Saturday, 23 July 2011


July seems to be the month of abundance in the garden. I have an abundance of good things - garlic, onions, potatoes, herbs, broad beans - but also an abundance of unwanted things - slugs, couch grass, brambles. Ah well, presumably you can't have one without the other and at least the brambles bear fruit!

One of the biggest successes this year has been the sweet peas. The plants have now formed themselves into a massive hedge underneath which are hidden the five wigwams I built when I put the plants in back in the spring. The plants are smothered with blooms and it's rather fabulous.

My sweet pea hedge

The varieties are: Anniversary, Mrs Collier, Matucana, Black Knight and Midnight (all seeds from Sarah Raven). I wish this was a 'scratch and sniff' blog because the fragrance from this many sweet peas at once quite knocks your socks off. 


Meanwhile in the polytunnel another plant has rather taken over and I can't bear to weed it out because it is so beautiful.


This is Dill Mammoth, again from Sarah Raven, who says it's a good acid green filler for flower arrangements and that it 'freely self sows'. It certainly does that. I love the huge green umbellifers in big bunches in a vase and have it in mind they might make a nice motif for future sewing projects. My plan is to distribute the seedheads in the garden in the hope of more 'freely self-sowing' but this time not just in the polytunnel (where it a bit of a thug, beautiful but thug nevertheless).

Friday, 22 July 2011

Making things

I've had the sewing machine out lately, making a few things - some of which are for presents and so are secret - but they included this cushion:

Dad and Pat's cushion.

I made it as a house warming present for Dad and Pat - they've just moved from Milford Haven to Mull - and it's now sitting on their sofa in their brand new house in Craignure. Pat said it 'gave her goosebumps' when she opened it, which I think was a good thing.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Vive la difference!

There's a great article on the BBC website today about the Americanisms we love to hate. Now I don't mind Americanisms from Americans but I do object to them in good old Blighty.

It just isn't British to say '24/7' (although I mind that particular one the least), but 'gotten' gets my goat as does 'wait up' used by my children to mean 'wait for me'. Even worse I've heard 'wait up already' which makes me shudder. Don't get me started on 'normalcy' - I don't even know what it means - or 'orient' instead of orientate. It's worthy of note that the auto-spell check thingy on here (which doesn't like thingy by the way) is perfectly happy with all those Americanisms (which proves it isn't clever enough to know I'm an English woman writing in Wales).

Does it matter? Perhaps. In France there was a drive to rid the language of Englishisms like 'le weekend' but that appears to have failed with the advent of social networking and its necessity for brevity. Apparently the French now use 'now' in texts and tweets instead of 'maintenant' because it's shorter. Presumably it was adopted the same way we took on 'hi' instead of 'good morning' or 'hello'.

Welsh isn't immune either using 'computer' instead of 'cyfridiadur' for example. Native Welsh speakers generally use a brilliant and wonderful version of 'Wenglish' and I'm not sure they know they're doing it. I was in Boots in Carmarthen once and the woman in front of me asked if a particular mascara was waterproof. The sales assistant replied in Welsh except for the phrase 'you could swim the English channel in it' which was in English. Now that's a clever bit of linguistic gymnastics and it's what makes Welsh so hard to learn. Perhaps it's a lesson for those of us who have attempted to learn Welsh - if you don't know the Welsh, say it in English.

Mind you there are other things creeping into daily usage which are probably entirely English. 'Should of' is one, instead of 'should have'. It's complete nonsense! As is 'off of' as in 'can't take my eyes off of you'. No! Another is the use of 'that'. As a sub editor I was constantly removing the 'thats' from reporters' copy (and I'm well aware subs editing my copy used to remove a few too, but perhaps not the nine I once removed from a single paragraph written by one reporter.)

I read something recently which said millions of pounds of business is lost each year by websites with bad grammar and miss-spellings. Apparently things like 'your welcome' instead of 'you're welcome' make consumers mistrust the validity of the website (even sub-consciously).

