Thursday, 31 January 2008

A woolly tale...

We have a small flock of Lleyn cross ewes and a ram. A nice little closed flock. But from time to time we get the odd interloper and that is exactly what happened yesterday.

She was a tiny little thing, straight off the mountain, with tiny little Welsh Mountain sheep's ears in which there was an eartag. Catching her was simple for she was collapsed in one of our fields. Mum and I read the tag and spent a 'jolly' half hour half-carrying, half-coaxing this little thing down into the barn. Finally, muddy, with our backs screaming in pain, we got her inside and penned her with some hay and a bucket of water. The hurdles surrounding her were largely superfluous as she just lay down, pointing her nose towards the sky, as if waiting for death. She was obviously in lamb and something should be done about her, but we are talking farm economics here. She wasn't one of ours (who watched the events disinterestedly from the next field up) and we were faced with a horrible dilemma of intervening or not, either way would cost us vets fees or knackerman's fees.

Mum rang around some local farmers last night, with no luck. Then this morning she contacted Animal Health and gave them the flock number. Leave it with me, said the official. She did.

Less than half an hour later a Land Rover pulled up and out hopped Jolly Farmer and Mrs Jolly Farmer. Mum took them and gave them the ewe. JF popped it nimbly under one arm and then into the back of the Land Rover. Then they told the tale of the sheep.

It all began 18 months ago when JF rented a field from one of our neighbours. It needed new fencing, so the neighbour said of course he would fence it, and duly JF arrived and put several hundred sheep into the field. Except the neighbour had 'forgotten' 30 feet or so of the fence. Every single last one of the sheep escaped (of course!) and JF and Mrs JF have spent the last year and a half rounding them up. This one had obviously been living somewhere else in the meantime. Presumably she lambed, then she was shorn and put to the ram again. Now she obviously has twin lamb disease, so she's off for a dose of calcium and a big crossing of fingers.

JF has, in the meantime, got rid of his sheep, apart from half a dozen or so, plus this one. She's had quite an adventure, poor little thing. I checked her teeth and she's broken mouthed, so I think, even if she does survive the twin lamb, this is the end of her adventure. As James Herriot once so famously said: "If only they could talk."

Monday, 28 January 2008

Tresaith and Mwnt

It was such a lovely sunny day yesterday that we decided to pack a picnic and head for the coast. The north beckoned, so we pointed the car towards Tresaith, a tiny beach two miles north of Aberporth. It's a tiny little village with a pub and lots of holiday homes cheek by jowl on the sloping land leading down to the cove. It has a pub and a shop, although the latter was still shut for the winter season. When we arrived the tide was well in and the sand was full of cantering ponies which entertained us while we scoffed our cheese and ham sandwiches. By the time the last of the grapes had been fought over the ponies had gone home and we had the beach to ourselves.

At the far end of the beach is a raft of rocks, just prefect for climbing, which gave a lovely vantage point from which to see the waterfall.

The second beach we visited was Mwnt, which is National Trust owned. The National Trust's website describes it as follows:

"This beautiful beach is a perfect sandy cove, bounded on the north by the dramatic headland of Foel y Mwnt is a geological SSSI and part of the Ceredigion Heritage Coast. Steeped in wildlife, it’s a great place to spot seals and bottle-nosed, common and Risso dolphins playing among the waves. "

There are a hundred million steps down to the beach (Hannah counted them) and we did them three times. When we reached the reached the bottom after the first descent Rosie announced that she needed to go to the toilet. So we trotted back up. The toilets, of course, were locked, so we sneaked around the back where we found a yellowed patch of grass which obviously served as the winter facilities. Then we went back down the hundred million steps again to the beach.
This waterfall runs alongside the steps, crashing down over the rocks to the beach below.

It is a beautiful, tranquil beach, with some impressive waves. A lone surfer was just packing up as we got there. The cliffs are very tall either side, so it was quite dark and comfortable, as if the beach is held in a big, rocky hug.

