Life before the pandemic: toadstools, pumpkins and the real Hallowe’en

This is the first of a series of posts that I wrote but never got round to posting. So strange to read them now with everything that’s happened over the last year! However, as I want to get back into writing regularly again, I thought it would be better to post than lose them. This was written in autumn 2019, when life was still kind of normal….

How do you find autumn? I love the warmth and light of summer so always feel a touch of dread at the coming of the darker half of the year. Set against that, however, is that every year I forget how beautiful autumn can be. Walking through the local park on my way to the station in the morning light with mist rising from the river is really magical. And while the flowers may be waning, the toadstools in the woods this damp year have been spectacular.

We found some wonderful ones on an October walk in Norfolk while enjoying a weekend away with our friends and it was like a treasure hunt for the boys as they discovered ‘shrooms of every hue. We tried to ID them with a handy app (Shroomify) but either we were terrible at it or toadstools are really hard!

Hallowe’en was also a surprising highlight this year. Normally I’m not such a fan – pumpkin carving is fun but I don’t love all the ghoulish tat that goes with the celebrations. This year, though was quite different. The Fairyland Trust run two excellent family festivals connecting children with nature through magic and storytelling – the Fairy Fair in the summer (which is amazing) and Real Hallowe’en which we tried out for the first time this year at the end of our weekend in Norfolk. We arrived suitably dressed up, and were greeted warmly by the organisers at a beautiful festival site on the edge of some woods.

After a wander around some whimsical little stalls we settled ourselves by a huge log fire. While I painted the boys’ faces, Dom sought out toffee apples for the boys and two big mugs of mulled cider for us. Suitably warmed and watered, we headed for Wizard Training where the boys learned  knowledge of trees, birds and animal noises to equip them on the path to wizardry.

We had a bit of time to grab a cup of tea and decorate lantern jars before it was time to gather in the big performance tent to hear the story of Real Halloween. By now the sun had set and as the storytellers built up to their grand finale, lanterns were being lit and people were gathering for a lantern procession.

With lanterns held high, we wound our way through the woods along little paths lit with candles, to a genuinely thrilling conclusion. Drummers and fire acrobats stunned us with their flame-stick tossing and whirling – including two children fire jugglers who couldn’t have been older than nine or ten. As the finale wound to an end, we grabbed some supper round the fire again then put the kids to bed in the car and headed home – it had been a brilliant day.

The celebrations continued into half term with a fab Halloween party with my littlest’s new best friend (he’s recently started school) including marshmallow toasting around a tiny fire in the garden the boys helped construct. And sparklers – I don’t think I’ll ever outgrow sparklers!

Our final Halloween celebration was the annual Triangle Community Garden Halloween which involves a pumpkin lantern parade around the recreation ground following samba drummers, through the community garden itself, all decorated with lanterns and ghosts, before coming back to a specially decorated room in the little Pavilion building for spooky poems and stories round the cauldron with some finely attired witches, including guess who 😊

Although the days are darkening still, it’s been good to embrace the autumn celebrations a bit more wholeheartedly this year – maybe next year I’ll be a bit less of a Halloween Scrooge!

Lost paths and disappearing roads

It’s the last day of the summer holidays! Hard to believe that the week before last we were enjoying a glorious week away in the Yorkshire Dales. It was glorious not because the weather was perfect, although it was mostly fine, but because it was really relaxing (and we all got loads of sleep and sleep fixes everything!).

We were camping at the top of Nidderdale, although I use the term camping pretty loosely. We did real camping in the New Forest back in May: four in a tent, a loo block that was a good 2 minute walk away, birdsong at 4.30 am, a spontaneously deflating airbed and -1 degrees C at night. THAT was camping (there were also lots of really good bits I should add!). The spacious static caravan we were in this time with all mod cons including a cosy heater and a telly, less so. It was nevertheless ideal:  we got to open our door and be surrounded by beautiful dales scenery.


The first days’ sunshine enabled plenty of scrambling at Brimham Rocks and exploring the atmospheric ruins of Fountains Abbey.



