Friday, 30 August 2013

Old friends....

A postcard (of a work by one of my favourite artists) from two of my oldest and dearest friends last week, sent from Golden Gate Park in San Francisco where they were celebrating their 31st Wedding Anniversary! How on earth can it be so long ago? The weather had been glorious in London, and it boded well for a romantic summer wedding followed by a reception on a canal boat - but the day dawned with brooding skies, then the heavens opened and emptied themselves over us (perhaps the weather pixies were envious of so beautiful a bride and so handsome a groom...) It was so dark it felt like midnight when the groom and best man took their places at the altar, their hair slicked down and the shoulders of their suits darkened by the rain. At the fateful moment (was it when the minister declared, 'I now pronounce you husband and wife'?) there was a wonderful Gothic bolt of lightening that lit up the sepulchral gloom of the church. We just needed someone to cry out, 'It's alive! It's aliiiive!'

Richard Diebenkorn,  Figure on a Porch, 1959

We don't see each other very often these days (too many miles and not enough money make it difficult) but there are always people in your life that you know you can just pick up with where you left off. Last time I spoke to L back in May, giggling about things one of us had forgotten, and things we remembered, she said something perfect, along the lines of both of us holding one half of our memories and together making up the whole. Happy Anniversary, you two. Big smushy kisses! E. x

Seamus Heaney has died...

C and I studied Seamus Heaney's poetry at the OU. This poem, 'When All the Others Were Away At Mass', was guaranteed to have us both welling up every time we read it, laughing at ourselves at the same time for always being so quickly and reliably moved by it. Hearing it again, I'm reminded of one cold, dark, winter's day - I must have been very young because in my mind's eye I'm looking up at my mum - the two of us sitting in front of the coal fire, and my mum cutting potatoes and carrots to drop into a soup pot on the floor between us.

'I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine...'

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

I'm such a toad...

I told Sam that I'd put his pictures of the toad/frog from their garden on here - he named it Moby Dick because it was soooo huuuuuge. I didn't quite get round to it, and since then he (Sam, not the toad/frog - although for all I know it has been off on its summer holidays too) has been all the way to Spain and back again, and is now quite disgruntled that I didn't do as I said I would. So. Just for Sam...

Perhaps he'll forgive me now. Not sure his sister will, tho' - the hamster survived, but one of the fish... well, let's just say, RIP in fishy heaven... May your scales never grow dim, and the deep fat fryer of life never trouble you. Cod be with you.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Last of the cherries, first of the berries...

A dreich and dreary Saturday (it felt like the beginning of Autumn) so our visit to a fund-raising garden fete wasn't quite what it might have been. But we said hello to some folk we know, bought a raffle ticket, admired the Heath Robinson-style props for the ancient trees in the garden, then headed off and got home mere minutes before the deluge began.

Sunday was, by contrast, hot and sunny, warming our forager's follicles... so, off we went with Trusty Foraging Stick (one of several walking sticks C acquired during his recuperation from breaking his leg the first year we moved here), a couple of empty containers, and a vague idea of where we were going. The cherries aren't finished by any means - there are still plenty to be had if one happens to be a bird, or more nimble-footed than we are, as they're all at the top of the trees. We nabbed the few that had been missed, and that weren't being enjoyed by wasps. Hardly enough to do anything useful with, so we ate them as we went. Anyone seeing our hands would have thought we'd murdered someone and buried them in a corner of the field...

Oh, but the blackberries! Thanks to the foraging map provided by the Transition group we found loads of them on a nearby industrial estate (goodness knows what's going into them to make them so big, but if I start to grow extra limbs, or develop superpowers, I'll know who to complain to... or thank...) In case you're thinking that they don't look that big, I took the photo after we'd spent 10 minutes picking them. They have already been transformed into half a dozen jars of jam. Yum.

It's weird wandering around an industrial estate on a Sunday - feels a bit like being in a disaster movie. One with zombies. Felt like we were being watched by doleful, rheumy eyes, weary and worryingly resentful after the hard slog of the previous week. But the only other human we came across was a chap who warned us that we'd get spiked by the blackberry bushes (I was, and I was being so careful) and told us that they're only cut back once the berries have all gone, and then the workers can double park on that space! I'd have thought all the employees would be out there picking away every day, so as not to let the berries go to waste, and to guarantee a parking spot.

