Tuesday, July 28, 2015

School's out!

Loosed from the routine that reigns between nine and four term time, the parents are having difficulty adapting to the muddle that is seeping into the working week. 
Daughter number one is six thousand odd miles away but keeps us appeased with updates of camel trekking in Rajasthan. 
Boy ricochets between festivals pausing briefly by the well stocked fridge and the washing machine in the interim. 
Daughter number two has adjusted her clock to British Teenager Time which means I can at least hide in my studio until lunchtime before she has even breakfasted.   

So in relative serenity, (unless it’s hot, and the window is open, and a fly has got in, and is eating my watercolours, that have honey in the binder to keep them moist... which means when I eventually manage to swat it, there’s a coloured splat depending on which blob of paint the fly has been eating, strange but true), I’m working on a lovely commission painting summer fruits. It gives me the perfect opportunity to dally in the garden choosing my subjects carefully.

Alpine strawberries are not actually on the list but they’ve been so prolific this year I had to paint them too.
Now where’s that fly?   

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Stone the Crows

Week two at Wimbledon but that’s not the only venue where battles are being fought and results chalked up.
Up here in the country I am embroiled in a fierce competition of my own. 

More than a month ago I had noticed that my chicken’s egg production had become unusually patchy. Most days there wasn't a single egg to collect. I was very suspicious of a pair of crows hanging around in the top of the oak tree with literally a bird's eye view of the chicken run. 

The cheeky duo had sussed that there was not only a plentiful supply of food and water but freshly laid eggs in the coop too. Even better, after a chicken has laid an egg it will cluck triumphantly, thus sending out an alert to any loitering crow!

For a few days I found I only had one ear tuned in to the radio in my studio, the other was constantly cocked, listening for the cluck that was the starting pistol as I tried to out-sprint the crows.

Sigh. It’s no way to lead a tranquil, country life. 

After much research, (including watching Youtube clips of crows entering hen houses and exiting, egg gently clasped in beak), I tried a string of flapping bunting as a deterrent and stood a glassy eyed predator on sentry duty.

Completely ineffective. 

What I really needed to repel the thieves, according to local farming wisdom, was a dead crow to hang up in the run. Not easy to come by but after a few weeks of scouring the verges I spotted a fresh roadkill, still warm, beak cocked in the air. Perfect. I slung him in the back of the car, briefly marveling at the blue sheen on his sleek back, his strong beak and impressive talons.... but smugly rubbing my hands in glee.

Now he’s hanging on the gallows over the pop hole and the egg score so far this week is a satisfying Mary 6 - Crows 0! 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Monday 6 a.m.

"It was the moment between six and seven when every flower… glows."  Virginia Woolf

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Diary of a Fluffy Bantam aged seven-and-three-quarters

It’s early summer and although I’m a menopausal bantam, or maybe because my hormones are all over the place, I’ve been feeling rather broody lately. Wouldn’t it be lovely to hatch out just one more clutch of chicks before I smooth down my feathers for retirement?

I haven’t got any eggs left to lay so I’ve been fluffing myself up and hopping onto any available egg in the coop. The trouble is, Mary barges in every day, slides her hand under me and snatches the egg away then tells me not to be so silly and anyway she doesn’t feel ready to be a grandma. She’s explained something complicated about not having a cockerel so the eggs won’t be fertile, but I don’t know, an egg’s an egg as far as I can see. 

24 May 

Mary came skipping along today saying “SURPRISE!” 
I don’t think it’s my birthday. 
She stuffed me into the cat box.
That was certainly unexpected and no way to celebrate... if it even is my birthday. 
I decided to go and sulk in the corner. 
There was a lovely pile of eggs all for me.

Evidently Mary had been talking behind my back with her friends who do have a cockerel and she borrowed some eggs for me. How thoughtful. Five beautiful pale blue ones from a Crested Cream Legbar and two small bantam eggs from “The Punk”... a quite ridiculous black and white bird with a brash tuft on her head. I do doubt Mary's judgement sometimes!

But anyway, I’ve got twenty-one blissful days for the news to sink in. 

Days 1-19

sit, shuffle, sit, sit, shuffle, sit, wiggle, sit.

Day 20

Mary will keep popping her head around the door and saying “peep, peep, peep”. 
I wish she’d give me some privacy. I’m absolutely fine, the last thing I need is a birth partner. She’d be much more use going to buy some chick crumbs.

Day 21

7am. For the past few hours I’ve heard faint peeps from inside the eggs.

10am. At first tiny holes and then big cracks and I can even see a beak.

Sometime later. Phew triplets before lunch and twins after lunch, all fluffed up to perfection and ready to meet Grandma. 
Sorry too busy now to write any more entries. 

P.S. Grandma is over the moon and is finally putting her nervous energy to good use. I can see her flailing around with hammer and nails making us a lovely new run.

P.P.S The bantam eggs didn’t hatch. I can only imagine the cockerel wasn’t going to be seen dating a mohican!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Up with the Lark

Wet weather stopped play on Saturday morning but at least I was up early to keep one step ahead of the approaching rainclouds. 
Just me, my trowel, the melodic quiver of skylarks overhead and the discordant bray of Sarah the donkey from across the neighbouring orchards.
I thinned my swede seedlings, planted a row of leeks, sowed some more carrots and then let the rain water them in.

A chance to pause and plan.

The lupins and foxgloves are about to hand the baton over to poppies and peonies. Beyond, there’s a war raging with nettles and ground elder. Blackbirds, exhausted by parenthood are squabbling over the mahonia berries but soon the wild cherries will be ripe and plentiful for all.

I have a rainbow of irises in a nursery bed. Last week I labelled the stems of the withering blooms with masking tape, so as I divide them up around the garden I'll have more of a chance of knowing what colour I have put where!

There’s still plenty of clipping to do but that job needs a dry day. So I’ve time to mull over the tuft I’ve left in the far right corner I think it needs to be sculpted into a bird.

I already have one batch of elderflower cordial underway, the hedgerows are teeming billowing with blossoms, but what I’m really looking forward to is picking the pinkish blooms from my recently planted black elder in the white courtyard. I’m jealously guarding the thirteen flower-heads  and yes I do keep a daily tally! 
There should be just enough for a very small bottle of very pretty pink cordial.

Friday, June 5, 2015

June in bloom

"I paint flowers so they will not die" Frida Kahlo

"Their beauty is beyond dispute. No velvet can rival the richness of their falls; or, let us say, it is to velvet only that we may compare them. That is surely enough to claim for any flower?" Vita Sackville-West, writing about the iris

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

An antidote to Chelsea

It’s Chelsea Flower Show week and one small corner of London is one big explosion of colour. Talk to any exhibitor at the show however and they will tell you that underlying the brouhaha over medals and perfectly timed blooms there lurks the exhaustion of months of poly-tunnels, artificial heat, micro managed watering and grey hairs.    

While I am undoubtedly enjoying all the media coverage of Chelsea, best in show for me at the moment is our native woodland draped with the most sublime mantle of blue.

A year ago I spotted a handwritten sign advertising a bluebell walk through some local private woods. 
And not merely a walk, as it turned out. We met at a farm, climbed onto a tractor and trailer along with an interesting collection of craggy faced enthusiasts and were bumped, to my childlike delight, a couple of miles down-lane and up-field.

Then we were guided on foot into a magical world. Not only of bluebells, swathes of wild garlic were an unexpected bonus.

We had stepped, legitimately, into the territory of the local gamekeeper. He was hovering protectively beside his pheasant enclosure. Hazel stick in hand and with the air of a disgruntled hedgehog he was keeping a watchful eye.

Now I can’t imagine anyone wanting to disturb his birds’ eggs, can you?