An avid reader of newspapers (when I was growing up my parents always had two delivered daily; my mother used to go straight to the horse racing pages), and a keen listener of news broadcasts and watcher of current affairs programmes, I try to be as well informed as I can be. But, with an overload of reporting on tragedy, turmoil, a titanic report and turbulence of one sort and another of late, it's become too much. You think that must surely be it. And then you learn it isn't. Just how many 'Breaking news' alerts can we take in a week? A day?
So, there's been an attempt at distraction here, focusing on all things pink and fluffy (metaphorically speaking), to try and soothe the nerves, to provide some respite from all the happenings.
Although time spent in the Garden of Perpetual Autumn usually dampens the spirit (a mature elaeagnus at the back of the pond has now decided to give up the ghost and is shedding its yellowed leaves by the shovelful, one of the rose bushes has failed to flower at all and a hydrangea has been demolished by I know not what), there are a few bright spots. The potted plants are (mostly) thriving, and there are splashes of colour here and there. I have no idea what the lone blue flower is and don't remember planting it (maybe I'm nurturing a weed) but, whatever it is, it's most welcome.
The Boy continues to hone his skills in the kitchen and the latest bake on the cooling trays was a batch of madeleines (some plain, some dusted with icing sugar, some dipped in a lemon glaze). As usual, I couldn't partake so I made vegan custard creams. And polished off the lot in one sitting on a particularly news heavy day.
There's been the annual open gardens weekend to raise funds for a local hospice. You can't beat a good nose round other people's gardens (though maybe a good nose along their bookshelves would win that particular contest). There was a wide variety of plots to visit, some teeny, some large, some seriously sloping, some with interesting neighbours, some with cake to keep the mister happy, lots to envy. Unfortunately, I took very few pictures, I was so distracted.
There's nothing like getting stuck into a cracking read to escape reality and the current book at bedtime is really hitting the spot. Substantial, at almost 1200 pages, it's written 'in the Dickensian style' (more Dickens than Dickens, as some have commented) with a late Regency setting. It's complex with a raft of characters, historical detail aplenty, twists, turns, adventure, conspiracy and mystery as the varying fortunes of young Johnnie Huffam and his mother are related. Highly recommended.
Then there's the Boo, always full of the joys of Spring and ever willing to distract with a game of ball or chase. But this week, not so much. He had to spend a day with the vet (possibly not his favourite person) and undergo some much needed, erm, cosmetic work. He returned home a tad groggy and feeling very sorry for himself. But, whoah, his gnashers are positively gleaming.
Of course, a picture by email of the always smiling littlest never fails to brighten the day.
The local pond is on the dog walk route. It's a small pool of often murky water, home to a community of frogs (we've performed a number of rescues when they've strayed onto the cycle path), a moorhen or two and lately five drakes. Duck families haven't fared too well here over the last few years (a combination of dry conditions and naughty boys) so we were pleasantly surprised one evening when these youngsters, six in total, and their mother suddenly came into view.
After a quick scan of the fridge and larder one afternoon, an unplanned visit to the supermarket was on the cards if dinner was to be something other than brown rice with tinned tomatoes. All went well (I made a list, remembered to take it with me and even checked it over before unloading the trolley at the checkout) until halfway home, when my little car unexpectedly ground to a halt in the middle of a dual carriageway. I managed to restart it (well, eventually, and with an impressive queue behind) and somehow made it home (I don't use a mobile phone so there wasn't much chance of summoning help), with little in the way of acceleration, an alarmingly loud grinding noise and a warning light flashing on the dashboard.
The garage was fully booked for repairs so the car has been sitting on the drive for a week, awaiting its diagnosis which is scheduled for tomorrow, and I've been hoofing it here, there and everywhere. (It took me an hour and a half to buy a bag of coffee beans yesterday. Walking back from the shop, an elderly man on a mobility scooter challenged me to race him. He won.)
But doesn't your mister also have a car, I hear you ask. Well, yes, he does. Or at least he did until he spectacularly crashed it the day after mine took sick (fortunately no casualties apart from the poor car). Didn't see that one coming. Clearly, neither did the mister.
