Slow Lane Life II

How we moved to the West Country and learned to slow down even more


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Family stuff

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We went to Glasgow, The Gardener and I, the Lovely Son and Girlfriend, to meet up with sister Anne and husband John, neither  having met Girlfriend, and John not having met The Gardener. They were home for a few weeks before returning to Greece for Christmas.  Anne and John’s apartment in the city centre was too small to accommodate four extra visitors but was perfect for hanging out and eating together. Lurking balefully beneath the coffee table, hissing when looked at, was Lady, a small cat currently being fostered while her owner is in hospital; Lady hated everything and everyone, emerging only to eat, oblivious to the care and concern on offer.

It was rather nice to be back in a city, with imposing buildings and streets that ran straight up and down, so different from the meandering lanes of home.

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You may recall that theirs is the very same apartment from which some of the opening moments of WWZ were filmed – you can see it right behind Brad Pitt’s head when he steps out of the car:

The central area of Glasgow, now trendily known as Merchant City, is rather splendid.

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Our hotel was just round the corner from the apartment, and was comfortable if somewhat idiosyncratically decorated in eye-watering colours; our first night was marked until the small hours by the sounds of revelry in the streets following a Scotland/Ireland match – as the hotel receptionist said, “Two countries that like to party!”

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As ever with our family, food featured prominently. Our first meal, cooked by Anne, was very Greek, very delicious. We tucked in too enthusiastically to remember to take photographs. Lady remained under her coffee table, untempted by tender lamb.

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The next morning we met up for the Great Scottish Heart Attack breakfast. Some of the more refined/restrained amongst us had smaller breakfasts, but some of us had the full works, murmuring apologetically that we “would never do this at home!”

For Sassenachs, an explanation: top, clockwise, pork sausage, Lorne (beef, square)) sausage – I love it – black pudding (passed rapidly to the LS), bacon rashers, buttered toast, tomato, mushrooms, potato scone (mmmm-hmmm!) with a fried egg on top, and a central teacup of baked beans. Did we eat it all? Only by sharing….

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Over the rest of the weekend, we continued to eat a great deal (Mexican lunch, Scottish dinner – haggis and clapshot for me!), talk a great deal, walk a great deal, and we had a really lovely time, not nearly long enough. Some highlights:

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Up one of the many steep hills – this one was known locally as Induction Hill,  that once led to the old maternity hospital, now demolished, but with an amusing landmark structure in its place.

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Glasgow is good at laughing at itself; witness the Duke of Wellington, the traffic cone always on his head no matter how many times over the years that it was removed by the authorities, and now an iconic sight – and the model for a living statue.

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Public art in the Italian Centre.

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I’d always seen this as a pig, but no, it’s a dog….

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(or a pig….)

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Can’t recall what this turreted building was, with traffic roaring past it.

On past the Cathedral; rather splendid too.

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We walked over the Bridge of Sighs up to the Necropolis, the Victorian hilltop cemetery overlooking the city – below, hospital on one side, brewery on the other – and looked at the imposing mausoleums and gravestones. So interesting, and surprisingly ungloomy, despite the dull weather.

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The LS and G left earlier than us on Sunday morning, so Anne and I had a chance to dash into John Lewis (truthfully, the only store I really miss, down here in the sticks) for a spot of birthday and Christmas shopping, leaving John and The Gardener to take a pleasant walk down to the river and get to know each other a little. Nobody managed much to eat that day.

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And then, much too soon, it was time to fly home.

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A lovely sunset on each flight, but on return, a less than lovely cold, picked up first by The Gardener from the sneezy woman sitting behind him, then generously passed on to me.

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Until next time, Glasgow! But nice to be home again, with cats that didn’t hide, hissing, under tables, and a labrador who beat us about the legs with rapturous tail. Coming soon, The Gardener and I visit Portugal. I am dieting in advance…


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Walk in the woods

Flossie and I walked this morning, to rid me of a thumping headache, up up up onto the moor, me puffing and panting on the steep bits (“So unfit! must do this more often”) and complaining about my knees on the downhill bits, Flossie running, jumping, snuffling, without a care in the world, heedless of slopes, of stony tracks, of muddy stretches. We could see the town spread below us in sunshine, the Bristol Channel vivid blue for once, and Wales gleaming across the water. Standing for a few minutes, catching my breath, I could hear nothing at all. Down through the woods, the birds sang and rustled, and Flossie, never elegant,  galumphed joyfully, crashing through the browning bracken and fallen leaves.