Language is lovely. It is what helps us to be properly understood and I shall continue to pedantically (but gently) nag my children about their usage of it. I shall also 'stomp' (great word - I think I'll keep that one) all over any creeping Americanisms.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

New shoes

My knees always let me know when it is time for a new pair of running shoes. I also track how many miles I do in each pair and I know that as they approach the 500 mile mark, they are nearing the end of their days.

Old shoes; new shoes

The poor old things at the back have done 464.8 miles now and carried me to a PB at Cardiff Half Marathon last year. They're supremely comfortable - admittedly a bit smelly now and tread bare - and they've taken my feet through mud, snow, ice, rain and flood.

Together we have seen the seasons change four times, we've chased a baby bunny, watched somersaulting red kites, soaring buzzards and sly foxes. We've seen the sun rise and set. We've seen rainbows. We've avoided stepping on toads and slugs, we've seen little voles scuttle out of the way and we've heard the first cuckoo together.

We've dodged cars and lorries, jumped puddles, skidded on gravel and accidentally squelched into a smelly ditch. We've trodden in cow and horse poo, tripped over rocks and stepped carefully over cattle grids. We've jogged slowly, run flat out and charged along, high on endorphins feeling like a train.

All that at a cost of 13p per mile.

Now it's time to let them go. A new pair of ASICS Cumulus have arrived, this time in a sprightly turquoise. I've already been out for a four mile run in them and boy, these guys are fast.

More adventures await.

Monday, 11 July 2011

All nice things...

I had a bit of a strop on Saturday. It concerned the fact that I was trying to watch the interviews on the BBC's coverage of the qualifying for the British Grand Prix. My children were, to put it mildly, MAKING A RACKET.

I remonstrated, I pleaded, I quoted Pink Floyd (the "lips move, but I can't hear what they're saying...") But to no avail. So I switched off of the TV and went to have a shower (I'd been for a run and was lunching and watching the top ten shoot-out for pole position first).

When I came out of the shower there was a folded bit of paper from R7 on the bed with a heart and the words "sorry Mum". Aw, sweet. All forgiven, of course. What I didn't know was that while I had been showering Brian had been fetched by the aforementioned offspring who had then confessed to extreme noisiness and Daddy had laid down the law a little (something about how I do a lot for them and the least they could do was not spoil my enjoyment of F1 which was my little treat, a reward for a week's hard work of mothering.)

I had a contrite verbal apology from H9 (really, I wasn't that cross, it wasn't like it was the actual race or anything) then in the kitchen I found this note from R7 (who is a sensitive soul):

I Miss you Mum

all nice things mummy has Done for me in my Life

She cooks the best food in the world for me
She helps me when i am in trouble
She Looks after me when daddy is working
She buy's amazing stuff for me
She play's with me.
She waches Harry potter with me.
Please Don't Leve me Mum
from Rosie

Gulp. Swallow. "Leve"? I was only in the shower! Slightly miffed perhaps, but the interviews were almost over and really were only a bunch of men droning on about downforce, off-throttle blowing of the diffuser and other stuff about exhaust gases in F1 which, really, they bored on about for most of Saturday and then agreed to do nothing much about.

Children are funny. Still, at least it shows what use I am to this family even if they can be a bit noisy (but perhaps I'll go and sing over Blue Peter or Shaun the Sheep as revenge...) You'll note the rather Welsh use of the apostrophe in R7's note - she hasn't started to learn English at school yet.

I won't, of course, ever leave (that's for them to do to me). Where would I go? Why would I want to? How would I afford the petrol?

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Things that go boing in the night

I resisted the purchase of a trampoline for ages. It seemed to be one of those things that Everybody Has Except Us - like a Wii, Ninentodo DS, wide screen TV, iPod, smartphone, iPad or Kindle.

