Friday, 31 October 2008

Open wide, say 'Aah'

Isn't it strange, that as we get older, we find ourselves saying with ever-increasing frequency, things like 'I remember when', or 'When I was your age/younger' and so on. My last post was a touch nostalgic, and so is this one, all about going to the doctors.
Back in the 80s when I first lived in Norfolk, we had a marvellous GP called Martin. I think I was in the minority thinking him great, the majority of the older people in the community especially, didn't like his forthright manner. He had a certain brusqueness, and could spot a time waster a mile off. He also had the endearing habit of shouting 'Next victim please!' when he was ready for the next patient. Being a Northerner, I appreciate straight talking, so he and I got on famously, and I like to think we were friends to a degree, before we both moved away and on to different things.
But in those days, and earlier ones too, the family GP knew his patients, often treating several generations of the same family, 'from cradle to grave' as they say. They often called their patients by their Christian names, and whilst some may think this is not the done thing, I happen to think it puts you at your ease.
But how different it seems to be these days, or maybe this is just where I live, and my experience of a family GP. Well, for a start they change so frequently at my local GP practice that there is no way they could know anyone from the cradle to teenage years, let alone to old age. I have a nominated female doctor, my preference, but she isn't at the surgery every day, so often I have had to 'make do' with someone else.
The appointments system is a joke, you can only book ahead so far, and that means that if a doctor sees you on Thursday, has said he wants to see you on the following Monday afternoon, you can't pre-book. You can only pre-book as far ahead as the Monday morning.. which means you have to ring the surgery at 8.15am prompt on the Monday, at which time you will be told you are number forty or something in the queue, spend fifteen minutes hanging on the end of the phone listening to some dire music, and hope that by the time it gets to your turn, said doctor's afternoon appointments are not all taken. Hardly good for the blood pressure, all this.
And now it seems we have a do-it-yourself hospital referral system. My other half was told he would need to be referred to a specialist at the local hospital, and we assumed this meant that the doctor would write to the specialist, who would then get back to us with an appointment. Oh no... my husband got several pages listing the hospitals in the area he could choose from, and the doctors, giving him a password, and instructions as to how to select the doctor of his choice and do it all online! Well, needless to say the wonders of technology weren't all they were cracked up to be, the computer locked out due to a fault on the system, which necessitated a phone call to a particular number, manned by someone who checked the appointments at the hospital with the specialiast my husband had selected. None available he said, but nothing as to whether this was in the immediate future or next year, or whenever! He informed us the hospital would be in touch... which is what would have happened the normal way, the old way this was done, so why change the system?

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

One for the ladies...

Do you remember 'Jackie' magazine? I felt so grown up when I was able to change from 'Bunty' and 'Judy' to this teen magazine. This was in the 60s, a time of Flower Power, surfin' sounds, pin-ups like David Cassidy, Radio Caroline, manufactured pop group The Monkees, mini skirts, white leather boots, lots of dark eye shadow and mascara a la Dusty Springfield, and the back-combed hair to match.
I was prompted into this temporary wallow by an advert on television for a new CD by The Dave Clark Five. This brought back so many memories of the sixties... getting into trouble for not wearing my school uniform correctly inside or outside school, and for having my boyfriend meet me from school when I was 15. Memories of chats with the careers officer, who seemed to have such a cushy job when she asked me what I wanted to do, I said 'Your job, it looks easy!' This went down like a lead balloon of course, but the only options at that time were shop work, office work, factory work (Mullards valves) or the fish processing plant on the dock! I chose office work and embarked on a career where I changed jobs every few months, having got bored once I knew how to do it and how the company operated. I worked for electrical contractors, stockbrokers, estate agents, working my way up to a better job each time, until finally having my own secretarial business when I was 19.
I remember the Dave Clark Five doing a summer season in Blackpool where I worked, and of my girlfriend Ann and I sitting outside a house they rented in Lytham St. Annes, hoping for a glimpse... she fancied Mike Smith, I was all for Dave Clark. She had an old Ford Prefect, cream and green, and with a hole in the floor on the passenger side where, if you moved the mat, you could see the road, so I had to sit, rather inelegantly, with my legs apart so as not to go through the mat! It took us all over the place with no bother, even as far as Tewkesbury, a journey of several hours, not very comfortable in my position so it was a challenge to find new ones which didn't involve the mat being touched.
For me they were such carefree happy days with great memories... how about you?

