Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Daffodils, dogs and dinners in December

Daffodils in December? - Yes, in Russell Square, Bloomsbury, nodding their heads as if to say 'we know it's December but you're in your shirt sleeves, the trees are in blossom and the ground is so warm and our roots so toasty that we thought we'd pop up to wish you all a Merry Christmas.' I wish I'd taken a photograph but it was too late and too dark and I was chatting so it would have been rude and I had to intercept a travelling child and her bag full of bricks from Paris and drag the bricks to St Pauls to meet several other Christmas-market-visiting, Father-Christmas-hand-shaking members of the family.

But honestly - daffodils - in December. It's like Nanny MacPhee's snow in August.  Weather experts are already forecasting the warmest December in 70 yrs. All part of the latest El Nino effect. Apparently. The Big Red Man must have been hot. But on the plus side he'll have had to deal with fewer lit fires, less smoke and cooler chimneys.

Another side effect of the unseasonal warmth - aside from everyone talking about it - is the daily appearance of a dog-hair carpet. Four-legged-friend and Bertie Baggins were tricked by a few chilly days in November and grew a thicker coat in anticipation, not unreasonably, of more cold days - what we used to call winter. But winter hasn't arrived and they are too well covered. Thus they moult. Thus the floor is covered in hair. Our socks pick up hairy prickles. There's hair in our beds. And a hair in the butter (best not to tell of this to any of the Christmas house-guests or the man of the house who is the least-enamoured-with-absolutely-everything-doggy-about-the-dogs member of the family). In both shedding hair at the same time (as far as we can tell) the dogs are mimicing each other, in the week that the world receives the momentous news ... drum roll ... that dogs - wait for it - because you will struggle to believe it - dogs em-pa-thi-i-i-ise. Impressed? Or more - 'Well, duh! Of course dogs empathise!' As anyone who has a dog knows. They are frisky and bounding around and knocking things over - which doesn't matter because we're frisky and bouncy too - when we are happy. They can also do quiet, reflective and here's my muzzle on your lap to make you feel better when we're sad. And Four-legged-friend catches my feelings totally when he strains to pull himself to his feet, struggles to raise an eyelid (two eyelids would be beyond impossible) at 2.45 in the morning, when Bertie Baggins bladder announces to him that it's full and please would he wake as many people as possible up in order that one might stagger downstairs and let him out to empty it.

As Tim Minchin says 'empathy is intuitive but it is also something you can work on' - I think if we want to learn how, we need only study our dogs: from puppy-dom to elderly canine companion, they study us, adapting their mood to reflect ours, paying attention to our every gesture, listening for changes in the intonation in our voices, watching and waiting. Their motive is simple - we anthropomorphise them too much if we try to claim otherwise - they study us to learn to empathise in order to survive. A life of reflecting our feelings, which we interpret as love, loyalty and faithfulness  is all about achieving one thing - food. They're brilliant at it! I'm not saying we should learn to empathise in order to get a good dinner. Or indeed any prize. But in showing compassion and understanding, we grow ourselves both in self respect and in the way we are regarded by others. If it occasionally results in a pat on the head and an edible treat (chocolate, glass of pinot ...) those are bonuses.

Discussing dogs who empathise with each other and with us has led me away from the unseasonal weather. And I feel I should return, specifically to muddy, muggy, my-jacket-is-at-home-and-my-gloves-dangling-at-my-wrists-because-it-is-too-warm-for-December (!) walks.

Dog walks -




I wonder if Four-legged-friend's and Bertie Baggins's enthusiasm for walks has anything to do with their observation that their chief two-legged-friend has imbibed a bit too much Christmas cheer and is feeling a bit bloated around the waist and generally distressed and anxious about the prospect of enforced rationing and their skills of empathy lead them to conclude that they should steer this chief two-legged-friend along a path of increased exercise. We walked the we're so tired our feet can barely cope with staggering forward and what with all this mud and wind and having worn too many clothes we'd rather be curled up in front of a roaring fire with a comfy pillow and a book - but oh no, that would be too warm. We also completed the Boxing Day plus birthday celebrating walk when Littlest remains littlest. Whilst at the same time gaining a year

... and almost losing her wellies




Last in this seasonal ramble is turkey- on the big day (with all the trimmings), cold the next (ditto but reheated), then in quiche and a creamy casserole (frozen), in sandwiches, nibbled on passing the fridge and the remains chucked into a roasted root vegetable stew which also used up the end of the turkey gravy. The entire family and friends who visited today are now quite happy to avoid eating turkey for approximately 363 days (apart from the creamy casserole to be served en croute and eaten by Easter).

Happy blogging, empathising and dieting New Year one and all.

Will there be any daffodils left by Spring?

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Wordsmiths and trying to walk tables

Anyone who has dropped in here before will be aware of my fondness for words.

Discombobulated for example. We thought we were going for a walk but now we appear to be taking the table and a chair with us




This Walking the Dog blog is an excuse to play with words. I love words - always - they run around inside my head playing hopscotch over each other, jostling until one wins, seizes the microphone and broadcasts itself as my ear-worm word of the day. Perhaps, this inner-ear perseveration - or personal juke box rolling over on repeat spitting out the same word again and again - is some form of obsessive compulsive disorder? Or a sign of incipient madness? Or maybe it's utterly normal for those who strive to be wordsmiths?

From Discombobulated on 7th November 2011 to Floccinaucinihilipilification on 16 March 2015, via Curmudgeonly (8/11/11) and Dreich, drookit and mauchit (20/1/12), I have written about, taken inspiration from and generally enjoyed playing with a motley and largely forgotten, ignored or frankly shunned-into-silence, sent-to-Coventry, and unrecognised-by-spell-checker vocabulary. Within my family, dreich is popular - onomatopoeic, with a forceful slide down into a world of gloom before it lands in a throat-clearing, blustery puddle - it inserts itself damply into our chatter during holidays in Scotland. I love curmudgeonly. I think it, or its noun, a lot. I say it less frequently. That would be rude. But saying it to yourself is secretly satisfying, cathartic and empowering even - it's surprising how much emotion can be muttered under your breath. I put such weight on the sound and shape and historical provenance and hidden meanings of words that I may end up accused of being an anti-floccinaucinihilipilificatrix. Huh!

Have you ever wondered where words come from? Who invented them? How, having been inserted into an individual's vocabulary for the first time, were they noticed by others, propagated and finally accepted by everyone as everyday language?

