New garden, lots of plans!

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I’m pretty preoccupied with the new house and, specifically, the garden. It’s HUGE and I have loads of ideas and plans for it. (I’m so serious, I bought Gardener’s World magazine.) I thought I’d give you a visual tour and let you know what I have in mind for each area…

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This is the view from the dining room back door. That wild lavender plant will be trimmed back this weekend and I was pleasantly surprised to find a healthy rosemary plant too. Every garden I’ve had while living in Brighton has had loads of rosemary and I’ve always thought I’d miss it if I didn’t have it. It’s one of my favourite garden smells, especially if it’s alongside lavender.

Next to the steps, just out of frame, is what used to be a rockery. It’s overgrown, but there are evergreens in there. This weekend, I’m hoping to clear it and assess what’s there. Then I’m hoping to stock it with heathers and unleash my inner Emily Bronte and capture the feel of the moors.

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This is the view at the top of the steps. You can see how far the garden goes back. The seller of the house left loads of mature plants and trees- there’s an apple tree, a holly bush and I think the tree in the big pot is possibly a cherry tree. There’s also what we think is a fig tree further down.

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This is the patio in more detail; we inherited the table and chairs with the house. You can see my tomato plants just to one side; I think they’re on their last legs! There’s a little trench behind where they are. I’m thinking I might ‘build’ a sort of screen with pea and bean plants and bamboo in the summer. The alternative is a bank of lavender. I haven’t decided yet. I’m also thinking that next summer there will be lots of pots here- it’s a definite sun trap and I think there will be tomatoes, courgettes and other vegetables.

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This is the grass bit that will probably mostly be given over to D. I don’t have massive plans for this; maybe a bit of TLC. I do want to tidy up the borders, as they’re clogged with ivy and weeds. I’ll probably use wildflower seeds along here. My parents bought me a little bug house and, as D seems to think he’s Mr bloody Bloom, I think he would enjoy having lots of creepy crawlies to look at!

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This area will just be tidied up a bit. You can see the ramshackle greenhouse in the background that has lots of tools inside. I’ll fill the pots with lovely things. I’m not sure what yet, so there’s some research to do.

The bit just past the greenhouse is the bit that I’m most excited about. There are GRAPES growing up there, overhanging from next door. I’m thinking that if they can grow there, then there’s potential for me to grow other things. So I’m planning on getting rid of the gravel in that part of the garden and planting some veggie beds. I have no idea what I will plant there, although I fancy onions, potatoes and garlic. If I get really cocky, I might even chuck a bit of rhubarb somewhere.

It’s VERY exciting.

 

 

 

Ah, moving

I hate moving. A couple of years ago, I wrote about my life-long hatred of moving and after the palaver of the last few months (seriously, ten months to buy a house. Seriously), I’m not sure I ever want to do it AGAIN. EVER.

However, there are some good bits about moving… yesterday my friend Charlotte and I (and her delightful hearing dog, Scout) went into the wilds of rural Sussex to sell a load of tat in a car boot sale. I’m seeing the selling of stuff as an activity with two benefits: 1) getting rid of stuff I’ve probably held onto for far too long and b) the money I make is going towards D’s new bedroom. I’m planning to live vicariously through my son- he’s getting a pirate themed room.

Image: Next

Image: Next

Although this is a bit TOO full on, I’m planning on taking certain elements of this. He loves pirates (his grandparents have just taught him to say ‘shiver me timbers’) and I figure that pirates have a greater lifespan than, say, a certain blue engine whose merchandise we appear to have acquired at an alarmingly fast rate of late.

The other thing I’m planning is the garden. Now, I haven’t seen this garden since November, so I can’t get into too much forward planning. I do know that after the success of this year’s tomatoes, I want to grow more vegetables and some fruits, but maybe not this scary variety of onion that looks like it was plucked fresh from a serial killer’s garden:

Onion (Salad) North Holland Blood Red Redmate

Image: Suttons

There is actually a perfectly good reason why I’m plunging myself into planning for the new house: denial. I don’t want to pack and I don’t want to unpack. Basically, I want the entire contents of my house to be transported- teleported, in fact- to the new house. Does anyone know if the TARDIS is available for house moves?

 

White Lies- Jo Gatford (and author interview)

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Before I begin this review, I’m going to issue a disclaimer: Jo is a friend of mine and I’m both immensely proud and insanely jealous that she’s written such a cracking debut novel as White Lies. Having a friend who’s a writer is beneficial though, as I get to interview her for the blog…

So, what’s the novel about? Well, it tells the story of Matt, a man haunted by the past and also the inconvenient fact that his brother has just died on his birthday. While this is bad enough, there’s also the fact that his dad has Alzheimer’s that’s getting worse, meaning that Matt has to keep telling his father that his favourite son is dead. There’s also a range of messy family relationships and deep secrets to keep you hooked.

I really enjoyed the book- I wasn’t sure what I was going to get, but I found it engrossing and the descriptions of Peter’s descent into himself was heartbreaking, funny and infuriating. The book also includes one of my favourite descriptive sentences of all time: part of the old people’s home is described as smelling of ‘chips and disappointment’. There were times when I wanted to strangle characters, others when I laughed and again when I felt deeply upset. There’s a lot here for a debut novel. You can buy it here.

I asked Jo a few questions- if you’re a budding novelist (or just nosy), read on…

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1)       How did you manage to write a novel while being a mum to two small boys?
<Unhinged laughter> Slowly! I started writing the first draft just after my first son was born and he turned six in July just before the launch date, so it took its sweet time. It was very much a stop-start operation wedged in between work, having babies, and surviving sleep deprivation. There is no spare time, is there? I managed to carve out a few hours here and there to write, whether it was a Saturday afternoon in a café or late at night when I really should have been catching up on sleep. All very much facilitated by my wonderful husband who always makes sure I prioritise creativity over pointless stressing about work or doing the washing up. I actually go a little bit insane if I haven’t written for a while so the compulsive nature of it helps me to keep going, even if it does take me six years to finish a project.
2)       How did you make notes/research?
It’s been a long and slightly random accumulation of ideas and scribbles, really. For notes, I have lots of different notebooks which inevitably get lost around the house or stolen by the children for drawing on. Occasionally, just as I’m falling asleep, I’ll think of a perfect phrase or an important plot point and write myself a text message so that I’ll remember it in the morning. Although, sometimes I’ll read it back the next day and wonder what the hell I was talking about…
Research-wise it was a case of finding a balance between anecdotal stories (which are obviously very personal) and medical information (which can be quite dry and detached). A checklist of dementia symptoms doesn’t tell you what it’s actually like to experience the condition, or the effect it can have on relationships. For the emotional side of the story I spent a long time reading through diaries, blogs and articles written by people who are living with dementia, along with the perspectives of their carers and families. Hopefully the book brings together both sides of the situation; the sometimes innocuous day-to-day experiences, and the deep psychological impact.
3)       Which authors/books/films inspired your novel writing?
I tend to get inspired by whatever I happen to be reading/watching at the time, to be honest. In the last few years I’ve become much more influenced by short stories and flash fiction – I really admire the ability to create a fully-formed fictional world within a few hundred words. I think the skills needed to tie together a short story are extremely useful when applied to novel writing as you’re forced to make each chapter or scene as succinct as possible. My favourite author in all of time and space is Kurt Vonnegut, so in general he’s probably been the biggest influence on the way I’d like to get my thoughts out on paper.
4)       What are your three desert island books?
Arg. That’s not a fair question! Can I cheat and just bring a Kindle?
I could (and do) read Catch-22 over and over again to infinity, so that’s definitely number one – it makes me laugh and cry and would be excellent company when I inevitably found myself naked in a tree like Yossarian. Next would be Amy Hempel’s short story collection, The Dog of the Marriage, because it’s one of those books that does strange, wonderful things to your head and leaves you thinking about the stories for days afterwards. Third would probably be a big book of mythology or world history – it’s another sneaky cheat, really – so many stories and lifetimes contained within in one book.
5)       What are your ideal writing conditions?
 There’s a writing retreat in Devon called Retreats for You that is my idea of literary heaven. It’s set in a beautiful thatched cottage on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere, and you get thoroughly looked after by a fantastic couple who ply you with food and wine and tea and cake while you spend your days writing/sleeping. Back in the real world my writing conditions usually involve at least one small child asking me for something, the looming threat of day-job deadlines, and excessive procrastination via social media, so having space, silence and time to write is a wonderful luxury.

My letter to the Unknown Soldier

As this year is the centenary of the start of World War I, the project 14-18 Now has been commissioning art projects and other events to mark the event. One of the projects is collecting letters to the statue of the Unknown Soldier who stands on Platform One at Paddington Station. Today is the last day you can submit a letter before they are collated to be stored in the British Library.

