Saturday, 3 November 2007

Tardy Sights and Sounds Homework..

I have been shamed into blogging. Is it really nearly 2 months since I last blogged? Where does the time go?...
Holidays, getting the boys back to school, doing Craft fairs and parties, making stock for Christmas, orders and some health problems (again) But it is no excuse. I am no busier than anyone else nor do I consider myself ‘more important’ than anyone else not to do it. As the kind of person who is always usually driven to complete a task I am shamed into confessing that I never completed my homework. Does anyone remember the’Smells and Sounds that touch me homework?’ I know it hasn’t escaped a few of you that I never did mine...

As I write my list I am struck by how many of them are reminiscent of my childhood and see that after over forty years I am still happiest with the simple things in life...

The smell of the woodburner as I come into courtyard...makes me feel happy and secure at the promise of a cosy afternoon or evening reading or crafting and listening to music in front of the fire.

A roast dinner...As a young girl every day seemed to be a Sunday dinner day. Most days we ate the 'cheap' cuts of meat; breast of lamb, belly pork, heart or something similar. The meal was always accompanied by two types of potato, tinned green beans or peas and carrots and my Nan’s thick lumpy gravy.
These days the boys favour loin of pork, beef tail, turkey crown and whole chicken and we only usually eat a big dinner on a Sunday. My hubby and boys never fail to comment about the smell that permeates through the house on a Sunday afternoon when we have a something in the oven.

Ripened tomatoes...As a small child I used to visit my other Grandma and Grandad and spent all my time in the garden with Grandad Ken and his collie dog Jip while Nanny Burnett was indoors making the dinner or reading. Grandad Ken had the most wonderful greenhouse and vegetable plot, more like a small allotment....or it seemed to be to a small girl. Sadly I never saw Grandad after I was about ten years old. I recently found out that he died about eight years ago. So sad, I think of times past and wonder if my love of gardening comes from the short but precious times spent with him and the smell of the tomatoes that will forever remind me of him.

Lavender and roses...I have always had a love of ‘vintage flowers’ since the house I lived in with my Nan had a plethlora of colour and fragrance by the back and front doors. As a child I used to pick them and collect the fallen blooms and mix them with water to make ‘perfume.’ The strong aroma of those vintage flowers was so very different to the sticky green gunge that the perfume turned into after a couple of days.

At this time of year I am surrounded by the smells again as I make lavender bags and rosehip and rosebud hearts for Christmas Fairs and parties.

Carbolic Soap...Bathtime on a Sunday evening in front of the fire when Nan would fill the tin bath with hot water first and used to scold me when I complained about it always being hot.

Violets...or rather African violets which remind me of my old piano teacher who was an old tyrant and used to rap me on the knuckles when I got something wrong. But I still have fond memories of her and that part of my life.

Manure, muck, whatever you call it...I love the distinctive smell of any sort of smell that I so firmly associate with the country and a reminder that have fulfilled my dream to live in the country.

Cinammon and Christmas spices....this is another smell which drifts through our barn at the moment as every day I am making Garlands and Decorations for Christmas Stock.

Cinammon is such a sweet and sickly smell. But I love it. Anise, Nutmeg, Ginger, Cloves; such aromas remind me of Mulled Wine, Mince Pies, Christmas Pudding and Cake and all things favourite time of the year.

Rain on the barn roof...Hubby calls me a hermit that I can craft on the island in the daytime with no radio or tv blaring away in the background. Instead I prefer to listen to the sounds of the countryside and there is nothing more relaxing than listening to the rain smattering onto the barn roof.
Birds chirping. All birds touch me. I get so much pleasure from ‘my birds’ and now know all of their songs. As I walk the mew of the buzzard makes me look up to see him gliding majestically overhead. I can tell when the woodpecker makes a flying visit past our garden, or when the blue tits are hungry and looking for food, or when Mr Robin is warding off any other robin who might be daring to steal some of the meal worms that I have put out for him. Or when the wagtail is chirruping. Or when spring has arrived and the first sounds of the swallows chattering away overhead tells me ‘they are back...’ And surely no better sound on a summers evening than to sit and listen to the blackbirds beautiful melody.
Crickets...warmth and association of faraway lands and holidays with pine trees and balmy nights.

Dog snoring...The dogs snoring always makes me be so contented...Pity the hubby’s snoring does not have the same effect....
Piano music...I love almost all solo piano pieces and find I am unable to resist listening to a piece that is well played without being lulled into listening intently and hypnotised by the artist.

Piano the franetic 'Flight of the Bumble Bee' by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakoff can energise me and motivate me to do something I may well not want to do like housework. I can master the housework even if I can never master the ‘Vivace’ pieces with my arthritic fingers.
Listening (or playing) something like the beautiful Le Onde or Beethovens Moonlight Sonata has the ability to stop me in my tracks and entrance me to listen to the serene beautiful lilting. Braveheart-Love of a Princess or the magical Prelude No 2 played by someone wonderful like Dustin O'Halloran can move me to tears.

Please listen to this-it really is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard. Such a talented composer and artist still not really recognised as great.

Laughter...Is infectious. Especially my Boys laughing. But in fact anyone laughing will touch me, and to hear myself laugh.

Right, I can tick another task off my 'things to do list'

So until another day

Bye for now

Monday, 10 September 2007

Quiet Mousie learns a hard Greek...

“Go on will be fine, just say it nice and loud..” I encouraged Quiet Mousie as we sat at the table following our lunch in Stavros’ Greek taverna. Positioned along the quayside of the harbour and with the most welcoming and charming of owners, one Stavros and his son Nicos, it had soon become our regular lunchtime eatery and welcome respite from the mid day sun each day.

I caught the eye of one of the young waiters that we had befriended over the first five days of our holiday who quickly came across beaming at us. I looked at Quiet Mousie and smiled, giving him eager eyes “Go on then...” The waiter looked on amused.

“To logariasmo, parakalo...”whispered Quiet Mousie. The Greeks face lit up “Ahhh...” he said, and he beckoned to my youngest to follow him. Quiet Mousie is a timid soul at the best of times, so unlike his big brother. He looked a little hesitant. “It will be ok...go with will be fine. I think he must be going to see Nicos and get the bill with you...”I assured him.

