Thursday, 22 January 2009


I am excited ! The time is almost upon me. Whilst there is no discernible change in the weather and the sun still drops behind the Moor at a ludicrously early hour, there are signs of life in my garden. Tiny little green shoots are starting to poke their way out of the mulch that was lovingly applied in the autumn. Spring can't be far away. I know. Don't laugh at me. I know that any pretence that spring might be on its was before May is just a cruel hoax on nature's part designed with the sole intention of dashing my hopes. Still, I love to be excited about things and the change of the season is my favourite as long as we are heading up to summer and not the other way.

The focus for my excitement at the moment is my vegetable plot. Although it is the trendiest thing you could possibly do at the moment, I am going to try and grow some veg for us to savour and feel smug about. I had a go last year. I knew next to nothing about gardening. I have spent the last decade having children and so pottering about in my garden was the last thing on my mind. When we moved into the house in 1996 it had a carefully nutured garden. We proceeded to ignore it for the next four years and when we emerged from the pre-school fug, a lot of the plants had given up from lack of attention. I tried to rectify the problems( although not very hard to be fair) but decided that the mountain was too high to be scaled. We had a brief dalliance with a gardener and then I had two more children and there really wasn't anything to be done by then.

Then we had the extension built and suddenly I had a whole new front garden with almost nothing in it. So I spent this time last year reading and planning and then as the days warmed I spent time and a fair bit of cash in garden centres choosing things that I liked and thought might grow.I was reasonably successful and managed to get things to flower all the way through to the first frosts. ( My winter garden still needs some work.)

As well flowers I thought it might be fun to grow some vegetables. I had a new bit of bed in the back garden and once my hens had gone to live with their mates on the Chevin ( more of that another time) I had a perfect spot to have a go. But where to start? Books on the subject are a bit scary because they seem to presuppose some level of knowledge which I just didn't have so, rather than be intimidated and consequently put off, I decided to buy some seeds and plant them in the soil. How wrong could it go?

After some consideration I decided to grow things that I had an outside chance of the children eating or that I liked. So I planted peas, french beans, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and sprouts. I followed the planting guidelines on the packets and waited to see what happened. It didn't take long to see some action. The carrots came first then the peas and pretty soon they were all off. It was really exciting. So I watered and fed and then put twigs in to stop them falling over when they got too tall. I picked caterpillars off in the summer and trapped slugs with coffee granules and pretty soon it was August and the peas, beans and broccoli were all ready. At the same time. Lesson number one. Stagger your planting. I spent a very busy weekend harvesting, blanching and freezing but when it was done I had enough veg to keep us going for a least a month and possibly more. Then as the autumn came the carrots and sprouts were ready. Some of the carrots were a bit on the weedy side but they tasted delicious. A few were comedy shapes and some of my sprouts had been a meal for someone before they hit our plates but I just peeled the outer layers off and they were fine. And that was it. No magic. No secret gardeners' tips passed down the generations. Just a bit of hard work and lots of water.

So this year I am going to try a bit harder. I shall plant some stuff early in seed trays and transplant. I shall stagger my sowing to extend my growing period so I can harvest for longer and I have added some new things to the list. Onions , garlic and potatoes. I am itching to get going but it's too soon I think. I shall just have to keep watching those little green shoots for a little bit longer.

Sunday, 18 January 2009


This week I stayed in a castle. It had battlements and arrow shooting windows so I knew it was one. My room had a massive four poster bed and candles and a log burning stove. So that's it. I am officially a Princess. (But you knew that already didn't you?)

The castle was the dream of a couple from Skipton. When they bought it, it was listed as a scheduled ancient monument although it only had three external walls, no roof and trees were growing through the windows. But notwithstanding this they decided that they could restore it to its former glory. It was an enormous undertaking. The stone masons had to live in caravans in the garden for two years just to rebuild the walls.They had to contend with direction from English Heritage, their bank and Kevin McCloud who kept popping by to say hello but the results are breathtaking. The views alone are worth the trip but to actually spend time in a building that has been standing in some capacity or other since the 13th Century is thought provoking and very humbling.

I can't imagine being so driven that against all the odds you manage to achieve your lifelong ambition mainly because I don't have a lifelong ambition. But goals is a subject for another day when I have finished formulating my thoughts about them. In the meantime I will get on with practising being a Princess.

If you are interested take a look at and see for yourself. Only I can be a Princess though and the Old Bedroom remains reserved for me.

Saturday, 17 January 2009


I fear we may fall out with our neighbours. They are lovely people and we have always been very pleased to have them next door. However, they are not alone. They share their house with four dogs.

It is fair to say that I am not a dog person. When I was very small I was sent flying by a rather over-enthusiastic red setter. Being trampled to the ground by a creature that was at least three times my size and frothing at the mouth left an indelible mark on me. After this I was understandably reticent where dogs were concerned. My great uncle had two guard dogs that lived outside his house. They were on chains and if you walked round to the front door staying really close to the wall they could not reach you.I can still picture in my mind's eye the dogs jumping for my jugular only to be snapped back when they reached the extent of their chains. I was absolutely terrified despite the unconvincing reassurances that I was safe. It was clear that dogs and I would have a troubled relationship.

