Beach Hut Boost!

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Our pale, blue haven “Forget-me-Not” 399 Eastcliff, Walton-on-the-Naze

I am greeting this blog like a long-lost friend at a reunion this evening: I have reason to celebrate, but it also feels a bit odd and like my past has possibly come to bite me on the bum.

It has been a really long time since my last post on Beach Hut Blogger – as many of you know – I began The Happy Hire Company as a result of the musings and deliberations on this blog page, you could say one made way for the other and then the new brain-child took over.  Much like with siblings, The Happy Hire Company grew and stole all of the attention, whilst, like a jealous older-child, this blog sulked in the corner for a while.

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Really not sure about the new addition…

Indeed, The Happy Hire Company has soaked up all of my beach hut thought-time and left nothing over for this little page.

I confess, I also began to shy away from sharing thoughts about life in general as it can feel a bit odd and lead to a stunting of ‘real-life’ conversations.  Nothing throws a spanner in quite like, “yeah I read it in your blog.” Whistles. I did also FEEL like a bit of a spanner at times, things I shared one day would make me cringe the next. We don’t stay the same, we grow and change and written word has an unforgiving permanence. Much like Facebook, once you have the bastard thing, there’s no getting rid of what you’ve put out there, even if you delete it, it comes back and remembers it ALL!

Anyway, the long and the short of it is: blogging’s a bit weird, narcissistic and unnatural at times  – but I hadn’t fully given up on why I first started it…

I wanted to write.  I lost the urge to write on the blog for a catharsis, as I found time to launch myself into writing fiction, for real, and privately.  There is a deliciousness to writing without anyone to read it, judge or criticise or simply ‘not get it.’ I can be free and explorative and enjoy (slightly wanky statement alert) the art of it all. The purpose, eventually, when I am bold enough, will be to send it to a proper literary agent and publisher-type person. Right now, I am back to waffling on this blog – but for very good reason!

WE made the shortlist for the Top 10 beach huts of the year 2017! Our little Forget-Me-Not, that started this, has made the shortlist! It is a national competition by Towergate Insurance in conjunction with The Sunday Times  -and I am really proud to have made the cut as there are so many beautiful beach huts around, with owners that have fantastic stories.

The stories are the first thing I skip to, whilst you might think it’s the bunting and bric-brac that catches my attention, it’s the people in the huts that fascinate me.

People buy beach huts for lots of reasons.  Rest assured these are not for the faint- hearted.  They are expensive and make no logical sense at all!  They are essentially over-priced sheds located in the place most likely on the globe to erode a shed.  They need maintenance EVERY year almost, and are effectively grown-up Wendy Houses!  So, for someone to part with hard-earned cash for this slightly-bonkers purchase there has to be a special reason. Plus, some have been in families for generations and this tells a story in itself.

Our story is documented in this blog in one of my early posts.  It is also briefly outlined in the competiton link.

Let me tell you some of the story that hasn’t been told.

Nobody can prepare you for a baby, and definitely not two, now, we had a beautiful first year with my gorgeous Grace…

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Feeling very fortunate…

– but I did not expect to be in surgery, twice, with a very small baby.  Grace was born requiring plastic surgery on her hands and feet under general anaesthetic, so they could remodel them to fit her shoes and for her to be able to grab and handle objects as she grew.  Nobody would ever know to look at her beautiful hands and feet now that a small team of plastic surgeons had sculpted those perfect little bones at just a few months old.

Any parent who has left their crying child with an anaesthetist and done that bleakest of walks back to the ward will tell you that it is a devastating feeling that you never truly recover from.  Now, Grace had relatively minor surgery compared with the life-saving surgeries performed on a daily basis by our completely amazing NHS and believe me when I say I am grateful daily – indeed many people around us don’t even know she had surgery as I have never desired to make more of it than it was.  But.  When I look back on those first blog posts and think of the time we bought that beach hut, after her first year with us, I can see a correlation that I can only see now that I am having this reunion and like a picture on a jigsaw puzzle, it can only be viewed once the pieces start to fit together and it is formed.

 

I was recovering from a deep wound of my baby being handled and injected and medicated and left by me, albeit I did it for her own good, and we have had a very easy time compared to many, but I know why I bought that hut, why,  as it says in that blurb for the competition that I may have, in part, ‘struggled to settle into family life.’  I know why it took me a really long time to settle my soul and feel an inner peace I had previously known.  I needed a beach hut to escape to because it was a place that I could gather myself and reflect and be as near to the sea as I could possibly get.  The healing, restorative, cleansing sea.  I wrote of waves crashing and peace dripping in my first blog posts.  I now look back and can see what I was seeking and can gladly can say I found it.  But not at a beach hut.  The beach hut helped. It was a boost. Truly though, nothing actually heals pain externally of ourselves. No car, house, holiday, book or guru would work.  I had and still do try and find answers outside of myself and this doesn’t work.  It may temporarily  – but it doesn’t really.  The answer, as the oh-so-wise ‘Moana of Disney’ says, is inside me – and I realised that ‘still, small voice’ was just a bit louder by the sea that’s all.

