Monthly Archives: March 2011

Writers’ retreat

I’m a notional member of ‘the writers’ retreat’ – a group online who spend an hour every so often writing just for fun. The goal is that you spend an hour writing online in silent pursuit of pleasure. I say notional because its time zones don’t work for me, being in the middle of the night, but I usually spend an hour anyway. It’s not very silent tonight – I have a bad case of the hiccups and Tilly is growling over a bone she tried to hide in amongst the magazines behind Steve’s chair – Jake is still chatting with his dad and Cops is playing in the background. Still, it’s my best attempt at a silent world for a silent hour of creative pleasure.

So… perhaps two topics to discuss – both linked by a rural village.

One is a piece of rural England that is seen as the doyenne of rural Cotswold villages. Busloads of American and Japanese tourists arrive there each day to sample ‘rural’ English life – a village as Stow-on-the-Wold. It is filled with Wind in the Willows sentimentality in a way – even the very name so quintessentially ‘English’ – harking back to an England perhaps long gone, preserved in a living museum to English village life gone by. When tourists think of English village life, they think of this: tea shoppes and antiques shops, painters’ galleries and quaint boutiques, ancient inns and hostelries. This is my mother’s world. Her family ran The Bell Inn for some time, and owned a smallholding on the outskirts of town, known as The Mill. I can’t remember much about The Mill except for the fact it had an old Mill on it, of course, and that I remember my uncle built cars in a workshop not unlike the workshops Steve now has on hand. There was a field of goats at the front and a chicken pen. The first time I went there, I was perhaps 10 or 11 – and it seemed like a different world to me.

The house inhabited by my maternal grandfather and Aunt’s family seemed like it belonged to another world than mine. Steps led up and down – nothing was even. The front room, I remember, seemed to be full of stuffed animals and strange objects. It was ramshackle in ways that cottages are. With no even planning, dark corridors led to rooms unexplored. I don’t know if it was really like this, or if time has done something strange to my memory. I remember the lanes seemed the greenest I’d ever seen as we went down to The Mill. My uncle Bill developed his own photographs, I think – I don’t know where – and I have a photograph of my brother and mum putting up a tent outside in an overgrown garden that seemed almost magical compared to our own very neat back garden which was middle-class suburbia through and through.

There’s a little of this wildness where we live now. Steps connect all the rooms – the floors are all on different levels. Secretive doors merge into the wallpaper and we discovered another attic a good two months after we’d lived here permanently. The land is a triangle, too, which my mother reminds me was the shape of The Mill. It’s nowhere near as big as The Mill, but maybe a little of it will remind my mother of the place she grew up.

It was into this rural kingdom of English gentility that my Dad arrived. I don’t know how he got there, why he ended there or what happened, other than in snatches. An inner-city Manchester boy in his urban clothes, with his wealth of 1960s experiences arrived in a town that was probably still in shock about Elvis and The Beatles, so lost in Greensleeves and Elgar it was.

He gave me a little snippet yesterday that brought back some of that quaint and charming English magic – he worked in a little restaurant in Stow called, aptly, The Stowaway. This is so resonant with so many images. Not just the pun on the name of the town, but the whole notion of stowaways (despite Stow being miles from the sea!) and I see wooden panels and dark interiors well used to hiding people who don’t want to be found. He says it was small – only 20 or so covers a night – and only two rooms – the restaurant and the kitchen – with two rooms upstairs to sleep in. English people do ‘small’ so very well – it’s probably impossible for Americans and Canadians (that’s you, Wendy!) to imagine how small English rooms and houses can be. I see oil lamps and oilskin tablecloths, odd chairs that don’t match – a far cry from white table cloths and linen that I imagine the world where my mother worked to be. My dad said he and the other guy who ran the place slept upstairs, and that his friend kept a rifle to pick off the rats.

