Friday 28 December 2012

A sound proof box

I never knew his real name for a long time, he was dad to me and Mac to everyone else, including mum.

What fragments of his early history I do know about came in fractured conversation greased with dripping and washed down with cold tea.

His mum had died when he was two, a loss that came back in watery memories every now and then. My grandfather, apparently a bit of a rogue, was a little man who got about quite a bit, which was surprising as he had been left with only one leg after a mill accident.

Dad would talk of his early life in the 'big house' although the only memory I can recall him telling me was that he and his sister were forced to eat fruit cake, the dislike of which stuck with him all his life.

This time of plenty didn't last long, he and his sister were split up, my grandfather, who if he'd ever had any money had managed to lose it, took Dad with him to the slums. In this abject poverty he looked after his young step brother while his sister stayed in relative comfort.

Dad told a story of when he had seen her sitting on a float in a Catholic parade and had excitedly shouted, 'that's my sister', a policeman had clipped him around the ear for daring to talk like that of his betters.

We know he'd spent time as a youth running with the gypsies, because he wrote a book about it but it was only recently we found out he had lived rough on the railway sidings, anyway more of all that in a later post. 

It may have been love at first sight as far as dad was concerned but mum said she couldn't believe  her eyes when she first saw him, long hair, baggy trousers, a beret and sorely in need of a wash. Well they did get together and had three kids and moved to the country.

It was a misdiagnosed mastoid that created a series of events that meant my dad would never hear my voice, he never realised this but it was probably a blessing in disguise.

My sisters tell the story of when they were all sitting around the table one night when dad suddenly let out a scream and began thrashing around like some crazed drunk before crashing out of the house to be found dying in a lane.

As they lived in the middle of nowhere, it was too late to get him to a major hospital but they managed to get him to a small one in a town close by. The doctors saved his life but had to take his hearing to do it, a decision Mum had to agree to over the phone.

In those distant days support systems weren't really available or at least not dared to be asked for, a stiff upper lip and a strong cup of tea featured just as heavily on prescriptions as pills and potions. 'Tough Love' was  a major part of any form of rehabilitation, something mum had been told to do when Dad had finally come out of hospital. She told me the story of  his first time being faced with traffic without being able to hear it, he was terrified to cross the road but she crossed without him, watching from the other side, while he cried like a lost child stepping in and out of the road, while she stoically followed orders and didn't go back to help him.

 Anyway all of this hardship had made dad practical to the point of awkward and praise was still on ration from the war. Living in the slums and streets also gave him a very matter of fact view of the home, tidiness didn't really figure and even though he was a creative man, aesthetics of the house were never considered.

We didn't have lampshades, as he said what's the point of covering the light and this coupled with the fact that he didn't like net curtains either, 'windows were for looking out of' meant we lived in a bright light box that all who walked by could observe us in our natural habitat.

When it rained no brolly for him, he would just fashion a hat out of a carrier bag, quite resourceful but not much fun to be seen with in the street. In the winter he would take the red hot poker to the soles of his shoes to make them more grippy and if it was hot his shirt would come off where and whenever. 

We used to go to Hull quite a lot when I was a kid, this is in the days when we could begin the journey from Alford by train, before Mr Beeching had his way and closed the village  stations. I always loved the excitement of these trips much more than the arrival at the destination, because just like dad I didn't like my Nan that much either. 

Her little terrace house was totally different from ours, immaculately clean with a giant don't touch sign written with her eyes over everything. She had walls and walls of cuckoo clocks imprisoned behind glass that called out to me to free them, something mum read from my twitchy longing looks making her even more anxious around my nan. She became the child again when she was in her presence, listening to how I should be brought up, her constant berating of my dad and of course how different things could have been if she had married one of her more suitable suiters.

Anyway, on one of the few trips Dad did come on, he decided to get me to partake in one of the activities he had loved when he was a child, I guess in the hope of toughening me up. Ignoring my protests he forced me to follow him around one of the the huge industrial buildings on the docks and onto a tiny ledge that hung over the uninviting swirling brown water of the Humber. It seemed miles high and miles to the other end of the building as we shuffled along with our backs pressed against the wall fear gripping me all the way, I definitely don't remember seeing the fun in it anyway.

Both mum and Dad had a strange lack of any sort of fear of the water, which even though I could swim never had the same appeal to me as a child especially in the brown coastal waters that they adored to swim in even in old age. It always terrified me that they would both swim out until you could barely see them on the horizon leaving me nervously scanning for them from the shallows.

Dad was deaf but definitely not dumb, reading, anything and everything, poetry to pulp fiction and in later life writing too. He used to say you can learn something from every book even if its just how not  to write them. Its funny how people treat those with a disability but as dad was also a very strong man who lip read perfectly, many a person regretted their actions.

