Monthly Archives: August 2013

Seamus Heaney

It is not a secret that of the immense 20th Century poets, Heaney was far and away my favourite. When I saw him at the bar in Stratford during the interval of a performance of Julius Caesar, I could not contain myself.

“Are you Seamus Heaney?” I asked

“I am.” he said. I was smitten. If ever a woman could be in love with a man a good 30 years her senior, I was that woman. I’d studied Heaney for A level and then again at undergraduate. I’d marked countless exam papers attempting to analyse his poems. He was endlessly anthologised. He was everywhere.

Despite his popularity on exam specifications, I always found something else, something extra. There was always an undiscovered poem, always something familiar to me but not so popular. And unlike TS Eliot, who I tried so hard to ‘enjoy’, Heaney’s poems are accessible and meaningful and also so enjoyable. As I said to Heaney in that bar in Stratford, Personal Helicon is my favourite. If ever a man could be inspirational… It amused him no end that I could recite it. I’m sure most poets don’t get mobbed by girl groupies who quote poetry at them. He was like the Justin Bieber of the poetry world to me. I bet nobody else says that as they eulogise him today.

But he was. For the first time in my life, I loved poetry. I loved what it could do with so few words. He made me want to write. On more than one occasion, his words brought something to me. I’m sure having to learn 20 of them by heart for my A levels has something to do with it, but it’s evidence of his influence that when I am digging potatoes, I cannot think of anything but Heaney. Likewise for any other kind of frog or bog occasion.

His poems always had a way to move me to tears. Bye-child and Mid-term Break are the ones that are so simple yet so evocative. I never could teach about monosyllabic power without referencing ‘a four foot box, a foot for every year’ about his brother’s coffin.

But he was a man who wrote about nature and countryside life too – in ways that recreate a place and time more powerful than most writers I know.

Anyway, I wrote this little poem yesterday. I don’t think he’d care that it is rushed and impatient. He had very smiley eyes.

Willow Father

Summer squalls,

Immense electricity; a magnificent salvo.

There are trees here, great giants,

Towering oaks and ancient willows.

Echoes of you; echoes of words

Borne in with a gale

raised in distant lands.

In the morning, the sight

Of broken limbs,

Boughs strewn thoughtlessly by

A reckless and irresponsible storm

Brings easy tears to my eyes.

Scapegoat trees. I wonder

At their punishment,

Weeping over their corpses

And the chainsaw death knell.

And who will mourn?

I see your words at work around me,

Ripples through space and time;

I find them within me

And clutch at them,

Feeling their rounded heaviness,

Comfortable as rosary beads.

Last night, I picked ripe blackberries from the hedgerows.

Even there, a foreign land, where foreign words

Invade my thoughts like cannibal yellowjackets,

I found your words, played them over in my mind:

Glossy purple clots.

How quickly they turn!

I yearn to hold on to that sweet growing season

When everything is ripe for the picking, and old willows

Stand sentinel.



End of year business reviews

I found myself being absent from lots of social stuff in the last couple of weeks. I just about managed to pull it together to squeeze out a Much Love Monday and a Silent Sunday, but I’ve found it pretty hard going to focus on anything but work. For example, I don’t know how you spent your Saturday night, but I got my kicks from doing a business analysis (okay – interrupted by a dog walk and a very spectacular sunset…) Yeah, I admit it: it’s not the most fun a woman can have on a Saturday evening.

But here is method to my madness

September is always like the beginning of the year for teachers. January might be the real new year and spring might be the earthly new year, and April the financial new year (at least in England, if not in France) but it’s always good to do a little reflection from time to time. I guess most sole traders or autoentrepreneurs just keep going from year to year. I don’t know. Does anyone else think about what worked and what didn’t?

In all, I’m pretty pleased. Of course, work took a huge hit when I moved to rural France from urban England. In England, I was up and running with full books in a month. Here, well, it took some time to get to the same point. It’s not a bad thing to know that I managed to grow my business especially in the midst of a recession. That is no bad thing. Many businesses are folding. So I find myself having to put it in perspective.

