Monday, 30 March 2009

Work in progress

We had lovely new bedroom windows installed last Friday. The way the house was built means the upstairs windows take the full brunt of the weather and wooden windows do not last long, so after about six or seven years of dithering, we finally decided to install UPVC. I was really worried that they'd shriek "PLASTIC" on such an old house, but I think they look okay. The only problem is that the house now looks grubby, so I'd better get my paintbrush out...

This is my dry stone wall in progress. It's very close to being finished. I just have a few rocks to move about until it looks right and I need to find a couple more flat slates for the top layer. I didn't make it too tall - I'm not exactly a skilled craftsman! It's quite satisfying work though.

"All" I have to do now is dig over the area behind the wall, remove all the couch grass roots and sow the new lawn.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Lofty ambitions

This is the granny annexe (the stone part) and yesterday the resident granny pointed out this fearless viola which has seeded itself at a high altitude.

It is blooming away in a very pretty fashion, tucked up securely into the stone of the old building. It's lovely to see it there. I adore it when pretty plants make themselves at home and can only hope that this one likes its lofty position and comes back with friends next year.

We are used to having ferns like this one growing on the walls and in the tumbledown stone outbuildings we even get sunflowers, presumably planted there by the busy beaks of the sparrows which nest in the holes in the walls.

Monday, 23 March 2009

A bit of calm, then a bit of storm...

It sometimes feels as if Colby Woodland Garden is our second home. It is only a 20 minute drive due south from the Preselis, and only the vaguest hint of sunshine compels us there. So we found ourselves there on Saturday with the lovely woodland paths to ourselves. We no longer need a map to navigate the maze of hilly paths and H and R just love to race ahead up little steps and around corners watching out for squirrels and hobbits.

But Saturday was the calm before the storm. R5 had been complaining of a sore gum and on Sunday she woke up looking like a hamster who had stuffed a football into the pocket of its cheek. A few phone calls later found us in Tenby Cottage Hospital with a dentist instead of in Theatr Mwldan watching The Secret of Moonacre. It transpires that R5 has an abscess underneath a molar and must have the offending tooth extracted under general anaesthetic in Swansea.

Fine (actually not fine, but anyway) here enters the politics of dental treatment in Pembrokeshire. My sister is a dentist and, until recently, has been taking care of our teeth. But she is in Sheffield and now H and R are no longer babies and have commitments such as school, zooming off up the motorway spending gold-plated unleaded is becoming less appealing. So much less appealing in fact, that we haven't darkened the doorway of my sister's surgery since February 2007. Instead I have been looking for a local dentist since before Christmas and the best I have been offered is to be put on a waiting list of 12 to 18 months. Sadly R5's teeth couldn't wait.

Each time I have admitted that we haven't seen a dentist for over two years to a dentist/dental nurse/local health board person/dental surgery receptionist I feel as if I am waving a big banner which reads: I AM A BAD MOTHER. Each time I look at my little hamster-jawed five-year-old I beat myself over the head with said banner. But time has, well, passed. And we missed the fact that all was not well tooth-wise inside R5's mouth. Even my sister from her lofty position of dental knowledge suggested that the marks visible on R5's teeth were "staining caused by your water, are-you-using-the-correct-toothpaste-and-brushing-properly?"

The position today is that R5 is on antibiotics and painkillers. We cannot register with a dentist because they are all full. I have phoned and left messages with various people who have the power to admit us to dental treatment and my sister has e-mailed someone she met on a course who works in Pembrokeshire.

Now we can do is wait for a dentist to find a gap in their busy schedule to accommodate at least R5, if not the rest of us (I fear to look inside any other mouths in case further nightmares lurk within) wait for the antibiotics to work their magic and worry about impending general anaesthesia.


Friday, 20 March 2009

Lovely spring sunshine

Left to right we have: Itsy (fully recovered from her poorly hoof now); Maisie, livery Exmoor; Bullseye (RSPCA rescue pony) and the Grande Dame, Pippin. They're finding this lovely March sunshine just a little too warm in their winter woollies.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Sunshine, temperature and a bit of a high

It was really cheerful this weekend with wall to wall sunshine for pretty much all of it. I finally got some seeds planted, including my Sweet Peas, which I always plan to plant in September and somehow only ever manage to do in March. Everything is late due to the wet weather last autumn and over the winter, so I have only just pruned the summer raspberries. Again something I should have done last September.

One by product of all the wet is that so much has grown rather rampantly. Today I have been hacking at and hauling out lots of overgrown honeysuckle, climbing roses and brambles, and my arms now look as if I have been fighting with a litter of angry kittens.

We had a quiet weekend really. Hannah having endured a rocketing temperature and severe headache on Friday. She kept complaining about the light, didn't touch her beloved Nintendo DS at all and kept turning off the television saying that it was too bright and too loud. I kept waking her up from her slumbers on the sofa to run through the various meningitis checks (every parent's nightmare) but she recovered after several doses of Calpol and a good night's sleep.

Sunday saw me out for my long run and for the first time since November I actually got a bit of a runner's high and felt as if I was actually going somewhere. I actually felt I had energy reserves to call on, which was a great feeling after so many months of viruses, back spasms and other health problems which, at times, made me want to lie down on the lovely hard tarmac and go to sleep!

