Thursday, 31 March 2011


There seems to be a lot of hoo-ha going on at the moment regarding Britain's voting system. This morning, for example, there was hoo-ha occuring on Radio 4. I was in my little blue car on the way to work, and I'd like to say that I was listening to the hoo-ha but I wasn't because it was mostly Ed Miliband how was hoo-haa-ing and he has THE most aggravating voice, so when I listen to him all I hear is 'Urbleburble, yak yik sniffle, blah, blab, blah.'

And then there is hoo-ha about the Royal Wedding next month. Should we have such a display of extravagance in times of such austerity? Yes we should, it will cheer us up. No we shouldn't, Wills and Kate should hie themselves to Kensington Registry Office and nip to the 'Dog and Doo-Da' pub afterwards for scampi and chips in a basket. Well, for all we know that is exactly what they might be planning. A day earlier than the official do. And they might turn up on the steps of Westminster and go 'SURPRISE!! We've already done the deed. You can all go home now.'

And that would cause a hoo-ha, wouldn't it?

Then there's the hoo-ha following the budget cuts by the Arts Council of England. Whilst I kind of disapprove, because I am an arty type myself and wouldn't say no to being paid a ridiculous salary to run a dance-based theatre company for disadvantaged gibbons called something facetious like 'Gibbons With Ribbons', I kind of think that art is something you can, if you are truly arty, develop from nothing. C'mon, arty people of England! Show how creative you can be without the financial input of what are likely to be capitalist gleanings from a country struggling in debt. Papier mache is a good start - papier mache is cheap AND has limitless potential.

There is a lot of hoo-ha about Anne the Elephant, currently languishing in a circus but due to be re-homed in a safari park avec trees 'n' grass 'n' fresh air 'n' freedom any moment NOW! I love it! This is what makes England so great. We home in on the underdog (or in this case 'underelephant' - 'who's under an elephant?' says Mrs Slocombe?' 'No-one,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Take your medication and hush') and we won't let go until SOMETHING is DONE. Hurrah!

And finally, because I am getting chilly feet and need to go and find some fuzzy socks for my frozen toes, there is the hoo-ha about Prince Andrew being given some enormously important military medal thingy by his mum, the Queen. The hoo-ha comes in the form of 'does he really deserve it? Probably not,' and the fact that the Queen can give this honour to whomever she wishes without permission from anyone, not even the Government or Prince Philly. On a whim, if you like (which I believe is a type of velvet 'n' brocade cushionette.) Well, if you can't swing your weight around when you are Queen, when can you? Plus she's getting on a bit. And we all get a bit absent-minded and crazy like nuts as we grow older.

So here is to hoo-ha! It made my world go round today.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Oh, What To Do?

So, the school I tutor in is being made into an Academy in September. It has been taken over by an independent education group, and there is a new headteacher, who pops up periodically to have intense meetings and say 'hello' to people. He hasn't yet said 'hello' to me, because I hide upstairs in a little office, do my job and go home. I drift about the place like some kind of phantom - people know I work in the school, yet they always seem surprised to see me.

Anyway, one of the teaching assistants asked if I was coming back in September. In fact, she was insistent I did. 'Well,' I said. 'I don't know if there will be any work for me.'
'Of course there will be work for you,' she said. 'There is always work for good teachers.'
'Maybe,' I said, 'but I have slipped under the Academy net. My role is, as such, undefined.' (It's what comes of behaving like a phantom, I guess.)
'The new headteacher is looking for someone to develop a drama department,' said the teaching assistant. She clearly has her finger on the pulse of all things Academy. 'You should e-mail him and make him aware of your existence.'

Okay. So I thought about this for a couple of days. I like teaching drama. It is Much Malarkey on a grand scale. I have built a drama department before. I can do this job. So I contructed a carefully worded e-mail to the new Headteacher outlining my teaching talents. I also told him that because of my commitments outside of school - writing, allotment, hens, bees, staying sane - I was VERY reluctant to work full time. Four days a week suits me fine. I pressed 'send'.

Less than an hour later, a reply came back. Could I 'touch base' with him on Friday? (I guessed this meant 'meet up' and wasn't some euphemism for a sinister Academy activity whereby once I'm in I'll never get out alive.)

So Friday arrived. I loitered in Reception. The new Headteacher appeared. He shook my hand, and asked about my allotment and said he hoped I was taking care of my hands. He said that Senior Management spoke very highly of me. And that if Senior Management regarded me with high esteem, why would he want me to leave? Nay, he needed and wanted good teachers. He said he did, indeed, want to develop drama in the school. He said he couldn't make any promises though, and he said something about not having a bottomless pit of funds. He said he heard I taught English.

At this point I started thinking 'Oh-oh, I know what's coming here.'

He said that it was highly likely a post in the English department would be coming up in September and would I consider that? Could I e-mail him with what I saw myself doing regarding A level, GCSE, KS3, Nuture Group? (Nuture Group is very needy Year 7s arriving from primary school barely able to string two words together corectly so that they make sense. They generally have behaviour issues, too.)

So, here I am. Umming and ahhing. I have made a list of pros and cons of going back into classroom teaching. So far the pros are outweighing the cons by 8 points to 6. It's a close shot. But only if I stick to my guns and do no more than 4 days a week. I am composing an e-mail, laying down my 'ideas' and trying to sound agreeable and flexible, but not like I am going to be walked over.

My friend, Jean, sent an e-mail today with some sage advice for such occasions. She said, 'Handle every stressful situation like a dog. If you can't eat it or play with it, just pee on it and walk away.'

Not totally appropriate, the weeing thing, so I did the human equivalent which was go to the allotment for 3 hours. I sulphate and potashed the soft fruit. I watered the polytunnel and coo-ed over the rapidly growing seedlings. Some of the strawberries have flowers already. I sowed parsnip seed and planted a rosemary bush. I netted the gooseberry that is on the far side of the allotment out of reach of the fruit cage, because it has started to develop buds and the birdies will be after it. I weeded the last area to be weeded and decided here was a perfect place to grow some flowers. I poked the compost bin, having been very good and remembered to bring the waste food caddy from home to add to the mix.

I came home and set about greenhouse planting. In went the courgettes (green and yellow), the cucumbers, and three varieties of runner bean. And some basil.

And I think what my decision boils down to is that I really want a smallholding. Just a small one. An acre will suffice. So I can have more days like this - planting, weeding, growing, conversing with chickens and bees, anticipating harvest and flowers, and living the cycle all over again forever. And if I want a smallholding, I have to work so we can save up and buy a smallholding. And that's about it. I think.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Willow Weavers We

Sunday morning. Having being partially scuppered by the rain on Saturday, Chief Willow Worker, Andy, steps into the sunshine and takes up his weapon. Which, as you can see, is as tall as a house. Or a bunch of willow. (Also, please remember that Malarkey Manors garden is starting a complete overhaul. That's why it looks like a building site. That's our excuse anyway.) Deputy Willow Worker, Denise, is sent up the wibbly wobbly ladder (which is probably where she belongs). The ladder affords her a jolly good view into the neighbouring gardens. Deputy WW tries not to look too conspicuous. Note that on Saturday Chief WW Andy had prepared the site by measuring out and pegging down weed suppressing membrane and wheedling some very deep willow-width holes into the ground via a metal pole and a sledgehammer. This activity rendered him red of face and sore of shoulder. You can't go around just shoving willow into the ground you know. Not if you want it to grow. Preparations are precise and thorough. The uprights are in place, temporarily tied with string. This allows for tweaking and twanging. In the accompanying instructional DVD, willow workers are encouraged to take regular 'steps back' in order to assess symmetry, angles and curves. This concept works well in the early stages of 'let's do it properly' and less so in the latter stages of 'that'll do, it'll be covered in greenery in the summer, who's going to notice if uprights 3 and 4 are every so slightly wonky anyway?' Deputy WW still clinging to top of wibbly wobbly ladder. Sorry about the hair. When one is clinging to a wibbly wobbly ladder, the only reason one lets go is to tie willow to willow at the correct angle without kinking it (for kinking means death to willow), and not to faff about with one's hair because Chief WW insists on taking a photo because Deputy WW apparently looks 'cute.' Also. being up the ladder puts Deputy WW in vague flight path of Malarkey Manor bees flying southwards to local park. One has to cling onto ladder when being dinged in the back of the head by a bee on a mission.
Whilst Deputy WW makes quick foray to shop to get cat food before cats start gnawing off their own legs, Chief WW sets to work weaving base of arch. Deputy WW is allowed to weave other side on her return. Weaving involves making more deep holes, knowing your fronts from your backs, your ins from your outs, and no shaking it all about because of the aforementioned death-to-willow kinking. If your willow is a tad stiff, and needs coaxing to take on a more gentle arc, then you rub your hand up and down the shaft with long, firm strokes in order to 'soften the fibres' and make them more pliable. This looks and sounds rude. It also roughs up your hands - wear gloves. But doesn't the end result look pretty??

