take one woman with low self esteem, but quite good hair
add one moronic illness
stir in some medication which causes hair to fall out
mix it all up and this is what you get...

Monday, July 31, 2006

The "gourd" life 

So, not interested in our first foray into self-sufficiency then, huh? As JJ pointed out, no-one (except her, of course) mentioned our beautiful courgettes* - hey, that sounds like it could be a spoof, slightly dodgy version of a controversial film of the 1980s, starring Daniel Day-Lewis: "My beautiful courgette..." Possibly.

We also have, for further delectation, tender, mild, green lettuce leaves; a seemingly endless supply of aromatic basil - what could be more simple and quick to prepare than a tomato and fresh basil sauce with which to bathe our pasta; some sweet, pointed peppers, just starting to blush from green to red, as we speak; a glut of fresh, pungent coriander; tender, flavoursome chives and some budding runner beans with which, as yet, I have no idea quite what to do (suggestions welcomed, as long as they go beyond boiling or steaming).

Unfortunately, I can only take credit for harvesting and preparing the produce for eventual consumption. It is Big who has patiently tended the seedlings, wielded the watering can, cursed the dry weather and welcomed the rain. It is Big who takes my hand excitedly when I get home from work and leads me to the garden to admire the latest developments.

He may well roll his eyes at his mother (the visiting dignatory referred to here and currently in residence) and her eccentric ways, but it is these same ways which have imbued him with a love of nature, a hunger for simple, seasonal, homegrown food (his parents have always had at least one allotment) and an admirable rejection of the motor car. He is brave enough to admit to loving things which are not, nor ever have been, trendy. He is never afraid of being himself. He is a man of immense kindness, generosity, patience and passion.

And I am lucky enough to be sharing my life with him.

To you, they may just be courgettes. To me, they are the symbol of so much more.

*zucchini, if you're that way inclined, but you knew that...

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Reasons to be cheerful 

  1. Our very first crop of courgettes

  2. As seen on a church in Kendal on a very hot day

  3. Lolly (popsicle) moulds* bought for £3

*Big said they were the gayest thing he'd ever seen. I replied that the ones with pink bunnies for handles were considerably gayer.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Generation gap 

"I'm glad to be home," I sigh in Big's direction, as I sit down on the welcomingly cool, tiled floor to sort the recycling whilst he checks his email. It's not often I say that of our house in Somerset which is currently our home in the literal sense, though I've struggled to think of it as "home".

I felt that relief yesterday, where normally I would feel regret at the end of time spent away with friends and family. Many times I have returned sullen, sometimes even to the point of tears, the end of a period of time spent away heralding the return of drudgery, tail-chasing, routine.

You see, there was a sting in the tail of our week in Kendal. A sting in the shape of Big's aunt, our hostess for the week. I have spent time with her before, but this has been limited to a couple of days here or there. I have noted Big's lack of patience with her before and put that down to surliness. A woman of quirks, in small doses she could be described as eccentric: at worst, irritating; at times, extremely interesting; at best, especially in a double act with Big's mother, highly entertaining. But after a week, Big and I were at the end of our respective tethers. Having lost all patience with her, we also began to lose patience with each other, snapping and sniping uncharacteristically as if the poison from her sting had infiltrated us too.

For a woman who worked for the Diplomatic Service, she is by far the least diplomatic or tactful person I have ever encountered.

For a woman who has travelled the world extensively, she is one of the most narrow-minded people I have ever met.

It's hard to know where to start with examples of what drove us slowly, but surely, up the nearest dry-stone wall, but I shall attempt to do so, if only to get it off my chest. Belt up in the back, it's quite a journey.

We were informed early on in our stay by Her Poisonousness that people in the North are much friendlier than people in the South. It should come as no surprise to learn that she, of course, is a lady of Northern descent and she is fully aware that I am a lady of the South (and dreaded London, no less). She also claimed that the youths we saw hanging around the park in Kendal, intimidating passers-by were not, in fact, doing anything of the sort because Kendal was "not that sort of town". She spent the rest of the week attempting to prove these points by barking random comments to innocent passers-by, including some of the youthful variety, only to be met with bewildered (or even frightened) glares and a variety of adolescent non-verbal communication techniques, none of which could have been described as friendly.

I remained unconvinced and maintained my view that generalising about swathes of people based purely on geography was probably not a tenable position. Much better to treat people as individuals, or is that me being all tolerant, bless me...

Invariably, when visiting the aunt, the subject of the Pressure Cooker arises. Firstly, she must ascertain if Big still has the Pressure Cooker she gave him umpteen years ago. The response is always in the negative and her reaction is always one of astonishment. Secondly, she will attempt to convince us that the overcooked ratatouille and the undercooked potatoes we have for dinner should serve as some kind of advertisement for the use of the Pressure Cooker. Despite my protestations that really, I can manage to cook perfectly well without one and that the kinds of things I cook would probably not be suited to this method of cooking anyway, she insists on showing me just how easy it is to use. She finishes by telling me that, if nothing else, it is ideal for making jam. I remain unconvinced and hope she won't notice the rejected potato at the side of my plate. The threat of the inevitable gift of a Pressure Cooker is yet another reason for Big and me not to get married.

