Archive for September, 2007|Monthly archive page

Bees make honey

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Well look what we brought home yesterday!

I can’t explain how excited we were. The bees are beavering away (or should that be bee-ing away?) at filling all the frames. Once the honey is at the right consistency for their taste, the bees cap off the frames (they seal them up with a wax covering). If nature took its course this would be the bees’ food for the winter – however – we want that honey so once they are capped we take them home, slice away the wax and drain the honey off for our own consumption and replace it with a sugar solution for them to eat.

Curly Boy is absolutely fearless around the hive and stands next to his father whilst they check each frame to see whether it is ready for us. Just one so far – but more to come. I think Christmas presents will include honey this year.

I have threatened to make presents this year in an effort to keep the costs of the festive season to an affordable level. Not sure how we’d make a Wii – but I know that honey will be gratefully received by many of our friends and family. I recall our poor old relatives were given dish cloths knitted from string when I was a child. I wonder how that would go down these days?

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Atonement all round

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Well – I finished it last night. Don’t know if you’ve read it? I never did shift the image of Kiera Knightley, but she is very beautiful and has a fragile strength about her if that is at all possible, so, great casting for Cecilia. It is written with a real sense of ‘past’ – hard to believe it wasn’t written in the 1930s. I found myself irritated with Part One and wanted to throttle Briony (perhaps that’s the whole point?) As I said before he really gets the mindset of a young girl off to a tee. Once we got to Part Two – the war, he had me. I found the passages written in northern France very moving (awful phrase I know, but I literally had tears in my eyes). Likewise Part Three back with Briony seemed very real and the change in her was marked – she still irritated me though (again perhaps this is the point?) The ‘twist’ if you can call it that – was strange and again I was irritated by Briony’s continued ‘writerliness’. After all that she still thinks her writing is more important? I’m with Cecilia and Robbie on this one – I couldn’t forgive – not because she did it in the first place but that she never had the guts to ‘fess-up’ in time. I’m with the ‘what really happened mob’. The other thing that strikes me is that Bloody Briony wrote this, not Ian McEwan – and I want to read him, not some repressed middle class child! Again – I suppose this was the whole point – but I would have liked a little more of him to show through and less of her.

Saturday morning – back to the laundry – except I’m on strike today – and so will only be doing what’s in my laundry basket. Despite repeated ‘requests’ last week the children’s laundry (yes the clean stuff) lies scattered across bedroom floors – so they can b****y well do their own from now on.

Some days I wish I had lovely plumage

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Ah! Inset days! What are they all about? So today – did I write anything at all? It is Wednesday after all – my designated writing day. Of course not! Today was an Inset Day at Lovely J and Tall Boy’s school – he had a friend to stay the night before – so he was happy (they planned a cinema trip for today). Lovely J and I took Curly Boy to his school and then called in to see how the chicks were doing at the allotment. The boys get more beautiful by the day. Then we spent the day trying to find a coat that would fulfil a particular remit – that is to be suitable for school, black, no logos or markings, warm, fashionable, able to fit over a blazer and within budget – a coat that would satisfy a 14 year old school girl, her mother and the Dread Deputy Head (a stickler for correct uniform). “In my day,” I found myself telling Lovely J for the sixth time, “a uniform was just that – uniform – no choice – one style – like it or lump it.” The budget lost in the end, something had to give and well, it’s only money, plenty more where that came from – who needs to MOT the car? (Ah yes I do! Note to self, tyres, windscreen wiper blades.)

School’s been on my mind a fair bit due to the reunion – emails still coming in about lunch arrangements and evening arrangements. ‘What are you going to wear?’ I keep being asked. Nothing special obviously – I’ll just throw on any old outift, casual yet stylish – same as any other day (yeah right). Which brings me to my hair. I have no problem with ageing, I’ve gone a bit grey, I’ve kept a bit of the weight since having Curly Boy (all of it), but I don’t care – I’m happy with who I am. Besides these are girls I spent my formative years with, it doesn’t matter how I look now, we’ll all just be so thrilled to see one another, won’t we? It’s just that when I last had my hair cut I decided I wasn’t going to dye it anymore, so I currently have 4″ roots – I thought I’d grow it all out to the same colour and see how it looked now it has streaks of grey in it. ‘I’ll pay for you to get your hair done’ Laurie offered a few weeks ago. “Why? There’s nothing wrong with it.” I replied. (He wants to wash the car for me too, can’t think why.) So there I was in Wilkos with Lovely J, hovering around the shampoo aisle whilst she chose between tea tree and mint or raspberry and ylang ylang, my eye fell on the ‘wash-in-wash-out’ sachets. Rich mahogany sounded good, besides if it looks awful it’ll wash out won’t it? Just for the roots really, just to give me an even colour. Here I sit, typing for you with rich mahogany lights in my hair  – but those of you who have a rudimentary understanding of colour and dyeing (hair or other wise) will have guessed, my roots are still just that, visible roots! Sometimes I wish I was a chicken.

Bedtime reading..

