Wednesday 28 December 2022

Keeping out the Welsh


Glimpses of Berkeley Castle, built in the 12th century to keep out the Welsh, which clearly hasn't worked. It's also where Edward II is believed to have been murdered in 1327. It's pretty much been in the same family the whole time, although it's a wedding venue as well as their home now and also does a bit of jousting and that sort of thing from time to time. It's basically like Lower Loxley, if you are familiar with the Archers.

The white house nearby was the home of Edward Jenner, 'father of immunology' who pioneered the concept of vaccines. He also created a vaccine for smallpox which had killed around 10% of the global population. He experimented with it on his gardener's 8-year-old son. Good job it worked.

Check out the glasshouse round the back. I reckon I could grow my own pineapples if I had something like that.

Did we all power through Christmas okay? It has been nice to have the biggest boy back, although I had forgotten how much space he takes up and how much food he eats. He came home and opened the fridge with a happy sigh, saying, 'The good thing about being at home is there's food in the fridge. Oh.' Turned out it was disappointingly empty.

He texts me and the littlest boy photos of his meals sometimes. The littlest boy looked at one of them and said, 'His food looks so much better than ours mum. How is he outdoing us?' Sigh.

Did I ever tell you about the food shopping insurance? Some student insurance provides £200 of cover in case you are robbed on your way home from the supermarket and all of your shopping is stolen. This type of thing is not reassuring to a mother, imagining some post-apocalyptic urban hellscape where you cannot even get your soya milk and organic lentils and Morrison's vodka home safely.

The dog pretended he couldn't see him when he first came home after three months away. Literally turned his back on him and studiously ignored him. I think he may have forgiven him now. 

Thank you for all of your bench commiserations and pep talks. I love the sound of subdued aubergine and also embracing Mediterranean tastes and stepping out of my comfort zone. 

On another garden topic, I have finally found a use for figs. I usually pick off all the small fruits that are left at the end of the season, but I couldn't reach the high up ones and ladders made me very nervous, being highly clumsy, so I left quite a few this year. It turns out that the birds really like them, or at least they did during the cold snap. Which made me think that maybe I could freeze some of the ripe ones and bring them out for the birds in the winter. They've also been getting through loads of sunflower seeds. 

The local garden shop has just closed its doors for good which is a shame. They sold beans and peas and onion sets loose and you could just put as many as you wanted in a paper bag. They grew all of their own beddings and vegetable plants and the rest of their stock came from local nurseries. And apart from pet food and food for the wild creatures, it was all plants and no novelty hot water bottle covers or peanut brittle. 

The urchins had a go at skiing the other day on the dry ski slope. I say dry, but actually there was biblical rain, so they got soaked. Someone accidentally slid backwards into a row of new skiiers. Honestly, is there anything funnier than seeing a bunch of people who can barely stand up themselves trying to stop someone sliding away by all holding onto a bit of their anorak. And probably nothing much more annoying than seeing someone who is sitting drinking a nice hot flask of coffee and laughing instead of actually getting off their arse and giving it a go. 

Hope you all had a good festive blast and are ready for the clean, clear energy of January. I also hope American friends are all okay in the storm. CJ xx

Tuesday 29 November 2022

The importance of a tightly drafted brief

I am just about ready to tell you the sorry tale of my garden bench. I dug out a couple of old photos so that you could get an idea of what it looked like Before. The wood was past its best, but the ends were lovely and smooth with a sort of blue-black look to them.

I wanted to repair it, rather than buy a new one, even though a new one would have been cheaper than buying new wood and new fixings. It's a bog standard cheap bench and quite old, but I hate throwing things away so I got the necessary stuff.

I couldn't remove the old bolts, which were rusted, so I asked the local community repair shop to do it. I gave them the bench and the wood and the new bolts and they assured me it would be no trouble at all to fit the new wood.

I bumped into one or two of the chaps out and about and they hinted that a lovely job was being made of it. The wood would be treated! It would all be magnificent. 

They were also doing up bikes for Ukrainian refugees because they are all in all good eggs, so I waited patiently for weeks, looking forward to having a functional bench again. It was a bit of a treat to be honest, splashing out on the wood. I could picture how nice it would be.

Then the call came. It was done! I could go and get it! 

I rounded up some strong boys and off we went. There was excitement at the shop, they'd gone all out they told me. Not just wood treatment, but they'd given it a coat of paint was well! 

Oh, I said, how nice. Inside I was thinking, paint??? I tried to imagine what colour they had gone for. I guessed green. And I was right. It was indeed green. THICK BRIGHT GREEN GLOSS. WITH ORANGE VARNISH. Oh horror of horrors. 

I was almost lost for words. The lovely smooth patina-ed ends all choked up with hideous gloss paint. Thick, thick, thick gloss paint. It is never coming off, ever. And it will never fade. It might chip, but not to worry, THERE IS MORE UNDERNEATH.

They all looked pleased as punch to have gone above and beyond and delivered such a thing. It was carried out and placed in isolated splendour for me to appreciate it in all its perfection. The orange wood really stood out against the THICK BRIGHT GREEN. I couldn't imagine a more striking combination. 

I paid the money and organised the urchins to carry it off and spent at least two minutes thanking them nicely because I didn't want to hurt the feelings of the person who had had the brilliant idea of green paint and orange varnish and who had made sure I had such a magnificent surprise. But inside, inside I was screaming. 

So here it is, back home in the garden, where I can see it all day from where I work. To be fair, the wood has changed colour slightly, possibly even for the better. But the green paint, no siree, that is as fresh as the day it was painted back in the summer. It has taken me this long to speak about it. 

I suppose you want to see it. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Contrast it, if you will, with the other bench, which is blending in nicely and not shouting at all.

