Thursday 31 December 2015

Colour Collaborative: December: Berry

Berries are the jewels of winter. While everything else is pale and frosty or in every shade of brown, berries are a splash of carmine in a monochrome landscape, all the better for birds to find them. Whichever season they ripen in, the birds will never be far behind to gorge on the edible fruits.

This is the perfect time of year to add berries to the garden. Bare root strawberries or soft fruit canes will settle in happily now and start to bear fruit in the summer. Firstly the fresh green of acid sharp gooseberries, then pale green strawberries swelling in June. They're usually ready in time for Wimbledon.

Then come the deeper reds of raspberries and tayberries, with their delicious tangy taste. The clear crimson of wineberries. And at the allotment handfuls of the deepest purple blackberries.

In pots on the patio are blueberries. I photograph them endlessly as the berries change from an icy pale green to pink to purple before they reach perfect dark blue ripeness. They like ericaceous soil but otherwise they're easy to grow and very pretty as well. In autumn the leaves turn a spectacular range of vivid reds.

Berries are the easiest of things to grow. They are undemanding but every year they give one of the best harvests in the garden. If there's a sunny corner in your garden I guarantee you won't regret popping in a plant or two.

It just remains for me to wish you all the happiest of New Years. I shall be resolving to do all the usual stuff - be healthier, lose weight, write more, achieve a few things. You never know, 2016 might be the year it sticks. CJ xx

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

             Jennifer at Thistlebear                 Sarah at Mitenska

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.

Sunday 27 December 2015

The return of Superman

look closely - daffodils! In December

Ah, Christmas. 364 days away. Bliss. Don't get me wrong, I do like it. But I like to get past it as well. I'm eyeing the tree and wondering how soon I can slide it into the green bin. It hasn't been helped by the sudden diabolo craze around here. It was a late request from the littlest boy, and somehow Father Christmas managed to pull one out of the bag. The biggest boy also has one, and the middle boy has a yo-yo. The living room is full of flying objects. The diabolo-ers are getting all tricksy and swinging it round their heads and throwing it back and forth to each other. The tree is crashed into on average about once every seven minutes. My nerves are in shreds. I know, I say that every year. Anyway, the tree is leaning and no longer looking its best and its days are numbered.

We went for a walk on Christmas Eve to look at pretty cottages and houses looking deliciously cosy in the fading light. I do so love Christmas Eve afternoon. Then yesterday we went to the beach where the wind was roaring. The littlest boy had a new Superman costume for Christmas. You may recall how much he loved the old one. He was so happy to have a new one, also a Batman top and cape, some camouflage trousers and a couple of camouflage bandanas. He was thrilled with it all and has been wildly mixing and matching ever since.

Down towards the dangerous sinking mud a man was digging for bait. I took the middle boy down to see what he was getting, in the interests of furthering his fishing education. The littlest boy came too. We got to about six feet away from him and suddenly my boots sank through the surface crust of the mud and I WAS SINKING. There are danger signs everywhere advising you not to go too far out because it gets to the stage where you just can't pull your feet out. I started dancing around like a maniac and shrieking "I'm sinking, I'm sinking" and although I'd been on top of the mud just a moment before I couldn't for the life of me get back to a bit where I wasn't sinking. The bait digger said helpfully, "You should have worn your wellies." I managed to suck myself out, but honestly, the mud was all over my feet by that time. We never did get to see what he had in his bucket. I did learn a little something about how far to go out. But I still don't understand why no-one else was sinking. Not even his car. It couldn't be that I was the fattest could it? I'm not going to have to make a New Year's resolution or anything am I?

So that's the news from here really. Christmas - over it. Diabolo - look out! Mud - new respect. You?

Wednesday 23 December 2015

Perfect day

glorious mud

far distant waders

some sort of weather event in Wales

After a wild and windy solstice the weather today was glorious. Well, for December anyway. Blue skies (some of the time) and hardly any rain. I took the boys back to the river.

When I was little people would always be complaining about the mud along the Severn Estuary and the Bristol Channel. But it's this wonderful mud together with the huge tidal range that makes the area a unique and important place for wildlife. It's teeming with organisms that attract a vast array of birds and fish. Apparently 100 species of fish and 260 species of birds. Waders and waterfowl are particularly common here. The biggest boy saw all sorts today; wigeon, little stint, oystercatchers, dunlin, a purple sandpiper and a couple of Brent geese to name a few.

What may at a glance appear to be acres of unappealing mud is in fact an internationally important site, vital for overwintering birds, and also a Site of Special Scientific Interest amongst other designations. More than 85,000 birds spend the winter on the estuary, and there are many passing migrants as well. The more I learn about the area, the more I love it and am amazed by it.

The middle boy was happy there too, as the tide was coming in and fishermen were about. We found someone who'd caught a dab, and we chatted to them all and picked up a few tips in readiness for him becoming a fisherperson himself.

