Monday, 26 September 2022

Out with the old


Well, after a mad few weeks the biggest boy is installed at university and the other two are back at school and I am breathing deep, cleansing, uninterrupted breaths. The eldest has managed some laundry and all seems well so far. The littlest boy is missing him, having handily forgotten all the torture and scuffles before he went away.

No opportunity was wasted to increase my anxiety about the whole thing. Conversations went like this:

Me: Which bathrobe do you want to take?

Biggest boy: The thin one.

Me: The thin one??? You'll be freezing. You need the thick one.

Biggest boy: I'll be getting dressed straight away in the mornings, the thin one will be fine.

Middle boy: He'll be sleeping in his clothes. In the street.

I looked into insurance before he went. Some insurance companies were offering cover for theft of shopping on the way home, as if he might be attacked and his groceries stolen after leaving the supermarket, as in some sort of dystopian nightmare.

We had a few minor disagreements over what he actually needed to have. He felt that £100 jeans and £170 speaker were basic necessities. I spent about three weeks going, 'You're a STUDENT'. He has £28 jeans and a £30 speaker which I am counting as a victory.

His group in the student halls had the opportunity to chat online before they met, so in theory they could have arranged kitchen equipment so that they didn't end up with twenty saucepans. Instead, they created a playlist and organised some cool lighting. I did see someone with a bread machine going past when I arrived though, which felt promising.

The university has literally dozens of exciting things going on, I was quite green with envy. Hedgehog preservations groups and gardening and exploring the countryside and trips here there and everywhere. It sounds brilliant, although of course he will probably mostly be going to the bar and not growing his own food. It would all be just right for me though. Except the shared kitchen. He said it is 'not quite as bad as I thought it might be, but you would still be horrified.' I think I am probably more robust than he gives me credit for, it's just that I am overly dramatic when someone makes a kitchen mess at home. I channel Monica from Friends a lot of the time, just to keep people in line as much as possible. 

I decluttered his room on Saturday and the littlest boy and I went plant shopping, then on Saturday evening he moved in, as it's much bigger than his room and has a view of fields and cows. Although his own room has a big tree outside right outside his window with resident pigeons which he is rather attached to. I did deep cleaning and it is all dust-free and sparkling. The littlest boy is on his best behaviour and temporarily committed to keeping it all lovely in there. 

And that feels like all the news I have for now. How is everything at your end?

Sunday, 14 August 2022

Still waiting for a hedgehog


More holiday snaps, if you can stand it. I remember when I was little you'd come back from holiday and invite the neighbours round for the evening to share your holiday photos, often via a projector. There was usually wine and people got a bit pink and giggly, even if it was only the Isle of Wight. 

The dog and I climbed half a mountain, then I decided that the rest of it would be far too difficult for him (lots of big jagged boulders) so we sat on a tussock to wait for the urchins to return. To be fair, it was a beast of a climb, and everyone said the dog wouldn't have managed it. Some people said I wouldn't have managed it too, but of course I would, I was just thinking of the dog. 

I ate all of my sandwiches and said hello to the other walkers who went past on their way up. An eight year old girl and a three year old boy included. A young couple came past, him striding out, being all leader-of-the-expedition, her trailing slightly and interrogating me quite hard about how far I felt it was to the top. I said I hadn't been and I wasn't going, I was sitting and waiting and enjoying the view. She said longingly that that sounded like an excellent idea. He laughed loudly and on they went. 

Apparently the biggest boy told the other two several times that they were almost at the top. It was one of those mountains that looks like you're almost there, but you're not. But they did it, and managed not to fall out. I've noticed that when the chips are down, they do manage not to be too dreadful to each other. Unlike other times, for example, when they are all in the (small) kitchen together trying to make lunch and cricket teas all at the same time. Oh my, did that turn ugly. I found a falafel stuffed inside the oven glove afterwards. Least said about it all the better.

