Sunday, 25 May 2014

Slowing Down and Watching: Spring 2014

A few weeks before my father died last autumn we were reminiscing about my childhood and teenage years and he commented, as people often do, on how fast time seems to go.  I remember his exact words: 'just a blink'.  I know what he meant.  In the last few years someone seems to have pressed the fast forward button and the spring has come around and is gone again too quickly.

But what a beautiful spring it has been.  There has been rain, but I don't mind as it's just made everything so much greener and more lush and there's been plenty of sunshine too.  As I've walked the roads and paths around the village on my usual dogwalk route, I've watched the trees and hedgerows change. First the blackthorn blossom, the bank of yellow primroses by the railway line, the bright yellow gorse flowers and the occasional cowslip.  Now they've faded and there are shiny buttercups, spiky nettles and delicate cow parsley at shoulder height.  On the ground is a litter of confetti made from tall horse chestnut flower candles and pink tinged hawthorn blossom washed away too soon by the rain. And yesterday, to signal the beginning of summer, the first of the pale pink dog roses.

I've spent a lot of time alone this springtime.  The child, who used to be my constant companion, is growing up and needs me less now.  Our roles are changing: now she plucks my eyebrows; fixes my make up as my eyesight is fading.  Calls me 'cute'.  My husband has been cycling up mountains in the Peak District and around lakes in Scotland, chasing after his youth.  Still, being alone is fine - they always come back to me.

Ten years ago in her 'Cute' hoodie.  Now I'm 'cute' it seems
I, meanwhile, have been slowing down. Leaving the laundry to pile high in the ironing basket.  Saying no to earning money marking poetry examinations.   Ignoring the dust and staring out the window at the birds.  Not doing, but watching.  The robin tries and fails to cling on to the peanut feeder, gives up and then hangs around below to catch scraps left by the blue tits, who feed two or even three at a time. The nuthatch uses its long beak to feed upside down and warily, checking all the time for danger.  And we've had a woodpecker, a glorious, colourful creature, black and white with a shocking red belly who darts back and forth from the orchard next door,  gorging greedily and leaving the feeder swinging.  Perhaps taking food back for little woodpeckers in the nest.  Occasionally there's a magpie, robber in disguise as a policeman in white and shiny blue/black uniform, patrolling menacingly below the feeder.

This post was mentally composed on Tuesday to link to One Week which is a set up by
Older Mum in a Muddle.  Unfortunately I slowed down so much I missed the deadline.  Never mind - there's no hurry.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Blogging Milestone: Post number 100 - in the garden

I've been neglecting the blog recently and so it's taken a while to reach Post 100 - I'd originally expected to reach this milestone during the Easter school holiday break.   I was also a little fed up when the teenager recently read a few posts and said they sounded 'cheesy'.  Perhaps she's right, but I'll keep going anyway even if it's just a weekly roundup read by a few loyal followers.

I've also spend a lot of time in the garden recently and I'm quite pleased with the results so thought I'd share a few photos.  The previous owner of our house had the garden landscaped so there are a lot of shrubs and rather too many conifers and Leylandii hedges to be kept under control.  But there are some attractive features too.  I like the Japanese maple tree with the clematis scrambling through it.  The clematis will have to be cut back, though, when it finishes flowering before it strangles the tree.  It's a bit of a brute.  I prefer the more delicate one pictured below but, in a bout of overzealous pruning last year, I seem to have practically wiped this one out.

I've dug out a little bed to grow a few fruit bushes and some lettuces.  So far I haven't had much success with the blackcurrants or raspberries.  Probably something to do with the quality of the soil or the amount of sun they get - I'm no expert.  They are looking a bit healthier this year though so perhaps with produce some fruit.  The lettuces are doing well, I have some spinach growing in pots and a few herbs.  Both my father and especially my grandfather were keen gardeners and I'm trying to keep the tradition going.   I have lovely childhood memories of picking raspberries, strawberries and blackcurrants at Granny and Granda's house.  Of course both Daddy and Granda had access to a 'dunghill', which was used liberally to improve soil, and scatter around flowerbeds etc.  That's probably the key to success.  Perhaps I should take a bucket and spade and collect cowpats from the field across the road where the cows are now out grazing.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Late again for The Year in Books: 'The Universe versus Alex Woods'

I've haven't got to the blog for nearly two weeks and am late again with my April record for 'The Year in Books'.  The reason for this can be spotted underneath my book: it's exam season and my evenings recently have been spent marking practice GCSE essays.  But enough of that.

'The Universe versus Alex Woods' is an excellent book.  I couldn't put it down and was sorry to finish it as I wanted to spend more time with Alex: he's really entertaining company.  The novel is about a teenage boy who had the unfortunate experience of being hit by a fragment from a meteorite which crashed through his bathroom ceiling when he was 10.  As a result he develops epilepsy.  It doesn't sound much fun but the way that Gavin Extence's character tells his story is full of humour, warmth and wisdom  Unsurprisingly, he doesn't easily fit into secondary school with his epilepsy and 'geek' fascination with science and the universe, inspired by his unfortunate experience. His description of being different in secondary school is told without any self pity.  I liked it so much that I read it to some of the students I teach as a starting point for discussion. And I thought I'd share it with readers here too:

'In case you didn't know, in secondary school - especially in the early years of secondary school - diversity is not celebrated.  In secondary school, being different is the worst crime you can commit.  Most of the things the UN considers crimes are not considered crimes at secondary school.  Being cruel is fine.  Being obnoxious is fine.  Being brutal is fine.  Being superficial is especially fine.  Explosive acts of violence are fine. Taking pleasure in the humiliation of others is fine...... None of these things will hurt your social standing.  But being different - that's unforgivable.  Being different is the fast track to Pariah Town.  A pariah is someone who is excluded from mainstream society.  And if you know that at twelve years of age, you're probably an inhabitant of Pariah Town.'

I also liked this section where he comments on the way boys in particular use the word 'gay, something that I find very offensive, in his list of crimes of 'being different',:

'Being gay.  This has surprisingly little to do with what you do with your private parts (or, more accurately, what you'd like to do with your private parts). ......
If you're a boy, any display of sensitivity is gay.  Compassion is gay. Crying is supergay.  Reading is usually gay.  Certain songs and types of music are gay...Love songs are gay.  Love itself is incredibly gay, as are any other heartfelt emotions.  Singing is gay, but chanting is not gay...Neither is all-male cuddling during specially designated periods in football matches, or communal bathing thereafter. (I didn't invent the rules of gay - I'm just telling you what they are.)'

The main plot of the book is about the friendship which develops between Alex and Mr Peterson, an American Vietnam veteran, and how Alex helps him cope with terminal illness.  It sounds depressing, but actually it was more uplifting/

Everyone at my bookgroup loved this book and I think this is a first.  I recommend it highly.

In May I plan to read 'Black Swan Green' by David Mitchell, which my husband has just finished and loved.  It's another story told by a teenage boy, like 'Alex Woods' and 'The Shock of the Fall'.