Another habit she has is to assume that everybody in the world knows her entire life history. When asking a question to which I simply cannot be expected to know the answer – a question about her family, for example – I am met with a response delivered with such exasperation as to suggest that I must be a complete ignoramus to have had to ask.

A further assumption she makes is that her way is "the only way". Anything which dares to deviate from this is to be ridiculed; out loud and preferably in public. She will not hesitate to cackle heartily in your face (usually ending with a delightful-to-behold hacking, phlegmy cough) or give a wide-eyed look of astonishment if you mention such a thing.

"You mean, you don't get a newspaper?"
"You watch Big Brother?" (this was a particular source of phlegmy cackling and one which she chose to share with whomever would care to listen)
"You worked as a secretary after graduating from university?" (the word "secretary" was spat out, as if a particularly bitter taste had been encountered)
"You don't get your milk from the milkman?"

Now, had I been of a similar ilk, I could have taken her up on the following points in a similarly astounded tone:

"You mean, you don't have a shower?"
"You don't have a washing machine? Or, should I say, you do have a washing machine in the corner of your kitchen which has been there for twenty years but never plumbed in, let alone used?"
"You have carpet in your bathroom?"
"You have carpet in your kitchen?"
"You truly believe that a 20 year old, left hand drive, large and cumbersome 4x4 is more suitable a vehicle for you than, say, a small, economical hatchback?"

But you know me better than that, readers.

One day, she kindly drove us up to Hadrian's Wall. We were happy to leave her to decide on the route she would be most comfortable in taking, since she was doing the driving. However, despite our complete disinterest, she continually sought to justify going on the A6 rather than the M6, claiming that the M6 would be choc-a-bloc. So insistent was she that this was the right decision, that I couldn't resist casually glancing over to the M6 a number of times, which was visible for most of the journey, the roads being parallel. The motorway was clear. As we flailed around Penrith's one-way system, one wrong turn after another, tempers flaring, I took a deep breath and kept quiet in the back, although the phrase "If you'd gone on the motorway..." did begin to formulate on a couple of occasions.

Due to the risk of repetitive strain injury, I should probably refrain from providing further detailed examples of what we experienced, but I have so many more. The "rules" about the gas kettle and the reason why it is preferable to an electric one, the snipey little remarks about what time we got up in the morning (WE'RE ON HOLIDAY!!!!), the barging into the bedroom unannounced when one of us is virtually naked but, on another occasion, not going into the same (empty) room "because the door was closed and I thought you were getting ready". Neither of us were in the room, we had both been downstairs for some considerable time - I had shut the door behind me, unaware of the unwritten rule about closed doors meaning potential nakedness beyond. She didn't bother knocking or calling.

I am not sure how she became this way. I suspect, however, that living alone for most of her adult life with no compromise may have just set her ways into harsh, inflexible stone. It is a shame. She has led a very interesting life and has fascinating stories to tell. In some ways she has a lot to offer. But her ability to turn two otherwise laid back, mild-mannered, open-minded, tolerant people into crispened, spiky hotheads is, I'm afraid, staggering.

Friday, July 14, 2006


Out of the corner of my eye, as I stood at the kitchen window, I sensed a movement. I'd assumed she was one of the regular visitors, but when I looked again, I realised I hadn't seen any like her before. I then remembered that our neighbours had mentioned seeing her around, her presence being somewhat out of the ordinary in our neighbourhood. She was known to have violent tendencies.

She was beautiful, elegant with piercing eyes. I knew there was something different about her. She stood for a while, alert, ensuring that she wasn't being watched. She was unaware of my presence - I stood stock still, eyes wide, trembling in my assurance that something was about to happen. I called Big, discreetly - he stood at my side, stunned into silence as the scene unfolded before our eyes. His arm crept slowly around me as we watched.

She turned around slowly and her gaze was drawn to her victim, who was unaware of her presence. She spent some time walking around, sizing up the victim. As I watched, holding my breath, she pounced. I could not see the scuffle which ensued, but I could hear it. Strangled noises, a struggle from the bushes she had chosen as the site of her attack. Big went upstairs to try and get a better view. We were witnesses, after all.

Suddenly, the victim appeared and escaped into the distance, seeming to be unscathed. The attacker too emerged, still unaware that she was being observed, but didn't give chase. The victim was smaller, more nimble, and had a head start. She acted all nonchalant and found a new vantage point from which to spot a new victim. Any would do. She was driven only by a crazed hunger. Her attacks were not personal, she was simply compelled to attack and took the opportunities when they arose.

A passer-by emerged on the scene, clad entirely in black with an imposing stature. Sensing that she was up to no good, he attempted to intimidate her by his presence. He moved towards her, eyeing her suspiciously. His plan worked - she disappeared out of view and all was calm once more. The regular visitors slowly returned from their hiding places.

