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Monday, 25 January 2016

A day of hope, hellebores, snowdrops and a surprise

During the summer,  our old ash tree in the garden  needed attention. After a couple of storms and a week of windy weather, quite a few big branches had snapped and fallen to the ground.

 The tree  urgently needed attention as a few larger branches higher up had died. If one of those crashed to the ground, and we happened to be in the way, we would be brown bread. Dead .(It's cockney rhyming slang)

That wasn't an appealing prospect, so after permission from the local council, we called in Tom,  the tree surgeon.

When I came back from work that day, Tom and his men had put the logs just in front of the piggery on the right hand side of the photo above. And there they stayed until November. Well, it saved me having to weed around there...

But by then , I was worrying about my snowdrop and daffodil bulbs under the soil and all those logs. So one dreary Sunday in late November I spent hours moving them all a few yards away under the box hedging...

Boo, Eric and Winnie were very curious..scratching and digging. They were admonished .Would my bulbs survive, I wondered.

So this morning it was wonderful to walk to the bottom of the garden and see the snowdrops and daffodils and the promise of spring.

And elsewhere ,snowdrops were showing their pure little flowers which mean so much at this time of the year.

And at the shady place at the side of our cottage, the hellebores were there to greet me, just like they have every January for the last twelve or so years. I bought one plant from a small nursery a few miles cost £2.50 I recall...what great value for all those years of the pleasure of seeing them at such a bleak time of the year.

And then, the biggest surprise of all was outside the French doors of the dining room. There's a stone planter there filled with lavender and pinks which I planted up about  fourteen years ago. One of them was in flower...really!

So in the space of a five minute stroll around the garden, my mood had transformed. It's amazing how restorative a splash of colour, and a hint and the hope of the spring and summer to come, actually is.


Friday, 22 January 2016

Days of decluttering....

As sure as eggs is eggs, in January my thoughts turn to self improvement.  I must be tidier, I must do this or that....and when it comes to tidying,  I've been thinking about it a lot.

Stuck indoors for the past week, I realise what a slut I am when it comes to being tidy. Being here 24/7 I can actually see things...and the piles of things that are lying around.

At the end of last year, I came across a book called the Life changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo in a local charity shop. Marie is now being treated as a guru in some quarters and she's all over the media like a rash.

Her book is an interesting read, with promises of life changing experiences if you declutter according to her principles. "When you put your house in order, you put your past in order too. As a result you see quite clearly what you need in life and do what you don't , what you could and shouldn't do."

Mmnn, am I ready for that? This is the woman who took 240 bin bags of stuff from a clients house. Was here anything left? She tidies by category  and virtually tells you to get rid of anything that does not bring you joy. When you tidying by category, eg clothes, you must empty each drawer, each wardrobe, you must put everything on the floor, and then pick up each item and ask yourself , "Does this bring me joy?

I tried just after Christmas, starting with my drawers. No, nothing in my knickers, bras and socks drawers brought me any joy, and  I dutifully got rid of all the unmatched socks, the bras that had gone grey and the smalls that had lost their twang. So far, so good, but I can'tt face the horrors lurking in my wardrobe. Perhaps later, when I've had some more practice.

Anyway, the other day I was ready to tackle the kitchen. With apologies to Marie, I knew I wouldn't be able to get everything done all at once. Slowly but surely , doing a little bit, then having a sit down were my watchwords.

The spice cupboard was the first to get the Kondo treatment. Everything in the overflowing dresser was taken off the shelves and out of the cupboards so they could all be cleaned..

Oh dear...I was creating havoc elsewhere too....and how had I got so much in such a small dresser?

Was that sumac really a year out of date? Oh, I could have sworn I only bought that garam masala a few months ago.Why did I have three jars of paprika?

But now my darlings, every spice is back  in alphabetical order ...savouries on the top shelf, baking and sweet spices on the middle shelf, and even the cupboards were tidy, with all the expresso cups washed and ready for use.

And once again this little dresser is looking lovely as well as being extremely useful.

