From hands on to Hands free!

We are home safe from the icy house of two halves.  With every tear of joy reunion, a waterfall of sadness at leaving must come again. It does not get any easier.  Four months will pass until next we meet and April seems such a long time away.

The older children will not forget us, our faces are almost as familiar to them as those of their parents, even the toddler will not look vaguely upon us as we appear – often as buffering images – on ‘mummy’s’ phone or iPad.  The baby however is a different matter.

For her we have been just two more faces blending together like a field of smiling sunflowers, only those she sees hourly/daily will stay within her mind.  Over two wonderful weeks the bond we have shared has for her already been forgotten, as I write this post.

When next our eyes meet her smile may be wary, without the slow spreading radiance we have lately enjoyed.  Instead of relying on us for support she will likely be sitting unaided, possibly even rolling over from back to front – as we left she was already halfway there!

We are as Grandparents not alone of course in our present situation and luckier than many.  Cyprus is not the other side of the world, taking only one days travelling by car and plane.  Nevertheless the enforced separations only accentuate the speed at which all the Children but especially baby, develop over days rather than weeks.

Last night though, my sadness at leaving was tempered on our arrival back at Heathrow and still further as our onward journey, on a motorway blanketed by thick fog made driving conditions hazardous. I could not but think as we drove slowly along – ever mindful of what may lie in the murkiness ahead – of the families lives torn apart by recent road accidents in conditions just such as these.

Fate dealt me a lucky hand at escaping the carnage of my own crushed vehicle and as the many miles separate us all once more, I feel thankful for the continued time to spend with family and friends.  For some in an instant that has been cruelly taken away.


Did I Say Rest?

Currently we are spending time with our Daughter, Son-in-law and Grandchildren out in Cyprus. There are four children in total three girls ages 12, 20 months, 3 months, and one boy of 6, a very bouncy 2 year old springer spaniel completes this exhausting line up!

Our days start with 19 month old toddler arriving in our bed any time from 5am onwards, our daughter – having first fed and settled baby – disappears (in secret) downstairs for a ‘workout’to something called insanity, surely at this ungodly hour insane it is!  Our son-in-law will – if he is lucky while we are here – be in bed on baby watch duty until the day job calls.  The eldest, 12 going on teen is normally still asleep or reading (the latter her favourite pastime) whilst 6 can be found building Lego, playing with action figures or zapping anything that moves or otherwise with his light sabre.

Between seven and eight on a non school day it is breakfast time. Unfortunately to reach the relative warmth of the dining room – if someone has switched the gas heaters on – we all have to brave arctic conditions immediately we step outside our  bedrooms.  Wearing excess layers to keep out the cold I now resemble a ‘bag lady’ in my mismatched layers.

Temperatures in Cyprus at this time of year can be minus overnight. In the day, the sun when it manages to break through the cloud feels warm, however most days after our arrival rain has lashed down creating rushing rivers in the deep gullies that line the roads.

Inside the icebox house of two halves – it was once two, three bedroom semis – cooling fans now sit silent on extra high ceilings, making the too few heaters work that much harder to heat the extra space in the rooms. The sun when it does put in an appearance seems not to penetrate through the windows and walls at all.  We draw straws to decide whose turn to make hot drinks/meals in the icy room that is the kitchen.  Call of nature runs are held off as long as possible, whilst Ice cold tiles underfoot – thank god we packed slippers – render naked toes immobile.

After breakfast, more layers go on for walking the mad springer spaniel.  We depart the house a motley crew on our various modes of transport – pram or hands free sling for baby, trike with added adult control for toddler, push-bike for 6 and scooter for 12.  The four walking adults are split between being pulled along by dog, pushing the pram/trike, racing a bike or scooter, intermittent snails pace walking due to toddler exiting trike along with carrying, picking up when fallen, providing shoulder rides and pooh picking.  Eventually once the slow stop start has tried all our patience we try to persuade the toddler she has tired legs, this rarely ends with a happy outcome, only a rigid, screaming uncomplying body as we try to manoeuvre her back into her trike.  This excursion gets repeated late afternoon too, remember this is the fit outdoorsy family!

