Wednesday, 27 April 2011


Something is niggling at me. Something is bugging. It's not a major niggle or a big bug, but there is something at the back of my mind that is causing a certain amount of unsettlement vis a vis THE FUTURE.

So much so that I got out all my sets of Tarot cards last night and had a bit of a shuffle.

Things would be easier if I knew the focus of the niggle, the cause of the bugging. But I don't. It could be something to do with the end of my stint as a tutor looming on the horizon. Should I apply for another teaching post? Should I tout for more tutoring? Should I go full-time for the money or stay part-time for the sanity?

Or is it to do with the ideas gathering apace in my Big Book of Ideas, which is where I jot down all my bright spark moments in case I forget them and forgetting them would mean missing out on a GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY some time in the future? Lots of my current bright spark moments centre on the proliferation of TV programmes about the running of B and B's and hotels which I find fascinating and strangely inspiring. I think, Andy and I could do that. We could be the hosts with the mosts. We could provide all sorts of happy guest experiences.

'So could I,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Goosing the guests will not be an option,' says I.

Or perhaps it's something to do with being so ill recently. Being very ill makes one very aware of one's own mortality, that if you are going to do something, then get on and do it. But do what?? Niggles. Bugs.

Anyway, I went through my five packs of Tarot, shuffling and splitting and scattering. A couple of them felt a bit 'stiff' because I haven't used them for a while. They took some warming up but it was like linking up with old friends.

And then I picked a card from each pack which turned out to be reassuringly similar in their intent.

And the intent was that I have done all I can about testing situations, and now it is my job to sit tight and wait and see. And that if I carry on pushing for something to happen, then I could end up in hot water.

So a sitter and waiter I shall be, not the do-er and shaker that is causing me to fidget at the moment. Apparently, 'things' are in place. Things are looking after themselves and, in turn, are looking after me. Sit back, the Universe is saying. Relax. Wait.

All will be revealed in due and steady course.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Grape Expectations

Much excitement at the allotment yesterday upon the discovery that our grape vines, which have been putting on a sudden spurt of leafy growth, have also put on, for the FIRST TIME EVER, a spurt of teeny tiny insy winsy grape growth.

When I say 'growth' I mean I had to crouch really close to the vines (well, I was down there weeding the cloche with the lettuce inside) in order to see these teeny tiny grapelet things, and I am thinking that if they don't grow any bigger then the only wine they will be making will be wine for the microscopic minnie wine pixies who will hardly get drunk on the proceeds thereafter.

But, who knows? Maybe by the end of this season we shall have handfuls of proper grown up grapes which Andy can turn into some noxious and dubious brew which will no doubt explode at some point somewhere in the house, requiring me to do some redecorating.

Talking of which I have purchased wallpaper for the living room. It is wallpaper covered in wisteria blooms - big wisteria blooms - and everyone to whom I have shown the wallpaper so far has been very polite, if a tad unenthusiastic - in their appreciation of it. They are polite because they know it is, to me, the best wallpaper since the last wallpaper I bought that had giant hydrangeas all over it, and they don't want to upset me by saying 'Ye Gods! You're going to put THAT on your living room walls????' because I am still recovering from being gastro-enteritisized.

On further gardening fronts, I am concerned about our collection of 200 bean plants. They are now 8 inches tall, lush and green and obscenely verdant, and are bursting out of the greenhouse. They are saying 'We want to go outside!' and I am saying 'But what about late frosts?' and they are laughing and saying 'Don't be ridiculous!' and I am saying, 'but we had snow this time two years ago - it says so in my diary!' and the beans are subduing their laughter and thinking perhaps they ought to try stemming their tendrils for another couple of weeks until May is well and truly here, and it isn't merely April witth pretensions of May.

The hops are 8 feet tall. The living willow arch is starting to grow considerably greener and the local bird population is very much liking to perch in its twiney bits. The clematis I thought had died hasn't died and is crawling up the fence. The herbs, now protected from the hens, are doing well, and there are many little green strawberries getting ready to ripen.

And after last years disappointing effort from the courgettes, I sowed 12 seeds, just to be on the safe side, and all 12 of the bleeders have germinated and are doing battle with the beans in the greenhouse.

I think, after 5 years of this grow-your-own malarkey, that we may just about be starting to get the hang of it!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

One Hive, Two Hives

Needless to say the new hive we ordered last weekend hasn't arrived. I believe this is called 'The Law of Sod.' And over the last couple of days there has been a noticeable amount of foraging bees emerging from the nuc box which means they are going about business as usual and require more room.

So we made a mercy dash to our bee mentors, who kindly lent us a spare floor, brood box, crownboard and roof to use until our own hive arrives. Andy was very excited because it needed scorching which meant he got to blaze a trail with the blow-torch.

We are now a two hive family.

In Hive One, there are many bees and a full super of nearly all capped honey. The second super is drawing out fast so we swapped the two supers over so the builder bees don't have to struggle past a full-to-bursting honey super to get to the not quite so full one. Their new Queen has yet to emerge from her cell - we think she is due in the next day or so. But if she doesn't, then the bees have built extra queen cells in response to their being queenless, so, fingers crossed, come honey or high water, they will have a new queen in the next two weeks. Meanwhile, they seem happy to do their thing.