Everywhere there was foam. I assume that it is from the oil tankers washing out their tanks before or after visiting the refineries at Milford Haven. They are not supposed to do this, but they do and it makes the beaches sudsy for weeks afterwards. It got our wellies really clean though!

Rosie collected a wave or two in her boots and the girls were getting tired, so we headed back up the hundred million steps to the car park. There is a walk up a steep hill to the point of the headland, but Hannah and Rosie mutinied at this point. But they did agree to walk over to the pretty white-painted church.

According to The National Trust website: "The bay was a battle site in 1155, when an invasion of Flemings was repelled by the Welsh, and the church of the Holy Cross nearby was built in the thirteenth or fourteenth century on the site of an old Celtic saint’s cell, on the pilgrimage route to Bardsey."

The church, basking in the late afternoon January sun, was picture postcard perfect. A beautiful, tanquil spot, ideal for an old Celtic saint. The bay and its little headland oozed history and heritage from every blade of grass.

It was a lovely day. They were two beautiful beaches that we had not visited before and I can recommend both, for different reasons.

Tresaith would be a lively vibrant place to visit in the summer for ice creams and sandcastle building, although it had a lot to offer on a sunny winter's day too, with rocks to clamber, pools to explore and waves to dodge. Parking might be difficult in the summer though, even in January we were lucky to find a space so close to the beach.

Mwnt was a much more spiritual place, very calm and peaceful; somewhere to walk and contemplate. Not a place to take a pushchair and small children, or those who might find the 'hundred million steps' a bit too much of a challenge. Both were particularly lovely on a sunny winter's day as the sun dipped behind the cliffs bathing everywhere in slanting golden beams.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Let them eat cake? Oh, go on then...

I know not to go to Tesco on a Saturday, but somehow the din of the great unwashed as they mill around in between rows of tat, bagged nappies and unseasonable fruit, like the pain of childbirth, gets forgotten.

So this morning I found myself amid the throngs. We had a good reason to be there, of course, otherwise we wouldn’t have been there. We’d have been somewhere else instead, somewhere more wholesome, somewhere without the clanging of tills as Tesco picks our pockets. What we needed was a birthday cake. The sort of sugar confection that blackens teeth and loosens fillings – and that’s before the packet is even opened. It is the only cake that will do for next Saturday’s 6th birthday party, although the cake for Hannah's real birthday the following Wednesday (like the Queen, she has two this year) has to be home made, she tells me.

We fought our way to the cake section, hitherto a place we have never before darkened, surprisingly, though, the soon to be six-year-old with the wobbly lower incisor knew exactly where to find it. We passed a bank of boxes of Pomegranates, clearly labelled ‘Mangoes’. We skirted hoards of oldies, clutching at single decker trolleys like zimmers. Why were they there on a Saturday when clearly so afflicted as not to work they could have gone to Tesco on a Wednesday say? They leaned painfully on their empty trolleys, moving at a funereal pace, pausing only to meet 'The Wife' at the end of each aisle, in the middle, blocking the way. 'The Wife' had her own zimmer-trolley too, empty save for a huge cream cake and foil pouches of Whiskas. We ploughed grimly on.

We reached the cake aisle, more or less intact, save for grumpy husband’s good temper, which, conveniently he had abandoned at home as soon as I had muttered the words ‘Tesco’, ‘cake’ and ‘Saturday’. He hung onto our trolley and thought longingly of his afternoon shift at work. We surveyed the ranks of cakes, Smarties cakes, Spongebob Squarepants cakes, In the Night Garden cakes, Boobies cakes...

“I’ll have that one,” Hannah ordered, Andy Pipkin-style, as I gritted my teeth, switched off the ‘parental control’ button and said: “Yes, dear, of course,” in my best Butlins Red Coated kind-not-shouty mummy voice. The cake is pure sugar, with saturated fat and artificial colours thrown in for good measure. It has a vivid pink My Little Pony on the top. It’s perfect.

