Friday, September 30, 2005


Is this my Bollabus? Giant Squid

If they care about him, though, why did they let him struggle and lose a tentacle?? Poor creature.

Monday, September 26, 2005

It's official - I'm a poet!

I returned home this morning, rather tired from a weekend of celebrating a friend's 40th birthday, to find a letter. Opening it, I started to read. 'I am writing to you regarding your poem, Look Up, that you recently sent to us...' Sure that it was going to say 'thanks but no thanks' I continued reading. It wasn't until the second paragraph that it said 'You will appreciate that we are only able to publish a limited number of the many poems that we receive, so I am delighted to tell you that your poem Look Up has been accepted ...'. Hurrah! And I don't even have to buy the book to get it published. I just need to sign a thing giving them permission to publish it. I can, of course, buy the book at preferential rates, including a 3 for 2 offer. It's the poem I submitted during the Season of Inspiration course, and appropriately enough, the collection is titled 'Through the Seasons'. The website is I'm sure they make most of their income from poets buying the book, but who cares? I'm going to be published!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Arty stuff

I started my art foundation course yesterday. This involved leaving the house at 7.15am to get there just in time for 9.30! And it's only in Birmingham. Still, I have the joy of seeing people's faces as I try and get on a busy commuter train with an A1 art portfolio case (that's BIG).

The Bournville College is in a leafy suburb. Very pleasant. As it's next door to Cadbury's, there are some rather tantalising smells. I walked back to the station along a path that winds through the factory, and my mouth was just watering as the chocolate caramel smell wafted out of the open windows. Oh, that is going to test my resolve, particularly as I will be hungry, and the path ends at the factory shop!

We arrived to chaos, as all years of the part time foundation met together in the basement. This was a lot of people. Thankfully, we soon split into year groups, which left about 18 in my year. It is difficult to tell how many there actually are. People kept turning up, there were some people on the register that weren't there, others who were but who weren't on the register. It's a case of 'go with the flow' I think, and I'm so glad I'm not the one having to keep records.

We didn't do any art. There was too much admin to do, reading through the course handbook and learning what support is available for students. We left early, so I got the train into Coventry and went to look at the ruined Cathedral. This is quite something. The impressive tower was untouched by the bombing, but the rest is a shell, the windows blown out and the roof missing.

I also visited the Herbert Gallery, where there was a display of work done by children on the theme of 'What is Art'? They'd done some lovely abstracts, experimenting with colour and mark-making, and there were some soundbites like "This is fun! Is it really art?" and "I don't like art, but I like this!" Their work was delightful; colourful, energetic and vibrant. Clearly, having fun produces good art!

Saturday, September 17, 2005


There is a definite autumnal chill in the air now. Today, I wore my fleece for the first time since we arrived. Our walk took us across fields to Avon Dassett, and the hedgerows were so lovely that I finally cracked and got my camera out. Here are some of my efforts.

We also stopped at the church at Burton Dassett, where there is a holy well with stone frontage.

On our way home, we stopped at the egg cottage (we learned was built in the 1600’s) to buy a fresh supply of free range eggs. The farmer who farms the land we’d just walked across was helping the egg lady in the garden. We learned that he’d been growing oilseed rape (the brown, dried pods that we’d seen on our first walk). It’s good to meet the people who actually grow our food. He was saying people don’t care about food any more. Mortgages, cars, holidays – but not food, he said. That comes last.

Holidaying at Home

We're enjoying a week's holiday in our own home, which is a novelty. I’ve been getting a bit behind with blogging, so this might be quite a long update!

I’ve been gradually reclaiming the garden. I found some plants in our nearest garden centre that had been thoughtfully gathered into collections of six plants (for pots) that toned in with each other. There were scarlet, gold, and silver collections. I chose gold – it includes things like oregano, some variegated type of herb, a wispy grass, thyme etc. I teamed these up with purple and yellow violas and gold-coloured heather. The three pots are now full of organic peat-free compost and looking very smart with their new plants. It just makes the garden look more cared-for than having three empty pots. And it’s too late in the year for vegetables ;)

I’ve also been reining in the brambles and couch-grass, and have discovered some more plants that had been strangled underneath. A small, struggling pierris and what looks like Virginia creeper (is that the one that goes red in autumn?)

On Wednesday, we had a day out. We visited a pub on Edgehill that has a turret overlooking a beautiful garden and an amazing view across Warwickshire. Oh, and some historical interest which I forget (I’m hopeless at history). We then visited Hook Norton Brewery, which looks like something out of Harry Potter. Rick bought two crates of beer (which is all he went for really) - and we bumped into our next-door neighbour in the car park, which cheered Rick up no end as he clearly shares the same love of good beer.

