Thursday, March 28, 2013

Gardening, March.

It's Spring. Let's get that out of the way first with a giant HA BLOODY HA. It was warmer in December. This has really proven to be the year to buy snow boots (which finally arrived by the way, and ohmygod they are the ugliest and most wonderful things I have ever put my feet in. I wear them when it's not snowing just because it's like going outside wearing teddy bears on your feet, waterproof ones.) It has snowed more times in London in the last 4 months than I remember in any YEAR in Scotland.

I have lost faith that anything is ever going to grow, let alone flower in our garden. At the beginning of the month it was mild enough to fool us into thinking that spring was coming. We hired a rotavator and The Menfolk ploughed what existed of the old, bowed, scrubby lawn in preparation for laying turf a few weeks later. That time has never come, it being too wet or frosty or just plain foul. Now after weeks of Winter pt 3 and of us walking all over the freshly turned ground we have a nicely compacted muddy field. We have laid out sticks and string to mark where the beds are going to go and the spaces inbetween are where the lawn will be, one day. If I take my glasses off, squint and down a couple of tequilas I can almost imagine what it might look like. Then I put my glasses back on and it looks like experimental mud and bamboo art again. 

There are a number of triangular fruit and flower beds lining the edges of our garden. I write 'a number' because I can't actually remember the number, maybe 4, maybe 5, possibly 6? Dunno. Only one of them is all planned out and ironically it's the ones we were most worried about, the one we considered turning into a sandpit. It's the one bit of the garden that doesn't and won't get any direct sun, but one unplanned trip to the Secret Garden Centre in Crystal Palace last month found us coming home with a couple of ferns, a periwinkle and a foxglove from their excellent selection of plants specifically for shaded beds. Added to the couple of hellebores we'd bought a few weeks before, our shaded bed was full. Hellebores; why didn't I know about hellebores before? They flower in the winter, THE WINTER! Pretty, delicate, faintly coloured flowers. I love them. 

The blossom tree that we uprooted and put into a pot when we moved in (it was right in the middle of what was the become the greenhouse) burst into amazing, lurid flower last month. Then repeated wind, rain and snow storms beat the crap out of it and now it's a soggy, reddish-brown mess. 

We borrowed the Giant Book of Pruning (or some-such) from the library and I've barely seen Nye since. I had no idea that pruning was a) so interesting, b) so complicated, c) so fun. While I don't love the book (the diagrams make no sense at all) chopping bits of stuff with sharp blades is immensely therapeutic. Nye has pruned the fruit trees we bought, one to become a half standard (I don't know what it means either) and others to become fans or espaliers. Which means growing them flat against a wall or fence, like this. Nye is in love with his fruit trees, he would fill the whole garden with them if he could and sold them to me with promises of free fruit and pretty blossom. Turns out they're unlikely to fruit for the next three years. He did not tell me this until after they had arrived. 

One of the apple trees is called Scrumptous Bush. I'm almost certain he only bought it so he could shout 'scrumptious bush Pix' at me and chuckle every time I walk by it. 

I have fallen in love with the greenhouse. There's nothing much in it at the moment, just a few small strawberry plants which look out at their unfortunate, scrawnier, snow-ridden siblings sitting outside in the raised bed. They're the lucky ones, the ones that won the toss in Nye's experiment to find out if it's preferable to put them in the greenhouse before or after they've flowered. The outside strawberries look so weedy, so cold. It seems cruel to have positioned them just on the other side of the glass from their bigger, better-cared-for litter mates. But perhaps the runts will out-perform them yet, the proof of the neglect is in the eating. Or something like that. 

But the greenhouse; I love it. It's colder than the house but with the added benefit of being 50ft away. So when I'm in there I can hear neither my neighbours or my children, both of whom have been driving me to the edge of reason over the last month. My neighbours with pounding dancehall and my children with being two. The greenhouse is an ideal place to sit, knit, drink coffee, read a book and occasionally lose your shit altogether and have a good sob. 

We're slowly learning more about gardening (me more slowly than Nye, who has been studying the ways and means of plants for the last 3 years, so he'd be ready.) Slowly growing in confidence in both our decisions for new plants and our brutal renovations of the ones that were left behind by the previous owners. We find dirty, faded care tags tramped into the soil and piece them up with the overgrown specimens that hug the perimeter walls. Discovering that that interesting looking shrub in the darkest corner of the garden asks clearly on its label to be placed in full sun and that the small scrubby bush in the pot behind the shed is actually a camellia that with a little care and a lot more light, will give us flowers not unlike the pink tissue ones you make when you're seven and told to make a bunch of paper flowers in art class. 

