Thursday, 13 November 2014

Fairy Party Part 2

Erm ...back in 2012 I wrote that this was iminent. Blogging fail!

Why now? I was hunting out some graphics and remembered I had posted some images and then reread the post and remembered my promise for a part two.

Part one got as far as preparations, so here are some easy to copy graphic ideas - and the clues from our treasure hunt...

We started with the treasure map, each book starts with a map with the fairyland palace and Jack Frost's castle, so that is where our trail started too. The rules were that after each piece of treasure was found we reassembled and worked out the next clue together. Ryhmes were important as was keeping it simple, literary tendancies will have to wait ;)

Fortunately we are members at Costco and they always seem to sell the big box of Rainbow Fairies books for under a tenner, so with a few pencils, rubbers and bouncy balls we had some very good prizes with minimal tat and no further need for party bags.


 The pesky fairies from the school in ***ley,
At the magic cottage are playing happily,
I will teach that Pickle the Birthday Fairy,
Jack Frost can be really cross and scary,
I'll take her special fairy book 
And hide bits where they will not look 
I glued a 'book cover' from the invitation onto card and then cut it up like a jigsaw as 
in every book Jack Frost seems to break things that need finding. We hid the pieces in the 
garden to be found and assembled.
 4 x 3 or 6 x 2,
Solve this sum and find this clue!  (We have a number 12 bus) 
 Fairies are not the only ones with wings,
They kindly give us breakfast things! 
 You saw these when you just arrived,
'enchanted' is how they are described 
 When the Sun and rain join together,
There will be a pot with a prize for the clever 
(we had a large picture of a rainbow in the gazebo)

At some point I cant remember which we had to find goblins hiding in the garden, but here they are.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Pumpkin soup

Last year I blogged about pumpkins and I normally hate duplication, but this recipe was so good I thought that I should share. It came from a book I have, up until now, not really rated - The Able and Cole Cookbook.

The irony is that I was inspired to cook this after attending a fabulous Pumpkin Day with Riverford Farms, from whom we now get our rather better veg box.

Preheat the oven to 220'c, 425'F.

Toss 3 peeled and diced apples and 1 pealed and diced small pumpkin in olive oil and drizzle with a little honey then bake for about half an hour, turning every 10 mins. Take out from the oven when the pumpkin is tender.

Meanwhile you can toast the pumpkin seeds, but I always find this a terrible faff and is ultimately very unrewarding.

Scoop out the roasting tin, making sure not to leave behind any of the lovely caramelised bits or juices. Add a mug or two of vegetable or chicken stock and simmer for about 15 mins. Then blitz until smooth, adding liquid until it is the consistency you like - I like mine THICK!

Season with salt and pepper. The recipe calls for chilli flakes to be added during the roasting, but as the Dino boy can't cope with spice so I garnish it with mild chilli at this stage.

So here are my special ingredient hacks. As recommended by Yotam Ottolenghi, Aleppo chilli, a lovely fragrant but very mild chilli and Chinese clear broth as discovered when shopping with my lovely Chinese friend in San Fransisco. I pick up the clear broth when I pop to the Oriental supermarket, they really pack a punch - I had used most of the carton when trialling a Mushroom and egg custard for a new Chinese book (click on this link to get your own trial recipe ) Normally I use Marigold Swiss Brouillon.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Bedding down for the winter

I have joined the wonderful Manneskjur's 'how does your garden grown?' twice before and it the most friendly linky I have ever enjoyed. Last time, alas, it coincided with my first ever pre-launch event for my new creative venture (which is treading water until my Dino boy goes to school) so I could not lavish the comment love as I wanted, to due to trying to avoid a nervous breakdown, something I plan to put right this time!

This time of year in the garden I am picking the last of the veg and tidying up; recovering lost socks from the potting shed (how does a little boy manage to scatter his socks so liberally I can never be sure) and picking errant toys from potential leafy graves.

Last weekend we picked the past of the Pickle's potatoes from her personal veg area and planted 75 tulip bulbs. I love my Jan Reus tulips and albums along the fence line, but there were additional bulbs positioned in the veg patch. Yes, I have come over Sarah Raven and planted a mini cuttings garden with the hope of cheery bouquets come eat spring.

