Tuesday, 22 May 2018

First Fire

We have lit our first fire today. More because the temperature is due to plummet later tonight and into the early hours, so it seemed prudent to dry out the atmosphere in the house after last night's deluge.

We got off lightly last night. We had very heavy rain in fits and starts, and lots of thunder and lightning, but by this morning, all was clear again.

In the midst of the storm the cats were fascinating to watch. Our youngest (ginger tom) was enthralled by the light show and cosyed himself inside the curtains in front of our verandah windows to watch the show. Our tabby - the permanently stressed semi wild child, responded to each boom by running out into the rain. He did exactly the same as a kitten, ran into danger rather than away from it. We managed get him inside only for him to rush out again through the front door when I opened it briefly!

The ginger princess was nowhere to be found. I went to bed concerned. She doesn't wander far normally, so I thought she would come in soaked in the middle of the night. By 2.30am, there was still no sign of her. I bundled up and went to the garage, thinking we may have accidentally locked her in. No, no sign, but as I turned back to the house, there she was on the front doorstep hopping around waiting for me to let her in.

So, all was well and I was able to sleep.

I absolutely revel in this time of year. I love the colours and the fall of leaves, so different to Wellington, which is stubbornly evergreen and resolutely non-deciduous!

Roll on winter.

Friday, 4 May 2018

Yearning for gooseberries

Another delightful neighbour dropped me a note this afternoon - would I like some apples and feijoas?

I thanked her immediately, and said "yes please" to the apples, but a "sends regrets" for the feijoas. My excuse, well, they are an acquired taste to someone who wasn't brought up in these islands. My sour fruit of choice is a fat Yorkshire gooseberry.

My grandmother made gooseberry pies all the time, due to a somewhat mutant bush near the orchard which gave a gargantuan harvest for most of the year, which I'm sure it wasn't supposed to do. Or perhaps it was that she stored them somewhere cold to make the season last. She didn't have a fridge or a freezer, so my bet was on the coal house, as it was freezing in there and doubled as a hell coloured food store.

There was a downside to the pies however. They were fine, fresh from the oven, but grandma's pastry was like formica after 24 hours and then like flooded carpet tiles thereafter. Delia Smith was a full 25 years away! But the smell of a cooked gooseberry is enough to make me want to sit in a corner, close my eyes, hug my knees and remember the kitchen coal range, the enamel pie tins and the gelatinous custard that the pie island would float on.

My grandma's brother was a member of the local horticultural society for 54 years. I have the engraved pewter tankard to prove it. His rhubarb and gooseberries won many a prize and heart. Here is a photo of me, about age 11 holding a bunch of the stuff, worthy of a royal wedding bouquet.

I guess I would say "I will TRAVEL for rhubarb" and if Meghan Markle would like an inexpensive floral adornment, I can recommend Uncle Laurence's rhubarb patch to source it.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Bountiful harvests and a thanksgiving.

I wish I could say that this picture represents our own bounty from our property, but sadly it doesn't. The walnuts are from a young farmer (and upcoming politician) who has a roadside stall, and the eggs are gifted from our very generous neighbour on the farm behind us.

It is one of the many blessings of living where we do, plenty of REAL food and delightful neighbours who share. The only thing I can do in return is provide kitchen scraps for the chickens, or occasional baking.

The harvest got me to thinking of other things though. Those who work the land toil for long hours and are at the mercy of the weather (or lack of it), blights of various kinds, rabbits, hungry pheasants, you name it, the work can go in a blink of an eye. Thankfully these days, few starve due to crop failure. It made me reflect on friendships and relationships. Some are worked on for years, some are easy "crops" and just grow and grow, regardless. Others are a bit more tricky and you really have to keep investing with nutrients and be careful that briars and weeds don't grow through or around them. We have been fortunate that our friendships in this region have grown as sturdy crops and we are seeing the benefit of that in our lives. And we are very, very thankful.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Being ruffled

Sometimes things feel out of control. They aren't, but they feel that way. I returned from the UK delighted to have my mum settled in a nice residential care home, but the backstory was the emotional time I had gone through dismantling our family home of 46 years, and not QUITE having enough time to do everything (thank goodness for helpful neighbours) before I left.

Within two weeks of returning the house was sold, so all the memories tucked safely inside the bricks and mortar are now permanently gone. The next time I go to England, I will need to find a place to stay.

The first week back was chasing my luggage which hadn't manage to travel with me, then settling back into a work routine. But we still have the uncertainty about what is happening about the Expressway which is proposed to be built at one or other end of our road. This kind of mutes the usual joy I have in our home and garden; it ruffles my feathers and makes my nest insecure.

Then a friend's husband got really sick.

Then my hubby became ill - nothing serious, but not easy for him or me, and I realised once again how fragile life is.

Part of the grieving process of leaving my homeland this time has been muted by linking with people who know my home town well, and have various History Societies to steward the stories and store the pictures and photos of the people who used to live there. So my heartstrings are tugged again. I'm there in spirit, but here. Learning so much that I never knew about my family, and not having a soul to talk to about them, because there is no family left who also knew them.

