Saturday 27 February 2016

February at the allotment

I dragged the children down to the allotment today. It had been a while. There's not much to be done down there when the soil is wet, but today was perfect weather for weeding. It went surprisingly well. The littlest boy tidied all of the old brown foliage from the strawberries and then snipped things with the snippers. Some of the snipping was useful. The biggest boy took a very long time to do a small amount of weeding, but nonetheless weeding was done and I was grateful. The middle boy tidied up sticks and put away netting and hoops and generally helped out.

After a while they all disappeared into the woodland and stream bit with knives and saws and snippers and it was just me and a robin. I weeded and tidied and even found a couple of rogue potatoes. I pulled some of the biggest boy's leeks and when we got home I made leek and potato soup. At this time of year allotment/home grown vegetables are a rare and precious treat.

I talked to the littlest boy while we worked together in a moment of complete harmony about how it would all be worth it in a few months when we would be carrying home full trugs of fruit and vegetables. He particularly likes the fruit part of it all, most especially strawberries.

I'm feeling quite positive about the allotment today. It's a rollercoaster ride, sometimes it threatens to overwhelm me. But there was clear soil in places when we left, and some bits were even almost neat. I've mentioned before that I'm not aiming for show garden perfection, just a fair amount of produce. If I can just about keep (loose) control over it that's good enough.

It's the time of year for big dreams of bumper harvests and summer abundance. All the failures are forgotten, pests are a distant memory and the coming year is going to be amazing. I'm off to sort through the seed box.

Thursday 25 February 2016

Colour Collaborative: February: Metal

Jutting out 800' into the swirling Bristol Channel is Clevedon pier. One of only two Grade I listed piers in the country, it was called "The most beautiful pier in England" by the late poet laureate, Sir John Betjeman. It is made of 370 tons of wrought ironwork, and incredibly was moved into position by hand, before being raised by a crane. The pier is somewhere we pass by often, a landmark on this Victorian seafront, yet it came close to being demolished not so long ago.

It was opened in 1869 to facilitate the journey to Wales, just over the other side of the water and visible in the photos above. Ferries would stop at the end of the pier, at one of the docking points built to accommodate the 49' tidal range. As time went on the Severn railway tunnel opened, in 1891, incredibly taking passengers underneath the river, and meaning less custom for the ferries. Excursions in the Bristol Channel became popular though, and paddeships and steamers would pick people up for pleasure trips.

Then in 1970, disaster struck. Two of the immense spans collapsed under load testing and the pier was closed. The pier's future was uncertain for years, and moves were made to demolish it. A Preservation Trust was formed to save the pier, and Sir John Betjeman spoke in support of its restoration.

Supporters raised over £100,000 towards a feasibility study and the local authority and English Heritage also chipped in. When the decision was taken to save the pier, English Heritage and the National Heritage Memorial Fund each donated £637,000 towards the costs. Many smaller donations were also made.

The pier was dismantled and the ironwork taken to nearby docks for restoration before being painstakingly reassembled. In 1989 the pier re-opened, with the beautiful pagoda at the end being opened in 1998. It's somewhere I always love to walk. The water and the sky are always mesmerising, changing according to the weather and the season. Every shade of grey is there, and at low tide rich brown mud, beloved of wading birds who dabble about looking for worms and tiny crustaceans.

On wild days I tie my hair back and hold on to the rail while the wind whips waves into the water. While the currents underneath are deadly, waves are unusual this far up the channel. The mud is churned up into a milky cocoa colour. On days like this there are only browns and greys. It makes you forget your worries and reminds you how good it is to be alive.

When the weather is more benevolent, the end of the pier is the best place to sit and watch the sunset. Sometimes the sky above the horizon will be the palest duck egg blue and the water will be shattered fiery sun. On a really good day there will be lavender grey clouds rimmed with gold. Over the years countless people have gazed out over the water from here, taking a moment to pause and sigh and think how beautiful it all is. I'm very grateful to the people who campaigned to save this lovely landmark. I think Sir John Betjeman would have approved.

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.

Tuesday 23 February 2016

The turning of the season

I can feel winter drawing to a close. The Bewick's swans are quite sleepy now, a sign that they will soon take to the skies and make that mammoth journey back to Arctic Siberia. Thirty left last night, and the conditions are good for more to leave tonight and tomorrow. It's such a privilege to see them so close, from the hide in the picture they are often just a few feet away. In their summer breeding grounds they will be quite remote, never seeing a person or a building. I'm hoping it's a good year for them and that lots return in October.

The weather was glorious today. After school it was just me and the littlest boy for a while so we headed outside. I mowed the grass, which turned out to be surprisingly long. The littlest boy did things to wood with a hacksaw. He and the middle boy live for the day when they're allowed a hatchet. Me not so much. Underneath all of the thick growth the grass was sparse and the moss was thick. I doubt I'll do anything about it, I'm not too bothered so long as there is some sort of green covering. A robin flew down after I'd finished and picked about finding something or other to eat. I can't imagine covering the grass with moss killer and then watching the wildlife walking about in it.

In the pond I could see definite movement, and when I looked out of an upstairs window earlier I'm sure I saw something jumping in. In the kitchen I opened the drawer and looked at the packets of seeds. Soon, soon.

Friday 19 February 2016

Five on Friday

Joining in with Amy for the first anniversary of her Five on Friday link-up.

1.  Games are popular round here in the winter, especially with the littlest boy. If he can't find anyone to play with he'll play all by himself. The other day he played Monopoly on his own. Last night I played Connect 4 with him until it got a bit wild, then a few rounds of Postman Pat pairs. He doesn't mind that the cards are quite babyish, in fact he's rarely bothered about things like that. He beat me rather a lot. I'm guessing there's so much information in my brain that it's almost full, with no room for Postman Pat memory cards.

