Friday, January 13, 2023

Weather Advisory Service

On the way home from the train the other day, I took a shortcut through the dripping allotment grounds, the grass and earth squelching under every step, causing an inadvertent squeal whenever my footing slipped a little and I was forced to grab at fence posts and overhanging branches to stop from slipping over in my work clothes. 

Unbeknownest to me, there was someone else there, my plot neighbour, dropping off some vegetable peelings from home for the compost. Or so he said, lurking out at me from the gloom and causing another squeal. His collie grinned at me. 

Once I'd recovered from the shock, we were both in agreement about how the ground meant it was far too wet to do anything other than deliver vegetable peelings to ever hungry compost heaps until March at the earliest, and that (for me at least) it was nice to be free of the guilt of Not Doing Enough. Until spring anyway. 

This week, I started a new job at the local conservation and wildlife charity, 2 days a week. A chance to help in an area I believe I can do some actual good in, and to move my focus away from museums which are becoming increasingly politicised. I work in the main office, based on a farm, with walks surrounding it. Each lunchtime, I've ventured out (yes, slipping and sliding and squealing again) to explore, loving the architecture of the trees, their sculptured branches stark against skies heavily pregnant with rain. 

I soak this up all, like the mosses do the damp. The light makes everything look impossibly velvety, a bright witch's cloak thrown over the landscape. When the sun does break through, sending shafts so piercing you can do nothing but squint, it etches it all with silver. Sometimes, I have to close my blinds against those beams, which feels like a criminal act. Sunsets and sunrises are much more vivid, splashing their oranges and pinks across the dusk, showily predicting the weather like a stage magician. 

And I have been taking my cue from them. From the rain and the cold, the wind that bites into your skin and the wild things: this is not the time of year for adventure. 

January is the gift of slowness, of slowing down. We may rail against the dark and the woollen layers and the hot water bottles, but they are necessary reminders to SLOW. Stop the rush. Put the plans on hold. Sit for a while with yourself and your home. Patch the things that need it, mend with looping visible seams or with precise invisible ones. 

My weekdays may be full of work, but my weekends and evenings have been reclaimed from busyness. After the hustle and rush up to Christmas, it is good to see the empty spaces and we fill them with things that need doing around the house: shelves to be made, pictures to be hung, cupboards to be emptied and letters to be written. We get ahead of ourselves because there won't be the time to later in the year. 

And January is the one month where I can sleep late in the morning, the light slowly creeps through the blinds to pat me gently on the head around 7am, and suggests that, maybe, I would like to get up for that first cup of tea? Maybe, I would like the start the day too? There's none of summer's sharp poke in the retina at 4.30am; now I burrow down under the duvet, catch the last remnants of hot water bottle warmth with my toes and sleep sleep sleep. 

I bake for the first time in months, make pancakes and deep Yorkshire puddings. Stews and risottos. Apple cake, honey cake, cutting through the sweetness with a sharp lemon. I flick through seed catalogues, make lists, mark sowing days in the diary, let myself dream of abundant crops.

Sometimes we venture out for a long walk, preferably one with a gentle-ish slope so there is a point to work up towards and a slope back for tea. Coming back with reddened faces, hair whipped into witches nests by the wind, stiffened fingers and legs that ache just enough: it mades the hot chocolate and cake end of the day more of a celebration. We eat them curled up under blankets I have made. 

So listen to the weather, take its advice. This is not the time to be rushing. This is the time to be slow and close to home.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Brown Soup Days

We have reached the time of the year, I like to refer to as 'Brown Soup'. The weather has changed from deliciously, invigoratingly frosty to damp and sludgy with rain pouring down from skies that are hanging heavy and low over the landscape. A local saying around here suggests that when a particular hill is wearing its hat (i.e. cloud sitting on the top), the day will be wet. Well, dear reader, more than once recently, it hasn't been so much wearing a hat as burrowing itself under a cloud duvet. 

But these are the necessary rest days and the weather is doing nothing more than helping us slow down and take stock. They are the days where you can stay in the softest clothes you own, catching up on books, tv shows, music that you'd been meaning to all year, if only you had the time. Well, now you do. Say thank you to the weather. 

There are walks, but of the sort that make you scurry home faster than usual. There are gatherings but these have lost the frenetic energy that powers the pre-Christmas ones and we don't mind when someone inevitably dozes off in the corner. There is yoga of the sort that requires lying down rather than pushing through some kind of core workout. These are not the days to push through (unless you're in active labour), but to rest. 

