Marooned in the Modern World

In conjunction with my book "Swiss Family Suburban" this blog is from my diary; the diary of a wife and mum in a world where neither is valued highly. Beth Bill.

21st September 2010

I've noticed how we spend our days completing seemingly meaningless tasks, and yet - in hindsight - it is these very dull tasks that matter most. (Hence a plain grey square for an image!) I always remember a quote that "Though a man may travel the globe he must do it one step at a time, and it by these steps that our life is measured." For example; I spent this morning being a 'field assistant' for a friend of mine who is conducting an degree science experiment/dissertation on the quality of soil in allotments founded on old industrial sites. We spent the morning traipsing around an allotment gathering trowel full after trowel full of soil from various depths at various locations on the allotment. It's difficult to connect this morning's activities to what will become a scientific table of soil analysis and chemical read outs - but without the spade work (literally) there would be no journal or report on what could be going into someone's veg.

On a more every day level; the endless routine of preparing meals results in whether my family is fit or obese, or the fact that I sit and listen to the same piano pieces and scales all over again means that my children will gain their music qualification and hopefully gain them a good University place, or my marking yet another maths paper results in a good GCSE equivalent for my kids. Similarly, making time for my own piano practice (ahem!! moving swiftly on) - when I've really had enough for the day - should mean I maintain my own skills and gain some sense of personal satisfaction. Even more mundane is that fact that I keep washing, ironing and cleaning - in addition to teaching my children and a fair few of everybody elses - means that my home is clean and (reasonably) tidy.

In reality family life isn't very 'shiny' (or at least ours isn't and I haven't any spare energy to pretend!), but if we all roll our sleeves up and get 'stuck in' whilst trying to keep the peace and maintain loving relationships (which is just as much hard work) - we should make it through pretty whole.

2nd August 2010

David and I spent the weekend restoring an old garden bench, given to us by my Great Uncle (who didn't realise quite how rotten and dilapidated it really was). It would definitely have been quicker to buy a new one, and probably cheaper - but that wouldn't create the same deep sense of satisfaction. We spent until past midnight one night stripping it down and then spent a very pleasant hour the next day searching out a strange green undercoat paint and an antique black to stipple a distressed effect. Some of the bolts had so rusted on that David had to grind them off, to everyone's amusement - bonfire night comes early this year! The end result is beautiful and it's so lovely to see Em and her friend sitting in the herb garden on said bench.

We also painted our old kitchen table and chairs with a "William Morris Blue" eggshell paint that we found whilst looking for the bench paint. I absolutely love the arts and crafts movement (see the William Morris cushions I made in the crafts section) and I think that a distressed effect works well with the original (old) tiles and colour scheme of the kitchen - I'm thrilled with the result and I thoroughly enjoyed spending the time 'restoring' with David. There is an old bird table which my Great Uncle has also given to me (which I think we gave to him on some occasion about 20 odd years ago - there is a plaque which is obscured by years of wood treatment). Once again it is rotten, almost beyond reckoning (obviously not enough wood treatment) but I can't quite face just tipping another prospective project. David isn't quite convinced and thinks it may be beyond repair. For the moment we are out of time, as he has too much work on to embark on a project, so I'm tucking it away for now and biding my time.

20th May 2010

I reckon I can plant my veg out now! A pupil of mine obviously possesses green fingers (as well as pianist's fingers!) and has some spare veg to plant on. I've just got a small selection of lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower to go alongside my beans and peas. There isn't really much room for anything else in the area that has been fenced off from the hens.

Mind you, what the hens can't get the slugs will. I'd made some cloches out of cut down water bottles to try and protect the new shoots but the slugs have just crawled in through a small hole at the top. I'd left the lids off to allow rain water in, but I guess it would have been as well just absorbed from the surrounding soil. Although I appreciate the concept of organic gardening I really do need a little bit of help, so I'm afraid it's slug pellets for the bits where the hens and dog can't get!

