Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Best intentions, sliding

The dog has eaten a fat ball. That's the whole trouble with January, isn't it. You start off with all of the best intentions, then you see a fat ball that someone's left lying around for the birds and in five big gulps it is all over and you are left trying to digest a mixture of seeds, dried insects and half a pound of lard. As I write he is lying on his back with his legs in the air dreaming of finding another one. Honestly, the stuff he finds when we're out on a walk astonishes me. There is someone who puts out a mountain of food for cats or foxes. He dines well if he can escape me at that point and head up their garden path. Then there are the elastic bands and balloons, he has rather a taste for rubber I'm afraid to say. There are the leftover sandwiches that the school children half eat then throw away. Similarly most of a hot cross bun. The unmentionable things. A whole week of finding raw sprouts all along the path (I later found out from the littlest boy that some boys in his year had been throwing sprouts at each other after school finished for Christmas). And now fat balls. To his credit, he didn't bother with either the dead pigeon or the dead sparrowhawk. I am grateful for small mercies. He is clearly taking the 'Eat Local; Recycle' message very seriously.

On the subject of things green, I always enjoy reading about the things people are doing to tread more lightly on the earth. No-one can do everything, but all the little things do count so much. I particularly enjoyed Mel's post this week at Three Ravens. And Amanda's Instagram feed at Small Sustainable Steps for those of you who like Instagram. Both beautifully encouraging.

Around the house the geraniums are getting a bit leggy and waiting for spring and the staghorn fern is enjoying the humidity in the bathroom. It's an odd thing with its antler-shaped leaves, covered in down and its circular fronds at the base protecting its limited root system. In the tropics it gets much of its water and nutrients from the humid air. I'm not sure it will like the blazing sun in the south-facing bathroom in summer, so it might need to relocate, perhaps to a hanging spot somewhere. That will leave me with a plant-shaped space in the bathroom...

I fitted a new toilet seat earlier. I know, I know, the glamour of it all. It made me VERY sweary. Why can they not all fit perfectly in some sort of nicely arranged standard fashion? And of course once you have unpackaged it there is no taking it back. It's all a bit dicey to be honest, I am absolutely certain there will be complaints, but I reached the point where I ceased to care. I may wrestle with it another day when I am in a more amiable mood. Which may be in the far, far distant future. I hope you are all far calmer than me and enjoying the January energy.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

On sloths and helicopters

I have started 2020 in spectacularly unproductive fashion. No idea why, but honestly, I am like a slug. Or like a sloth which, thanks to a visit to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, I now know moves incredibly slowly and comes down from its tree just once every eight days for a poop. Apparently it has a very low-nutrient diet, so the slow moving is all about energy conservation. No-one knows why it bothers coming down the tree to, you know. Intriguing, no? The exhibition was brilliant, I can highly recommend it. Stunning images and really interesting stuff written about each one too, to wit: sloth lifestyle. The littlest boy was lured along with the inducement of pizza afterwards.

Does anyone else have a problem getting their dog to eat a worming tablet? It is bone-shaped, but quite frankly not fooling anyone. Bertie, who will eat all manner of revolting stuff that he finds in the gutter, will not touch it, even if it is crushed up with a sardine or covered in egg. We spent a whole evening trying to get it down him, and in the end I had to carve out holes in giant pieces of Cheddar and put the pieces in there, then fill in the holes with more Cheddar so that he couldn't see/taste it then drizzle the whole thing with sardine oil. Honestly, it was such a drama. I was out most of the evening, and when I got back he still hadn't eaten most of it. I have a feeling that he'd had half an egg, a sardine and a pound of cheese though. The following day he was delighted to find that someone had put out a huge amount of cat (?) food in their garden (either for cats or foxes I assume) and he managed to get most of that down his neck as well. There has been some gas. He is not in the least bit bothered.

Later on in the week I forgot to go to an important meeting about steering your child through their GCSEs. So now it looks as though I don't care. I have tried hard to make up for it, by all manner of helpful suggestions. I have looked up past papers, found the powerpoint presentation on the school website, run through different methods of revision and asked many irritating questions. We feel that I have probably done enough now and no more is needed of me. In fact, I caught the end of Weekend Woman's Hour earlier and apparently it is no good being a helicopter parent or a snowplough parent any more, we need to be a trampoline parent and just sort of bounce in when it all goes wrong and be supportive, then fly back off up into the sky. I am standing by.

Now if you'll excuse me I am going to go and read all about productivity and how to get some. Any and all tips gratefully received.

Sunday, 5 January 2020


Well, the whirlwind has passed and now we are on into the good, clean energy of a new year. We went with the incendiary combination of under-the-weather, over-tiredness and board games for much of our indoor entertainment. I bought Catan for the urchins and they loved it, especially the littlest boy, who would play it twenty times a day if he could. The rest of us are slightly less keen. A small amount of television was watched, although as I had the seat behind the Christmas tree I didn't really see any of it.

