Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Do not pass go

The Bristolian pronunciation made me laugh

Greetings lovely people from the good ship 2021. I hope this finds you well and ready to tackle the New Year with all the fantastic clean, cold January energy. I do love summer, but I always feel far more productive when it's a bit chilly somehow.

Board games are still in full swing here, being thrown across the room almost daily. Monopoly is an absolute horror, and yet I still find myself saying, 'Oh go on then, just a quick game,' when someone suggests it ten minutes before bed. Honestly, who invents these things?

The littlest boy and I made a trip to the mini zoo nearby. I was very taken with a tree in a pot. A blue cedar? I'm not sure. I do love a nice shaped evergreen in the depths of winter. We spent a long time walking through a wilderness zone without spotting anything much. I was happy that the animals had enough space to disappear, although a glimpse might have been nice.

Homeschool has been rolled out across Above The River Towers. The littlest boy gets to sit opposite me while he has his lessons. It gives him the opportunity to ask for snacks every twenty minutes. I felt the drama teacher may have slightly lost control of it all this afternoon. There was a lot of sniggering and apparently some people were blowing into their microphones and messing about. Oh, and she was appearing on the screen upside down. I really felt for her and was all mummish and stern.

The school seem to be making a pretty fantastic job of it all this time, after the first lockdown when no discernible learning seemed to take place at all. Not in this house anyway. 

I managed to write 100,000 words across November and December in the end, and now I have shrieked to a halt. More discipline needed I feel. I should write that on a Post-It and stick it to the wall.

How are things in your corner of the globe? Good I hope, all things considered. I'm sending you wishes of a very happy and successful New Year. And recommending that you do not even consider Monopoly during lockdown, if you have one. CJ xx

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Merry and bright

Ready or not, here it comes. A bit of baking left to do here, which I'll try and squeeze in somehow. I'm not exactly taking a break over Christmas, but working from home means I'm always here anyway and I can be flexible.

The littlest boy and I made a foray into town this afternoon, more for the exercise than anything. We went to the garden shop for tasty dog snacks. The high street was really quiet. It was closed to traffic early on in the pandemic, which has upset the retailers because of the loss of passing trade. I'm hoping there won't be any losses of the independent shops.

A friend of mine has just opened a plastic-free shop, which is pretty brilliant. An antidote to the horrors of festive packaging. 

I have a couple of little outings planned, but some of the things we usually do and places I wanted to take the urchins are in different counties, and we're surrounded by lower tiers, so we'll no doubt be staying closer to home. 

I've been enjoying walking about the place on these short, dark days. I love midwinter, in particular that last hour of daylight which always seems so magical. Walking home, with lights going on in people's houses, having somewhere warm and dry and cosy to go to, it's such a good feeling. The dog has been less impressed with getting wet paws three times a day, but no doubt he'll toughen up.

On the subject of toughening up, the middle boy made me laugh earlier today. We were talking about the different years at school no longer mix and how it's all one-way now, so there is no more shoving of Year 7s (the youngest ones - 11-12 year olds) out of the way in the corridor in brutal fashion. I felt they wouldn't be properly toughened up. He said they also wouldn't learn proper respect for their elders. On reflection, perhaps an entire tradition will be completely lost. When they get to years 10 and 11, will they instinctively know to knock the smaller people flying? Or will they be all polite and well-mannered? It could change the whole basis of civilisation. 

Anyway, I shall stop blithering and wish you all the very best for the season. Any festive baking to be done your way? I need to knock up a nice nut roast for the vegans/vegetarians and a vegan chocolate pudding for the vegans/people who don't like Christmas pudding, then I feel I must be just about ready. There is food in the fridge (or at least, there was yesterday, which isn't necessarily quite the same thing), the dog has a good variety of snacks plus an exciting new flat squirrel toy to play with, in lieu of an actual squirrel, as they've proved devilishly tricky to catch, and just one door left on the advent calendar. It is a Christmas at the Palace one, and if the last big double door at the front of the palace does not reveal the Queen and a whole bunch of corgis I will be mightily disappointed. I will let you know.

Have a lovely day, and see you on the other side. CJ xx

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

By the rivers

The Christmas tree is up. I sent the eldest to pick it up from the Scout Hut, being as he has all the muscles from the gym membership. I thought I might as well get my money's worth. He had a choice of a thin one or a really, really fat one. He chose the really, really fat one, and barely made it home, having to stop three times en route, despite all of the expensive muscles.

The space we have available is suited to a very slender tree. When I unwrapped the one he'd brought home we all stood there lost for words. It is the world's thickest tree, as wide as it is tall, and exceptionally luxuriant. A triumph of tree growing. And entirely unsuited to the narrow space between the fireplace and the television. I levered it in as best I could. It has a sort of malevolent dark presence in the corner of the room, sucking all the light out of it somehow. The middle boy and I, who tend to sit on a two-person sofa to the left of the fireplace, will not be able to view the television with the rest of the family throughout the festive season. We aren't that bothered to be honest, we're very well suited to sitting outside of the circle making sarcastic remarks that we think are funny, so we'll do that instead.

