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The Garden That Is Finished Is Dead

We’ve lived in our house for nearly a decade.  It has been almost ten years since we looked round the house, noticed that the garden was huge, had a holly tree and a rhododendron bush and thought it might just be the place for us.

Since we moved in we have experimented, designed, dug, planted, mowed, weeded, changed, adapted, moved plants, removed plants, pruned and sowed.  We also brought in a greenhouse some five years ago, with the intention of using it once we had built the new shed, removed the old shed and made space for it.  The greenhouse was a bargain; a friend wanted £50 for it so we had it even though we were nowhere ready for it.  And I really wasn’t ready; I’ve blogged before about how I  have not enjoyed the physical work of gardening but in the last couple of years it has started to appeal to me a lot more, and I am ready for that greenhouse now.

Anyway, last summer, the new shed was built. This weekend we have taken down the old shed, lifted the crazy paved patio and moved the greenhouse into the spot that is to be its home.  It now has the beginnings of a concrete base and as I write, the bloke is putting the glass in.  In almost no time at all, we’re going to have a usable greenhouse!  I am unbelievable excited about this and already have a number of trays of seeds ready to find their home in there.  The greenhouse will soon be finished, but I feel like my gardening life has just begun!

The Garden That Is Finished Is Dead

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A Tale of Two Charlottes.

Some months ago I had one of my feather-brained ideas.  I wanted chickens.  In the garden.  In my terraced house in Birmingham.  Madness, and pretty much dismissed as such by The Bloke.  Then we went to Gardeners’ World.  And guess what, we saw the Eglu, suitable for gardens, even those attached to terraced houses in cities, and suddenly, it was The Bloke’s feather-brained idea!

I asked a few questions of my chicken-mad friend and soon decided that an Eglu wasn’t the way forward: I’d get more for my money looking for a wooden coop and buying the hens locally.  So, the search for a coop began (cue hours of ebay-ing) and we purchased a cute little house for three girlies.

My chicken mad friend had already found me a local breeder, namely Ollie’s Chirpy Chickens near Solihull, so we got in touch and arranged to go over and have a look. I was so excited on Saturday morning that I could probably have laid an egg myself, and it didn’t take us long to choose three chooks.  Our first choice was  Emily, a tiny little white hen.  Then we picked out Anne, a lovely little red ranger, reminiscent of the hen in the story who sensibly gathered the grains of wheat to make bread.  Our third and final choice was Charlotte, a fabulous Cou Cou or Cuckoo Maran, who was already laying. The girls had their wings clipped and we bundled them into a cardboard box to bring them home.

It didn’t take long for the girls to explore their new home and to start tucking into pellets and treats, and I was delighted.  It soon became apparent, however, that the fight to establish pecking order wasn’t going to be easy.  Emily started to hide in corners and to dash into the coop whenever Charlotte was near her (or out of the coop if Charlotte followed her in there, which she did). We knew this would take some time (because I’d researched carefully before I got the girls) but this was worrying me a little, and I vowed to watch them carefully.

Anyway, we tucked them up for bed on Saturday night (checking and double checking to make sure they were safe from foxes) and left them to their business.  I was a little surprised to be woken by loud crowing at dawn on Sunday, as I’d expected hens to be quieter (we’ve holidayed in places where there’s been hens, and we’d never heard the like of this.) When we went to check on them poor little Emily looked like she’d been sat on; she was bundled up against the side of the coop and wouldn’t come out.  Little did we know she’d started to experience some very unpleasant bullying.  Her way of dealing with this was to escape from the coop via the nesting box, leading to a 15 minute game of hide-and seek while The Bloke and I learned to employ what the mad chicken lady calls ‘stealth chicken catching tactics’.  She (Emily, not my friend) seemed to enjoy her time in the garden, grubbing for titbits in the veg plot and scritching at the lawn, but we weren’t ready for her to be completely free-range yet so we eventually cornered her and got her back in the coop, where she immediately retreated to a corner to hide.