We were slightly flummoxed when we passed these, but looking again at the foraging map, we think they might turn out to be walnuts when they grow up and get all wrinkly. From there we headed off to more familiar territory, just to see what might be ready in the next few weeks. We can look forward to more berries, of course, and there are plums and damsons just about ready to collect. I opened a jar of homemade damson chutney when everyone was here last weekend - just delicious - so I must make some more this year. Given, however, that I usually just bung in whatever I've managed to collect, there's no guarantee of repeat success. Lots of apple trees around and we found the particular tree we'd been searching for, which has unusual pear-shaped yellow apples which are sweet and good for eating straight from the tree.

Found one cherry tree dripping with a clear sap, and not in good shape, and later some other trees, their leaves riddled with black spot, which is a little worrying. Who deals with those open spaces? Who sorts out any diseases? Some blackberry bushes are fuzzed over and the fruit is dead, while others are still green and yet to produce edible fruit. Nature just seems so random sometimes! So speaketh a (bewildered) child of the city...

Nevertheless, the fields were filled with crops just waiting their turns to be harvested, the sun was shining down on us, and it was good to be out just walking and laughing - another lovely day.

Who's a happy little tomato, then...?

The Gorgeous Girl is absolutely tickled to be a big sister (at laaaaast!) to a very beautiful little baby girl. I have no photos to show (I've seen just the one, on facebook) so I will instead share with you a picture of one of the many different types, shapes, colours and sizes of tomato we have accumulated from our own garden, and from our friends' garden (we've been watering their plants while they are away).

I imagine this is how the GG will have reacted to seeing her new sister last week - with an adoring smile, and looking just a little bit rosy-cheeked!

As C said, the new baby is gorgeous (she really is)... but he thinks perhaps not quite as gorgeous as the GG when she was born. This said with a knowing grin, understanding full well that the little one's dad will be thinking that his new daughter is the most gorgeous thing he has ever seen. And, of course, they're both right.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Wibbling Wools...

Helen told me last weekend that she'd discovered a new yarn shop in Bury St Edmunds, so I had to visit for myself... Wibbling Wools is a lovely little place on Churchgate Street, with a big, light-filled interior and a great cafe - incidentally, it's just a couple of doors along from Painted Country who run great classes on how to use Annie Sloan paints.

As well as shelves filled with colourful yarns, high quality knitting/crochet books and all the usual paraphernalia, the shop runs classes every third Thursday of the month, held in this dedicated space (below). A granny square hippopotamus - why on earth not?

If I lived a little bit closer I'd definitely go along - I met a couple of charming women there the other day who were enthusiastic and interesting, and I bet there are some lively conversations over the knitting needles! The whole place sweeps away the slightly fusty, old-fashioned look that you can sometimes find in some older, long-established, yarn shops, whilst here there is even space to sit and flick through some of the pattern books, perhaps on this beautiful 'rescued' chair, re-covered using a couple of very stylish, and covetable, fabrics.

If your other half isn't quite so enthusiastic about all things wooly, they can always have a cup of tea and read a book whilst you wander round, slightly dazed, murmouring soft 'ooh's and 'aaaah's. The cafe is good value, although for perfection I'd like just a couple of extra veggie options on the menu - although their brie and avocado sandwiches are really delicious. Selling sandwiches from a sawn-off VW van parked in the middle of the shop is quite a show-stopper, and the rest of the cafe is filled with other quirky details, like needle-felted sheep for the table numbers, arrangements of tea cosies and bunches of colourful knitting needles instead of flowers in a vase.

The hand-made cushions, casually strewn on the big leather couch, are things of beauty.

It's clearly the owner's very particular, and joyful, vision and I'm sure the atmosphere of the place would help enthuse a lot of younger knitters and crafters. I will definitely be back, although I might have to wait until I've made a dent in the stack of yarn I already have before I buy any more... Or, as one of the women I spoke to said, 'Naaah. Just buy some more...' Meanwhile, C, who has the attention span of a gnat when it comes to stuff like this, declared that anytime he is in Bury this will be 'his' cafe. Quite a compliment!

ps Just found a very funny blog post which mentions Wibbling Wools - and judging from the picture it was written when they were still at their old location. 

