Cutting back

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

Chopping the washing line in half really wasn’t part of my plan when I went out to cut the honeysuckle back!

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Nasal passages

Thought you’d rather this view than a photo of the ‘foreign body’!

On Friday I was called into school. Wren had put something up her nose. The way Wren told it, her teacher had clocked her across the classroom mid-deed. Hats off to Miss L, I’m not sure I’d have noticed a patient doing something similar in a crowded hospital bay. Probably it’s a teacher superpower. I wouldn’t be surprised – they seem to have many. Anyhow, unable to see where the foreign object was, exactly, up Wren’s nose, but pretty certain it hadn’t come back out, Miss L gave me a call.

It was Mr E, the wonderful, and very worn-out looking Head who brought Wren out to me in the playground. Most of us can only hazard a guess at how awful last week was for head teachers, re-jigging their schools for a new lockdown last minute. He shook his head at me with a jaded laugh, “Just when I thought my week couldn’t get any more bizarre, Wren is brought to my office!”

Fortunately the combined might of a pen-torch, and a particularly vicious pair of tweezers from my nursing bag proved effective in removing the object from Wren’s nasal passages, so a trip to A&E was avoided. What came out looked like the bottom end of a blunted screw. I have no idea what it actually was. When we asked her about it, Wren just grinned smugly, and wouldn’t tell us a thing, so we are none the wiser. I hope your lockdown is going as swimmingly as ours so far!

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Picture Books 2020 (and pirate fishfingers)

I hope you had a good Christmas and New Year despite the clouds of Covid hanging over all of us. Being in Tier 2 we were able to see some family on Christmas Day. It was a very odd feeling, waving goodbye to them in the evening, none of us knowing when we will get together like that again. Big Dreamer booked tickets for Treasure Island at a local theatre, and took the children on one of the days I was working. The show was a humourous and bawdy take on the Robert Louis Stevenson novel which terrified me as a child. Our kids thought the show was hilarious and loved every minute. The one eyebrow-raising moment came from Captain Birds-Eye mincing a captive pirate for fishfingers. Big Dreamer wondered if Wren would ever eat fishfingers again, but after a brief moment of alarm she seemed to get over it, and for the other two, I think it will only make fishfingers more appealing! Seated in bubbles Big Dreamer said it was actually a more pleasurable theatre experience: less distractions from other people’s coughing, rustling sweet packets, and wriggling children (unfortunately he still had to put up with his own), so perhaps, one good thing about all this social distancing malarkey.

Anyhoo, onto my traditional annual round-up of picture books we have borrowed, bought, or been bought, and LOVED!

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De Lan Pena and Christian Robinson. Too Much Stuff by Emily Gravett. Photograph by Hannah Foley (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena and Christian Robinson has been around for a little while now, and has a real classic quality to it. Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town to help at the city’s soup kitchen. As little children so often do, CJ asks difficult questions about the differences he spots in the people around him, and the places they pass. Each question is met with an encouraging answer by his grandma, who helps him spot the beauty in the world around him. The illustrations are bright and cheerful, and the loving tone of CJ’s grandma really does bring a lump to your throat.

Too Much Stuff by Emily Gravett is a follow up to Tidy, which we adored last year. Set in the same wood as Pete the Badger’s story, this book centres around Meg and Ash, two magpies. With chicks on the way, Meg and Ash can’t resist collecting all sorts of odds and ends for their new family, but it soon gets out of hand! This is such a charming story, with a light touch anti-consumption message. Emily Gravett’s illustrations are full of loads of fun details my lot love to spot.

The Perfect Shelter by Clare Helen Welsh and Asa Gilland. Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. Photograph by Hannah Foley (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

The Perfect Shelter was written by my fabulous friend, Clare Helen Welsh, and is illustrated by Asa Gilland. I have raved about Clare’s picture books on this blog before, and this is another wonderful one. Clare is able to deal with difficult topics in such a lyrical and sensitive way. This time she explores a serious childhood illness within a family. The background to the writing of this book is very personal to Clare so I’d highly recommend reading this interview with her about it here. I think this will be such an important book for many families living through the reality of the situation she describes. To get the most out of it for my children, I found it useful to read this book together in a quiet space where we could talk the topic through and explore what the implications of the story might be for how we treat people.

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen is another picture book that has been around for a while but this year was the year it seemed to capture Wren’s imagination. Annabelle finds a box in the snow filled with colourful yarn so she starts knitting jumpers for everyone. Annabelle’s knitting brings joy and happiness to all those around her, and incredibly the yarn never seems to run out. But the magical knitting soon attracts the attention of a sinister Arch-duke who wants the yarn all for himself.