Now,  I know, I can access that still, small voice anywhere I want and I can access peace in any circumstances… N.B except the school-run and when the kids argue, as they are the last bastions of hell as all mothers know.

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No problem with these jazz hands – and feet!

As for the reunion.  Well, it’s felt quite nice.  Remembering the boost the beach hut gave us, how far we’ve come as a little family -and for me as an individual -how one little, blue beach hut and a tentative blog, gave rise to a new career- of sorts – and an income- of sorts -but most importantly finding what makes my heart actually sing, which is what I set out to do and have found, though this will most likely come back and bite me on the bum at the next reunion.

We really shouldn’t leave it so long!!

 

You can vote for our beach hut to win the competition and – if I do -I get to meet that smooth operator, Phil Spencer, from Location, Location,Location, so please nominate us by clicking this link below and voting for ‘Forget-me-Not’ beach hut Eastcliff Walton-on-the-Naze…

https://www.towergateinsurance.co.uk/home-and-property-insurance/beach-hut-of-the-year 

 

 

 

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Is that fondant in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me? 

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Warning:  the following post contains innuendo, phallic imagery and scenes of doll torture…

A fondant-fanatic I am not, but, I think you’d be hard pushed to find a way of icing a child’s birthday cake (or an adult’s for that matter) that yields a more satisfying result.  Indeed, if it’s a character cake you are after then look no further than this sugary, grown-up play-doh.

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I use ‘Renshaws’, ready coloured , ready-made fondant.  The fun for moi is in the modelling, not faffing with recipes for fondant.  Saying that, I may try to make my own fondant in the future, it does get pricey if you are making quite a few cakes.

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Indeed, cost is a factor that is worth a mention. I have never, seriously, weighed-up if the cakes I have made compare favourably against the cost of a professionally made, cake-shop-bought cake.  I do know that if you desire elaborate characters and personalised, bespoke details then you will end up paying more.  Overall, I have parted with cash for the ingredients and, this year, various tools.  I now see it as another interest/passion so it follows that requires investment and I am happily expanding my skills with each cake. I also have some sort of masochism going on to torture myself like this each year!

On the subject of torture… my poor husband returned home to this in the middle of my making the Ariel cake for my daughter’s 3rd birthday.

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The reason for this will come clear…

Each year I, stupidly, allow my children to choose a theme- we’ve had suggestions of Angry Birds, Lego Star Wars, Rabbit, Sandcastle, and more recently, The Avengers and Ariel from ‘The Little Mermaid’ took centre-stage.

Each cake that I have made has taught me something new and I want to share it here – as I know you foodies and fellow masochists might be interested!

My top fondant-trickery tips:

1. Tylose Powder – this stuff underpins all those amazing, gravity-defying cakes you see on Pinterest and at cake boutiques…just look at that seaweed, see how it stays vertical?  Tylose powder, mixed into a ball of fondant gives it a greater elasticity and general moldability and (ahem) staying power.  You could call this the viagra of cake making (I did warn you).  Half a teaspoon of this magic dust and you will have firm figurines and seaweed- so erect- it could make a girl of the night blush.

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2. Moulds using old-fondant remnants.  Yes, you heard right…that fondant you throw away because it’s out of date or been over-used and finished-with can be reincarnated for perfect, little prints of objects- to place on your centrepiece cake.  Now, I tried other ways to mould shapes, in particular doll’s faces, for perfect figurines- hence the doll torturing above. This did not go well.  Not only does it make for a disturbing scene, very difficult to explain, honestly, but it is also ineffective.

I used a moulding jelly and I found it wasn’t robust enough to take the amount of pressing in of fondant that was needed to to create subtle facial features and contours.

Then I unearthed the old-fondant method and it was revelatory.  At this point, I have to credit Verusca Walker with this fantastic nugget.  It will not waste your time to watch her excellent tutorial-clip, on You Tube, about how to make old fondant useful by adding A LOT  of that magical Tylose powder and quickly pressing in your chosen ‘positive’ object before it sets.  See the examples of some moulds I made for the Ariel cake below…

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…no this isn’t a tiny penis mould (top left) it is a doll’s body I promise…

So, now being able to mould my chosen shapes and objects I could race ahead and frolick thought this fondant lark.  I had a perfectly formed doll’s face (can’t say that without launching into a rendition of Dirty Den’s “alwight doll face” for some reason) now all I had to do was decorate the features.  This involves patience and time: this is good for me as a form of harnessing that rush, rush part of me and forcing myself to focus and slow down.

This doll’s mush needed seriously steady hands and a focused mind, in fact, I could lose a whole evening working on it and think I had only spent an hour, it is totally engrossing, escapism.

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For information, I used fondant to make Ariel’s facial features. I didn’t get on very well with the pens or brushes you can buy; they often bled into the icing and looked a bit messy – see first failed examples..

Ariel looks like she has had a hard life here – or been on the lash – not the look I was going for…

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I worked hard on using tinier and tinier amounts of fondant to do the mouth and eyes – if in doubt use less, and then less again, is now my rule of thumb.  Awkward-looking figures are usually due to oversized parts -whoops there it is again.

