Friday, 30 September 2011

Lucky me

My week started as usual with Pilates and helping in school. My boy has been reading during the holidays for the first time and as a result has not forgotten everything he learnt last year. We have been able to whiz through his reading and spelling and then share a chapter of Horrid Henry (which he loves, so I tolerate). My girl has not apparently done any 'work' at home so, as ever, we seem to be back at square one and she doesn’t really want to spend time with me. Persuading her to stay on task is fraught.
At upholstery I have now managed to get three more dining chairs redone; only two more to complete the set and I can play with something more interesting. I’ve got several pieces needing work...

I’ve been for a soul walk (rather than a dog walk you understand) around the village this morning, but not along the permissive footpath as the route was padlocked and the field full of horses doing trials. I don’t know anything about horses - or trials - but as we have new horsier neighbours at the farm I guess we’ll see more of this.
One night (Husband did the ballet run) I went to a Jamie (Oliver) at Home party in the village - in the olden days it would have been Tupperware. I went with Coffeeneighbour and we were the oldest people present, something we demonstrated by being the first to leave (and by knowing about Tupperware I expect). There was wine and beautiful nibbles, a DVD of Jamie welcoming us and thanking our lovely hostess, a quiz about Jamie and food (in which I did badly), and lots of chat. It was all very jolly. (I am a little cynical about this enterprise, but Jamie, like Delia and Nigella is, of course, a saint.)
I've also been to a Coffee Morning hosted by Gardeningneighbour. They are a circulating, weekly event which started life as a mothers' and toddlers' group, but is now firmly retired ladies of a certain age: there, I am young! It is not a club, you do not have to go, but it is a chatty, supportive forum. I was taken by Gardeningneighbour on only my third day in the village – the alternative, on a dark January day, was cleaning my cold, and, as yet unfurnished house. The ladies were extremely welcoming and full of useful information about the area. I met Brown Owl, the Gardening Club Chair, and the leader of the WI, found out whom to ask for an allotment, and what they thought about all matters village. It is not competitive coffee, the hostess supplies bought biscuits and instant coffee and we all contribute to a fund. This week however we were raising money for Macmillan so there was an exchange of cake. (Obviously I only ate some to show my support.)
Both outings were social occasions: with one group I am about 10 years too old, with the other 10 years too young… I suspect this means I should be doing something else at my stage of life, but, do you know, I like it just as it is!

Friday, 23 September 2011

Back to normal - please

My regular readers (Hello!) will remember that I started an exercise diary on the grounds that if I told everyone all about it I wouldn’t be able to stop. Sadly the fact that you haven’t heard anything recently isn’t because I thought the whole thing pretty uninteresting to write about (though it was), but because I have singularly failed to keep it up. I am still going to Pilates once a week (except when I, or my teacher, am on holiday), but I have failed to keep up the swimming, and the walking on holiday doesn’t count because, when the family is with me, I eat at least 3 meals a day, and often 4 (5 if there's elevenses and tea!), instead of the term time 2. Needless to say my waistline is looking tubby, even when I breathe in, and I’ve put on a couple more pounds over the summer.

I am trying to return to getting more exercise and eating more fruit and less alcohol now that everyone’s back at school. The fact that the routine is back will help I'm sure: lots of taxiing, helping in school, Pilates and Upholstery mean more rushing about and less time at home looking in the fridge, but in the meantime I’m holding my stomach in and sitting up straight in an effort to disguise the problem.

I am not thinking about middle aged spread. I’m not!

I think one of the problems with 'idling at home' is that formal clothing is rarely required, and jeans and a T-shirt hide a multitude of sins... I like wearing jeans and a T-shirt, but on the occasional day when a skirt is appropriate I find my waist is no longer present. Perhaps I should buy some low rise skirts to complement my low rise jeans? And, if I offload all my old suits from my long ago life, I won't know I can't get into them: perfect!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Jane Eyre

I’m re-reading Jane Eyre.

