Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Look up...

Windows are strange things. You can look out of them and you can look in. Of course you have to see them first and most windows are above us. Most windows we can't see unless we look.

Look up. Lift your eyes from the street and see another perspective.
Look up. You never know what you might see.
Look up. It's another world.
Look up.

It may just change your life.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Hare today...

Ah, the light nights at last. Yes, the clocks have gone back into British summertime and today I have mainly been acting as mad as a March hare. Well, I thought I better, March is almost out and who knows what showers April will bring?

As Alice said, "The March Hare will be much the most interesting, and perhaps as this is May it won't be raving mad – at least not so mad as it was in March." 

It’s been March all month and us hares have all gone mad, boxing at other hares, jumping vertically for no reason other than they can, generally displaying abnormal hareish behaviour, and getting our timing all wrong. Of course, it’s all about mating but I prefer to believe it’s about magic, and I am always looking for the magic.

Hares are so magical despite (or maybe because) of their madness. Fast, frantic creatures that seem to be made of air. I have rarely caught a glimpse of one and have never seen them boxing, although I did once see a hare dash across a field in the light of the moon and halfway across seem to vanish. I have no idea where he went, perhaps down a hole, or maybe into thin air, but gone he was.

If I could shapeshift I can think of no better animal to be than a hare; much better than a wolf or black dog. Here’s a spell if you fancy a turn as a hare - say this three times in the light of the full moon and you just might change into one.

‘I sall goe ane haire, With sorrow and sych, and meikle caire, and I sall goe in the Divellis nam, Ay whill com hom againe.

Reverse Spell
‘Hare, hare, God send thee care. I am in a hare’s likeness just now, but I shall be in a man's/woman's likeness even now.’

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Oil on the water....

Sometimes I let things drift for longer than I should and when I do that, well sometimes it has an adverse effect on the things that I have let drift. Now let's all give praise that I don't captain a boat and that you are upon it, especially if it was a wooden boat.

We were warned when we decided to have wooden worksurfaces in the kitchen that they would need oiling every six months or so. Of course that would be 'no problem' - and off course it was. For the first year I oiled away merrily (actually un-merrily I hated the job) and then I let it drift.

Five or six years of no oil later and our kitchen worksurfaces were in a state. The water had got into them, staining them black, and the oiled bits had become hard and patchy. There was only one thing for it - sort it out.

Of course I didn't want to go back to oiling, so I spent four or five hours happily sanding out the stains by hand and removing the old oil. I couldn't quite bring the wood back to pristine condition, but hey - let's call that character, a little bit shabby chic, rustic charm, and nothing to do with negligence.

In honesty though I did do a pretty good job and by the time my hands were as rough as a badger's arse (are they rough and who would know and how?) the wood was looking far healthier. Instead of oil I then brushed on Polivine dead flat decorator's varnish, three coats of gentle going along the grain with a very good brush. Now, not only do the worksufaces have what appears to be a beautiful a wax finish but it's also completely waterproof.

If I ever do captain a wooden ship that is what I am going to use. Polyvine, so much easier than oil.

Friday, 27 March 2015


I found this this morning nestled on top of one of my Aquilegia plants. Just a single drop of water reflecting the daylight, but I gazed at it for ages.

Nature makes her own diamonds.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Pocket potterings…

My life is a series of potterings these days. I don’t do anything for long, preferring to keep on the move doing this, attending to that, avoiding the things that I really ought to be doing. Of course along the way I pick up this from here and that from there and invariably it gets tucked inside one of my pockets.

You can tell a lot about a person by the contents of his pockets; what his interests are, the time of year, you can even get a rough idea of his age. On an average day I have between ten and twelve pockets to fill. My uniform of combats, gilet, shirt and tee shirt give me plenty of compartments to lose things in. Of course, there comes a time when my pockets need rationalising so, usually alongside a complete change of attire, I empty my pockets onto the table.

I’m always surprised with what I find. The wallet, keys and small change are a constant and I always carry a Swiss Army knife. Recently I’ve taken to carrying a second multi-blade penknife – a nice shiny silver one – basically because it has a better screwdriver, scissors that spring, and a tiny torch. I also carry a small two blade knife with the Sellotape logo on its side which I have honed to razor sharpness and generally use for cutting garden twine.