These are also the days for clearing out. What no longer serves is being taken out of its habitual hiding place, shaken down and held up to the low winter light for inspection. We have donations for the charity shop, items listed on Freecycle and boxes of memories packed away for the attic: the postcards and birthday cards and ticket stubs and ephemera of life that will have no relevance to anyone but us, but still they remain and we can't quite bring ourselves to throw them out. 

Somehow, despite resolutely not buying anything of the kind, we find ourselves with boxes of mince pies, biscuits and chocolates. Not many, but more than we would normally buy in a year. Some have gone to the foodbank, but they appear to have reproduced in the way boxes of that sort do and are part and parcel of the feasting and gluttony we do to shore us up against the cold and bitter days to come. 

To counter all this sugar, I make brown soup from leftovers in the fridge. The rain is tapping gently at the window and I can see the thin branches of the acer whipping about in the wind. We haven't seen the fish since November as they've taken themselves down into the warmer depths of the pond. I have a large pan of stock coming to the boil on the stove top and Kirstie Young is talking about her desert island discs in the background. Above me, I can hear the bump-buzz-thunk of the hoover being pushed about the floor. 

On the chopping board, leftover roast potatoes, carrots, sprouts, swede and parsnips are neatly (ish - this is not a beauty competition, this is Brown Soup) cubed and waiting to be added to the stock. My phone pings with a message from an old, old friend saying they would be delighted to see us for japes and larks, or, more sensibly, scrabble. 

Cheered by the news, I reach back into the fridge for the leftover turkey, pigs in blankets and stuffing. Just a handful or 2, enough to add some protein and some of that gorgeous sagey flavour. The cat flap bangs and seconds later Mabel headbutts my leg vigorously, loudly demanding biscuits. Her fur is cold and damp, thick and fluffy in its winter condition. She's been patrolling her patch, defending the borders against the evil tabby, and her eyes are glowing green with triumph. I feed her. 

A quick step into the garden for some lemon thyme. Shake the rain from my hair and pull the leaves from the stems. 

Everything in the pot, I leave it all to simmer while I occupy myself watching the weather beat against the house. The black-eyed susans were finally forced into giving up flowering during the cold snap and now the stems that wound so vigorously around the jasmine during the autumn are hanging limply, like so many bored socialites, all limp and jaded greenness. Hanging from them are raindrops like glass beads and, in that delicious betwixt times kind of way, I let my thoughts drift while watching them drip. 

The smell of soup, and the silence of the hoover, brings me back to the now and I turn my attention to the tricky business of tipping the contents of the steaming pan into the blender: have I misjudged the amount of stock and it will all overflow? Have I misjudged the angle of the tilt-and-pour and am about to have a counter liberally covered? Luckily the answer is no. Blend, noisily, for 30 seconds. Tip the resulting liquid back into the saucepan and back onto the hob. 

Taste, season, add a glug of Worcestershire sauce - the proper stuff. My, this is a brown soup indeed. Thick and rib-sticking, it promises to cure all ills, to coat your bones in a comforting umami hug. It will win no beauty prizes, but it will see you right, cutting through the gluttony, the sugar highs and lows, the hangovers and the hang-unders. 

It brings both my boys to the table where we break bread and nourish together, facing the oncoming change of the year. 

A note on the image above: I can't find the name or reference for this, although I am getting a hint of Vanessa Bell, maybe? If you know, can you let me know so I can credit properly? 

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Winter Joy

Like absolutely everyone down here, south of Birmingham, we were hit last week by a cold snap, and I could not have been happier. As a person whose temperatures naturally run high (maybe because I was born in the summer of 76?), I am at my absolute best when the ground outside is frosted and the air chill nips my ears red. Far from condemning the Snow Queen in Narnia, I have sympathy for her endless winters and the build up to Christmas being more exciting than Christmas itself. 

I'm less with her on the turning people into statues issue, but hey, who doesn't have a character flaw or two?

So you can probably imagine my joy each morning as I would peer through the blinds to see a sparkling world, dressing hurriedly, so I could get a walk in before having to switch on the laptop for work. Pacing slowly along the canal in my boots and layers, more wool than woman, stopping to capture the light. 

It was simply a delight to walk every morning, timing it so the school rush was over - or not yet begun - and the canal path was pretty much just me and a couple of hardy dog walkers. Joggers and cyclists moved to the main roads and left the space clear for us to wander at will, filling our eyes with the sparkle and snap of the morning. 

