The day I learnt how to flip a sheep…

Well, the title got your attention, didn’t it?

One of the  things I do quite regularly is take myself off on long walks. I’m lucky that I live near the countryside and so it’s always pleasant to go off on a wander. A few months ago, I saw that the council was looking for volunteer shepherds- ‘lookerers’- who could help out by checking the sheep they put in certain areas of the city, checking the fences and so on. I figured that, as I go up there regularly anyway, I could probably help out a bit. After all, I’m a knitter. I like sheep. I applied. And on Sunday, I attended a course.

First of all, I had to follow a trail of little wooden sheep to get to the council rangers’ office. I felt like I was in a slightly surreal version of Hansel and Gretel.

I'm following a procession of little wooden sheep and for some reason this tickles me:

Once I got there, we went over the day- we were to spend the morning out in a local area called Sheepcote Valley, where the council is currently grazing sheep: a mixture of Cheviot, mules and, my absolute favourite, Herdwick sheep- which literally do not have time for any of your nonsense, thank you very much. They’re quite sassy and don’t really have the herd mentality of the other types of sheep.

Sam, the farmer, invited us to have a go at flipping sheep. He makes it look easy. It is not easy. First of all, even in a pen, it’s bloody hard to catch a sheep. They jump and then huddle together in a huge, fleecy puddle of ovine nervousness. Then, you’ve got to get their head just so on one side. If you manage that, they then relax. You can then tip them onto their bottoms, legs in the air, looking like some little Buddha statue; a picture of content. As long as their feet aren’t on the floor, they’re cool. Could I manage to achieve sheep nirvana?

No. I have no upper body strength. I have decided that, if on my rounds, I find a sheep that needs looking at, I will call somebody. I have also come to the conclusion that, if there was a life or death situation involving me and a sheep, we’d probably wing it instinctively.

Also: this sheep below watched the whole thing as my fellow lookerers-to-be made earnest prats of ourselves. I quite liked her. I thought she looked a bit like a rabbit- she had an amused face and seemed to be quite glad that she was on the other side of the fence.

SHEEP!:

I also saw a skylark and a buzzard whilst out on the Downs. I had no idea what they were until the ranger, Lindsay, told me. I am such a city girl. I mean, I had nail polish on, for God’s sake.

In the afternoon, we learnt about why Brighton and Hove use grazing animals to look after the chalk grassland surrounding the city (it’s an incredibly rare habitat for lots of flora and fauna.) We also learnt the basics of sheep anatomy and how the lookerer system works. I’m looking forward to getting stuck in in  the spring. I’ve even signed up to work out at the new site at 19 Acres that will have New Forest ponies. I am scared of horses. I am going to have to have pony training. This will be fine. Fine.

On a more personally interesting note, I learnt that fleece from a sheared sheep sells (often) for less than £1.50. This seems confusing- after all, yarn is expensive and, even after you consider processing, marketing and so on- it still doesn’t seem to tally. It seemed daft that, at a time when farmers are struggling, that it doesn’t seem to pay to keep sheep for their wool any more. I left determined to learn more about the wool process and how it can help local farmers- could I buy yarn from certain farms? It’s on my to-do list and I’d like to knit a jumper in yarn from a single source (a bit like fancy coffee or chocolate, I suppose.) I also left thinking about how I could use my garden more sympathetically to that unusual soil makeup and support the butterflies and insects that are being eradicated from Sussex.

But could I flip I sheep? Could I billy-o.

 

Stuff for kids: The Incredible Intergalactic Journey Home*

20170125_095842

D loves reading. He has so many books- easily a couple of hundred, I should think, and that’s before we count any library books and comics he has lying around. He’s also beginning to learn his letters and is looking forward to starting school in September (where does the time go?!)  New books and stories, then, are always welcome in our house.

The Incredible Intergalactic Journey Home (£19.99) is a story from the people who brought us the Lost My Name books, which D has a copy of. The concept is simple- personalised books that make stories fun for kids aged 3-10 and the adults who read to them.

The ordering process is incredibly simple: I chose a character to represent D, put his name and our address into the website, along with a personalised message from me and Benn et voila! A book arrived a few days later, much to the delight of D who loves getting post.

