Chips!

Summer's evening at the Allotment by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)
Evening at the allotment

Our week of relaxing day trips was slightly scuppered by a phone call from the plumber to say he could start work on our bathroom. He’d first phoned us back in March to say he’d penciled us in for May, and then lockdown hit. For those of you who don’t know, we have a very cold and mouldy, single-skin, flat-roof bathroom off the end of our kitchen. It’s fine and I’ve been reminded countless times by my mum how lucky we are not to have the loo at the end of the garden like she had as a child, negotiating the path in pitch black because her candle had blown out! But after Little Owl took a rather nasty tumble down the stairs in the night, lucky or not, the time had come to split Wren’s bedroom in two and put in an upstairs bathroom. So, although we have been out for nice day trips we have also made a lot of builder’s tea and lost count of the times we’ve realised we need that thing upstairs which we now can’t get to. If only we’d gone to Wales! We have spent a lot of time at the allotment.

This week we are nearly there. Some more plastering, skirting boards, and a new window but that’s it. The resulting bathroom is very small but perfectly formed 🙂 . And Wren’s room is a decent size box room, freshly insulated as a result of the plumber discovering that bizarrely, but not entirely unexpectedly as old houses are full of surprises, part of one of the walls in the tenement is single skin. Decent insulation coupled with a new radiator means Wren should be nice and cosy going forward. She has also decided that the new bathroom is exclusively for her use seeing as it used to be part of her bedroom. Fortunately she hasn’t learned the word “en-suite” yet. 

The other thing we got round to doing last week was Little Owl’s birthday tea at a local restaurant. Like the bathroom, it had been planned long before lockdown and the booking happened to fall the weekend after lockdown was announced so we weren’t able to go. Last week we arrived in good time for our slot, and were guided through the one-way system to our socially distanced cubicle by the waitress. The kids thought it was marvelous, and didn’t mind one bit. Finch bounced into his seat, picked up the menu and began scanning. He’s been working hard on his phonics recently so he sounded out… “Ch…I…P…S…ch-i-p-s…CHIPS! Mummy, they sell CHIPS!!!” The evening was a resounding success.

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Allotment Update

Sweetpeas, lavender, and sweetness by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

Okay, I think we’re all in need of an allotment update aren’t we?!

Swiss Chard – middling. Growing but it’s getting a lot of attention from the pigeons. Unwanted attention from my point of view.

Asparagus – good this year but every time I took my eyes off them they grew about two foot!

Broad Beans – desperate. Completely destroyed by black fly. The nasturtiums I planted as companions were too late to entice the black fly away. I’m going to try an Autumn sowing which will hopefully be ready for early spring.

Cornflowers and Sweet Williams – didn’t even germinate. I’m slightly relieved in one way because I hadn’t realised Sweet Williams are biennial and that would have really messed up my crop rotation plans. Next year I think I’ll get the cornflowers started off indoors.

New potatoes – wonderful and delicious. Definitely late this year though.

Beetroot – good so far!

Carrots – only one has come up. I’m so sad.

Pumpkins – mixed. I should have fed them when I first planted them out and they were put off by the early hot weather. I’ve lost about half, and the slugs have been merciless. Keeping my fingers crossed for the rest.

Tomatoes – good so far. I’m being much better at pinching out, and thankfully Monty Don is doing a step-by-step guide on Gardener’s World this year, so hopefully I’ll finally know what I’m doing.

Sweet peas – As you can see – good!

Strawberries – A-ma-zing! We’re on to our second lot of jam. Big Dreamer has made wine, and we’ve had punnets and punnets to eat fresh. So many in fact that Finch says he’s gone off strawberries (!). There’s tons of unripe fruit on the blackberry brambles and we’ve had a handful of gooseberries and white currants from our baby bushes.

Perpetual Onions – looking good so far, but going to let them get a bit more established before I start pulling any up. Apparently they are also sometimes called ‘Walking Onions’ because they spread so well. I hope mine do!

Flowers – Dahlias are on their way up and so are the Rudbeckia. I’m hoping for lots for cutting. We’ve also been using nasturtium flowers and marigold petals in salads this year. 

I find I get to this time of year and I can already see what has and hasn’t worked, and just can’t resist impatiently plotting for next year!

School’s out for the holidays this afternoon. We were planning a trip up to Wales next week but have decided not to go. It was a real quandary as we want to support businesses who have missed out on income over lockdown, but we just felt we would give it another month before going further afield. Instead we will be doing some day trips from home so I’m going to take the week off from posting but will be back the week after. See you then!

