Tag Archives: life

Simple minds and simple pleasures

I make no secret of the fact I moved to France to put an end to the miserable, crabby, cross me. Life is too short to spend it so angry. I used to do lists of rants and I didn’t have a short fuse. I had an incredibly long fuse. But aside from the sleep-work-sleep routine, the only joy I really got was at work, and that’s never a good thing. Escaping for holidays here and there just wasn’t enough to help me cope with the ten tonnes of pressure that work life can bring when you know that your results can generate an Ofsted inspection with a team of inspectors who  have already made up their mind upon seeing your results that your school is failing. And the results they look at? English and Maths. No improvements? Schools are closed within a year. Up to 1,800 students, their parents, a staff of 200 depending on you. No wonder I was working from 7am – 7 pm and then bringing work home.

But I don’t have that pressure here. It’s a different sort of pressure, like where the next euro is coming from or whether the hens have got mites. I used to have all kinds of little things to get me through the day – my Paperchase pens, my cute stationery, a well-decorated office, good coffee, lovely make-up, a beautiful car – and here it’s no exception. It’s always the little things that bring a smile to my face. It used to be those days when the English department would all be using furry, light-up Mr Incredible pens or when I’d prank-call Phil for the fiftieth time. Now it’s different stuff that brings a smile to my face.

  • Tilly when she wags her tail in the mornings because she’s so glad to be awake and she lies with her back legs sticking out and her tail wagging and wagging
  • Seeing the stars out of my bedroom window over the quince tree
  • Mr Fox coming in and purring
  • Tilly wagging to see Foxy. Never was a dog so happy to see a cat
  • Feeling cool air blowing in through the kitchen window after a hot night
  • Cool tiles under my feet
  • The quiet of the house in the morning
  • Tilly popping up onto the settee at the side of me for a little bit of company (but not too much or she’ll get off!)
  • Spending a couple of hours digging and unearthing a few kilos of potatoes
  • Clearing weeds – never did I think brown earth could be so satisfying!
  • Baguettes for lunch with egg mayo
  • Seeing the chicken ladies sitting on the windowsill
  • Seeing a chicken run
  • Picking apples from the tree and eating them in the garden
  • Picking up walnuts from the floor
  • Eating grapes off the vine
  • Picking a few kilos of tomatoes for passata and sauce and home-made ketchup and soups
  • Pulling up vegetables
  • Walking in my vegetable garden – leeks, red cabbage, savoy cabbage, cauliflower, courgettes, beetroot, carrots and parsnips still to come
  • Planting  a handful of seeds
  • Picking fresh herbs to dry
  • Collecting the eggs
  • Making cakes and jams and jellies and chutneys and pies with stuff from the garden
  • Cuddles from Molly and curling up with her for an afternoon nap
  • Looking out of the window to see the cows across the street – our nearest neighbours with a heart-beat
  • Tilly foraging for tomatoes
  • Teaching French people to say ‘bath’ properly, and ‘mother’ properly so that it doesn’t sound like ‘muzzer’
  • Seeing people go from one-or-two words of English to being able to have a conversation
A tired Tilly Pop - too tired to stand up to drink
  • When Tilly’s been for a walk and she lies on the kitchen floor with her head resting on her water bowl because she’s too tired to do anything else
  • When Molly wants to get in her bed but she can’t because it’s been stolen by Mr Fox
  • When Fox lies almost on top of Molly on the settee – and Molly is too uncomfortable to sleep and too polite to move

That’s just plain wrong…

In another life, I spent 2 years studying a pretentiously-named Masters course called ‘Process Consultancy’. It’s the art of consultancy. Being a consultant is a shit job. It’s the worst thing of all. You’re essentially there – an outsider – to tell them what they’re doing wrong. You might see 99.9% good things, but all they want to know is what’s wrong. No. Their bosses want to know what’s wrong. More often than not, they already know what’s wrong and the bosses want YOU to tell the people on the shop floor. The only good thing about it is that you can tell them and run away.

A life before that, a useless woman told me I was a ‘systems’ person. By this, she was insulting me and saying I was good with paperwork and computers and maths and finance, and not people. She meant she was a people person and I wasn’t. She was wrong. I can be a people person, but I believe work is work and I have no time for philosophy and moaning about it or being a dog in a manger or complaining or whingeing or unions. I believe in doing what I’m paid to do and doing it in the best way I know how.

I got better at being a people person. I learned all about shadow sides and blocks to improvement and emotional intelligence and hierarchies and all the reasons people have for NOT changing.

The best activity I did as a consultant was ask people to pair up. People hate interactive training, so I was onto a losing trend. I asked them to spend a minute looking at each other. They felt deeply uncomfortable. But this is what consultancy or appraisal or assessment is. And it’s not just a minute.

Then I asked them to turn their back on their partner and change five things about their appearance. They had a minute.