In learning about gardening I'm learning a new language but for once it doesn't make me want to cry like French, German, Spanish, Gaelic did. It makes me feel eager and excited and curious. Fascinating words flit through my head, play in my mouth and trip off my tongue; mulch, tilth, sessile, vermiculite, ericaceous, a new and beautiful language, at once both science and poetry. We watched Monty Don's French Gardens last month and while the second episode about Potagers, or kitchen gardens, appealed to my gardening style the most, the third episode about French gardens and art was the most interesting to me. It explored the notion of when a garden becomes a work of art, if a garden ever becomes a work of art. That that question can even be asked about something that produces food, flowers and a place to live and rest sums up so much that I'm learning to love about gardening. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

on motherhood

"I didn't expect to come face to face with my selfishness, my laziness and my lack of patience so brutally or abruptly. I didn't expect that my self confidence would wither or that I would battle so much just getting through the day. I didn't realise that such a small creature could expose me the way Pip has.
I thought I could just go on being me. Me with a baby. Turned out, I had to be stripped back and rebuilt from the bottom up. "

I'm probably not the only one who feels like culturally we are mis-selling motherhood; yes it's amazing and wonderful and fulfilling and life-giving and nurturing etc etc, but FUCK, it's hard too. I'm probably not the only one who is reading blogs like Glow and looking at supermodel (sometimes literally) mothers with beatifically happy children in impeccably artistic houses spouting crap about how their most humbling moment as a mother was when their kid spilled juice on their interior designer friend's white sofa and thinking COME ON.

My friend Rachel wrote the most beautifully raw and succinct piece on motherhood for Oh You Pretty Things, summing up in remarkably few words what it feels like to become a mother, to go from being responsible for the life of one person to being responsible for the life of another (or others) and the complete and utter disassembling that takes place to readjust to this new and huge way of being.

You should read it.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Coeliac and Secret Passages.

Things I learnt from a google chat with my brother in law today:

  • The price of a Savile Row suit. 
  • That a good pair of shoes should, in theory, last one a lifetime. 
  • That there is an off license in Mayfair that shares a secret passageway with Buckingham Palace, so when the queen runs out of booze no one need step outside. 
  • That coeliac disease is more common among the those of Irish heritage. 

What did you learn today? 

*Photograph from the Statham Cook Collection via the Guardian 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Innocuous questions that make me crazy (# 1)


'Is your husband babysitting?' 


Seriously. In two years no one has asked Nye if his wife is 'babysitting'. Because when I look after the kids it's just being a parent, when he does it it's a fucking novelty*. It drives me nuts.

*To them, not Nye. Hour for hour he probably looks after W&P more than I do.

*image by Jamie Street, aka Desert Fete.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Two year olds.

I'm in the kitchen making dinner and I hear a yell of indignation from the living room. I ignore it because indignation isn't urgent and really, as long as everyone is in tact then I'm good. But after a minute it escalates into screams of 'STUCK STUCK STUCK'. Muttering I put down the spoon and head towards the living room. Last time there were yells of 'stuck' Ammie was jammed between the bottom step and a bike wheel and perilously close to dislocating something trying to get out, so as tempting as it is to leave the toddler who is securely not under my feet, I figure I'd better check. I go into the living room and Ella is lying on the sofa, flat on her back, screaming. The kid has been able to walk for a year, I'm pretty sure she is not in fact 'stuck'. I pick her up, dump her back on her bum and leave the room. Silence falls.

It's dinner time, the girls are sitting at the table eating chilli and rice with nice normal-sized plastic cutlery. I get up to fetch something from the kitchen, when I return Ammie has procured a gigantic wooden mixing spoon from somewhere and is eating her dinner with it.

'A SNAIL. A SNAIL IN AMMIE'S DINNER. AGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH.' There is a piece of rice that has turned brown where it has been in contact with the chilli. Ammie pushes her plate away with disgust and refuses to eat any more. Because there are snails in it.

