Saturday, 4 July 2020

All you can eat fruit buffet

The garden is full of fruit and also full of birds eating the fruit. Blueberries, tayberries, raspberries, mulberries, strawberries and pounds and pounds and pounds of cherries. Blackbirds and robins and starlings and sparrows and pigeons. It's wonderful. There are two big cherry trees at the end of the garden and the birds are gorging themselves. There's another cherry out the front, so plenty of fruit to go around. I have been picking and stoning and freezing, they are such a treat in the winter.

The new little waterlily in the pond is flowering. The birds are splashing around there more than ever before as well. It's nice to see the garden becoming a little haven for them. Unless the dog happens to spot them of course. At the moment so many of the birds are juveniles, coming along with their parents and wrestling with a giant raspberry or trying to hang upside down and pick a mulberry. The robins are incredibly tame, flying down to poke around in the soil right next to me in the hopes of a worm.

Shops are gradually opening in the little town centre here, although the Council have infuriated shop owners by making the high street pedestrianised. It really is very quiet now. I went in the wool and houseplants shop yesterday and they seemed astonished to see a customer. The stationer was complaining about the lack of business as well. It's supposedly to allow people more space, but the pavements are pretty wide so it wasn't really an issue. Anyway, there is nothing but space now.

I don't really have any plans to do anything exciting such as go out or have a haircut, I'm happy quietly pootling away with the odd chat with a friend or a walk. We do have a couple of outside trips on the cards, but that's about it for now. It's an odd sort of time isn't it. Some people doing all of the things, some people doing none of the things and businesses trying to survive.

It's good to see bookshops opening again, although we don't have one in town any more. I think I would be conscious of how many books I took off of the shelves that then had to go on the quarantine trolley. I do like to take them all down and read the back cover and flip through a few pages. No doubt we will be back to that eventually, so I shall be patient.

Homeschooling is a bit of a battleground as it no doubt is for almost everyone else. Unless I actually stand over people and watch what they are doing they tend to wander off around the internet and get distracted. Have any of them actually learnt anything? Who knows. The littlest boy has made a very fetching row of owls out of toilet roll tubes (art) and watched many videos for drama and PE, but I haven't seen much in the way of maths and no science at all.

The biggest boy has been doing baking and piano, which will no doubt come in useful in life somewhere along the line but probably won't be much help when it comes to A-levels. The middle boy has hurt his arm and claims to be unable to do anything useful at all. I am wondering if that would work for me as well.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Hair today

The dog finally had a lovely haircut. He had pretty much turned into a sheep. Now he is all slim and streamlined and can run like the wind again without being blinded by his moustache blowing up in his face. Above is a 'before' shot.

There is no other news, none at all. I am feeling a bit flat. Can anyone relate? I don't know why really, there's nothing particular I can put my finger on. It's not as if I'm normally zipping off to a lively office and living in a social whirl. I think maybe it's the slower pace of things. I always do much better under pressure, when there's not enough time. Ridiculous isn't it. Now I have time to do everything I've gone all sluggish and I can't really be bothered.

The littlest boy did his music homework this morning while I was working. It involved a lot of fancy tapping on an empty baked bean tin. It went on and on and on. It was a bit like a steel drum and almost put me in mind of the Caribbean. After about two hours I put my head round my laptop and said, 'CAN YOU NOT FIND SOME SENSIBLE HOMEWORK??? MATHS OR ENGLISH OR SCIENCE OR FRENCH OR HUMANITIES.' He is cherry-picking. This morning was PE (which seemed to involve watching videos), coding a computer game and incessant tapping of the bean tin. Where are the quadratic equations and future pluperfect verbs?

I have made him show everyone else in the house at length what he'd learned so that they could share the joy. He made me learn the routine as well, except that I wasn't allowed to hold the bean tin, I had to pretend. It wasn't quite the same to be honest.