We all love Christmas time with the exception of husband/dad/grandad (VM) even though he is in the house of children and all things Christmassy he continues his relentless, mostly tongue in cheek Bah Humbug routine. Frowning, mumbling throughout the day whenever things go off plan as often they do!  So far he has cut his lip on a bacon buttie, making more fuss than the youngest child – the pouting went on for the whole day! The toddler while having a tantrum at ungodly hour knocked tea all over his slippers causing another day of moaning about cold feet as said slippers slowly dried out elsewhere. Water knocked over by the man himself narrowly missed his myriad of tech gadgets laying on the floor below. On the rare occasion he does nappy duty the floor resembles a battlefield and we have to send out for more supplies of baby wipes. Keeping up with the fit family he has found himself a running partner and although secretly enjoying being pushed physically to greater distances, we are all on his return suffering the consequences ‘I need to rest, my calves/quads are aching’.

I have decided my wrist will not be resting any time soon in Cyprus. How can I not pick up and cuddle our beautiful new baby Grandaughter who amongst all the hullabaloo that continually goes on around her is calm, serene and generally so good natured as to sometimes be forgotten.  Our animated, funny toddler loves to be picked up to sit on my lap and listen to her many storybooks or being bounced frantically up and down on my lap singing ‘half a pound of tuppenny rice’ and then disappearing between my knees as we ‘Pop goes the Weasel’ evoking chuckles galore.

With 12 and 6 there has been in the making a gingerbread house, seventy-two mince pies – including twenty-four special gluten-free for our daughter – and an elaborate lattice mince pie to use up the leftovers.  All the rubbing in, kneading, rolling and squeezing of thick icing through icing bags has, even with the excellent help taken its toll on my poor wrist.

The good news is although my wrist/hand is not improving my new hip parts are working particularly well with still not a clunk, click in sight!  Lots of walking with mad dog and without, along promenades by the sea.  Swimming in the local pool – a necessity just for the warm comfort of the changing rooms – floor workouts playing with the toddler and baby – toddler is well trained in providing a comfy cushion for  ‘Nannas’ accident battered knees and hip against the cold hard floors.  Climbing up and on or below and under a cabin bed to read 6 his bedtime story is a particular highlight, giving me hope that eventually mountains will be within my grasp.

To be able to do all these things and more fills me with so much joy.  I may never be able to run alongside holding hands or roly-poly with abandon down grassy slopes and hills, nevertheless the many things I can still do, thanks to technical advances and a skilful surgeon I will be forever grateful for.












Ivy, love it or hate it?

A lot has been written about Ivy or to give its latin name Hedera helix.  Often in my experience opinions of this rampant climber seem to fall into two categories.  On the one side it is harmless – let it be – on the other it is unsightly, invasive and there to be eradicated.  Like Marmite there is a definite love/hate divide!

My own personal view swings violently at times between the two.  Recent days have seen me crawling around on all fours through neglected and overgrown borders where Ivy has become the dominant plant.  Shrubs and small trees have lost their graceful identity – the deciduous have become evergreen all year now, clothed as they are in the twinning Ivy stems thick with glossy palmate leaves. Trees grown for their ornamental bark show only glimpses of the beauty beneath.  Some shrubs have become standards, lollipop like, top heavy all growth below strangled into submission.  Underneath the dense ivy covered earth few remaining ornamental ground cover plants survive.

Hours spent digging, pulling, teasing, cutting and extricating, sometimes laying prone on the ground to reach under and into the centre of large established shrubs have taken their toll on my joints, surprisingly for a change not my hip – a result possibly borne from hours spent strengthening in the gym and pool!

My wrists especially the more dominant right are sending out twinges of pain from my thumb through to the wrist whenever I rotate my hand.  With each twinge my love for this plant is being sorely tested although if I am honest the blame is not wholly down to Ivy.