This was made by a good family friend way back when,  for my daughters fifth or sixth birthday. Reg, a former commander in the Royal Navy had retired, and in addition to making his own steam railway in his back garden, was meticulously making beautiful miniature pieces of pine furniture for his grandchildren.

Emily his granddaughter had one, my nieces Katie and Heidi had one, and then Lucy. She loved it, and it was great fun buying old fashioned china dolls tea cups and saucers to put on the shelves .

Obviously she outgrew playing tea parties, although in my flights of fancy , I now wonder this sewed the seeds of what she does now....she's a cafĂ© owner  making cakes and food and serving everything on vintage crockery.

Anyway, this dresser gives me joy, and am hoping that Lucy doesn't rediscover its joy either. She might want it back.

Now all the detritus , is off the worktop there I can see another thing that gives me joy.

My old school brass bell which rings with such a satisfying clang. That's had a polish too, and it sits where its been for years. I don't have that much cause to use it these days .

 Back in the day when  my three children were playing in the fields at the back of the house, or in the treehouse, I could shout until I was blue in the face, and they couldn't hear me.

Children, like husbands, are frequently selectively deaf. They had no excuse when I used to ring the bell.

Facing  the dresser is the work top which for months has been invisible. As soon as anyone comes in through the kitchen door, they deposit stuff there. Hats, gloves,loose change, papers, post, you name it, the pile of doom had  risen to the point, where I just couldn't look at it.

But now, .....

Elsewhere in the kitchen, there has been progress, although I use so much of the paraphanalia, and much of it sits on display because its being used all the time. But, I am trying
and have removed quite a bit. This now means my scales from an old sweet shop aren't hiding behind plates, a platter, and various other odds and sods, and the old glass sweet jars I bought soon after I got married , are also on full display.


This is obviously a work in progress...there s so much more to do, especially when I live with two men. My son and my husband in case you're wondering.

I may be untidy, but they're stubborn when it comes to clutter and items kept where they shouldn't be. In their case, this is big clutter. My husband, I kid you not, has been keeping his golf clubs in the downstairs shower room for the last two weeks, refusing to move them. Likewise, the exercise bike which suddenly took up residence in the sitting room before Christmas, and the three 15 litre  tins of exterior paint which arrived in the dining room  during  the summer, have not been removed.

I don't know what Marie Kondo would do with the men in my life. But, she's harsh...her strategy is to get rid of most things....without sentiment, without regret and without mercy. She even sold some of her family's belongings under their noses when she was younger, as the house wasn't tidy enough. Oh, and she talks to her belongings that are actually allowed to stay.

 I will keep you informed of developments.


Sunday, 17 January 2016

A day of snow and fire

 "The North wind doth blow and we shall have snow" says the sixteenth century nursery rhyme....and so it did last night.

I woke up to a wonderful white and grey land with snow everywhere.

The rhyme goes on ...

"And what will poor robin do then, poor thing?
He'll sit in a barn and keep himself warm
and hide his head under his wing, poor thing."

 There were no signs of the robins we have seen here for years, and I hoped that they had found somewhere to shelter in one of the barns that are dotted around our village.

There's another variation of the rhyme which says
"He'll sit on a twig,
And we'll feed him some bread,
And he'll sing to say 'Thank you, my friends',
Poor thing!"

Well, the robins weren't perched where they usually were  and I'd seen neither hide or hair of them.

My dogs Boo and Eric didn't care at all, they were having far too much fun racing around the garden.

And I'm afraid I wasn't going out to look for the birds. Although I'd admired the wintery cloak of white everywhere through the sitting room window, I stayed inside all day by the fire.

Ah, the of the few pleasures of my least favourite season. There's something about the ritual of building a fire that I love. Scrunching the paper, laying the twigs on top, then adding the logs  - it's addictive.

But today all I had to do was light a match and watch as everything began to burn. Mr Thinking of the days had set the fire earlier before going out, and it sprang into life, drawing well.

By now the dogs were lying in front of the fire too....Eric asleep on my knee and Boo by my feet. They were both fast asleep until a hiss, a crackle from the fire woke them up briefly every now and again.

