Slow Lane Life II

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


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Friday miscellany

On a blustery, chilly, sunny day, with occasional fierce showers, I am doing housework, washing, dog walking, planning meals. Just now I am avoiding doing all those things.

It looks like Spring; it feels like February. The girls are reluctant to move off their heated pads; Catkin – being a rather large old lady – has commandeered the biggest one, leaving Lottie and Millie to squeeze together on the smaller, over which there are sometimes unladylike disputes. The boys are hardier; Scooter prefers his bed in a draught, while Hamish lolls on a neighbour’s shed roof so long as the rain holds off.

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I painted a little  (orange pine – you know how much I dislike orange pine) wall shelf, and am pleased with the result, despite the ill-assorted items that I plonked on it for the photos. If ever we finish the unpacking, I may find other things to display; I seem to recall a pretty yellow tea set that deserves more attention.

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My sister came to stay for almost a week. She brought with her 2 kilos of ‘gigantes’ – those lovely huge beans that we only seem to find already cooked, in small jars.

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I shall make this next week: Gigantes plaki (baked giants).

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She also brought us a lifetime’s supply of Greek mountain (or shepherd’s) tea, both fine-leaved and in twig form. Sideritis or ironwort, a lovely, light, refreshing, almost lemony drink, widely used in Greece as a what-ails-you remedy. I hope it aids long life, because we’ll need those years to get through our stock – I’ve only shown you a fraction of what we now have. Feel free to drop in and have a cup of this delicate brew, and feel it Doing You Good.

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DSCF3109.jpgWe went out and about, including a morning spent pleasurably doing nothing at all except look out of the window of the West Somerset Railway steam train, and a beautiful evening drive on narrow lanes, over rolling hills and sleepy valleys, collecting a supply of farm gate eggs, all sizes and colours, just like the hens we could see freely pottering around in the farmyard.

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We visited Devon (Bideford and Appledore), seaside and countryside, saw Highland cows, deer, pigs and a million lambs and primroses, bought each other presents, cooked and talked, I taught her how to make a white sauce and how to use Skype, she weeded as if for her very life in the garden, and she reminded me how lovely it is to spend time together.

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It was hard to say goodbye to her, although we plan to meet up again before Christmas when she comes over briefly to her home in Glasgow. I miss her. We belong to very small families, The Gardener and I, and one member being absent leaves an empty space in the heart.

Today, as I type, Baby E and his mother are somewhere in the air, on a return flight to London. They have spent the month in warm sunshine and doting family life in Mexico; Baby E had an Aztec naming ceremony and party, which – judging by the photographs – seemed to go down very well with everyone except him. But it’s hard to tell; for such a smiley baby, he does do a spectacularly serious face.

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He grew, his hair grew, and some teeth appeared; he looks very well. His father had to return sooner, to meet work deadlines, and is waiting eagerly to see his little family again. We shall see them all next week, when we go up to London.

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The conveyancing solicitor’s bill arrived yesterday, and was paid immediately; prompt action is the best way to avoid niggling resentment, not of the legal firm, who were unfailingly helpful, supportive and efficient, but of the sheer waste of money in the abortive process of Not Buying/Not Selling a house.

The aftermath of those terrible months drags on. The boxes that we packed when de-cluttering the house for viewings and sale have not quite all been retrieved from storage and unpacked; this is on our To Do list, but meanwhile, I’ve rather enjoyed having half-empty cupboards and no idea where the table linen is. But I do want my plant food and little plastic greenhouse now; maybe this weekend we’ll bite the bullet and empty that storage unit…. If we can, much of it may be redirected elsewhere – how much white china do two people need? How many bedroom chairs?

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A neighbour’s bees caused alarm by slipping in and out of the vent from the boiler; I feared for their welfare, the boiler being in frequent use, and the fumes from the vent being unlikely to add much to the production of honey. I also worried about what might be happening inside the boiler. Luckily, advice from a bee expert assured me that the bees were simply sipping the condensation water just inside the pipe (an odd choice, given how wet it’s been round here, with fresh water available everywhere). Esoteric tastes, bees….

Now I’m off to make some paneer for tomorrow’s dinner with next door neighbours. The first recipe I ever used for paneer instructed me to reduce the simmering milk by half before adding the lemon juice, an experience for which life was too short to repeat often. However, a new recipe (thank you, Anna Jones, for this and indeed your whole fabulous book, A Modern Way To Cook, which has livened up my kitchen life immeasurably) works perfectly when the milk is just brought to the boil,  the lemon juice added, and the usual draining and pressing of the formed curds carried out. (This is her picture, but a very accurate representation of what I turned out.)

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And that new recipe is a relief, because our local supermarket specialises in not stocking things any more, just as you’ve found out which shelf they’re on this week, and paneer seems to have vanished entirely. Asking staff causes more bewilderment than I have time and patience for, as once a product has vanished, no one ever seems to recall that it was ever there, or indeed that it actually exists.