Monday, 27 October 2008

The story of moving part of our library and lerve in the air (still) for Esme.

Well, this is part of our book collection, and who needs a gym when there are this many books to be taken out of one set of decrepit bookcases in a hallway, and moved into new bookcases in the dining room. There are hundreds and hundreds of books here, mainly history from prehistory, through Anglo Saxon, Medieval, Roman etc., with some gardening and topography books thrown in, plus what I call 'coffee table books', thick ugly books ideal for propping up the broken leg of a coffee table. No, I jest... you know the sort I mean, books with lots of lovely photos and ideal-for- dipping-into books. The history books belong mainly to my husband, the topography I used for research when writing my articles for county and national heritage-type magazines. But the old bookcases had seen better days, so a lot of huffing and puffing went on as books were hoiked about the place, old bookcases taken to bits (being donated to a bonfire in the next village along), new ones cobbled together, and books shuffled about into groups. We also had to move furniture to make room for the new bookcases.. a painted dresser which has now gone in the hall, and two shorter bookcases which stood either side of it, now upstairs on the landing. This is definitely a house of books.
And I must just bring you up to date with our favourite SOP, Spinster of this Parish. She and I were having a mardle as they say hereabouts, outside the post office the other day, a shop she seems to visit an awful lot. Unlike most of us who have been enjoying the Indian Summer type days, she is longing for the colder temperatures forecast for later this week. Now, I like a frosty morning as much as the next person who likes frosty mornings, but I rather felt there was more to it in Esme's case, so I had to ask. It seems when it starts to get colder, she intends asking 'that lovely postman of ours' in for a warming drink. How 'Smiler' as I call him, to his face as well as behind his back, will react to an invitation to 'come in and have a little something warming' I don't know. And if you're wondering why he's called Smiler, then fans of 'Last of the Summer Wine' will know a certain lugubrious character of that name ... this is our postie. Underneath the long face is actually a very caring, happy man.. he just looks miserable. But a touch of Esme's warming should bring a smile to his face, don't you think?

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Counting your blessings

I have just finished reading a book by Elspeth Thompson about reclaiming life's simple pleasures, and in it she mentions the blogspot called Three Beautiful Things. The idea behind it is that each day the lady who owns the blog lists three things that she finds beautiful. They can be sights or sounds or feelings, but the idea that we count our blessings seems to me a good one, in these days when the news is full of doom and gloom to a large extent. Rather like a gratitude journal I heard about, where you write down the things you are grateful for at the end of each day, a way to remind yourself of the good things in your life, things we can often overlook or take for granted.

For me, my three today would be hearing from my first love, a series of emails and catchy-up photos. Not that he is beautiful, though at seventeen I thought him the bees knees and a good lookalike for Gene Pitney (and when he reads this he will howl with laughter at that!) But the idea that despite all that happened between us, despite it being forty-odd years ago, a friendship still exists, on a different level of course, but a friendship none the less, and how beautiful is friendship?

The pink fairy in the photo, who isn't traditionally beautiful, nor is she a traditional fairy, more like an alternative fairy, as I see myself as a bit of an alternative grannie as one of the ladies on the forum I belong to puts it. But she makes me laugh and is the origin of my name.

The fading beauty of the poppy I photographed (badly according to some!) which has now been hit by wind and rain and temperatures of two degrees last night, so has lost most of her petals, and those left are a beautiful dusty, musty lilac which looks as if it has been sprinkled with coppery dust... makes me think of Miss Faversham in her faded beauty.

These are the three beautiful things in my life thus far today.. by far the best though is yet to come, but that would make four, and three is the limit to write about.

I hope you reading this have three beautiful things in your life that you can list today.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Jelly Bean Socks and fluffy purple hearts

OK so they're not strictly the colour of jelly beans, but they are a more strident version of the colours of the expensive jelly beans I buy sometimes and stick in a glass jar, just because I like the colours of them! These are for littlies, not grown ups, and are cheating socks.