The littlest boy took his scooter and zoomed around in his usual high energy fashion. He'd been promised a fire on the beach and toasted marshmallows. We lit the fire just as the sun set. The driftwood was fairly damp and took a bit of persuading, but it took in the end, just enough for marshmallow toasting. The best bit of the afternoon was when the tide came in at the end and washed into the fire. Doesn't get much better than that when you're seven and a half. He told me several times that it was one of his best days ever. Me too sweetie, me too.

As we left, lights were on over the other side of the bridge and newly arrived fishermen were settling in for an evening's fishing, hoping for cod I think. If you go a bit deeper than a first glance, this landscape of mud is really rather magical.

While I'm passing I shall take this opportunity of wishing you all an excellent Christmas. I'll see you on the other side. CJ xx

Monday 21 December 2015


I've broken out the festive cheese. We don't always have food from the farmer's market, it's a rare treat, but when I can I like to support local farmers and producers. So the other day at the town's food market I picked up some cheese made over towards Bath, by cows grazed in fields that I know well.

It's sad that buying something a bit different, something very local, something that has its own unique flavour and process can't be our normal way of shopping, but on a limited budget I can't buy lots of food at the farmer's market every week. That's not to say that the prices are in any way too high. Overheads are substantial, people need to make a decent living, and in my experience the products are usually worth it.

This cheese certainly was. The sort of cheese that makes you want just a bit more. Not as hard as a cheddar, delicious with an apple and really full of flavour. It made me want to share it with you, although I'm aware that me eating a piece of cheese and telling you how much I enjoyed it isn't sharing in the classic sense. If you were here I'd cut you off a chunk though.

It also made me think I might share some more locally found things. Perhaps in the New Year. Maybe as something that you could join in with too. It wouldn't have to be food, it wouldn't have to be something you bought. Something grown, or foraged, or made by someone locally. I'd like to see what's out there in the world, on your doorsteps so to speak. Things that don't come from China via Tesco. An apple that fell into your lap from a tree on the corner rather than one that flew here from New Zealand and then got wrapped in a big plastic bag. A vase that was made by a potter in a back garden studio in the town up the road rather than one that came in a batch of 10,000 from China.

I love to find things that are unique and different. A high street that doesn't look like all the others. Or with at least one or two shops selling local wares. I shall think about it for a while and maybe return with more thoughts on the subject. I think it would be encouraging to see what lovely things are out there. I was so inspired and motivated by your comments about sustainability over Christmas.

So I shall go away and think, and in the meantime leave you with a final cheese shot.

Thursday 17 December 2015

The curtailing of the lyrical waxing

I don't have any recent photos. Not a one. The above is a picture from the school Tudor Day a couple of weeks ago. The castle in the background is actually Tudor, and just happened to be nicely lit up in a spot of sunshine (remember sunshine?) on the morning in question. A shame about the road and the signpost - I wished they had taken the children into the castle grounds and taken some photos, it would have been amazing. I've mentioned the castle here before, it's a luxury hotel now, but they are incredibly generous at allowing the local children to visit, with school, beavers, cubs and even pre-school. They haven't forgotten that the building is an incredible piece of history to be shared with people.

Although there are no new pictures on my camera, I wanted to come here anyway and say thank you all so much for your amazing comments  on my last post about a more sustainable Christmas. It made me feel incredibly positive and motivated. There were tales of handmade beeswax candles, decorating the house with foliage from the garden, locally sourced food, presents wrapped in re-usable sacks, allotment vegetables, sparkling wine from Sussex and many, many handmade gifts. So much thoughtfulness and cutting back. It made me happy to read about it all, well done you lovely greenies, you've inspired me, thank you.

Tonight was the school carol service. The smallest ones dressed up in nativity costume and several of them ran down the aisle to the stable. No major incidents though, and interestingly no candles this year. Maybe the combination of small boys and naked flames has been tested to its utmost and they decided not to push their luck any further. I was a bit disappointed. You know how I like to come here and wax lyrical about flickering flames lighting up ancient stone walls. There are a certain amount of cliches I need to get into every occasion, and I can't do it if they go electric.

I'm wondering if my lack of photos is because I've already taken them all last year. A nice shot of the mantelpiece stockings, a close-up of a particularly good bauble, floury mince pie making. But I do like comfortable routines and traditions. It helps me know where I am in the year. Sometimes its pictures of bees on chive flowers, sometimes its apple blossom, sometimes its a bird in a leafless tree (ooh, yes, I haven't done that one yet this winter). Right now its angels and candles and banging on about ancient stone. You have been warned.

Sunday 13 December 2015

The last drop of light

There are less than eight hours between sunrise and sunset here at the moment. I love it. Sunrise at 8.07am and sunset at 4.02pm. I took the above photo from upstairs this afternoon as the light faded. It was a grey slightly misty day today, a little chillier than recently. I watched football in the morning and I watched football in the afternoon. The middle boy scored a couple of goals which made him happy. He's a defender, so goals are a rare treat. The littlest boy had a go at being in goal in his match and saved a few. His biggest brother claimed it was all due to his rigorous coaching of his littlest brother, ie. relentlessly hammering balls at him as hard as he can for hours on end.

