Wednesday 23 December 2020

Merry and bright

Ready or not, here it comes. A bit of baking left to do here, which I'll try and squeeze in somehow. I'm not exactly taking a break over Christmas, but working from home means I'm always here anyway and I can be flexible.

The littlest boy and I made a foray into town this afternoon, more for the exercise than anything. We went to the garden shop for tasty dog snacks. The high street was really quiet. It was closed to traffic early on in the pandemic, which has upset the retailers because of the loss of passing trade. I'm hoping there won't be any losses of the independent shops.

A friend of mine has just opened a plastic-free shop, which is pretty brilliant. An antidote to the horrors of festive packaging. 

I have a couple of little outings planned, but some of the things we usually do and places I wanted to take the urchins are in different counties, and we're surrounded by lower tiers, so we'll no doubt be staying closer to home. 

I've been enjoying walking about the place on these short, dark days. I love midwinter, in particular that last hour of daylight which always seems so magical. Walking home, with lights going on in people's houses, having somewhere warm and dry and cosy to go to, it's such a good feeling. The dog has been less impressed with getting wet paws three times a day, but no doubt he'll toughen up.

On the subject of toughening up, the middle boy made me laugh earlier today. We were talking about the different years at school no longer mix and how it's all one-way now, so there is no more shoving of Year 7s (the youngest ones - 11-12 year olds) out of the way in the corridor in brutal fashion. I felt they wouldn't be properly toughened up. He said they also wouldn't learn proper respect for their elders. On reflection, perhaps an entire tradition will be completely lost. When they get to years 10 and 11, will they instinctively know to knock the smaller people flying? Or will they be all polite and well-mannered? It could change the whole basis of civilisation. 

Anyway, I shall stop blithering and wish you all the very best for the season. Any festive baking to be done your way? I need to knock up a nice nut roast for the vegans/vegetarians and a vegan chocolate pudding for the vegans/people who don't like Christmas pudding, then I feel I must be just about ready. There is food in the fridge (or at least, there was yesterday, which isn't necessarily quite the same thing), the dog has a good variety of snacks plus an exciting new flat squirrel toy to play with, in lieu of an actual squirrel, as they've proved devilishly tricky to catch, and just one door left on the advent calendar. It is a Christmas at the Palace one, and if the last big double door at the front of the palace does not reveal the Queen and a whole bunch of corgis I will be mightily disappointed. I will let you know.

Have a lovely day, and see you on the other side. CJ xx

Tuesday 15 December 2020

By the rivers

The Christmas tree is up. I sent the eldest to pick it up from the Scout Hut, being as he has all the muscles from the gym membership. I thought I might as well get my money's worth. He had a choice of a thin one or a really, really fat one. He chose the really, really fat one, and barely made it home, having to stop three times en route, despite all of the expensive muscles.

The space we have available is suited to a very slender tree. When I unwrapped the one he'd brought home we all stood there lost for words. It is the world's thickest tree, as wide as it is tall, and exceptionally luxuriant. A triumph of tree growing. And entirely unsuited to the narrow space between the fireplace and the television. I levered it in as best I could. It has a sort of malevolent dark presence in the corner of the room, sucking all the light out of it somehow. The middle boy and I, who tend to sit on a two-person sofa to the left of the fireplace, will not be able to view the television with the rest of the family throughout the festive season. We aren't that bothered to be honest, we're very well suited to sitting outside of the circle making sarcastic remarks that we think are funny, so we'll do that instead.

Photos from a trip to the River Severn (bird watching) and a trip to the River Avon (fishing). Birds but no fish. 

I put my back out the other day. Nothing too dramatic, it'll sort itself out in a bit, but I am blaming the dog. He had an appointment at the groomer's and as soon as he realised where we were going he sat down and refused to move, so I had to carry him the rest of the way. By the time we got there, he was shaking like a leaf. He does try to be brave, but when the chips are down he just wants to be at home on the sofa with me. 

In a moment of madness, I decided to try and write another 50,000 words of the fiction manuscript in December, having managed 50,000 in November. Maintaining the momentum and all that. Along with the day job of freelance writing, it is proving challenging. I have done 25,000 so far though, which is good. If I don't push myself, I think I'm a bit lazy. 

I am considering a bokashi bin. Has anyone ever given it a go? I like the idea of being able to compost cooked food and things. Although the wormery would do that, I tend not to put cooked food in there. I do love fermenting stuff though. I am making a batch of miso at the moment. And I always have kefir and sourdough on the go and quite often some kimchi. It really is rather magical. If you have any bokashi tips or advice to impart, please feel free. And don't be afraid to put me off, I do tend to get these ideas and they don't always turn out well.

