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.

5th May 2011

I do wonder if acting as reference models continually throughout the children's childhood might have had a long enduring effect (good or bad is debatable). The other day Jonti (aged 17) accosted me in the kitchen wearing a colander on his head and brandishing a slotted spoon in a menacing manner. The reason, it unfolded, was that I was the dragon that was guarding the newly made chocolate cake and I needed defeating! Years ago Matt posed for reference for a painting for a Fantasy card game that David was working on where he was pretending to be a soldier charging on a rocking horse wearing kitchen ware as his armour and weaponry.

The cake in question is an adaptation of a chocolate digestive cake which is very like Rocky Road - basically melted dark choc, broken biscuits, chocolate buttons and a new addition of mini marsh mallows chilled in the fridge. Yummy!

Em and I absolutely love the colander in question - which seems a little out of proportion, but it's so very 'country kitchen'. Em and I refer to it as 'playing house', or the old fashioned phrase would be home making. In reality it's trying to be creative on a budget - a £1.99 which just so happens to tie together the theme in the kitchen based around original 70's tiles. It just matches the table runner that I made - with the all important wooden button detail.

20th March 2011

I really loved making (and using) the Christmas Flower Fairy table runner and I've really missed it since Christmas. It doesn't quite work though to use Christmas fabrics outside of December though, so I found some fabric to match the William Morris Blue Eggshell paint that I so love on the kitchen table and chairs and I made a breakfast style table runner for the kitchen. The most important feature, of course, is the wooden button. It's a shame you don't really see it when you sit down or tuck the chairs in. Nevertheless, I have the comfort of just knowing it's there - and it does win Em's approval, owing to her button fascination (which I totally endorse!)

15th April 2011

I've spent the last couple of months helping my friend, Mae, clear out her mum's house. Her mum died at the ripe old age of 90, but left about 90 years worth of stuff to sort out. Up until quite recently she had been very active in every way - always having parties and staging funny monologues, she also sang in more choirs than I've had hot dinners. As such there was an awful amount of stuff. However, as I hate to waste anything I picked up a few novelties which I couldn't bear to see skipped.

In the garage we found an ancient wooden ironing board which I couldn't bear to see trashed. To me it represented some interesting social history - so I painted it blue (William Morris Blue eggshell of course - to match the table and chairs) and then hung it on the wall. Every time I pass it now I think of all the little ladies that have completed stalwart ironing mounds. I'm thrilled and think it looks great!

I also rescued an old chest of drawers that was water stained and very scratched. David took the handles off for me and I painted it in Regency White eggshell paint and then distressed the edges. I think it looks very French antique. It now houses some gloves and scarves and the dog's lead. Waste not want not!

17th January 2011

I've made a startling discovery! Did you know that interior design on a budget is called homemaking?! I was scrap booking some photos of the day David and I painted our third hand kitchen table (I really enjoyed spending the afternoon together, so it got scrap booked) and I wanted to find an image of the paint tin we used. It was a small tin of Heritage eggshell paint, called "William Morris Blue". This was fitting as I absolutely love William Morris' designs (although his ideals were out of my price bracket). Imagine my surprise when the number one hit was a picture of my very own (third hand) kitchen table and chairs, taken from this blog! I realise that, although people visit this site every day, it is probably more to do with having the right flag words. Nevertheless, it was a pleasant surprise.

Observation: I know that many men have a real creativity when creating their pad, but I notice that any artistic flare seems to be directly related to the amount of money spent. I've seen some guy's houses which are really beautiful, but no money has been spared in the creation. Also, although the interior design is amazing there is rarely a sense of 'home'. I really think that it's a woman's touch that creates a home. N.B. I realise that this is a totally non-p.c. statement, but I guess it's a very non-p.c. blog.

29th December 2010

I've heard of a Yuletide log before, but this year ours was in no way related to chocolate cake. David and I were driving down a lane near to our house, on our way home, when we found a huge branch in the middle of the road. We were in our little Fiat, but this didn't stop us pulling over and bagging the wood. A short time later with a chain saw and we soon had a roaring fire! We're no where near even attempting self sufficiency, but gathering the wood did leave a great sense of satisfaction. It's the small blessings along the way that we can either enjoy or take for granted. It's like the days we spent mending an old garden bench gave far more pleasure than just buying a new one.