Chief WW ascends ladder to show he isn't scared of heights either. Note that temporary (bright orange) string has been replaced with light and heat resistant (brown) rubber tubing ties which grip the willow together whilst it grafts onto itself and expands as the willow grows in girth. Chief WW is cutting back the excess length on the uprights in case they should take out the eye of a passing pigeon. We have several off-cuts. All those over 38 cms in length are going to be planted at the allotment in a willow bed so we can (hopefully) grown our own supplies from the cuttings.Chief WW goes 'TA-DAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!' The living willow arch is complete! By mid-summer it should be resplendent in willow greenery, a cool oasis from the scorching English sun.

We think we did a darn good job. What a fabulous way to spend a Sunday. Can we build another one? Eh? Eh? Cor, I should think so!!And finally, Mrs Pumphrey takes a promenade through the new living arch. She says, 'For beginners, they did a reasonable job. Next time, a little more attention to detail and a little less faffing about up ladders and peurile giggling over the Carry On -type innuendoes, please... B+, big tick, silver star.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Things Can Only Get Better

Whilst the allotment is looking ever more fabulous by the hour, the same cannot be said for the back garden here at the Manor. (Nor the front garden come to that, but at least the front garden is green and requires probably only an afternoon of tidy'n' weed to get it shipshape for Spring.)

Three hours at the allotment this morning and the fruit cage is pristine, the polytunnel is pristine and the bits that aren't quite pristine are almost there. Seeds are popping up in the polytunnel, and the outside beds have been covered with polythene and cloches to give the ground a bit of a warming boost.

Three hours in the back garden this afternoon and we have a cross between a quagmire and a gravel pit. It could do with covering with a polythene sheet, if only to hide the mess.

The Much Malarkey Manor Grand Garden Re-Design is under way. And now we've started, we have to keep going forward because there is nowhere to go back. Not if we want to stop the garden looking forever like a meteor has hit it, anyway.

The plan, formulated last night, was to allotmenteer this morning, then build the living willow structure this afternoon. However, we were scuppered by some unexpected rain. So we watched the instructional DVD that came with the structure to try and get a grip on what we had to do, then we went to a garden centre to buy some odds and bits, then came home and finally the rain stopped and Andy decided to go outside and prepare the area for the willow arch.

And I decided to start planning my herb bed.

The chickens helped. I dug one way - the right way - and they ate worms and dug everything back the other (wrong) way in case they had missed any.

'You are undefining my edges,' I said.
'Your edges?' said Mrs Slocombe.
'My edges,' I said. 'My sharp edges that define where the box hedge for my herb garden is going to be. You have mussed them up.'
'But there are worms,' said Mrs Slocombe.
'I don't care,' I said. 'If you are going to dig with me, then I want you to dig inwards, not outwards. Do you think you can manage that?'
'No,' said Mrs Slocombe, and went to inspect the hops which are just starting to throw little teeny, juicy purple shoots up the fence and which I had the foresight to cover up with a mesh basket so greedy little chicken beaks couldn't get to them.

Mrs Pumphrey was no better. In fact, she was worse because she is a more proficient digger than Slocombe and can cover a large area of ground in a short space of time.
'So your plan is to make a stepping stone path from the back door to the willow arch, edge it with box, build a substantial herb garden, again edged with box, and put nut trees next to the honeysuckle?' said Mrs P.
'Yes,' said I.
'HA!' said Mrs Pumphrey.

Well, that is our plan, chickens prevailing.

Finally, I should like to say big 'CONGRATULATIONS!!!' to our friends Sian and Richard on the safe arrival last night of a healthy baby boy, a little brother for Taryn. The news came via text this morning, with the additional information that the baby's name was Tofollow.

Interesting selection, I thought. Must be a Welsh thing.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Trees and Wees and Weeds and Seeds

Got home today to discover someone had left an enormous 15 foot tree prostrate on the driveway.

And then I realised it was the living willow arch kit! (Ordered on Tuesday, delivered on Friday. How efficient is that?!)

It is now lying in the hallway - well, the hallway and part of the kitchen. It was a right old malarkey getting it into the house, I can tell you. Scared a couple of cats in the process, not to mention challenged my spatial awareness to the hilt. But I didn't want to leave it lying on the drive in case someone decided to make off with it.

My Shewee arrived today also. Tiddling freedom at the allotment awaits me! It's machine washable, too, which was rather surprising. (The Shewee, not the allotment.)

The allotment, I am pleased, nay proud to announce, is the most weed-free it has been in the 5 years since we took charge (or not, as previous years' weed growth suggests). We are determined to keep it weed-free this year (don't laugh), so starting with a clean canvas, so to speak, is a canny move.

One thing I have been expecting to arrive all week is the selection of seeds we ordered 2 weeks ago. An e-mail sent inquiring after their whereabouts or hereabouts or thereabouts elicited the response that they had indeed been despatched within the five days stated but that a second lot would be sent for free just in case the first lot didn't arrive. The possibility of 6 packets of bean seeds arriving fills me with a mixture of excitement and dread. Especially as Andy has used my root-trainers to plant leeks in. Honestly, turn your back for 5 minutes and see what happens?

So there we go. An end of the week full of 'eeeeeeeeeee's'

Because the bees have been flying well, too, and I am falling more and more in love with Radio Three (which also rhymes). Plants are turning green by the hour, the sun is shining so much I can see the Malarkey Manor windows need a clean.

Now, what shall we have for tea.....?

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Name Me A Name

I love some of the names that are given to vegetables. I don't mean 'bean' or 'carrot' or even 'salsify' which sounds more like something you would do to your kitchen floor to give it an extra-deep clean. I mean the variety names that define these vegetables even more closely. Like radishes called 'Amethyst' and 'Cherry Belle', peppers called 'Britney' and cucumbers called 'Burpless Tasty Green' and, most excitingly, 'Bimbostar.' (How great is that???!!!)

I was even more thrilled to discover an aubergine named after my star sign - 'Scorpio.'

And then I got to thinking about how flowers get their names. Bluebells, for example, are thusly called (I would imagine) because they are blue and in the shape of a bell. Buttercups, because they are cup-shaped and the colour of freshly churned butter.

'What about 'cowslip?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'I wondered when you'd make an appearance,' I say.
'At around the point where you need some comedy inspiration?' suggests Mrs S.
'Uhuh,' I say (and I should like to point out this is not an Elvis impersonation. I have neither the hips nor the quiff to carry that one off effectively. And don't get me started on the white jump-suit with silver stud-work.)
'Well, come on then,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'How did the cowslip get its name?'

I imagine Mrs S is picking on cowslips because I purchased two pots of them at the beginning of the week to go in the garden, them being good bee fodder and all, but they are so pretty I can't bear to put them outside just yet, so they are temporarily resident on the living room window where I can gaze at them and go 'aaaahhhhh.'

'I think it's because they make cows slip over,' I say. This is a wild guess, but Mrs Slocombe makes me feel wild, and a little anxious, too, especially when she is in such close proximity to my knees and Mrs Pumphrey isn't around to defuse any arguments/ act as referee/ break up a fight.

'Where is Mrs Pumphrey, by the way?' says I.
'In the back garden shifting breeze blocks,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Ah yes,' I say, because I remember now, that we've dismantled the asparagus bed which has come to naught (mostly because an asparagus bed + 2 hens a-scratching = an unholy mess) and the breeze blocks which made up one side are being relocated to the allotment and Mrs P offered to shift them to the back gate as she was still wearing her pottery apron and was, therefore, in pre-shower messy mode.

Pottery is Mrs Pumphrey's latest 'thing.' She has decided that country-style ceramics is the way to go. I have ordered from her a large gazunder. You know - a po. Potty. Porta-loo. For the allotment, in case the Shewee doesn't work out.

'A what?' said Mrs P, when I put in my request.
'A gazunder,' I repeated. 'You know, a potty. That 'goes under' the bed.'
'Aaaah,' said Mrs Pumphrey, who doesn't have to worry about such niceties because she just poops on the ground. That's chickens for you.

'And what design would you like on it?' she continued. 'Bearing in mind I can only do dahlias.'
'Oh,' I said. 'I was rather hoping for sweet peas. Ahahahahahahahaha!!'

Mrs Pumphrey gives me a bit of a look. A look learned from Mrs Miggins (God rest her chicken soul).
'Okay,' she says, 'as long as you don't mind them looking like dahlias.'

Anyway, back to cowslips which, according to Mrs Slocombe, are not called so because cows slip on them.
'Go on, then,' I say. 'Tell me why they are called cowslips.'

Mrs Slocombe takes a deep breath.