We moved on to visit the Rollright stones. This is a group of prehistoric megalithic monuments, including a circle of at least 70-odd stones (they are apparently uncountable); a single standing stone (the King Stone); and the remains of a Portal Dolmen burial chamber now known as the Whispering Knights.

Wednesday evening was clear and breezy, so we walked up to Burton Dassett Hills to fly our kites. On the highest hill, there is what looks very much like a henge. It looks like a small causeway camp (where there are gaps in the henge). From this hill, you can see the remains of quarrying on the hill below, which in the low sunlight showed the pits clearly in shadow. It looks for all the world like an iron age camp. I could imagine a large settlement there, with the henge on the hill I was standing on being the place that they laid their ancestors. Sadly, the history booklet about Burton Dassett mentions none of this. Just quarrying, windmills etc. How could they miss its significance as a prehistoric site? ;)

Thursday was shopping day. We both hate shopping, but we did do rather well, which means we don’t have to do it again for a while. In the evening, I drove to Southam College for my first reiki class. It was a filthy evening – dark and raining, with floods on the roads – and of course I didn’t know where I was going, which was fun. I ended up pulling into the car park of Southam School and asking the caretaker where the college was. “You’re in the car park of the college,” he said looking bemused. Hmmm. Good signage, then.

Turned out that there was a school disco on. The resulting traffic chaos as parents dropped children off caused Belly Dancing to start late. Belly Dancing was in the same room as my class, with the same teacher. So I watched the Belly Dancing for a while (Incredible. I’m sure I’d put something out of joint if I tried it.) Very few people stayed afterwards for the ‘reiki’ so there were only about six of us. It turned out to be a kind of meditation and spiritual healing circle. I wasn’t sure what I’d expected, but it was nice to be meditating in company again, so I’ll give it a go.

Yesterday, the bikes came out again and we pedalled back over to Claydon. The café was open and served us a delicious lunch (salmon with watercress and lime sauce – works very well indeed). The café is part of the Bygones Museum, so we paid for our tickets and had a look round. It is wonderful! Basically, it is the private collection of one man, Andrew Fox. He just loves old stuff, and has collected it over a period of 60 years. In 1972, he opened it to the public to raise funds for the Church. It is housed in three farm buildings, organised into themed rooms and ‘shops’. Stuff is just cluttered and tumbled together – not carefully laid out in glass cases with little typed histories (yawn). It includes objects from domestic and work life, war memorabilia, contents of old shops, and lots of old farm machinery, as well as a traction engine and steam roller from the 1930’s. You can just browse at your leisure, picking out items of interest. Ages of objects vary, so there are some things that we can remember using and others from the 1800’s. It’s like stumbling across an old cupboard at your Grannies and gleefully rummaging through it. Worth a look if you are ever passing, and the tea shop is definitely worth a visit. In addition, the gardens are beautiful and there are geese and hens to watch, clucking and scratching about. A treasure.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Going Organic

Yesterday, we finally visited Ryton Organic Gardens. I’ve been a member of HDRA for many years, so one of the things I’ve been looking forward to about coming here is to be able to visit their flagship gardens. I wasn’t disappointed.

The gardens are laid out in lots of small gated garden-size plots, where they’ve shown what can be achieved with a small space. They have gardens that demonstrate different styles of organic gardening, from wildlife gardens to a town garden. They also show what can be achieved with a very small space, using containers.

We stopped for lunch at their restaurant, which uses ingredients from the gardens and has a beautiful view of a large flower garden, with tables outside. There is also a café, with drinks and awfully tempting-looking cakes.

Butterflies and bees just love the place – I’ve never seen so many.

And to top it all, there is a huge shop with organic food, household goods, gardening stuff and gifts. Overall, a thoroughly good day out. We could easily have spent longer there. I now want to grow carrots and herbs and lettuce and rocket (and the rest) in containers on our patio. I’m looking out for things to use as containers that otherwise would be ‘rubbish’. Any ideas?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Shiny Tractors

Our bike ride this morning took us out to Upper Boddington. Rick had seen a sign for a vintage ploughing exhibition and insisted we go. So, after a ride that had my leg-muscles complaining (again), we turned down the muddy track, paid our couple of quid each and cycled up the track (somewhat gingerly in my case as I’m not great at cycling on mud). The smells of wet grass, mud, tents, BBQ, wood-smoke, diesel and the coke-smell of the various steam traction engines mingled into that unmistakable family-day-out smell. Despite the grey, cold weather, plenty people had turned out in wellies and waterproofs.