My lack of reading was one of the things from the extremely long list of subjects we would go head to head on and to be fair something I regret now, in fact a lot of his words of wisdom still stab at me, leaving the dull bruise of 'I told you so' but don't get me wrong not all of his words were wise or even thought through. Never a fan of me bringing curries home he once told me that the reason I was so tall and Chinese people were small is because they ate that muck and not proper food.

If he had any passion for food it was his passionate dislike of 'foreign food' because he thought it looked funny even though he would happily munch down the most disgusting English fare even if it did look like the trophies from a slasher movie; pigs trotters, tongue, tripe, kidneys, black pudding, this hideous dried blood was something I never ate even when I did eat meat. They always had this with another revolting concoction that mum called 'tomato gravy' for Saturday dinner based around tinned tomatoes, they would suck it down while dad shouted at the wrestling on the telly. 

Dinner was at that time in the middle of the day before it was usurped by lunch, but no matter the time, dad didn't believe in formalities, he never sat at the table, preferring his lap and the arm of his chair as a napkin.

We always had huge meals usually being meat and two veg, though even this wasn't completely straight forward, he always had to have the mashed potato lumpy and dry before mum added the butter and a dash of milk to make it smooth and delicious.

There was always dripping or talk of it. I liked it in a sandwich or as a treat on toast, but I think dad had it running through his veins. It always amazed me that when he was a kid all they seemed to eat was dripping and now I'm no expert but there must have been meat somewhere in the equation to get the dripping in the first place.

We would each have a tin of Oxtail soup on the rare occasions we had a snack style meal. Dad would have a large glass serving bowl for his, which he would fill with torn up pieces of bread until there was no liquid left,  just a brown bready gruel. I have to be honest here and say this wasn't just him, I loved to do this too.

He also had a bit of a thing for ginger nut biscuits which he took to work stored in his large  coats pockets, which was great for me as I would steal them, obviously being careful to leave enough for him not to notice. 

Now even though dad was very specific about food, the kitchen was just somewhere he walked through and dumped his coat when he got home from work, but on the very rare occasions he had to cook, he would make chips, huge fat ones that would be brought into the living room for us to admire before we stuck them between two pieces of bread for our butties. 

Now as you can imagine Dad and I argued a lot, disagreeing on everything, but we often fell out over his competitive parenting method. He would always tell my brother and I that we wouldn't be as good as our eldest brother, who was a shining star in the army.  My other brother took the bate and joined the navy working his way through the ranks to become an officer, I on the other hand didn't bite and went to art school. There never seemed to be a flicker of pride when I got my A levels and of course Art college was just somewhere I went because I didn't want to work, but it was only in recent years that I found out from people who used to work with him that he took all my pictures in to the factory to show them and boasted about my exploits.

One of the most telling things that he ever said to me was 'if you ever stop rebelling you're no son of mine.'

Monday 8 October 2012

The age of understanding

Stuck in the stickiness of life,
not jam, marmalade or honey
just stress, loneliness and thoughts of money

Struggle and strive but no home or no hive.
Purpose for plenty but running on empty

Queasy with questions and dizzy with doubt
I falter with faith but flounder without.

Time plays heavy on my mind at this time of year, the relatively calm seas of wheat and barley are replaced by the choppy waters of the freshly ploughed fields, indicating Autumn's here. But more than this that dreaded yearly marker of reflection comes around, my birthday!

This year I crawled through one of the worst and that's saying something because I've had some stinkers. I never liked birthdays and can't quite remember when they became such celebratory occasions, at our school it was something you never made public knowledge for fear of the bumps, a lot more unpleasant than the name portrays. There was often the sight of some poor kid being chased across the pitches at dinner time by an angry mob ready to sling the birthday boy around like a rag doll, knocking the wind and any sense of enjoyment out of them. 

I have four lasting memories of birthdays that stick with me like a bad case of flu. The first was my 6th. I had skipped to school this day excited in the knowledge that I was going to tell my friend that I was a year older, but when finally saw him to pass on the news, no congratulations, instead he ran off shouting that I was liar and it wasn't my birthday and as we know kids love a chant, so it wasn't long before this echoed around the playground.

The second was the day even my mum forgot. It wasn't that I got presents or anything, but there was usually at least a card and a smile, on this particular morning, nothing. After the initial shock and disappointment, I realised that there was a surprise planned, there would be a favourite meal, a Frey Bentos steak and kidney pie followed by a soggy pineapple cake waiting for me when I got back from school. However, as I exploded into the house after a long, long day of learning, again nothing. I couldn't hold back any longer and choked out, 'mum its my birthday', she was very apologetic but I still didn't get my pie.

Third, was the time of the watery bumps. I'd managed to avoid situations for most of the day at school where the mob could corner me. I'd watched them whisper, plot and plan revelling in the fact that I'd out smarted them, so it was with a feeling of quiet confidence that I got into the pool for our swimming lesson. No sooner had I got into deeper water than I was grabbed from all angles by a ravenous shoal of sharks, dragging me under the water and tossing me back out of it.