There was also a clever nature/fairy/pixie trail in the pastures and woodland behind the campsite complete with tiny fairy houses and a chance for the boys to dress as elves. Those of you who know me personally will know already that I enjoyed this at least as much as my boys 😊


The finale was the entrancing “magic wood” where you follow the story on boards until reaching the place where, to enter the magic world, the little boy in the tale has to throw two stones into the river, one in each hand, and they have to hit the water at the same time. Just around the corner in real life – there is a platform by the river for each child to take two stones to perform this magic trick, then upon turning round, the fairy village appears!


But what of the disappearing roads and paths of the title of this post?

Although I’d spent childhood holidays in the Dales, I’d forgotten how narrow the roads are, and how steep. Out of the back of our campsite one particularly steep lane led up to the tiny hamlet of Middlesmoor with a church, a fabulous pub and a handful of houses perched on the top of a hill. As we descended, the road would seem to fall away and disappear from under us – leading to our cry of “Where’s the road?!”

One time the road was otherwise obscured…


The lost paths led to rather more adventures. Our favourite day saw us abandoning the car and walking directly out through pasture a mile or so up the valley, passing where the river cuts deeply through the How Stean gorge and stopping for a picnic on its banks before crossing it to turn home. Only when the map showed that the footpath crossed the river, we’d rather hoped for a bridge. Instead we had… Just the river.


“I guess it’s a kind of natural ford,” I ventured. Dom looked at my feet – he and the kids had wellies, I just had trainers. “It’s fine,” I assured him, “I’ll take them off.” So I pulled up my skinny jeans as high as they would go and we all paddled across – it was quite shallow and the water felt pleasantly cool. We took our time admiring this pretty waterfall just upstream.


The afternoon’s walk in an adjacent valley was somewhat more adventurous. We hadn’t got far before we reached a stile by the river’s edge and, with a certain feeling of familiarity, we looked across the other side of the river and… Yep, there was another stile with the footpath continuing beyond. This time there was no natural ford, the river was deep and fast flowing. “It’s OK,” I said peering at the map, “There’s a footbridge a little way down.” The boys were tired after the morning’s expedition but we cajoled them onwards over the footbridge and back along the steep river bank path on the other side.

Then the path completely vanished in front of us – it had been swept away by a landslide. Not a massive one but too big for the boys to jump across, too steep and dangerous for Dom and I to be able to do anything other than scramble. “Um… Up and over?” I suggested tentatively peering up the bracken-covered slope above where the path had been.  Slowly each boy worked his way up and across on hands, knees and bottom with both of us precariously spanning the steep drop below to catch if they slipped. Then it was trainers off again for another small stream heading down the hillside and finally we’d made it to the stile we’d spotted from the opposite bank. We re-examined the map. We could see that between us and the Nidderdale Way that completed our walk was a very steep slope. “I want to go back to the caravan” declared the four year old. “Maybe we should just accept defeat” Dom suggested glumly. “No way!” I declared indignantly, “After all that?!” He laughed. “Let’s go” he grinned and off we set again. We made it up the slope, paused to catch our breath and admire the view, descended steeply the other side and finally made it back to the car. It wasn’t the biggest adventure but it was fun and we did learn a valuable lesson about footpaths, rivers and OS maps that day.

Already the memory of that day is starting to fade a little as we face the start of the new school term. In fact, I’m writing this instead of making sure we have everything ready for our older boy’s first day back tomorrow. I think we’re ready. The bigger deal will be next week when my youngest also starts school next week – the end of an era for our family. I have mixed feelings for much as I will miss my days off with my littlest, I will now have one day a week completely to myself… No kids, no work, no hubby, just me. And a life to sort! And perhaps, finally, a chance to write a little more regularly! I hope you’ve had a great summer and autumn has started smoothly for you. I hope to be on here again before too long.

Beating the blues     

Happy January! How are you doing in this dark month, are you beating the January blues? Yesterday was apparently “Blue Monday”, ostensibly the most rubbish day of the year. As you’ve probably heard, this is the day when we all feel the combination of Christmas’s sparkle having long since worn off, New Year’s resolutions abandoned and long nights and grim weather taking their toll. And spring is still ages away…

Now I’d love this to be a tale of how I danced in the face of the grimness but no, I was reasonably grumpy myself! I’d missed the blood moon (awake at 5am, not by choice, but it was cloudy) and despite there being three inches of snow (why is snow never metric?) at the other end of the Chilterns, we saw not a single flake. I spent the majority of the day hiding from the greyness immersed in chores and jigsaws.