In Hive Two, Queen Philibert continues to reign supreme, so phew! ...we still have a queen and if worst comes to worst, we can re-unite the two hives in Autumn to make a strong colony for Winter. The baby house bees that went with QP are now out and foraging and have started to draw out the fresh foundation we put in last Sunday.

As for Bee-keeper One and Bee-keeper Two, aka Andy and me, well, we have moved the top bar hive to the back of the garden and baited it with lemongrass to catch any swarmy bees that head that way, and we have purchased another nuc box to bait with lemongrass and put up on the flat roof of the extension to catch any swarmy bees that head that way.

However, as I speak, there has been a wail from the landing. A wail of 'It's stuck!' The landing window, it transpires, is not quite wide enough to get the nuc box through it. Actually, it is wide enough to get it through far enough for it to become well and truly stuck. I have offered my services vis a vis getting things out of tight places but only because I am pretty good at unpeanutting the peanutted ties of Year 7 boys.

There are mutterings of 'I'll have to take the window out.' There is a bee hovering already. Is it sussing out the new accommodation? Or fancying coming inside to wreak a spot of in-house havoc?

Who can tell with bees?

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Oh, How I Love This Country!

Still feeling a bit wobbly and feeble, and done in by a brief trip to the allotment (harvested some rhubarb and spinach though, so crops are a-coming in!)I decided to flop on the sofa and watch the Maundy Thursday Service from Westminster Abbey.

And, oh, how the spectacle gladdened the heart! All the history and the architecture, the ceremony and sunshine, the calmness and sheer joy of the occasion. This is England, I thought, as Her Majesty (85 today) made her way up and down the line of recipients of the Maundy purses, smiling and chatting and refusing to be chivvied along by the bishopy types by her side.

I hummed along to the hymns, shut my eyes and enjoyed the performance of 'Zadok the Priest', and yes, dear reader, I shed a little tear when HM emerged into the sunshine and went on a walkabout to receive cards and flowers from small children who had come to wish her a Happy Birthday.

Things are revving up for the Royal Wedding, too. I didn't think I'd be bothered about it, really. I thought I'd maybe cast a glance at the TV next Friday, take it or leave it, but now I know I am going to be THERE all day, with tea and cake, lapping up the whole crazy, English malarkey of it all. I shall enjoy the horses and carriages, the cheering crowds, the beauty of the Abbey, the pointless interviews, the anticipation of the bride's frock 'n' flowers, the ceremony itself, and all the pictures of people around the country having their street party celebrations. Because it makes me feel lucky and glad to be living in this land.

I hope the weather holds out. I hope the idiots who are threatening to disrupt the day with demonstrations and riots are put firmly in their place. I hope everyone has a fabulous day.

This is a wonderful country and I love it!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Day 10 in the Gastro-Enteritis House

I've had enough of this malarkey. It's the Easter Holidays, the weather is gorgeous, there is STUFF I need to do, and I can't because I am feeling weak and pathetic. Still, ever one to look on the bright side of life (te-da te-da, te-da-te-da-te-daaaa!), here is my list - 'The Upside of Gastro-enteritis.'

1) You get to sleep when you like for however long you like - heck you can slob in jimjams 24 hours a day if you like.

2) Everyone else does the cooking - probably more through fear of contamination than anything else

3)You get to watch all sorts of rubbish day time TV/ back to back DVDs of 'The Darling Buds of May'/weird stuff that appears at 3 in the morning, and can claim a fevered insanity in your defence

4) Food bills are drastically reduced - toast, Marmite and eggs are cheap food indeed

5) Weight loss is impressive - nearly a stone in ten days - Weightwatchers, eat your heart out!

6) Because of weight loss, there is a whole bunch of clothes in the wardrobe that fit a whole lot better

7) Food, on the odd occasion it can be stomached, tastes absolutely fab. I had a scrambled egg this morning - it was the most delicious thing ever. Thank you Mrs P!

8)Husbands bring you flowers, rub your back, keep your water topped up and are generally heroes of the hour!

9) Children call to see how you are, bring you magazines and chocolate (currently waiting in the fridge for when all is quiet on the gastric front) and offer to run errands for you

10)The phrase 'I'm sorry, I'm in the middle of a nasty bout of gastro-enteritis,' gets rid of door-step and telephone cold callers REALLY quickly.

Monday, 18 April 2011


'Well, this is very nice, isn't it?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Indeed,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'A herb garden, I understand?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'If one is being grammatically correct, then it's an 'erb garden, as the letter 'h' is treated as a vowel in cases of pronunciation,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Like in 'I went to an hotel'.'
'Really?' says Mrs Slocombe. 'That's interesting. Which hotel?'
'I haven't been to an hotel,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'But you just said you had,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'It was an example,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'To illustrate the correct use of 'a' and 'an' before words that start with the letter 'h'.'

'Oh,'says Mrs Slocombe. 'So, let me see if I've got this right. Er...I saw an helephant in the garden this morning.'

Mrs Pumphrey looks at Mrs Slocombe. She knows, deep in her little chicken heart, that no amount of training at finishing school for hens is going to rub the rough edges from this one.

'If you like,' she sighs. 'Let's go back to sampling, shall we?'