Those of us in the end of our teenage years can sometimes live life so romantically and ambitiously – no fear to guide us – that our stories of those times seem a world away from the world we inhabit – finally – as ‘grown-ups’. No wonder they all seem so interesting to those of a younger generation – when they finally decide to listen to the days when their parents were more than their parents – the days when their parents were actual living, breathing people, intrepid teenagers. It reminds me of the Carol Ann Duffy poem ‘Before you were mine’ where she looks back at her mother with an awe and a fascination for the woman her mother once was, before she belonged to the poet.

I look back at the teenage me, living in rooms in shared houses with students or friends, cooking meals for 16. Once, I went down to Brixton to stay with a Venezuelan friend, hopped over the barriers to the tube, got off at Camden – where Camden market seemed so new and so fresh – even though it had been a mecca for the peculiar and the unusual way before 1990 when I arrived there. I worked with Jewels, my Venezuelan friend, in a radical bookshop selling copies of socialist propaganda, feminist texts, Marxist texts. We stayed in his squat in Brixton, making pancakes on a calor gas stove, sleeping on fake animal skins, dying our hair matching colours in the bathtub. We talked for hours and hours, long into the night. He laughed at me and said I would fall asleep talking. He was the first person I’d ever met with his lip pierced – not once, but twice – nothing like the be-pierced youths of England today. And he was the first person I’d ever met who had ‘good’ tattoos – not just skulls and the usual hard rock images done by Dave in Bury. He had an eagle in full flight across his chest.

One night, we hopped over the heavily-secured fence into Brockwell Park – the heart of Brixton – and lay looking at the stars.

“No matter where you are, or where I am, you know you can always look up and see the same stars.” He told me. He was right. I look up most nights here, and often think of what he said. No matter how big the world, we still share the same view of the universe and whenever I need to feel connected, I know I can look up and know my mum or my sister can see the same stars. He taught me to go beyond myself, beyond my small town values and to think big. We talked only of big ideas, as only teenagers can still do, filled with passion about society and history, literature and music. I still think he was the person who knew me best in all the world. He was an exotic hummingbird to my Manchester sparrow – and he brightened my worlds and broadened my horizons in ways I could add to my life. I like to think that when I look at the world maps, wondering where to go next, his spirit of fearlessness and bravery makes me as intrepid as he was.

We walked one July night to Clapham, picking up pink rice from a Turkish takeaway along the way and eating it with our fingers. He said he had a friend who was having a get-together and maybe we should go. We walked by the house, where strange creatures came and went through the doorway, and we spent the night with people playing guitars. I remember very little except for a beautiful black woman singing her heart out. It was a woman who would later be known as Skin, in a band called Skunk Anansie. And she could sing!

The 18-year-old me would be wide-eyed at the 38-year-old me I’ve become. I don’t know whether I’d be amazed, or scornful. I know I’ve not changed that much. Maybe I’m much more cynical, but I still possess – and relish – the ability to be wowed by things. A cat watching a computer game, Molly cuddled up with Fox, Tilly hiding her bone in a pile of magazines, cherry blossom and chickens all still make me smile.

And so here’s part two of the tale of two villages: from Stow to Les Ecures. Stow is upmarket, antique-y and wealthy in ways that rural France is often not. There’s none of the polish and yet there is still most of what real Stow life was probably all about: village schools and church bells, green fields and the distant sound of shotguns. We are 14 houses, a handful more residents, a good few dogs and a bend on the road between one village and a small town. Nothing exciting happens. It can bring no romantic dreams of tiny, darkened restaurants sandwiched in the middle of a village – it has little so romantic about it. M. Richon with his yellow sou’ester and wellingtons is about as exciting as things here get. The old lady (and her mother, maybe!) who live opposite us and a little farther up. Arthur and his family, our very clean cut and delightful neighbours. A Dutch couple who have painted their shutters a wonderful shade of lavender. An older lady I’ve seen once when she came to tell me about the perils of the road. Michel, the farmer, who regularly waves as he tootles past on his tractor.