The girls and I went to see the new film with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender last weekend. We had all seen a repeat run of the most recent TV serial with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson - both too good looking really. I’ve also watched versions starring Joan Fontaine/Orson Welles, Sorcha Cusack/David Jayston and Samantha Morton/Ciarán Hinds at the very least! Eldest had devoured the book on the promise of the trip to the pictures. I think it was too close together: she seemed bored by a film that Youngest and I thoroughly enjoyed. It was atmospheric, gothic, got the story about right, had outstanding costumes and had appropriate actors. Eldest's chief complaint was that St. John wasn’t a looker, though she thought Jane and Rochester suitably plain – helped by their unattractive hair cuts!
I read the book in English lessons in 1973 according to my reading list. For me that’s damming: if I liked a book I read it in advance of reading in class as I generally found the round the room method put me off completely. I know Youngest feels the same – though she’s been told off for reading ahead! (What do you think of that, Fran?)
Because I know the story I found myself paying great attention to the awfulness of Victorian style, even the pretty women looked faintly ridiculous in their dolly styling. If you saw Young Victoria you will recognise the fashions, though what looked sumptuous and appropriate on Victoria and Albert was less stylish on the ordinary folk – perhaps that’s always true about those of us copying the fashion setters?!

I read somewhere that Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights (which I haven’t read) are best appreciated read pre 14; read later you are liable to find the characters a bit silly… Dear Reader, for me this seems to be true. How about you?

Tuesday, 13 September 2011


Does it matter if girls like pink? Are they programmed to love pink or do they learn from everyone around them that pink is for girls and blue is for boys? Kat Arney in her programme on Radio 4 last week talked about pinkification, nature and nurture. You can read her article here or listen to the programme here, but I’m afraid the bit that I latched on to was that apparently you can buy a Snow White pink vacuum cleaner that sings ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come’ as you play – is he going to free you from chores or keep you doing it I wonder?!

When my girls were little it was certainly possible to buy them pink clothes and toys, but there were plenty of ‘unisex’ items: their ride on car was yellow and red as I recall, but now you can buy the same car in the ‘right’ colour for your child.
I didn’t know what Eldest would be, but blue is my favourite colour so I bought blue baby clothes. I was regularly asked what he was called. I knew Youngest was a girl, but I still bought her a Peter Rabbit babygrow and recycled Eldest’s outgrown blue clothing. Oh they’ve both been through their ‘pink’ phase and were indulged (within reason) at the time, but they also both grew out of it! Both still have the odd pink item in their wardrobes, generally ‘hot’ not pastel. And they both had dolls, but also a Duplo train set and Harry Potter Lego. My girls are definitely girls. Since I only have girls I don't know if I have treated them differently to how I might have treated boys. I guess I would have looked for a football club instead of a ballet school, but only if he'd expressed a preference as Eldest did. Youngest did ballet too for a while: she thought it was what big girls did, and I couldn't face pursuing a different after school club. (To be fair they both did swimming largely because Youngest wanted to.)
When they were very small they had lots of dresses but more often wore dungarees. From about 3-8 they demanded pink dresses, fairy costumes, Barbie dolls and pink bedclothes. Now they mostly wear jeans, many of the dressing-up clothes have been passed down to younger cousins, the Barbies live in a box waiting for small visitors and only Youngest still has pink bedding - her room is black, white and pink when you get under the rubble.
I am glad that I offered them cars, trains and Lego, I am glad I dressed them in blue. I'd rather see little girls go through a pink phase that probably won't last than see them dressed as 'adults' in much of the 'tarty' clothing now available! At the end of the day they are children and I'd rather see pink frills than padded bras and mini skirts. How about you?

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Too much of a good thing

It is harvest time. Yes, I know it’s traditional and lovely, but why is it that when the allotment delivers it does it all at once? No, no! I’m not complaining: I’m remembering how lucky I am as I wash yet another 3 lettuces and wonder when exactly we’re going to eat them. Youngest, of course, doesn’t eat vegetables and Eldest seems to have decided that home grown items aren’t up to supermarket cleanliness… I’ve tried explaining about washing in chemicals or washing the stuff herself, but she prefers to go without.