Photos from a trip to the River Severn (bird watching) and a trip to the River Avon (fishing). Birds but no fish. 

I put my back out the other day. Nothing too dramatic, it'll sort itself out in a bit, but I am blaming the dog. He had an appointment at the groomer's and as soon as he realised where we were going he sat down and refused to move, so I had to carry him the rest of the way. By the time we got there, he was shaking like a leaf. He does try to be brave, but when the chips are down he just wants to be at home on the sofa with me. 

In a moment of madness, I decided to try and write another 50,000 words of the fiction manuscript in December, having managed 50,000 in November. Maintaining the momentum and all that. Along with the day job of freelance writing, it is proving challenging. I have done 25,000 so far though, which is good. If I don't push myself, I think I'm a bit lazy. 

I am considering a bokashi bin. Has anyone ever given it a go? I like the idea of being able to compost cooked food and things. Although the wormery would do that, I tend not to put cooked food in there. I do love fermenting stuff though. I am making a batch of miso at the moment. And I always have kefir and sourdough on the go and quite often some kimchi. It really is rather magical. If you have any bokashi tips or advice to impart, please feel free. And don't be afraid to put me off, I do tend to get these ideas and they don't always turn out well.

Hope all is well at your end. CJ xx

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Of dormice and oven gloves

I fell over in the woods trying to photograph fungi. I was exiting the undergrowth when my feet got stuck and the rest of me kept going out onto the path. I landed splat in the mud, with my camera plunging in deep. Sigh. The dog was bemused. The camera wasn't happy before the mud, it's even sorrier for itself now. But I have a mushroom photo, so I am happy. I LOVE all things fungi. Utterly fascinating, and something I wish I knew more about. One day...

I am pressing on with NaNoWriMo. At around 42,000 words for the month as we speak. It's amazing how much I can get done in November. Why not in all the other months???

I even found the time to eat a chilli the other evening. The middle boy and I were hanging out in the biggest boy's room, which is the nicest bedroom out of the boys' rooms, with a good view and a lovely big south-facing window with a chilli plant on it and space and no annoying sloping ceiling on which to bang your head, and he said, shall I eat a chilli? I said no, oh go on then. So he did. And he seemed quite calm afterwards, so I ate one too. It really wasn't too bad for the first minute or two. And then it was excruciating. Then the biggest boy came in to see what all the fuss was about. He can't stand spicy food, but you know boys and a challenge, so he ate one as well. Honestly, I think we are all barking sometimes. We have just about recovered now, but it might be a while before I make a curry.

I did tofu and roasted vegetables tonight and managed to set the oven gloves on fire. I left them on a hot plate and didn't notice. Then I put my hand inside. I noticed at that point. My finger will probably be okay in a few days. But I fear the gloves are ruined. To be fair, they were already slightly charred, from the day when I washed them, then decided to pop them in the warm oven after I'd finished baking something to dry them off because they're so thick. It turned out the oven was warmer than I'd anticipated and oven gloves are surprisingly not entirely resistant to heat. So they had a slightly toasted look to them before today. Now they are black. There was smoke coming out of the inside bit where I put my hand. Any recommendations for eco-friendly or charity contributing oven gloves gratefully received.

Did anyone see the dormouse story this week? Apparently a dormouse climbed inside of a clear plastic bird feeder tube, stuffed his face with bird food and was so fat that climbing back out was tricky, so he just went to sleep. When the people went outside, there he was, like some latterday Winnie the Pooh, snoozing, with his little furry face against the plastic. The birds carried on eating around him, although no doubt they were outraged.

The people rang the dormice specialists who said to gently release him somewhere safe. Afterwards I was listening to a podcast about how good positive news is for us. We should apparently pollute our brains with it. And I wondered what it would be like if the main news channels led with stories like this. An in-depth twenty-minute segment on the story. No aspect left unexamined. They could slot all of the other stuff into short 15-second announcements at the end, but the thing that would occupy our thoughts for the rest of the day would be all of the cheery dormouse news. Story here if you missed it.

Hope all is well at your end. Any good news stories we should know about? Feel free to share. CJ xx

Saturday, 7 November 2020

A disappointing result


I cannot lie, I am bitterly disappointed about the weekend's results. Although not entirely unexpected, the slide late on to a veritable gulf between the two was a crushing blow. There is always that moment at the start when you think that it will go your way. Ever the optimist, I always set out with huge expectations. Dreams. I picture the victory. Sadly, this time it was not to be. But I shall not be crushed for long. For there is next time, always next time. And that is the thing with Forest Green Rovers, you cannot keep them down. They may have gone crashing 6-2 out of the Emirates Cup, but next week it's Swindon Town and we will SHOW THEM NO MERCY. 

Apologies for the rather blurry photo. My camera is in need of repair but it's one of those jobs that slides ever onwards down the to-do list, never quite making the top. Part of the problem is that I don't have a clue where to take it. Handy repair shops aren't that common any more. And they probably aren't open anyway, so I shall slide it a bit further down the to-do list and Tackle It Another Day.