Now I’ve got up to full speed, it’s all about streamlining in 2013-14. I only took off national holidays last year and I have at least two clients every single day of the week. Unfortunately, with François Hollande’s decision that schools in France should be open on Wednesdays, I have had to squeeze all my Wednesday morning clients in elsewhere. I delivered 968 lessons in 2012-13, which is more than most teachers do. It’s certainly more contact time than I ever had when I was in school. This is why I need to streamline what I’m doing in 2013-14. And I need to timetable days off.

The trouble is, on rare days where I have had no clients this summer, I have been doing other things like writing or marking. I’ve forgotten what days look like where I don’t work at all. So, as for 2013-14, I have blocked out two weeks at Christmas where I will be ON HOLIDAY and four days in November and April. That’s a pretty radical thing to do for me. Nobody ever says when you go self employed that you will be constantly ‘at work’ and never feel like you can have a sick day. I never had much by way of sick days when I was employed, but at least I got holidays. It makes a huge, huge difference not to be dictated to by a bunch of cockwombles (sorry Nana) but the price you pay is in giving up your life to work. This academic year, I’m hoping to reset the balance a bit.

As a newbie business, you take what you can get. You don’t have the security of contracts so you say yes to every single piece of work that comes your way. You work through the gluts hoping they will carry you through the famines. Plus, when you are dealing with children, it’s easy to want to help. If I can fit people in, I’ll always try to.

So what do I want to do this year?

A big part of it is to do with passive income. A fair chunk of my income last year came from royalties. That’s nice money to get. It’s a job that keeps on giving, even when I finished some books seven or eight years ago. I’m also hoping to maximise on those thousands of GCSE students who end up at my teacher blog needing something more as I plan on doing some monetised podcasts. Not sure how they will go. GCSE students end up at my blog. They don’t have credit cards. If they did, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind paying a little for my efforts in helping them. But I think for every 1000 blog hits, only 1 copy of my ebooks sell. To be fair, I haven’t promoted them as I could have and yet they still keep trickling in. That’s amazing to me. It means that at least some of the people who read my blog have decided that it is worth buying my ebooks. And I’m glad to have good feedback on them as well.

I won’t lie. It’s hard. I would write about literature all day every day for nothing if it meant that students got to read something that made sense to them and which was also enjoyable. But unfortunately, nobody will pay me for that job yet. Fortunately, the last – oh, I don’t know – five governments or so, have been determined to rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. And in an ideal world, nobody would need tuition, and nobody would have to pay if they needed a little extra, but the exam factories that are France and England seem quite determined to focus on quantifiable results rather than qualitative experience, and so I find more work than I am able to do.

I have got a couple of things that give me direction when focusing on an end of year review. One is the amazing Zen Habits blog by Leo Babauta, and in particular, this post about business start-ups. It’s funny, looking back on his advice, as a lot of it is stuff I did anyway. Especially starting lean and forgetting about numbers. I can’t wait for his Habits of Entrepreneurs series to start. I’m such a Leo-geek.

The other thing that has been guiding me is Leonie Dawson, an Australian life coach. Sometimes we hard-boiled cynical city girls need a bit of sparkle and pizzazz in our planning. I find it helpful to work through her qualitative steps for business review. It’s not all about quantity. Neither should it be. The day I stop enjoying what I’m doing is the day I don’t have an income any more.

So that’s what I’ve been up to in my radio silence. It might not be very exciting to you, but it gives me a bit of a kick up the pants to say the least.

End of August

It feels like the end of the planting year, although I’ve only just put in some cabbage and spinach. The garden is definitely tired and slowing down. It’s almost at a point where I can catch up with it. Plus, with three big writing pieces out of the way and many of my students finishing their holidays, I can spend a little more time out there than usual. It doesn’t hurt that it’s back down to 26°C which is, dare I say it, almost comfortable.

The pears are very late to ripen, as are the apples. A late, long and wet spring ended in June with 17°C and me in my thermals at a firework display, then July appeared and we were at 30°C in four days. After that, it’s been an almost constant dry two months, with only a couple of days of rain here and there. And, as a consequence, the pears and apples are small still, and very hard.

It might not be apple season yet, and they are not the only thing that had a hard time going from cold and damp to dry and drought. The cucumbers, gherkins and pumpkins have also found it hard going. The tomatoes, however, a month later than usual, are coming into their own. It’s about now that I realise I had far too many cherry tomatoes and far too few roma plum tomatoes. I have 12 cherry tomato plants and so far they have given me 6 kg of cherry tomatoes.