What you learn is that people take stuff off first. Off come glasses or shoes, ties or watches. You ask people to change, and what they do first are superficial and obvious things. Some people find it really hard. Some people enjoy it. Most people don’t know where to start and some people refuse to take part because they think it is a game and games are pointless. They couldn’t possibly learn anything from a game!

Then they have to turn around and spend a minute identifying the changes their partner has made. And I never tell them what’s coming next.

Most people, once their minute is up, change right back. They put their glasses back on, they put their tie back on. They roll their sleeves down. In other words, they just go straight back to where they were. That’s what happens in most companies.

“Change!” they say.

And employees do it.

And then when it’s all over, they go back to how they were.

Then I ask them to turn their backs and make five more changes.

Some people find this utterly impossible. Beyond rolling up trousers, taking off a shoe, taking a tie off, putting their glasses on their heads and pushing up a sleeve, they don’t know what to do.

It goes two ways. An innovator will start to pick things up. They’ll pick up a file or a book, or a handbag or put on a cardigan or jacket. And then others will copy them.

Then you turn round and notice the changes. Life is like that. Someone innovates and very quickly, everyone copies. And, at this point, people start doing things like taking new stuff on. The people who thought it was a rubbish game are a bit more excited because someone fun like Ms. Claire or Ms. Liz, my dear more-facebook-than-real friends, will have been the ones to have stuck a post-it on their head or picked up a chair and used it as a hat. Innovation and change can be fun, you see! It’s liberating. It’s freeing. It gives you permission to go a bit mental and think outside the box.

Finally, the third time you do it, everyone is innovative. Everyone is into it. No-one is embarrassed. People copy. People innovate of their own spontaneity.

This one game taught me a lot about change. Like there’s some stuff people just won’t change. Some people take off wedding rings or ties, but to others, that’s too much. I never saw anyone get naked. Social boundaries, personal beliefs and your own morals stop you doing some things.

But to change, we need a reason. Nobody really changes because they want to at work. They might evolve a bit. They might change or evolve at home. Girls say ‘I fancied a change’ and come home with bright red hair. We tend to evolve kind of slowly. We grow. Some of us, anyway.

Some people don’t. These are the people who like the status quo. Not Status Quo. That’s different, though kind of the same. They haven’t changed much either. Some people like things the same. They don’t want new phones or ipods or touch screens or job evolution. They like the security of knowing things are the same. They don’t even want to grow or evolve.

But few of us want to change because we think we could be better. It usually takes being told. And this usually involves a boss, because if a colleague says it, you’re just going to ignore it. Or it involves a consultant, who is essentially a mouthpiece for the stuff your boss would love to say but won’t or can’t.

And there’s a reason for this. Feedback is HARD.

Some people focus on the one negative and turn it into a crisis.

Some people ignore a really big negative and ignore your views.

Nobody, but nobody likes getting feedback unless it is feedback that says: “You’re fabulous. You’re wonderful. That’s the best thing I’ve ever seen.”

But most people aren’t at the top of their game. Even £30,000,000 footballers need to get feedback.

Most people give feedback like Alex Ferguson is alleged to. They point out all the faults. They have no sense of how to do it in a way that makes people want to change or develop. They call Alex Ferguson ‘the hairdryer’ because his feedback is so virulent in face of failure. People call Simon Cowell for his feedback style, and yet he’s usually pretty fair. Sometimes, he gets his own personal issues into it, about Louis Walsh – and then it’s not so good. The trouble is, unless you say everything’s wonderful, people boo you and you upset the target of your feedback, when all you really want is to help them improve.

I’ve seen it myself. Most people – most managers, most people who have to tell you how to do a thing better – are absolutely and utterly useless at giving feedback. Often, they tell you stuff that’s actually their own fault, like you didn’t do it how they wanted it. This means they haven’t communicated with you properly – and yet it becomes your fault – as if you’re a mind-reader.

And my thoughts on the best feedback?

Say nothing. Let them talk. They’ll mostly tell you everything they did wrong and more. You can soften this by getting them to be a bit gentle on themselves. And your job is to get them to focus on the big changes that would make the most difference, and help them realise their evolution. Usually, they’ll tell you exactly what the problem is with their own work – and they might even tell you why those problems exist. You can start with:

“Well, you need to do this…” and put them into defensive mode or on the attack. Mostly they’ll hate you and never do it.

Or you can go with:

“So how did that feel?!” and they’ll spill on everything that wasn’t so good.

And the key question?

“So what would make the biggest difference?”

Sometimes, you aren’t going to like what they’re going to say. They might need more time, or three clones, or a slave, or more money, or a better computer – but the one thing that’s always true? The thing that would make the biggest difference is THEM, and if you allow people to, they’ll make the changes and the biggest differences themselves. This is why I’m not just a systems person.