I always keep a notebook in my shirt pocket alongside my pens, writing down thoughts that I’d otherwise forget; although I often don’t remember why I wrote them down in the first place. My Sharpie is invaluable for writing on plastic seed stakes and I was surprised not to turn out a couple of stakes from my pockets. No string either - now that’s a first!

Of course the string is probably negated by the small bundles of garden wire, nails, screws, and the odd elastic band or two. It’s always handy to have a fastening to hand. I don’t remember how the button got there, but the beer top is probably from the cheeky Speckled Hen I had for my lunch yesterday - well, it was a sunny day and I’d had a busy morning’s pottering, so I earned it.

My tape measure is designed to clip to my belt, but it generally lives in one of my pockets. I’m always measuring and this one has a tiny spirit level on one side and a small yellow plastic tube, which appears to do nothing, on the other. The cloth is just that, a piece of cloth I keep to wipe my hands on and the E45 is to rub on my fingertips as all my pottering has made them very rough. There’s also a pack of Ibuprofen tablets for my back which aches constantly even with a regular dose.

The rest is rubbish; a couple of receipts from Wilkinson’s, a biscuit wrapper, and a cellophane packet which (until very recently) contained Pontefract cakes.Of course this is just a snapshot of my pocket life. On another day they could contain my small folding hammer, boiled sweet wrappers, the odd fiver, I've even found a stray sock on a few occasions. 

Thank god I don't have a handbag. Can you imagine what that would be like?

Monday, 23 March 2015

In the night garden...

The garden at night can be a dark place. Even my tiny space is as black as ink on a cloudy night. Of course the light nights are coming and with luck it will warm up a little.

I'm looking forward to the lighter, warmer nights so that I can sit outside with a glass of wine or two.

Even so, it's nice to have a little light around the garden and a few cheap solar lights can make a real difference. Of course it's all down to how you use them. I lift them up on canes and vary the levels, but I also do other things with my eighty-nine pence lights.

Simply placing a solar light (minus shaft) inside a jar with some gravel in the bottom can make quite a difference. I sealed my light to the jar with blu-tac.

I've even taken the bottoms off bottles (here's how simple that is) to make a interesting hanging lantern with a wine bottle, a solar light, and an old piece of chain.

Placing several, cut at varying lengths, together in an old painted wooden lemon crate also works well, creating a focal point in a gloomy corner..

For under thirty quid my garden is full of mood and interest caused by the thirty or so solar lights I bought from Wilkinson's. They may only last a season, but the power and light is free, it looks great, and when the warmer evenings do come I can sit out in my backyard and watch the shadows caused by my lights until the early hours - with a glass of wine in hand of course!

Friday, 20 March 2015

Inside the eclipse box...

Here I am inside my eclipse box, a three feet long cardboard box with foil, paper, and a tiny pinprick to let in the image of the sun. At first I thought that I'd got it wrong, but then I realised that the dark spot at the edge of the projected light was actually the moon moving slowly across the face of the sun.

For once, when celestial events occur, it wasn't thick cloud. There was a little cloud when it started, but not enough to stop me seeing the eclipse happening. I'd also made a candle smoked glass panel and, as there was some blanket cloud, I intermittently used this to view the almost total eclipse.

Ninety percent - I doubt that I will ever get closer to a total.

I watched as the sun became a fine crescent moon, the temperature dropping quickly as I did so and a strange light almost - although not quite - that cold greeny-grey light you sometimes get before dawn. An eerie light.

Perhaps it was my imagination, but what few sounds there were seemed amplified, each bird tweet echoing, each word a shout and to be honest, despite the occasion, it brought me down a little. Of course I knew that the world wasn't going to end and that the sun wasn't being eaten, but it made me feel small. A small monkey whirling around on a tiny rock in a universe I wasn't in control of.

And then it was all over. The temperature rose, the light became full daylight once again, and the birds no longer echoed in the air.

I wonder if I'll ever see anything like it again?

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Old shovel...

Look what I found right at the back of the shed as I was cleaning it out yesterday. It's one of those old shovels that road diggers used to use, still do for all I know. It must have been there when I bought the house because I don't recognise it as something I brought with me.

