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?

Friday 10 August 2018

The trouble with figs

Thank you all for your book recommendations, I have taken note and ordered a few from the library. Hana reminded me that I have The Trouble With Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon, so I've started with that. I'm enjoying it, and I love that it's set in the 1976 heatwave, which is working in nicely with the good summer weather here.

In the garden, the grass is back to greenness after a brief day of rain and the figs are ripening. I do love fig trees, but sadly no-one really likes figs around here. I don't mind the odd one, but I can't eat pounds of them. I am popping them into the freezer in the hopes that I can sneak them into things and people won't notice. Although the crunchy seeds might give them away.

I'm also wondering if I can dry them and put them in mincemeat ready for Christmas. Honestly, you can get away with almost anything in a mince pie. Ask me how I know.

I've been faffing around with fabric this week, in between moaning that I don't have enough time for anything. You know how it is. I have lots of odd bits of fabric and pictures of lovely quilts to inspire me. I'm always drawn to simple squares, and I also like the ones with lots of restful space. Any favourites?

The top two are by Cassandra Ellis from her book A World of Quilts, the grey one is one of Ashley's (from Film in the Fridge) from The Modern Quilting Bee Block Party by Alissa Haight Carlton and Kristen Lejnieks and the last two are by Yoshiko Jinzenji from Quilting Line and Colour.

I think it will all have to percolate for a bit. I don't have time to be fabric shopping at the moment anyway. I shall let it all swirl around in my head for a while. It's been a while since I made a quilt. I like to sew them by hand, late at night, as my brain shuts down for the day. And although I make them slowly, I think I've made around four, as well as a couple on the sewing machine. It wouldn't do to make them too quickly, we'd end up suffocating in them.

Bert is waiting for a moustache trim at the groomer's. And a neatening of the ears. Persuading him to Sit Nicely and be brushed is a work in progress. In fact, much of what we ask him to do is a work in progress. I spent most of last week at the cricket club with him, and he dug holes all along the fence when he was supposed to be lying down dozing like the good dogs were. It seems he doesn't hold with doing nothing.

Any good plans for the weekend? I have Lists to get through, so I'm hoping to be excused from too much traipsing about. We shall see.

Saturday 4 August 2018

Rendered in wool

We are filling our days with all the boy summer stuff, you know the kind of thing, anything involving sticks, ball games, dogs, trees and rivers. I am keeping a lazy eye on proceedings and reading and writing in the odd moments when my input isn't required.

I have lost the ability to make proper food and we are surviving on salad, picnics and pasta thrown together at the speed of light when it's too late to do real cooking. There are baked goods though, blueberry muffins, banana bars, cherry crumble and orange chocolate chip ricotta cookies. Now I've written it all down it doesn't sound like a particularly good balance I have to admit. Must try harder. But oh, it's so hard to find things that everyone likes. At the moment I've gone off food a bit, and I'd be quite happy having overnight oats (my breakfast of choice) every evening. I do sometimes, if I make a non-vegetarian thing.

In other news, the littlest boy and I found that our town has been rendered in wool. There's a fantastic display in a shop window, apologies for the slightly iffy photos, I used my little camera and there were lots of reflections, but you get the idea. He read out the sign: Created by the Knit and Natter Group, and told me I should join as I like to knit and natter. I do!

Look at the allotments. The cauliflowers!

It's brilliant, all the details really make it. And there's often lots of red, white and blue bunting about the town, for one thing or another, which makes it look quite pretty. They really did do a fantastic job of it all.

I am aiming for some more deck chair time tomorrow, ostensibly supervising stuff but really reading. I finished a book I enjoyed the other day, Burnt Paper Sky by Gilly MacMillan, set in my home town, and I can't settle to a new one at all. I must have started four and put them all down. Too twee, too agressive, too light, too dark. I feel like Goldilocks.

There's something about these perfect summer days that are demanding the perfect book to go along with them. Anyone reading anything good? I have a quite a pile here to choose from, but nothing is leaping out at me. Of course I really ought to be reading something useful, about SEO or marketing or something. You know I'm always blithering on about having no time, and here I am wasting it on dubious fiction. But, oh, it's summer. And not just summer, a perfect summer, like in the magazines. Well, if I half close my eyes and look from a distance. Hope you're all enjoying it too. CJ xx

Wednesday 1 August 2018

A Beatrix blanket

Inspired by Alicia and Beatrix Potter and a basket full of odd balls of wool, I knitted a little blanket, just right for throwing round my shoulders on a chilly winter's day when I'm working at home and it's not quite warm enough. But of course I am completely out of sync with the world and I have finished it now, during a heatwave. Undeterred, I am showing you anyway, because otherwise I'll forget or I won't get around to it.

In fact now I think about it, I have two quilts here that I've never posted about. One very similar to a previous quilt, but one gigantic purple beast that I really ought to photograph, just to document its birth and existence if nothing else. I'll get to it. I had an idea that I would take it somewhere really photogenic and do some amazing shots of it, a la Ashley at Film in the Fridge who drapes her beautiful quilts over vintage barns and old wooden fences and blossomy trees and makes it all look utterly delightful. But of course I never got around to it. I shall make it a summer project, and add it to a list somewhere, of which there are far too many, with hours worths of ghastly things on them. I am ignoring them in the hopes that they will go away and I'm spending longer than I should reading.

I'm feeling a little glazed actually. Maybe because I'm slacking. I think I do best somehow when I'm at full stretch. Otherwise I go all dreamy and vacant and before I know it the day has flown by and all I have to show for it is a pile of washing up and a small adventure. On today's small adventure we found a wonderful village duck pond with a duck house in the shape of a palace no less. I shall photograph that next time, it was excellent.

In the meantime, all the photos I have are knitting ones, so I apologise to those of you who are feeling the heat. It seems to be a problem in lots of places this year. Fires in the US and Sweden as well as heatwaves in Europe, Africa and North America. Maybe I should call it the Heatwave Blanket. Hopefully when I am shivering at my desk (well, dining table, you will recall I don't have an actual desk) in February, I will think back to these hot days and call up a little of their warmth. That's a thing I think, if you're really hot and you think about ice, it cools you down, and vice versa.

Anyway, blanket.

I remember The Tailor of Gloucester well from when I was little, I loved the story of the cat being sent to buy a twist of cherry-coloured silk, and the mice helping the tailor to finish the mayor's waistcoat while he lay ill, leaving just one buttonhole unfinished. There's something so evocative about the books of childhood isn't there? Maybe the imagination is so much more vibrant then, I don't know, but when I see the books now the memories are strong.

The blanket is a very basic thing, just lots of stocking stitch with a garter stitch border, and just the perfect size for one slightly chilly person. I don't get on well with fancy knitting, although I'd love to create something lacy and holey and pretty. The trouble is I knit late at night when I'm tired, with very little brainpower left. Alicia crocheted hers, which I love. The texture of double crochet is wonderful. But I am somehow more of a knitter. And I worry about how much yarn you need for a crocheted thing. I read something the Yarn Harlot wrote about the amount of yarn eaten up by crochet once, which terrified me. I know where I am with knitting.

Anyway, there it is, one Beatrix blanket, sitting nicely folded on the shelf, waiting happily while we enjoy these long hot summer days. Anything on your needles?