Speaking of homely pleasures: I forgot to mention the Christmas table runners I made over Christmas. I love the Flower Fairies by Cicely Mary Barker and 2m of Christmas Flower Fairy fabric made 4 table runners, which I gave to family and friends - as well as keeping one for myself. I really enjoyed making them and my friends and family loved having a home made gift. I'm so pleased I made the time to make them. (It's a shame I forgot to photograph the tassle detail!)

26th December 2010

This year I've really changed in my approach to Christmas. On the whole I don't thoroughly enjoy the season; there's too much pressure to conform to the whole present thing, and also there's such a lot of pressure to make sure nobody gets to feel left out. We always make sure we stay in touch with our family and do all we can to care, but it's a bit much when you've got to see to everybody all in one day - as everybody expects something of you on Christmas day. All in all the true meaning gets thoroughly fogged. This year we decided to not to the present thing at all but put the money towards the whole family going out for a meal (except we did buy the boys a new shirt and Em a little cardi/jacket to wear on Christmas day) - we've never done the big pressy thing for a variety of reasons. Em thinks I'm having a mid-life crisis, as in previous years we've really not bothered about the big roast dinner. Four generations met together for a meal, including my 88 year old Great Aunt and Uncle - it was worth it just to see Aunty H in her sparkly clip-on earrings again!

Not only that, but I completely broke with previous years taste and went for a black and silver Christmas tree theme in the lounge, whilst keeping everywhere else traditional. I don't like too many decorations but I was thrilled with our new design (in the sales of course). Jonti's girlfriend came for the day and the girls all set to designing and decorating, with Christmas music and mince pies to maintain morale. Jonti made our evening meal so we could stick at it. I was thrilled with the result. Even the dog's house had a couple of baubles hanging in it. My friend bought him a hat for Christmas day - not sure what he made of it?!

28th November 2010

Well, here comes the tidal wave! Em's Grade 7 piano date is through, we've had concerts (ranging from Symphony Orchestra to Scottish Cayleigh's) every night this week. I've still had pupils and David is getting busy with the pre-Christmas shoppers.http://billyart.co.uk/ It's all good stuff, just no time inbetween to enjoy it. The chip shop knows us well enough by now, the slow cooker gets the odd stew out (when I've time to peel veg) and the ironing pile is learning to wait. I've just got to learn to take it in my stride. The blessing is that, as everything really has come at once, we should settle down again quite quickly. I hope so!!!!

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.

12th September

The other night I lay awake thinking about smartening up my old ironing board. Because it's an old fashioned wooden one I can re-cover it tightly (I really dislike those tie on covers for metal boards as they always crease around the edges, which makes your ironing crease - as well as looking messy). I had previously covered it in orange to match the kitchen but I tend to iron upstairs now (in peace). I can't iron in front of the TV as I'm too busy watching the movie to watch what I'm ironing and so it takes ages, I prefer to listen to an audio book or a podcast. I was thinking about a more 'au naturelle' effect to match the wicker and linen ironing basket. It did seem a little crazy when I couldn't go to sleep because I was wondering if I should paint the legs too! David suggested I had more important things to do at present. I consented to compromise and today Matt helped me with the cover using David's canvas pliers to pull the fabric taught and then secure it in place with a staple gun. I do love a little project and feel that lovely sense of satisfaction from using old to create new - some old fabric remnant in this case. I have a little problem when it comes to fabric; I have simply tons of the stuff stored in boxes in the under bed drawers. After years of needing quick costumes I can't get used to throwing it away. Also, if I get the urge for a project I feel I've done a good job if I haven't needed to buy anything new.

On the subject of ironing; not too long ago I thought I'd try and be a loving wifey and bought some perfumed ironing water (this was a sacrifice as certain strong smells give me an instant headache) to make all the ironing extra special. David walked in the room and wrinkled his nose, asking "What's that awful smell, it's dreadful!" So much for the thought (it did smell odd) - back to tap water.

15th August 2010

Yipee, it's holiday time! I always stack up a huge list of jobs, which is totally unrealistic, to complete during the summer holidays. I always feel that I've wasted my time somehow, if I haven't ridded out and cleaned every imaginable cupboard and drawer and redecorated most of the house whilst catching up on a years worth of music practise. Of course, I don't manage anything like that amount. I guess anything is better than nothing.

