Friday, 19 August 2011


“Are you sure about this Cass?” Dave says, craning his neck as he keeps watch, his hands stuffed deep into his pockets.

I sigh. He isn’t being much help. I almost wish I hadn’t brought him, but then again, I haven’t the brass neck to do this alone.

“It’s fine,” I say, daring to lean further into the skip, trying not to drop my torch. It smells in here, but it isn’t as bad as I’d expected. There is an underlying sourness as though someone was sick in here last week, but nothing like the rancid stench I’d imagined.

“On the telly they found all sorts of stuff,” I say, prodding the black bags with my gloved hand. The woman on the programme said she could tell what was in each bag by touch: all I can feel are sharp corners and soft, unidentifiable squidginess. “There’s people around the world getting their food like this, they’re making a stand against consumerism.”

“I don’t like it Cass,” Dave says, shuffling his feet. “What if we get caught? Doesn’t seem worth getting an ASBO for nicking stuff out of rubbish bins.”

“It’s not ‘nicking’,” I say. “It’s legal.” Although what my Dad, the local plod, would say if he caught me rummaging through the skip at the back of the village shop isn’t a pleasant thought.

Dave continues to grumble. He’s getting on my nerves, but actually, he’s right. It doesn’t seem worth the risk of getting into trouble when I can’t find anything in here. But then my fingers feel something, and my heart skips. I tear open the bin bag and find my prize. Bread!

“Look!” I pull myself out of the skip, and hold up my prize, triumphant.

Dave takes one look at the squashed milk loaf, and turns away with a snort.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

'Lettuce' Flower

Okay, well of course I realise that in order to produce seeds, lettuce plants must flower; I remember that much from dim and murky memories of school science lessons. But I've never actually seen lettuce flower, until now.

I bought the plants from a friend earlier in the year, not because I particularly like eating lettuce, but to save money on catering for our two guinea pigs' insatiable appetite for edible greenery. And they've grown beautifully, somehow outwitting our voracious slug population, sitting on top of the soil like huge, fat green cushions. But then something weird began to happen. They began to grow upwards.

They've grown up and up, no matter how many times I've stripped off their leaves for the guinea pigs.

It's as though they're trying to escape their roots. The tallest is now a metre high, with long green fingers bobbled with flower buds stretching up to the sky. And this morning the first flower has opened, buttercup yellow, the shy petals unfolding in the sunlight.

I'm not a salad girl, but I'm fascinated by these guys. It was worth growing them just to see that yes, lettuce really do flower!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

I'm not your 'mummy'!

I’ve just come back from the vets.

Yes I’m fine, thank you; glossy hair, bright eyes, cold nose. I am poorer, mind you, but that’s another story. My slobby moggy had his booster injection and annual lecture about his girth. But while he might have been the fattest cat in the surgery, for once he wasn’t the biggest. That honour went to a gorgeous ‘British Blue’. No, I’d never heard of the breed either, but here's a picture from Wikipedia, taken by Morgan Leigh. Awww!

The ‘Blue’ was a handsome, but rather cantankerous looking feline, the sort that would maul your hand if it didn’t want to be petted. Its owner, a glamorous beautician worried about being late for work, chatted away, but was quivering with nerves at the prospect of leaving her darling kitty for an operation.

“He keeps looking at me as if to say ‘please don’t leave me mum’,” she sighed. I made clucking noises about how it (the cat) would be fine, but then someone else started telling their puppy “it’s all right, mummy’s not leaving you for the day.”

‘Mummy’? I’ve never understood the ‘mummy’ thing with pets. I thought it was something women do to fill the gap left when their offspring leave home, but it’s actually quite widespread. And you’d be mistaken in assuming this is a female thing. I know one chap who doesn’t even flinch when he refers to himself as his cat’s ‘daddy’.

There are two distinct types of pet owner here: the ones whose pets are just animals who happen to live with them, and the others who baby their pets as though they were small children. I have never been the latter. People will make a fuss of dog-of-small-brain while we’re out walking, and say “off you go then, enjoy your walk with your mum.” To which I have to restrain myself from yelling “Mum? Do I look like I gave birth to that mutt? I’m not his ‘mum’, I’m his owner.”

A quick trawl of the internet unearths articles by both bloggers and columnists debating whether it’s ethical to describe yourself as ‘owning’ your pet, which strikes me as political correctness gone mad in the minds of people with too much time on their hands. Yes, I’m not going to claim I ‘own’ any of my pets in a spiritual sense, but I do fork out an awful lot of cash for their board, lodgings and healthcare, and it's me who will take the rap if they bite anyone. That, in my opinion, qualifies me as ‘owner’. But I am not, under any circumstances, ‘Mummy’, thank you very much!