The moon was bright and glorious each time while the sun cast benevolent halos that made me blink. The rushes and reeds glinted, bejewelled by the frozen droplets that turned them into living chandeliers. Leaves were etched, their veins picked out in silver, while mosses retreated into their own tiny frozen worlds. 

I don't think I walked a straight line once, so dazed was I by how beautiful it was, by the patterns in the frozen canal, by the cloud of my breath spiralling up into the clear sky. 

Tiny Wee Mabel enjoyed trying to catch the snow during one of the handful of flurries we had. Just 8 miles down the road, they were shovelling it off driveways. Friends in Wales and the Cotswolds made me green with envy as they showed off their magical, sparkling gardens, made mysterious and slightly eerie by the snow-quiet and pale light. 

We are bunkered in for Yule now. Presents brought, wrapping still to be wrestled with. Food to be prepped (I'm making a magnificent trifle this time, after last year's pavlova affair). The day itself will be full of family; the day after just him and me, recovering from the previous day and letting our blood sugars slowly return back to normal. There will be large sandwiches full of turkey and stuffing and redcurrant sauce and, oh, all the trimmings, always so much better between 2 slices of thick bread the next day. 

This isn't a good season for everyone, I know. If you are still deciding which charity to make a seasonal donation too, I heartily recommend this one, which I've supported for a number of years. Or, seek out one nearer to you. 

Wherever you find yourselves and whatever you find yourselves doing, I hope this is a good season for you. May your trees be bright, your puddings fulsome and your lie-ins lengthy. 

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Of the Before and the After

The Potting Shed by Lore Pemberton. 
On my Christmas wish list, Click on the image to get to her website.

I had planned to pop on here and say something cheerful about winter being nearly here, but it feels like we have crossed that invisible marker here in the Midlands. Winter is already here. The past week has been full of huge downpours, torrents of raindrops that hurled themselves at the windows and roof, drumming percussive music through the week. Whole days have been blackened by rain clouds, battered by winds. Taking the train to Gloucester, I could see the silver glint of flooded fields by Bredon Hill, the hill itself looking dark and already folded into hibernation. Occasionally, a wild sunbeam would break through the cloud, sending down a fierce bright light that made me blink. 

On Monday, my friend came over with her little boy. 10 months old and already staggering around like a wee drunk man, bow legged and hands raised up for the sheer joy of motion and speed and independence. He is a joyful whirlwind, a tiny tyke, a terror of all cats and bearer of childhood nursery germs that I had long lost all immunity to. 24 hours later, whilst hoovering up what I hoped was the last of the rice particles he had liberally blessed the carpet with, I felt an ominous itch in the back of my throat. 

This has been a proper, old fashioned cold, the like of which I haven't experienced since the Kid left primary school. Stuffy of head and nose, full of catarrh, throat like sandpaper, eyes like heavy hot marbles and sleep punctuated by a cough that would scatter the crows. Bravely I have soldiered on through it, meeting grant application deadlines, project end deadlines and meetings that could not, would not be shifted. But now I'm ready to lean into it, give in to it. Lie on the sofa with a cool flannel on my forehead, a soothing drink to hand and someone else to cook. To give credit where due, N has been dying to do this for days, it's only now that I have the capacity to lay down tools and let him. 

Own. Worst. Enemy. 

But I am ready for winter now. For fresh air walks in the morning that leave your cheeks pink and tingling from the nip of a frost. For gentle yoga meditation in a candlelit evening, emerging blissed out into a house that smells of rich stews and baking bread. To take up a craft again, pick up the knitting needles or crochet hook and not care if the end result is any good. For the time to make bread and stews and soups. For woodsmoke, and citrus, and spices. 

Not that I can smell anything right now, and I was about to write "stupid cold".  Which is reflective of how I treat most of my conditions. They are stupid because they get in the way, they stop me from doing the job I loved, they cause me pain. 

But it occurs to me that this is the wrong approach to these things. It lacks grace and understanding. It tries to set the bar to how things used to be when, truth is, it can never be that again. As a friend said last week "it's okay to be angry about them but don't let that anger become all you feel". So, it is time to reach an accommodation, an acceptance of where I am now. To develop an intuitive understanding of what my body is trying to tell me, instead of rushing over it because there are things to be done. To consider a new approach to my body instead of feeling like a failure because it doesn't work like it used to. 

Chronic pain is the worst bedfellow, it sucks as a walking companion, and I've raged bitter war against it, but maybe, this Winter, I can take the time to recognise it for the signpost it is. The one that guides the way to a better, more sustainable life, overriding the itching temptation to eat all the chocolate oranges under the tree and carry on as before. 