I'm turning the other area of soil, that was originally for veg, into a herb garden. The raised section can be for edible herbs and the flat section will be for scented herbs. So far I have thyme, rosemary, chives and mint at the top and just lavender at the bottom. I know that herb gardens are usually ornamental and often have gravelled or paved areas, but mine is just soil with a paved walkway in between. I'd like a bench there, at some point, so we can sit and appreciate the aromas in the setting sun - if I can keep those pesky cats away!

17th May 2010

Gathering eggs is still something of a battle as Verity just won't shift! However, in order to show her who's boss, we lock her out of the hen house as soon as we know that all the other hens have laid their eggs - I don't want them dropping all over the garden. Once she has been ousted she is quite content scratching around with the others. Hopefully she will soon get it out of her system if we continue in this manner (I hope.)

I know this sounds silly, being the middle of May, but is it too cold to plant any veg out yet? I think last night was the first night we didn't have the heating on! We could have a fire in, but we haven't had time to sit and appreciate it recently - and the rest of the house would still be freezing. Isn't it sad, how those things that seem to be the important little details in family life seem to drop to the bottom of the list and get forgotten. Now that the children are older we don't seem to have toast on the fire anymore, or Em and I don't get any embroidery done, or we haven't played a game of scrabble in ages. Who'd think that you need to fight to preserve such times? Perhaps some of this is inevitable, as the children grow older they do more by themselves, or they have more responsibility and less time. Years ago I would have had the children working the veg patch with me. When we first started home schooling we lived on WW II rations for a week and tried a 'Dig for Victory' veg patch. Absolutely every meal required something peeling, I felt like I was never out of the sink. Although the children did their bit in the garden they preferred to just randomly dig, rather than tend the produce. Now they are busy elsewhere, so I have to decide whether or not to plant veg for my own pleasure, rather than as character building for my kids. Mind you, Em did ask that I at least put some beans in, she couldn't cope without anything growing. Perhaps just having to nip out and pick some beans for tea is sufficient - if they grow! I haven't seen a single bean shoot yet, and just a couple of tiny pea plants. Is it down to the cold weather, perhaps? Hopefully everything will shoot now the sun if peeping out a bit.

Had a lovely lunch with my home ed curriculum provider co-ordinator. She is such a lovely lady who drives all over the nation just to help and encourage. It is lovely to speak to someone who is a little older and wiser. Happily, she likes textiles and sewing as well! Sometimes it's good to hear someone reaffirm the old home truths, even if nothing new is being said. Having a nice lunch out finishes the picture!

3oth April 2010

It really is time to get into the garden again, after the winter. Each year we put up a cheapy gazebo over the picnic table and Em often sits outside to do her schoolwork - even if it's raining. I really like listening to the pitter-patter noise, I find it really relaxing.

We've planted the obligatory beans and peas and I'm not sure whether to leave the top patch as a herb garden or to have a portage style patch where herbs and veg are mixed together. I might be lucky to have either as the neighbours cats have turned it into a kitty litter - gross! I don't fancy eating anything from there just now...

8th November 2009

Our choir joined in a British Legion Memorial Service for Armistice. Anything related to the WW I & II brings me to tears, but I managed to keep singing. This was quite a feat as we sang In Paradisum from Faure's Requiem - very moving. A relative of Sir Reginald Mitchell spoke at the event, and that was very interesting. There were some laughs, too. A local Am Dram group acted some sketches from Dad's Army, which was funny - but I even found that a bit teary. The thought of a group of old men doing 'their bit' brings a lump to my throat just as much as packing your kids off to go and live with somebody else.

When we first started home schooling we spent a week living on WW II rations. I don't think I was ever away from the sink that week, everything needed peeling! We spoke to our elderly relatives about what they ate and it seems that they always had a pudding. Ordinarily we don't have a dessert and the food that week was really stodgy - we were stuffed! I guess that just because things were on the ration list doesn't mean they were always available, so perhaps there wasn't as much as we had that week.

We did try and "Dig for Victory" but our efforts didn't do very well. It's fortunate we didn't really have to survive on our own produce. It kept the children busy nevertheless!