Not that I mind.

I could eat tomato salad every single day for a month and not care. Tomatoes and basil. Tomatoes and olives. Tomatoes and onions. Tomatoes and mozzarella. Tomatoes and parmesan. Tomorrow night, cherry tomato tarte tatin with balsamic glaze.

I think there must be another 4 kg to come as well, at least.

On the other hand, I planted 6 salad tomatoes – ‘Alicante’. I gave a few away. Next year, I might not bother with salad tomatoes at all. In comparison to the others, they are watery and tasteless. Fine for sandwiches, but then I’d still prefer some of the other varieties I’ve got.

The roma tomatoes are also coming to ripen, though later than the cherry tomatoes. I had 12 roma plants and I’ve had 2kg so far. 5 tins worth of plum tomatoes. I think there are another 10kg or so to come though. Next year, I’m doubling or even tripling the roma tomatoes, now I’ve got my cauldron for sterilising and canning.

I bought 3 Black Crimea tomato plants at a plant fair and they are also giving me good tomatoes. I’ve had a kilo from them so far and lots more to come. I’ve loved these and I will definitely be growing these instead of (or alongside) the Alicante tomatoes. Much better for sandwiches. I do find myself missing strong, sharp cheddar at this time. What I wouldn’t give for some mature cheddar, and not the over-priced, tasteless supermarket cheddar that some French supermarkets have taken to selling. It kind of does if you are really in need of cheddar, but it is totally not the same. And cheese was the basis of so many great sandwiches. Comté isn’t up to the job. Emmenthal is so bland I never buy it any more. Goat’s cheese cries out for something sweet and acidic, but crunchy – not a tomato. It’s seriously the only thing I yearn for.

I will definitely be saving some heirloom seeds from the Black Crimea. It’d be nice to have a wider range of tomatoes next year. I grew five types (Gardener’s Delight cherries, which are beautiful; Alicante; Roma; Marmande, and then the Black Krims) and I think I want to up my range. I am such a tomato fan. I could have a freezer full and it would give me joy all year.

The kale is also coming on great guns. It has loved the warm, dry shade the most. The plants in full sun all day are much smaller than the boys at the back. I’ve had 200g of leaves so far, but the plants are just beginning to start to zoom.


The swiss chard is also doing well.


Of my 250kg target for the year, I have so far harvested:

2.5 kg sprouting broccoli

4.5 kg cherries

2.1 kg broad beans.

200g peas

1kg runner beans

12 kg plums

4 kg potatoes

2kg sweetcorn

8kg tomatoes

500g kale

2kg courgettes

500g blackcurrants

500g redcurrants

2kg strawberries

That’s 41.8kg so far.

I am getting to the point when I realise just how ambitious I was. Still, got about 10kg of pears, about the same in quince, 150 vines’ worth of grapes, 40 kale plants, carrots, beetroot, cabbage, leeks, beans, tomatoes, courgettes, potatoes, walnuts, hazelnuts and peppers to harvest. If I can’t get to 125kg, then I might cry! Would it be totally wrong to go and pick 10kg of wild blackberries? Hopefully not, because I’m planning on it!

Still, some of the crops I was counting on for more have not put forth. Pumpkins would be one of those. I’ve had nothing but male flower after male flower. I need to do some serious research about soil and weather conditions to get those babies into productive mode. Whatever I’ve been doing has not been right for them.

But I am so totally weird, I am getting excited about next year. I need to fast forward a little through autumn and winter.

On the other hand, though, it will be totally lovely to have a break. Even if it is a cold and wet break.

I had a message from a young Aussie Helpxer who wanted to know if I was taking anyone in October. I looked at the last few years’ blog posts and realised that it’s such a hit-and-miss month. Last year, it seems to have done little but rain (wonder if I’ll get any more lucky with mushrooms? I have marked out my trompettes de la mort site very carefully… and there are already reports of ceps being found, along with chicken of the woods) but in years before, it’s not really started to get cooler or wetter until the last week or so in October. I wonder what this year will bring? I could do with a long, slow, warm autumn. That would suit me just fine.

What do you think are my chances of getting it?