None of those things is essential to life but they do make aspects of life that much nicer and we've given in to one or two (or four) of them. But not the trampoline. Surely those are dangerous? Surely you or your offspring will end up in casualty with broken bits?

But then everyone has them, so one's offspring visits other people's homes and bounces on trampolines. Better, perhaps, the devil you know. So yes, we now have a trampoline, a 10 foot Jumpking, a nice sturdy thing with a surrounding net to catch falling offspring. (Surrounding nets are vital). I have laid down the Rules of the Trampoline and we all love it. It's a bit huge and ugly in the garden but childhood is short and bouncing is fun. I've discovered different and quiet lovely views of the garden from the highest bounces on the trampoline. (Looking out from it is better than looking at it though. Perhaps I can train climbers up the supports...?)

Somehow my children (and a friend) contrived to be bouncing on it at 10.30pm (clutching glowsticks). Somehow they broke the 'one at a time' rule (there were three on at once). Somehow they were on in two and a half hours after bedtime.

Things that go boing in the night.
Childhood is short and it should be fun. (But I must apologise to the neighbour in the granny annexe about all the shrieking and laughing after she went to bed...)

Friday, 8 July 2011

A meadow full of ringlets

In between torrential downpours the ringlets have been on the wing. These pretty brown butterflies flit and flutter around me when I walk the dogs and don't alight for long. I finally bagged a shot of one after a determined bout of butterfly chasing.

All of these plants and butterflies are on the field we call the Moor which is an acidic boggy field with streams and tussocky grasses, reeds, grassy areas and a fenced off vegetable patch. It's full of snipe and during this walk/butterfly chase I also saw a hen harrier, a buzzard and a red kite.

My favourite grass - I haven't identified it yet.
There's a lot of the parasitic flower Yellow Rattle too, which we're encouraging as it suppresses the grass in favour of the flowers and is regarded, in environmental circles, as a Good Thing.

Ragged Robin
The Moor has narrow paths that we have worn down over the years but for the most part it cannot be walked on (or rather in - the grasses are waist high) and if you stray from the path you can end up welly-deep in boggy ground. When we moved here neighbouring farmers recommended we drained 'the boggy patch' or we'd 'lose the cattle' in it in the winter. We ignored such advice and this precious bit of habitat is now protected by our environmental farming scheme.

Common spotted-orchid

Every year we check on the orchids. It feels like such a privilege that they grow here. They're small, beautiful but incredibly tough. This one was photographed after it was bounced on by my glamorous assistants (see later picture).

Bog Asphodel

My wild flowers book doesn't mention that Bog Asphodel packs one heck of a punch in the perfume department. It's such a tiny lily but it has the fragrance of a much bigger plant. The fragrance hangs in the air nearby though, so you can often overlook the tiny flower beneath.

Glamorous assistant and tiny flower
Mido demonstrating just how small the Bog Asphodel is. If I hadn't encountered the perfume I never would have gone looking for it. We only found it a couple of years ago. I think we'd spent a few years stepping on it on the way to the orchids.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

We're jammin'

There's something very satisfying about growing and picking your own fruit (and I picked nearly one and a half kilos of blackcurrants off the one bush in its first year of production.)

I picked out all the leaves and stalks and mixed the lovely fat, dark berries with water and sugar.

Simmered them in my lovely new jam making pan...

...and now we have ten jars of lovely blackcurrant jam. I'm still astonished every time the jam 'works'. I worry about it not setting, or setting too much or burning and sticking to the bottom of the pan, but all is fine and I'm told the jam is the best I have made so far (my children always say that!)

The alchemy of jam-making will always be something of a miracle to me, like planting a seed which then becomes a sweet pea or sunflower, or burying a potato and then digging up a bountiful crop later.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Walking in Pembrokeshire: Lawrenny

My Lawrenny: (clockwise from top left): Me at the helm of our boat; sailing;
our Pembrokeshire corgi Skipper; the caravan at Mountain Park Farm.