Okay, that’s enough avoidance activity for today; the washing machine is making that loud, irritating bleeping that signals its task is done, and the paneer won’t make itself. Back soon, with yet more photos of Baby E….


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Shallow

 

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We’re just back from a mini-break to the wilds of Devon, The Gardener and I, taking Flossie with us. This trip was my gift to The Gardener for his birthday a few weeks ago; we stayed in a very nice cottage in rolling countryside, right on the edge of Dartmoor. He loves Dartmoor. The first time I saw it was on a grey day a couple of years ago, when we showed our friend Shelagh-from-Canada the grim  and uninviting prison, which rather coloured my view of Dartmoor altogether. I confess that I prefer Exmoor, as it’s less bleak and wild, and you can just nip home in half an hour if the weather turns nasty.

But this time Dartmoor was mostly sunny and hardly at all bleak, although it remains wild and encouragingly remote-feeling, and I liked it better. Flossie and The Gardener were in heaven.

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The cottage was spotlessly clean, warm and comfortable, with very smart appliances; I came home feeling somewhat dissatisfied with my own kitchen, and hankering once more for a swishy Siemens self-cleaning oven (like the one in the cottage and the one that I left behind in Newcastle. Sigh….).

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We had brought few provisions, as packing for the dog seeming to have filled most of the car, and had been happy to eat out at night, breakfasting on variations on bread, cheese and what my mother used to call “to it”.*

*As in “What’s for tea?”

“Bread and to it.” i.e. whatever you cared to add to bread…..

But the sleek expensive oven, microwave and hob lured me into wanting to cook. That and the chance to avoid having to trail about in a keen wind each evening finding places that catered for vegetarians. During our second day of being out and about, exploring moorland and small towns, to my joy we came across a Waitrose, and I took the opportunity to shop for food that would give me the chance to use those lovely glossy ovens and hob.

The Gardener, sturdy trousers tucked fetchingly into sturdy boots, enjoying all the outdoorsy stuff and the chance to reminisce about hiking, primitive camping, and generally being much younger, noticed my delight at discovering a decent supermarket to permit cooking more than toast and Marmite. “You really have a shallow side, don’t you!” he remarked with amusement.

It’s true. He’s right. But how come he’s only just noticed?


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Bereft

Baby E has gone to Mexico for a whole month.

We said our goodbyes via Skype the evening before. Here he is looking with some interest at my image in the corner of his screen. He had just recovered from a bout of croup, the horrible barking-seal cough being replaced by a loose rattle, but he seemed jolly. Perhaps jolly will be his default position?

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Texts on arrival suggest that his parents found the long and arduous day of travel, with its 12-hour flight, pure hell, but that Baby E loved it. I await details.

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Suddenly he’s in summer clothes.

His Other Adoring Grandma will be in heaven having him to stay; I, meanwhile, feel painfully aware of what a very long way Mexico is from Somerset.

Happy family holidays, Baby E! See you in May.


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Three days in London

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Baby E’s mother was on a training course, his father had work deadlines to meet, and I was holding the fort.

What fun we had!

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We went to the park, we visited the cafe round the corner to meet a friend I hadn’t seen for 20-odd years, and Baby E loved the bustling surroundings filled with other babies to gaze at.

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He and I spent three days in each other’s company, and we got on famously.

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He was thrilled to see his parents at the end of the day, and had much to tell them.

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Soon he will be in Mexico visiting his other grandma; I’m sure he will be as sunny, charming, vocal and funny with her as he was with me. And she will adore him, just as I do.

It was hard to say goodbye.

But lovely to be back in my own bed….

 


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Fluffy

A squalid tale for you. We had our tumble dryer replaced today. It was one of those models that had been found to be a fire risk, and when we’d waited more than long enough to have it adjusted by an engineer sent by the makers, we opted instead for a replacement, on offer for the princely sum of £59, with a year-long warranty. Handily, the old one gave up the ghost shortly after we placed our order, the result, I suspect, of exhaustion following its drying marathon of baby-related items.

Taking the old one out, and moving the washing machine as we did so, was a bit of a shock – how dirty and messy it all was behind those appliances! And not all of it mouse-related. What sort of slatterns are we?

But despite our shame, it gave us another opportunity to clean up (properly) after last week’s mouse visitor. And we found this sweet little mouse nest (thankfully no abandoned mouse babies inside), about two and a half inches across, made entirely of tumble dryer fluff.

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Which seemed to be made up almost entirely of cat hair….

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How many?

…..cats live in this house? Five.

…..mice free-ranging in the utility room? One (fingers crossed).

…..days since said mouse was brought in by Millie and left rather casually in the kitchen where I was standing doing the washing up, noticing just in time to see it scoot rapidly into the utility? Seven.