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Bennett’s Cross

Bennet's Cross on Dartmoor by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

On Dartmoor there is a crooked stone cross beside the road between Moretonhampstead and Postbridge. Folklore has it that the cross was erected as a boundary marker by a tin miner named William Bennett in the 16th century. Looking out across the moor, the cross at your back, the rocky outcrop of Birch Tor rises up on your left, and the lumps and bumps of the old Vitifier Tin Mine slope down to your right. The tin mine is long overgrown but its labyrinthine trenches make a brilliant playground. The Redwater Brook flows along the bottom of the valley, bubbling through an open area dotted with the granite ruins of mine buildings. It’s a good place for a picnic and a paddle. Sitting in the sunshine, munching on your sandwich, it’s hard to believe this was the centre of the most extensive surface mining on Dartmoor, operating from Medieval times right through to 1925. The conditions at Vitifier Mine were supposed to have been awful. The air quality in the mines themselves is reputed to have killed many miners, and the accommodation was so bad miners had to take turns using the same beds. Apparently many of the miners were on the run for petty crimes, making them and their families essentially refugees to be used as the mine owners wished. 

We visited the mines this weekend. I disturbed a common lizard who shimmered away, a golden streak rippling over the heather. Dragonflies hovered by the stream. We chased minnows with Wren’s new fishing net. In the boggy places tiny blue and yellow wildflowers winked like stars. The steep sides of the spoil heaps were soft with bracken and grasses. It’s a salutary reminder of the Persian adage, “This too will pass.” So I’m back and feeling a bit better. The world might not be any less bonkers than it was two weeks ago but as I scrambled over the tor in the sunshine with my lovely little family, and ate juicy red tomatoes by the stream, I decided it can’t be all bad. And I’m not a 16thcentury tinner so…small mercies!

View from Bennet's Cross on Dartmoor by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

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Tumult

Path through a field by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

I don’t how you’re doing but I’m feeling a big old tumult of thoughts and emotions about all the world has been throwing us in 2020. I can’t seem to settle to anything, there are so many BIG issues to try and engage with. If it’s not Covid-19, it’s Black Lives Matter, the looming recession, or the environment. They are all very important but I feel as though I’m constantly reeling. My nursing job is a never-ending carousel of changing working conditions and practices, in response to Covid. This week we have all been told to have our lunch in our cars as our office is no longer considered Covid secure. Even though we were previously told we shouldn’t be seen outside in our uniforms and without our masks on because it is bad for public confidence, we are now allowed to sit on the seagull poo splattered bench in the public park to eat our sandwiches if we would prefer not to sit in our cars. We are allowed to go home for lunch but would have to strip off at the front door, put our uniform straight in the wash, change into civvies to eat (although I suppose no one would know if you ate shivering in the nude to save a few precious minutes), and then put on a new uniform to return to work. Uniforms must be washed separately from the rest of the household washing at 60 degrees, as soon as they are placed in the machine. If we are not prepared to change and wash our morning’s uniform then we may sit in our gardens, assuming you have one (and it’s currently raining), and not change our uniform. Apparently this is readily achievable in a 30 minute lunch break. As long as you don’t want to actually eat any lunch. 

I wouldn’t mind if anybody could provide me with a decent rationale for this change. We’re rolling back hard won employment rights, like having access to fresh drinking water and hand-washing facilities during your lunch break, for the sake of what exactly? We haven’t been using our tiny staff room since the Covid outbreak began because of social-distancing restrictions, and we all sit two metres apart to eat our lunch in the office. Every day I walk through the office door and brace myself for a new slew of restrictions to try and remember, never mind fit into the working day. The children are the same at school, though their teachers bear the brunt of the ever-changing guidance. It’s as though public sector workers are in a real-life version of the children’s game ‘Lava’, where each moment of the working day is spent trying to stay upright on a wobbly rock during an interminable volcanic eruption. I think weariness has set in now too. We have all been working so hard and trying to stay positive for so long. I don’t often moan and I love my job, but today I’ve had enough. I’m going to take a break from the blog next week and regroup a little, but I promise to be back with a spring in my step the week after  🙂

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SMHAF

I’ve been thinking about how The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle was supposed to be out in the world this week, and in all honesty, I’m very relieved it’s not. What a strange time it would have been, to be launching a book! And then I remembered that I don’t think I told you about a blog post I wrote in June for the Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution (SCCR) blog as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival (SMHAF) (there is a connection, I promise). You can have a read here.