This surprise attack meant I swallowed a mouth and consequently a lung full of water and with no chance to catch my breath and no voice to scream, I was dunked for what seemed like forever, seeing my short life pass before my eyes. I was left struggling and spluttering, drifting towards even deeper water, until someone finally thought it would be a good idea to pull me to the side, at the very least so people could carry on doing their lengths.

Anyway I've been noticing a few things lately as age is piled on me. Time seems to weigh as heavy as an overstuffed suitcase with a wobbly wheel and a broken handle, but even with all of its awkwardness, there's never enough of it to drag. Also to fly in the face of the common belief that with age comes wisdom, I seem to have more and more questions and less and less answers the older I get.

However, the other night as I sat on the sofa, plate of dinner on my lap shouting at the TV getting more and more annoyed that it didn't answer back, I had the awful realisation of something that I had long suspected and feared....I've turned into my dad!

Now my dad had a few questionable habits that sat uncomfortably with his general sense of fair play and morals, in fact much like me he was a knot of contradictions, but probably unlike me, he had a lot more reason for it.

Both my parents pasts were a little shaky and as they had me relatively late in life, it had all seemed like ancient history to me, but Dads past was shrouded in mystery, but more of that in my next post.

Oh and there was that fourth birthday memory... that was the one where he died the week before.

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Method in the madness

So Summer started today and if the weather forecasters are to be believed, ends later in the week, but in the meantime it's hot, hot, hot. 

I don't know if it is down to weather phenomena or early on set of cataracts but I seem to be seeing the early evenings through different eyes. A lavender sky over peacock puddles, roasted fields that steam with the smell of wet dog and I could swear I saw the full moon bouncing on a cloud the other night.

It's amazing what a bit of sun does to flowers too, not from the obvious growing perspective but they just look better, luminous and luscious, this was obviously considered in the design process.


Well what with one thing and another the garden hasn't had the usual amount of love and attention lavished on it this year, it's been well documented that the season has been soggy but so have I and this damp gloom has emanated over the garden too.  However, the benefit of this has led me to be brave and brilliant or is that lazy and lacklustre? I've let mother nature show her design skills, leaving pockets of my little patch to mingle and mix, wild flower shoulder to shoulder with blousy bloom, grasses growing in harmony with the herbs, well you get the idea.

Anyway the results have been fortuitous not just for me but also for the birds, bees and butterflies that share my little slice of Lincolnshire. 

There has been another factor at play here, I am taking tentative steps towards dropping out, or is that I've been dropped out, anyway whatever the reason I'm getting very interested in the idea of foraging. For a while I've been planting beautiful things that have culinary or medicinal uses but  the right recipe or illness just hasn't bubbled up yet.

One of the interesting things that all of this flower child consciousness has made me aware of though, is just how much garden flora is edible and best of all this includes some of my most persistent weedy enemies.       

Its amazing how war wanes when you know you can eat your opponent, the sting of the nettle is not so sharp, goose grass loses its grip and I can tell you, the slugs, bunnies and even the leveret that have taken to using my garden as a live in, eat as much as you like salad station, are just lucky that I'm a vegetarian or they would have been furry fricassee with slime sauce by now.

The bunnies are so bold its like having pets, they don't even run away, just amble off , obviously sensing that I wouldn't know what to do even if I did catch them. The relatively new leveret scares the bejesus out of me when ever I'm tending the borders, lying undetected and motionless until your a nose length away before erupting from one flowerbed to another.

Above all my green combatants my arch nemesis is most definitely ground elder, lemony in a salad or cooked in soups and stews.

Our altercation began way back in the very early days of our time at Belleau when I was even more of a novice in the garden then than I am now. We had bought the cottage with the garden in full swing but at the end of the season a kindly neighbour had cut down the plants  for me, so as the first Spring came around and green shoots began to carpet the boarders, expectation almost overwhelmed me. 

Caught up in all this anticipation I didn't pay much attention to the fact that there was a uniformity to all this new growth, but as time went on, too late I realised that something was amiss and a trip to the book shelves confirmed it. In the embrace of the cold sweat of panic I dug, sifted and searched through the soil for hours and hours, day after day, disposing of every tiny piece of ground elder as if it were toxic waste, as even the merest morsel left in the earth flourishes. War is hell, I may have retaken my territory but many a brave plant died in the process and If only I'd known then that I could have munched these plants down, the loss and back breaking work wouldn't have seemed such a chore.

Well, back to the present, we have also planted more of the usual cultivated culinary cousins to these wild weeds this year, with various levels of success. We've managed a  solitary marrow, some cabbages that have helped maintain our slug farm, strawberries, gooseberries and lots of lettuce, most of which goes to helping the sparrows have a balanced diet.