“Mummy, can we go on a little adventure?” Fortunately that question didn’t land on Blue Monday. It was actually posed last week on a sparkly sunny day, much like today has been here. Our “little adventures” began back in the autumn. The idea is that I open our pink OS map, find a place we haven’t been to before, pack a picnic and we head on out.

Littlest starts school in September so I wanted to up my game on our days together – partly because it will be our last chance but also so he doesn’t get really bored! My oldest, young for his year, had already started school by his age. Getting out somewhere new and genuinely exploring has been lots of fun – maybe other people do this regularly, we haven’t but I’m glad we’ve started.

Last week’s mini-adventure started in the tiny village of Clothall. Fifty metres from the car and my boy was excited to spot handsome black chickens in a garden we passed and declared “I love this little lane”. The narrow, steep-sided ivy tree bound road was atmospheric and mercifully car free. Two hundred metres in and “Mummy I’m tired of walking”. This is par for the course so I ignored his protest and encouraged him onwards with the promise of a picnic and, apparently, a moat (!) at the top of hill.

The footpath passed directly through a pretty wooded farmstead with goats on one side for my boy and the cottage of my dreams on the other, looking all very Hansel and Gretel.


We stopped for sandwiches just a little further on in a lovely woody pasture area which I only realised was actually the bottom of the garden of the house when the cottage owner appeared behind us.


I love the fact that my boy looks properly guilty in this picture – we were actually on our own at this point!

If the cottage was from Hansel and Gretel then this was the witch! I swear I didn’t hear her coming. She was a funny mixture of friendly and prickly. The moat was “not on the footpath you know” (although it was about five metres from it) but she added, as if by way of invitation, “you should look out for my bantams” which were apparently running through it. I didn’t dare though – maybe she’d put a spell on us! I’m being mean, I do get it, she must be really sick of people walking wherever they please on her land and, ahem, picnicking in her garden (it was honestly a long way from the house!) and she did tell us where a geo-cache was hidden which we enjoyed uncovering.


I just wish I’d thought to ask why there was a random moat on the top of a hill – maybe next time, if I’m brave enough!


Captured from the path – the trees followed the line of the moat

We ate the rest of our picnic on a pretty, sunny path out of the chilly wind and were almost back to the car when we discovered a gorgeous tiny church on the edge of the village. My boy loves churches, he thinks they’re like castles, and luckily it was open for us to explore. I like churches too, especially village ones that are hundreds of years old – so peaceful and this one had beautiful windows.

Today was another gorgeous sunny day and a perfect antidote to yesterday’s Blue Monday gloom. As it happens a church featured in today’s expedition too – although I’m not sure whether it really classifies as a “little adventure”. We walked through an area of pretty countryside we already know and love, just out the back of the village of Weston but we’ve never got as far as the church before and it was another pretty, old one, reminiscent of the one I got married in. Just inside the door, this gorgeous crocheted rug was sitting on the table tied up with gold ribbon.


I couldn’t help but open the unsealed envelope “To my new owner” and here is what was written inside:


How lovely is that? I adore handmade stuff and for a brief moment I was so tempted to be the one to give it a good home! I resisted, the most obvious reason being that there will be people much more in need of that special rug than me. The second was that my husband, a keen crocheter, and I (a complete beginner) have a project to crochet ourselves a family rug along very similar lines. Instead we left it waiting to be claimed and explored the rest of the church. In fact I had a hard time persuading my little boy to leave, he wanted to check out every corner; I wanted to get back out into the sunshine!

Around the back we discovered a tiny secret door into the tower, locked of course, then headed back across the fields, past two favourite oak trees (Mr and Mrs Oak) stopping only to let the unicorns skate on the “lake”.


From left to right, Mrs Oak and Mr Oak


I hope you are surviving January and getting a happiness fix from the sunshine whenever you can. Outside it is finally snowing wetly, I think we might be done with sunshine here for a while now!