There's been quite a lot of piano playing as well, which I'm sure the neighbours are enjoying. The piano is really out of tune, but I'm not sure I want to fork out and have it tuned only to have it sit there untouched for ages. The biggest boy is teaching himself, I'm quite impressed. And also feeling a bit guilty that I never gave him the opportunity to have lessons. Ironically, the other two did have lessons but didn't hugely enjoy practice, while the biggest boy probably would have done. Can't get it all right though, eh? Although I wouldn't mind nailing the odd thing. Maybe one day.

How are you all, my lovelies? All good I hope. Hair okay?

Thursday, 11 June 2020

When Scrabble turns ugly

lockdown hair at its finest

Oh look, a photo of me. When I started blogging I think I thought there would be lots of photos of me, but of course there never are because I am the one holding the camera. But on a dog walk by the river someone else held the camera (I was glamorously holding a poop bag of poop) and they snapped this, which was nice. Just so that they know I was there, you know.

The littlest boy had a birthday, which he loved, lockdown or no lockdown, there were still presents and ice-cream cake and a watermelon, which he begged me for. We are still working our way through it, they're quite sizeable aren't they?

He had new parkour trainers, a parkour t-shirt, a parkour hoodie and a parkour handbook. Happy as a clam.

We have pretty much done everything there is to do now, except play Monopoly, which is simply far too dangerous to be undertaken in the pressure-cooker environment of a semi-lockdown. Scrabble had its moment in the sun, but after initial hilarity (is hamteeny a word?) even that turned ugly. Some people felt that the whole point was TO WIN AT ANY COST and that it was a 'to the death' sort of a thing. I steered us on to Bird Bingo afterwards which has far less scope for violence and is beautifully illustrated.

If you have any suggestions for entertaining medium-sized boys, I would be glad to know them. The littlest boy made about 500 paper aeroplanes the other day and is thinking about getting a drone now, but again I fear that it may result in bodily harm or at the very least traumatise the dog. All I really want is some peace and quiet. Just two minutes would do.

Monday, 1 June 2020

Danger and excitement

Cheese scones; butter

Madame Alfred Carriere

Bridge to Wales - still a forbidden land

Here at Above the River Towers time is expanding and contracting in strange ways. Some of us are busy (that would be me) and some of us have whole long days stretching out emptily in front of us for months ahead.

It's a curious combination. I forget sometimes how it must feel for the urchins to wake up each day and wonder what they might do for the next 14 hours or so. Then I whiz round doing all the things, and getting grumpy because there's not enough time. Then I slow down and do things with them, then I realise I am all behind. I have less time than before, they have all the time in the world. I am not complaining, just adjusting.

There has been a little baking and making and I even climbed a tree a couple of evenings ago on another golden, sunny dog walk. The littlest boy goaded me into it. I did really well getting up there, but then I was stuck and I couldn't get down. In the end I fell out. Of course I did, you knew I was going to say that before I even got the words out. No harm done though. Well, reputational harm only and to be fair that was always shaky.

As well as falling out of a tree, I also cracked the screen on my phone. It was balanced on top of the sultana jar, charging, and it fell down about 7 inches and broke. I was idly surfing the internet to see what should be done about such a thing, when I discovered that in fact it is very cool amongst the Young People (millennials and suchlike) to have a damaged screen. It tells the world that your life is all excitement and action. So you will see me now, moving smoothly round Aldi, brandishing my cracked phone, with the devil-may-care coolness born from knowing that, yes, I am the sort of dangerous person who balances expensive gadgets on the top of sultana jars without a thought for the risk.

Any danger and excitement at your end? Do tell.

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

A little learning

We took advantage of the beautiful weather at the weekend (when did it last rain???) and went out and about the place with the beast. There was wild garlic everywhere and it was wonderful to stand on top of the ridge and look out over the countryside and across the river. It had been a while since we'd been anywhere except within walking distance of home.

The urchins have been out and about running and cycling. The biggest boy fell in a huge bramble bush over a ditch and it took him ten minutes to get out apparently. Honestly, I'm not sure how they manage it, but they are always falling off and falling in and getting into scrapes.

We have been doing some workouts at home. The biggest boy, who knows all about muscles and things, yells at us that we are doing it wrong. Honestly, it's like being in the army.

