Saturday, 31 December 2011

Old Year's Night

I guess today is as good a time as any to formally bring this blog to a close.

The last day of the year is for taking stock of what has gone by and planning for the future.

This time last year I was still alone. Still trying to make sense of a world that had spun out of control. Still asking the question, “What now?”.

Now I find myself on the brink of a new life. One which will, I think, be very different to what has gone before. It is exciting, a little bit scary and very, very good.

Much has happened on the way from there to here. I don’t know why, but these pages didn’t seem to be the right place to talk about it – this is and always has been a space just for R.

And learning to love again perhaps should be a private thing. Whatever the reason, I seem to have dropped off the edge of the world for a time. I think I needed to do it, but thank you to those who have cared enough to try to get in touch over the past few months. I haven’t been a good correspondent, for which I apologise.

The closing of the year seems to have resurrected my desire to write, though. So it is time to create a new space, one where the emphasis is on life, not death. I still miss R. I still talk to his picture, visit his grave and shed tears over it. But I have at long last fully absorbed the fact that he has gone. A line seems to have been drawn. A sort of Year Zero.

Now it is time to live again.

In closing, I think I can do no better than quote the last few lines of Natalie Merchant’s beautiful and uplifting song and hope that all those who read them will eventually come to the same conclusion.
Oh, they told you that life is long
Be thankful when it's done
Don't ask for more
Be grateful

But, I'll tell you life is short
Be thankful
Because before you know
It will be over
'Cause life is sweet
Life is, oh, so very short
Life is sweet
And life is, oh, so very short
Life is sweet

Judith xx

Friday, 22 April 2011

Fighting talk

For almost as long as I have been writing this blog, I have talked about the little village in the hills in which we made our home and how much it means to me.

This area is of negligible economic significance.
There is a small amount of light industry down in the Severn valley. Once you rise into the upland areas there are sheep and very little else.

Apart from wind.
There is certainly no shortage of that.
As a result, there have been wind farms springing up on the hills all around the area. There is one that I can see out of my office window, up on Mynydd Clogau, on land owned by my friend Angie and her husband. I remember the day that the turbine blades were fitted, seemingly all at once, and in that instant the view from my window changed forever.

That feeling of shock took me by surprise as I had always previously been in favour of wind power as a source of alternative energy. Over the years, I have grown accustomed to seeing them, and although a jarring sight, they are now familiar friends.

But the battle to have that wind farm erected nearly tore this village apart. When we moved here, it was a topic that was generally best avoided as there was still an undercurrent of bad feeling on both sides of the argument. And as the Welsh Assembly Government has earmarked this as a strategic area for alternative power generation, permission has been granted for several more wind farms, each bigger than the last.

Early in the New Year, we all received a large envelope through the post from the National Grid. The contents outlined in very vague terms their plans to build a substation for the wind farms to feed into, three incoming 132 kV power lines and a main 400 kV outgoing line to feed into the grid.

The two suggested locations for this 20-acre substation site and the 160 foot high pylons needed for the 400 kV line are either just outside my own little no-horse village or about a mile from the place that R is buried. The thought of either of these beautiful places being desecrated in this way just breaks my heart.

For the last few weeks there has been talk about little else around here, and the rounds of public meetings, collecting signatures, writing letters, etc. have started.
It is a long time since I have done any political agitating. We moved here for a quiet life and to leave the 'dirty' aspects of the world behind. But it appears that the world has followed me with its clumsy boots and greedy ways. There aren't really enough hours in the day already, but I think this is one fight worth making time for.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

A year in the death: March

It was R's birthday on Sunday. He would have been 49.
That's no age to be absent from the party, is it?

It is still difficult to fully take in the fact that he has gone. Even though to the outside world I think I appear pretty together these days, I still walk around with that massive R-shaped hole in my heart.

This year I turned down the couple of offers of company I received. It seemed like the right time to get through a birthday on my own.

In the event, though, I didn't have to go through the day alone. No, Bunny, WomanNShadow's travelling Ambassador of Grief and Whimsy arrived the day before. (And many, many thanks to Boo for making sure she arrived on time). I shall talk about Bunny's magical effect in another post, but suffice to say she was a gentle and calming influence on the way over there.

There were daffodils to take from the garden, of course. R's favourite flowers.

Bunny listened all the way as I told her about birthdays long past - both his and mine. We had to take the long way around as the bridge is out on my normal route, but it didn't seem to matter. We were not in a hurry.
We sat by his grave for a long time.