The perpetrator of the bullying was obviously Charlotte (whose egg-laying skills were now proven by the tiny little dark-brown speckled egg in the fridge and a second egg, larger than the first, which I had eaten for breakfast) but when she wasn’t nesting she was mercilessly pursuing Emily and pecking at her and pulling feathers.  To cut a long story short by the end of our second full morning with the birds little Em had a couple of horrible bloody cuts on her head and was utterly terrified. We had to make some decisions, and fast. Once chickens draw blood it is not unusual for them to kill the injured bird, so (following advice from a chicken keeping forum) I disguised the cuts with Sudocrem, gave Emily some cuddles and some treats and put her back into the coop, separating her from Charlotte by locking the bully in the run. During the course of the afternoon we had some swap-overs so Emily could feed and Charlotte could nest.

By this point I had three options.  I could let the fight for pecking order continue (and risk Emily’s life in the process); I could separate the birds (by taking out either Emily, so she had time to recover, or Charlotte, so she could be returned to the coop a few days later with her status as ‘top hen’ gone) or I could take Charlotte back to the breeder and bring home a milder-mannered hen. The third option didn’t appeal and I wanted to see this through without further injury to the little white hen, so I acquired a rabbit hutch to put Charlotte in until night fell. When the hutch arrived, however, it was too big to get into the garden or through the house, so I abandoned it on the drive and returned to supervise the birds until it got dark.  Eventually, they quietly took themselves into the coop for the night and as I locked them in I peered inside to see little Emily snuggled up beside Anne, the ranger, and Big Bad Charlotte in a nesting box on her own.

I sat for a while in the garden just enjoying the quiet, but was perturbed to overhear a conversation from the garden behind ours.  The voices from behind me revealed that they’d heard the chickens very early that morning and the previous morning.  I couldn’t make up my mind if they were upset or just interested, but I suspect it was a little of both.  I mentioned this to The Bloke when he returned from his evening shift at work, and I decided I’d set my alarm for 6am so I would be ready AS SOON as they started up to go and let them out and quieten them down.

I didn’t sleep well and woke several times through the night, but duly shot down the stairs when I heard them calling just after 6.  I opened the coop to let the chickens into the run and Anne and Charlotte came out immediately, but no Emily.  Heart racing, I opened up the coop, and the poor little thing was bundled into a corner, not wanting to move.  I left her in peace for a while while Charlotte ate and drank, then supervised once again the changeover, moving the larger hen into the coop so she could nest while Emily fed. I left them like that while I went to discuss the situation with The Bloke, and we decided there was no other solution, Charlotte would have to go.  She was a noisy bully and her aggravation of Emily had gone beyond the establishing of pecking order, and this didn’t look like it was going to improve.

It was with a heavy heart that I made the phone call to arrange this, and I felt I’d fallen at the first hurdle, but it was a relief to hand Charlotte over.  She was put into a big pen with about 50 other chickens, and in her arrogance she decided she could take on the rooster.   It wasn’t long before he’d given her a serious telling off and a big taste of her own medicine, and Simon, the breeder, assured me that she’d be rehomed and would probably settle perfectly well.

We then selected Charlotte II (who will from this point forward be known just as Charlotte); another ranger, slightly smaller and younger than Anne, and a little lighter in colour.  She was perfectly happy to nestle in my arms whilst we chatted to Simon (although she did quite like the look of my jewellery and had a good peck at the diamonds in my engagement ring).  Good byes were said, and Simon gave our new little hen some words of advice, and we brought her home to be reintroduced to her sisters.

We were delighted that almost immediately the three hens were scritching for treats, eating from the feeder and generally enjoying some girly chit-chat together.  So far, not a sign of any pecking order fights, and Emily seems to regaining her confidence (although she does look a sorry sight with the feathers on her head all plastered down with Sudocrem).  Charlotte is quietly and sweetly pottering round the run, and Anne, the unsung star of the last few days, is teaching the others, by excellent example, how to beg for treats.

What we’re hoping for now is continued peace and harmony, from the girls and from the neighbours.  We don’t live in a quiet neighbourhood: it’s highly populated and there’s always music playing, a fight going on, a magpie squawking, a lawnmower going… but people are unused to the sound of chickens and I just hope the bribe of a few fresh eggs will win them round!