I really recommend I visit to the home of my inspiration.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Croque Ms muffins

Is it proof that I am an irredeemable domesticated wannabe yummy mummy? I am prepared to own up to watching cookery programmes on Iplayer while making hats and beading. It started with catching up with TGBBO but I have graduated onto Nigel Slater and Rachel Khoo. While indulging in this unsavoury pastime I came across this recipe, thanks to Ms Khoo. There is nothing like a good french croque so I was very tempted by the idea. The next day one of my fave cafes in Reading, Picnic, were serving their own version (but attributed to Ottolengi) having replaced the Gruyere with Camembert. Having completed the trial I can't say that the muffins replace the need for a conventional croque but you certainly get more generous filling to bread ratio, and you can get away Mother's Pride rather than mortgaging your soul for a decent pain Poilaine besides as left overs they are a very indulgent treat in a hurry.

Béchamel sauce
1 tbsp butter or rape seed oil (why I use oil when this still a cholesterol fiesta I am not sure)
1 tbsp plain flour
About 200ml milk
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
A large handful of cheese - I use the traditional Gruyere - about 75g (leaving some to sprinkle on top)

6 - 8 slices of white bread
6 - 8 small eggs
melted butter or oil

Base layer* - ham / spinach / red pepper

Make a cheese sauce: whisk the flour into the melted butter or oil and cook it over a medium heat (ensuring that you don't brown it). Let it cool just a few mins before you start adding a little milk. Keep adding milk little by little whisking away as you go. At some point add the nutmeg and mustard. You are aiming for a lovely smooth gloop! The invention of silicone whisks and non stick pans made life sooo much easier for me.

Next cut of the crusts from the bread and roll them flat before brushing them with the melted butter or oil. It is a little tricky getting them into the muffin tray but a small glass or jar will squish them flat against the sides

Add the bad layer* if you are using one, then add the eggs. If you add the eggs carefully you can see if the bread cup is getting too full and save the last bit of egg white.

Dollop on the cheese sauce, a couple of spoons on each then season and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Bake for around 20 mins. The bigger the egg the more time you need, but check to make sure that they are done to your liking. You may want to take half out at just before 20 mins to eat immediately with lovely runny yokes and then leave the others in the oven for about 5 mins longer so that the yolks firm to a mild quiver and they will be perfect for a indulgent breakfast in a hurry.

I served mine with loads of salad. The score card read Hubster 4 (and a coronary warning), me 2 and the munchkins one each.

*base layer - traditionally a croque Monsieur has a layer of ham, but I try to minimise my meat consumption but red peppers would add crunch and spinach would make it more of a croque Signora (well a bit florentine) or you could do without.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Meet Kerry and other flowers

About ten years ago Kerry sought sanctuary with us at Christmas time. Never hampered by convention Kerry was full of surprises, including my present: a muddy bag of soil and bulbs. Many years later and this autumn they brighten my life again. Kerry has long since succumbed to cancer; she is gone but never forgotten.

One memory segues into another, and this time it is my Grandmother. I would be escorted around her garden; 'meet Vera' she would say, or 'this one is Alice'. Granny would have put Miss Marple to shame, the contrast between the amiably batty exterior and the scalpel sharp brain. Her garden was receptacle for memories, each plant given to her by a friend was a lasting memorial to happier times and ideas. So, in her honour, having introduced you to Kerry meet a few more friends.

Don't you love a friend who turns up weeks after you have moved into a new home with gifts? In Nikki's case it was a sack of horse dung, a Handel rose and a chicken house complete with chooks. The chicken house has long ago been rebuilt, but the rose goes from strength to strength.

finally, for today, here is Sarah. One morning she turned up at the gallery where we worked with a gift: a tip of a sedum plant, liberated from a random garden somewhere in North London. That cutting has been the Daddy (or Mummy) of many more.

These photos are some of the first steps with my new, old camera. I hope to explain why soon. first I must complete my first collection of beautiful things...