It sounds 'cool' as one friend said, to say you knit socks. Possibly less cool to admit to doing it on two needles only, cheating possible, both little ones and big 'uns for grown ups, like my fluffy lilac bedsocks on the previous blog. I haven't ventured into the world of dpns yet. I know I must, and to force the issue, bought myself some expensive multi-coloured sock yarn. So there it sits, in a basket, looking beautiful and soft and inviting me to use day.

Apart from the jelly bean socks, I also knit coloured pencil socks, where the main body of the sock is a sort of beige colour, to represent the newly-sharpened pencil, and the heels and toes are in colouring box colours of yellow, lime green, pink and blue.

The fluffy purple heart is just a bit of a comfort thing, nice and squashy to hug when one feels in the need of a non-reciprocated hug. Nowhere near as good as the real thing, when it comes to hugs of course, but sometimes any port in a storm will do.

All these, and more comforts, I am knitting to have a stall sometime next year, possibly autumn might be the best time, since I love knitting comforting things, and autumn is a time for such.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Autumn - the season of comforting things

Here are some of my comforting things.. a couple of handmade snugglies, a hottie and fluffy bedsocks.
But, with apologies for filching this idea from the ladies at PC, there are various smells that I associate with autumn as well as homemade comforts.
The smell of bonfires that lingers in the air, often in the evening; not an unpleasant smell like smoky chimneys or 'Honey I burnt the toast again' smells, but burning wood and leaves, an almost sweet smell. The smell of pine or apple logs being burnt in the hearth on a chilly autumnal evening is a favourite smell too.
Freshly made toffee apples, that wonderful loud crack as you break through the golden toffee, followed by a mix of crisp, crunchy and sweet toffee mingled with a slightly tart and aromatic apple.
Potatoes wrapped in foil, baking in the garden bonfire, and the smell when you take them out, split them open and fill them with a dollop of whatever you like. They taste so different to oven-baked potatoes and don't even mention microwaved. All right if you're in a hurry and desperate I suppose, otherwise, not to be countenanced in this house.
And then there is the old family recipe for Beef Olives, where you take the thinnest possible slices of the very best braising steak, cut into pieces about four or five inches by three, fill with a stuffing, sage and onion works really well, tie up, then brown in a frying pan. Add to a casserole dish with diced root vegetables, a bouquet garni, good beef stock, cover tightly and cook for at least two hours on a low heat, no more than 325 degrees. Serve with mashed potatoes to soak up all the lovely gravy, and a green vegetable of your choice.
And snugglies.. what could be better than snuggling down with a hand-made, soft snuggly blanket, watching 'Brief Encounter', 'It's a Wonderful Life' or 'Little Women', or reading a favourite book, or just dozing, warm and content, snug as a bug in a rug?
Such are my autumn comforts... the simple things in life please me.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

A late bloomer and a bit of a rant

Isn't she lovely? This gorgeous poppy opened out earlier this week.. the mother plant usually produces at least ten, side-plate sized blooms, and once they are over, I cut the plant down. Well, the weather has allowed it to produce another, single bud, on a tall straight stem. I did wonder if the mild conditions would hold out long enough for it to open, and it did. Sadly, we now have rain, drizzle, wind and it is already drooping and sad, losing it's colour and perkiness and prettiness... a jaded beauty. Much like myself....

We had the gas man here... oh, boy what an experience. We were blessed with probably the most opinionated, mouthy workman ever; his opinions covered everything from the proliferation of lap dancing clubs in the new Yugoslavia (he couldn't remember the new name and since I writing letters, or trying to, I had no interest in informing him!) to the lost socialist principles of the present government!!! He just strolled into my workroom and struck up a conversationk, irrespective of what I was doing, even had the cheek to look at what was on my computer screen and comment on it! Not that it was anything important or secret or private, but even so..... Had he kept his cakehole shut, he'd have only been here six hours instead of the eight, long.. very long... hours that he was.

