Friday 31 December 2021

Onwards, clutching the chocolate gingers


A mixture of town and country. Christmas has been bits of cycling about the place, a little shopping/ice-skating/eating out, much eating in and a light smattering of work. I haven't solved the chicken mystery yet, the neighbours' recycling proved fairly tricky to examine in the dark with the dog trying to investigate it all alongside me and get his nose loudly right into the bins. I have narrowed down the suspects though and feel we are closing in.

I had a bit of a blog scare a couple of days ago when I sat down to write a blog post. I suddenly couldn't log in. Tech failures make me very neurotic and cross and I immediately imagine the worst. What if I could never get back in and you didn't know where I'd gone and I couldn't get to you and you thought I'd just abandoned you??? For the record, I wouldn't do that, I would say things and not just disappear. 

The trouble involves an old email address which I no longer have and don't seem to be able to change and it is all terribly complicated and I don't really understand. Anyway, I finally found a rather tenuous way back in, but it feels fragile, as though I might suddenly find myself out in the cold again. Anyway, here for now.

I mostly wanted to stop by and say Happy New Year and I hope it is all wonderful and full of moments when you feel brilliant about life and that sort of thing. I am of course intending to be a much finer version of myself next year and accomplish All The Things. I don't have an exact list, but you know the sort of thing. I will just finish those chocolate gingers first though. I don't think anyone else likes them very much. That must have skipped my mind when I bought them and it means I am having to eat the whole box by myself.

Wishing you a really lovely 2022, CJ xx

Tuesday 21 December 2021

Solving a mystery

Thank you for all your Christmas tree suggestions and chocolate curl advice and commiserations. The littlest boy and I went on a jolly to my favourite garden centre and managed to find a lovely little blue spruce, Picea pungens 'Fat Albert'. We did of course buy it solely for the name. It was the last one there and not entirely symmetrical or indeed vertical, but we are easily pleased and the name made up for absolutely everything. 

It's in a pot, so we'll put it in the garden for the year and bring it in each December - Christmas tree problem solved. After we bought it I was delighted to see that Anna Greenland (Raymond Blanc's gardener) does the same thing and it works a treat. The fact that ours is only two and a half feet tall at present made the whole decoration thing fast and painless as well. I have to admit it is slightly underwhelming as you walk in the room, but again, Fat Albert.

I have been endeavouring to understand sporting things this week, not always entirely voluntarily. I have had test cricket explained to me in fairly minute detail (still none the wiser), football salaries from back in the day analysed and compared (£40 a week at the top level!) and I somehow also found myself trying to understand the Formula 1 race results from the other week. I have read the explanation of what happened three times now and I still don't exactly grasp it. To be honest, I'm still a bit shaky on the off-side rule. The interesting thing is that I don't care, and yet I would still like it not to be beyond me to understand. It was something about all the cars going round in circles and going past each other. If you could put everything that I don't like into a bottle and shake it up, you would pretty much end up with Formula 1 motor racing. I have decided to give it no more thought at all.

Instead, the dog and I have become amateur detectives and are solving a mystery. The other evening, I thought I saw a chicken drumstick in the street a couple of doors up. The dog thought he did too and a rather inelegant tug of war ensued. We went home and in the morning it was gone. The next evening, I stopped for a moment and suddenly realised the dog was trying to eat something. I couldn't really see what was going on in the dark and what was in his mouth, but he was trying desperately get something down his neck. Another tug of war, and I ended up with a huge piece of raw chicken, much to the dog's fury. Somewhere in the battle, a Tesco receipt floated past. I threw the chicken away, washed my hands eighteen times and started wondering what was going on.

The next morning, the Tesco receipt was still there. A clue! Someone had bought a packet of chicken thighs (empty carton later discovered in bin - see, real detecting), Karlsberg lager, garlic potatoes and Gruyere cheese. The plot thickened. I had no idea I had neighbours who would eat something as fancy as Gruyere. So the dog and I worked out that all we have to do is check the recycling boxes on Wednesday for the empties from the lager and a garlic potato tray and we will have a main suspect.