The story itself is fun and easy to read aloud (which is not something you think about until you start reading to your child!) The child and their lemonade obsessed robot go through a space journey, meeting fun characters before getting lost and having to find their way back to Earth. But this isn’t a generic town, or a generic street- the book has aerial photos of your town/city (in our case, a picture of the Brighton Pier) and of your street. Obviously, I am not putting my address on the internet, so here is the example photo from the Lost My Name site to show you what I mean:

impact-2

D found the concept of this AMAZING. We spent a good few minutes looking and working out where our house was in the photo. He couldn’t get over the fact that it was his street and his house in the book and that he was a character. I do know that he insisted on telling Benn all about it and that this has been the bedtime book of choice for the last few days- every night since it arrived, in fact. I think Benn is grateful for the break from endless re-readings of Peter Pan if I’m honest…! Overall, this is a fun book and would make a great gift.

The Lost My Name website also has loads of other interesting, personalised products too, and I’ve already spotted a few things that I might buy as gifts in the near future (including some cute ‘Fantastic Firsts‘ cards for babies that I wish had been available when I had D!)

 

*Sent for review

 

The importance of self-care

famous-watercolor-painting-beautiful-woman-was-sleeping The world is a scary place at the moment. I can’t remember a time that everything felt quite this out of control, except briefly after 9/11- but I was 17 then and not really aware of much else apart from my A-level coursework and whether I’d have money to go out on a Friday night with my mates. At the moment, everything feels more real, more raw; like a layer of skin has been scrubbed off.

There’s not a lot I can do, except not go on social media so much (ha, easier said than done!) I’ve been a news junkie since I was at uni, regularly checking news sites and keeping up to date with what’s going on in the world- but there’s just SO MUCH information out there now that it’s impossible to get a handle on everything and that’s even before you start thinking about fake news. The whole thing is a mess, a dangerous and frightening mess. It’s no wonder that there are reports of people having crises of mental health issues.

I can’t tell you what to do to make yourself feel better, but I can tell you how I’m making myself feel better. I’m trying to slow down, I’m struggling with insomnia (although that pre-dates everything, but I’m sure that it’s not helped.) Baths and candles help; I’m researching homemade recipes for stuff to help my skin; I buy probably quite impractical-for-my-garden seeds and spend lots of time thinking about the things I can grow in the garden. I’m watching trashy TV- Real Housewives are good, anything ‘reality’ will do. I’m creating stuff: presents for others, glittery socks for my feet. I’m trying to find the good in small things.

I read. I take myself off on long, solitary walks. I’m saying yes to more things- I’m going on a bloody shepherding course on Sunday, for goodness’ sake. I’m taking small steps to take control of my own life; I can’t control much of the world (but I can contact MPs and do other things to make a difference), but I can make changes to what I do and how I feel. In Candide, Voltaire says that “we must take care of our own garden”, by which he means that we must mind our own business (he also says that we must be productive.) And whilst I don’t agree with this entirely, I do sort of get that we must keep going as much as we can when the world is all over the place. It’s because of this that self-care is important. Do whatever makes you feel better: read, cook, buy flowers, watch Amelie for the millionth time, anything. Because if you feel like you’re rested and ready, you’ll be able to think about what you can do to make the world better. But you need to take care of yourself.

Let there be light! William & Joseph ‘Wuthering Heights’ candle

This @williamjosephcandles is lovely. A really subtle herb-y, green scent- it smells way more expensive than it actually is. I fancy the Manderley candle next! #brontes #wutheringheights #emilybronte #candle #home #hygge:

I love candles. After a brief flirtation with melts etc- which I use in the kitchen, but they’ve never really won my heart- I’m back into candlelight in a big way. Everything about them is so soothing, especially when it’s January and we’re suffering fairy light withdrawal (I’ve never understood why we take away all the lights at the DARKEST point of the winter…) I always, always feel better if I have a candle burning. Although I’m a bit wary of ordering candles online, after too many ‘bathroom cleaner’ scented gambles, I couldn’t NOT buy this could I? After all, it’s one of my favourite books, I have a slight Bronte obsession and I wanted to smell the moors of my home county. I figured I’d take a risk.

William & Joseph are committed to producing high quality candles, most of which have a bookish theme (I’m after trying their Rebecca-inspired ‘Manderley’ candle especially, although their Gatsby and Sherlock scents interest me, too.) The Wuthering Heights candle takes a while warm up to its full scent, but it’s worth the wait: a subtle ‘green’ scent, slightly masculine but clean-smelling, it’s lovely. There are notes of pine and juniper mixed with jasmine and bergamot, with rosemary and cedarwood. It is perfectly representative, I think, of Catherine and Heathcliff- or Kate Bush in a field.

hqdefault I’ll admit, I was a bit worried about the pine element, as it so often is overused to the point of causing a headache, but I needn’t have worried, as here is serves to lift the rest of the scents. The overall scent is one of brooding moors after heavy rainfall, rather than bathroom after the overuse of bleach. I think the candle smells much more expensive than it actually is- very often candles are hugely pricey and smell synthetic, but this is reasonably priced for a good sized candle.

