Monthly Archives: February 2011

Honey, I’m home!

We’ve had no internet for the last 5 days. It’s been like someone cut off a heroin supply to serious addicts. Steve still hasn’t recovered and is as prickly as a defensive porcupine. Jake coped incredibly well. X-Box Live is a vital tool in our house for a happy Jake, and I was amazed he coped so well. We went back to 1950s living – reading, cooking, picking up real information, mostly avoiding Steve. Right now, they’re still bickering about Active and Passive Basses. Sometimes, Steve’s temper is shorter than a prostitute’s skirt.

Jake is currently sitting doing a science experiment from a present from his mum. Great gift. He’s made an alginate solution and is now making his calcium solution.

“I’ve got to add the cal-key-um chloride…”

“That’s cal-See-um chloride”

“I’ve got to add the cal-SEE-um chloride to the al-gin-ate solution.”


“I’ve got to add the CAL-SEE-UM chloride to the AL-GIN-ATE solution… and use a pipe-ette”


“I’ve got to add the CAL-SEE-UM chloride to the AL-GIN-ATE solution and use a PIP-ette…”

Steve grumbles and goes back to his computer, only to chip in every time Jake makes a mistake. Someone needs a little bit of patience this afternoon! He practically bit my head off for saying he can go out and get some coffee if he wants. The fact is, I’ve been doing stuff with Jake all day in between mopping up after Tilly (who, after a hiatus and some rain has decided the house is a much nicer place in which to urinate) and trying to look after Basil. Basil who is very, very poorly.

Basil was fine on Saturday and Sunday. He even came out and sunbathed a little. Now he can’t move very well, is so weak he can’t stand on his back legs and is howling horribly. He’s still eating but he’s way worse than he was yesterday. He didn’t eat on Monday and by yesterday, he was glad of the tuna. He is wolfing it down. I can’t work out what’s wrong. If he’s not better tomorrow, it’ll be time for the vet. The problem is, he’s not so ill they’ll put him to sleep, yet he’s clearly not healthy. It’s not broken bones or anything for an x-ray. I suspect it’s just old age, or even a stroke. My mum’s cat, who I thought was younger than Basil, Penny, died last year, and Basil is showing a lot of the same behaviours. He tried very hard to get under the duvet and then under the bed, though he’s made valiant attempts to use his litter box. Poor boy.

Basil has been my saviour on many an occasion – he’s been a reason to come home and a reason to be glad to come home. Not only that, he’s also a bond to Andy. If you want the definition of sad kharma, I found all of mine and Andy’s valentine’s cards yesterday, and his birth certificate, the documents for our never-taken holiday in the Maldives… it’s horrid reading the words of long-dead lovers saying they’ll love you forever. Forever isn’t really forever, is it?? I found a picture of a very young looking Andy sitting with Basil on his knee. If I knew then what I know now….

I don’t think I’d do a single thing differently!!!


Butterflies, daisies and lengthy February days.

Today, I saw a red admiral butterfly, sunning itself on a patch of daisies. Not an uncommon sight in England. In June.

The chicken ladies have taken to going in the polytunnel and dust bathing. It must be nice after a cold, wet week last week to be able to roll about in the dust. I quite fancied doing it myself. The polytunnel is gradually filling – I’ve started putting in some of the sweet peas under glass too. I’d quite like to have a hammock in there so I can lie down and warm myself just like the chickens.

Molly has been lying on the lawn sunning herself. She only does her ‘flat-out’ pose in front of the fire unless it’s really warm, so it’s nice to see her start her spring time sunbathing. Basil came out and sunbathed behind the grange in his usual spot, lying on the warm grass.

We have 10 hours of daylight today too – and though there was thick fog until 11:00, by lunch-time it was 10 degrees and it has got warmer and warmer as the earth breathes out as spring gets a whole lot closer.

Leaves are easy to rake, soil is easy to dig. The temperature is delightful. I am a happy girl.

Sunny days and Sundays really make me smile

Jake usually doesn’t get out of bed at the weekend until past 11. He’s already ‘teen-boy’. So it was quite a surprise to have him up at 8:00 on a Sunday morning, and in a fine temper. He stayed in a fine mood all day, too, which is more than I can say about the Stephen with the sore head, but oh well. Such is the universe!

Jake and I went to the nearby skate park today. He’s a marvel. He didn’t quite have the confidence to do the big ramp, but he had a go, just about made it and was then scared to come down! He was also scared that someone might see him and he’d be embarrassed. He doesn’t quite go along with the idea of ‘when will I ever see these people again?’ which is my firm motto for embarrassing behaviour. In fact, if I were to see them every day, it wouldn’t bother me.