Me, Hubby and the eldest sat at the table cooing over him. Bless him. How proud we all were of him. The Greeks love you to make an effort speaking their wonderful language and my boys had delighted them all holiday, practising the language and ordering their food in pidgeon Greek. They always say “Kali Mera” (good morning,) “Kali Spera” (good afternoon) and displayed good manners, “Epheristo” (Thankyou.)

To ask for the bill is a very difficult sentence for a six year old. But Quiet Mousie had done it after five days of enviously listening to his big brother and the responses he got from the locals.

After he had been gone for more than a minute or two, we smiled and thought that the waiter had taken him into the kitchens to choose some ice-cream as they often do.

Two or three minutes passed and we presumed that he must be eating it in the kitchen.

After five minutes we started laughing between ourselves at the table and imagining him chatting away in the kitchen’s to the owners wife whilst eating his ice-cream.

Nearly 10 minutes later and knowing how shy Quiet Mousie is I sent the eldest to look for him. I had visions of him in a kitchen with the owners and not understanding a word they were saying!

Idle Jack came back “I can’t see him anywhere mum...”

About twelve minutes. Panic. Be rational. He’s fine. He’ll just be with Stavros or Nicos.

We waited another couple of minutes. I looked around. No sign of anyone. My heart starting to race a little now. “Where do you think he is?” I asked the hubby. With that the young waiter came back, alone.

“Signomi?” (Excuse me) I attracted his attention.“Poo eene o yos?” (where is my son?)
He looked around the taverna and shrugged.

Real panic now. We all stood up ready to dash through the alleyways looking for him. Maybe he was lost at the rear of the taverna somewhere?

We were just about to throw some money on the table and Nicos the owners son, walked in holding a bereft Quiet Mousie by the hand. He was sobbing and crying and slipped the hand of the Greek and flung himself into my arms, yelling at me and sobbing “Where were you mummy?”
“Oh my god, what happened baby?” I looked at Nicos and the waiter who both shrugged together this time.
Quiet Mousie was unconsolable. He sobbed and clung to me. I asked them to get him some water.
“Where did you get to?” I asked him. And he sobbed the story to me....

“That waiter ...he...he...took me to ...sob....the ...toilet....and he shut the” More tears as the whole story came out of how he stayed in the toilet for nearly fifteen minutes bewildered as to why he had been put in there and the door closed behind him.

Initially I was angry.
Then I realised. The waiter had misheard him. Quiet Mousie had softly asked “To logariasmo, parakalo...”
The waiter had misheard him and thought he ask “To toiletto, parakalo...”

Poor Quiet Mousie.
It took him nearly two hours to calm down. And he continued to fret every time we ate out.
"Please Mummy, please don't make me speak any more Greek this holiday," he begged me.

No hard feelings with Nicos...

So until another day

Bye for now

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Simply Greece

There is something wonderfully seductive about the Greek way of life and it’s simplicity. Ever since my first trip to Crete as an eighteen year old girl I have, for over twenty years had a love affair with Greece-not the ancient history, art and architecture or mythical Greece, but it is the people of Greece and their outlook on life that capture my heart.

When the only place left on the Manos Website for a late getaway was a 1 star apartment in a tiny unspoilt island called Meganissi, satellite island to Lefkas we jumped to book it. We go to Greece to ‘lose ourselves’ and forget the worries and strains of daily life. I think out of twenty three years there has only been one year when we I haven’t visited Greece; the temptation to spend a week or two without a phone ringing or not knowing what the news headlines are always proves too much.
Meganissi is one of the Ionian islands but unlike it’s sisters, Kephalonia, Corfu, Lefkas etc time really does seem to have stood still. We reached it by ferry from Nidri, on the island of Lefkas, and were immediately struck by the contrast between the bustle of that busy resort and the quiet solitude of the picturesque harbour and fishing village of Vathy that we sailed into. We all felt the immediate sense of peace and calmness, the harbour entrance is flanked by chapels which apparently are there to bless all those arriving and leaving and to give boats safe passage. It must be one of the few last remaining truly authentic and unspoilt Greek Islands.

The Greeks are of course all great philosophers and love nothing more than to talk and put the world to rights. And as we stepped off the ferry the blue tables and chairs of the first taverna that we saw were already full of the local men sitting with expressos and ouzo discussing politics and world events while they whirled ‘worry beads’ and flicked them around their wrists.

Meganissi is an island, the antipethese of the larger commercial Greek Islands like Corfu or Crete; as we stepped off the ferry it was like taking a step back in time-unspoilt, charming and full of unadulterated natural beauty. The island is a miniature Greek Island, measuring just 20 sq kilometres and has a population of only approx 1400 people. There are only three villages, barely more than hamlets and with little tourist development. In each, a labyrinth of tiny lanes and alleyways like ‘kantounia’ form a maze of whitewashed stone houses and courtyards full of tin-potted plants to the top of the hillside. It is this that evokes the bygone eras, especially with so few cars on the island. .

How I wish I'd had more time to paint or sketch the small and spartan, clean little houses which are the stamp of the rural life of the village's inhabitants. Those remaining inhabitants of the island are farmers and fishermen, whilst those who have left were expert boatmen and sea captains.

The main trade is still fishing rather than tourism and the fishermen go off for several months at a time on trips leaving the women sitting and tatting lace and shawls under the shade of the vines. For those left there are still olives to harvest, sheep and goats to milk and chickens to feed. In bygone years the villages were the centres of activity. Everybody would join in with the olive harvest to make oil to sell and corn was grown and milled in one of the many windmills to make flour. Nowadays, olive oil continues to be made on the island but in smaller quantities and is produced by machine instead of donkeys. Flour is no longer made so all that remains of the windmills are the round stone built towers that balance on hilltops and capes, bereft of their sails and looking forlorn.

A recently made road skirts the coast of the island making some of the little bays more accessible and gives a hint of development which may come in the future. However, for now it remains unspoilt, the most secluded bays can still only be reached by boat. The wildlife and habitat of the island is best observed on foot, although my boys found it too hot to do much walking. Paths and tracks twist across the island amongst the olive groves and maquis and the smell of pine emanates throughout. We hired a car for the week which helped with the mountainous tracks which give way to sheer hanging cliffs and the most spectacular views.

The beaches were typically Greek, although in Meganissi you often had the shingle and pebble stretches all to yourselves, even the week we were there which was ‘peak season.’ Sun loungers would have been a luxury and not in the vocabulary of this island so unfortunately the reed mats and towels didn’t provide cushion enough to be able to lie down and sun bathe for too long. But the discomfort was worth it to see the distorted faces the Workaholic Hubby pulled when trying to make a quick dash in and out of the sea!