It’s not romantic. There’s nothing wonderful or daring about it. It’s not some unusually named restaurant in a village, or a squat in Brixton, but it’s my home. I hope I’ve not lost the fearlessness of my teenage years when I walked through Brixton on warm summer evenings, but I feel a little less rough around the edges, a little softer. A little more like my mother and father – a little more ‘straightforward’ – and yes, a little less awesome and amazing in how different I am from the teenage me – I feel like I’ve had the rough edges polished from me – perhaps as my father has had as the years have gone by.

It reminds me, though, in a very zen kind of way, that tough stuff is needed to polish diamonds. It’s not an easy job and it requires a lot of friction. Maybe such is true of life, too, that it takes a lot of buffing to smooth the rough edges and become just a little softer.

My hour is up. Tilly is silent now – she’s lost her bone for growling at Bird. Bird is sitting over my shoulder, his eyes shut, curled up in a ball. Fox is stretched out, a sofa to himself. Molly is sitting as close to me as she can possibly get and I am thankful for her soft warmth. Jake has gone to sleep and I’ve lost Steve to the world of some computer game and here we sit, all of us bound in 20 metres square, all of us in our solitary, comfortable universes. And, most thankfully of all, my hiccups have disappeared.

Things I love today…

Loving The Bird and The Fox, who play all day long. Fox has caught two mice today and no birds. Both of them have played underneath the sofa for at least an hour, climbing under the throw.

Loving the long evenings

Loving the fact my Mum will be here on Friday

Loving having my Dad over here too

Loving my turnips which are coming on great guns

Loving the garden

Loving the Tilly Flop when she skip-dances and when she skips back to the door, her ears flapping

Loving the Moll and her random energy bursts where she races about

Loving being in my comfy bed

Loving having  a bedroom that’s now 16 degrees at night

Loving having a posse of boys wave at me and call me Madame Lee

Loving how gorgeously made-up Marine, one of my Bac students, is – subtlety and style – no thick make-up that I went for when I was too young and dumb to realise what perfect skin I had.

Loving Deb and Joanne: how lovely it is to have some sensible company beyond my family

Loving cauliflower cheese and hoping that my cauliflowers grow into big ones

Loving finding photos of Dylan I’d forgotten I’d taken

And loving Jake, who is very sweet and very funny. I hope he knows he’s fantastic.

He came in after school and asked me what a ‘tire-bouchon’ was. I didn’t know. I know a bouchon is a cork or a traffic jam, a bottle neck. And I know tirer is to take. So ‘take-cork’??! Corkscrew of course. Not only did he have to read in class, but he handled it with aplomb. I’m so proud of him. Later, I was uncorking a bottle of wine for Steve and I said to Jake: “What’s this?” as I brandished the corkscrew.

“It’s a C-O-R-K-S-C-R-E-W…” he said, totally deadpan. “God, Emma, you’re so clever, but you don’t even know that??!”

And not loving??

Death threats

Sore ankles and feet from being on my feet all day

Tilly jingling all night last night. Back to the crate

How some people spend less time on their kids than I do with my plants. 81 minutes a week, say the stats. How can you justify that??

Sakura, Ume and Hanami

There’s something sublime about blossom. I eagerly awaited our first blossoms – from the ornamental plums next to the house – and a whole month later, I’m still enjoying it – knowing more is yet to come. In truth, it was a big part of going to Japan – and I hope spring brings the country a rebirth from the terrible troubles the winter has brought them.

The sakura blossom is a sign of the samurai – for it is only at its prime a short while. It is a sign for mono-no-aware, the bitter-sweetness of things. How perfect beauty fades away, to quote John Clare. Many of the Japanese emperors removed blossoming trees from their ground, replacing them with only evergreen conifers, because the blossom reminded them of the passing of the seasons and the fragility of their rule.

It was this that led me to design a cherry blossom tattoo. Although, as my Nana pointed out, now I’ve got a permanent reminder of the impermanence of life. The irony.

In Manchester, I had only a couple of persistent snowdrops to remind me spring was on its way: here, everything gives me double joy – blossom, then fruit. Nothing gives me as much joy in life as seeing the first blossoms, against a blue sky – or even pastel-soft against a grey sky.

And everything here is in bloom. The first plums in the garden burst into flower yesterday. The peach nearest the petite grange flowered first, followed by the one next to Steve’s woodshed, then the one nearest the poly tunnel. The apricot and nectarine Steve planted last November have burst into blossom with tiny flowers. The huge, ancient cherries are also coming into blossom. The quince and pear are resplendent in huge blooms.

What I don’t understand is…

  • why when women clean up around men, they’re seen as trying to make a point about how lazy the men are and how dirty the house is, but when men tidy up around women, they’ve probably done something wrong and are feeling bad about it?
  • why when a woman moves the seat closer to the steering wheel, it annoys men who drive after them as if to say their shortness is very frustrating when really they can still drive, albeit with their legs round their ears and women can’t drive AT ALL when men move the seat back?
  • why when women say a smart thing it’s seen as being something to laugh at, but when men say a smart thing, everyone has to bow down at their wisdom
  • why when women leave a lawnmower full of stuff, it’s because they’re ‘lazy’ but when men do it, it’s because they’ve not finished. Even if ‘finishing’ might occur a few months later.
  • why when women leave a job unfinished (usually because they’ve had to go and do something else for a man!) it’s because they’re incompetent, but when men leave a job unfinished, they want congratulating for having done a bit of a job in the first place
  • when men finally put pots away after washing up they do it in such a way that truly demonstrates their complete lack of knowledge about where stuff goes and even though it still needs re-arranging, they want congratulation.
  • when men go shopping for the week, they come back with only a pack of rawl-plugs, a giant pack of crisps, some toffee crisps and a roll of marzipan but when women go shopping, picking up everything for the entire week, they are berated if they forget a single item.
  • when men spend the day on the Internet, they’re ‘researching’, but when women do it, it’s a ‘waste of time’
  • why men like cushions and comfort but go mad about any money spent on said items
  • why when men read it’s seen as growing their brain, but when women read it’s seen as wasting time they could be spending on making tea
  • why when women leave the butter out of the fridge after spending two hours making a Sunday roast, they are berated for it as if they are the messiest people in the world
  • why when there’s no coke left because the men have drunk it all, it’s seen as the woman’s fault for not getting more in
  • why men expect adulation for doing chores and would quite like some kind of podium or ceremony with champagne and definitely would like a trophy, but women would just like  a cup of tea making.
  • why it’s okay for a man to spend £400 on a  new flat-screen TV that you didn’t really need, but if a woman spends £20 on a new toaster because the old one is as temperamental as Etna, it’s seen as a colossal waste of money
  • why it’s okay for men to spend every single spare penny on ‘man-toys’ that will last until the new man-toy is available on the market but if a woman spends £15 on a lipstick that will last 20 years, it’s seen as something terrible
  • why women spend extra cash on their children, family or loved ones and men spend any extra cash they find on themselves
  • why men have fetishistic hobbies like train-spotting or plane identification or coin collecting and if women collect stuff it’s seen as junky dust-collectors

As the quote perhaps erroneously attributed to Ginger Rogers, when asking for a raise and comparing herself to Fred Astaire:

“Darling, I do everything he does, just backwards and in high heels.”

Such is a woman’s life!


My gorgeous boys

Before I start, I need to say that Fox and Bird had bloody big paw-prints to fill. Basil was a whimsical, petulant spoilt king who I adored. He’d been with me through so much and I still miss his little furry body next to me in bed. I miss him poking me to wake me up, and I miss his constant chatter. He was a very chatty cat.

So Fox and Bird had to follow in the wake of this great beast, well worthy of TS Eliot.

But they’re so endearing and so lovely, it’s impossible not to love them to pieces.

I worried about them coming here – if they don’t have good road sense, they’re not going to get far. Plus, Basil was so distressed when I first got him, he ran away for 5 days. I worried these boys would do the same. I worried about them with the dogs and with me and with new space.

But they’re brilliant. It’d be impossible to have more fantastic cats.

Fox always leads the way: he’s the brave one. He’s the one who first came in the house and the one who first curled up on the sofa, claiming it as his own:

In fact, he quickly started claiming wherever he wanted to lie as his own, not even caring about silly Tilly – and she’s really glad to have a new friend. She’s so waggy when she sees them, despite chasing them for  a couple of days:

Fox is so playful. He spends half his time racing round the garden, sticking his head into holes. He’s caught two mice that I know of and he seems to love catching moths that gather near the windows.

He’s so full of playfulness it’s delightful. Whilst some cats (like Clint, our ex-foster revival) are savage as well as playful, he’s so gentle. He is very happy to be petted and purrs so loudly. He will clean anything that gets near him: hands, dogs’ heads…

Birdie was less confident – and still is a little timid. He spent the first couple of days in the barn, nowhere near as adventurous as Fox, and he would come down for food then go back up again. It took him a while to want to venture near the dogs, but this afternoon he was sitting with Molly and Tilly under a tree – rolling on his back and enjoying their more peaceful company. He’s spent the last two nights getting happier about coming in, and spent the last two nights curled up on my bed trying desperately to wash my hands when I’m trying my best to re-read Annie Hawes’ Extra Virgin – a book about a woman who bought a house in Italy in the 80s – by house, I mean a rustic old summer house up in the mountains. It’s a great book. Whenever I think I’m roughing it, she reminds me I’m really not. Plus, I read it in England whilst dreaming of a life like the one I have now, so it’s so much nicer to read it with a little more sympathy and ‘insider’ knowledge. She’s a great writer.

Anyway, I digress.

My little Bird seems to channel the spirit of Basil, curling up next to me, demanding attention and, fondly, shitting in a corner. He pulls my hand to him to be petted. And that’s where the Basil similarity ends, because Basil would lock on and claw me to shreds, and Birdie just washes my hand.

Birdie got just enough confidence to come in and say hello, and now he won’t leave! What I love about the boys is how they play together and how they cuddle up to one another. They really are the best brothers. I love it how they sleep in Saffy’s old basket on the windowsill, arm in arm.

By far the cutest, though, was when both got into bed with Molly. Molly likes to put herself to bed when she’s decided it’s late. She doesn’t bother waiting for us, just takes herself off and that’s the last you see of our lazy dog. But a couple of nights ago, Bird and Fox decided to join her. Excuse the unmade bed. I’ve no excuse.

These are the feet I used to have…

About 10 years ago, I looked a lot like this:

I looked like this because this IS me (the girl, not the rather gay-looking Dutch bloke in his turn ups) back in 2001 on my last night of a holiday in Kos. I’d gone with my sister and we’d had an amazing time. I was 29, newly single, newly contact-lensed, tanned and a size 10. Bless me. I was cute and neurotic. What I’d particularly like to draw your attention to is my feet.

I did have a better picture of these shoes (which I still have) but it’s temporarily misplaced and I’m far too lazy to get up, plug my printer in, find the photo in the album and scan the hard copy.

What I love about these beautiful shoes is just about everything: the sequins, the pinkness, the wedge (wedges = not falling and breaking ankles) and my beautiful, brown feet with lovely painted toenails.

That was then.

This is now.

Spot the difference?

I never thought I’d be in the crocs brigade, but they’re so… farm useful! When you sweep up the front room twice a day because of all the dirt, you don’t want to add to it by bringing in dirt. Wellies and boots and trainers are hard to get off quickly and you can’t ‘in and out’. Plus, they’re so damn comfy.

What you might also spot are various wounds, not to mention the fact I’ve had seven serious sprains since 2001 and stress fractures galore since I decided running 100k a week was a good thing to do. Note to 29-year-old self in the eventuality of time travel a la Bill and Ted: give up running and give up for good.

The problem with the world beyond holidays is that farms have animals. And animals poo. France has insects and creepy crawlies and bugs and maggots that are two inches long. So much as I’d like to wear lovely shoes, I can’t.

Plus, it’s very easy to get stones out of crocs.

Another problem is that I tend to wear long trousers because we have nettles, thorns, bushes, stabby plants, cats, bouncy dogs and all manner of unpleasant things that scar the legs. Long trousers = good. But this means I have brown arms and a brown face, and white legs. Scratch that. I have grey and brown legs. Fabric doesn’t keep dirt from seeping through.

Notice the dirt.

Not that I thought fermette life would be glamorous. The chickens would probably peck the sequins anyway and it’s impossible to walk the dogs when you’re wearing 4 inch heels.

But… tonight, I am dousing my feet liberally in Burt’s Bees paraffin foot stuff and then I’m going to paint my toenails. A touch of glamour never goes amiss.

The beginning of the busy season

I can’t believe I moved here for a quieter life. It doesn’t feel like it’s going to be quiet for the next few months. For a start, I’ve been spending a good hour or two in the garden every day, as has Steve – and it’s only just beginning. I seem to spend all my time scurrying about in between appointments, mopping floors, sweeping (which is infinitely better than vacuuming!) washing, cooking, shopping… And it’s going to get busier – though only in good ways!

Firstly the Aged P is arriving with The Bother tomorrow – Steve’s picking them up since I’ve got back-to-back appointments all day. Then at an undisclosed time in the future, Steve’s daughter Jasmin and grandson Dylan will be arriving – which is a much-anticipated event around here. I can’t wait to see Dylan again! And I can’t wait for him to see all the animals. Steve will be working a little, I will be on show-and-tell duty and we’ll have a houseful for a week. Then Jasmin departs, my mum arrives for 3 days (hoorah!) and then it’s a run-up to my Nana’s 80th birthday party. Even more hoorahs. By that time, my dad and the whole entourage will be here to celebrate my Nana’s birthday. I’m very excited.

I just had my marker confirmation as well – looks like I’ll be back in England for much of May and June – sadly. I’m working out ways to minimise it as best as possible, but it’s all good cash and we need as much of that as we can get. Will I really be able to trust Steve to water my turnips? It’s a big leap of faith.

It feels like I’ve got a lot to prepare for and a lot to get done.

I’ve also got a bit of work to do with a company in Angouleme, so I’m busy preparing materials for that. I’m really putting my all in to it. If they lead, others will follow. Soon, all Angouleme will cry my name. Or something like that. A legend in my own lunchtime.

It’s the kind of language training I’d like to do myself, so I’m pretty pleased with it. I’m sitting here poring through Paul Ginnis’s Teacher’s Toolkit.

On not having straight lines

Now I’m of an artistic bent, and I can do straight lines. I can write on blackboards in straight lines. I’m well used to writing on straight lines. I’m used to getting teenagers to line up, which is akin to keeping chickens in a straight line. We used to say teaching is like herding cats. It isn’t. It’s like herding chickens. A whole world more difficult. You’d think straight lines would come naturally, then, given my past.

Not so.

I’ve just planted my cauliflowers out, and it looks entirely random. It looks, in fact, as if someone had an idea of what a straight line might be and then ignored it completely. Kind of like the Inuit imagining the desert and then doing their own thing with a whole load of sand if asked to create a desert, putting it all in pots or something. It looks like I’ve tried to be random. And this is frustrating, because I didn’t. It doesn’t even look artistically random. Oh well. The cauliflowers will either grow or they won’t, and it doesn’t really matter if they’re in a straight line because I hope they’ll soon be great big things that will either look even more random, or like they’re in some semblance of a straight line.