Heady with the success of the cake, we forged on, pausing only to mop Rosie’s tears after she had been flattened by an obese salad shelf-stacker brandishing a box of Little Gems. We selected jelly, ice-cream, hula hoops, Pom Bear crisps and blackcurrant squash. We bought a banner which, hopefully, says HAPPY BIRTHDAY; it certainly says ‘HA’, but I can’t vouch for the rest. We bought streamers and I crossed my fingers that I can find the six candles left after Rosie’s fourth birthday in December. Then we left.

Now, of course, all I have to do is buy the fresh things the day before the party (and here I am guided by my ‘bible’ Annabel Karmel’s ‘Complete Party Planner’), pop a few presents into party bags, make a few rounds of sandwiches, wrap, wrap and wrap the Pass the Parcel parcel and gird my loins for an influx of little girls next Saturday. Valium, anyone…?

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

I have marmaladed!

I have made marmalade. It's something I haven't tried before, but, inspired by Withy Brook's marmalade blog I thought I would have a bash. I have made jam, chutney and jellies before, so I'm not a complete beginner.

The recipe I used was Sarah Raven's from her Garden Cookbook which is quite a simple recipe, a 'marmalade for idiots' if you like. All you do is boil the fruit whole, cut it in half when it's soft, scoop out the steaming hot mushy pulp and the pips into a pan, boil that, strain and add the resulting liquid back into the pan with the original liquid, chopped peel, sugar and lemon juice. Then boil it to setting point.

I can only make jams or jellies with the aid of Mum's jam thermometer, so I raided her kitchen and eventually tracked it down after ransacking her cupboards and drawers. It all seemed ridiculously simple and I ended up with a lovely aromatic pot of amber liquid.

I guessed it would fill 12 one pound jars which it (astonishingly) did, like very well behaved marmalade. Although I left it for half an hour before putting it in the jars, the peel has tended to float up towards the top of the jar, so perhaps I should have been a little more patient. That, though, is the sort of thing you learn with experience. I'll know next time not to be so hasty.

So it looks and tastes like marmalade should. Not bad for a first go. It was absolutely worth all the trouble for the smell of the simmering oranges alone and I now have some lovely jars of marmalade stashed in the cupboard.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Great heights and better things

This is the picture which hangs above my computer, to the right hand side of the screen. It is slightly grubby and watermarked, but it is one of the first things I would save from a house fire (after my children, husband and the dog).

I know that birds and flowers have various meanings in Chinese symbology, but I haven't yet fully researched this picture.

It was given to me by my mother and her late partner Michael, who loved scouring sales and auctions for interesting artifacts. Michael died 11 years ago, just two weeks before Princess Diana. He definitely had an eye for the unusual and could see the beauty of something, despite its grubbiness.

The picture is embroidered on silk. A bird of prey, what sort I don't know, sitting on a branch of wisteria, next to what could be a rose. Pasted on the back is a label which says W. Heffer and Sons Ltd, The Heffer Gallery, 18 & (something obliterated), Sydney Street, Cambridge, which is presumably where it originally was purchased from, although Michael found it in at a farm sale in Pembrokeshire.

Michael used to pick up boxes of all kinds of rubbish at sales, but within there would be something lovely, like this painting, or the Chinese ceramic stool Mum has, or her umbrella stand full of interesting and various walking sticks. At one point he went through a phase of buying chairs and tables. He gave me this lovely lidded bowl with a goose spoon on one of my birthdays.

All the time he was visiting farm sales and antiques auctions Michael knew he was terminally ill. It was almost as if he was looking for lovely things to leave behind which we could look at and enjoy that would remind us of him.

The best part of the picture though, for all it is attractive to look at, and one day I might even find out how to have such a precious thing cleaned, is the Chinese inscription at the top left hand corner.

It says: "This shows that I have the potential for soaring to great heights and better things."

Which, I think, is rather fabulous.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008


Tuesday, 15 January 2008

A bit of a tight squeeze...

So, there we were, me and the children, heading back home on the school run. We rounded a corner on the first narrow bit and the other side were two vehicles. Touching.

They were not crashed, but had tried to squeeze past each other rather than one backing up for the other. They hadn't made it and now they were stuck together, side by side.

Luckily both were quite good humoured about it. One was a Toyota Landcruiser, the other was a Vauxhall Astra. They obviously thought they were slimmer than they were and perhaps attempting to squeeze through side by side on a single track road with no verges and a high bank on either side was a triumph of hope over experience.

I put on my handbrake and waited while the drivers sorted out the physics of the problem. The Toyota driver leaned down and folded the wing mirror of the Astra inwards, which seemed a good move. Then, no doubt having engaged four wheel drive, he carefully backed up, and the cars parted. The Astra then reversed to a gateway and waved happily goodbye to the Toyota, me and the two other cars which had also joined the queue.

I then followed the Toyota and yes, we met other cars. Each time, he just pulled of onto soft verges and roared along damaging the verges in the process and asking other non-4x4s to pull off too. My blood was boiling by this point.

"How dare he!" I exclaimed. "Look at the way he's carving up the verges."

"Yes, Mummy," said Hannah in the back. The Toyota disappeared out of sight. Silence fell.

"Mummy?" said Hannah.

"Yes?" I replied.

"Can we have one of those?"

That's my big problem with 4x4s. Absolute unadulterated green-eyed envy. Hannah wants one. I want one.

I learned to drive in a Land Rover at the age of 13. This one, in fact.

Now it doesn't go anywhere. Something to do with the fact that the top part is no longer connected to the bottom part and the bit under the bonnet doesn't make that big growly noise it used to. And it's got some time of major vehicular asthma, coughs loads and disappears in clouds of black smoke if you do get it started.
I've done miles in that Land Rover. It took me to countless pony shows. I even took it to university once and towed a trailer full of windsurfers to Bala lake. One time I was driving it the mileometer said 999,999, then 000,000, which was quite a moment.
But what Hannah wants (after seeing a picture in a car magazine) is one of these...

... and after this morning's trip into school where we were confronted by a raging torrent and had to turn back in our Ford Focus estate, I can only agree! Not environmentally-friendly perhaps, but entirely practical for the school run.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Why I hate going to the hairdresser.

I’m not fond of trips to the hairdresser. I have my reasons. One is their careless talk and love of their own reflections.

One time, for example, I foolishly decided, like one does, that my style needed a change. I made an appointment. The hairdresser was delighted to have the opportunity to cut off swathes of my long hair and make it short. How she eulogised about the time she had been at a hairdressing exhibition, cutting and styling all day.

“We had a book of styles,” she bragged. “We knew them all by letter. This is a J.”

Her hey-day had obviously been sometime in the seventies. When I looked in the mirror a Purdey cut looked back at me. I went home and implored it to grow.

Unbelievably I went back to the same stylist when I was planning my wedding. This time it was just for a trim. We discussed my impending nuptials.

“Women of our age,” she said grandly, admiring herself in the mirror, “should wear hats, not veils.”

She was 15 years older than me. I wore a veil and someone else styled my hair.

When Hannah and Rosie were very small I went through a mobile hairdresser phase. It was easier to cut the hair of the wriggling toddlers at home. K, the hairdresser, was going to Slimming World. The last time she visited she had obviously reached her target.

“Mummy,” whispered Rosie, loudly. “It looks like a new K.”

The compliment went to K’s head. She chopped and cut as usual (daunting to a hairdresser-phobe without a mirror for reassurance). Then K glanced at my bookshelves.

“You’ve got a lot of diet books,” said the newly-slim K smugly.

She was looking at ‘The 30-day Fatburner diet’ by Patrick Holford and ‘The Money Diet’ by Martyn Lewis and three shelves of cookery books. On the first I successfully lost 32lbs. On the second I gained a couple of hundred £s.

K hasn’t been back since.

