Tuesday, 27 December 2011

What I did on my hols

Maybe it's my Scandinavian blood, but I like nothing better than a walk on the moors in drizzle and gloom.

Monday, 19 December 2011

The Ightham Mote Cobnuts Project

I was brought up in Kent in south-east England. Although close to London, Kent was and still is largely rural, famed for its orchards, its hop fields and its cobnuts.
    Hops are a wild plant, used as an ingredient for beer. Up until the 1960s when mechanical picking was introduced, the poor inhabitants of London’s East End used to come down to Kent in September and camp in the countryside for several weeks in order to pick the fruit-clusters. That was their holiday. I don’t remember the pickers, but I do remember the tall trellises on which the hops were grown and which I still see when I go back to Kent for a visit.
    We were five children, all born within seven years, so my mother had to buy food in bulk – sacks of potatoes, sides of ham, and crates of fruit. I remember in particular her driving to a local orchard and coming back with a crate of cherries, a Kentish speciality. Such riches. We gorged ourselves, having spitting competitions with the stones. I read however that 85 per cent of Kent’s orchards have been lost in the last fifty years – since my childhood in other words.
    Although my father worked in London, we lived on a farm. We let most of the fields but kept a few cows and George, who lived in a flat over what had once been stables, looked after them, and told us children off when we played in the haystacks, destroying the bales with our jumps and slides.
    We also played in and on top of derelict pigsties, running along the precarious corrugated-iron roofs, hoping they wouldn’t collapse underneath us and pitch us on to the concrete below. I shouldn’t think that was permitted either but nobody knew except us.
    Next to the pigsties was a vast walled kitchen garden, again largely derelict, and an orchard. In the orchard were quinces, from which my mother occasionally made jam, and cobnuts. Cobnuts are a type of hazelnut. You eat them green (ie not dried) and what I remember most is the work involved in cracking the thick shell – out of proportion it seemed to me with what you actually got to eat. Still, hazelnuts have been cultivated since at least the middle ages and ‘Kentish cobs’ since the nineteenth century.
    All of which is a preamble to introducing you to a blog recently set up by a friend, the Ightham Mote Cobnuts Project (http://www.motecobnutsproject.blogspot.com/ ). (In spite of its outlandish spelling, the name 'Ightham' is pronounced  exactly like the simple four-letter word 'item', ie ite-m.) Ightham Mote is a medieval moated manor house owned by the National Trust. It looks glorious in the pictures but I am ashamed to say that I have never visited it, even though it is only a few miles away from where we lived. Gill, who still lives in Kent, and whose family owned a cobnut ‘plat’ or plantation, has taken on the task of restoring a derelict plat at Ightham Mote.
    I felt quite choked seeing Gill’s pictures, as they took me straight back to Kent and my childhood. Goodness knows why, as although the Kent climate and countryside are very different from that of Devon, I can't pin down why that's apparent in the pictures.
    Anyway, whether or not you're a Kentish lass, do check out Gill's blog as this is a fascinating and worthwhile project. And I look forward, Gill, to lots more posts about what you’re getting up to - and perhaps more about your childhood in Kent as well.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

The present

Our garden at dawn on 18 December last year

All I really want for Christmas, apart from snow and chocolate that is, is a few days - I'd even settle for moments - of living in the present. No hankerings and regrets for the past. No fears and plans for the future. No list of things I have to do today. Just connection with that wondrous, multi-coloured, multi-layered, hologramatic, exciting, terrifying, web-like thing we call 'now'.

A happy Christmas and other winter celebrations. More joy and creativity to us all.*

Thank you for reading this blog.

* Thank you Bunk and Roselle for these words. I hope you don't mind me passing them on. 

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Writing rubbish

Can you see the rainbow?