Inspired by the amazing Annie at Manneskjur - I recommend you take a peek

Wednesday, 1 October 2014


We found this potters wheel in a charity shop for £1. The Hubster rewired it, i reconstituted the dried out clay so the Pickle could get really creative. She did not finish a pot, but she had loads of fun and had some practice.

Now as this is part of a photography linky, I was decided to compare my new camera (above) with my old (below). Notice a difference?

I can't think creativity without mentioning my own. I am having the time of my life, but burning at both ends as I have my first show/sale next Monday and o am racing to get a collection together.

Click on the icon to the right to see all the other lovely posts. Thanks Tara for kicking my butt, I love a linky to force me to revisit my blog.

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Wednesday, 17 September 2014

A crooked pot kiln

(Photo: the post lunch waddle)

We have been meaning to go to the Crooked Billet in in Stoke Row since before I had grey hair. This anniversary a trip was planned, and we were finally set to go. Five minutes to blast off and I hear 'It was the Pot Kiln wasn't it?' So the Crooked Billet will have to wait.

From the moment that you see the veg patch as you walk to the pub you know you are onto a winner. We have been here a few times, normally with dog for a pub lunch then a walk. It is set in beautiful countryside and there are some rewarding walks, whether you want to go for a stroll or a two hour march.

This time we were went for the full dining experience. An anniversary lunch for five! Forget linen tablecloths or matching chairs, this is a place with no pretence - it does not need to be feign airs and graced. A simple seasonal menu with a few specials, and a children's menu too. The chief is renowned for his game cookery, so that does feature large on the menu, but there seems to be something for everyone.

I went for the full game experience. I had wood pigeon with celeriac and black pudding to start, a rather ballsy intro but a gamble that paid off. It was earthy yet refined and manageable. Home cured gravaldax and the ubiquitous goats' cheese may not have scored on the originality stakes, but the Pot Kiln has that Jessica Alba vibe - you know the gentle deceit of pretending to be the approachable girl next door while in reality being way out of your league. So, the basic eighties menu staples can cushion you from the challenge 'roe liver and foie gras parfait with muntjac lollipops'.

I was tempted to see if anyone could render the bullets also known as grouse edible, but good sense - or prejudice - prevailled and I went for partridge, a local speciality with chard and farcement potatoes (the humble spud with bacon and plums with calories injected in under pressure). Partridge is a favourite subtle flavour (or game for wimps) but whichever way it was cooked to perfection. The family had a roast rump joint, which they happily suggested would feed not just the recommended two adults but two children too. No fillet steak here, but a meaty cut with all the flavour and the flavour packed a punch.

It would have been sensible to have stopped there but greed tempted us on. The Valrhona chocolate and raspberry pudding looked like a door stop but miraculous it disappeared. Okay, I regret it now as a write like a beached whale, but at the time it seemed entirely logical to trough the lot: lightness offset the rich, and the sour balanced the sweet.

Reading the wine list there was little remarkable, many options that see interesting at around £34, but i bowed to my Dad's rationale that if a good restaurant can't do a decent house wine then they miss the point. Starters were around £7.50 and mains high teens. A special treat, but I am happy to save up for a repeat trip. I am so pleased the Hubster cocked up and we ended up here again, and I still have the Crocked Billet to look forward to, one of these years....maybe.

I waddled out like a beached whale. We did not for our regular stomp across the fields, but a crawl up to St.Frideswide Well. I took a deep slurp hoping that it's medicinal qualities will help my memories survive longer than my enhance spare tyre.

Ps should I have taken some pics of the food? Do you live in the moment and saveur, or snap for posterity.

Pps as you may have guessed - this is in no way sponsored :)

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Animals: Molly

Molly was the coolest cat - and my first. We found her dedraggled at an RSPCA centre. She was tiny with short, but scruffy, hair. As she shared a name my best friends Mum I went into her cell for a chat and she claimed me. She sat on my shoulder and drenched me with her tail that had been dangling in her drinking water and our mutual fate was sealed.

Small, shy, scruffy short haired cat became a solid long haired cat in no time. That was thirteen years ago. She was much like her owner, part cool part total disaster (aren't cats meant to be agile? She would often fall off a wall or miss the perch she aimed for, quickly glancing over her shoulder to see if she had been observed).