I am guessing that they are feeding the foxes, hopefully unadulterated meat, which I don't object to, although it is starting to be a bit of a free for all out there. There have been more huge pieces of chicken since and yesterday what looked like two big pork steaks. A cat was tucking in, until Bertie came looming round the corner to have a word. I have narrowed down my suspects and I will report back after recycling day.

Wishing you all a lovely winter solstice, I do love this season with its winter skies and bare trees and cosy homes and four o'clock sunsets. Wonderful. CJ xx

Tuesday 14 December 2021

Do not try this at home

Our town is inordinately proud of its Christmas lights, which are pretty much in a league of their own. Literally all of the colours, especially primary ones, very thick ropes of matt tinsel and some very striking shapes, all topped off with a giant Santa over the top of a very strange and ancient shop that I have never seen anyone in, ever, but that has been there since the dawn of time. I will try and take more photos if I can, it really is something to behold.

On the home front, there was a small snafu with the dishwasher. I consulted YouTube, which helpfully said things like, 'Open the chamber door. Clean the impeller from the litter. Move to a more spacious place. Turn the machine over the back and remove the bottom.' I got a man in, who sorted it in about two and a half minutes. I had to wait about two weeks for him to be available though, apparently business is brisk. 

The littlest boy made cheesecake in school cookery last week. He designed his own and somehow I ended up trying to make chocolate curls to go on the top. I consulted YouTube again. Honestly, I have no idea how I got through life at all before the advent of YouTube. GlutenFreeHabit had an absolutely wonderful video setting out the whole process, step by step. I didn't have a marble slab or an off-set spatula or a plastering trowel but I didn't let that put me off. I melted the chocolate and off we went.

It is best to say that it is not the sort of thing to attempt when you are in any sort of rush or in any way a tiny bit stressed or feeling irritable about anything. Suffice to say there was a big mess and I only had one very small half-curl at the end of it all. Nothing makes me crosser than when I can't instantly do something. GlutenFreeHabit had made it look so easy! And her curls were utter perfection. At the end, she actually says, 'And that's all there is to it!' I ended up with chocolate bits all over the shop and a level of rage that is usually only achieved by a substantial technological failure. And there somehow seemed to be a lot less chocolate at the end of it all. 

The littlest boy took in a tub of broken bits of chocolate anyway and gamely sprinkled them over the top of his cheesecake. The situation was entirely redeemed by the new deputy head saying it looked so nice it was what he would be having on Christmas day. I am reminding myself not to attempt anything so reckless ever again. 

In festive news, I have been agonising over the whole Christmas tree situation, as I do every year. Buy a tree so that we can all sit around and watch it slowly dry out and die before putting it out for the council recycling scheme? Buy a fake one at a far higher cost to the planet initially, but could keep it for ever? One in a pot? Obtain unwanted and unloved secondhand fake tree from Ebay or Freecycle - but might be pale pink or some other out-of-favour colour? A bunch of artistically arranged bare branches from the woods that I can return after it is all over? I tried talking it through with the middle child who was the one who wanted the tree, during which time it became apparent that he wanted nothing to do with the actual process of getting it. I had memorised some statistics on carbon footprints which I felt were fairly solid, but he is verbally very slippery and before long he had confused me as to what my figures actually referred to. 

The minute I suggested he come along on a trip to find a tree he started backing out of the entire project claiming not to be bothered at all. I said I felt I couldn't make him the only child around without a Christmas tree. He played it carefully, wanting to subtly guilt-trip me into tree provision but without any risk of being required to partake in any way. 

I think I have decided that I will go to a garden centre and see if they have one in a pot. If I throw in a hot chocolate the littlest boy will come too. I may be too late to bag one by now, people seem to have their trees up very early at the moment. They may be too pricey. I am picturing something rather lovely, in a sort of glaucous shade. But if a free pale pink tinsel tree comes my way I shall embrace it and frankly enjoy the collective familial horror. 

