Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Midsummer Changes

The end of June already! When I was naught but a wee sapling of a lass, sighing my way through long summer days, victim to the kind of ennui that left me draped and sighing over kitchen counters, repeatedly telling the uncaring world that I was bored, as only young people can do, I used to think that my parents were mocking me when they spiritedly replied that the days weren't long, time moved swiftly and I needed to catch it. 

"Time speeds up as you get older," they'd say. 

To which I would give the kind of scorning snort that, again, only young people can do, and remove myself, with all the appearance of carrying the weight of the world, to drape and sigh over the sofa, dreaming of the day when I would escape the small town/village (whatever it was we were living in at the time) and LIFE would be slow but interesting and full and I would squeeze every last drop from it. 

Frankly, how my parents refrained from smacking some sense into me or, at the very least, sending me up some chimneys to earn a living and count my blessings, I do not know. 

Of course, we all know how this story ends. The drooping youngster grows up, leaves home and discovers that her days are a little too full and what she wouldn't give for some draping and sighing right now (she'd give even more to be that size 10 again, but that's a story for another day, or another therapist). 

This is the long winded way of saying that I've been busy once again this month. Not so many trips here-there-and-back-again, but with deadlines and meetings and training courses to run and funding bids to write. But it seemed less interesting to just write "gosh, hasn't time flown!" when we all know that it has. To any teenagers reading this, dally your way through these days my friends, savour them. 

N was officially redundanted (no spellcheck, I will not correct that - I like the sound of it) and is now spending his days pottering around the garden, planting plants, taking cuttings, potting up more plants, staking beans and generally enjoying his time. Sometimes he takes a pad of graph paper and pencils and practises his landscape drawing in preparation for his MA in September. Every night he cooks. I could get used to this house-husband business. 

The Kid has been over several times, staying with us between shifts and for birthday celebrations. He is restful company. Calmer after the trauma of last year recedes and its teeth are less sharp in his memory. He also wants to go back to uni, but not until next year, to study anthropology. It's fair to say the care sector has knocked the stuffing out of him and where once he really wanted to change the system, make it better, he now can't wait to be out for his own sanity. Job searches are ongoing. 

I celebrated Midsummer and the New Moon quietly. The Moon has moved into Cancer so we are officially in my birthday month. I'm taking my foot off the pedal just a little so I have time to savour this one as I move closer to 50 than 40 and wonder what, if anything, this ageing business means. 

I suspect we are being made to feel as though it should mean a bigger deal than it actually does. Yes, the hair greys, the skin creases like velvet and new bits ache where they didn't ache before, but those aren't the important bits. The important bits are the wisdom that we pick up, polish and store about our person, small gold coins of experience and knowledge that we use to pay our way forward. They don't make us infallible, but they help us find a centre in this world. 

There are plans to meet with friends this weekend and the other week, I caught up with an old colleague and friend to catch up, show off the garden and allotment, and generally have a gossip so long and joyous, my jaw fairly ached by the end of it. The joy of good friends is something to savour too. 

A couple of times I've taken myself off to the library to work: there is something soothing about the sound of tea spoons against coffee cups and the low murmur of voices that don't require an answer from me. On my first visit, a disgruntled foursome were milling around a table. 

"All she said was the room was taken."
"We can't go downstairs, there are children. They will make a noise."
"I'll ask this nice man."

There is a pause and much sotto voce grumbling from the remaining 3, who cling to the backs of their chairs as though they fear a fight to keep them. I'm aware without looking up that the occasional dark glance is aimed in my direction.

"But will she complain?"
"Hush Geoffrey."
"It's alright everyone. This nice young man [I can feel the heat of his blush from over at my table] has said we can!"

There is a chorus of "splendid!" and "oh well done!" and as the first sounds start coming from their antiquated laptop, I realise that what they fear I'll complain about is their conducting a very loud German lesson 2 tables away from me. So I shot them a dark look in the best British passive-aggressive fashion and put my ear phones in.  

Obviously, while I was there, I grabbed a couple of books to read once I got home. The superlative Mrs Death Misses Death and the utterly moving 10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in this Strange World. I picked them up and read them from cover to cover, moving from bed to sofa to bath to sofa to bed without pause, eating one handed and putting a post-it note on my head that read "can't talk, reading." Both books have stayed with me for a long time afterwards, the threads of the stories running through my days like a child's streamer, bright and commanding attention. Of course, I've now got my own copies so I can return to them again and again. These are books to return to. 

Tomorrow, I am in Birmingham for a meeting, fitting in a visit to the Ikon gallery before coming back for another meeting. In the evening, I shall take a long New Moon bath and let my slide towards the weekend commence. 

How was your June?

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Bear or Gecko?

I am sitting here at my desk, in my apricot coloured office, with Radio 4 burbling gently behind me and the rain drumming its own beat outside. Oh rain, I'm so pleased to see you! For a spiritual bear like me (some people are spiritual geckos, some are spiritual bears), yesterdays 30+ degree heat was some awful 3rd rate sci-fi hellscape. With chirpy neighbours who are more gecko than bear. 

"I just love this heat, don't you mate?"
"Oh yes mate. A real treat. I'm going to mow the lawn and chainsaw a tree. See ya mate."
"Good luck mate, I'll be here pointlessly hammering nails into bits of wood."
"Good on ya mate."*

There is a strict routine to days like that: in the morning, the blinds and windows at the back of the house are flown open to allow as much (relatively) fresh and cool air in as possible. By midday, those are resolutely closed and the ones at the front of the house have been opened instead. 

The cats find new hiding places to escape the heat. The Great Boo is under the trailing spider plant, enjoying the cool green shade of the beast. Tiny Wee Mabel seeks out shrubs to sleep away her day underneath, coming in at night to lie on the beds, shedding dried earth and dead insects from her fur. 