Summer heat

Hot hot hot! Who’d have thought our prolonged and snowy winter would be followed by such a roasting June and July?!

Yesterday it was Sports Day at school and all sorts of measures were in place to keep the kids cool – from well-placed gazebos to pre-run spritzes by the teachers. Not so for the parents – we were lined up in full sun for an hour of cheering duties. Half an hour in, my 3 year old declared it too hot and he wanted to go home. Concerned, I splashed water over him, deliberately wetting his t-shirt to cool him down which prompted him to start wailing loudly. We were saved by the announcement of the toddler’s race in which he participated enthusiastically and fully believed he won (he didn’t). His brother was similarly thrilled to have won both of his races. He didn’t either! He came came mid-way in one and although he came first in the other, I’m not sure the holding of the beanbag on his head in the obstacle race would pass a stewards inquiry! Anyway, everyone ended up happy so perhaps we will leave learning to lose (and win) with good grace for another day.

I’ve been finding getting outside with the boys to be just as challenging when it’s hot as when it’s cold. A playdate in the cool of the stream in the local woods last week with some friends was going swimmingly with six happy exploring children and a woodland snack picnic. Then two of them accidentally walked into a wasps nest – one little girl picked up 5 stings and we had to do an emergency evacuation! OK, not an actual emergency but you never know how people will react to stings and she was in a lot of pain so we swiftly headed for home.


This week we’ve been less adventurous and stuck to water fights in the garden although I did get the boys and a school friend to do the Big Butterfly Count which only took 15 minutes and they got really into it. Highlights were a massive dragonfly (OK it didn’t count but the boys loved it) and a gorgeous orange comma which kept landing on the notebook that I was recording our sightings in, much to their delight. I took some great unposed photos of the kids pointing at each new spot but my little one’s response to the heat is to spend as much time naked as possible so they’re not for the internet! Here is one of the many gatekeeper butterflies we saw instead.


I helped the boys submit their sightings online and and a rather nice certificate was emailed straight back to us!

I’ve concluded that water-based activities are definitely the way to go. On Saturday, we had a very chilled afternoon at the Letchworth splash park with our friends while on Sunday we revisited the lovely abandoned watercress beds next to the meadow down the road.


Very avid followers of this blog may remember that one extremely cold January day, we forced ourselves to leave the house on an expedition to the very same place where we uncovered crayfish and a little frog before beating a retreat to the local pub for chips and hot chocolate. However at the time we promised ourselves we would come back at the height of summer and finally when it was too hot to do anything other than flop around our lounge I suggested we headed back there to explore.


Our big boy loved the opportunity to sink his feet into the soft silt of the stream bed and create giant footsteps. Meanwhile, the little one who had been happy to get welly-fulls of water on the January trip (and it really was properly cold then), refused to paddle in the summer heat. The springs that feed the watercress beds come directly from the ground so it is always colder than elsewhere but still! Anyway, we parked him on a woody bank where he happily played with sticks while we went exploring the streams.


In places you could actually see the spring water welling up from the ground and there was much excitement on uncovering a bullhead fish from under a rock.


We watched him for a while before conceding that even we were finding the water very cold. We headed back across the meadows to home, stopping only to admire the amazing spiders nests in the long grass by the stream.


So water has been our friend these past weeks but I do wonder when the heatwave will finally break. Mind you, it’s the last day of term today so the arrival of the holidays will surely do it!

March madness

It’s been a busy spring – time for a couple of catch up posts…

I looked back at my January post on this blog. “I’ll get fit in March” said I. I generally find setting good intentions two months away works well – close enough that I might convince myself and others that I’m committed, far enough that I know I don’t have to engage any time soon. Besides, I liked it as a plan: not being a gym kind of person, for me getting fit equates to getting outdoors and there are plenty of places to run near my house which incorporate a decent dose of nature into the bargain. And of course by March the weather would be starting to warm up right? Right??

When two good friends announced they were signing up to a terrifying sounding “tough mudder” type challenge and invited me to join them, I baulked. But to placate them and my conscience, and to force the issue of fitness out of the good intention space, I agreed I’d join them in a much lower key event in the run up. I signed up for a muddy 5K organised in aid of our local hospice, a cause currently close to my heart… in March.