A month ago we found her; she had keeled over mid prowl. She was stretched out, as if about to dispatch yet another rodent. If she had to go she would have liked it that way. I was so relieved that she did not suffer, it was weeks of her absence that I appreciated how much she was missed.

Molly, rest in peace, you deserve it and you will very missed.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Does my garden still grow?

The pangs of my conscience boomed almost orchestral, as my garden became a wildlife haven good for supporting bees but remiss in the dinner time offerings. Will power out distracted and procrastination triumphant.

Then came the great purge and alongside nine trailer to the tip it slowly dissected wood from trees. If every fairy needs a tree and magician their cloak I found mine.

The great grotty garden gillet, home made yes but grim I admit. I put it on and time sped, a second became hours and I looked down and smiled to see grit ground into my nails and gardening entrails dangling from my hair. I was a mess but my garden was showing promise.

I refuse to turn it into a show garden, I love it's randomness. But the late salad crop will have to coexist with the important mini beast log pile house. You can see it here in the space that used to be a shantytown.

I will allow the flowers a little privacy this week while they settle down, but hope to link up soon, but in the meantime here is our fly eating pitcher plant that we have been decorating with bees and the sun.

Butt firmly kicked into gardening by the amazing Mammeskjur:


Thursday, 17 July 2014

My view right now

I had thought I would write about the purge at chaos cottage but I saw this instead.

The Pickle had just got her school report and The Hubster was reading it.

More about the great purge at another point.

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Saturday, 5 July 2014

Home made chocolate

First point before I start, never trust YouTube! It turned this recipe into an epic of Mum verses coconut and half way through I was left with the blade of table knife in my hand as the handle flew backwards across the kitchen while I attempted to demonstrate how not to kill yourself in pursuit of chocolate. Sod the sanitised versions, they don't work - it is a battle of wits and eventually we won but only after the process has been instantly promoted to family folklore and I can't possibly comment about that large scratch in the work surface...

A fresh coconut, dismembered violently then grated to liberate 4 table spoons of flesh.
4 table spoons cocoa powder
4 table spoons coconut oil* heated as necessary to make it liquid
Sugar to taste - we used 1 1/2 tablespoons of dark muscovado**
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix the cocoa powder into the coconut oil until well blended, then add the rest of the ingredients (see note on sugar below) and mix well.
Scrape into a suitable container, I used a square bowl lined with cling film, and refridgerate. After about ten minutes take it out and score lines in it, so that later it will be easier to break.

When it is hard, break up and enjoy!

**add the sugar bit my bit, so you don't make it too sweet. It is great for little people to see how much sugar really goes into chocolate. Pickle remarked on now understanding why chocolate is not good for her - not that it stopped her from loving the results.
If you don't have muscovado don't worry. You can use Demerara but blitz it with a blender to a fine powder as otherwise it won't mix in so well.

* coconut oil seems to be a new wonder ingredient. Pull it through your teeth for virtual immortality, cleanse your face with it or just cook with it. Many websites seem devoted entirely to the joys of it. Either way, if you buy a pot you can probably find a use for it before it goes off.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Home natch

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Is it just me?

I was reading Bibsey's blog  and having a good chuckle and I was inspired to mention things that have preoccupied me.

- is is just me that is strangely concerned about having matching underwear but in the run up to a holiday I end up wearing the saggy grey pants to save up the nice ones.

- is it just me that despite being able to compete in the stilletto Olympics I still walk like a builder in drag (with apologies to builders everywhere).

- I don't give a toss what parents are called, should I be Mummy or Sarah? Once we have decided on Mummy and you know it, then it is rude to refer to me as Sarah to my children.

- I thought when you went to a lovely party it was manners to send a thank you note. Now you are expected to send cards to say thank you for attending. Card manufacturers are having a laugh, count me out.

- while I like to think I would never be seen dead in Crocs many sensible and stylish friends have succumbed, I fear I maybe next.

- I don't care how much you house / car / holiday cost.

- I love my local hospital, doctors and school.

- I don't do trendy; if my look starts becoming too popular I get worried (thinking about my gorgeous heavy silk kimono jackets)

- I am proud of my age, I have enjoyed my life and both wrinkles and grey hairs come with the territory.

- I don't watch much TV,, I have not just seen this amazing new episode of Broadchurch/Dr Who/Breaking Bad. Yes, I probably would enjoy them, I know.

- there is a ratio of spending on skincare that directly correlates with the amount of weight that I put on.

- I drink sherry, so get over it! i am not 60 and you see funky hair chalks not a blue rinse.

- Despite my constant stream of ideas it takes older mum to kick my butt seasonally before I get around to updating my blog!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, 19 May 2014

I want mine cake with a dick in it

Mid life crisis? Possibly, but still I was quoting the great Dino Boy. As befits a little boy adept at communicating, thanks to his early start with the Blossom Method, he chatters away happily but pronunciation is a little tougher. He has more random consonants than the Polish language, hence stick becomes dick!

Is that an easier image?

We often read Bireman Dam on the dofa, but we do come unstuck in other areas. I have almost faced the wrath of the NSPCC when guy looks angelically at photos of him and his sister and shouts 'Pickle DIE' - he is not promoting murder of his sister, just he can't quite say his nickname 'the little Guy'.

He also loves ham, that is ham, beef ham, chicken ham, salmon ham or any other non vegetable ham. Pity, we were almost vegetarian before he came along!

The Dino Boy also has his own way of viewing the world, a little shock after the Pickle being almost spookily good. The other day he demolished one of big sister's special chocolates and when asked about it he just shrugged saying 'it is in my tummy so you can't have it back or I will go pop ***@brrrppp@@***'

He loves to do shows, often standing on anything precarious declaring 'ladies and gentleman I am a bedician I can make this disappear....'

This spring has been spent exploring language with a gorgeous two year old.
Pop over to older-mum to see what else has been happening this spring.

one week

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Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Wise up, check up and be aware. #mesothelioma awareness week

I did it! You know the old adage 'the devil is a shadow and bring a shadow into the light and it disappears'? Well for me that held true.

I have had intermittent pains under my arms for a while, too long really. I had been checking for lumps and while there was none the pain still niggled. When a friend's sister had bad lymphatic cancer, I avoided thinking about the pain more assiduously. Finally today I went to the doctor and phew - it was nothing to worry about.

Smear test booked for next week and then if can cut out a little more sugar from my diet I think I will be doing my children proud.

Knowledge really can be power, helping us avoid pain and heartache. For all of us in the UK we recoil at the mention of asbestos. My in-laws have been builders for generations and their famed lucky gene stood by them when others died painful deaths from asbestosis. Did you know that of all the countries to have still not banned asbestos it is the one that you would least expect to still permit it's use? Yes, the USA.

The lovely @HeatherVSJ asked me to write about her campaign to for
Mesothelioma Awareness. Please do look at the link, she was given just 15months to live, but has her own very lucky gene and has defied the odds to see her daughter grow up.

Wise up, check up and be aware - knowledge really is power, I feel so strongly that we owe it to ourselves and to our children - I want them to grow up knowing me.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

#oneweek the rain

When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

Nothing is so sad as the sight of Dino Boy quarantined inside, nose glued to the window watching for a break in the rain, except maybe the sight of me having pushed a buggy over a muddy hill for an hour as I walked the dog.

The sights, the smells and the sounds have been out of the ordinary. Our daily routine veered away from the muddy hill and down to the ford to check the progress. The bird song was drowned out by the gushing noise from the drainage ditches along the lane as the flood water headed to the Loddon.

The babbling brook that we could paddle across in the summer has turned into a thundering watercourse, racing along manically. Everyday we watched to see if we could turn the corner of the lane to spy the depth marker. Some days it disappeared entirely.

The flood plane seems to be appropriately fluid here. For the old houses on the lane it is at risk enough for the environment agency to levy protection money, but across an invisible boundary meters away where they wanted to build the risk was of no consequence. strange then hoe the construction had to stop for five days as raw effluent gushed into the half built houses. Local politics, national politics and geopolitical posturing - it rains on our parade.

As the winter draws to a close, and the first blossom is promising the end to the rain quarantine. We look forward to spring, but maybe a little snow to follow - who knows?

