Friday, 29 June 2007

Five go out to play

Well, we finally did it. Bodran, Elizabethm, Country Craft Angel and Snail Beach Shepherdess and yours truly had our get-together yesterday.

The previous night, I didn’t sleep properly. I didn’t worry, as such, but nervous anticipation probably sums it up better.
Would there be any uncomfortable silences? Not on your Nelly.
Would we get on? Totally, absolutely and terrifically.
Would we have a good time? Didn’t stop giggling.
Would they notice I’m an air-head? Highly likely – I hold the Gold Award for “Dozy Mare”!

Angel’s house is totally gorgeous – a picture of calm and serenity. Just like her, in fact. Considering all she has been through, and is yet to share with us, you just would never know. She has this inner strength that has sustained her throughout her troubles and a graciousness that is hard to match. We were welcomed into her home and served a delicious lunch with home-made scones for afters, and it was all lovely.

I recognized Bodran immediately and no-one could fail to be charmed by this warm and funny person who instantly put me at ease. We giggled, and giggled a bit more and then just didn’t stop talking for the rest of the afternoon. Oh, but that girly car – I REALLY wasn’t expecting that!

Elizabeth glowed as she talked about gardening and you would never know she had been through what she has, to look at her. Yet another amazing woman – a privilege to meet and an inspiration to all who have hurdles to climb. And again, we laughed.

And Snail Beach Shepherdess……… well, one look at her and there were big smiles and our group really was complete. She brought us all a gift – The Snailbeach W.I. cookery book and already my mum is trying to blag it off me! She shares my love of Ludlow and has a wicked twinkle in her eye……..

The staff at Dobbies really did hoover around us, and the upturned chairs and baleful looks was enough to send us scurrying to the Little Chef. The time was passing so quickly and we had so much to say; so many of you other Purple lot to chat about and compare our perceptions of – we’ve probably got you all totally wrong! But it was fun and naughty and we giggled like teenagers.

I think I managed to convince them I was sane(ish) – I’m not sure I’ll get away with it again if, and when, we meet up again. I waved my arms around a lot (a REALLY bad habit) but didn’t actually break anything this time; interrupted too many times and generally had a fantastic time. I drove home with a seriously huge grin on my face – this site has managed to restore my faith in human nature and this lot had done nothing to alter that. I still owe Snail Beach a cuppa though, as I managed to fluff paying the bill. Next time……… if you’ll have me.x

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

History repeats itself

History often repeats itself, so they say. Well, whether you believe that or not, I am guilty of hankering after the times of my life when, as a child, I felt more secure. When I didn’t need to make grown up decisions, earn money, do housework and basically just be responsible. And so, I find myself repeating history in my home as I have unconsciously recreated aspects of my Nan’s old house and way of life.

I loved staying at Nan’s house and getting into cool, crisp, line-dried cotton sheets, in traditionally made beds of blankets, Durham quilts and eiderdowns, all smelling of lavender. I loved making toast on the open fire and helping to hang the washing to air on the Sheila Maid. The huge Belfast sink was a feature under the window and used for everything from scrubbing home-grown veggies, soaking white washing or bathing us as kids.

I have drawn the line at the 1970’s floral wallpaper which Nan put up in an attempt to modernize, and have kept to my beloved Farrow & Ball paint, but I did put in an original, overhead toilet cistern and, yes, it is as difficult to pull as my Nan’s was! Oh, and my bathroom is now upstairs and not the chilly replica of Nan’s that made you dash up the stairs with your towel wrapped tight around you.

But those times were amazing. The memories still bring a smile to my face. I remember the old apple tree that I used to climb and peep at the world through the pink blossom. Perched high up on a branch that had formed a natural child-sized seat, I would be a flower fairy, and chat away to my invisible friends. Mum and Nan would have to pretend to “eat” the delicious pies I made in the sandpit, or the boiled potatoes (stones) and vegetables (privet leaves). Their patience was unending and because of them I had the most magical of childhoods. A time of fairies, make-believe, love and laughter in a small little cottage this is indelibly marked on my heart.

At the foot of the lavender edged path was a concrete slab with a dog footprint embedded forever. Rex – Nan’s Heinz57 dog that used to jump on the number 11 outer circle bus, go around the route and jump off at the right stop for home. All the drivers knew him and he would sit upstairs with his paws on the ledge, looking out the window. Mum was still a girl then, so I never knew him, but I would lay lavender flowers in his paw print every week.