Then I came back and got on with the garden a bit. I dug over about a third of the bit of what will be the potato patch. The ground is really soft and lush – hopefully good for potatoes. I’ve planted out the sweet peas I soaked last night. I’ve also fashioned a cold frame inside the polytunnel for those things needing a bit extra warmth to get them going – amazing what you can do with an old windscreen!! I’m so looking forward to the coming months, and that’s not an easy thing for a girl like me to say. Tomorrow, I will do a bit more of the potato patch. We had some carrots left in over the winter, and I can’t decide to dig them up or leave them. Yet again, I had little success with the spring onions. Onions are not my area of expertise!

Steve had a good sleep last night, whilst Jake and I watched 300 and ate pancakes. I might be good at many culinary things, but pancakes are not one of them. They are Steve’s forté and I leave well enough alone. But with him sleeping, it seemed best to make them ourselves. We had them with melted butter and sugar, comme les francaises!

blame the boy!


Ahhhh! Subarashito omoimasu, desu ne!?!*

*Japanese is better at most languages I know for expressing the wonder of things!

I was beginning to despair. I know TS Eliot says April is the cruellest month, and he’s right to some degree, with so many of my loved ones having failed to make the distance in April, but January was beginning to feel pretty cruel, too.

However, the snowdrops are not a symbol for no good reason at all. Not only is the earth warming, the ground softening, but Winter’s coat-tails are disappearing into the distance, finally. Thus with life. We have thousands of little signs of growth and new life. Mother Nature reassures us all is not dead.

I planted some leeks at the beginning of January, in amidst unusually warm days. They were slow to take, but yesterday, I noticed little growths popping up through the soil. It’s taken a month, but then we have had some much colder weather and I don’t think the lean-to has been over 5° for more than 5 days at a time. I reckon I’d use 2 or 3 leeks a week for leek and potato soup and leek and potato strudel, and most of those will come from frozen, so 150 leeks will do me nicely! (if an unbelievable amount!!)

Autumn Giant leeks

Not only that, but either the begonias or petunias are beginning to flourish. Lesson #1 of 2011: label your plants! I can’t begin to say how annoying it is not to know which is which! I’ve been meticulously labelling ever since.

Begonias or Petunias!!

I was also beginning to despair about the peas. The peas had already surfaced in the poly-tunnel, but they were slow to take in the lean-to. Yesterday, they too were beginning to show.

generic French peas!

I think I’ll be a bit more adventurous with types next year, but this year, I want lots to eat and lots in the freezer by September. If I don’t have 10 kg of peas, I shan’t be happy!! I want enough for special fried rice and my spring risotto and ham and pea soup for next winter to get us right through until the early crops. I like how the little pea on the left looks a bit like an alien baby emerging from Sigourney Weaver in Alien.

I’ve got 2 lots of potatoes chitting already (couldn’t be bothered to just leave them til later in the year – and whether chitting works or not, it seemed a bit pointless not to bother)

Mona Lisa potatoes

Apparently good for being mashed, baked potatoes, boiled, in salads or for yummy Duchesse potatoes (I like the French for yum-yum which is miam-miam. It’s vaguely Japanese-sounding and cute!!) We’ve also got some salad potatoes chitting – Amandine. I’m going to plant them on the plot we dug up last autumn – the soil is good but potatoes are so good at breaking up the soil. Hopefully, I can get about 30kg from them, though that won’t last long. We go through at least 5kg a week, so the more the merrier! I may get  a little more experimental with my potatoes this year, since we enjoyed planting them and digging them up so much. I should be here to shore them up and look after them, too.

Today, I’ve planted in some carrot seed of Steve’s from 2006. Maybe they’ll grow. Maybe not. Not a problem if they don’t.

Just in case it was getting all vegetative here, I’ve planted Achillea Summer Berries to keep the flower balance. I’d love a huge cottage garden and I really want lots of perennials and self-seeding annuals around the courtyard for later in the year. I want it kind of riad-y and yet also cottage garden-y. I have great plans!!

I have also got lots of sweet peas going – can’t have enough of these! I’ve already got some I started off in November: Winston Churchill (well, you’ve got to remind these French people of the might of England!) I just looooooooove cut sweet peas – the scent of them is magnificent… and they just keep giving. I’ve got Winston Churchill, White Supreme, Appleblossom and Chatsworth all planted. I could seriously grow nothing but sweet peas. They’re so easy, so joyful and so giving.

Finally, I’ve got some cauliflowers, parsnips, saffron crocuses, thyme, rosemary and broad beans all on the go. Here’s to happy returns of things grown. Funnily, I’ve been looking through Steve’s photos from last year and the place looks so green, so verdant. It’s hard to imagine it being quite so lush!! At one point, it was so seriously overgrown you wouldn’t think we could get it back under control!!

A little rampant!!

A four-foot box, a foot for every year*

*Taken from Mid-Term Break by Seamus Heaney

It was horrible here yesterday.

I’ve got a million other bits of grief going on … Mossy’s sister-in-law died unexpectedly at the age of 38 a couple of days ago. She was being kept on life support so her organs could be harvested. If this isn’t sad enough on its own, she was seven months pregnant. The baby was born by C-Section. She leaves behind Mossy’s brother and a two-year old. I know it’s corny, but all I can wish is that there is a heaven and it was short two angels. There can’t be many reassurances in this, and heaven is cold comfort when she has left behind a broken family.

