Saturday, 28 May 2016

Unplanned Garden

We moved to this house a year ago, and the back garden was a recently-turfed green rectangle.  It was without features.
We really needed to plan carefully what we did with it, not just rush in with a shovel.
As a result, we have done nothing.
We attempted to watch the Chelsea Flower Show footage for inspiration, but were overwhelmed with shame and guilt when we saw the achievements of others.
On our patio is a crowd of around 30 plants in pots, cuttings brought from our last garden . 
One by one they are beginning to fall be the wayside – too wet or too dry or too sluggy.
And it matters because so many of our plants are gifts from friends and relations, so our garden will grow layers not just of colour, but also of meaning.
But Nigel has saved the day by rushing in with a shovel.  He has established a holiday camp in a sunny corner of the garden. 
Here our plants will be able to spread their roots and thrive, before we divide them up and move them on once again to new carefully-planned positions.

One day, the technology will be developed that will detect the noises plants make.  And when that happens, it will be able to prove that our now happy flowers are purring.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016


Our family usually says a little prayer before meals.
On Sunday Nigel and I are thanking God for our soup and go on to ask a blessing on Carenza taking her finals and Perran his end-of-year exams.
We have just looked up and raised our spoons when Nigel’s mobile gives the bright sound of a text arriving.
It says, “Avalanche has blocked path.  Having to go around the long way.”
Our eyes meet.
Amid the exam stress we have forgotten that Pascoe and Matt are climbing the UK’s second highest mountain, Ben Macdui.
Now we recall only too clearly the twenty mile walk to the foot of the mountain, the camping over night, the snowbound ascent and descent, the ten mile walk back to public transport.

We put down our soup spoons and add another prayer.

Sunday night we are relieved to receive a photo of Pascoe still with the full complement of limbs and without frostbite.

Guess we can go back to worrying about exams now.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Family Motto

Hannah once said, “The Harveys always go too far.”
Probably it was after one of our joint family outings where somebody (usually David) got water thrown over them.  Or maybe Nigel or I had made a joke about s_x.  Maybe one of us had done a little dance in a public place.  Possibly all of the above.
Pascoe, Perran and Carenza felt that it would make an appropriate family motto.
It remained only for me to translate it into Latin.
“semper longius”
semper means always.  But longius can mean either further or too far.
So a stranger will believe we have a wholesome aspirational family motto, “always further”
Only those who are acquainted with us will know the true meaning: “always too far.”

But then, they could probably have guessed that anyway.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016


Nigel and I started foraging as newly weds on the slopes of Penshaw Hill above the River Wear. We had very little money and the wild blackberries and crabapples were frankly welcome.
And a forager can always tell who their friends are.
Autumns past, we have fried up a bunch of knobbly, unfamiliar toad stools and served them up on toast to a group of… “But wait – where did everybody go?  They were here a minute ago.”
At least Spring foraging is less controversial.
Recently, I’ve made a load of wild garlic pesto (not to be eaten the night before a big meeting).
And pictured is my variation on saag aloo, made with three cornered leek.
So thirty years after we began, foraging has become fashionable. 
Now, in one fell swoop, we can boost not only our diet, but also our smug middle class credentials.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Fair Weather Friends

Last weekend I had composed a careful To-Do List of work tasks and household chores.  But, as ever, the sight of a long list of jobs did not make me wish to gird my loins (whatever that means). In fact, the opposite.  (Is it possible, or even decent, to UNgird one’s loins?)
And then the weather was gorgeous.  All blue and green and Mayey.  And there was every possibility that this actually was the only British Summer that we would get. 
Tossing the To-Do List over my shoulder, I got out the OS map.
I rang friends.
I had a great walk with Rosie and she gave me a tutorial which would be valuable in taking my Selfie Project forward.
And on Sunday, Nigel and I joined Jenny and Terry (with spaniels, Hamish and Boris) at Wendover Woods.  Jenny  proved that even though the car park was jam packed, we only had to walk for ten minutes to completely evade the milling Spring crowds.
This weekend, sure enough, temperatures had dropped by nearly 10 degrees and I began to snivel with an unseasonal cold. 
But by next weekend I aim to be well again.
So that I can tidy up my To-Do list?

Nope, so that if the sun shines again, we can get out in the countryside for another walk with our friends.

Thursday, 12 May 2016


My great worry is that my children do not have enough to do.  After all, revising for degree exams can’t be that hard.
And FaceBook’s gone awful quiet so they really can’t be doing that much.
What they need is wholesome projects.
In order to give them a worthwhile occupation and fill all that spare time, I have posted them crystal trees, cress farms, a cress hedgehog and a magic bean.
All they have to do is add water.
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the washing up awaits me.

All I have to do is just add water, but suddenly I am far too busy too.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

A Room of One’s Own

The people who owned our house before us had annexed a room from the back of the garage.  The result is that the only type of car which would now fit in the front of the garage is a Smart Car. A Smart Car on a diet. 
However, Nigel has packed all his Man Things into the remaining garage and although its capacity is compromised, its masculinity is not.  If you need an adjustable spanner or a torque wrench, that is where you will find it.
But, having created the new room at the back of the garage our predecessors seemed unsure of what to do with it.  When we were prospective buyers, they didn’t really want to show it to us. 
They hedged. 
We insisted. 
The wooden door creaked open.  There was nothing except, against the opposite wall, an antique piano, and in the middle of the floor, a heap of straw and a live chicken.
Ourselves, we have no need of a Chicken-and-Piano Room, but we have not been short of ideas. 
Nigel dreamt of a still-room for his wine-making.  I yearned for a workshop for my enamelling.  Eventually I won on the grounds that his hobby can be pursued in the kitchen while each of my pots of enamel powder sports its own little skull and cross-bones label.
Magnanimously, Nigel built shelves and installed a beautiful workbench for me.

As Virginia Woolf once advocated, I now have a room of my own.

Monday, 2 May 2016


For odd periods of my life, I have been too busy to pick up a paintbrush or wield a needle.
With my new responsibilities as a teacher, now is one of them.
But whenever Carolyn and I have met up over the years, we have taught each other crafts. 
We were meeting up at Bank Holiday and I was not going to be defeated.
I would bring the gear to do microwave silk painting (don’t ask).
Carolyn would supply the kit to crochet an owl.
Crochet an owl.
“You do crochet, right?”
“Yeah, yeah.  Of COURSE I crochet.”
Carolyn has always been (as TS Eliot once said of Ezra Pound) il miglior fabbro.
Her silk scarf turned out vivid and dashing.
However, when I attempted the owl, I kept accidentally adding in more stitches.  Soon my crochet could no longer be viewed even as an obese owl.  It had taken on the characteristics of a fruit bowl.
Looking at me almost cross-eyed with concentration, Carolyn leant over and said gently,
“Why don’t you stop now?  You can have my owl.”

Thank you, Carolyn.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Without kids

When we first had our children we were living in the North East.  Carolyn and David lived close by and they are Pascoe’s godparents.  We have now lived in the South East for nearly eighteen years but have kept alive the friendship between our two families.
Sometimes we meet up for a long weekend in Derbyshire, the midpoint. 
Nigel and David haul gallons of real ales, sacks of gastro-crisps.
Carolyn and I bring a craft to teach one another.
This Bank Holiday would be the first time without any of our kids.  Would it be okay?
We had plenty of time to chat and plenty to chat about.  The kids probably picture us discussing them and their plans, and we’ll let them think that.  In fact most of the conversation was actually about us, our jobs, our hobbies, our churches and communities.
With four of us rather than nine, we could easily opt to eat out.  Gone were the days of Carolyn and I stood grimly side by side at the kitchen bench, me slapping margarine on dozens of rounds of bread, her dolloping the tuna mayo.
We had modest lie-ins – not the doze marathons of teen-age children.  We walked modest walks, then chatted over salad lunches.
Did we think of the kids at all?  I would love to say “Did we, Hell?” but in fact they each have in their inbox texts showing lambs and bluebells. 

So we do miss them – but even so, life goes on.