I spent a lot of time in Lawrenny when I was a kid. We had a 22-foot Ballerina sailing boat moored there and went down to sail Sea Dance almost every weekend until I was about eight or nine.

Mum and Sukey rowing out to the boat; Dad at the helm; our first Land Rover;
rowing out to the boat; Dad helming on a sunnier day; Skipper.

The marina is still very much there as is the cafe but it if anything it's even more lovely now than it was when I was a child. The play park where my sister and I played has gone, as has the slide from the quay to the beach, but the cafe is greasy spoon no more. These days it's an award-winning tea room serving delicious lunches - but more of that later.

We had an end of term treat yesterday, Jo and I. Her idea. She said she would treat me to lunch in return for the lovely cakes I had made for our walks over the past school year (our walking timetable is very much influenced by the school calendar). So I drove and we headed for Lawrenny as it has a perfect three mile circular walk which starts, conveniently, by the tea rooms.

Park at the Quay and then head on, dragging yourself past the tea rooms and the tempting allure of its specials blackboard, and turn left on through the boat yard, following the signs into Lawrenny woods.

The path meanders through the woods with some short but steep rocky scrambles and then brings you down into Garron Pill. You know you've got there by the smell of the seaweed and the sound of curlews calling.

Jo identifies the curlews.

The path takes you alongside the roots of the gnarled old oaks on the foreshore and round into Garron Pill.

We were hoping to see egrets but we only spotted curlews and a mullet which was in the shallows.

These deep inlets provide the perfect feeding habitat for shorebirds.

Then follow the path up the hill towards pretty Lawrenny village. On the way we picked up a canine guide at the entrance to one of the farms. There are two routes back to the quay, one through the village, the other past the church and across the fields.

The correct route, we are shown, is this one past the church.

We did have to negotiate a herd of cattle which was sleeping across the path in front of the gate, but they moved when the dog approached.

A fine view of the estuary. No osprey today.

We arrived back at the quay at 1pm - perfect timing. Lunch was crab sandwiches and salad for Jo with smoked mackerel pate and toast for me. We shared a pitcher of elderflower spritzer.

The tea rooms were definitely popular - not quite full but nearly - but the service was so smooth and efficient it made us laugh (in a very good way). The granary toast with my pate was hot which is always a good sign. Then it rained and the staff rescued those who had risked it to lunch outside and we decided to have cake. Again the service was so efficient that, as we sat down again from the difficult decisions at the cake counter, our desserts arrived like magic. We giggled at this, as did the waitress. All the staff were lovely and happily directed lost walkers to the start of the path (and lent them maps of the route for a £1 deposit).

There's a children's menu too (tuna and mayo sandwiches, for example) and a healthy wine list with other drinks in jugs: Pimms, Sangria.

Cakes are served on Cath Kidston plates which just adds to the prettiness of the occasion.

Jo's blueberry cheesecake.

It is our duty to return to test the rest of the cakes.

My chocolate torte.
Afterwards we sat on the quay looking out across the stretch of water I sailed so many times and shared a coffee. The perfect end of term treat - thanks Jo!

Monday, 4 July 2011

Time for a hug

Time for a hug
Nivea’s professional shot.

Me and R7 recreate the image at Folly Farm (with my camera phone)

I don’t come from a very ‘kissy cuddly’ family so when I had my own children I’ve rather made up for it. I hug them and they spontaneously hug me back (even in their sleep). It’s lovely and I’m never going to stop.

They hug their dad too (he IS from a kissy cuddly family) and I think that closeness with their parents helps them feel safe, secure and loved.

Some people are definitely more kissy than most – I have friends that I hug, friends that I kiss and friends that do neither. Sometimes it seems to be related to distance and how recently I have seen that person. The further away they are and the longer it is since we last saw each other, the more likely it is that they get a hug or a kiss (or both).

I hug my dogs, my ponies, our pet sheep Chops and one of the hens (Amelia) who is a cuddly sort of hen and likes to sit on my lap when I’m weeding the garden. Occasionally I still hug my teddy bear too.

