Saturday 30 August 2014

Farewell to August

Summer days.  Sunshine, picnics, long country walks, running through fields of corn, laughing, with puppy dogs gambolling at our feet.  So it didn't quite go like that this year.  It was more along the lines of endless hours of Monopoly, awkward car trips with a plastered leg laid uncomfortably along the back seat, showers and slugs, too many library books and a peaky guinea pig.  But I loved it all the same and I'll be sad when it's over, as I always am.  

A few snapshots from this week.  A quick trip to the park.  A treat from the farmer's market.  The boys are loving plums at the moment, and I wanted them to have some proper ones, locally grown Victorias.  They were delicious.  I have high hopes for my little tree at the allotment.  And I'm wondering if I can squeeze in another one somewhere...

Gooseberry and raspberry crumble.  The autumn fruiting raspberries are doing well this year, and they always feel like a bit of a luxury in August and September.  

Card houses.  For a while it got quite competitive.  And ever so slightly obsessive. 

And the grief when someone knocked someone else's down had to be seen to be believed.  You have no idea the yelling and arguments that they caused.  The biggest boy built this one up to sixteen storeys.

The littlest boy walked past a bit too fast causing a slight breeze.  The whole lot fell down.  Everyone was sent to bed.  I had to have a sit down.

We found this chap in the garden.  Not slug, but a lovely silken caterpillar, an elephant hawk moth.  Huge and really fast moving with really grippy feet.  We only picked him up to put him somewhere safe, and we were very gentle and very closely supervised.

I've yet to see the actual moth, it must be enormous.  I do hope he visits when he gets his wings.  I managed to get a very distant shot of this red admiral butterfly.  I'm rubbish at taking butterfly photos, they must see me coming because I never seem to be able to get close.

Despite the feeling that I haven't made best use of the allotment this year, there are still things to pick (including nine cucumbers).   The little people came to help for a brief hour.

I let them loose with the fruit saw, and between them they cut down the artichokes for me.  How they love to wield sharp implements, it's honestly one of their best things.

This afternoon we all went to the country park and spent a while looking at this wonderful view.  This is just a sliver of it, you can see miles and miles of the river from here.

I love seeing the fields turn different colours as the seasons roll around.  The farmers are busy at the moment, we quite often see them working on Saturdays and Sundays, until quite late.  It scares me when I hear that they are being forced out of business.  I can't imagine what the land would look like without them.  This is surely England, ancient churches nestling in tree-filled churchyards, pretty farms set amongst rolling fields, mixed hedgerows full of the diversity of our wonderful wildlife.  I read some John Betjeman poems while I was there.  I feel the same as he did about our beautiful country.

Alpacas.  Pretty no?  And they know it.  It'll be time to knit them into something useful soon.

On the homefront there are plans for warm things.  Some quilt fabric, bought with a voucher from a friend.  I'm liking this one.  I have to be careful not to put too much pink in it though, you know, what with living in a house full of boys.  It will be for my bed though, so I might be able to sneak in a bit.

So all in all things are ticking along nicely here, despite the summer not being John Lewis advert perfect.  Hey, it's life isn't it, bitty, messy, unplanned.  I'm winging it and hoping for the best.  All I can do.

Thursday 28 August 2014

The Colour Collaborative: August: Collection

In the middle of the lovely Stratford Park at Stroud, there's a 17th century wool merchant's mansion, now a museum.

Inside are treasures.

Collections of little things, lovingly, and dare I say obsessively amassed by the Victorians amongst others, who just loved to collect things and then show them off.  I always head for this chest of drawers.

Inside are all sorts of exquisite things from the natural world.

There are drawers of beetles, birds' eggs and butterflies.  None of which I would want to see collected today.  But here they are, these beautiful collections, and it is right that they are preserved.  While it is no longer acceptable to plunder the natural world to satisfy our curiosity and provide a talking point, it is essential to look after the things that have been taken in the past.  While photos and film are wonderful media for showing natural history to the world, nothing can match actually seeing that iridescent sheen on the carapace of a tiny beetle or the subtle speckles on a bird's egg or the stunning colours of a butterfly's wing.