The hens continue their promenade around the herb garden.
'What's this?' says Mrs Slocombe, nibbling at a tufty green morsel.
Mrs Pumphrey studies the label. 'Salad Burnett,' she says. 'Apparently, it tastes like cucumber.'
'Do you know, it does,' agrees Mrs Slocombe.

'Will you two bl**dy chickens leave my bl**dy herbs alone!' comes a shriek from the other side of the garden. There follows through the air an empty plastic flower pot, which Mrs Slocombe neatly sidesteps.
'Ignore her,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'She's been ill.'
'I'll say,' says Mrs Slocombe, 'her shot is well off. What's this one?'
'Lovage,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'And that one is angelica.'
'I like them both enormously,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'Not keen on the cotton lavender, though. It's a bit...a bit...'
'Cottony?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'That's the badger!' says Mrs Slocombe.

The hens continue around the herb garden, avoiding missiles like old pros, and trying to get in one last nibble before Andy cages off all the new baby herbs with chicken wire and a willow fence, just for good measure.

'Why are there three empty spaces?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Ah,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Denise has just put some borage, dill and lemon verbena seeds in the propogater. Those are herb-spaces-in-waiting.'

'I look forward very much to trying all three,' says Mrs Slocombe.'
'Me, too,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'I understand borage flowers look really pretty floating in a glass of Pimms.'
'Denise's great-great-great grandfather invented Pimms, you know,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Really?' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Well, I haven't heard that one before.'

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Pas de Gall Bladder and an Artificial Swarm

'I don't think your gall bladder is to blame,' said the casualty doctor at the hospital yesterday. He had just performed something called Murphy's Sign Test, and my reaction had proved remarkably unreactive. However, my reaction to his poking of my stomach had been VERY reactive.
'I think you have a very bad case of gastro-enteritis,' he said. 'And you are looking very dehydrated. If you don't keen your fluids up we'll have to admit you and put you on a drip.'

He was very nice, this doctor. I had reached the point yesterday lunchtime when I could stand the pain/ yakking/ other unmentionables no more and a trip to casualty was called for if only to reassure me (and Andy) that I wasn't dying.

I explained I couldn't even keep water down. I explained that in the last 5 days I had lost 10lbs, which normally I'd be thrilled about, but was instead throwing me into a state of panic and frenzy.

The doctor explained everything in great detail and gave me some rehydration sachets. He raised his eyes to heaven when I told him I was a teacher. 'That's where you probably picked up the virus,' he said.'As for pain relief, you'll have to keep going with paracetemol even though it's not being very effective. Nurofen would be better.'
'I'm allergic to it,' I said.
'P'raps not, then,' said he.

So, I came home feeling wobbly and pathetic, I sat and sipped rehydration fluid all evening, which was like drinking a cross between salt water and glucose syrup in Ribena, and this morning I woke up after a full night's sleep feeling right as rain. Well almost. Still a bit wobbly and pathetic.

Well enough to potter in the garden, planting up my new herb garden and sowing some more seeds. Well enough to assist with a hive inspection. Well enough to be appalled at finding a hive bursting with bees and a sealed Queen cell.

'Bugger,' said Andy and I in unison. 'Our bees are going to swarm.'

We went inside to consult books and decide what to do. We called our bee mentors. They were experiencing the same. With the warm dry start to Spring we've had here in the South, we reckon 'bee year' is about 2 weeks ahead of the books. Which just goes to show you should garden and keep bees by the weather and NOT by what it says in the books.

'We've got to do an artificial swarm, haven't we?' we said. Our bee mentors agreed. That's what they were doing. And if the new queen didn't work out, at least we'd have the old queen in reserve and we could re-unite the hive. Hopefully, we wouldn't lose our bees.

So, we wrote step by step instructions on a large sheet of paper of how to perform the swarm, so we didn't make a mess of things. We gathered the necessary equipment - spare nuc box, fresh frames, bee brush, bit of grass to stop up the entrance, woodlouse to form the welcoming committee. We went out into the bees. There were gazillions of bees. They were not happy at being disturbed twice in one day. We were, as the old Eddie Izzard joke goes 'Covered in bees.'

But did we panic? NO! Did we experience Sod's Law in that Queen Philibert was on the same frame where the Queen cell was? YES! Did we stand and whistle for a minute or two until, fingers crossed, until QP moved herself to the adjoining frame? YES! Did it all go according to plan? HOPEFULLY! Well, according to the plan of Much Malarkey Manor whose Philosophie du Jour is 'If It's Meant To Bee, It Will Bee.'

I would say it's all part of a huge learning curve, except I hate that phrase. Let's call it part of muddling through life as best we can.

By the way, if you're puzzled about the Eddie Izzard thing, then his line is - 'I like my coffee like I like my women - covered in bees!'

I know, weird, isn't it? But that's Izzard for you. Best to just go with it. Like gastro-enteritis. And swarmy bees.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Gall Bladdered

Well, after another night of pacing the floor, unable to get away from this vicious pain in my stomach, Andy tells me on no uncertain terms that I am to hie me to the doctor immediately, especially when my temperature turns out to be 34.2. I don't blame him. I'm fed up with me, too, feeling bl**dy awful one hour then right as rain the next.