Contrary to predictions, the latest additions to the garden borders are settling in well, especially given the poor soil, Boo's clumsy clown feet and a cat with a penchant for rolling (the other cat is too preoccupied waging territory war with the new feline on the block). Some of the plants are already flowering, providing some welcome splashes of colour amongst all the brown.
There's a small but decent monthly farmers market in the big park down the road which on Sunday expanded into a food festival. In the spirit of 'if you don't support it, it'll probably vanish', we decided to have a nosey. Along with the world and his wife. We arrived at midday and the place was unusually heaving. Many stalls had already sold out, with just a scattering of crumbs hinting at baked delights missed. At least it was an opportunity for a spot of people and dog watching.
The littlest paid a visit at the weekend, lured, no doubt, by the promise of festival food (he might be just nine months old but that boy can pack away a surprising amount of food). There was the predictable poking about under the rug but all the standing up took us somewhat unawares .
You know you're enjoying a book when the highlighter pen comes out. I read far more novels than non fiction but this one jumped out at me (and it's endorsed by Pollyanna herself, Hayley Mills).
A lot of the content seems to be the usual stuff promoted widely for keeping healthy - regular exercise, a balanced diet, keeping hydrated, getting sufficient sleep, avoiding refined sugar etc - but I've already taken some of the advice on board, like drinking a mug of hot water with a slice of lemon on waking (though you can't beat that first cup of coffee of the day) and I've increased the range of supplements I'm taking (that noise? It's me, rattling). Whilst no medical expert, I would have to say I disagree with the assertion that veganism is 'more suited to people who have a smaller bone and muscle structure (such as Asians)' and, even though I'm not in possession of either, won't be changing my dietary preferences.
Actually, there have been two books on the go of late, not something I manage very often as it takes all my concentration to keep up with one plot or argument. This turned out to be Margaret Forster's final novel, the story of Tara, recently released from prison and attempting to restart her life with a new identity and a changed personality in Cumbria. It's a slenderish book, with a slow burner of a plot, and probably not the author's best work (I've written previously about The Bride of Lowther Fell which is one of my favourite books of all time) but it's an absorbing read and one I would definitely recommend.
The weather changed rather dramatically last week and one afternoon we followed the sun to the beach.
The world and his wife were there but the tide was out and there was plenty of space for everyone to do whatever it was they were there to do.
Boo chased his ball and I tripped over my feet.
No idea who Brian is but apparently he's a pedant.
The better weather also prompted a wander and stocktake in the Garden of Perpetual Autumn here (I kid you not, whatever the season, it's covered in leaves and twigs). Despite a fair amount of backbreaking digging out (of well past their prime shrubs in the border at the bottom of our little plot) and copious planting (clearly a waste of money as most of the plants haven't survived) last year, there are far too many gaps. Back to the drawing board.
Meanwhile, in a kitchen in another part of the country, someone was stuffing his face with freshly baked broccoli and cheese muffins.
Finished a (charity shop bargain) book. No, not the one about Richard 111, I'm still just over halfway through that. But I needed a break from all the arguing about who should sit on the throne and the ever changing loyalties and the battles, so many battles, you'd think they'd run out of soldiers.
The Woman Upstairsisn't about a ghost in the attic but 40 something Norah Eldridge. She's 'the woman upstairs', a good teacher in an American elementary school, a good daughter, a frustrated artist, single, childless, ordinary, invisible. She's unhappy with her lot. And she's angry. Norah looks back on a particular time in her life, a year when she became infatuated with a new pupil in her class and his parents, a family which fills the gaps in her life, a family she becomes a part of. Or so she thinks. This novel is not big on plot (most of the action takes place in Norah's head), and the central character is not particularly likeable, but it is well written and one I'd recommend.
Knit a hat. Actually, two hats, one for me, one (a Halloween accessory) for a cat. I rather like mine. The cat hates his.
Carved (same design as last year because if it ain't broke....) a pumpkin. With some assistance. I'm really not good with knives. And, it seems, forks, if recent experiences with jacket potatoes are anything to go by.