To fully appreciate the miracles of nature, you have to see for yourself.  You have to stand inches away from all of those colours and just gaze at the way they contrast, blend, change and pattern.

I won't deny that I have mixed feelings about the collections, but to destroy them would seem terrible.  Nothing can bring back the life that was taken, but by displaying these beautiful things knowledge and respect are spread.  People come here to draw them, to learn about them and just to be amazed by them.  Tiny, perfect, natural works of art.  So many of the colours are muted, blending in with the world's earthy palette.  Favourite colours of mine, the subtlest of greens, the most delicate of blues, creams of every shade, from a bone white to a rich buttery gold.  Pale eggs splashed in rock shades of brown and grey, each one utterly unique, each brush stroke unlike any which came before.

Elsewhere in the room are different things.  I always like to look at the coins and try and imagine what life was like when they were first minted.  Some are black and softly eroded, some gleam dully and one or two still hold on to the silver shine of treasure despite the many hundreds of years they have seen.

Many of the labels were made by the original collectors.  Along with the collections there are notebooks and journals kept by the people who spent a good part of their lives looking for these items.  They are a fascinating glimpse into life long ago.  I envy collectors their knowledge and enthusiasm.  How wonderful it must be to know so much about one subject, to really study it in depth, to be an authority on it and to happily spend your life pursuing knowledge of it.

A collection can start quite without warning, without you even realising.  And little by little it builds into something that is far more than the sum of its parts.  When you put things side by side, you notice the details far more and you gain a deeper understanding of your subject.  A serious collection is a thing of beauty and importance.  Something that human nature, with our enquiring minds and a thirst for knowledge, is often inclined to make.  Tell me, do you have a collection, or do you wish you could make one?  What would it be?  I'd love to hear.

To visit the other Colour Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts just click on the links below: 

       Annie at Annie Cholewa                                        Gillian at Tales from a Happy House

       Sandra at Cherry Heart                                         Jennifer at Thistlebear

And August's guest poster, Caroline at Scraps of Us

What is the Colour Collaborative?

All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a colour related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about colour in new ways.

Saturday 23 August 2014

Allotment - why

It's hard work, allotmenting.  Really hard work.  Very little of it involves floating round in a pretty summer dress and sandals picking perfectly ripe raspberries or sitting on a bench in the shade sipping homemade blackcurrant cordial and watching the butterflies.  A lot of it involves sweat, actual pain and a never-ending battle with bindweed.

Several of the plots at the site I'm on have been taken over, only to be left, still neglected, until the plotholder is thrown out for not tending their patch.  One plot was visited only twice.  Another one, near mine, which is particularly thick with couch grass, had a 2' x 2' square cleared, and a single potato was planted.  The next time the plotholder came, the couch grass had reclaimed the square and the solitary potato was never seen again.

Ownership of an allotment should not be undertaken lightly or ill-advisedly.  It needn't take over your life, but it does have to become a regular part of it.  The bottom line is, hours of your time are needed.  Hard and dirty work will be required.  On occasion it will hurt.  So why would anyone knock themselves out growing their own food, a good proportion of which will be consumed by slugs, pigeons, rabbits and more insects that you thought possible, when for a small fee, Tesco will bring clean blemish free vegetables right to your door.

I know you'll have heard all of the arguments in favour of growing your own.  The health benefits of course, of fresh, chemical-free food.  Just the other day a study found up to 60% higher levels of antioxidants in organic food.*

Then there's the lower environmental impact.  With no chemicals, no packaging and very few food miles involved in your own food, the footprint on the earth is barely a whisper.

The taste and texture of your own produce is often a revelation.  You can grow varieties that the supermarkets never stock, where the flavours are exquisite.  And you can grow things the supermarkets don't stock at all.  This year I have radish pods, sorrel leaves, wineberries and tayberries.  The more variety in my kitchen, the happier I am.

The allotment community is a big bonus too.  All sorts of interesting people have allotments.  By and large they are a friendly, helpful and encouraging bunch.  The children are happy to see their friends from school and around town there, and they've made new friends too.  They play, they help out, even if it's only a bit, they grow, and without even being aware of it, they learn.