We marched the dog around the place, much to his delight. At least, I hope it's delight. It's hard to tell what he thinks of walks really. He rushes around checking up on us all and making sure there's nothing scary round the corner, so maybe it's all quite stressful for him. He certainly sleeps well afterwards.

I've managed some garden tidying recently, which has been very satisfying. I did a couple of hours one afternoon while feeling a bit flat and it perked me up no end. And yesterday I tackled the pond, which is one of my least favourite jobs. I fished out leaves, fallen pears, golf balls and all of the pebbles that the dog had rolled to the bottom. Also the basket from the tiny waterlily that died when the pond was overrun with duck weed. So now it is all ready for the mass influx of frogs which is no doubt not far off.

I also did loads of pruning of things. Apples, wisteria, grape vines, the climbing hydrangea, fig trees and box bushes. I've no idea if it's the right time of year, but it's done now. There is a rose blooming believe it or not. In fact I saw a whole bush full of flowers on a dog walk earlier today. It's been a mild winter so far.

I am plunging on into the New Year with all of the optimism as usual, and of course all the anxiety, but let's ignore that. I have lists and goals and dreams and hope. And I am wishing many good and happy things for you all, and contentment, for this year and for the decade. Onwards friends, onwards.

Monday, 23 December 2019

What's on my list

The littlest boy and I made a foray to the zero waste shop in the city today. All the food is sold loose and you take your own containers. It's on a long street famous for the number of independent shops and we had a wander up and down. There were loads of little delis and wholefood shops and greengrocers and bakers and cafes. It really reminded me how great good can be. I forget that sometimes, living here with not much more than the supermarket. Not that I am complaining, it's just that I found it really inspirational, seeing lots of different foodstuffs.

There was a butcher's and a cheese shop next to each other, with chains hanging down over the entrance and a dog with his head stuck through the doorway, looking for his person and smelling all of the good smells. It would have made an excellent photo, but being as I was weighed down with bags I let the moment pass.

Otherwise we have been marching about the countryside with the beast. We were excited to find a new electric fence on one walk. There were lots of cries of, 'But is it actually live?' Of course, in the end we all touched it to find out. Honestly, I don't know what's wrong with us. It was in fact live. And we did all survive unscathed, although my hair seems a little curlier now. Could just be the humidity.

I took some winter solstice sunrise pictures from the window the other morning.

You can just see the castle in the first one, with its flag flying. I love to see the birds roosting at first light, it always seems so peaceful somehow. Whatever tumult is going on in the world, they are unconcerned. I have splashed out on the good bird food for the bird table to keep them going through the winter months.

On the subject of birds, I found out just the other day that 2.6 million songbirds are killed each year by olive harvesting machines. There's an article about it here, which explains how it happens. At night, the olives are sucked from the trees along with roosting birds. It's horrendous. We aren't eating olives here any more until we know that the practice has been stopped. If they were harvested during the day, the birds would be fine as they'd be able to fly away. But at night the lights confuse them and they're killed. So, no more olives for us. And as little as possible from China, given their record on human rights, particularly Muslims being thrown into concentration camps. There's a list of Things Mum Won't Buy in this house, and it's getting longer.

I remember when I was little we wouldn't buy things from South Africa. Every purchase is a vote for the sort of world we want to live in etc. etc. I'd be interested to hear if there's anything you avoid for ethical reasons. Always looking for more things to add to the list...

Friday, 20 December 2019

Generation X actually

A glimpse of blue sky and a taste of sun, although I think it has rained every day since and the water is rushing down the streams. The dog's route across one bit of water was cut off this morning and he had to gallop through the stream to get to me. I try hard not to put the lights on until the children get home from school, but I end up peering at things in the gloom. It seems a bit much for them to get home to a house where the curtains are already drawn though.

Photos from a walk along the sea front. There's a marine lake there (penultimate picture) and people like to swim in it, even in the depths of winter. In fact they were diving in while we went past. In moment of madness sheer bravado I said that I would put on my swimsuit and get in next time we go there. For a second it all looked really healthy and invigorating. The truth is I can hardly bear to get in a heated swimming pool when the air temperature is sweltering. I think I am probably highly sensitive. Hopefully they'll all forget I ever said it.

We have a Christmas tree now. I was a bit sweary when the car ended up full of pine needles and then later when I'd hoovered and the dog knocked a load more off so I hoovered again and the dog knocked a load more off so I hoovered again and, well, you get the picture. I have calmed down now. The children have put all of the decorations out of the dog's reach, so every single bauble is piled on to the top third of the tree and the rest of it is completely bare except for a string of lights. It looks like goodness knows what, but I am channelling my inner calm and letting it all wash over me.

Here's an interesting thing. The children had an election, a day or two before the actual election. They had the parties' manifestoes to read before they voted. The Green party won and the Lib Dems were second. The Conservatives were last by quite a long way. From memory, that is exactly the order in which Greenpeace ranked the parties in respect of their environmental policies. I am hoping that the future will be brighter for the planet.