At the end of which we were left with a very damp kitchen floor, as due to his (admitted) not paying enough attention to what he was doing, he caused a flood. Instead of asking one or other of us for a mop, he used my tea and hand towels from the kitchen to mop up what was a dirty floor after he'd been traipsing all over it in his dirty great boots. He left a huge puddle on a worktop, several floor tiles have lifted, the plasterboard ceiling in the kitchen was soaked, and is still damp, as is the loft insulation above it, and we have the most awful smell, a mix of the inside of rubber gloves and curry powder. I am hoping it will get better as it all dries out.. but I tell you, when the bill comes from the gas company, it will be left to the very last possible minute before being paid, and will then have a narky letter of complaint with it.

Well, this is the first time I have tried adding a photo.. can't wait to see what it looks like!

Friday, 10 October 2008

Country matters and affairs of the heart continued.

It's that time of year when we go gathering nuts and berries, windfalls and freebies.

Our walnut tree has fruited so well this year, every day I go out and there are more of the green outer casings on the ground, split open to reveal the wrinkly brown nut inside. I am drying them off in a mesh hammock in one of the sheds, but I think there are too many for us and some will be given away. They don't keep forever after all.

And not far from here grow chestnuts, not the conkers - well there are masses of those all around the village green and outside the village too - but the chestnuts you roast, then try to eat whilst juggling them because skinning a hot chestnut is a painful experience really. It always sounds so romantic that when we go to Cambridge, we look out for the street seller with his little oven and hot roasted chestnuts. The reality is scalded red fingers, indigestion and a yearning for the taste they used to have, which was more, well, tasty than it seems to be now.

We have had apples off the tree, and in the lanes nearby are crab apples, which I always mean to gather and use, but somehow always forget. We have had plums as windfalls from a neighbours trees, some pears too. Lots of rosehips in the garden, which again I know I should make more use of than I do. Also the old favourite of blackberries, growing along th quieter, less petrol-polluted narrow lanes not too far from here. We have some of our own in the garden, but the bush, which began life next door, then forced its way SAS-like through the wooden fencing into our garden, has put on lots of growth when it comes to length of branches, and thorns, but very little in the way of fruit. So, being kind, I leave them to the blackbirds, who already have a lovely diet in our garden from various berries like pyracantha, holly and so on.

Pretty flowerheads to be gathered and hung in the kitchen or left to dry off in the summerhouse... thistle, hydrangea, lavender, alliums, nigella, honesty, grasses... all manage to be picked at their peak, left to dry and used in arrangements over the winter, with added colour from bronze and coppery chrysanthemums, and branches of scarlet berries. Seeds to be harvested as plants begin to die off, cuttings to be taken from penstemon and buddleia - we have a pale apricot one, as well as white, lilac, and a very deep purple which smells deliciously of plain chocolate, about 70% cocoa solids I think. And now time to be thinking about putting away some of the tender plants, the fuschia and scented geraniums, to dig out the tuber of the scarlet flowering 'Bishop' dahlia from his summer bed and put him in the greenhouse where he'll be cosy for the winter.

And speaking of cosy.... remember love's old dream I talked about in my first blog all those weeks ago? Esme, newly arrived spinster of this parish and many more before, moved into Walnut Tree cottage as she named it, next door to old Sam, our resident old codger? He with the designer stubble, which has been allowed to grow now into a fine white beard, not straggly but well trimmed and making him look a bit of a handsome old sea dog... or in practise for being Father Christmas at the village school Christmas Party. It seems he gave Esme a talking to about their friendship. Laid it on the line, that he wasn't looking for anything at all like a relationship at his time of life, too set in his ways. He enjoyed the odd bite of supper and a chat now and then, but nothing more serious. He told Sheila, at the pub, that he felt he ought to tell her straight, now, before things got out of hand.

Esme took it well apparently; at the local coffee morning for charity, she was happy to tell all and sundry that she'd had to tell Sam straight, there was no hope of anything permanent with them, only friendship. Besides, he was too old for her, she added, turning to look at the new, single, postman who's just taken over this round! Hope springs eternal, so they say.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Oh my gourd!

