Friday, 24 July 2009

The End of an Era

Very shortly I am going to go down the lane for the last time to collect my youngest daughter from the village school. We had the Leavers’ Service this morning, followed by coffee and biscuits decorated by the children with icing and fruit and all sorts of wonderful things. Presents were handed out to teachers; videos and photos were taken.

I have been going to Leavers’ Services at the school for six years now. I have had two previous ones which have directly involved my own children (E in 2006, G in 2007), and now little L. It seems only yesterday she was in a pushchair while her oldest sister set out on the educational road. These first footsteps are so important, and so poignant. But if seeing your little ones step into school for the first time is hard enough, having to see them step out for the last time I think is even harder. Our village school, you see, is only an Infants School, so they are only 7 when they leave it to move on to the next stage. It is also tiny (just 24 pupils) and so has a very intimate, family atmosphere. Living in the village, as we do, means it is extra special to us.

I think I have been dreading this moment for all of those six years, which is perhaps why, now the moment has finally come, I have not been as all over the shop emotionally as I had feared. I have been thinking about this for so long, mentally and emotionally steeling myself for the final farewell. It was potentially made worse by the fact that the Head Teacher, whom I hold in high regard and with whom I’ve enjoyed a very good relationship, is leaving too today after 13 years at the helm. She has done a marvellous job – always so far ahead of her game and therefore keeping up the phenomenal standards of the school. I will never forget the first moment N and I met her: we had come up to look at the house we were going to buy and were just exploring the village when we noticed what looked like a village hall. To our amazement, we then saw that it was also an infant school – and at 4.30pm on a dark dank November night, the lights were cheerily blazing. We knocked on the door and Mrs Curry came to answer it. They had just finished computer club. We said we were likely to be buying a house in the village and that we had three young daughters, the oldest of which was just coming up to school age. She was nothing but welcoming and enthusiastic and we were so struck by her and the evident quality of this little school, buried away in the Peak District countryside, that we asked her if she had plans to move on in the near future. She made a quick calculation (she later revealed to us) and said, ‘No’. She had already decided that this was where she wanted to end her career and she had six years left to go. Perfect for our girls.

And so here we are on 24th July 2009. It is the end of an era for us, for our children, and for Mrs Curry. I drew and painted a picture of the school for her which I put in a frame and I made up a photo collage on canvas from the photographs I have gathered over the years. It seemed the only appropriate gift and it was lovely to see her obvious pleasure at receiving these physical memories to take away with her.

For my own part, I received a beautiful lavender plant and a token, and a certificate ‘For outstanding levels of hard work and achievement in our school vegetable garden’! (This is a project I started this year and hope to continue – more of that another time – but it has given me immense pleasure, so this light-hearted ‘award’ and gift could not have delighted me more.)

And so it is now 3 o’clock and I am going to walk down that lane to school for the last time. Think of me as I say my last goodbyes. It is not going to be easy. In fact, maybe only now, in the very moment that I write this, the reality is only just hitting. I admit it, I now have tears streaming down my face. I hate endings and I hate goodbyes. Although the future has so much still to bring, it is so very very hard to let go of such a huge part of our life in the High Peak since our arrival here on 31st May 2003.

Class of 2006

Thursday, 23 July 2009

So did it rain, then?

Blimey, is it summer elsewhere in the world? Certainly not here again. Yes, you guessed it, RAIN, RAIN, RAIN and more RAIN. I went to get my snow tyres taken off last week. I’m wondering why...

So, was it sunny for the famous party? Well…..erm, no. Oh, c’mon, whaddya expect?! BUT, I can reveal that, given the weather we’d had before and the weather we’ve had since (i.e crap) it is a minor miracle that it didn’t rain. It was even vaguely warm (don’t get excited, now, I said ‘vaguely’). Let’s say it was warm enough for the kids to arrive, rush around like flies on speed and get sufficiently hot and bothered to demand the water slide be unravelled and pegged out so they could don their cozzies and throw themselves on to it with the sort of gay abandon that only a bunch of party-crazed children can do.

So, dear reader, I think we can conclude that it was a success. And that we were very lucky. It was mainly grey, with the odd burst of sunshine to give the merest hint that it was actually high summer. There were a few spots of rain which meant a sudden burst of activity from the adults to erect the borrowed gazebo – and, of course, like umbrellas, the moment it was up, the rain stopped. Fair enough. It was a good preventative at least.

The main thing was, they were able to charge around the garden, not my house. Phew. Everyone got wet and grubby. Great! That’s what kids should do.

