slow lane life 3

slow lane life 3

Friday, 6 October 2017

A birthday

Breaking with my resolution not to show pictures of my grandson, I couldn't resist posting my favourite recent photograph.

Baby E became Toddler E and is now well on his way to becoming Big Boy E. Or perhaps only to look at; he's petite, energetic, muscular, with the most serious face and brilliant smile, wildly enthusiastic, full of feeling and capable of spectacular tantrums. And he turned two recently.

We had to miss the actual birthday he shares with his Daddy, who was exhibiting at the London Design Fair, so went up to London a week later. There had already been a gooey chocolate birthday cake, so I baked a supposedly-healthier carrot and walnut (thank you, Mary Berry, for your never-fails recipe), froze it, wrapped it well, and took it with us.

We were laden like pack mules with presents for both the boys, cake and topping defrosting gently, and made our way from Paddington across London by our now-preferred route - one Tube journey and a slow bus to their door. It takes a little more time than our previous Tube-Tube-Overground train-bus, but you get to sit down in one seat and become accustomed to the noise, the crowds, the slow heaving traffic before reaching the smiling face of one small grandson.

Everything, gifts, cake, and our presence were received with delight, although the serious face belies this. E - like his father before him, 40-odd years ago, has the most serious approach to enjoyment, and a very thoughtful frown. Left to his own devices, as a child who is rarely allowed sugar, he would have eaten half of that cake in one day: "Kike! More kike!" Sorry, little E, no more kike for you, but we will light your candle yet again. And again.....

We returned home the following evening incubating colds, and I had a severely pulled back which has kept me barely mobile for almost a week (our birthday presents all seemed to be heavy). It was a relief to travel home with only one light case. But our visit was great fun; E is a charming and entertaining companion, and we love him dearly. He howled mightily when we left, although some of that grief may have focused on the loss of our wheeled suitcase, one of his favourite objects, but these painful farewells always result in a rather stiff-upper-lipped journey back to Paddington for me. I so wish we lived closer, but then, don't most families wish the same?

Note: Photographer Grandpa has set him on the right path....

Tuesday, 5 September 2017


And just to follow up on this amazing micro-knitter, here's how she does it. I can feel my thumbs getting fatter as I watch! HERE

Sugar, Slates and Eighty Stitches....

No time to blog today: the roofers are back, extending the slates on the gable of the cottage and replacing the rotten timbers beneath. A work that has been talked about for years. As a friend's father used to say, "When you own a house, at least you know where your money's going"....

I'm keeping up a steady supply of sugary hot drinks and biscuits today (will young tradesmen keep this country's diabetes numbers high in the coming years? I fear so).

If you're passing, pop in for a cuppa and a biscuit. We have chocolate ones and sweet oaty ones. You'll locate us by the sounds of pop music, banging and sawing.

Me, I've given up sugar again (so successful last year until a longed-for mince pie at Christmas set me  back onto the slippery slope) so you can have mine.

Meanwhile, look at what I found today - astonishing work by Althea Crome, a micro-knitter. I've never seen anything like it before. Click HERE to view her website.

Off to put the kettle on again.....

Friday, 1 September 2017


Oh horror - this poor neglected blog hasn't been looked at since April! And now it's September. There will be no readers still patient enough to wait for such a disgracefully long time between posts, but if you are still out there, Gentle Reader, this is for you, and for me.....

So, what's been happening?

Nothing much if, like me, you await a response from your local MP to an email written in early February. I emailed him with questions and concerns about the lack of information regarding EU nationals living in this country and their fears regarding Brexit. (This was at a time when news stories  were appearing regularly of EU citizens - mostly long-term UK residents - receiving notices that they must leave this country.) I outlined my reasons for sharing their fears: a daughter-in-law with an EU (not British) passport, a son with a British passport, and a grandchild with both as well as a Mexican one. The total lack of consistent guidance from the Government as to right-to-stay made it a worrying time.