After lots of preening and primping – she looked like this (see below) and I was the proudest I have ever been of anything I have ever made – ‘The Little Mermaid’ was also my favourite film as a child- so that helped and added to the enjoyment!

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So, now I had discovered fondant moulds I could leave the poor dolls alone and I could make figures like the ones I ogle over on ‘Rouvelee’s Creations’.  This woman is a genius.  She is the Leonardo DaVinci of fondant.  One look at the figurines she creates and it changes you forever.  I knew I had to try harder. Indeed, my Ariel (above) is based on her beautifully poised figurine – found on Pinterest.

3.  The third main thing I have learnt that changed the game entirely for me is that you can store fondant.  SERIOUSLY – I used to make cakes in the few days before the birthday/event and ice it all in one crazy burst of fondant-fecklessness.  To discover you could make them months in advance and then plonk them on top of your cake on the day – well this is a revelation. Now, be careful: you can only store a figurine in a cardboard box; if you put it in a plastic tub- like the ones you should store unused fondant in -they will sweat;  don’t put them in the fridge either, they will fall apart and fade;  a cardboard cake-box is best, in a cupboard. In fact, lurking in my cupboards are all kinds of weird, in-limbo, creations- waiting for a final resting place.

These tips all work the same for Marvel/Avengers characters – see below…

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Tylose the ‘superhero’ of cake decorating (see what I did there!?) can be mixed with a little water to make a great glue-paste that sticks the parts together – meaning Thor’s hammer can stay firmly in place. (cough)

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Well, for those of you who have the inclination and a little time – remember –  you can make those fondant bad-boys in advance – I say go for it – become a fondant fakir and share your magic with me – please – I need all the help and inspiration I can get.

Fondant innuendo also very welcome. 😉 xxxxxxx

p.s – if you would like more detailed information on how to sculpt individual elements of any of the cakes I have shown on the blog or Facebook page – please let me know and I can do follow-up posts -depending on demand. Feel free to ask questions and I will do my best!

Inspiration

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The beauty hurts my eyes.

‘Inspiration’ is the word of the day.  Where do we get it? Why do we get it? What is it exactly?  How do I get more of it!? I got back to blogging this weekend, mainly because I saw these -above…

Beach huts in Bournemouth – recently decorated in Cath Kidston’s beautiful prints.  I’m in love. Yes, it is an advertising stunt, yes, it is to shamelessly promote the brand, but, it just cannot be denied- they are so, so bleedin’ pretty, look at those perky rows of eye-catching colours and prints!!

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The cloud print is AMAZING for a hut.

Seriously, I held my breath when I saw them. Why though? I ask myself.  I am a rational person (sort of) stirred by real-world events and important issues, nevertheless, a tiny wee nearly came out when I saw these huts- and a squeal formed at the back of my throat somewhere low and primal-as primal as anyone can be about polka-dots and florals anyway.

Excitement (of the wee inducing, squealing kind) is born of love and passion for things.  I love beach huts (as is clear) but they are inspirational in a way I can’t fully explain-unhelpful- from she who writes said blog.  Others things inspire in this (not fully explainable) way: old-fashioned/timeless photographs; new wool; a brand new book; a very old book; all things VWCampervan; vintage style (in the best sense of the word- not keen on the slightly depressing items that just smell a bit).

I am in good company.  We all get the nudge, heart-flutter, lift, sigh, intake of breath, urge to run out and create/do something in some form or another.  It’s a great place to be, on the verge of producing something, having just been inspired.  It’s a legal-high and I believe it’s totally a spiritual thing .  I used to ignore the things that made me feel this way, now I stop and give them more credit than simply being preferences.

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Oh you blue, beauty you. Sigh.

… I don’t know about you but I also get really inspired by ‘before and afters’.  Don’t you love it when you see an image on those DIY adverts of a dingy room -and then after – a light, fresh, airy oasis?! I love the improvement, the freshness of it all. Ever since I can remember I have been obsessed with transformations like this. To witness someone become the best they can be, watch an underdog achieve and have their turn to shine, these are powerful.

The downside is, I am, therefore, very frustrated by slow progress, I like transformations to be quick, complete and dramatic! My hut looks like this inside right now…

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A shed by the sea.

I am having to strongly resist getting discouraged. It is inevitable that things take time.  I want to get to so many things and so many days just don’t contain the hours, or at least the non-comatosed ones.  I also haven’t been myself lately either and I find my mood dictates how creative I can be.  I didn’t know this until I started this blog.  I just couldn’t find the ideas, inspiration or motivation.  The verve needed to write, even a humble blog post, is something that has to just be there.  I needed to find my inspiration and daily life was getting in the way, by that, I mean the grind of life, the dull things, like paying bills.

Nothing kills inspiration like the words, ‘direct-debit’.

Then there’s the more corrosive stuff like thinking negatively, becoming stuck in a way of thinking. ‘Inspiration’ comes along to invite you out of whatever mud you are stuck in.  It is the creative’s best-friend and it cannot be engineered.

