Saturday, 18 February 2017

Life and Death in February

February has been quite a month, and we're only half way through.

Frozen mornings, thick fog, and cold so cold that our fires and heating barely register, the heat seeping away as fast as we try to trap it. But then glorious sunshine today, birds singing in the trees, crocus and snowdrops basking in the light, washing on the line for the first time in months and the vibrant smell of Spring in the air.

It has been something of an emotional roller coaster too. A good friend said goodbye to her husband at the best kind of funeral service: no church to soften the strangeness, but lovely, brave words from his daughters which gave a more complete picture of the man we had only known for the last 18 years, complemented by fun-loving images from happier times on the service sheets (far better at conveying the spirit of the man than a sober, single portrait of him in his final days).

Martin and I took a long-overdue trip to Normandy, where we found the house all perfect (thanks to Ron and Grace) except for conclusive evidence of a mouse-party in the study. We had unwisely stored teabags, toiletries, mousetraps, cleaning materials and other items potentially irritating to guests in a wire rack which clearly posed an inviting challenge to our furry friends.
It took me ages to clear out the droppings, throw away soaked cloths and disinfect what was safe to keep. Amusingly, they had feasted on tubes of disinfectant cream and ant poison, but ignored a box of sugar cubes.
 Gnawed and completely emptied
By the time I had finished it was clear we needed somewhere more robust to store our wares. So whilst Martin set about chopping up more firewood (we kept both fires burning, as the newly-fitted boiler was failing to provide more than a sneer of warmth) I pootled up to the Troc, eventually finding a wooden cabinet for 20e that might just fit.

Well, it did fit once Martin had planed off a few millimetres. And he had to replace the back or the mice would not have been fooled for long. Oh, and fit a catch.

But by the time we left we were able to bundle everything into what we hope is a rodent-proof cache, and left a pile of chopped wood drying out in the pig shed. And fresh curtains at the study door (though they need hemming), and a much tidier study all round.

The fields were a dreadful mess, however, to our uneducated eyes looking completely over-used. There was discarded twine everywhere, and some very feeble-looking sheep and cows. Some had even escaped into the paddock, which at present has no fencing on the house side, so there was a risk they could get into the garden and wreak havoc. Luckily I saw the farmer and was able to ask him to get the cattle back pronto, but given that everywhere looked such a mess (and we saw another dead sheep on our walk) it was not the rural idyll we anticipated.
Rivers of Mud
But we had a lovely weekend in spite of it all. Plentiful food, including oysters, croissants and delicious pastries; wine and warmth; the chance to catch up with Martin's parents and to enjoy the relaxed peace of Normandy.
St Sauveur main square
Something so lovely about these old doors...
Well we returned just before midnight Monday night and were back at work Tuesday, so it has taken all week to get straight. Today's sunshine meant that I was able to stick the washing outside, get started on tidying twigs and dead leaves, and let the two remaining hens out to enjoy the garden.

Martin went down to sort out some more bits on Drifter, so I spent a relaxed afternoon chatting to the hens as they accompanied me about the garden. We agreed it was high time they started laying, and that I would ask Max to refresh the hen house by way of barter.
But then, as Martin returned and just as I was collecting in the washing, I caught sight of the hens rushing back to their quarters... a glimpse of a black dog with cerise collar chasing them. I yelled my way across the lawn, as a different dog chased one of them back across the top of the garden. After much hollering I picked up the quaking hen, but still couldn't get the dog away, and was desperate to go and save the other. I eventually laid the injured hen in the woodshed, still shouting at the dog to get lost, and eventually Martin paid attention to my cries and came out to help.

We caught one dog and could find neither the other nor the hen. Our neighbour told us the dogs were 'upstairs' and seemed surprised we had one, and told her the other was in our garden. She was appropriately apologetic, later coming round with flowers and an offer to help buy new hens, but clearly had not made an effort to sort out her fencing after her dog had got through and pestered the hens a month or so ago.

So sadly after getting the hens through the whole winter, and just as we were within cracking distance of a proper free-range egg, death has once again reared its head.

Ironic that the garden birds are singing happily of a fresh start as we bid adieu. To everything its season.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Friends, food and fun

Well the tablecloths are in the wash, bottles gone to the bottle bank and the glassware polished and back in Grampy's father's woodwork-project cabinet. We had a lovely evening!