After an automated response that included these words: "As you may imagine I receive a great number of communications every day but at least you know yours arrived safely" there has been silence from the MP in question. Apparently this is his usual approach to constituents, along with not holding a surgery; an astute way of avoiding bothersome requests when confident that your seat would remain secure even if Paddington Bear was the candidate, so long as Paddington belonged to the 'right' party.

We have all calmed down since then about the spectre of mass deportations, and I have stopped searching the internet for guidance on reclaiming the French passport and citizen status I had as a small child. But the feelings resulting from the Brexit vote have remained, and continue to make me miserable, and I suspect prevented me from blogging or indeed doing very much at all except hole up at home.

On the home front, a small boy, the holder of three passports, continues to grow apace, and will be two later this month. His speech is lively, if largely incomprehensible, and his preference for calling a cat a cow remains strong, even after being introduced to real cows (and sheep, and - oh extra-special joy! enormous tractors) at a recent country fair. "Bye bye, cow!" he says cheerfully, every time a cat clatters through the cat flap to escape his eager attention.

A few weeks ago, I abandoned home and hearth, Gardener and animals, and flew up to Newcastle to see friends, staying for two nights, a really refreshing break. I was warmly welcomed and thoroughly spoiled, felt really loved, and ate far too much. Although it's a long tedious trek to the airport, and far too much hanging about waiting for my gate to be called, the flight itself took less than 50 minutes, and I shall do it again more regularly. Maybe not so much celebratory food next time.

The Gardener is busy; this is his time to complain constantly about things growing too fast, and how he hasn't enough hours in the day to keep up. It's the same theme every summer; I'm used to it now.... But we found time recently to give the cluttered spare room/office a thorough makeover, and have become quite adept at assembling bookcases and shelving units from that well-known Swedish store.

Not so handy at finding our way round it, however; we were almost at the point of abandoning a laden trolley in despair at not being able to locate the way down to the checkouts - except of course we couldn't have found our own way out anyway. We had to be led through the crowded store by a chirpy young assistant, who clearly regarded us as very ancient and helpless. Which was exactly how we were feeling by that point.

Our friend with the doom-laden prognosis visits often, and is an excellent example of how to seize life with both hands and make the most of what is left to her, bravely and usually cheerfully. We took her to Lynmouth (location of the tragic flood of 1952), and up to Lynton via the charming Cliff Railway, ate fish and chips sitting on a bench in the sunshine.

And then we drove home over lovely Exmoor. We seem to have a great many Highland cows (no, not cats) these days, alongside the Exmoor ponies; big placid beasts, a lovely sight.

Now I shall have a good catch up on other blogs and see what you've all been up to. Bye bye, cows cats Gentle Reader!

Saturday, 22 April 2017


Having been gently chivvied along by some of you, I thought I should make the effort and tackle the post (with somewhat random pictures) that I've been putting off. "But I've nothing to write about!" I mutter to myself. "I have such an uneventful life there's only the same-old same old to report!" But really, there's always something happening, quietly or otherwise. And not all of it is good.

Our friend S, in her mid-50s and recently diagnosed with breast cancer, was bracing herself for treatment. She underwent a huge battery of tests, and to her horror, was given the worst prognosis of all. Time may be short, and friendship needs to step up more than a notch to support her through what is to come. Thankfully, she has good friends and a frank, clear-sighted attitude, facing with courage the cruel combination of stark facts, little hope and too many grim unknowns. But everyone is reeling.

The lovely grandson, baby E, is turning into a proper little boy, a glorious mix of strong feeling and vibrant energy, despite frequent bouts of ill-health. He is thought to be asthmatic,  although no one wants to pin that label on him while he is still so young (19 months); his coughs, colds and fevers, and the accompanying paraphernalia - inhalers and nebulisers - are a constant feature in the family's life. I worry about his life in London's polluted air, and welcome his visits to us. Like his father, he does not appear to be sensitive to dog or cat fur, but only to dairy, which makes it relatively straightforward to cater for him.

