Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Teachers, tights and tantrums

Confidence, an anchor that can't be weighed, a sail that can't be set, becalmed in a sea of ideas, inspiration flutters in and on the canvas but not enough to move the craft along

Holly and I have just taken our morning walk, and what a lovely walk it was, the low bright sun flattering and flattening, creating crisp long shadows and iridescent colours.

To carry on this years’ seasonal confusion autumn seems to be optional, while some trees
rattle their leaves in defiance the wind has picked others to the bone.The grass is still green and luminescent, polka dotted with red campion and fringed with fierce nettles that have made the most of the lack of competition and grown angry and strong.

Our morning constitutional took us past the village school, a clump of buildings from the 1800’s that even with the addition of an extension is still small.

When I was a pupil, the school was just two buildings that nudged slightly uncomfortably up to each other. They watched over a little playground that was enclosed by a low fence and some bushy trees. 

A small orchard rustled at the back of the larger building and our modest sports field lay to the side of the smaller one, a strip of lush grass not big enough for a track but perfect for the egg & spoon and sack races that we ran on sports day.

The trees are still in the playground and a fence of similar stature still contains it, but sadly this square of tarmac that once rang with the laughter and shouts of children, has fallen silent and empty like so many village schools.

I still vaguely remember my first day and like for most children, it was a day of tears and tantrums. Mum wanted to walk me the short distance to the school but she worked on the land and so was usually dressed in black oilskins and even at that early age I wasn’t keen to be seen with her or hold her hand.

Amongst the usual play and painting of this momentous day there must have been a point where we had been taught to write our names, as when I got home and proudly showed my parents the days labour, dad’s reaction wasn’t what I expected, he was angry, my name was wrong. He was very proud of being a McDonald not a MacDonald

The smaller of the two buildings was the infant's classroom, dark, high and polished to my memory. A schoolteacher from a bygone age, strict and stern, taught us about far away lands and fairy tales. One of my most vivid memories though was an occasion when she smelt something un towards so we all had to take it in turns to go behind a shelf to have our pants checked by her. I can tell you even though I hadn't done anything I was nearly scared into it.

The larger of the two buildings doubled as the juniors classroom and the canteen. The dinners weren't cooked at the school but were delivered by a man in a burgundy red Ford Corsair, which the very sight of was enough to make your tummy rumble. We would watch him with greedy eyes un load the big metal containers full of food, drooling at what delights they may hold. 

Unlike some people I have fond memories of school dinners: roast meat and boiled vegetables, spam and salad, bananas and custard, rice pudding and syrup, semolina and jam, butterscotch tart and even sago, I liked them all.  However, among all these delicious delicacies were two things that I dreaded above all else, cheese pie and onion sauce.

I hated cooked cheese as a child and this soggy pastry smeared with bubbling greasy bright orange goo didn’t do anything to appease my aversion to it. The onion sauce was no better, thick white liquid with huge lumps of semi-cooked onion suspended in it.

What made cheese pie or onion sauce days all the more terrifying was there was no option at our school to leave your dinner, even if you didn’t like it. To ensure clean plates the teacher would stand guard over you, jabbing you until every last hideous morsel was loaded into your reluctant mouth.

I can still recall the involuntary gag reflex as the cheese pie made contact with trembling taste buds before being thrown down my throat. Luckily for me at least, these barely masticated lumps carried on their downward journey but I do remember one poor kid with a dislike for milk puddings not being so lucky and throwing it all back up into the very bowl he was being forced to eat it from.

So scarring was this experience that I was well into my twenties before I could get past the smell of cooked cheese and enjoy the delights of pizzas, lasagnes and even cheese on toast.

I guess there must have only been about thirty pupils in the whole school so it was a very family like atmosphere. They were a mixed bunch but generally from similar backgrounds, with the exception of some of the farmers’ kids, though truth be told though there wasn’t many signs of wealth even from them. There was one exception, a boy whose mother was a particularly glamorous farmers wife.

Now I’m not casting aspirations on any of the other mothers, including my own, they were practical and pretty but in comparison to these hardworking wholesome women she was like a movie star. A beautiful blond Scandinavian who drove her son to school in a succession of exotic bright red sports cars. To young to appreciate the beauty but oh how I dreamt of a ride in those cars.

My short lived acting career began and ended at Aby school with an inauspicious start and wholly embarrassing finale. My first role was non-speaking but I did get to be at the front of the stage, using my budding talent to play a weed.

Now if playing a piece of flora wasn’t bad enough, the costume called for me to wear thick green girls woollen tights and as a boy with no dramatic pretensions this didn’t sit well, ensuring a sleepless night and a morning of pleading to no avail on the big day. I was unceremoniously dragged to school, jostled into my position and told to wave like a weed in the wind. I preceded to refuse this and all other direction and simply glower at the gathered audience.