Periods using frames, crutches and canes to aid my walking over the last few years have taken their toll on my right wrist, the latest after my left hip revision only a few months previous.  Furthermore this autumn the twisting, pushing action needed to plant over 700 bulbs including 300 in my own garden did little to promote   Diagnosed with tendonitis, I resorted to a splint for a good few weeks as a support while working, eventually it healed enough to garden without until the dreaded Ivy!

So far I have painted only the negative effects of Ivy, I must remind myself and you the reader some of its more friendly merits before I send you all rushing for the machete!

Hedera helix (Common Ivy), I much prefer the sound of old now rarely used ‘common names’ – ‘Bindwood’ and ‘Lovestone’ referencing the materials to which it would cling and grow over.  Images spring to mind of flower fairies from childhood books sitting on cushioned stones or swinging gently from long, looped stems.

Importance to wildlife – my forced clearing on ground level revealed ladybirds, beetles and other hibernating and sheltering insects. The dense covering not only providing cover would have lessened the hardening effects of frost allowing birds in the depth of winter to find food in otherwise frozen ground. High up empty nests were tucked away safe within its twining arms.

Collettes hederae (the Ivy bee) depends on its flowers from September timing its very existence around the occasion.  This little bee was first recorded on our shores in 2001 in Worth Matravers (Dorset).

Many winged insects including Bees, wasps, Moths, Butterflies and Hoverflies are all attracted to its plentiful food source and vital cover. In winter the berries that follow on from the flowers are a welcome food source for visiting birds.

The art of disguise – it does this so well – unsightly buildings, fences are all rendered unrecognisable quickly becoming green walls alive with life.  Telegraph poles – hard lines become softened, some with imaginative pruning become topiary subjects.

Ultimately Common Ivy by its very nature will always create a divide nevertheless for me its benefits to nature alone outweigh its sometimes unsightly – but rarely fatal – stranglehold on its hosts.  The now newly cleared borders are on first impressions quite devoid of its rambling presence, yet lurking unseen visible only to someone like me – commando crawling to the back and beyond – glossy leaves on now shortened stems will continue to help in natures cycle of life.

Luckily for me the Christmas holidays are almost upon us. I will be taking two weeks off from gardening hopefully giving my joints some time to recover.  With the forced distance between us ‘Lovestone’ and I will once more share a mutual respect when next we meet on ground level.  For now with the festive season in full swing, Christmas wreaths on doors, swags on mantles will continue to remind of its many attributes!








Adjusting in a Smaller Space

Moving to a much smaller garden although good from a less stressed hip point of view, has at times made me feel like a chicken with her wings clipped.  Like them I scratch about on the surface, my boundaries closer, with few places to expand in a ready-made garden and for the most part made well!

My long-suffering as he commutes home on a Friday will say this is a blessing.  He can feel safe in the knowledge there will be no grand labour intensive surprises, long lists – of the garden variety – or worry from watching his wife limping around from labouring overkill.  Few things at all in fact to interfere with his weekend sporting fixtures in front of the TV!  The biggest exertion for him most weekends since March is getting the mower out of the shed for the 15 minutes it takes to cut our much reduced – by at least 90 minutes in mowing time – the back lawn area.

In the early days when we were making our previous much-loved large neglected plot my term of endearment for my wonderful husband was not ‘long-suffering’ – he became this post accident. No my preferred choice was ‘Victor Meldrew’ inspired after the often morose fictional sitcom character from ‘One Foot in The Grave’, with his negative grumpy mutterings and dour face pulling every time I came up with a new spade wielding ‘project’, the resemblance was uncanny minus the bald head.

At the beginning of our gardening journey from winter 2000 and beyond especially while reconstructing the overgrown and hidden stream area his energy and enthusiasm was easily on a par with mine.  Unfortunately a few years of digging heavy clay soil – constantly wet in winter or rock hard in summer – gradually whittled away all the above.