My sister Anne arrives from her Greek island on Monday, to spend over a week with us. She will bring with her a little pot of a miracle oil with which a friend (on instruction by his aged mother) sorted out her badly-sprained ankle. On investigation, it was found to be an ointment made from St John's Wort, beeswax (in her case from blessed candles from a particular church on the island), olive oil and a secret blend of herbs. It is available commercially, but you know how it is: being local, home-made, with secret ingredients and a church blessing, it is vastly superior to anything bought over the counter! 

I look forward to these island offerings; last year I received a jam jar filled with a dense syrup made from the red grapes grown by a friend, boiled down - nothing added - until it had reduced to a thick, barely-spoonable consistency, and apparently useful for coughs and colds. Also very palatable stirred into hot water and sipped; a sort of black treacle/metallic/sweet/rich flavour. 

Then there was the lifetime's supply she brought me of Greek mountain tea - Sideritis or  ironwort - to be steeped in boiling water for three or four minutes, and again, useful for colds and respiratory ailments. She looks after our physical welfare with traditional Greek folk remedies; I in turn will nag her about her smoking, and do my best to put some weight on her birdlike frame with traditional Somerset calories. 

In the middle of her visit, baby E and his father are coming to stay for a few days over the May Bank Holiday; the quiet house will be energised immediately. I shall warn the cats. My daughter-in-law, who works as a doula, cannot come on those dates, but will visit later on - that means another delightful visit from E! 

Anne (Great Aunt) has not met baby E yet, and is in for a treat. She loved his father enormously at that age, and she will love baby E. He in turn will love her, but not until staring sternly at her for an unnervingly long time before yielding to friendly overtures - a technique he has mastered on public transport. 

On the domestic front, we have steeled ourselves to begin the painting that we've talked about for at least two years. Much of this cottage is painted white indoors, so I've added the odd spot of colour to draw the eye, and of course once one area is painted, in this case the end wall of the hallway, the remainder looks atrocious, so tomorrow we start on the rest of the hall. It will be a very soft, pale grey - the hall is gloomy and needs to remain as light as possible - and must cope with muddy-dog splashes being washed off it at regular intervals. I'm hoping for a tasteful, calm effect, which means we must be more disciplined about the number of coats, shoes and dog leads we have on display.

Perhaps it is only I who notices the general tiredness of the walls; I painted one side of the hall a long time ago, and gave up in despair at the awfulness of the very expensive paint I had chosen (yes, Farrow & Ball - I had been warned that professional painters hate it, but I didn't listen, and now I understand). No one has ever noticed that one side is a cream colour (not quite what I'd hoped for either) and the other, never tackled, remains grubby white. Time to pull our socks up!

We have also replaced the hideous flooring in the dining room - a mottled vinyl tile that never looked clean, and that we detested, although it coped well with old Catkin's frequent throwing up; now it is an oak-effect laminate, and cleans brilliantly. We would have liked genuine oak (well, who wouldn't?), but budget and scrabbly dog claws made this impractical impossible, and we are happy with what we could afford. 

The dining room is a challenging area, with a route through to the stairs (the door of which must be kept closed to avoid a certain wicked cat (see above) from sneaking up there to claim it as her territory in her own particular way), an interior window, the ill-assorted furniture that seems to be my trademark, and an oversized table that takes up too much space but is wonderful for when the family is here and there are many serving dishes. 

Like the rest of the house, nothing is straight, or level, or really right-angled:

Which is, of course, part of its charm.

And that's all for now from the house where nothing much ever happens. As they say round here, "Cheers, then!"

Monday, 20 February 2017

And suddenly

February rattled along at speed too; Spring is just about here, snowdrops everywhere, and violets just up the road, the wafting scent of daphne in the evenings, and very busy birds bustling about. I have tulip shoots everywhere, but for now, must content myself with shop-bought blooms.