21st October 2009

Charity doesn't seem so well :( Nothing seems to be definitely wrong, but she doesn't seem quite well (just like the children!) She is still eating and pootles about, but isn't as active as the other hens. Her comb is quite shrunken and pale too. In all the books they suggest Red Mites as the problem, but this doesn't seem to be the case here as I'm really strict on cleaning and spraying the hen house to prevent them. I've even been down in the dark with my torch to see if there are any (as they only come out at night), but there wasn't a mite in sight. We are wondering if it's just an accumulation of being at the bottom of the pecking order (she does get to eat, but after a while she gets chased off as the others finish up) and maybe the weather turning colder. The comb is where a hen sweats and so if she is feeling the cold, being a little run down, then it makes sense for the comb to shrink - to conserve heat.

To help the hens get through the winter comfortably we have started to give them warm porridge for their tea - often with bits of soggy cornflakes (none of us can eat the bottom bits of a box), bread crumbs and a little honey. The first time they had it they didn't quite know what to make of it, but they soon developed a taste for it. It's really funny though as they have to do swiping movements with their beak across the ground to get the stodge off their beaks, quite comical to watch.

Even though we fenced off the veg plots from the hens it seems my brassicas still aren't safe! Something still keeps nibbling at the leaves. I've put crushed egg shell down and then, in desperation, some slug pellets - but they are still getting eaten. I'm not too keen on using slug pellets: I don't want to risk the hens eating them (although they are supposed to have something in them that repels animals) and I don't particularly want a slug pellet resting inbetween the leaves when we come to eat them (if there is any left). I'm just hoping that as the weather chills the slimy predators will be less likely to go a-wandering.... I hope.

29th September 2009

Penkhull Music Festival was brilliant. In terms of general appeal Voces8 stole the show - particularly in my children's view. However, each evening had it's own appeal. We forgot that we were 'British', when Voces8 announced their 'Opera Medley' as the encore, by almost yipping! The Glendower Duo gave a premier performance of a piece written by John's clarinet choir tutor, which felt very prestigious - I've never been to a premier performance before. The final evening was a lovely performance by the string quartet, The Cavell Quartet, with some truly exceptional playing. The evenings were nicely finished off with David sketching each performance.

Poor David! After all his efforts the hens still managed to push the chicken wire and creep through to get at my broccoli! A quick amendment remedied the situation, but it was too late for at least one broccoli plant!

Disaster struck again as David did a major pruning job on our Mock Orange tree. He has always begrudged the tree it's garden space - as it so easily takes over - but it's doom is now set. Because the children have used the safety goggles at some point, from which time they have never been found, David had a branch hit him in the eye. All was well until a couple of hours later, when driving back from the tip, he was hit by a searing pain and was soon unable to see. An amazingly short wait at the walk-in centre revealed a huge scratch across his pupil. The agony (as was apparent) was unbearable, resulting in an agonisingly sleepless night and temporary blindness for about 24 hours. It was quite something to have to lead him around for a while, pass him his drinks etc. Some quite humourous moments occurred, too; he would be talking to someone - not realising that they had left the room. Thankfully, we can laugh as the damage was very short lived and he is almost back to normal - just a little blurring of vision at times. Quite worrying though, nevertheless.

21st September 2009

As prophesied, David spent a long day in the Garden this Sunday - wrestling with chicken wire. He fenced off the herb/kitchen garden and the raised veg plots so that the hens can't get at my winter veg collection. This will also make the chives out of bounds. I was really surprised that the hens liked them so much. I've just planted some garlic next to the herbs and I don't want garlic tasting eggs - yuk!

We've had to sacrifice aesthetics for practicality. We may be able to 'pretty it up' at some point in the future, but needs must. I just hope the veg grows after all this fuss. It is lovely to have the hens roaming about the garden again, though. When David let them out they shot out with great enthusiasm. They did head straight for the areas that are now out of bounds, but soon found compensation elsewhere. I hope they leave Charity alone now, though I don't suppose it will make much difference as they weren't really short on space before. We can but hope - I don't like having a sad hen (if that's at all possible). She mustn't be very happy, otherwise she'd be laying (I think).

7th September 2009

Yipee, the winter veg plants arrived today. Em helped me plant them out before I started teaching. We planted 20 cabbage, 20 Chinese cabbage (which can be used as salad leaves or fried with a stir fry), 10 broccoli and 10 cauliflower. I'm hoping that the colder weather will reduce the chance of slugs etc. ruining the crop - we can but try!