Sometimes, though (and if you know about personality theory, that’s your X theory that people are essentially benign and good) they just need a gigantic kick up the arse because they’re lazy, bone-idle and the hand-holding does not a stitch of good because they’ve just not valued what they were doing. THEN they need the hairdryer.

I can do the ‘so what would make the biggest difference?’

but my favourite is when I have to say: “But essentially, you’re stealing a living.” I usually couch this with “I’m not being funny but…”

Sometimes, I add: “If you don’t have your whole heart in this, or your whole game, you’re cheating people. You’re affecting people’s lives. If you don’t do this right, they’ll suffer. I can’t live with that, even if you can.”

I wish all people were X people and you could just give them a little time for thought and they’ll tell you what’ll make the differences. But I like it when they’re Y people and I can just bollock them.

If you don’t read Dilbert, you should. He taught me everything I know about bosses, consultants, workers and dogs. My uncle says I’m like Dogbert. I guess I am.

This strip perfectly illustrates how feedback can go soooo, sooo wrong. It’s the kind of feedback I wish I could give to someone who really deserved it.

Dilbert.com

And now for something completely different…

… In the next few weeks, I’m hoping a new venture will take off. I’m not telling you what it is yet because I don’t want to jinx it by talking about it before it’s actually all carved in stone (p.s. did you know the definition of ‘sincerely’ is ‘without wax’  sin cire because they used to use wax to fill in the gaps in marble, so ‘without wax’ means ‘no faking’… I might start signing all my letters ‘yours without wax… etc’ just to be over-intellectual) and if it goes a bit pear-shaped as some of my plans sometimes do, then I hate it when people say ‘And what happened to that?’ – although, to be fair, it’s only when my plans rest in other people’s hands that they go pear-shaped.

Anyway, suffice to say it will involve my great loves (and hates) writing, the Internet, news, English and French. How’s that for lucky? I need a break anyway.

I’ve actually never believed in luck, or talent, just hard work and determination. I don’t believe in success just landing in people’s laps. I have also come to believe that in this life, it’s never what you know, but who you know. And who you know is never a matter of chance. People think ‘Oh, she’s lucky because she knows such-and-such-a-body’ and it’s all as if I’ve just got naturally great connections. It’s not. It’s because I work them. I network, baby. Knowing someone who knows someone is always the way to get somewhere else. People think it’s luck. It’s not. I cultivate those connections. And not by schmoozing, but by working. I’ve always thought if you do a thing for someone for free and you enjoy doing it and give your time as freely as you can, they’ll always repay you in triple, quadruple. I know I do. To those friends and family who’ve been there for me, I’d do pretty much anything for them. If I can do it, I will do it.

For instance, I know in the media, it’s not talent that gets you published or on television, it’s knowing the right people and being prepared to work hard and take low-paid jobs as stepping stones for bigger things. And it’s being honest. Even if it’s being honest about what you can’t do. I’ve got a few friends who say ‘how do you get published?’ – and it’s as if talent will out. It doesn’t usually. People look to JK Rowling (who tells a cracking great yarn, captured the zeitgeist but did little else than farm a very well-told quest) and say ‘oh, she got published’ – as if you can be published just by being a good writer.

Yet when I look at my published stuff, it’s always come through recommendation. I never sent anything to anyone and said ‘what do you think of this?’ and got it published. I was asked. And I was asked because I’d done it somewhere else for free first.

Take my education writing. First I did some work for a consultant in Lancashire. Lovely guy. I did quite a lot of stuff for him at a time when everyone was whinging about the new National Curriculum. I might moan a lot in reality, but at work, I don’t moan. Often. No point. I just do it. Whatever it is. Because I’d done a favour for this guy, he asked me to write a column for a magazine he edited. I did. Then another editor read it and liked it, and she said she’d give me £125.00 to write another one. I did. A whole £125.00 for an article. Whoo!

I wrote about ten in total.

When I got another job, I started writing things and giving them out for free. I did some work for my boss and she passed it on to her boss. They liked it. So they asked me to start writing for the Department for Education, and I did. I didn’t get paid, but it was good work.

Then I got asked to write by someone who knew the big boss. And then by someone else. And then I got a phone call to do some work on a textbook. I only wrote four chapters, but it was real writing. A real book. None of this internet malarky. A book with my name on it. Albeit with other people’s names on it too.

I’ve never solicited writing particularly – although if I am doing something already and another opportunity comes up to do something in the same line, I’ll put my name forward. I do a lot for free. That takes up a lot of time. I don’t care. If I painted (which I do) I’d do that for free. If I could write and never need money, I’d be happy as anything. Unfortunately, I need to pay the bills from time to time.