I had suggested to Mein Fuhrer (aka N) that we put signs up in the village to direct people to the right place. ‘Nah,’ he says with utter confidence and in that ‘Don’t even THINK about it!’ sort of way that he does. Waste o’time. My instincts told me otherwise and, inevitably, everyone’s posh SatNavs sent them up to some long-suffering farmer who, at least, was faintly amused to see all these smart Cheshire 4x4’s actually being put to some proper use on the devilishly rutted farm track. Of course Muggins here not only had to bow and scrape apologies to the hot and bothered parents (having to take your kid to a party on a Sunday is bad enough without getting lost, arriving late and trashing your vehicle for good measure) but then had to make a special phonecall to the farmer the next day to apologise for ruining his Day of Rest too. Sigh.

PS: why do I listen to my husband? Answers on a postcard please…

Friday, 17 July 2009

The Great British Summer

Humph. I have just poured myself a tot of sherry as it feels sufficiently wintery up here on my windswept, rain-lashed hill. Yes, dear reader, this is summer in the glorious High Peak, and this is the view from my windows just now (though I'm disappointed it doesn't show how much rain is actually falling):-

A friend called a short while ago. She currently lives in Geneva and has just come back from two fabulous weeks in the sun-filled Algarve. I asked her how the weather was in Geneva today. 'Oh, foul' she says. 'It was 34 degrees yesterday but today it's pouring with rain and the temperature has plummeted to 18 degrees.' Good Grief woman, 18 degrees? That's a hot day up here! We're currently revelling in 11.5 (the .5 bit is very important). Really, can I stand it much more? I have hung the washing on the line (a favourite little summer domestic pastime of mine) a mere handful of times. I have eaten outside at lunchtime another mere handful of times. I have sat outside in the evening just once. The summer clothes have been consigned to the 'Sale' rack at the back of the shops and the Autumn Collection is taking pride of place. HELP!!! I haven't felt I've had ANY summer yet, let alone the idea that it's all over. That would mean I haven't enjoyed the pleasures of the 'hot' months in my own home for nearly 36 months now - with the prospect of being denied them for a further 12. Is this really an acceptable way to live? Endlessly cooped up within the four walls of the house doing the same old tasks like a hamster on an infernal wheel? 36 months of the same routines, the same clothes, constantly living in hope that THIS year will be a good summer, only to have them dashed once more.

I remember the two glorious summers we have had - 2003 (our first up here) and 2006. We had breakfast outside every morning, the doors were constantly open as we shifted seemlessly from outside to in and back again. The deckchairs came out and one could sit in them and sneak in a snooze or simply rest and listen to the birds and the bees. Rugs were spread on the lawn and the children made camps out of them and various other bits and bobs from the summer house. It isn't much to ask, is it really, just to be able to go out into one's garden and enjoy some fresh air and outdoor living?

Each year I have dreamed of summer days and picking the girls up from the village school and walking along one of the lanes to find a picnic spot in a field by the stream. I have the odd photo and memory of this - perhaps two or three - but in six years that's not a whole lot, is it? Now my youngest child is about to leave the village school - just one week left to go - and then all that will be gone forever. Irretrievable moments of which I have always been so acutely conscious are so very very precious and so very short-lived, they grow up so fast. It breaks my heart, it really does, that such simple innocent summertime pleasures have been denied by the relentlessly poor weather.

I think it is this accentuated awareness I have of the passage of time that makes all this so unbearable for me. I feel a physical sensation of panic - tight chest, breathlessness - at the sheer frustration of it: the fact that I appreciate the moment and want to grab it, but am constantly thwarted. Let's face it, one of the key reasons I was so distraught at moving back to the UK from Italy was because of our piss-poor summers. London seemed a grey, damp mulch of weather which changed little in temperature through all the seasons - too warm to feel like winter, too cold to feel like summer, ill-defined springs and autumns. My one consolation for moving further north, onto the rain-swept western side of the isle, was that I would enjoy a good winter. A proper winter. But, yes, dear reader, you have guessed it: the moment Yours Truly arrives, the patterns change and the harsh winters that were typical of this region no longer happen. The snow has decreased with every year we've lived here. A long hot summer and white Christmas that first year, but has not been repeated since. Just rain, wind, rain, wind, rain. All year round.

