Sunday 24 December 2017

Above the city

I made mince pies. I haven't baked in ages and comments were being made about the lack of them. So I dug out the star cookie cutter and got stuck in. I put orange zest and a little icing sugar in the pastry and made it with orange juice, as suggested by Nigella, who always makes Christmas look so effortless. I topped some of them with a little crumble topping that I happened to have left over, and they were delicious.

After lunch we took the dog for a walk. We went to a park in the city this time. In the distance we could see Ashton Gate stadium, scene of Bristol City's recent victory over Manchester United, oh yes they did. (See how smoothly I dropped that into the conversation there?) City scored the winning goal in the 93rd minute. Jose Mourinho shot off at top speed, gave his interview to only one reporter, called Bristol City lucky several times and was gone. Very special indeed Mr Mourinho. Shall I translate for my overseas friends? Manchester United - huge football team. Bristol City, not so huge. Different league, literally. 93rd minute = the very last minute of the game. Jose Mourinho - Manchester Utd's manager, nickname, The Special One.

Apparently there was some travel snafu on the Manchester team's journey home and they had to go on a coach instead of a flight. They didn't get to Manchester until 5am. I am imagining The Special One was particularly special by that time.

Okay, I shall stop enjoying it now, I know it is not becoming. I am off to prepare myself for the day now. Plans include the supermarket (I know, I know, but we're out of cream and the biggest boy and I cannot possibly face Christmas without cream on everything.) Make the nut roast. And I know they have a bad rap, but I really like them and I make one every year. And then of course walk the dog. There's a lovely village we like to go to where we look at all the lights and wreaths on the door and the pretty rooms all decorated for Christmas. You will recall of course that looking in through windows is completely legitimate at this time of year. And at any other time of year if people put the lights on and don't draw the curtains.

I am wishing all a fantastic festive few days filled with peace, love and contentment. See you on the other side. And remember, BRISTOL CITY 2 - Manchester United 1. CJ xx  PS  Ellen, they're against Man City next time...

Thursday 21 December 2017

On solstice day

Thank you all so much for your lovely words on my last post, they were moving, kind and very  much appreciated. I have gone back to read them several times. Thank you.

Life is galloping on towards Christmas here of course. The littlest boy finished school on Tuesday. He had to do two more days than the big boys, which did not go down well. I have been typing furiously on my laptop whenever there's a peaceful moment, finishing off stuff as soon as possible. The biggest boy asked me if I was still working on my website. Did I tell you about that? I think I did. I deleted it, with the thought that it would be quick and easy to re-do with a website building package I have. Turned out, not so much.

Anyway, he helped a little, then I abandoned it put it to one side for a while. Don't worry, it still has a prominent spot on my To-Do list. Here's a snippet of our conversation today.

Biggest boy: Are you still working on your website?

Me: Yes, I am. Well. You know. I will be.

Biggest boy: If you bought yourself a new laptop I could have your old one and I could do your website for you.

Subtle no? I declined his kind offer.

When I'm not doing writing things on the laptop, I'm dog walking (or hoovering up the leaves that attach themselves to the dog during said dog walks). On the dog walking circuit there are rumours of local dog poisoning. All very third hand. I don't know what to do with them. Do I mention them to other dog walkers, thereby spreading what could be a ridiculous made-up thing, or do I not mention them and leave people in ignorance of possible trouble? First I heard that a dog had been sick. Then I heard that three dogs were dead. In a park just spitting distance from where we walk. It's troubling stuff. But no hard evidence and nothing in the local news.

Nothing either on the grapevine at puppy training. Last Saturday was the Christmas party. Oh yes it was. A dozen dogs, some in fancy dress, in high excitement, doing all of their training things. A fat little French bulldog, all rolls of chubbiness, was dressed as a Christmas pudding. If ever a dog was born to be dressed as a Christmas pudding, it was him. We took food and the littlest boy made it his mission to eat it all.

When we arrived, someone had left a tray of the most beautiful little smoked salmon pinwheel sandwiches on the edge of the table. Perfect, dainty curls of salmon and cream cheese. Bertie made a lunge for them.

Me to biggest boy: Watch the dog, he nearly got the sandwiches!

Biggest boy, looking in derision at the tiny, exquisite daintiness: Those are not sandwiches.