Gardening  journal, excerpts from four years on…

17th Feb 2004.  Time was spent this morning evaluating the front grassed area resulting in my decision to turn a third into a new Kitchen garden.  After lunch I marked out the area to be fenced ie. rabbit proofed, with canes and string.  Later my excitement at relaying and showing my plans to Richard on his return from work was  severely tempered by a very grumpy ‘Victor Meldrew’ impression!

18th Feb 2004.  Not to be disheartened by Victor Meldrew – from hereon in for the purpose of this Journal shortened to VM – I have organised the position of the raised veg beds and rung round suppliers to acquire prices for posts, netting and hire of a turf cutter.

20th Feb 2004.  VM needs three weeks – only three!  Preparation for this new project I have thrown at him obviously needs contemplation time.  Very grumpy for the last two nights however there is light on the horizon I think with a bit more persuasion he will slowly come around to the idea.

24th Feb 2004.  Great excitement!  VM went to bed with yesterdays birthday present my new book ‘Making Gardens’, leading me to believe my kitchen garden and other ‘projects’ could soon after the prerequisite VM become a reality!

Although not on the grand scale as before I have still on occasion given Richard cause to put on his VM face even on our much reduced landscaped plot.  I write this with a smile on my face, so far borders have been extended, widened, trees thinned, rope swags erected for rambling roses, a new wild flower meadow in an existing front lawn, planted up with 300 bulbs and 300 native wild flower plugs.

I think over the last few months my wings have slowly grown back, whilst not needing to change the layout of  the hard landscaping areas, some of the planting needs much rejuvenation.  The question is how long can the confines of this garden sustain my free range ideas before I feel clipped once more?





First Frosts

Most mornings during the week when I leave the warmth of my bed it is still dark outside.  At six o’clock all is quiet in my tucked away village, as I drive out to town for the gym, pool or spinning class I usually engage in before work.

This week however I have been struck down with a dreaded bad cold ‘maybe flu’ it has put me out of action regards keeping fit, work or anything else remotely physical.  Last week I went about my normal daily activities but felt lethargic, my whole body ached – not just the bad side – everything was an effort, coming home after work all I wanted to do was lay down and sleep.

Come Friday the reason for my lethargic state presented itself in all its sniffing, sneezing, fuzzy headed glory.  Nevertheless I did feel better generally and not so tired. With tissues in hand, on Sunday my ‘long suffering’ and I walked a challenging – for me – five and a half mile trail to the top of Bulbarrow Hill – the second highest point in Dorset some 274 metres.

Sunday night saw me relapse in spectacular style, sweating one minute, shivering the next.  Consequently I have not been able to work at all this week so far.  From a business point of view this is not ideal, yet I find myself through the fog of my fuzzy head feeling thankful for these few unexpected mornings at home, restlessly awake to see the sun rise on the first frosts this winter.

As the dark slowly turned to light pulling back the bedroom curtains revealed the summerhouse below, its roof sparkling and glittering white, over the bridge the grass leading down to our inherited stream pale and stiff, the water a gentle flow rather than the torrent of only a week previous.  Fields beyond our boundary glowing burnt orange their surface streaked with long shadows from the low sunlight.

Time has been on my side to leisurely rejoice in what gems our new garden has revealed.  The grass border, it structural stems stiff and upright in shades of bronze, red and ochre, dense underneath providing cover and shelter for foraging wildlife.

To the front of the house the oval leaves of a large cotinus ‘Grace’ have turned translucent red from their former deep purple. Cornus ‘Midwinter fire’ are starting to live up to their name as stems glow brighter orange red as the last leaves fall.

The Magnolia ‘Stellata’ flowered gloriously soon after we moved in, but now devoid of leaves the swelling pale grey, white furry buds of next years display are clearly visible on its bare architectural branches.

Hopefully these first light frosts are just the start of many harder ones to come although my fingers at work will berate me for those words as they become numb and throb as I work. With short often dull days ahead I will only have to look out at the promise of those pale buds to lift me from the melancholy of cold wet winter days.  In addition I have the delight of working in other gardens all with their own special winter surprises and hope for each new season, thus spurring me on from getting too maudlin!