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Mini adventures

The car I drive for work is a Mini I inherited from my father-in-law. Whether I’m negotiating tight passing places in narrow country lanes or squeezing into impossible parking spots in town, it’s ideal. It has a small boot crammed full of all my nursing equipment but not so large as to tempt me to carry too much. How many spare urinary catheters does one nurse really need? It is a faithful companion. 

Yesterday I pulled up outside a cottage in a quiet village, donned my PPE, and went inside with my colleague Sarah. About ten minutes into the visit, and knee deep in bandages, we heard a car alarm. The village in question is a particularly out of the way village so I joked, “I bet that doesn’t happen often around here. I hope that’s not my car.” We all laughed. I didn’t for one minute think it was my car! 

A few minutes later Sarah straightened up. She happened to look out of the window and her expression made me look too. I was just in time to see my Mini sailing backwards past the window. I watched it pick up speed as it sailed on down the hill, out into the lane, bounced off the hedge on the opposite side, rolled back into the lane, and then came to a standstill, lights flashing. I mustn’t have put the handbrake on properly! Apron flapping, I went racing after it. 

As I wrenched open the door, desperate to get my car out of the way of any oncoming tractors (they take no prisoners), an old man popped his head over his garden wall where he had been working on his beds and asked, “Did you mean for that to happen?” Did I mean for that to happen???!!! That is such a Devon thing to ask. No one rushes to a conclusion in Devon. Not if there’s the option of chewing the cud, considering the options for the next century or two. 

Thankfully my Mini was none the worse for its adventures. My antics made my patient laugh and were soon eclipsed by one of the team sending in pictures to the office of her disastrous hair dying attempts. Lockdown restrictions on hairdressers have led to desperate measures amongst my teammates. She had turned her hair blue, but we all consoled her, at least she hadn’t given herself chemical burns like another one of the girls last week.

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Rain

This is a photo from half term. I sat on the beach in the sunshine while the children pottered about in the shallows. No one needed a wee or a snack, no one was having a meltdown, no one was whinging, and there was no bickering. I tentatively pulled my book out of my bag, waiting for all hell to break loose. When it didn’t, I found my bookmark, scarcely daring to draw breath, and began to read. I felt as though I had reached the pinnacle of motherhood! My friend with teenagers scoffed at that!

Since then the rain has poured. My phone signal flickered on a WhatsApp call to grandparents yesterday afternoon. It was swiftly followed by a flash of lightning and a rumble of thunder, then the heavens opened again.  On my morning bike rides the river speeds past, swollen but by no means full. I am very glad of the rain. Watering just isn’t the same. A lot of my allotment produce seemed to be hanging on for dear life. Only the strawberries were flourishing. We must have eaten a whole punnet nearly every evening. I employ Little Owl to hunt them out for me. The strawberry patch is a veritable jungle.

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No more words

Patchwork view (Devon) by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

I haven’t watched the video of George Floyd’s death but I have seen the pictures. They transported me in an instant to ethics lectures during my nurse training. I remember the stunned silence when we learnt that it was doctors who supervised the mass killings in the gas chambers of Nazi concentration camps and pronounced the victims dead. I suppose I had assumed it was the guards. Nurses were involved too. It was nurses who headed up Nazi euthanasia programmes of disabled children. Our lecturer demanded to know how we were going to prevent ourselves becoming complicit in any such future horrors? In the time I have been away from nursing, Human Factors training has become a key tenet of healthcare staff induction programmes. A video is often shown of Martin Bromily, an airline pilot, describing the death of his wife Elaine, during a routine sinus operation in a British hospital (you can watch it here). Martin, incredibly, through his grief, began applying his knowledge of airline safety to the circumstances around his wife’s death.

One of the key questions Martin wanted to answer was why, even though the nurses in the situation knew that something was going very badly wrong, they did not act to prevent Elaine’s death. A key element of the answer was bound up in the concept of organisational culture. The Health and Safety Executive define organisational culture as “the way we do things around here”. “Culture forms the context within which people judge the appropriateness of their behaviour”, and it can have a dramatic affect. We absorb ideas and patterns of thinking from those around us, without even realising it is happening, and this influences both our actions and our inactions. Those nurses in Nazi Germany might have been loving mothers at home but they went to work and committed atrocities. My ethics lecturer wanted us to understand that ordinary people do bad, and at times, evil things. She wanted us to interrogate the ways in which we had already been socialised. As nurses she wanted us to be alert to the way in which the institutions we worked in would go on to socialise us, and urged us to be critical and self-reflective to prevent ourselves becoming tools of injustice. 