My Friend Earth by Patricia MacLachlan and Francesca Sanna. Dino Duckling by Alison Murray. Photograph by Hannah Foley (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

My Friend Earth by Patricia MacLachlan and Francesca Sanna is more a beautiful illustrated poem about the wonder of planet Earth than a story exactly. The words are thoughtful and lyrical, but the real treat of this book is the illustrations. The stunning, flowing imagery has little cut-outs giving you sneak peeks through to the next pages, and attracting your eye to details that draw you through the story. Too delicate for very small children, but Wren at four has been the perfect age for it.

We read Alison Murray’s Princess Penelope and the Runaway Kitten endlessly so Alison’s book, Dino Duckling, has been on our hit-list for a while. This is a quirky take on the old Ugly Duckling fable. One of the eggs in a brood of ducklings is a dinosaur. Mother Duckling is determined to appreciate the differences in her family but the real test of their bond will come when the ducks start to fly south for the winter. All about love and the strength of family, this is such a heart-warming tale.

Obsessive About Octopuses by Owen Davey. How Billy Hippo Learned His Colours by Vivian French and Hannah Foley. Photograph by Hannah Foley (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

Finch will be seven this spring and his relationship with picture books is on the wan (cue me bursting into floods of tears!). Obsessive About Octopuses by Owen Davey has been one of his favourites this year. Highly illustrated non-fiction titles like this one and Yuval Zommer’s books, are working as a great bridge for Finch into older books. Full of fantastic facts, and sumptuously designed illustrations, he has spent hours pouring over this book.

Last by not least, How Billy Hippo Learned his Colours, words by Vivian French and illustrations by me! I couldn’t leave it out could I? Billy Hippo is trying to find the perfect present in the perfect colour for his dad’s birthday. The problem is, he doesn’t know red from green, or blue from pink! Probably best suited for little children, I’m just a bit proud of it 🙂

The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle by Hannah Foley. Photograph by Hannah Foley (all rights reserved: www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

My last bit of news for this blog is also book-related. On Christmas Eve my advance copy of The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle landed on the doormat. It was such a wonderful moment, I can’t tell you. My story, in real physical form! I had to sit down for quite a while. Here’s the gist of it for any of you who might know a 9-12 year old (or anyone else really!) who likes this sort of thing:

Avery Buckle has always been different: part-girl, part-cat, and entirely confused about where she really belongs. But it turns out her tail isn’t her biggest secret…

Plunged into an extraordinary world of witches, enchanted libraries and fantastical creatures, Avery discovers only she can stop a dark force from being unleashed.

But with a powerful enemy on her tail, can Avery save the magical world AND find out who she really is?

I may have mentioned this once or twice (!), but anyway… it’s out on March 18th and is available to pre-order now from all good bookshops. Here are a few I can heartily recommend (and they do online/over-the-phone shopping and can arrange delivery too!):

Crediton Community Bookshop

Owl and Pyramid Bookshop

Imagined Things

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Merry Christmas

Photograph of low sun in car wing mirror by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

On Sunday morning I trundled out on my rounds, listening to Sunday Worship on Radio 4. The service came from St David’s in Pembrokeshire. After all the bad news of recent days it was comforting to hear Welsh words spoken, memories of so many trips to Wales, and St David’s, flooding my mind’s eye. I even understood something! “Pob Bendith” – “Every blessing”. 

Lunchtime carols at the cathedral are cancelled this year, likewise the twinkling light display at the local National Trust property we like to visit. We attended a family nativity service via Zoom. Looking back at last year, and how it had felt such a mad rush of over-consumption getting to Christmas, I can’t help wonder if it’s all bad. Yet it felt really Christmassy listening to the choir in the car, the low winter sun reflecting in my wing mirrors, so I do hope the lunchtime carols will be back next year. Sometimes I wonder if it is more about being spectacularly organised for Christmas, knowing in advance the events and activities that we want to prioritise, those that will add to the sense of the season, rather than reactively agreeing to every invitation for Christmas drinks here, and ‘pop in for a mince pie’ there. 

As Sunday drew on, I drove through narrow lanes, more like streams than roads after the heavy rainfall. Patients wished me Merry Christmas from cosy kitchens where support stockings steamed over old stoves, and garden birds flocked around well-filled bird feeders. Up, out, of the city the sky was bright blue, and I thought to myself, we are nearly there, nearly at the turning of the year when I will begin to put together my seed orders, and spot the first spring bulbs popping up. On Monday morning I received an email from my manager. Wearily filling in a Clinical Incident form last thing on Sunday for a patient who had developed a pressure ulcer, I had only populated the form with my own details! She was reassured to know the skin on my bottom was indeed intact.

I hope your plans for Christmas are not too disrupted by the government’s announcements, and that you will be able to feel the festive spirit despite restrictions. As always at this time of year, my thanks goes out to all of you who follow this blog, and keep up with my news and ramblings. I am hugely honoured by your support, and patience! Have a wonderful Christmas, and peaceful New Year. I will be back in January. Pob Bendith.