Last November I ran nearly 72 miles in the month; in December I barely ran 15 miles. It has been a total frustration. Not least because the back pain was self inflicted because I picked up a heavy rock (for my stone wall) and something went ping. I then had a sore ankle from kicking myself for being so bloody stupid!

On Sunday, though, I was beginning to feel back to my normal self again and was fairly flying along on my favourite 6.5 mile route when I saw someone I know (which is always a good feeling - I hate bumping into people when I'm panting up a hill, sweating like a horse and praying for an early death.)

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Tulips, snow and a pain in the hoof

Aren't these gorgeous? My lovely husband bought these for me yesterday in Narberth on a little family shopping trip. I adore tulips and these are absolute beauties.

It's been a funny old week really, full of little ups and downs. My concerns about the girls and Welsh and school and everything else to do with that have been rather overshadowed by one of the ponies - Itsy - going lame.

We made an urgent call to our farrier who happened to be in the Preselis anyway and he rushed over, trimmed away part of Itsy's hoof and found an abscess. So since then we have been poulticing and bandaging and Queen Itsy has been enjoying all the attention and the extra cuddles. She is sound again and now we're putting dry dressings on the affected area. She had a visit from the vet too, but only for a tetanus jab. We caught the problem so early it didn't need antibiotics.

It's a familiar problem for us as my old Thoroughbred Jamie used to regularly get gravel, to give it its correct name. At least once a year we'd be poulticing and bandaging and injecting him with Streptopen. I hope Itsy isn't going to make this a habit!

Just when we thought spring had sprung winter arrived back with us this week, albeit only briefly. At the back of this picture, behind the trees, you should be able to see the tallest of the Preseli Hills, but it's been on its holidays this week. We have had quite a bit of misty weather and when that happens the hills just disappear. I think it finally had enough of the weather, packed its bags and headed off to the Maldives. Who could blame it?

But maybe spring is finally arriving. From where I am sitting now I can see snowdrops, teeny native Welsh daffodils and a hellebore shyly coming into bloom. I've planted my onion sets and transplanted the garlic from the polytunnel, so things are beginning to come together again. The garlic this year had to go into individual modules inside as the ground was so wet in the autumn I just couldn't get it planted. Over the winter months it grew into very healthy mini garlic plants and I was very impressed to see such long, strong roots on the plants too.

The other thing I have been doing this week is building a dry stone wall to edge the border and the lawn in the back garden. This means scouring the farm for slates that have risen to the surface over the winter and plundering the big heap of rocks that Mum had piled up ready for wall building purposes. I'm quite pleased with the effect - I'll post a picture of it when it's finished.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

English Not

I am having a bit of an identity struggle at the moment. I am an English woman, born in England, but living in the very Welsh part of Wales. This has not really been a problem before. I have learned a little Welsh, but it is a complex language and difficult to learn. I will never be fluent.

I thought that my children would help me to become part of the Welsh community. My children went to the Welsh playgroup, then the Welsh nursery and now they go to a category A Welsh school for a bilingual education. Yes, that is "bilingual", but I have discovered that what bilingual means to me, an English person is totally different to what it means to Welsh speakers.

In Wales bilingual means "Welsh" not Welsh and English, as I would interpret it.

On Friday we went to the school's annual Urdd Eisteddfod. My children joined in with the others to perform - individually - a song and a recitation in front of the Urdd Eisteddfod adjudicator with the aim of making it through to the county finals and then to the National Eisteddfod.

This is all a bit opaque to me. It is entirely in Welsh, so I don't really understand what it is my children are singing or reciting, save for the occasional word. I sit on a little hard chair watching child after child recite the same things over and over again in a language I cannot comprehend.

Then the headteacher stands up and says a few things. Welsh speaking members of the audience laugh. She must have said something funny. Then the children sing and then it seems we should be singing too, but I did not know and do not know the words anyway.

It is the same on sports day or at school meetings. All conducted in Welsh, perhaps with a little concession for English speaking parents.

And then there's the homework. "How do I say that word mummy?" How the hell should I know? We have a stab.

I ask: "What does that sentence mean?"

"I don't know," says H7.

It seems that H7 and R5 do not always understand what is going on at school, although I am assured that H7 is "doing really well" and "speaks Welsh like a native". Apparently, "you wouldn't know that she comes from an English family".

R5 is doing well too. "I don't know what we would do without her," said her teacher at the last parents' evening. Yes, maybe, but R5 says she doesn't know what is going on half of the time.

Is this tolerable, this opacity of school life?

Historically it was the other way around at school. Children who were overheard speaking Welsh had to wear a piece of wood, called the Welsh Not or Note, around their neck and were beaten for speaking their native language. Now the pendulum has swung far in the other direction, minus the beatings of course!

Every official document we get has to be bilingual. So we get two lots, sometimes of quite substantial documents. Half goes straight in the recycling. How much extra must that cost?

As far as I can see there is a separation in this area between Welsh and English. My children can be as fluent as a native, but they will always have English parents and will never be considered local.

The "bilingual" education my children have is almost entirely in Welsh. School productions pay lip service to the presence of English speaking parents with the occasional line, but the rest is Welsh.

It is an exclusive education; it excludes me.

On the wall in the school hall there is a poster which reads: "Siarad Cymraeg yn yr ysgol."

Speak Welsh in the school.

That, to me, is verging on an English Not.