There it sits, not unlike the proverbial 'lonely little petunia in an onion patch', only this time it's a lonely little gourd in a vegetable patch. 'It' is a butternut squash, my favourite kind of squash, which is why I am growing it. Or maybe nurturing it would be more to the point at this stage. 'Mollycoddling' Himself calls it .. yes, that's you dear husband, I know you read this at work, on the quiet, whilst making out you are always busy, or it's not your kind of thing. Just like you say you don't care for Coronation Street, yet always manage somehow, to appear for the last five to ten minutes!!! Now everyone knows you are a closet Corrie fan, how will you live it down?

Back to the gourd... at one time, little BS had sisters and brothers, lots of them. But one by one they have dropped orf, died, shrivelled up, gone pale yellow and faded away. What did I do wrong? I am sure a certain gardening gentleman will be only too pleased to tell me where I am going wrong, I await comments!

The plant was watered, talked to, excess non-flowering shoots were removed, and then when we had about half a dozen plants, all the others were taken off so that the mother plant could concentrate on raising this little family. But her maternal instincts seem to be non-existent, and now, she is fading, but this one little gourd hangs on. So, it has been raised off the ground so it won't get too wet, and today it's getting lots of lovely warm sunshine... you can almost hear it sighing with contentment. But I fear BS is going to go the way of the rest. It looks like a giant comice pear at present, doesn't seem to have grown much, if at all, this past week.

I can't understand it, I don't usually have too many problems growing things. We bought a stick masquerading as a contorted willow, for a quid, complete with pot. Now it's the most beautiful 12 foot high tree. A walnut in a pot has produced a massive tree which will give us about two carrier bags full of walnuts this year. And that after I insisted it was brutally hacked about last winter.. maybe it's a masochist and was standing there going 'YES, YES, YES' loving every minute of it, which is why it produced more walnuts this year than before? I grew several passion flower plants from seeds off my neighbours plant, growing through a conifer, and hanging on my side of the fence, so I wasn't stealing, honest guv!

I'm not too hot with lavender cuttings, they seem to shrivel up and die on me, and there are other things, come to think of it, that I'm not as good at growing as I like to think, although having said that, my cutting garden was 90% successful this year.

So maybe it's me... maybe it's not the gourd who has lost the will to live. I shall leave it be, talk to it now and then, water when necessary and maybe it will reward me by growing - or maybe it's destined to forever be the lonely little gourd in the vegetable patch.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Home is where the heart is.

Doing some family history research has put me in contact with second or third cousins I never knew I had, people who talk with a strong Yorkshire accent, who tell me I've no accent at all to give away the fact I was born where they were. I've always considered myself a Yorkshirewoman through and through, but it's strange how I've been taken out of the county of my birth - at a very young age, too young to have a say in the matter anyway - and then spent most of my adult life moving about the place, so that now when I go back 'home' as I've always referred to Yorkshire, it no longer feels like 'home' in that sense.

I was born in Bradford, where the air was so mucky the ducks had to fly backwards, so old wags used to say. And it's true, that even now memories of Bradford gleaned from visits to family in my teens, evoke dark buildings, streets of tall, terraced houses begrimed with soot from the many mill chimneys. A rather cheerless place it seemed to me in those days, a complete contrast to the fishing town over the Pennines, where I then lived. There the air seemed fresh and salty, everywhere looked clean, as if scrubbed by the sand that blew off the Irish Sea. Bradford meant mills and factories, worn down people who worked in them, reminiscent of the paintings of L.S. Lowry.

But of course it wasn't all like that - if any of it at all perhaps? Inside my uncle's house all was light and laughter... his evening job was as a stand up comedian in the music hall so life was never dull with him around. His son, my cousin, was my hero.. he was allowed to eat baked beans, cold, out of the tin. Well so he told me anyway; it all added to the cause of hero worship to a ten year old girl, gawky with red plaits, a bit like Anne, of Green Gables fame.

We used to go up on the moors for picnics, which invariably included seed cake, something I couldn't stand then, or now. Luckily, the sheep that roamed the moors had no such pernicketiness about them and would greedily eat it when I threw it behind me. Possibly anything was a change from the weedy grass and heather they had to live on. The highlight would be later in the evening, going back home, going to the famous Harry Ramsdens for fish and chips. Nothing tasted better, nothing tastes like them now either. Or maybe they do, maybe the memory is wearing its rose tinted specs here?