Shakespeare was famous for his invention of words. Or did he hear them in the street and hijack them for himself, merely adopting the role of seed sewer; scattering and propagating new(-ish) words across the pages of his plays? Words first attributed to him and still used today include gloomy, generous, swagger, zany, obscene, dwindle, fashionable, eyesore, assassination, rant and incredibly over 1000 more. Shakespeare, as wordsmith, was prolific but not alone - Dickens gave us boredom and snobbish; Milton invented Pandemonium; Lewis Carroll conjured up chortle; Dr Seuss introduced the nerd and where would we be without Chaucer's twitter? Four-legged-friend and Bertie Baggins would still have their noses on the ground - guzzling ground fall apples.


Guzzle incidentally first cropped up in the mid 1500s  and was used to good effect by a satirist named Tom Brown. It was probably derived from a French word, as too, were many of Shakespeare's new words. It was a time of change in English society with increased trade, travel and migration - the anglification of foreign words was perhaps inevitable. Maybe first occurring by mistake; with the better mistakes being picked up, run with and eventually adopted.

New words can also crop up when a noun is changed to a verb or a verb to a noun or in the case of blog becomes both noun and verb (the noun in this case appearing first).

Apart from Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky with its slithy toves, mimsy borogoves and mome raths (... spell-checker knows slithy, mimsy and borogoves!) few words are truly invented. The light bulb moment, if it exists at all, is dependent on what went before - where the mistake, corruption or word-blending came from. A traceable evolution of originality, perhaps?

Before you mutter for goodness sake and contemplate pushing exit to make me vanish into thin air, I wish to suggest that there is method in my madness (three colloquialisms attributed to Shakespeare in one contrived sentence) for here I play with words and I post pictures of my dogs for the entertainment of who - myself; yes, you; hopefully. And all of a sudden (four!) I find I'm at the end. Nearly ...

Back briefly to Four-Legged-Friend and Bertie Baggins - their interest in words extends only as far as dinner, walk and out. Bertie responds to Bertie but also to Freddie, Harry and Charlie when said with the same intonation and upswing at the end. Four-Legged-Friend isn't actually called Four-Legged-Friend and I doubt he would move if addressed as such. He moves only when he has to. Or when he has sensed the faintest whiff of something edible.




P.S. Recombobulation was achieved after unhitching of leads and the walk accomplished without the addition of eight extra (rather heavy and inflexible) legs.





Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The whens, whys, hows and wheres of a good life.

Whatever pithy sayings are said about life - the clever, inspiring quotes you read, try to remember and promptly forget - and whatever happens along life's way; eventually, it's how you live it that matters. This how is the essence of a good life.

Kids live for the moment. Life is good. Responsibilities if they exist are to themselves. Theirs is a life of when - when will I grow up; when can we get a dog; when will the toothfairy remember to come; when will I be tall enough for that ride at the theme park; when can I have another ice-cream; when can I start wearing make-up; when can I have my ears pierced; when are you collecting me from the party - not that early!; when can I have an allowance and when can I go to London on my own?

Teens live in the moment - anything beyond that moment is not worthy of their attention - exams, what exams; alarm clocks are for losers; ditto baths; alcohol is all about the pre-loading before the party; the party is about getting wasted before your friends; and parents are, well, just the people you grunt at, whose food you eat and whose home you liberally sprinkle with discarded items of clothing.

With late teens and early 20s comes the whys - why didn't I work harder at school; why did she get the job I wanted; why can't I have a car; why when I work my guts out doesn't the boss notice ... actually this is all sounding a bit negative ... it's more about the why can't I afford a house; why are all landlords money-pinching morons; why did my best friend think it would be sensible to have her hen night in San Tropez and expand it into a long weekend meaning that I now can't afford a holiday ... Still too negative? Sorry. More positive whys would include ... why is everyone so obsessed with who should be the next Bond when clearly it should be Rupert Friend, but nobody else seems to have considered him; and why waste caffeine in shampoo?

The hows arrive with middle age and are all about lifestyle and planning. Answering them well will secure a good life - how do we fit children into our work-life balance; how do I say yes to my cousin's wedding when I'd really like to go to the cricket; how do I get myself out of the pickle of having claimed work commitments, when I was seen at the cricket; how do I remember my passwords; how do you get Father Christmas's letter to actually go up the chimney without setting the house on fire; how do you carve a turkey; how do you remember birthdays; how do you choose a builder; how do you persuade her that a grey kitchen would be horrible without saying that it would be horrible; how do you service a lawnmower; how do you interview a nanny; how do you decide where to go on holiday and then tell your in-laws that they can't come after all; how do you do that face that tells her she looks beautiful when your eyes are looking at the extra stuffing round her middle; how do you cope with your midlife crisis and how do you look like you know what your children are talking about when they mention whatsapp, snapchat and pinterest? How do you slide effortlessly and without regret from knowing to pretending?

With old age come the wheres - where are my glasses; where did I leave my trousers; where are all my friends; where am I; and where did all the years go?


Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Je suis

On the 10th January this year,  I wrote a blog posting, titled Charlie, and started it with these words - 'When the outside world dips its toe into our lives, sometimes the ripples are impossible to ignore.'

Now, yet again the ripples wash against the feet of us all.
Yet again - unbelievably - Paris has been brutally attacked.
Yet again brain-numbing atrocity trespasses into our lives.
Yet again the world outside our homes cannot be ignored.

And that, I think, is the point - our homes: those places where we feel safe. Our homes, where terrorism should not dip its dirty fingers, but does - on our TV screens, radios, laptops and newspapers. Our homes, where we can believe and live and enjoy whatever books or music or film or TV series or sport we like. Simply because we are free. Yes, we dream of better things. But we can dream because we are free.

We forget at our peril how fortunate we are to have this freedom. In the free West. To feel safe. To live in a place that we call home and that we have always called home. It is a privilege denied to much of the world's population.

I believe it is impossible to understand the whys of the terrible acts in Paris. To do so would be to look into the mind of a monster. Perhaps, it is better to focus on how it can be stopped.

We must not, in essence, let these tigers that come at night, tear our hope apart.

As I wrote in January, I despise the monotheistic prejudice that turns men against other men. I crave a world where respect and acceptance are the pillars of theism. A world in which all are taught not to believe in just one God, but to accept that there may be many Gods and to recognise that there are people who believe not only in many different Gods, but also some like me who believe in none at all. Perhaps education is the key. But it is arrogant to think that it is a western-style of education that is the key. Teaching, by whatever means, mutual respect - Fraternite, if you like - acceptance of other cultures and an equality of opportunity would get closer to bolstering the foundation of our cherished freedom. Freedom achieved in this way should equal peace. I hope it is achievable. I hope it does.

