Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Our hay meadows

I'm never quite sure if I should be embarrassed or proud of our hay meadows. In fact it's probably true to say that I used to be embarrassed, but I'm getting increasingly proud.

You see, there's not a lot of grass here. Not in June anyway when other farmers are mowing fields of silage or hay. We don't have grass at this time of year and yes we have worried in previous years that there won't be enough to make hay with and the weather won't be right and, well, etc.

We've got flowers. Oodles of flowers. White clover, red clover, yellow rattle, eyebright, whorled caraway, ribwort plantain, sorrel, bluebells, buttercups, orchids...

and lots of bees of all sizes, moths, butterflies, beetles...

There are more orchids every year.

Who needs grass? Actually we do, and this field and it's similar neighbour produced 35 big bales of lovely hay last September, which is more than enough for our needs. It's an absolute privilege to be able to allow the fields to be proper hay meadows, and the tapestry of colour in June is, quite simply, wonderful.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Why 5SOS are better than U2

H13 and I went to see Aussie band Five Seconds of Summer on Sunday night in Cardiff. Now 5SOS have a special place in our hearts for many reasons but even so I wasn't expecting too much of the evening.

I thought it was going to be a nice little night out in Cardiff, with the annoyance of a two hour drive there and back on a school night. I thought there'd be lots of noise and screaming teenage girls and then a possibly mediocre concert and huge bad-tempered queue out of the car park and then a tired drive home.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. So wrong. Because 5SOS were bloody good. They can play, they can sing, they're good-looking in a wholesome Aussie boy-next-door sort-of way and it wasn't some pappy boyband nonsense it was rock, loud rock.

My phone's camera couldn't really cope with all the excitement.
There was a little enthusiastic screaming, when Michael or Calum or Luke spoke or smiled, or Ashton grinned into his camera in between beating the hell out of his drum kit, but there was a lot of listening and singing along (and Cardiff 5SOS fans can really sing too). It was fun, light-hearted, good-natured rock music.

It's different going to a rock concert as a mum not a fan, I didn't really know how to behave for one. At least I didn't get into trouble with the security guards for getting up out of my seat and dancing as I did at a Frankie Goes to Hollywood gig in the 1980s (why weren't we allowed to dance? Good grief). I didn't have to sit next to a big fat sweaty rocker like I did at Meatloaf or put up with the drunken ravings of an idiot in the row in front of me (U2) or abuse from Irish fans (different U2 concert). There was no politics (U2) or posing (Duran Duran) and they weren't up themselves (U2, Coldplay, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Duran Duran, Frankie) and they weren't boring (Billy Joel). They were every bit as fun as The Darkness (but I could have done with a sit down at that gig - I'm too old for standing all night!)

It was really happy and it was good and I was so glad that this was the first rock concert that H13 got to go to, And no, we couldn't really afford to go but we did anyway because 5SOS were there for H13 when she was in hospital. One of their albums or EPs came out at 5am during the sleepless night we had in the University Hospital of Wales before she faced an operation that included the risk she could be paralysed afterwards. They were (by way of iPod) allowed to stay with her in the High Dependency Unit when I was sent away because she needed nurses not Mum. And they were with her during the dark days of recovery when she couldn't walk and then had to relearn how to and when all she wanted to do was go home.

All of these feelings are tied up within the lyrics of 5SOS songs, so when they announced their tour while H13 was still recovering we couldn't afford tickets, but we raided piggy banks and bought them anyway.

And we both enjoyed it, H13 jumping up and down waving her green glow sticks with all 19 of her titanium screws and the rod and the rail that hold her spine straight(ish). But I couldn't look at her during the songs because it's been hard as a parent to watch my child having to be so brave this past year and I couldn't believe we were finally there at the concert. It hit me during the first song that she'd made it (and hell, it's been so tough for her this year) and I really had to fight the tears because a) that would have been so embarrassing for both of us and b) I was worried that if I started crying I didn't know how I was going to stop.

