Friday, 27 March 2020

Waving from my window

I hope this finds you well, despite everything.

Here at Above the River Towers we are no doubt doing many of the same things as you. Walking once a day, dog in tow, online school and PE, a little basketball and tennis in the garden, mowing the grass and adjusting to the new normal.

The boys have been playing together more than they have for ages. There has been bicycle maintenance and even voluntary room tidying. And obviously some enforced, reluctant room tidying as well, I wouldn't want you to think we are abnormal or anything.

Two of them are already in shorts and t-shirts, as if summer was already here. I suppose for my eldest this really will seem in retrospect like a never-ending summer.

The streets are incredibly quiet, despite the allowance of an exercising outing every day. I imagine dogs are missing their doggy chums and wondering why it has all changed.

The little local pharmacy has a queue of around fifteen people standing down the street at any one time, with only one person being allowed in the tiny shop. I am not quite sure what they're all waiting for, given that no-one is unwell at present.

It was lovely to see a post from Soule Mama recently. I especially liked her edict to embrace boredom. I am always saying that sort of thing around here, to much eye-rolling of course. The children have been more creative in the past few days though, digging out old half-built models, rediscovering art, watching things in the pond, playing games and just generally having fun together. All the sorts of things that get lost in the usual busyness of life.

I hope you and yours are all well and that things aren't too difficult for you. I'll pop in again soon and say hello, but in the meantime, take care, and thank you for visiting, it is always appreciated.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Well then

I hope I find you all well in these troubled times. Things here are no doubt much as they are everywhere else. We are slightly shell-shocked from it all to be honest. The biggest boy was working hard, ready for his GCSEs in eight weeks' time, and then suddenly cut adrift. I am so disappointed for him. Not only will he not have the chance to take his exams, but all of the other rites of passage have gone too. The last day of school before study leave, the leavers' assembly, saying goodbye, the scary weeks of exams and revision and more exams and more revision, the hard work, the sweat, the tears, the really earning something, then the exhilaration of it being all over and the sudden hard-won freedom, the prom and the endless weeks of summer. And finally, that envelope, after doing his best and trying his hardest.

I feel very sorry for all of the GCSE students and even more so for the A-level students who are no doubt also worried about their university places. I think it will take us a few days to adjust. Apart from anything else, life has suddenly become rather empty for him and his friends. Days have gone from a rush of school, gym, revision, football training and matches and cricket practice, with every spare moment used, to wondering what to do all day. He did some chemistry today, I think the study habit has become ingrained. But I do also know that we are so very lucky in everything we have and that this is just a bump in the road. Onwards and all that.

The school has closed already, so the house is full and the dog is wondering what is going on. There are a lot more opportunities for naps when everyone is at school.

I am rather struggling to come up with other things to say today. I am limiting myself to reading just a few headlines every day, and having heard some of the ludicrous stories doing the rounds I think it's a wise move. But still, it is tending to fill my thoughts, as it no doubt is for everyone else.

I did read somewhere today that reading for just six minutes a day reduces stress by 68 percent, so I am taking that on board. And wondering if I read for 8.82 minutes whether 100 percent of stress will be gone. That must be right, no?

Look after yourselves my lovelies, and stroke a dog if you can find one. xx

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Of frogs and drama

There are a hundred shades of brown out there at the moment and a whole lot of mud. No doubt it is the same where many of you are. I have been slipping and sliding about the place and endlessly washing shoes and boots. Football has been called off, over and over, and the streams are overflowing.

I've been busy trying to effectively split my time between freelancing and fiction writing. I find that I can focus on one, but both - not so much. It's infuriating. I so want to be one of the people who can do all of the things. I maybe need to jig my day around a bit and do more of the concentrating stuff early on. I try and work in the evenings, but the creative energy has mostly evaporated by then.

During the day the dog keeps me alert by demanding regular walks. We pound round the green until oxygenating blood is pumping through our brains, then we zoom home and I work while he lies on his back with his paws in the air recovering. At least I don't suffer from sitting still for too long.

Now it's March I can detect the season turning. The Bewick's swans have departed for the Arctic tundra ready to raise new cygnets and many of the pochard have headed off to Eastern Europe and Russia.

It seems to me that the media have reached hysteria point with their coronavirus coverage. Honestly, the children came home with umpteen dramatic stories on Monday, not one of which was true. Tales of it being in the next town, in the next school, of teachers who have it, of the school being closed for three months, of the end of civilisation as we know it. Hurray for all of the apps and the connectedness of everything, otherwise we'd all be ignorant of the impending doom.