Of course this means that the hens are confined to their enclosure again. The chives are only just recovering and there's no way they're getting at the brassicas. Another Saturday shredding fingers on chicken wire is on the cards for David before the hens can have the run of the garden. I'm so glad that they've got a decent amount of space as Charity really is at the bottom of the pecking order at the moment. I recently found blood on the water feeder and all but two of her tail feathers are missing. She isn't laying either - I don't suppose she feels like - with all that bullying. When they're outside they leave her alone for the most part, it's just when they are in the shed in a morning before being let out, or while they are settling down to roost in an evening. There's not really anything I can do about it. I suppose that you just have to let them sort it out. Nevertheless, it's quite upsetting.

Term officially starts today but the children are spending this week filing and finishing off essays etc.. Em and Matt are off to a choir residential weekend on Friday too, so we'll start of with the heavy bookwork next week. Unfortunately, although term has started, most of my pupils didn't turn up for their music lesson either. I don't mind having an extra cup of tea here and there, but it's tricky waiting around wondering if they are coming, or not. As there are no choir or brass band rehearsals tonight David and the children went to visit Grandad instead. A nice quiet evening for me, but not very productive. I lost the plot a bit, really; heading off to get a job in a school instead of sitting at home waiting around. However, that would have been a real disaster - home would fall apart and so would the kids education. The whole point of home schooling was because it seemed all wrong to be teaching other people's children and not my own. I really think that it's important to keep the home fires burning - the whole point of Swiss Family Suburban! The overwhelming pressure to 'succeed' in executive and monetary terms is, at times, overwhelming. You think you're on track and out jumps another curve ball. Oops - my 'wobble' is over now though, and my compass is pointing north again!

3rd September 2009

I've started reading The Water Babies, by Charles Kingsley; it's really weird. The main story line is very strange (a chimney sweep becoming a water baby by means of quite a trauma) and I'm finding it a little spooky, especially when you consider it's a children's book. What makes its even more strange is the pontificating narrative which the author intersperses in between the plot, to theorise or give a moral lecture. For example:

"His mother was a Dutchwoman, and therefore he was born at Curacao (of course you have learned your geography, and therefore know why); and his father was a Pole, and therefore he was brought up at Petropaulowski (of course you have learnt your modern politics, and therefore know why): but for all that he was as thorough an Englishman as ever coveted his neighbour's goods. And his name, as I said, was Professor Pttmllnsprts, which is a very ancient and noble and Polish name."
(The Water Babies, p. 86)


"The subanhypaposupernal anastomoses of piretomic diacellurite in the encephalo digital region of the distinguished individual of whose symptomatic phaenomena we had the melancholy honour (subsequently to a preliminary diganostic inspection) of making an inspectorial diagnosis, presenting the interexclusively quadrilateral and antinomian diathesis known as Bumpsterhausen's blue follicles,"
(The Water Babies, p.94)
The Water Babies, Egmont Books Ltd (2001)

- quite hilarious, but surreal!

I read the above while Em had her flute lesson. The rest of the day, however, was spent doing more mundane things; filing in an attempt to get organised for the start of the new academic year next week. I spent the day marking tests and filing results (which should have been done over the holidays). The main satisfaction was spent in adding up 216 Spanish test results to divide and find an average - twice! (Twins, eh!) It feels good to be getting back to it and getting life back under control. I've enjoyed the summer, but I think we are all ready to get our teeth into something more substantial (though I doubt the children would necessarily admit it).

As the academic year begins the main growing season ends. We harvested the last of the green beans and then gave the remaining foliage over to the hens - oh, what happy chucks they were! They have a short window of absolute free reign before the Brassicas arrive (hope they turn up soon) and then we'll have to net off sections, otherwise the crop will be very short lived.

23rd August 2009

The onions have finally dried out and so they just needed stringing up for storage. How on earth do you string onions? It's really tricky! I guess you'd be ok if you could French plait hair, but unfortunately I can't. (David has to do the ladies plaits in this house.) In the end I cobbled some sort of knotting and binding arrangement around a bamboo cane, which does seem to be a bit of a cheat, but was the best that I could manage.

