Friday 24 June 2022 joy

I don't consider myself a 'proper' gardener. My garden is very small, untidy, overgrown and...well, just plain wild in places. I don't have the knowledge/know-how or (more importantly) physical strength to try and tame it (small though it is), so Mother Nature and I just muddle along together, and sometimes the ivy, dandelions and brambles make way for me, and sometimes they grow unchallenged for a while. I feel very protective of this little patch of land though, and whilst it may appear unkempt to my tree-felling, slab-laying, artificial-grass-loving neighbours, it's beautiful to me. At the moment there is literally nothing that makes me happier than my morning and evening rounds with the watering can, tending to my 'crops' - nibbling on delicious, crunchy mange-tout peas and gathering little handfuls of raspberries to eat with yoghurt and honey. The slugs and snails (a.k.a. The Enemy) seem to have been ever so slightly deterred by the eggshells I've been spreading around my strawberry plants - so I'm currently harvesting at least two strawberries for every one they hollow out with their thousands of microscopic teeth*. Hooray! The blueberry bushes I planted last year have started to produce fruit, and my blackberry patch is covered in flowers, but the big success story of the year is lettuce. Four different varieties in heavily fortified containers, with 'moats' and copper tape to keep The Enemy at bay - I reckon I might be self-sufficient in lettuce all summer! 

*It's true, they do have teeth, I saw it on Q.I.!
The tables outside the kitchen window are where some of the most intensive growing action takes place. The planters on top are a lot easier to tend to (less bending), and a little easier to patrol - it was my (sadly mistaken) belief that very few of The Enemy would be willing to make the climb to get to them. Turns out it's actually the most determined/elite specimens that ascend to the summit, and they don't just pose for a photo and head back down once they do. I'm trying to abide by a 'live and let live' policy with The Enemy, but it's hard to show mercy when they munch through entire crops of seedlings in the space of just one if they're captured on the table top they get lobbed as far away as I can muster - usually into the ivy on top of the garage*. Currently growing in this area are mange-tout peas, chives, sage, lettuce and tomato seedlings, some sweet peas, a rogue foxglove and a wonderfully flamboyant nasturtium plant, which is spreading like wildfire.  

*Yes, I know this is ultimately a futile gesture, as (a) they have a 20 metre radius homing instinct, and (b) I throw like a girl. It just makes me feel better to think that I've ruined their day.
The nasturtium and an accidental poppy that appeared in one of the blueberry pots have been the floral highlights of my summer so far. I really can't decide which I love more. Nasturtiums make me incredibly nostalgic because my Mum always had them growing in the garden, wherever we were living, but this is a particularly magnificent poppy, standing around three feet tall and simply covered in buds. I can never seem to grow poppies on purpose, so I make sure to really appreciate them when they arrive by chance. I think this one may have been 'planted' by a bird, as it's directly below one of my bird-feeders. 
Speaking of birds, this is 'Girlie', a very tame female blackbird who comes and calls for meal worms every morning, sitting on the fence, or the extension roof, saying "Bip! Bip! Bip!" until I  give her her breakfast. She is quite unperturbed by me moving around nearby, watering the pots or having a cup of tea on the bench. This gives her a decided advantage over the other birds (mostly sparrows at the moment) who watch impatiently from the hedge until I go inside or move further away.
When I looked more closely at the photo below, of the windowsill birds and the nasturtium flowers, I realised that it also captured Girlie sitting on the fence, and the little red dot of the accidental poppy in the distance. Simple pleasures - garden joy!

Monday 6 June 2022

...postcards from Alnmouth

We booked four nights away in a cottage in Alnmouth earlier this year, before my Dad's heart attack happened, and were due to depart just two days after he came out of hospital. At one point I was thinking of cancelling our plans, but as luck would have it, my sister had the same week off work, and was keen to come for a visit - she lives 200 miles away, so can't just pop round the corner for a cuppa like I can. She suggested that she could stay at our house while we were away, meaning we could have a reasonably worry-free break, knowing she was there to help/support and generally keep an eye on things. It was the perfect solution!

So we headed North, past the Angel at Gateshead...  

...arriving at Alnmouth in the late afternoon, where we quickly unloaded the car and headed for the beach. Alnmouth perches on the side of the estuary where the River Aln meets the sea, and the river runs across the beach for some distance, almost dividing it in two when the tide is out. There are signs warning against paddling or bathing in the river as it is too fast-flowing - so if (like me) you enjoy the feeling of bare feet on sand and the invigorating sensation of chilly North Sea waves lapping at your toes, you have to walk along the beach for a while to get it!