So 5SOS mean a lot to us and it was nice to go to Cardiff without hospitals being involved, although that's on the horizon again with a visit to the consultant looming around the anniversary of her surgery at the end of this month. But now that journey will be full of memories of a particularly good concert. Junction 33 of the M4 now means 5SOS not just Llandough hospital and that's a good thing for both of us.

What I really need now though, 5SOS, if you're listening, is for you to do an exercise tape. Pilates and yoga with 5SOS please for H13 and all your other fans (there must be others, it's about 1 in every 1,000) who have scoliosis. I think it'd be a hit!

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Art therapy

I think it was in 2012, perhaps before, that I accidentally stumbled across Tammy's Daisy Yellow blog about art journals.


I'd always enjoyed art at school, but didn't pursue it beyond GCSE. I used to sketch and have still got a few of my old sketchbooks, full of horses mainly, and my pencils and paints. But things happened. On a college trip I was ridiculed for my delight in finding and buying a tin of Caran d'Ache aquarelle coloured pencils and made to feel a fool and childish. So drawing was 'not cool'  and something that I should hide and not tell people about. In the meantime writing took over. For my writing I got heaps of praise at university and then a job as a journalist and a short story I wrote got published.

So writing was my 'thing' apart from a brief dalliance with pottery, which I very much enjoyed, with a brilliant teacher who had an art degree and was happy to share tips about sketching and art in general.

My art materials lurked in a cupboard, along with tins and boxes of pens, and coloured pencils and pastel pencils that my husband had acquired while working for Schwan Stabilo. I had children and art became something they enjoyed while I watched and encouraged and supplied art materials.

Then there was sewing, which I had always enjoyed and was such a normal part of my life I took it completely for granted, but quilts are art too, and gardening, which is undeniably art, using plants as paint. But my own efforts (and I still drew, all over the place) remained secret.

Koi 2013, thread sketch
And then, on Pinterest I think, I started seeing pictures of art journals, beautiful pages of swirling colour and exciting texture alongside inspirational quotes. I googled 'art journal' and found Daisy Yellow. I devoured the pages of her blog and discovered a thing called 'altered books' too. Adults, grown-up women like me, were doing art. I didn't need telling twice! I dusted off all my art materials and, to cut a long story short, I now draw all the time, everywhere. I paint, I collage, I make pictures with my sewing machine too, I sketch on holiday instead of just taking photographs, I fill lovely Moleskines with all kinds of arty messes, I alter books and now I paint on canvasses too.

 Last year, when H13 faced her Big Operation, I knew art would help me through, just as music helped H13. Tammy of Daisy Yellow also runs a yearly art challenge, ICAD - a challenge to make art on an index card every day between June 1st and July 31st. This last year neatly covered the period from signing the consent form for the operation, to having it, staying in hospital, and recovering at home.

Hospital 3

During the very worst times, when my brain was in full panic mode, I just filled in patterns on a squared index card, creating fantasy quilt patterns in black and white. It's amazing how such a simple, repetitive thing, just making marks with a pen on a 5"x3" card, can quiet the mind and pass difficult time. I'm delighted to say that I finished the challenge and of course I'm doing it again this year.

July 27th 2014 Carousel

All of my ICAD2014 pictures:

Created with flickr badge.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

The trials and tribulations of rural broadband

Rural broadband is fraught with slow speeds and unexpected outages following wind and weather or unexpected birds or leaves on the line or whatever. It leaves us at the mercy of BT Openreach and, like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you never know which engineer you're going to get.

Over the years we've had the know-it-all one, the tirelessly-climbing-each-pole-between-us-and-the-exchange-in-the-snow one, the one-the-dog-jumped-on one, the I'm-the-boss-and-this-has-all-been-done-wrong-by-idiot-underlings one, the really grumpy one (who left bits of equipment behind) and last, and probably most important of all, the I'm-going-to-give-you-sensible-advice-so-it-doesn't-cost-you-an-arm-and-a-leg one.

He was an interesting chap, from the valleys, and he liked to pop outside for a fag while the machinery did its calculations. He checked the line, measured it between where it comes in, via the socket in Mum's part of the house, scratched his head, had another fag, fixed the fault and told Brian part of his life story and then related the rest to Mum while he discovered what and where the fault was and that it wasn't yet terminal but soon would be.