And before I finish, I would like to say massive thank-yous to Simon and Dawn at Ollie’s Chirpy Chickens, for their patience and advice, and to Caroline, the mad chicken lady (who just happens to make beautiful pretty things as well as being a brilliant pusher of chickens!)

Easy Like Sunday Morning.

I am a self-confessed lazy sod, and it’s not unusual for me to sleep right through Sunday morning or to spend it slumming around in my pyjamas, having a bath in the afternoon and getting straight into clean nightwear.  However, this week The Bloke (who is one of those weird ‘morning people’) and I had planned to go walking, to pick up a hobby we’ve both enjoyed in the past but have allowed to lapse.  We lay in bed at about half seven this morning planning where we’d go; I had certain criteria to fulfil: three and a half miles, flat, woodland and a yew tree.  We settled on a walk that begins only a mile or two from home; part of the ‘Tolkien Trail’ which starts at Sarehole Mill in Hall Green, near where the author lived as a boy.

The light was beautiful as we started our walk; dappled autumn sunlight, glare diffused by trees and sunflare reflecting off water.  The yew tree was unfortunately inaccessible as the museum there doesn’t open till mid-day, but that gives me a good excuse for going back in the week.  I could see that the tree has masses of berries and it will produce a fabulous image I’m sure.

The walk took us along a wooded path, across the River Cole, then through The Dingles, where there are some fabulous Tolkien-inspired sculptures and up to Trittiford Millpool Park.  There are hundreds of Canadian geese at the pool at the moment but the park was peaceful and somehow looked better than it sometimes does.  The grass has been tidied up, so it is neater, but I put the improvement in ambiance down to the sunshine.

We did a circuit of the pool and returned the way we had come although the return journey takes in the opposite side of The Dingles.   As we left to return home, I told the Bloke to remind me how much I’d enjoyed Sunday morning, and gave him permission to discourage me from being such a slob next week.

Contraband Cup-cakes.

Last night I did the grocery shopping.  I did not purchase baking ingredients.  I did not purchase baking ingredients as I had forbidden all forms of baking in my kitchen this week – I MUST lose some weight.

Today, The Bloke made a cup of tea.  The Bloke made a cup of tea so we wanted cake.  I went to the corner shop but they had only the kind of cardboard, crummy cakes that are supposed to stay fresh for months but never actually taste fresh, so I bought (overpriced) baking ingredients instead.  Within 40 minutes, we had cake.  So much for willpower.

Anyway, I’m going to try the ‘everything in moderation’ approach this week, and see how it goes.  I can have cake that way, can’t I?

Macmillan

Fifteen years ago or thereabouts, my Mom found a lump in her breast.  Tests showed that the lump itself was nothing to worry about, but there were breast cancer cells in her lymph nodes.  It took several months for the tiny cancer to grow into something big enough to be detected, then Mom went through the lumpectomy, radiotherapy and chemotherapy which to all intents and purposes cured her.  It was an awful time for her and for all of us, but she took great comfort from the kindness and care of the Macmillan Team.  Mom’s story is not one I want to tell here in any more detail, at least not now, but I do want to thank those people again for everything they did. Sadly, having fought the cancer she died of a stroke, but when I have the opportunity to raise money for Macmillan I do it in her memory, and in honour of all those other women who have battled this awful disease including my cousin whose treatment has been within the last year.

If you feel like donating, you can do so here. Thank you x

Church and stuff

Hmmm… controversial?  Some of the things I say here may be, but I don’t intend to offend or upset.  This is a rambling in the truest sense; I’m starting without knowing exactly where it’s going.