Last week I was talking to one of my sisters on the phone. (I have two, sisters that is - and two brothers.) Although she is a few years younger than me, she has been writing children’s books for many years (published under the names Emma Fischel and Lottie Stride) and I tend to look on her as an expert in creative writing. I imagine her sitting at her desk churning out perfect prose by the bucket-load.
    ‘I’m so stuck on The Novel,’ I moaned. ‘And when I do write all that comes out is rubbish.’
    ‘But that’s perfectly normal,’ she said. ‘Getting stuck and writing rubbish are all part of the process. That’s all I do most of the time.’
    Since then I’ve written two and a half new scenes, discovered something huge about one of my characters that I hadn’t suspected, and come up with a whole new twist to the plot. The fact that it’s OK to write rubbish has completely freed me up.
    At this stage, it appears, it’s the fact of writing that’s important, not what you write. I was confusing the process of writing novels with the process of writing blogs. The words for blog posts appear more or less in their final form, but the final form of my novel is many drafts away. Many of the scenes I’m writing now may not even appear, but I know they’re there. They’ve told me something. They’ve unravelled a bit more of the story.
    I did know that. Why do I keep forgetting it?

Today is Ellie’s day with the dogminder, the day she spends haring to and fro with a gang of other dogs and comes home exhausted and the day I get to myself to do exactly what I want. I planned to do a little walking, a little meditating, and lots of writing. Instead I woke up with a migraine and I know I won’t be good for much. It’s God’s way of telling me to take a break, I suppose.
    Oh dear, I have so much to learn.

Back to bed, and sorry if I’ve been writing rubbish again. My brain’s a little addled today.

Same rainbow, different time.
(Does that make it a different rainbow?)

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Making do and mending

A few years ago I dropped a pair of woollen gloves while out walking Dog. A neighbour found them and brought them back.
    ‘I knew they were yours’, she said, ‘because the fingers were darned.’
    Frog and I were brought up in the fifties, a time of austerity and ‘make do and mend’. We both take great satisfaction in adapting, repairing, tracking down in unusual places and prolonging the life of – in his case technology and in my case clothes.
    Frog has sheds full of broken-down machinery chucked out by other people. He can’t bear to see it go to waste and, whenever he has a spare moment, tries to nurture it back to life. (What he does with it then is another question and a small bone of contention between us.)
    I don’t exactly have sheds full of clothes but I do have the aforementioned chest - of bits of material, sewing gone wrong, and worn-out garments that could conceivably be reused in some other guise . . .

. . . not to mention a drawer full of bits of cord cut from posh shopping bags (that I use in projects such as the caftans I make for Frog), a ragbag, two crates of  old bed-linen, curtains, rugs and tablecloths that live under the spare-room bunks, and a suitcase of clothes I’ll never wear again but can’t bear to move on such as the psychedelic-patterned orange-and-pink trouser suit I made in my teens . . .

and the purple-and-black-striped lurex dress and jacket I wore in my twenties.

    I may also have mentioned that I’m tall. This means that I can hardly ever get clothes to fit. Either I have to buy men’s clothes which is depressing or I buy women’s and adapt them.
    One of my ruses is to combine two short t-shirts to make one long one. As you can see from the picture at the beginning of this post, the top and the bottom don’t usually match, but no one has ever commented on this particular eccentricity in my dress. Perhaps I am abetted by the current (or maybe not so current) fashion for wearing two or more t-shirts on top of each other. As you can also see, I sometimes extend arms as well.
       Mostly I use up old t-shirts for the extra bits, but I didn’t have anything appropriate for my current project, a white shirt. Luckily I found a size 20 white t-shirt in Sainsbury’s sale rail for £1.12p. More than enough material. What a find! (Even if non-PC.)

The work-in-progress
You might think from these pictures that pink and purple are my favourite colours. Actually, they're my second-favourite colours. Emerald green is my first but it's hard to find. I do have a lovely emerald-green t-shirt but sadly it's starting to go into holes now. It's a man's t-shirt so I took in the chest and the arms, and it has the word 'bollocks' on the back so I have to wear it inside out. I acquired it when I was helping my sister-in-law clear out her wardrobe. It was one of her chuck-outs. Another lucky find!