I’m not, and I never have been, a talented writer. I’ve been a dedicated, hard-working writer and I’ve been a poor writer. I think we’ve all got a niche in life, and if we’re lucky, we get to do the things we love. All work should be vocational I think, but in practice it doesn’t work like that. I wish good writers got published, but they don’t always know how to network in such a way as to draw their work to the eyes of the people in control. It’s going to get harder too. Kindle, whilst making publishing available to all, will quickly be trial by self-marketing to most. And most writers can’t market what they write. That’s why publishers were invented. Soon, we’ll need online marketing to draw attention to online writers.

Anyway, suffice to say with this new work, I’ve been thrown right in at the deep end – albeit with a very nice lifeguard watching over me  – and if I didn’t know how SEO and RSS and Mailchimp and all manner of stuff worked already, I’d be drowning, not swimming. Thank heavens for my eager curiosity! Luckily, my suck-it-and-see motto has worked well so far.

Wish me the Best of British and I’ll let you all know as soon as it’s more firm what my new project will be! See you in the ether some time soon!

The Zen & Forrest Gump of cherry picking…

I’ve now picked another 2 kg of cherries today – that makes 5 in total between us. I had a lightning strike of zen – or a Forrest Gump moment if you’re less philosophical. Cherry picking, it seems, has many things to teach us about life…

  • You have to go out there and do it… if you just sit around waiting, all you’re going to get ar things the birds don’t want, mouldy ones or ones that are not ripe yet. Such is life. If you sit around waiting for good stuff to fall into your lap, you’re going to be sadly disappointed.
  • You can sometimes go all out to get one perfect cherry. Sometimes, it’s out of reach. Sometimes, you get to the perfect one after a lot of exertion and dangerous escapades and it’s rotten when you grab it.
  • Sometimes, you can be so busy trying to get the perfect one just out of reach that you fall off the ladder.
  • Sometimes, you can be so busy trying to get the perfect one just out of reach that you inadvertently trample on the ones you’ve already picked.
  • It’s easy to forget about the 2 kilos you’ve already picked when one catches your eye.
  • You can’t spend all your time looking down on the ground. All you’ll find are stones. You need to look up and seize them.
  • You can’t spend all your time looking up – the sun will blind you and bits of the tree will fall in your eye.
  • Sometimes the best ones are just behind you… you just need to move a little bit to see them.
  • It’s nicer if you can do it with friends and family
  • It’s fabulous if you can enjoy the growing and the picking as well as the eating
  • Some people don’t have big cherry trees in their life. They might only have a patch of dirt. You’ve got to remember to pass them some of your cherries and be thankful that you didn’t get Brussels sprouts.
  • You have to remember, you can’t make raspberry ripple ice-cream out of cherries. You have to work with what you’ve been given and not spend all your time wishing you had something else. If you did get Brussels sprouts, you’re either going to have to learn to love them, or buy a cherry tree. Or move.
  • It takes time, patience and luck. And even then, you can have a crap harvest and it’s nothing to do with you.
  • Some years, you get lots. Some years you don’t.
  • Some of the best things are inherited.
  • You can spoil it all by harvesting too soon. Patience is everything.
  • Sometimes, you get sunny days and perfect conditions to do your work. Sometimes, it’s pissing it down and you need to wear wellies.
  • It’s lots more fun if you have a dog and a cat and a chicken all playing round you whilst you do it.
  • Sometimes, you have to accept you don’t have the right tools to do the job properly and you have to make do with what you can.
  • You can be far too ambitious and end up in hospital. Or dead.
  • When you think your work is done, you remember you’ve got to do something with it all, or it’ll all go to waste.
  • If you think this task is the end, you’re wrong. Just when you have the fruits of your labour, the real labour starts.
  • You want to put some away for a rainy day, or for the winter so you can enjoy it then too.
  • You can’t live off cherries alone. You’ll get the trots. You need a balance, even if you really, really like cherries.
  • Sometimes, you have to sit back at the end of it all and stick a cherry in your coke so you can feel all wonderful.
  • You think cherries are what you’ve got, but that’s just the beginning… there’s so many other things you can do once you’ve made a start.
  • Some people just don’t like what you’ve got and you’ve got to live with that.
  • Some people are going to be jealous of your cherries. You might be jealous of their pears. Nobody’s ever jealous of the guy with the dirt or the Brussels sprouts.
  • Doing it yourself rather than having it handed to you all pre-packaged and sanitised is much more fun.
  • Sometimes, you are going to twat your head in the process and it’s really going to hurt. It might even leave a scar. But it’s always worth it.
  • If it all goes wrong, turn it to Brandy or Kirsch and get drunk. God hasn’t made a vegetable, grain or fruit yet that you can’t ferment and get drunk from.
I think that’s enough cherry-picking-related metaphors about life. Prepare yourself for sunflower-related metaphors about death, carrot-related metaphors about religion and grape-related metaphors about children.

I think I’m having a survivalist panic…

… I’ve been inflamed by several things recently – including rising oil prices, estimates about peak oil production and decline (check out peak oil  and then tell me you aren’t planning on getting your bike out!)