But I want to add one more point to the list.  Something a little less tangible.  Allotments were created in the 1800s to allow people to feed themselves, following their exclusion from much of the common land, which was being divided up amongst wealthy landowners.  They were a necessity for those families back then.  Without their own plot of land for basic vegetables and a pig, life could have been pretty bleak and certainly emptier.  Today, few of us are starving, but in other ways we can find ourselves lacking the things that make life meaningful - quiet, reflective time, a chance to connect with nature and live in tune with the seasons, uninterrupted time with our children, gentle education for them and us and reassurance that despite whatever we may be going through, the rhythmic cycle of nature will keep rolling on.  Summer will always come again.

When I go to my allotment, I shut the gate behind me and I'm instantly in a different world.  That's not to say I don't dwell on problems while I'm weeding, I do of course, but down at the plot I see them in a different light.  I mentally work through them in this calm space and usually they shrink a little and assume more manageable proportions.

For me, the allotment gives so much more than food, it balances me in the midst of this complicated 21st century life we lead.  The real poverty now for many of us in the Western world is in our minds.  We need calm and quiet.  A place without electronic screens and beeps and full calendars and tight schedules.  While I'm there, I slow right down.  I might have to leave at 3 o'clock precisely, but while I'm at the plot there's no rushing.  It's a time for my soul to heave a blissful sigh.

So I'm here to tell you, despite the hard work, it's all worth it.  If you'd like to see the transformation of a plot, from a rubbish-strewn weed-infested wasteland to a beautiful and productive place, have a look here.  It's something I find  utterly inspiring.

*  Organic vs non-organic food - a study by Newcastle University, published 11 July 2014 in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Tuesday 19 August 2014

An even keel

Thank you all so much for your kind comments and good wishes for the biggest boy.  He's a lot less sore now, and today's x-rays revealed that all is healing as it should be.  He can have the plaster off in four weeks, then there will be a brace for two or three weeks and some physical therapy for his weakened leg.  We covered quite a lot of distance at the hospital, it's miles between the departments we needed to be in - firstly the Children's Hospital, then the trauma clinic, then the CH, then the trauma clinic and finally back to the CH.  I stuck the biggest boy in a big wheelchair with a long leg rest.  Someone explained to me that they had been designed so that it was easier to pull them backwards.  We tried it but honestly, it wasn't easy.  So I tried pushing it.  Imagine pushing a caravan.  It had that same kind of motion.  Any slight sideways movement resulted in an enormous arc in the opposite direction to the one you'd expect.  The corridors weren't particularly wide.  I can't tell you how tricky it all was.  It was about a hundred degrees in the hospital and most of the double doors weren't automatic.  As so often, I got hot and bothered and made quite an exhibition of us.  I tried cheering the biggest boy up by running full tilt towards the double doors shouting, "Brace yourself, we'll blast our way through".  His bad leg was leading, so he didn't completely see the funny side of it.  (I did scream to a halt just before we hit, in case you were wondering.  Although I am quite clumsy, so in retrospect I can see why he was a bit nervy.)

He has a dental x-ray tomorrow, and I'm really hoping it's good news there as well.

There have been a couple of other hiccups this week.  A trip to the vet for the guinea pig, and what we thought was a little boiler problem that turned out to be a big boiler problem that will be hugely expensive to repair.  And the boiler is only about eighteen months old.  Yesterday it all felt a bit overwhelming, but today things are looking brighter somehow.  None of this money stuff is the end of the world is it?  It's hard, but there are so many worse things.  So I feel on a little more of an even keel.

I've taken the little people out a bit, to parks and the allotment.  We haven't stayed out for ages, as the biggest boy has been staying at home.  He's allowed to wander around a bit more now though, so I shall lever him into the car and we'll get out and about where we can.

The littlest boy is back on wheels.  I've been shouting, "Be careful" a bit more than normal.

I'm trying to be a bit more relaxed about the allotment.  It will get tidied up eventually, after a fashion.  In the meantime there are odd bits of produce to be had, which we're appreciating.  And I'm remembering how lucky I am to be tending this little plot of land, growing vegetables here where people have been doing the same for nearly five hundred years.  I love the sense of history about the place.  How I'd love to step back in time and see the people who were there before me.

It's a privilege to be a part of this land, and I'm happy we have it in our lives.