I believe they have been doing a little learning, although I couldn't swear to it. The middle boy tells me that at 10 o'clock in the morning I will be the liveliest I will be all day, so I am trying to capitalise on that. Sometimes I am almost ready for a nap by 10am though, so maybe I am not actually normal.

We are missing the library. The two younger ones tell me they have read all of the books in the house. I'm sure that's not true, but they've probably read quite a few of them. It's the littlest boy's birthday in the not-too-distant future and he is REALLY EXCITED already. We will be staying at home :) But, hey, a birthday is a birthday, no? It's actually not for three weeks or so, but it never hurts to start building the anticipation early on. And then there are all of the important decisions to be made, such as what to have for tea and what cake and what to have for breakfast.

The dog's ears are a little matted under his cone, which cannot be removed because he instantly chews his itchy spot. It's healing well though, so hopefully soon. Anyway, we are trying very hard to sneak up on him with the dog grooming scissors and snip the matted bits off, but he rumbles us every time. He doesn't trust us a single bit. We may have to resort to bribery with tasty snacks.

I will leave you with a conversation had by the biggest and littlest boys.

Littlest boy: I've got a joke. Waiter, waiter, there's a fly in my soup. Then the waiter says, that's not a fly, it's the chef, he's really tiny and he fell in.

Biggest boy: THAT'S NOT A JOKE.

Littlest boy: IT WAS IN A JOKE BOOK.

Yes, we definitely need more books. But no more jokes, please no more jokes.

Sunday, 10 May 2020


Greetings friends, I hope this finds you well. It's like summer here, long, warm, sunny days, light evenings, roses blooming, so many roses, and garden picnics everywhere. VE Day was lovely I thought, despite everything. There's a lot more interaction between neighbours these days which is nice.

Lots more gardening time for many people too, I've been loving dog walks around the place, admiring front gardens. The local garden shop has managed to stay open and it's doing good trade in everything.

The blue tits in the nest box have babies and are busy, busy, busy whipping about the place finding little juicies for them to eat. And the other evening the middle boy and I stood in his room at the top of the house watching and listening to a blackbird on a neighbouring aerial, singing his heart out.  After a while, another blackbird flew to an aerial over the road and joined in. The sun was setting and it was absolutely magical. Although of course they were probably yelling things like, 'Put one feather over my side of the street and I WILL BREAK YOU' and 'Come on then if you think you're hard enough.'

Did anyone read that piece on the BBC News website about how well honey production is going in France? I just tried to find it again to link to it, but I couldn't locate it. But apparently bees are producing masses more honey during lockdown than they usually do. The beekeepers think it's because spraying of 'weeds' with chemicals to kill them has stopped, so there are more flowers. Also there's less pollution than normal. It was lovely to hear, and I hope that somehow chemical use can be reduced in the future. At least now they have evidence of one of the benefits.

Has anyone tried a home haircut yet? The urchins' barnets are heading out of control. I have dog-grooming scissors and I've volunteered my services. No takers yet, but it's only a matter of time. I reckon I'll crack the littlest boy first. He has fine, floppy hair that hangs down and it's pretty much in his eyes now. The other two have curly wiry hair that grows straight outwards, so it's not quite as annoying and providing they don't look in any mirrors they're fine.

And then there's the dog himself. Persuading him to sit still will be the trick. There are only so many sausages you can hand out at a time. I've seen the occasional dog who has had half a haircut for just this reason.

Everyone is still into magic around here. Coins have been introduced alongside cards. The middle boy turned a big clump of dust into a £2 coin yesterday which was brilliant. He says he is keeping all the dust in his room and will gradually magically transform it into money. I'll let you know how it goes.

Look after yourselves my lovelies, I hope it's a good week for you. CJ xx

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Lockdown days

It turns out that the days have galloped past and I only have a single photo on my camera. The white wisteria, flowering beautifully this year.

The dog is still in his labrador-sized cone, lest he chew his itchy lump. The cockapoo size was too small, it turned out he could reach round the end of it so he has been banished into the big one. It doubles as a rain hood and sun bonnet.