I've been using the lemon balm, mint and bee balm for teas, while Dom has obviously been making the most of the herbs I potted up as well as patiently experimenting with nettles in quiches, ground elder and goose grass in omelettes and if they get a move on I know he's probably got some tasty plans for the courgettes, but if all goes to plan it'll not be too long before I'm seen grazing along the boarders with the bunnies. 

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Where do ghosts live?

I must start with a couple of apologies, firstly, this blog is being posted about two weeks late so not quite topical, and secondly for the quality of the photographs, they were taken with my iphone - not my usual camera of choice.

Between the torrential downpours, flash floods and tornadoes, we've had some very nice evenings and some glorious atmospheric phenomena as a result; mists that move like spirits across the meadow, low and legless, leaving body-less heads of all they pass through, or a rainbow - a perfect arch that touched down in the field opposite sitting in front of the trees like a coloured heat haze.

Anyway we’ve been making the most of these breaks in the weather to take long evening constitutionals to some of our favourite haunts.

Swaby valley, always a special treat but after the inclement daytime weather it felt like a blessing on this particular sunny evening’s walk. The top field is wheat this year, still green and spiky from lack of sun no doubt, but beautiful all the same. This sea of green gives way to a section of set aside that has grown to an ethereal cushion of dandelion clocks that take silently to the air as we pass through them.

The valley itself is as intriguing as ever, sneaking up on you as you walk through the dark cluster of trees at its entrance. A few years ago they had cleared it of a lot of the vegetation to allow for cattle grazing, though a less suited place for this purpose is hard to imagine.  A babbling brook cleaves through the two halves, with the far side a steep terraced meadow, almost perfect for cattle not of a nervous disposition, but the side we walk through is more sheer with chalk faces interspersed with hardy hawthorn bushes.

Well there is an absence of farm animals this year, which has meant nature has crept back, grasses have grown tall with a perfect dusting of pink seed heads, red and white clover polka dot the floor with the occasional wild orchid thrown in for good measure, cow parsley seems to tower above everything and  the hedges are sprinkled with dog roses.

As always we rested at the bench that some kindly soul has placed at the bottom of a loose chalk face, a comfortable throwing distance from the stream with an abundance of ammunition to hand. I threw a few pieces over to the water but the lack of activity at this particular play spot has meant the brook has become over grown and lost some of its babble, so it took me a few throws before we heard the reassuring splash of a perfect hit.

Another night, another trek, this time by the Great Eau, I happened to turn from the river and my thoughts to look back over the meadow only to see Belleau aflame, our little village cinders against the fire in the sky, a sunset so intense it looked like an eruption. I could almost feel the heat from the red-hot clouds as they rolled like magma across the sky

We pulled ourselves away from this majestic event and squelched on through the meadow, creating noisy white ripples in the sheep as they ebbed and flowed around us. While taking a moment to have a seat on the wooden bridge a strange thing happened, from the nervous frothy flock a ewe approached me with her lamb, nuzzled my hand and put her head on my knee, a very touching and some how calming moment.

In comparison the river was a torrent, making it easy for the family of ducks that had taken residence at one of the prime swimming spots to escape our unwanted attention by shooting the rapids downstream. Other animals seem to be taking advantage of the conditions and circumstance that has meant a general lack of walking through the fields and inhabited the trails. The hare seem to be travelling in uneasy gangs, as I saw 5 of them on the night in question, I'd never realised what beautiful creatures they are, bunnies are cute but they are most definitely handsome.

After the brief encounter with the sheep and with no particular place to go we ended up at the Tavern, for a pint of cider which turned into two or was that three?

 It was about 10.30 when we made our way back, walking across the track between the monstrous rapeseed, so tall this year that it tunnels your vision towards the dark spinney that bars your way home. Tonight there was not an ounce of fear though, I even stopped in the wood throwing a stick or a stone into the water for nostalgia and no doubt habit sake. 

However, the sticks in the river were unfetched and the ripples from the stones unchecked and even though I could feel her with me every step of the way, we had actually just been me.

So often had we walked these walks, crossed the river and scaled the valley that the memories were so fresh, each look and touch was still there. I watched her down in the dark river, treading water like an otter before swimming towards the splash of the stones I threw like a snorting tug boat, I heard her splashing in the brook and snuffling up the sheep pooh in the field.

I even crouched down and waited for her to catch up, giving a reassuring stroke as she passed by me, my fingers almost feeling wet from the water from her coat.

Last week was the first time I'd been alone at the cottage, Holly was either always with us on our journeys to London, or if only one of us had to be there, she baby-sat the other at home. There was a strange sensation of the similarity of difference.