Two weeks before the race and I’d managed only a couple of very short runs. “I think it’s going to be OK though,” I said to one of my friends complacently, “I mean, you know, I used to run regularly”. It’s true – this time 10 (eek!) years ago I was training for the London marathon. Obviously being what could loosely be described as “a runner” a decade ago, in no way confers fitness in the present and within days of that comment I was panicking a little.  I had an (unopened) Couch to 5K app installed on my phone from around a year ago but by this point, I couldn’t even open it because I knew it was going to tell me I need more than 6 days…

Four days to go and I almost forewent my last opportunity to run any kind of meaningful distance before the race due to one of those all-day hangovers that I never used to get. Having to fess up to my friends that I was going to bottle it was my only deterrent – I went, I ran, the stars were out, I kind of enjoyed it.

Finally, the day of the race and of course on that day the Beast from the East’s bloody first cousin came to visit and before I knew it I was signed up to do a race in temperatures that BBC weather promised “feels like -6”.


It snowed. It snowed the whole way round. Most of the time it snowed horizontally. We got very muddy, extremely cold, and far closer to nature and the outdoors than I ever EVER want to be in a blizzard again. And weirdly, I almost enjoyed that too. Look at this photo – we actually look like we’re really enjoying ourselves!


By the end of it, our fingers were so cold we couldn’t undo our double-knotted frozen trainer laces. A hot bath has never felt so good!

A couple of days later it stopped snowing and went back to raining again – but finally, finally the rain has stopped! Today we got out into the woods and a mini-heat wave is on the cards for the rest of this week – woop woop! We did see a bit of sun on a brilliant mini-break in Somerset over Easter – more on that in my next catch-up post.


Of pancakes and pangolins

Sunshine at last! Such a welcome change from the icy winds and leaden skies of the beginning of February. As a family, we’ve moved on a little from deep hibernation to trying to embrace winter outdoors – mostly involving half hour dashes into the cold, downing hot chocolate from a flask and hurrying back inside again.

This weekend, however, we are down in Hampshire visiting my parents and it was just beautiful for our walk to the river this morning.


Tonight my parents are babysitting so we can try a new (to us) pub in the next village for a belated Valentine’s date. I’m looking forward to it – the pub has a good reputation and meals out sans kids are a rare treat.

Talking of treats, of course the day before Valentine’s was Pancake Day and we found the best pancake recipe: red velvet pancakes. Not only were these very delicious (partly because they contain chocolate) but proved to be a great way of (*whispers*) getting beetroot into the kids. My husband read recently that most superfood claims are empty but the one that really does deliver significant health benefits is beetroot. Apparently. Anyway, we ate them with lemon, sugar, and freeze dried strawberries – yum.

So those were the pancakes, what of the pangolins? Well, I’m delighted to host my very first guest blog post, from my husband who will explain…

What’s your favourite animal? It’s a common enough question to ask and gets all sorts of replies from the everyday to the exotic. Mine is a pangolin. They are amazing creatures. A bit like a cross between an armadillo and an anteater, covered in head to toe with overlapping scales made of keratin (the same stuff as your nails); a complete suit of armour that would give an armadillo a bit of an inferiority complex.


What got me thinking about them, somewhat randomly, was a conversation with all the family about exciting plans for this year, an antidote to the cold, dreary weather outside. We had lots of great ideas: go to the beach, have more adventures, play with dinosaurs…(I think our youngest has already got this covered but I admire his focus). I decided I would try and see a pangolin for the first time and not having the wherewithal to get out to Africa or Asia and see them in the wild I had googled “pangolins zoos UK”. I didn’t get a single hit. It turns out that pangolins are terribly hard to keep alive in captivity, but I did find out that you can adopt one for a few quid a month and after dropping a heavy hint to Mel, I was delighted to find out that she had done just that for me as a Valentine’s gift. I was stoked and so was our oldest, who declared that they were his favourite animal too. However he looked slightly concerned. “Daddy”, he said, “We’ll have to make sure Sandy doesn’t hurt it” (Sandy is next door’s cat, who visits often to take advantage of our sunlit conservatory sofa). He had not unreasonably assumed we were actually going to adopt one. I briefly pictured a DPD courier arriving with a small curled up creature in his arms “package for Mr Coath? Don’t worry it will unwrap itself eventually…”

