Five (good) things on Friday

Hello again!  I’m so sorry to have been absent again for a while.  Still gradually recovering from the long-lasting bout of flu, which has left me with a wheezy cough and depleted energy levels.  But fortunately still able to enjoy what energy I have (mainly in the morning through till mid-afternoon, when I slump rather) – and it’s getting better, so no real complaints.

I promise I will catch up with replying to your comments, which I really truly do love to receive, and catch up with dropping by and visiting your blogs and commenting.  In the meantime, I do hope you’ll bear with me.

So, another ‘Five (good) things” post feels like an easy way back in.

  1. Two really interesting talks – first of all, a talk in the local (council owned) Victoria Art Gallery linked to a most beautiful exhibition of prints by Howard Hodgkin.  The talk was by Andrew Smith, a printmaker who worked very closely with Hodgkin to produce the prints to his exact requirements.  So very interesting, and such a fascinating insight into both the painstaking process of making the prints, and also the way Hodgkin himself worked.  Then on another evening at another gallery (the Martin Parr Foundation, at the Paintworks in Bristol), a talk by Martin Parr himself outlining his life and work, illustrated with fascinating slides and delivered with great humour. If you live in the UK you’re probably familiar with his work even if you don’t realise – he’s made a series of interesting BBC1 ident films that I’m sure you’ll have seen, and there are more to come in 2018.
  2. Time to go out on the allotment and do some jobs I should have done last month but didn’t.  In particular I’ve cut down and thinned out all the autumn-fruiting raspberry canes, and saved some spares to pass on to fellow allotmenters.  I’ll offer any surplus on Freegle.  I was cold and tired but very satisfied when I finally finished and came back indoors.
  3. Exchanged an unwanted Christmas gift for something I really do want.  Well, to be fair the gift wasn’t at all unwanted, in fact quite the reverse.  I gave a short list of some things I would enjoy to close family, thinking they might perhaps talk to each other….  Well no, and both sons and partners gave me the same book.  So – I took the duplicate book to one of the independent bookshops we’re fortunate to have here in Bath, explained the problem to them (including making it clear that the book hadn’t been bought from them), and they kindly agreed to do a swap.  So now I have two inspiring allotment/garden books, and will enjoy both.
  4. Enjoyed watching the garden birds on the new (squirrel-proof) feeder oldest son and his partner gave Malcolm for Christmas, as well as the two broken feeders I mended, refilled, and put out again.  Such a pleasure to see!  And helped by Malcolm’s photos and the bird book we’ve had for ages, we’re learning to recognise new-to-us species.
  5. A much-loved regular circuit walk around Bristol docks, including a stop for a flask and snack, then a cafe stop for a delicious light lunch and coffee.  So beautiful in the muted January light. 
Posted in Community, Five (good) things on Friday, Local, Uncategorized, Walking | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day (and a new year), and I’m feeling good – except I’m not!

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, in anticipation of posting on 1 January 2018.  Life and a bout of flu intervened – hence the ‘except I’m not!’ tagged on this morning.  

So here we are in 2018.  Another year seems to have flashed past (a symptom of aging perhaps? or of busyness? or maybe just of life).   Another moment to think about what to keep, what to change, how to be.

I don’t usually do much in the way of New Year resolutions, but I do like that sense of a ‘new’ start, and reflecting on how things have been and how they could be (whether different or the same).

I’ve decided to adopt a guiding principle for 2018.  This isn’t something I’ve ever explicitly done before, though there are many guiding principles I try to follow.  But this one feels particularly apt to and for me, at this point in my life and at this point in our (communal) lives.

It is:

Do what you can with what you have.

I’ve come across it often this year on a blog whose author I can’t recall at the moment – I will credit here as soon as I can.    It carries within it so much, don’t you think?

In essence I think it’s about making the best, the most, of what actually is.  Of what I (we) actually already have.  Of avoiding consuming more whenever possible.  But it’s also about recognising where we are and seeing what we can make of it, where it can take us, not just in terms of material goods, but also making the most and best of our intangible wealth – our health, our ideas, our love, our knowledge, our relationships.

And I fully acknowledge that I’m in the privileged position that I have all I could possibly want and more.  The point being what then can I do with that to help others with less, and to make the most and best of what I have rather than acquiring more.

For me, that resonates both when I’m thinking about material possessions but also about personal relationships and the wider world we inhabit together.  It means as well making the most of the things I’ve learnt and thought about through my reading, my studying, my conversations, and considering how I can apply them in my community (in every sense of that world).

If this sounds rather woolly*, it’s probably because it is.  I’m thinking this one through as I write it, as I often do.  I find that ideas evolve and grow as I write, as I speak.  Then it’s up to me to figure out where and how to use them.