The following morning we set off up the beach again, following a 4.7 mile circular route from the Andrew's Walks website. I was fascinated by the weathered wooden groynes halfway along the beach, which had been sculpted and coloured by sand and salt-water over time.
There were some wonderfully menacing dark clouds overhead, and the heavens opened just after we turned off the beach, so we sheltered under some trees until the rain blew over...
...the second half of the walk took us inland, with views of the River Aln meandering through the fields and glorious blue skies overhead. We did get very wet at the end of the walk, when (having discarded a few layers in the sunshine) we were caught in a torrential downpour of rain and hail only minutes from the door of the cottage, but that just made a lazy afternoon snuggled up indoors seem all the more rewarding.
The next day we crossed over the Aln and walked along the coastal footpath to the beach on the other side of the estuary, with lovely views of Alnmouth behind us.The track we took through the sand dunes was beautiful, literally carpeted with buttercups, daisies, pink stork's-bill and blue speedwell flowers. I've been listening to Anne of Green Gables on Audible when I can't get to sleep at night, and couldn't help wondering what fanciful name she would have given it - 'The Path of Tiny Blossoms', perhaps?!
The beach was completely deserted - like Robinson Crusoe, ours were the only footprints in the sand. We walked south, facing into a very brisk wind, until the sand scouring our faces got too gritty to bear, then took refuge in the dunes to eat our sandwiches and gaze out to sea for a while. Sheer heaven.
We retraced our steps along the Path of Tiny Blossoms and back over the river, taking a slightly different route 'home' along the side of the estuary and then up through the village for another well-earned afternoon snooze on the settee!
On our last full day we took the bus into Alnwick in the morning, had a mooch around the shops and market stalls, called in at the famous Barter Books shop, and shared an enormous slab of chocolate brownie with a couple of cappuccinos at a little cafe on Narrowgate. In the afternoon we walked off the brownie (or at least some of it) during a final stroll along the beach, pausing to take even more photos of the beautiful wooden groynes.
Before setting off for home on the last day it would have been crazy not to take a short (17 miles) detour up the coast to my very favourite St Aidan's beach at Seahouses - I love it so much that it made me cry with happiness to be there, as wildly over the top as that probably sounds! There is just something wonderful about the spaciousness of it, the blueness of the sky, the wide, pale, reflective beach. Often I become mesmerised by patterns in the sand or seeing what the tide has left behind, but on this morning the wind was erasing our footsteps as we walked, and the beach had been swept clean of all but a few scraps of seaweed and the occasional pebble or shell.
The wind was blowing dry sand across the beach in hypnotic rippling patterns like water - incredibly beautiful to watch. Here is a brief snippet of video:
I'm including this final photo because it functions as an optical illusion puzzle (for me, anyway). The circular shapes are lugworm holes - perfect concave circles sunk into the sand - but my brain keeps 'reading' them as convex (nipple-like!) shapes protruding from the sand. I really struggle to see them as holes, even though I know that's what they are - and even when I briefly succeed in seeing a hole they seem to switch to nipples before my very eyes! Most peculiar...or is it just me?!

Wednesday 1 June 2022

...when May went West

May started quite well.
[Although not for the XXSCat Dog,
who had all her floofy fur cut off,
and had to curl herself up in a little tight ball,
with all four paws tucked in,
to stay warm]...
...I finished the crazy psychedelic painting for the special 'Thank You' card...

...plugged away at my #100grannies100days squares...
...made a cupboard for the mouse house,
to ease my nerves,
whilst overhead, on the flat roof,
a couple of agile workmen
tore up the old roof and laid down a new one,
finally making us watertight again...
...the woods filled with bright green leaves,
purple Honesty, 
and Queen Anne's Lace...
...inspiring a fresh 'batch' of daily squares...

...and then everything changed in a heart-beat,
when my Dad came in from the sunny garden, 
looking grey, 
with pain in his chest, 
spreading down his arms.

My Mum phoned me,
and I said "Phone an ambulance!", 
then hurried round to wait with them.

Two nice young paramedics arrived,
quicker than predicted,
checked him over, 
and took him straight to hospital.

Bloody Covid.

He had to wait alone for twelve hours,
sitting by himself, 
in a cubicle in A&E,
until a bed became available 
in the acute cardiology ward.

Almost miraculously we brought him home
just three nights later,
with only minor damage to his heart,
and a list of medications as long as his arm.
We are all a bit shaken up, 
our hearts bruised but thankfully not broken,
and all so very glad
that my lovely Dad
is still with us.