I have inherited hundreds of photos of people I have now identified, but I'm talking to myself about them and frustrated that I can't ask questions. Then there are the records I've found of people we thought were lost to our family forever, and my Dad isn't there to tell. And there is no younger generation to pass the history to. I feel this very keenly.

Much wisdom is spoken of youth and old age, but the bit in the middle feels rather neglected. It seems you have to navigate this particular bit of the river the best you can.

More news when I get safely to the bank on the other side.

Friday, 20 April 2018

A clock in the kitchen

My grandparents lived in a late Victorian house in a village outside York. Inside it retained all the features of the house that was initially rented by my great grandparents, then purchased by my grandfather in 1928. Most of the contents were Victorian and inherited from the farm which my great grandparents had farmed at the end of the 19th century. It was difficult to know what was "new" to my grandparents through wedding presents or later acquisition and what were actually heirloom/hand me downs.

When my father had to clear his childhood home after my grandmother's death, much of the furniture went to an auction house, because it was too huge to fit into my parent's 1930s semi. Most of the pictures and ornaments were sold through a local antique shop with a handful of items retained for their sentimental value. It was these things I had to somehow juggle when it came to disposing of items before the sale of our family home last month.

The one non-negotiable was the kitchen clock. It is an 1892 Ansonia and a ticket on the inside of the casement showed that it had last been serviced in 1963. It sat on the Welsh dresser in my grandma's kitchen and was the background chime of my childhood, through Sunday afternoon teas, sleepy childhood naps, podding peas at the kitchen table and counting grandpa's pennies in his shop cash register (an old toffee tin!)

Last month, when I left the UK with it very carefully wrapped in my suitcase, it was still working happily. So much so, that the "gong" hammer had to be muted with a small sock, lest my luggage started to chime on the hour and half hour at 30,000 feet. I had no idea if it would survive the trip, but reasoned even if it didn't work on arrival, at least I could have its staid if silent company on the end of our kitchen table.

It arrived in one piece, but had the indignity of a few screws rattling lose which attached the movement to the wooden casement. This meant the clock hands were pulled tight against the clock face due to the weight of the brass innards of the clock. What to do? The local clockmaker of repute had retired (in his 80s) and wasn't to be persuaded out of it.

Thankfully, another clockmaker was found over an hours drive away. He happened to be passing our end of the mountain range last week and made a house call. The clock was packed up and taken to his sanatorium for dicky tickers.

Today was the home coming. This clock has travelled further than my grandparents would have ever dreamed and is happily ticking away in our Victorian villa in the foothills of a mountain range, a long way from Connecticut where it was made and Yorkshire where it kept time for over 100 years through African and World Wars!

And for me, it is a link with my family, with my dad who I still miss daily, and having it with us it imparts something of him, his childhood, teenage years and adulthood in the heart of our home.

Friday, 13 April 2018


I have been overseas, hence the break in posts.

I was away for a month, to help mum transition into full time care (she's almost 93), and to wind up and sell the family home of 46 years. It has been an emotional journey.

Oddly perhaps, I also found it quite a special journey. I had time to unwrap memories when I was sorting out the treasures in my family home. Things emerged from attic boxes that I had never seen before or had forgotten about. Photos sat with big question marks over them, and oh how I wished Dad was there to give me a detailed description of who was who, where the picture was taken and half a dozen stories besides.

My only regrets were the unasked questions. Dad had a superb memory and I should have asked him more, when I had the chance. But when you are young the questions aren't so important, living for the day is. Then as your road on this earth gets narrower and shorter, you long for the wide vistas of memories and people from the past. But they are fading from view and it is hard to recapture their essence.

Tonight I rediscovered a box of chocolate covered dinner mints in our pantry. I think we were given them for Christmas and they were forgotten about. This simple box of confectionary tipped out a whole sweet shop of memories: my great Uncle always bought us these mints for Christmas, one box each. It seemed so grown up to have my OWN box of chocolates. As a small child I hoarded the tiny black paper envelopes the mints came in and stored things in them, and the peppermint oil tang transferred itself from the black paper to whatever was kept there. Occasionally, some of the syrupy mint confection had escaped into the bottom of the mint packet, so whatever was stored there got stuck and sticky. This occasionally produced tears. The mints were made in my home town, a city of chocolate factories and thousands of workers who rode home on their bicycles every night at 4pm when the shifts changed. Bicycles in my home town smelled of chocolate, orange oil, peppermint oil and fruit pastilles.

It's good to be back and recalling from un-dusted and untidy bits of my brain. There may be more reminiscences to share.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

What a difference 12 minutes makes

The cats are taking the weekend seriously. This was Saturday morning

This was Sunday afternoon at 4.10pm

Followed 12 minutes later by this

The chickens are hunched and bedraggled under the hedges and all the cats have scarpered! The TV has disconnected itself in protest. Ah weekends!