I notice how, at times, I only feel that it's valid to enter details of particular note in this 'diary', and yet surely it's the hundreds of things which don't get entered that matter most. The fact that on any particular day there can be anything up to 10 people for lunch at any given moment, or that the hens are nicely cleaned out, the dishes are done and the ironing pile is eliminated (whilst listening to an Agatha Christie audio book) must truly matter. Surely these are the things that make a house a home. The fact that Em and her friend can sit in the cooling evening, wrapped up in a blanket on the bench in the herb garden
is important to me. Or that her friend can become a semi-lodger for the entire summer holiday, or that I can come home and find a couple of extra boys have taken root for the day must surely matter. Although it's important to make sure we study hard and work to do our best, it isn't that by which we measure our days - is it?

Surely it's important that we've spent the day being a family, being hospitable and working together, and it's from that we can build skills and character as we grow (us adults as well as the children). These last few months have been a constant sally to and fro between Doctors, Dentists, Orthodontists, Opticians, Vets and Hospitals - between 3 children, 3 ageing parents and 2 very aged relatives how else can I spend my time? When mum's are at work all the time who fills this gap? The fact that Great Aunt Hilda got to and from the hospital intact, and Matt and Em's glasses now fit must be of first importance. It's hard to remember that sometimes....

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.

16th May 2010

For the first time that I can remember I've had a completely uninterrupted day at home. Matt cleaned the cars, David and I tidied the garage and I created a nice little utility room. The washer is plumbed in inside the garage, but it's always been a rough and ready affair and a bit of a dumping ground. The previous owners must have made a laundry room of sorts but it had gone into disarray. I've always wished that I had a proper laundry room (and a pantry!) so I've cleaned, tidied and arranged the one in the garage into something more official - I even scrubbed the buttons on the washer with a toothbrush! I realise that this might sound trite but I get quite a 'lift' now, each time I go and put a load of washing in. David made me a nice white shelf and a wicker basket that my mum gave me now holds spare coat hangers. I'm thinking that if I'm going to be doing innumerable loads of washing I might as well give it a bit of flare. For those who have indoor utility rooms this will seem superfluous, but in my 'make do and mend' fashion I feel that I've now made good the deficit. While the weather is good I've even had clothes drying in there - when the washing line is too full or it's too late in the day to put another load outside. This is a pleasant change from the usual 'pant trees' that line the shower rail ( I think it's the only 'crop' I manage to be fruitful in). When the children were small they probably learned their colours by playing snap with wet socks to hang on the smalls hangers. These hangers affectionately became known as pant trees, because you had to go and pick the pants (or socks) off the hangers which were high up on the shower rail. It's the end of an era for them to be out of use for a season!

All in all though, I reckon it's no bad thing to have a flood of satisfaction from a clean washer and nice arrangement of white goods (even if they are old). There's no point in pursuing much else until the absolute basics are in order, and it's too easy to forget that - so whatever it takes to keep the right perspective. I might see if David will paint me a little sign for the door ...

10th April 2010

After so many exams it's good to be off timetable for a couple of weeks. The trouble is that, after so many weeks of slogging at my flute practice everything else at home has gone to pot. I'd intended to spend this holiday 'playing house' - reducing the sewing/mending pile (one of my favourite jobs - I find it really satisfying doing little bits of sewing and saving clothing for that little bit longer), of course the ironing pile needs tackling and generally tidying and clearing out. However I've got taken over by events:

Although Jonti and Em are working through the holidays (they have so much work to get finished by the summer) their friends are allowed to join us so long as they let them get on with some work - a kind of relaxed homework club. Matt can have the fortnight off and so he is free to socialise. The result is that I've had 6 children here most days. I've really enjoyed having all the kids here, but I've kept moving off-task (my own fault) - nipping kids off for a coffee trip and a break etc.. I've also enjoyed helping Jonti's girlfriend with her school's textiles project, but this means that the ironing still isn't done. And, of course I haven't played my flute or piano for ages! I'm not very good at balancing things, it's all one thing and then another. I guess it's ok to spend a couple of weeks entirely on family, I'll just have to pull everything in later. I do envy those who manage to keep the house spotless, though. I did ask someone once where they kept their ironing pile. They answered that they never had one, they ironed everything as soon as it was washed and dried - now why didn't I think of that!