I explained what adoption meant in this context. He then wanted to see a video of a pangolin, running. This proved impossible to find. The best they seem to be able to manage is a gentle amble. Given that they are armour plated and can roll themselves into a perfect ball that not even a lion can open this has suited them fine for millions of years. Until they met us. Humans just pick up the ball, boil it, eat the pangolin and remove the scales for use in Chinese medicine. They are so sought after, that they are the most trafficked animal in the world.

Our oldest discovered some of this at the end of the video that he had been watching of the pangolin not running. He was outraged that anyone would do this and wanted to come up with a plan to stop the bad people. I love him for that. He still lives in a world where not too many bad things happen and, if they do, he has the faith that they will all be sorted out. It pains me to think that as he grows up he will discover that this isn’t always true. But there is another way of looking at it and that is to take a leaf or two out the 5-year old rulebook, develop some can-do attitude and get out there and makes things better, one pangolin at a time.

Until this week we’d knew little of pangolins but we found out that today is World Pangolin Day – who knew! So if you fancy finding out a bit more about these beautiful creatures check and seeing a baby pangolin stick out its tongue check this out. In the meantime, happy Pangolin Day everyone!


Taking on January


And so it’s January again…

If you saw my first ever post, you’ll know that I do love a good New Year. Despite the blurriness that followed the gin selection, mulled wine and prosecco mega mix of the night before, I was once again excited by the fresh start, the potential of everything I felt I was going to do and become… This year…

On New Year’s day, an old school friend, who shared my hangover, grinned at my enthusiasm. “So Mel, how did last year’s resolutions go?” Normally I’d have said, “I have absolutely no idea, can’t remember a single one but I’m sure they were good!” This year of course I have a blog recounting some of my efforts. OK, I can hardly claimed to have transformed my life in 2017, but I’d say I have at least steered it some way down a new path. My friend acknowledged that this was definitely progress against my previous baseline J Meanwhile I was ready: bring on 2018…

I had forgotten to allow for January. How do you deal with January? I’d love to hear other people’s strategies for getting through the darkest month. Those chill grey days where it feels like it never properly gets light?  There seem to have been a lot of those so far this year.

The one exception to my January blues, and it was actually pretty exceptional, was a winter retreat to the windswept and occasionally snowy Peak district.


I was super-excited about this when I booked it but the night before I balked a little. “Am I really going to spend the first weekend of the year with a bunch of strangers?!” I asked my husband. But the strangers didn’t stay strangers for long as we drank tea and chatted in front of a wood burning stove on that first evening in a bunkhouse in Edale. Together we crafted winter wreaths and beeswax candles, stargazed and ate amazing food, went on a mindfulness walk in the beautiful hills and got through a fair amount of organic cider and wine. It was fantastic to connect with folk from a whole range of walks of life and strange to part with them, perhaps for good (though hopefully not), a couple of days later.


It was after that that things took bit of a dive. We came down with… Something – not something terrible like the flu that’s been going round, mercifully – just something that made the days feel a struggle, the resolutions tarnish, and obliterating any evenings that we might have filled with good intentions.

There was, however, an unexpected upside. One late afternoon in the office, I got a text from my husband: “Almost there, come home and hibernate”. I felt strangely cheered. It somehow made our lethargy feel more… Justifiable. Intentional even. I reframed the fatigue: we weren’t slobbing around, we were hibernating. With new enthusiasm and an abandonment of guilt we embraced it. We changed early into pjs, snuggled up in front of box sets, ate our way through the last of the Christmas chocolates and headed early for bed. As our energy levels gradually returned, we also made an effort to light candles and put on good music. Why we don’t we do this more I don’t know, I always mean to. The boys even had a bath by candlelight which they loved.


Hibernation has been a game changer. So there you go, we fell into it but that’s our, by no means original, strategy now for dealing with January.