It is my Mum’s birthday today, by the way, so happy birthday dear Mother. I’m glad you haven’t weighed your produce because I know you will have outgardened me. I can only dream of your productivity. I found her a little vintage gift that I hope she likes; I don’t know why it reminded me of her, but it did.

Hush Hush

Today’s MLM is brought to you by the best of English pop circa 1983 (yes, seriously, 30 years old) Kajagoogoo with Too Shy. 

If anything reminds me of school discos at my primary school, this is it. 1983 was all about recorder practice, preparing for entrance exams, horse-riding and ballet. That was what my 10-year-old life was like. That and watching boys slide across the hall floor on their knees.

Little known fact. Chris Hamill aka Limahl, oh he of strange two-tone mullet hair, comes from Pemberton in Wigan. According to Wikipedia (yes, I did… I really did) he went to Abraham Guest High School and he was a hairdresser in Bolton. Not only that, he was an extra in Adam and the Ants’ Stand and Deliver. That kind of makes sense. Adam Ant was the only other important thing in my life at this time.

So… 1983. Kind of a momentous year. Kill ’em All came out and the Red Hot Chili Peppers formed. Two of the pivotal bands of my late teens. I can believe Too Shy to be 30 years’ old. It is back there with Bucks Fizz and Adam Ant. However, I can’t believe either Metallica or RHCP are 30. That’s just wrong.

Ironic, too, that 30 years ago, the internet was effectively born. Return of the Jedi came out at the cinema. It’s also the year of Down Under by Men at Work, mainly remarkable because a boy in my class brought in a picture disc of the single and Mrs Wilson played it in class. That’s how significant it was. It’s also a year that I think French radio feels very fond of, since I’ve heard at least 10 of the number 1s of 1983 played on the radio here recently, in among hits by Pharrell. I love that about French radio. It is so totally random.

If you listen to French radio, the following number 1 hits will be quite current to you: You can’t hurry love by Phil Collins; Billy Jean by Michael Jackson; True by Spandau Ballet; Baby Jane by Rod Stewart and Karma Chameleon by Culture Club. These make the 80s seem so very far away. I guess Metallica and RHCP were a bit of an anachronism.

It’s funny how music brings back events that seem so locked away and forgotten. One bar of Men at Work and I’m back in my Junior 4 class along with the Oxford readers and my history project on Victorian England.

Yesterday, I had a kind of sad, kind of happy visit from the adopted son of the former owner. He told me she’d died just before Mother’s Day. He’d been in the area for a house sale following the death of another lady in our village and though he drives past often, he said he’d never felt able to stop. It was very emotional for both of us. I was glad to get some of the history of the place – things you never know, like who planted all the vines and how and what they are, and the stories of tree-trunks and cabins, freezers and shelves. He even told me about the old number plate in the barn, hand-painted for a remorque he remembers well. But I think it brought a lot of things flooding back to him.

He stayed in the room in the attic, where my helpx friends stay, and to be honest, whilst I don’t mind people spending three weeks in there, it can’t have been easy to spend night after night up there among the felted wallpaper. It makes such sense though, as there are stickers on the door still – probably ones he put there himself.

The shelves were his emotional touchpaper – looking at them brought back such monstrueux memories. I didn’t want to ask if he meant huge memories or terrible memories, or both. I kind of hope they were good memories. I wouldn’t wish a terrible childhood on anyone. As soon as he saw certain things, it sent him off in a spiral of memories and stories.

Kajagoogoo might be one of those things for me. But for me, it’s the smell of the plums that brings back my childhood memories of a couple of weeks I spent on my mum’s family small holding (and I bet that was 1983 or 1984!) picking Victoria plums in the orchard. I can stand in my little orchard, close my eyes, inhale the smell of ripe plums, some fermenting, and I’m right back there in 1983. It’s like when I open the door to the cabin and the stored-up smell of years is unstoppered, released. I follow Joanne Harris on Tumblr and yesterday, she wrote “scent awakens memory; it speaks to the other senses; it seems to exist outside of time; it sometimes even awakens the dead.”

She’s right, of course. Whether it is the smell of the plums or the smell of a fusty cabin, it is a powerful sense. But songs can transport you to another time as well.

And, come to think of it, so can old shelves, rabbit hutches and cherry grafts.