And for us, this (new) year, there will be one big (tiny) and very welcome change.  In May we will become grandparents.   We were right to think of our ‘gap year’ as a gap between caring responsibilities.  We will embrace our relationship with this tiny new life, and make of it whatever good things we can, with what we have.

Cot blanket for our first grandchild


*woolly – kind of punny I know, but I love that the thing I use to make something useful and (I hope, beautiful) fits well here.  The idea comes, and then we figure out how best to use it to create something useful and/or good (and hopefully beautiful).

Posted in Climate change, Community, Craft, Frugal, Inspirations, Reflections on life (and death), Retirement, Seeing differently, Uncategorized, Whatever next? | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Five (good) things on Friday

Well, here we are again, another Friday come around.

  1. Not one but two traditional pub events on consecutive days.  Saturday evening was our Farm Christmas ‘do’ for staff and trustees (and a couple of prospective new trustees came along as well – so nice to meet them!).  It was a skittles evening with a buffet at a local pub I’ve never been to before, but will certainly go to again.  An unpretentious ‘local’, this is a really old-fashioned pub experience which you don’t often find these days, when most pubs have either been done up beyond recognition or have effectively turned into restaurants.  The building is really nice, and they’ve got a great skittles alley.  We had a lot of fun.  Then on Sunday afternoon I went over to Bradford-on-Avon to join in with a traditional ‘singing carols in the pub‘ event.  It was the last of a series of four, each in a different local pub.  There was a band, handouts with the words, a lot of people who could really sing, and a very welcoming atmosphere.  The place was jam packed – barely space to stand – and we all sang out.  It was great fun, and I left thinking that I really should do this kind of thing more often.
  2. Sleep continues to improve, slowly slowly, giving me more energy to do things during the day and (sometimes) enough to enable me to go out in the evening too.  And what a difference it makes not to need to make an early start in the day, when the medication dictates a slow re-entry in the morning.  Porridge, hot milky coffee, and time to read the newspaper.  Such luxury.
  3. Arrangements have been made for a lovely holiday period.  Christmas Day to be spent with immediate family (both sons, both partners, our one surviving parent); a larger extended family gathering a couple of days later; and another small gathering a couple of days after that.  What matters (of course) is being with the people.  I know we will eat and drink well on each occasion, and the preparation is being shared between us so (I hope!) no-one will feel over-burdened or overwhelmed.  I’m looking forward to  getting together and seeing everyone again.
  4. Several (needle) projects coming to fruition, and I’m pleased with all of them.  I hope the recipients will be too.
  5. Reports of some positive medical research breakthroughs that may perhaps one day be of benefit to some close friends who currently have rather bleak outlooks ahead of them.  Here’s hoping.

Carols in the pub


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Five (good) things on Friday

I’ve seen this theme all over the place, and thought I’d have a play with it today.  Let’s see how it goes.  I may even do it again….

  1. I am making pleasing progress through my (long!) list of backlog jobs to do.  Ticking off several most days.  Mainly by being a bit more realistic about how much I can actually manage each day, and not making crazy long lists that just demoralise me.  Nibble away at it, and gradually ‘eat the elephant’.
  2. Having made an early start on Christmas presents (like, right through the year as and when I’ve seen something suitable) and told everyone we want to keep it simple and not spend for spending sake, I’m feeling happy with the things I’ve made and bought for our brood (two sons, two partners), and I will enjoy the wrapping and (of course) the unwrapping.
  3. I’ve arranged to get together today with a very dear friend and neighbour for a spot of hygge – there will be knitting (or crochet), coffee, and good conversation –  catching up on a month or so when both of us have been under the weather for one reason or another.
  4. Since starting a new improved sleep regime a fortnight ago I’ve at last begun sleeping better – I have slept almost through the night for the past 3 nights.  This feels like nothing short of a miracle, after so many months and weeks of sleep deprivation.  The world is a different place after a good night’s sleep!
  5. I’ve got my reading mojo back.  I’ve found it quite upsetting that over the past year or so I’ve found it difficult to settle with a book, even a good one.  But with my new regular sleep regime I spend the last half hour or so in bed with a book, and I am enjoying it so much.  I went to the library (well, two actually – one here in Bath and one in Wiltshire where I used to work), and have an inviting pile to take me through to the end of the month.  Current reading: The Fortunes, by Peter Ho Davies.  Fascinating, and very well written.

And to top it all, we had a lovely visit this week from one of our Danish not-nieces and her family (including their three gorgeous children).

I know, that’s six things.  Which is why I didn’t include the last one in the numbered list.  Because rules are sometimes there for breaking, don’t you think?

Posted in Community, Family, Reflections on life (and death), Retirement, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

City Farms and us

We go back a long way, us and City Farms.  Almost all the way, it transpires.  The first City Farm in England was set up in London (Kentish Town) in 1972, growing out of a community arts group (Inter-Action, founded in 1968 by Ed Berman).