The electricity was a typical Greek experience in that it went off several times a day sometimes leaving no power for half a day at a time. We soon stopped plugging in the kettle so as not to overload the circuit and chose instead to stick to retsina and Mythos beers in the end. And it was a little problematic when for the last two and a half days of the holiday there was no water AT ALL to our apartment. Apparently the island had a shortage of water (Deliveries of water by tankers have to ‘shared out’ amongst the islands) Because our apartment was up the hillside the water pump was not powerful enough to pump the water up the hill it was so steep. But Workaholic Hubby managed going up and down the 30 or so steps to the sea, collecting buckets of sea water for the toilet, and our regular Taverna “The Rose Garden” kindly allowed us to use their shower blocks.

Nothing spoiled our enjoyment of this lovely island. It was as they say in Greece “Easy, worries...”

There were few other children except the locals for my boys to play with and no entertainment or organised activities. In fact there really was very little else to do on Meganissi other than soaking up the relaxing atmosphere of the picturesque villages and harbours, sitting in the shade of the simple tavernas, and ‘people watching.’ But my boys managed to charm the Greeks who adore children anyway with their attempts at speaking Greek. Over 20 years ago I had a baptism of fire backpacking across the Pelopenese and through ‘bandit country’ when no one for miles could speak English. Over the years I can now speak enough Greek to order food, book rooms, find my way around and converse in basic terms and whilst I am far from fluent, they appreciate so much any effort to speak their beautiful language. We manage, as we shrug and scowl and find pidgeon Greek and English between us to reach an understanding. I have tried to influence the boys to make an effort and this has been repaid by the joy on the Greeks faces as the boys try to get their teeth around the tricky words.

Another day I shall tell you the tale of my youngest, ‘Quiet Mousie’ and the trouble he landed himself in when trying to speak Greek in a restaurant. And also of an encounter ‘Workaholic Hubby’ had with Panos, “The only Gay Greek in the Village” and owner of our apartments...

So until another day

Bye for now

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Quiet Mousie, the Entrepeneur...REAL Country Living and Runner Beans...

Few things in life can be so satisfying as harvesting (and better still, eating) your own freshly picked, home grown garden produce totally free of chemicals.

So it is a rewarding sight indeed at this time of year to see the bed filled to the brim with goodies that we have painstakingly nurtured from nothing earlier this year. We need to be patient now. It will be some months before we can pick the leeks, calabrese, purple sprouted broccoli, green pointed cabbage and sprouts. In between we have sown lettuce, radishes and rocket, quick growing and ripe for the picking when the leaves are small and tender. The slower growers need to develop thick sturdy bases ready for the winter winds that will surely rock them and test their robustness in their exposed position on the top of our hill.

Several years ago we lived at the old ‘Station House’ and had an enormous vegetable patch, more like an allotment. I cannot think of much that we didn’t have crammed into every row and the greenhouse full of exotics like chillies, aubergines and melons. When we moved house I had to ‘give in’ to the demands of full time market gardening due to my poor health. The optimistic beds we created gradually got smaller and smaller until just a few tubs of salad plants and runner beans remained.

Ah, that old stalwart... the runner bean...

For years they have been the staple of our summer diet. We didn’t particularly like runner beans when we started growing them. Their introduction was an attempt on my part to involve ‘Idle Jack,’ my eldest in the garden by capturing his imagination planting ‘giant beanstalks.’ But unlike his namesake he never even saw the first tendrils creep their way to the top of the cane before he had lost interest. For that small boy runner beans could not compete with Action Man or Power Rangers. But not so with his younger brother.

This summer I have a willing helper in the garden in ‘Quiet Mousie.’ His weekly trips to ‘Forest School’ and helping in the school garden have inspired him to show me how ‘green fingered’ he is. Forest School had also helped his fear of ‘mini beasts’ which had until this year somewhat hindered his efforts in the garden department. But his hands probe and tug at the soil now regardless of what lies beneath the soil. His favourite activity is helping me weed and water the raised beds and containers. His interest in nature and the garden is tireless and he now knows all about soil acidity and growing conditions and seed germination; his little brain like a sponge absorbing all I have to tell him and storing it in the recesses of his mind until one day he digs the first foundations of his own vegetable patch.
However one area that I won’t be able to impart my knowledge is how to avoid a ‘glut’ of runner beans. I have never mastered ‘succession planting’ with this old favourite and find over the years that however much you try and stagger the growing and planting out, the scarlet grape-like flowers and long green fingers all seem to grow at exactly the same time. By the end of the weeks we have usually given away more than we eat and are sick of the sight of runner beans.

For four weeks now Quiet Mousie has been out early in the morning with the colander picking them for me. He knows just the right size to pick them-when they are long and slender and just before they turn into thick cricket bats with fibrous strings! Still the canes creak under the weight of the beans that continue to proliferate the more we pick.
Earlier this week he sat and divided the beans into piles for a friend and our neighbours. Still there were pounds of them left. What to do with them? We already had ours for dinner. The freezer compartments are full with bags of prepared and blanched beans to see us through the autumn months. Me and Quiet Mousie laughed at how twelve small bean plants could have created the pound after pound of beans.
“I’ve got an idea mum, we could sell them at the bus shelter” He enthused.
“Hmmm, there may be something in that” I thought remembering how Primrose had sold bags of cherries last year by leaving fresh bags each day inside the shelter with an ‘honesty box.’

There is a surprising amount of people who go to the bus stop, mainly because the post box is position right next to it along with a telephone box. I hasten to add that as a bus shelter it is purely ornamental and has been redundant since about 1998 other than a gathering point for locals seeing the children on and off of the school buses that run past the edge of the village. However every evening the Shropshire Star Van lobs a large bundle of papers into the shelter as he hurtles past. We have no newspaper delivery in our remote part of the countryside, but anyone who wants a paper can come to the shelter and pick one up and keep abreast of local events.