Anyway, here’s hoping you can find some happy memories of your own to release this fine Monday, ones that carry you through the week on a wave of heady nostalgia.

Looking back: Heston

I was looking back over old posts from last year with pictures of my lovely Heston and it’s amazing how much he’s both grown and developed (or not!) He was such a little puppy when I first got him.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis was the photo that made Verity and I fall in love with our boys. I’d like to remind everyone that V asked for the runty one. She likes runts. I’m not sure what that says about her strapping husband. Perhaps his brother is a giant.

DSCF2271And on the first day, he could sleep under the couch with his little feet and his puppy ears. He slept most of the day and played the rest of it. He even played with Tilly, which doesn’t happen so much these days.

He could fit on the couch with my little American cocker, no problem.

heston and tillly

And he had a love for his brother that I think only brothers can really share, where you’re the same kind of size as each other and you can play hard, knowing each other’s limits. They only fell out one time and even straight after, they were friends.

DSCF2325We had all kinds of speculation about how big they’d end up, and whether their ears would stand or not. Heston’s sometimes do, and they always do when carried by the wind.

He has the same collar, on the biggest setting. It was on the smallest setting here. And the biggest surprise was how feathered their tails got. Here, it’s just a normal dog tail. He looks so little with his baby fur and his big body and little head. He was about 12 weeks old in the photo below.


I can’t even really remember his tail feathering out – or when he started to get his big dog coat. The photo below is Heston’s first off-road experience in September, and his tail is starting to fill out. Definitely not labrador as the vet first thought. And probably a lot of border collie. Still looks more like a miniature Groenendaele crossed with a miniature flat-haired retriever as well. It’s like someone thought ‘Let’s take the three most energetic dog breeds we can find and make an unruly mixture of them.’ And this is what we got. He definitely does the collie headtilt in a ‘what you talkin’ bout Willis’ kind of a way.

DSCF2805This was the first off-lead experience and Heston realised that he LOVED water. Not only that, doesn’t bat an eyelid when there’s gunshots right up close. Cyclists coming past the house, well they just might steal from my dead corpse the amount Heston barks, but gunshot, well, that’s just the sound of the forest.

Charlton and Heston

By the end of the year, Heston has full-on feather tail and reached 18 kilos. He’s one heavy dog. He’s now 24. He is a beast. He likes to jump on top of me at 6.45am and this is how I know his weight.


His favourite things, in no particular order, are: puddles, rivers, lakes, snow, digging, burying balls, barking at cyclists, eating tomatoes, chasing chickens, getting up at precisely 6.45am, sleeping under the bed, going on car journeys, his lead, his rope, his selection of popped footballs, chasing the lawnmower and trying to play with it, visitors who’ve been here for more than two days.


He is not a fan of men, tall men, very tall men, men who he forgets, the breton spaniels up the road, rainy non-walk days, peppers, apples and walking to heel. It is hard when you are a bouncy dog with a slow owner.

hestonaprilHe is also not a fan of lie-ins.

IMG_0382He is a very energetic dog and sometimes this drives me to despair. He also has learned to bark at every dog he meets, simply because we must walk past 20 houses where that’s what the dogs do. It’s sad. He is generally very good when he meets new dogs though if Tilly barks, he barks. She’s definitely boss.

IMG_0625And he still loves to play all day. He just can’t fit under the couch any more. God love the Heston. He is a funny, crazy, bouncy creature. I just wish he would bark less at people. I sense this may take some time in the unlearning. I also wish the following things weren’t prompts for Heston thinking we are going on a walk: me putting my socks on; me putting flip-flops on; me even looking at my boots; me picking up my keys; 8pm. 7am. Do a thing twice and it becomes a signal to my funny boy. Bless him!

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

MLM is brought to you this fine Mother of a Monday by Stealer’s Wheels with Stuck in the Middle. 

with their Dylanesque pop bubblegum favourite of April 1972. Of course, I was barely conceived, so I don’t remember it in utero but from its revival in 1992 when Reservoir Dogs hit the streets. It was still pretty popular as a soundtrack right up until the time I was in St Hilaire de Riez in 1995 and the Oxford bar. This was the place all the courriers for the local campsites hung out, and it was pretty much filled with sweaty, supertanned teenagers and young twenty-somethings who had got a night off from hanging around waiting to change gas bottles or deal with campsite emergencies.