'Well,' she says. 'Back in the old days, when cows were less strumpety and more modest...'
'Are cows strumpety?' I ask.
'In my experience, yes,' says Mrs S.
'Right,' I say.
'...the farmers would dress them in long petticoats, to cover their thingies...'
'You know, dingle dangles...'
'I thought it was only boy cows who had dingle dangles?' I say.
'That's bull,' says Mrs S.
'I was only saying,' I say.
'Sometimes you labour a point a tad too much,' says Mrs S, which is rich coming from someone who has set up a Facebook page called 'Bring Bamber Back to University Challenge Immediately, At Once, The Sooner the Better, Because Jeremy Paxman Really Gets On My Chicken Nuggets the Way He Schmoozes Up To The Laydeeez and Favours Oxford and Cambridge.'
'So you are telling me that 'cowslip' is merely another term for a cow petticoat?' I say.
'Yes,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'On the life of St Augustine, Patron Saint of Brewers.'

At this point, Mrs Pumphrey appears from a cloud of brick dust.
'I've shifted the breeze blocks,' she says.
'Thank you muchly,' I say. 'Mrs S has been telling me how cowslips got their name.'
Mrs Pumphrey rolls her eyes. 'Not the one about the cow petticoats?' she says.
'The very same,' I say.
'It's a load of rubbbish,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Cowslips get their name because cows slip over on them.'

Wednesday, 23 March 2011


Why is it that the teenage girl who spent lesson 5 today screaming around the corridors in a high old dudgeon was called Harmony? (Irony?? Made me laugh anyway.)

Why is it that one of the cats will always celebrate my arrival home by doing a poop in the litter tray? ( Perverse gift choice??)

Why is it that digging over and weeding a 12 x14 foot patch of ground covered mostly in grass at the allotment is so satisfying? (Bare ground looks so tidy?? Finding a frog startled me, though.)

Why is it that some mums persist in treating their children so differently, and in a quite unfair way? (She doesn't realise I am 45 and have long since given up caring?? Or that my decisions are no longer any of her business?? Or that my Mary Poppins complex means I don't have to explain myself to anyone but myself????)

Why is it that it's only March but 66 degrees here at Much Malarkey Manor (heatwave!!) and has been thusly for over a week now? (Calm before the cold April storm that is BOUND to arrive as soon as we put some seeds in the ground outside??)

Why is it always spinach that pops up first in the ploytunnel? (Because it doesn't want to be beaten by the lettuce and courgettes who are coming in at a very close second and third??)

Why is it that everyone gets so tense about the Budget when nothing can be done about it? (We like giving ourselves undue stress and something to whinge about, especially as the weather is too good to moan about at the mo??)

Why do people in Audis drive like maniacs? ( Even I can't think of a good answer to that one!)

Why is it that one can never remove an entire blackberry thorn from the end of one's middle finger on their right hand so that every time one types an 'n', 'h', 'u', 'j' or 'i' it really hurts?? (Pruning revenge??)

Why am I sitting here writing a rather poor excuse for a blog entry when I should be outside cleaning my little blue and rather dustified motor car? (Isn't there a law of physics somewhere that says washing cars in full bright sunlight causes paint damage??)

So many questions, so few answers.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Shewee, Shewill Shewon't Shee??

Before I head off for the allotment, I feel the need to unburden myself (you lucky people!) For after blogging yesterday, and mentioning my impending research into the be-upstanding-and -discreet-lady-wee-wee-products that are available I thought, I've got twenty minutes, whilst I'm on-line I'll do a spot of research now. I mean, how long can it take?

A darn sight longer than twenty minutes, that's for sure!

Who'd have thought so many ladies were getting caught short in so many situations. Up mountains, in canoes, mid-long distance running, on the M25 in a carful of screaming children on their way back from Alton Towers/ Thorpe Park/ Chessington World of Adventure.

Not only can you buy a Shewee, you can also buy the excitingly quick-sounding 'Whiz Freedom', the practical-sounding 'TravelJohn Disposable Urinal', the scarily clinical-sounding-but-with-a-hint-of-a-modern-girl-on-rollerblades 'Go Girl Urination Device', and the says-what-it-does-and- sound-similar options of the 'Uriwelle' and the 'Uriwell'.

What to choose? How to choose? How to tell I was choosing the right one in the first place? P'raps a redundant flower pot would suffice after all?

Well, I discounted the Go Girl Urination Device immediately, because I already have a urination device - it's called a bladder. Besides, 'Go Girl' sounds like a brand of kitty-litter, which I suppose serves the same kind of purpose but the decision was made, albeit on tenuous grounds, and I was down by one on my list of potentials.

Next to go were the 'Uriwelle' and the 'Uriwell'. I felt they lacked comedy value and the pun was a bit too obvious and a bit too dull for my liking.

The TravelJohn Disposable Device was discarded for two reasons - one because it was disposable and two, because it shared a name with my ex-husband. (No, he wasn't called 'Travel'. Get a grip, will you?)

Which left me with the Whiz Freedom and the Shewee. And where things became complicated.

The Whiz Freedom can be purchased with something called a 'Freedom and Relief Bag.' Don't ask. I didn't. The thought was enough to put me off.

But the Shewee? Well, the Shewee comes in a choice of colours, from clear to vibrant (not that you'd want to draw attention to yourself rummaging in your undies having an up-standing tiddle), to one called 'Sandstorm' presumably to use if you are a lady soldier holed up in the desert somewhere and require the kind of camouflage not offered by the 'Vibrant Pink' option. You can buy an 'absorbent pad' called a Qeezee, which I felt might be a tad excess to my requirements, and an extension pipe - ditto. An extension pipe???? The mind boggles. (But I was brave enough to read why one would require an extension pipe and apparently it's to ensure adequate ground clearance when encumbered by thick ski-suits when, for example, one is on a trek to the Arctic.

The Shewee is available on prescription! It is recommended by NATO (????Did I read that right? I may have to re-visit the site and check). You can buy a pouch to keep it in. (I was disappointed it didn't have a string option so you could hang it around your neck and never run the risk of losing it - you know, like reading glasses on a chain.) And you can have it gift-wrapped!!!!!! Not sure why. Whilst I am happy to purchase my own Shewee, I'm not sure I'd want to receive one as a gift.

And there is a helpful guide on the website that takes you through the Shewee process with a list of handy hints involving pose and pressure, and suggests you have little practices in the privacy of your own home before striding out with confidence into the realms of the public loo (saves on the thigh tremouring hovering), the car (never fear the motorway gridlock again), the Artic expedition (you know how the cold makes you want to go), the jungle safari (squat on a snake or a lizard? Not me!) and spending a day at your loo-free allotment.

I was sold!

So I clicked the button. 'Vibrant Pink' for me, I think.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Allotment- tea-ing

We spent a lot of time at the allotment this weekend. And I mean 'a lot.' Well, the weather was too good to miss out on, so off we trotted first thing Saturday morning to begin some earnest gardening. And for the first time in 4 and a half years, we took the camping stove with us, some tea bags and mugs, and a saucepan and a little flask of milk, and we stopped for elevenses and had a proper cup of tea.

Now usually, if we are having a long allotment stint, Andy takes a flask of tea or coffee and I take a large bottle of water. I refuse to drink tea from flasks because I think it tastes rank and I like tea and if I am going to drink it I want it made properly i.e fresh, with proper milk and preferably in a teapot but a cup 'n' spoon will do provided the milk goes in first. The allotment site is woefully short of fresh tea-making facilities i.e in the form of a clubhouse. It is also short on loos - actually, it has no loos - so I am always wary about drinking too much up there in case I get caught short for a tiddle.

But then we pay a peanuts rent each year, so one can't expect posh facilities, I suppose.

Anyway, we camped. And it was great! Andy managed not to set fire to/ explode the polytunnel with the butane cannister, and we had a nice cuppa and some biscuits to break up the morning stint. But we did have to nip home to have a spot of lunch and a tiddle before returning for round two in the afternoon.

'What I need,' I said,' is one of those lady toilet things. I think they are called 'She-wees'. And then I can nip into the polytunnel, pretend I am examining some seedlings, avail myself of the she-wee and I won't have to nip home when Nature calls.'
'Yes,' said Andy. 'And we can bring a picnic.'

Andy is very keen to picnic at the allotment.

Despite a whole day allotmenteering on Saturday, we went back on Sunday afternoon and did another stint. And as a result, Plot 87 is looking absolutely fabulous! We are ON TOP OF THINGS this year because we have a PROPER PLAN! HURRAH!!!

Sunday morning was spent making decisions about the back garden. What with the chickens being once more at large, because of the dismantlement of Cluckinghen Palace, we needed a GRAND PLAN to bring greenery to the back garden, because we sure as heck aren't going to see grass there again.

So the plan is...


Yes, dear reader, we are heading towards the next addition to the Much Malarkey Manor skills base which is to build living structures from willow. In fact, I've just ordered the kit. Just now. Five minutes ago. It comes with a free DVD for us willow structure virgins, and will be arriving by Friday, or early next week. It will go up near the back of the garden.

I said to the man, 'Will chickens have a go at it?'
And he said, 'I doubt it. They can never work out how to use the DVD player.'


He didn't really say that because he didn't rise to the bait of my willow versus chicken silliness. He said rabbits would eat it, but thought chickens would leave it alone. They'd better or I shall be weaving some chicken-sized willow baskets pretty darned quick, I can tell you.