I wish I could say my ethics training worked comprehensively but human growth is traumatic. Certainly mine seems to be at any rate, and not just for me! I have made many mistakes in the past, and cringe to think of my thoughtlessness. I remember one particularly awful incident towards the end of a 12-hour shift, not long after I had qualified, in which my intention was to be kind but I got it very wrong. At the time, my lovely mother-in-law generously reminded me that I had done the best I could in that moment, being the person I was, and with the knowledge I had, but I still think of it. Maya Angelou puts it like this, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Of course, I am talking in the general about all the opportunities we all have to respect human dignity, stand against injustice, and understand the way in which culture influences us. Racial injustice is a specific aspect of that, with a long and horrific history. Far wiser, braver and more knowledgeable people than me are currently sharing their words on this. What is required of me at the moment is to listen, so, no more words, but…perhaps, I could share this… 

“It’s Good for the Soul”

This is a link to an article in the Guardian from the end of May.  It’s easy to feel that our actions count for very little. Whether it’s the environment, or racial injustice, what difference can we really make? The people in this article are ordinary, their eyes down, acting on their values, getting on with caring for a square of earth, unaware they were part of a patchwork of people doing likewise. And it turns out, that patchwork is making a measurable difference.

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Half term

Buttercup meadow by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley-co.uk)

The word ‘half term’ has lost a bit of its significance during lockdown. I mean, is it half term? Are we sure? Is it still May? And what day of the week is it anyway? But no, it’s definitely half term. We hurriedly applied for last minute annual leave when we heard the children’s school would be closed in preparation for the phased return of pupils next week. Our usual rota of grandparents, aunties or a holiday club not options at the moment.

It seems that schools all over the country are managing things differently according to availability of staff and the nature of the facilities they have to work with. My niece will be going in to school three days one week and two days the next. Little Owl, Finch and Wren will be going in almost full-time but will be taught each in a separate ‘pod’ of fifteen children based on age by three dedicated staff. Each pod will have an allocated area of the school building, and an allocated slice of outdoor space. Fortunately it’s a modern building which is easy to segregate. If all goes well with keyworker children, they will begin bringing back other year groups. The unspoken issue remains that under those conditions all the children won’t fit in the school and there won’t be enough teachers. It’s a logistical nightmare.

So we are dusting off uniforms and Finch is cross about having to wear collars again. And we watch the newly arrived swifts screech over head, and compete to spot blue tit bottoms disappearing through the front door of the bird box on the gable end.

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VE Day

On VE day most people down our street got out their deckchairs and sat outside their front doors. There was bunting strewn between houses, and we toasted each other with tea and scones. The kids rode up and down the street on bikes, scooters and skateboards, mostly social distancing, but very occasionally not when a rare collision occurred. No one could bear to tell them off. It was like a scene from my own childhood where every front door stood open, and packs of kids ruled the road, not cars. People cried to see each other in a way we never would have done before Covid. It made me realise the myriad of ways we humans find connection. Even those little everyday chats with neighbours on the street in passing, are strands that make us all feel part of a bigger piece of fabric. I talked with my Bulgarian and Israeli neighbours about how the war is remembered in their own countries. Later on a chap who does regular pub gigs got out his guitar, and even later a family of morris dancers jingled and hopped in formation. That bigger piece of fabric is so full of colour and pattern isn’t it?

The thing I missed most about VE day was talking to my mum and dad about family memories, and going through old photographs. I made up for it by reading about other people’s families, and there were so many wonderful stories. Today these photographs arrived in the post from my mum. My grandma was in the WAAF. The tale goes that she was conducting a parade in the market square of the little Welsh village where my Grandpa was from (he was a mechanic in the RAF). Being a shy girl she couldn’t really bear to shout, the parade descended into chaos, and then she got the giggles. I can well believe this because my grandma’s giggles were notorious. She was helpless to them, and generally infected everyone within earshot, until the whole room would be writhing around in uncontrolled mirth. My Grandpa saw all this and thought she was wonderful. Later on he spotted her on the top deck of a bus, and the rest was history. Don’t they look young? The picture of my Grandpa is from the beginning of the war, when he was 18.

These frothy, light-hearted tales are the ones they were happy to tell us but I know the reality must have been much darker. On my dad’s side, there were pilots shot down and POWs in both Germany and Japan. My nan nursed in London. People say it puts Covid into perspective but it doesn’t really. What they went through is unimaginable. The elation when it was finally over must have been enormous

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