But I think my fear/phobia of hairdressers began in my early teens. Tumbling curls were fashionable and that was in my mind when I took my long, thick auburn hair to hairdresser for a perm. She wound and wound on to tiny little rollers. My eyes watered and stung at the pong of the perm lotion. Afterwards, the hairdresser turned proudly away for me to assess my reflection.

“Woof,” I said sadly to the poodle in the mirror.

“Woof! Woof! Woof!” said the bullies at school.

Friday, 11 January 2008

The Truth About Food?

I watched Dispatches, The Truth About Food, last night on Channel Four and ended up shouting at the television. Not an uncommon occurrence admittedly, but the faux science used by Jane Moore made me completely mad.

Ms Moore, with her best 'serious' face on, had three families eating a certain way for a fortnight while her team analysed the food for fat, salt and sugar content.

One family ate only premium ready meals, another ate only food from the supermarket 'value' ranges, the third ate food cooked from scratch.

Ms Moore was outraged by a pie, from Waitrose, which contained more fat than a portion of fish and chips. It was also higher in fat than the 'value' version, so she concluded it was 'better' to eat the value one. It was a chicken pie. Leaving aside the arguments about cheap chicken, surely the fat content of the Waitrose pie was explained by the fact that the ingredients included things like butter and double cream. It was a premium product, not a 'healthy' product. Something produced to be a yummy treat, not something to be eaten every day.

The other pie (probably stuffed full of battery chicken from Thailand - oops, I said I wouldn't mention that bit today) was presumably packed out with cheap fillers. Frankenstein alternatives to proper, natural food, like butter and cream. Modified starch, for example, which appears on so many things (gravy granules, custards, pies) is a scientifically altered cheap filler used to thicken. It's gloopy stuff, like wallpaper paste. I'd rather eat less of the other pie. There's some debate over the role of saturated fat in heart disease anyway. The blame has transferred to homocystiene which, when present at high levels in the blood, can cause heart disease. Even fit people have it.

But back to Ms Moore, wearing her serious face, frightening us about our food, but not giving any clear alternatives. At the end the families were presented with plates full of the fat (represented by lard), salt and sugar they had eaten. It all seemed to be much the same, although the 'premium' products family had eaten the most fat. But they would have done, these 'premium' products are expensive treats, not healthy alternatives. It didn't seem to tell us anything about their diets, just a plateful of lard which made them all go 'ugh'.

Yes, we all eat too much fat, salt and sugar, but I don't think last night's Dispatches programme did anything to foster a healthier approach to eating. It was just sensationalised scaremongering. All it did, surely, was make people switch off and think, "So, it's all crap, why bother. Pass me a chicken pie."

Thursday, 10 January 2008

It's a small thing, but it pleases me.

This year's Sowing and Planting Calendar has arrived, filling me with thoughts of seeds and plants and long days full of pot filling and seed sowing.
It's a small book, but full of hopes and ideas for the season ahead. I don't grow biodynamically, just organically, but I do plant everything according to the cycle of the moon. I've done this for quite a few years now. Apart from the plants just seeming to be happier, it also makes me much more organised in the garden and reminds me to plant in succession.
The calendar, which is available from Floris Books, shows the optimum days for sowing, pruning and harvesting (and beekeeping).
Planting with the moon (and the constellations) is all about using the power of the cosmic forces in gardening. If all of that sounds a bit hocus-pocus, think for a second of the power of the moon over the tides.
Plants are grouped for sowing and harvesting into Root, Leaf, Flower and Fruit. The planting times are worked out according to which parts of the plant are enhanced by the moon, planets and weather on that particular date.
Maria Thun explains: "During the ascending moon period plant sap rises more strongly. The upper part of the plant of the plant fills with sap and vitality. During the descending Moon period plants take root readily and connect well with their new location."
Sowing can be done in either the ascending or descending moon, but transplanting is best during the descending moon. Each constellation has its particular element, weather and plant group. Virgo, for example, is Earth, of course, with cold/cool weather and the Root plants. During Virgo bees make honey, it has been observed.
I find it simplest just to look it all up in the calendar. It's a fascinating little book, full of lots of interesting facts and figures about gardening by the moon and stars, along with results and observations from plant trials.
Today, Thursday, January 10th, has the moon element Earth and the parts of the plant enhanced by the Moon or planets is the Root - but only in the southern hemisphere. For me, sitting in the northern hemisphere, I have instead to wait until January 21st, when northern planting time begins. In the meantime I can look at the big parcel of seeds which arrived yesterday from Tamar Organics and plan which ones to plant first.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