I would carry on ranting that referring to yourself as your pet’s parent devalues parenthood, but I think it’s probably time I got off my soapbox and made a nice calming cup of tea. ‘Mummy’ indeed….(snorts)

Monday, 15 August 2011

Stop Apologising!

Okay, confession time.
My name is Sam, and I’m sorry, but I just can’t stop apologising.

There, I’ve said it. I am one of those people who can’t stop apologising even though one of my favourite ‘mummy mantras’ is, as my children can drone ad verbatim, “don’t say sorry if you don’t mean it”. Sound advice, I'm sure you'll agree, so why don’t I follow it myself?

I’m always apologising. If you bump into me in the street, I’ll apologise. When I’m driving my car and there’s a bit of confusion with another driver, I’ll wave and say ‘sorry’. If I take something back to a shop, it’s ‘I’m sorry, but this shoddy thing you sold me doesn’t work’, as though it’s my fault.

I’ve spent the day feeling perplexed about how much I apologise when, to be quite honest, I don’t mean it. And it was inspired by this telephone conversation.

Me: Hello?
Her: Hello, (sultry fag-hag voice) this is Mrs ‘Whoever she said she was’. You rang me, and I’m just returning your call.
Me: (confused) No, I’m sorry, it wasn’t me who rang you.
Her: You did!
Me: No, I’m sorry, but I haven’t rung anyone this morning.
Her: Well I did 1-4-7-1 and pressed ‘return the call’, so that must be your number.
Me: Look, I’m really sorry, but I didn’t call you.
Her: Well how do you explain it’s your number?
Me: Look love; I’ve been out all morning, and there’s no one else here. I didn’t call you.
Her: Harrumph. Oh well, bye. (hangs up)

Yeah, I must have apologised at least three times to this stroppy old bat haranguing me down the telephone. If my number did indeed call her, then dog-of-small-brain is evidently more intelligent than I give him credit. Perhaps that’s what he does when I’m out, rings random numbers and winds up whomever answers. But I wasn’t in this morning, because I was down at the bank apologising to the cashier for mismanaging my money, and apologising some more for having to transfer cash from my savings to plug the gap. And as I left, mission complete, I found myself wondering why on earth I’d said ‘sorry’ so many times. It’s my money, and it’s my financial mess. So why was I apologising about dealing with my own money?

I think it’s high time I followed my own mantra and stopped saying ‘sorry’ when I don’t mean it. From now on, assertiveness is the new way forward. So the next time someone elbows you out of the way in the street and doesn’t apologise, it might be me. But then again, I’m sorry, but I’m just not that rude!

Friday, 12 August 2011

The Neighbour

Her voice startles me. I had been lost, hypnotised by the wet brush slapping back and forward, backwards and forwards, creosoting Aunt Marjorie’s fence to the symphonic hum of an orchestra of bees.

“Hi,” she says. I see her most days. I see her walking, her head held high, proud shoulders squared, steps light and lively. Even the dog’s trot is carefree by her side. She lives in the house along the road. And she lives there alone. Not that Aunt Marjorie has told me this. I just notice stuff like that. Like I know the man at number ten never locks his shed. I’d lock my shed if I kept in it what he does. It’s the time I’ve served. I notice things.
She says “hi.” She says “hi” every time we meet, every time I pass her house and she’s in the garden: “hi.” It’s only a matter of time before she tries a conversation. Makes me laugh. She wouldn’t speak to me at all if she knew who I was. But nobody recognises me. Even Aunt Marjorie wasn’t sure when I turned up at her door, kitbag in hand.

“Hi,” she says, her bouncy steps pausing. The dog tugs to keep walking. He’s the sensible one here.
“I could do with someone to creosote my fence,” she says, laughing.
I make myself smile, and turn back to my brush, painting back and forward, backwards and forwards to the sound of bees humming.

And then I glance over my shoulder to make sure she's walking away.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Cows, Geese, and Kat's Summer TicTocc Challenge

So there we were, dog-of-small-brain and I, plodding through the rain, or, ‘swishing’ to be precise, yours truly decked out in waterproofs, much to the dog’s embarrassment, when we could go no further. The field our footpath crossed was full of munching, snorting, black and white cows.