The two older urchins did some helping out today as I had a mountain of work to get through, which was astonishing and rather pleasing (the help, not the work). The middle one made lunch and dinner and the oldest one raked some leaves up. All with very little moaning. I am wondering if they are up to something, it was so unexpected and surprising. We are not one of those families where people help other people out on the whole, rather one of those families where mother does everything and crashes around the place furiously because no one else ever lifts a finger. I wonder if the winds of change are blowing my way.

The middle boy made me laugh the other day when he said that dinner was 'a lot better than usual'. Oh my. Although I suspect it was today as well. I would be helped if the littlest boy didn't keep getting me to buy obscure ingredients so that he can work through his school cookery booklet (no cooking allowed in school any more) and then not getting round to it, so I have to try and insert them into some sort of nutritional meal. 

At school now they just watch while the teacher does the cookery, although they are allowed to try it afterwards. Apparently on Muffin Day, everyone else on his table left to go home, so he got all of their muffin allowance himself. He lives for that kind of moment. It was sausage roll demonstrations the other day. Apparently (and I quote) there are so many ways to wrap a sausage roll. I had no idea.

Hope everyone is well and cheery out there. Good news on the US election results no? But a real shame about Forest Green. Can't win 'em all. 

Sunday, 1 November 2020


I grew some walnuts. My little walnut tree in its pot finally had around eight nuts on it. I wasn't expecting much, but in fact they were amazing. Proper walnut size, perfectly formed and tasting amazing. I love that sort of brain quality they have. Brilliant.

I picked a few flowers before the storm hit. A pelargonium called Attar of Roses, which is lovely as you might imagine, some roses, Madame Alfred Carriere, and some verbena. There are huge dahlias still out there, but they're a bit big and wet and earwiggy to be allowed into the house.

The littlest boy got a detention last week. Apparently it was yet again a gross miscarriage of justice. He forgot his grippy socks for dance (no more bare feet in case there is covid on the floor) (at least I think that's the theory). Then there was some sort of technical issue and he missed going to the thing that wasn't a detention and ended up getting a red card. Or something. Honestly, the disciplinary system is so complicated I can't always follow it. 

He refuses to show me his dance moves, except for once when they learned something called the Chewing Gum Dance, when you had to stand there doing things with pretend chewing gum. It's the same with drama. I asked him what he was doing and he said, 'Melodrama.' I asked him if it was like being at home and he said, pretty much.

He's started doing The Tempest in English. He was looking at his homework the other day and said, 'There's a lot of it, isn't there?' I asked what, and he said, 'Shakespeare.' Safe to say I don't think they'll run out of plays.

The dog is all about the melodrama as well these days. He's quite anxious about bigger dogs. He lets them sniff him, then after a few seconds he can't stand the tension any more and barks in their faces, just in case they were about to attack. He'll end up with one of those Nervous Dog bright yellow leads at this rate. Or maybe a pale yellow one marked Slightly Dramatic On Occasion. 

I took the littlest boy into the big city yesterday. He had new trainers on and they rubbed after about two minutes so it was not a success. Otherwise I've done hardly anything. Lots of work and a bit of gardening. So I don't feel a lockdown will curtail any wild social whirl. I hope all are well out there and braced for the next bit.

I'm going to have a go at NaNoWriMo again this month - writing 50,000 words of a novel. I've done it the past two years and it's been great. I'm quite busy at the moment, so it will be a stretch. But a stretch is a good thing, no? Any November plans your end?

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Challenge accepted

Greetings all, I hope this finds you chipper and enjoying the chilly autumn days. Photos from the wetlands place, which is looking beautiful. I took the biggest boy for a few hours to see what migrant birds were passing. We walked down to the river, past old World War II pillboxes (small concrete guard houses from where people could watch for invasion via the river).

They had sunk into the landscape a little and were covered in moss and sprouting grass in places. I aimed for a complicated metaphor about how horrendous it must have been when they were built and it was all new and terrifying and no-one knew what was coming and how scared people must have been, but I got lost along the way somewhere and it fell a bit short so we just sat overlooking the river and a field of cows and ate our sandwiches instead. 

The dog and I have been exploring a new park area that the local housebuilders have created. Our little town is being heavily built around, farmland disappearing at a shocking rate and thousands of newbuild homes appearing. The park must have been a planning requirement. It's quite nice and they've made a bit of an effort to encourage wildlife. There are also wooden sculptures about the place. Bert was horrified to trot round the corner and come face to face with a life-sized fox. He stopped and stared at it for ages, daring it to move, then skirted round it at top speed. He really has to summon up his courage for things these days.

Although I am still avoiding most of the main news, with just a cursory glance at the headlines once a day, the littlest boy likes to keep me updated on the important stuff via The Week Junior, a cracking news magazine for children. Honestly, it is so much better than the other news. Did you know for example, a rat has been awarded a gold medal for bravery for detecting landmines in Cambodia? He sniffs them out, but is light enough not to trigger them. 

And someone has reached a speed of 43 miles per hour in a wheelie bin, which is a new world record. We are feeling inspired in this house, I can tell you. Just waiting for bin day then there'll be no stopping us.