Tuesday, September 15, 2020

My Week in...Touch

 What a strange and curious week it has been too. The museum is finally open to the public, so my days have been spent rushing around trying to get everything set up so no volunteers gets infected/passes anything on/ditto visitors/that all the changes around the building are clearly signposted/that all the new exhibits are labelled/that all the displays and cases are moved to their new positions/that everywhere is clean and tidy and all cobwebs are removed. Eesh.

There have been days where I've ordered the Boyfriend to meet me at the pub after work so I can press pause for an hour before heading home to deal with general life admin with a reviving pint inside me. 

But there are still touches that press pause on life and give a moment of reflection. Good touches. 

A ladybird crawling up my arm

The water of the swimming pool closing over my limbs

Clean sheets against smooth legs

The squidge of damsons in their draining bag

Mabel's spiky claw puncturing my thumb as I tease her with a grass stem and forget about her lightning reflexes (and in-built weaponry)

The feather-stroke of a newly planted fern

The brush of the heavy-duty cotton my new winter skirt is made from.


Mabel. Comepletely not sorry about the spiky incident. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

August at the Allotment

I've always found August a strange month, weather wise. We're just as likely to have storms and overcast days as we do sunny ones. Twice, I found myself looking longingly at tights, or having to call the Boyfriend for a lift home because I'd been caught out in summer gear and it was raining fit to bust the drains. We stayed away from the crowds by staying at home and focusing on the garden there, as well as the allotment.

In truth, the latter needed little in the way of attention other than regular strimming, weeding and harvesting. The garden at home however...it's fair to say we inherited a blank weedy slate where that was concerned and this year, after 12 months of watching it's moods and the way the light shifts round it, the Boyfriend was ready to spring into action: painting fences, putting up trellis, digging in flower beds and laying a new path. It's all looking good. Next up is a pond.

I focused on the harvest at the allotment and, in truth, was glad when the courgette plants had exhausted themselves. They were pulled up, some compost dug in and then swede and turnip seeds planted. I'm a little late with the turnips, but hope (and Indian summers) springs eternal.

Also, turnips. The name of my blue grass band.  

We had some sizeable gales that took down another tree at the canal-end of the plot, so I'm now waiting for the only tree surgeon (he's probably not but he's the only one the site reps use, so he's much in demand and lacksadaisical when it comes to replying to messages) in the city to come and get rid of the fallen ones. After some thought, I've decided that the remaining elder can come down too. As 2 of it's siblings have proved too feeble to stand upright any more, I think the future stability of the last is probably in question. Down it will come, then I can clear the area and finally get a shed up there. 

A shed that I will paint blue with a yellow door, with deckchairs inside and a curse that will automatically cast on anyone who breaks into it with malicious intent. Not that I've given this any thought, you understand. 

It is with great sadness and no glee At All that I must report that the Big Bean Structure also took a pounding in the storms and toppled over...oh, okay; I'll admit to a small jig of glee. 40 runner bean plants are too many, even for a man with a chutney plan, and especially for a man with a chutney plan but very little will to actually pick the damn things. Next year he is restricted to just 10. 

Beans be down.

Membrane went down over what will be the asparagus bed. I blooming love asparagus but I do not love the £2.99 for 6 stems price tag you find in most supermarkets, so I shall Grow My Own next year. This has also been prompted by the fact I've seen asparagus fronds in there over spring and summer, so there's clearly already something asparagus-like in there. I'm hoping that simply by clearing the impacted weeds from the surface, we may actually see it return in the spring. That, or I'll have to buy my own seeds and it'll be another 3 years before we get a crop to it. Totally worth it.

Beans be chutney. 

Of course, August was also all about the damsons and I'm pleased to report that my first ever attempt at damson jelly turned out just fine, despite the local shop's lack of preserving sugar (I used plain old granulated). It is slightly more mobile than jelly should be, so I've christened it Damson Lava, but it is still darned good. I had a bit of a damson jelly epiphany when I realised that's probably what we soggy old Brits used before cranberry jelly turned up: I'll be testing my theory against the stodge of Christmas dinner and will report back. 