What started it off was the price of chicken food. It’s gone up 70c to 2€ 70. Not a big thing in itself, but a reminder about several other things: wheat failure in Russia and China, rising food costs, inflation. Then Prince Charles, rightly, is telling people to eat less beef. Beef is a hugely hungry food crop – and rearing cattle is costing the planet dear. Something has to give. Either we have to have a drop in the population – probably enforced because of starvation – or we have to eat less-consuming products. Or both. As it is, rising food costs are telling us that we can’t keep going on forever. Not only that, but the people being priced out of the market are the poorest.

Then I read a little something posted by Mark from hed(pe) on Facebook, linking from survivalblog about spotting potential domestic terrorists. And I realise I fit the bill in so many ways.

I have libertarian philosophies!

I am trying to be self-sufficient!

I am afraid of economic collapse! Nothing is too big to fall. If you don’t believe me, ask a dinosaur.

I hate big government!

I would like to add, I don’t have second-amendment issues and think we should all be carrying weapons. I’m leaving protecting the property to Jake in the event of cataclysmic collapse. I’d also like to add I’m not a religious zealot or think the end is nigh. I would like to pass a little of the blame onto the Cold War instigators and also to the makers of Threads – a film about the aftermath of nuclear war. All that fuss about nuclear weapons and enemies and iron curtains and Communism just deflected us from bigger problems: we’re outgrowing the planet and nothing is more likely to spark revolution than hunger. Just ask Marie-Antoinette.

And it’s not just all about what us human ants are up to. Mother Nature has a good way of warning us that she’s still more powerful than all of us. It doesn’t matter that economies are strong, or societies are cohesive if she’s going to throw a hurricane Katrina your way, or a tsunami, or a fukushima-scale disaster.

However, I took a leaf out of the ‘worrying is as effective as solving an algebra problem by chewing gum’ book and decided that my panic was a little premature and I shouldn’t start stockpiling just yet. If the world wants to know how it is without petrol or enough electricity, or with limited resources, it should look to Cuba.

In the interim period before deals with Venezuela and after the Soviet empire collapsed, in the so-called ‘special’ period, Cuba had nothing. All the oil-based goods sank to a minimum. Petrol came in at 10% of its former levels. Imagine having only 10% of the petrol we have! Food was scarce. And I think this would be my ‘look to and learn’ country for how we can avert peak oil problems and food shortages.

Firstly, everybody shares a car. If you have a car, you maintain it and you learn about engines. You realise you can put a lada engine in a huge American behemoth. You travel by any means necessary. If you have a tractor, you hook a cart to it and shift people. And then you are forced to say ‘to hell with travel’ because you can’t get around anyway. No petrol means no petrochemicals and this means no tyres. No tyres means you’re not going anywhere even if you do have petrol or bio-diesel. So you get a bike. If we’re lucky, we’ll soon see the sense in keeping more bike tyres than you need as spares for the future.

And if you can’t get a bike because resources mean there are none, have a horse or a pony, a mule or a donkey. We forget it’s only 200 years since these modes of transport were de rigeur. 

I bet it has a Russian engine under the hood!

Another thing about Cuba: consumerism is dead. There are shops, but they have nothing in them. We went in a shoe shop looking for a pair of sandals for Pete. We found some flip-flops – that was all – and they were so crap they broke within days. But you realise people can get along without ‘stuff’. If you don’t have CDs, make your own music. If you have finished a book, pass it on. If you don’t have a computer, meh, write a letter. Second-hand markets are not just ‘vintage’ and kitsch, but essential!

If you haven't got new stuff, make do with old

In the state-controlled hotels, the food was dire. Clearly there were food shortages and whilst people equate rations with not getting what you need, it also ensures what there is can be shared equally. I like that idea. Not only that, but most people supplement what they get with what they can grow. Chicks were everywhere, as were ducks and geese. Hens are great. Not only do they eat a lot of scraps and insects, but they also provide you with an egg. A vegetable garden and a hen and you have enough to supplement your basic food.

Medical supplies also became incredibly hard to source or pay for – so all those herbal remedies the EU directive banned as from April 2011 would have to come back into play.

Not only did petrol imports drop off, so mechanical aids were useless – no point in having a tractor if you can’t fuel it – but fossil fuels too – so brown-outs became the norm. And then you realise you can live without so much electricity. Street-lights are the first thing to go (and I like the fact our streetlights here go out around midnight and come back on about six in the morning… that’s six hours of electricity less than the lights outside my house in Bolton) and you cut back on all non-essential electricity. All those fancy porch lights and path markers and so on become expensive and pointless.