I talked. Bunny listened.
I cried. She understood.

Moose came and sat down and whispered in her ear too!

Then we went up the hill to look at the view.
It was a grey, cold day. The mist had descended and the lack of sun meant that it didn't clear at all. But somehow the dense mist in the valley bottom had an ethereal feel to it, cutting off the hillside from the rest of the world.
For one day at least.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Running to stand still

It is a real struggle to keep up with everything at this time of year.

Clients have their end of year budget to use up, so are sending me work like there's no tomorrow. This is also a busy time for me family-wise, with a whole spate of birthdays coming in quick succession. The Facebook experiment has been declared an Official Failure, so has been shut down to the merest skeleton presence (although it did turn up one friend from university I lost touch with years ago, which was nice).

And the garden is waking up.
Every spare moment seems to be spent digging, and I have only just started to sow my seeds. Normally the windowsills are filling up by now. I feel as though I am pedalling at full tilt, but the chain has fallen off so I am getting nowhere.

So is it any wonder that I have to enlist a little help to get the job done?

Friday, 4 March 2011

Information overload

So, after much prodding from various people, I set up a Facebook account.

Oh my. Now my head is about to explode. I'm not sure my poor widow brain can cope with exponential messages. Who are all these people, and why do they want to talk to me all at once?

Maybe I should crawl back into my cave and evolve for a little longer!

Monday, 28 February 2011

Cost-benefit analysis

The streamlining continues.

Yesterday I parted with my stock trailer.
This wasn't as much of a wrench as I thought it would be. I decided to sell it because it is too heavy for me to manoeuvre alone and I just cannot hitch it up without assistance. It also needs a jolly good clean. My original plan was to buy another, smaller trailer that I can easily handle - I only ever need to carry two or three animals at a time - but I have had a couple of offers of loans, so I might not need to at all.

This feels like a positive step. The trailer was just sitting there, slowly deteriorating and turning green from algae, and it was another symbol of the things I could not do any more. Clearing it out felt like a breath of fresh air.

And the best part was that it sold for a tenner more than I paid for it!

I am finding that this acceptance and jettisoning of what I cannot cope with on my own brings a real sense of peace. Heaven knows I have fought against it for long enough.

I was talking to my sister-in-law the other evening. She has some significant health issues, including having had major back surgery. Although she is still working, she finds anything like gardening, which involves pulling and bending, to simply be too painful. Their garden is beautiful, and they put so much work into turning it into a little haven of loveliness. But over the past year they have gradually accepted that she can no longer do what is necessary to keep it looking that way, and have taken the decision to turn it into much more of a low-maintenance garden.

This was a heart-breaking decision for them and is the sort of little domestic loss that needs to be mourned. But she can also see the possibilities that the new garden will open up for them. More time to travel, for example, and certainly not being tied to the place during peak sowing and planting season. More cash to spend on other things, and no longer feeling a need to shoot rabbits from the upstairs windows to keep them off their newly-planted seedlings!

I started feeling the benefits of this simplification process myself this weekend. With just one henhouse to clean out, and no large smelly duck house, I had a lot more spare time. This meant I could make a start on clearing the decks for my new flower cutting garden, and just generally tidying that part of the garden which tends to be the dumping ground for all sorts of things I can't find a home for. The mess around there has been seeping into my consciousness for a long time now, despite my best efforts to ignore it.

The picture was taken last year, so I would like to clear it properly before the nettles and brambles spring back into growth with a vengeance. Then I can perhaps get a path laid and the flower bed edging in place. This will have the knock-on effect of not having to control the triffid-like weed growth in that area during the summer - which will hopefully save me more time.

It is all good.

This little fellow wasn't keen on being exposed though!

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Thoughts on watching the cricket

I have just been sitting here watching the highlights of the World Cup match between Australia and New Zealand. I guess the Kiwis can be forgiven for a lacklustre performance today.

It took me back to 2003.
We had tickets that year for the World Cup in South Africa. I had bought the tickets about 6 months ahead of time when they were still quite cheap. Then we started house-hunting, and decided to buy this place. Had all gone to plan we would have been settled in here by the November and could have travelled, but it all went haywire and turned into the move from hell.

As the whole sale process dragged on and on, we ended up having to cancel the trip, much to our huge disappointment. Ultimately we moved house right in the middle of the competition.