The years wore on. I avoided dogs and they kept trying to eat me. It's true they can smell fear. They certainly sniffed me out. When I was at university a dog jumped out at me from the undergrowth and took a chunk out of my thigh for no apparent reason. That led to years of sweaty palms and a racing heart whenever a dog came near.

Time heals and over the years my fear has evolved to a pure hatred of all things canine. There is no dog that I would save if I had a shotgun and could shoot without fear of repercussion. I have just alienated half the population of the UK but there it is.

And so back to next door. They first got a dog about ten years ago - a biscuit coloured lurcher called Benjy that barked non-stop for two night when he arrived and then was relatively harmless. We didn't really have much to do with Benjy until he came through our hedge and sank his teeth in to my beautiful maran hen, Mathilda. To make matters worse she had laid her very first egg that day. When I found her amongst a pile of feathers she was still alive but her breast resembled something you might expect to see in shrink wrap. We hot footed it to the vet's who sewed her up and she went on to lay another day.I was less keen on Benjy after that.

Benjy died last year and was quickly replaced with two rescue dogs, a miniature poodle and a dog that appears to be there during the day but is taken away by someone else at night.It's like living next door to Battersea Dogs' Home. The dogs bark all the time. They bark when someone comes to their house. They bark when someone comes to our house. They bark when anyone goes within 30 yards with another dog. They bark when I shout at my kids. They are barking as I type.

But what if I complain? The trouble with living in a semi is that you have no idea how you sound through the wall. We are not a quiet household. We play musical instruments. We often have music blaring from five different sound systems. We tend to communicate by shouting at each other. My eldest likes to make random noises to entertain herself and sings really loudly in the shower. So if I mention their unsatisfactory noise levels what might I be unleashing? We could end up with a full blown war including Environmental Health investigating complaints about us before I can say "shotgun".

So I will probably not do anything. If I see them in passing I might politely request that their dogs find somewhere else to defecate whilst apologising at the same time for mentioning it. But secretly I will know that when I rule the world owning a dog will be punishable by hideous torture and death !!!

Sunday, 11 January 2009


I have been thinking today about time and why everyone seems to have so little of it. If you have a real job most of your time will be stolen from you by that. Then you have to sleep which takes ages. Then food. Planning it, shopping for it, preparing it, eating it, clearing up. Bit of leisure. Bit of housework. Before you know it you have frittered it all away.

I am different. I don't really have a proper job and so I should be at a huge advantage in the time war stakes. But I don't seem to have any to spare either. After pontificating about the futility of ironing last week, I started thinking about how I fill my day with pointless tasks. There are lots of them to go at. Take shoe cleaning for example. Every week day I clean my children's school shoes. Do the maths. That's 40 shoes a week not including throwing the odd bit of polish at my own occasionally. Why do I do this? Because I want my children to be nicely presented for school so that the teachers will think they come from a home where they are nurtured and loved. If other children come here with unpolished shoes do I think they are unloved and unnurtured? Of course not. I just think they have busy parents. So why do I do it?

Another example. The first thing my children say to me when they come out of school at the end of the day is: "Have you baked?" Now, don't get me wrong. It's lovely that they appreciate my cakes and I would rather they had something homemade than a treat filled with chemical nasties. But because of this I end up baking. All the time. It doesn't take long to make the mixture but then I have to be in whilst it cooks in order to take it out at the appropriate time and, whoops - there goes another hour.

Tidying up. There's another pointless activity. No one notices that the house is tidy except me (and possibly my husband). I spend an enormous proportion of my day moving things from one part of the house to another. I try to do it in the most efficient way possible- the time and motion people would be proud and for at least a part of each day my house is tidy. I know that tidying up is important and that if you don't do it regularly then things go badly awry with surprising speed. But couldn't I just tidy up once a day? Wouldn't the overall effect be the same?

The list goes on. Dusting. Hoovering. Mopping floors. Polishing granite. They all need doing again almost as soon as I finish so why bother? Nobody else seems to be struck by lightening when they fail to wipe the skirting boards. Of course I know why I do it. If I didn't I wouldn't be me. My family would soon smell a rat and root out the impostor. Perhaps it's because I am a Virgo (although I suspect that to be balderdash ) but there is no way on this earth that I can settle for anything less than perfect and because I know this about myself I have to accept that a huge proportion of my time will be spent achieving it. And so I either have to undergo a radical personality change or get on with it and stop moaning. Perhaps the odd shop bought packet of biscuits or scuffed shoe won't hurt? At least I don't iron underwear - yet.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009


Today I became part of an age old cliche and joined a gym in the first week of January. The chap who gleefully took my money led me to believe that I was only the latest in a long line of similarly enthusiastic punters and certainly wasn't expected to be the last. However, I know something they don't know. Whilst it would be correct to think that I had joined to fulfil a New Year's Resolution, my joining has almost nothing to do with a desire to get fit. That, if it happens, will merely be a happy bi-product.