31st March 2010

At the end of a busy month Em and I took our Grade 8 flute exam together yesterday. Em has been working towards this for quite a few months now but I decided to go for it only 8 weeks ago. It's something I should have done about 20 years ago, but at the time I met David, had twins, then Matt and was then deeply immersed in family life. Although I feel bad for not working at it earlier, taking our flute exam together did have a nice poetry about it. The exam invigilator commented how nice it was that two sisters took their exam on the same day - ha! I'm under no illusion about how old I look, so perhaps she was just being cautious. My friend, Mae, who used to teach me and now teaches Em, accompanied us for the exam and so afterwards we celebrated by having cake at a nearby garden centre and then an evening meal later. It really is a red letter day -after 20 years!

Years ago, before I was married we used to have two dogs - a Cairn Terrier and a Yorkshire Terrier - which were pretty crazy, being pedigrees. I am now allergic to dogs and have felt that our lives were busy enough. However the children have a friend whose family run a dog grooming and boarding dogs business. They have a lovely little dog who isn't settling well with them, as they are out of the house for long hours and have lots of other dogs about the place, and needs a home... He is a cross between a miniature Poodle and a Bichon Frise, which don't molt - and therefore don't make me sneeze. He has such a lovely temperament. After having pedigree terriers he seems so calm - he doesn't run off and just wants to be close by you. He came over just for a trial period, but fits into the family so nicely and is so settled - I think he's here to stay! In this picture you can see that he's putting our archytipical 'blanky' to good use and is sitting on Em's Geography schoolwork. He now spends the days sitting with the children as they do their schoolwork - that must surely make it more palatable.

12th October 2009

The weather is turning to Autumn - my favourite season. I just love the autumn colours. I like the clothes for Autumn too - jeans, jumpers and boots (Doc Martins usually). A brisk walk (with our neighbour's dog at the moment) is simply glorious at this time of the year. When we need a break and some 'time out' we refer to it as 'kicking leaves' time. There's nothing better to blow the cobwebs away and clear your head.

The trouble is that the washing doesn't dry. In Swiss Family Suburban I mention that, in our family, the main crop is 'pant trees' - which we harvest regularly. The children learned their colours by playing snap with wet socks (and 'smalls') which were pegged out and hung on the shower rail to dry. I know that tumble dryers have been invented, but they take ages and cost a fortune to run. In the summer it's no problem as everything can go on the line (I love watching sheets blowing on the line, I find it really relaxing - simple pleasures eh?), but this is that awkward inbetween time. The washing won't dry outside and we haven't got the radiators on much so it won't dry that way either - so it's back to the 'pant trees' (and a clothes maid in the bath).

At times it's difficult to remember that this kind of stuff is important. But, if I want my family to stay clean and tidy, then it's my job and it IS important. There's no point in the children learning to play Poulenc's flute sonata, Grieg's Lyric pieces or Paul Reade's Victorian Kitchen Garden if the basics aren't covered (literally!)

2nd October 2009

Finally, I've almost completed filing for the end of the last academic year. I feel bad for leaving it so long - not like me at all! You wouldn't think that this box was the culmination of a hard working school year for three kids. I suppose it is only the actual test papers, not the work books (they fill two much larger boxes). All the books are filed away and stored (for posterity) and the tests are sent to the certificate body, in Swindon. Inside this little box are all the usual academic subject tests, such as Math, English etc. and also over two years worth of Spanish results and the culmination of several years work in Music Grade 5 theory as a General Level equivalent. It'd be a little more satisfying if it were a bigger box. Even so, it cost over £8 to send!

In our home (like many, I imagine) we have the institution of a 'blanky'. This has been more of a big deal as the children have grown older. If the evenings are a bit chilly as we sit and read or watch a film the blanky is called for. If you are a little tired and are just lounging, the blanky is required, in fact David and I sat with it over our legs as we watched an episode of Morse last night. Matt has become known as the 'blanky meister' as he seems to have taken the majority ownership, and he does do an excellent 'tuck in'. However, if you are really ill, only the Noddy duvet will suffice. Ever since the children were small, if you were ill and lying on the settee the Noddy duvet would be called in. This practice has continued well into the children's teens. The children aren't often ill, so it's quite an occasion to get the Noddy duvet out of the wardrobe. In recent years it has even been loaned out to friends, adults and children alike.

