Showing posts from 2011

The Big Adventure - Christchurch Earthquake

24th December 2011

Three weeks ago the skies were blue as we flew into Christchurch and, as we descended for our landing, I was struck by how you could see the flat green Canterbury plains stretching out to the south of the city until they hit the high mountain ridge of the Southern Alps to the west, beyond which you could then glimpse the wide blue ocean again.

New Zealand's south island is effectively long but relatively narrow which makes crossing from one side to the other reasonably easy and offers up some spectacular mountain passes. All looked so beautiful and tranquil in that afternoon sunshine, but as we have travelled around New Zealand in these recent weeks, we have come to understand so much better what a volatile piece of land this country is. From its formation in ancient times when it broke from the supercontinent of Gondwanaland and drifted west across the ocean, was then almost submerged before rising again with the deep forces within this mighty planet of ours, N…

The Big Adventure - Bangkok, Thailand

'One night in Bangkok' as the song goes. Well, actually it was two...

Bangkok: big, busy, brash and boisterous. Less polluted than many Asian cities, despite the motorised three-wheel tuk-tuks, but also a little less exotic than we were expecting. The 'haves' and the 'have nots' juxtaposed as they so often are the further you travel east: smart high-rise next to low-rise shabby chaos; pockets of sophistication side by side with basic existence. A city, inevitably of contrasts; changing its identity, losing its identity? Who knows what the future holds for Bangkok with its population of 11 million (although many of whom are now moving out to the northern provinces to avoid the increasing risk of flooding). A city where tall neon towers light up with 'Long live the King and Queen' and where shrines bedecked with yellow flowers where incense gently burns sit side by side with temples of materialism such as shopping malls and fast food chains. A city in fl…

The Big Adventure

Years ago N and I talked of how one day, were we to get married and have children, we would love to bob around the Mediterranean on a boat with the children for a year. The idea was inspired by a family we came across one evening on a beach in Rhodes over two decades ago. There was a yacht moored out in the bay on a milky evening as the beach was emptying. A small dinghy was launched from the boat and as it came towards shore we saw three little blond heads rowing their way towards the sand. They were sun-tanned and sun-kissed on that golden evening and we learnt that their father was retired from the RAF and they were taking a year out just sailing around the Med. I held that idea in my head for all these years, urging N to take some time out so we could do something similar with our three girls before it was too late.

I persuaded him to pencil some extended time out in his diary just over a year ago, he having decided that December and Christmas was the best time for him to be abse…

We Need To Talk About Dad

We Need to Talk About Dad, Channel 4, 21 November 2011

This film left many questions unanswered about what had happened to cause a loving father in a 'perfect' family to smash the wife he had always adored over the head with the blunt end of an axe. Most unfortunately the eldest son, Henry, who was 16 at the time, witnessed the immediate aftermath of this atrocious act and has been trying to live with the impact of it ever since, including protecting his little brother who was then just ten.

The whole of the film really boiled down to one conversation which Henry had with his estranged father, now living in Germany (he came back into the family after his release from prison, but in the end his wife asked him to leave). Henry finally confronted him, seven years later, in an effort to talk about the incident which had changed his young life forever, but which everyone seemed reluctant to confront head on. His father's explanation, as far as he could explain it at all, was th…

New 'Fridge Food' Post

Where's the Town Crier when you need him? Oh yey! Oh yey! I have just written my first new Fridge Food in 8 months!

This appalling neglect is not through lack of interest - merely, as ever, lack of time. I am so often cooking at the end of the day when the girls are around and wanting help with things and questions answered and forms filling in that by the time the next day comes I have already forgotten what, exactly, I put in the meal. I often take a photo if I think it's turned out ok - my cameras and phone are littered with shots of tempting little meals thrown together from the fridge - but that's no good if I can't pass on how I put them together!

Anyway, last night I was determined to remember and today you have the result.

Cottage Pie is hardly a new creation - in fact it's as old a the hills - and it is certainly an old favourite of mine. However, normally I start it from scratch, but this time I was true to its origins and made it using up some leftover…

Lest We Forget

At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in the eleventh year of the 21st century, I was watching two veterans share in silence the experiences and memories of war. As Doug dabbed with an age-warn hand at the tears dribbling down his cheeks with his perky checked hanky you could not help but weep with him. Mike stood stoically alongside him, both so smart and proud in dark suits, white shirts and red ties. They had been helped up from the squashy sofas of the This Morning studio just before the chimes of Big Ben rang out eleven times; but now they were standing tall. When Doug was asked what the eleventh of the eleventh meant to him, he replied, quite simply 'Freedom'. When Mike was asked what got him through it he replied, equally simply, 'Willpower'. As they quietly shook eachother's hand you could feel the shared weight of memory between them.