At home, my wildlife encouragement plans hit a slight snag when a rat wandered into the kitchen. You may recall we have already had a cat strolling round the living room, bold as brass. The middle boy and I were eating breakfast in blissful peace and quiet when there was a mad scrabbling in the kitchen from the dog. He had the rat cornered behind the bin. The middle boy escorted the dog away and I shut the rat in the kitchen temporarily while I scoured the house for things to block the escape route. It was fairly easy to shoo it back outside, where I think it is probably living under next door's decking. This is the mouse-poisoner and herbicide fanatic, so I fear things may not look good for the rat if he is discovered. The dog is rather pleased to have been upgraded from purely decorative to chief rat warden. All of a sudden he is a working dog! And we all know they have special food.

It's the first rat I've ever seen since living here, more than ten years now, and the day before I saw the first squirrel I've ever seen in the garden. I wonder if things are being dislodged by the drought. Did I ever tell you about the squirrel on the wires at the front of the house? It was tightrope walking all along the street. At first glance it was intriguing, so I notified the littlest boy, who adores all animals. After a while it became obvious that the poor thing couldn't get down though, and it was all horribly dangerous and after about half an hour I was really wishing I'd never pointed it out. In the end it did manage to get all the way up to the end of the street and round the corner, where the wires slope down to the ground, so we convinced ourselves that there was happy ending.

I must just say thank you for all of your brilliant suggestions for entertaining older urchins over the summer. I particularly liked Jo's tip of making a list of things everyone wants to do at the start. I am definitely guilty of thinking that we'll get dozens of trips in and then realising the whole six weeks has flown by and we've barely done anything. 

Right now I am waiting for cooler weather and fingers crossed some heavy rain, as no doubt lots of you are too. The children have been playing cricket all weekend, which seems like madness. As I type this, a few clouds are gathering in the sky though, so I am eternally hopeful. 

Sunday, 7 August 2022

Green and grey


We loaded up the dog and headed up the road to Wales last week. It was beautiful there as ever. There was even some rain. Glorious. There were ferns tucked into slate walls, sea ducks out on the estuary, mountains topped with clouds, mullet feeding in the bay in the evening, mist on the lakes in the early mornings and sheep and rabbits all over the shop.

The eldest boy likes to climb mountains at sunrise and sunset, while the littlest boy likes to dig holes in sand and jump into the sea. The middle boy is easy going and likes all of it, and coffee and good food and funny conversations. Well, okay, maybe he's not a huge fan of digging holes, but he did shin up a mountain and swim in the sea. I climbed up half a mountain and looked at the sea. 

In the evening they played football together and I read my book and lightly policed it when it threatened to turn bickery. It was all rather blissful. And now we're back home and the garden is of course parched and the work has piled up. Not complaining though, not at all, it's all good. Well, not the climate change obviously, but I am putting out water for wildlife and doing what I can to be part of the solution etc. etc.

I need to up my game and entertain the urchins a bit I think. It's very easy to think, oh, I'll work this week and do something next week, and then the weeks slip by and I realise I haven't done anything. The littlest boy has a new-to-him bike which he is loving, so we did do a bike ride today. It's hard to think of things that teenagers would all like to do together though. With their mother in tow. That doesn't involve me handing out wads of cash. Ideas gratefully received.

How are things at your end? Back soon with the sorry tale of my garden bench, which I was going to tell you this time, but I couldn't bring myself to quite yet, it needs to settle a bit first. CJ xx

Wednesday, 20 July 2022

Mr Beaky


Scenes from the garden. It's so dry out there, although by some miracle next-door's grass is a deep green and growing beautifully. I am compiling a list of environmental crimes. Complete destruction of the back lane habitat. Mouse poisoning. Unreasonable grass. He is rather opposed to anything wild or living I fear. It is very much an empty shoebox garden with just grass, not a single other plant. I am working up to having a polite conversation about it all.

Around the neighbourhood we are losing at least a dozen big ash trees to ash die back. The felling notices say that although there will be replanting, it will be done somewhere else. Disappointing, because some of the trees are in big open green spaces, which will then be big empty green spaces. 

I don't mean to be all doom and gloom though. On this side of the garden fence there are all sorts of bees and butterflies and birds and in the other next door garden it is delightfully wild.