We clomped about the field, our feet getting heavier and heavier as the clods of clay and straw clung to our boots, making us slide about. We were rewarded with some wonderful sights. Pictures speak a thousand words, so here are some of the treasures that were on show:

Saturday, September 10, 2005


We woke early again this morning. Rick suddenly jumped out of bed and went downstairs at about 6.45. He came back up again, saying "we've got a visitor." I scrambled to the window. Standing outside our front door was a large, black compost bin. "It's arrived!" I said gleefully.

I only ordered it two days ago. Hurrah for the Council!

It's funny how something as ordinary as being able to make my own compost again can make me feel at home. It felt all wrong, chucking stuff in the bin that could have made nice, nourishing, crumbly brown compost for the garden.

We've just got back from Banbury, where we've spent the morning avoiding going to Tesco. We've visited the Health Food shop, the market (including a WI stall where we found home-made chutney, local honey and locally grown potatoes), and an ironmongers. It took ages, but is definitely a more pleasant experience than Tesco. We now want to find a Farm Shop or something where we can get locally reared (ideally organic) meat and locally grown veg. We must be in the right territory for that sort of thing, surely?

Friday, September 09, 2005

The joys of walking

It’s great living here. I’ve just got back from a brisk walk, nearly all of it around fields, alongside hedges full of bright red rosehips and glossy dark elderberries. Breathing in the smell of warm earth, hot hay, and in places the less pleasant smell of slurry. Feeling the energy that comes from the blood pumping round my veins as I get into a brisk rhythm of walking. Hearing the birds chattering in the hedges; a blackbird scolding; ravens calling. Feeling the occasional brush of daddy-long-legs’ past my arms. There was a beautiful dragonfly, electric green and aqua-blue stripes. And a tiny coppice of young trees, big enough to cast a dark shadow to walk into, yet still slender as my own limbs. A flash of white as a rabbit bounces into the ditch, tail aloft.

When I reached the bridleway, I saw a woman with her dog and car. She was busy looking for something in the hedgerow. Possibly just brambling. When she saw me, she got back in the car and drove a little further along past me, with the hatchback open and the dog sitting in the boot. She looked strangely furtive, but smiled as I passed her.

On the way back towards the church, I saw the baby cows that we’d seen last night. They are in a tiny triangular enclosure next to the farm. So small that I’m sure they must still want their mother. Maybe something went wrong and they are being reared by hand. The one we met last night was black-and-white with big dark eyes and a soft, inquisitive nose. It was tearing leaves and berries from a bush by the fence, munching thoughtfully. The other two are a pair, light fawn, quiet and timid and very small. Today, they were lying down, curled up together.

As I was walking, I decided I wanted to knit again. Where this impulse comes from, I have no idea. But I shall give into it and get my knitting out again. Any creativity will do.

Oh – and I’ve booked on a Reiki evening course. It starts next Thursday. It seems like things are starting to come together. Knitting together the different coloured strands that make up the things I want to do with this next stage of my life.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Better Than Life?

We popped out for a walk on Tuesday evening to smell the scents of evening, cool air releasing the sweetness of the hay. We strolled past a beautiful cotswolds stone cottage with flowers clustering around the door - then spotted the sign propped against the door post - 'Fresh Eggs for Sale'. A little old woman opened the door and smiled delightedly when we asked to buy some. £1.50 for a dozen. Why wouldn't you? They are beautiful, large and brown and still covered in ... well, they are clearly authentic.

Then last night, we went out for another stroll. We heard trotting, then saw a pony and trap, flanked by two outriders, trotting smartly past us. We'd only just recovered from this when we heard bells, shouting and an oompah band. There were two troupes of Morris Dancers in the beer garden of the Merrie Lion. How could we resist? We bought some drinks and watched the swirl of burgundy skirts and red and gold ribbons, listened to the jangle of bells and the stomping of shiny clogs, smiled at the happy sweating faces. It looks fun, I'll give it that.

Walking home, we asked each other - did that really happen? Or have we become game-heads?

(I hope you've read Red Dwarf)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Move

Wednesday 17th August 2005 - In mourning

It’s the last day on my own here in this house. Tomorrow, Pickfords arrive to start packing us up.

I’m tired. Avoiding feeling, because it’s easier that way. It is awful thinking about leaving, because it is like mourning. I can’t imagine not having this as a home to come back to. It will be somebody else’s house.

I never looked back to our previous houses – my first flat, then Rick’s house which I shared with him for two years. But his, our first home together …

It occurred to me that the Pickfords team leader will need to have the skills of an undertaker. I can’t imagine how I am going to be able to leave this place.