Because going back, it's all different. Art galleries where there used to be millworkers toiling day after day, culture everywhere it seems, in Bradford. The UNESCO World Heritage Sight at Saltaire, a preserved, perfect example of a Victorian village built by Sir Titus Salt for the housing, education and leisure of his workers, just one of many fine examples of such villages around the country. The moors are still wild and beautiful, with a rugged splendour all their own. But somehow it doesn't feel much like 'home' any more. I still feel strongly enough to say I come from Yorkshire when asked, still feel proud to do so, but live there again? No, I couldn't.

Home now is Norfolk... wide open skies, no mill chimneys or grimy buildings in my part of the county. The sea, wild and wonderful beaches, bird reserves, tiny coastal villages and historic market towns. Yorkshire may be the county of my birth, but Norfolk is 'home' and home is where the heart is.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

A bit of a moaning minnie - just a little bit.

Don't let that title put you off, but I do want to begin with a moan, a rant. I saw an advert on television last night for Heat magazine I think it was, and at the end they promised what I am sure said 'startling revalations'. Surely they can't have made such a blatant spelling error? It wouldn't surprise me though, you see it all the time. Business letters sent from large companies, insurance firms and the like, with grammatical or spelling errors, that in my day frankly, would not have been sent. My own pride in my work would not have allowed it, and my eagle-eyed bosses the same. Is that missing today, pride in one's work? Aren't people bothered about being the best they can be, are they too busy, with too many demands on their time to check letters before they're sent out? I might point out that in my secretarial days there was no magic 'spell checker' other than myself.

I have to say I am not much of a one for goggling at the television mindlessly, just soaking up whatever comes on. Adverts are something that if I look at, half of them I don't understand - usually blokey ones to do with cars I find. I do like the graphics on those for a certain bank, with people getting on a train, going to interesting little houses and so on. But there is one that I always, always watch, as soon as I hear the dulcet tones of Jason Lewis, the so-called 'Aero Bubbles Hunk'. Now you will have to excuse this temporary lapse into frilly, silly, girliness.. I know it's not befitting someone nearing bus-pass age, but you know, I do want to grow old slightly disgracefully, and I think sighing over this young man, together with dancing around to the latest by Boyzone (can't get the tune out of my head for hours, know all the dance moves as well from watching the video on a certain website) is part of that growing old disgracefully ethos. I can even watch the Aero ad via the computer as well, if I should feel the need.

I went to a crafts exhibition recently, and the crafts on display seemed to fall into two categories...'Can't do that myself' and 'Can do better than that myself'. Not that I am blowing my own trumpet, but sometimes when I look at the standard, the quality of hand-crafted goods on offer in various places I go to, I wonder how they conned their way into the shop, because to be frank with you, the finishing often leaves a lot to be desired. Why spend hours making something that you hope to sell for a little profit at least, but not make sure it is finished neatly? And why do people moan about the cost of handmade gifts? The consumer wants something different, yet isn't prepared to pay the extra few pounds to get that difference it seems to me. Even worse are those people who come and look at the crafts you have made, say greetings cards, and you hear them say to their friend, 'I'm not paying that much for a card, I could do that myself at home.' So why don't you bog off and do it then? I have felt tempted to say, in the past, before I learnt to hold my tongue, count to ten, engage the brain before opening my mouth.

I haven't actually sold anything for a long time now, but our village is planning an autumn fair next year if this year's is a success so I might have a stall with my 'handmade comforts' as I call them. (Comforts which have come in very handy these cold nights I might add!)We are only a small community really, but there are a lot of smaller villages on the periphery and for big events we all come together, pool our resources so to speak. This year we have work by several local artists, in oils and watercolour, fabric and clay, plus home made preserves, goats cheese, a herbalist is having a stall, someone with calendars made from photographs of the surrounding area, and a used book stall.

They always ask me for books on the basis that because our house is full of them, we might not miss the odd box or two. If we don't stop buying at some point though, then we'll need an extension to house them all. But I'm not very good at giving books away, except those rare ones I know will only be read the once and then languish on a shelf, gathering dust. The rest get read at least once more, several times in the case of some old favourites. But somehow, I always manage to gather together a small boxful, but then come home with several books to add to the collection.. or go into the box for the next time they ask!