I’ve done little but cry about it. It reminds me so much of Andy, who would be 33 this year, perhaps a family man. I was sad too, reading over posts from after Christmas and re-reading my words about Rra Matakoni from the Number One Ladies Detective Agency. Sometimes life is very hard indeed. I can only hope it is rewarded. It’s the only comfort I can find. It’s hard to think that it all ends – just ends – and that once it’s gone, it’s gone. I don’t like that. No wonder we believe in angels. The idea of atheism is very cold and I’m not sure I can live with it.

I picked some snowdrops yesterday and put them in a vase – was remembering Seamus Heaney’s Mid-Term Break. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s about the death of his brother and how he comes home to find his father crying. He says ‘He had always taken funerals in his stride’ – unfortunately, I’m too sensitive and selfish to do so. Death is always personal to me, especially such a tragic one. The poignancy of it is almost too much to bear. The snowdrops gave me little cheer. Luckily, I’m surrounded by animals who it is impossible not to be giddy about.

There are many other things underfoot with stuff – I can’t say what they are – but they aren’t good and it’s a long time since I’ve been so distressed. I’m bone-tired and sleep doesn’t come easy to me. I need a little comfort and I’m finding it in my sister, of course, my friends Joanne and Deb… and I thank them for that. And Jakey boy, who I love to pieces. He knows how to make me smile 🙂

Perhaps in death do we find the solace of other people, of other arms.

I’m reminded of Edna St Vincent Millay’s sonnet:

Time does not bring relief

Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year’s leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year’s bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide.
There are a hundred places where I fear
To go – so with his memory they brim.
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, ‘There is no memory of him here!’
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.

It’s cold cheer indeed to know that time does not bring relief. Each day is a little easier to cope with, but I think all happiness is tainted with the sadness of them not being there for ever more. The Japanese have a phrase for the sadness caused by the transience of life: mono no aware. And for ever more, you carry this like a shadow over every moment in your life. At best, you can see the departed as a guiding light, a star watching over you, remind yourself that at the very least they live on in you; your memories keep them alive. You seek to make that sadness, that shadow, into a rainbow and carry them with you forever.


Les pieds comme glacons

Today, all the La Rochefoucauld primary schools gathered on a God-Forsaken field somewhere outside of the town for a bit of a run. The Boy had been very worried ever since he got the news. He’s quite sensitive about many things and he does worry about how he’s going to do, bless him. He was down to run 1,500 metres and he has been worrying about it for at least two weeks. First it was the fact he gets stitches. I’m an ex-marathon runner and have done several triathlons (hence the stress fractures and plantar fasciitis!!) so I’d given him my best advice. Then it was the fact he didn’t think he could do the distance, so I did lots of persuading about its shortness and how it was only 5 minutes of running.

I like the fact that competition is encouraged here (although some of the children at the back reminded of me in Mrs Riley’s PE class!) and that endless health and safety protocols hadn’t taken over. It reminds me of how I used to run school trips every weekend to watch Manchester Storm in the ice hockey – where risk assessments weren’t required and often it was me and 50 kids, a few parents and a whole lot of excitement. It’s depressing to realise how few excursions take place these days. Despite the worries, it has been the highlight of The Boy’s month.

But… it was cold as hell. I can’t remember having been so cold. I had a thermal vest on, a t-shirt, a polo-neck, a jumper, a fleece, an anorak, two scarves, a hat and gloves – warm enough on top, but my two pairs of leggings felt like I was in bare legs, and my feet, with only one pair of socks and my boots, were like ice. Once, we were taken up to Siddall Moor High School to play netball. The wind blew down over the Pennines cutting through us like daggers, with us in just our gym skirts and vile big PE knickers. My legs still bear the scars. It was vaguely reminiscent of the scene in Kes where the wonderful Brian Glover playing the bullying Mr Sugden. Today didn’t feel much different, despite the layers.

The Boy was in the final race, by which time the atmosphere was at fever pitch. It was The Boy contre all the other boys in his school, as well as the other schools across the town. We’d already talked about Arthur, one of Jake’s friends, whose father takes him running. Arthur has his own running shorts, so The Boy wasn’t confident he’d beat Arthur. One of the Julians in CM2 also seems to be at least two years older in height and build, but The Boy was happy to come in behind these two.

Arthur led the race for most of the way, followed by Julian. Jake started somewhere near the back with Axel and made his way up the field. He must have passed more people than any one else!

After a nerve-wracking five minutes where I was as giddy as he was, Arthur had lost a bit of pace and another boy came racing up past him, followed by another. He came in fifth, followed by Julian, and Jake came in eighth! I was super-impressed!! Of 100 boys, most of whom were older than him, he came in eighth!

Whoo whoo!

Sometimes boys are great!