As he was leaving, he explained there was a conflict between our phone and broadband, exacerbated by the 8.9m of wire between the line entering the house, splitting (we have two lines) and then wandering around the room to our PC. Basically, it shouldn't work and it won't for much longer and we should think about getting it fixed or face big bills.

Via Pinterest
Which is when the penny dropped. We hardly use our landline; we mainly use mobiles like the rest of the population. Mum does use her line and wanted to keep it, so hers would be useful in emergency for us. The broadband now comes in that way (she gets much faster speeds on her line) and then to our PC and wifi router via ethernet cable. I've just speedchecked it and it's faster.

So today it was goodbye Plusnet and thank you. They seemed miffed that we were leaving, but let us go with good grace and a disconnection fee of just under a tenner. That's a small price to pay to say goodbye to all the calls from Indian call centres (one famously called me 'fatty' to my answerphone because I didn't pick up!) No more Swansea call centres offering to sell us solar panels (we've got those) and double glazing (ditto) or a new boiler (they haven't yet laid a gas main in the Preseli Hills, so, no.) And no more PPI calls! Yippee! Now I've just got to keep my mobile number a secret....

Friday, 17 April 2015

So much has happened...

It's so long since I last blogged here and so much has happened. In my last post we were nervous about a trip to Cardiff to see the consultant about H13's spine.

We were right to be nervous. That was October 2013 and trips to Llandough Hospital soon became the norm. X-rays showed that H13's back was forming itself into an S-curve - a severe scoliosis. Surgery was inevitable and eventually last year we found ourselves in University Hospital Wales for H13 to have a quite massive operation.

For one so young H13 faced so many challenges. She had the operation aged just 12. She had to consent to it herself and confirm she understood that a complication of surgery could be - unlikely, but could be - paralysis, but when your spine is tightening at both curves of an S, you can't really say no.

The operation itself took five and a half hours, plus a further three hours to come round from the general anesthetic and the massive amount of morphine required to relax the spine enough to allow the surgeons (there were at least three of them, plus two anesthetists and various nurses) to straighten out the spinal kinks. The surgeons installed a rail and a rod, the full length of the spine, plus 19 titanium screws (which cost a mind-boggling £550 each. I'm glad we didn't have to pay).

There there was a stay in the high dependency unit - just overnight, H13 is made of really tough stuff - and four days in a separate room on the children's ward. I stayed with her 24/7, sleeping on a sort of rock hard armchair bed thing alongside her hospital bed and smuggling coffee onto the ward (or I'd have gone nuts!)

My sketch of H in her hospital bed - I sketched to pass the time while she slept.

The nurses were amazing, astonishingly so. Ditto the physios, who had H13 up and walking in three days, then measured her to find she'd grown in height by two and a half inches. There were fun bits (the pre-med which made her laugh constantly, then afterwards standing up for the first time and finding that a) she was nearly as tall as me and b) that she looked 'normal' now) and there were awful times - the eerie screams of sick children in the dead of night, the tiny baby fighting for life in the HDU, the removal of the two wound drains.

We went home on the Friday, a record time for recovery considering the operation had only been on the Monday; scoliosis patients normally stay in hospital seven to ten days. Brian drove between Pembrokeshire and Cardiff almost every day which cost a fortune in petrol. It was much easier back at home (I could get food to eat, that was a good thing!) H13 started eating again too (it took two weeks, but her appetite came back eventually). We spent the summer watching films, including a binge-watch of the entire Twilight saga. We managed occasional trips out and spent a weekend in Devon with friends, but it was tough as H13 tired easily.

H13 went back to school in September, part-time at first, but she sometimes didn't survive a full day. Once I had to rescue her after she was knocked into the wall by a couple of boys having a mock-fight in the corridor. But she got stronger and missing days of school didn't affect her as she proved by getting excellent results in her Christmas exams, including 100% in both parts of her science exam, and over 90% in pretty much all of the others too. We're really fortunate in that her teachers allowed her to decide what she could cope with, didn't panic when she missed lessons and trusted her to keep up with the work.