The twins come home from Contagious today. I'm happy they are coming home, but sad for them as they'll miss all their new friends. This is where the internet really is handy. I don't like to think of teenagers MSN-ing the chums they see every week with pointless witter, but this is where it might prove worthy. I'm bracing myself for a load of washing and a torrent of chatter as they retell their adventures.

This summer holiday is fast slipping away. I'm always consumed by a sense of panic because I've not achieved all that I intended (which was probably too much). It's time for a bit of planning, to prioritise what I absolutely MUST do before term starts, and then planning for the next term ahead: "Plan your work, then work your plan."

18th August 2009

Disaster! The canes that support the beans have collapsed. The weight of the plants pulling towards the sunlight must have pulled the canes out of the ground, by degrees, at the back of the border. I've managed an unsightly patch up by tying them back and weighting the string with a tub of soil and lettuces. Hopefully it will keep the beans upright for the remainder of the growing season, but it doesn't at all match the idyllic image of a Victorian Kitchen Garden (a clarinet piece by Paul Reade which perfectly conjures images of it's title) - Matt is learning to play this at the moment.

The potatoes have gone into storage now. The best thing I could find was a Tesco jute shopping bag which seems perfect for the job. It's a breathable material and some brown paper bags should keep any light creeping in at the top.

Bought a huge bag of Layers Pellets to stock up for a few weeks. David made a great feed bin by converting an old ottoman and placing partitions inside to divide pellets, corn and grit. It's made of really old wood so any mice that might want to get at the food would have some serious gnawing to do and we should see signs of activity first before they get in, although it's shown no evidence of such activity so far. I also gave the hens their 6 weekly dusting (and David too - a black tee shirt wasn't a good choice). When we got the hens the lady suggested that now was a good time to 'worm' them, but our local shop doesn't sell any products and nobody around here seems to bother. I don't know what to do about that. I know I could buy some from the internet but it is really expensive, especially to herbal stuff which doesn't require egg withdrawal, so if possible I'd rather not.

Eek, still haven't done any music practice. Perhaps I'll try and do some tomorrow, though I don't know where to start ...

16th August 2009

David finished making the gate today. He made it from some pallet wood and an old piece of floorboard. I think that you can tell that a lot of love went into making this gate. It's purpose is to keep the hens in the garden (when we let them roam), but it's always nice to see that extra touch. The fact that a pre-bought gate was too expensive is irrelevant - this one is priceless. It just needs our initials carving on it somewhere!

Like Joe, Beth & Frannie (The Magic Faraway Tree), or The Famous Five (when including their friends) the children went to Mow Cop again today. Em did a spot of Blackberry picking there and so we have the first fruits which have gone into a couple of Blackberry and Apple crumbles for the freezer. I've put them in an ice cream tub so that they can just be microwaved when we want one. I've had to freeze them as the twins are going away for a week, to Contagious, and they didn't want to miss out. Again I spent an hour individually handling the fruit picking grubs off (soaking in salt water draws them out) although I kept some blackberries with grubs on to give to the hens for their tea with stewed apple peel - what a treat! It really is a revelation to understand how we miss the value of our food because we don't have to handle it individually. The norm is to buy a pack of frozen fruit and just tip it into your mix. It's been a good experience to slow down and get right down to the ingredients.

14th August 2009

In true Enid Blyton Fashion the children packed a pic-nic and ventured into the distance; to Mow Cop for the day. Some fruit, crisps, biscuits and bottles of water were all that was need to to keep them playing hide and seek and rock climbing for almost an entire day (They are 15,15 & 13 so they're big enough to venture off). Now, that's the stuff that summer holidays are made of.

While the children were busy frolicking I put the potatoes and onions out to harden off/dry out before storage. Only the best can be put away for storage, so those that weren't up to standard went straight into the pot and the peelings and chopped off bruisings went into the compost bin, so nothing at all was really wasted. Funnily enough we had Bangers and Mash for tea and we are having leek and potato soup tomorrow- heavy on the potato!