These marvellous men deserve our greatest respect. They will never forget the horrors they saw, t…

Golden Days

Only 10 days ago, as we started some tree work in our garden and as I drove around the highways and byways of Cheshire and Derbyshire going about my business, did I think to myself 'Gosh, how the autumn colours haven't really appeared yet'. And then, suddenly, last week I became aware that there was much that was golden around me. The deep reddish gold of the beeches and the cherries, the startling reds and oranges of the acers, the yellowing of the horse chestnuts and silver birches, the red berries in the rowans were all suddenly warming the world around me even as the cooler winds came and the nights were growing longer. 

And so, this week, I now feel that summer has truly said goodbye and those memories of beaches and long evenings have slipped to another part of our world - even though, just two weeks ago, I was still basking on golden sands in southern Spain and bathing in clear Atlantic waters. 

Yesterday was Hallowe'en where the Autumn colours glow orange with pu…

Indian Summer

Monday 26th September

I read in the newspaper this morning that we can expect an Indian summer this week with temperatures reaching the low 80s farenheit. This would certainly be very welcome at two levels: one, because it has been almost relentlessly grim since we returned from France; and, two, because G has a camping party in the garden this weekend as a belated birthday treat. When I was out paddling around in soggy grass and cool, dank, drizzly autumnal air last week I did wonder as to the wisdom of the project; but if it is going to be warm and feel like a last taste of summer, then all should be well. With any luck the campfire will glow and the marshmallows will melt - and they may even stay outside under canvas the whole night. But I'm not holding my breath.

Meanwhile I can hardly believe that it has now been four weeks since our return. Frankly, it feels more like four months. We had a rushed few days getting sorted for school as they were back on 1st September, and then I…

Memories of 9/11

I will never forget where I was for 9/11. We were with friends on a beach in the Western Algarve, a favourite place. E was two and a half and G was crawling around on the sand as a13-month old. L had not yet made it into the world and our friends had a new baby.

We wandered over to the restaurant for some lunch and were vaguely aware that something was going on inside. There was much talking, but there was no television. We could never have imagined the news that was clearly filtering through somehow to this remote restaurant perched under the rich red cliffs of this idyllic curve of sand.

Eventually my curiosity got the better of me and I asked one of the waiters what was going on. He told us what he knew of the horrors which were unfolding in New York, that cloudless blue September morning across the very sea which we was lapping at our feet. From the western tip of the Algarve, the next stop is America. Suddenly our happy family session on the beach was turned on its head and ins…

Golden Girl

What better present could you give a child about to have their 11th birthday than have their best friend join them for a beach holiday?

G has known M since infant school. They moved to a new school for Juniors, made other friends together and now they are about to start Seniors. It is sometimes hard to believe how quickly the time has passed from sitting chubbily cross-legged learning their A,B,Cs to becoming long-limbed beauties with golden hair and sparkling eyes striding confidently towards their teenage years.

G, though, is still a child despite her quiet confidence and her insouciance. She still loves playing imaginary games with her younger sister and building in the sand. It may be her younger sister who still physically skips, but G is still skipping in her mind.

I look sometimes at her long jaw, her full mouth, her wide smile, her flaxen hair and her large soft blue eyes framed by dark giraffe lashes and think of the day she was born - the day I nearly lost her before her life h…


Sadly the only skies under which we have ever arrived at St Malo have been resolutely grey and usually raining or with a thick fog. This year was no different. I had planned to make the journey down south more interesting by incorporating a little detour through Brittany - one of the few parts of France that I don't really know - but the weather dictated otherwise. We did a quick meander off the motorway to take in some D roads which I had a fancy for, but everything seemed against us. Gone are the days, it seems, when you can potter endlessly through emptiness and quaint sleepy villages - even these now seem victim of the new 'progressive' French thinking on road sytems and town planning: you find yourselves either negotiating myriad chi-chi little roundabouts 'decorated' with scenes which are supposed to evoke the essence of where you are driving through (thus you find yourself suddenly distracted as you watch for any fools still believing in priorite a droit by …


Saturday, 23rd July 2011

It was with an overwhelming sense of relief that I finally got into the passenger seat of a car packed to the gunnels on Saturday afternoon. The last job was done, the last thing thought of - and for anything else it was too late. I was officially on my way to holiday.

The journey down to Portsmouth was mercifully unremarkable - free of the dramas of flat tyres and broken down cars or horrific traffic jams all conspiring to make us miss the ferry. No, we managed to get to Portsmouth with half an hour in hand in which to enjoy a quick drink at a sun-kissed bar and write two important birthday cards (to my parents) and get them in the post. Finding a letter box around the absurd set of dual carriageways and one-way systems which beset the area around the ports proved more testing - another scraped alloy wheel as I pointed to a red pillar down a side road and N attempted some sort of emergency stop in two lanes of traffic. Much squabbling later we finally found our…