All this talk about hugging is because Nivea, which is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, is marking the occasion by celebrating closeness in 21st century Britain with its Million Moments of Closeness Campaign.

Over on Nivea’s Facebook page they are discussing closeness and asking: “Do you hug your best friend when you see her, or are you more likely to give her a peck on the cheek? Do you remember being cuddled a lot as a child, and how do you feel this has impacted on you as an adult? What do you think about elderly couples who still kiss and hold hands?”

Nivea is inviting everyone to help celebrate 21st century closeness by uploading photos of themselves sharing a cosy moment with a friend, colleague, sibling, partner, parent or child at Also you can catch up with the campaign at road shows throughout the UK where you can jump into a photo booth and have your picture instantly uploaded. Either way all photographs will be entered into a competition to win one of 100 prizes worth £100. Every day, a picture of the day will be selected by psychologist Professor Geoff Beattie, who’s studied closeness for NIVEA.

There’s scientific evidence for why touch is so important. It plays an important role in baby brain development, childhood stress management, bonding in a relationship and in recovery from sickness too.

Hugging produces higher levels of oxytocin, a feel good hormone associated with feelings of intimacy. Even a light touch on the hand can reduce heart rate and blood pressure – something cats are well aware of!

So do we touch each other enough and why do we sometimes shy aware from it? What’s your take on hugging?

closer than ever
Feel Closer
million moments of closeness

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Sunday, 3 July 2011

Juggling children, sheep and bicycles

How annoying to be left so far behind by one's little sister.

Friday's school run brought with it a bit of a juggle with children - we were like the Tesco advert where the mum and dad rush about swapping children between various activities. I collected three from school, sent H9 and her friend G9 to the play park while I took R7 (dressed as Belle from Beauty and the Beast) to a party. Then it was home with the two eldest (having eventually tempted them off the swings) where I handed them over to Brian to take them to Brownies (once we had persuaded them to come down from the trees they were climbing) while I dashed back to the village to collect R7.

On Saturday morning we rounded up the sheep, separated the lambs and treated them against flystrike before sending them (noisily) back out to the field. The yard then had to be swept ready for the sheep shearer's arrival at 1.30pm which nicely coincided with H9 going off to a party.

The ewes were then sheared (they hate the process but love the result). Mum and I collected and rolled the fleeces and squeezed them into a wool sack. R7 bounced on the wool sack which, she claims, is a Very Important Job. We then had to scrub the yard clean and wash out the stables in which the ewes had been waiting for their coiffure appointment (they had little else to occupying their little woolly brains so they did a lot of poo). We then had to get showered and cleaned up ourselves because we were covered in wool and smelled awfully much of ovine excretions. Thankfully Brian got back from work in time to collect H9 from the party. We managed to fit bicycling practice sessions in both the morning and afternoon.

Sunday was sunny again so I got up at 6.30am to do my run in the cooler part of the day. Five miles in which I encountered only one other person and a single car. Bliss.

G9 came over to play with H9 and R7 and somehow I managed to pick the raspberries, blackcurrants and red currants, make a batch of lemon curd swirl ice cream (with our own eggs in both the ice cream and mum's home made lemon curd) and cook us a roast chicken lunch (with new potatoes freshly dug from the garden). The ice cream and raspberries made a divine dessert.

Then it was off to Rosebush for the Adran sponsored cycle ride which was two miles along the track towards the forestry and back around on the old railway line. R7 (who wasn't officially there as she is not a member of Adran until September) pedalled off happily while H9 struggled with the pot-holes and got very grumpy that R7 was so much faster. There was then a barbecue which the children tucked into happily while us grown-ups (and the dog) headed off in search of something cold and refreshing in a handy local tafarn.

All off this was conducted under the bluest of blue skies with scorching sun for which the only suitable antidote on Sunday evening was lashings of homemade elderflower champagne.