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Thon Fiona Bruce off the telly. Again.

Someone has sent a link* to a response in the Telegraph explaining why folk are a little cheesed off by Fiona Bruce's article (mentioned by me here). I expect big beardie Paxman will be grilling her on Newsnight.

* Am I trying a little bit too hard to prove I'm not normally a reader of the Torygraph (as my brother used to call it)?

Noctilucent Clouds and Aurora Over Scotland...

This via Joe, font of all astronomical knowledge, for us at least... My friend Jenny confessed, after a trip home, to a little 'hame-sickness' (spelling is correct for we(e) Scots), and this might not help! Just beautiful.

Olympicnic revisited...

The site of the original 2012 Olympicnic.
Last year we had an 'Olympicnic' in honour of the 2012 Olympics, and really as 'any old excuse to get together'. Egg and spoon race, sack race, a tug o' war in which the rope snapped the moment weight was put on it, and the smaller competitors were nearly crushed under the weight of their beefier, 6ft plus team mates as everyone crashed to the ground. We had medals, and a medal ceremony and everything. No torch relay, however, just in case...and in light of the tug o' war fiasco, perhaps that was wise!

We used to have a Christmas meal every year, but as friends moved out of London, and began having children, this became more and more difficult. It makes much more sense to have a picnic during the day - it gives little people the opportunity to run around a field all day so that they go to bed exhausted and happy, and the adults get to stay up late (strangely, not as late as we used to...) drinking wine, and reverting to our former silly selves! The silliness started a few months ago, as we discussed whether this year's event should be called the 'Misanthropicnic' (Chris's suggestion) which seemed very 'me', although I also liked Royston's suggestion of 'Myopicnic', to take into account everyone's failing eyesight...

Fewer folk than last year, as there were weddings, special birthdays, and last-minute broken down cars to deal with, but it's already assumed that we'll do it again next year, so that's okay! We got so lucky with the weather last year, but this time round Saturday was a bit of a wash-out. One slightly anarchic game of baseball (Canadian rules) which morphed into rounders (no rules) and then we all drifted indoors one by one. Indoor games for the kids, then a slightly ad hoc (and embarrassingly beige) meal - 'must do better next time' - all finished off with a lovely cheesecake topped with home-grown berries from our Turkish/Canadian contingent, and C's legendary (well, in our house) Victoria sponge cake, then late night chat after the kids had been squirreled away in various rooms around the house.

lovely flowers from lovely Helen

Next day dawned marginally brighter, thank goodness. Breakfast was interesting, as certain adults couldn't quite face the idea of food... Note the abandoned scrambled egg, as someone went off to have a wee lie down...!

A game of football out in the field was a closely fought battle - eventually ending in a victory for the children (combined age of... oooh... let's just say less than that of any one of the adults) 10 goals to 8.

Some of us 'laydees' sat on the sidelines, guarding the tea... Helen was wearing the loveliest jeans, which she'd mended with a combination of sashiko and Japanese boro flair. Just gorgeous. I've kept some scraps of cloth from jeans that have worn out, so I'll definitely try this when the next pair get some holes. Sri Threads is filled with beautiful images of Japanese textiles, like sashiko and boro...

After  Helen and co. headed off on the long drive home, the rest of us risked the weather and headed down to the river for a picnic lunch, and somehow managed to avoid being eaten by giant ducks...

Time for a very short snooze (well, for some) after lunch and then, just like last year, the day ended with three men in a boat, a bit of messing about on the river, followed by a few trips up and down with various combinations of adults and children... and a River Stour traffic jam. There are regular boat trips up and down the river, as well as canoeists and other boat traffic, and everybody waves hello - it's all rather sweet!


The sun came out at last, and the river sparkled - just beautiful. One last trip for the little ones before the end of the afternoon and home-time. This little one screamed his head off about putting on a life jacket to go into the boat, but within five feet of the jetty he'd calmed down, then started waving and smiling, and came back like this... Awww...! A life on the ocean wave clearly agrees with him!

Lovely friends and a lovely weekend. Next year, anyone?

Friday, 16 August 2013

Sprightly, in Brightlingsea...

We managed a quick day trip to visit our friends in Brightlingsea, and had our usual 'whatever the weather' walk by the sea. It threatened to rain the whole time, but didn't, so we had wonderful dark, glowering skies, mudflats and metallic grey water on one side, and golden fields on the other, brightening briefly under sudden shafts of sunlight.

Of course, the weather never manages to put off the hardy souls who are determined to enjoy a day by the seaside, and the water was filled with kids, and the water-side with more kids catching crabs. When I asked one mum what they would do with all the crabs in their bucket she looked bewildered for a moment then said, 'Chuck 'em back in!' Poor crabs.

Off to the cafe for lunch, and the best view in town. You'll have to go there yourself, and buy chips, if you want to see what the best view actually looks like...

Then home again, past the beach huts, the gorgeous 'patchworked pine' workshop, hollyhocks, and a crumbling painted and repainted wall, for cherry and almond pie. A grand day out!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Perfect day...

The sun has come out, and the house is filled with music... One lovely niece is here, enjoying access to C's piano (she doesn't have one where she lives) and we're being treated to bits of the soundtrack to The Piano, and snippets of Life On Mars and Perfect Day. Lovely stuff...

As a quick aside, by emptying out a tub of earth the other day I have inadvertently created a Sparrow Sandpit to go with the existing Bird Spa... the headless dove is just there to keep 'em in line.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Starry, starry night...

I looked out of the back window late last night, just to check if the sky was clear enough for watching the Perseid meteor shower, and was rewarded almost immediately by seeing two very bright shooting stars, one after the other. Sort of thing that makes you laugh with delight! A lot of the streetlights around here are switched off at midnight, so out we went, with a blanket and binoculars (tho' we didn't need them), to watch the skies.

When we eventually went back indoors, we stood at the back window for another half hour saying 'One more, then we'll get to bed...'

'Right, after the next one...'

'Maybe just one more...'

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Drookit bees...

We must have about 50 bees on the lavender bushes at the front of the house at the moment. I had planned to weed the gap between the lavender and the front window so that I could chuck in a few poppy seeds (some giant puffballs, the seeds pinched from a garden in town) or transplant some of the Japanese anemones, but distracted as the bees appear to be, I'm not sure if they might not rise up en masse to attack the giant invader of their space. So, I'll leave it for now...

When we had torrential rain last week we spotted something we'd never noticed before - the bees were all clinging to the underside of the lavender, taking some shelter from the downpour.

It was quite a strange sight - all the buzzing halted, all the bees hanging there patiently waiting for the deluge to end...! In the 15-30 seconds I was out there taking these pictures above, the rain soaked right through my jacket!

Then this week, while taking some pictures of the multitude of buzzy-ness going on around the garden, I spotted a bee attempting something akin to a doggy paddle in one of the water dishes. A handy discarded pigeon feather acted as a life-raft, and I plonked one almost-drowned bee on top of some marjoram to dry out.

Over the next wee while I went back to check on it a few times, and even moved it to a sunnier spot to help it dry out. Three-quarters of an hour later, I watched it wiggle its bottom, give its wings a final stroke with its hind legs, and then buzz off. Job done.

There are scores of cabbage whites everywhere (no doubt due to my first attempt to grow cauliflower and some accidental broccoli - accidental as in I didn't plant them there...!) and a few of their more colourful cousins. C had to rescue a Peacock butterfly that got into the house. They're much bigger indoors, somehow!

Nice to see the neighbours having a chat across the marjoram.

The first broccoli, incidentally, turned up in a hanging basket - a real cuckoo-in-the-nest scenario, as it grew bigger and bigger until I finally turfed it out and planted it in the garden, just to see what it might grow up to be. Two more then turned up in unexpected places - I assume some birds had some of the seed that the neighbours had planted, and left me some as a gift, a little like last year's tomato plant which grew more healthily in the front garden, neglected by me because I didn't even know it was there, than the cossetted ones in the back garden. This year there's also a tomato plant in a pot which has a tree in it - again, hidden by other stuff, I didn't notice it until it had the beginnings of tomatoes... Not sure the tree will survive, but the tomatoes are looking promising! Thanks birdies!