I applaud those with new gym habits, on detox diets, or, heaven forbid, no alcohol in Jan, but it’s a tough ask at the darkest grimmest time of the year. For sure rolling back on the excesses of Christmas is a good idea – I’ve eaten four pieces of fruit this week and I almost went for a run – so I’m all with that. But I’ll save the rest till Spring comes. March. I’ll get fit in March, OK?

Addendum: On writing a blog

Writing this blog, apart from having a diary to look back on over the last year, has certainly inspired me to do more of the stuff I want to do. Having some level of accountability, even if to a handful of my friends who happen to scan my blog on a slow evening in, still acts as a motivator. It’s also increased my confidence in writing – I used to love writing when I was 16 and almost ditched the sciences in favour of English at A level. However, I’ve scarcely had any opportunity since, unless you count the writing I do for work, which I don’t. Being invited to contribute regularly to a much more widely read blog and getting my first magazine article published this year has therefore been pretty exciting.

So I’m going to continue the blog – hopefully revamp it and make it look prettier, maybe even find time to write more articles. Exactly where I’ll find that time I’m not so sure and I’d much rather write for enjoyment than find it a burden so we’ll see.

Finally a big thank you to those of you who have been so supportive – without your kind words I’d have lost confidence and stopped long ago. Thank you for encouraging me on this journey – I hope you enjoy this year’s posts. Happy 2018 all!


How does your garden grow?

Sometimes my life just isn’t compatible with blog-writing but before we’re completely subsumed by all things Christmas, here’s a post I wrote a month or so ago – better here than abandoned on my hard-drive 🙂 

We just dug up the last of our garden harvest, what do you think? We were quite pleased with them – we had about ten and for all they didn’t much resemble supermarket versions, and obviously not the traditional orange, definitely still carroty.

No-one can say that ten purple carrots is a bounty though and our garden harvest this year has definitely been a bit… minimalist. A bad workman blames his tools – does a bad gardener blame his soil? Probably. But at the risk of being defensive our soil is pretty bad – the second worst type of soil you can get according to a diagram that tells you these things. We are therefore very good at growing things that grow well in poor soil – Mediterranean herbs, lavender… That might be it actually! But we try hard and generally enjoy the effort.

This year we also grew purple potatoes. We had enough for three dinners but that’s the product of a whole vegetable bed, not great. Purple potatoes though! My son’s favourite colour so they went down a treat and the boys enjoyed “mining” them.


Broad beans seemed a genuine success until I had shelled them all and realised that they were quite little without their shells on and we only had enough for one lunch but we made a delicious broad bean soup with them (recipe here; much recommended)

Curse the slugs! They got half of our French bean plants but those that made it through the slug attack were actually pretty productive. I should hope so too as they were billed as such. We’ve stopped choosing any varieties that state they have wonderful flavour or are “an interesting artisan variety” we just look for descriptions like: “very high yielding”, “hardy”, and “likes free draining soil”. Basically, hard as nails.


The only thing that did fantastically this year was our apple tree. We gifted apples to lots of friends, one time taking a walk with bags of apples to do door to door deliveries.


On the day I wrote this, we took an apple crumble and some apple juice round to our friends’ for Sunday lunch and the day before we helped out with Apple Day celebrations in the town square. The community garden round the corner from us and a local orchard had teamed up to set up some stalls offering many different varieties of apples, apple juice, fantastic baked apple goods and making-crazy-apple-faces kids activities. I was on the stall doing the latter. We made a lot of crazy faces.

Apple day was invented as a festival in 1990 – who knew? I assumed it was centuries old.  I found this out in an article in the new Creative Countryside magazine – a new publication focused on nature, adventure, folklore and story-telling. I partly mention this because some of you might have noticed that I did a post on the Creative Countryside blog about our Norfolk camping adventures.  It was actually Creative Countryside that first inspired me to make the changes I made this year and indeed to write my own blog charting my efforts. I therefore love the fact that these themes are now captured in an actual magazine (the first edition was, appropriately “Gather”), lovely to have an alternative to the online world.


Excited about the magazine, I pitched to write an article for the winter edition, was invited to submit the piece and it’s now in print! I haven’t seen it yet but if you like the sound of the magazine, you can order a copy here.