Inspiration works on your soul in the form of a random attack. Suddenly, something makes your heart leap, or fascinates you, or just grabs you by the collar and jerks you towards it.

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‘Almond Blossom’ – Van Gogh

Years ago, I visited the Van Gogh gallery in Amsterdam and understood for the first time what all the fuss was about, his life, his story and his paintings grabbed me.  I was so, so moved, how he had been plagued with mental illness, when this was so misunderstood (still is) and produced paintings that spoke so loudly of beauty.

On the same trip, we toured Italy, and to be honest I almost became de-sensitised to the works of art that surrounded me.  In Italy, you can be standing on an ancient, work of art and be waiting for a bus.  We walked through endless corridors at the Vatican museum and began to switch off.  Then we came to the Sistine Chapel.  We were told that Michelangelo was almost blind while painting the ceiling – caused by spending so much time elevated inches from the dust above him. He was also being forced to work on it. He had run away many times, but having been commissioned to complete the work, he was made to continue. I couldn’t imagine where he found the ability to create something so exquisitely beautiful in those conditions. Perhaps he just poured his torment into the work like Van Gogh and so many others.sistine-chapel_1

It isn’t just visual art, books do this. Most of us can remember a book that grabbed us and left its mark.  For me, it was ‘To kill a Mockingbird’, I was very young and I was left humbled by the courage of Atticus Finch and outraged at the injustices in the world, new to my innocent self. I wasn’t the same after reading it.  There have been many examples since. Harper Lee, however, found it very difficult to write and suffered great personal trials whilst writing and afterwards. Maybe we need some angst –  it is the typical portrayal of the artist isn’t it?

So, it may be that I need to write even when I feel like burying my head.  Crack on, to push through the mood barrier.

It may be necessary then to seek inspiration like a medicine for those times when I don’t feel up to pursuing anything much at all.  A great song, a great book, or in my case today I simply came across these beach huts and it inspired me to get back to the hut and to my writing and to finish what I have started.

Xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx

A gardening post…on why Hellebores maketh the gardener…and my butt. 

My favourite clump!

You know those first forms and applications at school that ask for your interests/hobbies?  I used to dread them- as I knew I didn’t have any. I just wrote swimming-every time- yet could only do a length. I think I felt hobbies were for older people – and socialising is your main priority at that age anyway. Interests develop as the years go on and I am happy to be in a kind of personal ‘renaissance’.  I am discovering so many things I enjoy doing and can throw creative energy into.

My mum has a beautiful garden.  I grew up hearing all of the names of plants, shrubs and flowers and I was reliant on her when I had to put in or take anything out of the ground, so much so, it was ‘her thing’ not mine -in my head- but nevertheless- I spent hours discussing design and plants and gazed out often, making corrections in my mind’s-eye.

Like many people, my interest really grew when I bought my first and then subsequent home with a ‘proper’ garden. I was forced into a position of ‘doing something’ with this outside space and, in the process, fell in love.

As I said, I was always interested, i’d taken countless trips to RHS gardens and spent hours listening and participating in plant-talk with my parents and I would watch Gardeners World, (it was after university, I was friendless, what can I say).  I felt I wasn’t the target market for it all though. I was stepping out of my territory and into my parents’.

I half expected groups of silver-haired heavies to show up at my door demanding that I stay off their turf.

But then…I found I was starting to develop a genuine interest ‘for myself’, I found out things, as I bought my plants, I somehow kept bumping into my kin, people of all types, all ages and backgrounds/professions who were into horticulture- in particular -creating beauty through plants, shrubs and flowers or turning their hands to a spot of pottage and growing vegetables and fruit. I learnt of some quite rock n’ roll gardeners out there-  members of various bands and so on. Did you know there isn’t actually an age restriction on plants!?

It’s interesting now to me that I hid this interest – even from myself.  I see prejudice often. Many people perceive it to be an older persons’ pursuit and even refer to it as something you do when you don’t have anything much else going on- gardening leave. I beg to differ. It is the perfect antidote when you are frazzled and barely have any time! It is the ultimate stress reliever – and works you as hard as any gym.

You won’t always feel like going out there, it won’t seem appealing and then after 10 minutes of your hands involved with some plant or shrub, pruning, planting, sowing or just tidying it all up, it works on you- like magic. It’s meditative and distracting. It consumes you and you feel healthier and more alive each minute you are there. I maintain that it is something to do with how we ‘should be’- it’s our natural state to work the earth. I’m of Irish descent and so I think it’s in my blood to work the land! It just feels right and I’m very at home when I’m in a garden.

I heard someone say on a gardening show that it’s the antithesis of our modern, busy, gotta ‘have-it now’ culture and mentality.  It takes time, you see your results, but slowly and gradually.

I’m not a tidy gardener and so I think this helps. I think people who buy leaf-blowers are probably nuts. I don’t pick weeds out of my lawn or sculpt-out perfect lines. I like a natural set up, it has to feel like you’ve stepped into nature for me-not a glossy magazine. I like spontaneous clumps of daffodils; random bulbs popping up between the shrubs; unmarked borders and rocks covered in moss- flanked by ferns and heather. But there’s room for everyone’s tastes. There aren’t any rules!

Pulmonaria

Something happened to me though- in terms of my gardening ‘plant age’. I think we all have one of these. I started out loving Azalea and Rhododendron and admiring those summery, bright, in- your-face blooms, but then I started to grow a little in my understanding of how an outside space develops and got a yearning for ‘year round’ beauty, the timeless elegance of Wisteria still captivated my imagination but the subtlety of Pulmonaria, Snowdrops and Hellebores started to work on me. The spring-garden started to have a bigger effect on my thinking. Your garden is not just for summer -it is for life 🙂

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I remember the turning point. The Hellebores.  They are sometimes nicknamed the ‘Winter Rose’  because err they come up in winter – and what a serious bonus! The dark, green foliage fans out into rich stars and the flowers are little nodding heads of loveliness. I had seen them many times but couldn’t understand the fuss.  They weren’t big and blousy, they had very little in the way of attitude, they weren’t going to stop you in your tracks.  Ahh how wrong I was.

Hellebores – lime-green lovliness

You see, at the time of year they come into their full, beautiful best, there has been little else out in the garden and so on a number of levels they are a wonderful tonic.

You have been starved of colour, apart from the odd winter Jasmine, Dogwood or Viburnham (Daphne is winter-flowering) , the Daffodils might be appearing, just, and then there are the Hellebores.  Giving it the big I AM.  They are varied in colour but yet have those old-fashioned hues.  Mine ‘pop’ in their lime-fullness and then I have a few younger ones nodding happily in their richer, ‘vintage’, pinky, reds.  I have a lot to thank them for.

Hellebore -in my garden today! Isn’t it just a beauty!

They made me a gardener.  They made me see something about gardening I didn’t see before.  They are also like a little secret that other gardeners know about.  Chances are if you have taken an interest in Hellebores you are a gardener.

Hellebore – bought at a boot sale for 20p
Hellebore -another boot sale seedling

The great thing is there is no end-point in gardening.  It is ongoing and that’s what makes it so relaxing. You never know it all and it doesn’t matter anyway.  You try things, you learn things, you develop your tastes.

It works well with children   -ish.  They like to be out there with me and we all get some fresh air, which is never a bad thing.  They do of course use my newly-formed arch, smothered in Clematis Montana (though not in flower yet) as a football goal -but I accept the fact that family life has to fit in with our surroundings and vice-versa.

arch- Clematis Montana – will show it in flower later… plus football
little “helper”

One addition to your garden, I would recommend, to avoid lugging water-vessels around your garden in the hot-summer months, is a water butt.

my butt

Not only do some plants prefer rain water, like Camellia, it is a great way to use water in an environmentally friendly way and useful if there’s a hose-pipe ban.  My husband put it together and we use it a lot, the children can work the tap (has advantages and disadvantages there!) and it gives me that same feeling as when I re-use my carrier bags, one smug-saving-the-planet point to me. It is also the source of some infantile humour in my house: “have you see my butt?” , “your butt looks leaky”, “my butts full’  etc etc…

Whilst I know I probably lost many readers at the line, ‘I watch Gardeners World’, if you have gotten this far, I thank you, and welcome your pictures / gardening anecdotes and comments.
…and compliments on my butt gratefully received.

XXXXXXXX XXXXXXX XXXXXX

Should they have done away with Dick and Fannie?

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So, I am reading ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’ by Enid Blyton to my little boy- well, the first one in the series- ‘The Enchanted Wood’ and he loves it. It’s great, old-fashioned fun and he’s as hooked as I was when I read it as a child. It has allowed me to happily revisit this childhood favourite, but it’s funny how it changes when I read it through, my now adult, eyes…there is new danger… reading of children who wander around the woods all day long, alone for hours, unaccompanied and taking huge risks, that I cared nothing for as a girl, in fact, the lack of adult supervision was thrilling then and i’m sure it’s part of what my son delights in now.  He’s wiser than I was, he’s dubious about the authenticity of magic: brownies, pixies and fairy-folk are less plausible for him.  I was far more hopeful (gullible).  Then there’s the names…I have to admit i’m torn here.  Do I read him the old ones or the new versions?

In case you’re not aware, Enid Blyton’s texts had characters named Jo, Bessie and Fannie; their cousin Dick comes to stay later. The publishers, in their wisdom, have brought out newer versions.  Joe, Beth, Frannie and Rick.  Yes, I kid you not. Rick.  I felt this was a poor alternative and a bit laughable really, if they were going to change them, they should have just departed fully from the originals- as the rhyming alternative only seems more farcical.

I admit, I was vaguely aware of the double meaning of some of the names as a girl and thought it odd that the author used them, but it certainly didn’t bother me for long, and I became engrossed in the adventures of these children and desperate to know what would happen to them next.  Indeed, the names became meaningless to me.  As Shakespeare so famously questioned, through his heroine, Juliet, ‘what’s in a name?’