As I sit writing this, marvelling at the technology that allows me to sit in the garden, in the summerhouse, using a laptop and not a wire in sight, the ageing cat of an equally ageing neighbour down the road, is basking in the fleeting moments of warm sunshine, under a large hebe.. and when I say large, I mean large, at ten feet high and in circumference! It is hard to recall it when it was first planted in the nineties, a small, two foot stick of a shrub and now look at it, big enough to have a woodland type area beneath it, where I grow cyclamen, anemones, snowdrops, lily of the valley seem to like it here as well.

But looking at the size of this hebe got me thinking about how we don't really notice things changing. I can't remember this shrub as it grew, have no recollection of what the area must have looked like before this giant was as it is now. It must have looked completely different ... well, I know it did because the garden itself has evolved over the twenty years or so that we've been here, but though I can remember the various changes I made, I can't remember watching them mature. When we first came here the garden was given over to green manures in a large vegetable patch, growing alongside asparagus and not much else. There were a couple of ramshackle sheds made of packing crates, and it was intriguing to read the labels on them, the names of people who used them, where they were sent. Of course, this social history was fascinating, but 'scruffy' didn't adequately describe the state of them, and when the word 'ramshackle' could be applied, before it got to 'fallen into disrepair', we demolished them and had a grand bonfire for friends and neighbours on a field belonging to one of them.

I rather like sheds, I know they are supposed to be 'a man thing' but I love them and have several around the garden, painted in different colours, plus a summerhouse and a new one of those, slightly modified, will be added to the garden next year for Himself. (That's my other half.) But we have a shed for gardening equipment and DIY equipment, a shed wherein sleeps the cat because she hates being closed indoors and MEOWS loudly if you won't let her out when she says. Coming in to eat, having the occasional cuddle, is about as near to removing the feral from her as we have got, and as she is now fifteen, I doubt it will get any less. And we have a small shed for storing apples and seeds, old riddles and other hand tools, and all the paraphernalia for potting in, plus the greenhouse of course. All dotted about, and the only one you can see from the house is the summerhouse, the prettiest of them all of course, painted green and purple.

But the cat I mentioned... he is old, fat and deaf as a post. You can get up to his nose when he is asleep and the only way he will know you are there is if you blow gently on his face. Of course, our equally old cat doesn't go in for blowing gently, more a smack across the chops and a meowing session which roughly translates as 'Wha' d'ya think you're doing in MY garden, push off fatso.' And so the said old, fat and deaf cat does just that, shambles off muttering about not being left in peace, to find another, more secluded spot in the garden. The one problem with him is, that he finds these spots, and you can't see them, but you suddenly put a foot on him, accidentally and it's hard to say who's more surprised or frightened.

There was also a large expanse of lawn when we first moved here, plus a line of everyone's favourite ... huge, overgrown conifers, all down one side of the garden. A bit of a concrete path, some straggly hedging, a couple of washing lines, an ageing apple tree (which is even older now but more productive, with the most wonderful Bramleys), and not much in the way of colour. The garden was for growing veggies, hanging out washing, dogs and cats peeing and pooing, and children to play in, so it was all very green really. Flowers didn't get a look in, but looking back, I can see that the previous owner was ahead of his time possibly, growing green manures in the mid-nineties? We have done a lot of work over the years, getting rid of lawns and resowing a new, smaller one, creating different areas for growing veggies and soft fruits, planted trees, created shrubbery, beds and borders, a small dry garden, and installing a pond. Now we have a wonderful composting system of bins and boxes, green manures still play a part in the garden. There has always been a lot of comfrey growing here, so I have a small waterbutt with comfrey in the bottom in summer, which I use for the tomatoes and squash plants in particular. There are as many rain butts as there are sheds, because each shed has guttering leading down into a butt, plus one on the house, so we do our bit to save water.

'Save water, bath with a friend' ... remember that? I wish I'd taken advantage of it more then, nobody wants to bath with me now... even the rubber duck has to be bribed to come in the water!