Of course it's much too heavy to easily use, it really does weigh a ton, and I was about to at long last throw it away, after years of shuffling it around inside the shed, when I had an idea.

This is my idea. I've turned the old shovel into a garden ornament by painting the shaft shabbily and sticking a resin robin I bought for a couple of quid at a discount store. I like whimsy and this, I like to think, is as whimsical as you like - or rather I like, and I really do. So much so that I may start looking around for some more old tools to whimsify.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Cleaning the shed...

Today I tidied my shed. Well, when I say tidied it was more a full assault on a small area that was holding more than it could comfortably cope with. Yes, it really was floor to ceiling full of junk that I'm sure might come in handy one day, but hasn't for the last twenty years, so I decided not to wait.

Of course my shed was once the servants outside privy, so it isn't large. But that doesn't mean (as I'm sure those servants would testify) that it isn't useful. Or at least it would be if I could only get in it.

I set-to and soon had the entire shed's contents strewn all over my backyard. Even I could not believe the amount of useless junk I had accumulated, and just where did all those plastic flower pots come from? Plastic feed sacks, fruit boxes, buckets with holes in, and more cobwebs that you could shake a spidery stick at. It all had to go, and six refuse sacks later it had.

Somehow along the way I even managed to create a broom stand and a potting table from a couple of crates and leave enough space for a stool! I can't wait to do some potting-up in this new, albeit limited, space and on a rainy day it'll be a good place to sit and pretend to be busy.

The electric light goes in tomorrow.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Let there be light...

Over the years I've had lots of solar lights. Of course, they don't give out much light, but at least the light they do give out is free and they can create an ambiance in the garden. After saying that I've always been a little disappointed in the lights I've bought, so much so that I'd almost given up on them.

But then I had an idea. Just why I hadn't thought of this before is beyond me, it's so simple but it makes even the cheapest solar lights look great.

The problem with solar lights, especially the cheap ones, is that they are all so short that they are hardly off the ground at all and you have to look down at them. There's no drama in that, drama is created by constantly keeping the eye moving from one place, and from one level, to the next (yes, I know how pretentious that sounds, but it's true).

My idea was to raise the lights up so that they could be arranged in my plants at a level that created a little drama and suited the plant they were lighting. I bought three thin solar lights from Wilkinson's for eighty-five pence each, threw away the black plastic stake at the bottom of the tubular stem, and instead rammed a cane in. This meant that I could position the lights inside my bamboo at any level I liked and give the garden a nighttime boost. It worked pretty well and the lights were still shining when I went to bed way past midnight.

I like the idea so much that I'm going to buy twenty more lights (seventeen quid) and do the same thing within the rest of my garden. I think it'll create quite an effect.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Driftwood planter...

The tiny world that is my back yard may not be very big, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be packed full of interest with something to see at every corner, such as they are. I am trying to make it into a world in miniature so that when the warm weather comes I can sit in it surrounded by things I've made or love.

We went to the garden centre today to buy a few violas and while I was there I saw a driftwood wall planter that I liked. But the price of almost thirty quid rather put me off, so instead of buying it I decided to make one.

Three fifty-pence a throw (literally) clay flower pots, some dry brushing with the paint for my bench, and a bit of driftwood that I found on a beach in Wales later, I had this. I used a masonry drill to make a hole in the top of the pots after painting and then used some thin galvanised wire to dangle them. The hearts I found in a kitchen drawer.

It's planted with some of the violas - three quid for twenty-four. So with the violas and pots the whole thing cost me about £2.50 and I had the fun and satisfaction of making it.

I nailed and wired it to the long wall at the side of the house to brighten it up a little. If it does well then I'll see what I can do with the rest of the wall because, although I was worried about the daffodils I planted, they have really done well.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Garden bench...

Here's the bench that I bought 10 years ago from B and Q for thirty quid all decked out in it's new colour of seagrass, a kind of blue-green that looks like the colour of some sage plants. I bought it to replace the bistro set some scallies stole one summer morning just before dawn.

The bench is made from teak and even after ten years in the rain and sun there wasn't a bit of rot, despite my neglecting to oil it. It sanded well and the paint was a dream, going on evenly and drying quickly. In all it look less that a day to transform from tired mossy brown to crisp clean seagrass. I'm as pleased as punch with it.