So off I go, managing to hold down the nausea for the duration of the car journey by some frantic gum chewing. It's an hour and a half wait in the surgery because there is already a gang of patients in the car park waiting for the door to open at 8.30 and I possess neither the iron will nor the sharp elbows to secure myself a place near the front of the queue in the first-come-first-served method adopted by the surgery. Most of the car park gang are pensioners. Ruthless, sharp-elbowed pensioners. Pensioners with gimlet eyes, and an 'I-lived-through-the-war-you-know' story on the tip of their tongue. I decide that if my symptoms get much worse during my wait, I'll throw a fainting fit and jump the queue that way. I check out the angles of the rows of chairs so I don't bang my head on the way down. I assess carpet acreage for free-fall space. I settle down to read a book.

But don't really take any of it in because I feel yakky and crampy, which means I'll have to re-read it later. I am mildly entertained by a small child around the same age as Kayleigh who does exactly the same things Kayleigh does - chattering away in baby-speak, picking things up and dropping them on the floor, eating copious biscuits, making a dash for the door every time it opens. He even works out how to press the 'disabled' button so the door opens automatically. Great game that turns out to be.

Eventually, I am called in.

The doctor is unduly cheerful, I feel, given that he is faced with someone clearly VERY ill. I think, I bet this is part of his triage treatment plan -'If I can make the patient laugh, they can't be that ill.'

Anyway, I list my symptoms, most of which he poo-poohs. I think, shall I throw my faint now? He looks a bit like Roger de Courcey, this cheerful doctor I am seeing. Do I want to be resuscitated by someone who looks like a 1970s ventiloquist who worked with a highly dubious cross-eyed, lewd bear? No, I do not.

He listens to my stomach with his stethescope. 'Your bowels are working fine,' he says. I would dispute that from my end, I think.

He pokes and prods my stomach. Some of the poking and prodding has no effect. Some of the poking and prodding makes me feel like I am going to yak up and I'm glad I haven't eaten anything since last night. Or maybe I should have? Maybe a bit of projectile vomiting would have proven my case. He pokes by sides and my back.

'I think,' he says, 'that your pain and symptoms are likely to be caused by your gall bladder.'

He looks at me. He doesn't say 'fair, fat and forty,' but I know that's EXACTLY what he's thinking.

He gives me some jollop for the nausea.

'Drink plenty of fluids, don't worry about not eating anything for a day or two,' he says. 'If it doesn't settle by Monday, come back and we'll send you for a ultra sound.'

This is doctor-speak for, 'Water will hopefully dilute and partially negate the effects caused by your obviously fat-laden diet, and not eating for a couple of days will help you lose a few pounds which will be useful for the surgeon who may end up having to whip out your gall bladder.'

So, there we are.

Gall bladders.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Hens and Herbs and Green Things and Ahhh.

As you know, the back garden at Much Malarkey Manor is undergoing a major revamp, mostly because the spectre of 'let's move house' is raising its head again and Andy is convinced the state of the garden will scupper any possible sales. Personally, I think anyone who is put off by a spot of minor and superficial chicken damage ('Minor?' says Andy. 'Superficial??' says Andy. 'Pah!!!!!' says Andy), doesn't deserve to buy our house anyway. I mean, it's only a tiny back garden and see what we've crammed into it - hens, a living willow arch, a very active bee-hive, a greenhouse, an apple tree, a damson tree, hops and now, nearly completed, a herb garden. If that isn't inspiration for the wannabe self-sufficient home farmer, then I don't know what is.

Anyway, the idea is to fill the back garden with as much greenery as possible, because we've given up with grass. Hence the willow, and the fruit trees and the hops. This will work only if we try to sell the house between April and October, of course. But the herb garden should give a bit of greenery all year round. Provided the chickens don't eat it.

Which, according to my extensive interwebbly research, they shouldn't, because herbs seem to be one group of plants that hens will leave alone.
'Ha!' says Mrs Slocombe. 'We peck holes in your interwebbly hens versus herb research!'
And, of course, every time I mention my theory to people, they say, 'Oh, my hens eat herbs all the time.' But only if those people have hens, of course. And herbs.

Other people say, 'Won't they just scratch them up?' to wit I reply, 'Have you seen my newly patented anti-scratch hen wellies'? Other people say, 'Aren't some herbs poisonous?' to wit I reply, 'Yes, but I'm trying to avoid those because I have a newly mobile grand-daughter who can't keep her sticky little mittens to herself, so I'm not going to plant anything detrimental to her health, am I?
'What about being detrimental to our health?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'You have instinct,' I say. 'Use it.'

So, Veterinary/ illustrator/ allotmenteer/ writer/ crafter of top-bar hives/ Doctor Whoee Andy will soon be able to add 'herb garden builder' to his list of many talents. He has been slaving in the garden since 8 this morning digging and levelling and mortaring and tapping and assessing progress with his builder's eye. And he says that by this afternoon, we shall have a herb garden!

I am worried because he still has a bit of cough and it's his day off work and he should be relaxing, but he says he is enjoying the project because...

'...I like building things for you because I love you!'


Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Getting Published

'I hear,' says Mrs Slocombe, as she and Mrs Pumphrey stop for a tea break during the construction of the new Malarkey Manor Herb garden, 'that Sally Bercow is writing a novel.'
'Who is Sally Bercow?' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Gingernut?'
'Blonde, I think,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'I mean, would you like a biscuit?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Oh, yes, right, thank you,' says Mrs Slocombe, and takes two - one for each beak.
'So who is this Sally Burko?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'It's not 'burk,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'It's 'berc.'
'What's the difference?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'A cow, basically,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'She's the wife of the Squeaker of the House of Commons.'
'Ah,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'The Squeaker, eh? Sounds important. And his wife is writing a novel, you say?'
'Yes,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'A bonk-buster, no less.'

Mrs Pumphrey contemplates this literary revelation. 'Do you think it'll be published?' she says.
'Well, 'says Mrs Slocombe, 'there's the thing. I mean, it's very difficult to get published these days. Especially if it's your first novel. And a bonk buster. Ask Denise. She'll tell you.'
'Poor Sally,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Do you think she's aware of the challenges ahead? Of the endless rejections by agents and publishers, of the heartache of slaving for hours and days and months, nay years over a script only to have it cruelly flung aside by a fickle world who wants guaranteed sales so will only take on work by famous people no matter how talentless, brainless, shoddy and dire their work is, because the British public will only buy sensationalist clap-trap to satisfy their thirst for the shallowness of celebrity?'
'Blimey,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'You have a very hot finger on the pulse of publishing, don't you?'
'I try to keep up,' says Mrs Pumphrey.

There is a pause in the conversation whilst the two herb garden navvies survey their footings and wonder at how the huge pile of dirt that has manifested itself besides the footings ever fitted in the footings hole in the first place. And more importantly, what they were going to do with the aforementioned pile of dirt.

'So will the wife of the Squeaker of the House of Commons get close to achieving her publishing dream, do you think?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
Mrs Slocombe looks at her, thoughtfully.
'I doubt it,' she says. 'She's probably way too talented.'

Tuesday, 12 April 2011


Well, that was a fine start to my Easter holiday, wasn't it? Spot of 24 hour vomitting and other such bodily unmentionables. Woke at midnight on Sunday/ Monday with the most awful stomach cramps and the feeling that I was going to die of a heart attack. Feeling exacerbated when I caught myself leaning over the kitchen sink in the same pose adopted by my father the night he died of cardiac failure 13 years ago. My, how irrational the brain is at 2 in the morning. Paced the floor downstairs twixt living room, writing room, kitchen and bathroom in an attempt to get away from whatever it was that was invading my personal body space.

Four hours later and I was still pacing having tried every permutation of 'trying-to-get-comfy' positions including three sofas, sofa cushions on floor, rugs 'n' cushions combos, reclining, supining, leaning against walls, hugging the electric fire in the living room because I was too cold, standing out in the back garden garden because I was too hot, sipping water, mint tea, sucking indigestion tablets,
trying to distract myself by reading, doing puzzles and listening to the dawn chorus when it arrived at 5.30. I even tried some self-healing, concentrating on sweeping a blue ball of healing light through me, visualising the intruder bug being caught on it and rolled away to an intruder bug disposal unit.

Spent the day sleeping, yakking and trying to run away from pain or confront it with more self-healing visualisations. Thoughts of heart attack subsided and were replaced by thoughts of cancer. Cheerful, eh?

But finally, after a day of sipping nowt but water, things began to calm down, and last night I slept - fitful sleep, but sleep nonetheless. Whatever it is, has left the building. Or is at least packing its bags for check-out by 10.

This morning I feel tired and gurgly. My stomach wants to know where the food is. I am saying, 'Hold your horses, pal. You can have a teeny bit of toast and Marmite and we'll see where we go from there.' 'No cake then?' 'No. No way. Absolutely ne pas.'

And I feel foolish and marginally ashamed, because my pain lasted merely a day and all I have to cope with now is catching up with my sleep which I have the luxury to do because I am on Easter Holiday; there are people who live with pain every day of their lives. What have I to fuss about? Nothing, that's what.

Rare days like yesterday make you value your health and the body's amazing ability to sort itself out.

And it also makes you value hubbies who text to make sure you are okay and if you need anything, and get you a newspaper and a new DVD for you to watch to cheer you up.

Even though they themselves have a nasty hacking cough at the moment and are aching like mad because they spent all weekend digging a massive hole in the backgarden to make the base of a herb garden for you.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Gardening by Numbers

Number of melons plants potted on - 8
Number of green basil seedlings planted on - about a gazzilion (may have over-done the basil this year)

Varieties of seeds sown at allotment this morning - 5 (carrot, parsnip, coriander, parsley and rocket)

Varieties of flowers seedlings planted on at allotment this morning - 2 (sweet peas and anemones)

Number of large paving slabs Wickes failed to deliver yesterday - 18

Number of irate phone calls made by Andy to resolve issue- 3
Number of irate phone calls made by Denise to resolve issue - 1

Number of humans helping chickens to build herb patio - 1
Number of chickens helping human to build herb pation - 0
Number of chickens getting in way of human who is building herb patio - 2
Number of chickens who nearly got decapitated whilst digging base for herb patio - 1

Seed varietes waiting to be sown in propogator as soon as more seed compost has been procured - 5 (cucumber, borage, tagetes, lemon bergamot, morning glory)

Number of bees popping in and out of hive this morning - about 9 million

Greenhouse seedling count - Beans - French and runner (92), tomatoes (23), chilli peppers(5), courgettes (10), cucumbers (3), cauliflower (16) , leeks (indeterminate), lime basil (2 - pathetic)

Number of days in a row Mrs Pumphrey has laid eggs - 8

Volume of perspiration produced by chief herb patio builder - a large puddleful

Quantity of Happy Malarkey Gardeners - 2!

