Thursday, 27 October 2016

Phooey to Halloween – Celebrate Autumn

The US-dictated Halloween colours are limited to black and orange.  But this Autumn season is so much richer than that - if you look at the trees, your eyes will be ravished by yellow, maroon, green, tan and ochre.
Halloween is about spooks, but Autumn celebrates not only the closing in of night, but also the satisfaction of a wild harvest, the lighting of fires and candles, kicking through golden leaves, watching blackbirds eating berries. 
Our kitchen has been steamy with apples being peeled and cooked for wine and crumbles.  Soon there will be the sloes for gin.   Hanging in the outhouse are bayleaves, hydrangeas and larch cones ready to make the Christmas pot pourri.

But it's late October which offers my favourite Autumn experience.  We go to a local wood and plan our walk so that the last place we come to is the grove where the chestnuts grow.  If it’s a good year, we know we’ll pick so many that we don’t want to carry them far.  If you touch the prickly cases, you get spines in your fingers, so we have developed a technique for opening the little green urchins between our boots.  There is such pleasure in picking out the plump, gleaming chestnuts. 
Focused on the ground, one becomes dazed and disoriented and we have been known to head off in entirely the wrong direction, losing the path.

And this year, we have a great harvest of chestnuts to roast bake and boil.

A welcome change from Halloween pumpkins.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Earning a Crust

Pascoe is at home this Autumn
All my life I have had friends a few years older than me.  It’s been great – they already knew how to get a job, plan a wedding, and that one must on no account turn down pain relief during the birth process.
Up until now, having older friends has been nothing but an advantage: the only chasm between us was that it was a different set of Top-of-the-Pops hits which made them dewy eyed with nostalgia.
However, the difference has now become significant – their children are through university, their family inheritances have been passed on. They are passing gracefully into semi-retirement.
And as the clocks change and bleak November draws in, they will be winging their way to exotic destinations such as the Philippines or Myanmar while I soldier on at school, trying to dodge the winter flu epidemics, getting home in the dark.
But wait, I am thoroughly enjoying my portfolio of jobs, teaching some of the nicest people you could hope to meet.  I wouldn’t change it for the world.

And I shall go on saying that until I see all those beautiful holiday snaps……….

Saturday, 15 October 2016

South for the Winter

Pascoe has come South, just for three months – he got a placement with The Government Office for Science – GO-Science.  Naively, I thought he might return to the parental home and commute into Westminster on the crowded train.
I went to enormous pains to make his bedroom welcoming – dammit, I even put the ironing board away.
But did he show any gratitude?
GO-Science offered to pay rent on a modest room in London and he seized the opportunity.  Well, what twenty-four year old wouldn’t want to live in the humming heart of London for a time at least?
So you would think that maybe I’d forgiven him. 
But no – I had resorted to sending him passive aggressive texts:
“Hope your new accommodation is lovely and spacious.”
“Hope you’re managing to cook delicious meals in the tiny shared kitchen.”
But then at the weekend, he appeared at our house, as he had said he would.
Standing next to him in church I felt both ridiculously short and stupidly proud.
And all was forgiven.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Blowing down the wrong end of a kazoo

Pascoe, Nigel and Nick with kazoos
Lying around on my kitchen surface has been a pink kazoo. 
Seems wrong to chuck it out, especially after all it has taught me.
At the Greenbelt Festival, Sunday morning communion was run by twenty children and the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Thrown into the mix were several thousand kazoos to help out with the hymns.
Confidently I put the narrow end to my mouth and tooted.  Nigel shook his head at me. 
I ignored him.  After raising three children and presiding at many kids’ parties and school events I was confident that my kazoo technique was superior to his. 
Nigel had the broad end in his mouth – Loser.
Then Jennie nudged me and pointed at the hymn sheet.  There, in black and white were instructions for the use of a kazoo. 
It said to hum down the broad end.  My reaction was that the leaflet writer had it all wrong. But I was surrounded by thousands of people, all blowing down the broad end.
Was I a lone voice of sanity; was everybody else right, or were they merely acting as mindless sheep?
And more hauntingly –

How many other areas are there in my life where I am heedlessly blowing down the wrong end of the kazoo?

Friday, 30 September 2016

WhatsApp ruined my day

I have just had a MEGA birdwatching experience.
Like all the best sightings, I was completely not expecting it.  Like so many of the things that I hold special today, it has its roots in my childhood.  I remember in Truro Museum, I would often return to  a tall stuffed bird with its glassy eye on a level with mine.  It had a weirdly shaped beak which used to fascinate me.
I was walking along the Truro River with my parents.
We had spotted the teal, shelduck, curlew, redshank, godwit plus mallard and dabchick.
In the estuary, the tide was just up and the water was bubbling with grey mullet enjoying a feeding frenzy. 
It had been a good walk and we were returning to the car when a large white bird took off over the water. 
“Egret” said Dad.
“Too big,” I replied and indeed there was an egret close by – it was smaller.
I had a gut feeling: “Spoonbill!”.
As it came closer and finally flew right over our heads, every doubt was banished.
Thrilled, I WhatsApp the family:
“Guess what flew over my head today?”
“A helicopter?”
“A highland cow?”
“A Moomin?”
I tire of their flippancy:
Then there is some old chat from Carenza and Nigel about what they are having for dinner.
“I said, A SPOONBILL.”
Perran: “Is that a kind of tractor?”
Nigel: “Are you sure it wasn’t a heron? To the untrained eye they can be easily confused.”
Carenza: “We know that bird watching is challenging for you.
I’m sure you’ll learn soon though.”
Pascoe: “I think it was probably a heron holding a very small frying pan in its beak.”
I give in:

“Yep. That does seem to be the most plausible explanation.” *Sighs*

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

You again

It seems like only last week that I was driving Perran to Bristol and bidding him a sentimental goodbye.
Wait a minute, it was only last week.
But tomorrow I’ll be seeing him again.
He has left all his lecture notes carefully stashed away for the Summer on top of his wardrobe.
He texted to ask would I mind posting them.
If there is one thing I hate (and, just for the record, there is more than one thing I hate), it is finding a cardboard box that hasn’t been crushed by a retailer, wrapping it up, taping it, addressing it, glueing stamps to it and loitering at the post office where the person in front of me always has something bulky/complicated which contravenes post office protocols.
I hate parcels and all their kind.  Nowadays, I even hate receiving them because private delivery firms seem to hire employees with black belts in “knock and run”.
Luckily I’ll be driving to Cornwall to see my parents tomorrow and will therefore transport the gear to Perran in Bristol.
A cock-up like this hasn’t happened since Carenza’s Great Bedroll Omission of 2014 so I guess I should be grateful.  And it’ll give me a chance to see how Perran and his mates have made a home of their little student house. 
I like to picture my offspring missing the comforts of home but not completely overcome by squalor. 

And I guess I can take him a jar of my newly made chilli chutney – I certainly wouldn’t have sent that in a parcel!

Thursday, 22 September 2016


I drove Perran back to university today.  On the long journey back alone I heard poems on Radio 4 to mark the Autumn Equinox.
I had plenty of time to think. 
It struck me that our family has reached an Equinox too. 
Grandparents are all ageing, Nigel and I still have maybe a decade of working life ahead.
And the children, although they may often find themselves at home with us are launching on adult life.
For a while Nigel and I are still the fulcrum of our family.
I’ve always enjoyed the Autumn – the briskness in the air, the fiery colours of the leaves, the cosiness of the evening fire.

So can I convince myself that Autumn is as wonderful as Summer?