I make light of it, but the fact is it has caused real anxiety to some. Anyway, that's more than enough from me. I didn't come here to be all dramatic and philosophical. I am very much concentrating on channelling light at all times at the moment. Although I did actually come here to share the death of a frog with you so that you could sympathise with me vis-a-vis the clean-up operation. The frog in question appeared one day, floating upside down in the pond, having shuffled off his mortal coil. I like to think it was a natural end from old age, after a happy and fulfilling life. But the fact was that someone needed to Deal With It. And believe it or not, there were no volunteers. Every time I went past, I would think, that needs to be dealt with. And I would pop it on my mental to-do list and hope that it was indeed dealt with soon.

And then one day, as if by magic, it was gone. There is a message for us all in there I think. Put off the dreadful stuff as long as you can and it will all sort itself out. Or something like that.

Sunday, 16 February 2020

How to manifest tasty things

My pile of Books To Be Read is pleasingly blue at the moment, although I'm not sure about All The Light We Cannot See. Someone recommended it, but I just haven't got round to reading it and I have the feeling that its moment may have passed.

The dog and I have been dashing out and about between showers, and occasionally in showers. There's nothing quite as scrumptious as coming in and drying your paws in a patch of sunshine afterwards.

In the garden, there's a camellia in bloom and as of today, frogspawn (and many frogs) in the pond. In fact the water level in the pond is at a maximum level and the stream where we walk in the morning has flooded.

I discovered the mystery of the Knight course - it was in fact an investigative journalism course that I thought would be useful because a character in the book I'm writing is going to train as one. The course is run by the Knight Foundation. Obviously it would have made more sense if I'd written 'Investigative journalism course' in my diary, but I would have lost the element of surprise as I sat down on Monday morning to find out exactly what I'd signed up to.

The dog has been practising the law of attraction with astonishing success. The littlest boy made a gigantic fat ball for the birds at Scouts. We hung it in the peach tree and the dog proceeded to sit underneath it staring at it. He kept at it regularly, going out there day after day, concentrating on vibrating at the same frequency and picturing his life with the fat ball in it. And do you know, it worked. One day, a giant chunk of it just fell down. Oh the dog was thrilled. It just goes to show the best things in life are worth working for. Although to be honest, I think it wasn't quite as tasty as he'd been imagining. It was basically a vast amount of lard with sunflower seeds stuck in it. He ploughed through as much of it as he could though, and kept up with the repeated staring, and gradually, piece by piece, the whole thing fell down.

And if you think that's amazing, wait until you hear about the squirrel. Bert and his little chum were strolling along by the stream one morning, shooting the breeze, when there was an enormous crack and a whole branch fell down, right in front of them. This was before the storms rolled in, so nothing to do with the weather or anything. We were all astonished, but it was NOTHING compared to the surprise when we realised there was a squirrel on the branch. Picture us stood there, dogs and their people, momentarily frozen, as the squirrel picked himself up, dusted himself down, swore lightly then raced off towards the closest tree. Honestly, it was at least four seconds before anyone moved. Then, it was all quite chaotic for a moment. The squirrel made it to the tree though, so all was well.

So there you have it. If you try hard enough, persevere and really focus, you too could make squirrels actually fall out of trees and land at your feet. Do it!

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Three brothers in a boat

Just a dog picture today and nothing else. I did put a new waterlily in the pond, but there is nothing less photogenic than a waterlily in winter, so I don't have a shot of it. Think of a black dripping container with nothing sticking out the top of it and you'll be on the right track. We are enjoying the last couple of thick fluffy weeks of Bertie before he has an appointment with the dog groomer. He looks like a proper cockapoo at the moment. When we pick him up he will be more like a brown lamb. One of his little white dog friends had such a close shave the other day she is actually pink. Bert was horrified.

Around here we have very much been enjoying the story of three brothers who rowed across the Atlantic. They are the youngest trio to have done it and the fastest. It took them just 35 days and what I found most incredible of all was that they didn't kill each other. I still vividly recall the biggest boy trying to capsize us all in the canoe experience at the wetlands place after just seven minutes. Apparently the three brothers played their bagpipes, harmonica and ukulele to entertain each other. We were all lost for words. Although there was some discussion as to who would be eaten first in the event of a food emergency.

I found an interesting entry in my diary the other day. It says, 'Knight course: week 1'. Then there are similar entries for the following three weeks. I do very vaguely recollect signing up for a free online course in something, because I recall wondering if I had time for it, and then deciding that I might be able to squeeze it in, and what was the worst that could happen. But I cannot for the life of me remember what the course is about. Google has not helped. I suspect it was late at night and I was lured by the idea of some interesting advertising and the thought of Improving myself. Is it an actual Knight course? Was I thinking, perhaps in a dissatisfied moment, of running off to fight in the crusades? I have searched my Inbox for a clue, but alas there is none. I am hoping for an email on Monday to enlighten me. In the meantime I am putting my affairs in order and practising pulling swords out of stones. I do hope they give me a horse.

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.