Scrapes

There was a time, with small children, where I felt as though I was in continual scrapes. Some of them were so ridiculous and laughable that I half expected a candid camera crew to jump out. I’ve written about a fair few of them on this blog. And of course, there’s no shortage of people around to give you ‘helpful’ parenting tips at just such moments! Slowly, through trial and much error, I have got better at not getting into so many scrapes. It helps that the children are growing up, and that I go a little easier on myself too. With so much to juggle and to try to remember, its inevitable things go wrong fairly often. But yesterday, I had one of those days where it went so badly wrong that I was certain there must be hidden cameras relaying my reactions back for the entertainment of a studio audience.

I had got up yesterday morning, feeling rather proud of myself. I had remembered to book Finch some extra swimming lessons over the summer holidays to keep up his progress. The regular pool isn’t available over the summer so his lesson would be at a different pool, slightly further afield. The new pool has a climbing frame outside and a little café, so I thought it would be a nice outing for all of us. I successfully exited the house with all the children and required equipment, and we set off with time to spare for Finch’s lesson.

My first inkling that it was all going to go wrong was when Little Owl put the radio on as we drove up the slip road. The traffic announcer declared that the A38 was closed in both directions further along due to an accident and wouldn’t open again for the rest of the day. If you don’t know Devon roads, I can assure that this is a disaster. The motorway system stops at Exeter, dividing into the A380 and the A38 at the Splatford Split (yes, it really is called that). Beyond these two roads there are only tiny B-roads, quickly filtering down to even tinier lanes. I knew that the county would be at a standstill within seconds as everyone tried to find alternative routes down Devon’s narrow thoroughfares. I quickly berated myself for such negativity and pulled off at the next junction to tap our destination into my phone to use Google Maps. After all, this is what technology is for isn’t it? Google Maps would find me another way through based on live feedback from the jams on the roads. We would still make it. 

No. Google Maps decided that this would be a good time not to play ball. Okay, new strategy. We phoned Big Dreamer. Could he possibly find a different route for us and talk us through it over the phone? Yes, he could. We set off, and got back on the A38…in the wrong direction. This was because I could only hear Big Dreamer as a faint whisper, Little Owl (who was holding the phone) having accidentally turned the loud speaker off. The only option was to drive back to Exeter to turn around. Ten minutes later, we were driving up the same stretch of road, this time in the right direction, Big Dreamer and I having exchanged some choice words. I put my foot down and we sped off, trying to make up for lost time, Big Dreamer doing his best sat-nav impression. As I have mentioned, the roads got smaller and smaller, until at last, Big Dreamer asked us to turn up the narrowest of narrow lanes. Roughly the width of the entrance hall into our house, the lane was enclosed on either side by the traditional Devon bank topped with hedgerow, approximately the height of the first storey of most houses. The thin thread of tarmac beneath us was matched by a thin thread of sky far above us. 

We had gone some way when what should we see coming towards us? Only a National Express Coach! The driver looked like he was heartily cursing whoever had suggested to him that this was a viable alternative to the A38. The hedgerows down that lane will take a long time to recover after his passing. The problem for us was that by now, we had a whole queue of cars behind us, probably with their own version of Big Dreamer on the phone. But there was no arguing with that coach. We all backed up to the last passing place, which felt as though it had been at least a mile ago. On and on it went like this, getting a little further along the lane only to back up again. The children were stonily silent in the back of the car. I’m pretty sure they thought we would never get out of that lane alive. And all of this on the hottest day recorded in the UK ever.

At long last, we reached a cross roads, only to delve into more lanes that led to the swimming pool, but which were mercifully clearer. We arrived a whole hour and a half late for the swimming lesson, by which time the instructor had gone home. We may even have passed her in that lane. I won’t bore you with the details of how we got home on only 1% of my phone battery, or how we thought we’d take a little afternoon trip to the allotment, or how Wren downed everyone’s bottles of water when we weren’t looking and then peed liberally all over my allotment neighbour’s carrots, or how I picked some dahlias from the allotment to take to my friend’s party that evening only to drop them on the way home while trying to persuade Wren that it was better to walk on the pavement than in the road, or how the bunch had completely vanished when we re-traced our steps to find them. Yes, yesterday was a tip-top day.