Now all I need are some warmer spring evenings and the beer can come out, or wine depending on my whim. I love to sit on this bench at the front of our house and watch the world go by, even if the world does mainly consist of cars on our road. After all, there's always the sky and the clouds to look at, all I need do is lift my head.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Luna's birthday...

Yesterday was Luna’s third birthday. She didn’t do much; a bit of a play, a few drinks with her friend from over the back, king prawns for tea, and then a nice long sleep in front of the fire in her fruit box with the knitted patchwork blanket.

‘She’s as happy as a sandboy,’ my wife said.

Which got me thinking, why exactly should sandboys be happy and what is a sandboy anyway? So, as is my wont, I looked it up.

I thought that the happy ‘sandboy’ might be a child playing on the beach, making sand-castles and having fun. In fact, a sandboy was the name of the deliverymen who delivered sand to pubs, theatres and homes in the 18th and 19th centuries. Children were sometimes used, but most sandboys were adults and not boys at all, as in tea-boy, barrow-boy, house-boy etc. Sand was often used as a basic floor covering in pubs - a step up from dirt and a step down from sawdust, which later led to the term ‘spit and sawdust’ establishments.

In America it’s ‘as happy as a clam’, in Australia ‘as happy as Larry’, and of course there’s as ‘happy as a lark’, ‘a dogs with two tails’ and we all know how happy ‘pigs in shit’ are, but the sandboy was happy with good reason; spending all that time in pubs meant that he was often drunk!

Anyway, Luna was certainly happy on her birthday, although I don’t think she was drunk.

I wonder why clams are so cheerful - and just who is this Larry anyway?

Gnome sweet gnome...

This chap has got a nerve. He followed me home in his campervan and before I knew it had made himself a home in my wall.

I think I'll start charging him rent.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Wearing the trousers...

You know what it's like with trousers, you find a comfortable pair and suddenly no other trousers seem to do the trick. That's why, these days, I spend most of my time in cargo pants.

I think it's a lot to do with the pockets, I love trousers with lots of pockets; somewhere to put all of the things I always carry around like keys, my Swiss army penknife, nails, pencils and pens, a small notebook that sometimes doubles as a sketch book, a couple of seashells, and all the other assorted stuff that I pick up along the way.

No, you can't beat cargo pants with lots of pockets for comfort and practicality; a place for everything and everything in its place. I even have a pair (described euphemistically as workwear) that has a strap for a hammer, a mobile phone pocket, and a place in the knees to insert kneeling pads just in case you need to lay a quick floor or have a sneaky pray.

Even before my love of cargo pants I liked to wear my trousers baggy. I think it began with my six button, high waister, Oxford baggies in my teens and progressed when I went on to art school into 1940's flannels I used to pick up in Oxfam for a couple of bob a pair. How I'd flap in the wind, my kegs held up with an old leather belt I bought for a tanner.

I know the fashion these days is for men to wear their trousers so tight that they look like spiders, but - given the width of my calves, I'll stick to my cargoes I think.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

A little birdhouse for the soul...

As Google reminded me this morning, it’s my birthday again. This one is number fifty-eight, and there I was convinced I would live fast and die young. Of course I’m not complaining. Every day above ground is a good one and I still have so much to do – at least, when I get around to doing it. Despite it being my birthday I decided not to let myself rest though. Yes, generally the wicked are not allowed rest and I am no exception.

Most days I set myself a task, it could be anything from doing the hovering using my Gtech air ram (an early birthday present to myself) to potting up begonias in my new cold frame (another early birthday present to myself). Today’s task though was one I’d been toying with for months and today, my fifty-eight birthday, seemed to be the day.

If I’m honest it’s these tasks that keep me going completely bonkers and today’s task, just in case you were wondering, was to build a nesting box.

Just why I felt the need to build a small house for birds to nest in was a mystery even to me; after all you can buy a very good one for two pounds and fifty pence at Wilkinsons at the moment. An even bigger mystery was why I decided to ignore my electric saws and cut the wood by hand. Maybe I was thinking that it would be better for my soul to make a home for birds with nothing more than my bare hands, a hammer, and my trusty (if somewhat blunt) coping saw.