Although we cancelled because of the house move, it also proved to have been the right decision in another way - my Dad died right in the middle of the time we would have been in Cape Town. He had been living with leukaemia for many years, and his health was up and down all the time, but his death came right out of the blue. I can't imagine how I would have felt if I had been a 12-hour flight away. I think there was less than 2 weeks between his death and our move, with his funeral in the middle of it all.

It is funny how things like conveyancing and packing, which seemed incredibly stressful before, suddenly became of no importance whatsoever. We had brought Dad up to see the house the Christmas before he died, but only from the outside. He never got to see it inside, or the land that goes with it, which he would have loved. We never got to ride together on the steam train that sets off from my nearest town. So many things we were unable to do together.

After missing out on South Africa, R and I talked a lot about going to the West Indies for the 2007 event. But by that time he was contracting and was reluctant to commit to going, just in case it would have prevented him picking up work.
I wish we had gone. I know the whole event was rather chaotic and the cricket wasn't great that year, but he could have at least ticked off a few more 1st class grounds from his bucket list.

When you think you have a 'normal' lifespan stretching in front of you, it is so easy to let things slip or pass by because there will be plenty of time to do them later.

If only that were true for everyone.

In my new life I am much more inclined to seize the day. It is hard not to regret the missed moments. All I can do, though, is to ensure that there aren't so many in the future. I just wish R were here to share the unmissed ones.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

A year in the death: February

It has been a heck of a week, including two nights working way into the wee small hours. Moose was a little stir-crazy too as his dicky leg has been playing up and our walks have been necessarily foreshortened.

We therefore both needed a little fresh air this afternoon and, as I had to go to town to pick up a parcel, it was a good opportunity to visit R on the way back home.

Spring seems to be on its way. Snowdrops punctuate the periphery of the field, and there are catkins on the hazels already. The grass has that dead, brownish shaggy look that it takes on just before the new shoots start to appear.

Today I did something that I haven't done for a while, which is to walk up the hill from R's grave to admire the view from the top. I used to do it every time I visited, but seem to have got out of the habit lately.

From the top of the hill I can look out over the Severn valley and the flat flood plain that is regularly underwater. It is dotted with the small mounded hills known as "moel"s that are so prevalent in this area (moel means "bald" in English, and they are very reminiscent of round tonsured heads). There is nothing that makes me feel so close to R as being at the top of a hill.

And I wanted to 'talk' to him. To explain why I feel it is the right time to at least open myself up to the possibility of finding someone else. I am pretty sure he would be OK with the idea. Certainly there were no signs from beyond the grave that he didn't approve. There were no flashes of lightning. The clouds didn't form themselves into a giant NO! I didn't even step in a pile of fox poo on the way back down the hill.

R just didn't do standing still.
He fidgeted and paced and marched ahead.
Looking back I have lost count of the number of buses we missed over the years because he couldn't bear to wait at the bus stop for one to arrive, and so we had to walk to the next stop along. And then the next stop. And the one after that. Invariably the bus would arrive while we were between the two.

He would understand me not wanting my life to stagnate.
I have no idea if anything will come of this and, to be honest, it doesn't really matter if it doesn't. What is important is to feel as though I am taking my life back, being active rather than simply reactive. And I know he would approve of that.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Lonely hearts

As seen from the top of the Berliner Dom last year.
Yet another set of steps that we never got to climb together.
I was a little bit mad that day, so I walked up all 270 steps twice - once for each of us.

I so miss being able to share views like that. Just to be able to get to the top of a hill with someone and talk about what I see. It is almost as though the experience never really happened if there isn't another person there to remember it as well.

So I did something this weekend that rather took me by surprise.
The fact that someone else was 'driving' the computer may have had something to do with it - or perhaps it had something to do with the large amount of red wine that was drunk that evening. But I signed up for an online dating agency. (And if you happen to read this, C - thank you!).

Am I ready for this?
I really don't know.
What does 'ready' mean in any case?
I am pretty sure that I don't want to spend the rest of my life on my own. I know that I like having someone to love and look after. I don't feel at all needy - just that it would be good to share with another person once more.

At some point I have to be ready. So why not now? Before the hard, hard shell I have been busily building around myself becomes too thick to chip open at all. Before I get too stuck in my ways and forget how to share.

I won't ever stop loving R, so there is no point in sitting here waiting for that to happen. I am comfortable in my own skin and know I won't settle for just anyone. I know how a good relationship feels and am not prepared to compromise on a bad one.

That all sounds terribly confident, doesn't it?
In reality I am trying not to freak out about the fact that several men have responded to my profile and am wondering whether to simply run away from the whole idea for another 6 months. The process makes me feel like a naive 15 year-old who has never been kissed.

Perhaps I am not ready after all.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

A talking-to

I came inside from feeding the sheep the other morning and caught sight of myself in the mirror.

What a state!
Hatty-hair, covered in bits of hay, wearing R's tatty old padded shirt that makes me look like a tartan Christmas pudding, grubby jeans and wellies.
Here I am in my winter plumage.

Practical, but good grief. Not day in, day out for three months or more. Time for a bit of a talking-to.

Time to get a grip, woman. Time, at least, to wear your own clothes - you know, the ones that actually fit you. You have been wearing R's waterproof in the rain since he died. That's two and a half years in a coat at least three sizes too big. Come on now, it really wouldn't hurt to go shopping - would it?

And about that hair.
Go on. Pick up the phone and make an appointment. Your hair looks quite nice when it's short and cut properly. Then you won't need to cover it up with a woolly hat that makes you look like a bag lady. And I hate to say it, but are you really mentally prepared to look quite that grey? Why not use that box of colour that has been sitting in the bathroom drawer for months? Just for a bit of a boost.

And while you're at it, how about a touch of lippy next time you venture into civilisation? Probably a good idea to check the use-by dates first if you want to avoid some noxious infection due to wearing out-of-date cosmetics.

Or a skirt, perhaps. You know, those things at the far recesses of the wardrobe that are a dim and distant memory. You do have legs, you know, and they aren't too dreadful. Although you might want to take a razor to them first. I'm sure you remember how to do that.

This is your Vanity talking to you. There was a time when you paid me a lot more attention and I like to think you scrubbed up reasonably well when you did. Go on. Pick up the phone. Oh, and make that dentist appointment while you're at it.

Just think of it as another decluttering project, if that makes you feel better.

(This picture just makes me laugh. J the sheep whisperer is humiliated by her ovine charges yet again!)

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

End of an era

This afternoon I said goodbye to the last three Muscovy drakes.
It is the first time I have been without ducks for about 7 years and the place seems very odd without them. They weren't there waiting outside the back door when I went to feed the sheep this evening. Now Moose will have to find something else to pester at feeding times.

Muscovies are simply the most laid-back poultry I have ever kept. They don't seem to be bothered by anything much and are quite happy just to sit and chill or relax around the pool while all the other birds around them are busily looking for food or destroying a flowerbed or something similar.

But they had to go.
I sold quite a lot last year, and the fox took the two ducks I had planned to keep. That left me with the three layabout drakes that were serving no useful purpose whatsoever. They were too old for the freezer and just represented another responsibility that I don't have the headspace for right now. When I was offered a couple of bales of hay in return for them, it seemed like the sensible solution - and one fewer journey to pick up hay. But I am really going to miss them with their football hooligan greeting behaviour and incredible fecundity.

And it is one more admission of defeat.
One more spirit-sapping move away from the reason we came to live here.
I sometimes wonder whether it would have been better to sell up and move somewhere smaller right away than to witness this death of our dream by a thousand cuts.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Will this wind be so mighty...

... as to lay low the mountains of the earth?

A bit of Pete and Dud always hits the spot!

It seems a little churlish to complain about the weather after all the people of Queensland have been through over the last couple of days but, by heck, it's a bit blowy out there today.

The wind has been gusting at about 75 mph, with a peak of 90 mph this afternoon. I can hear the roof slates rattle with every gust, and it sounds as though a whole host of banshees are circling the house. The power has been on and off all day, and the TV gave up the ghost this evening (something to do with the pressure, I think).

I tried walking the dog, and got about half a mile before I had to turn back because it was just too much like hard work. There are times when I wonder at our sanity when we moved to a house at the top of a hill. The wind whistles along the ridge at the best of times, but days like today are quite breathtaking - literally!

When I went out to feed the sheep this afternoon there were a dozen windbreak willows and one 25' conifer down, bringing up the fence with its roots. There was also another, larger conifer that was looking distinctly dubious. The duck house that normally takes 2 people to move it had been lifted up and thrown on its back.

Hopefully the worst is over now. If I get through this night with my barn roof intact and nothing worse than a few slipped slates on the house, I will be very happy. What I really don't want to be doing tomorrow is dealing with a whole load of storm damage, but I am going to have to do something about the fallen conifer before the sheep get out of the field and onto the road.

I guess I won't be able to keep that promise about not using the chainsaw after all.

Monday, 31 January 2011

So I found a few more things to unscrew....

A strange little thing, isn't it? It is one of those objects that I have dotted around the house that bring R back to me more vividly than any photograph.

It is a billet of aluminium that he subjected to many psi of pressure to demonstrate diagonal shear as a result of compressive stress. He was very proud as it failed at an almost perfect 45° angle.

R did his degree in Aeronautical Engineering. It wasn't one of his better life choices, as he freely admitted that his decision was based on being quite good at physics and having made lots of Airfix models as a kid. After a few months he realised that the course was about 87.54% maths. Very hard maths. With huge long equations that extend over several pages.

As a result of all this maths, and possibly his discovery of beer in a big way, he ended up taking 5 years to complete a 3-year course. But he stuck at it and finished. Much to the pride (and not a little relief) of his parents.

What he should have done was to change to something like structural engineering or materials science. That was what interested him - the way materials behave when subjected to external forces. He could expound on this subject for hours if I let him. This explains how I know why the ancient Greeks removed their chariot wheels at night (to prevent them deforming due to extended loading - also known as 'creep'). Or why this arty-farty linguist could explain Hooke's Law to you if you really wanted her to.

It also explains why my thoughts this weekend were full of bending failure in copper piping.

After two weeks of tripping over the things I had moved out of the kitchen and into the corridor so that I could remove the boiler, I decided to have another go at shifting the wretched thing. It took a matter of moments to bend and break the copper pipes that I had so singularly failed to saw through. That gave me the leverage I needed to undo the last remaining nut on the pipe manifold thingummy, thus allowing a couple of gallons of the blackest water I have ever seen to pour out over the kitchen floor!

That made the whole structure light enough for me to wrestle onto the sack truck and out of the house forever. Hurrah!

See, R. I was listening.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011


My Dad had the dreadful habit of allowing our dogs to lick the plates and dishes after we had eaten. Looking back on it I find the thought quite revolting - I wonder sometimes how I made it to adulthood without succumbing to some noxious disease. It probably explains why I have the constitution of an ox now.

R, who came from a non-doggy family, once witnessed this mealtime ritual and it rather freaked him out. During the 'talks' that led up to us getting Moose, not allowing the dog to lick plates was one of his non-negotiables. As I secretly agreed with him, this was obviously an easy point to concede. (I find it is always good to have one or two principles that can be easily dropped in the course of important negotiations!)

We also agreed that dogs should not be fed scraps at the table.
I have a particular dislike for dogs that stand and drool on my knee while I am eating or, worse still, attempt to snatch food from the table. Moose knows that he has to lie on his bed while people are eating. Fortunately, being a mostly-Collie, rules aren't a problem to him. He likes to know how things should be done, and will make up his own rules if I don't do it first.

But he does have expectations.
After we had eaten, R would make up the dog's dinner, including any leftovers from the meal. It was one of those little things that made me smile - R went from being someone very nervous of dogs (something he learned from his Mum) to being totally besotted with our initially rather difficult and troubled Moose. The way they both grew together was lovely to watch.

The meals eaten in this house have changed somewhat over the last couple of years. There are very few roast dinners now, so much less watered down gravy to pour over his biscuits. But Moose does enjoy a bit of yoghurt once in a while. Every time I decant a little into a bowl for my lunch, there is an interested glance in my direction. He is just waiting for me to get to the end of the big pot so he can have his turn.

Yep, Moose does enjoy his yoghurt!

Sunday, 23 January 2011

But first ...

Two little words that seem to characterise my life at present.

Whenever I think of doing something, there is always something else that has to be done first before I can get started. Sometimes a whole series of things.

Take the old propane boiler, for example.

My house is L-shaped, and the two wings of the house had separate heating systems when we moved here - one oil and one gas. When the solar tubes and thermal store were installed, we had the two systems amalgamated and the large bomb-shaped gas tank removed. But for some reason we never got around to taking out the gas boiler.

So it sits there still, along with a couple of lengths of flue pipe, the new sink top and taps, and a large box of pipe lagging (to mention just a few items), in the little room that is - or one day will be - the back kitchen. The room is tiny - a little over seven and a half feet square - and has been waiting to be fitted out for more years than I care to remember.
It is funny how you can simply ignore or, more precisely, stop seeing things. I walk past this room several times a day to get out to the garden, but because it belongs to the granny flat and not the main house I am able to ignore the fact that it looks like a building site.

Or at least I used to be able to ignore it.
Last week I must have looked at it with all my New Year zeal, and suddenly realised that this can't go on. The mess just saps my energy and the inertia it creates spreads to all the other areas of my life too. If I don't get it sorted, it will keep on holding me down. Unfortunately my BIL won't be able to come back and do the work for months, if at all this year, so I am just going to have to bite the bullet and find someone else to fit the kitchen that has been sitting in the spare bedroom for at least 4 years now. Just get it done!

But first...
But first I need to have the room plastered so I can sit down with someone with the final measurements and decide what will go where - and in such a tiny room it will have to be done right. So that means I need to empty the room.
No problem, I'm on a roll with my major declutter. Just carry on in the same vein.

But first I have to get rid of that boiler.
Everything was disconnected, so it should have been plain sailing from there. Onto the sack truck, out to the car and a big heave to get it inside.


Here we go again. Can't shift it. I don't know what they put inside gas boilers, but it weighs a ton. Why does it always boil down to me not being physically strong enough to move things? When R had heavy things to move, he could ask me to help him, and together we could usually manage. Where is he when I need someone to lend a hand? That's what I want to know.

So I find the toolbox, collect an assortment of screwdrivers, mole grips and adjustable spanners and start dismantling the boiler. At first it comes apart quite easily and I become quietly confident. But then I run out of things to unscrew, and am unable to undo the nuts holding on the long lengths of copper piping sticking out of the top.
So I try cutting them off with a hacksaw, but the blade is worn and very ineffective. Can't find a new blade.
Kicking it hard made me feel better, but the noise scared Moose and it didn't do much to help in any case.

By now it is getting dark, and there is no light in the room. Plenty of wires where the lights will one day be. But no actual lights.

Give the boiler one last kick and go and drink beer. Resolve to tackle it with renewed vigour in the morning.

I shall get that bloody thing out of here if I have to take an angle grinder to it!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

To everything there is a season

I guess I have answered one of my "Where do I go from here?" questions.

The box on the table is an old army surplus detonator box. R bought it from a strange little shop at the back of Euston Station many, many moons ago. So long ago that I can't even remember his justification for buying it - possibly just because he liked it, which I guess is as good a reason as any.

For a long time he used it to store part of his burgeoning coin collection, but at some point along the line the collection outgrew the box and I appear to have appropriated it.

For my seed collection.

As that is obviously something that needs to be stored in a detonator box!

Growing things is important to me.
The ground was rock hard this morning, with a delicate white dusting of hoarfrost, but I am already thinking about getting started again. It is time to sow chillis, aubergines and sweet peas, and it is always worthwhile setting off a couple of jars of seeds to eat as sprouts. It would also be good to get the greenhouse cleared so I can start sowing salad leaves soon. The speed with which they grow and are ready to pick is always gratifying, even when there isn't a chance of getting anything started outdoors.

Since R died, there hasn't been a lot of planning going on in the garden. I have just reacted to the changing of the seasons, and simply sown what I had when there was time in which to do it. This inevitably meant poor germination in a lot of cases due to sowing old seed that should have been culled. This is a double whammy of crapness as I never seem to catch up even when I do buy new seed - there simply isn't time to sow them again.

And the food I eat has changed dramatically. Much more than I ever imagined it would. These days I barely touch potatoes, the thought of Jerusalem artichokes turns my stomach, parsnips seem to be just for Christmas. Green beans now interest me mainly for the seed inside them. Fruit I enjoy when it is fresh, but R seems to have taken my sweet tooth (such that it was) away with him, so I no longer make pies - or jam or ice cream or even chutney. On the other hand I can't seem to keep up with my demand for green leafy vegetables, tomatoes and curcubits of all sorts.

Then there are the ones that I would love to grow, but that just can't handle the conditions up here, like the sweet potatoes and outdoor peppers. Carrots which do fine in pots in the greenhouse, but succumb to slugs or rootfly outdoors after mid-Summer. Time to either give them up or give serious thought to erecting a polytunnel over some of the raised beds to extend the growing season.

And the flowers.
Megan is right about those. They are not frivolous at all, they are balm for the soul. I think that more time spent growing flowers that do not need preserving or turning into something, and simply give pleasure will be time well-spent.

The seed catalogues have been plopping onto the doormat since New Year, so it is time to set aside an evening in front of the fire to look through the seed stocks and see what is too old, what I may as well pass on to someone else because I know I won't grow it and what, if anything, I need to buy new this year.

It is good to feel a sense of anticipation and growing enjoyment about something.

Yep, whatever the future holds, there will be room for seeds in it.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

A year in the death: January

The soup must have worked its magic as I survived the week relatively unscathed. A couple of days in bed sounds quite nice right now - I have a huge backlog of books to work my way through - what a shame it normally means having to be ill to do it.

On Friday, I felt I deserved a day off though.
When R was here, I was able to do this most of the time, and we were working towards me cutting back to three days a week, so I could spend more time on the smallholding. The place looked very tidy in those days. Ah well.

Friday's treat was a trip to the tip to get rid of all the junk in the Land Rover, with a view to filling it up again this weekend. Such is the glamorous life I live these days.
But it did give me a chance to call in to see R for a few minutes. Just to be there and feel close to him.

The contrast in temperature compared to this time last month is quite incredible; +12, rather than -12 C. But the warm front has brought with it high winds and lots of rain, which is the sort of weather that really sends my mood into a tailspin. It brings on inaction and passivity, which doesn't suit me at all, and makes me long for Spring.

But the field has changed very little since my last visit.
The grass appears flat and lifeless and there is not even a trace of the first bulbs. It is a frustrating time, as always. My hands are itching to start sowing and planting again. Even digging isn't possible because the ground is so wet. I know there is life starting again as the moles have started to excavate the paddock, and sparrows can be seen carrying feathers back to their nests. It seems to be light a little longer every evening, yet it still is not really time to start working outside.

I have decided that this will be a quiet year on the animal side of the holding. It would be nice to do more with the garden. There is a patch outside the back door that is a real mess, largely because it has been devastated by chickens - something that used to drive R mad, as they would constantly scrape soil from the flowerbeds onto his lawn! Well now the chickens are firmly under lock and key, and duck numbers will be reduced soon, so it would be good to have some frivolous, non-productive flowers this year - just because. I even have plans to plant a small patch of flowers behind the greenhouse just for cutting for the house. It would be nice to think that will happen this year too.

I may not be able to dig at home, but there was digging occurring at the burial field when I arrived. I had to take a deep breath before walking past the new grave being opened up. Life may be at a standstill for the time being, but it appears that death is still in business.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011


I was feeling quite smug because I thought I had got away with it.
Most of my family had come down with the lurgy either at or around Christmas, but I sailed through the festive season in rude good health.

But now, ten days after they all went home, taking their sniffles, portable drug cabinets and soggy hankies with them, I can feel the achiness starting.

I really don't have time to be ill this week. Or at least not until Thursday when I have to deliver quite a large job to a new client. One I would like to impress, so calling in sick just isn't an option. Working freelance mostly makes for a wonderful life, with the flexibility to control the content of the day. But having no one who can take over the reins occasionally means keeping going when you would rather be tucked up in bed.

So, attempting not to think resentful thoughts about my friend whose husband managed to wangle a week working at home to look after her when she had 'flu, I have been preparing for a possible visit from Mr H1N1:

Extra bag of chicken feed bought - check
Friend to walk Moose if I can't get up - check
Table tennis match cancelled - check
Paracetamol - check
Boxes of tissues - check
Fire made up and ready to go - check
Adequate stores of honey, whisky and lemon - check
Hot water bottle beside the kettle - check
Big pot of soup made - check

This latter is essential if I am not actually on my deathbed. Soup to nourish and comfort.
There was no chicken immediately to hand, and I wasn't about to start exploring the icy depths of the freezer, so lamb bones would have to do. They make a lovely rich soup, with lots of instantly health-giving veggies and barley. Barley is one of my favourite comfort foods; it is easy to eat and digest and soaks up all the flavour of the stock. While I would rather have a gentle nursemaid here to soothe my fevered brow, magic soup will have to do instead.

Bring it on!
Well actually I would much rather it passed me by altogether, but at least I am ready for it. But not until Thursday, please.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

On a roll

I knew I shouldn't have listened to it.

But The Archers, that everyday story of country folk, has been part of the soundtrack to my life for 15 minutes a day ever since I was born, so it was sort of predestined that I would have to listen to the 60th anniversary edition. (60 years! How can a radio programme keep going for so long?)
I held out until the omnibus catch-up this morning, then simply couldn't resist despite my better judgement.