Thursday 18th August - Packing

We did those final jobs – cutting the lawn, disconnecting the washing machine, switching off and drying out the fridge/freezer - then nipped out to Wetherspoons for a breakfast, returning to wait for Pickfords. And wait … and wait … Meanwhile, on the street outside, an army of builder’s skips and small diggers were gathering. By the time the van arrived (it’s about the size of a double-decker bus) the street was full of building machinery. A skip lorry was busy unloading and loading skips at one side of us. On the other, a builder’s merchant lorry was just leaving. Our van had to wait, then edge its way in bit by bit.

We sat in the lounge, perched on the edge of the sofas while we heard the ripping of parcel tape and the rustling of paper as our possessions were swiftly packed away into boxes. Not knowing quite what to do with myself, I kept checking to see if they were OK, and offering cups of tea and biscuits. In the end, I left them to it (I’m sure they were very relieved about that).

At 5pm, they left, arranging to return at 8am on the Friday morning. They left us our bed, but had taken the rest of the bedroom furniture. Sleep did not come easy.

Friday 19th August – Completion Day


We woke early and prepared for the final push. I cleaned the bathroom after us, and then went round to T&A’s to drop off their keys. Luke and Scarlett were finishing breakfast, toast crumbs round their mouths. I finally dragged myself away, with a gift of two ripe figs from their tree in a pot by the back door.

As rooms were cleared of stuff, I busied myself with the dyson and damp cloth. It is disgusting what gathers on skirting boards behind pieces of furniture. The dyson was soon full, and made a particularly unpleasant grinding noise. I wielded dyson, duster and damp cloth endlessly, rescuing cloths before they got packed – which some did, along with the detergent, by the youngest packer who shoved everything in sight into a box.

Our moving team were fantastic. Welsh Phil, didn’t say much at all, and refused all offers of tea except for one cup in the morning. Alan – a tattooed granddad, self-employed, full of stories. And Steve, clearly less experienced but absolutely game. In his enthusiasm, he packed Rick’s book which Rick had been reading and inadvertently left unattended. As Rick mooched about, bereft without his book, Steve realised this mattered and disappeared into the van, reappearing with the treasured article.

Finally, we were all packed. The lads said cheerio, and the van pulled away. Rick pushed the dyson around the hall and stairs. I carefully arranged the yellow file of handover notes and instructions, the bottle of champagne and card for our buyers. The tears welled up then. I so clearly remembered the day that we moved in, and found a card and flowers left for us from our vendors. I’d left our new dyson in the hall, and raced around to look at every room in our new home. By the time the others started arriving with furniture, I’d only vacuumed the dining room.

Our neighbour, Ginny, dragged me from my recollections, shouting my name from across the road. I ran and gave her a hug, thanking her for looking after our house all those times we’d been away. I smelled of her perfume for ages afterwards – sweet and floral. Then we had to close the door and walk away from the house which - since the solicitor’s call - was no longer ours. We had to get in the car and drive away, trying not to howl in front of all the lads doing building work at the neighbouring property.

To stop myself wallowing, I phoned our buyer. He was enjoying a last drink with his garden while his partner went to fetch the keys.

“We’ve left the building,” I told him heartily. “It’s all yours, mate!”


And so we arrived here. Pickfords beat us to it, managing to negotiate the 13’3” bridge in their 13’1” van with apparent ease. Rick dropped me off, and went to fetch the keys from where we’d been told to collect them. The Pickfords boys sauntered up to the shop for sandwiches. I was left, feeling a fool, standing on the weed-covered drive clutching my handbag and a few files.

While we had been driving over, the letting agent had tried to phone, but the signal kept cutting out. I’d got something about the garage door missing a key, and something about it being in the garden … ?

Rick returned without the keys. “The locksmith took them,” he said. We were mystified. Rick managed to find somewhere with a mobile signal and phoned the letting agent. He found out
a) the keys were under a plant pot (what a cliché)
b) the garage door wouldn’t lock, and couldn’t be fixed until next week. Oh, joy.

However, we had a van full of stuff waiting to be unloaded, and no time to worry about this. Rapidly, we moved into action, finding the key and unlocking the front door; showing the lads the layout, taping signs to the doors of the rooms. I stripped the ivy from around the patio door, located keys and managed to get it open.

We then had the exhausting experience of watching our possessions fill the house, box after box. The lads worked hard and fast, barely stopping to drink the cups of water that I kept replenishing them with, somewhat alarmed by the sweat pouring off them. The stairs were hideous to negotiate, and the wardrobe had to be demolished to go up. This is probably the worst design of house I have ever seen.