Oxen are the new black
Oxen are the new black

But petro-chemicals also supply the pesticide and fertiliser trade – so you have go back to organic methods, like nettle feed and horse manure. And you get out all your old horse or oxen ploughs and very soon, by force rather than middle-class white-girl westernised liberalism, you’re organic and petrol-free. Because industry relies on raw materials like steel and fossil fuels, industry drops off and agriculture becomes the main employer once again. People fish to supplement their income. No motor boats means no intensive fishing, so fish thrive. I ate the best lobster ever in Cuba, spear-fished by a guy who used the lobster to supplement his diet – but not having diesel-powered boats meant the waters are clear, clean and those lobster, not over-caught, were huge and delicious.

Diet changes too. Meat and dairy – so expensive in terms of how much it costs to raise, both financially and environmentally – become part of the past, and vegetables and grains take over. People become accidentally healthier – forced into healthy eating. You can’t afford to smoke or take drugs. So health improves although medicine is less available. Ironic. Diabetes, heart disease and early mortality all dropped – albeit in highly unfortunate, imposed circumstances.

So… I’ve decided we should all make our drop in the ocean – although bigger changes are needed to avert major disaster – and not for us, for people in the poorest communities, the most fragile of society, the old, the young, the weak. The death rate amongst pensioners went up 20% in the Special Period in Cuba – not amongst other groups. We owe it to each other. We owe it to our future selves.

Unfortunately, change is often powered by necessity rather than altruism. Drive less, consume less, grow more. Switch things off. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Maybe I should start breeding oxen and cart horses!!

Just as a parting shot, I’d like to say we 30-somethings with dread in our soul are a product of our societies’ upbringing. I watched Threads in school about nuclear disaster. I remember the gravestone-AIDS-ads. Nuclear threat, epidemics and Greenpeace all contributed to this survivalist panic. But no matter what, the media can’t disguise the fact that inflation is up because of two things: rises in food costs and rises in petrol. If you want my money on the future, these two will be the driving force behind change. You can keep your nuclear war and your hazmat suits. We’re only three meals from revolution. And heaven forfend we have to give up our beloved motor vehicles!

How Green You Are!

There’s a reason I’ve not been so regular with my postings. My step-mum has been terribly ill and I’ve been family translator for her at all her doctor’s appointments, ultrasounds, x-rays and ‘urgences’. I have to say the French health system is phenomenal. We had an appointment on Thursday for her problems. The GP was fab. In England, you’d get a ‘see how you are over the weekend’ and ‘if it gets worse, come back’. Here, he ordered blood tests, ultrasounds and follow-up appointments, including the necessary three prescriptions (you have to have three when you are in France. It is compulsory, I think. Less than that means you’re just putting it on) and by Friday tea-time, though she hadn’t worsened and nothing showed up on the blood tests or the ultrasound, he ordered us to A&E in Angouleme.

At 7:30 in Bury, you have the first drunks turning up, beginning the onslaught of alcohol-related injuries that we English are so known for. Fights, stupidity, falls, people being run over, people with alcohol overdoses – if you don’t want to see Britain at it’s worst, steer clear of A&E on Friday and Saturday night.

In Angouleme, it was dead. There was one other person. Three nurses descended on us in a flurry of questions, hooked her up to an intravenous painkiller, gave her a glucose drip and soon we were trying to get to the bottom of her ailments. The doctor came at 11:00, after x-rays and further blood-tests and urine tests, said he couldn’t find anything, ordered more scans and told us we might as well come back at 10:00 in the morning – no point staying in if they can’t do anything.

The next morning, after 3 days of waiting rooms and salles d’attente, we returned. Brenda was whisked off for CT scans and ultrasounds, more tests. At 3:00, they decided to keep her in for observation. She’s still there.

Now whilst the doctors have made a valiant attempt to speak English, my French is better than their English. Plus, I’ve the benefit of having a sister in the medical profession. Thus, I can work out what white blood cell count is and translate various things they thought it was, and less is lost in translation. One woman told Brenda she was going to surgery. Whilst chirgurie is the literal translation, it really means a surgical ward with a specialism. So they really should have said she was going for observation on a ward – not she was going for surgery!! By 4:00, she’d been moved to a private room and she’s still there – horrible to be in a hospital bed in a foreign land.

So I’ve had no hammock time. Sadly.

My brother arrived yesterday morning, followed by my sister yesterday afternoon. How glad I am to see them! It’s been so long since I’ve seen my sister and I miss her so much. She’s where I was 5 years ago: assignments, work, running a household… and her spare time is rare and she has many friends to share it amongst, so I don’t get as much of her as I’d like, and she never gets as much of any of her friends and family as she’d like. I know that life, and I know it’s just one of those things. But it’s bloody great to have her here.

My brother-in-law is also ill – vomiting all night. He’s also got sleep Tourette’s. He swears like a navvy in his sleep. I’ve not slept properly since Thursday, I’ve picked up some nasty bug from sitting in the doctor’s surgery, it’s my Nana’s 80th birthday today and I feel like I need a holiday. And then the boys are back on Wednesday. At least, I hope they are. I’ve not heard a peep from Steve in a week and I’m terrified something’s happened to him. 😦

Still, I know that’s just guys, and he’s back in England seeing all his relatives – I’m sure he has a million other things crowding his brain. It’s strange, but I could just do with him here. I miss them both so much.