Having been somewhat lazy about inviting friends to dinner of late, we finally bit the bullet and invited a bunch of friends to dinner last night: safely clear of Christmas and New Year, and even of dry January. Everyone said yes so we were 13 for dinner and it all went very well.

Martin went down to cosset Drifter so I spent the day making filo pies (one veggie and two others, which turned out great), two starters and a big chocolate raspberry log (frozen raspberries as there is a shortage of salad and other fruit/veg in the stores at present due to the weather in Europe), as well as a big pot of spiralized butternut squash and some tzatziki.
The garden room comes into its own for big meals. I was able to fit us all round the double-extended tables, with extra chairs from the barn, and once lit with glittering candles and trimmed with tableware it all looked most welcoming.

Of course I took no pictures (natch) but we did have fun, the babble-ometer pinged off the gauge and everyone seemed to have a relaxed evening. Martin and I took to our beds after loading the dishwasher and washing the largest pots, so it was not too dreadful this morning.

My friend Mandy who is somehow managing without her lovely man faced the added insult of having her car stolen this week, including her purse and phone and all the messages the latter contained: irreplaceable cords between two individuals which can never be replaced. How cruel of fate.

So when Mandy asked if I would join her at a 'Come and Sing' event at a local private school I made an effort... and we had a relaxing and soothing afternoon singing the beautiful Requiem by Faure.

Martin cooked an excellent lamb shank tagine with leftovers for dinner, which pleased me not just because I didn't have to cook, but also experienced the bliss of coming home to sumptuous smells emanating from the kitchen, which I normally don't experience.  Win/win.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Birthday Brunch

Twenty-three years old and enjoying a weekend in Oxford with Abbie (doing a PhD there with the British Heart Foundation), Victoria joined us for brunch this morning to celebrate her birthday.
We were able to take up presents from the family (and did eat more than just croissants and water!), including a jacket from Ben, alcohol and list-gifts, and even ended up playing Dobble at the table. A happy morning, especially for Max who had the bacon feast!
Mum and Kerry came over yesterday for lunch (Dad preferring to remain at home after his tummy X-ray this week) and since Martin was down cleaning Drifter and Max was out playing rugby (they won 104-0 so an odd match) it was just the three of us.

I lit the hall fire and some candles, made lunch with my new spiralizer and used up the last of my lemon curd on a lemon meringue pie. It was grey and rainy all day, so at least they didn't have to drive through the recent frost and fog, and was really good to hear about Kerry's orchestra and Mum's thoughts about moving somewhere more connected to transport and local amenities.

It sounds as though it is going to be a year of change one way and another. I am involved in interviewing candidates to replace my current boss this week, and have just found out that another girl in my office is leaving too, so the school will be doing some re-jigging. Meanwhile I have been approached by a Polish businessman to help with his website, which might kick-start some broader marketing opportunities.

Lots to think about.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Buckingham Palace

Martin and Rosie had a splendid evening just before Christmas enjoying a Reception with the Queen and Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace. It's never too late to add pictures of family members hanging out with champagne in the Blue Drawing Room ...

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Crisp v Cosy

This has been a beautiful week, full of frost and blue skies, and bitterly cold. The low sun in the mornings glances beautifully around the house
Martin missed it, having spent the week in Las Vegas for work, but on my days off I wrapped up in my thickest fleece and enjoyed the enduring frost in spots untouched by sunlight.
The henhouses down at Patchington must be jolly cold, though our own hens are managing perfectly well despite frozen water and a snappy visit from the neighbours' dog.
I called in on a friend who has just lost her husband, to find warm sunshine flooding their newly-extended family room and kitchen, and despite all the chaos and sadness it felt full of love.

With Martin safely home on Saturday we took ourselves off to Stonehenge, never having visited in all our 18 years just down the road. Max came too and once we got over the expensive entrance fee (we joined the National Trust again just before we left home so as to dampen the shock) we enjoyed the new-ish visitor 'experience'.
I even pushed my coccyx against the supposedly-healing Welsh bluestones, and we explored the reconstructed dwellings as well as walking up to the monument in the brisk chill.
Now Martin has gone down to clean Drifter, who is sitting exposed to the weather as she dries out, and Max and I are snuggled at home with the wood burner radiating warmth and a casserole quietly bubbling away in a freshly-cleaned oven. Crisp chill is all very well, but I wouldn't much appreciate it without the cosy comfort of home.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Barn Benefits

You would have thought that the barn would be getting very little use now that the teens have vanished, and we don't even really need the spare bedroom. Yet even in these cold and quiet months we have been making good use of its space.
Max hosted a party just before Christmas, decorating and filling the fridge with beer to provide the perfect venue. Martin and I tucked ourselves in front of a cosy fire and were barely aware of the festivities except when they sorted out pizza in the kitchen or spilled out into the garden, and since they mucked in to help Max clean up before they left next morning it was all very easy.

Then last week I hosted a social for our choir. We have a big Gala Concert coming up in June, but don't start rehearsing until March. To enable us to distribute music and get everyone psyched up about our performance of Mozart's Requiem, I offered to do a launch party showing the movie 'Amadeus', so we set up the barn in cinema mode and everyone enjoyed plenty of food and drink against a backdrop of music and drama.

It was a lovely way to start the ball rolling, and we are now in the process of seeking sponsors for the concert (which will otherwise require prohibitive ticket prices). Here's the latest version of my ticket for sponsors
We are also offering corporate sponsorship packages, so really pulling the plug out to get some money in the bank to meet costs. Do take a look at the concert information at Wherwell Singers website if you are interested.

I am taking advantage of the barn set-up to host a movie night for Book Club tomorrow evening too. Eschewing proper films on the basis that a) it was hard to find one no-one had seen; and b) we would probably natter through it anyway, we have decided to show Zootopia, an animated movie from Disney. Now I just need to work out what to cook!

Actually that should be quite fun, since I bought a spiraliser this week, on special offer in the supermarket so finally worth trying despite its somewhat fiddly and bulky character. I took it out at the weekend to test and found a childish pleasure in watching the colourful noodles twist out of the end, very much like the Playdough factory we picked up from a garage sale in Oregon and loved so much.
Some zucchini noodles may be on the menu tomorrow. I will take a picture so you can share my joy.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017


I have an old friend whom I would love to meet up with again, but who puts off getting in touch because she thinks I lead a charmed and wonderful life, mainly on the evidence of this blog.

Well, she's right, I am very lucky. Lovely family, happy home, the freedom to indulge in my pleasures and the time to enjoy the broader horizons of extended family, travel and intellectual stimulation.

But she is wrong to assume from all this that my life is one long dream. Do any of us share our grumbles and gripes with the world? Encouraged as we are to open our hearts and share every lived moment on social media, I doubt that would make for interesting reading, either now or in the future.

This blog is a family diary. It is open for others to read should they find it remotely interesting, but it is primarily my way of recording life as it happens, and avoiding having to write long emails keeping everyone in touch. It also means I don't feel the urge to write a newsletter to enclose in Christmas cards, a missive far more likely to stick to the proud highlights of the year.

Still, it is true that life has its ups and downs, and of course we have our fair share. So J, this is for you:

Personally, I have struggled for a long time with unexplained pains which interfere with good sleep. Periodic flurries of medical interest lead up blind alleys, giving me promise of a cause and therefore a potential remedy, but leading only to disappointment. To say I would die for a good night's sleep is clearly overstating the case, but constant media reminders of the damage wrought to mind and body by inadequate sleep reinforce my wish for a solution.

Absurdly, I have now managed to ensure even worse bedtime comfort by falling through a chair directly onto my coccyx at the weekend. Very much an ouch situation. Very instant evidence that this was going to test my pain threshold. Very uncomfortable at night, all night, in spite of drugs and pillows and an already-resigned approach to actual sleep.

Have you had enough yet? Should I tell you that the whole family went down with a variety of cough and flu bugs just after Christmas, so those of us who had taken time off work wasted it recovering, and those of us who didn't had to battle on or call in sick for the first time ever. New Year's Eve? Nope, didn't happen.

And family further afield aren't much better off, getting older and being forced to live with the limitations on driving, travelling and mental wellbeing that that entails.

Goodness, even I am already bored.
Mustn't grumble.