Friday, 21 September 2018

Thermos at the ready

Gloomy photos from dusk at Bath the other day. I went to a novel writing thing, which wasn't very good, I should have gone for a wander round the old streets instead. The person I had gone to listen to was squeezed in at the end for a short while. I would have liked to hear more of what she had to say. But never mind, I was a little motivated, so all was not lost.

You find me bracing myself for a weekend in the wind and the rain watching the children do outdoor things, mostly football. Sometimes I pretend I'm outdoorsy, but the truth is, deep down I just love being at home when it's cold and wet. I tell myself that I will appreciate it all the more for standing outside for six hours. I take little treats along for myself. A hot drink, something tasty to eat, a book, in case I have the luxury of ten minutes in the car, something else tasty. Honestly, I'm such a wuss. One of the biggest boy's best insults is when he says to one of his brothers, 'You're so special.' For example when they have something different to eat because they don't like what I've made everyone else, or when they get a lift because it's raining. Well, I am special too and I will go all damp and shrivelly if I'm exposed to too much rain and cold without a sufficient level of treats to sustain me.

Bertie and I have been making regular forays to the community orchard this week, in the wake of the high winds. There are lots of windfalls to be had, Cox's Orange Pippins no less, the king of apples, and I have helped one or two out of the tree as well with my ball flinger. There's a bit of a technique to it, although to be honest I haven't entirely mastered it yet. Quite often the apple lands on me or Bert. Sometimes he picks it up and runs off with it. But I do have a very good apple crumble in the fridge. I am planning on taking the littlest boy, who is as you know a top tree climber. He'll shin up and get a few good ones from the outer branches with any luck.

On the second visit there was a cat there. Bertie was absolutely beside himself - a cat, and he not on his lead! He was spinning round and round like a whirling dervish, and barking and racing in (but not too close) and back out again. At one point he turned his back for a moment and the cat shot silently up the Cox's Orange Pippin tree. Bert turned back round, and oh, his face. Hang on, where did it go? Cat? Cat? Where are you? There was a cat wasn't there? But, but, where..? Oh the confusion on his dear little face. The cat sat up the tree watching his every move. I left it in peace and didn't bother with the Cox's apples that day.

Has anyone seen that trailer on BBC1 for a sort of game show with little coloured suitcases - red, blue, yellow, orange, green? I honestly thought for a moment it was for a programme about Brexit. I am now officially unable to distinguish between politics and game shows. It's slightly worrying.

The wind was whipping little white-topped waves into the river this morning when we went for a walk with our whippet friend. Now I have a cold. Not caused by the wind of course, but by all of the germs the children have bombarded me with since going back to school. I thought I had avoided it, but I can feel myself gradually sinking into uselessness. Maybe I will be excused football duty. No, that's just ridiculous, there are no days off for colds. I will strap on my Thermos, wrap all my scarves around my head and be a complete martyr for the entire weekend. And yourselves?

Monday, 17 September 2018

The seaside town

The beach has taken on a more end-of-season quality now. Deckchairs are still out, but jumpers are on. Children are still in shorts and a t-shirt and demanding ice-cream, but the rest of us have a coat to hand and are eyeing the hot drinks. Bertie loves it more this way, and I think I do too. It's more bracing. He can run and run without having to lie down and pant, and we can walk over miles of sand and enjoy mostly just the company of other dog owners and a few kite surfers.

The biggest boy is doing photography at school and had an assignment to take some images in the style of Martin Parr, so the beach was the perfect place. Lots of ice-cream stands and bucket and spade stalls and people doing the seaside things. It's a typical Victorian seaside resort; if you look beyond the seafront chippies and cheap bars there's a whisper of its former splendour to be seen, but on the whole anywhere on the front has been commercialised in some way. A couple of streets away there are rundown Victorian terraces, once grand, but now split into flats and bedsits. The occupants don't have the money for the upkeep of the grand buildings, so they are falling gently into dilapidation. Maybe one day they will be 'gentrified' again, such is the circle of things.

I like visiting the beach town. All life is there. The summer days are a raucous jumble of children and adults trying to control them and stalls and shops selling the horrible ubiquitous plastic rubbish. As night falls the atmosphere changes and the revellers take over. There are pimped up little cars making endless noisy circuits of the sea front, boys in tight tops with tattooed, suntanned skin, hanging around in tense groups, waiting for something to happen. Girls fluttering around the edges, short skirts, all the make-up, expectations high. You know how it is when night falls in the summer.