Scared the living daylights out of the cat. I swear, all I did was wear a pair of sparkly devil's horns for Halloween and all hell broke loose. Maybe it was payback for the knitted hat.
Baked a batch of pumpkin and chocolate chip muffins with the leftovers from all the carving. First time using the recipe and, as they were a bit of a faff and nothing special taste-wise, probably the last. I ended up eating all of them. Apparently I didn't do a very good job selling them to the others here who preferred to tuck into the bowl of chocolate treats by the front door. Funny how the Milky Ways are always the ones left at the bottom.
Bought my first Christmas magazine. I used to be an avid reader of the monthly glossies but they're just an occasional purchase now. I do, however, buy most of the Christmas editions.
Played this continuously (and sang along) whilst out and about in the car. I first posted about local band Cattle and Cane (and you can listen) here and can highly recommend the album 'cos they're dead good.
Crocheted a Remembrance poppy. I needed a lot of help with this at crochet club. In fact, I had to be moved to sit next to our group's leader and crochet expert. At first, my poppy looked like a teeny basket. After the next attempt, someone remarked, 'You've made a snail'. I got there eventually but the experience just confirmed what I already knew. Crochet patterns are written in Hungarian and I'm useless with a hook.
Ordered a Thundershirt for the dog shaped scaredy cat here. I should have saved my money. It's made not the slightest difference.
Enjoyed the glorious colours of the season in the last days of the month. Whatever else is going on at the moment, just walking, with the backdrop of autumn in all its glory, never fails to lift the spirit.
Slow progress is being made with the current book at bedtime, The Sunne in Splendour, the novel about Richard lll. I'm only halfway through (it is a whopper), the Houses of York and Lancaster continue to knock nine bells out of each other on a regular basis and Richard is just coming up to his 19th birthday, so there's a way to go. But it's a cracking read and quite the change from my usual choice (well written twisty crime, serial killer optional).
I don't often have two books on the go at the same time (my addled brain struggles with just a single storyline to be honest) but this one, a memoir with end of chapter yoga sequences, was purchased on the back of throwing myself (possibly a tad too enthusiastically if my loudly protesting back is anything to go by) into my weekly yoga class.
A bit of inner peace wouldn't go amiss, actually. There have been very difficult decisions to be made in respect of my aunt, decisions taken with (what I consider to be) her best interests very much at heart but, even so, far, far from easy. A sharp reminder that life isn't always pink and fluffy.
Autumn in all its colourful glory has been helping. I took myself off to the big park down the road (I wrote about it here) one afternoon to wander down paths and kick leaves and watch dogs chase squirrels and just take it all in.
Time spent pottering in the kitchen has also helped. A simple fruity tea loaf was quickly made (soaking the dried fruit in hot strong tea for just half an hour helped) and quickly demolished (by yours truly) and a Very Important Visitor and his mummy, who were up here for the day, were welcomed with a batch of rhubarb and custard flavoured macaroon topped cakes (of course, the VIV couldn't eat any as he doesn't have any gnashers yet). I didn't make the macaroons, which were some of the Boy's rejects, but I thought they'd add a bit of crunch. There were definite nods of approval.
Firework season has started here, Boo's least favourite time of year. Actually, for a gun dog he's surprisingly terrified of bangs (he hates fireworks even more than he hates Jeremy Paxman, and that's saying something) and his fear and anxiety seem to be increasing each year. He definitely needs to undertake a desensitisation programme. Too late for this year, unfortunately, so I'm dreading the lead up and Bonfire Night itself, when he'll be a quivering, panting wreck. I'm considering buying him one of these. I may buy one for myself.
Maybe not the most exciting of times but there's been.....