However, some of my natural talent must have shone through in this premier performance as in the next production I was chosen to play the lead, prince charming. This was not only a speaking role but one where my range and patience were to be stretched even further. 

The finale called for me to kiss the princess, a girl who was suffering from a cold, lack of a hankie and was obviously saving the sleeves on her princes costume for something special. When the time for the closing ahhh moment came and she puckered up and moved in close I could see the glistening liquid trail from her nostrils to her mouth, prompting me to go off script to the embarrassment of my mum and shout to her “I don't want to kiss her she’s got a snotty nose” I don't think they appreciated any add libbing so I was never asked to be in a play again. 

This girl and I seemed to have knack at embarrassing situations, a few years later when we were in the junior class, we had come to an impasse in an argument we were having, so in my wisdom I thought the only way to bring this to a close was to ask the teacher. I dutifully put up my hand and when told to speak I said, “miss she says babies come from your bum, but they don’t you have to have an operation don’t you?" Even though the teacher was a little red faced, she didn't miss a beat and told us we could talk about it later, I don't think we ever did though.

There were only two teachers in the school, the aforementioned slightly scary one and the headmistress, a kind and calm lady from Wales. She tutored us at a mellow pace, encouraged my interest in drawing, even if the subject matter was limited to Spitfires, knights in armour, vikings and the occasional horse. Our stories were listened to and tolerated, no matter how long and rambling, she brought history alive and there was even time for us to learn our tables at a pace that suited our abilities. 

All this was brought into stark contrast when I was torn from this comfortable village  environment and thrown into the impersonal pace of the much larger Alford primary in my last year. Here it seemed like lessons were a series of tests by a procession of angry teachers.
In the summer we played the usual games of cricket, rounders or running on our cosy field, but when the season changed and the leaves fell we would take a short walk up the road to the old village hall and partake in an activity that at the time seemed normal but on recall seems slightly odd. No gymnastics or calisthenics for us it was country dancing. We were given partners and whirled, twirled, spun and skipped to the refrains of highland flings and the like. 

As we enter into the holiday period I miss those early school days the most. The classroom became like Father Christmas' workshop, with the role of the elves taken by the pupils. We busily made paper chains and calendars from old christmas cards. We collected fir cones and teasels from the fields and sprayed them gold. Every box, board or ball seemed to be covered in cotton wool or tissue paper and dusted with glitter . Every wall twinkled and the ceilings echoed with colour, dinner was a festive feast and we shouted carols at the top of our voices.

It's a pity these voices won't be heard here again.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Meat & two veg

I sometimes feel that I spend more time listening to people talk about food than eating it, although the uncomfortable squeeze that I’ve felt recently putting on my trousers belies that idea.

The fact that I’m a vegetarian often excludes me from some of this culinary conversation where my moral choice is often viewed with a certain amount of suspicion, anger and definitely as a self -induced affliction, but more of all that later.

Well I just want to make the point that I wasn't born a veggie. I caught it. Probably from the cows that almost brought me up, (if you’ve read my earlier posts you’ll understand that one). 

Anyway, my parents were from Hull so fish in all its varied forms flowed through their DNA and as I was born and bred in Lincolnshire, which it could be argued is like a rural food factory or in trendier terms a giant farmers market, food and it’s fuelling for activity were always high on my agenda.

Even though the shop had closed, Aby was always well served with a different delivery van for all of our food needs. There was the bakers, the butchers, the fish, the greengrocers and on a Thursday night, the grocery van, my favourite. The excitement of when the shop keeper opened the doors of his big blue Volkswagen van to reveal a motorised pirates cave, stuffed to the roof with sugary bounty still makes my mouth water and my teeth ache. 

Now I couldn't possibly talk about food without talking about mum.

Delicate and dainty were words that couldn't be used to describe her or her cooking, she only cooked meals that would feed a minimum of 8 even when there was only 3 of us left at home. Freshly baked, roasted, boiled, fried or steamed, we may have been as poor as peasants but we ate like kings.

I don’t ever remember a time when I saw her relax, but also I never heard her complain about her lot that much either, things were the way they were and you just had to get on with it, though when I think back and even though flour fingered glasses often obscured them, there was a hint of sadness and distance in her eyes, which I guess is often the case with those whose formative years were stolen by bombs and blackouts.

I don’t think she ever realised what a sofa or chair was for, her back never graced the comfy bits, she was always ready to jump up to do what ever we bade. In fact in later life I would always try and get her to relax by pushing her back into the sofa but it was like trying to level a rocking chair, too long had she held that position.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression, she was physically strong and while it took a while to make her loose it, her temper had you running for any door with a lock.

I remember seeing her and my mad aunt leaving a group of street fighting combatants in a state of shock and horror at Hull fair as they were battered about their bodies by these crazy warrior women wielding coconut laden bags, screeching that they shouldn’t be fighting because there were kids about. 

I was always of the opinion that fragile bags full of cannonball like coconuts being wheeled like medieval maces, were probably more of a risk to any children in the vicinity than the testosterone fuelled struggles of youths, but I suppose it could have been worse it could have been the goldfish we’d won.

I suppose through circumstance rather than planning, my parents had a make do attitude but even when times had got better, this attitude teetered on the insane. We had what must have been the first ever electric kettle, brown enamel and looking exactly like the type you put on top of a stove. This weird electrical hybrid's element would burn out every couple of months  meaning a trip to a strange little shop as old as the kettle to get an expensive replacement.   

When we finally got a fridge, it was giant, second hand and probably from the 50's and something I always opened with a slight sense of trepidation after the time I had come face to face with a live crab.  Even though all of these objects would be very stylish and trendy now, at the time they were a real embarrassment.

Once I came home from school to find mum cooking our tea wearing industrial rubber gloves up to her armpits and dad's wellingtons, when I questioned this new look she pointed out that it was because she kept getting electric shocks from our ancient cooker when she pricked the sausages.

However, the scullery may not  have been well appointed but oh the wonders she could produce there. All her dishes were of the peasant variety made from whatever was to hand or left over, nothing was thrown away. 

Huge stews in her old tin pot, the size of a washing up bowl, the scrumptious sea of thick meat and vegetables obscured by a sky of fluffy dumplings. 

Sunday roasts were feasts that featured some of my most favourite things 'crunchy dumplings', the same as she used in the stews but placed by the meat in the oven so they would be crispy on the outside and as soft as clouds on the inside. Giant golden yorkshire puddings that drifted across roasting tins, crispy at the edges but slightly squidgy in the centre. Roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, sausage stuffing and vegetables created mountains on our plates that thick onion gravy ran down like lava. 
She did wonders with pastry, whether puff, flakey or short crust it was tasty and thick, creating a perfect home for every conceivable filling. These pies would come in a variety of shapes and sizes, like some kind of culinary Russian doll set, until all the pastry was used up. One of my favourite was egg and bacon, every thick slice was a rough mix of yellows and whites punctuated with juicy pink pieces of ham.

There always seemed to be scones on offer which was nice, but what was even better was when she made a version of bread & butter pudding with them, spongy and sweet, perfect for thick yellow custard. Everybody's favourite cake was her ginger Parkin, the recipe is still debated and searched for by the family like a lost treasure. It was moist and sticky. Perfect with milky sweet tea.

Strange as it sounds the biggest treat and the thing I miss most is her bread. The timing had to be just right as she said it wouldn't rise if you didn't feel well, but when she did, the gorgeous baking smell would have me running from whatever, tree, den or hiding place I happened to be in.  These hot flat cakes had a thick crust that when cut open revealed a luna landscape just waiting to be filled with melting butter.

The food we ate would probably be seen as fashionable now as the archaic equipment it was prepared on, never processed or packaged, the meat was fresh from the bone, vegetables from the field, and fish straight from trawlers, but as a kid schooled in the advertising of the 70's where fresh meant frozen, meat was in plastic pockets, chips were crinkle cut and sausages neat and tidy, I sometimes longed for the uniformness of these everyday items.

 Our sausages were from the butchers, great big black spicy exploding Lincolnshire ones, ham came from the hocks that seemed to be forever bubbling on the stove, even the mushrooms (one of the only vegetables I didn't like as a child) were giant field mushrooms that turned black when they were cooked, not the small button type you saw been flicked into  pans on the telly.

But isn't it always the case that you don't know how lucky you are at the time and even though I'm happy being a vegetarian, the idea of going back to gorge on this food as left my taste buds distinctly nostalgic. 

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Trick or treat

A sky whipped into fire above fields of straw rolled into Catherine wheels, horses given free reign from the rain gallop with manes singed by the flame above. 

Trees, hills and houses, their dimensions stolen by the blaze, appear as scorched silhouettes, theatrical cut outs the only indication of where the sky ends and the land begins.

Memory fails me, I'm not sure if it is always like this or the garden's mischievous nature this year is lulling me into a false sense of seasonal calm. It continues to be reborn, flourishing and flowering even while the nights draw in and my evening walks are unnerved by the scuttle of dried leaves pursuing me down the track and through the spinney.

There's a sound clash of summers whispers and autumns crackle as they compete for the attention of the wind, overdubbing, mixing and fading to make a new seasons soundtrack.

The insects seem to be as confused as me, (or in on the joke), a few bees who must be weary from a summer of work still seem to be bumbling amongst the flowers. The flowers themselves that should be resting or at the very least putting on their winter woollies, seem happy with the company. Recently a humming bird moth, my first of the year, busied itself around the bushes whilst a dragonfly, like a storm tossed helicopter patrolled the flower beds, wheeling and banking to rescue its lunch from the seasonal gusts.

There are some seasonal indicators that have slipped my notice, the swallows left as quickly and quietly as they came and the squadrons of geese that had been practicing their air born manoeuvres over cottage for the last few weeks have obviously completed enough dummy runs and secretly taken off on their mission to warmer climes.

Even though the skies have lost these visitors there's still a lot of airborne action, our ever faithful barn owls patrol the meadow and the clouds of jackdaws swirl, seemingly with a distinct lack of purpose, that is until they spy the buzzards which they hurriedly harry.

It does amaze me how all these birds manage without air traffic control, I stood by the dovecot early the other evening enjoying watching the ducks fly like noisy spitfires in ever decreasing circles, before crash landing from the darkening sky onto the Belleau Spring. I admired the skill and finesse that these sometimes comical birds commanded, however, as I watched their tight knit formation I was amazed to see two of them fly into each other and nearly drop from the sky.

The drama of the weather predictors hints at snow in the forthcoming weeks, if the gardens behaviour isn't intentional, what a shock the flora and fauna will get. The question is now to cut or not cut, is it selfish of me to want to keep the gloom at bay with all this colour?

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Holiday observations from behind the beard part 3

Well,  I think apologies are in order because I am so far behind on my blogging that some of the following posts are hardly going to seem topical.

Anyway this is the final part of the holiday observations, I promise.

If in doubt shout
So, interestingly due to me haunting many of the same eateries and drinkeries on a daily basis, I was able to become very familiar and on friendly terms (in a non speaking capacity) with a lot of the same people, even if they didn't know it. I do realise this was not very scientific of me.

I new what they ate, what they drank and in one case what they planned to do for sustenance at least 4 days in advance, so it was intriguing that even though a lot of the eating and drinking habits of my new pals were often so predictable it would make a cow in a large meadow seem experimental, they didn't bother to learn the Spanish names for any of these items.

Instead, in the good old British way they tended to either talk very slowly making them sound slightly dense and condescending, or shout, because obviously Spanish people are hard of hearing.

Now I have no real aptitude for language, I took French at school and even though it would be easy to blame my failings in this subject on the fact that my tutor spoke french with an unbelievably  strong Yorkshire accent,  that is if it wasn't for the fact that lots of other people in the class managed very well, even if their pronunciation may have been a little off.

I remember in my French aural exam my teacher had said don't be nervous, if you can't remember the French word just use the English one, well as I recall we had the most marvellous conversation about buying fruit in the market, if it was hot or cold etc and I thought it had all gone very well until my teacher couldn't hold back at the end saying 'stupid boy you used more English than French'.

Never the less, even against these linguistic odds, I try whenever possible to try and use Spanish words often to the bemusement of the waiting staff as they speak perfectly good English and my stumbling over words probably takes far longer than if I just shouted my order at them.

One particularly cringe worthy case of Brits refusal of attempting to utilise any form of local lingo was when I witnessed a cockney girl screeching 'waugh-ah, waugh-ah WAUGH-AH!' at some confused waiter, becoming so irate that her boyfriend had to be called to sort out the problem. He gallantly stepped in to aid his damsel in distress adding his voice to the order, "she wants WAUGH-AH! WAUGH-AH..." now this could have gone on for some time if the waiter hadn't finally realised what the girl was requesting and said oh "you want water".

Now a second incident leads me nicely on to another observation. On the night of the rainstorm I was sitting in the market square watching the ensuing chaos from a restaurant with a lovely big awning. I had just used my best Spanish to order my evening meal, so was waiting with bated breath to see if a vegetable lasagne or a new hat would turn up to the table, when an English couple bustled up and sat down at the table next to me.

They impatiently waved over the waitress where the wife took charge of the situation asking "do you have any cake?" to which the waitress replied "yes, chocolate and cheese". The lady looked at her partner who turned his nose up, before she retorted "who has ever heard of a chocolate and cheese cake?" The poor waitress said no "chocolate cake or cheese cake" Obviously, no apology was forthcoming and the waitress was dispatched with an order of "two pieces of chocolate cake,  coffee.......with milk!".

The couple instantly got out their most treasured possessions, their iPhones (I could tell were treasured because not only were they in personalised pochettes they were also in protective cases) and proceeded to ignore their surroundings and each other apart for the occasional rapport of what highly entertaining thing they had just witnessed on line.

Now this to me is one of the most important observations, everyone seemed to have iPhones, old, young, middle aged, middle income or fair to middling.

The vistas and views shrank and vanished to miraculously appear on finger smudged screens, sweaty palms holding snippets and snaps of a world, small in comparison to the world wide web.

People huddled around these devices, admiring the majestic landscapes they had just stolen, while the scene in all it's glory shone out in front of them.

Why savour the moment when you own it in miniature?, why appreciate the experience when there's an App that does it for you?, memory is a weight that slows you down, i have 32gb on my phone.

Anyway I think this is something for another post, but it did lead to some funny moments, there was an old chap in the hotel who hadn't realised that there is an option of view on the iPhone camera, so had managed to take 34 pictures of himself.

Obviously, there were many more observations as well as lots of people behaving in a perfectly fine manner, but  frankly, the holiday seems so far away now, it is making me a little sad to write about it.

Normal posts will resume.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Holiday observations from behind the beard part 2

Arrived safely in Majorca and due to my clever folding skills and bulging pockets, I side stepped baggage reclaim and was delivered via a courtesy bus to the car rental place. 

Oh behave!  - I packed everything but my brain

It was with a surprising lack of fuss and bother that I collected my car and was soon whizzing towards Pollensa, arriving as the sun went down over the mountain.  I should say this was easier than for the British couple that were next to me at the car rental, who apparently hadn’t realised that they would need their driving licences. (the equation, hot country + holiday = total abandonment of sense) was duly noted and would form part of my later research.

As I know Pollensa well and was staying very conveniently in the old town, it took no time at all to find myself enveloped by the hot steamy night, sitting at a table in an ancient but familiar square, armed with a cold cerveza and a note book ready to begin my study.

Now I think it is worth noting here that some of the following research could be contaminated by the romance of the Mediterranean environment.

A Spanish jazz singer serenaded a cocktail of confused holidaymakers,  breathless with the sweltering heat they so craved and chatty locals, acclimatised and animated.

One of the things I noticed in my small study group was the difference between the generations of both the British and Spanish.

I was often passed by old Spanish couples that resembled happy six legged creatures, still arm in arm, walking sticks balancing their gait but seemingly pushing them even closer together, surrounded by their extended families matching their measured pace.

Happy six legged creatures, which on closer observation were actually old Spanish couples, still arm in arm with walking sticks balancing their gait but seemingly pushing them even closer together, often passed me, their extended families around with them matching their pace.

This contrasted with some of the study group who resembled a lame centipede that stretched over the generations, with the older members being dragged along at the back, struggling with the effort of their holiday.

Now obviously the Spanish are used to the heat, which does influence the results, but it was more the reverence they paid to their more mature members including rather than excluding them that was interesting.

So unusually for the Med the weather on my first morning was overcast with a shy sun playing hide and seek with the clouds, however, this mattered not a jot to some of the British males who stripped down to their trunks and could be seen foraging in the town square.

Now there is nothing wrong with making the most of your holiday and the weather but there is not an edifice or situation that deters these creatures from exposing their reddening flesh that has been lovingly exercised with beer and chips.

Not a restaurant nor supermarket or church bars the British belly.

Another moment that made me grateful my beardy weirdy disguise was working, occurred in a little restaurant overlooking the sea. A group of holiday makers, obviously relatively fresh to the island indicated by the red striping, were having a conversation about foot swelling and so took to comparing their bare feet on the cafe table while others tried to drink in the view and enjoy their tortillas. If this wasn’t bad enough the conversation turned to nail fungus, which amazingly acted like a magnet to some other Brits in the vicinity who enthusiastically joined in.

One evening we were treated to a marvellous Mediterranean storm, a sudden downpour, surreal to one schooled in dreary UK drizzle but beautiful and powerful something to savour.

The town square which has a raised central area, surrounded by bustling eateries that are fed by tiny streets and watched over by an ancient church, became a scene of delight and mayhem. The rain as hot as your morning shower, bounced like a million gunshots off the flagstones, running like water falls from the roof tops.

Children not yet weighed down with vanity, kept pace with the torrents, sliding and spinning, enjoying this warm watery event that punctuated the heat of the night.

Spanish people sat under the plentiful cover provided by the large restaurant umbrellas and awnings, hardly breaking off from their nightly socialising to smile at the scene.

In contrast, some of the Brits behaved like a startled herd, in a state of panic they broke cover, blundering into tables, each other and anything else that got in the way of their soggy stampede. This slapstick behaviour by people from a country that sees it's fair share of rain, only made the scene more delightful proving you can't argue with mathematics 
( hot country + holiday = total abandonment of sense)

Tomorrow: Language

Monday, 26 September 2011

Holiday observations from behind the beard

I would be lying if I said it hadn’t been a trying couple of years and the idea of floundering into another one without a change of scenery was too much to contemplate, so I decided to nip off on my own to Majorca.

I wasn’t looking for adventure per say, though that is on the agenda and as I know the island relatively well I thought I could side step the pressure of exploration and any excursions that were offered and have a bit of me time. 

However, it didn’t take long to realise it was me I needed a holiday from.

Anyway the next couple of posts aren't going to be about the beauty and majesty of the land, sunny blue skies, or the crystal clear warm azure waters of the Mediterranean, instead it is about my scientific observations of how the Brits abroad behave.

Part 1: Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Now there is a subtle difference to travelling by ones self and going on holiday alone, especially to destination like Majorca that is all about the vacation. People were in couples, groups, or couples who became groups, meeting their new 'best holiday friends'.

As a 6.4', long haired bearded man sitting on his own with a note book trying his best to look Nordic and use pigeon Spanish wherever possible, I had a certain amount of invisibility meaning I could avoid any unwanted attention while observing the Brits in their unnatural habitat. 

After the fraught booking of flights, hotels, car etc I had just enough time to practice my origami skills and fold some clothes into ever decreasing and elaborate shapes so that they would fit into one small hand luggage case, enabling me to avoid the dreaded wait at baggage reclaim. I never know why people (unless you have children) take so many cases on a weeks beach holiday, especially the British male who seems to wear the least possible clothes whatever the situation while abroad, but more of that later. 

I was flying from Manchester airport, a new experience for me. This meant a long train journey, not helped by the fact that I hadn't researched the route properly and so had decided to go from Lincoln, 45 miles from the cottage. This rattling cigar of a vehicle stopped at what seemed like a hundred stations with vaguely familiar names, ebbing and flowing with families and their ever-increasing accents.

I finally rumbled into Sheffield where I made a mad dash across platforms to change onto a much sleeker and seemingly fit for purpose looking train, that had the promise of a reserved seat and would whisk me the rest of the way to Manchester in relative comfort. 

Making my with land legs up the aisle I became intimate with complete strangers before finally falling into my seat. With my luggage stowed I was ready to relax into my new comfy surroundings, but just as I was about to open my book I was tapped on the shoulder by someone I new who had travelled direct in this comfortable speedy carriage from Grimsby (closer and much more convenient for Belleau). I'm sure I used to be better at this travelling lark.

I was flying budget airline so the airport experience was the usual giant game of 'snakes and ladders' but with no ladders, just long queues like Disneyland but instead of a colourful character and the promise of fun at the end, there was a glum member of staff informing you in a monotone voice that you had to fill  in a form, pay extra and then join another queue.

The flight was again typical, squashed and squeezed with any announcements been drowned out by the screeches and squeals of children and the babble of their parents playing the failed bargaining and bribery game.

Now my first observations were regarding my subjects in flight. They mostly travel in tight family groups or packs of young males or females often called stag or hen parties.  These usually feature tribal adornments such as comic T. Shirts, brightly coloured stetsons or combinations of the two and communicate in loud hoots and hollers. The families often contain 3 generations, piles of luggage and an absolute disregard for safety.  

One of the alpha-nuclear families in my study consisted of a professional mother signified by using the term 'my children need' over and over again to anyone and everyone. The rank of this woman was displayed when she called over a stewardesses who was hurriedly trying to do final checks and take her own seat while we taxied down the runway, so that several hundred holiday makers who had already faced minor delays could get into the air and so closer to their annual holiday, to tell her daughter that the captain had said she must sit down or he won't take off. The flustered air-hostess looked a little non-plussed but said to the little darling that she must sit down and put her seat belt on as we were going to take off, obviously the brat didn't want to oblige and her equally brattish mother reiterated to the busy hostess that she needed to say that the captain had said it

The second incident was again with a small family group. The single offspring had been particularly annoying throughout the flight, screaming and throwing toys, food and anything else he could get his hands on into the aisle and at any unfortunate people that were sitting in the vicinity, but what was incredible was that even though they obviously doted on the child keeping him quiet was more important than his safety. As we were coming in to land, said offspring didn't want to sit or wear his seat belt so the parents placated him by allowing him to stand. It was no surprise that as the plane rushed towards the ground at a few hundred miles per hour, bouncing as it touched down he banged his head setting off another series of screeches and wails. 

 Tomorrow subject matter in Sunny environment.

Monday, 22 August 2011

The edge of season

August nears it’s end and panic begins, like standing on a haystack preparing to jump, the inevitability of summers end freezes me to the spot, though as we are pushed over the edge and fall into Autumn, we realise the landing is never that bad.

This year the garden marked time has toyed with the senses, colour upon colour, growth over growth, playing tricks with the seasons, or is that the other way round?

There have been many times when I thought it had reached its crescendo, impossibly full with flowers so bright they seemed like they were going to ignite, holding this moment of pristine pressure before exploding only to grow phoenix like from the green embers.

Today is such a day, Delphiniums tall, blue and so bold rising from the fiery Crocosmia, their rigidness softened by the pinks and whites of the waving Gaura. The cape daisies whose pallor had so worried me in the spring, have flaunted my doubt by flowering and flowing through uncharted parts of the garden.

The vim and vigour of some of the plants has tested my own vitality, chopping, clearing and mourning only to see them happily rise from the dead.

The Crocosmia's life force is so strong that even the sections that I cruelly left sat on the path after dividing them early in the season have grown and flowered. 

The Black Knapweed has been around since early spring, growing and growing with only burnt bobbles to show on every stem for what seemed like an age and as I couldn't remember planting them my interest was tinged with disappointment, until early summer when they erupted with a thousand purple explosions that refused to be extinguished for weeks.

However, all good things must come to an end so with a certain sadness I cut the darkening leaves and stems down, only to find two weeks later that the pyrotechnics have begun again.

With all of this rebirth and re-growth it is probably time for me to review my strategy and take a running jump rather than waiting to be pushed.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Thank you days

I just had to share a day with you

Of late I’ve been stressed out, let down and generally blurred of life, but yesterday I had one of those glorious moments where life’s lens comes into focus, giving a picture that should be framed and mounted in the mind.

In colourful calmness to the building site that is still the back of my house, the beauty of the blooms in my little garden drinking in the sun on a roasting morning took my breath away.

This tiny patch of Lincolnshire hummed, whistled and clip clopped with absolutely everything taking advantage of what can be truly called a beautiful summer’s day.

The gladioli that I planted in stages way back in the spring have begun to flower and become tall bright highlights and a very welcome addition to the back of the border.

Since I cut the tired looking foliage away, the delphiniums have got a second wind as have the centaurea, providing the ever hungry bees with some fly through fast food stops. My thistly plants have also grown into a spiky delight with echinops and teasals looking like lanky punks with backcombed crazy coloured hair. 

The buddleja, which at one point did seem to be taking its time, has burst into flower all around the gardens, bringing with it the usual abundance of butterflies and the new hydrangea, which was looking extremely sickly earlier in the year, has perked up after a garlic tonic and a seaweed feed,  rewarding the attention with a beautiful clusters of pinkie blue flowers.

I also finally got round to doing something I'd been threatening to do for months and mended the puncture on my bike, meaning I could carry on enjoying the loveliness of the day from the vantage point of my bicycle.

I wanted to ease myself into the cycling world so limited my self to 10 miles or so, ensuring the journey allowed a bit of gentle off road action as well as the undulating country lanes.

It was early evening by the time I got saddle-wise, which is always a great time to meet ourselves and other animals and last night didn't disappoint.  There was the usual sad site of magpies and jackdaws, machet-ing through the abundance of roadkill, but I did have a close encounter with a dawdling deer that was nonchalantly making its way towards me along the verge. 

I got close enough to admire it's graceful supermodel proportions before this beautiful animal turned into a creature of taught tendon, sinew and spring and leapt over the hedge to be swallowed by the corn.

While on the off road section of the trip, I disturbed a controversy of curious crows that took cackling and calling to the blue sunset streaked sky above the golden wheat field in a scene that was so Van Gough painting it was almost a cliché.

In contrast to these rowdy show offs, I literally cycled next to a barn owl that was quietly navigating the hedgerows. This silent spirit of a bird seemed to be either so engrossed in its labour or took my puffing and wheezing as sign that it could probably walk faster than I was managing at this point and so not a threat, paid no attention to me, finally floating across the road to take up position in a near by tree to observe me on my sweaty way.

Just as some days are sent to test us I think some are sent to thank us.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Building Blocks

I have been in London a lot lately so haven’t had a lot of time to enjoy Belleau, hence the lack of blog action, but it does mean that I have had a lot of time to consider support and foundations, what with the fact that the hole in my garden has now given birth to a proper looking building and that I’ve had to spend a lot of time listening to the needs of the not so needy.

Tenuous as the connection is, I thought it was a good opportunity to talk about my own family and how life’s experience builds ones observations, understanding and outlook.

I come from a large family, two elder brothers and two older sisters, with me being the youngest by quite a large margin.  I’m actually closer to my nieces and nephews ages than my siblings, but I think this age gap is due to circumstance rather than planning.

I never had the privilege to meet Margaret and Gary, but saying that the rest of the family only had a fleeting pleasure. Everyone said Margaret was a beautiful baby, but fate gave her only a short time to make her mark, mums scream the only fanfare to signal her short life as she died in her arms.

Gary, a fine fellow by all accounts, had only a year or two himself, the Dr’s never seeming to have the skill or patience to instil hope, telling mum not to get too attached as he wouldn’t survive.

He had downs syndrome, a very scientific description of a life, though better than some of the alternatives I’ve heard. He also had complications, chest bones knotted into a restricting clot.

The Dr’s had said he wouldn’t walk or talk, but mum never gave up hope. She taught him to mouth words by placing her lips over his and managed to get him to stand on his spindly little legs, small victories and an emotional high-risk strategy, as even though his death was foretold the loss stayed with her all her life.

Eerily only one photograph of the many they took of Gary turned out, one of mum proudly holding him up in the background of a wedding shot, a picture that has always haunted me a little.

I guess I owe my life to him in some ways

Sunday, 3 July 2011


As I sat on a scorching day, serenaded by the mechanical drone of diggers, cement mixers, local radio and the builders slowly eating my patio and sending my flora and fauna into retreat, it was difficult not to let out the scream that had been echoing around my soon to be open plan, indoor outdoor dining extension of a mind.

Holly, a creature of habit who can be prone to a smidgen of arrogance every now and then, was happy to use the new side door to leave the house but flatly refused to use it to come back in, instead demanding to be lifted through the old door from the gaping chasm that fortified the kitchen, meaning mud mixed with the plaster and dust that covered every room in the house, to create what was either some sort of age old building material or the latest in beauty treatments.

Also in some sort of act of defiance the border opposite the kitchen crater has decided to turn it’s back on the whole hoo-ha, meaning the plants in the front of the border have now shot up hiding those behind. This means I’m either going to have to ask the builders to lift the house off its footings and turn it around,  something I can’t believe would be any more disruptive than the work they are already undertaking is, or do some plant rearrangement therapy next year, which, I’m sure won’t be much of a problem either as the border has the consistency of Swiss cheese thanks to Mr Mole. 

Our season long skirmishes have turned into full-blown war and he’s winning. There’s not a single inch in the border that doesn’t cave under foot and I have the awful feeling that the whole thing is going to implode like a nuclear flower bomb. 

The final straw was that the little blue caterpillars that arrived last year and noshed through the Solomon’s seal by the fence like a shoal of ravenous piranhas and turned its big beautiful leaves into an ugly green skeleton over night, are back. Hopefully I’ve picked enough of them off to avoid last years decimation and left enough to see if they turn into butterflies. 

Anyway the hole got deeper, my patience wore thinner and my mood fell further, so feeling retreat was the better part of valour, I went on a trip around our rural idyll to get some bucolic balm for my nerves. I love wading through the meadow grasses at the moment, a swaying pink wash over green, dotted with poppies and feverfew, it's like walking through a painting.

My first stop was the river, the Great Eau that runs through the meadow opposite, I know that's a grand sounding name but it is actually a small but beautifully clear chalk stream fed by the spring in Belleau. 

Up stream from the cottage is a wooden bridge that is another one of those constants for me, as I spent many a happy hour there when I was a child. So as a place of peace I thought I would stop awhile and enjoy the music of the river as it gurgled and gushed below. 

As I sat there the herd of cattle slowly chewed passed, some stopping, showing as much interest in me as I in them. This included a few serene cows, various calves that leaped around in acts of courage and the bull, who eyed me without turning his head, letting me know who was boss.

This mountainous beast stood only an arms length away, his massive muscles rippling under his white skin with a mind of their own as he guarded one of the cows.  Just as I was thinking what a beautifully timeless country scene, the whole peaceful affair was shattered by him jumping up onto the back of the cow, in what I can only imagine was the start of a game of piggy back. 

The cow didn't seem like she wanted to carry him so moved out of the way and then tried jump on his back, this caused a flurry of excitement and a modicum of confusion among the calves and myself I must add. One brave chap desperate to join in, jumped up onto the cow only for the bull to let him know that this was a private game by using his giant, but thankfully un horned head, to literally throw the youngster into the air.

Interesting as all this was, it really wasn't the peace I craved so I headed home to the squaller for some ritual hoovering.