Saturday, 30 March 2013

Pas des oeufs

It is official. There are NO Easter eggs in town. Andy and I nipped to do the weekly shop at the crack of dawn this morning and there wasn't a chocolate egg to be found. Luckily, I bought mine on Boxing Day ( well, not quite, but you have to be quick these days because as soon as one holiday or festival approaches, the supermarkets CLEAR the shelves of what you actually want in favour of something that you might want in three months' sun cream - HA!).

Anyway, I fancied to make Mary Berry's Easter lemon curd meringue extravaganza for pudding tomorrow, and I needed some of those mini eggs to put in the little meringue baskets. There was one packet left in the store, and we only found that by default in the biscuit aisle, because Andy happened to glance in the right direction at the right time. We visited another supermarket as we passed by to go seed buying for the allotment, but they had no eggs either, and there were a lot of complaining people on frantic egg hunts who hadn't had the foresight to stock up in 1987.

Off to the allotment this afternoon. We nearly didn't go because it had been snowing on and off all day, but at the first spot of sunshine and because we are feeling super keeny-beany to get on, I flung some washing on the line, my disintegrating wellies on my feet, and off we went to have a bit of a dig and a weed and a preliminary tidy-up.

We pruned the raspberries and the blackcurrants. I sustained my first allotment injury of the season in the form of scratches up my arms where my gloves slipped down. We dug over one growing bed, and gathered up various canes and other debris ready to take to the tip. Andy decided to wash his hands in the river, and is now awaiting the onset of Weil's disease because he forgot he had a cut on his hand where a drill bit slipped on Thursday when he was doing a fracture repair on a cat. We are taking bets on who falls in the river first.

We were offered five red currant canes by one of our new neighbours. Isn't that nice? We found some potatoes left from last year. What I thought were parsnips turned out to be celery. Andy hoisted the netting up higher so we are no longer in danger of garrotting ourselves.

Back home, we made a sowing plan which is now on the pin board in the kitchen to no doubt be roundly ignored. I made the meringue extravaganza, which was a lot of faff so had better taste good, and Andy made a veggie Wellington, which does taste nice because he has made it before.

Clocks forward tonight. Extra hour of daylight on the horizon. Hurrah!

Easter Greetings to you all.

Friday, 29 March 2013

One Thousand!

It has been the best of times and the worst of times. It has been chickeny, feline, bee-buzzy and veggie. Sometimes it has been fruity, too.

It has been exploratory. It has been up diddley up-up, and occasionally it has been down diddly down-down.

It has been silly and sad, and crazy and glad. It has been friendmaking and friendbreaking, ambitiously outward bound, and cuddling up and shutting the door against the world.

It has been caring and sharing, and moaning and groaning.

There have been comings and goings, cock-ups and low-downs. There has been laughter and tears - but mostly laughter.

There has been learning and earning, and winning and failing.

There has been cake.

Today, there have been 1,000 blog posts on Much Malarkey Manor!


Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Lovely Allotment Stuff

Well, I have been doing a lot of allotment planning in my head. I am really very, very keen to get on with Plot 7b, but am having to content myself with theoretical gardening because the flipping weather is still too flipping cold to be putting things in the ground, and I fear that if I tested the soil for readiness in the age-old way of parking a pair of bare buttocks on it, I would freeze my nethers to the earth and be caught, sans pantalon, by the site manager, which would not bode well for future entente cordiale.

But perusing seed catalogues is a very companionable way of wiling away a dark evening. Trouble is, though, there are too many varieties to choose from, don't you think? Take garlic, for example. I used to hate garlic. But nowadays, I am chucking it in everything. Except cake, of course, because that would be crazy talk on a stick. What has caused the change in my tastebuds I can only guess at - well, I am suspecting dwindling hormones - anyway, I am now liking the garlic, and I want to grow some in the allotment.

Now, I know you are supposed to plant garlic in Autumn, so it can over-Winter, but I have discovered some types that are happy to be Spring planted. Trouble is, there are 25 varieties in one catalogue I looked at. 25?? I have trouble choosing which socks to wear out of a two-sock option sometimes, let alone assessing the various merits of 25 types of garlic. I suppose if I was a garlic connoisseur I would be a bit more particular, but I am not, so I shall likely do what I always do when it comes to choosing seed varieties and that is go for the one that has the most entertaining name.