Image: 14-18 Now

Image: 14-18 Now

I decided to write a letter for the website and, as I’ll be featuring bits and pieces of World War I stuff on the blog, I thought I would publish it here as well. I decided to write it to my great-grandad, John Hennessey. I’ll post more about him soon.

 

It’s funny; I’ve only discovered more about your war experience since writing to your niece. Your daughter- my grandma- didn’t know you’d been gassed. She said you never spoke about your time at war to your daughters.

I keep your photo in the living room. You’re there with three of your pals, all dressed up in your army uniforms. I assume that they were also part of the same Irish regiment. You all look terribly young. I think about my own son, husband and brother and think about how I would feel if they were called up. I’d be terrified. I can imagine your parents were horrified when you signed up, underage.

Through research, I found out about your regiment. Your regimental song is ‘It’s A Long Way To Tipperary’, which I sing to my little boy as I get him ready for bed. He’s your great-great grandson and he definitely has a family resemblance! I always think about you as I sing it.

To be honest, I only know snippets of your life at war. I know that you told my mum you had shrapnel still left in you. I know that there are family legends that you walked frm Cork to Dublin to join up (although having done my research, I’m not sure how true that is.) I was told that you’d never had a pair of boots before joining up. I’ve seen your village and where you were born- I can believe it.

I desperately wish I could speak to you and ask you about your life. Searching through archives and speaking to relatives only gives us so much.
Yours sincerely and with love,
Stephanie

It’s happening again…

It looks like my book buying ban is becoming an annual thing- I have accumulated so many books that I need to take a step back and actually read what I have!

Image: Musee D'Orsay

Image: Musee D’Orsay

The rules:

  • The ban begins on August 1st and will last until December 25th.
  • I can accept books as gifts and for review.
  • I should take all other books out of the library or borrow from friends.
  • I’m allowed to swap books with friends.
  • I can buy books for D- from charity shops- whenever I fancy/have money.
  • I can buy books for other people as gifts.

Last year, I did really well- I only broke when I saw Morrissey’s autobiography for less than the price of a magazine. As much as I desperately I want the new Sarah Waters book, I’ll have to go on a massive reservation list at the library.

Fancy joining in? Sign up below and we can encourage each other- it’ll be a looooooooong few months…

Book launch: White Lies by Jo Gatford

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I’ve just got back from the book launch  of my friend’s book- I remember Jo telling me about this book three years ago and it’s such an exciting thing to see the finished product IN MY HANDS. It’s so cool to see that her hard work has culminated in a real. life. book.

It’s a story of a family torn apart by Alzheimer’s, tragedy and secrets and lies. I can’t wait to get started.

I’ll be writing a full review soon…

Being brave isn’t always as easy as it looks

Tomorrow, I am doing something that this time last year I never would have imagined doing.

I am submitting to two hours’ worth of dental surgery on ONE TOOTH. It’s also bloody expensive

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Seriously, I’ve had to save up to have the work done (a root canal re-done and then a crown on top of it. Joy.) It’ll be worth it though, if it means I stave off the threat of false teeth a while longer, which would cost more in the long-term anyway.

But, do you know what? When I told my doctor that I was submitting to this state sanctioned torture, she was really pleased. Because it means that after eighteen months of battling my own brain chemistry I am in a GOOD PLACE. My postnatal depression is under control and I can finally look at things rationally.

Plus, I’ve put up with this tooth and ensuing problems since having a dodgy dentist when I was pregnant. Another two hours after almost two years is nothing, right? So I’m not sure if I’m being brave as much as merely pragmatic. Either way, I’m bloody proud of myself to getting to this point and grateful for the help of the NHS, my family and friends for getting me here.

 

Clap your hands if you feel that happiness is the truth…

This is really cringey to admit, but I had the idea for this post whilst on my run on Sunday. Crazy, right? But the thing is, 2014 has been totally crap thus far. I’m therefore harbouring hope that the worst is over for now. I’m focusing on the positives, mainly because well, what else is there to do?

