Friday, May 29, 2020

Weird things that I am missing

For the most part, my boyfriend and I are missing relatively few things and focus on the positives. he doesn't have his 50 minute commute to and from work any more, and I get to cycle to the museum on relatively traffic free streets 3 days a week, which feels a little like freedom. 

But last week, I had the oddest craving for something that really can't happen now, won't happen for a long time and I was never really into in the first place. 

I craved, to the point where it was an itch in my brain, a spa day. 

I wanted to be wrapped in fluffy white bathrobes, handed cool glasses of sparkling Prosecco, have someone deep tissue massage my shoulders, have my fingernails painted, my faced oiled and smoothed, dip in and out of a turquoise mosaic-ed pool. Eat delicious tiny things that someone else had made. Read magazines Tatler and Vogue while poolside. Drink more Prosecco. 

I don't even like Prosecco. And I'd rather eat a hearty stew than faffy little bits of melon arranged in a pretty pattern. 

I never paint my fingernails. 

What the heck brought that on? Possibly a desire to be looked after arising from weeks of feeling a little out of control? Possibly a deep wish to be far away from the current panic and somewhere cushioned from all that? 

Anyway, I did it. I googled a few. Maybe next year. Then I painted my own fingernails as compensation. I quite like the way they wink at me as I type, even on my short, stubby fingers. 

What's been your weird lockdown craving?

Sunday, May 24, 2020

All the Small Things #2

Today, walking past a conifer hedge, I deliberately brush against it, pinch off a piece so I can smell its deep green herbal aroma, I am 7 again, my 5 year old sister behind me as I push through the conifers at the bottom of our grandparent's garden. I am convinced we will find Narnia, or its summer equivalent. 

Back in reality, our Grandad is in the plastic greenhouse, tending his tomatoes, our Gran in the kitchen making spaghetti bolognese with peas, to serve with ready-grated parmesan from a plastic shaker. 

We don't find Narnia but we do find the next garden, full of big leafy trees and a winding path up to the house.A dog barks as we make a few tentative steps along it and we push back to safety.


Tuesday, May 19, 2020

A year in growing stuff

I was reminded that other day that there's only a couple of weeks and then we'll have been in our house for a year. Which means the anniversary of our allotment passed me by without realising it. It didn't feel like a year while, at the same time, feeling like forever. In a good way. 

To be truthful, it was a year where we did no more than harvest the berries that were growing freely and the chard that has, miraculously, survived and is into it's second growing season. We kept the grass down and covered some areas over to kill it off so we could dig it over for planting this year. 

And then the chaos of moving house, adjusting to life together, work lives that suddenly got busy and a social life that just wouldn't quit, not to mention my 2 bouts of ill health that really knocked the stuffing (not to mention the ability to walk at one point) right out of my boots. 

Luckily, that seems to have all settled down now and the past few weeks have been really rewarding up there. Potatoes are doing their thing under ground, the chard threatened to bolt so found itself harvested pretty smartish, the courgettes are in and the Great Bean Space is flourishing. I've made a start in marking out the fruit cage area. Next to cover up will be the asparagus bed, ready for planting next year. Then we'll start on the orchard area. It's all pretty damn exciting. 

So what have I learned from plot holding, albeit half-heartedly, for a year?

1. Little and often. Can't say this enough. Dig a little, weed a little, dig a little more. Plant one thing that will bring you joy. Little and often.

2. Don't get put off when things don't work, or you have a spell where you can't be up there as much as you'd like. This is an experiment, a pastime, a hobby. It's not a job. 

3. Know what you can manage. I cannot manage things that are high maintenance because I can't be up there for great stretches every day. 

4. Grow only what you really want to eat, not what people think you should grow. 

5. Don't accept a plot that looks like it has never been tamed. I did and it can be off-putting to even go up there, let alone do anything. Took me months to see any progress. 

6. Make it part of your (almost) daily routine. Finish work, visit allotment (10 minutes: watering, pulling weeds, looking around), go home. Keep wellies in your car if needs be. 