Other favourites are Whot, which I played when I was little, Labyrinth, Coppit (again one I used to play), Yahtzee and chess. The evenings are getting lighter though, yesterday he was still outside playing football with a friend at 6 o'clock. So before long it will be all about the ball games.

2.  There are one or two buds in the garden. The camellia, rosemary and also the peach blossom. I'm not sure if the peach is earlier than usual, I think it might be. A late cold snap won't do much for our chances of peaches. Nor will the perennial flying footballs, see 1. above.

3.  I am powering through the pain of giving up eating yummy things for Lent. After two or three weeks I'll be fine, it's just the first bit that hurts. My willpower fades as the day goes on. By teatime I'm hopeless.

4.  A little something from Nick Hornby that made me smile. Some homework excuses, borrowed from publishers' rejection letters. Here's one to give you a flavour of it. "I'm sorry I haven't done my homework, but my homework diary is currently full, and I'm not looking to take on anything else right now."  The boys have made notes.

5.  The beautiful Bewick's swans (photos by the biggest boy) will be heading off back to Arctic Siberia before too much longer. I shall look forward to their return in October when they'll have their youngsters with them. As time goes by I appreciate the rhythms of nature more and more. I love to see wildlife featured on other blogs.  I wonder, those of you who like the natural world and walking in the countryside, was it something you did when you were little? I'm wondering if this is an important part of creating a love of wildlife and the outdoors. If so, I really hope it's something I'm passing on.

Wishing all a good weekend. CJ xx

Sunday 14 February 2016

A puff of smoke

And just like that half term is over. The PE kit is packed and by the door, the dinner money is in an envelope and the children have been neatly put away. It's been a good weekend. A tenth birthday for the middle boy with indoor climbing (fantastic) and a meal out and then an ice-cream cake at home. The ice-cream cake was a triumph. Nigella's recipe; vanilla ice-cream, smooshed up with a Crunchie, chocolate chips, lightly crushed bourbon biscuits and honey roasted peanuts. And hot chocolate sauce made from dark chocolate, cream, Camp coffee essence and a spoon of golden syrup. As you know, I am all sophistication over here. We were feeling a bit tired after a long week of scampering about, but somehow that perked us all right up. In fact some of us had to be scraped down from the ceiling.

This evening I am having a little sit down after cleaning more football and walking boots than you could shake a stick at. If you listen carefully you can hear the washing machine sobbing quietly as it works its way through football kit, clothes and a pile of coats. This morning there was this season's most thrilling football match (a hard fought, well deserved victory). The other side's coach was a bit mouthy and I felt quite a lot like yelling something childish at him when we won. I think I was a bit over-excited by the drama of it all.

I took the boys for a last walk this afternoon at Sand Point above the Severn Estuary. Ironically there are pebbles, mud and salty grass but no sand at all that I saw. Maybe I was looking in the wrong place. Or maybe there is some intriguing story behind the name. A local official with lofty aspirations perhaps. Or a resident with ideas above their station. We love it there anyway, sand or no sand. As I've said before, that mud is teeming with life.

It was pretty fresh up there, it made me think I really must invest in a hat. We scrambled down to the beach and found a sheltered spot to make a driftwood fire. We could have done with something to toast. Next time I shall be more prepared.

For those of you who are just starting half term, I hear the weather is set fair, and I hope you have a good week with a happy adventure or two.

Wednesday 10 February 2016

I'll see your button and raise you a house, the wife and the children

It's been wet at the wetlands. Storms, floods and high tides. Perfect for waders and ducks. Although apparently they did have a bit of trouble landing on that stormy day we had. I tried to take photos with colour in them to start with. But after the duck with the blue bill (how pretty is he?!) I ran out of colourful subjects. I don't mind though, I love these muted colours of winter. All too soon there will be bright colours. I always like to hold on to the end of winter. It's such a nice time to be tucked away at home. Any day now I will have to start work at the allotment and in the garden and all will be busy, busy, busy. But the dormant time is a restful treat.

It's half term here, apparently a different week to the rest of the country, so everywhere is blissfully quiet. And today, blissfully sunny. We ate too many pancakes yesterday, and now I'm trying to impose a "less indulgent" Lent. I have given up sweet things and salty snacks. The first few days will be the trickiest. Although wait until the children find out they've given up crisps.

Everyone around here seems to be in various stages of succumbing to a horrible cold. I'm trying to avoid the germs by shouting, "Don't breathe on me" at regular intervals. Tomorrow I'll break out the garlic. Happily I have lots.

On Monday I inadvertently taught the children to play poker. They were trying to work it out themselves so after a while I stepped in and explained the basics. Before I knew it we were all sat round the table with piles of buttons trying to win, win, win. The sun was shining so I drew the blinds. An hour later when the sun had gone in and it was gloomy and we were all still sat there, some of us (not me) still in our pyjamas I wondered if I'd made an error. I used to be a croupier, and I've seen plenty of misery from gambling. I remember a man who'd never been in a casino before, but who won an unfeasibly large amount from a small stake. And who was convinced it would happen again, so he kept coming back. I heard he lost everything. A man who won £17,000 from a stake of £400. But it wasn't enough to buy the restaurant he wanted, so he came back again and again to try and get to the magic figure. It took him a week, but he lost the lot. A man who lost a seven figure fortune in shops made over a lifetime. I have story after story after story. I dealt roulette to someone who lost £30,000 in under two hours once.

So you will understand my shock at how we were suddenly all sat round playing poker. The biggest boy lost all of his buttons and asked for some more. I ttold him that this is how it starts. Today some buttons, tomorrow you'll be selling the house, the wife and the children. I've lightly banned it now. Have I made it more alluring? Sigh. It's all so complicated isn't it.