I grant you, names, nouns, words, lexis, whatever you want to term all these things we utter-they are ‘signifiers’ of other things- and so are very important. The editors of Enid Blyton’s stories clearly believe that it matters enough to edit them out -but I take issue with some changes. The change from ‘Bessie’ to ‘Beth’ is said to be because they felt ‘Bessie’ too old-fashioned and ‘Dame Slap’ has become ‘Dame Snap’, as corporal punishment has been edited out of the books entirely, in addition, some of the sexism in the original books has been omitted.  Surely this is going a bit far?  I mean they showed little foresight in changing ‘Bessie’ to ‘Beth’ for a start, as ‘Bessie’ and many other ‘old-fashioned’ names have made a fierce comeback recently.  Registers are being loaded up with Arthurs, Alfreds, Betsys and Florences.  I mean, yes, I see that it is harder when said names become aligned with genitalia- and this isn’t desirable for a child’s book on the whole is it? But, i’m fully prepared for the fact that language will change in my lifetime and that even my humble moniker could become synonymous with someones’ nether regions eventually -as regrettable as that may be. I’m fully accepting that people may blush at the thought of an ‘Anita’ and I asked my husband how he’d feel if his name morphed into a rude word, and he wasn’t particularly bothered, saying he knew a Dick at uni and he got on fine.  I didn’t ask anymore.

It is unfortunate when times change and words take on new, unfavourable meanings- but surely we shouldn’t change the names and words of a much-loved author just because they are outdated?  These pieces of work reflect the history and cultural norms of the time in which they were written. They are a snapshot.  Our kids are going to read many texts throughout their school careers written in ‘outdated’ English and- particularly under the present government- many by old, white, british, men before the 20th century and so will undoubtedly be met with various examples of gender discrimination and many words and names that reflect the time in which they were written.  I know as an English teacher this is all part of the learning – to give them this insight into the way the authors wrote and lived ‘then’.  What next?  Are we going to edit Shakespeare’s insults out of all his plays because they offend or distract?  Is Macbeth too Scottish?  Are we going to take the sexism out of the social commentaries of Bronte or Austen?  It would be an editing and censorship nightmare. There are loads of Fannies in Austen.

Language can offend people it’s true- but I struggle with this a bit.  I acknowledge that words can be hurtful, damaging or cruel and I don’t comply with the notion that we’ve become too politically correct, I don’t think we can ever be too politically correct, in the true sense of the term. It is absolutely right that we should be respectful of peoples’ race, religion and gender and mind carefully how we refer to them.  At times though, words are also just that.  They can be made into crosswords, puns and anagrams. They are playful, silly and interesting and don’t need to be taken too seriously.

It’s a difficult thing when we put our adult perceptions on books meant for children, it warps it.  I mean, give kids credit, they may laugh, snigger and guffaw at first, especially on lines like, ‘Dick gets up to mischief’,  but honestly, I remember wading through those wonderful stories oblivious to anything but the wonder of Moonface’s slippery-slip and Silky’s pop biscuits. No double meanings there I might add.  I was truly enchanted by the fairy-folk; lands at the top of the tree; gripped by the danger and desperate for the next chapter.

There’s a film coming out.  Maybe they knew this would not translate as well to the screen and they may well be right, we don’t want to distract from the stories, but I think editing of any author is a contentious issue.  Where do we draw the line?

I’m reading the old editions to my son, mainly because we had those copies in the house and, being five, he is beautifully innocent and has no idea as to the connotations of those names.  I don’t feel an edit is required for us, although this might come back to bite me one day when he exclaims, ‘Dick!’ to the poor teacher seeking a character’s name suggestion from the class and gets a royal telling off or he might be scarred for life by my reading him a story of a very greedy Fannie… but I can’t see it.  Honestly, they are just names, and whilst we wriggle and squirm and become uncomfortable at the sheer mention of them, it was Enid Blyton’s wonderful imagination that was the heart of those stories and it is timeless. I am sure she wouldn’t mind them changing her characters’ names if it meant more children would enjoy her stories but I should also imagine she’d think it was quite silly.

The sexism…well that’s trickier.  I mean, it is grating when Jo is told to do boys’ work in the garden and the girls do some ‘easier’ jobs for their mother, but, once again we are merely reminded of a less enlightened time and surely this is a springboard for discussion with our children?  I’ll balance it out for my kids at some point with some cool, graphic novel about female ninjas i’m sure.  I don’t want to damage young minds or offend, but I think facing these language idiosyncrasies head-on is more favourable to a cover-up job.  I seem to recall that the Nazis heavily edited books that didn’t comply with their philosophies.

So, resolved not to be a language Nazi, and allowing common sense to prevail, I shall wistfully continue reading the beautiful stories of picnics and pixies with my son and enjoy the magic and charm of a bygone era.  Indeed, I must go, Dick just ran into Fannie in the woods. 😉

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Our views are our own…

We went to Alexandra Palace at the weekend to a self-build home show.  We have toyed with a dream (you know how I like those heart-singing ideas) of building our own house.  Not with our own fair hands of course – we can’t finish a 12×8 beach hut – no, this would be a professional job and our family home.