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Honey, Honey

Look!! Do you know what this is? This is our first teaspoonful of Much Malarkey Manor honey, courtesy of the Malarkey Bees. 'How much do you think it cost?' I said to Andy as we spread it on a slice of bread fresh from the breadmaker.

'About £560,' said Andy.

Well, all I know is that it tasted FAB! We live near a park so our bees collect a good variety of pollen from all over the place. If this spoonful is anything to go by, the 2011 vintage is going to be an excellent blend.

We decided to check the hive today for the first time this year. The weather was perfect and for the past two nights there have been a few bees forming a tiny beard on the front of the hive.

Of course, we immediately thought, they can't be planning to swarm, surely? Not at this time of year? But then we were told by all and sundry last year that we wouldn't need to worry about things like re-queening, and we had to re-queen.

So, in we went for an investigate.

Blimey! What a lot of bees!!!! They were cleaning out cells, they were filling cells, they were waggle dancing , they were coming back with HUGE trouserfuls of pollen of many different colours. We found Queen Philibert on frame 4. She was reversing into a cell when we spotted her. She looked up at us.

'Do you mind?' she said. 'I am laying an egg.'

Judging by the number of bees in the hive she'd been laying eggs since Christmas!

Luckily, there wasn't a sniff of any queen cell building malarkey going on. But there was the smell of honey. There was quite a bit of honey-filled brace comb on the queen excluder. So we scraped some off and brought it indoors.

And then, because the brood box was full, and the first super was three quarters full, we knocked up some new frames and put a second super on top to give them more room.

In the kitchen I wondered how to get the honey from the comb. I considered putting it in a sock and then twirling the sock around my head at a high velocity in an attempt to mimic the centrifugal action of a honey extractor. And then I decided perhaps I'd been standing out in the sun for too long.

So instead I got a nylon sieve and I schmushed the comb hard against it with a spoon until the first dribble of Malarkey honey oozed through the other side and there was enough to put on some bread.

And like I said, it was GORGEOUS!!

If the bees keep working like they are at the moment, we should be able to take off a super of honey in August.

It's all very exciting!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Easter Extravaganza

It's nearly Easter Holidays and I must say I am looking forward to them enormously.In some ways I like Easter better than Christmas. Fond memories from childhood - making bonnets,decorating eggs and growing miniature Easter Gardens at Sunday School.

'Me, too,'says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Because in honour of the memory of Mrs Miggins, Mrs Slocombe and I have decided to organise an Easter Extravaganza...'
'...because Easter is the celebration of new life, new birth, the great circle of Nature...' interrupts Mrs Slocombe.
'And chocolate eggs,' adds Mrs Pumphrey.
'And Simple Cake,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Simnel,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'That's what I said,' says Mrs S.

'Talking of eggs,' I said, 'I'd like to thank you two for your sterling egg laying efforts over the last four days. Four days on the trot and you've both laid an egg every day. That's very good going.'
'It's the warm weather,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'I did wonder,' I said.

It has been very warm. Today has been positively sweltering. I am glad the school has finally turned off the radiator beneath my desk, the one I am grateful for in the freeze of Winter.

'What about Simple Cake?' says Mrs Slocombe. 'Where do you stand on that?'
'Very hard in wellies,' I say, 'because while the cake bit is okay, the thick layer of marzipan on top is disgusting and should be against the law.'

I don't do marzipan. Why tamper with a perfectly good nut and turn it into something that looks and tastes like Plasticine?

'Oh,' says Mrs Slocombe, 'only we were hoping you'd bake a few for our Easter Extravaganza.'
'Sorry,' I say. 'But I will make you some of those little chocolate crispy nests with baby chocolate eggs inside, and some bunny shaped Easter biscuits if you like.'

'What about some hot cross buns?' says Mrs Pumphrey, who, since the demise of her best pottering buddy, has developed a ruthless bargaining streak.
'Okay,' I say. 'I'll do you some hot cross buns as well. Although I won't be held responsible for either their eventual size, which will be variable or their shape which will be the approximation of an elephant head.'

I have made hot cross buns in the past. Somehow, they always emerge from the oven slightly less uniform than when they entered. I blame my oven. I hate my oven. I am sensing a new oven (something large and rangy) on the horizon.

'So tell me more about this Easter Extravanganza,' I say. I'm not sure I want to know the full details, given my experiences of their Winter Extravaganza and their Bonfire Night Extravaganza. I just need to know if I should leave the country for a few days.