Quiet Mousie carefully weighed and bagged up surplus runner beans and took three bagfuls to the bus shelter yesterday morning. It was deserted other than the doormice who have a home in there and a family of returning swallows who build two nests a year. We left a jar that was clearly labelled “THANK YOU-ORGANIC, HOME GROWN RUNNER BEANS-50P” He carefully positioned the bags and the jar so that they were alongside the ‘Egg Ladies’ boxes of eggs and twine wrapped bundles of Rhubarb.
As we drove to the post office later in the morning we checked to see whether any of the beans had sold. And as we came back from the Doctors in the afternoon we looked in again. The bags were still there.
“I hope they sell and don’t go all soft” He said looking disheartened. Then he beamed and added brightly “Still, it is early, maybe people haven’t gone out yet shopping yet?”

Late afternoon and me and the boys went to see our friend and take her runner beans. As we went past the shelter Quiet Mousie got out of the car to check whether the beans had even been moved. But they were still there. Idle Jack laughed.
“No wonder no-ones bought them...I hate runner beans! Uurrghh!” he said.
I threw him a look that told him to zip it and looked at the little one who was looking sadly out of the window. I texted Daddy, the Workaholic Hubby and tipped him off, suggesting that if the bags were still there when he got in later in the evening he might ‘buy them' and preserve our little ones feelings.

Our friend was delighted with the beans and by co-incidence showed me a jar of Runner Bean Chutney that she had in her fridge made by her Auntie Marian. We tasted it with sausage rolls and ham and it was delicious, although not to the boys taste.

As we drove back from her house a 4 x 4 was parked at the bus stop, as a man picked up his evening paper. So we pulled into the village and I sent quiet Mousie back to check for the umpteenth time on the bags of beans. He hid behind the trees until the car had moved off. He must have been gone a minutes or two and I was just about to get out and look for him when he came running over the grass verge with his face aglow, a huge smile beaming across his face and gushing,
“Mum, mum, You won’t believe this, but I’ve sold them! They have ALL gone. All three bags! That man in the car just took the last bag. And look at what I’ve got,” he directed at his older brother.
He uncurled his fingers carefully and there inside were two 50p pieces and what looked like the contents of someones trouser pocket in small coin denominations. We added it up. Short by 2p. They had obviously not expected to find such bounty at the bus stop. But I forgave them for the joy they gave to my little boy.

He clutched the money in his hand until he got home and counted it again. He went to bed talking of picking more beans in the morning and making some more money before we go on holiday at the weekend. Well Messrs Sainsbury and Marks and Spencer started somewhere didn’t they?...And I am sure when we checked on him as we retired for bed the smile was still fixed on his face as he slept...

I was wrong when I said there is nothing so good as harvesting your own produce...To a six year old selling it is SO much better...and seeing that smile on his face...priceless...

So until another day

Bye for now

PS-Below is Aunt Marians Recipe.

2lbs sliced beans- soaked overnight in water; drain; cook with salt and bicarbonate of soda. Strain and chop.
1 ½ lbs chopped onions
1 ½ pints vinegar
1 ¾ lbs demerara sugar
½ tablespoon turmeric
2 ½ tablespoons cornflour
½ teaspoon dried mustard
Salt to taste

Cook onions in large pan in vinegar until fairly soft. Add sugar and chopped beans.
Mix turmeric, cornflour, mustard and salt into a smooth paste with a little vinegar. Then add to rest of ingredients in pan.
Simmer 15-20 minutes stirring often.
Pour into clean, warm jars, cover and label.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Nightime, or is it morning ramblings?...

I looked for the 'can't sleep' forum for 10 minutes at 4 o’clock this morning. I could have done it at 2.30am. Anyway it's not there so I left a comment on a ‘can’t sleep’ post and have sat down at PC again armed with tea and toast, to blog and see if that helps.

It feels a bit like a confession...I don't have time to blog at present and feel bad for not 'keeping in touch’ on purple coo as much as I should and reading everyone's blogs-6 weeks holidays and all that...hey ho, I always wished I could find more hours in the day. Maybe this is the answer?

I could no longer listen to the clock tick tick ticking in my head or stand the bedding being rythmically lifted up and down, up and down syncronised to the gentle "Pphhwww's" of the 'puffer Billy’ lying next to me.

Of course it’s his fault I am awake. The Workaholic Hubby has a VERY IMPORTANT meeting in London and has to be on the train. His last words as we went to sleep last night were "Please darling, whatever you do...kick me out of bed in the morning..."
And so it has been that since 2.30am I have worried about oversleeping...and getting all my orders finished before we go on holiday next week (we got to Greece on the 25th for a week.)

Then in my head, the great bikini v swimsuit debate...I'm only 40 for heavens sake...but despite being blessed with a boy like figure and only weighing nine and a half stone I still have a jelly belly. Two 9lb+ babys and a penchant for Maltesers and Galaxy chocolate. No chance to go swimming every day with the boys off school...and all the orders to do...and all the lists to make to remember everything before we go away.
Anyway swimsuits won't hide the cellulite on my flabby thighs.

It's Nans birthday on Saturday. I have kept the receipts because whatever I buy her won't be right. This birthday I have bought her a tracksuit. Not a Nike/chav type of track suit. She is 89 on Saturday and despite having survived a major operation and spending a week in ITU earlier this year, she won’t be running far with her squeeky zimmer. So it is a Bon Marche 'special'-plum coloured pants made from a soft feel chenille/crimpelene mix with an elasticated waistband and a co-ordinating cream and plum striped top, 'roomy fit' but not like a tent. I have cut the label out already as she doesn't like those sticking in her skin. But I bet she doesn't like the stripes...will say they make her look big...

Good job I have bought her a hand crafted cushion from one of my 'Made in Shropshire'colleagues. That will be the boys gift to her. I hope she can read the wording with her catarracts. I suspect she will complain about the buttons sticking in her back.

She rang me yesterday to tell me my Dad was coming over today from Hull.
“That will be nice for you,” I said.
“Yes, but I hope he doesn’t stop long, I don’t want to miss my programmes...I like my programmes in the afternoons...”
She doesn’t know but he’ll be leaving her at lunchtime. He’s meeting me for the 2nd time in 20 years... and his grandson's for the first time.

Idle Jack asked me last night “Do you think we’ll like your Dad Mum?”
“Remember he isn't just my dad, he's your Grandad" I replied, "and yes I think so. I do...” I answered.
He is a very likeable chap. My dad. Maybe I will become a ‘Daddy’s girl’ after all like some of my friends who that special bond with their dads... ‘Daddy’s Princess’...Maybe I am a bit old in the tooth for that. But it is nice to have him back in my life after all these years. All these wasted years...