I almost wrote that nothing much has happened here lately, but on reflection, it certainly has. Baby E and his mother came and went. He was such fun to have around, especially now that he is mobile. He bowled about speedily with his bandy-legged trundling walk, arms aloft for balance, making him H-shaped, and pursued his current fascination with opening and shutting doors. The small cupboard under the windowsill was the best - open it carefully, and BANG! it shut. Do it again. And again. And again. Make sure the sitting room door is closed. Every time anyone comes through it. Scuttle rapidly across the room, and shut that door firmly, even if someone is coming in, gingerly carrying a cup of tea. Naughtily, we left doors open deliberately, knowing that he would rise to the challenge.

And then they were gone, bearing a picnic for the train journey, and leaving the usual gaping hole in our lives. The role of grandparenting is so different from parenting; I have more understanding now of my own mother, who, I thought, over-indulged my son greatly when he was small, and irritated me at times in doing so. I would protest that he really didn't need a little present every time she went shopping, or to have his every wish met at once. And now I find myself doing pretty much the same things, happy to oblige a small, smiling, dimpled tyrant, happy to bend the rules, happy to get up early each day, welcoming the sleepy, smiley face, and most of all, happy to be Grandma.

The cats have caused some heartache. We had to say goodbye to dear old Catkin, probably about 18 years old now, and ready to go. I wanted the other cats to know she had died and not just gone missing, so we left her on view while The Gardener dug a hole in the garden. The other cats examined her very throughly as she lay in her cardboard box - they would not have dared get so close to her bad-tempered eminence in life. Then the lid was put on, and afterwards a little willow planted over her. Another era had passed.

Catkin's arch-rival and enemy, Lottie, has had a horrible time too.

Recently recovered from illness, she went to the vet for a routine dental clean and polish, and, to my guilt-ridden horror and surprise, emerged bloody and drooling, after having five extractions. The others were terrified, spitting and running away from her, but after a day or two of recovery, medication and a thorough wash, Lottie's position as queen of the household was re-established, to everyone's satisfaction. 

A friend has been to stay, newly-diagnosed with breast cancer, reeling with shock, needing to talk, and we have spent the weekend walking on the beach, eating, drinking herbal tea (well, not me....), researching - oh so many sources of information, often quite contradictory - on diet, preparing for chemotherapy, surgery, and how to stay relatively sane during this most terrifying process. Ironically, she has never looked as well as she does at present, each week and each test yielding more and more bad news.

Meanwhile, The Gardener has been laid low with an atrocious cold, not helped by worrying about having passed it on. And I have done what I always do - feeding everyone. I can't help myself - my mother and grandmother were exactly the same, using food as the medium to express love, care and concern, managing illness, anxiety, and coping with fear of the unknown. If you should ever come to visit, be prepared for this, and for being sent home with tuck parcels, containers of soup, or cake, farm eggs and possibly a couple of pounds on the hips. We all cope in our different ways; the Feeders amongst us know what we must do, and get busy with pots and pans.

I think I may be glad when February is over.

Friday, 20 January 2017

January is speeding by. It's been eventful.

We met friends for lunch at an old pub just off the M5, as they were travelling from the North East to Cornwall for a holiday. After a lovely couple of hours of catching up, we went our separate ways, and The Gardener and I carried on to the nearest John Lewis (almost two hours' drive from where we live! Oh, the deprivation I have suffered as a result!) to look at tumble dryers. 

We were clearly in an irresponsible mood, for we spurned the sensible dryers and ordered a television instead. And a good sound system to go with it. The Gardener hates tv, and usually falls asleep in seconds, making him a less than companionable viewer, but he does have a huge library of music and also relies on YouTube for more, so we justified the mad expenditure by telling ourselves we would use the new system "for everything". Hmmm. 

1958 model
This is all my doing. When I went up to Glasgow to stay with my sister, we had seen a 2-part documentary about a Scottish island, and I had rediscovered the pleasures of television when a programme is worth watching. I came home and badgered The Gardener to rethink our tv-free home.