If the Noddy duvet doesn't get much use, the blanket is in constant demand. Recently it has even found it's way on to the trampoline - the children wanted to be cosy but also wanted to go on the trampoline and chose to combine the two. Needless to say the results were devastating and two holes surprisingly appeared! A family discussion about what to do was necessary - do we patch it up or buy a new one? A new one was out of the question and so, if you look closely at the picture, a little mending is evident. We now think that this is a REAL blanky - the holes have really made it belong!

13th September 2009

images We had a real 'WI' inspired Sunday afternoon learning to crochet. Although I know the basic stitches I've forgotten a lot. Years ago my Great Aunt taught me to crochet a blanket, but I've forgotten how to turn corners. We looked up a basic pattern on the internet but it didn't work (typical!) I rediscovered how to double and treble, but still can't create a square from a circle of chain stitches. We are doing a bit of research and then will have another bash. It troubles me that we are losing so many skills: I don't suppose many want a Quaker style patchwork cover with a crochet blanket but I can't quite cope with the fact that we may soon be unable to make them. I'm on a mission to make a granny blanket square somehow! If we don't succeed I might need to ask Great Aunt Hilda, but she may feel unequal to it now. I guess I might have to resort to a different pattern.

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!

30th August 2009

A sense of panic (owing to the end of the holiday looming) has led to a spurt of energy enabling a deep cleaning of the kitchen. I've scrubbed down all of the tiles and cleaned out all of the cupboards. Drastic as this might seem, it's less of a task than having a new kitchen. Instead I've opted for a retro appeal - but clean! Some postcards of an old soap advert and a Jacob's Crackers advert picturing an ornate royal livery (not sure what the connection is there) alongside a jigsaw of a 50's 'Heartbeat' style kitchen (Em's first proper jig-saw) set the tone. So it's a 50's style kitchen, with original 70's tiles (?) - but it pulls together. I like this style as it can cope with being lived in. A modern, minimalist style (apart from being expensive and creating momentous upheaval) wouldn't cope well with constant use. A loaf and some jam cooling with a few dishes draining and keys left out don't stand out so much this way. I like this, as well, as I do sometimes think that most modern kitchens look the same, so impersonal. A trip to Ikea, to buy a shelf, was the finishing touch. It matches the shelving unit we draped my birthday present 'hearts' on and it covers some rough gaps in the tiles where the boiler used to sit.

I recently read Black Beauty which I've never read before. I vaguely remember a TV series of the story from when I was a child which I really didn't like and I think that has always put me off reading the book. However, I really did enjoy reading it. Because I'm not very 'horsey' (I think you have to be born 'horsey') I enjoyed reading the equestrian detail of saddle paraphernalia and the changing, and sometimes quite cruel, fashions of reigns and carriage. It's quite a gentle read, almost boring if you are looking for a fast paced plot, but calming to read with lots of interesting background detail - my kind of book. I'm thinking I might go back and read some of the other classics I missed. I'm considering The Water Babies, but I think that was another book that was serialised on TV that I didn't like, which put me off. I'd better hurry up because when term time starts I'm going to have to have a brush up on Keighley's Harmony book, and get cracking on some playing because I can't remember which end of the flute you blow down.

The children and I went blackberry picking at Mow Cop and I made some blackberry jelly, but it'll probably end up down the sink. It tasted so sugary that any taste of blackberry was masked. I know that jam has lots of sugar in it but this was astronomical. How depressing. Never mind, there's a few tubs full in the freezer - plenty for some crumbles. The hens appreciated the blackberry pulp left over from the blackberry jelly, delicious with bread crumbs and corn. I'm glad it wasn't all wasted. I'm not sure we'll have time to go again which depresses me when there's fruit going free.

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.

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).

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.

29th July 2009

Took Great Aunty Hilda shopping today. It does make me laugh when old people do their weekly shop as the actual food content is so low; a couple of tiny tins here and there, two tomatoes and the rest is cake and chocolate. Mind you, that's better than the old lady in the queue in front of us who spent the same amount as my Great Aunty's weekly shop on lottery tickets. That seems a pretty hopeless existence, to me.

Spent the afternoon listening to Faure's Requiem whilst cleaning the oven. I'll be singing this with the Ceramic City Choir in November for the British Legion Remembrance Day Service at the Victoria Hall. This was quite an appropriate piece as something must have died in there considering the amount of carbon on the oven floor. Perhaps that's what they mean by Carbon Footprint. I found the fish slice which we lost, about a year ago, inside the oven door - eek! Mustn't leave it so long next time (although I always say that).