Hope all is well at your end. CJ xx

Tuesday 24 November 2020

Of dormice and oven gloves

I fell over in the woods trying to photograph fungi. I was exiting the undergrowth when my feet got stuck and the rest of me kept going out onto the path. I landed splat in the mud, with my camera plunging in deep. Sigh. The dog was bemused. The camera wasn't happy before the mud, it's even sorrier for itself now. But I have a mushroom photo, so I am happy. I LOVE all things fungi. Utterly fascinating, and something I wish I knew more about. One day...

I am pressing on with NaNoWriMo. At around 42,000 words for the month as we speak. It's amazing how much I can get done in November. Why not in all the other months???

I even found the time to eat a chilli the other evening. The middle boy and I were hanging out in the biggest boy's room, which is the nicest bedroom out of the boys' rooms, with a good view and a lovely big south-facing window with a chilli plant on it and space and no annoying sloping ceiling on which to bang your head, and he said, shall I eat a chilli? I said no, oh go on then. So he did. And he seemed quite calm afterwards, so I ate one too. It really wasn't too bad for the first minute or two. And then it was excruciating. Then the biggest boy came in to see what all the fuss was about. He can't stand spicy food, but you know boys and a challenge, so he ate one as well. Honestly, I think we are all barking sometimes. We have just about recovered now, but it might be a while before I make a curry.

I did tofu and roasted vegetables tonight and managed to set the oven gloves on fire. I left them on a hot plate and didn't notice. Then I put my hand inside. I noticed at that point. My finger will probably be okay in a few days. But I fear the gloves are ruined. To be fair, they were already slightly charred, from the day when I washed them, then decided to pop them in the warm oven after I'd finished baking something to dry them off because they're so thick. It turned out the oven was warmer than I'd anticipated and oven gloves are surprisingly not entirely resistant to heat. So they had a slightly toasted look to them before today. Now they are black. There was smoke coming out of the inside bit where I put my hand. Any recommendations for eco-friendly or charity contributing oven gloves gratefully received.

Did anyone see the dormouse story this week? Apparently a dormouse climbed inside of a clear plastic bird feeder tube, stuffed his face with bird food and was so fat that climbing back out was tricky, so he just went to sleep. When the people went outside, there he was, like some latterday Winnie the Pooh, snoozing, with his little furry face against the plastic. The birds carried on eating around him, although no doubt they were outraged.

The people rang the dormice specialists who said to gently release him somewhere safe. Afterwards I was listening to a podcast about how good positive news is for us. We should apparently pollute our brains with it. And I wondered what it would be like if the main news channels led with stories like this. An in-depth twenty-minute segment on the story. No aspect left unexamined. They could slot all of the other stuff into short 15-second announcements at the end, but the thing that would occupy our thoughts for the rest of the day would be all of the cheery dormouse news. Story here if you missed it.

Hope all is well at your end. Any good news stories we should know about? Feel free to share. CJ xx

Saturday 7 November 2020

A disappointing result


I cannot lie, I am bitterly disappointed about the weekend's results. Although not entirely unexpected, the slide late on to a veritable gulf between the two was a crushing blow. There is always that moment at the start when you think that it will go your way. Ever the optimist, I always set out with huge expectations. Dreams. I picture the victory. Sadly, this time it was not to be. But I shall not be crushed for long. For there is next time, always next time. And that is the thing with Forest Green Rovers, you cannot keep them down. They may have gone crashing 6-2 out of the Emirates Cup, but next week it's Swindon Town and we will SHOW THEM NO MERCY. 

Apologies for the rather blurry photo. My camera is in need of repair but it's one of those jobs that slides ever onwards down the to-do list, never quite making the top. Part of the problem is that I don't have a clue where to take it. Handy repair shops aren't that common any more. And they probably aren't open anyway, so I shall slide it a bit further down the to-do list and Tackle It Another Day.

The two older urchins did some helping out today as I had a mountain of work to get through, which was astonishing and rather pleasing (the help, not the work). The middle one made lunch and dinner and the oldest one raked some leaves up. All with very little moaning. I am wondering if they are up to something, it was so unexpected and surprising. We are not one of those families where people help other people out on the whole, rather one of those families where mother does everything and crashes around the place furiously because no one else ever lifts a finger. I wonder if the winds of change are blowing my way.

The middle boy made me laugh the other day when he said that dinner was 'a lot better than usual'. Oh my. Although I suspect it was today as well. I would be helped if the littlest boy didn't keep getting me to buy obscure ingredients so that he can work through his school cookery booklet (no cooking allowed in school any more) and then not getting round to it, so I have to try and insert them into some sort of nutritional meal. 

At school now they just watch while the teacher does the cookery, although they are allowed to try it afterwards. Apparently on Muffin Day, everyone else on his table left to go home, so he got all of their muffin allowance himself. He lives for that kind of moment. It was sausage roll demonstrations the other day. Apparently (and I quote) there are so many ways to wrap a sausage roll. I had no idea.

