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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Buttercup strength

Letter from a child. Photograph by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

I had a bit of a slump in spirits last week. Nothing had particularly changed, and perhaps that was the problem. There’s only so long you can go on gritting your teeth. Things remained intense, challenging, hot, and confined. And the juggling… I was fraying at the edges. I don’t think the speculation about the lifting of lockdown restrictions helped much either. 

One day after work, as I changed out of my uniform, I heard a rustling under the bedroom door. A letter was being pushed through. It was Finch. He had made it for me at school that day. It has real leaf and buttercup petal juice melded into it, with added squashed buttercups for good measure. Now it takes commitment to create such a letter! And just like that, everything seemed a little bit more bearable. 

We are all having our courage tested during this pandemic, and we are not out of the woods yet. If your courage fails you in the midst of confused advice and a myriad other strains, let me share with you some buttercup-infused love to restore your strength.

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Wacky dreams

Daisies in a Jug by Hannah Foley. All rights (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

In general, I tend to have pretty wacky dreams, and unusually for most people, I often remember them in vivid detail. During this pandemic, my dreams have got a whole lot weirder. The other night I dreamed I was an international spy in full spy get-up, complete with balaclava and night goggles. During an epic heist I successfully stole secrets from an evil corporation which was trying to enslave the planet. Unfortunately my getaway was ruined when I had to go back to use the loo. Psychoanalysts would have a field day!

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A bright pebble

I found this pebble hidden on the path outside one of my visits this week. The neighbour’s front window was open a small crack. Inside the house, children’s heads bobbed around the windowsill, trying to hide, but desperate to see. It was hard to ignore the stifled giggles and shrieks of excitement but I managed not to look in their direction. I did my best grin (so they could see it from a distance) and exclaimed loudly, “How beautiful! That has made my day!” Then I carefully hid it somewhere else for them to try and find again once I had gone.

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Virtual garden visits

First of all, apologies to those of you who tried to leave a comment here over the last week or so. I think the problem is resolved, fingers crossed! My lovely friend helps me with the mechanics of this blog but is up to his eyes in childcare and working from home, so I’ve only been able to do a patch up job for now…like so many things at the moment!

Here is my Albrighton Rambler, blooming marvellously. The flowers are delicate and don’t last long if there’s much wind. The warm, calm evenings recently have meant we’ve been able to enjoy it like never before. As I do my final sweep of the garden in the evening, picking up children’s discarded clothing and gathering up the last few dishes from tea time outside, the air is full of the scent of this rose, and the creeping phlox which is also awash with flowers. On the allotment I have been building sweet pea wigwams, and the asparagus is coming up. Trying to sow seeds with the children one morning I think we may have mistakenly sown marigolds on top of the broad beans, but never mind! 

Over the years I have found endless inspiration for my little green patches by visiting private gardens opened as part of the National Gardens Scheme (NGS). Not this year though. So many charities are struggling at this time, revenues down as fundraising events are cancelled, and the same is true for the NGS. This year, they believe their fundraising may be down by 80%. The NGS was originally started to raise money to support District Nurses prior to the founding of the NHS. Nowadays it raises thousands of pounds for nursing and health-related organisations, including hospices. 

Ever adaptable, the NGS have begun filming some of the gardens that would have opened this year, and they are asking the public, if they are able, to give a donation for visiting these gardens virtually. Here is the link if you feel you would like to do this: https://ngs.org.uk. It’s such a great cause, especially given the current pandemic. And one of the gardens is Alan Titchmarsh’s stunning garden in Hampshire. Swoon! Over the garden that is, not Alan, as much as I love him!

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Dawn chorus

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

I woke up in the early hours of Easter Sunday morning. The air was filled with the sound of the dawn chorus. I haven’t heard a dawn chorus like that since we lived in the Borders. The seagulls tried to join in: a hopeless, tone-deaf cawing, coming in at all the wrong places. 

Little Owl and Finch bounced out of bed for the Easter egg hunt we had laid, but Wren lay still and pale in her bed. No temperature and no cough, so not Covid-19, but Big Dreamer had to carry her around the garden wrapped in a blanket to find her Easter eggs. I didn’t want to leave her at all as I shot off to work. 

The bank holiday days have been long, busy, and very hot in PPE (although I am ever thankful for it, and even more thankful that I’m not in a London ITU having to wear it for 12 hours at a time). I paused for a breather outside a patient’s house and thought you would like the view. 

Back at home, after a quiet day, Wren was well on the way back to her normal vocal self, making up for lost time on her Easter eggs.

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In the midst…

I nearly stood on a peacock butterfly as I left a patient’s house this week. It was sunning itself on the front doorstep. The absence of car fumes and aeroplane pollution has made the night sky crystal clear, even in the city. Along with the allotment, this little ford has been keeping our family sane during lockdown. It’s a gentle, quiet spot where we can paddle and skim stones as part of our exercise quota. The hedgerows are full of stitchwort and wild garlic. There are good things to be found in the midst of these difficult times.

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Dreaming in January

Egg honesty box in Devon. Photograph by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley@co.uk)

District Nurses care for patients who are housebound. Usually these are people who are too frail or ill to leave their homes. Last week the government wrote to 1.5 million people with conditions that put them at greater risk of complications if they were to catch Covid-19, asking them to stay at home. Many of these people will be able to independently manage their conditions in isolation at home, but many won’t. Things have got just a little bit busy on the nursing front.

Here are some photos from a week back in January. I had the amazing luxury of whisking myself off to a teeny-tiny converted barn in deepest-darkest Devon to write and dream and write some more. Back then, Covid-19 was only a whisper on the other side of the world.

Churchyard teasels in Devon. Photograph by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley@co.uk)
Rooster in Devon. Photograph by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley@co.uk)
Jug of flowers in Devon. Photograph by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley@co.uk)
Graveyard snowdrops in Devon. Photograph by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley@co.uk)
Tractor in barn in Devon. Photograph by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley@co.uk)
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This time last week…

How strange to read back my blog post of last week. Was that only last week? It feels a life time ago. Back then, we were planning provisional childcare arrangements but we had imagined the lockdown to still be a couple weeks off. This week we are eternally grateful to the wonderful staff at our children’s school, taking care of our little ones so we can carry on with work. It was an emotional day on Friday when Little Owl effectively had her last day of primary school, without any of the fun activities that normally mark this occasion or ease the transition. I couldn’t stop myself welling up as I washed and ironed her blouses, knowing she is unlikely to wear them again. Such a silly thing to be welling up about under the circumstances but I think everyone is feeling a bit wobbly at the moment.

Even stranger to read the to-do list I had made for myself in my diary for this week. Blog: first ever author event and how it went (hopefully well!). I was due to meet children at a local library to tell them all about The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle, and run some Avery Buckle themed activities for them. I was nervous but I had hoped to be able to tell you that it went well, and that I needn’t have been so nervous. Instead I’m posting a picture of me wearing the cat hat made for the event by a lovely friend, so you don’t feel you missed out!

This week I’m also here letting you know that, with my publisher, we have decided to delay publication of Avery Buckle until next year. It was a difficult decision, and I’m disappointed, but it was the right decision in the face of the challenges of Covid-19. Readers will be able to jump on their flying bicycles in 2021.

Just at the moment it seems vitally important to stay in touch with friends and family wherever they are, holding hands in our hearts, and wishing each other safe and well. So I reach out my hands to you too, wishing you and your loved ones safe and well.

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