I sat there quietly....mesmerised by the flames, toasting my warm toes with no sounds to interfere with this special time.  My book lay on my lap unread, I sat there doing nothing , just thinking. And the beauty of it all was that I wasn't  expected to do anything and I wasn't  sitting there feeling guilty because I wasn't doing anything. After all, I'm supposed to be resting and recuperating.

Which I was doing ! Apart from looking outside to see if the robins had put in an appearance -  which they didn't.

Simple pleasures......

Saturday, 16 January 2016

A day pruning the plum and apple trees

It's been a busy old week. The unseasonably warm weather had broken,  and on Tuesday morning, it was bitterly cold as I drove to my allotment at about twenty past eight . 4 degrees and windy. No wonder no one else was there as I opened the gate.

I didn't much fancy being there at that time either, but I had a busy day in front of me, I had to work the following day before going into hospital on Thursday for an operation.

On the allotment there was a job to do which was very much overdue - pruning my apple and plum trees. I was about to get a masterclass in how to do it from my friend Eric.

He had a lot to work with.....

Eric reckons the trees here are about thirty to forty years old, and haven't been pruned for about ten years. I took over the allotment in 2014, and I must confess I'd not pruned them either, and they were very unruly.I didn't know where to Eric showed me,....

I met Eric through his son Stuart about four or five years ago, and he has the most amazing third of am acre plot of land that he has been cultivating for about fifty years. It's the most productive space with different varieties of plums, apples, redcurrants, raspberries, blackcurrants, white currants, all sorts of vegetables, and a pond. In fact it was Eric who inspired me to get an allotment in the first place.

He knows about pruning.....which was just as well, as there a hell of a lot to do.

"See here" he said "the first thing to do is remove all these crossing and rubbing branches." He snipped and pruned. " You want a wine glass or goblet shape"

Then came out his loppers, his pride and joy...and then the pruning saw.

Normally, the aim with apple trees is to stimulate new growth by taking out a bit of old wood  each winter. But more drastic action was needed on my apple trees, they had been neglected for so long.

The rain came down but on he worked, passing on tips, and tutting when he saw the damson tree. I know it wasn't the ideal time for pruning plum trees, but by autumn  the overgrowth was making it difficult for a couple of allotmenteers nearby to get to their plots so it was a case of needs must.

This was not got to be a mini pruning...the plums had been  heavy croppers last year, so thinning first and then there were some broken branches which needed taking back to the undamaged wood. Eric checked for silver leaf disease.

I had intended doing much of this myself....but Eric loves pruning and really was a man on a mission. He let me loose with the loppers a couple of times, and I wasn't allowed near the pruning saw either. But it was a fascinating lesson  in what to do next time.

It's all very well reading a book and looking at diagrams, but there's no better way to learn how to do something than being shown.


The rain was heavier by now and my feet were freezing,so it was time to get back to the car for a flask of coffee and some home made biscuits. Eric declined the coffee but really liked the biscuits so took some home with him.
"I've enjoyed today" he said "nothing like getting your teeth into something". He was talking about the pruning, not the biscuits. I enjoyed it too, but was anxious about this year's fruit. "Will it be Ok ?" I asked
Eric said it would, but there wouldn't be as much as last year in quantity but the quality would be better.

And that's enough for apples had been winners at  my very first show in August

and my plums too....

so I can't wait to see the apples and plums this August.

And since Tuesday, I've been into hospital and had some internal pruning done too. I've had my gallbladder out, so I should be looking and feeling much better as well!

Monday, 11 January 2016

The day David Bowie died

I had a lie in this morning, and when I did wake up, the news was everywhere. Radio, TV, Social Media. Just everywhere, David Bowie had died aged 69.

I'd barely  time to finish my first cup of coffee before my phone rang...and I was being asked to go on air on BBC Radio Leicester where I work, to share my memories of David Bowie and what was it about him that ensured his longevity in the spotlight.