I have planned an extensive herb garden, following in detail the information in Jekka McVicar's Complete Herb Book. I have considered pots versus in the ground, hardy versus annual, culinary versus aroma and have a definitive list of 25 to start off with including five or six I can put at the allotment in the semi-shaded bit by the polytunnel. The herb garden project will also involve me attempting some elementary building-with-bricks-type skills but you know me, I'll give anything like that a try. Can't be more complicated than Lego, surely?

And I have purchased some herbs and done some preliminary chicken tempting with them. The only one they showed a mild interest in was angelica, and that's only because I think it was big 'n' leafy-like; they both spat out the bit of leaf they pecked off, so fingers crossed the back garden will eventually return to some greeniness.

If the willow arch building goes well in the back garden, we are going to have a go at building a willow garden room at the allotment. A living willow garden room, eh? Now that WILL require the use of a tea-pot!

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Plate Throwing

Now, I just need to set a record straight. It is to do with an injury sustained by ANDY on Friday. The injury was the RESULT of a series of events which started when ANDY decided to re-arrange HIS study about a month ago. You will notice I am capitalising certain words - words that indicate my total lack of involvement with the INJURY sustained by ANDY on Friday.

On re-arranging HIS study, ANDY moved various book cases to make maximum use of the space available. The moved book shelves caused the double socket into which the propagator and the wireless router are plugged to become restricted of access.

By 'restricted of access,' I mean that in order to switch these two items on and off, you have to kneel on the floor, forehead on carpet, and worm your hand under one of the shelves to reach the switches. The restricted access is because ANDY decided to re-arrange HIS study.

Now, the kneeling down to reach the switch has to take place in the doorway of ANDY'S STUDY. And half-way up the door frame of ANDY'S STUDY there is the sticky out part of the door latch that connects with the other part of the door latch attached to the door. This sticky out part of the latch is very sharp and it connected with ANDY'S HEAD when he arose from the prone position after switching off the propagator on Friday morning because the beetroot had propagated.

Thus, Andy went to work with a three inch gash on his head.

And when he got to work, the conversation apparently went like this:

Tim: What happened to your head?
Andy : Denise threw a plate at me.
Tim: Wow? Did she really?

I would like to state catagorically that I have never thrown a plate at anyone in my life, least of all at their heads so as to cause a nasty injury. The most violent I get with throwing things at other things is cushions at cats when they are misbehaving and then I aim to miss (which is generally the same as aiming to hit but I am a very bad shot.) I have been known to throw a fly swat at a hornet when they are attacking the Malarkey bees, but I feel, even though I am a vegetarian, I am justified in my hornet swatting in the name of protecting bees.

I hope that's cleared up any misconceptions, and that any future injuries sustained by Andy will be due to either a) him re-arranging stuff and not remembering the new locations of things he has re-arranged or b) his appalling spatial awareness (he is of the Taurus persuasion - bulls and china shops and all that jazz) or c) my aim suddenly improving!

Friday, 18 March 2011

Ghostly Reminder from Mrs Pumphrey

Ooops! In my excitement to dispense with the myth of St Patrick and the snakes and the cakes yesterday, I omitted to mention that 17th March is also St Withburga's Day, and she's been on the Phone of the Ethereal Connection (sponsored by Virgin Media) voicing her displeasure at being over-looked by the Irish Saint. Her exact words were, 'Just because he's got a shelaylee, doesn't mean he's all that.'

Now, I have no idea what a shelaylee is, or even if I've spelled it correctly. I asked Tango Pete. He said, 'You want to know what a shelaylee is? I've got a shelaylee you can have a gander at...hurr, hurr, hurr...' and then he passed out in a pool of Guinness with half a slice of soda bread stuck to his cheek. So he was no help.

Anyway, I have returned to regale the story of St Withburga even though she has nothing whatsoever to do with cake, because she has threatened to haunt me if I don't and even though I have trained at the Madame Arcati School of Paranormal and Psychic Activity and the spirit world holds no fear for me, I need to keep up my beauty sleep and an irate ghost is not a good bedfellow.

Ahem... presenting the story of St Withburga (but Without Cake...ahahahahahahaa!!)

In Norfolk, in the 7th century, St Withburga saved the locals from a drought by magicking up a couple of deer to give an endless supply of milk to her nuns. I think these were the nuns belonging to St Withburga, and not the nuns belonging to the deer. One day, a hunter with mush for brains chased after the deer, fancying a haunch of venison for his dinner, I expect, and God smite...smote...smoted...smit....him dead with a bolt of lightning.

St Withburga's unique party trick is her ability to manifest as a dead ghost. Pretty clever, eh? A dead ghost appearing as dead. Actually, this is evidence that she was a bit of a one trick pony. No wonder she comes second to St Patrick on the 'let's-name-a-day-after-a-Saint' malarkey. In Ely, Cambridgeshire, her ghostly corpse can be seen being carried by monks in an open coffin. The monks themselves are doing penance for the Bishop of Ely who stole St Withburga's body in order to bring honour and pilgrims to his church. Quite frankly I can think of better, less smelly ways to draw the crowds. A nice tea room, maybe. Selling homemade cakes. Maybe a gift shop, too.

And why wasn't the Bishop of Ely doing his own penanace, that's what I want to know. That's typical of people in authority - getting the lesser minions to do their dirty work. Still, all was well, literally, because St Withburga's original grave turned into a healing well, thereby ensuring that the town where she lived and did the deer-with-the-milk thing remained forever her shrine. The well is inscribed with the story of the opportunistic aka lazy Bishop of Ely and his body-snatching monks. It's a bit of a dull story. Not much plot development and barely character driven at all.

I hope this enough to appease St Withburga. I don't want to have to get out my smudge stick, incense and bell just to get a good night's sleep. Personally, I'm looking forward to 20th March and St Cuthbert's Day. There's shrieking goblins in St Cuthbert's story. And I bet if I look hard enough, I can find a cake reference, too.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

St Patrick's Day According to Mrs Pumphrey

'Today is St Patrick's Day which is of no interest to us, because we are English and go 'Hurrah!' for St George,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'I'm French - who do I go' Hurrah' for?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'I have no idea,' says Mrs P. 'And you are only partially French, and that is due to faulty genetics, so hush your pseudo-Gallic beak.'
'Charmant,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'Well, if we are only going 'Hurrah!' for St George, why are you about to tell the tale of St Patrick of Ireland?'
'If you settle down with your cocoa and be quiet,' says Mrs Pumphrey, 'all will be revealed.'

(I think, good, perhaps I ought to settle down with a cocoa, too, because at this precise moment in time I have no idea what is going to happen. I believe, in writer's parlance, the ensuing tale will be built on the art of 'winging it.')

'It is a common misconception,' begins Mrs Pumphrey, 'that St Patrick of Ireland is responsible for driving all the snakes from Ireland. He is also said to have got rid of all the toads, lizards and newts....'
'I had a newt once,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'I called it 'Tiny' because it was my newt.'
'Oh do shut up,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'I need to tell you about the cakes.'
'Snakes, you mean,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'I know what I mean, and I mean 'cakes,' says Mrs P. 'For this is the story that needs to be told, to put right the whole St Patrick and the snakes malarkey.'
'Then do continue,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'St Patrick was born near Glasgow,' begins Mrs Pumphrey. 'And Glasgow is in Scotland, as you know, and Scotland also has a place called Dundee, which is famous for its cake.'
'The one with nuts,' says Mrs S.
'You know all about nuts, don't you?' says Mrs P.
'Like you wouldn't believe,' says Mrs S.
'Anyway, young Patrick was so holy that the Devil himself sent witches and demons to kill him, and we've all heard of Devil's Food Cake, haven't we?'
'Nice bit of chocolatey stuff,' says Mrs S.
'So off galloped Patrick across the Irish sea, and the dark forces, who were unable to travel across the water...'
'No water wings?' says Mrs S.
'Probably,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Anyway, whatever, the witches et al couldn't get across the water, so they lobbed dirty great lumps of stone at Patrick instead...'
'Rock cakes?' says Mrs S.
'Uhuh,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'I think I am sensing a theme emerging,' says Mrs Slocombe.

(Phew! says I)

'...but there are other sources that suggest St Patrick was born in Pembrokeshire...' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Which is in Wales,' says Mrs Slocombe, who is getting the hang of things now.
'Which is famous for its Welsh cakes,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'And to add to the confusion, there is also a suggestion St Patrick was born in Battersea, in London.'

Mrs Slocombe pauses. The ticking of her brain as she tries to make a cake-related association is tangible in the still air.

'Nope,' she says, 'I give up.'
'Battenburg!' says Mrs Pumphrey, a little too triumphantly, and optimistically come to that.
'Battenburg?' says Mrs S.
'Take away the 'burg' which is clearly short for 'burger,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'And what have you got?'
'Batten?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Like 'Battersea!' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'That's a bit tenuous,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Part of it is lost in Ye Olde Englishe Cockney translation,' says Mrs Pumphrey with such conviction that Mrs Slocombe doesn't like to argue.