In January, I wrote that the attackers failed to recognise the power of the pen. Their atrocious acts gave more voice to the satire of Charlie Hebdo than the cartoonists ever dreamt possible. Imagery in whatever form is supreme in most cultures. It always has been. Nothing else has the same power to move, to extract instant emotion and immediately dissipate global recognition. One image can alter history. From Banksy to Uderzo, artists across the world created powerful new images in defiance of the barbaric attack on Charlie Hebdo. Now images again stand in defiance against the terrorists - the tricolour on numerous iconic buildings from Sydney Opera House to the London Eye, and the international emblem of peace superimposed with an Eiffel Tower. Behind all these images is the message that united we stand against the terrorists. If we let fear into our lives and the terrorists divide us, then we will fall.

In the face of such barbarity, I don't have any solution but to plod on. To be tolerant and just a little brave. A knot ties itself tight in my stomach because I face travelling to London and Paris in the next few weeks. It's an uncomfortable feeling not knowing where the next attack might be. Not knowing how to keep my children safe. Not knowing how not to be scared.  I took inspiration when I wrote in January from Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, two climbers who were making a free-climb attempt on the Dawn Wall in California - insignificant and a little ridiculous in the face of everything else going on in the world? Yes, but their self-belief and perseverance in the face of pretty extreme discomfort, I thought illustrated the resilience of the human spirit. Fingers ripped to shreds and contemplating defeat, Tommy Caldwell said, "I'm not giving up. I will rest. I will try again. I will succeed." He did. We should do the same - not give up on freedom, never rest where freedom is threatened, try again to believe that life can be better. And never give up believing in the goodness of humanity. Those that committed these awful acts are less than human.

 'Nous sommes tous Parisiens.'






Saturday, 10 October 2015

What if?

Stuck?
Not sure which path to take?
Creativity blocked?

There are two words guaranteed to unlock your imagination -

What if?

Apply 'what if' to any scenario and watch as a kaleidoscope of opportunities, suggestions and ideas appears. Let the 'what ifs' run and see where they take you. Build a story - what if, what if, what if - follow as it veers off on unexpected paths, reign it in and guide the journey: you are captain, master and passenger on this sea of what ifs.

Why didn't I know about the magic of 'what if' before? It's so obvious, so simple, so brilliant. As a device for story telling, I suspect it is unparalleled. Suddenly, I can see. And plan. And dream.

And write.

All I have to do now is edit 1,000 words of my young adult novel to send to my new writing group.

Gulp!

What if ... they don't like it?

What if they do?

What if I stop procrastinating right now and get on with it?

But

what if I make dinner first? - walk the dogs? - bake a cake? - pour myself a glass of wine? - help Littlest with her Spanish (I don't know any Spanish so help is perhaps a little misleading)? - have a bath? - finish the ironing? - do the next Duolingo Italian lesson (I do want to learn Italian)? - read the newspaper? - plant the cyclamens I bought earlier today? - empty the washing machine? - delete some emails? - stop procrastinating?!

What if - still procrastinating - I could think of something witty to say next?

Like, for example - okay, so the following may not be terribly witty, but - what if



.
.. Four-legged-friend and Bertie Baggins were just dogs?

What if ... they were just dogs who




... just happened to have a fondness for apples? And had spotted a basket - at muzzle height! - unattended!! - full!!! of apples.

What if a malevolent apple grower noticed




and what if Four-legged-friend could speak? "What! Me! - Nooo, noo, no, I was just looking. Look, I'm looking over there now."

What if Bertie-butter-wouldn't-melt-in-my-mouth-Baggins could speak too?




"I wasn't ...




... just looking!"


Close your eyes and dream

"Close your eyes and dream."

"What about?" How do you conjure up the dream that fills your "night without a stir" (J. Keats) or that "stretches away, elusive" into the "infinity of space" (P. Gaugin)?

The prospect of meeting the demand to instantly invent a dream, to then dream about, is as agonising as the "Make a wish!" moment that accompanies cake cutting -

"Wait a minute ... wait a minute ... oka-a-ay, yes ...  no, wait a minute ... fine! Yes!"

You screw your eyes up to make the wish. And wish whilst holding your breath. And cut the cake. Then worry that you made the wrong wish. You worry so much that you say out loud what you wish you had wished. When this is met with groans, rolled eyes and nodding the why-did-you-wish-for-that nod,  you remind your friends that you didn't make that wish - "Of course not!" - and a fanfare of relief explodes inside your head.
You resolve, before you put the knife down, to decide on a wish to use in the future: the same wish to use every time you are asked to make a wish - a wish that fulfils the want of all the other wishes you could possibly wish and the charity of all the wishes you should wish.

The secret, therefore, of composure in the face of abrupt forced decision making, is to carry a brain-filling filing-cabinet of lists around in your head - the ideal wish; the list of best dreams you ever had; a list of dreams you wish you might have.
Equally effective at making your heart race and your mind leap into quicksand is the "What's your favourite ...?" question. You know what your favourite is ... if you have time to think about it. Put on the spot and you drop the contents of your favourite-file on the virtual floor and flounder as you look for the answer before turning beetroot and coming out with "I don't know ... it was that one ... you know? ... um ... that one." The elusive one will spring unannounced into your suddenly conscious mind in the middle of the night. Disturbing the dream.

(I like making lists. Making lists is the top hobby of the procrastinator. I have a list on my desk - of all the things I wanted to do this morning.

It now says 'Things to do' - this afternoon!)

I wonder if having a dream to always dream works. It might be a little like self-hypnosis: imagining a place of calm, that feels secure and slides you gently into sleep. I suspect that the effectiveness of this depends both on the moment and what went before - was the day a good one? Were you with friends? Did you laugh? Did the sun shine? Feeling contented will place you in a good emotional balance and the dream you have is likely to be filled with mellow happiness.
If the hours before were turbulent with frustration, argument and a gut-knotting sense of failure, the dream will be restless and any sleep that sneaks into your mind will be fitful.

You might even find yourself adopting the alternative Jack Sparrow approach -

"Close your eyes and pretend it's all a bad dream."



Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Vespas, wasps, aphantasia and Shakespeare

"Bear with" as Miranda's posh friend Tilly is fond of saying in the sitcom Miranda - bear with and prepare your mind for a flight into fantasy. Actually, if I succeed it will be a flight into the deeper recesses of your imagination, but as this is dependant on my summoning up of the necessary descriptive skills and recent forays into literary exploration have been much hampered by extreme lack of sleep, it will probably fail and instead you will be left looking at a few paragraphs of gibberish.

On the other hand, if you suffer from aphantasia and are not in possession of a 'seeing' mind's eye my words will be gibberish anyway, so best to stop reading now. Or not. Aphantasia is a most unfortunate affliction (search for 'aphantasia- Professor Zeman - Exeter University blog') - words have meaning but lack colour, shape and pictoral form. In aphantasia the mind's eye can't create pictures. I see every book I read; better than any film. I listen to radio plays and see the characters, watch the action unfold and place it in a landscape created by hints and suppositions from the words. Someone with aphantasia can understand the story, understand the interplay between characters and understand the words describing the place but without a picture I wonder if they can truly understand the emotional  feel of the story.

Gibberish already?

What of the Vespas and wasps I hear you scream (In my mind's ear? Do I have a mind's ear? Or is it part of the bigger picture in my mind's eye? Does it matter if they are separate or part of the same thing? What about earworms and hearing a song inside your head? Earworms are intrusive and annoying but to never hear music inside your head would be truly sad. Is there a word like aphantasia for this?)

Gibberish now?

Wasps and Vespas! Vespas and wasps!

Yes.

I. Hate. Wasps.

I cannot see anything about the wasp to like. The 'why does it exist' and 'what role does it have' questions pertaining to the wasp are a total mystery to me. What blind tortuous alley had evolution trudged up before deciding that the wasp was a good idea?

Where does one start in the character assassination of the wasp? Its colour perhaps? The yellow and black combination is never easy on the eye. Too bold. Too much a folly. Too Malvolio look-at-me-in-my-yellow-stockings-and-cross-garters like - except that the wasp has a body hugging, waist pinching, yellow suit tube, daubed liberally with thick black rings.  Like overweight but keen lycra clad cyclists, wasps bulge at their behinds. Not that there's anything wrong with bulging or cycling - one does not have to look at the overstuffed shorts or rolls of flesh peeping out beneath the gilet! But one does have to look at the wasp. Cyclists can't sting you. Wasps can!

One minute wasps are minding their own business, scraping strips of wood off the porch or garden bench or front door and veering round you when you stray into their flight path. The next, they sense that you have brought food into the garden and an unruly, noisy gang of them descend, triggering instant chaos as children run screaming, arms swipe wildly, chairs are upturned and drinks are spilled. They weave like little men on magic flying Vespas through forests of fingers, forks, flowers and glasses. Accelerating, slowing down, stopping, perfectly judging where that airborne food is going. Into a mouth - no problem! A portcullis of teeth - easy escape! And a soft fleshy tongue - no match for what I have in my tail!

I do hate them. But I am a little in awe of them too. My attempts at wasp eradication vary from the successful but gruesome beer-in-a-jar trap (Vespas parked on the lid?)




to the dismal failure - it took less than 24 hours for them to excavate the plug of soil that I had stamped into the opening to their ground nest. Respect! (Perhaps the Vespas were traded in for diggers?)




Thus I have to admit that the wasp, though 'notoriously abused' like poor Malvolio, is actually a fairly industrious creature. If one that I would rather not have in my garden. Or kitchen. Or car.

Or fruit. Bertie Baggins aka chief-apple-thief worries them out of the apples he has plucked from the tree, using an apparently successful technique of shaking and dropping until they look safe enough to eat. I haven't yet witnessed him being stung, but his wariness would suggest that occasionally the wasps have bitten back.


Monday, 7 September 2015

Wanting. And wanting what really matters.

"It is hard to fail but worse having never tried to succeed."

These words of Theodore Roosevelt are written in red pen across the top of the white board that sits on my desk. Along with several password reminders, a Quentin Blake postcard, some smiley faces drawn by a trespassing child, flyer cards advertising my favourite a cappella group and more words "Scribo ergo sum immortalis." It probably doesn't take a genius to ascertain that the something in which I wish to succeed may involve words, specifically the magical distillation of words into patterns that create stories.

But
      but
           but

the easy part is telling the story;

harder is finding the good words to write the story;

harder still is reading the story aloud;

hardest of all is sharing it.

I really want to do this. I really don't want to fail. But years of 'never trying' are horrible.

Teddy puts forward 'trying to succeed' as the only sensible option. There is a risk of failure. Always a risk of failure.
And a lot of fear and self-doubt. It is coruscating to examine others who have succeeded. They look so bright, so full of brilliant ideas, so compelling in their drive and ability. Against them, how do I compare. Well - I might as well give up before I start, accept and expect the 'It is hard to fail' bit of the quote.

What is success anyway? I would love one day for someone to read something that I have written and  stop and ponder for a moment. And perhaps change how they think or feel or act. I want to make people laugh and cry. I want children to dream about my stories.
That's all.
That plus learning how to write better, how to analyse and edit, how to build narrative structure. This all matters to me. It is what I want. It is what has driven me to apply for a creative writing course. So that I can do this properly.

But
of course, though what I want matters to me,
it doesn't really matter.

Not in a world where millions of displaced and dispossessed people are on the move.

It would be a dereliction of our humanity 'to fail' them and shaming if we 'never try to succeed' in changing their lives for the better.

My wants are as nothing compared to theirs.




Sunday, 12 July 2015

Oxymorons, holiday cooking and a picture of sunflowers



One thing I like about catering on holiday is the inescapable and necessarily inventive resourcefulness of it all. 

The - ‘Oh! I don’t have that ingredient’ moment, swiftly followed by the - ‘What shall I use instead?’ - slightly panicked moment. 
And the - ‘Wow! This is good!’ - revelation that you determine to remember when you get home but will definitely forget due to having imbibed a holiday abundance of wine. And which due to the wine might actually not be as good as you think. Unless perhaps, the sozzled brain is capable of leaps of culinary inspiration that the non-sozzled brain is incapable of, due to sober adherence to the constraints of received rules on taste combinations. 