In other news, I have to tell you that Little Owl had her last session of Brownies this week. I thought that those of you who will remember her starting would want to know. We shed a few little tears I can tell you. She’s going to start Guides in September.

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Almond Shortbread

The river banks are full of the frothy plumes of Meadowsweet which scents the air with the smell of almond shortbread. I have been making the effort to try and walk home from work now and again. At three and half miles it’s a bit of a stretch but worth it for some peace and quiet. I leave the car in the surgery car park and follow my nose along the waterways, taking in the sights, smells and sounds of the season.

Back at home it is the last week of term. Sports Day is done. School reports are out. New teachers have been met. Big Dreamer had to carry Wren home over his shoulder in a screaming bundle yesterday after pre-school. Everyone is hot and tired. It was welcome relief this morning to see the window panes speckled with rain. The atmosphere has cooled and the parched ground has gratefully soaked up the moisture. I stuck my head out of the attic window and just caught a waft of almond shortbread on the breeze.

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West Dart

Down in this valley, amongst the trees, is the West Dart. Not long after this point the West Dart joins with the East Dart to form the River Dart, from which Dartmoor gets its name. This weekend we camped on a green field down amongst those trees. It was a glorious weekend and we spent hours swimming, catching fish and tadpoles, swinging on the rope swing and bouncing down the rapids. In the evenings we wrapped ourselves up in big jumpers and supped from mugs of hot chocolate topped with marshmallows. It was the sort of weekend children’s adventure stories are made from; full of freedom, fresh air, and laughter. The thing they never mention in the adventure stories is the plethora of camping equipment we now have to work out how to tessellate back into the loft!

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Mixed bag

June has been a mixed bag for me on the allotment. Crown rot spread through the plots at our site like wild fire. I thought I had hit a new low of gardening ineptitude by managing to kill rhubarb. I didn’t think such a thing were actually possible. But it wasn’t just me. Apparently crown rot is an airborne fungus and there’s not a lot you can do to stop it. Some of the old gents on our site lost crowns that had been going for forty-odd years so there was some deep grieving going on over it. In case you’re wondering, crown rot looks like the picture above.

My potato patch looks like this. Yes, I know, lots of weeds. Ahem. The point is, where are the potatoes? They are there. Just. But they’re all yellow and covered in funny black blotches. I’m going to dig it over this week and dread to think what I will find. And of course, packets and packets of things that never came up. Or if they did, they were eaten within seconds. Only one of my kale plants germinated and was, almost instantly, eaten by the rabbit.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom. There have been some lovely surprises. The chamomile that I slaved over last year with little to show for it, has self-seeded all over the place. Butternut squash plants have sprung up from our homemade compost, so I have scooped them up and stuck them in all the gaps left by the unproductive seeds. Beetroot, broad beans, peas, chard, pumpkins and strawberries are all doing well. Who knew the buckwheat I planted as a green manure would be so pretty? (See above). I cut it down with Finch last week and mulched it in with a layer of cardboard and a snug blanket of manure. And I grew four whole dahlia flowers! I know! Dhalias?! That’s serious allotmenting! Little Owl and I made a pretty posey for the kitchen table with some of the rambling roses from the garden. Not all bad then.

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Sunbathing

Golden mornings by the river by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.owlingabout.co.uk)

What a June it is turning out to be! We went to a local pub for lunch with some friends for Father’s Day. Inevitably the children could only sit at the table for limited length of time so we headed outside to the pub garden and play area. There we huddled under a sun shade as rain showers swept across the garden in sporadic outbursts! Despite the wetness, or maybe because of it, the world seems to be teeming with life everywhere we look. The water meadows by the river are full of birds and wild flowers. Finch and I found a golden frog sat in the middle of the manure heap at the allotment.

I also met a slow worm today. One of my patients lives at the end of a narrow tarmac path bordered by tall waving grasses. In a brief patch of sunlight this afternoon, I had to do a quick hop and jump to miss standing on the slow worm as he sunbathed on the warm tarmac. It took me more than a moment to register that this bronze squiggle was a real-live creature. I bent low in wonder. He calmly appraised me in return. I’m sure he was thinking, “Alright then, move along. Can’t a chap catch a little sun without being gawped at?” He wasn’t there on my return leg. Much to my disappointment.