Tuesday 30 November 2021

In which I manifest an actual hedgehog


I have manifested a hedgehog. Impressive no? It all began when the biggest boy saw a hedgehog when he was away camping. He'd never seen one before and he was absolutely thrilled. It was eating some peanuts he had dropped near his tent.

Fast forward to a few days ago and we had been talking about hedgehogs on and off and I asked him if he wanted a hedgehog house for Christmas. I had an idea to make the garden all welcoming and nice for hedgehogs. When we first moved in here, over ten years ago, there was a dead hedgehog in the back lane, but other than that I've never seen one, although the middle boy has.

Anyway, the biggest boy said that yes, he would love a hedgehog house for Christmas. We had a long conversation about how brilliant they all are and I had a look online for some hedgehog houses, then in the evening, the dog and I and the littlest boy set off on our evening dog walk. The dog pulled us round in a very determined fashion, more so than usual, even lying down in the middle of the road at one point and refusing to go a certain way.

So we ended up going on an odd, long, around-the-houses walk, the littlest boy moaning that he wanted to go home and eat crisps and not walk for miles in the dark and then suddenly, ambling across the road in front of us, AN ACTUAL REAL LIFE HEDGEHOG. I was absolutely beside myself, hardly able to believe my eyes, chanting over and over, 'What is it, what is it, what is it?' just in case it was a large rat having a bad hair day or something. But no, actual hedgehog! He was completely unconcerned, checking out the gutter then wandering up a driveway and along a flowerbed. He must have been in view for at least five minutes.

The biggest boy and I have been back since to look but we haven't seen him (or her) again and after the day I saw him it's all gone a bit chilly so he might be hunkering down. Anyway, I feel very much that the universe sent me a hedgehog as a sign that I need to press forward with operation Hedgehog-Friendly Garden. I have read all about them and apparently they will be okay with a pond so long as there is a way to climb out. I may have to leave the garden to be a bit messy... 

Elsewhere around here people are hacking things back like mad which is making me furious. I shall stand against the tide and plant things and pile up leaves and put in trees and shelters and all the things. And try and engage politely with the cutting-things-back people. 

Photo: Nicolas Savignat

Hedgehog photo by Nicolas Savigat via Unsplash, as I don't actually have one myself yet, but I am daring to dream.

Wednesday 10 November 2021

Unreserved cushions


Autumn everywhere here. Yesterday the sun came out and there was a butterfly warming itself in the sun on a wall first thing in the morning. Today it was drizzle all the way. It never ceases to amaze me how these delicate creatures survive out there.

I am constantly thinking about snacks at the moment, which isn't good. Maybe the colder weather. I am like a bear laying down a few layers of fat before I go to sleep for the winter. The dog is on board with it and even the middle boy has declared that he is now open to eating everything and is no longer Fussy. The biggest boy eats anything, provided it is vegan, so I am branching out a little in the cookery department as well as eating all the snacks.

The main news in town is that (a) some people put a load of fireworks in a dog poop bin and blew it up and (b) one of Bertie's dog chums was bitten by another dog. Honestly, without dogs on the block there'd be no news at all. The dog friend is okay, a bit of an unfortunate event, with a very lively dog meeting a dog who was trying to avoid other dogs. It must be very hard if you have a dog who needs to be away from other dogs. They had gone to a very quiet spot at 10pm to be alone, then out of the dark came the lively dog.

I tried to interest the middle boy in going to the theatre to see Macbeth the other day. He just said 'No thank you' very politely and disappeared, which is pretty much his modus operandi to many things. It was a student production and not in the main theatre. I did find the booking arrangements a bit alarming, so maybe it's just as well he didn't fancy it. As well as reserved seats there were unreserved seats, reserved standing (standing! for two and a half hours! What is this, football???), unreserved standing, reserved cushions and unreserved cushions. I had visions of some sort of musical chairs style scrummage to bag a cushion before the thing kicked off. Can you imagine? For me it added a big fat layer of stress to the whole idea. I am very much the type of person who likes to sit down. Wherever I am, I am pretty much always looking for a comfy spot to sit. I love walking about the place, across the countryside, up the mountains etc. but as soon as it's over, I am looking for that sofa. So the idea of standing up for the whole of Macbeth or not getting a good cushion filled me with dread. I could offer to get it on DVD, but I am pretty sure that will be politely declined as well, so I probably won't bother. The middle boy and I are very much ones for the quiet life. I don't believe I've ever heard him raise his voice.