Meanwhile, we have seed potatoes and shallots at the ready, and there is talk of an Easter weekend gardening extravaganza involving cleaning out the greenhouse and copious seed purchases. We also need to purchase a new trug (large -one of - preferably red or blue) because the old one finally collapsed from the strain of carrying too many weeds to the compost heap and too many courgettes home from the old allotment. (Note to self - don't have more than 3 courgette plants - you know what'll happen otherwise....lots of swearing, that's what'll happen.) And I fancy to get a new pair of wellies, because my old faithful green pair are getting on a bit now, and when I wore them last weekend I sustained a bit of rub to the back of my left ankle where the inside liners are perishing.

Do I go for a sensible green pair, like the ones I have now? Or do I go for a snazzy pair? Can you get wellies with chickens on? Not literally...although Primrose always tries to sit on my feet when I do the hen feed in the mornings. Or ones with bees. Or butterflies? Or Adam Ant? ( Although I still haven't quite forgiven him for bringing on my tinnitus with his overly-loud Antmusic ways.)

And I need some new gardening gloves, too. Oh, and a fork trowel because the old one has been commandeered for hen pod cleaning duties. And we need to dig the camping gas stove and kettle from the loft for doing a brew in the shed. And I am going to make a plot number sign to stick next to the arch. I have already designed one with 7 bees on it, because it is plot 7b - clever, huh?

And we must take the lawn edger down to tidy up the paths...and...and....and....

Monday, 25 March 2013

Crazy gardeners

I don't know. I publish videos of chickens - very cute- and cats - possibly even more cute - and what is the video that gets the biggest feedback? The one of our new, scruffy allotment. Which, by the laws of market research (albeit of a limited audience) suggests that it is not hen keepers and cat owners who are crazy as a box of frogs, but GARDENERS!

So bless you, you YouTube watchers who found us today! Your comments about the allotment blog quite tickled me. And I promise I shall keep you up-dated as plot 7b takes her new shape.

(Are allotments female? I am confused. Mostly because Andy and I are learning French; Heather says it sounds like an episode of Allo Allo chez le manoir en ce moment. She is so rude. In our defence, neither of us has yet uttered the words, 'Good moaning.')

Saturday, 23 March 2013


When we went to view our first allotment, we were met with the sight of a 10 rod, very blank canvas of a space that had just had a flamethrower put over it to rid it of a mass of ivy. There was an old rubbish tip at one end. And that was it. Nothing beyond weeds had grown of it for 10 years. It was ground, but it was charmless ground. Exposed ground. Still, we took took it on, we cut our allotmenteering teeth and we cursed its ability to grow weeds at an abnormally alarming rate. But for five and a half years we grew some good veg and fruit on it. It was a practical space. A factory allotment.

Today, as the sleet and rain battered our faces, we discovered Allotment 7b. Half the size of our old allotment at five rods, its soil is rich and loamy as the land was once an old mill pond that was used for washing fullers earth. It sits beside a river where there are kingfishers during the summer and is under cover of a tree where a woodpecker makes its nest every year. There is a forsythia arch leading to a gate - about two thirds of the space is covered in a netting cage to protect against the pigeons that live in the woods on the other side of the river. There is a potting shed with a window. A compost bin and a water butt. There is a makeshift three-sided greenhouse. Growing beds are delineated; there are raspberry canes and black currants in situ, and the remnants of some leeks and potatoes. I found a little lavender bush.

Underneath the woodpecker tree a bench has been built, and a little picnic table, too. Yes, it needs a good tidy-up. And the shed and the greenhouse need a bit of DIY TLC. The raspberry canes need pruning. The beds need a good weeding. The netting cage needs an uplift so we can stand upright in it without garrotting ourselves on the saggy wires.

But I think it was love at first sight. The whole allotment site is less than a third of the size of our old site with only 27 plots. It is a site with obvious character and charm. There is a communal bonfire which is managed by the site reps, and a communal horse poo compost pile where you just help yourself. There is no water supply on the site, but that is because you take your dipping bucket down to the river, go down the steps and get your water from there. And we have a set of steps right on the edge of our plot. There is an annual barbecue where everyone gets together for a sausage. It seems like a jolly friendly place.

Rent is £13.50 a year. We have been presented with a key. We can't wait to get started.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Big Cheesy Grin

Oh joy! Oh excitement! Oh hurrah, hurrah, HURRAH!!!!!

(Can you guess I am excited? Can you guess I am dancing a Morris Dance with Primrose and Daisy, Pandora, Phoebe and Tybalt? Can you guess who has the biggest bells?)

Well, here I sit, a mahoosive smile on my face because I have just had a phone call.
'Oh yes?' I hear you say. 'What, pray tell, was the subject of the phone call of which you have just taken?'
'I shall tell you,' I say. 'As soon as I can prise this enormous grin off my face.'

You see, a couple of months ago, I sent a secret e-mail. I told no-one, not even Andy, because I didn't want to get my hopes up. I received an e-mail back. It was encouraging but not hopeful, if you understand what I mean. And sometimes, when one has a secret plan or desire, it is best to keep it quiet so you don't have to explain yourself to anyone, or answer any awkward questions. So I kind of put the e-mail to the back of my mind.

'Denise,' I hear you saying, 'just SHUT UP with the enigmatic waffling in code and flippin' tell us what on earth it is you are talking about.'
'Okay,' I say, because actually I am so excited I just want to stop blogging and get on with some planning...


...this Saturday...

...I am meeting a man... (Steady on there!)



Oh yes, dear reader, Much Malarkey Manor is back in allotmenteering mode!

For those who don't know, Andy and I ran an allotment for over five years. Then, two years ago (because I stupidly went back to work full time and teaching is a jealous master who doesn't like you having a life beyond the classroom) we had to give it up because we just didn't have the time or the energy to commit to running it properly.

But (queue the violin music) I missed the allotment. I didn't miss string woman and her pathetic, artificial boundaries, or the man who insisted my blackberries weren't blackberries when they clearly were, but I missed growing stuff, which is what allotmenteering is all about, really. And in early Spring, when the seed catalogues start plopping through the letterbox, I pore over them and think, 'look at those aubergines....what magnificent beasts.' I stare forlornly at the seed potatoes in the garden centre. I try to avoid gardening programmes because I fear developing a fit of pique as Monty Don prepares his seed bed and waxes lyrical about baby beetroot. I stare with loathing at the pre-washed carrots that taste of soap that end up in my shopping trolley and disintegrate into mush in boiling water. I think, we have hens. I could grow them lovely cabbages for Winter.

And now a plot has become available! And it is on a site which is exactly 7 and a smidgeon minutes walk from our front door. ( I know this because I have timed it.) So no getting in a car and travelling across town. I can nip home for a quick loo break in the middle of the day and nip back again for the afternoon shift. We can be instantly on hand for watering if we have a heat-wave summer (ha!).

The nice allotment man who called said that the available plot is right by the river that runs alongside the site. And it also has a shed! We never had a shed on our old allotment,well, not one that didn't fall down in the first gust of wind and never stood again.

So I am meeting Nice Allotment Man on Saturday morning at 10.30 to assess the plot.

The weather forecast is for snow...I don't care... I am already planning for beans!

Monday, 18 March 2013

Be Gone, Foul Winter...and Poo

I am fed up with it. Faffing fed up. Today, holed up in my arty-crafty writing room because I am on a writing spurt and can't afford to see it rush by in favour of endless games of Mah-Jong Titans and Googling stupid things like 'Why do hens fling straw over their shoulders?' I was half-listening to Radio 4 and I am sure they mentioned 'more snow on the way.'


It's past the middle of March, for the love of Fred. All the family birthdays are done for a while which is just as well as I am suffering from a prolonged sugar rush from all the birthday cake that's been bandied around, AND our lone but faithful Much Malarkey daffodil has made its annual appearance. It is SPRING, do you hear? SPRING! June, July,August = Summer. September,October, November = Autumn. December, January, February = Winter. March, April, May = Spring. That is how it's always been and how it shall be forever more...okay??