I have been a member of a gym before and so know what to expect. Back in the 90s before marriage and children I was a member of another gym in Ilkley. It was tiny. It was so small that there was only room for a handful of people to train at any one time. To get round this obvious disadvantage men and women were both allocated separate time slots. I loved this. Firstly, training without men meant that it really didn't matter what you looked like because there was no one there to impress. Secondly, no one needed to show off so everyone worked within their own capabilities. Thirdly with a full time job there were only four sessions a week available to me and so I went four times a week. It was great. The same women were invariably there and we had a laugh and a gossip whilst following our programme. It was a bit like the WI with weights.

Then, the gym moved to swanky new premises across town and that was when the rot set in. There were screens to watch whilst you ran and headphones built in to the equipment which meant that people stopped talking. There were men so you had to make an effort with your kit and your bodyhair and wear make up. I was forced to try harder too in an attempt to show how fit I was. ( Remember I was still young, free and single at this time and always on the alert for a suitable if somewhat sweaty mate.) And that's another thing. Sharing a gym with men is an unpleasant experience in my view. They make so much noise. It's as if the decibel level of the grunt is in direct proportion to the amount of weight lifted. Then there's all that strutting and preening afterwards especially if there are mirrors in which to admire themselves and check who is watching them. And they sweat. If you follow a bloke on to a machine you need a towel of incredible absorbency to remove his sweat before you begin. Yuk!

And so I continued for years and years. I got married and trained. I had a child and was in the gym on my due date. I had another baby and still rushed back although it was now more as a way of getting away from the house than for the physical benefits that it imparted. After child number three I had an unfortunate accident in a step class and there my gym career came to an abrupt halt. I have not been in a gym since and never missed it. I walk everywhere at break neck speed until recently pushing a variety of buggies, swim lengths for twenty minutes or so at the weekend and rarely sit down during the day and that has been enough exercise for me.

Notwithstanding this I have an appointment for my induction at 10.15 tomorrow morning. I shall probably lie about why I am there and make all the right noises about my desire to get fit, run some dreadful charity 10k or improve muscle tone. But I ( and now you ) will know that I have only joined to get me out of the bloody house!!!

Saturday, 3 January 2009


What is the point of ironing?

Every week I spend an unfeasibly large amount of time standing in my kitchen ironing things. The pile is almost insurmountable and yet every week mount it I do. It all gets beautifully and lovingly pressed with sharp creases where appropriate and then folded into remarkably neat piles where the size of each item perfectly matches the one beneath. It then gets laid carefully on the bed of its owner from where it is knocked on to the floor, screwed up in the back of drawers or hung in wardrobes on inappropriate coathangers which seem to add more creases than there were before I started. Hmmmm.

I once worked out, because ( as has been pointed out previously ) I have too much time on my hands, that the household laundry is second only to things relating to food in the amount of my time that it consumes. In the time that it takes me to sort it, carry it downstairs, wash it, dry it, fold it, iron it, carry it back upstairs and put it away I could probably run a small principality quite effectively. Quite reasonably, many of my friends have given up in the battle against the laundry. A quick shake and smooth over the upper thigh as it comes out of the tumble dryer and that will suffice.

However, this cavalier approach is not for me. I gave up my paid job to run our household. Of course this task has grown with the number and age of the children but it is still the job that I gave up my career for. And so I feel that if I let standards slip and start taking the easy route then I am failing to do that job properly and if that is the case then what was the point giving up my paid job. I could just have paid someone else to do it for me.

Anyway, much as I may moan about the injustice of it, especially as it lies uncared for in a heap on the floor, I like ironing. It is one of those jobs where you can see real results. The pile is in the basket and then it is gone and for a brief moment the laundry is done. I get a huge feeling of achievement when I open my linen cupboard and see the sets of bedding all pressed and neatly piled. As much as presenting a case to an Employment Tribunal for a PLC client and winning? Well perhaps not but in my world now it's an achievement and that's what counts.

However, my house can no longer be the centre of my universe. In 2009 I must set my sights a little wider and who knows what will happen to my ironing pile if I do that?

Thursday, 1 January 2009


Happy New Year! The new year is here and Christmas is gone. In fact it is well and truly gone in my house. This afternoon, as the children polished off the end of their selection boxes and found space in their cupboards for newly acquired treasures, I removed all traces of Christmas from the house. The only clue that it was ever here are the pink fairy lights in the apple tree outside which I can't quite bring myself to take down just yet . They can wait until Twelfth Night. If it were up to me I would have them up all year. In fact it is up to me. I am an adult and it's my tree and my lights. However, I know that I will bow to convention and remove them......or will I?

And now my house is clean and clutter free and I am ready to begin the new year without any unnecessary extras. I love the start of a new year. I love the start of almost anything. All that promise of things to come. I spend time dreaming up resolutions to make my near perfect life even better. It is my unerring belief that I can change anything I like that I find appealing. At no other time do I have this belief even though it is just a new day like any other. Of course, by the time January is half way through I will have forgotten but at the beginning it is exciting and drives me forward.

So, it's out with the old and in with the new and let's see what 2009 has to say for itself.