Hope everyone is well and cheery out there. Good news on the US election results no? But a real shame about Forest Green. Can't win 'em all. 

Sunday 1 November 2020


I grew some walnuts. My little walnut tree in its pot finally had around eight nuts on it. I wasn't expecting much, but in fact they were amazing. Proper walnut size, perfectly formed and tasting amazing. I love that sort of brain quality they have. Brilliant.

I picked a few flowers before the storm hit. A pelargonium called Attar of Roses, which is lovely as you might imagine, some roses, Madame Alfred Carriere, and some verbena. There are huge dahlias still out there, but they're a bit big and wet and earwiggy to be allowed into the house.

The littlest boy got a detention last week. Apparently it was yet again a gross miscarriage of justice. He forgot his grippy socks for dance (no more bare feet in case there is covid on the floor) (at least I think that's the theory). Then there was some sort of technical issue and he missed going to the thing that wasn't a detention and ended up getting a red card. Or something. Honestly, the disciplinary system is so complicated I can't always follow it. 

He refuses to show me his dance moves, except for once when they learned something called the Chewing Gum Dance, when you had to stand there doing things with pretend chewing gum. It's the same with drama. I asked him what he was doing and he said, 'Melodrama.' I asked him if it was like being at home and he said, pretty much.

He's started doing The Tempest in English. He was looking at his homework the other day and said, 'There's a lot of it, isn't there?' I asked what, and he said, 'Shakespeare.' Safe to say I don't think they'll run out of plays.

The dog is all about the melodrama as well these days. He's quite anxious about bigger dogs. He lets them sniff him, then after a few seconds he can't stand the tension any more and barks in their faces, just in case they were about to attack. He'll end up with one of those Nervous Dog bright yellow leads at this rate. Or maybe a pale yellow one marked Slightly Dramatic On Occasion. 

I took the littlest boy into the big city yesterday. He had new trainers on and they rubbed after about two minutes so it was not a success. Otherwise I've done hardly anything. Lots of work and a bit of gardening. So I don't feel a lockdown will curtail any wild social whirl. I hope all are well out there and braced for the next bit.

I'm going to have a go at NaNoWriMo again this month - writing 50,000 words of a novel. I've done it the past two years and it's been great. I'm quite busy at the moment, so it will be a stretch. But a stretch is a good thing, no? Any November plans your end?

Thursday 15 October 2020

Challenge accepted

Greetings all, I hope this finds you chipper and enjoying the chilly autumn days. Photos from the wetlands place, which is looking beautiful. I took the biggest boy for a few hours to see what migrant birds were passing. We walked down to the river, past old World War II pillboxes (small concrete guard houses from where people could watch for invasion via the river).

They had sunk into the landscape a little and were covered in moss and sprouting grass in places. I aimed for a complicated metaphor about how horrendous it must have been when they were built and it was all new and terrifying and no-one knew what was coming and how scared people must have been, but I got lost along the way somewhere and it fell a bit short so we just sat overlooking the river and a field of cows and ate our sandwiches instead. 

The dog and I have been exploring a new park area that the local housebuilders have created. Our little town is being heavily built around, farmland disappearing at a shocking rate and thousands of newbuild homes appearing. The park must have been a planning requirement. It's quite nice and they've made a bit of an effort to encourage wildlife. There are also wooden sculptures about the place. Bert was horrified to trot round the corner and come face to face with a life-sized fox. He stopped and stared at it for ages, daring it to move, then skirted round it at top speed. He really has to summon up his courage for things these days.

Although I am still avoiding most of the main news, with just a cursory glance at the headlines once a day, the littlest boy likes to keep me updated on the important stuff via The Week Junior, a cracking news magazine for children. Honestly, it is so much better than the other news. Did you know for example, a rat has been awarded a gold medal for bravery for detecting landmines in Cambodia? He sniffs them out, but is light enough not to trigger them. 

And someone has reached a speed of 43 miles per hour in a wheelie bin, which is a new world record. We are feeling inspired in this house, I can tell you. Just waiting for bin day then there'll be no stopping us.

Tuesday 22 September 2020

The perfect last day of summer


Yesterday was utterly glorious. Not in any spectacular day-off, amazing trip sort of way, but just in the end-of-season perfection sort of way. All dreamy golden light and warm evening sun and a spectacular fiery orange ball sinking into the horizon.

It would have been good to sit in the afternoon sun with a book for a while, and I did think about it, but there was work to be done so I didn't. Which felt satisfying in a way, because the work got done, but I did feel the tiniest bit wistful that it was the very last afternoon of summer out there. 

It ended neatly, coinciding with the astrological end of summer. Today was still warm enough, but halfway through the day the sun went in and the washing felt the slightest bit damp and I thought, 'That's it, the season has turned.'