What I really got to appreciate, this afternoon, was how we have lost touch with what we eat. I had to inspect every single potato, individually. This is a huge change from just buying a big bag of spuds. I had to inspect each potato to ensure that no bruised or marred spud will go into the storage bag, as one bad potato will ruin the whole batch. I then had to peel and get ready to use every spud that wouldn't make it into storage, because (after all this tending through the growing season) it wouldn't really do to let a batch go to rot. How on earth do mass producers manage to do the same? On the one hand it's brilliant what they achieve, but perhaps in the long run it isn't so great as we've lost the respect for food produce and the effort that goes into it and so expect perfect results 100% of the time for the cheapest price. Growing my own small crop has brought home to me the effort that is involved in producing food. The mash tasted delicious too - and was cheaper than ever. It just cost me a few hours calm potato handling - very therapeutic.

By the way - all of my pupils passed their exams!!

11th August

I did say that the beans were doing well, but I later noticed that one of the plants was overrun with ants - great clumps of swarming black, clustered around the stem. I've sprayed it with a soapy solution, so hopefully that should sort it. Even so, there are lots of juicy beans. (Pictured is a painting David did of our children growing beans which is available as a fine art print). I'm not sure that we always tick the officially certified organic box but we do try and avoid chemicals simply because we don't want the family (or the hens) eating nasty stuff. We've tried the 'no dig' method of weed control (and moisture retention) but I'm not pleased with the results; when it comes to planting time you have unworkable ground which is also covered in moss and a green algae type coating. Weeding, it seems, is always best controlled by good old fashioned hoeing and on your knees picking and trowelling. Pest control is something else though. Egg shells do a decent job in slug prevention, though not all the time - not a single marigold was left in the front garden. Nasturtiums in the herb garden always get eaten by caterpillars, such that I've given up with them for the time being. My chemistry is not so good, so I'm just learning about Bordeaux mixtures and the like. Horticulture shields a multitude of unsung scientists, I think. (Just not me).

We can't even come close to the smallholding/self sufficiency ethos, but we can nevertheless 'do our bit' by raising healthy crops in some of our own veg and keeping a few hens to collect our own eggs. We were offered a couple of goats, but we don't really have the pasturage and I don't particularly like goat produce. We could consider raising rabbits as food, but I can already hear disapproval from some of my peers. In Swiss Family Suburban I remember walking my friend's goats on a lead. I also remember David's dad happily skinning rabbits in the back yard, years ago. At present the best we can do is get our meat from a nearby abattoir which reduces food miles and also cuts costs.

We finished today by having a family games evening. Our scrabble scores were Daivd & Matt: 178, Me: 175 (3 points!), Em: 159 & Jonti: 151. The combined score was 663, which is quite good when you consider the age range of the players (39 - 13 yrs). After tonight I think we'll have a Scrabble league where we don't double up on a team (eg David & Matt). We'll also be a bit stricter on the rules now. - no haphazard looking up in the dictionary and proper challenges on an incorrect word. This left time for just a couple of games of Uno - Matt & David being the victors again!

10th August 2009

Now that most of the veg is out the soil is quite empty, which seems such a waste - but we didn't have room for winter crops as well (I wonder if we might need to give over some of the lawn next season). However, I've just found a great website: which will provide brassicas for growing over the winter. None of our local nurseries have any winter stock available - I guess now isn't a popular time for selling veg. I'm sure that more choice would be available in a more rural setting - although the www gives us unlimited choice.

Thankfully we don't have to rely entirely on our own groundspace - it'll soon be Blackberry season (just don't collect those on the roadside as exhaust fumes can't be good to eat.) The book I used to make lemon curd also includes a recipe for Blackberry jelly which is delicious (again, just a couple of pots made in the microwave). That and Blackberry and Apple crumble are staple fare in the Autumn. We have space in the freezer which needs filling (with Blackberries) and it'll be more economical to run when it's full (of blackberries). In Swiss Family Suburban I reminisce about the children blackberry picking when they were small, picking (and eating) was ok but cleaning the berries didn't seem as appetising (sorry!) until they learned that salt drew out the grubs and killed them - all was gusto after that!