Reluctantly, I still put on the heating. Reluctantly, I still wade through the mud that is the back garden to feed the hens. Reluctantly, I am still donning my enormous Winter woolly over normal clothes. All I can say is that Summer had better be bloomin' good to make up for it. Unless, of course, we are entering the first stages of The Eternal Winter That Shall Henceforth Be The Norm. Ooooh, doesn't bear thinking about.

At least the mornings are light.Cold. Rainy. But light.

Heather arrived home from work. Actually, she burst through the door in an abnormally high state of excitement which generally precedes a Hideous Tale About Her Day in the Management of Social Housing. (I am glad she is starting her new job in a couple of weeks. Especially after what she has just regaled.)

'Guess what the highlight of today was?' she said, all breathless and bursting with excitement. Actually, excitement is probably the wrong word to use, but read on if you dare...

Well, I made a couple of fruitless guesses and gave up.

'Someone,' said Heather, pausing for dramatic effect, 'left an enormous poo in the Ladies Loo...on the floor!'

I didn't know what to say. if Andy was here he would have laughed, if only at the use of the word 'poo.' But he is in Telford on a course, so there was no laughter as poo-related jokes are wasted on me, because I have never been a teenage boy.

Heather continued.

'A poo,' she said. 'A huge, smelly poo. On the floor. Not in the loo. On the floor. I mean, what sort of grown woman does a poo on the floor of a public toilet?'

I was thinking, someone with a poor aim and lack of sphincter control, but didn't say so because I thought a scientific response might detract from the sheer eye-popping horror of the story. So I listened patiently to the rest of the tale, to the shock and horror with which 'Lady Poo On Floor Shock Horror Story' swept its way through the whole company, until some poor so and so at the end of the line was despatched to remove the offending article.

Quite put me off my dinner. And now it is raining...

Monday, 11 March 2013

Chicken Mummy and Baby Lambs....ahhhh!

You know you have hit the final run towards complete madness when you receive a Mothers' Day card from your hens.

Oh yes! Yesterday morning, amongst the chocolate, flowers and book voucher was a card - "No one used to give me caterpillars and sit on me quite like Mum." Signed Primrose and Daisy.

(I would like to point out at this moment that I have NEVER say on a chicken. Cat, maybe, but never a chicken. Can you imagine the mess???)

Anyway, Heather insisted on taking me out for lunch yesterday, which was jolly nice. 'Anywhere you like,' said she, nominating a new little eatery in town amongst a couple of other very civilised sounding places.

Which was how we ended up at our local agricultural college, standing in a freezing open barn watching Mummy Sheep having their babies. (Andy, who spends his whole life surrounded by animals, though not sheep, was thrilled, as you can imagine.)

So there were lambs a-plenty, all skippety-hoppity and running around as new lambs are wont to do, using their mummies as climbing frames and testing out their bleating skills. And lots of pregnant ewes in the central arena, mostly oblivious to the crowds and doing their sheepy thing like eating and sleeping, and sleeping and head butting and eating and sleeping and occasionally popping out a lamb, eliciting a collective 'aaaaahhhh!' from us spectators. We saw one being actually born, and one that had only just been born. It was all very lovely and appropriate for Mothers' Day.

But it was freezing cold and the wind did whistle around the nadgers something chronic.

It still is. Flippin' snowing. I can do without it, to be honest. This Winter has been going on in England since, ooooh, last August.

'ENOUGH!' I say, says I, 'ENOUGH!'

Kayleigh has announced that she is going to come and live with us. She visited on Saturday and was quite insistent we got her inflatable bed from the loft. We didn't, because that would be another sign that we were heading towards madness, being held to ransom by a three year old. It's bad enough being relegated to sitting on the living room floor so the cats can have spread out on the sofas. So she had to be satisfied with feeding the hens, eating grapes and participating in a fairly intense jigsaw puzzle making session.

But I am hosting her 3rd birthday party on Friday. Well, what else are Grans for?

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Little bits of oddness in the nicest possible way

'This tea might be a bit weak,' says Andy, hovering (not literally, you understand unless his Dalek pretensions are starting to manifest themselves, heaven forfend) over the teapot.
'Why's that?' says I.
'I forgot to add the tea,' says Andy.
'So,' I say, 'what you have just made is, basically, a pot of hot water.'
'Yes,' says Andy.