Between them the three of them made a good dent in the buffet. They never let me down.

The fridge is stuffed with food right now. I fear I may have shopped too soon. As it happens however, there is no room left either in there or in the freezer for any kind of beast ready for roasting. I am wondering if I can get away with nut roast all round on the big day.

The younger two have some sort of virus at the moment involving a temperature, headaches and very pale faces with dark rings under their eyes. I have told them that if I catch it I shall take to the sofa with a hot water bottle and they will have to spend Christmas Day preparing me an assortment of tempting snacks. Be careful what you wish for.

Wishing all a peaceful solstice, with light and warmth and contentment. CJ xx

Friday 15 December 2017


December is speeding by in the usual flurry of glitter and lists. I write them on the back of scrap paper and those slips the library puts in reserved books. There are always more things being added than crossed off.

I went to a funeral this week of a second cousin. I wasn't going to write about it, but I have all these thoughts that I just want to put somewhere. She died suddenly, having been in good health, and everyone was shocked. She was the most truly good person I have ever known. Everything she did was for other people. She lived a life of service and selflessness. I thought one day she would be old and it would be her turn to have people visit her and do things for her. It seems unfair that that is not to be.

She never married and never left home, and after her elderly mother died she spent every Christmas season in London working in a homeless shelter. She kept in touch with every friend and relative she  had, visiting, writing letters, inviting people to her home. She had planned her funeral, down to the last detail. Every hymn, poem and prayer was carefully chosen. She specified that no-one was to give her any tributes, 'even supposing you could find anyone willing to do so'. That made me cry. The church was packed, absolutely packed, and every single person could have spent an hour paying tribute to what an amazing person she was.

She cared for the natural world and asked for a funeral with as little environmental impact as possible. Recycled paper for the orders of service, car sharing to the little church on a hill where she was to be buried. She loved being with friends and family and sharing a meal with them and wanted hospitality extended to all who came to the funeral. There was a lovely spread in the church and photographs from her life.

She was generous, kind, clever and possessed of a deep, unwavering faith. She truly embodied Christianity. I doubt she was ever once irritable or judgemental or anything less than charitable. She treated everyone she met with the same friendliness, courtesy and genuine interest.

I know that by writing a tribute I am going against her wishes. But when someone that unique leaves this world it is hard to let it pass unmentioned. I left the funeral wanting to be a better, kinder, more patient person. Her example was shining. An overused phrase, but in her case, apt.

I woke up early this morning with these thoughts running through my mind. And the feeling that she was gone too soon. I sat in the chilly early hours to write some of the things down, just to remember things I don't want to forget. There are many memories of visits to her when I was little. I shall write them somewhere else, just for me, there are too many to put here. I used to love walking her dog with her and her mum. I was allowed to hold the lead and it was just the best thing. The littlest boy would have loved that too.

Their home was peaceful, tranquil. I was allowed to borrow an Anne of Green Gables book when I visited, and it was such a treasured thing. Her mum, my great-aunt, would make the most delicious tea and there would always be cheesies which were also the best thing. I asked for the recipe many years later. And now I'm so glad I have it. Sometimes things are left too late.

On the day of the funeral it rained and rained, but the sun came out at the end of the service and shone through the windows for a moment. It was incredibly moving. Her final resting place is at the top of a little hill, looking out for miles over the beautiful countryside. We stood around the grave and the wind howled and the rain lashed down and it all felt right, as it should be. The wildness of it all. I shall visit and leave flowers sometimes. I won't forget to visit and I won't forget the force for good that she was. I am so grateful for her life and for her example of how to live and for having known her.

I hope that hasn't been to heavy. An interlude among the holly and the glitter. When I got home I put my umbrella up in the biggest boy's room to dry where the puppy couldn't get to it and destroy it. Late that evening when I was in the living room there was a bit of a thump. The biggest boy came down and opened the door and said 'Sorry, I accidentally stood on your umbrella.' He had it dangling from his hand, more comprehensively destroyed than even Bertie could have managed. Spokes dangling, canopy crumpled. It had to be seen to be believed. I told him, "Never mind."