At around 5.30, they finally brought the last items in; we filled in the form, said goodbye and watched them drive away. I was quite sorry to see them go. They were a link, somehow, with our old life and it felt like they should be part of our new. But we were on our own now. Exhausted and hungry. We investigated the local pub. It was closed. We weighed up our options, which were to wait until 7 and see if the local opened then, or to walk some distance down to the canal where we knew there was another pub. As I could barely stand, let alone walk, we went for the local option.

Thankfully, it did open at 7. We sat in splendid isolation, in an attractive window niche, admiring the open fire, beams and horse brasses of the typical country pub. And this was just down the road from us! I ordered sausage, chips and onion gravy, and have never enjoyed a meal more. Perhaps, just perhaps, we might like it here.


One of the first things I did was to remove the ivy that was starting to choke the back of the house. I pulled experimentally at a piece, and it came away from the wall, even up to the height of the roof. The whole lot came down bit by bit, as I tugged gently to release its fingers from the brickwork. Spiders and goodness-knows what else cascaded onto my hair and down my neck. Soon, there was a satisfying pile of ivy in the middle of the patio. Next, I started to tug away at the creeping weed that lurks at the foot of the house – only up to where the alpine strawberries have colonised. They can stay.

I started on the brambles, but couldn’t find my gardening gloves. I knew exactly where the gardening bucket that contained my gloves and small tools had been. But as to which box it was in now in the garage, well, who could tell? Rick had a fairly fruitless search, then gave up. The thorns hooked into my skin like cats’ claws, refusing to come unhooked. I gave up pending retrieval of my gardening gloves.

In the evening, Rick roasted a chicken and we opened a bottle of Bollinger, which was very nice indeed. A prince amongst champagnes.


We needed to get out, especially as the weather was gorgeous – hot and sunny. We walked through the village, past the squat, honey coloured stone church. A woman came out of a cottage, whose garden I had been admiring – a riot of pink and red flowers. She told us her husband grew them all from seed, before hurrying on her way to chapel. We carried on, past a large corrugated metal barn (of which there seem to be several round here) and onto field paths. There were black, dried seed pods of some shrivelled crop in the first field. They rattled as we brushed past them. Hedgerows were jewelled with rosehips, blackberries and elderberries. There were very few trees, and those that there were sat together in tight little huddles, all called ‘fox covert’. Stubble stretched into the distance like gleaming cream velvet.

The path took us up to Burton Dassett Country Park. This is rounded and undulating, with wispy pale grass that makes it resemble sand dunes. Climbing up to the viewpoint, the roar of the M40 suddenly hit us. I resented its intrusion, and climbed back down the hill so the sound receded again. Then I tried to imagine it was the roar of the sea, just over the top of the sand dunes.

I was missing the sheep. When we’d been up here the time we first looked at the house, there had been sheep all over the hills. Where were they? Finally, we spotted them, clustered under the shade of the few trees that they could find at the bottom of the hill.

When we got back to the house, I took one look at the garden and then returned to the garage to have another search for my gardening bucket. Finally, I located it, three boxes down. I spend a good hour or so doing my best to salvage the plants that I found, liberating them from choking couch grass and nettles. I made a start, enough to make the garden look as if it had had some care rather than months of neglect. There is little I can do about one side of the garden, which adjoins a farm track. The brambles and grass scramble through the fence merrily, and will always do so. So, that side of the garden will be our patch of ‘wildgarden’, left to grown with little intervention except to rein in the brambles every now and then. Our reward is lots of fruit at brambling time. And lots of happy birds!

Later, we had drinks on the patio and rounded the day off with creamy, comforting roast chicken risotto.


Grey and drizzling. Our first morning getting up for work at a reasonable hour. Then we piled our stuff into the car, and got as far as the end of the drive before Rick said “where are we going?” We’d forgotten to plan our route to work.

Wednesday 24th August 2005

Today is the first day on my own in our new home. It feels very strange. I keep wandering about, feeling lost. I’m sitting in the kitchen at the moment, as it is the lightest, most welcoming room. I’ve cleaned the filthy, smelly washing machine that came with the house (removing lots of black mould and large chunks of what looked like straw and tree bark). The washing is now whirring away to itself – a comforting sound.

Back - but slow ...

Well, we've got a phone line (which I only found out when one of those irritating 'congratulations' messages phoned me up). And thanks to a CD from Tesco, I'm now online via dialup connection. Rick is talking to Tiscali today about getting us back on Broadband. Sooner the better.

Meanwhile, I've been catching up with writing. I want to keep a record of our transition to rural life, so I've been writing up my journal notes. The next entry will be rather a long one ...