Still moments

On Monday, I narrowly missed being drowned by the pouring rain as I dashed between visits. On Tuesday, I didn’t go to one home when someone didn’t comment on how cold it had got. But on Wednesday all was calm stillness. I paused for a moment to sip some hot coffee from my flask and gaze at this view, before hurrying on to my next patient.

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Three Brown Eggs

The weather has taken an autumnal turn this week just as the children have gone back to school. One of my patients sent them each a brown egg from her hens to start the term. I was unsure whether to give Finch his, still feeling cross at him over near disaster with a tin of putty. Have you seen this stuff? Everyone is making slime or playing with putty and I don’t understand it. Why would you want to play with ‘slime’ for goodness sake? I had previously banned all such substances from the house, seeing it as yet another short cut to ruined carpets, but then a friend gave Finch a tin of magnetic putty, and I had to concede, it was quite cool the way it moved around if you waved a magnet near it. Finch was to keep it in in his top drawer and always put the lid back on, but I should have listened to my instincts. 

In the middle of the night he got up, had a play with the putty and fell asleep. In the morning he was caked in the stuff and it had dried hard. Dry magnetic putty looks a lot like a spatula you’ve accidentally put in the oven, melted and left to cool. It was solid plastic, and it was stuck to everything. We soaked Finch in the bath for an hour and a half to try and get it out of his hair but to no avail. The sheets had to be thrown away. Big Dreamer had one shoe on, ready to take Finch to the Barbers, when we thought to Google for advice. Funnily enough, we are not the first people this has happened to. Amidst wailing and screaming from Finch we managed to comb out the putty using cooking oil. I did give him his egg, and I think we have firmly established that we prefer egg gifts to putty gifts in this house.

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Cloudburst

Allotment pickings by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.owlingabout.co.uk)
Allotment Pickings

Yesterday evening, from the back door, I watched a cloudburst of summer rain fall. The door was wide open to let the steam out of the kitchen. Big Dreamer had a vat of bubbling jam on the hob. It was a mongrel jam made from fruit gatherings at the allotment, none of which amounted to enough on their own to make a pedigree version. Plums quickly dissolved into syrup while blackberries rolled around on the surface. It smelt delicious. The rain started with slow giant drops that were quickly soaked up by the hot earth, and then, like a choir gathering force, more and more drops joined in until every other noise was drowned out by the chorus of cascading water. It was as if all the world had stopped to listen to the sudden deluge. I sat on a stool, watching the rain, and stitching name tags onto new school uniforms.

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Kelpies Prize 2019

Janis MacKay, Christopher Mackie, Aimee Ferrier, and Catherine Rayner

At the end of last week the Kelpies Prize winners of 2019 were announced up in Edinburgh. I say winners because this year there was a change of format to the prize. This year the Floris team were asking for samples of work from illustrators and writers rather than a completed manuscript or book cover design. There were two prizes on offer, one for an illustrator and one for a writer, winning mentoring and a publishing contract. It’s a really exciting prize and it shows how committed Floris are to nurturing home grown talent in Scotland. Congratulations to Aimee Ferrier who won the illustration prize, and to Christopher Mackie, who won the writing prize. And a huge, warm round of applause for all the shortlisted illustrators and writers too. You can read about the shortlist here. 

It looked like a great party so I was sad to not be able to make it up to join in the celebrations. Instead I followed the ceremony via pictures and messages being posted on social media. It doesn’t feel like a year since I was up there receiving my award. In lots of ways it feels longer and in other ways it feels like only yesterday! The editing process over the last year has taught me so much and I am really enjoying having the amazing team at Floris working with me to make this book the best it can be. You should see the front cover! While the experience has been overwhelmingly good, there are lots of impossible-to-answer-questions that float around in my head. Publishing is a precarious business and there are no guarantees. No matter how marvelous this book turns out to be, it may not sell. It may be the only published book I ever have to my name. When I hear people use the phrase ‘debut novel’ I wonder how they know. How do they know it’s their debut, and not their one and only book? On good days it’s easy to be philosophical about it, after all, it’s still a published book right? But on grey days, such thoughts don’t do much for my sense of self. Uncertainty means I’m straddling multiple worlds: being a mum; paying the bills with nursing; carving out time and space to write; and getting all the laundry done. Something that perks me up is the thought of going out meeting children and talking to them about reading and books when this book launches, which seems pretty wonderful to me. I already have lots of ideas for activities and topics for school visits and book events, BUT what if no one wants me to come?! Or what if they want me to come when I’m in one of my other worlds, dressing a leg ulcer or taking the kids to school, and I can’t come?

“Triumph and Disaster,” quotes my dad from the Rudyard Kipling poem, If. “Treat those two imposters just the same.” He’s right but it doesn’t help. Roll on next year’s Kelpies Prize ceremony, I say, when, no matter what happens over the next year, I intend to toast the next lot of winners with the largest glass of fizz I can find

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Home again

We are not long back from dropping Little Owl off at her Summer Sport’s Camp. Wren hummed merrily from under the pushchair rain hood while Finch was only a flicker of bright yellow mac whizzing along on his bike in the drizzly distance. Back home, dripping coats hang from hooks and soggy footwear makes puddles on the floor in the porch. Our holiday in Wales feels a long time ago. Before the weather warning hit last Friday we had enjoyed beach days, sea swims and sandy ice creams. It was a peaceful, restful time, with all the freedom and space we have come to treasure about our times away there. Back at home cucumbers were bursting out of the greenhouse door and I had only lost one sunflower to the gales.

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Vegetable robots

Little Owl won third place for her vegetable robot at the Allotment Association Show last weekend. Her’s was the cucumber one. She won a whole pound coin in prize money. Finch’s chest heaved as he wrestled with his pride of his sister and his own hurt feelings at not being placed. He was somewhat mollified when he learned that Mummy’s beetroot hadn’t been placed either. We were losers together but we had a lot of fun taking part.

Sweetpeas on the allotment by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.owlingabout.co.uk)

I discussed the beetroot category at length with another entrant who hadn’t been placed and who I had thought was a shoo in. This lady had entered a rainbow selection of beetroot: a deep red one, a golden one, and a stripy one. She, on the other hand, had thought I would win because mine were by far the biggest. As we looked at the category description again we realised what we had missed. They had wanted three matching beetroot, and ours were most definitely not matching. Ah well, there’s always next year.

The allotment is all about flowers at the moment. I have a small section I’ve grown for cutting but lots I planted as companion plants to my veggies and which have carried on merrily flowering long after their companion vegetable has been dug up. There has also been tons of stripy cinnabar caterpillars munching away on the groundsel weeds. They turn into a beautiful grey and pink moth that flies in the sunshine. A great excuse not to do too much weeding!

We are away on holiday in Wales next week so no post from me. See you on my return!

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Scrapes

There was a time, with small children, where I felt as though I was in continual scrapes. Some of them were so ridiculous and laughable that I half expected a candid camera crew to jump out. I’ve written about a fair few of them on this blog. And of course, there’s no shortage of people around to give you ‘helpful’ parenting tips at just such moments! Slowly, through trial and much error, I have got better at not getting into so many scrapes. It helps that the children are growing up, and that I go a little easier on myself too. With so much to juggle and to try to remember, its inevitable things go wrong fairly often. But yesterday, I had one of those days where it went so badly wrong that I was certain there must be hidden cameras relaying my reactions back for the entertainment of a studio audience.

I had got up yesterday morning, feeling rather proud of myself. I had remembered to book Finch some extra swimming lessons over the summer holidays to keep up his progress. The regular pool isn’t available over the summer so his lesson would be at a different pool, slightly further afield. The new pool has a climbing frame outside and a little café, so I thought it would be a nice outing for all of us. I successfully exited the house with all the children and required equipment, and we set off with time to spare for Finch’s lesson.

My first inkling that it was all going to go wrong was when Little Owl put the radio on as we drove up the slip road. The traffic announcer declared that the A38 was closed in both directions further along due to an accident and wouldn’t open again for the rest of the day. If you don’t know Devon roads, I can assure that this is a disaster. The motorway system stops at Exeter, dividing into the A380 and the A38 at the Splatford Split (yes, it really is called that). Beyond these two roads there are only tiny B-roads, quickly filtering down to even tinier lanes. I knew that the county would be at a standstill within seconds as everyone tried to find alternative routes down Devon’s narrow thoroughfares. I quickly berated myself for such negativity and pulled off at the next junction to tap our destination into my phone to use Google Maps. After all, this is what technology is for isn’t it? Google Maps would find me another way through based on live feedback from the jams on the roads. We would still make it. 

No. Google Maps decided that this would be a good time not to play ball. Okay, new strategy. We phoned Big Dreamer. Could he possibly find a different route for us and talk us through it over the phone? Yes, he could. We set off, and got back on the A38…in the wrong direction. This was because I could only hear Big Dreamer as a faint whisper, Little Owl (who was holding the phone) having accidentally turned the loud speaker off. The only option was to drive back to Exeter to turn around. Ten minutes later, we were driving up the same stretch of road, this time in the right direction, Big Dreamer and I having exchanged some choice words. I put my foot down and we sped off, trying to make up for lost time, Big Dreamer doing his best sat-nav impression. As I have mentioned, the roads got smaller and smaller, until at last, Big Dreamer asked us to turn up the narrowest of narrow lanes. Roughly the width of the entrance hall into our house, the lane was enclosed on either side by the traditional Devon bank topped with hedgerow, approximately the height of the first storey of most houses. The thin thread of tarmac beneath us was matched by a thin thread of sky far above us. 

We had gone some way when what should we see coming towards us? Only a National Express Coach! The driver looked like he was heartily cursing whoever had suggested to him that this was a viable alternative to the A38. The hedgerows down that lane will take a long time to recover after his passing. The problem for us was that by now, we had a whole queue of cars behind us, probably with their own version of Big Dreamer on the phone. But there was no arguing with that coach. We all backed up to the last passing place, which felt as though it had been at least a mile ago. On and on it went like this, getting a little further along the lane only to back up again. The children were stonily silent in the back of the car. I’m pretty sure they thought we would never get out of that lane alive. And all of this on the hottest day recorded in the UK ever.

At long last, we reached a cross roads, only to delve into more lanes that led to the swimming pool, but which were mercifully clearer. We arrived a whole hour and a half late for the swimming lesson, by which time the instructor had gone home. We may even have passed her in that lane. I won’t bore you with the details of how we got home on only 1% of my phone battery, or how we thought we’d take a little afternoon trip to the allotment, or how Wren downed everyone’s bottles of water when we weren’t looking and then peed liberally all over my allotment neighbour’s carrots, or how I picked some dahlias from the allotment to take to my friend’s party that evening only to drop them on the way home while trying to persuade Wren that it was better to walk on the pavement than in the road, or how the bunch had completely vanished when we re-traced our steps to find them. Yes, yesterday was a tip-top day.

In other news, I have to tell you that Little Owl had her last session of Brownies this week. I thought that those of you who will remember her starting would want to know. We shed a few little tears I can tell you. She’s going to start Guides in September.

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Almond Shortbread

The river banks are full of the frothy plumes of Meadowsweet which scents the air with the smell of almond shortbread. I have been making the effort to try and walk home from work now and again. At three and half miles it’s a bit of a stretch but worth it for some peace and quiet. I leave the car in the surgery car park and follow my nose along the waterways, taking in the sights, smells and sounds of the season.

Back at home it is the last week of term. Sports Day is done. School reports are out. New teachers have been met. Big Dreamer had to carry Wren home over his shoulder in a screaming bundle yesterday after pre-school. Everyone is hot and tired. It was welcome relief this morning to see the window panes speckled with rain. The atmosphere has cooled and the parched ground has gratefully soaked up the moisture. I stuck my head out of the attic window and just caught a waft of almond shortbread on the breeze.

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West Dart

Down in this valley, amongst the trees, is the West Dart. Not long after this point the West Dart joins with the East Dart to form the River Dart, from which Dartmoor gets its name. This weekend we camped on a green field down amongst those trees. It was a glorious weekend and we spent hours swimming, catching fish and tadpoles, swinging on the rope swing and bouncing down the rapids. In the evenings we wrapped ourselves up in big jumpers and supped from mugs of hot chocolate topped with marshmallows. It was the sort of weekend children’s adventure stories are made from; full of freedom, fresh air, and laughter. The thing they never mention in the adventure stories is the plethora of camping equipment we now have to work out how to tessellate back into the loft!

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Mixed bag

June has been a mixed bag for me on the allotment. Crown rot spread through the plots at our site like wild fire. I thought I had hit a new low of gardening ineptitude by managing to kill rhubarb. I didn’t think such a thing were actually possible. But it wasn’t just me. Apparently crown rot is an airborne fungus and there’s not a lot you can do to stop it. Some of the old gents on our site lost crowns that had been going for forty-odd years so there was some deep grieving going on over it. In case you’re wondering, crown rot looks like the picture above.

My potato patch looks like this. Yes, I know, lots of weeds. Ahem. The point is, where are the potatoes? They are there. Just. But they’re all yellow and covered in funny black blotches. I’m going to dig it over this week and dread to think what I will find. And of course, packets and packets of things that never came up. Or if they did, they were eaten within seconds. Only one of my kale plants germinated and was, almost instantly, eaten by the rabbit.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom. There have been some lovely surprises. The chamomile that I slaved over last year with little to show for it, has self-seeded all over the place. Butternut squash plants have sprung up from our homemade compost, so I have scooped them up and stuck them in all the gaps left by the unproductive seeds. Beetroot, broad beans, peas, chard, pumpkins and strawberries are all doing well. Who knew the buckwheat I planted as a green manure would be so pretty? (See above). I cut it down with Finch last week and mulched it in with a layer of cardboard and a snug blanket of manure. And I grew four whole dahlia flowers! I know! Dhalias?! That’s serious allotmenting! Little Owl and I made a pretty posey for the kitchen table with some of the rambling roses from the garden. Not all bad then.

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