She found a little rough shelter, and I found some fly agaric (amanita muscaria); scenes from a fairy tale.

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There would have been more pictures, if I’d had a camera rather than my tatty old phone, and maybe my specs…..

On the path home, a buzzard circled slowly, silently, so close to us that I could discern its individual wing feathers, then began to rise on the thermals until it became a speck in the blue sky and the birds began singing again.

It was unseasonably, wonderfully warm in the sunshine, and my headache was gone. This is a wonderful place in which to live.


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My fireworks

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It’s November 5th, no longer so commonly referred to as Guy Fawkes Night (another dark episode in British history), but still marked in the UK by bonfires and fireworks. On this day in 2007 a calm, compassionate (and, memorably, extremely tall) independent doctor met with me and agreed that I could retire early on health grounds. I wept with intense relief, knowing that there was truly no way that I could have returned to work, no matter what his decision. I had no alternatives planned, and was in no state to plan anything anyway; his decision shifted me from a very bleak period of fear and uncertainty into long months of rest and recovery before I could think about how the rest of my life would take shape.

The fireworks that night were all for me, I said, dazed and delighted. I would say this every year until this, when I forgot completely about that momentous day. But I was reminded this evening by an email from Shelagh, who remembered its significance to me. As she wrote: “Big decision you made some time ago now. But oh, wasn’t it the right one! And look where you are now!”

We didn’t forget the fireworks though; tonight we left the animals, who, after years of living in noisy student areas up North, are completely unresponsive to explosive bangs, whistles and whooshes, and went down to the beach to watch the display. Nothing too impressive – times are hard – but it was enjoyable to stand in the dark, clouds scudding past the moon, to hear and watch, to catch the reflections on the gleaming dark water. The Gardener took photographs.

Everyone’s fireworks, not just mine. Well, maybe just a little bit mine….

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Creeping back in

Oh dear, where has the time gone? I thought so often of writing a blog post, only to find my mind blank or my life seeming unreportably dull. Sleepy, slow, nothing-ever-happens dull.

So I shelved the idea, again and again.

But the extended summer has been wonderful, and of course life wasn’t really dull at all. I haven’t been entirely idle. After the steady influx of welcome visitors, The Gardener and I re-established our ordinary routines, our ordinary diet, one that did not necessarily involve almost-daily visits to pretty cottage cafes for tea and cake. We tackled the ordinary chores, the cleaning, the ironing, the weeding and pruning. We took action on the ever-leaking back door. We avoided the (usually ghastly) news in any depth. We also spent time sitting about, gazing gently into the middle distance, saying things like “Well, I suppose I should make myself useful…” and then not.

And I learned to make these:

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No, not those; these:

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Spot the difference.

To be honest, I learned more about how not to make them, and about the fine line, colouring-wise, between lurid purple and subtle lilac, aka dishcloth-grey. Also about leaving your ganache too long in the fridge so that it was difficult to pipe ( and oh! how very bad I am at piping anything! Tutor and general encourager Werner advised practising with mashed potato) onto the fragile macarons before the class ended and we had to take our bizarrely-shaped creations home. A fun day, though, in our local college, tackling a new technique (involving mountains of washing up) with a cheerful bunch of women whose attempts were… er… just as individual as mine. For example:

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Despite their lack of classical shape and their general falling-to-bits ugliness, my macarons improved mightily in taste after a day or two in the fridge, and The Gardener wolfed them uncritically. I shall never make them again, ever; life is too short.

Occasionally I went to work with The Gardener, and learned to use a big red ride-on mower – two different mowers (the shiny new one purred, the older one clanked, but both went excitingly fast!) in two very different gardens (one in rolling countryside, surrounded by fields, the other on the very edge of wetlands, bleakly beautiful.) Even more fun, those big red toys, than piping stiff ganache on papery blobs that had all run into each other. I could have a second career in the making….

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We visited old houses.

Tyntesfield, near Bristol.

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Stogursey Castle (remains of).  You can book short stays here and practise not falling into your own moat.

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Having kept her on a lead so as to keep her out of the moat, we took Flossie to enjoy the seaside at sunset.

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And now it’s really autumn at last, and we have travel plans. Just little plans – a family gathering in Glasgow, a short trip to Portugal for The Gardener and I – but exciting enough for two people who live in a sleepy slow place at a sleepy slow pace.