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So, despite the disappointments, grief and general exhausted-ness of life so far in 2014, I’ve decided to focus on the positives. They may only be small, but they’re a start:

  • Two bereavements within a few months of each other have been hard; however, they have also brought the different sides of the family together in a way that those who passed away would have approved of.
  • Work is calming down. For the first time in ages I feel well. That my PND no longer has the hold on me that it did. The horrendous nightmares are easing and I’m feeling more confident than I have in a long long time.
  • I’m able to do things now that I never thought I could this time last year- such as running for fourteen minutes non-stop. It’s a small amount, but for me it’s significant. Benn is already trying to train me for Park Run (he’s injured, so living vicariously through me…)
  • D is a joy to be around- happy, confident and bright. I think we were quite lucky there. Sure, he throws tantrums, but they’re pretty short lived.
  • My tomato plants have flowers on them. This is minor in the scheme of things, but it’s been a long road to get to actual, productive plants this year.

Everything else? I’m just metaphorically sticking my fingers in my ears and shouting ‘lalalalala’. I can’t let myself go wobbly again. Summer holidays are just around the corner and I’m determined to stay positive….

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Setting myself a clothing goal

As you are probably aware, I am currently teaching myself to sew. I am also knitting a cardigan. The other day I had a bright idea: what if, by the end of 2015, the bulk of my wardrobe was either handmade or bought secondhand? Could I do it? Or does that way madness lie?

I’m currently knitting a Miette in navy:

 

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and I plan to use either red or yellow and white polka dot buttons when it’s done:

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Eventually, it should look like this:

I also have it in mind to make one of the new Colette dress patterns, Moneta. I saw it on some plus-sized sewing blogs lately and fell in love it. It’s the kind of style that I like and that suits me, plus it has so many options. I think I have to make it!

Image: Collette

Image: Collette

As for my Miette skirt, designed by Tilly and the Buttons, that is going slowly. Not because of the pattern, but because I lost all confidence in myself. Plus a lack of space is getting frustrating. Sigh. I hope to have it finished soon though, so I can show you!

So, my goal: to knit and sew clothes so that by the end of next year I have at least something resembling a wardrobe made by moi. What do you think?

 

Politics. Or: we have a year until a general election and yes, you should care.

I am not going to make any apologies for writing this post, as it’s something that’s been on my mind for a while. So, indulge me and read on.

More people vote in the X Factor than they do in the general election. This means that more people care about some strange looking person having a short-lived pop career than which strange looking person makes the decisions about an entire country. People whinge about UKIP, but then do nothing about it. If everyone who had expressed any kind of concern about the party had gone out to vote, we’d probably be spared seeing Nigel Farage’s mug plastered on so many papers. (As a side note, I would like to know why UKIP MEPs complain about the cost of the EU to the taxpayer, but are perfectly happy to claim their expenses. In pre-independence Ireland, Sinn Fein MPs would refuse to take their seats in Westminster in protest of a government they didn’t recognise. It appears to me that UKIP MEPs are quite happy to bite the hand that feeds them and then not do any actual work.)

It is time to get angry. To get political. To realise that the current government we have wasn’t voted in on a majority and so are making decisions that affect each and every one of us without most peoples’ support.

However, saying that- I sent an email to the Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt five weeks ago. You know, as a teacher, he’s maybe supposed to stick up for those of us who could potentially vote for him. I haven’t heard back- and this is at a time when we’re told we’re in a ‘zombie parliament’, i.e. the government have run out of stuff to do. Apparently, he rarely replies to teachers. Brilliant.

A while ago, as well as your career politicos, you also had MPs who had had proper, actual jobs: teachers, doctors, miners, police etc. It wasn’t just Old Etonians who couldn’t tell you the price of a pint of milk and thought they were doing you a favour by knocking a few pence off the price of a game of bingo.

We have to worry when MPs don’t understand how state schools work, when they’re more interested in selling off the NHS to the highest bidder, crippling students with debt that they will never manage to pay off, making it hard for people to afford to rent/buy decent homes, to let the stinking rich get away with not paying their taxes, but labelling everyone who claims benefits a scrounger. We are all affected by politics, whether we’re having a check up at the dentist or we’re grumbling about the price of rent.

I am a passionate believer in democracy. I actually believe we should have a system similar to Australia where it is compulsory to vote and that there should be an option ‘none of the above’ on the ballot paper. It would also be a good idea to have some kind of online voting system, but I’m not sure how that would work.

Democracy MUST be important when you consider how many dodgy regimes around the world try to ban it, why people fight so passionately for it and are willing, in some cases, to queue for days to get their vote heard. We live in a country where it’s relatively easy to get by- we forget what an important right it is to have your voice heard. Even if you don’t want to vote for any of the candidates (and that’s quite an understandable view to take), deface your ballot paper. But don’t just stay at home.

Register to vote here.