By choice, we have not had a television for about five years. And now we do; our sitting room will need to be rearranged to accommodate it. After the clever, sleek, unnervingly large object was delivered, and we set it up, we remembered why we had consigned our old temperamental telly to the loft - television programmes are mostly dire, and the news is even worse when delivered with pictures than it is on the radio. 

So, fearing that we might have made an impulsive, expensive error, but rather thrilled with the picture quality, we have dug out our old DVDs and CDs, and are learning the language of apps and Netflix instead of the heat pump condenser dryer that had been our original aim. The new telly sits awkwardly on a cupboard for now, cables trailing everywhere: with our thick stone walls, and the horrors of drilling into them, we hang nothing up until we are certain that it will be in its right place for a long time. And we keep forgetting to use it....

But life hasn't all been consumerism gone mad. 

Before: bright-eyed and enjoying a box of bubble-wrap
Lovely Lottie, "my" cat (i.e. the one who is most obviously attached to me) suddenly sickened, stopped eating, lost weight that she couldn't afford to lose, already being a tiny bony scrap under all her fur, kept falling off her perch, and had to be taken to the vet. Three injections later, she came home again, but did not improve, so back we went.

She was kept in overnight for observation and blood tests - I hadn't been prepared for this, and found myself on the verge of tears after handing her over. Having taken her as a rescue eight years ago, aged about 18 months, half-starved and desperate to be loved, I have a very special place in my heart for Lottie, who despite her apparent frailty, rules the others with an iron paw, and is mistress of the Death Stare when displeased.

I suspected some sort of middle ear complaint, having watched her over-careful walk, like someone who was trying hard to disguise the fact that they were slightly drunk, and the toppling off the arm of the sofa every time she fell asleep.  But being kept in a cage for observation perhaps prevented this becoming obvious, although I'm sorry now that I wasn't more questioning when I handed her over. 

The tests all came back as normal; Lottie came home, stalking round the house, inspecting all areas in a careful but dignified manner, with her devoted followers Millie and Scooter trailing about after her rather pathetically; they had missed her. 

"She's back! She's back!"
And slowly, over the next three days, she got better.  Now she is enjoying being the pampered convalescent, having small but frequent extra meals, and sleeping without falling over. My fright and fear of loss have receded.

Then I had to go back to the North East for the funeral of a dear friend's mother. Despite the sad occasion, it was lovely to meet up with most of my old friends again; this was the first time I had returned since I moved to Somerset more than five years ago, although I have had visits from them all in that time. 

For them, it was the first time they had seen me since I grew out my hair colour and turned Gracefully Grey. Or - more accurately - just Grey.... Surprisingly, it was well-received, and we talked about needing to rethink one's (clothing) colours to suit the new hair. Rethink my tatty old dog-walking clothes? Radical. The experimental tiny pink streak that I'd had put in a couple of weeks ago had washed out, but I'm considering making this a regular/variable feature. That or a lilac rinse - remember those? Only kidding.  

Perhaps less Dame Edna
but a touch of Helen Mirren?
Sadly, no such glamorous comparisons could be made. My brief 24-hour stay coincided with a streamingly awful cold; I dreaded getting on each flight so obviously marked as the woman who would pass the obligatory airline cold on to every other passenger. 

I spent my visit apologising for the germs; brave friends hugged me while instructing me as they did so not to breathe on them. During the service, I found that hymns are a reasonable cover for coughing and blowing. If I hadn't felt so ill, I would have yearned to stay up North for longer and catch up with everyone, but I was glad to get home to The Gardener and my own bed, to spend the day (and half the night - this is being written at 3 a.m.) in my dressing gown, honking, blowing and sipping pineapple juice for the tickly cough.

Next month, Baby E, who is just starting to walk, and his mother are coming to visit, as much for the clean air as for the chance to be spoiled rotten. London is worryingly polluted, and Baby E has constant colds and coughs. His Grandma had better be well by then, ready to fly the flag for Somerset's healthy environment.