Sadly, the rest of the household are all about the noise. Well, I might be a bit shouty at times as well, but only because THEY MAKE ME. The dog has huge empathy with everything and can detect even the tiniest nanogram of irritation in a half-sigh or the slightly sharp putting down of a pen. He gets up and leaves silently, with the air of someone who expected better and will not dignify such behaviour with his presence. It comes to something when even the dog is disappointed in me.

Sunday 31 October 2021

Blogtober 2021 :: Day 31


I totally messed up collecting the biggest boy from the bus station this morning. I had been running through it in my mind obsessively, when I would get up, where I would park, how it would all go. I went to bed and woke up three times convinced I'd overslept, which is par for the course when I need to get up for a thing.

Eventually it was just half an hour to go. I thought I'd just doze for a bit, no sense in being ridiculously early, and THEN I OVERSLEPT. It was all to do with the clocks going back. Somehow, my alarm clock knew, and automatically put itself back one hour. I woke up at 5.30am to find a text message saying he was there. I spent a few minutes trying to work out what the time actually was. 4.30? 5.30? The coach company had also confused me by changing the times. So it was a bit of a discombobulating start to the day, which is unusual for me, my brain normally starts running through everything to be done before I'm even awake. 

Anyway, we managed a successful extraction in the end. I had to have a snooze when I got home to recover from it all. Then I took the youngest to football and it turned out it was off but no-one had been notified. He still managed to get soaked to the skin and covered in mud in the 25 minutes we were there.

I squeezed in some garden tidying this afternoon. Popped the aeoniums into the mini greenhouse along with a couple of pelargoniums, a lemongrass and a variegated lavender. I found the lavender growing under a tree back at the start of the summer. I broke off a couple of cuttings and put them in a pot in a shady spot and forgot about them. To my surprise they actually rooted. I'll be interested to see what the plant is like when it grows a bit, I've never seen a variegated lavender before. It was very satisfying to tuck everything away from the rain and the wind, all nice and snug. Against the south-facing back wall of the house, the tender things are usually okay in there.

I even oiled my shears. The garage can be a bit damp at times, so the tools don't always fare that well. Oiling something made me feel like a proper gardener. Plus, it was really nice not to be working for a while.

The dog and I encountered an eight-foot high tyrannosaurus rex on our walk this evening. It was losing a battle with a stiff breeze and the dog was more than a bit scared. We ran away for a bit, then some leaves chased us down the road so we ran away a bit more. Honestly, it's a wonder we manage to get around at all sometimes.

November tomorrow, which means the end of daily blogging for a while. I've enjoyed coming here to say hello every day and I am so happy to read your comments. Thank you for stopping by, it's very much appreciated. xx

Saturday 30 October 2021

Blogtober 2021 :: Day 30


I am optimistically typing a post, knowing that there are almost no pictures on my camera. I woke up to torrential rain and the stream was overflowing on our walk this morning. Thank you for your suggestions for lighting up the dog by the way. I particularly liked Lucy's idea of making it more of a fairy light situation. I just happen to have some tiny fairy lights, and you may recall that I have around 54 AA batteries owing to some weird sort of compulsion to buy them whenever I see them on offer. I have discovered I also do this with beautiful wooden salad servers. I never use them, ever, but I see them for sale and get all emotional over the loveliness of the wood, then they end up an a rarely used drawer where I forget about them.