The potatoes are mud caked, but will probably wait to be cleaned when we want to eat them, and store reasonably in the garage. The issue is with the ones now living in a trug in the kitchen ‘because they need eating soon’… this because more than one something has had a go at eating them already…
Then there’s the courgettes arriving at roughly two a day. Three of us eat those, but I can’t keep up as we won’t eat them daily. We’ve had them steamed, marinated, roasted, chopped into casseroles, mince and quiches, at the moment we have a chocolate courgette cake sandwiched with raspberries and cream – two harvested foods in one!
The raspberries come at a rate of a 2L ice-cream tub every day or so. I love them, and they freeze really well, so we don’t have to eat them after every meal.

We can’t anyway because we’re getting an equal quantity of blackberries (they freeze: yay!) and the apples are beginning to mount up… I am pleased to report that I’ve already picked the Conference pears which are in the fridge. Eldest eats most of those as she takes them to school to eat for lunch.
Luckily Sadly there are no beans this year as Husband had no luck with them. They did germinate – twice – but were then eaten by something, rabbits or deer he thinks. They would have provided a welcome change and there’ll be no green bean chutney… Still, there’s chard to offer variety; I’m becoming adept at substituting it whenever the recipe calls for spinach, and it does disappear to a pleasingly small helping even when you’ve picked a huge quantity.
The onions are lifted and drying all over the house because the forecast is for more rain. Again there is a box of ‘dodgy’ ones that ‘need eating’ in the kitchen.
I'm planning to try beetroot muffins next: there's only so much purple lovliness two of us can eat, particularly when they're the size of a football. There are only four ice-cream tubs of roasted beetroot in the freezer so far so I'm sure there's room for more, and I've found a recipe for beetroot chutney that needs apples!

I have ordered vinegar and sugar and Sainsburys will deliver them tomorrow. If you need me I might be making jam or chutney…

Friday, 2 September 2011

May I recommend?

I choose a book to read for all sorts of reasons. Usually a title or an author catches my eye on the library shelves. Sometimes I listen to a recommendation. The one I’m reading presently was in a box I sorted left over from the Church Fête – A Shield of Coolest Air by Marion Molteno. It is unusual, a first novel from 1992, by an unknown (to me) author so I’ve no idea what to expect, but it gripped me from the first sentence so I shall continue – I rarely fail to finish something I start, if only because I record the books I’ve read in an exercise book and hate to feel I’ve wasted my time*. And sometimes I enjoy a TV or radio version so much I am inspired to get hold of the original book.
Such was the case with Lionel Shriver whose novel We Need to Talk About Kevin I first heard on Woman’s Hour. I found this black comedy unputdownable. However uncomfortable the story, I had to know what happened next and was genuinely surprised on several occasions (yes, despite having heard the serialisation). Last week I read So Much For That (also heard on the radio) and it too was brilliant. Very black, and only occasionally laugh out loud funny, but humorous just the same. It doesn’t sound amusing I grant you. It is about the American health system and, to illustrate her point, several of the main characters have medical problems: terminal cancer, a terminal degenerative disease and some elective surgery. Well I said it didn’t sound fun! It was not only funny, but true. If someone you know has had any sort of illness you will find scenarios that have the ring of truth. For instance, how many times do you need to remind yourself to ring a sick friend before you actually do it? And when you’re not comfortable about what you might say, or how they might react, how much more likely are you to put it off? But because it’s always on your mind, and on your to do list, you don’t realise how long it is since you called… I loved the commentary on modern life, the arc of the story, and (should I mention?) the happy ending (you probably need to know!). Even for the characters for whom life ended there was a satisfactory conclusion. I loved this!
If nothing else, if you’re a Brit reader, you will thank God for the NHS!

*I recently stopped reading Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty; I really wasn’t enjoying the sex or the self harm. I am also struggling to get through A Dance to the Music of Time. I loved the TV series and was leant the novels by a neighbour… I have reached book five of twelve but am losing the will to live… Should I strive to complete either task?