”!
I just knew I should have taken a notebook and pencil
With the approach of the day when “real” guests, as opposed to friends & relatives, arrive at Roachside, Scout and I set off to buy the “proper pottery”.
When we purchased this cottage it was well equipped with plates & mugs etc., all from IKEA.
Nothing wrong with that, you may think, but this is North Staffordshire.
This is the county of clay and coal. We are but 10 miles from the Potteries and the most fabulous collection of ceramics anywhere on the planet (at the City of Stoke Museum). This is where Wedgwood, Spode and Minton crafted the chinaware which adorned tables of palaces and banqueting halls all over the world.
My late wife, who spent 25 years in service of Royal Doulton, would never forgive me if I had Chinese-made plates on display!
We’d perused the various manufacturer’s wares a few months ago and settled on some “Blue Speckle” ware from Steelite. (We liked their Craft series better, but at twice the price, it seemed risky to have expensive plates in a kitchen with a hard tiled floor!)
Off we trotted to their shop in Trentham Village and collected six of everything and took them back to Roachside where we had emptied the cupboards and removed a few months dust from the shelves.
Carefully unpacking the bubble-wrapped ware, ready for washing, I noticed that each piece had two sticky labels stuck onto the underside. Those sort of nasty sticky paper labels which have horrible glue and must never be allowed to get wet because they form an immovable furry lump.
It took full two and a half hours to remove these hateful bits of paper.
Why two labels on every piece?
Why can’t easy-peel labels be used?
Why are these labels attached to concave surfaces, which mean they can’t be scraped off with a knife blade?
Who in the pottery industry controls such decisions?
Can they be sacked?
Scout and I had a busy day today. It snowed a sort of wet soggy snow last night & then froze hard.
Now that the days are beginning to lengthen, our early starts have begun to coincide with the faint lightening of the sky before dawn. Thus it was this morning; off over the top to Roach End, crunching through the crust on the snow’s surface, breath misting my glasses as we climbed steeply through the Lower and Upper Tiers. It was a cracking walk, the lethargic sunrise casting a pink glow over the snowy slopes to the east and, to the west, still some brooding cloud hanging across the Cheshire Plain. We arrived back at Roachside just as the sun was beginning to crest Hen Cloud and, feeling a bit peckish, we hopped into the car and carefully made our way to The Lazy Trout for one of Iraklis’s Cypriot breakfasts (highly recommended).
By the time we’d digested the morning newspapers (on-line) and lingered over a second coffee, it was time to get on our feet again.
Now we hadn’t been over to the Goyt Valley for some weeks, which is something of a travesty. On freezing, clear days like this it’s a “must”!
To cut about 4 miles off the journey, we opted to go over the Dane Head road – a steep, hairpinned, single ribbon of tarmac & grass which winds its way over Axe Edge, more than 500m above sea level. It’s bleak. It’s exposed. And if you don’t know the place like the back of your hand, when the snow has drifted across the road, it’s easy to drive straight off the road and onto the moor – and then sit there until help arrives. We do know this place well, we walk across here regularly and have been doing so for 50+ years.
No problem for us, we also have four wheel drive, traction control and high ground clearance.
Sure enough, the snow had drifted significantly, obscuring where the road edge blends into ditch and heather.
As we trundled along at not much above walking pace, keeping a close eye on the odd few snow-pole markers which have survived the ravages of winters past, we were confronted with a Ford Fiesta sitting in the middle of the road, in a half-metre snowdrift, the surface of the snow about a third of the way up the driver’s door. Not just any old Ford Fiesta of course – this one had low-profile tyres. Really handy when you need to drag the belly of the car through a snowdrift!
We pulled alongside and asked the driver if he needed assistance (I was sure I didn’t have the tow-rope in the car, but I couldn’t just leave the bloke to freeze to death, could I?).
He responded that he was “just having a bit of trouble getting traction at present”, but that he was OK and that he “wasn’t in any hurry” and that he’d “got all day”.
I hope my look of incredulity wasn’t too obvious as I acknowledged him with a “thumbs up” and trundled off, all-terrain tyres crunching in the snow…….
The rest of the morning was taken up encountering two other not-dissimilar situations where completely unsuitable vehicles had become stranded in the most bizarre situations. One, a two-wheel drive saloon car, stacked high with bikes, on a single track, 1 in 3 hairpin covered with ice, under overhanging trees which were lower than the bikes!
The other, again, on a single track road and a good mile from the nearest farmhouse, where a young woman in a really tiny city-car was sliding about all over the road with wheels spinning furiously and progressing along the road sideways. Now I enjoy a challenge, but some folk just go too far………
Since I learned to cook, about three years ago, I've developed a bit of a repertoire of regular dishes which will sustain life, not take long to prepare and cook and which Scout will eat (being a Princess of Noble Blood, she has certain expectations.....).
One of these dishes is Toad in the Hole.
How did a dish made of humble sausages and simple flour batter come to acquire such a name? Even in the most eclectic of ethnic food markets, I have yet to see sausages made from minced amphibians.
Whatever, it's simple and, with the right tasty sausage, very welcome after a day out on the snow covered moors.
We'd got a few locally sourced Minted Lamb mini-sausages left in the fridge, left over from a couple of days ago. Perfect for a slightly unusual minty-twist on the regular Toad.
I lobbed these little beauties into a (as I thought) Pyrex dish and whopped them into a hot oven to brown. I then whipped up a creamy batter with the last of a bag of flour and an out-of-date egg. (When do eggs actually expire? We've used them weeks after the sell-by date and they seem pretty OK.)
Sausages browned, I rearranged them in the dish, nice and evenly spaced, and slowly dribbled the batter over the top.
There was a sound like a stun-grenade, followed by the sound of shattered glass ricocheting off walls and pattering onto the tiled floor!
So, maybe the glass dish wasn't one of those "shatter-proof" ones after all.
What did we do? We went to the Ship Inn for Sunday lunch, of course
I have written here previously about how people have been sending me information about Roachside Cottage and I am deeply grateful for all of them. They are all very clearly as enthusiastic about The Roaches, the landscape and the history of the place as I am.
Just a few days ago, Mary Joynson wrote to me with information about her grandfather; William Wain, who was born at this very cottage in 1877. His father, Mary's great grandfather, was named Isaac and he scraped a living from farm work and shoe mending. They rented the cottage at the time, but by 1881 had moved down to the less isolated environment of Meerebrook, where he was presumably a bit more conveniently located for his customers!
Not only did Mary fill in a little piece of our history, but she sent me this wonderful photo taken in 1937. What a lovely Christmas present!