Now I aspire to be like M. Richon, our elderly neighbour, whose straight lines are immaculate. I bet if you put a ruler by them, they’d be perfect. I bet his plants are all equidistant. Mine aren’t. This disappoints me even more.

Not only that, but despite my raking, the veg plot I’ve put them in is like a mini-version of the Alps, up and down and not at all flat. Let’s just say I’ve disappointed myself. Oh well. I’m giving a gallic shrug at this point and trying not to care, even though my pride is a bit dented. I’d love to take photos of immaculate rows of cauliflowers, but I suspect they’ll never see the ethernet out of my own shame.

But the cauliflowers have gone outside.

This is as traumatic to me as leaving Jake at school on his first day, which was very traumatic indeed. I’m worried about my cauliflowers outside of the warmth of the polytunnel, even though I’ve done everything I can to acclimatise them. It will be the first thing I’ll do in the morning – go out and check they’ve all made it through the night. I planted them out today because it’s kind of overcast and apparently, it’s going to rain later. We’ve not had much in the way of rain recently (and I’m hoping it doesn’t all appear when Jasmin is here, or my mum, though I suspect my mum cares less about sunshine than Jasmin might, and either way, neither would care very much since they’re here to see us, not our glorious blue skies. Although glorious blue skies are an added bonus.) and so I’m hoping it will rain and get them nice and moist so they can bed in. Just like leaving a child at primary school, you do all you can to make it pleasant, but you worry, probably much more than you ever need to. And what’s worse is that I know that these are just seeds, not babies. Maybe there’s a reason they call it a ‘nursery’ for plants… the place they go before the big, wide world where they’ll encounter slugs and snails, moles and rabbits, cats and dogs and the likes.

I’ve also planted some beetroot in our bumpy, lumpy, uneven veg plot. Apparently, they don’t like to be moved. They like the big wide world to start with. Now I’m really worried about that. If any of them appear, I shall be amazed.

I’ve gone back to using the dibber, which Steve hid from me on account of various threats of dibber abuse on my behalf. I used to dig out little rows and then plant stuff in but I’m also, it transpires, very bad at spacing things out. Thus my turnips aren’t in a nice, even line, but in a big clump that I’ll have to separate. So back to the dibber, which gives you real backache. Bend, dib, plant, cover, stretch. Ad infinitum. You can’t sit down and do it. You have to go along, standing and crouching. If I end up with a hump, I won’t be surprised.

I’ll be having a sleepless night tonight, partly because of the worry over my cauliflowers and partly because I’ve crippled myself. Maybe, partly, I shall be worrying over the lumps and bumps and dodgy lines. This is how nature brings you to your knees.

Aching feet

It’s been another busy day today – seems like a lot got done. We’ve painted a bit more of the front room last night – though as is typical with French paint, it’s way too thin to manage just one coat – or even two. Still, it looks a whole lot brighter and better than it did.


Steve has been busy getting all the muck out of my car, and I have been busy planting, even though today – shock horror – was a a noeud lunaire. I don’t know what that really is. A lunar knot??!  A lunar node??! Anyway, Rustica says that under no circumstance are you to do anything AT ALL in the garden when it’s a lunar knot. But I did. More fool me.

Peach blossom

Probably everything in the garden will die now I’ve gardened when there was a lunar knot. Anyway… here’s what’s in so far:

Leeks, turnips, carrots, radishes, cauliflowers, cabbages, red cabbages, parsnips, basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano, coriander, broad beans, peas, tomatoes, lettuces, courgettes, peppers, gherkins, chilli peppers, stocks, sweet peas, petunias, zinnias, marigolds, poppies, campsis radicans, aquilegia, pansies, verbascum, linaria, verbena, alyssium, nasturtiums and achillea. I think!