The day before the operation H12 (as she then was) ran the Race for Life in Haverfordwest. She plans to run it again in June this year, as a sort of full stop to a difficult 12 months and to demonstrate her return to fitness.

* This post has been read and approved by H13.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Already Autumn!

Honestly there never seems to be time to blog these days - it all has to do with starting a business, of course, so my energies tend to be focussed in that direction. I've just written it a blog, so click here to catch up on all things Magatha Bagatha.

Meanwhile life continues on its relentless rush. Christmas is looming on the horizon (did I hear someone say it was something like 10 Saturdays away? It doesn't seem enough!)

Itsy and H11

In a nutshell, summer happened, we've been riding Itsy (H11 and I), Bullseye has been very poorly but thankfully pulled through and we lost a beloved guinea pig (Patchy) so had to obtain two more (Tufty and Shadow) to keep Fudge company.


Fudge (centre) with Tufty (left) and Shadow

In sadder news we lost Brian's lovely Uncle Mel last week. We called him Uncle Honey (as mel is Welsh for honey). He was such a lovely, big-hearted man, devoted to his family and his garden (and he had the best lawn my bare toes have ever had the pleasure of wriggling in). We will miss him. The funeral is on Wednesday, so Brian is making the journey over to Whittlesey to help give him a good send off.

Then on Thursday it's back to the hospital again, but this time in Cardiff, for the next level of consultant to have a look at H11's spine. This was an unexpected summons (our previous local appointment had been more reassuring) so we're all rather nervous.

In all it's a busy week and I'm looking forward to the weekend which is the start of half term and (hopefully) the pace of life will ease off, just a little.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Website, sewing, sheep and baby fish

Gosh poor blog, I've neglected it. But with good reason, I'm now mostly over at my new business website Magatha Bagatha  - please pop along and take a look (and you can sign up for the newsletter too, if you'd like to stay in touch.)

I'm so pleased with my website and very grateful to Lindsay, of LJ Computers, who designed, built and hosts it. I didn't know there was so much involved with setting one up and it's been lovely to have a calm, guiding hand throughout the process. Those who follow Lins' blog Multi generational living and life in Wales will know she's been through a tough time recently. She refused to stop work on the website while she went through her treatment and used it to take her mind off things. She's amazing. Get well soon Lins.

My business is still very much a baby business but it's definitely taking up a lot of my time. There's a lot of sewing to be done, of course. At the moment I'm working on a baby heirloom quilt for a client....

Cornish fishing boats

..and a large Doctor Who quilt-along quilt which I envisage to be the one we hide under while watching the TV on Saturday evenings. This is a big task with two paper-pieced blocks per month, with the final one due next February.

My Tardis

Meanwhile the sheep having been taking up a lot of time too - first shearing, then giving the lambs Soil Association-approved anthelmintic medicine (I so much prefer that word!) and then treating them against fly strike. This involves bringing the flock down and into the yard and when they don't want to go there, they won't. You can coax, shoo, shout and bribe and it won't work (until they're ready). It definitely brings out the shouty redhead side of me, which is usually well hidden!

Squished up waiting their turn

In other news, I dug a pond in the garden. Brian acquired a rigid pond liner from Freecycle ages ago and I finally found time to install it. It "just" took a two feet deep pond-shaped hole, a few bags of sand and some found bits of slate to hide the edges. It took a day and cost just under £8. I stocked with with plants from our other wildlife ponds - marsh buttercups, yellow flag iris, water forget-me-not and water crowfoot - and inoculated it thanks to a big trug full of pond weed from Lins' pond.

The weed came with passengers...

Tiny baby koi carp

... baby koi carp, which caused much joy and excitement when we spotted them. The pond's a real time-waster - we spend ages staring into its depths. It's astonishing just how quickly wildlife has occupied it in the two weeks it's been there. Pond skaters were there almost immediately, followed by great diving beetles and other swimming beetles. Damsel flies have visited it to oviposit and there are all kinds of larvae wiggling about. I've stacked slates around the shelves at the edges because our families of sparrows think I've dug them an extra large bathtub.