'Well,' says Mrs Pumphrey, taking a note-book in the shape of a rabbit from her apron pocket, 'we are going to organise a massive screening of a Biblical epic in glorious technicolour, then have a proper afternoon tea with cake stands and doilies. And then we are going to plant some flower bulbs and then eat chocolate eggs until we are sick.'

'Sounds like a plan,' I say.

'I'm quite keen to have a game of Easter Pole,' says Mrs Slocombe, who has her own note- book in the shape of a giraffe.
'Easter Pole?' I say. 'Don't you mean May Pole? Where you dance around with ribbons and invoke the gods of fertility?'
'You dance around a pole with ribbons and do your invoking if you like,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'But I want to play the game where you get to be a secret detective in foreign lands.'
'I think you're getting confused with Interpol,' I say.
'I think not,' says Mrs Slocombe, eyeing up my knee caps which are bare and skirt clad in celebration of a hot and sunny day.

So lots to do in the impending holidays then. Mostly to do with cakes and flowers. Which are two of my very favourite things.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Birthday Countdown

Ssssssshhhh! A certain person I know, whose name begins with 'A' and rhymes with er...handy...has got a BIG birthday coming up in 5 weeks' time. By 'BIG' I, 40.

Now, I passed this landmark a few years ago. It is a long distant memory. I remember being taken out for a posh family dinner, with some very, how shall I say....interesting canapes to kick off the proceedings.

And now I am thinking, what shall I do for this person I know and his big four-oh!

Well, I can't say can I, because it would spoil the surprise, but suffice it to say that I have set the ball rolling today. The biggest problem has been deciding when to do what because there is a clash between when I(who henceforth shall be known as the 'Organiser') am at work and the person in question (henceforth known as the 'Birthday Boy') is at work and what with various annual leave booked/ school holidays immovable/ Bank holidays/ Royal Weddings etc etc, the days of the week just before and just after Birthday Boy' birthday, are a bit higgledly-piggedly and ne'er the twain shall meet.

And, ironically, the ACTUAL DAY is a day when we are both at work, so that'll be chip butties and a Doctor Who birthday cake in front of 'Waterloo Road', then.

Still, so far it's all going swimmingly and the Organiser is feeling quite smug with Plenty of time for things to go t*ts up, though. Which it won't. Or had better not because the Organiser shall be otherwise well hacked off. And hell hath no fury like a Scorpio Organiser whose plans are thwarted.

On other 'birth' day matters, I have a card waiting to be posted to our friends who had a baby boy ten days ago. A baby boy whose name is yet to be revealed. And I can't send the card until the baby is named. I can't be doing with 'Congratulations on the happy arrival of' I mean, I suppose I could take a wild guess but who knows what trouble that will land me in.

And now I am in full 'Organiser' mode I'm off to jot down my ideas for the 'Grand Easter Plan' I have been brewing thought of it this morning. No overpackaged commercialised Easter for Much Malarkey Manor this year. Oh no!

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Thoroughly Spoiled Mum

Well, I have had a jolly nice Mother's Day. Lovely cards, beautiful flowers, just enough chocolate to give naughty but niceness and not nausea, an Emma Bridgewater 'Best Mum' mug, a DVD of 'Another Year' and a visit to Sissinghurst Castle which looks beautiful at this time of year with all the Spring flowers.

We were going to have lunch at Sissinghurst,but the unexpected warm weather (what do forecasters know? Rain? Pah!) brought out a mass of people and the queue from the Granary Restaurant door was more than an impatient queuer like me could bear so we popped into the supermarket on the way home and bought a picnic lunch which we had in the living room when we got home. Crisp sandwiches...yum! Haven't had crisp sandwiches for ages.

At Sissinghurst I bought a dinky pair of secateurs especially for cutting herbs and trimming delicate plants, and some proper gardener's soap. And the National Trust Book of Breadmaking. There are some very interesting looking breads therein, which I've a mind to try and maybe demonstrate on the blog a la Julie Childs - 'Hello, I'm Denise from Much Malarkey Manor - bonne appetite!' (If you've never seen the film 'Julie/ Julia' it's definitely worth a watch - very entertaining.)

And then Andy came home with many exciting freebies from BSAVA (mostly biros.)

And all feels right with the world.

Saturday, 2 April 2011


Andy has been away for the last few days, at the BSAVA conference in Birmingham. And whilst he has been yomping around the conference hall collecting biros, entering competitions and being schmoozed by veterinary sales people, and falling asleep in lectures because I suspect there has been a certain over-indulgence of hotel full English breakfasts/ continental selections, I have been addressing a grass issue at the allotment.

Not any old grass, I hasten to add. Not the grass that has been left to grow to form little grassy paths weaving in and out of the various veggie beds. Oh no, this bit of grass is a substantial piece of grass that is growing between the communal path and our fruit cage. It's about fourteen feet long and three feet wide. It bordered and crept into the potato patch last year, and started this year looking like it was going to stay and form a lawn tennis court. In fact, I think Andy may have referred to it as 'lawn' at one point, although he may well deny this.

Anyway, I was keen to clear the grass and plant something in the space. Andy wasn't as keen. He didn't say as much but I think he envisaged it as a nice little spot to set up a deck chair and have a cuppa of tea and read inbetween tending to our plot. It does catch the sun quite nicely.