Last night’s menu-en-vacances featured salmon on a bed of mushroom, white onion, and garlic with roasted potato wedges sprinkled with ground ‘saveurs epicees’ (which added good flavour - whatever they were). Followed by fresh apricots - drizzled with honey, liberally sprinkled with cinnamon and baked in the oven - served with coconut ice-cream (which I didn’t make). The home kitchen might have added lemon juice, bacon lardons, tartare sauce and vanilla essence but the outcome wouldn’t have been better. And would have lacked the ambience created by the lingering heat of a burning summer day, the bitter metallic aroma of insect repellant, the bliss of languishing in waves of family laughter and a particularly good Monbazillac.

Although 'self-catering holiday' is an oxymoron that in it’s sheer impertinence beats all other oxymorons into a snivelling, we're-too-ashamed-that-we-exist-alongside-you-the-most-impudent-of-all-oxymorons pulp, I wouldn’t choose to holiday any other way. Togetherness is what it’s all about. Sharing the shopping, sharing the cooking, sharing the culinary experiments, sharing the songs that accompany the experiments and sharing the disasters. 
But not sharing the washing up. Not because we have a self-catering martyr in our midst, but because this current self-catering establishment has a dish-washer. 

Perhaps a 'self-catering-avec-dishwasher holiday' is not such a blatant oxymoron?

… Ask me at the end of our holiday.





Monday, 6 July 2015

Roulade-heaven and vegetarianism

The daily task of feeding the household - dogs, children, assorted adults who drift in and out of our home - is either easy: four-legged family members take on the role of shadow, closely applied to the ankles of the adult they regard as most likely to feed them, blocking doors, preventing access to stairs, standing between that adult and any activity that might delay dinner, or not so easy: endless nights of endlessly attempting to be endlessly inventive with meat and two veg. Then Littlest jettisons the meat part and the dinner dynamic changes to pasta and veg, pasta and two veg and occasionally pizza and veg until we reckon a rebalancing is required and start to experiment with fish (partial success - salmon ok, other fish “tastes of mango”), vegetarian ready-meals (all bad), vegi-burgers and sausages (“If I wanted to eat something that looked like meat I’d probably eat meat”) and the world of vegetables beyond peas, sweetcorn, broccoli and carrots (still working on this one). 

One benefit of cooking for a new vegetarian is being forced to step up out of the rut created by years of steadfast meat-eating (boring) predictability - the cycle of chicken, lamb and beef punctuated with intermittent insertions of pork, fish and the exotics - turkey, ham, venison and pheasant. The vegetarian diet is not only more colourful, it also tastes better and has a beneficial effect on the waist-lines of the older members of the family. Win win situation. But with one disadvantage - the letter d. Winwind situation might be more accurate. A finger on the window-opening switch of the car and a rendition of ‘Jubil-farti deo’ on the journey home after a school chapel service.

Daily house-hold feeding inevitably leads to signature dishes. Those meals that become part of family lore - shared, enjoyed and oft repeated: comfort food at it’s best - not too fiddly to conceive nor too time-consuming - the taste of which ignites memories of time together, laughter, tears and a recipe which becomes part of family heritage.

I have two signature dishes. Or three. Although, the third is just a tip - when making chilli con carne and as it starts to simmer, add a few blocks of good dark chocolate. Stir and inhale. The smell of melting chocolate and chilli is heavenly; the taste even better. Would this work with aubergine chilli stew I wonder? - I’ll let you know.


My two signature dishes are fruit crumble and lemon roulade. I have shared the crumble recipe on this blog before, so here are the instructions for the roulade - 


First, you need to whisk up a meringue - caster sugar and egg white with a little dark brown or molasses sugar to add a hint of caramel. 
You could add other flavourings to the meringue at this point depending on the end roulade desired - coffee, chocolate, nut. Experiment! Whatever meringue recipe you use the next step is the same.
Pour onto a lined baking tray and if wanted lightly sprinkle with ground almonds. Next, bake in a slow oven until slightly brown and set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Turn out onto a drying rack. It may crack ... like the one below: don't panic! It may break in half: still don't panic! It may break into multiple smaller pieces: yet again, don't panic - you have the broken foundations of Eton Mess and can start again.




Spread lashings of lemon curd onto the meringue




followed by whipped cream.




What you now have is an open lemon curd-cream-meringue sandwich. And now the fun starts.

Oops! At the point where you inverted the cooling meringue base onto a wire rack you needed to do two things. Before you did that! Okay - this is an awful recipe! Let me tell you what you should have done earlier...

It involves more non-stick baking parchment and a tea towel. 

With the meringue still in the baking tray, cover it with a sheet of parchment. Cover the sheet with a tea towel. Invert the drying rack on top of the tea towel. Grip everything at the sides. Hold together and flip the tray onto the drying rack. Lift the baking tray off and allow to cool a little, before peeling the parchment off the meringue. It is this exposed surface of the meringue that you spread with the curd and cream.




Hmm ... hoping that I haven't forgotten anything else - it's time to roll the roulade.

Hold the (nearly forgotten but vitally important) tea towel and parchment and use them to lift and roll the roulade into itself. At this point lots of cracks will appear. This is normal and gives the roulade character.




Admire your creation. Lick your fingers.




Either chill in the fridge before serving, or wrap in cling film and freeze.

We prefer it frozen. Slices of ice-cream lemon roulade.

Yum!




Variations on a theme - orange curd and cream; raspberry curd and cream; coconut ice-cream (lactose free) and raspberries ... mmm :-)

I want to try passion-fruit and raspberry; blueberry; apple and cinnamon ice-cream with bramble.  


Now do you understand what I was hinting at when I said signature dishes are your own little slice of food heaven?



Saturday, 20 June 2015

R.S.V.P.

RSVP

I know what RSVP means? You probably do too. But it's clear that we are in a minority.

RSVP - origin: French, acronym - repondez s'il vous plait

From an era of manners and etiquette (... also French). Whilst we native English speakers are not  renown for our enthusiasm or ability to grasp and learn another language (and indeed our tenure on our own tongue is often forged on dodgy ground), there are elements of the French language that creep into our everyday lives. RSVP is one such element. Neatly capitalised at the bottom of invitations, it politely asks for attention. Even if ignorant of the litoral meaning, its message is clear to anyone who has ever received an invitation - reply! Please reply.

I know that. You know that. We both know what is expected; how to respond. In other words, those little letters standing to attention, so neatly vowel-less, and requiring of lovely linguistic acrobatics, prick us into action and elicit the desired response - a reply. Or do they?


I have a theory that how, when and if you respond to an invitation gives an indication of how old you are.

Here goes - invitation scenario:

An invitation drops onto your doormat; arrives as a text on your phone; appears in your email inbox; flutters across your instagram account; is shared with you on Facebook; bobs up the beach sealed in its bottle or arrives in another form of inviter to invitee communication. What you do next betrays your age.