'Before' is a closed box; 'After' is a wide, open landscape to explore. Let's see what I can find there. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Reading Autumn

When October rolled around, I dug out my battered copy of Dracula for its annual reading and settled down for a few days of feeling slightly jumpy and the right side of being scared (you know that side: a rush of goosebumps when the cat knocks over a plant pot outside - even though the Count would never be that clumsy - or a mild jump when your partner leaves his dressing gown hanging somewhere different and you spot it in the half light of an early dusk). That feeling should only last the duration of the book and a couple of days after before vanishing, never to return...until you read it again the following year. 

This year, after putting it down, I gazed across the shelves to decide on my next book. This takes a while as I have about 1000 books, not including N's. He keeps suggesting a 1-in-1-out policy, I keep finding new ways of stacking them so I can pretend I haven't heard that. 

This Autumn, it seems I am in the mood for dense, chewy Victoriana, with a side helping of mild Gothic horror. I want a weighted tangled storyline with complex family feuds and backstories that take entire chapters to retell. I want to hear a metaphorical wind howling outside the window, trees thrashing in protest, as a backdrop to the dark matter in my hand. I want to feel the damp chill of a creeping winter dawn. 

After Dracula, I settled down to get myself lost in the moors and wilds of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Jane Eyre, settling myself into a warm reading nook while N watched foot-the-ball, and letting the descriptions of wide Yorkshire landscapes take me away from all that. The power balances shifted on the page to the backdrop of feet thunking against wet turf. 

Isn't it wonderful how they were able to make the landscape feel so expansive, whilst depicting lives in miniature? And I always find something new when I return to them. Wuthering Heights, for example (read in August). On that reread, I lingered over old Joseph's proselytising, pulpit-raising, style which made me laugh out loud on more than one occasion. 

Wildfell and Jane also both contain a supporting cast whose speeches and asides cut through the tension, providing a small moment of comic relief, the brief capering of a jester at times of high tension. I'm more appreciative of those nowadays, and it seems to be a skill we've lost. Now our epic tomes are relentlessly grim and Loaded With Meaning from start to end. You need that lightness to throw the rest of the plot into contrasting shadow. 

On honeymoon, I took Lady Audley's Secret, having spotted it on the bookshelves, unread for a few years, and remembering that it included Belgium, which it described as "flat, featureless", a statement I can reveal is partly true. It took up a large part of the suitcase but was forgiven as I, once more, found myself rooting for the Lady Audley as she pivoted and twisted against the confines Victorian society imposed on women, ceaselessly seeking a way out until all routes were closed off. 

Back at home, after a couple of misty morning starts, the kind where the air soaks your hair and distant hills appear to be wearing blankets, I reached for Bleak House. It's really the only Dickens I can stand to read without choking on his performative sentimentality and is absolutely perfect for this time of year with its depictions of fog and ceaseless rain, the blackened sooty streets of London. The extraordinary description of the foul Mr. Krook's spontaneous combustion. The icy chill of Lady Deadlock's disdain. Poor confused and persecuted Jo of Tom-all-alone's. 

The complete loss of internet at home was a blessing as it allowed me the rare treat of hours of evening time I could give over to reading. But now it's finished, and Esther is happily married, I find myself restlessly scouring the shelves again. It seems that any post-1900 fiction just isn't satisfying right now; thin, sterile things they seem as the weather hurls itself against the windows of the house. A candle is guttering in a draught that reaches me a few seconds later, causing me to wrap the blanket more tightly around my knees. A mug of tea is steaming next to me and there is hot buttered toast for breakfast. It's no good, I can't stop the hand reaching out, fingers extending, grasping until...there!

The Moonstone it is. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

I left my sock in Bruges

When it came to deciding on a honeymoon location, N and I were in swift agreement: Bruges. It had to be Bruges.

We’re both fans of the darkly, bitterly funny film, In Bruges with Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell, which also contains one of the finest comedy gangster performances you’re ever likely to see Ralph Fiennes deliver.

So we set ourselves in the direction of the “fahkin’ fairytale” medieval cobbled city at the end of October. I’d booked a medieval (there is a theme in Bruges) cottage right next to the canal and then booked the Eurostar so we could feel all green and smug. A feeling that quickly evaporated when we realised we were seated facing backwards and my sea sickness (so much worse now that the perimenopause has kicked in) took a fierce grip.