'So, anyway,' continues Mrs Pumphrey, who is sensing she has the upper beak, 'on his death bed, St Patrick reviewed his life and so cake-ridden was his past that he ordered every cake in Ireland to be put in a box and cast into the sea. Except the sponge cakes, in case they absorbed too much water and made a path for the Scottish witches to travel across to him and have a final go.'
'What did he do with the sponge cakes?' asks Mrs S.
'Built the Blarney Castle,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'When you see people on the TV hanging upside down and kissing the Blarney Stone for luck, they aren't really really kissing a stone, they're nibbling a bit of sponge cake.'
'Aaaah,' says Mrs Slocombe, beginning to wonder who is the real nut-case of this pottering partnership.
'And after his death, St Patrick left two shrines,' finishes Mrs Pumphrey. 'One contains his bell. The one he used to ring for cake with.'
'And the other?' says Mrs S.
'His tooth,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Reduced to a decayed and shrivelled stump, as a warning against the consumption of too many sugar based products.'
'Especially in the days before toothpaste and Oral-B,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Quite,' says Mrs Pumphrey.

So that, apparently, is the story of St Patrick chasing the cakes from Ireland.

Believe it, if you will.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Sandwich snakes and chocolate hedgehogs

Well, I thought it was a great idea! Chris wasn't so certain.
'It's a what?' he said.
'A sandwich snake,' I said. 'You take a French loaf/ stick/ baguette or whatever you want to call it, and you slice it into pieces. Then you take, for example, three different fillings like egg mayonnaise, cream cheese and tomato and ordinary cheese, then you put them altogether thusly - bread, egg mayo, bread, cream cheese and tomato, bread, cheese, bread egg mayo etc etc blah, blah blah until you have a sandwich snake. Scatter some lettuce and cucumber 'grass, et voila! Who needs Mumsnet??'
'But that means you have filling on both sides of each piece of bread,' said Chris.
'YES!' I said. 'Isn't that brilliant???'
Chris looked at me. 'But why?' he said.
'Because,' I said.
'Because what?' said Chris.
'Because it's a snake sandwich!' I said.

But he still didn't get it. Managed to eat a fair wack of it though. And being a kindly daddy, he surrendered the grape eyes to Kayleigh.

This chap gave me a certain amount of angst. It's a long time since I made a novelty cake. I used to make them all the time when Chris and Heather were little - fairytale castles, frogs, dragons, trains, gardens, teddy bear picnics, circuses, planes. My Mum has a whole photo album of my novelty cakes. But this one, well, the face kept going wrong. In the end I performed face surgery using a stack of chocolate fingers covered in chocolate icing. It made me feel quite ill putting it together, all that chocolate covered in more chocolate. But at the party it was greeted you can see! For here is the birthday girl herself, getting ready to tuck into her first ever birthday party...

...and an hour later, here is the same birthday girl wondering if she has room for any more, and whether it might be an idea if she slept in the bath tonight, just in case!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Birthdays Galore

Well, it's all very inconvenient, this time of year. Within the space of four weeks my Mum, son, daughter and grand-daughter all have birthdays, which all require the making of birthday cakes, the buying of cards and presents, the organisation of celebrations of one sort or another.

And who is the Bringer of Jollity?

('Jupiter?' says Mrs Pumphrey, who is well up on her Planet Suite by Holst.)

No! Not bloomin' Jupiter...bloomin' me!

(I believe it is also Deanna's birthday today? Happy Birthday, Deanna, and if I have imagined it is your birthday, my apologies, but as you know it is all the fault of my age and hormones. Please save birthday felicitations for appropriate day (a clean jam jar will do), and open and release then. They will be just as fresh and chirpy as they are today. Unlike Phoebe Fat Cat who has got a right cob on at the moment.)

Any how, it was Chris's birthday yesterday, so I delivered a cake of the heavy-on-the-chocolate- and-Maltesers confection, and then I stayed to babysit Kayleigh (whose birthday it is today), whilst Chris and Leane went out for a birthday dinner. During the baby-sitting stint, Andy constructed Kayleigh's birthday present from us which was an ominously named 'Smartrike'. (That's 'smart' and 'trike' put together as one word, and not 'smart' and 'rike' as it appears, which when I first saw it made me think, 'What on earth is a 'rike?')

Andy, being a surgeon, is very good at constructing things. His method of casting a cursory glance at the picture instructions, casting them to one side and going along the ' that looks like it goes there,' method worked well, and soon the living room was overtaken by this pushalong-a-sitatop-a-whenyoucanyoupeddle contraption suitable for 10 months to 3 years. I was determined to wrap it, and wrap it I did although the wrapping method was creative to say the least and involved, to my shame, a certain amount of inner swearing, and getting sticky tape exactly where I didn't want sticky tape.

And today, my day off (ahahahahahahahaaaaaa!!!!!), I am charged with the making of one hedgehog cake and a matching birthday party.

Now, it's a long time since I 'did' a children's birthday party. I thought, what shall I do, foodie wise? If I make the hedgehog cake the size of a spacehopper, will that suffice? In a moment of madness I googled 'children's party food ideas' and found myself on Mumsnet.

Have you ever entered the world of Mumsnet? Blimey, it was an eye-opener! I spent ten minutes reading all the posts and ideas and got scared and ran away.

So here is the plan.

There is no plan!

I am going to Sainsbugs, where I shall wander aimlessly until I have achieved at least 8,000 steps on my pedometer. Hopefully, during my aimless wanderings, my trolley shall become magically filled with the ingredients needed to feed a one year old little boho chicklet on her return from a day out at Brighton's Sea-Life Centre. (She is taking her parents with her - it would be heck of a long journey on a Smartrike. Much quicker in a car. Less tiring on the legs, too.)

I shall give the kitchen floor a jolly good scrub, so that the 10 second rule may be observed at the party. (What do you mean, you don't know the ten second rule? I'm not sure I am brave enough to tell you at the moment.)

I shall then go into the back garden with a cup of tea and the leftover Maltesers from Chris's cake that I cunningly hid from the Malteser thieves, where the sun is shining, (and before you pick up on that particularly dodgy piece of grammar, no, I did not hide the Maltesers where the sun is shining. Or not. The garden is shining... oh, shut up, Denise)...and I shall take a book with me, and read a bit, and then I shall fling the party food upon the table et voila!

The Bringer of Jollity triumphs once more.

Wish me luck!!

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Happy Gardening Continues

Stocking up on gardening malarkey today. Having sorted through our seed box, we ordered some bits and bobs from a seed company on the interwebbly, then it was off to the garden centre to purchase essential equipment.

Firstly, a garden fork. We have three forks already. One, a ladies' border fork - weird description, I know, but basically it is a narrow lightweight jobbie to use in flower borders, presumably stemming from the days when it was the most strenuous job a lady was capable of performing in the garden, encumbered as she might have been by hooped petticoats, long swooshy skirts and a cocker spaniel called Flush. (Unlike me yesterday, Mucky Mary of Malarkey Manor, in her jeans and shirt hefting barrow loads of horse poop up and down the allotment).

The second fork is a stalwart of five years labour now and still going strong. We forgot we had a third fork until we dismantled one of the compost bins last weekend and found it in a tangled, twisted and near-dead state at the bottom.
'Did you realise it was missing?' said I.
'No,' said Andy. 'Did you?'
'Nope - but it looks like it's beyond salvage,' I said. So we bought another one.

We also bought a new watering can. Although we already have a watering can it doesn't have a watering rose for the fine watering required of new seedlings. Oh, we have several roses, but none of them fit the watering can. I am not sure how this happened, but the decision was made today 1)to buy a new can with a rose attached, and 2) to make a sterling effort not to lose either the rose that fits, or the can.

And finally we bought a large garden sieve, for the fine sieving of soil over newly sown seeds. This horticultural purchase was motivated by the fact that Monty Don had one on Gardeners' World on Friday evening, and it looked fun. Also, Andy has plans to pan for gold. Whereabouts, I am not sure. I don't think the lake in the local park is likely to surrender many nuggets.

Back home we made a DETAILED PLAN of the shape the allotment is going to take this year. What with the polytunnel and fruit cage, it's developing a real personality, so we decided to give it an all-over make-over with new paths and structural features like trellis for the grapevines, and obelisks and another runner bean frame. And then we shall probably call it Dave.

And then, in a second interwebbly search for willow because I found a recipe for a make-your-own willow obelisk, I discovered a brilliant website which is a willow extravaganza and made me want to have living willow structures all over the place and go on a course on how to make my own willow structures.

That'll be the next thing then.

Saturday, 12 March 2011


So half past eight this morning, the Man with the Manure was sitting with his truck by the allotment gate waiting for us to let him in. And it turned out I knew the Man with the Manure. His name is Paul and his parents used to own the riding stables I learnt to ride at as a child.