When I say "my memories", I didn't know him personally, but I have been a life long fan of his since I first saw him perform live way back in 1973 at the New Theatre, Coventry.

It was part of the Ziggy Stardust  tour which had started back in 1972 in England. Criss crossing the country, then across the USA before returning to England. Bowie and in his band must have been exhausted but believe you me, there wasn't any sign of ennui from either him or the rest of the gang.

I'd never seen a performance like his. My friend Jude and I were entranced by the sheer outlandishness of the set, the lighting, the costumes, the sheer theatricality of it all. Bowie coming on stage in an eye catching outfit, only for two girls to come and rip it off, leaving him wearing a strangely printed leotard. A very skin tight leotard it was. He was all legs and teeth.
Bowie was everywhere, strutting around the stage, with a fervour, a sense of other worldliness.
And the music...oh the music. Such tight riffs, such energy, Bowie's authoratative voice with Mick Ronson's guitars...the excitement they were generating  was being lapped up by the audience , this really was a gig to remember. I especially remember being shocked (well I was young then) by the provocative postures and interaction between David and Mick...

The word "legend"is so over used, but David Bowie was one. Really he was. How many other musicians could have pulled off the outrageous Ziggy Stardust incarnation...and then sweep on to other personas, other identities with such integrity and conviction?

This morning, I went straight to my bookcase to get this's a classic, published in 2005. The text is by Bowie, and the  photographs are taken by Mick Rock, who oh so faithfully  recorded these great images from that long Ziggy Stardust tour back in 1972 and 1973. A lovely book.

He was a master of reinvention, always striving to create something different , something new. Something that others copied. He said that the flash on the original Ziggy Stardust set was taken from the high voltage signs which were on boxes with dangerous amounts of electricity. "But I was not a little peeved when Kiss purloined it. Purloining after all was my job"

But he also had integrity, a professionalism and a heart.
I love the story of when he found out that  "Mott the Hoople "were about to disband...they weren't making enough money so he offered them a song to record - "Suffragette City". They didn't take him up on this so he wrote "All the young dudes" especially for them...and it was a big hit.

No wonder he's been an inspiration to other musicians for so many years, both as a songwriter and performer. No wonder he's been such a fashion icon....and no wonder the fans loved him.

Click here to hear my thoughts, my memories...


Monday, 4 January 2016

vinyl days

When my daughter and husband arrived home to celebrate Christmas, she brought with her one of her presents. It was this little beauty....

If there's one thing we like in this cottage , it's music. And when the family get together, there's always some  music, some dancing. And this year a new toy to play with.

So we went upstairs to where all my vinyl is stored and brought some albums and singles down to listen to

I oohed and aahed as different tracks were selected...."ooh, haven't heard this for ages.....aaah, do you remember this?"

Harry was delighted as he found albums he didn't know I had....

Albums that brought memories flooding back. Like the two Frank Zappa albums I bought on a rainy afternoon in downtown San Francisco, when I worked on a cruise ship. Hot Rats and Chunga's Revenge ..God, I loved them and played them incessantly. Years later and I was sitting with my son in law singing out loudly, and word for word to Willie the Pimp.

My Clapton albums, the Beatles, Earl Klugh, Santana, Hendrix, John Martyn, Ry Cooder,  all of Mr Thinking of the Days Motown albums, my classical music, folk songs...well, they all came out...and eventually two large boxes of albums were brought down.

What a joy it's meeting up with old friends  after a long time. There's something about vinyl. Not digitally perfect, but there's a unique sound about vinyl tracks....the slight hiss, a crackle, and a rawness.

And there was the fascination with the album covers. So much information about the artists, the photos,  my heroes and above all, the artwork. I used to sit and pore over those covers , and the words to the songs, which I learnt by heart.

My record player has been out of action for too long....I'm hoping to get it mended soon. So in the meantime, my  daughter has taken the boxes of vinyl , the soundtracks to my younger years,
back to her house to play to her heart's content.

But be warned my darling daughter, those albums are coming back home to where they love affair with vinyl has been rekindled.