Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Swinging from trees

The woods are utterly magical right now. We went to one maintained by the National Trust at the weekend, somewhere cool for the one with the thick fur coat.

The littlest boy swung on a vine which snapped. He landed literally flat on his back with all of the oomph knocked out of him. He was back up in a trice though, and minutes later swinging on another one. I asked him if he'd learned anything from the falling off moment. He said he didn't think so.

We swung around on a rope swing for a bit and just generally soaked up all the oxygen. I was still decompressing from all the royal wedding television the day before. Honestly, I don't think tv agrees with me, I almost need to detox afterwards.

It turns out that panna cotta is pretty much the same thing as a blancmange. An artisan blancmange if you will. And it has gelatine in it to boot. It turns out it is not the thing for me at all. Remember blancmange? Usually pink, sometimes pale yellow. I ate almost everything when I was little, wouldn't have dreamt of saying I didn't like something, except for broad beans, pears and grapefruit, I was allowed a free pass when it came to them. Anyway, I was never keen on blancmange, but from memory I ate mountains of the stuff. Don't intend to eat any more now, fancy Italian name or no fancy Italian name.

What I did make the other day was Nigella's hazelnut cheesecake. It's an absolute shocker, cream cheese and nutella (I used the Aldi version) and that's pretty much it. It went down a storm. Oh we're classy in this house.

The biggest boy has been playing a little adult cricket this season, which always includes an epic cricket tea. Honestly, you wouldn't believe the amount they feed him. It may be a strategy to slow them down, who knows. It's saving me a fortune in food. Once they're all in the team I'll barely have to feed them at weekends.

Hope you are enjoying the sight of me swinging about in the woods. Someone managed to make the rope spin round as well as back and forth, so that I felt quite ill by the time I got down. I am the worst traveller. Hope all is well with all. CJ xx

Saturday, 19 May 2018


Well, the royal wedding was all rather lovely wasn't it. I watched the news the evening before and the news reader was all smiles and everyone was happy. It made a change I have to say.

The biggest boy was a little dismayed at how late in the day they were getting married. If it was him he'd have got it done early and spent the rest of the day eating mango panna cotta, one of his best things and apparently something that he heard would be on the menu. The littlest boy was waiting for The Kiss. They are big on romance in his class I think. In a half horrified and half thrilled sort of way.

The middle boy went out scooting, the biggest one had cricket, so in the end it was just me and the littlest boy. He is very entertaining company, certain at one point that the bloke up the road that we see dog walking sometimes was there (it wasn't, it was Earl Spencer) and waiting with glee for a rogue horse to break free.

So it all passed in a swirl of silk and bridesmaids and exquisite flowers and the most elegant dress and a mile long silk train hand embroidered (how many hours?!) with the most beautiful bride and horses and carriages and George Clooney and the stunning setting of an ancient chapel. I had to go out and walk about a bit this afternoon to re-enter normal life.

Occasionally there was coverage from Meghan's home town in America. It intrigued me that lots of people seemed to think we would all be eating sausage rolls and custard over here. Not together, but, even so. American friends, is this true? Is this how you picture us? Although sadly I have to admit I do serve sausage rolls and custard more than mango panna cotta. In fact, let's be honest, I've never served mango panna cotta. Blast it, it's true isn't it, we are a nation of sausage roll eaters. I am off immediately to look up a recipe for mango panna cotta. I shall from now on set my sights on higher things. Hope all had a good day. CJ xx

PS. Photo below for the littlest boy and all others who like the romance and the kissy stuff.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Falling over and falling in

I've been out and about, here, there and everywhere. In the town it's the local arts festival. The biggest boy and I went to hear Simon King (wildlife cameraman and presenter) give a talk, which was pretty good.

I've taken a few sprigs of lilac from bushes down the back lane. And found a handful more lilac bushes in no mans land that I have my eye on. I do love lilacs, they have that brief moment of glory before the main flowers of summer get going. Flowers are still a miracle to be gushed over at this time of year I think, after months of mud and bare branches.

Down by the stream it is suddenly waist high with green things and cow parsley. The littlest boy fell in this evening. He was the only one to arrive at cubs dripping sludge from the knees down. By the end they are all usually pretty grubby, he just got in first.

The little community orchard has grass two feet high and a big old cider apple tree absolutely thick with blossom. I sometimes wonder why they keep the two old trees at the end of the orchard, but when I saw it in blossom I realised how spectacular it is. And I think there may be a little cider pressing done at the end of the season as well. It is cider country after all, or near enough to cider country. (For American friends, cider over here is alcoholic. If you just want apple juice, you need to ask for apple juice, otherwise you'll be falling over. If you want to be falling over, ask for rough cider. They pop a dead rat in that to get the fermentation going properly and it's pretty lethal by all accounts. I wouldn't know.)

I did the bird survey with the biggest boy down on the river yesterday evening. It was glorious there. It sometimes seems that 9/10s of the time it is freezing and deep in mud, but yesterday made up for it all. There were swallows flying overhead and a whimbrel out on the mud flats.

Over the road from us, swifts are building their nest. I could watch them for hours, swooping over the road, so fast, so agile.

This week at Cubs it was nettle soup making. The littlest boy absolutely loved it and wants it for his birthday tea. Everything at the moment is all about the Big Day, which is less than a month away now. He has asked for a pogo stick but mercifully has currently forgotten about the axe that he usually asks for. I imagine you could do a little damage with a pogo stick, but not as much as with an axe. (Although I fear he will be thinking, Challenge accepted.) Happily we don't have any large plate glass sliding doors here. So what could possibly go wrong? I'll let you know.

Friday, 4 May 2018

They said it couldn't be done

Spring it is then. I saw a brimstone butterfly this morning. Grass everywhere is thick and green, green, green. The scent of the apple blossom is delicious, unlike the pear blossom which is frankly revolting. I wonder if it's just some people that don't like the smell of it, you know, maybe it's one of those things that smell lovely to some people and ghastly to others. I'm a ghastly.

The urchins are in the garden, breaking pots with scooters, bikes, cricket balls, tennis rackets, anything which comes to hand really. It's a triumph of hope over experience that I keep planting things, it really is.

The dog may have entered his teenage years. Suddenly, a couple of weeks ago, he got up and started being naughty again. I thought the teenage years were at around eight months of age, but apparently not. It's good job we are all scruffy round here. He has made it his job to make us all scruffier.

The biggest boy made me laugh this morning. I saw him walking to school with a friend while I was walking the dog after dropping the littlest boy off. He pretended he hadn't seen me/didn't know me. The first time he did that I kept looking at him to see if he'd smile or wave or something. Now I have got the hang of my 'I haven't seen you either' look. I did it to perfection I have to say.

I mended his bike for him yesterday. The chain was jammed solidly between the cogs and the frame and he hadn't managed to pull it out. I asked him if it was something I could do. He felt that, 'NO, IF I CAN'T DO IT, YOU'RE NOT GOING TO BE ABLE TO DO IT.' I said we'd have to take it to the bike repair place, which is conveniently round the corner. We're there literally every week with one bike or another. He muttered, 'He'll think we're HOPELESS.' I pointed out that we are hopeless. Anyway, I went outside, put on my heavy duty gardening gloves and using pure brute force pulled the chain out ALL BY MYSELF. I have literally told everybody I meet. Honestly, I am completely insufferable.

I went to a local literary festival the other day. It was absolutely brilliant. Completely inspiring and motivating. It was great to meet writers and hear their stories and learn a little about the writing world. I really must try and do that sort of thing more often. It has completely energised me. Any sort of writing is of course a very solitary business, and I have a lot of self-doubt, but everyone was so very encouraging. It is very much something I try and fit in in the evenings - the workday writing is non-fiction and very different. Often I'm tired by then, but so many people are in the same boat, and making it work. One mum writes from 9pm until midnight. I was hugely impressed as her children are small and no doubt very demanding in the day.

The irony is that now we've got the dog, I find I sleep better from all that walking and I'm not awake at 5.30am any more, which is a shame, because that would be the perfect time to write. But I'm squeezing it in where I can, a little every day.

Here in the UK a long, warm, bank holiday weekend awaits. Three days of sunshine by all accounts. I shall be telling people off for breaking things and chewing things, mowing the grass, making rice pudding (giant milk overload) and marching about the place with the teenage dog. Yourselves?

Tuesday, 17 April 2018


There's bad news and there's good news. The bad news is that the girls won the dancing competition at the littlest boy's school disco. He was incensed. He has vividly described the boys' dancing for me, and quite frankly I have to agree, it sounds in a league of its own. I consoled him by explaining that people are often not fully appreciated in their own time.

The good news is that the boiler man came and put back a cap on the boiler that has been off for the past five years and which has been allowing noxious fumes into the kitchen during all of that time. I have been in shock since he told me. Check your boilers people (there should be two caps on top somewhere I think, and they should both be ON.) I am expecting a new lease of invigorated life now that I am no longer being exposed to carbon monoxide on a daily basis. Oh, and get a carbon monoxide alarm while you're about it. I have been very slack and I am berating myself constantly. The stable door has been slammed shut.

The littlest boy and I have been enjoying Plumdog and Another Year of Plumdog. Have a look at Plum's blog if you have a spare minute. Honestly, I could spend the rest of the evening reading it, it's the best, just the best. Emma Chichester Clark perfectly captures how a dog thinks and her illustrations are brilliant. We love nothing more than curling up together to read it. Bert and Plum are very similar in many respects, we think he would say the same things and would without a shadow of doubt be best friends with Plum if he should happen to meet her.

He has been reading other stuff by himself (the littlest boy, not Bert). He switched from one series to another and told me it was because he was tired of all the killing in the first series. Oh dear. Should I be policing it a bit more do you think? I didn't realise it was possible for a small boy to get tired of fictional killing.

At school the headmaster apparently went ballistic at half the class for including killing in their writing. I remember helping out at cubs a while back on shadow puppet night. Each group put on a play, and every single one ended up with the entire cast killing each other. It does seem to be how small boys roll when they're together.

I had a conversation with the littlest boy the other day. I can't remember what we were talking about, but I think he was trying to come up with something I excel at. He said to me, 'You're good at housework. But most ladies your age are good at housework.' I'm not sure where to start with that one, it left me momentarily lost for words. But it is a compliment isn't it? I'm almost sure it is. AND, I told him, I know my 17-times table as well. I know, I know, are there no limits etc. No need to write in, I'm exceptional indeed. If you need me I'll be scrubbing the grouting in the bathroom while counting to 289 in increments of 17.

Friday, 6 April 2018

The overwhelmingness of stuff

We need more bookshelves in this house. All of us need more bookshelves. We make good use of the library, but we also seem to have accumulated quite a few ourselves. I probably have the least if you can believe that. I should have a cull of them, but the littlest boy is very attached to ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING which makes decluttering a tricky thing. I usually do it when he's not around. The guilt is excruciating.

I've sorted out his clothes and also got rid of a load of mine as well. Even though I don't have masses of clothes, there did seem to be quite a pile of things that I just don't wear. I have been fairly ruthless. I do love that feeling of getting rid of clutter. Love it. Of course it does seem to be a losing battle. The children just seem to need so many things. I am fairly furious that some of those World Cup 'collectable' stickers have made their way into the house. But they do love them. They are an addiction I think. Just one more packet.

I shall try and keep going with the decluttering, a bit at a time. It's that time of year. I feel rather out of control of everything at the moment. Housework, garden, you know how it is. You run the duster over something but twenty-four hours later IT IS BACK. I feel I am going mad with it all. It has won.

I have done no work whatsoever over the Easter break. I gave up. I spent all forty-three of my spare minutes making a birthday card and envelope for a friend. I knitted a bit too, late at night when I was too tired to do anything else.

I've been leafing through the calligraphy book. There are some incredibly talented people in there and some amazing pieces of work.

In the garden the peach tree is flowering. It will look horrible in a few weeks time when peach leaf curl kicks in. It will be so bedraggled I will swear that I'll dig it up and replace it with a plum. But come next winter I won't get round to it. Maybe there will be more peaches this year.

Spring must be here because the weeds are growing. A daisy in between the paving stones, tiny seedlings in the raised beds.

The children are utterly overwhelming when they're here and I miss them when they're not. Oh, it's tricky isn't it. I hope all had a good Easter break, weather notwithstanding. There is still an Easter egg in the cupboard here. It belongs to the littlest boy and I think he has forgotten about it.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

The ditch, up close

The littlest boy has a new bike. Well, a new-to-him bike, which is just as good. He part-exchanged his old, too-small one. They asked him to wash it before the exchange, but as they were closed he then had to wait two days to get the new-to-him one. Oh the agony. We were there the second they opened. Then we went for a bike ride up to the little church overlooking the river.

We stopped at the community shop on the way. It's a really great place, lots of different and local things for sale. Also some books and hot drinks. I had hot chocolate and picked up a new read.

The littlest boy was loving his bike, swooping round me, racing, slow-racing, all of the things. When it wasn't exciting enough, he decided to cut in across the front of my bike. His bike hit the front wheel of my bike. There was that moment, you know the one, when you know you're going to fall, but you're not quite sure where you'll be landing. Oh. The ditch it is then. I came to rest in a thick thicket of  scrubby scrub over the top of the ditch. To his credit, the littlest boy was horrified and very apologetic. He tried pulling me out, which didn't really work as my leg was trapped under the bike. We got there in the end, although it wasn't very dignified. Imagine a cow stuck on its side, suspended halfway above a ditch on a cushion of thorns, all legs flailing. Much of the swelling has subsided now and the cuts are healing. I have sworn never to go on a bike ride with him again ever. We all know I will, but I have to maximise the drama, you know how it is.

Bertie had a lovely birthday, thank you for your happy wishes. We did a good walk and he had a bit of tuna with his breakfast. Doesn't get much better than that.

Tomorrow there will be the usual Easter treasure hunt round the house. Everyone still wants to join in, even though some people are big and cool now. The lure of chocolate I suspect. I am wishing you all a lovely day, with your share of rabbits and chocolate and all things spring. CJ xx