Now, when I found the Man with the Manure aka Paul on ebay, his advert said he would deliver '2 and a half cubic metres of horse manure' but I wasn't really sure what two and a half cubic metres of manure looked like. I did a spot of wild measuring in the kitchen, paced about a bit, and decided it was 'that much.'

That's okay, I thought. We can dig that into the allotment no probs, maybe get him to deliver another load if necessary.

However, it seems that two and a half cubic metres of horse manure takes up a lot more space than two and a half cubic metres of kitchen air. There is a subtle difference in aroma too.

Blimey! Once it had been dumped from the back of the truck, we were shovelling sh...barrow loads for three hours and a half hours!!! Okay, the hours were punctuated with digging over the polytunnel, pruning the soft fruit and transplanting the strawberry runners, but we didn't half move some manure, and there is still a third of the pile left to redistribute.

It was steaming, too, like a smelly sauna. It reminded me a bit of when my parents had a mushroom farm. Every Friday morning, 36 tonnes of horse manure would arrive on site and before we had a mechanised filling line we had to shovel it all into the growing trays by hand. Well, by spade.

And as I shovelled, and Andy spread, and the allotment became covered with eau de parfum de cheveaux, the only thing I could think was 'I really want a farm.'

We had a high old time allotmenteering this morning. The sun was shining, there was a gentle breeze. Ladybirds and bees and worms were plentiful, and little buds were showing their faces on the fruit bushes. The daffodils were opening and all was looking good.

So, the question is - 'How much is two and a half cubic metres of horse manure?'

And the answer is (according to my achy muscles) 'About 57 hot, smelly, steamy tonnes.'

And shall I be calling the Man with the Manure to deliver us another load?

Not bloomin' likely!

Friday, 11 March 2011

Of The Week

Pancake of the Week - the fifth one made by Andy on Tuesday.

Tantrum of the Week - Year 9 girl who ACTUALLY lay down in the corridor on the top floor of the English department and FLAILED about shouting at everyone in general -'YOU DON'T KNOW NUFFIN' ABOUT WOT IT'S LIKE TO BE ME.' No love, and behaving like that, we wouldn't want to either. Dealt with by the admirable Mr Watson, who stepped over her and said, 'Are you going to get up, or continue to lie there like an idiot?'

Compliment of the Week - on explaining iambic pentameter to Dan in Year 7 - 'You don't half know a lot about English, don't you ma'am?'

Chewing Gum Collection of the Week - 7 pieces in 15 minutes whilst assisting with a mixed Year 7 and 8 group working in the library...sorry, learning resource centre.

Yuk of the Week - Phoebe being sick in Andy's shoe

Fluff of the Week - underneath the cupboard in the bathroom. Enough to make 4 dust bunnies at least. Must have a word with the maid.

Surprise of the Week - seeing fresh green buds growing on the tips of the branches of the Christmas tree we planted. OUR CHRISTMAS TREE HAS SURVIVED!!!!!

Lump-in-the-Throat of the Week - watching Mrs Pumphrey make a detailed recce of the garden this morning in search of Mrs Miggins.

Delayed Reaction of the Week - from Jonathan, a tutee whom I used to teach at my previous school - 'I used to have a teacher at my old school who looked just like you, Miss. ' 'That's because it was me, Jonathan.'

Exciting, Yet At the Same Time Rather Sad Moment of the Week - finding someone local who will deliver a load of horse manure to the allotment tomorrow.

Ooo-er Moment of the Week - listening to the rather alarming and increasingly frequent noises emitting from the toaster and waiting for the inevitable moment when it decides to blow up/ combust/ short-circuit the entire house

Vague Thought of the Week - 'I'm thinking I might squeeze some quail into the garden.'

Mystery of the Universe of the Week - 'Why do empty loo roll tubes get left on top of the bin in the bathroom rather put inside the bin in the bathroom?'

Flower of the Week - Daffodil.

Nut of the Week - Brazil.

Colour of the Week - a nice sky blue.

Happy Week-end!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Just the Two of Us

'Just the two of us now then,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Just like in the song.'
Mrs Slocombe frowns, as only a creature without eyebrows can. 'Me and My Shadow?' she says.
'No,' says Mrs P.
'Daisy, Daisy?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Chickens on a tandem? Don't be ridiculous,' says Mrs Pumphrey.

There is another bout of chicken frowning as a mad chicken brain strives, unsuccessfully, for the right song.

And then a light comes on!

'I know!' says Slocombe. 'Tea for Two!'
'It Takes Two...'
'It'll take more than two to sort you out,' snaps Mrs Pumphrey.
'...babeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!' finishes Mrs Slocombe. 'To make a dream come troooooooo!'

Mrs Pumphrey sighs. 'Look,' she says, turning to Mrs Slocombe, who is now wild-eyed with the karaoke bug. 'Mrs Miggins was my pottering chum. And now she has gone to potter with Mrs Bennett, who was her old pottering chum...'
'I've never had a pottering chum,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'And why might you think that is?' says Pumphrey.

Mrs Slocombe shrugs, despite having no discernible shoulders. 'Because I have no pots?'
'Wrong,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Because you are a speckledy, mad-eyed, feather pecking, wonky-combed lunatic who has all the social skills of a teenager addicted to Facebook.'
'I have 2376 friends on Facebook,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'Perhaps one of those could potter with me.'
'I think,' says Mrs Pumphrey, 'that we are just going to have to get used to each other as new pottering chums.'
'Okay,' says Mrs Slocombe, who is quietly pleased at this offer. 2376 friends on Facebook may look impressive, but she is almost certain she doesn't actually know all of them and she is pretty certain a high proportion of them are mad as a box of frogs.

'BUT...' begins Mrs P, 'there are provisos to our pottering friendship. Conditions. Quid pro quos.'
'Are they like worms?' says Slocombe.
'No,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'They are like a peck in the head if you don't shut up and listen.'
'Oh,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'Right, well, I'm listening. What are the squid pro visto conditions then?'

Mrs Pumphrey clears her throat.
'One,' she says. 'Always remember that Mrs Miggins was my best pottering chum and you will never measure up to her meticulous standards of pottering, not even if you stand on a very tall ladder wearing platform wellies...'
'Would that be me wearing the platform wellies, or the ladder?' says Slocombe.

Mrs Pumphrey gives her a withering look and continues.

'Two, I intend to maintain my beautiful plummage for as long as possible. You are to keep my plummage away from your beak. No longer shall I accept excuses of 'I'm only picking a bit of fluff off your wing.' If you can't keep your beak from my plummage, you will have to potter ten feet behind me at all times.'

'Right,' says Mrs S. 'But what if there really is a piece of fluff on your wing?'
'I'll let the wind blow it off,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
Mrs Slocombe sniggers. 'You nearly said 'blow off,' she says.

'And three,' finishes Mrs Pumphrey, 'you will remember that I am now in charge of our flock, diminshed though it is.'
'Shouldn't there be a democratic election to decide leadership?' says Mrs Slocombe.
'There has been,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Denise says I am definitely to be in charge because she wouldn't trust you to be in charge of a blunt wax crayon.'
'Oh,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'So who did I vote for?'
'Me,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'And I voted for me, and Andy abstained because I was too Tory for him. Which makes three votes for me and none for you.'

'I'm still not sure that's how voting is supposed to work,' says Slocombe.

'Okay,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'How about I'm in charge because I'm bigger?'

'If you put it like that, it works well for me,' says Mrs Slocombe, suddenly feeling very small.

'Good,' says Pumphrey. 'Then it's settled. We shall go into the Eglu and raise a glass of elderflower champagne to Mrs Miggins, a most extra-ordinary hen, and a fine example to all hen kind on how a hen should live her life.'

'Maybe we should raise a Hobnob, too?' says Mrs Slocombe.

'That's the most sensible suggestion you've made all blog,' says Mrs Pumphrey.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Mrs Miggins

Mrs Miggins has died.

God bless her shiny chicken soul.


Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Not again...

You know how we live on the end of a road? By a junction. And that since we have lived here, we have collected 3 stray dogs from the end of the road who suddenly appear from nowhere and run about gaily to play with the traffic, because it is a well-known fact that in a dog and car fight, the car always comes off worst. Ha! (Dogs have a very skewed idea of their invincibility. 'That,' says Phoebe, 'is because they are dogs and therefore stupid.)

Anyway, Andy went out this morning to scrape the car free from ice, and five minutes later he reappears...carrying a puppy.

'Not again,' I said.
'Again,' said Andy.

This little chap was about 3 months old, a terrier cross with the most beautiful auburn fur, and a happy, sunny nature. As Andy had to go to work, I dug out the ball of string, fashioned a make-do lead, (I am beginning to think I ought to buy a dog lead to keep in the cupboard for future occasions), and set off around the streets and park to see if anyone was looking for a lost dog.

It makes me cross, people who take on dogs without providing for their safety. This is the fourth time we've found ourselves temporary doggie guardians. Unless this is God's way of telling us to get a dog, but I suspect the cats might have something to say about that. ('Too bloomin' right,' say Phoebe and Tybalt. 'What? Who? Look at me, I'm sooooo cute. I'm the most important, I am,' says Pandora.)