A couple of streets back from the front it's edgier in places. Dark corners and seedy bars, drugs deals and muttered half-conversations that only make sense to those in the know. Energy with nowhere else to go spilling out into a fight, drama created for the sake of creating drama, for something to do. Action, to give the night a purpose, to make a memory.

For some it attracts while for some it repels. Some just like to go and watch and take it all in. Life, and lots of it.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Peak begonia

Spotted this pub yesterday which appears to have reached peak begonia. At home in the garden, things are waning, and I'm picking up windfalls every day. It's crumble season, although I think the apples and pears might have suffered a bit from the hot dry spell we had a few weeks ago. The pears in particular are on the small side and a bit, well, I don't know the horticultural term, but they're sad-looking.

Thank you for all of your good tooth wishes. It's on the mend I think, and I am eating proper food, although I wish I had more time to cook things. As ever, the weekday evenings seem to be a perpetual rush. But I am joining in with the fam now and not living on yoghurt and custard. Although I do like to just have a bowl of overnight oats instead when I cook them something non-veggie. Pretty much my favourite thing in fact, but probably not the most nutritious dinner. My appetite is just a bit jaded I think. Maybe from the iron tablets I've been taking, I'm not sure. It seems to be a bit of a vicious circle. The less healthy food I eat, the less I feel like eating it. I am needing to take myself in hand and give myself a stern talking to. Just as soon as I muster the energy.

The littlest boy and I took the dog for a walk yesterday afternoon and then to a dog-friendly cafe. Bertie hasn't really got the hang of Walking Nicely with a loose lead or of Sitting for long periods of time when he's away from home. On holiday he could go for hours on the beach without ever sitting down. But we persevere. In the top photo it appears that he is lying down quietly, but really it was a twenty-second interlude. Here is an outtake where I have him in more of a death-grip. We didn't stay long.

I spent the entire day today working hard in house and garden, and I'm absolutely worn out. Things are a little bit neater, but it does feel like the tip of the iceberg. I am trying not to worry too much about all the jobs though. There simply aren't enough hours in the day, so I'll do what I can and the rest won't be done and that's the way it will be. I shall learn to not get in a state about things in the wrong place and mess and untidyness, I shall. The biggest boy says to me, 'Mum, you are so NEAT'. He makes neat sound like a bad thing. I like neat. It's just the way I'm made. I do try to leave things unneat, but I just can't do it. A rod for my own back, I know. Sometimes I think people move things around just to torment me. Maybe I need hypnotherapy or something. Then people could leave a mess and I just wouldn't care. Wouldn't even notice. Of course the question is, would they notice? Probably, when they couldn't find their football socks or their pants weren't in the right place. It's tempting to try it and see.

Hope all is well out there with you and that your corner of the world is all neatness and order. Bertie says thank you for all your kind comments about his sausage trick. He is working on something new involving a hoop and a cushion. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Just custard for me please

A little urban snapshot for you today, from an end-of-hols trip to Bristol. The top one is Christmas Steps, a famous old street running down the steep hill into central Bristol. The biggest boy treated himself to a new skateboard with his hard-earned money, the middle boy bought fishing stuff and the littlest boy had a new knife, as he has temporarily misplaced his all-singing, all-dancing Swiss army knife and he finds it hard to be without one. He likes to sit and whittle things in the garden, nothing dangerous, I hasten to add.

Bertie has a trick that he would very much like you to see.

Look, little pieces of sausage balanced on the back of each paw, and he isn't eating them. Oh, the concentration this requires. Other tricks, like not chewing the washing, are still a work in progress.

I have a bad toothache this week, involving waves of pain followed by grumbling pain. It is all I can do not to devote this entire post to it actually. I was finally forced to the dentist, who was very sanguine about it all. I was braced for root canal surgery or antibiotics at the very least, but he complimented me on my brushing (he did!) and said that all it needed was some mouthwash as the gum was inflamed. On the home front it may have harmed my credibility slightly as it doesn't require any extraction or amputation, but I am as happy as someone with toothache can be.

I am eating only non-chew foods, which has got a bit boring already. Overnight oats, yoghurt, cream of mushroom soup and custard. I risked a slice of Wensleydale earlier and tomorrow I shall do something with an egg I think. If it doesn't clear up soon I can see myself ending up with scurvy.