But she would be back. This victim had got away, but she would find another. It was, after all, her raison d'être.

Such is the life of a sparrowhawk in an urban garden.

Oh, and I did manage to get a photo - though not a very good one...

Friday, July 07, 2006

You say "bath", I say "barth"; let's call the whole thing off 

The next couple of weeks promise to be busy ones in the Anxious world. Amongst other things, I shall be donning my flat cap and bridging the North-South divide in my work as Special Southern Envoy to the North West, spending one week here on "business":

returning to the South West briefly (due to bad planning), only to leave again for one week here on holiday:

followed swiftly by a visiting dignatory from here:

Somehow, among all this humanitarian work, I'll need to find time to fill in this (scary):

and this (even more scary):

while he does... well, this.

Updates may be sporadic.

(apologies to any readers who cannot see the images, without which this post is rather meaningless)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Things meteorological 

So absorbed in my own "wibbly wobbly world" am I that I cannot often be accused of writing topical posts. Today, however, I shall break this habit to discuss something we Brits are known for discussing at any available opportunity, although having lived in France, I actually believe they are more obsessed with this particular topic than we are. Or maybe it was because I was British and they thought they were making me feel at home by discussing it. I doubt it, however. Making me feel at home was not usually on their agenda - they much preferred baiting me about my home country and its inhabitants when most of them had never set foot in it. I digress.

At the risk of alienating myself from my readership, I wish to talk about the weather.

While visiting e a couple of weeks ago, she claimed that she could do without the "in between" seasons altogether, preferring extremes of either heat or cold. I, on the other hand, bemoaned the seeming lack of spring this year. Mediocre to the very core, I like weather which is neither too hot nor too cold. Bright, yet cool - autumnal or vernal. I don't mind rain - it fills our rainwater butt and keeps everything green and lush. I don't mind wind - it makes me laugh when my hair flaps about in it. I don't mind cold - I have plenty of clothes and a large man to keep me warm.

Unlike many people, I am consistent in my views about the weather. I do not enjoy heat, ever. I do not like anticipating the arrival of summer, nor do I like the reality of it. Many people claim that they want it to be hot and yet when it arrives, they complain about it. I dread both its coming and its being. I resent the weather forecasters who tell me that today will be a "glorious" day. Thank you for your valued opinion, Messrs BBC, but I shall be the one to decide whether or not a day is "glorious". Being unable to sleep at night is not glorious. Being perpetually covered in a film of sweat is not glorious. Being able to run only at the crack of dawn is not glorious.

I'm not clear on whether it really is getting hotter in Britain or whether my tolerance of heat is declining, but I think it may be a combination of these things. As a skinny child, I was mostly untroubled by it. Equally, as a skinny child, I would happily prance around in a swimsuit or in skimpy clothing throughout the summer months. And here's where the problem lies.

When you suffer from body dysmorphia (as I so clearly do, yet am only just admitting it fully), summer can be a troubling time. When wearing a decent covering of clothes, I can just about maintain an even keel. In summer, the desire to shroud myself is jeopardised by the heat. Forced to bare flesh, I am confronted by the body I loathe. The volume, colour and complexion of my flesh are all repulsive to me. When reading in bed, despite the heat, I will go under the covers so as not to have to contemplate my voluminous thighs. The instinct to wear regulation black is scuppered by its tendency to absorb even more heat. Whilst I know that my body would be improved by exposing it to the sun's rays, my disinclination to expose it traps me within its pale, unattractive contours for all eternity.

And trapped is the word. I feel trapped by summer. I cannot escape its oppression.

In winter, you can add layers, turn up the heating, snuggle up to something or someone warm. There are, however, only so many layers of clothing which can be removed.

So when you say to me, in a cheery tone: "Lovely weather we're having," just don't expect me to agree with you.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

So much and yet so little 

It seems that as I get older I become more demanding...

...though what I increasingly demand is simplicity.

Simple food, plucked fresh from the garden or sourced locally, prepared with love and enjoyed to the full with no faddiness, no chemicals, no guilt. Simple human contact, sharing experiences with loved ones, like-minded people and family. The simple enjoyment of nature, watching the sparrows in the garden feeding their young, the ripening fruit growing in our first garden together, watching the sea crash onto the shore, hearing the crackle as it pulls back over the pebbles.

I am in constant pursuit of the luxuries in life...

...though the luxuries I crave are not diamonds - I wear silver jewellery which cost no more than a few pounds per item. Neither are they shiny new cars - my aim is a life where I would not need a car at all. Nor are they en-suite bathrooms or wedding gifts, the trappings of material, superficial luxury. I am coming to realise that the true luxuries in life are, quite simply, time and space. The time to live your life in a way which would make you happy. The space required to do so.

I am always striving for success...

... though the success I seek will not be found on the corporate ladder, by the achievement of my so-called "Key Result Areas", promotions or increases in salary. My success depends upon my finally achieving balance and inner peace in my life. The balance of working only in order to gain the resources required to really live. The inner peace attained once the balance is found.

I want so much, and yet so little.