The interesting thing is that it was somehow comforting and made me remember other similar occurrences that I had taken comfort from. One such time was when I had been sat by mum in the hospital, holding her hand as her body went through the motions and fought for breath hour after hour, I had slipped off into half thought and half sleep where I saw mum and her friends as teenagers on bicycles, cycling down a country lane, the sun bursting through the branches of the trees, lighting their faces with laughter, I was brought from this happy thought by the family saying 'she's gone.'

Also recently, I went to Lincoln and was wandering around 'uphill' and had a similar thought, it was of my friend who died a couple of years ago. I saw us laughing and joking in the castle grounds, sitting on the grass and enjoying the sun. It was a time when tomorrows were tomorrow, not something you have to deal with today. Worry was tempered by the time that stretched a head of us and the future was to be found.

I don't mean this to be morbid in anyway, but I thought if ghosts do exist, surely its not in the distortion of death, but in those happiest of places and times and us and our memories are the psychic switch that turns them on.

Monday 25 June 2012


I just wanted to start by saying a huge thank you to all of you who have said such wonderful things over the last week, it's been really comforting and just the ticket.

Obviously, our little cottage has seemed cavernous, the empty sofa that we can't bring ourselves to sit on, the empty bed that still has her cushion on it, our routines shot, views no longer viewed, dinner times missed, but time will change all this I'm sure. I've already managed  to stop leaving the windows open in the car when I go into the shop and going to fill her bowl with water before I go to bed, so I guess that's something.

It seems even the wildlife have got the news, a rabbit has taken to sitting in the middle of the back lawn eying my new plants without a care in the world and the pigeon that Holly gave such a hard time to, has been strutting its stuff right up to the Kitchen doors. One of the dogs in the village that Holly liked,  she was very fussy with other canines only having a fondness for black and white collies, left a gift of a huge pile of pooh for me outside the door today.

Well after a week of downs and further downs, I've had a lot of time to ponder and if not to decide anything, well at least to think about being decisive about decisions, 'probably'?.

Holly's passing has topped off a couple of years that have seen me with more problems than an Italian cruise ship company, so a while back I thought that I would have a go at therapy. After waiting ages for the appointment, last Tuesday was the first session and you can only imagine how that went. I don't know who I felt more sorry for, myself or the poor chap.

Anyway,  with all this in mind one thing has become blatantly obvious and that is that time is precious, I've written it before but it's worth repeating, we treat time as a constant commodity, counterfeit it, trade it and most of all waste it.  My regret as always in these situations is for the time I lost when I was too busy, too self obsessed or too distracted to pay attention to Holly or others who have gone. I wish I could get these moments back, tie them together and enjoy her for a little while longer.

Sunday 17 June 2012

night-night Pud Pud

Today a space the size and shape of a small Labrador has opened up beside me. An empty space that weighs as heavy as my whole world, so heavy I don't think I can bear it.

Though black with just a splodge of white, for nearly thirteen years Holly coloured my life in rainbows, but now summers colour has seeped away, the garden is drained to grey, laughter has been sucked from my throat and sadness bars my way.

As those glorious 13 years we shared open up to me, they block all that went before and cloud all that is yet to come. A constant companion, a confident and a friend, she decided my decisions and lifted my spirits, a dependent that I depended on, a smile when all else failed. Oh how I need her now.

Holly stuck by us in our Gypsy lifestyle (we moved 7 times in London during her life, 8 counting the extended stays at 'grandmas'). The loading of the cars, the long motorway journey's, all done without a hint of bother, however, no matter how short the stay, how brief the visit, three has been the magic number, she made every house our home and no more so than the last 9 years in Belleau.

The cottage has always been hers, no room barred to her, no bed beyond her, never overly cloying she always took herself upstairs to bed in the evening, though in her later years she needed a little help from us. She would stand at the bottom stair and look over her shoulder at us until we carried her up. This summer she had discovered her voice sitting on the bed and barking at the cows in the meadow opposite from as soon as you put her down to as soon as it got light.

This all makes the hurt so much harder, everywhere I look I catch a glimpse of her. She was a creature of habit, though like a bank contract these were always hers to change. The new morning routine was meet me at the treat cupboard pre fuss, wait till we had cooked our breakfast before joining us outside for her share.

Holly was always with us wherever we went and hit with whoever we met, she didn't dislike anyone, especially if they had food, not keen on children but amiable enough.

She wasn't a working dog, but she had a role to play in our life. Not a guide dog but she taught us to see rather than just to look, whichever way she went we gladly followed. She didn't hunt but did love a chase, foxes were her favourite but I realised thankfully that she wasn't a hunter quite early on. I remember walking her in London when she suddenly got the scent of something, my imagination ran wild, what was this creature she was stalking? She traced her quarry to some bushes, before diving in for the kill.  A struggle commenced but her yelps made me come running to her aid, I tore back the foliage to beat off this fearsome prey only to find her unable to get her head back through the railings as she refused to drop the half pizza she had tracked and captured.