Meantime, autumn progresses, the colours change, the ordinary continues to be as beautiful and life-affirming as ever. Back soon.

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Connected

So I’m chatting to The Gardener on his hands-free thing in the car; he is in Taunton trying to park whilst also struggling to remember the details of the item I need him to buy and bring home tonight. (A new mop, if you really want to know; getting to Lakeland from where we live entails a round trip of almost 50 miles; he is in Taunton already, and loves a bit of shopping, even if it’s nothing more exciting than replacing the nasty bedraggled old mop that has Health Hazard stamped all over it.) Then I need to check if a message has been sent concerning M, his Youngest Daughter, who is staying with us this week, and tell him about    it. But I can’t find my phone.

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“Where’s my bliddy iPhone now? How do I manage to lose it all the time?” Scuttling round the house as I wail. These slim phones are a nuisance; bring back the huge brick-like things that we all used to be so impressed by – they didn’t get lost down the sides of armchairs, slither through holes in your pocket or swallowed by the dog. I lift papers, rummage in bags; the YD would simply tweak it out from under her bra strap.

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Eventually The Gardener – who rang me – makes various suggestions as to its whereabouts, then says “I don’t know…. didn’t you ring me on it?” and we realise that yes, I did, and then he’d rung me back…. and that the lost iPhone is in fact clamped to my ear while we fuss and fret about its likely location. Then as I am typing all this – and I know you will have many similar stories – the landline phone rings, and it’s The Gardener again. “You rang me?” No I didn’t. “Oh. I must have pressed your number instead of M’s (YD).” Make sense of that  one then. At some point today, he, YD and a new mop should arrive safely home. Maybe.


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Uplift

The Gardener gets up very early, and has a couple of hours of quiet time downstairs, amidst sleepy cats and dog, doing all sorts of laptoppy things – editing photos, catching up with Facebook friends (mostly photography-related), downloading books and music to listen to while gardening, and heaven knows what else. I don’t know because I have the sense to stay in bed until at least 8 o’clock, listening to doom and gloom on Radio 4.

And sometimes he emails me a picture, or a song, usually a YouTube video, to find later when I log on. Some I love, some I don’t, some bring tears to my eyes, and some are just plain uplifting. This morning, I found this one, with the message “Play loud!!!” And I did.

I can recommend it for that grey, dull morning when the world seems hopeless and life seems dreary….


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Full of beans

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I’ve always missed my allotment, and have planted some little odds and ends in containers to console myself; so far I’ve had four French bean plants doing quite well in a container in the back yard, producing just enough in regular episodes to keep us happy but not overwhelmed. Several tomato plants were doing well too, not enough to keep me awake at night fretting about passata, but useful for salads and for popping into the mouth like sweeties. My back door herbs were flourishing, and the cos lettuces did well enough for me not to feel resentful when they succumbed to snails – we had had enough by then.

But now it’s that time on other people’s allotments, and with a resident vegetarian Gardener, who has already been gently implored not to bring so many courgettes home with him from work, we have been targeted by the locals. First of all, I received a furtive phone call: “Er, you couldn’t use some beans, could you?” The slightly hesitant tone hinted at a concealed level of desperation, and, immediately, I knew. Someone, somewhere, had a glut, and the caller couldn’t cope any more with donated bags of courgettes, chard, beans (assorted), shallots or marrow.

I said cheerfully that yes, I could, and offered cynically to swap for the marrow languishing unloved in the fridge. This was rather too promptly turned down, and my bag of beans was handed over. Very nice too, young borlotti beans, prettily speckled. Before we could finish them, a paper bag was brought home by The Gardener, given to him by another neighbour who couldn’t use them all; he hadn’t looked inside, only taking pity on her desperation, but yes, more borlotti beans, this time from another allotmenteer.

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Meantime, a large amount of runner beans found their way into the fridge. Then more courgettes. And a few broad beans. Tomatoes. More tomatoes. Plums that were roasted and made into sorbet (quickly eaten up). The fridge bursts with apples and pears for chutney that will eventually be made when I remember to shop for the other ingredients. IMG_8198

And it’s not just the neighbours to blame. My rhubarb has made another effort. The herbs are prolific. Tomatoes ripen in a bowl, and the house is filled with the aroma of passata reducing on the stove, competing with a vegetable curry.

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Yesterday, a package was left in the porch. Borlotti beans.

If anyone has garden produce to spare, thank you, but not just now…..

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