'AMMIE'S FOOT. AMMIE'S FOOTSIE IS BROKOON. AMMIE HAS AN OUCHIE!' Ammie in fact has a small piece of toilet paper stuck to the sole of her foot.

I am sitting on the floor putting Ella's pyjamas on her. Behind me I can hear slurping. When Ella is dressed we turn around to get up and Ammie hands us her almost empty cup of milk while cradling another, full, cup of milk to her chest. 'Ella's milk' she tells me, brandishing the empty cup at me. 'Ammie, that's your cup, give me Ella's please.' 'ELLA'S CUP.' 

We're eating grapes, each with our own small plate full. Ammie finishes hers and looks at mine. 'MORE' she screams at highest pitch. 'MORE MORE MORE MORE MORE FOR AMMIE'. 'Ammie,' I say in a warning tone. She changes tack instantly; 'nice mummy, funny mummy! More please for Ammie please nice mummy?' Who can resist.

Friday, March 15, 2013

holiday planning.

Porto Katsiki
image by VictorMk1

I can not, will not, must not spend another winter entirely in the UK. I just can't. Every year I think 'I've just got to get through to solstice/Christmas/New Year/my birthday/the end of February and it will be nearly spring and I'll be fine. But the truth is, I get to the end of February and I feel so completely bruised by the preceding four months that the fact that it's nearly Spring is no comfort at all and it's only in mid-May that I stop feeling traumatised.

I know it sounds extreme to react to winter so badly and in theory I know; it's not that bad, stop being a big pansy, but I hate it. I hate the cold and the short days but most of all I hate the lack of sun when there are daylight hours. It's noticeable as soon as there is a bright day that I feel like a different, happier, person. A person who stops questioning her life and her career and her every decision, who stops wondering why she isn't happy, a person to whom it suddenly becomes obvious 'I'm not unhappy, I've just been IN THE DARK FOR THE LAST THREE MONTHS.'

About 6 weeks ago I was so close to taking out a credit card just to pay for us to Go Somewhere. I've never had a credit card in my life but this seemed like a genuine necessity. It was only that I was too tired to organise dinner let alone a holiday that stopped me. At that point I swore to Nye that I was NOT spending all of next winter in the UK, that we had to go somewhere where there was sunshine for a week at the beginning of February. That, I figured, would be enough to tide me through to Spring. Thankfully he agreed that yes, it probably was a necessity. 

So I've started thinking about next winter with something other than utter dread. We have neither a tonne of money or the inclination to spend more than four hours on a plane, so that rules out anywhere tropical. If you draw a circle around London that is eight hours wide, the furthest you can cheaply get where there will be sunshine in February is the Canaries in one direction and Turkey in the other (and Northern Mali in the other direction but as of yet, I don't think Shitty Air fly there.) Morocco appeals, because we know it and love it and have been talking about taking the girls there since before they were born (And it's cheap. And I really want to stay at Maryam's place, which isn't cheap but which is probably worth going into debt for), but I feel like maybe we should try something new, something adventurous

Does anyone have any suggestions? Our budget is small but so are our needs. When we went to Morocco we stayed in backpackers hotels that cost £3 per person per night and where you shared a bathroom with the whole floor. I'd like to upgrade on that trip slightly, maybe with a bathroom to ourselves (the luxury!). But 'basic' is what we're going for, we're in it for the sunshine and the food. No cities, preferably a beach, ideally warm enough to run around naked. 

Answers on a postcard please.

Monday, March 11, 2013

I knit so I won't kill people.

Over the last three weeks I've been taking a course of knitting lessons at iKnit London. I've learned knit, purl, start, stop and Don't Make Holes Where You Don't Mean To Make Holes. Last week I graduated and was set loose into the world with my needles. Via their shop. It's pretty genius marketing; spend three weeks creating an addict and then end the final lesson with a 10% discount. We all left with a pile of wool so expensive that we're now terrified to use it. (Peruvian alpaca and English Wenselydale, if you're interested. I went home via the charity shop and bought some Chinese polyester to practise with.)

And I am an addict. I spend the day twitchy and restless but as soon as I pick up my needles in the evening I feel a sense of calm flood through my body. Then I have to go to bed (bummer) and I fall asleep thinking about knit patterns and yarn types. Nye didn't really get it, then I found this excellent bag on etsy and well, it pretty much sums it up. 

*image from astor knot.