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.

15th September 2010

Last night Em auditioned to join my choir (in addition to singing in the City Youth Choir) and was placed with me as a 2nd Soprano. It's great that we can sit together, but it raises some quite ludicrous seating issues. There isn't really any more space on the row so a few of us moved up to the front row, but this left my friend Mae behind. Unfortunately there are those who are really nasty if they don't sit by a particular person and insist that others sit in a specific place. We'll have to give serious thought and split into two's! Perhaps Em can move to the back and sit by Mae. How silly! It's just like being back at school.

The reality is that it doesn't matter who you sit next to as there is absolutely no time to chat during rehearsal and then you can move and chat during the short break time. You really are there just to sing. Em has just a few short weeks to get to grips with "Elijah" - no problem.

I do have a dilemma; David is considering a business trip to Northern Ireland, to sell his motorbike prints and I could go with him - making it into a mini holiday (we've not had a holiday in over 16 years). However, I'd be missing our Handel's "Messiah" concert! I have sung this before but I was really looking forward to singing this with our 'new' conductor, Oliver Neal-Parker, and with Em joining too. Hence the dilemma ...

P.S. I love today's Google logo marking the occasion of Agatha Christie's 120th birthday! We are real mystery nuts; I was so proud when Jonti solved the murder at a Murder Mystery Night after only two clues! (He has read a fair few Poirot mysteries).

22nd May 2010

Jonti played in a KEMS (King Edward Musical Society) orchestral workshop in Macclesfield today, playing Holst's "The Planets". He's wanted the opportunity to play this for ages, as it has a brilliant percussion score, especially in "Mars, the bringer of War". I do think that it's ambitious to tackle the whole suite in a day for a one off performance. David went to see the final performance and said it was very good. (I couldn't make it as I needed to pick Em up from work and get everything ready to dash out again in the evening).

As soon as David and Jonti got home and had rushed a quick sandwich for tea we were straight out again to see our friend in an amateur performance of the play "Dry Rot", a farce by John Chapman. The play is set in a country hotel and is all about 'knobbling' race horses. It really was very good. I think I prefer amateur productions as they have a more cosy ambience. The ice creams are cheaper too. This is quite a timely theme as I've just read my first Dick Francis mystery, all of which are set around the racecourse. It was a brilliant read.

30th December 2009

We went to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie. It was BRILLIANT!! I absolutely love the books and Guy Ritchie has really captured the essence of all the mysteries. Robert Downey Jnr and Jude Law are excellent in their characters - perfect! Our house has a Copper Beech tree at the front and I can't fight off the urge to have a Sherlock Holmes silhouette painted on the house sign, after Conan Doyle's "Mystery of the Copper Beeches".

20th December 2009

Yippeee! Christmas concert season is finally over! The children have all worked really hard on Brass Concerts, Wind Orchestra Concerts, Barn Dances... the list seems to go on. It's absolutely wonderful the opportunities that they have, but it is tiring.

The winter has really set in now! This is the first time that the children have had any prolonged snow. Usually a days sledging is the maximum but the snow is here to stay for a bit. Sledging and an 8' snowman are a great treat. I'm getting a bit fed up of endless soggy clothes, but I guess that's how it goes.

I like Calvin's snowman house of horrors, in the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons by Bill Waterson. On some he is carrying out brain surgery with a saw, to the disgust of his neighbour, Susie Derkins. They are so funny. In one drawing all his snowmen are decapitated and in another he has put himself inside the snowman's mouth. He turns to his mum and says' "You don't like my snowman, DO you!" - GREAT!

The hens don't agree with me, though. It's the first time they've experienced snow and they just won't come out. I don't understand that as they've had some heavy frosts that haven't troubled them in the slightest. In the end David has had to clear away a patch of ground for them and they've just begun to venture into that, but no further. When the snow fell they were all outside and were stranded under garden benches and trees - we had to carry them back to the shed!

8th October 2009

The role of mum has transformed into the role of nurse in our household, although not in too extreme a measure. Over the last few days Em hasn't been well, not really ill, but just not quite well. Yesterday she was far too woosy to go to rehearsals. It's quite nice when the children are just a little bit ill (which isn't often) as it's an excuse to be cosy; and so last night we sat on the sofa, with a blanket, and watched The Railway Children (the original TV adaptation with Jennifer Agutter, Dinah Sheridan & Bernard Cribbins) - wonderful! No matter how many times I watch or read I ALWAYS cry when Bobby meets her dad at the station and shouts "My daddy!"

This morning David's eye is very painful again. He couldn't open his eyes to begin with and now it's very painful where he scratched it last week, so I was back to handing him his drinks - and the telephone to call the hospital. Back to the hospital again this afternoon. Because we are off to the hospital this afternoon the children have hatched an evil plan to take their schoolwork to Grandma's. I'm not too sure how much schoolwork will get done...

Extra curricular activities for Matt now include Dog walking for a neighbour. Actually, this counts as 'work experience' as he is thinking about being a dog handler in the police force. After several years of home education we're pretty good at labelling anything as educational!

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)

or:

"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.

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.

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!!

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).

31st July 2009

For breakfast had home-baked bread with honey from a friend's beehive. Mmmm! It sounds like the sort of breakfast Mother would make for Joe, Beth and Frannie in The Magic Faraway Tree, except mine was accompanied by a mug of coffee, not a glass of milk. The bread recipe is finally sorted, as the one in the recipe book didn't work at all. This one works for me:

1 cup (to the brim) water (in this instance a cup being a 350ml measuring beaker)
3 cups flour
a blob of margerine
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
1.5 tsp dried yeast


As the children are older now they are having to do some schoolwork during the holidays, especially Jonti and Em. They finish their GCSE equivalent this next academic year and it doesn't seem wise to take seven weeks off (seven!!) and then have a crazy rush to get finished, particularly as Jonti needs to finish in time for a City Youth Brass competition in Belgium. Jonti and Em are going to 'Contagious', so they will get a break. Nevertheless, I do miss the holiday art projects we did when they were younger (though Em is maintaining the tradition by having a holiday scrapbook project - all about chickens).

Whilst the children were working I finally completed the first draft of my book Swiss Family Suburban. It's a sure sign that I'm moving into the older generation as I prefer to print off and proof read via a hard copy. To blow away the cobwebs of a morning behind the computer I made some lemon curd from an ace recipe book, Luxurious Jams, by Sonia Allison, where you make jams etc. in the microwave. It turned out a gorgeous bright yellow as Felicity and Verity are giving us 'double yolkers' at the moment. With the leftover lemon I made a lemon cake: Best not to think about how much sugar has gone into our diet this afternoon! At least it's just sugar, not additives and preservatives too.

26th July 2009

I think I've nearly perfected my bread recipe to make a lighter loaf - except I have to 'jiggle' the water quantities a bit. Each time I check on the leavening process I think of the quote "Is the bread ris yet?" It's the sort of thing Hannah, from Little Women, would say, but I'm certain it's not really from that book. So, where is it from?