If you answer yes to one of these questions, you are under 30

Do you read the invitation and 'file it' with the other invitations you have already received for that date? You'll wait to see what else comes in, before committing to any.

Do you on the morning of the event shuffle through the options - discard those from boring people; people with too little money to hold a good party; those whose music or style you find a bit weird and all the nerds-who-are-trying-too-hard-to-fit-in?

Do you plan an itinerary ordering the desirable invitations into a temporal and geographic story-line for the evening?

Do you then spend the next few hours creating a heap of clothes as you on the one hand try to decide what to wear while simultaneously on the other sending texts and photos to your friends, checking out who's going where and rearranging your evening's itinerary?

Do you sometime the following afternoon call the friends whose parties you didn't attend and make out that some disaster occurred which interrupted your absolute 100% intention of attending their fabulous party and mute your yawns as you 'listen' while uploading pictures of your actual night? Do you care that they might see them? Not really.

Did you RSVP? Or did you forget? Or did you simply ignore the request to reply? Do you regard replying as 'a bit lame tbh?'


If alternatively you answer yes to one of these questions then you are either over 30 or under 30 and impeccably well brought up

Do you receive an invitation and reply immediately? Or at least within a couple of days? Even if it's from great aunt Eliza and her awful third husband who live in a damp bungalow with sticky carpets and a crumb-strewn sofa where you will be obliged to smile and tolerate their cat Binky. You're allergic to cats and will spend the next 3 days applying steroid cream to the flare-up of your hand eczema. The couple of days before replying are to give to time to rehearse your excuse. But you'll still reply.

Do you doggedly stick to the schedule dictated by your affirmative reply to an invitation even when another invitation to a much better, much more preferable, much more populated with people whom you actually know event on the same day and at the same time arrives? Because that's the polite thing to do? You even remember to RSVP your regrets to the second invitation.

Do you not only RSVP but also heed the dress code? Do you know how to write a proper reply to a formal embossed card invitation?

Do social media invitations worry you? Do you trust your friends not to share your party details with the rest of the world?

Is your idea of a nightmare planning the perfect party only to discover that you have no idea how many guests you are catering for - you invited 60, 30 have replied, you know you have 20 coming but what about the other 30? Do you contact them again? Do you cater for them anyway and risk having half the food wasted? And what about the 10 who phone on the day to explain that due to 'unforeseen circumstances' they won't be coming after all? Suddenly you have an intimate dinner feast and are sending your loyal handful of friends home with left-overs. And you spend all evening wondering who might arrive unannounced and when they do why you greeted them so enthusiastically instead of turning them away - no reply, no entry? Actually ... maybe that's an idea - in order to receive party details venue, time etc you must reply first. RSVPFD (RSVP For Details).

So what age are you? Do you agree?



Alternatives - RFFS (think you can guess that one - not really me, too rude); ROIKY (reply or I'll kill you - a bit too Don Corleone-like); or RYI (reply you idiot)!




Sunday, 14 June 2015

Losing touch with reality and planting marigolds

Dare I whisper that the sun is shining and summer is skipping into view. *

Or with those fourteen words have I condemned us to shivering defiantly in our seasonally-compatible if weather-inappropriate clothes braced on holiday against summer winds and showers of rain? Please note I didn't conjure up gales and torrents - I might be a bit of a pessimist but that would be glugging down the entire glass rather than leaving it half empty. To be a pessimist is, after all, to be pleasantly surprised when things turn out better. Perhaps the summer will too. Turn out better I mean.

I hope so.

So does Bertie Baggins.

Or is he laughing at me? - 'Thinks it's possible to jinx the weather now? Definitely lost the plot.'

Or am I anthropomorphising a wee bit too much? I mean: dogs don't really smile - do they?






Or look disdainful ...





Narrowed eyes, mouth shut in a bored harrumph. Why? ...

... 'Gardening! Again!! You said it would be how long before our walk?!'

Ho hum ... Yes, Bertie Baggins, gardening is indeed happening - again - today. And will probably happen tomorrow. And the next day.

Because in anticipation of a sun drenched summer, I have planted up some pots. Last year, I had red and white geraniums. This year, I opted for yellow and orange marigolds, the latter deeply-hatched with stripes of blood-red. Very 'hot sun.'




Also osteospermums




and carnations





As hinted above, while I enjoy planting-up pots to brighten the garden's darker corners and create the Mediterranean in a sun-trap spot that I dream of sitting in but never find sufficient minutes to do so, Bertie Baggins and Four-legged-friend do not. At all.


They do though get the sitting bit. And it doesn't take long before a sitting, bored dog is a lying, bored dog.






The sun is shining. The concrete pavers are warm. Watching gardening is just so very, very boring. The food bowls are empty. That stray won't be back in a hurry. The jumpy postman has been already.

And the rabbits are hiding.


Maybe, lolling on the grass, adopting an entirely non-threatening 'look we've been shot' pose, will encourage them to spring back out of their holes and bounce into the radii of our bunny-sensitive noses.






Best not to actually sleep. Best to keep one eye open. Scanning the hedge. Watching for the first flicker and twitch of silky bunny ears.

Alternatively, when rabbit surveillance - about as thrilling as watching gardening happen - loses its appeal ...


the 'hard Paddington stare' is next in the repertoire of attention seeking expressions. It's blunt. Unequivocally laden with serious intent. It means business.

'Look at me when I'm talking to you!'






... 'have you finished yet?  Perhaps you might recall that being the owner of four legs means that I need a little more exercise than is expended by trailing round after your two-legged gardening exploits. I expect a walk to follow. Shortly!'





* P.S. Looks like the blame is all mine - absolutely jinxed it. Sorry.


Friday, 15 May 2015

On cinnamon and happiness

Cinnamon - I know ... hmm - actually, I know not a lot about cinnamon. It sits on a shelf (labelled Cannelle, because I like my quirky, bought in France, spice jar) with its fellow (English bought) spices nutmeg and ginger, but where it, or indeed they, originally came from is a bit of a mystery. Nutmeg, comes from a roundish, knobbly nut. I know this because I have a tiny version of a cheese grater which is for grating nutmeg nuts (and fingers). Ginger comes from the root of a (I guess ...) ginger plant and cinnamon is from the bark of a tree (... perhaps?)