Background first.  I was, like many, Christened when I was a baby.  My parents weren’t regular Church-goers but it was important to them that I took this rite of passage, and besides, they intended me to go to the local Church school, because it was the best, in their opinion, in the area.  This came to pass and I spent four happy years at St James The Great C of E Junior School, attending Church most Sundays and going on to become a Sunday School leader.  I liked the Vicar, Father Whelan, and he liked kids; his services reflected that and youngsters were made welcome.  I attended confirmation classes and took Holy Communion in what was in many ways a traditional Church, with many of the rituals that my Roman Catholic friends think belong to them and them alone. I believed, because I’d been told this, that the Church was not the building we worshipped in, but the people who went there to share in worship.  I felt special.

By the time I reached secondary school church-going was a habit, and if I’m honest, it was routine rather than belief that kept me going.  The ethos of the services was changing and Father Whelan moved on, and my visits became less and less regular as I discovered boys and makeup and shoes and alcohol.  If I was an important member of the Church, why was I ignored, not even worth a passing ‘hello’, by the older people I’d  worshipped alongside for the last six or seven years?  Why didn’t I have a role any more?  By the time I left secondary education, I think I’d pretty much stopped attending altogether.

At this time, I read a lot.  I read things which made me question the church and its attitudes.  I particularly questioned its attitude to me as a young woman, because while I’d been taught to believe that God loved me,  the Church’s history proved that there were times when women (and other groups of course) had been treated very cruelly in the name of Christianity. I began to feel (as I still do) that the face of Christianity in Britain was one with a significant amount of egg on; I felt embarrassed that beliefs much older than Christianity were being passed off as the teachings of Jesus and for me the rituals that were part of my life lost their significance when I realised how pagan ceremonies had been manipulated to fit what was by comparison the ‘new’ religion.  I could also see by looking at the news (Ireland, The Gulf, etc) that religion was the cause of much suffering, and I could not reconcile the beliefs of any crusading Christian with my understanding that all gods are in essence the same, only the names are changed.

Over the last five years I’ve described myself as an ‘interested sceptic’.  I’m fascinated by what makes people believe and I’m intrigued by religion.  I believe that a person can have morals without following a religion, and I don’t believe any loving, forgiving god would punish a person who’d lived a ‘good’ life because they had not followed a traditional belief system.  I have however felt slightly envious of the faith that some people have; it must be a remarkable comfort.

I think I have come to realise that it’s not God I don’t believe in, it’s religion.  Father Whelan, the vicar of my childhood at St James, told my mom, when she fretted about being busy on a Sunday and not attending worship, that if God wanted her, he knew to find her in her kitchen. That stayed with me.  I also believe in Jesus.  I believe he existed, that he was a teacher of remarkable skill, and that he was a loving and compassionate man whose example we should follow. Whether he was the Messiah, the promised Saviour, I don’t know, but I am confused as to how his tenet of forgiveness and patience can be in keeping of the angry God of the Old Testament.

Today, I attended the Christening of my friend Julie’s second child.  Julie would not mind me saying that she has had her share of troubles over the last few years, and she’s as taunted by demons as any Christian prophet doing penance in the desert, but today, God was with her and with her family. She was smiling and happy, and her little family unit was demonstrably a tight and loving one.   Jesus, my Jesus, the one I believe in, would have approved, and would have been proud of her strength.

He would also, I am sure, have approved of the service at the Church of Digbeth-in-the-Field, where we were made so welcome, and made to feel so comfortable.  The hymns were uplifting and greetings sincere.  The sermon didn’t beat around the bush; reflecting on the reading from Amos the Reverend reminded us that worship was futile if we didn’t live every day in the way Jesus wanted us to, and that being in Church for appearance sake or out of a sense of duty was not worthwhile.  But for the first time in about twenty years I shared in Holy Communion and felt as if I could, if I wanted to, be part of the community there.  While I consider whether that is what I want, I intend to try to be a little more patient and a little more forgiving.  Whatever the outcome, that can’t do any harm.

An August Start.

august

/awgust/

adjective inspiring respect and admiration.

— ORIGIN Latin augustus ‘consecrated, venerable’.

Humph.  Weather’s been miserable, I’ve started my diet (again) and I haven’t been anywhere, despite my assertions yesterday.  Grim.

Still, the Astrantia Major we bought at the Gardener’s World Show has started to flower, so it’s not all bad.

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