The urchins have raced back to school and the house is quiet and calm. I miss them of course, but by the time half term comes around I shall be nicely used to the peace and order and I'll be in a flap again. It's a rollercoaster, no? It will soon be time for the littlest boy to look round the big school. I'm certain my baby is far too small to survive such a thing. All those beastly big boys! He would of course love to be home schooled. We could stay home together everyday, whittling things while solving quadratic equations and doing a bit of physics before lunch. Although I suspect he would soon be missing his school friends and all the fun they have together. He thinks he's not keen on school, but I think he'd miss it if he didn't go.

I had a little tidy of the garden at the weekend, in between the last of the cricket and the first of the football. It's made a huge difference about how I feel about it out there. Now it all looks (fairly) neat and tidy and I'm liking it again. Amazing what a bit of a trim and some lawn mowing can do. Very occasionally I sit on the back step for a moment when I'm supposed to be cooking the tea, and I soak up the peace and quiet. I can see the garden through the back of the all the plants, and it feels all green and calm and jungly.

I am off to root around the kitchen in search of more non-chew foods now. When I was little and I had a loose tooth I was allowed honey sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Sounds like a plan.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Riding high

You find me riding high on a wave of purchased popularity here at Above The River Towers. I've bought the eldest two something they each really wanted (hoodie; bike) and I am quite frankly flavour of the month, yes I am. Well, flavour of the day at the very least, we all know it won't last.

The last of the roses are blooming here. I've been giving the garden a post-holiday tidy up, although there are still quite a few jobs to be done. The days seem to be ridiculously rushed at the moment though, as the boys try and cram everything into the last week of the holidays. My head is in a spin. Not helped by the coffee I should add. I never used to drink it, but somehow I have started having a cup or two each day. Some of the coffee out there is seriously strong, especially if you're not used to the caffeine. It's probably not the best idea for someone who regularly struggles to sleep, but I seem to be sliding down a slippery slope. I am already eyeing up portable coffee cups made from eco materials like bamboo and cork. There's a bewildering array.

On the home front I have been having a light declutter. Nothing major, just cupboard tidying, removing things we don't use, sending books to the local community bookshop, that sort of thing. I do so love decluttering. The boys just seem to require an unending stream of stuff. I am quite strict about what comes into the house, but even just the necessities just, well, big. Big piles of food, big piles of laundry, big piles of books and more bikes than I can shake a stick at. The littlest boy has somehow managed to acquire three. One that he found at a local community shop. Another one that does something different (BMX?) that he also found there and bought with his own money. And one that his brother outgrew that he purloined. The middle boy has his eye on a second bike that does something different to his normal bike. I fear it is for doing dangerous stuff. He has shown me videos of someone riding something similar along the edge of a three-storey building. It makes me feel a bit peculiar. Anyway, I am pushing back against the tide with a smidgen of clearing and tidying. It's that end-of-summer energy I think. Clearing the way for all the new ideas and plans.

I have also been decluttering here on the blog, as it seems the spammers have found me. All very tedious. I deleted almost 100 messages the other day. What on earth do people gain from it all?

Any plans at your end for the last days of summer? There's still time to eat ice-cream at the beach, declutter the garage and take up a new vice. Let's do it.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Every dog and his day

It was a wet dog walk this morning. But we did it anyway, Bertie finds it tricky to be good all morning if he doesn't have a proper early gallop along the stream and over the green. We bumped into a cockapoo chum, and her person told us it was National Dog Day. It seems that almost every day is National something or other day, but after a year and a bit of dog ownership I think dogs do probably deserve their own day.

The above picture is one of the most recent I have of the Bertster. He puts a huge amount of effort into trying to keep his pack together and safe, and watching them heading out into the surf is a bit disconcerting. We spent many hours on beaches last week, and he didn't sit down on the job once, he was constantly on the go, checking up on us, making sure he knew where we were and rounding us up from time to time.

After dark he barks at outdoor noises, making sure they don't come in and attack us, whatever they may be. On a walk he tries to be fierce and brave when the situation requires, even though he's really a meek, submissive little chap and often lies down when a big dog approaches. In fact he lives in constant fear of a very bouncy labradoodle that rolled him over by accident once. But despite being scared, he gives it all his best shot.