Brief intermission while I do some research -

Yes! Cinnamon is the bark of a tree, specifically the Cinnamomum tree and most of it comes from Sri Lanka. The bark is removed, dried and rolled into quills. These quills are cut into the cinnamon sticks that are the essence of Christmas and are ground into the fine powder that is used in everything from curries to apple crumble to mulled wine.

Discovering that my hunch regarding cinnamon and tree bark is correct is all very nice but the common culinary uses as listed above are all so very conventional. How about - drum roll, please - cinnamon wedges? As in potato wedges. Or sweet potato wedges, if you prefer. Try it - scrub the potatoes and cut into wedges (skin still on); toss in a mixture of melted butter and oil, add salt and ground pepper, and dust generously with cinnamon. Yes, really! Spread out on a shallow roasting tray and bake in a hot oven, tossing frequently to ensure even browning. You won't be disappointed. Thank you to Bar Le 5 a 7 Siete in Plagne Soleil for this recipe.

I love crumble - apple, rhubarb, plum or gooseberry - served with vanilla ice-cream or custard (depending on the time of year).
I tried banana and tropical fruits once - it turned into hot mush infused with the sickly smell of banana gloop (disconcertingly liquid amoxicillin-like) - which wasn't good.  'Don't do this again!' was hastily scribbled in my recipe book. And the assembled company of crumble-lovers was not happy.

What makes you happy?

Banana-pudding that smells of medicine? No, I didn't think so. But smells are powerful triggers of emotion.

When Littlest is 'feeling sad or "stressed" she goes to the larder and sniffs the cinnamon.' This apparently makes her happy again.

Singing works for her too. But not cello practice ...

What works for you?

For me, it's a dog lying at my feet.
Or on my feet - when I'm gardening. It's the wagging tail when I get home. And the vertical bouncing of Bertie Baggins when the most exciting two-legged friend in the world suddenly appears and not only that, but she's coming to release him from his run!




And it's walking the dogs.




And it's my children.
And the sounds they make. Alone and together - the magic of music created out of silence and of laughter shared.

And it's friends. And sharing time with them.

And it's my orchids.




And it's Scotland




and Italy.




And it's writing.



All of these things work for me. They make me smile. And, quite often, they make me cry.

What are your happiness triggers?

Cinnamon, dogs, children, friends, favourite places? A good glass of wine, chocolate, lemons, an afternoon spent cycling, riding your horse, a book, cheese, ice-cream, a joke, mountain climbing, macaroons, opera, painting, gliding, the first blossom on the apple tree - so many different things that reflect our differences: our unique abilities and interests encapsulated in the simple emotion of happiness.

Why does it matter? Why is it important to know the things that make us happy?

Because as Littlest has discovered, black moods sometimes creep up on us and we need a way to thwack them away.

I'm off to sniff some cinnamon. And pat the dogs.
Then I will put the kettle on. And smile.

Coffee anyone?




Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Spoiled

Spoil: verb - to destroy or reduce the pleasure, interest or beauty of something (Cambridge Dictionary)

All very 'that's a pity and how sad' but we all know what spoil means, when to use it and how to spell it, don't we; no matter which side of the Atlantic we stand on? Yes, probably. And why mention America - even if I didn't exactly, other than in a backhanded sort of a way? Well - this is embarrassing, so I'll get it out quickly - as with 'learnt and learned,' I have a difficulty with 'spoilt and spoiled.' Phew! Awkward (if you're hobby is writing) admission out, if not quite over - as an English speaker, I sometimes feel less native when it comes to writing things down. I know how to say my words. I know what I mean. I just sometimes don't know how to spell them. So, which is correct? Does it matter? Does anyone else care?

Is an overindulged child spoilt or spoiled?

Or both?

Actually, I think a spoilt (adjective) child is spoiled (verb, past tense). But plenty of people refer to such children as 'spoiled children.' And if a day goes down the drain, is it a good day spoiled or spoilt? Are they interchangeable? 
Personally, I dislike the feeling of '-oilt' in the mouth. It's clumsy and harsh and difficult to pronounce without pushing down on the back of the tongue to expand the neck in a toad-like manner. Spoiled is much softer and much less I-want-to-audition-for-that-fairy-tale wicked-witch-turned-me-into-a-frog-Prince. However, how it sounds is seldom a reliable indicator of the correctness or otherwise of the  grammar. A trawl of on-line dictionaries confirms that both spoiled and spoilt are correct - those to the West of the Atlantic (see 'why mention America' above!) tend to prefer spoiled and learned, while we, who dwell on the Eastern Atlantic seaboard, opt for spoilt and learnt. 
Apart from me. 
Maybe, my vocabulary is spoiled by an over-reliance on phonetics. Maybe, I listen too much to the sounds made by the little I'm-a-Scot-who's-lived-too-long-South-of-the-border-accented voice inside my head. Maybe, I'm just a pedant at heart. Very probably a wrong pedant in the opinion of other ... well, pedants.

However, I'm sticking with spoiled. At least for the duration of this blog post -


Ho hum sings the little voice ... changing the subject quickly.


Lists are in. Social media pages fill daily with them. 

Here's my addition to this obsession - a list of things recently spoiled (... subject not changed that much!) -



A good walk





spoiled by the nose-tickling, eye-watering, caustic, pungent, reeking, horrible smell of oil seed rape.






A blossom ... before






spoiled by overnight frost ... after








A diet








spoiled by brioche and ginger and lime pudding and wine and biscuits.



A day





spoiled imminently by rain


A newly swept floor






spoiled by wet paws and shaken coats.


A weekend spoiled by not being long enough.


This state of being spoiled is known as spoliation. No - until a few minutes ago, I didn't know that either. So, I have given you a new list, a few new pictures and a new word. Perhaps you feel overindulged - or spoiled even?



Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Daffodil as hairbrush and towel

Daffodil as hairbrush. And daffodil as towel. Yes, I promise I haven't lost the plot. Nor have I dug myself a pit of delusion, dreams and madness and jumped in. No, really, I haven't.
Not yet.

The daffodil is a thing of beauty - a yellow, trumpety flower on a long, thin stem, that bounces as it nods in the garden breeze. No part of it is bristly. No part could separate hairs in a manner necessary to serve as a conventional hairbrush. It is altogether too bendy and soft. It also lacks the absorbancy generally expected of towels.




So daffodil as hairbrush and towel? - two impossibles that together go nowhere close to making one sound less implausible than the other. But that is my title. And this is how implausible became plausible.

It is all the fault of Four-legged-friend.