I look in the fridge like a helpless infant turning to its mother for food. Why have the contents not converted themselves into nutritious salads and refreshing iced teas while the door has been closed? Does this mean I have to do it? N is no help on these days as he will happily eat cereal twice a day when it's hot, like an overgrown student. Which I suppose he is now.

Any allotment visiting takes place strictly before 8am where a short burst of watering, fretting over mysterious holes in the sunflower leaves, weeding and harvesting of an onion or two, plus a quick pick of sweet peas may take place. I can hear the rattle of the heavy chain and lock that keeps the gates closed, repeatedly clanging as people race against the temperature clock. 

"Don't lock it!"
"Sorry! Think we're all up here, aren't we?"
"Can't stop, I've got 5 minutes to water everything while the kids eat breakfast!"
"Don't shut the gate!"
"Wait for me!"

The only other time it's this busy is on a Sunday morning where we can linger over Thermos's of coffee and commiserate over bindweed. There is not the time at 7.30 on a Friday: we rush in, sending dog walkers - on the same early morning mission - scattering in surprise. It's like the rush for an IKEA sale, without the tea lights and meatballs. 

At some point, I manage 10 minutes of yoga and realise that, along with all the usual places, my eyebrows are sweating. Eyebrows! I didn't even know they could do that! So I ditch out of the 4th downward dog in favour for practising shavasana - corpse pose. Apologies to the plucky tiny Texan teaching us all via YouTube but my inner bear wants shavasana, preferably on the cool tiles of the kitchen floor, a la the Great Boo. 

Another mournful gaze into the fridge fails to automatically muster up a peach, mint, bulgar wheat and feta salad with pomegranate molasses dressing, or even the ingredients for one, so I eat cheese on crackerbread and then retire for a nap on the sofa, the coolest spot in the house, waking an hour later with only the vaguest of notions where I am. 

Coolest apart from the hallway but I've not yet been forced to camp in there. Give me time. 

I've recklessly promised a friend I will go along to her preview show, so I pack sandwiches (the last time I went to any kind of exhibition preview, the promised 'dry snacks'** turned out to be packets of Walkers crisps. I am not falling for that trick again), bottles of water and wet flannels into a bag packed with ice blocks. I pack the friend foolish enough to say she'd come along. And we head out for a 50 minute journey down the M5 with broken air conditioning. 


As the mini Magnums are wilting on their slushy bed of ice, people are eschewing sticky backed hugs in favour of air kisses that land wide of their marks. Carefully designed 'Become a Patron' flyers are crumpled with use as fans and sticky from use as cocktail coasters. Faces are flushed and shirts are damp but the preview is a success, which is all that matters. 

I stay up talking with N, who'd been to the Gardeners World show for the day (the day! I'd have lasted an hour and probably tried to push Monty Don into a pond in my heat-induced fury), till 1am, neither of us able to sleep in heat that lies like a blanket. We drink cold white wine, eat Pringles, from our seats on the floor, the coolest part of the house. Tiny Wee Mabel comes in and announces, loudly, that she is going upstairs to sleep and scatter debris on a duvet after her long day of sleeping. Great Boo sits silently by his bowl, hoping that mute appeal will win him a second helping of supper biscuits. 

At last, although sleeping downstairs on the floor comes in for serious consideration, I remember that TWM brought a mouse in last week, and I don't much want to wake up next to a rodent corpse, I haul my heat-heavy carcass off to bed. One day, I promise myself, one day I will crack this heat thing and I will learn to love the weighty days of summer. One day I will have the right clothes, the right body, the right attitude, the right eyebrows that don't sweat. 

But right now, there's an ice block chilling my bed and calling my name. 

*neither of these people are Australian, they just feel the need to express themselves like they are. Ah yeah no, mate.
**seriously. The preview invite said "one drink and dry snacks will be available". I have never felt more invited
*** the allotment (the nice bits) at 7.30 yesterday morning. I will allow that hot summer mornings are something special

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

May at the Allotment

The weather hasn’t always been the kindest this May; a little chillier and wetter than perhaps everyone would like. But it didn’t stop everything suddenly bursting into life up at the plot. 

The wineberry bed is quite a tricky spot. It slopes steeply so anything on there has to cope with very free draining soil. Currently I’m experimenting with alpines. If they don’t work, I may have to seize the pallet by the nails and create a terrace there. 

Once you move a bit further down, the soil is less dry and suddenly the wildflowers have exploded in a root of colour. All the Nigella self-seeded from last year and have formed a frothy bank of blooms that the bees fill with sound. 

The raspberries have also been busy spreading themselves until I can only just make out the original plants. They have formed handy supports for the bindweed that plagues this spot. Nothing to be done but to slow right down as I unwind, untwine right down to the root and pull it out as much as I can. If I move too fast, the bindweed spitefully rips out the raspberry leaves with it. 

The potatoes have had their final earthing up and are now throwing their leaves up to the sun. Onions are complacently fattening in the next bed. 

Brassicas are in, netted against pigeons and sprayed with slug deterrent. Beer traps form sinister pools and each plant wears a scarf of wool pellets. All these deterrents and still 3 of the cabbages are lace-edged from slug bites. 

I’m late with the courgettes, beetroot and beans but I’m on track with the dozens of sunflowers we’ll need for the wedding. Flowers may have to take precedence this year but I’ll settle for a handful of beets, a few beans, 1 courgette at least  surely? 

This month, a bulk order of compost will arrive and I’ll start the process of creating the no dig beds for the sunflowers. Dozens and dozens, all nodding and waiting, full of promise for September. 

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...