I have my own lavender hedge now and my apple trees are probably the same size as Nan’s but, of course, seemed so much bigger to a child. At pruning time, I climb through the centre of the trees and get as high as I can, and for a moment am transported back to those nostalgic times. And I also have my own weeping willow tree – a present from mum and dad for my birthday three years ago, but it is not quite big enough for me to sit cross-legged within and hide from the world.

When my nephew and niece come to stay, they do all the things in our garden that I used to in Nan’s, except they also get to collect eggs from the hens. Mum will bring them over to run riot and give dad some peace and quiet, and we will sit and chat over a cuppa. She always says that Nan would have loved our cottage; that she would have felt right at home and proud that she had inspired the “feel” of our eclectic home. She feels Nan has brought us two closer together now that she is not here, and that mum and I are doing the things that used to be in Nan’s domain.

It’s funny; I miss her now more than ever. She lived to see me married to Jimmy and I know she was ready to leave us. She was frail, tired and worn out. That was only 8 years ago next month but now I feel that, if she were still here, our relationship would have undergone a revival. Not that we were estranged, but I was excited and embarking on a new life miles away from her, down in Kent, and was busy forging ahead with our plans. But now, life has eased to the warm and comfortable pace we plod along at; we have found the place of our dreams and are happy to tweak and prune it to fit our needs. This is the time that she would have been coming to stay with us and kneeling side by side with me in the garden; teaching me and answering all the questions that only she could answer. But she is not here and I find myself talking out loud to her as I wander around the house and garden, making plans or marveling at a beautiful flower.

I read other blogs written by people “in tune” – Crystal especially, and wish I could “feel” Nan’s presence next to me like they do. I went to a highly recommended medium, years ago when my first marriage broke up (how many of us do that!?) and she was so amazingly accurate about so many things. She correctly told me that the “gift” was in my family (Nan had it, and her aunt before her) and that it was strong in me. She said that I wasn’t ready to take it on yet but when I was, it would come. That was 13 years ago and I am still waiting for some kind of sign or intuition. Anything. Maybe it’s because I have always been a little afraid of the “unknown”. Equally excited at the prospect but fearful and squeezing my eyes shut at the same time.

I used to have a regular, recurring dream about an old man in a flat cap stood at the bottom of my bed. He didn’t frighten me in as much as I felt he was going to hurt me, but it was disconcerting to dream I was awake and be looking at myself in bed with him stood watching me. On several occasions, I have woken myself up as I have nearly fallen out of bed, stretching my arm out to touch this man, as if to convince myself he isn’t there. I don’t recognize him – I don’t think I have ever met anyone remotely resembling him – and the dream is not linked to a place. I have dreamed the same dream in my last 3 homes. It hasn’t happened for a while now and I can’t see a particular pattern, although it did happen more frequently when my first marriage broke up. Stress? Very probably, but it has also happened when I haven’t been stressed.

I have no answers but as I have got older, the questions seem less important. Nan was a wise old girl and always seemed quietly in-tune and accepting of her life. A rare gift which would make the whole world a better place if more of us could achieve it.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

The extension starts to become reality.

So much seems to have happened over the last few weeks that my feet have hardly touched the floor, let alone my fingers touch any keyboards. We finally got our planning permission through for the extension and, after a little wrangling with the planners, we haven’t got to “drop” the roofline so that it is subservient to the older part of the house. Hurray! Our architect has been an absolute gem. He is from Kington and has done other work in the village, and he has just taken away all the stress of the negotiations. Wish he could just wave a magic wand so that the extension would be up by tomorrow, but now it all begins in earnest.

As soon as we knew we had permission, I started sourcing some materials (just can’t help myself, I’m afraid) and got our first eBay bargain of the project. We’d set our hearts on flagstone flooring in the new hallway and through into the kitchen but original flagstones would be a) too expensive and b) too thick to match up with current floor levels. The alternative was reproduction flags and there they were on eBay! An over-order at a house not too far off the M4 near Bath and, as luck would have it, we were off down there to visit my uncle for Sunday lunch. The lady was so lovely and took us in to see the finished product laid in her kitchen – all sealed and looking fantastic. They were from Classical Flagstones of Bath originally, so we had a nose on the website and were chuffed to bits when we found that our £100 would have been just over £1,100 if we’d ordered from them!

We’re now trying to sort out the bricks: we need between 5 and 6 thousand red bricks and would prefer reclaimed so that they blend seamlessly with the original part of the cottage. But the problem is quality – so many reclaimed bricks are very rough around the edges and damaged where they have been cleaned. However, reproduction “old” bricks can still look too new, unless the colour match is just right. Oh, what to do! We could probably build the extension just from the samples we’ve got already in the yard! And we need blue highlighting bricks for around the windows, doorways and along the corners, bull nosed, cant bricks and all sorts of things I’ve never heard of! We rummaged around Wye Valley Reclamation on Saturday and came away armed with lists and prices and heads buzzing with ideas.

And then there’s the roof tiles! Same thing all over again, but we’re 99% decided on new “brindle” handmade clay ones as they are such a good match and we had a few new ones mixed in with the originals when we did the roof 4 years ago.

The mess is going to be mind-blowing. I’m psyched up for it but reality is another matter totally. I’m off down to Devon on 20th July with my parents whilst Jimmy knocks down some of the existing structure. We didn’t get our pre-work break together due to unexpected orders for bookmaker’s brollies and so Jimmy insisted I get away to escape the dust and initial mayhem. I found it hard to agree because I know I will hate missing out on anything but I guess this is the boring bit, and at least I’ll be around when the new bits start to go up.

Today is our 9th wedding anniversary - I can't believe how the time has gone. Jimmy came into my life after much heartache had made me very cynical, and he won me over with his easy smile and vast capacity for love. He changed my life the day we met and this morning I lay in bed with my customary cup of tea, curtains and windows wide open to the fresh air and birdsong, and felt the calm and serenity of our home ease me into the new day. Make the most of it, my girl, the builders will be here in a few weeks; there’ll be skip lorries clanking along the lane; concrete mixers whirring; scaffolding and male voices shouting instructions over the radio which will, no doubt, be balanced precariously on a pile of a rubble. We are entering a new phase in our life together : we'll be eating beans on toast as we try to save every penny; we'll be living in chaos, but we'll be doing it together - I can’t wait!

Photo is of the floor as laid in the kitchen of our eBay seller– carefully stored in anticipation in a friend’s barn!

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

I've been tagged!

I don't know - I go off-line again for a few days and someone tags me!! I've had to sit and concentrate very hard but here goes........

  1. In the early 1970's my uncle used to be the roadie for Black Sabbath and the whole group came to my nan's house for tea. Ozzy Osbourne sat me on his knee and played with my farm set to make friends with me because I was scared of these strange men stood in the lounge with long hair........

  2. When I was 12 years old, the same uncle was living in New York and was, by now, quite successul in the music industry. He paid for me to go out to visit him for the six weeks summer holiday, and I went with him to the "office" and sorted fan mail for Michael Jackson while he had a meeting.

  3. I was diagnosed with Scleroderma (systemic sclerosis) in 1991 - a rare disease, similar to Lupus. Alongside of this, most patients (me included) get Raynaud's and, although now classed as "stable", I do have severe lung involvement (ILD-interstertial lung disease) caused by fibrosis and have had 2 lots of chemotherapy over the years when this part of the disease has been "active". But this doesn't stop me from enjoying my garden, DIY, cooking, sewing (a bit!), horse riding, bike riding and walking the dogs, as long as I can do it at my own pace!

  4. I met my lovely hubby, J, whilst on a ski-ing holiday with the girls when I was 28 years old. He winked at me in a bar and told me that same night he was going to marry me...... which, of course, he did.

  5. I hate liver, stilton cheese, the coffee and orange fondant chocolates and roll mop herrings.

  6. Since I was a little girl, Father Christmas has always brought me a Terry's Chocolate Orange at Christmas.

  7. I am 40 this year and despite the usual jokes about it, I actually am chuffed to bits to be reaching this milestone. A few years ago, I didn't think I'd make it and now every year is a wonderful achievement and every morning when I wake, I say "Thank you" out loud for another wonderful day.

  8. I broke my third toe on my left foot when I was eleven because my younger brother, who was then only 5 years old, dared me I couldn't climb the hall wall. My parents kept an antiques' shop and we lived in the Victorian flat above. There was a long corridor that joined the living and bedroom areas, and it was quite narrow. My darling brother used to put a hand on either side of the wall, level with his head, then jump like a star fish and put his feet on the walls too. Then he would "walk" up to the ceiling. I forgot that he was only half my height, and when I went to star fish my feet, I stubbed my toe and broke it and was too scared to tell my mum because she would have been cross at us climbing the wall.

Phew! Done it........ now do I have to tag someone else? If so, I'm way behind on blogs (again) and don't know who's been done already!! Wail, wail in anguish................

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Sunshine, soil and fate

Sunshine and warmth – there really is no better tonic. Two weeks of antibiotics have finally shifted my pleurosy but I am still coughing like I smoke forty a day (which I don’t!) and feel like I am hauling a ball and chain around with me, no matter what I am doing. But then the sun shines down and makes the top of my head hot, and the warmth spreads down my back and I feel the energy start to thread through my veins.

My garden is calling me – it always does on days like these. There is so much to do and I feel frustrated that my energy levels are so low. Strategically placed benches beckon as I pause for breath and it is a good excuse to sit back, gaze around and plan.

There are two beds that need to be completely stripped and started again from scratch. The previous owner of our cottage was a keen gardener but his choice of plants was too formal for a country cottage. I have made many changes but this garden needs time to become my “dream” and patience isn’t one of my finer qualities, I’m afraid to admit.

At the weekend, we hired a turf cutter for the front garden and have stripped out the lawn (clover bed really!) and I am going around the edges with a spade to clear the awkward bits before I rake it over, put a membrane down and cover with gravel. The recent rain made this an easy task for J – we thought we’d have to leave it until later in the year again as the ground had got so hard, and I did much foot stamping in frustration that another spring had gone by without this job being done. So, sorry folks, the recent rain was probably my fault but I REALLY needed to get this job done this year. I have been nurturing my box hedging plants for ten months now and they will go in a rectangular shape, with gaps along the long edges, and then a diamond shape filled with lavender in the middle. I’m not going for fancy shapes, like a Tudor knot garden, but using the box plants as structure and contrast against the gravel and hold the shape for the lavender. I’ve got a picture in my mind’s eye of the look I want to achieve, but it won’t be fully complete until the extension is done, as my porch is still on the “to do” list and there is only a sad bit of trellis, at the moment, for my beautiful rose to ramble on.

Back in the rear garden, I have been edging the lawn around the flower beds and that has given an instant face lift. Two of my Camelot foxgloves have failed this year and so it’s a trip back to the garden centre for replacements, and my white delphiniums have disappeared too. The stronger blue ones are standing proud, though, but I confess to liking softer, paler colours – so much more gentle on the eye in this garden.

I didn’t hear the cuckoo this morning – the first time in weeks. Each morning since the beginning of May, it has been the first bird to start the dawn chorus, and as I have been tending my garden, or sitting and drinking tea at the table, I have heard it moving slowly around between the wood and across the lane to the farms. But today, the thrush is serenading me and the blackbirds are trying to compete, and almost succeeding.

The aquilegia have been glorious this year and the penstemons are about to burst forth. And the roses! They all had a hard prune back at the end of last year and are rewarding me with blooms of frothy colour. I thought I’d lost one of my weigelas but it is in flower – just! Even writing the names of these plants is making me want to turn the laptop off and go outside to stand and look and dip my trowel into the earth. Red Herefordshire earth, not dark brown crumbly soil from other areas. But this earth is coloured the colour of blood and I know it flows in my veins now – wherever we have been and we come back home and see the ploughed fields of red earth, it makes my heart lift. And when it has rained, the colour deepens and I love to watch as it dries out and gets lighter and lighter.

We connect with the land if we let ourselves. Our fore-fathers knew so many things that modern man has forgotten as we have become disconnected through technology, urban living and pace of life. But when you take the time to feel the soil as it runs through your fingers, sit back on your heels and listen to the birdsong as the breeze tickles the hair at the base of your neck and along your forearms, close your eyes and breath deeply, the connection is soon repaired and the phrase “life blood” takes on a new meaning.

I have said before that we have put down roots here and this red earth has taken a hold of me and drawn me in tight. This isn’t where I wanted to be originally. No, we were going to move to Ludlow, had found the house around 3 miles outside of town and were set to move. But it wasn’t meant to be – we lost the house and then couldn’t find another one we liked as much in the area. We broadened our search area and ended up on the south Herefordshire/Gloucestershire border – 45 minutes in real time further south. A perfect location for us as we have to get around the country regularly as J is self employed, and we can be on the M5 in twenty minutes.

We go back to Ludlow regularly to visit Dickinson’s Period House Shop and other favourite haunts, to wander around the market and browse the antique shops. It still holds a special place in my heart but I don’t think I could live there now. It’s just that bit too far away from family and friends, that bit too far away for J to commute easily, that bit too hilly, and in the winter that wind blows that bit more coldly. At the time we were hoping to move there, we didn’t yet know these things. Funny how life turns out, isn’t it? For the best, in our case, but at the time we didn’t realize it: we moaned and wailed in frustration. It’s that connection thing again. The earth, the elements, mankind and a melting pot of circumstances - fate, if you like.