Or of me. As I supplied both weapon and water.




Shortly afterwards, one less-stinky, happy and very wet dog was in need of a towel.

Towels don't grow in gardens. 

But un-mown clumps of daffodils do ...




Four-legged-friend rolled, kicked his legs in the air, writhed around a bit, got up and shook. He was very pleased with himself. 

I wasn't at all pleased with him!

Consider the poor daffodil - pretty good as towel; pretty rubbish as brush. And pretty flat!




Bertie Baggins wasn't interested in daffodils. And he is never interested in water. He had an altogether different plan - to sit as far away as possible from the hose




or stand beneath the washing.




Thus he needed neither towel nor brush and the remaining daffodils were safe.






Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Positively pessimistic.

Isn't that an oxymoron?

How can one be both positive and pessimistic?

Here's how - as illustrated in three simple scenarios: gardening, children and dreams.


Gardening

When life throws you weeds, and the weeds grow more prolific with each despairing blink of your gardener's eye, and the gardener groans when hoisting upright after an afternoon spent, trowel in hand, bent-over in a choked flower bed, and the sun shines, burning the winter-tender skin at the back of the gardener's neck, and the gardener feels that inexorable train of at-first-creeping-then-later-racing resignation that the bloomin' weeds will win again - this year, like last year, like next year, then it is good to shove the pessimism down the nearest mole hole along with a fresh stinking emission from one of the dogs and stand back to reflect on what is positive. Things might look bad on the I-wish-I-had-a-garden-I-could-be-proud-of front and the there's-never-enough-time-in-the-day front and the I-feel-so-terribly-old front and it might be tempting to give in to that pessimism writ large on the seasonal horizon. But look. And see that things are not all bad.

For a start, you're loved. You have a friend.




A faithful companion who will watch you weed. Who will shove his muzzle in the way, periodically, just to check that it's not something edible that you're pulling out of the earth. Who will sleep nearby.




And later wake from doggy slumbers.




And play. Just as soon as his eyes focus.

Weeds? Who cares about weeds?!


Children

What dreams we invest in our children. We bring them into this frightening, incredible, wonderful world full of potential experience, adventure and beauty. And we wrap them in cotton-wool. It's a scary place out there. We fear that we can keep them safe only if we watch them. All the time. I am guilty of this. All of my parent friends are. Media is I think to blame. Plus a heavy dollop of over-active imagination. We look out into the world from our mini-fortress homes and worry. Our heads full of concern, our internal pessimism monitors overflow with doom-ridden 'what ifs.'  Pessimism and fear make us try too hard. Over-protected and driven children become the norm, as we raise a failure-phobic generation. Ambition swells to the size of unscalable mountains. It is hard to see your child fail. But totally unrealistic to expect them never to do so. We invest enormous emotion in their achievements, nervously watch as they perform or compete or play and silently fret that they won't succeed, that they won't be judged the best, and feel a knot tighten somewhere in our gut that makes it hard to simultaneaously spectate and breath. That knot is a seed of pessimism that will certainly grow if fed on a diet of worry and doubt.  But again. Stop, look and consider. What has your child achieved? Even if victory is not theirs this time, taking part adds a few bricks to their character. Failing adds more. You and they need to celebrate and take pride in every little step that is achieved. Be positive. Smile. Breathe and smother that seed of pessimism.


Dreams

Lastly and personally, I write. Not very well judging by my limited following. And no, I wasn't looking for compliments. My point is that I am pessimistic of ever being a success and that, plus a hard-wired habit of procrastination, prevents me from trying. But yet, I argue that my pessimism is still positive. No matter how bad the weeds, no matter how fierce the competition, no matter how great the fear of rejection, if the general outlook is a pessimistic one, things will always turn out better than  feared. I write because I enjoy it. Because one follower is better than none. Because one 'like' makes me smile.


Surely it is far, far better to be constantly surprised that things didn't turn out so bad, than always a disappointed optimist living in a world where things never quite live up to the hope invested in them.

I am happy to be an oxymoron - a positive pessimist. One who looks for the positives in my pessimist's world.

I am also a terrible procrastinator.

Hmm ... Can I make procrastination into something positive?


Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Spring! And the gloves don't fit.

Birthday celebrations in Spring. Life is yellow. And the birthday boy is 245 years old.




"My heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils."

... what me! Dancing? With flowers! I don't think so ...




Like the 'ducks dabbling up-tials all', 'wandering lonely as a cloud' is a treasured verse from childhood. I wish I remembered more.

Happy Birthday William Wordsworth.

Apart from the flowers my favourite part of Spring is the light - crisp, clear, vastly distant. Casting low, long shadows




and blinding you in the car at the beginning and end of the day (that bit I don't love, very definitely don't love.)

Spring is also the one time of year when gardeners have the opportunity to beat back the rising tide of   emerging seeds, the first winding thready tendrils of bindweed, the low furry haze of nettle carpet and the first yellow heads of buttercup that scream catch-me-if-you-can. Lose the battle now and the weeds win. Again. Spring after Spring they win. Year after defeated year. Not this one though ...




With a little help from Four-legged-friend




...  I think there's another weed here.


One of the pleasures of gardening - apart from clean sharp tools. And a laboured-over, now weed-free soil. And the emerging red of rhubarb leaves. And the first flower-buds on strawberry plants. And Four-legged-friend raising an eyebrow to check that you are still busy and still safe as he lies at your feet - is the promise of a new pair of gloves.




Gloves that still smell of leather - rather than an earthy bouquet of bird-dropping, compost and sweetly fermenting grass. That have a soft fluffy lining that cocoons your tired aching fingers - rather than an outer shell of dried mud that has to be crushed and rubbed and shaken into something resembling pliable leather And an absence of aberrant secateur nicks to let in the nettle hairs that sting those hard-working, allergic to everything, gardening hands.


Sadly, after a mild and muddy winter, my Spring treat was not to be. My best laid plans for restoration of comfortable extremities had thrown a tantrum in the hand cream pot, stormed off to the land of bespoke clothing and basically gone far. far astray. My lovely new red gloves pinched. In all the wrong places. But mostly between the ring and little fingers. Which hurt. So I had to go back to pulling nettles with the holey, old, reeking pair. The pair that are so well-worn that they spookily look like my hands are still inside when I take them off.




Ho hum.

They say hit pain with pain. But I am yet to be convinced that the burn of nettle sting helps aching finger joints.

Maybe Littlest would like to grow into my lovely new gloves.