This evening, in a burst of gardening activity, I cut the grass before the rain sets it, pulled out the tomatoes, filled the kitchen window sill with all the green and orange ones, planted out some foxgloves I grew from seed, planted the elephant garlic and put some spare wood into the garage out of the way of the damp weather.

I have loved summer this year despite you-know-what. And maybe because of it. So many warm, sunny days, more time than usual spent in the garden, which has been lovely, and the garden has looked the better for it, and simple pleasures enjoyed. Walks with the boys and the dog, messing around in lakes, ice-creams and picnics, seeing friends outside and just a bit more thinking about the good things in life and really appreciating them.

And now it is autumn, and doubtless good things are ahead too. Let's not think about other stuff right now. I hope it was a good enough summer with you too. Onwards. CJ xx

Tuesday 15 September 2020



Look, a library book! It must be six months since I've borrowed anything, but finally the doors are open again and books are back on the menu. Over lockdown the children ran out of books and started complaining about having to reread things. The middle one is reading some adult thrillers now, so if anyone can recommend exciting but fairly clean, non-graphic stuff I would be glad to hear. Although of course I am sure they are all far ahead of where we think they are/should be.

School has recommenced for all, which is exciting. The dog is lying on his back, snoring happily in the blissful peace and quiet. 

I have spent ALL THE MONEY on new shoes, blazers, trousers, shirts, pe kit and a rucksack and I am left quietly reeling at the amount of stuff needed. And at how quickly it is all grown out of. 

A fair few pears came down in the storm, but there are still dozens more. I never really know what to do with them all, they don't store well. Martha Stewart dries them, and I am thinking about that, but she says they don't keep for very long and you still have to freeze them, which isn't what I'm looking for. I was thinking they might keep for ages if I dried them. If anyone has any expertise in the area of pear drying I would be glad to hear of it.

The top photos are from the Lake District, which seems a long time ago now. I wouldn't mind being back there, floating around on a lake or reading a book in the shade or climbing a mountain. Holidays are all too brief sometimes aren't they. Although now that summer has returned, a deckchair in the garden is the next best thing. 

The youngest has been working hard at his English and French this week. He has written an alarmingly violent dystopian story involving mutant pigs, a virus call pigona virus, alien invasion and a nuclear bomb. I made a plea for a happy ending, but apparently that won't do at all when it comes to dystopia. The best he was willing to offer was a cliffhanger.

His French homework seemed to be a lengthy list of questions about home and family life that a social worker would be proud of. I scanned through a few of them and feel that we have probably failed. 

Tuesday 25 August 2020

Grace and elegance

Balmy scenes from the Lakes a week or so ago, when it was hot and glorious. Right now, as storm Francis rages, I imagine it's all looking a bit different. Very glad to have had such a good week there. 

Did I mention I went paddleboarding? In fact I didn't have a swimsuit with me, what with there not being any sea and me not imagining for a minute that it would be hot enough to swim in a lake. So I borrowed some swimming trunks and a t-shirt and strapped myself (tightly) into a life jacket and I was good to go. Actually, I only went because they (wisely) wouldn't let children out unaccompanied. Balancing on a board on top of freezing cold water isn't where you would generally expect to find me.

I concentrated really hard and did pretty well for a while. By 'pretty well' I mean I didn't fall off. But then there was a bit of swell and I lost focus and that was it, off I crashed in spectacular fashion. It took me a while to get back on. They'd shown us how to pull ourselves back on, but they'd neglected to explain what to do when the board flipped over on top of you when you tried to get on.

A gigantic pike (predator fish with ALL THE TEETH) was circling nearby as well, just to add to the tension. I sadly don't have any footage of me plummeting below the surface, but I do have a shot of me calmly drifting about the place.

I discovered that it was really relaxing to sit down and float about. In fact, you can lie on the board on your back and just bob gently up and down, which was far more my sort of thing. I was of course forced into racing and stuff and I may have fallen off again, I don't remember. At least it wasn't cold though. In fact, we were messing about in the lake because it was too hot to climb a mountain. 

We stayed in a lovely stone house, which was surprisingly hot inside. I always thought thick stone walls would stay cool. The stones had some gaps in them, which I think may have housed a bit of wildlife. One day I happened to be upstairs walking through my bedroom when I spotted a small snake slithering in the window and across the windowsill. UPSTAIRS! When I'd finished shrieking and managed to find a volunteer to capture it in a large Tupperware I calmed down slightly. It was a young grass snake, probably enjoying the warmth of the stone walls. Until it went inside and it all got noisy.

We released it into the grass and I went for a sit down with a cold flannel over my face. I made sure I shook my pyjamas out that night I can tell you. And looked under the bed, and in the cupboard and under the duvet. As a general rule, I'm not too shrieky and I'm all for lots of wild things roaming about the place, just not over me in the dark. 

Hoping all is well at your end. CJ xx