Looking out over Exeter. Photograph by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)
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Christmas cards

Christmas lights by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

This year, instead of sending Christmas cards, we are giving a donation to Devon-based charity ARC. ARC is a homelessness and addiction charity. Big Dreamer is a trustee for them so we can say, hand on heart, with insider knowledge, this charity is a lean machine, ferociously passionate about transforming lives. You can find out more about their work via their website: https://arcinspire.co.uk.

Happy Christmas all! xxx

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Smash

Santa in a hot tub by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

In the absence of all the usual activities leading up to Christmas, we have been searching out other options to get us in the festive mood. A local garden centre is famed for its Christmas lights so we headed there on Sunday. After a mince pie and a coffee, we strolled around the glittering displays. Some of it was for a more adult audience – here’s Santa in a hot tub to amuse you!

Our children each chose a new Christmas decoration for the tree. On passing the carnivorous plant display, Finch picked up one of those too (because you know, nothing says Christmas like a venus flytrap!). We were doing well, until we reached the checkout. I’m sure you might be able to imagine what happened, and if so, may be reading this from behind your hands. No the carnivorous plant did not devour the Christmas baubles, but it might as well have.

Finch dropped his bauble on the floor. There was a heart-wrenching crash, and tiny shards of glinting glass flew out in every direction. There were tears and a new bauble purchased. I think we survived. Oh the trauma of a festive family outing!

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Wet towels

Winter tyre swing. Photo by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

I left the towels on the line for three days before I gave in and brought them in to dry indoors. The days have been full of fog and mist down here in the South West. Yesterday we drove out in search of deep wooded combes and ridgeway views. High above the haze, the sun was determined to shine, casting the world in diffuse rays, glittering dewdrops, and long shadows. We always count a walk an especially good one if we stumble across a tyre swing. On this walk, we not only found a tyre swing but also a classic wooden tree swing, both hanging from the same oak tree. That makes this walk a great walk! We picnicked beneath a hedgerow on a sloping field, watching the sun burn away enough of the fog for the blues and greens of the sky and the fields to tint the shimmering white.

Back at home, still swathed in fog, dreary news filling the airwaves, we counted the Christmas trees which have been popping up in windows around us for days now. I am holding my ground against Little Owl’s persuasive efforts for us to get our tree up. It’s not even December yet. I suspect it will end up going the way of the towels. 

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Print!

Blackberry brambles on the allotment in Autumn. Photograph by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk).
Blackberry brambles on the allotment

Exciting news!!! The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle has gone to print! It’s turning into a real book as we speak. Eeeekkkk! 🙂

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Queen Elsa and the Three Kings

A mask though a window.
A cheeky face on my rounds

Little Owl and I spent a morning on the allotment planting out strawberry runners on a bare patch and putting the dahlias to bed. None of the old chaps dig their dahlias up for the winter so we’ve followed their advice, cutting down the stems of ours after the first frost and covering them with a cosy blanket of manure. The last job I must fit in before the end of November is sowing my broad beans in the vague hope I’ll outwit the black fly next year.

Last week I joined the other PTA mums (sadly, we are only mums!) for a zoom meeting (remember when the verb ‘to zoom’ meant something totally different?!) to discuss Christmas. It’s strange thinking about December without a nativity, carol concerts, or the Christmas Fayre. We’ve been putting our heads together to think of ways to make it Christmassy for the children anyway, including a virtual Christmas party where one of the teachers puts on a disco in the hall which we beam into each of the class rooms. It could work!

I have yet to break the nativity news to Wren. As a reception child, this would have been her big year. With her halo of white blond curls she would have been a shoo-in for an angel. She’s been practicing hard for several of the nativity roles, prancing around the house in full fancy dress. Did you know one of the kings was actually Queen Elsa from Frozen? We only learned she had worn a pink frilly tutu under her uniform to school today because one of the TAs let us in on the secret having helped Wren in the loo!

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Gunpowder plot

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

At the weekend we had a fire in the back garden for Bonfire Night. As regular readers will know I love Bonfire Night. While I can’t say I’ve got much sympathy with the Catholic vs Protestant gunpowder plot origins, I love the pre-gunpowder tradition of lighting fires at this time of year to ward off the harshness of the coming winter. We usually gather with my family at my parents’ house to light a fire and dance around their garden with sparklers as fireworks fill the night sky above us. Then there is the PTA firework display at school, full of oohs and aahs, burgers and hot dogs, surrounded by many dear friends. 

This year the latest lockdown meant it was just the five of us in our little garden. This summer we found a rusted chiminea (if you’re anything like me, you’ll have to look it up!) in the street, the bottom hanging off. Big Dreamer dragged it home, scrubbed it and rubbed it down, then sprayed it black. It was perfect for our bonfire this weekend, flames licking the top of the funnel when it really got going, much to Finch’s delight. We ate our baked potatoes, toasted our marshmallows and waved our sparklers, all the while thinking of our family and friends, sending them (and you too) sticky, sparkling love.

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