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

#oneweek Yellow submarine

A square peg in a round hole, just three inches too long. Sprawling across the greedily, relegating play into big sister's room and toys abandoned downstairs adding to the general chaos. Eccentricities are charming in people but unacceptable in furniture.

Frustrated I commandeered a pencil and paper during a play date to try and reconcile the difficulties of a small room bright fish swimming across the curtains.

The quick sketch was followed by painfully stalled progress. I googled and ebay-ed until my eyes went boggle finding the perfect accessories: fish for the seaweed, sheets for the bed, a dog toy for the porthole (honest, I had limited budget but creativity to spare).

Before the winter was over we created space - and a very cool yellow submarine too.

Inspired as ever, by the amazing @older-mum and her #oneweek look back at this winter.

one week

Monday, 10 March 2014

#oneweek Miracle mirepoix

I love the seasons, I love the smell of winter, I love the first few weeks of chunky soups and warming stews. Then I remember that it is not called the hungry season for nothing. Each week I dive for the veg box and am left slightly uninspired. Celery, carrots and onions again!

Faced with that end of the week issue of nothing in the fridge to eat, but the veg box looks stuffed with rather sad looking produce, I got stubborn. I will not be beaten, I can eat seasonally!

I blitzed all the carrots, celery, leaks and onions into submission. Take that, I thought.

Serenaded by radio 6 music or charmed by radio 4 the next step was to switch off to the world for half an hour and slowly charm the sweetness from the blend with long slow cooking. Gently, gently, stirring, not rushing just waiting until the sharpness is gone and all that is left is a pan full of the sweetest base for the next weeks recipes.

Some to use and some to freeze. It is easy to slop into a pan and you are half there to sumptuous tomato sauce, a healthy soup or a decadent game pie. My dreary harvest has been turned into a miracle ingredient. Pasta in minutes, giving me more time to flop besides the fire and get creative.

I challenge you, batch up some mirepoix for the freezer, you will be grateful! The other recommendation is the other posts inspired by the amazing @older-mum's #oneweek linky.

one week

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

World book day - hat creation

The Pickle loves Pippi Longstocking! They can guarantee hours of filthy giggles, so naturally she is the first choice of costume for World Book Day. The outfit is pretty easy, a demon pinafore has been found on eBay and a few red patches need to be sew on and we are half way there. She wears odd stockings so I am cutting off the leg from a pair of grey school tights (the one with the whole in the knee, so no loss there) and the single leg tights will go over a pair of red and white striped tights.

Rather than an itchy wig I have orange hair spray and a few pipe cleaners to hand to get that characteristic look, then all we have to do is make the shoes. Rather than lending her big shoes that she will fall over I can just make a point from some soft foam sheet and tape it to her school shoes.

So far so easy, so time to go flying over the top and the excuse for a rough and ready hat tutorial (suitable only for fancy dress). Yes, Mr Nilsson must look cool!

Start by finding something that is roughly the right shape for the desired hat in my case a shallow plastic bowl, then tape it onto a wooden base and over with cling film.

I had some hessian left over from another project to I cut out a few large circles and soaked them in some pva glue thinned slightly with a little water. (This is why this is for fancy dress only - but it is quicker than steaming smd stretching the material into submission).

Drape both layers over the base shape that you have created. Pop a few pin in to make sure that it stays in position. They slide in with a little encouragement under between the lip of the bowl and the wooden board. Then allow to dry, I put mine in a warm oven as it cooled down from some baking.

Once dry you can paint. Spray paint works best but I was doing this project from anything I could find around the house and it still worked well. Just to finish it off nicely when the paint was dry I ironed it all flat and neat using a tea towel to protect both the iron and the hat.

I could just have trimmed off the extra material, but I wanted a better finish so using a large stab stitch I finished the brim with a little white bias binding. Finally I stitched a thin ribbon around the crown. I pulled the ribbon taut as I went along, just sewing the hat into a more permanent shape, and added a little elastic to keep the hat on the monkey. Doesn't he look fine?

I hope I have inspired you to give it a go, there is still plenty of time before Friday. Xx