It’s no good – I’ve had to give up on ‘The Historian’ by Elizabeth Kostova. Laurie recommended it as it had stuff about ‘vrykolakas’ the Cretan vampire, in it. My character Korakas is a bit of a shape shifter (or is he?) so I’ve been reading up on various vampire myths. I just couldn’t get to grips with the fact that we jump straight into vampire stuff without much of a preamble – no setting of the scene, no planting seeds of a story to come. I will go back to it, but Jules gave me a copy of ‘Attonement’ this weekend – so I’ve made a start on that. Unfortunatley I keep seeing Kiera Knightley as I read (and I haven’t seen the film yet) – must try and shift that image as I have a problem with Ms K’s lips and the way they pucker – most disconcerting. It’s very gentle so far, he’s captured the mind set of the young girl brilliantly. But then I came into work this morning to find a package on the desk – it’s from the Friday Project. A FREE copy of ‘GENTS’ by Warwick Collins. Scott Pack (of the project) offered bloggers a free copy to review. Now I’m tempted to start that, but I can’t do that reading more than one book at a time thing – I’m afraid I prefer to be fully immersed before drying off and moving on.

I’ll crack on with IAn McEwan though before I launch into the tale of misdemeanours in a public convenience.

Chickens and carrots and Curly Boy’s house

Today we put the playhouse we were gifted via Freecycle back together. We’ve put it on the far allotment which is becoming the ‘kids bit’. Now I’ve seen it rebuilt I can’t believe I ever managed to drive the car with it on top. Curly Boy can’t wait to invite his friends to play in it (although it does need a bit of remedial care, a few missing planks, new roof felt, that kind of thing.)

A new home too for the chickens. We brought the chicks up last weekend and first thing this morning I took the hens to join them. I do hope they’ll be happy up there – but the garden needs to recover from having nine of them scratching around and I intend to put the poor old battery hens (when they arrive) at the house with us so I can keep an eye on them until they are fit enough to be moved in with the rest. It’s going to be strange not having the girls outside the front door rushing towards me in the hope I’ve got some more food for them and I’ll miss tripping over them.

It felt like a winter day, crisp and sunny and Middle Sis proudly dug up some carrots (which were very carrot shaped for home grown), another sign of the change in season – no more courgettes and tomatoes, it’s all spuds and carrots from here on in!

Stranger than fiction

Typical of me to see a film long after it showed at the cinema. I used to see two or three films a week, but since parenthood hit I generally have to catch films on the telly or DVD.

Middle Sis just brought down ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ a quiet film, funny in places, about a man who hears the narration of his own life as he walks around – it transpires he is a character in a novelist’s book and she intends to kill him off. Death again – a theme which rears its head frequently  –  the man is going to die, whether the novelist writes it or not, but if she writes it he will know it’s coming soon. The point is we all know it’s coming, but when and how is a different matter. If we are told ‘how and when’ we have to deal with it in a different way. A lovely film, which gave a jolt near the end, even though I knew the jolt was coming.

Death has had me thinking in the last week or so – my school reunion will be a pupil short – Fiona W died in our 5th year and a couple of teachers are no longer with us. Meanwhile down the road a good friend is watching her mother decide whether it is time to go or not (she changes her plan from day to day). Friend Al had some old slides transfered to CD – the photos show her mother in the last few months before she died way back in the 1970s, when Al was only eleven years old. It seems to help us all to talk about it, quietly, secretly, to each other, orphan to orphan. It’s not such a dirty topic after all.

Does a novelist have a resonsibility to her characters? Is death less painful when the characters are fictional? Perhaps when I think of my mother’s death I fictionalise it. Max Khandola (photographer) recorded his father’s dying moments and said he found that by viewing it through a lens he could come to terms with it. Maybe we all have to find our own way – writing or crying, painting or photographing or just laying wreaths at the roadside.

when I grow up…

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My Lovely J brought home a letter from school last night about Year 10 Work Experience. It explained that work experience need not necessarily be vocational, but simply offer a pupil the opportunity of experiencing a work environment for the first time. The topic does, however prompt that question, “What do you want to do when you leave school?”  “I dunno.” Came the reply. And did I know at that age (14)? Can you get a job playing with make up and dressing up? I suppose you can but I had hoped she would do something that might pay the bills in a less precarious fashion than ‘mogelling’ as we like to call it. She has the height, that’s for sure, but she has her mother’s hips too!

I find myself faced with a dilemma – I want to say ‘Do whatever makes you happy.’ ‘Do something fun!’ Then a little voice inside says, ‘get a job with a good pension,’ ‘learn a trade,’ ‘go to university.’

Only a few days ago Big Sis sent me a link to her daughter’s blog (we’re all at it now!) on which she announces to the www that she won’t be going to university as she has no idea what course she wants to do or how she would pay back the fees anyway. Are we supposed to persuade her that going to university to study a subject she’s not sure about is the right thing to do? But what else can she do? Study day time TV at home instead? Get a job in the co-op? I didn’t go to university, I got a string of bizarre jobs which lead me to where I am now. 