(At around the same time here in Bath, Bath Arts Workshop was running a whole range of events and happenings, some of which me and my circle of friends took part in.  This, and my involvement in the Bath Youth Volunteer Action Group, helped shape my future with community engagement).

Doing some STOing* earlier this month, I came across the programme for the theatre production where we celebrated Malcolm’s 21st birthday (in 1976) with his family – a production of two short plays by Tim Stoppard, directed by Ed Berman and produced by Inter-Action. Looking through the programme, I see that it has a double-paged spread on City Farms – what and why they are, how they work – because this production and Inter-Action and City Farms were all part of the same movement, founded by Ed Berman – anther example of how an individual’s great idea can bring about real change).  I guess that was our first encounter with City Farms.

Nothing if not consistent, we all went on for a meal at the then-recently-opened National Theatre.  The same theatre where youngest son later (much, much later) worked for 10 years when he left school, and met his now-wife who was also working there.

[I love it when hindsight reveals patterns and pathways in our lives that we could never have foreseen.]

Anyway, getting back to City Farms.  After university Malcolm and I moved to live in South London.  He was even then a keen and able photographer, and was part of several community education projects, one of which involved working with a group of local children to help them document why they wanted a local City Farm.  This helped provide evidence to support the founding of Vauxhall City Farm – still in existence today.

When we lived in Bristol we were frequent visitors to Windmill Hill City Farm and St Werburgh’s City Farm, and all the more so when our children were old enough to enjoy our visits.  We all still have fond memories of St Werburgh’s City Farm in particular, and we visit as often as we can (in youngest son and d-i-l’s case, that’s pretty often as they live relatively close by).

And now, over the past two years, our own involvement has grown to the point where we can’t imagine not being involved with Bath City Farm.  Of course, I know that one day we will move on, our interests and abilities will change, or the farm will have changed.

But until that time arrives, I’m so very pleased that I dropped by one murky miserable day, walking past on the way home from a funeral, to ask if they might possibly be able to make use of me as a volunteer.  And that Malcolm later agreed to offer his substantial skills and experience to help move forward our ambition to have a proper cafe there.

*STOing = Sorting Things Out

Posted in Bath, Community, Farming, Food, Growing, Inspirations, Local food, Reflections on life (and death), Retirement, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Off and on the needles – November 2017

A quick round up of the various yarny projects finished and started over the past few weeks while I’ve been absent from my blog.  Which turn out to be surprisingly numerous.  A reflection in part of many sleepy evenings spent on the sofa (hello crochet), and lots of time on trains (knitting, always).

An upside of feeling under the weather and not up to much is that I spent whatever energetic time I had doing what we call ‘STOing’ (sorting things out), and making cosy corners. A bit like my student days when, an essay urgently required, I would develop an equally pressing need to rearrange all the furniture in my room, last week I found myself single-handedly dismantling and shifting beds, boxes and all manner of other things upstairs and downstairs.

Another full size blanket completed and given away (thank you so much Lucy! so inspiring and her patterns are always easy to follow).  This one given to daughter-out-law as a 30th birthday present.  It’s Lucy’s Hydrangea stripe blanket, and I think it’s much my favourite so far – an interesting stitch visually, colours I enjoyed, and actually very very easy to do.

Much progress is also being made on a second such blanket, this one for me and made (mostly) with left over yarn.  I’m loving making this, choosing each colour as I go, and staying warm on the sofa as I do so.  Malcolm thinks I’m crocheting myself into a cocoon.  There’s a lot to be said in favour of that idea, especially at this time of year….

As you can see, it’s not yet finished and there are still all those pesky ends to sew in, but I’m pleased with the effect so far.

Socks both started and finished – not to be pictured here (yet) as they are destined to be Christmas presents.

Another cot/pram blanket being knitted for Bath City Farm to sell, again using up donated and leftover sock wool.  So far they’ve sold all of the knitted blankets, and I hope that the remaining crocheted ones were sold at the Christmas Fair.

On the worst day of the cold bug, I cracked the art of knitting whilst at the same time reading someone else’s blog.  With a cup of hot spiced redbush tea alongside, nothing could be more comforting.

A friend who is working temporarily in Shetland has brought me enough wool to enable me to finish another lace shawl, as we are to become great aunt and uncle a third time next year.  This one is already part done, and I’m looking forward to being able to complete it.

I have a LOT (truly, no exaggeration) of untreated pure wool left over from an eco business I set up and ran when our sons were babies and toddlers.  I’ve been pondering (on and off for the past 15+ years….) what to do with it.  If you have any suggestions for how I can use it, I’d be really interested to hear from you.  I have a mix of 2 ply and 3 ply.  It’s lovely to knit with, leaves your hands very soft.  Ideally I’d like to use it to raise more money for Bath City Farm.