I like looking at cows, I love their soft, soulful eyes. But I’ll walk miles of detour rather than pass through a field of them. Being a country lass, I’m not sure why I find them so scary. I have a vague recollection of my teenaged self being chased by cows while hiking as part of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, but I’m not sure if it really happened. We were probably making such a squealy-girl din, the cows were trying to get away from us. But however it happened, I am afraid of cows.

I try not to be. I got chatting to the farmer down the road whose dairy herd haunt our favourite walks. He explained that cows aren’t menacing, just curious. So if you’re in a field with them, they’ll want to come and have a look at you. Particularly if you are small and sporting cow-like black and white splodges, √† la dog-of-small-brain. So since that conversation, I had been very brave. I’d walked through a number of cow-filled fields saying loudly ‘hello cows, how are you?’ dog cringing and hoping we didn’t meet anyone who knows him, while trying to think non-scared thoughts. It seemed to work well until a couple of weeks ago during a spot of hot weather. (yes, I have trouble remembering it too) I don’t know whether the heat made them as cranky as me, but they were not friendly. A couple of them ran at us, admittedly thundering to a halt when I paused, but it was enough. We don’t walk through cows any more.

To avoid them this morning, we had to pick our way, trespassing, across a field of stubble. But we hadn’t gone far before I saw a grazing flock of Canada Geese. I counted at least fifty. They eyed our progress, flapping wings and craning long necks, debating whether or not to flee. Crossing my fingers they wouldn’t take-off, thereby alerting the farmer to our soggy selves lurking ‘off piste’, I got out my camera.

I’ve never been very good at taking photographs; digital cameras were invented for goons like me. As a child I’d fire off films-full of snaps, badger my mum to send them away for processing, wait what felt like weeks for them to return, then eagerly open them only to find that, yet again, I’d taken entire films of photos with my finger across the lens. Or my hair. Or half a finger. Or my hands had shook. In the end I decided I was rubbish at photography, so although I have a camera, taking pictures is something I rarely do.

Recently however, I was perusing the internet (for ‘perusing’ read ‘messing around wasting time’ ) and came across an entry by Goddess Leonie guesting on ‘Roots of She’. Writing about making time to be creative, one of her suggestions is to take a camera out with you while walking. It is such a fiendishly simple idea, I thought ‘I can do that’. And Kat’s summer TiccTocc challenge was lurking at the back of my mind. It is, amongst other things, to have a go at something new. Why not photography?

So in the last couple of weeks, I’ve been taking lots of pictures. Digital cameras make it easy to take a half-decent snap. This morning’s pictures haven’t come out particularly well, but I was using the ‘no shake’ function in the wind, and I’ve never tried it before. Maybe it doesn’t take as good a picture. Or maybe, and most likely, it was the operator…. I couldn't manage a more close-up picure of the geese either. This is as good as it got.

I like taking pictures because I am a frustrated artist. I’ve been out and bought the sketchbook and the pencils, but I’m not sitting down to doodle. I’m afraid of the paper and pencils sitting there looking all artist-erly in their box. I’m afraid because I can’t draw, and I’m afraid to spoil the paper by trying. Silly isn’t it, the obstacles we throw up to stop ourselves doing things. The other problem is that I lack patience. It takes ages for a non-artist like me to try to draw something. A digital camera gives you an instant picture.

I watched a programme some months back in which the (dishy) vicar Peter Owen Jones (is it acceptable to describe a vicar as ‘dishy’?) was trying to live without money in a series called 'The Simple Life'. He met a woman who produced the most amazing drawings and paintings of flowers and plants. She talked about how the process of making her pictures was a contemplative, meditative act, and it really appealed to me as a wonderful way of appreciating the beauty of plants. I love the old detailed sketches early botanists made before cameras had been invented, and I’d like to do that sort of art. But until I find the way, and, I suppose, the will to make time to learn to draw like that, photography seems my best choice to capture images of the things that fascinate me the most.

What things would you do if only you were brave enough, and what stops you? Go on, leave me a comment....

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Making Rhubarb Vodka

So what does a woman do while her children are away on holiday? Well, if she's sensible, she'll go away on holiday herself. If she's decidedly short of cash however, she'll have to stay at home, alternating between missing her darlings (sniffle), and delving into the list of the hundreds of things she's promised herself she'll do when she has time. So today? Ta-da! Do something with the rhubarb patch.