The Lie of the Land

I watched two interesting, but disturbing programmes last night. The first was the second part of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's 'Chicken Run' programme.

Hugh is highlighting the plight of the cheap supermarket chicken by setting up his own intensive chicken farm and rearing 4,000 birds. It's not a pretty sight. Only a few days from slaughter the birds were virtually unable to stand amd all they did was stagger between the food and water. Visitors - including Jamie Oliver - were horrified. "Why aren't they walking about?" Jamie asked, appalled. They couldn't. Their bloated bodies (the bits we eat) were too heavy.

The birds had no space to move around in, no access to the outdoors and no natural light. Hugh ended up in tears after having to kill yet another sick bird. Part three is tonight (9pm, Channel Four). All he wants is for consumers to pay £1 extra and buy a free range bird. It's not too much to ask is it?

Later I watched Molly Dineen's documentary "The Lie of the Land" in which she followed some of the protesters from the pro-hunt demonstration in London home to see how someone lived when their life depended on the countryside. She watched as the huntsman spent his days going from dairy farm to dairy farm shooting day old 'worthless' dairy crossbreed bull calves. She interviewed farmers who didn't know how they were going to continue farming when everything they produced was sold at a loss.

One farmer said of the supermarkets: "They are superpowers. We're nothing really. They just buy it where they can get it cheapest."

Another said: "The welfare standards of imported food is a damn site worse that we've got here. All you are doing is exporting your problems."

Another, who had been shooting foxes he said would have been much more humanely killed by dogs said: "Everyone's focussed on sport, because you can see it. But nobody's interested in how their food is produced. Look at battery chickens. Why is that acceptable, but hunting and shooting isn't?"

I can't help but think that both programmes were probably preaching to the already converted. I don't think that the anti-hunt supporters shouting at the pro-hunt "privileged toffs" to go home would watch such programmes and if they did would they watch them with an open mind? Do they realise that some of the "privileged toffs" are just hard-working ordinary people - like themsevles - flirting with poverty? They're not all rich princes and earls. Some are, of course. The ones shown on the documentary were not.

The divide between city and country seems to be widening. Farmers are portrayed as fat, greedy, money-grabbing and cruel. In the suburbs it seems to me that the general opinion is that farmers do not love their animals. Last night they would have seen that, when the huntsman was shooting these doe-eyed calves, only one farmer was present. The others could not bear to be there when the knackerman came and instead left the money in a carrier bag (ironically a Tesco carrier bag in one case). One even left a bag of fudge. For the life of a calf.

The programme ended with a farmer, a dying breed, he said, who has a suckler herd. He described his business as 'borderline'. He then went to a field gate and called to his herd which were grazing two fields away. At the sound of his voice the cows and calves lifted their heads and started replying. They ran down the slope to a hedge and mooed enthusiastically.

"They can't get out down there," said the farmer. "If they really love me they'll go back up the hill and through the other gate."

Molly Dineen was astonished.

"They come when you call?" she asked.

"Of course," said the farmer. "They're my girls."

They loved him.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Sausages and smiles

Rosie loved her first day at school, of course. She bounced out all smiles, and said: "I had a lovely day mummy. I had sausages, chips, a biscuit and baked beans for lunch."

That was fine then. The lunch lived up to expectations. Today lasagne with garlic bread is on the menu. The garlic bread is famously fabulous. Rosie can't wait. I thought school was about learning. Apparently it's about food.