I suppose the trick will be to sit on the ghastly orange and green bench and look at the other bench. Although this doesn't solve the problem of me staring out of the window at it all the livelong day. Sigh. I know I am being overly dramatic, but what was supposed to be more of an eco-friendly solution has turned into a gloss paint nightmare. But it's fine. I am almost over it and I am certain that you will come up with a tasteful solution for me, such as covering it with a nice soft padded patchwork throw or rubbing yoghurt into it so that it ages back into beauty. You will come up with a tasteful solution, won't you?

Friday 25 November 2022

Tranquility, and the magnificence that is Patricia


Photos from a glorious day by the canal with the middle boy, who wanted to go fishing. We were out pretty much from sunrise to sunset. He caught a pike while I pottered around taking photos and reading about canal history.

It's fascinating. Take this pill box for example:

It is one of a ring of around 260 pill boxes forming a protective circle, known as Stop Line Green, around Bristol and the port of Avonmouth, to try and prevent German forces from approaching from the east in the Second World War. It was also to defend the factory there, which was a ghost factory, ready to take over munitions production if another factory was bombed. Scary times indeed. The pill box is unusual in that it is two storeys high, rather than just one, and has what is believed to be an anti-aircraft placement on top.

The factory was in an old cloth mill, originating from the late 1400s. Lots of history down on the canal, I'm telling you.

The bit I liked best was called 'The Ocean':

Not exactly ocean-sized, but very pretty. No-one knows exactly why it's called The Ocean - maybe a touch of sarcasm. Or maybe because back in the day it was as near to an ocean as the yokels got.

I also read about how a railway bridge over the canal has just been rebuilt after they drained a stretch of the canal, moving fish and everything. The wildlife has reappeared now the water is back. A kingfisher flew right past me and I saw a buzzard right overhead and a greater spotted woodpecker in a tree. A family of swans spent the day drifting up and down a pretty stretch of the water. All in all a good day out. I even managed to stay calm(ish) when the fish was caught. You will be happy to know it was released again and no-one was bitten.

The old manor house behind the wall with the grass and the bench (ate my sandwiches there) is Stonehouse Court and dates back to 1601. In fact the estate is mentioned in the Domesday book. The church next to it (the photo with the weeping willow) dates back originally to the 1200s, but the building that is there now was started in the 1400s.

Panning out, there was a glorious barge in the canal next to Stonehouse Court called Patricia. I know you'll want to see her...

Magnificent, no? Who knew you could get a JCB boat?

In other news I am ignoring both the World Cup and Christmas. There is almost nothing positive about the former and the latter is just annoying and generally an eco-disaster.

I've been enjoying the early sunsets and the cosy winter feeling. While simultaneously trying to hold back with the heating :) Tricky isn't it. I do so love the countryside in winter. All that cold clean sky and pretty cottages with lighted windows in the dusk. 

Do you think it's time to put sunflower seeds out for the birds? They naturally dispersed in spring so I stopped feeding them, like they do at the wetlands place. But I feel it might be time to start up again.

I'm also contemplating getting a crab apple tree for wildlife. Although I never see birds actually eating crab apples. Maybe that's because I am always walking past the tree at the time. I have pretty much persuaded myself anyway. They are very pretty almost all year round. I would want one with small berry-sized (bird-bite-sized) crab apples for the birds I think. 

I am still waiting for a hedgehog. Well, there could actually be one in the hedgehog house but I don't like to look in case there is and I disturb it. I think the rat is still living under next-door's decking though. Bertie has a good sniff around on a regular basis and he should know with his super-spaniel nose. I am not fussy about wildlife, a rat will do nicely for now. 

All okay at your end? Ignoring anything? Got a hedgehog?

Monday 31 October 2022


A volunteer squash plant popped up in the garden in early summer. It turned out to have these delightful little squashes on it. I vaguely remember buying a small squash last year that was part green stripes and part orange. No doubt the seeds were composted and found their way into the vegetable beds.

The squashes above are all from the same plant. Just one is dark green, and it has a spot of orange on it. I left them on the plant to ripen and they are all lasting really well. I think I shall save some seeds and grow some more next year, I just love how dinky they are.

We are at the end of 11 days of holiday for the urchins. The littlest boy was doing his homework before bed. I was very cross. I must have asked him ten times during the holidays whether he had done everything for school. Honestly.

There was a dearth of trick or treaters on the streets tonight when the dog and I made our inspection of the neighbourhood. Some people had made a brilliant job of decorating and there were lots of nicely carved pumpkins and candles. One or two households were actively trying to lure people in by shouting, 'Do you want sweets?' across the road at other people. 

Bertie found something on the pavement and ate it. His revenge for me not allowing him the half of a burger he found this morning. Last Hallowe'en we came across someone in a giant dinosaur costume and he was terrified. At least there was nothing scary out there tonight. Although I did see at least eight cats and a good half of them were real. He's not the most observant dog though, so he didn't see them. You can bet that they saw him though. I felt they were looking down their noses a bit.

I don't think I have any actual news today. I took the littlest boy shopping at the mall this afternoon and it has rather taken it out of me. I can barely string a sentence together. I bought him a new t-shirt, which I rather regret now (see homework, above) and some socks. I bought two new notebooks which I absolutely definitely need. For something, at some point, possibly soon. 

Also, a plant pot as the littlest boy has rather an indoor plant addiction now he has taken over the big bedroom with the big south-facing window. And I am pretty much an enabler. We went to the garden centre and looked at cactuses and I said helpful things like, 'Ooh, look at this one, we haven't got one like this.' I need to rein us in. 

Hoping you are enjoying Hallowe'en. I have celebrated by eating a dark chocolate KitKat from the bowl for the trick or treaters. In fact, there are still some left.