.... a bit of time spent at the beach on a warm, hazy Saturday
.... a bit of flower arranging. Despite the distinct lack of green fingers here, the garden is still producing enough to fill a couple of vases (though, true to form, I've managed to kill off an established fatsia japonica)
.... a bit of baking. We were completely out of bread and I was in the mood for a bit of kneading
.... a bit of mooching in the charity shops. Four books and a total spend of two quid. Looks like we may need a bigger bookcase
.... a bit of butterfly watching. There have been bees a-plenty in the garden here this summer but no butterflies. Then one day the buddleia lived up to its name and they were everywhere. I stood on the grass surrounded by them, half expecting a bluebird to land on my shoulder to complete the picture
.... a bit of beetroot enjoying. In the form of soup, a simple, Rose Elliot recipe I've been using for donkey's years. And after the soup, the joy of pink washing-up water
.... a bit of pampering on National Dog Day. As good a day as any to spruce up the Boo who was not, it has to be said, smelling his best. He is now
.... a bit of listening to a new favourite band. They're local and pretty damn good
This walk.Very easy. Very familiar. Very local. Out the front door, along the lane, sharp left towards the farm and follow the sign. Fields of just about ready for harvesting crops. Thistles in abundance. Bees everywhere. Ripening berries and the promise of a fruit crumble in the not too distant future. Boo embraced that whole 'If you're happy, leap through the barley field with your ears and tail in the air' thing. Nearing home after a couple of hours walking, a friend's donkey, Humphrey, trotted over for a bit of a chinwag. Or maybe he was anticipating a treat or two.
This film. Also this one. Both well worth watching if you haven't seen them already.
This sunflower. All snuggled up to a hydrangea growing in a pot near the pond in the garden. I planted the hydrangea (which is of the black stemmed variety). I didn't plant the sunflower. Funnily enough, it's the best blummin' sunflower that's ever grown (there have been many) in any of our gardens (there have been three). In other pots there are cosmos and love in a mist plus still so very green and tiny, marble-like tomatoes. Can't say I'm hopeful of them ever ripening.
This Sunday morning breakfast. Ready in a flash (well, quicker than getting in the car and buying a pack from the supermarket bakery section). Vegan, too.
This book. Oh, gosh yes. This Pulitzer prize winning book. Donna Tartt's third. A big one at 771 pages. Written in the first person. The story of a boy, a tragedy, a priceless painting told over a period of fifteen or so years. A cast of wonderful characters you actually come to care about, flaws and all. A brilliant sense of place, be it New York or Vegas or Amsterdam. One of those books that you can't stop reading but don't want to end. One of those books that is so utterly absorbing you can't get it out of your head. One of those books that you just know you'll want to read again the minute you finish it. One of those books which just might be up there with the best you've ever read. The blurb on the dust cover describes it as breathtaking. It is. Breathtakingly perfect.
'It was all very different from the crowded, complicated, and overly formal atmosphere of the Barbours', where everything was rehearsed and scheduled like a Broadway production, an airless perfection from which Andy had been in constant retreat, scuttling to his bedroom like a frightened squid. By contrast Hobie lived and wafted like some great sea mammal in his own mild atmosphere, the dark brown of tea stains and tobacco, where every clock in the house said something different and time didn't actually correspond to the standard measure but instead meandered along at its own sedate tick-tock, obeying the pace of his antique-crowded backwater, far from the factory-built, epoxy glued version of the world.'
Apart from that afternoon last week when the mister came home from a supermarket trip to find TV crews and reporters at the end of our drive. No, we hadn't scooped a fortune with a winning set of numbers on a lottery ticket. They were outside the wrong house.
So, those supermarket visits. They're happening every day, more or less. Admittedly, we don't plan menus, salad ingredients and summer berries need to be bought frequently, the various pets demand what feels like constant topping up and we mostly shop without a list so something essential is usually forgotten resulting in a return trip. But daily? Who's eating/using all the stuff?
Another blanket is in the making, started in a bit of a panic when crochet club loomed at the weekend and I realised the hooks (I own a total of two) were lying forlornly in the fountain pen box. I've opted for a mix of small squares (it's already clear they're not all the same size) and can't help wondering if, yet again, this is destined for the dog's basket.
Whilst the members of our little group were happily crocheting away in the window of the yarn shop, a young girl popped her head round the door and asked if someone could possibly help her. 'I've taught myself to knit but I need to learn how to cast off. My scarf is currently nine feet long and it's costing me a fortune.' Bless.