If I'm being REALLY fair, I have to acknowledge that we have had SOME sun this summer. We all remember the sun-drenched two weeks of Wimbledon (completely predictable this being the first year they'd spent unthinkable millions on a fancy new roof); but I would like to remind you that, of course, it was not quite as blistering up here - I definitely remember a day or two where the dazzling blue of the sky in SW19 was certainly not replicated out of my own window as more spots of rain fell, but it WAS the best week or two of the summer so far. Shame I spent all of it driving around in a car. But I've moaned about that before, so I shall spare you a second rant on that one. Yet it is equally true to say that EVERY trip I have accompanied the village school on this 'Summer' term has been memorable only for the levels of drenching we have had to endure. I was so wet at the end of our canal walk that my knickers were squelching (and that was with a 'Dry as a Bone' style coat on) - I was chilled to the core and couldn't get myself warm for the rest of the day. At one point it was raining so hard and blowing such a gale that you could barely see these poor little wellington-booted figures a few yards ahead as the rain and mists slanted across the landscape. Ditto our trip to Solomon's Temple - the highest point above Buxton. We saw black clouds ahead but thought we might make it there and back before they burst. We didn't and they did. I was fully suited and booted this time in skiing regalia, yet as we huddled in the Temple with the wind driving the rain through the structure, a make-shift tarpaulin over our heads (a piece of sheeting held by the adults), trying to eat bananas and jumping up and down to keep warm, I was staggered at the violence of the weather and the depth of the cold and how, once again, these poor children were being subjected to absurdly wintery conditions on a summer term outing.

Our next was a nature walk round the village and over to the reservoir. Again, it should, or could, have been lovely. But no. Grey, damp, chill. Started raining just as we stopped for their fruit break. Sun just started to peak through as we walked the last few hundred yards. An infuriating taste of what it should have been.

Sports Day was similarly rained off, but thankfully, when re-scheduled, fell in the hot week. But I think last night really took the biscuit. After weeks of planning and organising, we were holding a farewll party to the Headteacher who retires at the end of this term after 13 years at the school. We normally have a fundraising barbecue in the summer term, but this was planned as a party that all the parents could enjoy as well. There was to be a hog roast, a bouncy castle, live music, some simple stalls for the children, a raffle and a barn dance. The school is in an idyllic position in the centre of the village surrounded by beautiful hillside vistas dotted with bleating sheep. Would it be too much to ask just to have a warm summer's evening where people could relax and enjoy themselves, the children could frolic about and we could all eat, drink and be merry? Not really. But it seemed it was. The day before it rained all day, but then turned into a lovely evening. Yesterday was dry and reasonably warm all day (albeit grey-skied) until....5 minutes before the party started. The clouds came down pretty much to field level and the rain was heavy and relentless. It had completely set in and was going nowhere - well not until 9.05pm, I predicted, with the party due to end at 9pm. People arrived hunched under umbrellas or swathed in waterproofs, their noses dripping rain. The marquee leaked (thank GOD we decided to splash out - no pun intended - on that, or the evening would have had to have been cancelled), the children were drenched from head to foot, bouncing in a lake of water. The moment the speeches were over, just as the Barn Dance was due to begin, loads of people decided enough was enough and took their soggy selves and soggy children home. The rest of us, feeling for the band and the feelings of the Headteacher, spread our smiles wider and threw ourselves into the dances. As with life in general, those that made the effort reaped the rewards. The dancing was fun and tipped the balance in our minds as to the success of the evening. We had a laugh. As the last chords were struck the rain finally began to abate. Indeed, at 9.05pm it had just about stopped. As only the British can, we had 'made the best of it', but how much lovelier it would have been to have memories of golden evening sunshine with children gambolling about and people drifting and lingering into the descending dusk. I felt the The Headteacher deserved that at least. She was sad enough without the gloomy elements to fuel her emotions.

Ah yes, 'The Great British Summer' - how great, indeed, this country would be without it.

And so, was our own 'Party Day' last Sunday wet and windy, as I so feared and dreaded? I think I shall have to tell you next time as my sleepy babes are waiting for their goodnight kiss and my Friday night curry awaits me...

Friday, 10 July 2009

Why do we live in England?

Hmmm. Drums fingers. I'm really beginning to wonder why ANYONE would ever choose to live in this country. I have 45 children (more fool me) coming to a 'Garden Party' on Sunday at our house. Now, this should all be quite simple. Blow up the paddling pools. Throw in some coloured plastic balls. Peg down the waterslide. Get the water pistols out. Throw down some rugs for the picnic tea. Play a few team games and Bob's Your Uncle. Everyone has a great time. Not too stressful.

You would have thought it would be safe to plan something like this for the middle of July, wouldn't you? It's not like I'm perversely trying to pull this one off in April, May or even June. No. It's July. But hey. This is England. The temperature flickered at 12.5 degrees celsius yesterday. A chill wind blew and made it feel even colder. The tomato plants shuddered, the cucumbers said 'You've got to be joking', the slugs ate the broccoli.