The world is still very much hell-in-a-handcart right now in ways that I worry about but cannot let override my need to carry on like there's a future. An hour or 2 up on the plot sorts me out. This morning as I contemplated the next job, there was a family of long tailed tits in the tree above me, the fledgelings still tiny and fluffy. Wherever there are tits, there is hope. 

And yes, you may put your own spin on that. Just don't tell me about it.

Tits be gone. Seriously, don't @ me. 

Monday, September 7, 2020

My Week In ... Taste

Autumn, autumn, autumn! Have I said how much I love this seasonal change? And it's not just the smells or the ceremonial bringing out of the tights or the welcome cooler temperature, it's the foods too. Out with faffy salads and in with marvellous potatoes! Out with ice cream that hurts the teeth and in with crumble that hugs your soul! Out with days too hot to cook and in with days that cry out for a roast to make it all better! 

I shall miss the summer fruits but for now there are plums and damsons to take their place, autumn raspberries and the promising gleam of the first apples. Toast in the morning never smells as good as when it's accompanied by that autumnal chill.

The pungent tang of vinegar and tumeric as I bottled runner bean chutney.

The gloriously sharp but nevertheless sweet burst of a ripe damson.

Peanut butter from my local no-plastic shop. They grind the peanuts with no added salt or oil and it's the most intense shot of peanutty deliciousness I've ever experienced. 

Caramelised onion, goats cheese and rocket pizza. Homemade with a crust that required serious jaw action. Perfect. 

Courgette soup repurposed as a pasta sauce because we were both feeling lazy after an intense week of work and gardening.

Late-night Bounty bar: I've gone from being a coconut hater to a coconut lover. And these are trashy but soooo good after a few beers and aforementioned pizza. 

Coffee from the deli next to work, My, that was a hit to the brain as well as the tastebuds. 

What have you been tasting this week?

Sunday, September 6, 2020

August Reading

Oh dear August, what happened to you? Or rather, what happened to my reading mojo? And it all started so well...

I raced through 4 books at the start of the month: Murder in Retrospect, Being Mortal, Traitor’s Purse and Police at the Funeral, 3 of which I'd already read. And then I just... stopped. 

Not entirely. I’d have to be properly ill to stop reading entirely, but I’d pick up a book, read a page or two, put it down and wander off, never to return. There are 5 unread books looking at me reproachfully from their various locations (bedroom table x 2, side of the bath, living room floor, bottom step of the hallway stairs). 

So what do I do with my time? I fuss Mabel, I play online jigsaws (don't - I'm already fully aware of how sad that is), I read pointless magazines; the sort that tell you you'd be happier if you moved to the country and raised rare breed geese while running a handmade candle company, or if you just paired that dress with this bag and those shoes and ate that fabulous dish that took 12 hours to prepare, or if you took time to stare photogenically into space with a cup of tea while completing a downward dog and chanting along to the Sanskrit mantra playing in the background, preferably at 5 in the morning because, you know, all the best people are up and have completed their day by 5 in the morning. 

Strangely, these magazines do not make me angry. They leave me feeling oddly reassured that during these mad times, there are still people able to write fluff pieces about how they found themselves simply by filing their receipts properly or by going on a yoga retreat in the Maldives that was gifted to them. 

So the books have been neglected for nonsense but I'm not going to feel guilty about it. The pool I go to in the mornings has reopened, so that eats into more reading time. We're in the last mad-dash stages of getting the museum ready to open, so that takes up time. Something has to give. It's just that, for the first time ever, reading has been that thing. 

But as Mabel purrs madly next to me and I turn the page to find out just how I can get my 44 year old skin to look like a baby's merely by drinking 12 gallons of water with lemon and applying some very expensive creams, I find that I'm okay with that. 

As for the books I read? Go get yourself Being Mortal. Thoughtful, well researched and written with care, it was a joy and an eye opener. It's time we regained understanding of what it means to be human, to be mortal. 

I'm curious to know, people who pass by this blog: what is it you're reading? Are you still able to focus? Have your reading habits completely changed? Too many questions??