The candle itself burns cleanly, too. No smoke and an even burn mean that I’m able to light it without worrying about soot marks too, which makes Benn very happy. No one wants black marks above their mantelpiece, do they?

I’m excited to discover other scents from William & Joseph- it was hinted on Twitter that they might get around to a Baby Jane scent one day (I suggested face powder, lipstick and gardenias..) which I would buy in. a. heartbeat.

You can buy William & Joseph candles here. The candle I bought was £14.99 and  I bought it from Etsy. (Please note: the shop is currently re-stocking glass candles, but you can check out their tin candles while they do!)

Dance like nobody’s watching

joan-crawford-the-iconic-flapper-our-dancing-daughters-1928-300x281

I am not a natural dancer. My hearing isn’t brilliant, so I can often miss the beat. I have the hand-eye co-ordination of a sloth who has had too much caffeine. I certainly don’t look like a dancer. But that doesn’t mean I don’t try. I mean, I watch Strictly! I know the names of certain dances!

I have certainly tried very hard in the past to be a dancer, although I came to it quite late. Much to my mother’s despair, I was never interested in ballet and she never forced it on me (I was much more your dinosaurs-and-motorbikes kind of girl as a preschooler.) But later on, a relatively well-known dance company came to my school and, desperate not to be the pudgy, badly bullied girl with a bad haircut I was, I signed up. I was good at Drama and thought I could put aside my self-esteem issues and become A DANCER! I tried so hard. I went on the outing to the dance studio. I went to see the dance company perform. I can’t actually remember if I performed. Maybe I’ve blocked it out. Oh, I was so bad. I was awkward, from being a teenager. I was awkward because I was picked on by the girls who took to dance more naturally. But by Jove, I can still remember that ridiculous dance and I could still probably perform it, although having gone through puberty proper and childbirth since, it’d be quite a tricky ask. And a  few years ago I used my Christmas money to sign up for jive lessons. I loved it. For about three weeks until I discovered I was pregnant and then my life became one of nausea and exhaustion. I still can’t hear ‘Rock Around The Clock’ without my feet beginning to shuffle though.

I never dance in public- I haven’t been to a club since the Romans were being chased around Anglia by Boudicca- although I’ll have a quick mum-shuffle round the dancefloor at a wedding if I’ve had enough gin and the buffet has had enough vegetarian food to keep me going. I love dancing. But dancing with others is not my passion. No. My passion is dancing around my kitchen, by myself, flailing to something probably from the 80s. Imagine me, dear Reader, only this evening throwing myself about to Bowie’s Modern Love and Wham!’s I’m Your Man, dressed in leggings and a man’s jumper thrown over a dress that resembles a scandalously short monk’s cassock. I looked ridiculous- but I was happy.

Goodness knows, the world is an unhappy place at the moment. My mind is an unhappy place a lot of the time and my body- well, that’s a battleground all of its own. But when I am enthusiastically throwing myself around the ground floor of my house, music turned up, safe in the knowledge that no-one can see me (save my son, who may or may not enthusiastically join in by spinning on the spot so much that I have to boogie away from him in order to not feel sick myself.) It feels good. I’m not judging myself, no one else is judging me; I’m not really thinking. If I did, I’d probably be horrified by the ‘shapes’ I’m ‘throwing’. But it’s my kitchen, my music. I love it. Afterwards, I know I’ll feel tired and a bit daft, but I’ll also feel euphoric, even if only for a bit. I won’t change politics, I won’t change the things that stress me out, but I will have a break from them. Ultimately, it’s an escape from my own brain and that is always welcome.

I’m not one for a ‘new year, new you’, because quite frankly it’s nonsense. But a quick dad dance round the kitchen to old-school Kylie? Sign me up.

Looking forward, looking back

20161230_150620 This year… well. It’s been a tricky one and, I’ll admit, that sometimes it’s been hard to rationalise what’s been happening in the world. It’s been a confusing, sad year and there have been times when it’s seemed scary and unknowable. I’m not sure if 2017 will be any better in that respect, but I have to believe that there will be hope. Otherwise, what’s the point?