There is absolutely no doubt about it that if you live somewhere that manages to be warm and sunny in the summer (not too much to ask, I wouldn't have thought), then life is so much easier. You don't have to spend your whole time making decisions: if it's sunny we'll do this; but if it's rainy we'll do the other. Constant provision making for bad weather. It's absolutely exhausting. I've just wasted 2 hours of my time going over to a friend's house to pick up a pair af gazebos (thank you friend), JUST IN CASE it rains. Given I've now got them and wasted that time, it probably won't. Just like umbrellas. I've been checking the forecast and it changes every five minutes, but at least it's moved from Heavy Rain (all day) to Light Rain. And I hear you all cry - 'Oh it doesn't matter, the kids will have a great time even in the rain.' Yeah well, all fine and dandy if it's at least summer temperatures, but I can tell you right now, it is pretty grim up here when it's raining, windy and 12 degrees. And the temperatures are looking low. 18 at best.

Anyway, me sweethearts, that's enough moaning. I have party bags to fill, shopping to do, kids to collect and ferry around for the next 3 hours - oh, and the sun's just come out! Shame I have to be driving around again. When will I EVER just get to sit in a deckchair in the sunshine in my own garden on a proper summer's day? I know, when I'm 80...

On that merry thought, I shall bid you a fond farewell. Please offer up a prayer or two for me. And if you don't hear from me again on this blog, it's because I have committed hari kari (again).

Happy Weekends y'all.

Monday, 6 July 2009

News Flash!

I've just written a new post on my Fridge Food blog. It's an 'Easy Summer Supper for Friends'. Italian inspired, of course, and involving prawns, chicken, cannellini beans and strawberries. Whet you appetite? Go see.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Random Jottings

I have just come in from the garden where I have been contemplating my day over a tonic water on the green bench. The air was still soft at 10pm (remarkable for up here – but then it hit 30 degrees in Buxton today – equally remarkable for the wettest town in Britain!), the honeysuckle hung heavily in the atmosphere and I listened to the sounds of the evening. A horse snorted, birds sang, sheep bleated and some human voices drifted up from the valley. I could have sat there for hours. In fact I could have sat in my garden all day today such was the perfection of it all: hot sun, warm air, no wind, all plant life exploding in the combined conditions of wet and warmth (we had a big load of rain yesterday afternoon and evening, and another big dump at the weekend – my mother, in the arid south east, spending hours watering to keep things alive, is hugely jealous). There are compensations, I guess, for suffering our temperamental climate up here. We had friends staying overnight last Friday. He is a very keen gardener – took a course at the Chelsea Physic Garden and came out highest in his class (aka Chief Gnome). They haven’t visited for four years so we wandered round the garden, clasping our tall glasses of bubbly, and exchanging conversational titbits, when Chief Gnome was heard to comment on the marked abundance of astilbe and loostrife which, no surprise, apparently love a wet climate. I will say no more!

I must say, the lawn is looking rather good at the moment. When we first moved here, it was a mossy mattress. I will never forget lying down on it that very first day we moved in, 31st May 2003, utterly exhausted. Its soft green sponge caressed my weary limbs and welcomed me to my new home. At a certain point, I decided that it needed some attention, and employed Green Thumb to get rid of the over-abundance of moss and some nasty pernicious weeds which were increasingly invading it. A few years down the line and the lawn started to look worse than it ever did – uneven, patchy, not appealing. I took a brave step and got Chief Mr Green Thumb to come and have a look and declared that I didn’t think their attempts to make it like Wimbledon Centre Court were ever going to work, let alone be appropriate, up here on our windswept, sun-deprived hill. It was agreed that we’d let the treatments stop and see where we got to. They phoned the other day and I was pleased to say ‘Actually, it’s looking better than it has done in ages, so I think we’ll give the June treatment a miss, thank you.’ She was very understanding. True to say, I think they helped reduce the moss and weeds, but right now, it seems to have reached a happy equilibrium between moss and grass, and I want to leave well alone for now. Nature has regained its balance.

So, I was supremely jealous when, on Wednesday, I had to leave the gardener sitting on our new bench, contemplating his lunch while I charged around, scissors in hand, frantically cutting flowers to take to my friend for lunch. I should never have said I would go. I’d only just got in from other duties, and now I had to rush out again, AND miss Wimbledon. It truly was a sublimely beautiful day. The garden in all its glory – lush from that opportune combination of rain and heat in recent days and weeks - hot, still, fecund. Glorious. My friend declared me ‘a little stressed’. I know, I was. Because I wanted to be at home in my garden, OR watching Wimbledon, anything but running all over two counties again in a hot car.

This week has loomed large in my diary for some time. It’s an ‘Oh God, no’ sort of week. A music festival, two sports days, a Welcome Day, a school concert, a party and a child going away on Friday for a 3-day PGL school trip. No husband. Wimbledon on telly. It was going to be a battle between selfless devotion to children and selfish devotion to self. I had a feeling I knew which would win. They always do. Conscience and kids – as devastating as an Andy Roddick serve.
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