The children are doing all the lockdown things. Magic is still big on the agenda and gymnastics has been added. Basketball is out of favour. Card games are in. March till September is quite a few months, no? But they are happy and getting on well together on the whole.

They've made the odd meal, which has been good. Just simple stuff, mainly salad for lunch and the odd cake. I wouldn't mind if they did more. Life skills and all that.

I did some work this morning then went into the sunny garden this afternoon and planted things. Spinach and radishes and spring onions and chard. Inside I have tomatoes, artichokes, courgettes and cucumbers. Then I sat in the sun with a good book. It was utter bliss for a moment, until the urchins discovered where I was. I shall aim for the same tomorrow.

I've been loving the lockdown walks. The weather's been so glorious and spring seems perfect this year. Maybe it's the good air and the knowledge that outside time is limited. The littlest boy and I have been walking in the golden evening sunshine, admiring all the pretty front gardens. Maybe everyone is spending a little more time on them than usual. He climbs trees and does parkour and I drag the dog around. He's slightly reluctant at times (dog, not boy). I'm hoping it's just because of the cone and not some sort of early-onset laziness.

I hope all is well at your end. Let me know how you're finding it all. CJ xx

Sunday, 19 April 2020

All the pancakes

Anyone else sitting around on the grass idly making daisy chains to hang round their dog? No? Just us then.

Four weeks of lockdown and I have been appreciating the chilled moments of everyone sitting around chatting and playing games and generally spending a whole lot more time together than they normally would. I am less appreciating the constant eating and how the fridge goes from stuffed full to half empty in the blink of an eye. A normal supermarket shop for me looks like I am stockpiling for the apocalypse, so I'm finding the amount of stuff in my trolley a bit embarrassing. I may make a sign saying 'Teenage boys at home' to ward of the judgy looks. A conversation over tea the other day - Littlest Boy: [Biggest Boy], if you had to, who would you eat, dad or mum?' So you can see, I cannot afford to let the fridge fall empty, already they are sizing us up for digestibility.

I made pancakes for breakfast yesterday and today, which is a new thing. The littlest boy always approaches the idea of breakfast as a thrilling adventure to discover some exciting new tasty dish, whereas I'm fundamentally opposed to cooking first thing in the morning as well as at ALL THE OTHER TIMES. But Lucy had a simple-looking oat pancake recipe on her blog this week and then I happened upon Smitten Kitchen's carrot cake pancakes, so we gave it all a go. Lucy's are brilliant, the littlest boy will be able to make these by himself (in theory). The carrot cake ones were excellent too, but a bit more involved.

My favourite pancakes are the vegan coconut pancakes I made on Shrove Tuesday this year. I didn't have any 'coconut drink' so I used a tin of coconut milk and they were utterly delicious. I can't see myself making pancakes regularly for breakfast though, I'm not a huge fan of starting the day by washing up frying pans and jugs and goodness knows what else. Although of course now I've done it once I will no doubt be expected to do it all the time.

The dog has had a bit of a rubbish week, although I suspect he may just be a big drama queen. The little lump on his tail has been annoying him mightily and we had to switch to a bigger (labrador-sized) cone to prevent him licking it. He decided he no longer cared to go for a walk, and even if we managed to tempt him out, he sat down after a hundred yards and had to be carried home, lolling upside down in my arms, legs and paws flopping up and down, head hanging down to the ground, in the manner of roadkill.

The neighbours asked me what was wrong, imagining him to be at death's door. In fact, having had the results back from the vet, the lump is something that can be itchy, but that's all. I had of course built it all up in my mind to be some huge ghastly thing, causing absolute agony, when in fact he is just being dramatic. He has had people waiting on him hand, paw and finger, feeding in his kibble piece by piece, bringing his water dish over to him in case getting up was too much of a trial and tempting him with tiny tasty morsels. He has done it before, and I fear he may turn out to be the dog that cried wolf and next time we will just ignore him. Oh, who am I kidding, of course we won't, we live to serve him.

I hope all is well lovelies, look after yourselves and your beasts. CJ xx