As a puppy Holly did have a stint as a model, she kept her looks till the end by the way, she starred in a photo-shoot  for Home Choice, never one to be won over by the bright lights but always professional, she got the shot done and then proceeded to pee all over the bed.

This has all come so quickly, a week ago today she took us on the longest walk we had been on for a very long time, showing us a way through the wood at a pace we couldn't keep up with, maybe she was rewarding us with a memory. What a difference a week makes not able to stand, or sit, a broken machine still with a puppy's face.

She was always my first good morning and my last goodnight and unlike her a habit I will find hard to break.

Sunday 10 June 2012

Sports Days

Well we seem to be on a seasonal seesaw at the moment, summer to winter, spring to autumn - well you get the picture. On those heady days when the sun has shone and the freezing rain has stopped, I’ve been able to work in the garden, which has reached my favourite stage, jungle - and what a jungle it's been.

I'm sure I mentioned before but the draught has brought torrential rain and this, mixed with the short sharp shock of sunny days, managed to create the perfect training environment for a few speedy growers to become tall and athletic. These beefed up bullies got a head start over some of the weaker individuals that missed the starting pistol and proceeded to pin these smaller competitors to the ground.  

I don’t go for minimalist chic in the garden, I’m much more of the maximalist approach, I see enough brown earth in the winter, so any spec of bare soil calls out for me to plant it.

Anyway I believe in a bit of healthy competition and love a good floral fist fight. Like a spiteful child I get a sadistic pleasure from the argy-bargy of the blooms as they wrestle over their little bit of turf, intervening only when the fight gets too dirty. I can almost hear the voice in my head sometimes shouting "fight, fight, pile on, pile on".

Maybe it’s not just the weather that has made the competition so fierce this year, possibly it’s because we are rushing headlong towards the London Olympics, I know this would explain why the lupins have grown tall and twisted like fiery torches.

 I make no apologies by the way, for the blatant Olympic analogy, especially considering the telly is full of the most tentative links by brands to this sporting event. Personally I'd be a little more excited if it was more like school sports days, imagine the branding opportunities then: the sack race with special limited addition running bags by Louis Vuitton, the egg & spoon race brought to by Tesco's finest free range eggs with silver spoons supplied by Tiffany & Co and of course, the 3 legged race in association with Hermes scarves.

Just like with any competitions these days, there seemed to be some cheating going on, the rabbits helped the Lupins by munching on all their neighbours, while the slugs favoured the lupins by devouring the delphiniums. I don't believe in chemical stimulants so artificial aids to this pest problem have been avoided no matter how tempting, but this has meant me mooching around the garden with head torch and rubber gloves late in the evening, picking slugs off  pampered plants and running around the lawn in the morning shouting at the rabbits like some sort of crazed referee.

However, no matter who was winning and how they managed it, the garden was looking fabulous, even if I do say so myself. More or less healthy, surviving the unwanted attention and rewarding all my hard work and training with a display that was medal worthy, that was until the weather threw another curve ball.

The downside of growing tall, lithe and finely tuned is that it is easy to be hamstrung by testing conditions, in this case the wind.

'Talk about your level playing field' arriving back from London yesterday I found the tearful sight of my main team lying limp, exhausted and broken in defeat where they had once stood tall and proud in victory.

Well onwards and upwards I guess it gives the B team a chance to shine.

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Rainy days, and Sundays

So May has been with us for a week now, issuing in the idea of summer but with none of the traditional accoutrement's of the season. Warm weather has been lost somewhere between the UK and the arctic, while drought has been signified by the deluge and flooding that we've had ever since the hose pipe ban was announced a month ago. An announcement by the way, that had me purchasing water butts by the lorry load meaning the side of the extension now looks like an oil refinery. All this to preserve my precious plants from being parched even though they are now looking more like they could do with a towel and a sun bed.

There's a saying that goes 'it's great weather for ducks' which I can confirm is true and add to that 'for geese too', as there are great honking flocks of them noisily strutting their stuff on the many ponds that have appeared in the meadow opposite.

Other wildlife that are enjoying the daily downpours are the slugs and snails, slimy assassins that have proven to be immune to the nematodes, coffee grounds, and any other treatment I've used to keep them at bay this year and are now in competition with the rabbits to see who can be first to nosh every weary waterlogged plant down to the ground.

These particular young furry felons spend their days flaunting their fur coats against this unseasonal cold, caring not a jot as I bang on the window at them, instead simply staring back at me with their big doe eyes and bits of my beautiful garden hanging from the sides of their mouths, giving them the appearance of old fashioned country bumpkins.