Oh, how to tell Nan we are going away again. She complained last week when I came back from the caravan that I seemed to have been away most of the six weeks holidays. That's the idea. I am not her primary carer any more.
Maybe I should just go away and not mention it...she doesn't need to know. I could pretend I was at the Post Office when she tells me she rang...
She will only complain that I shouldn’t be leaving her when she’s so ill. And she won't make it to her next birthday. And that I need to protect the boys from the sun...and me getting skin cancer now I am ‘getting on a bit’...and gypsy’s abducting the boys...It’s the same every holiday. At least I am not going to Portugal.

Every day I think about little Maddie. Every day Quiet Mousie asks “Have they found little Maddie yet Mummy?” He must watch me watching the news. They won’t be out of our sight this holiday.

I haven’t got to Greece yet...Bags to make...Gingham Bags, Dinosaur bags, Fairy Bags, Pink Flower and Heart Bags, Boat Bags... ‘All personalised with a name/wording of your choice’... ‘an essential for the child starting school or nursery in September...’
Every year children start school in September and I say I am going to be better organised...Every year I don’t quite anticipate the demand for my little handcrafted items...but people like their children to have their own ‘special bag’ with their name on. Hand crafted in Shropshire and not 'Made in China.'

It is approaching 5am and the dog hasn’t lifted an eyelid to me. “Mad woman...” he dreams.

At least I didn’t sleep in.

Until another day

Bye for now

Sunday, 29 July 2007


“So what did you enjoy most about your trip to Northumberland?” I asked the boys as we set off on the long journey home after our short break away.
“For me it was either meeting the blogging ladies or Alnwick Castle” said Idle Jack.
“I liked either the Castle or the purple ladies” interrupted Quiet Mousie, my youngest. “Thank you for taking us mummy, it was the best day of my life,” an uncharacteristic gush from him.
“Yes, thanks mum, it was brill” agreed Idle Jack, “When can we go again?”

Not a bad turn around for a sulky, petulant teenager who, 72 hours earlier had been huffing and puffing in the car next to me,
“Why do we have to go all this way to meet a bunch of’s weird!”
Unusually for the little one, he jumped on side with his brother, “What if they’re horrid and they ruin our holiday?”
“Look boys, I wouldn’t be going to Northumberland if it wasn’t for these strangers.” I had reassured them. “I have heard so many wonderful things about what a great place it is from @theMill's blog. And you know what mummy’s like-I get nervous about meeting strangers myself, so I wouldn’t make us all go somewhere if I thought it was going to be horrid.”
They were clearly going to take some persuading.
“And anyway, whatever happens you will be going to the Harry Potter Castle.”
Silence. Those two magic words. Harry Potter. Bright eyes, eager looks.
JK Rowling has hypnotised every child in the land. And I had exploited this obsession to full effect in order to convince them that Northumberland was the place for a short visit this six weeks holiday.

We set off at 6am to try and avoid Manchester and rush hour traffic. By 10am our stomachs were already leaping into our mouths over the fair ride dips of the old Military road which runs adjacent to Hadrians Wall. First stop enticed us into the Roman Army Museum and next I sat drinking flask coffee as the boys battled, purchased swords in hand as Barbarians V Romans in the grounds of Vindolanda.

We were fortunate to stay in a luxurious hotel in Hexham. However I wished throughout the trip that we had opted for a B&B or @the Mills Spitalford Cottage for the duration so we may have been closer to the bloggers and the main attractions of our stay.

It was a significant trip. No-one realised, least of all the boys the significance. Two years ago me and the boys went by ourselves to York, the Yorkshire Dales and East Coast. On that trip I could barely drive at times for tears stinging my eyes as I tortured myself listening to Dido and Whitney Houston. Me and their dad were separated at the time. I wasn’t prepared to see another six weeks holiday ruined for them, so I mustered the courage to take them away by myself and try and give them the best holiday I could. In fact it was a thoroughly miserable holiday without their daddy...we all three spent much of it crying and cut it short in the end. Although I don't know why really because at that time all we had to go back to was an empty house...

This holiday, Daddy couldn’t get any more time off work. Or maybe he didn’t relish the prospect of meeting the bloggers quite as much as me...But in any event I decided weeks ago that it was time to push the boundaries of my courage and drive by myself with the boys to this place I had always wanted to visit. I had an incentive this time, meeting a bunch of strangers and hubby safely at home. And so I ignored the flashbacks along the journey to that dark time two years ago. Workaholic Hubby texted and rang us along our journey, following the adventure.

The trip was worth it for me-it proved my strength of character with the confidence and sense of achievement it gave me. It gave me a ‘peace’ and a closure on certain things especially with the timings...a kind of ‘Orange Man’ Blog meets Diary of a Country Bumpkin Blog. Those who have followed my story will understand what I am talking about. It was something I wondered if I could ever manage a few months ago when I felt so ‘lost.’

It was worth it to see the delight on the boys faces when they saw the majestic Alnwick Castle and followed the Battleaxe to Broomsticks Tour and Dragons Quest. Idle Jack now wants to start Archery classes after a short archery session and several shots on ‘bulls eye’ in the grounds. Quiet Mousie was mesmerised by a magician called Brian.

It was worth it to see the stunning countryside-a cross between the spectacle of the the South Shropshire Hills where I live, and the more rugged, wild landscape of the North Yorkshire Dales I used to frequent. At times the countryside took our breath away and the clouds and showering weather only served to accentuate the landscape and the colours of the hills.

It was worth it to see the bright, beaming face and twinkling eyes of @the Mills daughter as she greeted us at the door of their beautiful home. I didn’t see my boys much that afternoon-they went off with the daughter and the dogs, bouncing on trampolines and playing in the beautiful gardens. Then when it rained they re-inacted scenes from Harry Potter while watching Harry Potter Videos with the wands we had purchased from the Castle Shop. Because of the rain we never did get to the most beautiful beach in the world. We talked about it a lot over the two days but it still remains an enigma which I will have to follow up on next years trip to the Northumberland Coast....

