Monday 31 May 2010

A day off

The weather forecast had said it would be cloudy here all day, so I planned to gloss-paint the dormer window. Loathsome task, and not one to tackle in sunny weather when the dormer turns into a glass oven.

So when I got up and looked at the un-forecast sunshine blazing hotly, I decided I should have a day off from all this house stuff, and answer the increasingly-frantic calls of my allotment.

When I got down there, Alan, almost 70, and the husband of the fearsome secretary who so far has held back from sending me a Warning Letter about the state of my plot, greeted me fondly. I had expected sarcasm - "Hello, stranger!" or some such  at the very least, but when I bleated feebly in response that I was going to have a go at taming the jungle, he astonished me by asking kindly if I would like a hand.

Now this is unheard of. People will offer you seeds, plantlets, produce, loan of tools, and shedloads of advice, but help with digging and weeding? Never.

And to my further astonishment, I welled up with tears. A first sure sign of over-tiredness - second is dropping heavy things on my feet or cutting my fingers with sharp things - but I was only too happy to accept.

So for the next two hours we put our backs into tackling the horror that is couch grass, pron. 'cootch' here, or wicken, not easy to get rid of under any name, and requiring a thorough approach to weeding that only the kindly help of an older person in poor health can inspire in the slovenly gardener. Those long fleshy roots need to be dug out, preferably without leaving any little broken-off rhizomes in the soil, as they will surely grow. It has healing properties, but we decided to ignore that, and treat it as an unwanted guest.

As we dug, we chatted amicably; we exchanged bits of news that we weren't to tell anyone else yet, we asked about each other's families, past and present - Alan is related to the famous 18th Century engineer George Stephenson, although his teacher hadn't believed this until his mother sent him with a note confirming the connection - and we dug a smallish area each, with great industry and thoroughness. Several wheelbarrows of the dreaded couch grass got wheeled to the river bank behind Eddie the Poisoner's plot, where it can rot quietly under the trees, and release its rich store of minerals into the earth.

Tomorrow I'll take one of the last of the remaining jars of rhubarb and ginger jam down there and leave it in Alan and Elizabeth's tidy shed as a thank you. I carted a huge amount of fresh rhubarb home with me, and will make another batch of jam tomorrow.

The dormer window can get painted another time. The To Do list is shrinking, and the house sale is not quite such a distant prospect. I have lived here for 28 years, and I can't run out of the door. It's a slow process, this dismantling of a life, and a complex one. At times, as I sift and sort, shred and burn, bundle and box, I'm conscious of the weight of history and of memories, of family happiness, troubles, separations and goodbyes, reconfiguration and adjustment, and I need to consider and absorb their meaning before moving on.

And today, a couple of hours of hard graft in the sunshine, with a pleasant companion and the sounds of birdsong to keep me at it, I felt like I was having a proper day off.

Sunday 30 May 2010

For those who give a damn....

This blogger, BugBlog,  tells all about the spiderlings - very interesting!

Never mind arachnophobia - I think I have a touch of arachnomania.....

Bank Holiday weekend


Spittal, Berwick upon Tweed

So of course it's cold, and windy, and wet. At least it is here in the North East. I'm so pleased I didn't plan a day out on one of Northumberland's beautiful beaches with ham sandwiches and a bucket and spade.

Puzzle picture

A glimmer of sun appeared for about 2 minutes earlier, and wrought changes on my new babies. Yes, folks, I'm going to stop being a cat and mouse bore, and become a garden spiderling bore....

They had been hanging in a tight droplet formation when I saw them this morning, swaying in a rather stiff breeze, and illustrating perfectly the superb strength of a near-invisible web. Last night they tucked themselves into a groove in the wooden door. As soon as the sun flickered momentarily through the cloud, they began to spread.

I'm intrigued by them, and need to learn more. How long will they stay together? How will they disperse? Do they care if it's cold or sunny? When will they start feeding? If they ignore small prey, favouring wasps and flies, do they go hungry till they grow into the adult whopper? Shall I give them all names?

Anyway, I see (mad fanatical light fading from eyes) that the poor starved clematis has picked up no end since I repotted it into a large recycling box. Very nice, dear, and it's lovely to see you growing so tall.  Keep it up.

Now I'm back inside, with socks and central heating on, watching the drizzle begin. It has a persistent look about it - Bank Holiday determination. I hope the sun is shining with all its might where you are. So unfair!

Saturday 29 May 2010


Health Warning: not a post for the faint of heart where eight-legged creatures are concerned!

Remember this? Taken last year, when I found it tucked away in the side of the back yard door. Someone told me it was a spider's cocoon, and I watched it carefully throughout the winter.

Latterly it began to have a tattered, dried-out look, and I thought that maybe the hard winter had done for its tiny inhabitants.

Until this morning.

Dozens of cute little spiderlings on the door, busy doing whatever it is they do until they can disperse. If disturbed, they scatter, but huddle together again within moments.

I'm not scared of spiders, but I don't know much about them, so I think I may need to do a little research. Such an ordinary, everyday creature, the spider, but still a marvel of Nature.

Friday 28 May 2010

OK, who said that?

Who mocked me for keeping the box of Lego? In case I ever became a Grandma?

Just say that again to my face. Or my lieutenant's. If you dare....

But bring your army.

And some back up.

Wednesday 26 May 2010

Before and After

Not really Before - that was too too dreadful to expose to the world - but During, i.e. after I'd boxed up a lot of assorted stuff in Ikea's incredibly good-value Samla boxes, and thrown a lot of assorted tat out.

There's so much stained glass and equipment! And a large box of Lego. And many photographs to sort and scan before throwing out. And the Lovely Son's school reports......

There are the head-injuring shelves and their ill-matched supports.

With all the clearing out, the truly shameful carpet re-emerged. With bald bits, torn bits, and The kind that tom cat owners would recognise. I used to have quite a number of cats, more than I do now. Even neutered ones like to spray a little eau de Tom when feeling under pressure, although so far, no one has told Hamish and Scooter that this appealing little ploy is theirs to command.

But at this age, and having been dirt cheap in the beginning, this carpet owed me nothing, as they say. Underneath:

And now, the After.

I knew there would be no way of making this room look like a bedroom, but I could make it look purposeful, and not simply an outpost of the city dump. So after a bit of scrubbing, painting, shifting boxes around, injuring my head on sharp corners, and buying some more cheap carpet, with (so far) no eau de Tom embellishment, I've settled for this: the boxroom/workroom look, a room with potential to become a second bathroom or even the bedroom it was intended to be back in Edwardian times. Probably for the skivvy.

The sewing machine on the old kitchen table was a cunning touch, I thought; no one need know that it is rarely used, and lives under its cover; the unavoidable stack of boxes opposite might even suggest that an organised, practical person lives here, who could move out in double quick time should a buyer be keen to move in.

Inside the eaves (behind that cute little door that the Lovely Son made for me) are a stack of other boxes, but no one need know about those either.

What was that? You thought you saw something unusual on the shelves? Well, of course.

It's the Project Manager. And a dog.

We think we did all right with some unpromising material. Next: wandering round the house with small paintbrushes, touching up scuffed and chipped things. Oh, and getting the carpets cleaned. The Project Manager may have to hide for that last task.

As an Army family, we grew up with my mother's edict that you always left your quarters cleaner than you found them. I can't do otherwise. It makes for a slow process, but helps me to feel that whoever buys this house won't find too many unexposed horrors after I've left.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

No photos

You can't see a picture of the mouse, because we can't find him. He ate the sunflower seeds that I left for him that first night - don't laugh! d'you think I would let him die of hunger before I could borrow my friend's humane mousetrap? and I did hear him scuttling about under the grate, but since then, there's been no more scuttling, no more little dinners.

Today, knowing that they were good Finders but hopelessly inept Killers, I let the cats back in, to sniff and search, and eventually give up. Mouse gone, perhaps? (If so, where? into the back of the sofa, living on stuffing and upholstery fabric?) The trap remains baited, although Scooter sometimes bumbles into it and springs it as he just double-checks for his live toy behind the furniture.

You also can't see the newly carpeted attic, because I haven't quite finished, there being no staples left in the gun, and a reason for that scrap of staple carton - with the required size written on it -  being in my handbag for about a year to remind me to buy more.

You also can't see my scabby bloodied head, because that would be gross, and also hard for me to take a close up picture of. Take my word for it that hitting yourself repeatedly on the sharp corner of a shelf while painting skirting boards, preparing a floor and laying a carpet results in a rather painful little scalp wound, and possibly some brain damage - but I might not have noticed the latter yet.

I won't let you see my filthy broken nails, my horrible old baggy carpet-laying trousers, and my tired old baggy face. I might be a little brain-damaged, but I still have some scrap of decency and consideration left.

Meantime, the allotment is in a terrible state, through my criminal but guilt-ridden neglect of it at this key period of the gardening year. I am expecting a Letter about it any day now, threatening expulsion if I don't pull my socks up and my dandelions out.

Oh, all right then, and entirely unrelated to anything else, you can see this.....

In my back yard: Veronica gentianoides. Pretty, isn't it? Click to enlarge, and notice the three spindly little white legs sticking out of each ballerina skirt.

Sunday 23 May 2010

Oh no, not again!

'Fraid so. Another mouse; now under the grate. 

Sentries have been posted.

And Millie? Gone out again; perhaps she's gone bulk-buying.

Tomorrow I'm borrowing some humane traps.

Saturday 22 May 2010

Not a rant about students

A nice little encounter with a student today. A large, slightly battered looking van is parked further down the street, and a young man with dreadlocks and some arty tattoos is often busy doing rather vague DIY-type jobs inside it.  I pass it as I walk the dog, but haven't done more than give a neighbourly smile. The word on the street is that he's converting it into a travelling home.

Well, that sounds thrilling! I thought with a tinge of envy, and very '60s! Today, seeing it parked in the back lane, wide open, with a portable CD player going, not too loudly, I stopped and spoke to him. And before I knew it, I was invited onto the electric up-and-down platform thing in order to step inside, and be Told All About It by an extremely pleasant boy, J, who was obviously delighted to be asked about his dream project. Yes indeed, he was turning it into his travelling home.

His parents had tried and failed to get to India in the '60s in a converted van, reaching as far as Turkey; J wanted to give it a go himself, also aiming for India. He was just at the stage of insulating the sides of the van, and sketched out for me with waving arms his plans for a small kitchen, windows and what he termed 'legal seats'. Touchingly, he said it was a good excuse to buy some great tools. 

He thinks it will take a year to get the van ready for the trip. I tried not to think about how old the van was looking now, and how it might cope with a voyage of more than 4000 miles, followed by the pandemonium of Indian roads.

I've been on Indian roads. Nerves of steel are required, plus an updated will and a resigned attitude. In 1991 I had all of those necessities:

At the end of our rather jolly 15-minute conversation, I knew quite a lot about J, and I came away with an invitation to keep looking in on his progress, but I also received a wonderful reminder of the power and reach of youthful dreams before the harsher realities of life impact on them. I've been thinking since of how easily that happens to us when we're young, the pressures to conform, get a job, make money, steadily overtaking and eroding the dream, the wide horizon, the actual living of life in pursuit of freedom.

I hope he doesn't lose that lovely optimism and energy; I hope he finishes his travelling home, and I hope he does make that trip. 

Later, I walked down the lane and left my old map of India on the platform of the van for him; a tiny contribution to someone else's dream.

Friday 21 May 2010

A Prize

And the Mouser of the Month Award goes to..................


Millie and Scooter?



The dog? Hardly. She wouldn't even look.


Mouser of the Month is.......................



(And yes, I feel awful for taking those pictures - I stepped in when I realised that the poor little mouse wasn't giving up without a fight, and might actually survive.  It's now down in the Dene, where I hope it will live to tell the tale of its 36 hours of terror in the land of the inept.)


I've done all the sorting I need to in the small attic, and it looks like a proper box room/work room, with tidy shelves and the sewing machine on the table.

In all the heaving about of long-forgotten boxes, I found, amongst other ancient vinyl LPs, these treasures, probably completely unplayable now after teenage years of primitive record players and dull needles:

Ah, Keith! How I loved you when I was sixteen!

For those who asked, the mouse hasn't exactly been found, but it has moved into the back kitchen. A very alert little tabby cat takes turns with Scooter to stand guard at this gap.

Meanwhile, I'm on mouse alert too: I spot them everywhere, out of the corner of my eye:

Millie is unimpressed.

Fake, she says. No quivering.

No squealing.

No fun.

Like Estorbo says: "Th".

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