Thank you for your lovely comments about the book and what a great gift it was. In fact, I did drop a few hints. I started out saying things like, 'Oh look at this, a signed Philip Pullman book, what a fantastic present that would make for someone who was a huge fan and happened to have a birthday coming up,' and ended up more along the lines of, 'IF WE DO NOT BUY ONE NOW THERE WILL BE NONE LEFT AND I WANT ONE.' There is no room for subtlety or manners when it comes to a signed Philip Pullman. In fact, the main bookshop ran out while people failed to act and things could have turned very ugly if a nice independent bookshop hadn't come to the rescue.

More heavy rain is forecast for tomorrow and I am wondering if football might be called off. I was reading earlier about how bits of Wales are slipping away under the weight of all the water, it is very concerning. Let's hope the people in charge have a plan. 

Have just added the photos. The water is a bit shocking, I don't think I've ever seen it that high, and I feel as though I am saying that regularly. You can see the difference in the bit where you can walk across the stream.

Yesterday, it was just covered:

Today, disappeared:

Wishing everyone a good Sunday. The last day of the month and it does feel as though October has flown by. It's a very different month at the end compared to the beginning I think. At the start, the remnants of summer are holding on. At the end, it is suddenly dark and wet and windy. I like to think about all the bacteria and fungi and worms breaking down the fallen leaves and making the soil lovely and rich ready for next year. I am ready for the new season. Onwards. 

Friday 29 October 2021

Blogtober 2021 :: Day 29

Photos from the most ordinary of days. Autumn is in full swing, with mushrooms in the garden and leaves blowing everywhere. Evening football training is in the dark and so are our evening dog walks. I am thinking of getting Bertie a light-up collar. I can't decide. On the one hand, I will be able to keep an eye on him when he is off lead and it might be safer for him on the pavement (when he is always on lead) if cars can see him. On the other hand, plastic, world's resources, dog looking like Blackpool illuminations, dog friends laughing at him. Also, he is never very keen on seeing other dogs with lights on them, they're a bit scary, so he might be scary to other dogs. If you have been around here a while you will know how I love to agonise over the simplest decisions. I have honestly been known to stand in front of the toothpaste shelves in the supermarket for five full minutes, unable to make a choice.

The postman brought me a lovely treat yesterday. The littlest boy bought me a book by Sir Philip Pullman for my birthday earlier in the month. It's a story that was originally published a number of years ago, but that has been reissued in a fancy format with lovely illustrations by Chris Wormell.

And inside...

PHILIP PULLMAN'S ACTUAL SIGNATURE. I am literally his biggest fan, so this is HUGE. I have been wandering around the house showing anyone who will listen. But they are not allowed to touch, oh no, because it is all PRECIOUS. PHILIP PULLMAN! And Chris Wormell, whose art is amazing. It's important that illustrators are always properly credited, they are missed out a bit sometimes I think. He illustrated La Belle Sauvage and The Secret Commonwealth as well, all beautifully done. So I am just happy as a clam.

Wednesday 27 October 2021

Blogtober 2021 :: Day 27


A little walk around the new allotments this morning. They were put there by the developer of some of the new houses. Not quite the same as the site where my allotment was, which was given to the town for people to raise their own food in 1546, but still, allotments all the same. 

Thank you for your scents and scented candle recommendations, I am ordering myself a treat or two for the lovely long dark winter evenings. 

It was mild and windy today, so I opened all the windows (still a trace of the elephant garlic about the place) and leaves blew in off of the wisteria that I am training around the window. A rather difficult neighbour moved away recently and it has left me loving my garden all the more. The new people seem lovely and I am happy as a clam. I go outside and breathe deeply and it is all totally stress-free. Happy, happy, happy. 

Although I wouldn't want you to think it is all immaculate and tidy out there or anything. There are a hundred jobs to be done and no time to do them and I am feeling horribly guilty about not Doing Things with the urchins over half term. I shall try hard to make time over the Christmas holidays. Of course, that assumes that they will want to do a thing with me. The youngest will, I am sure. I can lure him anywhere with the promise of a light snack. The middle one is generally harder to shift.