Last week the children visited a friend who needed to cull an infestation of feral pigeons by means of an air rifle - poison being unsuitable should they die elsewhere and take the poison with them. I can hear protestations, but an infestation simply must be dealt with. Why is it ok to kill grubs in berries but not pigeons? Once they had perfected their marksmanship on targets and coke cans a swift shot was the surest and safest way. I couldn't participate as I can't wink with my left eye and so couldn't see down the sight to shoot right handed! It created a desire for us to try fresh wood pigeon pie (which is very tasty) but it's just not possible here as we can't risk shooting across gardens - the gun doesn't belong to us either. Thwarted yet again!

9th August 2009

Began the day feeling jaded and oppressed, but an afternoon in the garden cleared away all the clouds. Now most of the veg has gone we let the hens have the full garden to roam in. It was so therapeutic, having chucks pecking around your feet as you hoe and weed - they follow you around like little vacuum cleaners, clearing away bugs and the odd worm. However, "A Grand Day Out" soon became "The Great Escape". We had woven bamboo canes in between the lower branches of the privet hedge to close any gaps (to try keeping the garden looking 'au natural') but the hens (and neighbouring cats) had nudged them aside and had wandered into next door's garden. Thankfully some corn was tempting enough to bring them back. Back to chicken wire, I guess. I also gave the hen house a thorough cleaning, which always is a satisfaction.

For tea we had a stir fry using some of the onion we gathered from our veg patch - it was lovely and sharp in flavour.

Musing over the day we discussed how we could have 'blown the cobwebs away' by donning our smart clothes and going for a coffee and browse around the shops at Trentham Gardens (we can't walk around the lake now, without paying a fortune in entry fees). Instead, we put on our scruffs and tidied the garden. Eating ice-cream with the hens pecking around next to us was cheaper and, I think, calmer. (My sister did visit Trentham today, as she has bought an annual pass, and reports that it was very busy).

The final touch to the day was collecting the dead and dried bluebells from the front garden, and arranging them in the coal scuttle (until the winter comes and we fill it with coal) with a ribbon to finish the display.

6th August 2009

Unbelievably, I didn't sleep at all last night! Now I don't think that I can attribute absolutely NO sleep to two cups of coffee mid-afternoon, yesterday. I just can't explain it, it's a new phenomenon to me.

I received a letter from a friend in yesterday's post (which also contained some lovely fabric - William Morris's 'Strawberry Thief"), so during the night I took the opportunity of replying. Actually, it was really pleasant to have some extended peace and quiet to gather my thoughts and to write a letter. I also got a considerable amount of Swiss Family Suburban typed and ready for a last proof read and fiddle.

I was really surprised to find that the sun was rising and the milkman was delivering to our doorstep. That's such an archetypal British sound of homey domesticity. By that time it didn't seem worth going to bed, so I thought I'd wait up and let the hens out. I've no doubt that I'll soon be 'running out of steam' and will need a nap. It looks like I'm on shifts today.

Not surprisingly I haven't achieved much today. However I have finished making the carrots, ready to give to the veg stall tomorrow. I've placed a label on them advertising their nutritional value (High in Fibre!) I hope the stall holders enjoy the sentiment, though it will be hilarious if it falls flat. I can just picture Em handing the basket over and them saying "Oh, erm ... thanks." What a hoot!

Em has had a great day rummaging through button boxes to sew on her jeans and tops (again). Getting the button box out is a real experience, not only because it's so tactile, but we still have buttons which belonged to my Grandma. We decided to ditch schoolwork today as we simply had to have an arts and crafts fest - it seems we can't have a summer holiday without one.

I think we are all exhausted today: Jonti stayed at my mum's last night and after a disturbed night he was up and out at 6am to do a one-off market stall to sell off some old stock.

I did exert myself earlier and harvested the onions. Once again, the crop was moderate - not especially big, but not too small. I expect that being trampled on repeatedly didn't assist matters. Thankfully the beans are doing extremely well. We had some with tea the other night - very nice!