It was the summer I transitioned from student to teacher. I had my hair cut. I got rid of all the black dye. I bought clothes that weren’t black. I even bought some non-utility underwear for the first time. I put aside The Sisters of Mercy and sociology textbooks, critical analyses of literary classics and picked up a bunch of clothes that hadn’t come from various charity shops or second-hand stalls. I took growing up very seriously. It just seemed like it was time.

I came back, started working as a teacher in Lancashire and even started thinking about casting off my love of everything slightly esoteric and odd. I’ve swung full circle, of course. Being a ‘grown-up’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and buying clothes is not the be-all and end-all of life.

Still, I can’t but listen to this soundtrack and think of those months in St Hilaire when the sun shone and I could do all the mental adjustments I needed to. It was the summer when I knew I’d survived growing up.

Anyway, here’s to those powerful tunes from the past that bring back a memory so vivid that it instantly transports you to that moment.

Here’s to my continued tomato production, delicious sweetcorn, divine kale and lovely swiss chard.

Here’s to my friends. I love our twisty-turny FB conversations about random stuff. Here’s to the universal adoption of the term ‘cockwomble’ (n.) to describe those men who are just a bit of an idiot in a generally offensive, blokeish kind of way. Especially men who are offensive to women in completely inappropriate ways. We’re not talking Berlusconi levels of lechy behaviour and generalised racism, more Boris Johnson when he said women only go to university to find a husband. See? Colossal cockwomble. That bloke from the new ‘ladies” news site, Bustle, he’s a cockwomble.

Anyway, here’s to summer going out with a bang; we had pretty dismal Augusts the last couple of years at points. It’s nice to have an August in style.

Here’s to getting out seed catalogues because, you know, it’s nearly winter.

Here’s to a week with a little more gardening time on the calendar than usual. Hoorah. I’m off out now to prepare my garden for the last sowings of cabbage and winter lettuce. Later, it is the canoe club meal and canoe event thingie. I’m sure that can only end raucously.

Here’s hoping you have a fine Monday as well.

A woman can be tough

Today’s Much Love Monday is brought to you by Janis Joplin with Piece of my Heart

There is a reason this post is some nine or ten hours later than usual. That’s because I was just feeling uninspired this morning. Well, not workwise, but music-wise. Some days are like that. I was searching around in my head for something that would put the heart back in a Monday (like the days don’t all blur into one for me with work!!) and I couldn’t find anything that was suitable. But Janis. Ah Janis. I could be dead and Janis would give me a shot of emotion so raw it’s practically taken on a life of its own.

I’ve been up early this morning. Not to do with any other thing than the Perseid meteor shower, which was way worth getting out of bed at 4am for. No, it’s not a spectacular firework show, but I still oohed and ahhed in the right place. It’s the first time I ever saw a meteor shower. Now there’s a first for being 40.

The truth be told, I was unsure about the first ten or so meteors. The torch batteries had gone and I had crept down the garden in the dark. Strange how, when your eyes adjust to it, it’s perfectly easy to see. But I did think I was seeing things. You see a streak of light race across the sky and you think your eyes are deceiving you.

Besides, I was expecting something small and insignificant, difficult to detect, not some great shot of light through a whole region of sky. I don’t know. Maybe I was expecting them to be a little harder to see than they were.

I’d gone to the trouble (thinking they would be small and localised) of looking up the Perseus constellation and trying to locate it. That’s hard. I’m pretty good now at identifying various high-up stars like the Big Dipper (aka The Asda Shopping Trolley) and Orion, but sometimes things are all upside down and hard to spot. There is a reason, too, that I’m not good with horizon stars – I don’t have much of a horizon here, being at the low point in the village, surrounded by trees and outbuildings. And as it turns out, there was absolutely no need at all to bother, since they were kind of all over the north and east of the night sky. Sometimes, you try too hard.

But it was quite something. I’m glad I didn’t miss them and that I went to the trouble of getting up to see them… I don’t want to be on my deathbed and never have made a wish on a shooting star. I don’t think I could rest easy.