That sets me to thinking about that impending school reunion of mine. Who made the right choice, those who took the route towards becoming one of the professional elite (as one of the girls put it) or the likes of me who chose the path less … I was going to say easy? Perhaps it was the easy road after all, it just got a bit bumpy somewhere along the way.

So, I trawl the list of employers offering placements to young hopefuls for a week – solicitors, doctors, designers, undertakers, hotels, shops, colleges, schools, nurseries, even ‘Black Thunder Girls’ at the local radio station. She’s only 14 and already I am worried about what she is going to do for the rest of her life. I did spot the perfect placement for Curly Boy should the system still operate in ten years time – a placement as a trainee tractor driver – now that would be cool!

Ain’t nobody here but us chickens…

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I must admit our hens aren’t looking their finest at the moment – Daughter Hen (above right) isn’t too bad, but Mummy Hen (above left) and Lucky are a bit shabby. We don’t really name our hens, but we had a mummy and five chicks. The fox got some of the chicks when they were still quite young. I was so upset (foxes come at any time of day, which doesn’t seem fair!) I’d heard the commotion and run out into the garden to see him bounding over the 6ft fence. I counted up the remaining chicks to discover we had mummy and two left. I could only find one dead chick and presumed he must have carried off two. An hour or so later, back in the garden I counted again – and there were three chicks close to their mother. One of them was  bedraggled and had clearly been in the fox’s mouth at some point. I didn’t think she’d live for long but she’s still with us three years later, a bit skinnier than the rest and her feathers have never been so bright – so we call her Lucky.

Last night I had a look at The Battery Hen Welfare Trust web site. They have some pictures of chickens which make mine look positively pedigree. We had intended to get some more chickens for the allotment in the spring, but when I saw the condition of these hens I emailed straight away to offer a home to some. They are rescuing 175 this weekend but have managed to place them all.. Their next rescue in my part of the world is at the beginning of November when they will rescue 500 birds – so I’m down for 10 or 12 of those.

As with any adopted or rescued animal, you take them on warts and all, they will be vaccinated, wormed and sprayed for mites but some live only a matter of weeks, others years. They take a few weeks to adapt to their new life in the open air, but according to Mollie (one of the co-ordinators for W. Midlands) they soon plump up and start to behave like regular chickens. I can’t wait. If anyone else is interested, I’ve put a link to the web site for you to take a look for yourself.

And now… I’m off to Tall Boy’s school for a meeting with Head of Maths, Mr S (maths teacher) and Tall Boy. Mr S is a sacrcastic, bullying teacher who has systematically stripped the confidence from every pupil he has had the privelage to teach! If it was just my two (yes the Lovely J had problems too) I might not take him on but when I mention ‘trouble with maths’ to any parent who has children at the school, they roll their eyes and say, ‘Oh no! They don’t have Mr S do they?’ I’m told his results are great – well that’s alright then! Never mind that he strips the confidence from his pupils as long as the results look good in the league tables! Wish me luck. I’d rather be with me chickens.

How do you cut pizza?

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I use a pizza wheel to cut our pizza here at home, and last night I cut it like this picture. I generally cut all the way across in good old fashioned ‘cake slice’ pieces (is there a geometric name for those?) ‘Oh Wow! Cool!’ said My Lovely J. ‘What is it?’ asked Tall Boy (we used to call him Small Boy, but at 12 years old with size 9 feet and 5’7″ tall it seems a bit daft). ‘It’s PIZZA!’ we snapped.

My friend cuts her pizza with a pair of scissors, in  ‘cake slice’ pieces, but with a pair of scissors? I ask you! It reminds me of my grandmother who insisted that what we were doing with a bit of wool and a crochet hook wasn’t crochet because we weren’t holding the hook right or twisting the yarn round our fingers correctly. We may have been doing it ‘wrong’ but it still came out like crochet after all. Just take a look at what Big Sis does with a crochet hook now – would my grandmother call that crochet?

Anyway, does ‘how you do it’  matter if you do, do it? I was reading Susan Hill’s blog (entry for Sunday Sept 9th) and she told me (well, ‘me’ as a reader of the blog that is) that I didn’t have to write every day to be a writer. OH NO!! I have been religiously bashing away in order to maintain the flow – have I been doing it wrong?

I don’t think it really matters  – pizza is still pizza, crochet is still crochet and I am still writing even if I am doing it my own way. I’m not religiously writing the novel, but I am trying to stretch my brain cells around words and concepts every day. I’m not beating myself up if I don’t manage to write something and I know I won’t cease to write if I leave it a day or so, but I do believe that practice does hone my skills.

I am not ignoring Susan’s advice, that would be crazy, she is a successful author and so supportive of those who wish to make a success of writing for themselves. I’m just cutting the pizza and holding the yarn a different way.

It’s a rocky life…

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I have steered clear of writing about the news until now but… has nobody seen It’s a Wonderful Life? I owe my understanding of ‘mortgage and loan’ to that film – maybe Northern Rock should offer all their customers a copy.