But we made it. 7 hours of travelling, 4 trains. Green with sickness and smuggery, one of us at least, we staggered from the final station with one wheelie suitcase and one partly wheelie (it lost a wheel en route) case that had to be carried, and straight into a town more well preserved than David Dimbleby. As we passed along the streets, the lights became dimmer. The walls of the houses were punctuated with niches in which sat Mary and Jesus in various states of decoration and decay, looking down as we cringed at the sound of our own approach. Mullioned windows blinked the subdued streetlights at us as we and a handful of other brave souls headed for our respective staying places.
The sound of a dozen wheelie suitcases making their way over the Bruges medieval (that word is going to get a lot of use in this post) cobbles is like nothing you’ve ever heard. Not even the thunder of hooves at the Cheltenham Gold Cup comes close.

The house was beautiful (although there was a noticeable lack of tea bags and milk on our arrival – this is the very last time I use Air BNB) and only a few minutes’ walk from the very centre of things: the Markt, the tower, the museums, the churches. There are a lot of churches – this is a deeply Catholic country. Our longest walk was on the 1st day when we went to see the Jeruzalemkerk* to the north(ish) of the city. This was one of the film spots, but also, just somewhere I wanted to visit because I have a passion for old churches and N is kind enough to tolerate that. Or at least lean against a wall outside looking up nearby battlesites while I go knock myself out.
The cobbles did an absolute number on my poor arthritic feet and I watched with jaw dropped in awe at the oh-so-chic women swinging along in heels and camel-coloured coats, apparently unaware that the ground beneath them was chronically unstable. They would sweep past, all dark glasses and shiny hair, speaking rapid Flemish into their phones, casting glances of disdain at the giggling couples** and pouting singles taking selfies along the canal wall.

Houses in Bruges can go for over 1 million euro, the chap leading the canal boat tour (yes, we did). Leading you to wonder where the real people are when they are not selling us postcards, taking us on carriage rides (no, we didn’t) or serving us terrible beer (much head, little liquid, for god’s sake don’t complain or ask them to top the glass up…they really don’t like that, keep quiet, order your moules et frites and make a mental note to only drink wine for the rest of the trip).
The coffee was delicious. Short little cups, drained in 3 gulps, but rich and aromatic, served with cream not thin and unsatisfying milk. Hot and revivifying in a way I had forgotten coffee could be. Everywhere it is served with a little speculoos biscuit – that lovely caramel, slightly spicy biscuit – apart from one memorable occasion where it came with a little dish of nougat and marzipan made on the premises. A marzipan made with real almonds, not a whiff of essence in tastebud reach, it was a completely different beast to the sort we cover our claggy fruit cakes with. I brought quite a lot of it to take home.
We saw extraordinary art – Bosch and van Eyck and Memling. At the Groeninge, halfway through, there is an extraordinary painting in the chiascuro style, of a young woman and her lover, the candlelight giving her a luminosity that made me cry. I brought a print to bring home where now, in the lamplight, it glows again. At the St-Janshospitaal, there was a splendid exhibition on the assumption of Mary as depicted in art through the ages. There I found a wonderful olive wood carving and Books of Hours that were rich with colour and devotion. The Gruuthuse Museum was full, packed to the gills with interesting things, some of which dated back to the Iron Age. At last! Something older than medieval! There is a surprising lack of natural history in Bruges. It’s like nothing happened here until God moved in.

Speaking of which, there were many, many churches, of course. I do wonder myself at my complete irreligious self so liking churches. At the Helig Bloed Basiliek, there is a phial of (allegedly) Christ’s blood that (supposedly) liquefies every now and then. There is no entry fee, but you are invited to pay due REVERENCE by way of a donations box right in front of the phial, guarded by a stern woman who looks like she probably ignores safe words. It felt…cheap. Lacking in taste. I mean, charge me an entry fee, sell me a postcard and some holy socks but don’t put the donation box right in front of the bloody exhibit.
In another church (by this time, even I’ve forgotten the names), there was a decidedly graphic reliquary with a bit of a saint’s arm bone in there. I wondered if that waved every now and then.
In between, I would make N pause for more coffee and a break from the cobbles, and he would fill me in on the tour we were taking in the middle of the week, which battlefields, which war memorials, which cemetery for the war dead with their rows and rows of graves that saturate you with sadness. 9am to 6pm that tour. It is safe to say he made me pay him back for the churches.