It was worth it to see Crystal Jigsaws panoramic views and corner of Northumberland where she gets her ‘inner peace.’ It was worth it for the kiss and hug I got from Amy, Crystals daughter. She is as boisterous and lively as their little puppy, Sparky, and her smile lights up the room. All afternoon she called me ‘lady’ in between hijacking my boys who I only saw when they wanted food.
It was worth it for the ‘strange’ experience I encountered when I went into one of Crystals bedrooms and my heart started palpating. There was definitely ‘something’ I felt there and so did the others.

It was worth to see @theMill again and meet Exmoor Jane who both came to join us at Crystals for the afternoon.

And it was worth it to be welcomed home to the barn by the Workaholic Hubby who was standing in the courtyard in the rain to greet us and unload the car as we fell out of it, drunk with fatigue, late on Friday evening.

What about the bloggers, I hear you all ask. Well, I always knew they were going to be warm and bright and funny and interesting. I always knew I would feel safe, comfortable and at ease in the company of Crystal, @the Mill and Exmoorjane. My only real surprise was seeing @the Mill is as attractive as she is! I had built an impression of someone wise and somehow pictured her with a purple rinse- I couldn’t have been more wrong!

What made me smile the most as I drove home from Crystals is how far I have come in the short time since meeting the Welsh/Shropshire PurpleCooers just a couple of months ago when I was nervous but excited. I must be almost blase at meeting the purple coo blogging brigade-this time I didn’t have any butterflies or trepidation...It was just as if I was looking forward to seeing old friends....I could have stayed a week and we would still have been pushed for time with so much to talk about and so much in common...

So, as my band of friends and Christmas Card list gets even bigger I think how lucky I am and the only thing I wonder is...

...where shall I visit next?...

Until another day

Bye for now

Tuesday, 24 July 2007


Where is the time going? My Nan always told me that after you turned 21 your life just flies past. Now I am nearly twice that age does that mean life moves at twice the speed?

It is already nearly the end of July and another six weeks holidays are upon us. Quiet Mousie's holidays came two days early as he was poorly at the end of last week with bad throat and glands and a raging temperature.

Luckily I had pushed on well with most of my orders-so I was able to sit alongside my little limpet while doing the finishes touches to the order I had in from Muddy Boots,merchandise for her shop which I designed/created and hope sells well for her...

‘Idle Jack,’ I am pleased to say, made it through the whole term without a day off sick, which is a first! Now he has broken up he can get up when he pleases, slob around in his PJ’s and announce as he does most days that “I’m having a lazy day today mum...” Still I can’t complain, my best number one son turned 14 yesterday. That is another fourteen years which have passed in the blink of an eye.

We celebrated by going to see Harry Potter-Order of the Phoenix. I do believe Ms Rowling has us all hypnotised. It was most enjoyable and when his copy of the new ‘Deathly Hallows’ book came through the post yesterday, I did rather wish I had it sent to me so I could ‘speed read’ it first before giving it to Idle Jack!

We have rather a Harry Potter theme week planned as we set off tomorrow on our first ever trip to Northumberland in pursuit of Alnwick Castle, aka Hogwarts, and of course some of the Northumberland Purplecoo brigade.

Since I joined the Blogging community I have heard so much about Northumberland, a place I have never visited. A couple of weeks ago on a whim I announced to the workaholic hubby that I would love to go. He has all his holiday entitlement booked for this year, so can’t get away. So instead I am going by myself with the boys and he is going to stay home and work and look after the dog! So me and the boys for just 3-4 days will go on our very own adventure...

My holidays as a child were spent on the East coast-Withernsea, Bridlington, Filey, Scarborough. I always thought it rather grim with the cold North Sea and perpetual rain until I realised in more recent years that Nan could never afford to go at ‘peak times’ so we must have always been there ‘out of season!’ Still, it never stopped me enjoying my times in a caravan-I still remember the smell of the calor gas and the sound of the rain drumming and the seagulls tip tapping on the roof of the van.

No, a bit of rain won’t dampen my spirits if it decides to continue on our trip to will be raining back home, no doubt...So we may as well be away having a change of scenery and in pursuit of joining 'Dumbledores Army' in the North East...

So until we return

Bye for now

Thursday, 5 July 2007


I am sure that for those of you who are following my journey of self discovery in the Orange Man Blog, it may appear that I am someone who has had more than their fair share of knocks. So you may therefore find it hard to believe that until recently I wasn’t someone who ‘got down’ very often.

Over the years I have always been a positive person, one of the ‘half full’ rather than ‘half empty’ brigade and some might even say an eternal optimist. Maybe it has just been my finely tuned survival instinct however I have always been one to see the good in things and people and always believed that things happen for a reason.

Anyway, since I have had more dark times lately I have had to find coping strategies and so I list below my 5:-

1 Count my blessings and think of people who are less fortunate than myself.

This is why I love Cait O’Connor’s blog so much and I always count my blessings. Whatever tough time I got from my Nan’s domineering and controlling character, she took me in and brought me up rather than letting me go into a children’s home. My life would have been very different.

It is never hard to think of someone you know, or who is in the news who is worse off than you.
For example with my illness, I occasionally have periods of prolonged pain and that tends to wear me down. I try to be grateful and give small blessings because at least I can still walk. And at least I won’t die from it; At least I am fortunate enough to not work now and so (in theory) I should be able to live my life at a steady pace; At least it is not one of my children suffering...

2 Busy myself.
This in more recent years has proved my salvation, particularly through my business. I use DISTRACTION to maximum effect! I busy myself and my head so much that I don’t allow myself to dwell on negative things. I am by nature the mistress of overthinking! So it has also proved a useful strategy and worked well for me for resting my brain and allowing me time to heal.

3 Take some time out and be kind to myself.
It has taken me nearly 40 years and I still have some was to go to perfect the true art of relaxation. But if I am feeling a little fragile I can now sometimes allow myself the luxury/permission to ‘chill out’ read a book, do my nails, have a massage, eat junk food, indulge myself in whatever I feel like doing.
And it also still never fails to make me smile and feel like a naughty girl for being so rebellious, daring to sit at the PC or read or something 'self indulgent' when there are chores to be done! I still have a way to go with this, but I am getting there...

4 Surround myself with the people I love.
My 'bestest' friends are usually just the tonic! I have a close circle of 5-6 main ones and they all give me something different; one gives me ‘tea and sympathy,’ one is really practical and rational and provides welcome advice to my emotional thinking; one is mature and wise and calming; one is a riot and makes me laugh; and the other is so self consumed and talks about herself all the time it helps me forget my problems!
Also having fun with the boys or a bottle of wine by the chiminea with my husband is good too.

5 If all else fails...Music....

Mean and moody Gorecki or relaxing Ludovico Einaudi, or housework to Take That!. I can sometimes sing myself out of the doldrums! Or occasionally if I am very blue I will allow myself to wallow until I hit the bottom. Eventually there comes a point when you hit the bottom and the only way to go is up...I have to do that to myself sometimes-think about something SO much that I sicken myself of it!! Then I can shout inside my head “STTOPPPP!” I have found that I can block the negative thoughts from my mind then whenever they creep in by distracting myself and thinking of something different.

Thanks for tagging me Annak-I am very conscious that so many people are already supporting me with The Orange Man Blog and I didn’t want them to get ‘fed up’ of me always blogging/being on the site! However this blog has also 'cheered me' to see that at least, of late, I have discovered some ‘pick me ups’ and coping strategies that DO WORK FOR ME....

So until another day

Bye for now

Friday, 22 June 2007


Last night was the event that the whole blogland community has been waiting for, having been billed as the biggest gathering of Witches, Mice and PurpleCooers. I was honoured to be specially commissioned to report on the auspicious occasion of marking the Midsummer event and two month anniversary since the creation of the Purple Coo site by The Headmistress and Matron of the Skool. Every member of this substantial team pulled together to make this a night to remember. The organisation was executed to military precision which may have been helped by the input from several squaddies who have become rather close to this community..

When I first arrived at the venue I did encounter some resistence on the gate by the main entrance when I was towered overby a formidable woman of mammoth proportions, apparently known as Madame Grogonne. She proceeded to stop and interrogate everyone and appeared to take delight in ‘frisking’ everyone as they went past. She quite ruffled my Chicken Licken feathers.

Once I had convinced her of my reporters authenticity I witnessed two young ladies who were propped up by the wall. How they managed to get past the Madame I am not sure! Although it may have been that the one with a name labelaround her neck-‘Toady’, could have jumped the wall as she was crumpled up in a heap by the side of her drinking companion,Jaynebeth. The pair of them were working their way through the contents of a box containing several bottles. On closer investigation it appeared that this contained sloe gin, sloe pocine, bramble wine and elderflower champagne, a lethal combination which could explain their inebriated state. And I don't think this had been helped by Bodran's tree resin wine, a seemingly innocent but potent tincture. After spending rather more time than I perhaps should have I excused myself as Toady who had been drinking all day,started slurrily singing “Show me the way to go home...” .
I had to remind myself that I was invited to the venue on business, not pleasure but I fear my drink must have been spiked as the rest of the evening now seems to be rather a blur...

Of course as is always the highlight of any such occasion the clothes were the main focus of the evening. I can (just about) remember the attendees stepping off their broomsticks and bicycles onto the green carpet, stunningly manicured lawns, painstakingly tended by one Country Mousie, with help (or hindrance) from Tattie Weasel. Judging by some of the glittery and splangly numbers it was clear so see that everyone had gone to a huge effort for the extravaganza and the crowds simply gasped at the magnificance of some of the visions and creations...

The Headmistress was one of the first to arrive-it can only be said that it defies belief how anyone can get those warts to look so realistic...A stunning specimen.
It is hard to judge who the crowds favourite was; One of the most remarkable of the evening was Nanny Ogg, a woman of most generous proportions and a bulbous face who was dressed in black and looked every bit the star of the show.
However probably the one to steal the limelight from her was a nubile lady known only as ‘Faith’ who chose the ‘au naturel’ look and made a simple and fitting fashion statement most suitable for such an occasion.

The house was decorated with Purple fairy lights all over which Zoe had spent all day hanging and these twinkling purple hues set off to perfection, the backdrop of the dark grey austere building. As I entered the main building I was immediately ‘drawn’ to a door way on the left which was shrouded in mist. I popped my head around the door and blinked into a darkened room with a purpleswirling smoke billowing around. There, I was greeted by a stunning looking woman with silver hair and swathed in black velvet and chiffon-it was Mystic Crystal. Being a top investigative journalist it is usually my duty to be impartial and cynical about supernatural and fortune telling matters. However Mystic Crystal predicted that everyone would have a wonderful evening and suffer thick heads in the morning and I believe this was so likely to be accurate that I have no doubt as to her magical powers.

Entering the main hall I could hear the DJ-DJ ‘Jazzy’ Cait and her dulcit tones above the Rapping Nolan Sisters. When the MC Bucks Fizz started playing Suffolk Mum and Devonlife fair flew onto the dancefloor and started dancing round their handbags. ChrisH and JEP were already there with AnnaK and some of the others. They were quickly moved in on by a dancing cat. Yes, I said a ‘dancing cat’-a rather ‘cool’ looking dude called Dudley who could breakdance to Leo Sayer.

Sitting in a corner was the Country Craft Angel who was busy sitting like Cinderella most of the evening sewing up I’m a PurpleCoo Bag Lady Bags. In between though, she kept being dragged to do Karaoke by ‘Bill’ and they delighted everyone with their rendition of “You’re the one that I want..” and Country Craft Angel said she always wanted to be like Olivia Newton John.

Alternative activities had cleverly been organised bu SnailbeachShepherdess for those who preferred to be outdoors; there was a Purple Sheep Shearing Contest, although quite what her and Mountaineer were rubbing into the Australians...hem, hem...It seems it wasn’t the only ‘suspect goings on...I was told by Patsy, who was manning the Pimms tent not to go round the back of the tent as Blossom was showing a squaddie how to master ‘ painting by numbers’ and from where I was standing he looked enthralled.

And so to the spread. No, not centre spread, although after a few drinks, Faith was starting to pin her ribbons on anyone who was interested!

The food was a feast for the eyes...It could have stepped out of a BBC Good Food Magazine. The food had been toiled over and showed standards to shame Masterchef, such was the talent demonstrated by the PurpleCoo members.
There were the most wonderful Purple Ice Cream Sundaes by Muddy Boots which were flying off the tables. Presili Mags had made the most enormous Chocolate Cherry Trifle and had apparently had to improvise and make it in the paddling pool it was so large. Centre of the table was the most magnificent Smoked Salmon which was prepared by Bradan and looked exquisite. And a wonderful Syllabub from Fennie.
I was unable to resist a piece of Camilla’s Chocolate cake which was delicious, and washed down with her punch which I was told was non alcoholic, but again it was another drink which I fear was heavily spiked.

