Saturday, 22 October 2016

Golden afternoons

The autumn has been quite blissful in this little part of the world. Warm sunny afternoons with windows and doors standing open and washing drying outside. Around half past three I can feel a little chill descend so I close the windows to keep the warm air inside and I bring in the laundry before it gets damp.

We went on a bike ride this afternoon. I've had a couple of occasions to go into the countryside over the past couple of days and it's looking absolutely glorious. Low sunlight passing through layers of atmosphere so that it's filtered to a warm glow, all the better to light up the fabulous autumn colours. Big country apple trees still loaded with apples, far too high for anyone to reach without a ladder. Farmers working in the fields and people tidying their gardens away before winter.

We went past a community shop. Well, of course, we went in, not just past. They have all sorts of delightful things on the shelves; local honey, secondhand books, lumpfish caviar, Guinness flavour crisps, everything. The children had been promised ice-cream - it was either that or they'd have made us cycle all the way out and round the deer park, which is absolutely miles - but in the end they chose some salty snacks. The shop also sells hot drinks - coffee in little cafetieres and hot chocolate, and homemade cake. Just how I like my shops.

Then it was on up to the little church that stands on the hill. The views from up there are phenomenal. You can see out over the river, both bridges, our local church and castle, Wales, everything. I read some of the war tributes to local boys and men and sniffed a bit. One boy had joined up on the day that war broke out. He had come home for a while after his first stint. The writer had wondered if he had gone to the local pub for a drink and a chat with his dad about it all. He was sent to the Somme where he was killed. His body was never recovered and his name is on the Thiepval Memorial in Picardy. His mum kept a light burning in the window at night for the rest of her days in case he returned. He was 19.

The church is named for a local saint, whose head was chopped off by a youth when she refused to sleep with him. All very grim it was in those days. Today it's a beautiful, peaceful spot with benches where you can sit and look out over the river and rest your legs should they be weary. I tried very hard to keep up with the little people, but honestly, the energy they have. I did feel quite good afterwards though, we should definitely do it more often. Although of course the amazingly good weather helped a lot.

Wishing all a good Sunday. CJ xx

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Autumn energy in the New Age

These past couple of weeks I've been seized by a frenzy of autumn energy. Nothing has been safe. I've ripped through the allotment like a dose of salts. The garden is all ready for winter. The lawn has been reseeded after all those months of football, golf, tennis, cricket, rugby and everything else. People have been told not to go on it until April. I'm not sure they're taking me seriously.

Rooms have been tidied, shelves and bookcases decluttered. I'm on the home straight of two quilts that have been on the go for ever. Knitting has begun again. I need a blanket, fingerless mitts, leg warmers, a cardigan and a poncho. I am trying to be restrained and remember my limits, but on a chilly evening it's easy to get carried away. Ravelry is a wonderful place is it not?

I'm wondering if all this activity is prevarication. Oh, of course it is. I am avoiding the writing course. Not sure why. Fear of failure most likely. But tidy rooms give me a huge happy feeling of satisfaction. The children will tell you, I do so love to have things Neatly Put Away. Neatly! They will thank me one day when they grow up to be neat people themselves.

I found a light sabre on the top of a very tall bookcase during one of my tidying stints. In a careless moment I popped it into the toy box. You have no idea how thrilled the littlest boy was to discover it this evening. The reason why it was on the top of a very tall bookcase came screaming back to me.

We had a nice conversation as he got ready for bed. Something about the Stone Age, I wasn't really following at that point to be honest, you know how it is. He commented that we're now in the Modern Age, then asked me what the New Age was. This caught me out a little. Is there a New Age? Should I know about it? I said, "Perhaps you're thinking of New Age people, a bit like hippies." "What are hippies?" I gave a rough, late-in-the-day, vague definition. "People who care about the planet and don't like chemicals." I couldn't string together any more than that at the time. Really, where to start? He yelled out with glee, "That's us! Dad, we're hippies!" If anyone needs me I'll be casting on a poncho.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Weed by weed

aptly name apple Sunset
achocha vines

I've been working hard down at the allotment following the summer of shame. It was daunting to say the least, but a few hours later I'm feeling much cheerier about it all. The asparagus has been cut back, apples picked, beans taken down.

Caro let me have some achocha seeds last year and they did beautifully. The pods are scrumptious eaten while really small in salad. I've taken them out now though in a great clean sweep, and I've forked over the majority of the plot and removed horsetail and bindweed. Not all of it of course, it will be back, but for now it's looking good. 

There are far fewer buzzing things down there this week. The pictures of the hornet are from a fortnight ago. There were all sorts of things enjoying the ivy in the hedge. They're hunkering down now that it's getting colder and damper.

By the end of the week I'm hoping that the plot will be under control and ready for the dormant period. I shall be very relieved when it is. 

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Tracing the steps of poets

Photos from a walk along the banks of the Severn Estuary. Broadchurch is filmed in the nearby town and at this little church, parts of which date from the 12th century.

The romantic poet Coleridge walked up here and sought inspiration from the countryside and sea. He lived in a small cottage with his wife, Sarah Fricker, after their marriage. The house inspired his poem The Eolian Harp.

The  poet Tennyson used to visit his friend Arthur Hallam at a local manor house, now owned by the National Trust, and when Arthur died at just 23 he was buried in the church. Tennyson's poem, In Memoriam, A H H was a tribute to his close friend. I do like to know a little history of a place.

Beyond the church you can see for miles, up and down the estuary and across to Wales. There's an Iron Age hill fort there, perfectly placed for keeping an eye on whoever is approaching.

I hope everyone's had a little sunshine these past few days. I can feel an October chill creeping in now. Apples and pears are falling from the trees and the box of yarn is out ready for a spot of knitting, or maybe even crochet.

Good news about the ivy mining bees, the man from the local authority has advised that they be left well alone, so it seems they have a reprieve. I added my two penn'orth worth and now everyone in the Allotment Society is apprised of their value. No doubt one or two members will be looking wistfully at their bottles of insecticide, but I'm hopeful they'll hold off.

I'll leave you with a question that the littlest boy asked me this evening. "Mum, can a sock go through a printer?" Hmm. I'm wondering what he might be planning.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The ivy mining bees

I went to have another look at the bees down at the allotment today. You may remember I mentioned that they've taken over an entire plot. They are flying very low over the ground, and have been painstakingly excavating holes.

Most of the ones here are males, who don't sting. The females are unlikely to sting unless squashed. They're small bees, and I assume they've been enjoying the ivy that's blooming in the hedge along the allotment site boundary.

Apparently they are fairly new to the UK, having arrived only a few years ago. They are flourishing while other bees are in decline. And happily they don't harm our native bees.

I found a couple of them struggling in a water trough. I fished them out and put them in the sun to dry. One of them was off flying almost at once and didn't seem waterlogged at all.

I'm hopeful that the allotment folk will respect them and let them have these few weeks in the sun.

Many thanks to CT for educating me in the ways of the ivy mining bees.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Falling in love again

Poor allotment. I didn't love it enough this year. In fact it took on the mantle of millstone towards the end of the season. I didn't spend enough hours there and the weeds saw their chance. I had big plans for a few days spent there in the summer holidays, but somehow it didn't happen. Where did the holidays go exactly?

I'd been thinking about whether to continue with the plot or not. Anyone who has one will know what I mean. It's the weeds mostly. The ground can be completely clear one day and invisible below a swathe of weeds within a month. But I know that part of me would be heartbroken to say goodbye. And I know myself. My moods and energy roll in and out and change constantly. The day would come when I would regret it.

In a spare moment last week I flicked open Cleve West's "Our Plot".

It's the story of the allotments he and his wife tend. Despite both working full time, they took on an overgrown plot, then another one, then another one, then, well, you get the picture. The photographs are sumptuous. Beans climbing up wigwams, raised beds filled with every type of edible, paths disappearing into green jungles, higgledy sheds, oh, it's paradise.

I know my plot isn't likely to look like that, but it gives me hope that with some effort I might capture a bit of the magic. When the weather is dry I shall be back down there, clearing the ground ready for the dormant season. I'm deploying weedproof fabric over the biggest areas until I'm ready to plant. Hopefully that will help.

The last time I was down there the littlest boy pointed out that the weeds were flowering and that there were bees on the flowers. So I'm thinking of it more as a wild flower patch.

In the middle of the allotment site there's a plot that's absolutely covered with bees. CT kindly identified them for me, as ivy mining bees. There are thousands of them, just on this one plot. They are flying only a few inches from the ground and disappearing into holes in the earth. I'm on a mission to save them from destruction, as I have a feeling that certain factions like to exterminate anything wild.

So you see, I'm back in love with my plot and the whole allotment thing. It's only ever a momentary wobble I think. It can be quite overwhelming at times, but I shall try and make it more manageable next year and put in a bit more effort. And any time I'm not feeling it I shall get out Cleve's book and spend a happy hour looking at his beautiful plots.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

A good book spoiled

We made our annual pilgrimage to see the donkeys on the beach yesterday. The littlest boy does love them so. He pretty much loves all animals in fact, much as I did when I was small. At the end of the day their saddles were taken off and they had a bit of a free range and a roll. We imagined them going home to a nice grassy field. Let's hope that's right.

Today there was football this morning, and a very late lunch. I had an idea that I might do a few things about the place in the afternoon; take down the runner beans and the remaining tomatoes, put washing away, pot up some plants, plant out some purple sprouting broccoli, run a duster about the place and zip round with the hoover, you know, nothing too ambitious. The littlest boy was in the mood for cooking however. And the biggest boy said something like, "I was going to ask if I could do some cooking too, but I was going to wait until mum had cleared lunch away before I asked so I get to do mine first because I thought of it first." Aargh. In the end he made an ambitious black forest surprise cake. It was indeed a surprise. We got into a desperate Bake-Off style disaster trying to roll up little swiss rolls to put between two bigger discs of sponge. It was not attractive. But there was sponge and jam (tayberry, not cherry - this was the black forest surprise) and cream and we can live with that.

The littlest boy opted for chocolate rock cakes from his Winnie the Pooh cookbook. Flicking through the "Party" section I was surprised to note a recipe for "Cider Cup for a Party". The idea of firing up 8 year olds on cider mixed with lemonade and orange squash is novel. I'm imagining it would slip down quite easily. The book was first published in 1971. Is this what children were drinking at parties back then? I only remember jelly and ice-cream. And iced gems and those iced ring biscuits.

Back to now, and I'm in a bit of a grump about a book. I've just abandoned two books and settled on a third, "The Suspicions of Mr Whicher", which promised to be excellent. I hadn't heard of the author before (Kate Summerscale), so a few pages in I googled her and had a quick read of her Wikipedia page. And lo and behold, in about the second line in the murderer's name was revealed and just like that the whole book has been spoiled for me. I am cross, cross, cross. And undecided whether to press on and read it or not. Thoughts?

Something I must just run past you, on the subject of dogs, did you know there is such a thing as a flandoodle? Do you love that as much as I do? They are half Bouviers des Flandres and half poodle. If I'm honest they're not the most attractive dog you'll ever see, and I have a suspicion that they were just invented because of the fantastic name. I would certainly happily have one, purely for the pleasure of going round saying, "Of course it's a flandoodle you know." There seems to be a craze for crossing all sorts of things with poodles and making up novelty names for them. Has anyone asked the poodles if they mind?

I'll leave you with a question the middle boy asked me earlier. "Mum, can I have an axe?" I thought he was going to say "apple" so I almost said yes by mistake. I'm still formulating a proper response.