A friend gave me a rhubarb plant a few years ago. I was rather excited about it, which, with hindsight, was a little odd given that neither I, nor the children, are particularly fussed about eating rhubarb. And, typically, the things you don't really want are the ones which grow the best. I usually give it away, but you can imagine my neighbours ducking down behind their settees going 'what does she want this time? Oh hell, she's got more rhubarb. Let's hope she thinks we're out.'

I did find a nice recipe for rhubarb and ginger cake earlier in the year, but I couldn't bring myself to eat any more of it, so I've been on the lookout for something else to do with my rampant rhubarb. I found this recipe in a book by Nigella Lawson, 'How to be a Domestic Goddess' (I am living proof owning the book isn't enough to transform oneself into into one of those) for rhubarb vodka. (for some reason, she calls it 'rhubarb schnapps) Having been bowled over by the gorgeous sloe gin I made last year, I decided to give it a try.

You need: approx 600g of trimmed, chopped rhubarb
300g sugar
1 litre of vodka

And here's what you do:

1. Clean and chop the rhubarb and divide it between two large jars.

2. Add the sugar.

3. Add the vodka.

4. Give it a good shake and put it somewhere dark and cool, and shake it every day or so for the first month.

5. Leave the rhubarb in the vodka for at least six weeks or up to six months before straining into clean bottles.
6. (This is going to be my favourite bit) Enjoy! I'm looking forward to trying it. I can't wait to see what colour it turns, and I'll post a picture when it's ready.

28th May 2014 - Here's a little foot-note seeing as this post still attracts a lot of hits... The Rhubarb Vodka was vile!!!! It was a bit like an alcoholic version of kid's cough syrup, and it didn't taste of Rhubarb. Mind you, I still drank it.................. 

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

'Graceling' by Kristin Cashore

....Pssst, just tiptoeing back in to say how much I'm enjoying reading 'Graceling' by Kristin Cashore. My kids are away on holiday with their papa, and one of the first things I did after they left, was to pop off down to the library, excited at the prospect of evenings of uninterrupted reading.

'Graceling' is a fantasy story about a woman born with a special skill for killing people. Widely feared, she is forced by her uncle, the king, to work as his thug. But when she stumbles into mystery and intrigue, not to mention a mysterious rival fighter, it all gets very exciting. I haven't finished it yet, but I've had a few late nights unable to put it down.

I popped over to Kristin's blog to see what else she's written. She has a couple more, one a prequel, and the other a sequel yet to be released, but her books are marketed for young adults. So had 'Graceling' been in the correct section of the library, I would never have found it. But even if I am supposedly far too old to enjoy it, I'm hanging on every word. It's a 'recommended read'! Go on, go and have a look at it on Kristin's blog. You know you want to....

Surviving Break-ups and Divorce

Yes, I know. And there was a time when I’d never have thought I’d write a piece like this either. But I see so many friends setting out down this path behind me, lurching from the heady heights of ‘I will survive’, to the plummeting depths of despair. It makes me feel so sad for them - I want to gather them up, and give them a great big hug. People who bang on about divorce being ‘the easy option’ have never been through it themselves; they can’t have done to describe it as something only the feckless and lazy would choose to do. So here I am with a virtual hug. I’m going to don my knitted shawl, pour you a cup of tea, and introduce you to ‘Auntie Sammy’s’ Guide to surviving break-ups and divorce.

1. Be kind to yourself. Don’t forget to eat. Oh yes I know, there’s nothing like the ‘break-up diet’ to shed those slovenly pounds, but you need to keep yourself strong. You still need to go to work. If you have children, they still need feeding, dressing, and entertaining. One friend reflected upon how hard it is that everything keeps going even though you feel like hiding in bed. But this is your lifeline. It makes you carry on. Face each day as it comes, each minute as it comes, if that helps. But don’t forget to care for yourself. Spoil yourself with your favourite foods. Try to sleep. And don’t drink too much. Contrary to popular opinion, it doesn’t help. My liver can tell you all about that.

2. Don’t bottle up your feelings. Accept that you are going to feel angry/relieved/sad/euphoric/ despairing/demented/lonely/bitter at different times. It’s okay to feel how you’re feeling. We’re brought up to keep our emotions under control, but if you feel like screaming, then scream at the top of your lungs. And if this scares the children or bring your flatmates running, scream into a pillow - it works! The same goes for tears. If you need to cry - cry. Holding in and suppressing your feelings doesn’t make them go away. They’ll only lurk, ready to re-surface when you least expect it. Get outside, go for long walks or jog or cycle; whatever you need to do, do it, you’ll feel better.