They have also chosen to diversify their already expansive diet and eat my lupins, aquilegias, crocosmias, in fact anything they fancy. This feasting has forced me to take the drastic action of surrounding everything in green mesh and this coupled with the multitude of land mine like slug traps dotting the borders, means the gardens starting to resemble some sort of floral prison camp.

Not all the fauna are fairing as well as the aforementioned, usually there is a reassuring buzz in the air by this time as bees busy themselves among the blooms, but now they are silent and those that have dared to venture out and survived the daily bombing of raindrops are to be found sleepy and sad on the green but flowerless flora. I heard that they are starving at the moment because the rain is preventing them from leaving their hives which is hard to imagine a more sorrowful story.

The other creature that is not fairing so well is me, bad weather and bad news battle to bereft me of any  hope of a sunny disposition. This is usually my favourite time of the year when the light nights lift my mood and the garden gifts me with happiness but as the rain and temperature keeps falling, suspending the garden in frozen flowerless green, it becomes difficult not to let ones mood become as soggy as the surroundings.

Anyway sometimes we are so sad we forget to see and actually the gardens not just green, its luminescent, the rivers running fast and deep and the ponds and pits that were dry and desolate a few months ago are full to the brim with water and life so things aren't so bad.

I'm still escaping to Spain next week though for some sun.

Friday 6 April 2012

A spring of consciousness

I have a smile on my verge at the moment if not on my face, a sunny grin that spreads across the  cottage, a yellow sigh that I share with birds, insects and animals alike. Its handover time for the seasons, the daffs are in full bloom and the clocks have gone forward.  

I love the rag tag look of early Spring, full of promise like a bad haircut that's finally growing out. The wet fields that sucked your wellies from your feet, have dried, the roadsides are dotted with ready made bunches of daffodils, like jolly hair plugs on a balding celebrity. 

Custard coloured  primrose nestle in the dikes and hedgerows, taking over from those early risers the snow drops who have nodded off ready for a well deserved rest. Dandelions burn like little Suns in the grass and lost looking hyacinth add a dash of pastel colour in the sea of green and yellow.

While some trees wear pink frothy perms of blossom others are still seemingly bare until closer inspection reveals designer stubble, leaf buds waiting to burst out of the end of every branch and twig.

The lambs are in the field cutting a fine dash compared to the shaggy unkempt look of their hardworking mothers and best of all the days are long and light.

I'd never say that I was well read but probably well watched, I think this comes from my interest, or is that panic about time, trying to preserve a moment in the library of the mind, find words that fix an image to the page. I want to enjoy every moment of the light nights, feeling a guilt if I go in before its dark.

The garden beckons 

Saturday 17 March 2012

The Wild West End

London, what the Dickens?

I’ve been witness to a media gunfight; compliments shot with the violence of bullets ricocheted off a members club wall, while the war cries of good jobs and success echoed around the room.

It all started as I sat in a Soho members club, I was a little too involved in what I was doing to notice that the afternoon was giving way to early evening and I’d missed my window of escape.

The relative quiet was shattered by the tell tale clip clop of the PR ponies as they made their way up the wooden stairs, neighing in competition for conversational space just as they compete for column inches.

I could hear the swish of the their blond manes and the snorts of derision getting closer, the first shot was fired at an unsuspecting waitress, ‘TABLE’, luckily as no eye contact was made the shot went wide.

The table next to me was free but just as I was trying to decide whether to get under mine or push it over for defence the clunk of bags and phones signalled their arrival. I just had to hunker down and hope for the best.

A few more shots were fired at the waitress to make her dance ‘WINE’ ‘VODKA & TONIC’ ‘STRAWBERRY MARTINI’

There was a moment of calm whilst the gunslingers eyed each other, suspicious and supercilious, their smiling faces giving nothing away. Pistols cocked the shooting began; "But darling you're amazing"... "imagine heading up the global division of the agency" ... "what about you, creative director,"... "head of strategy"... "soooooo important"... "queens of the world"..."we’re just the best"..."can you imagine, he asked if I shopped at ASDA, the cheek"

Spent rounds littered the table and the air hung heavy with bluster and bullshit.  The only breaks from the action were when they were forced to reload with important work messages from their Blackberries and funny face book ones from their iPhones

Expense accounts rattled while I shook in the cross fire, this was a saloon bar fight, loud conversation of cash and demanding clients may have replaced bottles and chairs but it was no less dangerous. This definitely wasn’t a recession session that was just something that happened to the other folk.

I needed to make an escape so as the whoosh of wine tossed heads slowed and the aim of the slurred speech became more ragged, I made a run for the door passing the guest list girl and her coral of cocksure cowpokes, a real case of ‘I’m not a celebrity get me into here’

I made it to the street and gulped the barely fresh air, feeling happy my hide was intact and my  morals in order. 

Monday 5 March 2012

This post is brought to you by the number 2

I went for a walk on Friday which was two days ago, down the track and along the river to Claythorpe, by the little cottage in the field and onto the road and back to Belleau, a journey of roughly two miles.