Friday 8 December 2017

Skipping through beech woods

Regular readers would be forgiven for thinking that I spend my entire life blithely skipping through beech woods in pursuit of the little brown dog. The little brown dog no doubt wishes it were so; woods are absolutely his favourite thing. The sticks for running around with! The rustly leaves for running through at top speed! The smells, oh the smells! Someone said to me the other day they'd like to have their dog's nose for a day and see (well, smell) exactly what it is that they can smell. A single spot can warrant a full two-minutes' sniffing. So much information to glean.

In the woods above Stroud we found a whole load of dogs exactly like the little brown dog only in different colours. Cream ones are pretty, but oh how they show the mud. Bertie can be top to tail mud and we can just ignore it.

Inside the house there has been a tiny bit of knitting, an even tinier bit of reading and the odd bit of baking.

I made Delia's banana and chocolate chip slices with some leftover bananas. They were a triumph. Well, the biggest boy loved them, which pretty much equates to the same thing inasmuch as it means they will all be eaten really quickly. I was happy to find a good recipe that uses up leftover bananas, quite often I'm not keen on banana things, but these were delicious. And probably the foundation of Norwich City's rise to greatness. (For those from faraway lands to whom the words Delia and Norwich City mean nothing: Delia is Delia Smith, one of the original tv chefs who pretty much taught the nation to cook and Norwich City is her football team.)

No more inside photos I'm afraid. There are no exquisite little magazine quality corners to photograph around here, it's mostly boots set out to dry and damp washing. I was going to post a picture of my dying desert rose plant and ask for suggestions, but as the rest of blogworld is all glitzy and pretty it just seemed too tragic to show. I've tried everything, but it's not happy. Any suggestions gratefully received. It might have started when I repotted it. Or when I took over ownership of it... Maybe it just misses the desert. The southwest UK is a long way from sub-Sarahan Africa. Anyway, I shan't give up until the fat lady sings.

I spent yesterday evening repairing a big rippy hole in the biggest boy's favourite coat. He made the mistake of carrying his skateboard up against it and the grip tape (sandpaper-type skateboard top) ate straight through it. The repair necessitated finding a ruler, of which there must be about fifteen in the house, I know because I KEEP BUYING THEM, but do you think I could find one? Where do they go???

Talking to the biggest boy while I mended, I discovered that some bloke I spent a day with last year on an eco thing we were doing is actually a sort of tv celebrity. I had no idea, thought he was just a normal person. But he was an actual real life celebrity! How did nobody tell me? I could have been all sorts of embarrassing if I'd known.

Off now to get to grips with the weekend. Because in December I find that's the best I can hope for. It will be a fast madness of end of term appointments and shindigs and football and of course dog walks. Maybe they are all that's keeping me sane.

Friday 1 December 2017

All of my news

And just like that it's December. The biggest boy and I had a first run-through of Ding Dong Merrily On High after tea. They'll probably have banished us to the garden by Sunday.

The dog is sweeping up fallen leaves with his long fur wherever he goes and then later gently shaking them off all over the carpet. He is scruffy and knotty and doesn't like being combed at all. Any suggestions on how I make him love it, or at least submit with good grace gratefully received.

The littlest boy is in trouble for poor presentation of his homework. Turquoise biro, masses of crossing out, backwards slanting writing and general chaos on the page. But he loves to write and write and write and will often knock up a quick story of an evening. So I am forgiving the turquoise biro shambles.

The biggest boy was looking up quotes from Much Ado About Nothing on the computer for his English homework. He put in Shakespeare and Google told him that Megan Markle is related to Shakespeare and Churchill. All the important stuff is out there.

The dog and the littlest boy are practically the same person, only one is a dog and one is a small boy. Both love sausages, both are fairly crazy and love running about madly, both get SO overexcited by lots of life's little things, both love dogs, both drive me bananas on a fairly regularly basis and both are obsessed with gloves. The littlest boy has asked for two pairs for Christmas, really grippy, which you may remember from a previous (many thanks for your suggestions about where such things might be found, I am on it) and running. Last year it was camouflage. And previously it has been goalie, cycling and skiing. We also have cricket and everyday warm. And extra cycling ones. They live in a basket in the hall, and the dog spends his days carrying them about and leaving them around the place. Honestly, never were boy and dog more suited.

And that is just about all the news from Above the River Towers. Two more busy weeks before the end of school, then we will be in full-on holiday hysteria mode. Brace, brace, brace.