So I tromp around the streets and the park, asking everyone I see if they know who this little chap belongs to. The little chap is having a whale of a time, tree sniffing, running zig-zag, indulging in a spot of barking, rooting around in crisp packets, looking up at me as if to say, 'Can I come and live with you?'

After an hour I decide to give up and head home to phone all the local vets and rescue centres to say 'We've found another dog.' Honestly, we're going to get ourselves a name as dog-knappers at this rate. And as I round the corner into our road, there appears before me a young girl about 14 or 15 years old. She looks like she is looking for something. Like a puppy.

So owner and pet are reunited. I say, 'You are going to look after him properly, aren't you?' and she goes into a long speil about how they've only just got him and he escaped from the kitchen when her dad went in to feed him and they're going to get a cage to keep him in for a little while but they haven't sorted it out yet etc etc etc.

I don't really want to know that. I want to know that she is going to be responsible for knowing where her dog is at all times. I do not want my next encounter with this little fellow to be as dog jam on the main road.

'What's his name?' I ask, as the girl thanks me again.
'Digger,' she says.

I say goodbye. Stupid name, I think as I head home.

I've been calling him Basil.

Dog-sitting means I am late for my planned activity of the day which is allotmenteering. Anyway, I scoot off and spend nearly four hours digging and tidying and enjoying the sunshine before I need to return home to have a wee. And now, as on Sunday, I am stiff as a board and can't move. And I have a blister. Never mind, Plot 87 is looking good. The fruit cage is sparkling in the sunshine and the postman has delivered a seed catalogue with a £10 off voucher inside.

So this afternoon I am reclined on the chaise, making a seed list, doing a spot of writing, a spot of reading and a spot of sewing. Pandora is sitting on my lap.

'You're not going to get a dog, are you?' she says.
'No,' I say.
'Coz I'm the best,' she says.
'You are,' I say.

Monday, 7 March 2011

One of Those Faces

I have one of those faces that people talk to. Random People will start Random Conversations with me at Random Moments. Generally, I don't mind. Generally, I am more than happy to share a little Human Moment Time in my day, because these moments usually end in a smile, a laugh, or getting a jar of something or other from the top shelf in the supermarket for a vertically challenged little old lady.

So today I nipped into the supermarket on my way home from work to get the weekly shop. Luckily I didn't have a repeat of last week's 'ticket-flung-from-the-machine-under-my-car-and-into-a-puddle' debacle, as the barrier was broken and cars were able to enter the car park uninhibited by a psycho ticket machine. I parked up, I did my shopping, I bought some lemon grass because I am going to have a bash at growing some at home. I am a new convert to lemon grass. Much to Heather's chagrin, who isn't such a lemon grass fan, I am starting to throw it into all sorts of dishes, and as it is rather expensive to buy, and according to the Interwebbly, it should be quite easy to start off from a stalk, I'm having a go in order to save a quid or two. I'll let you know how it goes - lush lemon grass abundance or soggy smelly mush in a jar.

And as I went through the check-out, the cashier lady started commenting upon my purchases.

'They're lovely big cooking apples,' she said, which is true because they were absolute whoppers. 'What are you going to do with those?'

'Well, ' I said, 'I am going to make a red cabbage and apple casserole.' And as I packed I sketched a few brief details about how to make a red cabbage and apple casserole.'

'That sounds lovely,' said the cashier. And then, 'Oooh, sweet potatoes. What do you do with those? Roast them?'

'You can do,' I said. 'But I mix them with onion, basil, spinach and ricotta and roll them all up in some filo pastry to make a savoury streudel.'

The cashier lady looked at me like I had just expounded the fool-proof method to achieving eternal youth.

'Really? That sounds delicious,' she said.
'It is,' I said. 'Hot and cold.'

We were nearing the end of my journey through the check-out and I was aware the queue behind were listening for the next recipe.

'And what about this?' she said, waving the lemon grass.
'Thai green curry,' I said. 'Chop it and mix it with a couple of shallots, some freshly grated ginger, coconut milk and soy sauce. Chuck some sweet potato, broccoli, peas and beans into a casserole dish, add the sauce and cook for half an hour. Serve with rice. And naan bread.'

'Crumbs,' she said. 'You do a lot of cooking from scratch.'
'Yes, I do,' I said, getting out my little knitted purse that is just the right size to hold credit card, debit card and loyalty card.
'Oooh, ' said the vertically challenged little old lady who was in the queue behind me. 'Is that a hand-knitted purse?'
'Yes, it is,' I said.
'I love home-made things,' she sighed. 'You can't beat something that is home-made. What a sweet little home-made purse. Is it two ply?'

'I don't know, ' I said. 'I bought it in the Fair-Trade shop in town. It was home made by someone in Malaysia, if I remember rightly.'

'So you didn't knit it yourself then?' she said.
'No,' I said.

The cashier lady and the vertically challenged little old lady seemed disappointed by this revelation. In fact, they seemed positively crest-fallen.

'I do knit,' I said, hurriedly. I am thinking, why am I telling them that I knit??
'Oh good,' said the vertically challenged little old lady.

And with that, I smiled, made a comment about how lovely it was to see the sunshine todayand yes, the bunch of daffodils was a treat for me, and I beat a retreat to the car park.

Aaah. That was nice, I thought. Aren't people nice? What a nice little chit-chat.

My bonhommie lasted until leaving the car park when I was cut-up by a wazzock in a BMW.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Growing Inspiration

Up went the fruit cage today. It was like building with giant meccano, and Andy managed most of the construction himself, my help required only when several unruly pieces of steel needed holding at specific angles so they could be bashed together.

'It says in the instructions not to put up the mesh until Winter is over,' said Andy, once the actual structure was in place and we stood back and thought how much bigger it was than we'd anticipated. 'In case snow makes it collapse.'

I am fed up with Winter. It seems to have gone on forever this year. It has been hard work trying to stay motivated and engaged during the dark, cold days.

'I think Winter is over,' I said. I am thinking of all the flowers and blossoms that are out, the little patch of violets by the front gate, the new buds on the trees and bushes, the birds giving it some at 6 in the morning, the bees making more frequent forays into the great outdoors after three months hived up. I am thinking of Mrs Pumphrey's new Easter bonnet which is a confection to be seen to be believed.

'Even so,' said Andy. 'We might get more snow.'
'Ha!' said I. I am not having more snow. No way. No how.

But we decided to wait another month, just in case.

So we spent all morning starting to get plot 87 ready for this year. We made good progress. We dismantled one of the compost bins, dug over a couple of the growing areas and spread some compost from the bins at home. Andy planted some raspberry canes in their new fruit cage home, and I played hunt the renegade parsnips and carrots. We cut back the Jerusalem artichokes and gathered all the canes and netting together in a neat pile. We made plans for the polytunnel and the grape vines which will be coming into their third year this year and I'm hoping they might go wild and spread themselves further afield than the two feet they managed last year.

All together a strenuous but satisfying morning.

Unfortunately, I can't move now. And I fear I may be doing a very realistic impersonation of Mrs Woodentop tomorrow morning.

But it's good to get back to work in earnest on our mini patch of farm life, after what has been a very cold and very wet Winter when all one can do is stare blankly and morosely at the darkness and wetness of it all.

And did you see any of the World Book Night coverage on TV last night? Excellent stuff. It certainly fired me up to keep on writing, keep on exploring new genres.

It has, all in all, been an life-inspirational weekend.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Mothers, eh? Part 2

Oooh, I almost forgot...

1) my son is not a ratbag. He is a great dad to Kayleigh, a hard worker, an all-round nice guy who tries to do DIY a bit and tinkers with his car too much. He's had two hamsters and three gerbils, but no rats. And if he did have rats, then I am sure his cat would deal with them efficiently


2) Nearly King Jimbo is now available on Amazon. Andy is more excited about this than I am, because as far as I can tell, you can publish any old tat on Amazon. But hey, NKJ is my tat, and I love it and I suppose it is quite nice to have it on Amazon. But not crazily exciting.

Mothers, eh?

My Mum now refers to herself as 'Wicked Gran.' This is because she forgot Heather's birthday. Heather, being a mature adult of 23, was a little disappointed but did not become grudgeful or hysterical or wracked with abandonment issues. She put it down to Gran's age and we all know that age brings on forgetfulness, don't we?

(Don't we what? Age brings on what??)

I, on the other hand, aged 45, was a tad narked at this forgetfulness. This is because my Mum will periodically phone me and during the course of the conversation say something along the lines of 'The next time you speak to your rat-bag of a son, tell him he could have remembered his old Gran's birthday/ Christmas/ existence.'

And until fairly recently I would say to Chris, 'Your grandmother has been on my case because you forgot her birthday etc etc blah, blah, blah,' and he will look at me blankly, and make some vague comment about some random subject (usually to do with a car or work) which bears no significance to the fact that it isn't that difficult to put dates on a calendar and buy a card and a stamp, attach one to the other and put them in the post. (Only not in any post boxes that stand on random street corners and in which I am convinced live gnomes with arsonistic tendencies who set fire to letters as soon as they drop through the slot.)

