Thursday, 20 December 2012


Of course, I am completely UNDER CONTROL! (Well, obviously not if it is well past midnight and I'm  shouting at the computer screen....)

So how are you getting on this merry yuletide? Presents bought and wrapped, turkey ordered, meals planned, tree up, house decorated, cards written? Frankly, if you have achieved all these not inconsiderable tasks, then I really don't want to know you as we clearly have nothing in common!

As I abandoned children with a kindly friend and hurtled over to Macclesfield in lashing rain this morning to buy last minute stocking gifts and other presents without having to swat them away as I dashed around the shops, I tried to soothe my troubled soul by listening to the radio. Every few sentences there was talk of the 'stress of Christmas' and 'Christmas panic'. Everyone has morphed in just a week from pretending Christmas is just the loveliest time of year, full of mulled wine aromas and carol services,  to spiralling around in mindless directions like a clockwork toy while trying to speak through a permanently clenched oesophagus. Then this morning I found myself farting uncontrollably as I crouched on the floor trying to wrap an unwieldy and recalcitrant present for the couple who help me with the garden. They were due to pitch up any second and there I was still unwashed and in my dressing gown and smelling less than sweet. As my husband suggested perhaps I should go to the loo I screeched 'I've already been! It's just nerves!' Nerves? Since when has Christmas made me nervous? And yet there I was, all uptight and breaking wind. Nervously. Mad, isn't it?

It's only a few days, for God's sake. Yet you spend weeks and months planning for those few days. Or, like me, you don't actually spend weeks and months planning as that all seems far too sad and organized and you play the 'I don't like starting Christmas too early' card - and then come the 17th December end up in a blind panic. And farting like a trooper.

How does Nigella do it? All sultry smiles and sexy pouts while hoards of friends hang around her kitchen (along with an entire camera crew) licking their lips at the thought of the sensuous delights she is about to lay before them. The lights are always twinkling (no duff  bulbs for her then and a quick dash to Tesco at midnight), people are always laughing. Gosh, it is indeed very merry. And then there's Kirsty. Of coures I have ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD (there I go, shouting again) to knit turkeys and roast curtains, or make soap and candles and find divine ribbons and twine to package them all delightfully up in for all my friends and family. I don't know, parallel universe comes to mind.

I did, however, find time to instruct my eldest daughter to help my youngest daughter bake star-shaped, icing-sugar dusted biscuits and put them in a sweet little bag with snowflakes and tied up with tasteful ribbon saying Merry Christmas for her Brownie leaders. When I pitched up late (again) from hairing round the countryside buying presents, wrapping and posting presents and dragging reluctant children away from lovely friends houses where they'd been doing a 'bake off' and building dens, all I got was a slightly terse question about my daughter's presence or not at the pantomime on January 25th. I looked blank and said 'Erm, sorry, I've had no details about this' to which I got another terse 'I sent an email'. I'd been looking at emails on my phone just a short while before and had not spotted it amongst the hundreds offering me Christmas discounts, advent specials, cheap hire car, hotel rooms, order confirmations and delivery notices, together with endless Facebook and Twitter announcements. The important ones from school - and of course Brown Owl - lie buried alive by the avalanche of nonsense. With my brain frying gently in the juices of my stress, I could barely focus on the moment, let alone a date somewhere at the end of January. I asked lamely when she needed to know by. Tomorrow. Great. I'll just take that on board too then. And still not a Christmas card written...

I have just spent the last two hours peering at my spreadsheets of Christmas present desires (I am of course the linch pin for the whole family) and frantically ordering things from Amazon and clicking in a frenzied manner on 'Express Delivery' at vast expense. Only to realise I'd forgotten something and had to go back in and do it all again just for one item. How that hurt. Then tomorrow I hit the horrors of the Trafford Centre to try and find clothes for girls lying awkwardly between childhood and adulthood where nothing fits or nothing suits or is appropriate and who, genuinely, have nothing to wear beyond one pair of jeans. Thence to the jollities and aromas of the Christmas markets in central Manchester, a meal at a favourite restaurant and a carol concert at the Bridgewater Hall. Still the Christmas cards will not be written but, you know what, does it matter? A little time out to do the festive thing is really what this season is all about. As the doctor on Radio 2 said this afternoon, 'take some time for yourself'. His suggestion of aromatherapy baths on Christmas morning is perhaps a tad unrealistic as you manhandle a monstrous bird into the oven and peel sprouts for England while opening stockings, making breakfast, pouring drinks, laying the table and squeezing in Church - but a family afternoon, a meal and a concert shouldn't be too much to ask, now, should it?

So I refuse to feel guilty. I can only do what I can do. And I shall try to stop farting. Promise.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

And now they are gone....

Wednesday 14th November 2012

Today has been a perfect late autumn day - still and silent save for the evocative call of woodpigeon or crow. The air was cool and the light smoky. Cream coloured sheep were etched in soft woolly groups against the sharp green of the hillsides and the blue of the skies. I took Lily for a walk once I had tired of throwing balls across the lawn, picking the last late crop of bilberries and blackberries along the way in the hope of still making some more hedgerow jam.

The landscape had subtly changed since I last did this just a few short weeks ago: the grass at the sides of the track was flatter and neater, decorated with drifts of crisp brown leaves. Looking upwards, the twisted branches of the hazel trees were silhouetted against the blue of the sky, displaying themselves in all their natural beauty.

Lily trotted along happily, sniffing the ground, scuffling through the undergrowth by the sides of the track, waiting patiently while her mistress pulled off the small shiny black berries.

From the top of the hill the startling beauty of Combs Moss struck me once more, as indeed it does every time I do the walk: the high rocky escarpments defining its imposing crescent shape, the browny purple of the springy grouse moor clothing it from end to end. Just last week two lads came a cropper up here, falling down the steep cliffs. Three air ambulances and numerous police and rescue vehicles were lighting up the night sky, throwing the rock face into stark relief. Never underestimate the natural landscape. It can be a killer without due respect.

But today all was soft and serene. A calm hung over the valley and surrounding hills which was much needed after the emotional turmoil of yesterday. I lost a dear and special friend, quite unexpectedly, despite an historical illness. The hardest thing when you lose someone is waking up the following day, seeing the sun come up and realising they are no longer walking this earth and breathing this air with you. The longing for them to be back here with you, sharing time, space and experience, whatever physical distance lies between you, is intense. It does not seem right that you are still enjoying the simple fruits of the earth and that they no longer are - that just 24 hours ago they were here, and now they are gone.

It is hard not to regret not having spent more time together, but one can never guess when time will suddenly run out. With this in mind, we must try and live each day with feeling and mindfulness, from appreciating the warmth of the sun to the love of friends and family, from the hot cup of tea after a cold walk, to the sound of children laughing. Not all days are good, many are bad: but for every bad one there will be good ones to follow, as sure as summer follows winter.

Life would be unbearable if we lived in fear and regret. We have to seek something positive, however small, in each tiny moment lived. Only then will we create the bigger picture. Life is a gift, it is not infinite, and if we are here on this earth to learn anything, it is perhaps that simple truth.

Monday, 22 October 2012

A Taste of Autumn - new Fridge Food post

Shock! Horror! New post over at Fridge Food. A little flavour of the season born of my time in Italy and all the culinary wonders that enchanting country conjures up. It's easy peasy pasta so go take a look (just click on the Fridge Food link above).

Friday, 14 September 2012

Postcard from Les Landes

Golden fields and purple heather,

Sun-dappled ferns of acid green.

Sandy paths through scented pines,

A cicada's song and salty skin.

Cool waters, crashing waves,

Hot sand and long days.

Languid lakes and sluggish streams,

A summer breeze and turquoise sea.

A birthday smile, a summer sun,

A festive flag, gold medals won.

Summer hues and summer scents,

Open window, surf boards for rent.

A catalogue of sunlit days,

Of fun with friends and summer haze.

The quiet of an afternoon, of candlelight and silver moon.

A full glass, an empty head,

Family meals and things unsaid.

A time to laugh, a time to sigh,

At memories of days gone by.

Long shadows and a setting sun

on a time where Time no longer grips.

When hours and minutes simply drift,

like clouds through skies to far away...

....The essence of a holiday.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Soggy Summer

Goodness. If it rains any more I think I shall drown. What was that about the jet stream moving north? No sign yet. And so another soggy summer ensues. Children kicking around the house when they should be outdoors, making mess and clogging up the sofa. Mud everywhere. Wet dogs and cats. So much for picnics by the stream, cycling into the village, reading books on the lawn.

And as much as the weather is not good for parents, it is not good news for gardeners either. What a wash-out it has been. One vegetable-growing guru friend commented that the only thing that the weather’s been good for this year is potatoes. Flowers you can forget too. If any find the strength to bloom, they are soon battered by winds and rain and wish they’d never bothered. England is certainly green, but I’m not sure it’s very pleasant. In fact, it made me smile yesterday when I heard on the radio that Rafael Nadal (he of muscly tanned Majorcan tennis fame) has just announced he will be pulling out of the Olympic tennis team simultaneously as he was photographed lounging around on an expensive yacht somewhere sunny in the Med. I start to understand why he lost at Wimbledon – frankly couldn’t wait to clear his heels of the rain and, as things have deteriorated further, clearly decided that he’d rather have a summer than plod around a rain-soaked depressing London once again. And who can blame him? Even Tiger Woods is struggling with his 4-iron…

But on a brighter note (she says cheerily), I would like to announce that a couple of weeks ago, I took my final gardening exams. Two years of study suddenly over. Will I ever take an exam again in my life? I doubt it, and with that thought, I felt strangely sad. It has been a huge effort to fit it all in, and the relief as I sat, finally, on the sofa and watched a bit of Wimbledon, was wonderful. But it has been a fantastic two years at Reaseheath College where, thanks to two fabulous tutors, I have learned so much and gained so many friends. It has been so informative and such fun too. Unwilling as I am to give it all up in a rush, I have signed up for another year – an RHS Level 3 practical course – but it is continual assessment, rather than exams, which will take the pressure off enormously.

We celebrated the end of the year by all going to Wollerton Old Hall in Shropshire. If this is a garden you do not know, then I urge you to visit. It is a private garden, and therefore a very personal and intimate one. We had the place to ourselves this time as it was not officially open, but our tutors had pulled strings. The rain paused long enough for us to wander around in a leisurely fashion, admiring planting schemes and imaginative layouts. Having only just replaced the camera I left in a taxi in Spain (don’t talk to me about that one – lost all the once-in-a-lifetime photos of N’s 50th birthday together with all E’s photos from our New Zealand trip which were on a memory card in the camera case), I took great pleasure in once again being able to take shots of plants and flowers. Then as I dashed off early to collect children from school, some distance away, the heavens opened once again. The story of summer.

Here is a slide show of the gardens that afternoon:-

(Click on the images to see the album)

Meanwhile, back on my own patch, I have been working on some improvements. A new vegetable garden has been in the making since March. We have cut back hedges to reveal more of the surrounding hillsides , removed some scrubby conifers, severely reduced some invasive rhododendron ponticum and generally improved the levels of light getting into the garden while opening up more vistas of the surrounding hillsides and our own ‘dingly dell’.

In so doing, we have managed to create a lovely light-filled walled vegetable garden where once only dank gloom reigned and the chances of getting a runner bean to flourish were virtually nil. It is now one of the sunniest parts of the garden and gets the last of the rays as the sun sinks behind the hills in the evening. I know I shall be spending many happy hours up there…

From this:-

To this (but not quite finished yet):-

I have also created a new planting area where the scrubby conifers once were and, thanks to the reduced hedge height on the other side of dingly dell, we now have evening sun here to. It is a lovely spot in which to sit and contemplate the beauty and peace around me (when it’s not raining, that is).

Last autumn I planted lots more daffodils in the dell and my plans are to add many more azaleas and rhododendrons and other woodland plants to bring colour and interest at different times of the year, to build on the snowdrop, daffodil and bluebell succession that we currently have. I want to create a few more woodland pathways and bridges across the stream (funnily enough in full spate – normally dry as a bone in the summer months!) and new places to sit and think and enjoy. I may even create a small wildlife pond at some point and I want to clear out the old fountain at the base of the witch’s face tree. So, lot’s to do.

I have also been developing my herb garden from a rather scrubby patch to something a little more structured. We have planted box hedging round the edges, but the design is not yet finished. Work in progress.

On Saturday I leave for France, reluctantly leaving the summer garden behind as I feel we have not even enjoyed it yet. No hanging out of washing, no outside eating, no lying on mossy lawns listening to the birds and watching insects gather in the warm air above. I see that the sun is due to come out on Sunday, of course, the moment my back is turned. But that is gardening. That is England. That is life. And in its place I hope to be finding some warming rays, soft sand under my feet, and the sound of the sea searching for the shore. I really can’t complain.

Enjoy the holidays too, wherever you are, whatever you do – and may you find some sunshine, eventually!

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