7. Visit on a Saturday or Sunday morning and everyone will be there. Talk to your neighbours. Be nosey, ask what they're growing, how they made their soil less like something you'd throw pots with and more like an actual growing medium. Take cake and share it. Offer extra raspberry canes if you've got too many. Ask to buy some honey. Your 'lottie neighbours are your allies and you should cultivate them like an asparagus. 

8. As you plan what you want to grow, plan the equipment you'll need and buy the best you can. The clay soil I work with saw off 2 forks before I cottoned onto that. 

9. Find out what grows well and what doesn't from your neighbours. For instance, on ours it's no good planting carrots or sweetcorn because the 'lottie badger will dig them up. So I grow those, lettuce and tomatoes at home (the latter 2 because I want to eat them regularly - see point 3)

10. Plant some wildflowers. Actually, just plant some flowers in general. The bees will thank you, which means your crops will thank you. We have wildflowers about to burst forth and our orchard area will also be a cutting garden area for flowers because I love them in the house and our home garden isn't big enough for the big blowsy peonies and roses I crave in shops but can't justify the price of. 

And finally, 
11. Ignore all of the above. Ignore all the books. Do what you want. Do it as often as you want/can. It's your plot. Make glorious muddy mistakes. Overtire yourself and then rest and then come back to to try again. Lie on the grass and ponder what the next step is. Take chairs up and sit, with a bottle of wine and a sandwich, just thinking. Have some fun with it. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

All the Small Things #1

I donned my painty top this week, to paint more shelves at work. Amongst the ubiquitous white spatters, there are flashes of yellow, pink, green and even a smudge of teal blue. I can track my house moves and life changes on this fabric.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Not Standing Still

According to my calculations, we are now 7 weeks into the lockdown and I'm back in the office 3 days a week, overseeing (from a responsible distance) some essential repairs and not-so-essential decorating at the museum. Once we are able to reopen, we'll be ready for the hordes of people topping up their culture levels.

Once in, my time is split between a deep clean of the collection (yay cleaning, I have said never) and painting the shop area. My painting talents lie in getting the paint on the walls fast and getting it all over myself at the same time. Hair, glasses, nose, clothes, feet and most definitely hands are spackled and spattered liberally within just an hour. 

I've cycled in every morning, legs and knees making very loud complaints about all this exercise so early in the morning. Last Thursday, after a cocktail-based WhatsApp gathering of friends last night, they complained even more loudly than before, while the wind threatened to blow me back to yesterday. But the roads are blissfully free of traffic and it feels like a different world.

That different world is sometimes scary. Walking through empty streets feels a little 28 Days Later and voices echoing suddenly from an alleyway make me jump.

Walking along the towpath, the smell of cow parsley, lilac and hawthorn reminds me strongly of walks down country lanes with my Dad, tiny pudgy hand in his, little feet safely encased in Clarks shoes. Walks, in fact, that I repeated with my own child, 25 years later. 

Said child is now 21 and living in a nearby town with his boyfriend. When I messaged him on Monday, I received the following response "yeah, will do. Oh, and I'm in hospital lol". Lol? LOL?? Thank god it turned out to be to do with his kidneys rather than anything else, and he's home now, but still, that was a wobbly moment when I suddenly became very aware that, were the worst to happen, I wouldn't have hugged him for over 7 weeks. I'll stop now before I wibble again. 

Today is VE Day, 75 years since victory in Europe, which feels a little hollow given the rhetoric we were subjected to prior to the pandemic. Both my grandfathers had very different wars. The paternal one, a rear gunner, shot down over Italy, interred in a PoW camp (Stalag IVb) and forced on the long march by the Russians, hated it, refused to talk about it and would have retreated, were he alive today, to his greenhouse to think quietly among the tomatoes. The maternal one, posted to India, had a fine old time racing around on motorbikes, developing a taste for hot curries that never left him and charming anything female in a 5 mile radius. He would have loved today, bunting and medals out, high tea and saluting the flag with a glass of his shockingly bad homemade wine. I miss them both.

I was awake a little before 6 this morning, so retreated to the spare room, what I call my "woman cave". I've always been an early waker but slow riser, so a room to retreat to where I can read, practise Spanish, draw, daydream and idle away a couple of hours without bothering anyone, or shivering on the sofa downstairs is a bliss I never thought I'd get to have. By 7.30, I was bored of being inside, so headed to the allotment to check on the plants and give them the watering I'd been too tired to last night. 

Oh my, the wisteria on a neighbour's allotment is a sight (and smell) to behold. Draping itself decadently over their shed like a 1940s screen siren, its fragrance whispering husky nothings to your nostrils, it's another kind of wonderful. 

On my plot, no shed but the happy sight of 3 rows of potato tops looking furry and contented above ground. 3 of the 4 squash plants are happy enough but the 4th is pulling a massive teenage sulk and suffering from snails as a result. The courgette plant - of the 10 seeds I planted, only 1 germinated which was more than a little frustrating - has 6 blooms about to burst open. It looked exuberant in the early morning sun. 

I'll be back there later with wine and cake as the plot holders are all having an appropriately distanced VE Day celebration. My best 1950s frock will be on and I'll remember a blanket to sit on this time. There will be no digging for once.   

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go look at the irises in the garden, which are just starting to unfurl themselves. Whatever you find yourself doing this weekend, enjoy. 

This week, I'm...reading Dear Francesca, watching This Country, listening to Childish Gambino's 3.15.20. 

Saturday, May 2, 2020

All About the Books

As April settled in and the lockdown began to bite, I found myself desperate for an unchanging world where everyone knows their place, a gentleman's wardrobe is impeccable, butlers butle efficiently and there is a definitive ending where the bad person Gets Their Comeuppance.

So I turned, with a deep sigh of relief, to Dorothy L Sayers. Oh, she is magnificent and Wimsy is a delight...
"'Well! Consider first of all the anomaly of the man who buys his razor from Endicott's and yet wears the regrettable shoes and mass-production millinery found on the corpse. Mind you," added Wimsey, "it is not a question of expense, exactly. The shoes are hand-made - which merely proves that a dancer has to take care of his feet. But could a man who is shaved by Endicott possibly order - deliberately order - shoes of that colour and shape? A thing imagination boggles at."
'I'm afraid,' admitted Harriet, 'that I've never managed to learn all the subtle rules and regulations about male clothing. That's why I made Robert Templeton one of those untidy dressers.'
'Robert Templeton's clothes have always pained me...'"

I also attempted a modern-day crime, a rare foray for me. A Mankell, in fact. I don't get it. I don't get why there is so much fuss over this dour man with his complete lack of sympathy, manners or charm. What disconcerted me even more was the fact that the plot line pivoted around Jim Jones and the Jonestown massacre. Not a comfortable read. 

So I shifted my gaze to Lucy Mangan's wonderful Bookworm. An exploration of childhood reading and growing up, navigating the changing childhood world via books. I laughed out loud, I remembered authors and books I'd read but long forgotten, I ordered some via Hive, I cried and recognised myself. "I didn't just want to read, I needed to read." Her complete incomprehension in the face of her peers evolving behaviours, the playground politics. The frustration when faced with adults who would peer at her, laugh and say things like "you've always got your nose in a book!" as if it was some massive character flaw. Did Mangan inhabit my childhood as well?

Anyway, that broke my crime run and I settled into the beautifully meditative The Morville Hours, followed by the fascinating Barbara Pym biography and I managed to squeeze in the Half Hour Allotment, which I kind of wish I hadn't. It's so bossy...

On the subject of a place to sit in your allotment? You won't have time! You're only here for 30 minutes! Stop being lazy!
On the notion of planting things you want to experiment with? Don't be stupid! Of course that won't work! What were you thinking?!
On the crazy idea of, you know, just enjoying yourself at the allotment? This isn't for enjoyment! This is serious work! Get to it! Stop malingering! 

Raspberries to that. I will malinger as much as I choose. Right now I'm gliding into May with the Secret Garden, Tom's Midnight Garden and Letters from a Faint-hearted Feminist. I am mostly okay.

Winter's Tail

Well, we made it. Imbolc has passed with its promise of fluffy lambs, fluffy mimosa, fluffy pancakes on everyone's horizon. The change i...