The wood I used was some off-cuts given me by a mate who used to build sheds for a living. It’s good solid stuff and after a couple of hours of measuring, sawing, and hammering I had a pretty good, if rather heavy, nesting box, one that I’m sure could survive a nuclear explosion and may even stand up to the Welsh weather even at its wildest.

So there you have it – my birthday nesting box, a little birdhouse for my wicked, wicked soul. I’ll be putting it up in the trees at the back of the cottage the next time we go to Wales. I have attached a rather cunning bracket thing at the back of the box to hang it with.

All I need now is a pair of birds who want to raise a family.

Happy birthday me - tweet tweet.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Broken pot garden...

I’ve been waiting for a while for one of my big pots to break so that I could make a miniature cracked terracotta pot garden. Some people call them ‘fairy gardens’, not me though there isn’t a fairy in sight in mine.

Of course I could have cracked the pot myself, but somehow to break a perfectly good pot seemed like vandalism and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. So I was pleased when I found the wind had blown over one of my pots in Wales. Even more pleased that it had cracked in just the right way, opening up an opportunity for me to play and have some fun.

A visit to our local Welsh garden centre to buy some Alpines seemed to be in order. So eight quid later I was back at the cottage with five nice little plants and a bag of medium fine golden gravel. Alpines, I was informed by Google, need a mix of fifty percent garden soil and fifty percent gravel as they must have good drainage and standing water will rot their roots. This probably explains why I haven’t had much success with succulent Alpines in the past, although It’s obvious really as they grow on rocky mountains in the wild.

Of course, what with all the Welsh rain, it wasn’t until I was home that I had the chance to make my garden. I was really looking forward to it, but it was raining in Manchester too. Not to be put off, I covered the kitchen table in a couple of plastic sacks, got a bucket to mix the soil and grit, and off I went.

It was as much fun as I knew it would be, reminding me of the moss gardens I used to make as a child on a kitchen tray with a mirror for a pond. I soon became completely absorbed in placing the pot shards in just the right way, backfilling with the soil and gravel mix, and planting my tiny Alpines so that they looked as natural as possible. It took a couple of hours, but the time flew and I was quite pleased with the finished thing.

I topped my creation off with, not a fairy, but a little elf Holly bought for me on a school trip years ago who had never really found a fitting home.

I think, at long last, he has now.

Monday, 2 March 2015

First of the Summer wine...

You may remember that last July I made a batch of honeysuckle wine. Making wine is a slow process requiring patience and care with each stage, so it wasn’t until the late autumn that I bottled my five precious bottles of summer sunshine. I tried a glass at Christmas and, whilst it was powerful and drinkable, there was a sharpness to it so I decided to wait a little longer.

My wine is now seven months old and, as it’s my birthday this month (any excuse), I thought I would taste a glass to see how it is doing.

Oh dear, I was only going to take a taste but as it turned out I managed half a bottle and then half a bottle more. After seven months it tastes like hot sunshine, more like a subtle whisky than a wine and it warms as it trickles down. I could drink it all now but I won’t, or at least I’ll try not to. I want to see how it is after a year and maybe even keep a bottle to see what it is like after two years (place your bets please).

For my birthday I will try the carrot, and I still have the elderflower I made last May to bottle. I kept it in the Demijohn as an experiment. The only problem is I’ve forgotten what the experiment was!

My next winemaking challenge is dandelion. I will let you know how that goes when I can get the flowers in April. One thing is for sure though, given the way my honeysuckle has turned out, I shall be making more wine this year.


Sunday, 1 March 2015

Weighing in...

Today is not only the first day of meteorological spring, but also the day of the big weigh-in.

Well, when I say big, it isn’t really. It’s just that for a month now I’ve been ‘watching what I eat’. Not too carefully you understand, just losing a few non-essentials like sugar in my tea, butter, fried food (most of the time), chips, cakes, biscuits, nuts – should I go on?

In truth I haven’t found it too hard. It has been okay and today I found that I’d lost five pounds over the last four weeks. At first I was disappointed. I was expecting at least half a stone. But when I thought about it I realised that with just a few changes and a bit more thought about what I was eating I’d lost the equivalent of over two full bags of sugar in weight.

Anyway, I’ll stick with it for another month. I may even try a bit harder.