Thursday, September 3, 2020

First Brush of Autumn

September! Oh hurrah September is here! I no longer have to pretend that I'm fine swishing along in summer clothes and pinchy sandals, or that I'm not sweating through my very scalp, or that no really, I'm fine here in the scorching heat and not at all worrying about my pale northern skin. 

 I'm such an autumn lover that the minute September 1st hit, out came the thick black tights, the off-key librarian wardrobe and the proper duvet, the one that's so heavy I feel like I'm being held in a cuddle all night long. It. Is. Bliss.

Mornings, as I pelt along the pavements to my morning swim, there is a slight chill to the air, the brush of a lower temperature that prompts me to look out my jumpers. The skies are dark by 8.30, cobwebs are dew-bedecked like diamante necklaces and there is the faintest whiff of mist and earthy goodness in the air. 

Bonfires are still banned where we live, especially on the allotments, so there's no hint of that lovely smoke you get from one but the hedgerow along the canal towpath smells of leaves gently decaying. There's already a thin crisp layer under some trees that I kick my way through, and the conkers have started to burst open. 

Last night I went damson picking with a couple of friends of mine. These gloriously purple-blue coloured (it's a colour I'd quite like to wear!) fruits have been dangling, unnoticed, from branches for a few weeks now. After an hour we had a crateful, as well as stained purple fingers. Our sleeves and necklines were wet from the dripping trees and the occasional badly fumbled branch that would slip through fingers and fling itself skywards, showering us with cold water.

Would you believe this is the first time I've ever eaten a damson raw? For the last 44 years of my life, I thought they had to be eaten cooked. Well they don't: these were so ripe and ready to eat, they were little flavour bombs in our mouths, sweet and like a concentrated plum. I arrived back at home with my own bagful, a tiny jar of last year's damson jelly (good with cold meats, like cranberry sauce, as well as on toast) and muddy shoes. 

 Did you know that damsons were deliberately planted in hedgerows and wild spaces for housewives to pick, and they were referred to as "rent money" because they gave these women a chance to contribute some much needed money to the family income? I love finding out little nuggets of normal (i.e. not landed gentry or royalty) working history and my friend is a great source of them.

What is it about picking fruit that makes me feel like a child again? It's probably because we did it every summer when I was growing up as it was, then, the cheapest way to buy fruit. Strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries and blackberries by the boxful, mouths (because we ate almsot as much as we picked) and fingers stained. Knees marked by the straw beds we've been kneeling on, and arms scratched by brambles.

Now when I do it, I'm 9 again, a quiet child but not yet riddled with the crippling adolescent embarrasment and fear of looking weird that came later. As the Boyfriend picks leaves out of my hair, I no longer care if I look weird. I'm just picturing the weekend ahead: damson jelly, cakes and gin. The house will smell of sugar and fruit. And all will feel fine with the world.

I may even go so far as to try to make damson wine: "good damson wine is, perhaps, the nearest approach to good port that we have in England. No currant wine can equal it."

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

My Week in...Sounds

Am currently working through my bank holiday induced hangover, drinking all the tea and wishing I was still in bed. Actually, I may haul this laptop upstairs shortly and work from that very location. God, I love working from home. 

For now, the last week in 7 sounds:

Mabel's (aka May-boo, the Squeaks, Obbly-bobbly and Get-Down-From-There) welcoming meow when I come home from work. Always accompanied by a little kitten skip of joy. 

Live music at a beautiful location.

The decorator at work singing as he goes (the museum reopens in 8 days - I'm just hoping his singing powers his painting arm). 

The new Fontaines D.C. album. Also, the Idles. Less enamoured of that, to be honest. 

My friend's laughter recounting her stay at a truly terrible B&B in Portishead..."and we have Al-pen" (you had to be there). 

The wind rustling the trees at the allotment. Also, the sound of very ripe damsons plopping on the ground. Followed by the sight of the storms rapidly moving in my direction. 

The sound of shovel cutting through earth as the Boyfriend digs in the frankly greedy number of plants we brought last week. 

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...