Chaenomeles Japonica

I had two beautiful (if tiny!) ornamental quinces back in Manchester – a very pale pink one and a bright red one. I’d love to get them all over. Maybe one day… And I’d also love camellias, magnolia and azaleas, but we’re in a limestone area here and they don’t grow well. Not that this would stop me setting up a ‘bruyere’ bed and keeping them in there, but they’re also all pricey items. I’ve got a tiny magnolia stellata in Bolton. So much of what is here is functional that I feel I’ve got a bit of a way to go to pretty things up. Gardens are so much more than function!

Poly Tunnel Peas

I planted out some more gherkins, radishes and courgettes today, and cleared the poly-tunnel of weeds. I dug over 2 rows of the newly rotivated brassica patch – want to get these planted up in the next few days. I’m happy to say that the peas and broad beans I put outside last Wednesday are flourishing and I’m going to put more out next week some time. Now most of our seeds are in and have taken, bar the sweetcorn and melon, most of our job is going to be potting on and keeping healthy. Hopefully, this will be all good!

Early peach blossoms

Our peach, as you can see, has its first blossoms, as does the first one near the poly-tunnel. As yet, the only things to blossom have been the two ornamental plums near the house and the apricot – which I’ve heard is always first and a late frost can kill off. The nectarine looks like it will be next. I can’t wait! It seems like every time I go outside these days, something new and different is going on!

Aren’t boys amazing?

Sometimes, the boy can be very funny. Sometimes, he makes me laugh. Not always, because that wouldn’t be natural, but just sometimes.

And a moment I knew would come came today.

In fact, two moments like that came.

The first was Jake telling Steve that Miss has asked him to read a book in class next Friday. Apparently some of the other kids have been saying that Jake can speak French. Not much of a secret, except to him.

First off, he’s been saying “Tais toi!” (shut up!) and then when Steve asked him what this meant, he said something that it really wasn’t. On purpose. So now, he knows French and he’s fibbing about what it means. Second, he’s then adding other things the teacher says, like “tais toi et retournes toi!” and when I said what this meant he said, “Shut up and turn around!” I’m liking the boy’s growing French.

Second, he made Steve sound like a real old dad before. Steve has officially passed into old-man-dom. On the xbox, firmly Steve’s domain, it said ‘LS’ and ‘RS’. When he was having problems and asked Steve, Steve said ‘Left switch and right switch!’.

“No, Dad… it’s Left STICK and Right STICK!”

It’s terrible when children know more than you do.

A separate but also good event was that my bank, the subject of many a rant, have reimbursed me for my patience yesterday. Thank the lord for small mercies. Maybe it was when I said that loan sharks have better rates and that I’d only owe them my kneecaps and that would be that. Thanks, Bank. I love you really. I promise not to compare you to the Krays ever again.

My mum said I was bolshy in my blog yesterday. Sorry, Mum!*

*This should be said like Peter, from Come Fly with Me, when he says ‘Sorry, Judith!’

If you haven’t seen Peter and Judith, I love them.

This is my favourite ever bit and if I think of Peter’s little face when he says ‘Sorry, Judith!’, it can make me laugh until I’m crying. When he says the voodoo tribe ripped his kagool, he’s just so… English! I love it when Judith says ‘And if I know Peter, he would have found it deeply degrading’ and he adds ‘I was banging away until dawn’.

In some small way, they remind me of my music teacher, Judith, and her husband – mainly because of their names, but also because of just how very English they are. I love their cardigans and I love how diplomatically he says ‘I would!’ after a bit of thought about going back to his ‘Holiday from Hell’ where he was forced to impregnate the virgins of the village. In fact, Judith reminds me a bit of myself in complaining and speaking over people and being bossy. I love how she ‘looks into having Peter put down’ when he got rabies in Columbia and how she recommended Peter for eating when their plane crashed and then when he shows his prosthetic limb, she says ‘Stop feeling sorry for yourself, Peter!’