From a personal perspective, 2016 was OK; I navigated the world the best I could. One of my highlights was talking to Lauren Laverne on her radio show about my experiences with postnatal depression. After that conversation, one of my friends opened up to me about her experiences. It felt good to help someone and for me to acknowledge what I’d gone through (which I hadn’t done hugely openly before) and to know that I was helping someone else. I want to keep having these conversations, to keep helping others where I can. Mental health issues will continue to be important and as anxiety about the world increases, we need to support each other as best we can. We need to help each other. I want to be kind in 2017; goodness knows, it feels like we’re going to need it. I also need to help D understand about kindness to others. It’s never too early!

2017 will also mean changes: D will start school in September (which I cannot quite believe), but this poses questions for me. I always knew I wasn’t going to have another child, so this period means that I can start to look at my career- I’ve been working three days a week for the last three years. Do I increase my hours? Stay the same, but pick up more freelance work? Study? I don’t know yet. It’s quite thrilling but also terrifying. I’ve never really been good with change; my life has been pretty risk-averse! But I want to start exploring avenues and options that I’ve never been confident enough to try. I want to embody the fearlessness of Carrie Fisher (whose novels I would like to read in 2017- as well as finally getting round to seeing Star Wars!)

stay-afraid-but-do-it-any-way-what-s-important-10041241My new years resolutions are simple: sort out my passport (it’s due to expire this year- and it’s still in my maiden name, despite the fact that I’ve been married for nearly six years!); bake something sweet and vegan so that my boss can eat some of the cake I take into work; write to three people I admire (after Victoria Wood died, I sorely regretted never having written to her. I might start with Alan Bennett. After all, it worked with Angela Lansbury!); and to grow red sweet peas, even though I’ve heard they don’t smell much. But it’d be wrong to not grow my favourite flower in my favourite colour, even if I only do it once.

Other than this, it’ll just be business as usual- trying to keep my anxiety about the world in check, being kind to others where I can and trying to sleep well (insomnia is an unwelcome friend at the moment.) I just want to try my best in 2017.

I wish you and yours a happy, peaceful 2017.

Divine Divas: Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962)

"Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" (1962) bette #davies joan #crawford #horror:  So this has gone a little off-piste (I’ll be reviewing Of Human Bondage in the next few days), as I’ve been trying to go in order of film release, but I requested this from the library and it came earlier than expected! Anyway, welcome to the mother of all rumour-filled films, in which Misses Davis and Crawford- long rumoured to be bitter enemies- are sisters ‘Baby’ Jane and Blanche Hudson, trapped in a co-dependent and unravelling relationship that isn’t fun for anyone. A washed-up and now alcoholic former child star, Jane is forced into the role of carer of her sister, a more successful actress who was disabled in an accident caused by Jane’s drinking. Jane’s mind becomes more and more unstable as the film progresses, putting her sister-and those around her- in grave danger.

babyj2 I love this film. It’s campy and outrageous and surprisingly quite funny. I ADORE Bette Davis as Jane; her level of ‘meh’ in some scenes actually make me laugh every time I see them. I think every performance is fantastic and that this is one of those films deserving of its cult status. I understand why people become slightly obsessed with it. (My Twitter cover picture is the one above; my Facebook profile picture is of ‘Baby’ Jane applying lipstick. I am quite biased.)

I first saw it when I was about 15 and it wasn’t much later that I discovered one of my favourite books, ‘Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud’ by Shaun Considine, which is a biography of the two actresses told through their apparently bitter rivalry (which is disappointingly debunked by Karina Longworth in my favourite podcast, You Must Remember This.) I remember being being especially taken by Davis’ transformation into the deranged Jane: layers upon layers of caked makeup and a creepily innocent smile. In contrast, Crawford had to be really persuaded to abandon her high-glamour look, which she didn’t really do. In some of the earlier scenes, she is eerily beautiful for someone who has been locked in one room for twenty years, and Davis later complained that Crawford wore ‘falsies’- and that, in a scene in which she had to lie across her chest, it was like landing on ‘two footballs’.

Is it scary? Not really, by modern standards. I imagine there were scarier films being released even in 1962, to be honest. But what it is is a hugely entertaining film in which two greats allow themselves to be parodied (to greater or lesser degrees!) and to admit the ways in which their careers were permanently changing.