And as for the other bursts of light and joy in my Monday… having an SLR camera yesterday for the day. Oh… I have no words for the joy that baby brought me…

leaf chromatography 15God I love depth of field and f stops and manual focus and natural lighting…

I’ve been putting together the finishing touches on an article for a pretty big website and I needed something that didn’t look like it was taken on a simple little camera. Despite how good picmonkey is for revving up the colour and adding a few details, there’s nothing like having a big girl camera. Usually, when I press auto-adjust on picmonkey, the contrast, highlights, shadows, saturation and temperature shoot up and down and all over the place. Yesterday, I pressed auto-adjust and it added 1% more shadow. That’s how good it is.

And then to spend the afternoon dropping various children off, getting fed on the way, picking up jars of jam and dropping off nappies… Sunday afternoons should be more like this and less about waiting in for returned phonecalls.

One bit I hate about having to source quotes from others is when you ask for a good time to call for quotes, they say a time and then they don’t answer. Not only don’t they answer, when they’ve said the only time they can talk to you is for five minutes between next Easter and Pentecost, but they are ‘too busy’ to call back or even leave a message or apologise for the fact that you sat on your arse for two hours waiting for them to call at a certain time, pen in hand, trying to keep phonelines free. No love at all for people who are ‘too important’ or ‘too busy’ to do what they said they would do and then too rude to let you know they can’t make it. If I had my way, I’d tell them they are in no way as important as they think they are. No excuse for bad manners. My two centimes for nothing: if you are ‘too important’ to be on time for a phonecall you arranged, then pretty soon, your clients won’t be calling you either. Promise. Manners cost nothing.

Anyway, that aside, I managed to get a couple of great articles done today and way ahead of schedule. This is good. I have a few additional errands to do this week. It’s going to be a busy one. Perhaps I should just put Janis on all week and power through it??



Big boy crops

Just when I was wondering why on earth I would ever set myself a harvest target, when I was wondering why I would put myself through it all, when the last thing I tasted that I grew myself was a handful of broad beans a month or so ago… the big boy crops start coming in.


It goes without saying that my 150 pieds de vigne are the ones that will bring up the rear end of the year, and now I have a couple of foraging friends, I’m still hoping to get a couple of kilos of wild mushrooms too. However, I’ve only done a couple of hours outside today and managed to get a whopping three kilos of plums, (on top of the seven I already had) two kilos of potatoes, half a kilo of sweetcorn, half a kilo of kale and half a kilo of tomatoes – my first major-ish tomato harvest of the year.


Of my 250kg target for the year, I have so far harvested:

2.5 kg sprouting broccoli

4.5 kg cherries

2.1 kg broad beans.

200g peas

500g runner beans

10 kg plums

2 kg potatoes

500g sweetcorn

500g tomatoes

500g kale

500g courgettes

500g blackcurrants

500g redcurrants

2kg strawberries

That’s 24.8kg so far. That’s not as good as I’d want, though I still have 75% of the potato patch to dig up, carrots to come, beetroot, loads of healthy-looking kale, cabbages, brussels sprouts, spring onions, leeks, chilli peppers, onions, swiss chard, apples, pears, quinces, grapes, blackberries, walnuts and hazelnuts to come. For some reason, none of my cucurbits are putting out female flowers, so I’m going to give them a tomato feed watering and hope they change their mind. I mean, it’s been warm enough and they are well watered! They better get a wriggle on. I was kind of counting on them to be more productive this year.

I’m also pretty sure Tilly has eaten about 2kg of tomatoes. She is like a tomato hound. She’d live off them, I’m sure.

The plums have all been turned into jellies and jams this week. I have finally given in and bought a big galvanised cauldron to can stuff. The jelly was sometimes an easy set and sometimes took ages. It makes no sense. Same fruit, same process. Some takes 25 minutes and some takes almost an hour… so what has become of it?

IMG_0696So what’s in there? A Christmas jam for a start – plums, cinnamon, nutmeg and mixed spice. And some plum, chilli and ginger jelly which will be just perfect for Chinese sauces. What? You don’t use jelly in your Chinese sauces? Shame on you. The rest is either plum jelly, plum jam, mirabelle jelly or mirabelle jam. I’ve still got three plum trees to get the plums off, but they’re a way off yet. They’ll be going in the freezer, I think.

Still, the soil is soft, the day was just cool enough today to be pleasant and there’s a whole load of stuff still to do