Whilst enjoying this evening constitutional I thought to myself what a difference two weeks make. It was only a fortnight or so ago when winter had finally whispered its first quilt of snow, leaving the land freshly laundered, its lumps and bumps softened and smoothed, ready for the child in me to snuggle down into it and mess it up.

Belleau is always beautiful in the snow, but when the blizzards finally blew themselves out and the freeze took hold, throwing glitter over everything, it was breathtaking.

Moles had been taking advantage of the mellow winter up to this point to cover the meadow opposite in what looked like some sort of brown acne. These surprisingly large mounds now looked like sparkling iced buns, the barbwire fences that offend me a little, hung with crystal hair and the trees held delicate blades of snow on every branch. 

As beautiful and chilly as the days were, minus 2 and falling, the nights were crisp and frozen, skies so clear and cold even the stars seemed to shiver. A full moon so big and bright it sent frosty blue shadows running for warmth.

This winter weather had surprised me and everything else for that matter, as all the tell tale signs were that Spring was already with us; the daffodils weren't in flower but they were already in formation ready for their seasonal assault, the snowdrops had massed and the Lupins in my garden had sent out a scout party. Birds were everywhere, sheep were in the field and scarves were already optional.

Anyway, after what seemed like a seasonal false start, we were back on track and I'm back to my two mile walk. It was late afternoon/early evening, the time when the animals are usually changing shift, but everything seemed to be taking advantage of the lighter nights and hanging around. Spring was springing and romance seemed to be in the air. 

In the space of these two miles I saw two Kestrels sitting side-by-side on a telephone wire staring at the horizon as if waiting to view the sunset, two swans on the river looking like 18th century dancers as they circled each other in the current and two barn owls that floated bashfully close to each other before landing on two fence posts to share furtive glances.

Well here we are two days later and what started as a wet miserable day has now turned into a cold snowy one. So as I watch the flurries of snow whirling about my window, I feel the visit to the garden centre was a bit premature and thoughts of mowing the lawn today more than a little optimistic. 

Lets hope this isn't Spring's false start number 2.  

Tuesday 31 January 2012

Six for Gold

Apologies, its been a while since I put pen to paper or fingers to keypad for that matter, so here's a quick round up of the last month or so.

Christmas slipped by more mild than merry, no frost, no snow but instead a dose of festive flu that as it happened wasn't just for Christmas it was for New year too.

Flowers bloomed, plants grew and my mood got bluer as my nose got redder. The seasonal spirit wasn't helped as spite and gossip flew in the face of goodwill and cheer.

The weirdly warm weather did gift us with a breathtaking sky though, thick fiery pink impasto clouds daubed onto a bright blue canvas.

The new year wafted in with a whimper but then the wind came with a shriek and a howl. It wrestled the air and battled the land, like a blustering bully it pushed the trees and pulled the plants, it rattled the latches and tossed the trash, its tantrum was terrible to behold.

The morning light revealed the fallen, broken bodies and amputated limbs scattered the ground, while the survivors bowed their boughs in respect. In some sort of gruesome luxury the victims will provide fuel for the fire, very opportune if the forecast of a Russian winter is to be believed.

I have to admit I quite enjoyed the drama of the gale, it blew the blandness of the holiday weather away and reminded me of being a child, when I would whirl around in the field on blustery days, letting the wind steal my voice as I shouted and laughed at the sky.

Some of the flora and fauna as mentioned have never really gone away, so it may be a shock to their systems if the freeze that is forecast arrives, however, splodges of snowdrops now dot the verges and daffodils are yawning into the air, I've even seen a dusting of blossom on some trees, and like these optimistic chaps, I'm ready for Spring too.

There seems to be so many birds at the moment from the robins that look like they are nesting in my new woodpile, to the sparrows, tits and thrushes that are making so much noise in the bushes at the front of the cottage.  When there not chasing the tractors the seagulls are slicing through the sky over the meadow like deftly thrown boomerangs competing with the jackdaws for airspace.

On Saturday I saw a gang of six magpies, (thats gold I think), hopping and buzzing with electric calls, a white heron of some sort that floated down to earth not far away from me, gave a derisory look and snaked away through the long grass, a barn owl, but so blessed are we with these that they almost seem common as they float around the meadow.  Similarly with the Buzzards, they seem to be loosing their shyness and secret ways as I managed to get up close and personal with one, before it leisurely took to the air. I do have a question regarding these majestic birds, why do these fearsome looking raptors have such camp cries?

Anyway, to top off this ornithological tour was a treat - a bird that looked as incongruous as I feel in most situations, a splash of glitter in a slippery brown ploughed sea, a glam rocker of bird - a golden pheasant. Maybe there's something to be said for magpie folklore after all.