Our final night, we ate at the little tavern 2 doors down from us where we had made friends with the pub dog and the food was cheap. Drank a final glass of wine (on Belgian soil anyway), chatted to the owner and tried not to think of the 7 hour, 4 train return journey.
And the sock? A casualty of packing light so I could bring back ALL the chocolate. I’d had to do a wash halfway through the week, draping the wet socks on the radiator to dry. 4 hours later, I knocked it down the impenetrable back of the radiator. I like to think of it slowly becoming at one with the house. Or hooked out by the puzzled owner with a long arm, an even longer piece of wire and a growing collection of odd, foreign socks.

*I’m currently posting this with no WiFi due to complicated BT-engineer-based reasons, so I’ll add links another day
**We took precisely 1 selfie because otherwise, how would we prove we’d been there? But there was absolutely no giggling. Serious selfies befitting of our Great Age (personal age, I mean. There is nothing great about this political age).

Winner of this year's "Nicest Pub Dog with 
Silkiest Ears" award

Monday, October 24, 2022

October at the Allotment

As you can imagine, there is something about a wedding that gets in the way of allotment time. Apart from flying visits during the day where I'd dash up there, water and chat to the sunflowers, I didn't really linger. Certainly, my habit of taking a coffee up with me and sitting down to watch the insects fell by the wayside. 

But now we're in October and there is no big event to plan and make metres and metres of bunting, or stamp seed packets, or sift wildflower seeds, or source vintage jugs, or panic-source tablecloths for, so now I can switch my attention back to the place that brings me most peace. 

I'm planting red and white onions that will ripen over the winter. Garlic and broad beans too. The kale is still going, so I'll leave that in situ, but mainly this month is about tidying down. 

The courgettes are done, so I dug those up at the weekend. The french beans too, but I'm letting those die back before lifting them as they're good for setting nitrogen in the soil. The potatoes are all out now too. Only the sunflowers really remain, defiant against the dropping temperatures. And I'm reluctant to cut the raspberry canes down just yet as the bees are still bimbling amongst them, finding nectar where I thought it was all gone for the year. 

We got to try our first ever home-grown red cabbage. Shredded thinly, served with beetroot and red onion (likewise) with feta and a standard vinaigrette dressing, it was delicious. Red cabbage salad is one of my favourites. Good job really - there are 5 more cabbages in varying stages of readiness up at the plot. 

I've wound the hose up for the last time and strimmed all the long grass down with my inadequate strimmer. It's battery only lasts about 5 minutes, so it takes a good 4 trips to get the whole plot done. A little frustrating but a good excuse for short breaks from the desk this week. I've cleaned the tools and managed not to scream at the spider that wanted to know what I was doing, lifting its comfy trowel out of the dark corner. 

The plan is to let everything die down and settle down until November when we'll start making plans for the raised beds. the 4th growing area will be going no dig for next year as I just don't have it in me to dig over another large area like that. I always end up damaged and with large physio bills when I do. Instead, we've been gathering cardboard like there's a world shortage and will soon order in the tonnes of topsoil we'll need. 

Then it's the simple task of building the beds, getting the topsoil to the plot, lifting it into the beds...I'll stop there. I already feel the need for a lie down. 

Luckily my brother-in-law is a gardener for hire, with a van and the quiet winter period looming, so we'll rope him in with promises of tea, sausage sandwiches and a day's pay. I think the latter may be a more convincing bribe. If we can get my sis and her kids involved, it'll be like an Amish barn raising. Without the barn. Or the beards. 

Then it'll be time to move our sights to the far end of the plot. By February, I'm hoping to have that cleared of knotweed, fallen tree branches and accumulated nonsense so the polytunnel can go down there. In short, there are plans afoot. 

N and I spent a good few hours in the garden on Saturday. It was looking raggedy around the edges with drooping tomato plants, pots piled everywhere and the corpses of plants that didn't make it through the drought standing like little signposts of guilt about the place. 3 hours later, everything dead or about to be cleared, pots washed and piled neatly, mini greenhouse cleaned and scrubbed, a big yup of stuff for the tip gathered, roses and honeysuckle pruned, we toasted our efforts with mugs of tea and a sit down. 

I once heard that Sophia Loren's advice for staying youthful was to avoid 'old people noises', those groans and whimpers and oohs and aahs people of a Certain Age make after physical exertion...or just standing up from the armchair. I'm sorry Sophia, but I made all the old person noises on Saturday. Worth it though. 

Weather Advisory Service

On the way home from the train the other day, I took a shortcut through the dripping allotment grounds, the grass and earth squelching under...