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Where it lived happily for its week-long holiday, behind the appliances, over the worktops, in and out of the sink, nibbling a large hole in Flossie’s swimming towel, eating cat kibble (or so I suppose) and leaving its unmistakeable trail of organic offerings everywhere. And was neither stalked nor caught by anything or anyone.

Until today, when I saw it looking in at me through the internal window to the dining room. A tiny little creature, quite endearing really.

So who, in the end, caught it? Me. 

And set it free in neighbour Dave’s garden, where it can tell all its chums that it has lived the high life amongst the most shamefully-lazy bunch of cats imaginable.

Shameful and shameless.

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What you do

….when you’re not quite 5 months old and you come visiting.

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You look at everything. The more serious the expression, the more interested you are.

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You don’t notice the dog, who has certainly noticed you, and who, for day one at least, is the very picture of misery.

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The cats are too intrigued to ignore you for long, and you are gently sniffed by Millie and gazed at long and thoughtfully by Lottie. You are still too young to be a menace to them, but that day will come.

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You smile a great deal.

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You kick your chubby legs, wave your chubby fists, and put things in your mouth. You are observed chewing on one side, and strange words like “teething” are heard.

 

Within an hour of arrival, you begin to produce nappies too horrible to describe here, but a visit to Grandma’s nice doctor is arranged for the following day and lab tests are ordered. These come back as ‘Satisfactory’ which causes muttering of incomprehension amongst all the grown ups. Not that you care: by the time the lab test results come through, you have thrilled everyone with a little rough edge to your gum where a little tooth is about to erupt.

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You bite everything and everyone, cheerfully and hard. Your mother is glad that you are now safely on bottle feeds.

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You drool. A lot. Thank goodness for Grandma’s old tea towels when everything else is saturated.

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You cry very loudly and vehemently; you manage to sound heartbroken, outraged and just plain ill-treated all at once, particularly when someone criminally gently pulls a vest or a jumper over your head or wrestles your arms into your pram suit. You stop abruptly as soon as the offending action is over; your Grandma is reminded strongly of your father at hair-washing time, whose shrieks of infant anguish could be switched on and off in a millisecond. The dog flees to the next room when you are in full voice.

You don’t sleep much at night, and are handed over to Grandma and Grandpa early in the mornings so that your mother can remind herself of what sleep is like. Grandma and Grandpa see you at your smiliest most delightful best then, and enjoy this time with you. You like to have time to think too.

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You go out for walks in the buggy. You sleep soundly in the buggy; you miss the steam trains, the seaside, the shrieking seagulls, the ice cream stands and the garishly-lit amusement arcade on the sea front, all to be enjoyed later on when you are older and can stand a little wheeled motion without nodding off in moments.

You grizzle a bit, and are pronounced Not Quite Yourself, but you are seen as mostly calm, alert, and decidedly jolly. Everyone loves you, and neighbours seem to take a shine to you too.

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You wear a hat with style, but you like to pull your socks off.

You have to go home. There is a flurry of frantic last-minute activity and the car is filled with  a mountain of luggage, paraphernalia, the Christmas presents that didn’t get posted, and your daddy’s birthday presents. Oh, and the dog, who is going to work with Grandpa. The dog is squashed in the back with the luggage, but endures all for the joy of being in the car going somewhere, anywhere, with her beloved pack. And may include you in that category one day.

Grandpa drives carefully to the station 45 miles away, and you are escorted up the stairs to the platform (lifts being closed for refurbishment) by family and two station staff members bearing you and the mountain of luggage and paraphernalia. With your retinue, you resemble some precious and important infant prince, which of course you are, although the more fitting silks and jewels are replaced by red pram suit and gleaming drool.

Grandpa has a quick espresso at the station and says goodbye. The dog’s ordeal is over for this time.

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Grandma comes with you on the train; she is a necessary luggage bearer/general factotum, and also has the tickets, sandwiches and snacks. You are given your 11 a.m. feed, and burp up a generous amount of it over your Grandma, who notices a few passengers surreptitiously smiling. You are getting somewhat grizzly now, and the two-hour train journey involves a lot of walking up and down the aisle to spare the other passengers the full effect of your magnificent voice raised in sleep-fighting protest.

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Eventually, just short of London, you fall asleep, and are still a bit subdued when your father, who has missed you greatly, comes to meet you. Grandma notes how tired both your parents look. After cups of tea, you go home and Grandma goes off Somewhere Else to look at photographs that – oddly – are not of you, and then to get back on the train and go home to Grandpa. And the dog.

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The holiday is over, and the house, still resembling a bomb site, is far too quiet and grown up. Grandma spends the next day or two washing bedding and towels, drool-and-milk-stained clothes, tidying away baby toys and equipment, and looking forward to seeing you again in London next month.

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