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Hedgehog news!

Hedgehog Sleeping in our Garden. All rights reserved (www.owlingabout.co.uk)

This evening thunder rumbles so close overhead that we can feel the vibrations through the floor, and lightening illuminates the inside of our house like someone taking a photograph. Thick clouds cover the sky and rain pours down. Our garden bench, where we sat in the sunshine last week to do Finch’s reading, is dark with wet. 

I can’t think how old the Biff, Chip and Kipper Oxford Reading Tree books must be. I learnt to read with Peter, Jane, and Pat the Dog but I think my sister may have had the newer books. So that would be early eighties then…and still going strong! As we sat there last week, sounding out the story of Biff, Chip and Kipper’s move to a new house, we heard a funny snoring sound coming from the flower bed where we put the pond. What on earth could it be? 

At first we ignored it but the noise carried on, so we peered carefully through the flowers to find this little chap having a snooze. You can imagine the kids’ delight at a real live hedgehog catching forty winks in the sunshine, right there in front of us! We were spell bound. Maybe he liked the story or maybe he had come for our new pond. Who knows, but we were very happy to see him. He stayed for quite a while, turning over now and again or moving into the shade when he got too hot. We all hope he comes back soon. 

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Early days

carpet moth, UK, Epirrhoe alternata, day-flying moth

Here is a carpet moth I found cleverly camouflaged in the alley beside our house. Not to be confused with Tineola moths, whose larvae eat clothes and carpets. Epirrhoe alternata is called the Common Carpet moth because it looks like a patterned carpet, rather than because it eats them. I suppose they are real flying carpets! I have no idea if this is a common carpet or one of the other many carpets. Their patterns are quite variable. They are day-flying moths but you are most likely to see them flying around dusk. 

We have had golden mornings here. I am glad of the soft and mellow feeling to the days as I travel to work and get to grips with e-rosters, door codes, smart cards and a list of e-learnings the length of my arm. Everyone is kind and helpful, and aware of how overwhelming these first days of a new job are. 

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Half term

Starting a new job during half term was possibly not the best idea I have ever had. I shall return with news but for now, I’m off to bed…Zzzzzzz

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Bluebells

It’s official. I have passed! Now it’s over to the NMC (Nursing and Midwifery Council) to issue me with my PIN and I will be back on the register. I start my job as a District Nurse next Tuesday, working initially as an unregistered member of staff until I get the okay from the NMC.

In other news, Wren and I put together our pond last week. We went off to the garden centre to buy our supplies. After a very necessary detour to the café for a cup of milk and a scone to share, we made off with our purchases. There’s loads of things to think about with even a little pond. It’s great if you can site it where there’s a bit of shade but not too much. The odd over-hanging branch, dipping into the water, is helpful for insects to get in and out, but there shouldn’t be too much overhanging vegetation. It’s also great to have stones leading up to the pond, and some submerged under the water, to help wildlife access the pond. We bought a couple of ornamental plants and some elodea pond weed to help oxygenate the water too. Wren is keeping all her fingers and toes crossed for a frog to take up residence.

And lastly, look at this…blankets of bluebells! This is a place called Emsworthy Mire on Dartmoor. We went this weekend and it was just glorious. I consider those to be public service bluebells, getting you off to a good start on your Monday morning.

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Blue tits

The most exciting thing has happened. There are blue tits nesting in the bird box we put up on our gable end! We have seen the parents flying in and out, and when our bedroom window is open there is a constant chirping sound to be heard.

Blue tits. Common as mud you might say. Sadly, not for us. Some of you may remember the disastrous RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch we did when we first moved to this house. The odd seagull flew high above but other than that, all we saw was cat after cat after cat. We haven’t done one since.

Since then we have planted trees and shrubs and climbers. We put up the bird box and we have a feeder, always kept well stocked with seeds.  We now have goldfinches, sparrows and wood pigeons visiting our garden. The occasional blackbird pops in, and now the blue tits. We are thrilled to bits. We still long for a robin but we’re well on the way!

In other wildlife news there has been pooey evidence of a hedgehog visiting our garden again, and the swifts have returned. They screeched over my head between the rooftops as I walked to pick up Little Owl from Brownies yesterday evening. Summer is here folks!

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