Tyring Times

Monday 18th July

So here I am again at Selecta Tyre in Buxton, seemingly my second home. Tyres are a bit of a theme in my life at the moment. I was here just a few weeks back getting my snow tyres removed (safe to say that even here in the High Peak the risk of snow had passed by June!); I was meant to go back and get the bolts checked after 50 miles (didn't) and am now here instead with N's car which always bowls us a googly just days before we are due to travel long journeys in it, fully laden with luggage, children et al. We've had blow-outs on the fast lane of the motorway down to catch the ferry; we've had collisions with motor-cross bikers on our lane as we've set out for holidays; and on Saturday we managed to hit the blasted pot hole that's been on the main lane out of the village for nearly a year (a foot wide and four inches deep, right on a corner) and knackered the tyre. (Mercifully the wheel didn't get cracked which was what happened just a few …


A week or two back, while I was revising for my final gardening exam, I took a break out in the garden. This is what I noted down before turning my mind back to Weeds, Pests & Diseasess:-

Monday 4th July 2011

The garden never ceases to enthrall and frustrate. Just a week ago, I went to the top of our plot to look at the reducurrants, spurred on by the copious berries resplendent on a friend's bushes in Staffordshire. I have just one rather pathetic offering, but it was full as it will ever be with berries just the week before. I curtsied to my pruning efforts in February. Yet returning to view the harvest, with reducurrant jelly in mind, I was dismayed to see the whole lot stripped. Not a berry left. Pigeons, the buggers. I made a note of it for my pests & diseases paper. P for Pigeon, P for Pest.

Picking myself up from my disappointment, I was pleased to see that the raspberries were flourishing. I picked and ate and enjoyed, and even found some in the hedge alongside the ma…

Demanding Times

Sunday, 10th July 2011
Today is the first day in many weeks where Time (always my enemy) has deigned to loosen her sturdy chains around me just a tiny bit. As I write, two small girls (one not mine) are downstairs watching Amercian rubbish on telly, blisfully happy in pyjamas and dressing gown with a small bowl of biscuits at their side, while a clearly exhausted husband still snores in his bed. The cup of tea I have just made and brought up stirred him briefly, but he has returned happily enough to the Land of Nod. He was up at 5.45am (having got to bed at 1am) to take E on her Year 7 trip to France, the highlight of the school year (more anticipated for the reunion with the boys, their former classmates, rather than for the cultural experience, it has to be said). Last night he made bravado talk of not returning to bed after the early morning drop off but cracking on to deal with the mountain of issues piled up on his desk. I for one was pleased that, when it came to it, he took the …

The Gift Bag

I have been musing gently on the subject of The Gift Bag. When I was a child (to coin a phrase), such luxuries did not exist. Crepe paper, yes. Tissue paper, yes. Cheap wrapping paper from WHSmith, yes. But not gift bags. No, these are an invention of the late 20th century, nay, even the 21st century. In fact, does anyone out there know when the Gift Bag became de rigeur?

As some of you may know, I have three daughters. That means lots of parties. Either their own, or those of their many friends. And girls seem to go on having parties longer than boys. And girls love girlie stuff and making things look pretty, and so do their mothers. I imagine many a boy would have long ago ditched any notion of pitching up at a mate's party with a poncy present in a bag. But girls, well, they just love it. The more expensive the better, of course. And preferably with shredded tissue and/or shiny 'confetti' in the bottom of it too ('confetti', by the way, being the invention of the…
Mid May. What an exquisite time of year. Not long ago the lanes were lined with yellow daffodils and gaudy forsythia and then just as soon dotted with yellow dandelions. Now they are more subtly laced with blousy drifts of cow parsley, the precursor to all things good. The chestnut trees have been carrying their white candles with all their usual majesty and the hawthorns have washed the landscape with white. Laburnums are now the only splash of yellow on this natural canvas, the sweet-scented yellow gorse also having passed its prime. The pink blossoms have dropped, swept away in sharp May winds, while in the garden the yellow pom-poms of kerria are now absent and the sweet perfume of the yellow azaleas, their delicious perfume hanging heavily in still air, is fading fast. How quickly Mother Nature changes her clothes. It is like a game of grandmother's footsteps: turn away at your peril, or before you know it each fragment of the ever changing season will have crept up on you a…


What have I been doing these past few weeks? Well.....
....I have been entertaining friends in the hills of the High Peak and the flatlands of the French Landes;

I have been plunging through aquamarine Atlantic waves;

and wandering the streets of Bordeaux;

I have been visiting family and celebrating Easter and N's birthday in Sussex;

I have been chugging down the Thames on a boat in the sunshine with a glass of red wine in my hand, good food in my stomach, and sunshine and bunting all around;

I have been walking through Cornish gorse and granite, picking wild garlic, feeling sand between my toes and the warmth of friendship in my soul;

I have watched the Royal Wedding;

I have been packing and unpacking; cleaning and cooking; gardening and studying.

I have been slowly recovering after months of lingering illness; I have laughed, I have cried, I have comforted and cajoled.

But most of all, I have had special times in an April filled with sunshine.

Hope yours was good too.