For those of you who know North London and ‘Ally Pally’, as it is affectionately known, will know there is a VERY steep hill leading up to the entrance.  We were compelled to climb this Everest, behind a panting jogger with very reluctant, fat, Labrador, in order to reap our reward of some free cadbury’s chocolate; a bunch of self-build leaflets and a DIY voucher, with lots of small print.

When we did actually reach the top and looked out across London – we were met with a bracing view.  It was vast and far-reaching, deep and long.  Grey blocks, towers and landmarks imagereached as far as the eye could see, a beautiful vista.  It made me think of other views throughout my life, so far, that have taken my breath away: the top of Mount Sinai in Egypt, a black sky pricked with stars and silouhettes of camels dotted along the devastating edges; the foggy haze of the Hong Kong skyline, oppressive, grand and confusing; the refreshing and exhilarating beauty of the glassy lakes, mountains and waterfalls of the Glengariff road to Killarney or the blinding, aqua-blue, sereneness of the Maldives.  I am privileged (and am in debt) due to the views I have taken in.

As with many of these other views I had that moment where you just can’t take it on board.  Have you had this when looking at a view?  It’s as if you look, are amazed and theimagen can’t appreciate it, it’s too big to digest.  You pause and can’t quite fathom what you are seeing, then become desensitised to it very imagequickly.  We could make out the whole of London from our vantage point –  the edge of the dome, Canary-Wharf blinking in the clouds, and it seemed unreal.  We were looking at it but we weren’t really.  Views are spectacular for messing with our minds and stopping us for a moment.

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I read, ‘A Room with a View’ when I was at college and, apart from the descriptions of Italy, I hated it.  The female protagonist Lucy was wet and uninteresting to me.  I like ‘gumption’ as they say in ‘The Holiday’.  What I do remember about this distant A-level text was the symbolism of rooms and views.  You were either a ‘room’ or a ‘view’.  A commimageent onimage your outlook on life.  It was implied, though not confirmed, that views were better than rooms.  Or so my 18 year old self took it to mean.  I wanted to be a ‘view’ kind of person.  I knew they were the exploring, outgoing, life- embracing characters and I wanted to experience all that life had to offer and still do.

The thing is though, as good as some views are you have to change them every now and then.  You get used to the view and, like at Alexandra Palace, you grow used to its effect.

Also, now I am a little older,  I can appreciate the ‘room’ characters a little more.  I am looking forward to watching my children experience the view, for example, and they do not need me getting in their way.

I don’t need to be constantly exploring anymore. I like life in it’s more peaceful state. I am a little less headstrong and get a little less disappointed when IMG_1464big plans don’t come off.

Every now and then I get a grand scheme going and get quite far… “I’m going to be a business entrepreneur” or “build a house from the ground up”, undaunted, I pursue it and learn all there is to know and sometimes plans come off and sometimes they don’t. Usually, I decide that I don’t want to do it anymore or sometimes it falls through.  At 18 I would have been far more childish and wallowed in pity that it wouldn’t happen for me, now, I may nurse a wound for a day or two but then I conclude, ‘ah it wasn’t meant to be hey’.  I don’t feel the disappointment as keenly and this is probably because my world view has changed.

You can’t be up-in-arms over planning permission when you watch the news and see others suffering so badly.  I still let myself feel.  I don’t say I shouldn’t be disappointed or sad or have frivolous plans, but I can get them in perspective, they are only plans and plans- like views -can be changed.

We met some very interesting people at the self-build exhibition.  Those who have done it; those who would like to; those selling their services, of course, and also those people who love to have an opportunity to point out to others that their ideas and plans won’t work.  Sometimes, they are right, but sometimes they just want you to take on their view of things.  So, for example, a stone-bathroom, salesperson, who we simply asked a question of, proceeded to tell us we were mad and implied on lots of levels how we couldn’t possibly build a house and tried to quiz us to prove his point.  Clearly, we didn’t linger long and will not be buying bathroom tiles from him in a rush, but, it dented our vision for a moment, spoiled our view.  We could have let it bother us and let his comments feed into the inevitable doubt you feel when trying something big but we were in good spirits and so brushed it off and pressed on, regardless of the stone salesman’s ‘stoney’ heart (sorry).

So, now we are about to start drawing up some plans and it may or may not come off and we may or may not have to change them, a lot.  We may have to ditch the whole idea and change our views -in both senses of the wimageord.  It doesn’t matter though, as long as we are trying to stay true to our own ambitions and not wavering to suit other peoples’ plans and views.  As long as we are making the effort to find our own views on the world and are open to changing the view when needed, that is what counts.

“I am a big girl now”,  my little daughter keeps saying, to assert her independence, and I know what she means.

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Never underestimate a ‘whim’, speed-dating rabbits or lollipop ladies…

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a rabbit in possession of a hutch to himself must be in want of a mate. image

My childrens’ rabbits are feuding and it’s our own fault. They were bought on a mood-lifting ‘whim’ to help ease the misery that weeks of chicken pox -and subsequent infections -bestowed on us.

We are into ‘whims’. We got married quite quickly; had babies rather quickly and are now going around populating our garage with furry creatures -quite quickly.  I think to survive the melancholy of life, sometimes, you just have to do things on a ‘whim’.