And the clunky dialogue and even more obvious plot-signposting did nothing to lessen the impact of having one of my favourite characters killed off. The resulting shock, pain and disbelief was beautifully played by the cast. Which was how I found myself sitting at the kitchen table this morning, sobbing my heart out at the imagined grief of an imaginary wife in a pretend village on the radio!

Time to get a grip.
Time to shake off a mood that was rapidly spiralling downward.
Time to get mucky and start clearing out the barn.

It is revolting at present, with everything covered in a couple of generations of duck poo and polystyrene bobbles. I don't know why, but polystyrene has an irresistible fascination for chickens, and mine had spent many happy hours pecking to pieces the insulation sheets that R had put in there for safe-keeping.

Then there are the piles of wood, cardboard boxes, stacks of old feed sacks, solidified bags of old cement, soggy straw, old demijohns, many lengths of baler twine, tarpaulins and plastic sheeting - and that's even before I get back as far as the disintegrating shelving units left behind by a previous owner. Somewhere under all the mess are the boxes containing the parquet floor blocks that R bought about 2 months after we moved here and which I would like to have laid in my sitting room - when I finally get around to decorating it.

Outside there are a couple of old radiators, a stack of old windows that R was going to make into cold frames for me, the pile of quarry tiles that I hope one day will be sufficient to cover my kitchen floor.

It was like Steptoe's yard out there and getting worse by the day.

A couple of hours later I was totally filthy and the Land Rover was packed to the top with - let's not beat about the bush here - with crap.
Not potentially useful stuff that just needed to find another home, but pure, unadulterated crap that has been making me feel awful every time I went into the barn. Getting it out of there felt wonderful.

It would be nice to say that I had got most of it done this afternoon, but I am not even close. I had to stop due to lack of space in the car. There will be several more trips to the tip needed after this one. But it feels better already, and if I can keep up the momentum it might once again become a useful space rather than a dumping ground for general rubbish.

Thursday, 6 January 2011


It is incredible what a few days with people around can do to lift my mood.
People who loved R nearly as much as I do. People who forgive me if I am a bit tetchy or weepy or just generally useless. People with welcoming arms and ready shoulders. People who make me laugh.

The only down side, if indeed that is what it is, is that it does not leave much time for reflection. There is no space in which to do the balance-sheet accounting that is usual at this time of year. No quiet hours to sit and think and plan for the future.

So I am a bit late with my New Year's resolutions!
Actually this is not something that I have done much of in the past, as it always seemed such a pointless exercise. But that was in that other, charmed life where things always appeared to work out for the best.

Now I feel that I am approaching some sort of crossroads.
I seem to have been simply marking time for so long. It is difficult to say exactly what I have been waiting for - probably for the deus ex machina to descend and explain that the last two and a half years were all a bad dream.

Nope! Much as I'd like that to be true, it just ain't going to happen, so I need to do something about the inertia that has been rooting me to the spot for so long.

I could write a long and very boring list of all the things that need to be done around here, but that would be missing the point. First of all I have to decide what I want from my life from now on, otherwise anything that I do achieve will be nothing more than rearranging the deckchairs.

I think it all came to a head when I was plucking the turkeys. It was about 10 below zero and my hands and feet were painful blocks of ice. At that moment it wasn't entirely clear to me why I was doing it - other than that was what we always did. But that was when there were two people to share the work, and it was the precursor to a hugely-satisfying home-produced Christmas dinner.
With one person it was just a miserable exercise.

It would also be nice to do a bit of travelling this year, and that is much easier to arrange if I keep the animal numbers to a minimum. But then it feels like holding up the white flag of surrender to say that. On the other hand it would allow me to concentrate on getting the house sorted, or at least half of it, which would be a very positive achievement and make me feel a lot better about myself.

Gah. I just don't know where to go from here. All I know is that I don't want another few months like the end of last year, when I found myself running - and failing - to keep up with everything. Something has to give. But what? And how to make that feel like a positive thing, rather than making me feel I have failed?

So, my resolution is to find out what I really want from the next phase of my life - whatever that may be. If it takes a year, then so be it. It has got to be better than watching myself becoming increasingly overwhelmed with everything.

Oh, and I want to run at least one 10 k race this year, plus a sub-28 minute 5 k.
And catch up with all those overdue letters that I owe people (you know who you are)!

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda o Gymru

A Happy New Year from Wales.
May 2011 be everything you hope it will be.