However, I am sorry (!!) to report that the grass has gone! Vanished!! It was evaporated by Martians. I tried to stop them but they just rode on in there with their grass gun evaporators blazing and before I could say 'Wimbledon Fortnight' it was gone. And left in its place was a fourteen by three foot bed of lovely, loamy, well-drained and finely tilthed soil, just right for the planting of, oh, I don't know - masses of flowers, like sweet peas and stocks and nasturtiums and gladioli and sunflowers, for example.

Which, ironically, I am about to place an order for from the plant sale catalogue that arrived this week and has been sitting and staring at me like a floral temptress from the coffee table.

Grass is good...but flowers are FAB!!

Friday, 1 April 2011

So Says April...and Mrs Pumphrey.

It's a pity there was no thunder today - well, not in these parts anyhow. For had there been thunder, then I could have said -'If it thunders on All Fools' Day, It brings good crops and hay.'

But it didn't, so I can't and besides, I'm not sure I'd want to because as a poem it scans terribly and I can't help but think that the person who came up with it in the first place only did so because 'day' rhymes with 'hay.' They certainly weren't thinking of their iambic feet, anyway.

Unfortunately, the day here in Kent began with clouds and rain, so I have to recite this old country nugget instead - 'If April First sees cloud and rain, Then beer will smell like an open drain.'

Not good news for the brewing industry then. Unless they market it as something called 'Old Stinky Pipes,' and sell it for three cases for a tenner at Sainsbugs so the less discerning ale drinkers will buy it and swig it regardless of its eau de sewage flavouring.

Of course, the first day of April is best known as April Fool's Day and...

'OOOH! Let me tell the story,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Go on, pleeeeeeeeease. You've had a long day. Go and put your feet up with Countryfile magazine and have a cuppa. You know you want to.'

She's right, of course, so if you can bear it, I'll leave MMM blog in the capable wings of Mrs Gloria Pumphrey, Oracle of the Oral Tradition, Weaver of Fine Tales. Feel free to look away now...

'There are many origins abounding in folk-lore that are associated with April Fool's Day,' begins Mrs Pumphrey.
'Is one of them the origin of stretching cling-film over the toilet bowl?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'No,' says Mrs P. 'And if I come in later and find that's what you've been up to all morning, I shall have VERY SEVERE WORDS to say to you.'

Mrs Slocombe backs away at this point, muttering something about an urgent matter she needs to attend to.

'Most of the origins come from pagan festivals,' says Mrs P.
'Oh, I likes a spot of the pagan festivalry,' says Tango Pete, who is visiting for the afternoon. He's repointing the brickwork at Cluckinghen Palace, now that the pointing weevils have cleared off for the summer and won't evacuate every dollop of cement he tries to dollop in.
'Do you?' says Mrs P.
'Especially the bits that involve setting fire to things and hitting people with balloons made from pig's bladders,' says Tango Pete.
'Anyway,' says Mrs Pumphrey, 'there is the Roman orgy of Hilaria.'
'I likes a spot of Roman orgy, too,' says Tango Pete.
'Yes, well let's not go there, shall we?' says Mrs P. 'There might be children watching.'
'Pity,' says Tango Pete. 'After all that pointing I could do with a spot of...'
'And the Celtic God,Lud,liked to have a bit of an eight-day malarkey to mark the beginning of Spring,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'He was the god who overcame the Three Plagues of Ancient Britain...'
'Oh, I knows all 'bout them,' says Tango Pete. 'Them'll be speed cameras, John Prescott and that plastic packaging they sell memory sticks in.'
'Close,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'They were, in fact, a tribe of malevolent demons, a shriek so loud it killed all that heard it, and a curse that magicked away all Royal provisions.'
'Like corgis and unnecessary military honours bestowed upon the Queen's second son?' says Tango Pete.
'I guess so,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Of course, we musn't forget Persephone, either.'
'Who?' says Tango Pete.
'Persephone who was spirited away by Pluto to keep his house in the Underworld,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Disney has a lot to answer for,' says Tango Pete.
'And Noah was supposed to have released a dove from the Ark on the first day of April,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Was it a homing dove?' says Tango Pete.
'No,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Which could have been a good thing, could have been a bad thing. They're very unreliable birds, doves. Too self-absorbed. It's 'me, me, me' all the time with doves. Them and their puffing and preening and ridiculous little voices.'

'Well,' says Tango Pete. 'I thought the whole April Fool's Day malarkey came from a dodgy translation from the French to the English or possibly the other way round, of Passion d'Avril.'
'Oh, the old 'Poisson d'Avril' issue,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Poisson meaning 'fish,' says Tango Pete.
'The April Fish,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Exactamundo,' says Tango Pete.
'They're selling chocolate fish all over the streets of France today,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'And if they're not, they jolly well should be.'
'I like a chocolate fish,' says Tango Pete. 'But not as much as a toffee badger.'

'So there we go,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Take your pick. Float your April Fool's boat on whichever pagan ocean you think can stand the pace. I'm off to check toilet bowls for cling film...'
'...and I'm off to scrape some more debris from me crevices,' says Tango Pete.
'Shall you have finished pointing by the end of today?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'I should think so,' says Tango Pete.
'Good,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Because pointing is jolly rude.'