It has been an odd week. We both feel a bit weary, but not for any bad reason. Oh well, you know, it's the end of a Winter that seems to have dragged on and on. The house sale has failed, so we are off the market now because we are fed up and want a break until we get renewed wind in our sails. I have been having 'crap teacher' moments.

On paper, this week promised to be rip-roaringly good fun. On Tuesday we were due to go to a TV recording of a new comedy quiz show starring Jo Brand. Heather was coming with us (she cancelled Zumba especially) and off we went, all eager-beaver like, only to get to the studio and discover that the tickets had been over issued in order to make sure there would be a full audience, and even though we arrived in plenty of time, the studio was already packed so we were turned away with the promise of priority tickets for the next TV recording.

There was nothing else to do than stop off on the way home for ice-cream and play a game of 'What Would Be The Worst TV Programme We Could Be Offered Tickets For?' (Answer - Jim Davidson UKIP Comedy Night.)

Yesterday, one of the lads I tutor stopped me as I left school.

'Miss!' he shouted across the playground in a way that wasn't embarrassing in the slightest. 'I got the result of my latest English assessment. I got one mark off a C grade.'
'Oh crumbs,' I said. 'How annoying. One mark off a C.' I put on my disappointed face.
The lad looked at me. 'No, Miss,' he said. 'I got a top D. I've never had such a high grade in my life.'
'So you're pleased...?'
'Yeah!' he said, a big grin on his face. 'Thanks, Miss.'
And off he went, probably for a spliff or some other dodgy substance.

I walked home feeling a little humbled. It's all about perception of value, isn't it? He missed the magic C that us teachers are directed by government to extract from every student BUT he was proud of his D. The best he had ever got. He had, in his eyes, succeeded.

And as I was walking through the town I bumped into three students from the school I left at Christmas. They ran after me to catch me up.
'Please come back,' they said. 'We miss you.'
I thought they would have forgotten me by now, because children are often fickle like that. But they hadn't.

And this evening Andy and I were due to go to an evening of Gilbert and Sullivan Musical Extravaganza. Half an hour before we were due to leave for the theatre, we got a text. Due to cast illness, the show had been cancelled. The God of Going Out appears to be not on our side. But actually, I've got a bit of backache as I've been doing a lot of walking this week so sitting in a cramped seat wouldn't have been the best thing, and Andy spent 3 hours operating on a dog this afternoon, so he is feeling very tired. Companionable evening in, then, being droopy and middle-aged.

I got an email from this tutoring business I should have started with nearly 2 months ago but is having trouble getting enrolments. They have offered me two hours on a Sunday. I start this weekend. I don't know what to do about that one. Back in October it had sounded so positive and exciting. Now it seems very disappointing. Perceptions, you see.

Yet the school I am tutoring in now, well, it's going very well. I am enjoying it, I have been given more hours to do, the work is varied, the students are great. There are whispers it could carry on in September.

And then I got an email from my old Year 13s. They'd had their exam results. They wanted me to know that they were the best results in the entire 6th form. They wanted to thank me, because apparently it was me that made them succeed. I am now a snivelling wreck because I thought I'd let them down by leaving them before they had completed their course.

I guess, as Spring appears, that I should take a fresh look at my tired old perceptions of how things should be and how they actually are.

Such a weird week.

Sunday, 3 March 2013


'There is definitely something springy in the air,' says I.
'Is it bed springs in a lovely new cat bed for me?' says Phoebe.
'No,' says I.
'Is it a springloaded can of tuna for easy opening?' says Tybalt.
'No,' says I.
'Is it a Zebedee spring, one for each of my feet, so I can jump even higher shouting, 'Look at me! Look at me?' says Pandora.
'No,' says I.
'Is it worms-on-springs that leap from the ground to save me from digging?' says Primrose.
'No,' says I.
'Is it a trampoline?' says Daisy.
'No,' says I.
'What is it, then?' say the gang at Much Malarkey Manor.

'It's SPRING!' says I!