I'm currently working on a little project after being approached by a local authority to support them in improving services. It won't significantly bolster the bank account but it's keeping the brain ticking over and it was strangely comforting to be asked.
Biscuits of the choc chunk, oats and coconut variety made a brief appearance in the kitchen. Very brief. Seems improvement thinking requires a certain type of fuel.
I stayed up later than usual one night to finally watch the very last episode (I don't usually watch last episodes, clearly having an issue with endings) of my favourite series, Mad Men. The solitary viewing was predictably accompanied by noisy sobbing.
Another book was ordered. (Whilst awaiting delivery, I romped through a murder mystery, the highly enjoyable third in the series about eleven year old amateur sleuth and chemistry wizard, Flavia de Luce.) Funny, isn't it, that, despite an impressive to be read pile, after stumbling across a new to you author, you simply have to get your sticky little mitts on everything in their back catalogue? Or maybe that's just me.
A treat of a new bottle of perfume came through the letterbox (well, maybe not literally). I love perfume, always have, probably always will, and I have my trusty favourites but sometimes it's good to live a little dangerously. This is a white floral with notes of sandalwood, osmanthus and Indonesian patchouli at its base. Apparently.
The aunt has been yo yo-ing between the hospital and respite care. She's back at the care home. For now.
It was strange visiting her on the day that marked seven years since I'd sat in the very next room with my dad as he passed away.
My dad. Baker of breads, cakes (his Sachertorte is legendary in these parts) and pastries par excellence. It was only fitting that night to serve a pudding that the Girlie and Boy, who had tea with my parents every Friday after school, will forever associate with him.
The robin parents were frequent visitors to the garden, or more specifically the bird feeders, earlier in the week, filling their beaks with seeds and mealworms before returning to their home somewhere in the tangle of ivy and shrubs alongside the garage.
This one was snapped taking a breather on the towel I'd left outside the kitchen door after a plant pot painting session.
There was a noisy kerfuffle one evening from the depths of the shrubs. The birds haven't been seen since. We fear the worst.
On a happier note, actual tomatoes have appeared in the plant pots in the garden. Admittedly, I've probably sported larger pimples andwe're not going to be harvesting any time soon but still, I grew these from seeds. Go me.
Staying in the garden, the roses have flourished this summer, in spite of all the neglect, with some blooms the size of saucers and more than enough for cutting and plonking in a vase with sprays of alchemilla mollis (efficacious in the treatment of hernias, perforated eardrums and overly large bosoms, apparently).
Tucked away in a corner at the bottom of the odd shaped plot here, the little summerhouse has received its annual spruce up. The perfect spot for a sneaky hour on a sunny afternoon with the current read.
For someone else, summer in the garden is all about playing with a string of smiley sausages. Which almost always means trampled plants.
In the kitchen, several baking sessions resulted in a rhubarb crumble, a very gooey chocolate cake, easier on the fingers cheese and chive scones and cherry and almond rock buns.
And Friday night here is usually pizza night, even for the vegan.
The current book at bedtime (and sometimes earlier), Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace, is an absolute cracker.
Based on the true story of young servant Grace Marks, who in 1840s Canada, was found guilty with stablehand James McDermott of murdering their employer and his housekeeper. McDermott was hanged whilst Grace, just sixteen years old at the time, had her sentence commuted to life imprisonment.
The story focuses on the imprisoned Grace and her somewhat guarded account of her life thus far as told during interviews with Dr. Simon Jordan, hired by a group of do-gooders intent on securing a pardon from the Canadian government. Grace is an admirer of the quilts she comes across in the various households she finds herself employed (each section of the book is named after a quilt pattern - Puss in the Corner, Young Man's Fancy, Broken Dishes and the like), is proficient with a needle and thread (such small stitches), takes pride in the execution of her domestic duties (such detailed description which left me eager to get the washing pegged out on the line and drying in the sun) and knows her place. But maybe all is not as it seems. Highly recommended.