You may not have come across the concept before.  Lanolin wool is wool that has been washed clean and spun, but not enough to remove the natural lanolin from the sheep.  I used it to knit woollen nappy covers (I think they call them ‘soakers’ in some places), the idea (and the practice) being that the lanolin in the wool reacts with the ammonia in the wee and neutralises it, creating a soap and water.  The wee is absorbed by the wool soakers, keeping the baby’s clothes dry and bottom skin free of nappy rash.  It sounds unlikely but is true that they rarely needed washing (about every 6 months or so) – we used 6 pairs in rotation and hung them to air in between uses.  Truly, they didn’t smell, and our babies never had sore bottoms.

Interestingly, I’ve since learnt that in earlier times woollen fleeces were left to soak in stale urine (called ‘lant’) in order to remove the lanolin before washing and spinning.

Having made and used these soakers for our babies, I sold knit-your-own kits and some aready-made ones mail order.  This was in the 1980s, before the internet, but when many of us were already questioning the environmental issues raised by so-called disposable nappies.  Though a bit ‘niche’, my ‘wunderpants’ went down well.  But then our babies grew to be young children and started school, and I wanted something more from my working life.  I wound the business up.  Hence the large amount of wool currently sitting in our garage waiting for inspiration.

Hmm, that turned out to be a bit of a diversion from what I’ve been knitting and crocheting recently and now, into what I knitted 20 odd years ago, and what I might be knitting some time soon…

Meanwhile, the cold bug gradually (oh too slowly) ebbs awat.




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Where we’ve been

I thought I’d do a quick round-up of where we’ve been while I’ve been absent from my blog.

Our habit of monthly trips away lapsed for a while as other things took priority.  But we both found through our ‘gap year’ that we really value our trips away, so we’re plotting some more for the next few months.  They don’t have to take us far (here are so many wonderful places in the UK that we haven’t yet seen), they don’t need to be exotic, and they don’t need to be very long (we’ve been amazed to realise how much we can cram into just a few days, and what a difference those days make).

We’re planning a brief trip to Liverpool; another long Scottish walk (next spring); a train trip somewhere in the south of France; and probably something further afield.  Then later next year there’s a significant anniversary coming up, which we plan to celebrate somewhere special (to us) with both sons and their partners.

Detail of gabion wall, Whitstable

In the meantime, there have been lots of trips to London, mostly for a specific purpose but I’ve been careful to build in something that was just for me as well.  Often ‘just’ a walk and a picnic lunch – simple, but so refreshing for the spirits.  Plus a couple of brief London visits purely for fun.  Including a day trip on the train from London to Whitstable – such a treat!

We went to the Pink Floyd exhibition at  the V & A (‘Their mortal remains’), largely because oldest son was involved in designing the exhibition.  We were wowed by it, and could see why it got such rave reviews.

We gave our Danish friends and a group of their Danish friends a guided tour – a combination of bits of of two of our favourite London walks (St Pauls, a section of the South Bank to Tower Bridge, then DLR to Island Gardens, through the foot tunnel to Greenwich. exploration of Greenwich, a pub supper, then back on the river bus).  Seemed to go down well with all….  We certainly enjoyed it (and we love the totally unexpected and gorgeous Danish porcelain they gave us as a ‘thank you’ gift).

I met a friend at the Museum of Childhood, another part of the V&A, tucked away in Bethnal Green.  A trip down memory lane for me, as it was somewhere mum took my sister and I were taken when we were very young (and she remembered it from her childhood growing up in the East End).

I don’t recall it being as gorgeous or as welcoming and family-friendly then as it is now.  It would have been worth the visit for the architecture alone, and was even more so for the special exhibition we saw about Michael Morpurgo (you may know him as the author of War Horse, also of many other books for children and young people).  A fascinating insight into what moves and motivates and inspires him as a writer, and an exhibition that integrated children’s experiences of his books into its very heart.  (Youngest son worked on the lighting of War Horse at the National Theatre, so I had particular pleasure in seeing the puppet horse Joey).

There have been lots of local walks, some new to us, some old favourites, some variations on old favourites just to mix it up a bit.

There was a fascinating guided visit of the flour mill that produces the flour I’ve used for all my bread baking for the past 30 years (Shipton Mill, near Tetbury).  Another example of ‘going back’ to the future – in the 1970s when they set up their mill in the old run-down former mill building, they reused machinery from flour mills in the north of England that were ‘modernising’ their methods and abandoning their old machinery.  The Shipton Mill people lovingly restored it, and have been using it ever since.  As well as being useful, it truly is a thing of beauty.

The ‘gap year’ may have ended, but the lessons and experience continue.  Once I shake off this humdinger of a cold….*

*I wrote this post over the past week or so, lucky because my brain’s not functioning enough to be coherent right now

Posted in Gap year, Local food, Retirement, Travels, Uncategorized, Walking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments