MasterM is having supper at home and reads out the most recent email from a Very Senior Manager:
"The next [person] discovered using their mobile phone during working hours must have permission from their [line manager] or a solid gold excuse. If niether of these apply they will be required to report to my office immediately and can expect disciplinary action"
MasterM says drily 'If only he could spell neither it would be quite a good email" and applies himself to demolishing the roast potatoes.
Sitting huddled in a thick jumper, waiting for the rain to stop, it is hard to remember that it was the most beautiful blossomy May. I have discovered that 'Anne of Green Gables' is the perfect book to read in May because you can immerse yourself in lyrical descriptions of spring blossom which are threaded throughout the joyful story of Anne growing up in Avonlea. Sometimes when you go back to a book that you read in childhood you make the painful discovery that the writing has dated and the plot is stuffy and contrived but 'Anne of Green Gables' sparkles with energy and expresses eloquently that childlike joy which we all feel every year when we see the May blossom as if for the first time.
The Research Associate is going to Papua New Guinea for a month of field work.
"I always take my own first aid kit. The standard ones are fine but I like to have a few extras. Like a bone saw. I worked in canyons for a while and I saw that film '127 Hours'. You know that one where he gets his arm trapped in a rock fall and has to saw it off with a blunt penknife. So I figured if I got a bone saw I could be out of there in ten minutes if my arm ever got trapped.'
MrsM feels slightly faint but suggests that '10 Minutes' is not going to be much of a film. The Research Associate laughs, packs her bandana and sets off for the Back of Beyond.
What's this item on the credit card statement?
Um. Well, do you remember that time when you laughed and said I hadn't bought anything from Blue & White for a while? I just thought I would have a quick peep at their website and I saw these vegetable dishes. So I bought six. They were a real bargain.
It was a champagne celebration for a 3 x 80 = 240th Birthday Party. Three lovely ladies, two cousins and the other a sister-in-law, their children, grandchildren and assorted relations. We all know each other but only rarely get together so there was much catching up with news, identifying children who had been tiny but were now tall, looking at albums of wedding photos, untangling of family trees and taking of photos. Unfortunately, as it is rude to eat and talk simultaneously, there wasn't enough time for eating so the cheese board remained untouched. It makes me want to cry when I think about it.
Glaswegian Jimmy has been painting the outside of the house. It is an exhausting experience. We start the day with a discussion of his new shed or 'man-cave' as he prefers to call it because he is installing a full size snooker table, and at this point there might be a diversion into his promising career as a semi-pro snooker player. By mid-morning he is telling me about houses he has decorated and showing me photos of kitchens the size of my garden. If I have not escaped by lunch time I might be treated to a history of his relationship with The Pogues or an analysis of Brexit. At the end of the day, after a final session describing wallpaper made out of pig skin (apparently it is all the rage in the smart set), my brain feels as though it has shrivelled into a tiny, dessicated lump and I have to lie on the sofa looking at soothing pictures on Pinterest. Despite this acute case of mal du décorateur life continues so I must wind up the blogging machine to make sure that the days are not lost forever.
This is the view from our bedroom window in the cottage. I am sure that Commander Tim Peake can look down from the International Space Station and see the lights in our tiny village square. A little piece of England with a one way system and a telephone box. I hope it doesn't make him homesick.
'the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky'
The bench by the church door catches the late afternoon sun so I walked across from the cottage with a book and sat there intending to read for a while. I was immediately distracted by the new green-ness of the oak tree, the bustle of rooks flying around the church tower and the bright, joyful carpet of daisies and buttercups.. The following morning the churchwarden was strimming the grass in the churchyard and I felt momentarily sad at the loss but I know that it is this conscientious cutting that allows the flowers to grow in such profusion. On Sunday the church was filled with the scent of meadow hay and as we walked back to the cottage after the service I noticed that new daisies had already appeared.
You will be glad to know that although the garden has slipped into disgraceful neglect the Postman's Pot has maintained the chic end of the shabby-chic spectrum. I have been delighted with these carmine pinks which seem to flourish in the sheltered little space on the front doorstep. I am not sure if our Postie notices them, weighed down with the worries of the world as he is, but I like to think that there is some subliminal calming benefit from being exposed to the delicious smell of cloves when he bends to put the letters through our door. I am wondering whether to fill the entire front garden with pinks so that everyone who walks past will relax - a Sniff and Smile therapy.
The gardening year has had a slow start hereabouts. There are reasons outside my control such as freezing cold weather, reasons which are unavoidable such as gallivanting in Spain and reasons which are entirely within my control such as idleness. However, there has been a positive outcome of this neglect which is that I have identified my gardening style: I am a wild gardener creating little havens where native plants can flourish. Hate me but I'm telling you - I'm riding the zeitgeist.
There is nothing like returning
to a place that remains unchanged
to find the ways in which
you yourself have altered.
The discovery that you have changed without realising it is quite unnerving. I felt it very strongly in Nerja this year - perhaps because I have stopped looking backwards at some point since our last visit. Every street in Nerja is familiar, full of happy memories of Geographers and later of holidays with MasterM and MissM, but I have new places to enjoy and new projects to plan so that my mind and my heart are looking forwards. I think that is a good note on which to end my postcards from Spain.
We have been to Granada several times but once you have visited the Alhambra (and I was lucky enough to do so on a quiet day in January) you can plunge into the heart of this fascinating city and explore the hidden places.
This is the Monasterio de San Jerónimo which is adjacent to a modern hospital but retains an atmosphere of peace and calm which excludes the clatter of a busy city.
After you have waited in a cool loggia for the door to open you can wander around the outer cloister and visit the church. The division between past and present seems very thin because there is so little evidence of modern conveniences and everything gleams with the patina of age and use.
The decoration in the church is awe-inspiring in scale, a great statement of power and wealth. I wondered what it would be like filled with music and decided you would need a lot of singing nuns to fill that vast space.
In the end we left, glad to return to the bustle and warmth of Granada but taking with us a memory of the orange-blossom scented silence.
delicately chopped tomato, cucumber and onion salad tossed in vinaigrette served with fresh bread
thick soup flavoured with saffron with chunks of lamb that melted in the mouth and perfectly cooked potato just on the verge of falling apart.
fresh fillets of hake pan fried in the lightest of batter with golden chips
home made flan that made me feel a bit tearful because it was so delicious.
a glass of chilled beer to start and a small cup of strong coffee to finish.
We felt quite embarrassed when we got the bill - 20 Euros for 2 seemed far, far too little for such a feast but we thanked the owner and promised to return. Outside we waited for a large flock of goats to cross the road, their bells rattling and the goatherd flicking his stick to encourage stragglers though the gate and then we set off for the road to Granada.
Before we get to Granada can we pull into a lay-by, take some quick photos of the wild flowers, and have a heart to heart about holiday packing? I thought I was good at packing but I quickly realised that I had taken far too many clothes. I think it was partly because I have become used to taking cabin-sized luggage for weekend breaks and this time we had large suitcases for a longer holiday.
The other factor was that, miraculously, I have become a convert to the concept of the capsule wardrobe and after a year of planning my clothes (using help from un-fancy.com) wearing simple pieces in different combinations has become automatic. I have also noticed that my style has become more clearly defined and I think that this is because I no longer have a distinction between work and home clothes.
When I got home I made a list of all the things that I wore which I will use as a blueprint for subsequent holidays because dragging a heavy suitcase full of unnecessary clothes is no fun. Of course, MissM knew this years ago - is there anything more humbling than finally catching up with your children?
The first thing that you notice when you drive into Carmona is that all of the other cars have substantial dents and scrapes. This is not surprising because the cobbled streets twist and turn up the hill, getting impossibly narrow in places and making the unfamiliar driver feel quite queasy.
When we arrived at our hotel, an old hill fort, we paused, uncertain if the car would make it through the staggered gatehouse but a man sitting on a nearby bench waved us on impatiently so we gingerly rattled across the cobbles.
Exploring the old town later we discovered a warren of streets with ancient churches, small courtyards and enticing bars.
Carmona is a bit off the beaten track but an interesting place to visit for the day if you are staying in Seville. There is an exceptional Roman necropolis where you can climb down ladders into tombs and marvel at the masonry in the massive walls.
We just wandered around, getting pleasantly lost down alleyways, listening to sounds of church bells and dogs barking.
This is the Spain that we love and it is why we return every year.
On the mountain road from Ronda to Carmona I spotted a couple pulling a giant thistle plant and placing it carefully in a sack. The thistle was almost as big as they were and I wondered what they were planning to do with it. Later that day we had lunch in an outstanding restaurant overlooking the vast plain. We sat inside where it was dark and cool and watched the tables of elderly men silently eating their way through numerous courses and pausing occasionally to call for another bottle of wine. I started with croquetas, delicate white sauce miraculously covered with the lightest coating of crisp crumb. Spanish croquetas have infinite variations - these incorporated wild thistle, a local delicacy.
I have wanted to visit Ronda for so long and it did not disappoint. Not a place for people suffering from vertigo but full of charming little alleyways, squares and astonishing views over the plain. In one tree lined square we sat and watched a small group of musicians tune up before a concert. The young guitar player leaned against the fountain and tried out a couple of chords while his friend flicked at the base of his drum. Eventually they all wandered towards the church followed by assorted mothers, grandmothers and excited children. It would have been nice to follow them but we were hungry and it was time to eat.
Thank you for waiting patiently for me to re-emerge. MrM decided that I needed a rest cure and took me away to explore Andalucía. I have a few postcards for you to enjoy - little vignettes of Spain in April - so pour yourself a glass of chilled rosado and imagine that you are there with us.
To begin : the best part of the holiday by a country mile was MrM's face when he explained that he had taken a cheeky upgrade at the car rental desk. We had to buy some baseball caps (to prevent premature hair loss) which made us look very irresponsible but please don't tell MasterM or MissM.
The Little Boy Next Door has just returned from two weeks in France and I sit on the doorstep while he shows me his shell collection with a detailed explanation of where each one was collected. Two urchin shells, a mermaid's purse, a razor shell, sundry crab claws and a miscellaneous assortment of small shells later I am suitably impressed. In a grandiose gesture he gives me an oyster shell to keep. I protest that this is far too generous and will spoil his collection and he agrees and takes it back. Then he rummages around in the bottom of the box and produces a battered bivalve. "Here. You can can have this instead. My little brother found it and I don't like it. Also, if you take it I can shut the lid properly." Meekly I accept my bounty.
Thank you for your comments on the last two posts. Much appreciated - especially the tips for insomnia. I'm getting back on track but have been rather side-swiped by tiredness this week. I need to go and live on the equator.
So. BST-lag? Is it a thing? Or is it just me? Please don't laugh but I have been really struggling with sleep since the clocks went forward. My body seems to have got in a complete muddle. I think it is because I had a very strict routine going where the alarm went off at 6.30am every day and this worked a treat all through the winter. Now I can't get to sleep at bed time and when I finally get to sleep I can't wake up. I'm starting to look like a bit part player in a House of Horror film. Has anyone got any advice before I start main-lining chamomile tea?
Do you remember that I started knitting a gift for Jenny in January? I finished it yesterday, wrapped it carefully in tissue paper and posted it off. I see so many wonderful knitted projects on my friends' blogs that I feel a bit self conscious about displaying my own work so this is the only photo I have. It is a large blanket based on a Debbie Bliss pattern and it felt so soft and warm while I knitted away thinking of Jenny and the fun we had when we worked together. Every stitch in that blanket was knitted with love and I hope that it keeps the newest little cartographer cosy. Sweet dreams!
It came to pass on a wet and and windy Sunday morning that MrsM insisted that MrM and MissM accompany her on a Geological Adventure and they all drove to Sandymouth beach.
MrsM waved her arms grandiloquently in the general direction of the cliffs and pronounced them mostly sandstone from the Upper Carboniferous ~310 mya which is Langsettian (Westphalian A) to Bolsovian (Westphalian C) in age. Or some such combination of the incomprehensible words that she had recently read on the internet.
MissM didn't mind too much because she likes walking along the beach and paddling in the sea even if it is wet and windy but MrM thought longingly of his Sunday papers and trudged along behind them like an elderly dog who has been dragged away from the fireside. In the end MrsM agreed that she had absorbed as much Geology as she could cope with and they all repaired to the cafe for hot drinks.
It was the village coffee morning on Saturday and there was carnage at the cake stall. I have mastered the art of strolling nonchalantly beside the table and mentally calculating how much we can (a) afford (b) carry (c) eat. I then turn like a viper ready to strike and sweep baked goodies into my capacious bag. This time it was flapjacks, lemon drizzle cake, simnel buns and bread rolls shaped like bunny rabbits but Freda's famous Cheese Scones were first into the bag. Freda is a very shy lady but she is always part of any village event, selling raffle tickets, pouring tea, washing up. I asked her what the secret of her scones is and she whispered that she puts in a little bit more cheese than it says in the recipe. So now you know.
My mother says "We are so lucky to live here. First we have snowdrops and the wild daffodils at Easter. Soon there will be primroses everywhere and then the wood will be filled with bluebells. It is a magical place and I am so grateful that I have family and friends to share it with."
The cottage has been egg-ified for Easter. MrM reeled in shock to find an Easter 'tree' on the breakfast table but I explained that it was only there for three days and he decided, on reflection, that it would not impinge too negatively on his orange juice, cereal and toast. The Easter garland was another source of trauma but MrM eventually agreed that it was a subtle addition to the seasonal decor provided it was only there for three days. Next year I am going to break out the Easter bunting but don't tell him yet.
Yesterday was glorious sunshine - perfect weather for getting a puncture on the motorway. Today is wet and stormy - perfect weather for going out to lunch to celebrate MissM's recent promotion. Tomorrow is supposed to be sunshine and showers - almost perfect weather for the traditional family Easter egg mêlée. I hope that the Easter Bunny brings enough chocolatey goodness for the little boy cousins.