I don't think I really understood the dog/human bond until Bertie came along. Everyone in the house has their own relationship with him, their own games and routines and fun things to do, and their own moment curled up on the sofa with him and his unconditional love.

He is always thrilled to see me; dog-owning friends will no doubt understand that. If I pop out to the postbox, about a minute away, he greets me when I get back with pure ecstasy, as if I've been gone for a week. When he's not being adorable he chews the washing, the cushions and the rug. He gets under our feet and in the way and is constantly on the lookout for unattended food. If he gets hold of something he's not supposed to have, he won't come back. He finds it a great game that he's initiated, with the whole family trying to catch him and him outwitting us all.

He makes sure I get plenty of exercise every day and he's made us a member of the dog walking fraternity, where everyone says hello and often stops for a chat. I've reconnected with old friends and made new ones, just by having a dog by my side. I've spent more time in the countryside than ever before, which everyone knows is good for the soul, especially for someone who works at home.

He loves it when we really concentrate on him, asking him to do things and communicating with us. Sometimes he doesn't get it, and puts his head on one side and tries and tries to understand us. If we had a conversation, he would probably say, I'd like more sausages please, let me come and sleep on your bed and don't ever go anywhere without me, ever, please.

Happy National Dog Day Bertie, I hope we don't disappoint.

Friday, 24 August 2018


We went over the river last week, turned left and headed for the wilds of Wales. Always a pleasure. It was incredibly moist, as always, and wild and lovely. The little brown dog ran and ran and dug holes on beaches and went in the sea and tried his hardest to keep his unruly pack together. It's been utterly exhausting for him.

We stayed in a lovely village on the Gower, which really felt like it was at the end of the world. The sheep were walking around in the road, which absolutely outraged Bertie. They would sashay up the street ahead of him, bold as brass. He was furious. Cows and horses as well, all roaming about the place like they owned it. We are not used to such things.

The boys did things in the sea with surfboards and kayaks. I left my swimsuit at home and was encouraging from the relative warmth of the shore. The beaches there are absolutely massive, and some of them almost deserted. I seem to remember craving peace and quiet when I booked the holiday, and it was lovely to find some, although with just enough civilisation to keep everyone happy.

A self-catering holiday in Wales can be hard work at times, you know how it is, and sometimes something that you sort of need to survive. But having survived it, I can report that a good time was had by all, and that no-one wanted to leave. Well, maybe the little brown dog, he was happy to get home to where everything was familiar and in the right place and he has his people slightly more under control. Holidays are not for lightweights.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

The lofty achievements of summer

A fairly random selection of photos from my little camera. It's a busy week this week, but not in a particularly photogenic way, more in a panicky, rushing around sort of a way. Yesterday was good though, a bit of a picnic, some light canoeing, a little sun on our skin, that sort of thing. Although I did find this Memo To Self on my camera afterwards.

The middle boy thought it would be good to canoe in the manner of a gondolier. We had been told that we wouldn't fall in provided we all remained seated. Some challenges are to good to ignore. Happily we didn't fall in, although somehow we were all fairly damp and grubby by the end of it all.

The dog has perfected a new trick which he would like you to know about. It involves leaping high in the air and snatching washing off of the line then running madly around the garden with it, trailing it through the mud and stopping every so often to rip whatever it is to shreds. It gets such a brilliant reaction from the rest of the pack, every single time. He LOVES IT.

He leapt at a passing tractor the other day. I mean really leapt at it. If I hadn't been holding his lead really tightly I don't know what would have happened. I don't know what his plan was, he's not really of a size to take on fully grown tractors. It's obviously something we failed to acclimatise him to in puppyhood. We tried to get him used to everything, but as time has gone on it seems we missed showing him tractors, sleds and those whiny mopeds that schoolboys whizz around on in groups of three or four.

We're around halfway through the summer break now, and as usual I've failed to achieve all my lofty summer goals. I have a list (of course I do) that says things like learn SEO and finish off websites and, oh, all sorts of stuff which I somehow imagined I would manage to magically fit in alongside life.

Things I have done instead: seen crayfish in the stream next to Waitrose (not the native ones which are almost extinct by all accounts, but the big interlopers), got almost all the new school uniform, watched the middle boy fishing, learned what extras and leg-byes are (sort of)(they're cricket things) and started drinking coffee. So you see, I haven't completed wasted my summer. Yourselves? Any achievements you'd care to share?