Summer’s end

img_20170819_115641.jpgHow did we get here already? The remainder of the holidays has just flown past. I can’t believe we’re back to school again on Tuesday. I am somewhat in denial – at the time of writing, new school shirts remain untried on and I know for a fact that the trousers I have in the drawer are currently way too long. But hey, I have three whole days yet to go. In the meantime, here are some of the other things that have filled our summertime since our Pembrokeshire holiday…


August… Not the summer weather we’d hoped for hey? The best we can describe it is so-so. One so-so Saturday, we engaged in hide and seek and,ahem, hill rolling on nearby Deacon Hill. I haven’t rolled down a hill for, ooh, at least a quarter of a century. It was steep and persuading myself to complete the first full body rotation was tough but after that I was pretty into it, in fact it’s fair to say my husband, Dom, and I were way more into it than the boys. Here is photographic evidence that we were actually this ridiculous – my gift to you and the internet!


That day I was a magical spider monkey. Most days in August we’ve been a new creature. I’ve been a magical woodpecker, dragon, superhero-lizard, ring-tailed lemur and Gastornis (ancient bird featured in a dinosaur magazine) among many (many) others. Today I am a magical glass dolphin. Occasionally I get to choose, but mostly my entity for the day is assigned.

On the day that Lara came to visit we were magical hummingbirds. We were looking after her as part of a childcare swap with some friends. On the Friday my boy had been entertained royally with a visit to Stockwell Park with its great museum displays and play areas. My plans for the return day were a little lower key. We weren’t able to use the car for boring carseat reasons and she is not a scooter fan so instead we started in the garden apple-bobbing and picking up windfalls.



Lara instantly bought into the idea of being a hummingbird and the kids fluttered down to the community garden round the corner, stopping to sup nectar from flowers in front gardens along the way.


I’d planned that we would pick elderberries (for wine!) from the forest garden but hardly any were ripe so that only lasted about one minute before the kids went and played on the swings and slides in the park.

After lunch I decided to up my game – we would make paper boats – and sail them down the river. The kids were enthusiastic: we followed a video on YouTube for the origami bit and had fun decorating them before launch.


I’d anticipated we’d be able to get into the river and float them down to each other quite a few times before they got too soggy. I’d done this last summer on a different local stream. After ice creams on the riverbank we headed to the launch spot but I hadn’t anticipated huge amounts of water weed and silty mud fringing every possible river entrance.

“Not to worry” I said cheerfully “We’ll drop them off the bridge and wave them on their way to the sea!” The kids were excited – they posed for photos before excitedly dropping them off the edge of the bridge and we had at least 10 seconds of delight as we watched them sail on their way.


In no time at all they were all stuck in the waterweed a few metres downstream and regrettably well in sight of the bridge. My younger boy burst into tears immediately and demanded I free his boat. We tried in vain for about 5 minutes to enter the water to release the three little stuck boats from their leafy ports. Then my older boy’s boat abruptly sank. I guess it just got too soggy but at this point he also burst into tears.

I tried to persuade them in my cheerful voice that we’d carried out the plan, we’d launched the boats and that was great and now we should just leave the bridge and go and play in the nearby sandpit. This cut no ice at all. I got cross and they cried louder and, well, it wasn’t my finest parenting hour! Lara was very stoic about the whole thing though, bless her, and eventually the draw of the park was enough to distract us all. We had to cross back over the darned bridge with its emotional boat-drama cloud still hanging over it to get home but the promise of Paw Patrol before dinner solves all.

And that last blog about wanting to experience summer rain? Well, the very day after I posted that was wall to wall drear and I had absolutely no desire to go outside. Summer rain or not, I had no energy, no wish to leave the sofa and certainly no desire to get wet. I think we did some kind of painting effort and the telly definitely featured heavily and I had to smile. Maybe next week!

Anyway, enough tapping at the keyboard, these holidays are done! It is now the day before school starts and while enough of the uniform mercifully fits, in no way is it all laid out and ready for school so I’m going to post this at summer’s close and ready us for the start of the autumn term. Deep breath…