In other news, the children have had to explain their insults to me. That's how uncool I am. Apparently 'Ok boomer' is a thing Young People say to the Older Generation. Happily it wasn't directed at me, being only Generation X, apparently, but honestly, it seems I have to look up more and more stuff. Acronyms are out of control and jargon is rife, without people making up new insults.

We are all paddling towards Christmas, although a virus is circling and the urchins have had temperatures and headaches and are a bit on the floppy side. No doubt they will all perk up once they hear the jingle of distant sleigh bells. Hope all is well at your end.

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Gold, frankincense and myrrh

I wanted to come here and write a post a couple of days ago, but alas I had no photos. I still have no photos except this one that I snapped in the city centre last week. I got in a horrible pickle with the one-way system (again) and ended up accidentally driving down a bus lane, for which I have been fined £30. Sigh.

The mud is really starting to take hold around here. I spent the weekend squelching about, firstly at the fishing lake, then through various football places. Today the dog seems to have a crispy underbelly which I am guessing is mud. The advantage of a brown dog is that I can just pretend that it's not there.

Anyway, almost no photos, and when I made a photobook as a gift the other day I realised that I don't have nearly as many of the children as I used to. They like to go about and do their own thing more of course, plus they are not so keen on having the lens turned on them. It was mostly moody shots of clouds hovering over Welsh mountains and the dog shooting past in a blur of fur and flying ears. Even he is not keen on the camera.

I have been ignoring the festive season and hoping that it goes away. For some reason it is causing me all sorts of anxiety and stress this year. I am spending far too long thinking about it, but I'm not quite sure why. I had some sort of a shouted conversation with the eldest about it. I couldn't quite follow it and I think I may have lost, but it was something to do with 2.2 billion people (his point), people just wanting stuff (my point) and presents being ancient and traditional, vis-a-vis gold, frankincense and myrrh (his point). Me: Oh, so you want gold, frankincense and myrrh do you??? Him: Wouldn't mind. I am working on it. Wouldn't want to disappoint.

The exciting local news is that there are four brand new trees on our morning dog walk, planted as part of a plan to put in 1,000 trees in the town. Bertie approves wholeheartedly and was straight over to check them out. Also, a dog was lost and then found, which is exactly the sort of happy news story I like to hear. You may recall I have sworn off of political news until something sensible happens, so I am on the lookout for cheery items by way of replacement.

On the subject of cheery, the library was utterly delightful today. I popped in on my way to the shops and the rain was hammering down on the skylight, the lights were on, the librarians were chatting happily in a quiet rain-induced lull and I was surrounded by books. I think I'd quite enjoy working in a library, although you know that as usual I am seeing it all through rose-tinted glasses.

I shall endeavour to take some photos soon. I'll creep up on the dog when he's asleep or something. In the meantime, a bientot.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Cut to the quick

The beast and I went up past the allotments to walk in the woods at sunset today. There were all the browns and muted colours of winter and peace and head space. It was just us and the wild things. Bertie ran about making sure we were safe and that nothing was lurking in the undergrowth.

I managed the 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo which felt good. I just need to keep up the momentum now, which will be trickier.

I am thinking about Instagram. Should I be there? I don't really have any lovely things to photograph, that is the main problem I think. Just the brown things, of which the dog is one. Maybe the dog should have an Instagram account. I follow Alice Hoffman's dog you know, and very lovely she is too. But brown dogs photograph less well, so I am wondering if I need a more Instagrammable dog. Something in beige or light grey. It's a slippery slope.

The biggest boy was doing his French homework the other day. I peered over his shoulder. The question, written in French, was, Which do you prefer, holidays at home in the United Kingdom or holidays abroad? I read through his answer a couple of times.

Me:  Does that say that you like to go abroad but your parents have no money and don't like to do anything risky?

Him (after a long pause, then a smile which he clearly intends to be winning): Pretty much.

Me: I wonder if you should add in that your mother likes to be eco-friendly and therefore is not one for jetting off about the place willy-nilly, but conscientiously sticks to her principles, for which I greatly admire her and one day I hope I grow up to be just like her?

Him: We've got Health and the Environment coming up, that would go better in that topic.

Hmph. It better had. I do risky stuff. I cycled around Morocco on my own several hundred years ago and more recently I've been down the underpass near the big Tesco and eaten a samosa that was three days out of date. Honestly, they think I don't live.

It strikes me that children's homework must be quite revealing about their lives. Right from Year R when their Best Day Ever was going to the park and having an ice-cream or seeing Mickey Mouse at Disneyland, through to Year 11 when it's a damp week in Wales with the poverty-stricken olds or a month skiing in Barbados with excitingly risky parents. The littlest boy is not above making things up, which puts us in a much better light, although sometimes I have to admit it is alarmingly violent and pretty much unsupervised. I am waiting for a knock at the door.

I hope all is well out there and you are all being suitably risky and well-travelled. Mind how you go.