But then he (my rat-bag son, not the post box gnome) is like a lot of young people these days, raised in a digital-texty-world-wide-webbly-existence, in that he 'doesn't do cards.' An increasingly common, if rather sad, phenomenon and I know this because I work with young people.

After Christmas my Mum made her 'rat-bag grandson' phone call as she hadn't received a card from Chris, and I said, 'Don't take it personally, I'm didn't get one either, and I'm his mother and have cleaned up his sick.' I was on the verge of saying, 'And please don't moan to me about it, moan to him. He's a grown-up now; he can take it.'

But I didn't, but I might do next time.

But will there be a next time? Now that Mum is 'Wicked Gran' who forgot one of her grandchildren's birthdays?? I wonder...

And I wonder if she realises that the only reason she got cards from her own rat-bag son in the past was because, until I left home, it was me who did all the remembering of birthdays and anniversaries etc etct blah blah blah, and bought the cards and made him sign them.

Probably not.

On a less acidic note, because it is WORLD BOOK DAY and I have already found homes for 43 of my 48 copies of 'The Curious Incident...Dog...Night Time,' I would like to say 'HURRAH' for books as the ultimate in educational tools, and hands up who else laughed like a loon when they watched David Starkey reduced arguing with a child on 'Jamie's Dream School' and completely losing his credibility as an intelligent adult in the process?


Thursday, 3 March 2011


1) Nearly King Jimbo has been Kindled. Well, it's been uploaded, but takes a couple of days to be available. So don't all rush for it just yet. Pace yourselves. Sunday or Monday should do it.

2) World Book Night is on the horizon and I have a list of people who have requested a free copy of 'The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night Time'. I have to write a ten digit ID number in the back of each one before I give it away so it can be tracked. If the people at World Book Night ask me what they could do to improve the give-away-a-million-books malarkey I'd say, 'Print the ID numbers onto sticky labels and post 'em to us givers to save our poor little hands from developing cramp.' Luckily, I am a writer and used to writing. Fingers of steel, me.

3) From Lawrence (Year 10) - 'I dropped a book down a toilet once. It didn't flush very well.'

4) Book Rage of the Day - watching actor Larry Lamb on 'My Life In Books' this evening. I don't know what it is, but something about him just makes me want to lash out.

5) Book Nausea of the Day - watching Ann Robinson's bingo wings on 'My Life In Books' this evening. They were very, VERY mobile. Perhaps they were enraged by Larry Lamb, too.

6) Book Treat of the Week - the latest Paul Torday. My gift to me for losing 9lbs since the 1st January.

7) From Isobelle (Year 9) - 'Novel? What's a novel?'

8) Andy's current book-fest - 'The Martian Chronicles' by Ray Bradbury. He says it's a classic. I have my doubts. He says I'd love it. I think he's being ironic.

And finally...

...I do have several copies of Curious Incident still to find homes for. If you want a copy, or know anyone who would, then get in touch and I'll get a copy to you. It's a fabulous book. It's funny, it's thought-provoking, but most importantly it was the trigger for me as writer to write in my own voice and not worry about whether my voice was good enough to be heard.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Baby Independence

There are many things you can do when you are a baby, that you can't get away with when you are older. It is a pity, I often think, that we are too young to remember these unrepressed times, when you can do a bottom burp and everyone laughs and thinks it is hilarious, or you can blow a prolonged and wet raspberry to show your disapproval of something, and everyone laughs and thinks its hilarious.

Try behaving like that when you are more than 3 years old and see where it gets you. (And it's frowned upon even more when you reach your forties.)

Anyway, Kayleigh is exerting her independence in the 'I'll-feed-myself-thank-very-much' kind of way. She is wielding cutlery, and experimenting with culinary mixes (I believe it's called 'fusion food?) that would make Heston Bloomenthal turn slighty green and maybe yak a little.
Here we have a study of 'Kayleigh With Pasta and Fork.' Note the sideways mouth approach because silly Gran doesn't have a baby sized fork so Kayleigh is having to manage a grown up fork. She will only eat one piece of pasta at a time. Spear the fork with any more than one piece and surplus pieces will be off-loaded. It can be a bit of a slow process, but very good for digestion.

Here is the study 'Kayleigh Mixes Pasta With Summer Fruit Fool.' Observe how cutlery is redundant. When one is learning spoon technique, it's sometimes more satisfying when speed is of the essence to dispense with the spoon and go straight in with the hands. Bit squidgy, but a tactile delight.

Here is the study 'Kayleigh is Full Up and Would Like a Bath, Please.' Note the sleepy eyes, the free-style hand gestures, the evidence on the table that suggests the baby has been well-fed and then some.
And finally - 'Kayleigh Says HURRAH For Being Independent and Learning How To Do Things For Herself.'
Make the most of it, precious child, because the next time you'll be able to get away with eating free-style will be when you are 94 and ga-ga!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

March - In Like an Idiot...

It hasn't been the greatest start to a new month. I thought, I'll pop into town, get the shopping, nip to the post office, pay a cheque into my bank, bim-bam-bom back home and writing within an hour.


Off I went in my little blue car. Into Sainsbug's car park. Last year, some impish devil took possession of the minions at Sainsbugs head office and suggested it would be a great idea to install a set of barriers in their car park, which means you have to lean out of your car window, take a ticket from the machine, then get it 'authorised' when you've done your shopping so you can get out of the car park again. If you spend more than £10 (which these days isn't difficult), then you get two hours free parking. Which is plenty of time to dash around town to say, visit the post office and put a cheque in your bank.

I have discovered that even though I have the arms of a gorilla, my car is little and I have to park really close to the machine in order to get a ticket. Now, this is okay provided you approach the barrier at the right angle, and provided you have to press a button to get your ticket. You get to stay IN CONTROL of the ticket transaction; unfortunately, the machine somehow spots you coming, and flings the ticket, frisbee-like, from the machine as you approach the barrier, and if you aren't quick then the ticket does something stupid like ending up underneath your little car that you've parked as close to the machine as possible.

And then you find you can't open the car door wide enough to hang upside-down from your driving seat in order to retrieve your ticket which is languishing in a puddle because it's still bloomin' raining in Kent.

You garrott yourself on your super-efficient seat-belt, you unplug the seat-belt, the car starts beeping at you because you are in mode of 'engine-on-seat-belt-off' and then the barrier starts threatening to come down because you haven't driven through it quick enough because the stupid machine spat your ticket under your car into a puddle.

When you finally manage to retrieve your ticket you look in the rear-view mirror and see the combination of hanging upside-down and struggling with a seat-belt plus the sheer embarrassment of making an idiot of yourself in public has given you the complexion of an aubergine. You park at the far end of the car-park and beat a hasty retreat through the back entrance to the High Street. You thank the God of Public Embarrassment that you didn't go through this ordeal at 3.30 p.m which is when all the school children gather to meet their friends/ get their fix of doughnuts and Red Bull/ stand in the way of people trying to do their shopping.

On to the bank. Closed. What?? At 9.30?? Luckily, I remember there is another branch down the road next to the post office, Perhaps that will be open.

It is! In I go to pay in a cheque. It's a simple process. 1) Put in card and enter pin 2) put cheque in slot 3) receive photocopy of cheque as proof of receipt.

HA! I am confronted with a different machine. But am I afraid? No!
1) Put in card
2) Read multiple options and press 'deposit cheque'
3) Enter pin
4) Enter amount printed on cheque.
5) Remove deposit envelope presented to me.
6) Put cheque in envelope. Machine starts beeping.
7) Notice it says on envelope that I need to put my account number on back of cheque.
8) Search for pen. No pen because I didn't bring my handbag because I wasn't going to be long, was I? All I needed I could fit into my coat pocket. I didn't know I'd need a pen, did I?
9) Ask twelve year old at 'Customer Service Desk' if he has a pen. He looks a bit narked I've disturbed him playing with his i-phone.
10) Remember I don't know my account number and my card containing the number is in the machine which is still beeping. A queue is forming.
11) Explain problem to 'Customer Service' representative without screeching too much. Still red from car-park incident, so growing anger is cunningly disguised.
12) 'Oh, we've got a photocopy deposit machine up the back,' says CS rep.
13) Follow CS rep to back of bank, where the kind of machine I am used to is skulking in the corner. CS rep skulks whilst I deposit cheque in 5 seconds flat, just in case I kick off.
14) Leave bank to visit post office.

Am I afraid? No, I'm bloomin' hacked off.

The post office is closed. Closed??? At 9.45????????? There is a queue the size of the Exodus of the Promised Land.

I give up and go back to do shopping. I may have said a naughty word or two as I stormed my way back up the High Street; I don't remember, because the blood in my ears was pounding too loudly for me to hear anything.

March Lion or March Lamb? I'll let you decide.