The garden is at full strength – almost. Whilst I have a family here hoping for sunshine, I am waiting for the rain. It hasn’t rained properly for three weeks now and all our free water is gone. The garden is living off grey water and everything is dry. I even had to water the lawn yesterday – it’s looking like it’s around August out there – and I’m not surprised with all these days in the mid-twenties.

Everything else is robust – apart from the carrots, with which I have no luck. They just don’t seem to germinate here. I might have to do a series of pots with them in just to get them going. The peppers, which were slow to start, have gone from 10 seeds to 5 plants: not too bad in terms of wastage. We have about 100 tomato plants of various different species. All the potatoes have put up their first shoots and I can get to weeding between the rows. I have three different types of leek on the go and some ready to plant up to thicken up. The turnip tops are now huge and the biggest thing in the polytunnel, although as you’d expect, they are less courageous and vivid outside. Even my first cauliflowers seem to be fattening up their stems, though how they will ever turn into full-size cabbages is anybody’s guess. We have lettuces ready for Steve’s salad, huge radishes of varying sorts, broad beans in flower, our first crop of peas, melons and gherkins and courgettes putting out proper leaves, thyme, rosemary, oregano and basil growing well. The cabbages look a little thirsty and small, but the borlotti beans are much more adventurous and taking up the offer of free sun and warmth. I’ve planted out 10 sweetcorn and have another 10 to go out in the next couple of days. Here’s to hoping we have a bumper vegetable crop!

The fruit isn’t doing too badly either: lots of cherries beginning to form on our three cherry trees; beginnings of the plums we seemed to have so many of last year. The nectarine is flourishing. I discovered another quince tree in the hen quarters, although I’ve still got lots of quince jelly left from last year. Not sure exactly how to expand my quince repertoire! The apples – last to blossom – are still wearing some of their blooms. I pruned back a lot of the blackcurrants and redcurrants, although the great redcurrant bush didn’t get pruned quite enough – it has very few baby berries on it. Grape leaves are beginning to show, including little tiny buds of what will be grapes. The raspberries have flowered, and I’m not sure between the six bushes that we’ll have enough: oh well! I have found that the chickens very much like the baby berries, and so we need to enclose the bushes. Half my crop of blackcurrants and redcurrants have been lost already to our feathered high-jumpers.

And I’m not without flowers – pots and pots of petunias which seem to be growing tall and not putting forth any flower buds – will have to give them a pinching out maybe. Lots of alyssia and pansies, some sweet peas, although not as many as I’d like. Achillea waiting to go in, but no real signs of any of my aquilegia – not that I’d really thought there would be – it’s a very old packet.

Here’s to hoping that by September, all we will need will be meat, bread and milk!

Your waterfall eyes

It’s time for Writers’ Retreat once more – and there’s only one subject preoccupying me today: love.

It’s due in part to the return into my life of a boy I loved.

I met him when I was 20. I was seeing someone at the time – my first love. And that first love was rocky but lovely. It was filled with immense highs, like the night he told me he loved me and we danced all night long. He told me he loved me over and over – we danced for five solid hours without parting once. I’d been seeing him for eighteen months and this love was a long time in the making. The best moment of it will always be that night in a long-shut club, just the two of us and an endless soundtrack of cheesy love songs, then walking home at dawn through the cold streets as the sun rose.

But it was a far from perfect love, since he chose many times to go away and I couldn’t reconcile that with his professed love. Every time he travelled, it broke my heart to be without him for months on end. Eventually, it would drive us apart as I could no longer see the way we could be together when we were going in such different directions.

The first time he went away was for four months. I thought it was the end of us. I was filled with a sadness that I couldn’t comprehend. He disappeared one May weekend and I wept buckets at the coach station. No internet, no mobile phones, just an address in a faraway place that may or may not take his mail and pass it on.

By July, I’d heard from him a few times, but I was too insecure to think this was forever. It hurt too much.

And that’s when I met M.

He was standing in the kitchen at a friend’s house – his hand bandaged. He was utterly beautiful in a completely different way to my faraway love, who was rugged and funny and sarcastic, sometimes cruel and too sharp. He was cricket to my faraway love’s football. He was soft classical guitar to my faraway love’s rock music. He was gentle and beautiful.

He has the bluest eyes, and his hair was soft and cut fairly long at the time. His mouth is utterly kissable. The softest mouth I ever kissed.

He’d just split up with his first true love, and he was broken-hearted. I was too. We were both smarting with it. We talked a while and I fell in love with the idea of him. He reminded me of Gatsby at his best, noble and valiant, believing in a pure, true, innocent love. When I kissed him, he was soft and sweet in ways that my faraway love had never been. He was a salve on my wounds.