4th August 2009

Yesterday I visited a friend to take some 'recycled' clothing that Matt had grown out of. They were lovely clothes, most of which he had hardly worn and I hate waste, and it does seem so wasteful not to pass on nice clothing. Unwittingly I enjoyed two mugs of coffee (which must have not been de-caff) and now, eight hours later, I still can't sleep. I'm beginning to realise how much caffeine can interrupt your sleep pattern - though it didn't used to.

Alternatively, it could be because I spent the evening re-working the 1st draft of Swiss Family Suburban, (does that make it the 2nd draft now?) so perhaps my mind was still whirring from that - although sitting on the sofa, under a blanket, listening to the rain is ample compensation.

Last night David and Matt burned the infected potato foliage. David thought he would make a scientific demonstration of how petrol and petrol fumes react to the naked flame. Using a stick with the end wrapped in burning paper he could safely ignite the fumes. Instantly there was a loud "WUMPH" and the flames shot out of the holes in the sides of the container about six feet across. I bet you don't get to do that in the science lab at school!

After a late night/early morning I'm uber tired now. David will be reading Sourcery and I usually do the ironing as we listen, but I think I'll let the ironing pile mount up a bit and sit and knit carrots instead. (We are knitting some carrots as a surprise display for our local, friendly veg stall).

2nd August 2009

Because of all the rain (which I do enjoy) I think the potatoes have got blight. When I cut off the affected leaves I hope the crop will remain healthy. On top of that, something has trampled the onions down in the night. How disappointing! I hope we still get a harvest of sorts in due season....

On reflection we decided to harvest the potatoes early rather than risk the tubers getting infected. It was blight that caused the historic Irish potato famine in 1845. We did harvest a decent amount of spuds but the thrill and satisfaction was somewhat lacking.

It's becoming glaringly apparent, by it's omission, that I'm not getting my music practise done. Over the summer holidays I get carried away by domestic projects and miss the important stuff. It's like the pitcher which, when filled with just water, leaves no room for anything else. Whereas, first place in the big stones then there's room for small stones. There is also room for some sand and then a little water too: Do the big/important things first and the little things will fit in around it. I still haven't mastered putting this into practice. If I do some practice first I'm sure I'll still fit everything else around it.

On the subject of practice, I'm still waiting for my pupil's exam results.... eek!

30th July 2009

Finished cleaning the oven today, as my mum worked her accounts. Wow, "Oven Pride" (as was advertised by Charlie Dimmock) really is miraculous. I left the shelves overnight, coated in the stuff using a toothbrush, and when I wiped it off this morning a years worth of cooked-on gunk just washed off! Though what the link between Charlie Dimmock and cleaning is, I'm not sure. I wish she'd come and tell me why my tomato plant hasn't yielded a single fruit specimen. I think that I should have pruned the top, to keep it bushy and maybe I should have fed it more than the stipulated once a week - though you would have thought a couple of tomatoes would still have been manageable.

The flowers from my birthday have passed their best, even though I changed the water and trimmed the stems. Although I enjoy fresh flowers about the place It's nice to have the house back to normal. I like the simplicity of my summer fire arrangement: I've put pine cones in the fireplace and dried Hydrangeas around the grating. Mum and dad collected the cones on a walk and it's not often they do that sort of thing, so it's even more special because they're hand picked by them. I prefer Hydrangeas dried to the fresh flower. I've just planted an Hydrangea (given to me by my mum) in the garden purely to maintain a supply of dried heads. I understand that the colour changes in relation to the lime content of the soil, lime free soil creating the bluest flower. Our soil is very clay filled, in that part of the garden, so we have a deep pink blossom. Apparently my grandmother, who died just as I was born, loved Hydrangeas and had them in her front garden which was just a few houses up the road.

28th July 2009

Again, everyone seems to be complaining about the rain. I like the rain and it means I don't need to water the veg - though it will mean lots of weeding, sooner or later.

I went to check for eggs and the hens are all outside, looking SO bedraggled. They do look comical with their feathers soaked to their skin. Their necks look especially pitiful and thin. I notice that the amber in the Amber Links becomes more prominent. Verity (a Fenton Blue), with her comb flopping over one eye, looks the funniest.