3. Accept that it will get ugly. Leaving a long-term relationship in which you’ve both invested time, emotion and money is not easy. The only people who can truly say they have an amicable split are those for whom neither will be financially worse off without the other, and, either have no children, or they’ve grown up and left home. Otherwise, it is going to get ugly. No matter how un-materialistic you think you might be, there is nothing that reduces people to a grabby ‘mine mine mine’ mentality than a divorce, particularly if your x-partner has already recruited your replacement whose fingers are firmly in the pot that was once yours. It does get ugly, but it will get sorted out eventually. Being able to sort out your finances is all part of the process of letting go.

4.Try not to dwell on negativity. Yes, we’ve all been there: a pot of tea or a bottle of wine with our best friends, and we turn into vicious harpies tittle-tattling over every last annoying habit our x-partner has, every last exasperating thing they’ve ever said, or, and this was a real bugbear of mine, how unreasonable they’re being about sorting out the divorce. It’s so satisfying verbalising those frustrations. I’m not saying you don’t need to do this from time to time. It’s a relief sometimes to have a third person say ’yes, that is wholly unreasonable, poor you’, but if you’re having this same conversation with the same friends over and over again, you’re not making it better. You’re buying deeper and deeper into the story when really, you need to start letting it go. There is nothing to be gained in continually winding yourself up over how horrid your x-partner is being. You are feeding your resentment, and not healing yourself.

5. Remember - this won’t last forever, even though it feels like it at the moment. Difficult times do pass. You will feel better. I’m not saying you’ll look back and laugh, but in time, you will be able to look back. The day my divorce was finalised, I bought myself the ring in the photograph to remind myself of just this; nothing lasts forever. Not the marriage, although, obviously, that was over, but the whole unpleasant process of getting divorced. It was a very long, drawn out saga and there were many dark days when I thought it would never be sorted. It was - eventually.

If you are going through a break-up or divorce right now, I hope these thoughts help. But the real key to feeling better is that ol’ clich√©, time: It is only through time the raw pain starts to subside. And I don’t think it ever really goes. If you are a parent, you’ll probably continue to have contact with your x-partner in some form or another, and you may have to face the joys of dealing with step-parents and the like. But having got through the initial dark days, you will emerge a far stronger person that you will have ever thought possible, and things which might once have been a very big deal will seem less significant. And when things get stormy, you will learn to go easy on yourself until everything is calm again.

I am told the best cure for getting over a break-up and divorce is a shiny new partner, but I haven’t had the opportunity to road test that theory for you yet. But you never know what’s around the corner. Maybe you should watch this space!

Do you have any tips to add? Feel free to leave a comment!

Monday, 8 August 2011

And She's Back!


Did you miss me? No, be honest, you didn't even notice I'd been gone a while. But I have been missing for a couple of weeks, and not because I've been holidaying.

The truth is I've been increasingly fed-up with 'Tales'. And if it's boring to me, then I don't imagine many of you have been enjoying it either. I started blogging hoping it would be a step towards being recognised as a literary genius. But I'm not, and when I stop to think about it, I don't actually want to be one either. It was all about proving myself to other people, and I think I'm getting a bit long in the tooth for that now.

So what to do? What could I do when even my kids are sick of my endless 'what should I do' musings.

Well for starters, the novel went into a box under my desk some months ago, and since then, I've given serious thought to winding up 'Tales'. But I couldn't bring myself to delete it. I like writing. I like having this little corner of cyber-space, and I've met so many seriously cool and talented people through blogging, many of whom have helped me steer my life away from the ridiculous and misguided decisions I've made in the past. And do you know what? Now I'm not trying to be a literary genius, the novel has slithered back out of its box and I'm just writing a story I'd enjoy reading. And 'Tales'?

Well, instead of feeling useless because this has never, nor was ever likely to become an uber-trendy literary site, I'm settling back down, mug of tea at hand, to write about things I'm really interested in, stuff I've avoided in the past because it didn't fit in with being all writery and pretentious. I may throw in stories here and there as the mood takes me, and I think it's going to be good. But the main thing is I want it to be fun. I just wasn't having fun, and that's why I've not posted in over a fortnight.

So I hope you like the new look. I actually lost the entire afternoon trying to use a photograph I'd taken as the new background. I like to think I'm pretty good with computers, but I couldn't get it to work, no matter what I tried. After literally hours, I gave up completely. But, I'm quite pleased with what the outcome, and I hope you like it too!
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