Hannah came home in a foul temper. All shouty and pokey fingers. I think her nose was 'out of joint' because all the focus was on Rosie. Later we had a bit of a cuddle and I told her stories about our special time together before Rosie was born. How we used to watch 'Story Makers' on CBeebies together and she would join in with Jelly and Jackson saying: "Imadin, imadin, imadin a dory".

It must be hard on the first born. It's all about you, especially if, like Hannah, you were a late baby. We made a big fuss of her, of course. Then Rosie came along, all Shirley Temple curls and a much more contented little thing and suddenly Hannah had to share the limelight. Hannah's been a bit jealous of Rosie spending days with me while she is at school. Hopefully that will wear off a bit now Rosie is at school too.

So, Christmas is over now. We took the tree down on Sunday afternoon, then had hot cross buns as a reward for our hard work. Hannah and Rosie decided they must continue to be good so the Easter bunny brings them lots of chocolate eggs. The presents they had from Santa and everyone else are still in big heaps on the floor, but I can't bring myself to put them away just yet.

The girls had two very special presents from Brian and I, made by fellow Purplecoo-er Country Craft Angel (Debbie). They are gorgeous trinket boxes painted by Debbie with a picture of a Welsh pony on the top.

They are very special because she has only produced another one like them and is sadly not doing any more. Hannah and Rosie loved them and immediately set about looking for treasure to fill them with. Being Christmas they had plenty of chocolate coins to put in them, but I think they're something that they will be filling with little trinkets for years to come.

Monday, 7 January 2008

I just don't know what to do with myself...

I've got an empty house. Very empty.

I have just taken Rosie off to school for her first full day. She was as happy as a sunbeam, despite the freezing rain. I can't believe that my 'baby' is now four years old and a schoolgirl. When Hannah, who is nearly six, went full time, I had a two-year-old to come home to. Now I have come home to an empty house and a backlog of things to do that has been growing for the past six years.

I've been really looking forward to this time, but dreading it too. I have made all kinds of plans for this sudden flood of 'me time'. But I'm not used to it yet! What to do first? The ironing? Clean the black mould off the wall in the kitchen which always gets black mould on it? Clean out the fish tank? Watch daytime telly that isn't Cbeebies? Eat the things that Rosie hates like tofu and chili peppers?

What I'm really doing, of course, is wandering around a bit aimlessly. There's nobody to tell me what to do. Nobody to demand a drink or ask for a biscuit, another biscuit and another biscuit. Nobody to sit down, eat lunch, then five minutes later ask: "Have we had lunch yet?" Or kiss Daddy goodbye (absent mindedly) then ask, mid-morning: "Where's Daddy." Or, equally, "Where's Hannah?" Knowing full well that Hannah is at school and Daddy is at work. Or to watch a film, then, as the credits roll turn round and ask: "What was all that about then?"

Off she went in her little school uniform. Pint-sized and determined. She's really looking forward to her first school dinner. I think that's one of the main draws. That and her gang of little friends she's known since she was a week old.

When I went to school dinners were scoops of hairy mashed potato, lurid green peas and spam fritters swimming in oil followed by tapioca with a dollop of red jam. Hannah and Rosie's school dinners feature local produce freshly cooked that morning in the school kitchen by Hafwen. When we're dropping the children off at school, the vans are dropping off the food. Local vans, that is, dropping off locally produced bread, meat and vegetables. Hannah's best compliment to me after a meal is: "That was nearly as good as Hafwen's." Hannah loves school dinners. Rosie, diminutive little foodie that she is, has long been jealous of Hannah's lunches. She can't wait, and I only hope the meal lives up to her expectations. Today's menu is salmon grill with jacket potato wedges, peas and baked beans, followed by carrot cake and fruit juice. And this is without the influence of Jamie Oliver: the meals have always been that good.

So. I have made myself a coffee. Drunk it. Visited a few websites. Briefly. Wandered past the breakfast washing up. Ignored it. Now what. Write a blog? Tick. Hmmmm. It's nearly 10am. Only another five hours to go...