The alchol flowed freely, in fact rather too freely. The 700 bottles of Champagne that Elizabethd had so carefully organised to be shipped from France was tipped into the Coowarts pond and ladled out by the mugful into the mouths of the thirsty revellers.

As the evening drew to a close and all the food had disappeared from the plates and the pond was dry of Champagne the party revellers started to leave, probably before they were asked to help tidy up. Exmoor Jane was under the tables gathering empty boxes as she said they would come in very useful for the move.

And I was left with a sense of...of...belonging....yes, that’s why it was so good. I will leave it to another who can articulate better than me quite what this Community mean to each other. But suffice to say that I feel sure the Midsummer Parties will become a regular event at Coowarts....And I hope for one that I will be part of it all again next year...

So until next time, this is Chicken Licken, Top Reporter and Investigative Journalist signing off....and going to soak up this alcohol with some of Pondsides Pancakes and Maple Syrup...

Thursday, 14 June 2007


It seems a long time ago now that we were over on the ‘other side’ and I was vowing never to blog again because of the bad taste the whole experience with CL had left.

However here I am blogging my little heart out in My Orange Man Blog. And now I take another step in getting my life back on track by actually blogging something NEW (instead of re-gurgitated stuff) in my Diary of a Country Bumpkin Blog! You never know Chicken Licken may come out of retirement at some point. Maybe as the Orange Man Blog develops and I can put some issues to ‘rest, ’ the two will meet...

And it is all testament to Purple Coo and all those who are part of this wonderful, warm, funny compassionate site.. I am so glad to be part of it, and continue to marvel at how we have all touched each others lives in so many ways. Thank you all for your interest and support and giving me the confidence to continue...

Now, before I get all sentimental and carried away, there is work to be done!! As always I am task driven and highly motivated once I get an idea in my head. I can’t remember now how it all came about-I think Mousie started it when she ordered a bag for the Heiress and people saw what I created. In any event there was a suggestion that maybe I could come up with something ‘purple, ’... and so was born the Purple Coo Bag ideas. Before I knew it one thing led to another and my creative juices were flowing. The next idea was for carrier bag tidies and fun wording, “Old Bags,”; then I thought of cow fun fabric; someone asked about a ‘Shopper Bag’...

And so, having received lots of lovely comments and positive feedback we have a whole range of Purple Coo items, available to order. I am of course very grateful for any orders I receive, although it was never my intention to ‘exploit’ blogging for my little craft business. I was looking for a new direction with my business a few months ago and even considered changing my business name to Country Craft Angel, so I think some of the positive responses have helped me see which way I would like to go now. Because of my ill health I will never be business woman of the year-this is more like a hobby; something to keep my brain alive, my hands working and meeting nice people. My prices therefore here are ‘mates rates.’ I am covering my costs and making a bit of pin money and am just so pleased to have a nice project to do helping to advertise PURPLECOO as well as uniting everyone with merchandise and giving an even stronger sense of belonging....


-All items made from a thick, quality fun fabric with 'pile/texture' and fressian cow print.

Large Bag £10.50 each+£2.50 P&P
Standard Bag £7.50 each+ £2.50 P&P
Carrier Bag Tidy £3.95 each + £1.00 P&P
Door Stop (unfilled) £10.00 each+£1.50 P&P

Made from thick woven cotton purple gingham fabric. Lettering and letter plate are appliqued in felt by bondaweb and hand sewn finishing.

Large Bag £10.50 each+£2.50 P&P
Standard Bag £7.50 each+£2.50 P&P
Carrier Bag Tidy £3.95 each+ £1.00 P&P
Door Stop (unfilled) £10.00 each+£1.50 P&P


-Made from crushed velvet and lined with purple viscose lining and an organza ribbon drawstring.

Large Bag £11.50 each+£2.50 P&P
Standard Bag £8.50 each+£2.50 P&P


A heavy duty Canvas Shopper style Bag with long handles.

Cream coloured heighy weight canvas.
Lettering appliqued in purple canvas or felt (TBC)

SHOPPER (approx 43cm x38cm ) £5.50 each + £1.50 P&P



Large Bags measure approx 48cm x 60cm (Laundry Bag Size)
Standard Bags measure approx 35cm x 45cm (PE Kit/Gym Shoe Bag Size)
Door Stops measure approx 16cm x 14 cm.
Carrier Bag Tidy's measure approx 19cm x 45cm.

Please note Door Stops are supplied unfilled due to weight/high postage costs. Simply fill with approx 2-3kg of cheap rice +/or beans (not sand as this stains fabric)
All items are individually made and not mass produced. Therefore if you require any item to be personalised or wish for alternative wording, just advise when ordering.

All Items are all double stitched for added strength and are completely washable.

Please either leave a note in the comments box of this blog or E-mail me direct with details of which product (s) and choice of designs.

My business E-mail is:-

Because every item is individually made please allow me up to 21 days for orders to be completed and up to 28 days for busier times.

I will however always endeavour to meet any deadlines or special dates you may need your order for. Just let me know at ordering and I’ll do my best.

I also give my assurance to keep you updated on progress of customers order throughout. As soon as I can I will give an estimated date of completion.

Delivery will be by 1st class post.

For multiple purchases:-If you would like to order more than one item please calculate the postage weight charge of the heaviest item and then add an extra £1.00 per item. For example:-

If you wish to purchase a Standard Gingham Bag and a Gingham Door Stop,
The total for the order would be £17.50 (£7.50+£10.00)
p&p will be £ 3.50 (£2.50+1.00)
TOTAL TO PAY = £21.00

I can also send by Recorded Delivery for an additional 0.70p.

If you are unsure about p&p charges please feel free to e-mail me for a quote.

I am sure you will be completely happy with your purchase. However in the unlikely event that you are not completely satisfied I offer a full refund on goods returned and undamaged within 14 days of receipt.

PAYMENT- Either cheque, postal order or Paypal
Cheques/P.O should be made payable to:-DESPINA GIFTS
and please then send to:-

Debbie White

Phew! Ok my PurpleCoo friends, I think that just about covers everything!

I hope the above is clear and of course if anyone has any further questions please don't hesitate to contact me.

I thank you all in advance for your interest and assure you of my best attention

So until another day
Bye for now