He walked me home through the fields, soft green grass and a misty summer dawn. We lay in the grass for a while, holding hands and looking up at the sky. He was yin to my faraway love’s yang. Soft, hazy, pastel colours. Gentle waters as opposed to raging fires.

The summer faded and my faraway love returned. We stayed the distance another year and a half, through more absences and more heartbreak until it was finally too much for me and I ended it. But I never forgot my summer morning love with his eyes as soft as still waters. I would have pursued it too, but he was smarting from old wounds much more than I was.

I wrote him hundreds of poems, dedicated hundreds of lines to this musical poet who had enchanted me.

Some distant heartache

Echoes here, reverberates,

Spoils future horizons

I called him the boy with the waterfall eyes.

I love that pure love that you can only know when you are too young to know better. Everyone should have a love like that: innocent, gentle, pure and ghost-white. It’s not real, of course. It’s an illusion of how love should be – just as Gatsby’s love for Daisy. It’s the love you know before you realise that people are just people and you love them warts and all. It’s that delicate first love, first blossom that gives way to something more substantial in later years and that some people spend the rest of their life trying to recapture. My faraway love and I, we had that real love, that warts-and-all love – but this love was something ephemeral, something transient, something immaculate. And it stayed that way.

Through the eighteen years that have followed, we have kept in touch. Sometimes more me than him. Sometimes more him than me. We were never in the right time and space together, and probably we never should be. Life has put lots and lots of sea between us – an ocean too far to cross these days – literally as well as metaphorically. Families, responsibilities, distance, life, values, desires…

Funny though that this ghost of love should be so much a part of my present. I realised as I logged in, his name forms part of most of my passwords. How funny that I should still have lit a candle to this boy every time I log in! If you’d asked me who my three great loves had been, his name probably wouldn’t even figure. Yet there’s still an echo yet of that love in my days.

We see each other from time to time. Funny too that he was the one I called for a shoulder when Andy died. Funny that he’s the one I called when my Gramps died. Funny that I was the one he called when his dad died. It’s like we’re reaching out in those dark times to seek something pure, something true and simple. We’d meet up for a few hours, air our woes, confess all, then go months – years even – without seeing each other again.

He’s not for me – no doubt about that. We have nothing in common; he’d frustrate me and I terrify him. I’ve always been the brave one, the intrepid one. I was never scared to get scars, to tread where even fools fear to go. This isn’t good. I have no caution. I don’t know why. He is ever-cautious, ever-watchful, ever-afraid. He likes safe, I wish I liked safe, and I think I do, but when it comes down to it, I rarely play it safe unless it’s in matters beaten into me from childhood. He’s a realist to my eternal optimist.

But still, it’s nice to have a remnant of that remain. He soothes me and brings me tranquillity in ways that few people do. Time has made us both cynical and much more brutal, but there’s still a part of me, Gatsby-like, who wishes that she could beat back against the tides of time and recreate the past, even though she knows she can’t. It’s a love I could never stomach, anyhow.

It’s hard when you realise that this pure love can never last into adulthood – even though you wish it could. It’s transient and fleeting, and doesn’t bless most people. It’s innocent romance – a dream within a dream. I tried a little to cling to it at first, but it was like trying to hold onto a glamour, a tissue of beautiful cobwebs, a veil of deceit.

Now my loves are fixed in reality – which is a shame. I wish I could recreate the magic of those walks back from the cricket club in the pale summer dawns, those nights we lay in the fields looking up at the blue sky appear through mist. I wish I looked into people’s eyes and still saw magic and waterfalls and a purity of heart. You never can reclaim that. If you’re lucky, you have a love that deepens, that becomes more profound in many ways, a love rooted in reality that brings you comfort and solace, warmth and joy. If you’re lucky, it ignites your soul when you look into your partner’s eyes. If you’re lucky, you can trust them beyond trust to know they will always be there.

This boy was never destined to become that, but I hope everyone experiences that love once in their life – where you look into someone’s eyes and want to explore what lies beyond, like children searching for knowledge, something meaningful. You want to explore. It’s that love where you stay up all night talking, where everything that is revealed just makes the other person more magical, where you want to hear everything they ever have to say. It’s not comfortable love, it’s amazing love. It’s a love that isn’t really a grown-up love.

Now, I hold Romeo and Juliet in low esteem. Romeo with all his weeping and wailing who can’t see that being banished is better than being dead. But I forget that’s how that innocent first love can be. And Romeo+Juliet, the Baz Luhrman film, reminds me of that first love. In fact, the young Leonardo Di Caprio has a look of this boy I loved – all floppy fringes and huge, sad eyes – and when he looks at her through the aquarium, I like to think that’s how this boy looked at me once. And so it was.

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.

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.

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.