We bought a Christmas tree from the school fair yesterday. I had my annual grumpy festive moment when I discovered that the bottom of the tree hadn't been sawn off properly and had an awkward long strip of trunk sticking out from it which meant it didn't fit in the Christmas tree holder. Cue much huffing and puffing and muttering while wielding a hacksaw in the middle of the living room floor. I was literally wrestling with a Christmas tree. You can imagine what the carpet looked like at the end of it all. I managed it after a fashion, although it was leaning a bit so I've had to prop the holder up in a couple of places with some of the children's paperbacks. Lemony Snicket and Roald Dahl on one end and Philip Pullman on another end. You can always rely on a Philip Pullman. We covered the tree with our usual stylish mixture of pre-school decorations, mismatched angels and every bauble we could get our hands on.

I'm finding the constant media urgings to get more stuff for Christmas combined with news from the climate change conference an indigestible mixture. I never like the wilder excesses of the festive season. Mountains of packaging, wrapping, plastic that will be in landfill before we know it, rubbishy stuff imported from thousands of miles away. I honestly hate it. I try very hard not to contribute to that bit of the festive season, but I know I'm part of the problem. In my kitchen there is packaging that I didn't want, didn't ask for. Gifts that aren't made in this country. Christmas cards with their toxic inks and wasteful production processes. The planet can't support it all.

I'm trying very hard to be smaller about everything this year though. More ethically sourced gifts. Food with less packaging. Locally produced things. I don't mean to cast a shadow over it all, just to think aloud a bit. Over-consumption is nauseating, the shops are making me feel anxious and claustrophobic at the moment. I wish I had a big badge that said, "I'm opting out". Just some simple gifts for the children, a nice meal, some food with friends. A bit of greenery from the back lane, vegetables from the allotment or a local farm. I feel that I'm a long way from that at the moment. But it's somewhere I'd like to be headed.

Tell me, do you have any green tips for the festive season? Anything you're not doing, or wish you weren't? Please know that I'm the last person to criticise or be smug about anything. But I'd like to do things a little bit more sustainably somehow. Any inspiration gratefully received.

Wednesday 9 December 2015

A visit to the river

I do so love winter. The cold, the grey, the biting wind tangling my hair. I know I can say this with ease because I have a warm comfortable home to come back to afterwards, and I am not forgetting those who don't and those for whom winter has brought misery.

But in the midst of all the lights and frantic activity and mass consumerism, I love to get far away from it all and fix my eyes on the horizon and breath deeply. Grey is such a soothing colour I think. An antidote to the clash of Christmas colours. Down by the river on Sunday there was grey aplenty.

I've written before about this immense river of ours. Under the bridge, the Second Severn Crossing, it becomes the Severn Estuary. We stood underneath for a while. The noise of the motorway above is strangely absent when you're directly below the road.

This is the end of 220 miles of river. It starts in the Cambrian Mountains in the middle of Wales, some 2000 feet higher than here. The way the estuary is shaped causes a funnelling of sea water up the river, which has the second highest tidal range in the world. On a high tide, the water rises almost 50 feet. The currents are swirling, lethal, and below the water are sandbanks and mudflats ready to trap the many ships that pass this way. The nearby docks send pilots out to bring ships in, it's a requirement that their experienced pilots are used in these dangerous waters. I wouldn't like to be out there now, and I certainly wouldn't have liked to be out there in the 1700s.

It's a quicker route to Wales though, so for a long time people have been braving the currents. The other bridge is further upstream, nearer to where we live. A big suspension bridge, but too far into the gloom to show up well in a photo. I've probably mentioned it before, but when I'm crossing the river on one of these bridges I tend to sink my nails into my palms ever so slightly. I like to see the river, but preferably from the bank.

Out on the water there were birds bobbing around. Maybe 300 wigeon. It's a great place for birds, they love the mud flats that are exposed at low tide. There were fishermen as well. Given the middle boy's sudden love of all things fishy we went and had a chat, and watched hooks being baited and cast into the murky water. The currents swirl up mud and sediment into the water, making it the colour of hot chocolate.

It can feel more than a little godforsaken down by the river, but I love it, wherever we are along its banks. It scares me more than a little, which is good, this much power needs respect. But I love the power of it too, how it has always been there, how people have tried to cross it, live by it, earn their living from it. This far downstream it isn't always pretty, but it is always magnificent.

Sunday 6 December 2015

Berries, moss, a bit of wind and the mysterious cosmic power of FC

How I love a walk in the countryside. It's been a while since we've laced on our boots and gone out on an adventure. There's something particularly magical about a winter walk. All that soft grey light. I love to hurry back as the sun sets after lamps come on in cottage windows.

It was really windy up on the top of the ridge. By the beacon the boys were leaning into the wind at about 45 degrees. They loved it of course.

Father Christmas came round tonight in his sleigh with his friends from the local Round Table. When he came to the door to see if we'd been naughty or nice, the internet connection cut out. It didn't come back until he was a street or two away. I think he is channelling some sort of cosmic interference. Hardly surprising giving his mysterious powers. He may be headed your way next, so do watch out.