I have had the back door open a lot. I was eating my breakfast the other day while reading and something wandered into the room, strolled around and disappeared off again. I saw it out of the corner of my eye while I was engrossed and it took a good thirty seconds for me to realise that it wasn't the dog (he was out on a walk). By the time I'd leapt up and gone to investigate, it had disappeared. I finally spotted it - a cat, sashaying back up the garden path, cool as you please. Very good job the dog wasn't at home. 

Today has felt expensive. Food, petrol, locksmith (dodgy garage door), clothes for urchins and a head torch for the eldest who is going away and says that he thinks he will have to be active after dark. One of those days when outgoings far exceed incomings. Plus, someone is making very free with my organic cacao, which to my mind is a little luxury, to be had sparingly. 

I sent the middle boy out to pick the cherries, like in the olden days when time off of school was so that urchins could help with the harvest. I asked him if he felt a huge amount of homesteader satisfaction in putting provisions by for the winter. I think he was struggling to feel it to be honest. Supermarkets have ruined that sort of thing I fear.

I have been decluttering a little. I took an old hand puppet toy called Mr Beaky (think Emu, only with a shorter neck) to the recycling centre shop when the littlest boy wasn't around - most of this sort of toy removal has to be conducted stealthily or it will all be 'rescued' back again. 

At the recycling centre they have a portacabin where they hang out and all around it they have decorated with garden ornaments such as gnomes and pigs and things. Just as you drive up the slope to arrive, there is a big pole. When I went with the biggest boy, the first thing we saw was Mr Beaky perched right on top of the pole. I really must remember no to go there with the littlest boy for the foreseeable future or I shall be in all manner of trouble. I shall probably have to buy him back as well. Sigh. I had been so surreptitious in sneaking him out.

Hope everyone is cool and calm and collected out there. CJ xx

Sunday, 10 July 2022

Flying ant day

Dog and frog
                                                                        Dog and frog

It was Flying Ant Day today. That hot, dry day in midsummer when suddenly all of the flying ants appear. I rescued several from the fox/hedgehog/dog water bowls that I have about the place. Also a woodlouse from the pond, which was very satisfying. The pond level is a bit low at the moment, so it must be feeling a bit more crowded in there than usual. I also need to remove some of the weed, which is growing really well. In fact, a tiny strand of it has grown to fill the whole pond, and the water lily also needs to be smaller. Or maybe I just need a bigger pond. The littlest boy is all for digging a new, bigger one, but there is a layer of rock just below the soil surface here and I haven't forgotten how hard it was to chisel out even the small pond that we have now.

The garden is nicely messy and full of flying things, especially the grass which is still thick with clover and probably at least eight other flowers. The blackbirds are stuffing themselves with blueberries and the pigeons are still gorging themselves with cherries from the three trees dotted around. Still no sign of an actual hedgehog, but all in good time.

It is wall-to-wall cricket here at the moment, but at least the whites are drying nicely on the line and of course it does keep the urchins mostly out of trouble for many hours. Although apparently the littlest boy knocked off the biggest boy's hat at tea yesterday, so the biggest boy took a bite out of the littlest boy's apple in retaliation and I feel that may have turned slightly ugly. I imagine they might try and tone it down a bit when I'm not there though, do you think? The middle boy has taken himself off to a different cricket club where he can be nicely distanced from the rabble that is the rest of the family.

I am very aware that in less than three months the biggest boy will have gone to university (all being well). There is a list of things that need to be purchased that promises to be expensive. I am going to have to rein him in a bit I fear. He has researched the local wholefood shop near his chosen uni very thoroughly, and is also aware that he will only be able to buy anything there the day that his student loan is paid and never thereafter.

I need to teach him to cook some nice cheap vegan things. I am thinking lentil things, veggie mince things, scrambled tofu and maybe something around pasta. Feeding him has always been a serious and substantial undertaking. 

He found an actual student kitchen in a video the other day. Apparently it was utterly horrific. I wonder if he will appreciate me more when he is knee deep in uncooked chicken, burned oven gloves and last week's lightly furred washing up. Do let me know if you have any cheap and easy vegan recipes that would do for an optimistic student. CJ xx