When I was younger, before courts hauled parents over the coals for keeping children off school and publicly disgraced them for sneaking off to Minorca, we used to have the odd ‘stolen’ day. Now, my mother valued education, she ended up with children who have all studied and two ended up teaching, but, she knew the value of ‘whims’.  We used to wake up bleary-eyed, heads hanging and expecting the usual: uniformed, bag-packed, walk of death to school, when, she’d suddenly say, “we are not going today”.  The shock would ripple. “What do you mean?!” elated voices would implore. “We are going to have a stolen day”, came the blasé reply. Oh did I love it.  We’d go to the zoo or somewhere special and relish every minute of it because we ‘knew’ it was stolen.  Like someone else’s chips- it was so much better. Now, don’t go trying it and blaming me if your kids nag you for more; become school refusers and shop you for it.  I’m not advocating it as a parenting choice, i’m just pointing out that ‘whims’ can be beautifully refreshing- and memorable!

‘Whims’ also get things neatly into perspective as an adult.  When you really feel ‘that’ person’s opinion matters sooooo much, or, you absolutely ‘have’ to do this thing or that, ‘whims’ can come along and blast that out of the water.  It is a bit of a finger-up to the rules, but, history is littered with those who have broken the rules and it has served them very well on occasion.  This is coming from a teacher – a mouthpiece for the rules.

I don’t believe in breaking rules for the sake of it, or deliberately hurting others in the process, but, I do think some rules are self-imposed or can become out of balance with our purpose here on earth.  “Whims” have an important job.  They can make you remember that it is o.k not to care what others think, when they get too important, or to relax a family home a little after weeks of telling yourselves, we need to ‘do’ life better.  Really?  Do we need to ‘do’ life better? A ‘whim’ is needed when we think we could have a better way of approaching the washing, shopping, bill-paying, work-life balancing, card-buying, homework organising, DIY ing and many more verbs that I don’t want to think of…i’d rather this go off on a whim…

So, the rabbits, we were told, were communal creatures who needed a furry friend. Right. So the two rabbits that bite each other at every opportunity (I won’t go into the explicit nature of the last attack) are meant to be together? I spoke to a rabbit expert. She claims they can be matched up with more appropriate partners… ?!?! Apparently, like us, some bond instantly, literally love at first sight; others do a bit of jostling and chasing then fall in love, slowly, then others hate on sight and will probably never bond and she wouldn’t risk trying to match them up. My only option…rabbit speed-dating apparently. I kid you not. This woman does it for a living.

It got me a thinking though about how some people gel and some don’t. I can suffer from a mild social paranoia – I think we all suffer from it at times, for me, like a cold, it is mild and it comes and goes. I mainly get it when I go into new situations where the stakes are high- like when my son started school. This is a tricky time.  You don’t want to alienate a whole group of people you are going to be seeing off and on for the the next decade potentially.  This is on top of the general parental angst around this time-am I doing things right? Am I too scruffy to go to the school like this? Should I wear hot pants at the nativity? (Only joking!) You can’t worry about everything -you just have to keep it all in perspective.

The problem is, like a cold, it resurfaces , like the time I had fallen asleep and woken very late and had to run to the school with a pillow mark and hair that looked like I had auditioned for ‘The Supremes’. My daughter chose this moment to let me know she is two and threw a tantrum of such epic proportions that an entire playground of parents and staff stopped to have a good-old gander.  Then -on a ‘whim’ – a lovely woman I had never met placed her hand on my back and simply said, “we’ve all been there”.  I felt my shoulders drop and I smiled it out.  Thanks to that woman, I gained a teensy bit of perspective when I needed it.  You see at the end of it all I am not going to wonder if I should have worried more am I?  I mean, yes, I may turn up looking like a call-girl at the school gates on occasion because I let my two year old do my make-up or a bag lady that forgot her bird-feed because I haven’t slept properly all week- and can’t be bothered to sort the pile of clothes on my bedroom floor- but it won’t matter in the grand scheme of things.  I believe in a grand scheme and I believe in ‘whims’.  They’ve worked out well for me. Really, people, especially parents, just need others to be in community -not competition-with and we all really, really need whims!

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Not the real lollipop lady.

The lollipop lady though – now she really hates me. She’ll meet every eye, smile warmly to every parent and child, but when she sees me it’s all she can do to hold a grimace. I rub her up the wrong way. All I say is “good morning” and “thank you”- I swear- nothing else has ever left my lips-but still she avoids eye-contact and smiles sweetly at the next mother or father or child. One day I tried to ignore her; perhaps I was too keen, maybe I smacked of desperation for lollipop lady love. It didn’t work. Lollipop ladies don’t like playing hard to get. I am living with this.  I mean she smiles at my kids and that is who she is there for- I don’t need to jump on their bandwagon. I have concluded, I won’t always be accepted, not everyone will like me and some will dislike me for no reason on sight, as with rabbits, this is nature and it is ok. As long as there are ‘whims’ floating about I will be just fine. xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx