Wednesday 28 July 2010

He's home

With bike, in order to cycle around all the haunts of his youth, and to say goodbye to his old home. He doesn't think he'll come back to Newcastle after I move away.

And then he's off to cycle through Vietnam.

But meantime, he's all mine for a week. My Lovely Son.

All is right with my world.


Got this from Suse at Peasoup. Just the sort of thing you need when life amongst the packing boxes is getting too serious.

Monday 26 July 2010

The Potato Whisperer

Many weeks ago, Elspeth down the road had a great idea for a street event.

Later, she and Catherine opposite came round the doors delivering a compost-filled grow-bag and allowing us to choose a single seed potato to grow in it. A number of households took part, and many front gardens had their potato grow-bag in full view. Mine went in the back yard, with not quite enough sunlight at first, but where it wouldn't damage a row of lavender out in the front.

Being busy and distractable with house-selling stuff, I forgot to photograph it (you can just see the bag on the right, in a crowded corner of the yard) but did remember to water it, and left it largely to its own devices, unloved and unencouraged, monitored only by the cats. Snails moved in, loving the cool dark dampness of the grow-bag.

But it grew.

Sandra, not usually a competitive person, showed herself in a new light; she was determined to win this competition. Every walk up or down the street had to include careful scrutiny of all potato bags, with critical comparison of foliage size and evidence of watering. Some households had never grown a potato before; others had productive allotments and experienced growers. Sandra didn't care; she was determined to beat them all.

Every evening, Sandra's potato was watered and gazed upon, and willed to grow - bigger, bigger, faster, faster, more, more! It had to be the prize-winning champion tater! Was she............ whispering to it? we murmured anxiously.

Lesley, potato novice, worried about the extent of her potato's luxuriant foliage, and pruned it, in case its leaves sapped its roots of productive oomph. She couldn't understand why I laughed at her. But there would be a booby prize; perhaps she would win something after all.

On Saturday, the grand weighing-in ceremony was staged at the end of the street. Food, drink, music and electronic scales were provided. Elspeth was delighted.

There was a good turnout, with lots of children, the carers from across the road with their chronically-disabled* charges, and some new neighbours who were given the opportunity to meet the rest of us in a very jolly atmosphere. Photos were taken, there was talk of another street event next year, and even a newsletter.

Tosca and I had gone down, carrying my potatoes and Lesley's too, as she was away; Millie joined us and spent the next hour wild with excitement, charging about across the grass and round the humans. Tosca scrounged shamelessly, and was much petted by small children. Later she did her impression of the Roomba, working over a large area of grass for dropped morsels, hoovering them up eagerly.

Millie preferred insects.

Suzy was the independent judge, and gave a lively performance; potatoes were both weighed and counted, and prizes were given out to cheers and applause.

Results varied wildly. Sadly, Lesley's crop of 9 small potatoes didn't win the booby prize - her pruned potato had to yield that honour to another household, who had failed entirely to remember to water their grow-bag, producing 6 tiny pebble-like results. The booby prize was as well-received as you would expect in a household with three young boys: a box of sweets and a whoopee cushion. Some sympathy was extended to their dad, who would be driving to France with the family and the prizes the following day.

And the winner?

It had to be Sandra - all that care, the whispering, the intensity of will and focus, had produced wonderful results.

And my effort? Not brilliant, but delicious.

I'm going to miss my neighbours, and Bacteria Gardens, very much.

* "Chronically-disabled" sounds terribly un-PC; sorry. I have no idea what the latest approved term is. But the people concerned came from a long-stay hospital, to be resettled in the community with 24-hour care, in an average sort of house, and I have watched them blossom over the years, achieving a degree of ordinariness in their everyday lives that no one ever dreamt possible. A joy to behold.

Saturday 24 July 2010

And take one step back

The house buying dance goes like this:

Step forward in stately fashion; view a house.
Pause. Think briefly. Request opportunity to have a second viewing whilst in area. Tenants refuse; viewings have a 4-hour window, and it's shut.
Take one step back. Return to starting position, 300 miles away, think some more. 
Advance one step, holding skirt, pointing toes daintily. Make offer. Stipulate vacant possession; check tenants made aware of proposed purchase.

Hop, skip, lightly; offer accepted.
Curtsey to all corners, smiling. Ignore absence of partner (buyer of your own house) who remains silent in the wings.
Perform restrained hornpipe, paying particular attention to the part where you put your hand across your forehead, as though looking out to sea, searching for partner.

Step back. Partner still in shadows. Dance remains solo effort. Tenants' notice period ends early October, not September as originally told. 
Pause. Draw breath, remembering not to hyperventilate. Keep arms and feet tidily in position; no hand-wringing or looking around frantically for missing partner.

Twirl prettily on the spot for a while. Try not to pull disagreeable faces; endeavour to look cool, collected. Twirling must look easier than it is. Don't wobble.

Partner remains absent. Try not to fret; concentrate on maintaining momentum and grace, smiling determinedly. Take care not to stamp your feet.

Hop, skip, advance in lively polka fashion. Tenants in hurry to vacate house; need to settle in new place before September when child will be in school.

Raise arms, increase tempo, perform small jig on the spot. Hum along with the music.

Advance and fall back, several times, try not to imagine that partner has gone off to dance/buy house elsewhere. Hissed messages from the wings indicate that he is late, that's all. Emulate Joyce: stately as a galleon....

Pause. Hold arms gracefully. Turn toes out. Hold position. Hold....hold... Tenants not moving in a hurry after all; now in their own house-purchase dance. October move seems more likely.

Hold position. Keep smiling. Try not to look demented while smiling. Try not to scream, or hit someone. This bloody dance will end somehow, sometime, and you can take the red shoes off.

Friday 23 July 2010

Thinking about it another way...

I'm not sure why I'm being so nervy about this move. After all, here I am at home all day in my own house, packing up at my own speed (or dead-slowness), with time to bake, read blogs, walk the dog. The chaos is created entirely by me, and the remedy is in my own hands. (No, not more cake, sillies!)

Instead, I should think sympathetically about my buyer, young doctor-in-a-hurry - he has to finish one job (in Southampton, way down on the south coast) and move the following day to a new one (in currently-cold and grey Newcastle upon Tyne, 324 miles away) at the start of August, knowing no one, move into temporary digs, and buy my house at the same time. I think I might have the better end of this stressful process, somehow. And probably more cake.

We get cross up here when southerners - for that read mainly Londoners - regard anywhere north of Watford Gap (77 miles from London) as being as remote as deepest Siberia. More than 200 barbarian-infested miles still to go before you reach here, I'm afraid. Scotland gets even crosser than us, but that's another nationalist story....

Anyway, the young woman in the Somerset estate agency dealing with my new house (look for Minehead - it's near there, and please notice the confident "my"?) can go a lot better than any Londoner in her cautious interpretation of the geography of our tiny crowded island. She told me that the vendor had "moved North." Could this be somewhere like Manchester, say, a good 3 hours' drive south-west from here? Or Carlisle? Berwick upon Tweed? They're all North.

Then the other day the papers revealing everyone's addresses and solicitors arrived, and I noticed with glee that the vendor lives in Ascot.  Just to the left of London....

I shall check if I will need a passport and a survival kit to travel out of the South West in future. It looks like there's going to be an awful lot of North to contend with.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Trying hard to be cool about it all

Waiting.... grumbling....

Will this house ever have its survey carried out? Only then - well, actually, only after the survey report has been received and accepted by doctor-in-a-hurry-with-the-slowest-mortgage-provider-in-the-world, will I feel confident about the entire house-moving carry on.

We are living in cardboard box land; removers' boxes with some other family's labelling: towels, clipper set. We don't have a clipper set, but we do have an awful lot of linen. And china. And fabric. And books. And cat beds. And attitude from the cats.

Millie sits above the front door a lot.

Lottie follows me everywhere.

As do the boxes.

It's not pleasant, living like this, half-packed, preparing to go, yet without a time frame for any of it. The house looks terrible; messy, chaotic, disorganised, like my thoughts. I veer from my usual mantra: "All will be well" to stabbing anxiety: "What if it doesn't work out?"

A small scream sounds in my head from time to time, and is fed with chocolate; it won't do to put weight on now - my roomier clothes are in those boxes.

Must try harder.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Sweet treat

I very rarely eat bread, so when I do, a  crusty, white, unsliced loaf is what I choose. Wholemeal doesn't offer the same treat appeal.

Not being in the mood for baking, with a house full of half-filled cardboard boxes looking reproachfully at me, I bought a small organic loaf simply for this: a slice of bread, butter, and some home made gooseberry jam.

Worth every calorie, carb and frisson of non-wholegrain guilt.

Monday 19 July 2010

Summer in a jar

A jam jar, to be precise.

No problem with getting this jam to set!

And the taste? Surprisingly like raspberries, with a hint of goosegog.

One of those little bushes will definitely be coming with me to Somerset.

Sunday 18 July 2010

Boxing days

They're upstairs


In my lady's chamber

All waiting to be filled....

Lots to do!

Thursday 15 July 2010

Quiet time

Nothing much is happening on the surface. Behind the scenes, the solicitors are busy doing their solicitory thing; surveyors will come next.

Meanwhile, I'm packing, and staying positive, and hoping that the tenants in the house I'm buying will get moved - as they themselves hope to do - earlier than their notice period says they must.

Next month I will visit the house again, armed with tape measures and notebook, camera and a clear head, and prepare the way.

For today, though, I have a new book, and a cupful of sweet dark cherries, and life is good.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Vicarious road trip update

Remember this post?

Not a rant about students

but about Joss down the road and his dream of converting a van in which to reach India?

It clearly struck some chord in those of us who may have longed for their own youthful road trip, and some of you asked to be kept informed. Recently I met a rather despondent Joss, who said that he'd been to Glastonbury (of course) and that something dreadful had gone wrong with the beloved van on the way home. It was going to cost a fortune to put right. I didn't get the details, but I picked up on the general disappointment, doom and gloom.

Two days ago, however, Joss and a friend passed me on the street - on a tandem  - and he called out cheerfully that they had been building the bed for the van. I gathered from this that the end-of-life stage for the dream home had not yet been reached after all.

Yesterday, the van was back in the lane; Joss was busy putting a platform bed together, and hoping to get to Budapest next week. That would test the new engine. You have to hand it to him - he's not a boy to be knocked down for long!

I can't move to Somerset and not keep up with how far he gets with his van, his energy, and his wonderful irrepressible optimism, and those of you who grew up in the '60s know you'll want to know too.

So here you go - you can follow the adventure here on his new blog, creative spelling and all:

Monday 12 July 2010


Coming out of my yard door into the back lane this morning, I encountered two young men at theirs, at the house opposite, recently vacated by students and now re-let after major cleaning, throwing out, and restocking with furniture. We said hello, and the cats and dog crowded round me in that unashamedly nosy way they have with newcomers and other people's open back doors.

The young men asked me what day was bin day, and we chatted for a while. They were pleasant and talkative, and I said something about them being students, whereupon one of them said hastily "Oh, we're not students any more! We're young professionals!"

And no, I didn't chuckle. Not outwardly, anyway.

Saturday 10 July 2010


Gooseberries. Three little bushes, unpruned, overgrown, entangled with bindweed, and yet so generous!

The small red gooseberry bushes are laden with fruit. These are all I picked today, but there are so many more yet to harvest, with the usual mortification of the flesh that gooseberry bushes, with their fierce thorns, like to inflict on the picker.

Thorns hadn't deterred the wood pigeons, who had already stripped the large and prolific green gooseberry bush of almost every single fruit. Maybe being overgrown, entangled, etc. saved these red ones.

I am planning my farewell to the allotment, marking out those plants from which to take seed heads, roots or cuttings, dividing and potting-up the buckler-leaved sorrel and the rhubarb, regretting leaving the little pear tree, with its first-ever fruits, but definitely not regretting the indestructible couch grass.

The peas, beans, beetroot and potatoes are coming along nicely, despite a late start for some of them; I may even get to harvest them before I move. There are strawberries, a few red and black currants, and a carpet of sorrel.

In the wildest corner, with its mixture of nettles, pulmonaria, lemon balm, a salvaged rose, many weeds and some tough, tall perennials is the burial place of three of my old cats, under a mossy stone, long overgrown too, and no longer visible. A place that in life they would have loved.

I'm ready to leave the allotment behind now. It taught me much about my ignorance, failings and lazinesses with regard to 'proper' gardening, and my blind optimism and sudden bursts of energy; I won't be quite so over-ambitious in future, and I will be more methodical. Standard gardeners' promises, I know!

I will remember it with great fondness; therapeutic after my mother died, when my evenings were suddenly free, soothing to a stressed working woman with too much on her mind, and humbling in its ferocious demonstrations of Nature winning every time. I'll exchange it for a tamer garden, but hope that I can recreate there the peace, the soft wildness, the spirit of sanctuary, that my unruly but beloved allotment represented.

Thursday 8 July 2010

Touching wood

This is the hellish Waiting Time... the time when checks are made, papers drawn up, mortgage arrangements agreed, surveyors instructed to survey. Nothing is happening that I can see yet, so I'm sitting at home, slowly packing one house up and dreaming, thinking, planning another, but hideously aware that much could go wrong at this stage.

I am the mostly-grateful recipient of shedloads of advice and instruction. Willing helpers, most of whom still appear to think I am completely mad, are offering help with the eventual move, and I accept it all. A veritable convoy of friends will be moving ahead of me and with me; I will even have company in the car when it is finally laden with yowling cats and a vomiting dog for a very long drive from the North East to the South West. There's friendship for you, despite the upset feelings.

Frequently, I touch wood. People ask how the sale is going; I touch wood and say little; I can't quite say with confidence that I've sold this house - maybe that won't happen until I hand the keys over after signing the final papers. People ask where I'm going; I touch wood and tell them, adding "If nothing goes wrong." I am beset with nervous fears, fantasies and anxieties. I have unpleasant dreams; I wake at dawn; I listen to whatever is on the radio: farming programmes, the daily prayer, the shipping forecast. I touch wood when thoughts of my new house spring to mind.

I ponder what moving into a village will mean. Will it make me a villager? Maybe not; I was never a city girl all the years I lived here. I hope I won't be an Incomer for long, stared at in the Post Office.

I make sketchy plans in my head for a garden, much longed-for all these years and now soon to be mine - touch wood. I love the idea of being able to walk to the shops, the bank, the open countryside. I look at my house on Google Earth, and marvel that - touch wood - I could be living in it some time soon. I am amazed at how little I remember of the house when I viewed it, except for loving it; sadly, the horrible stinky house viewed immediately before remains a violently memorable experience.

I look often at the photos that Lizzie, female spy par excellence, took for me from a moving car. My house; my garden; my ivy-clad stone wall; my little road. Touch wood.

I tell the dog that soon she will have a lovely new home. She looks at me without understanding a word; to her, home is wherever I am. The cats will give me a hard time, I suspect, but they will come to learn that they have moved to a little piece of heaven. Touch wood.

And I don't want to wait too long: I want it to be Soon!
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