Friday, 30 April 2010


I’ve never considered myself a gardener: anything but. My grandfather’s, and more recently my mother’s, tours of their gardens used to bore me rigid but I now find that not only am I interested in what people are doing in their gardens but I’ve started discussing the ins and outs of horticulture, specifically related to my garden, with people who know far more about it than I do. I even recently bought a gardening magazine.

Just over a year ago we moved into a house in Brampton, north-east Cumbria. I eventually realised that we don’t so much have a single garden as a series of small gardens, each with its own distinct character. The advantage is that I can tackle each in turn, though I’ll be in one area and get distracted by something somewhere else. I’ve had ideas – not necessarily unchanged – for each patch. Just recently I took some photos so that I shall be able to have ‘before and after’ photos around the garden, and see how it changes over time.

The nice thing about the garden, as opposed to the house, is that I’m relatively relaxed about it taking some time to become the garden I want it to be. It changes, of course, from season to season anyway, unlike the décor of the house which remains fairly stable, albeit also currently unfinished. I’m still at the trial and error stage, finding out what works and what doesn’t: uncovered strawberry plants got eaten by birds; what we thought was a flowering cherry is in fact an apple tree; the pond has rather more algae than looks healthy; last year’s lavender plants all seem to have died; plastic compost bins aren’t that great especially not when placed on concrete paving slabs (pooh!). A month of snow over the winter killed off a few things: I was quite surprised, though I shouldn’t have been, to find that the dead leaves on the palm tree were actually mouldy and the stem had gone bendy. But then who would plant a palm tree in Cumbria anyway…

My main considerations for changing and I hope, improving, the garden were to get more colour and light into it; to ensure that it was fairly child-friendly; to grow some of our own vegetables; and to have an area specifically to encourage bees. To this end we have so far extended some of the grassed area a bit and the children have an area which is ‘theirs’ next to one of the lawns and near the pond. I’ve also put in some very small areas of pathway so that there are more clear routes onto lawned areas for cycling and running circuits.

We were very excited by our potatoes last year but this year the vegetable patch needs completely redigging, and ultimately I’d like to make it a couple of raised beds, raising the ground level by adding extra topsoil on top of home-made compost. It’s another area which has a lot of stones on it, as well as a layer of plastic sheeting underneath part of it (which I’ve mostly managed to remove). It is also riddled with the all-pervasive ivy and its long-reaching roots.

A large paved area at the back of the house will eventually become a wiggly stone path with climbing roses trained up the otherwise rather unattractive rear façade of the house – I’d like to add a porch to the back door later when funds permit. The idea is to have herbs you can walk on between the stones of the path, and vegetable patches next to the fence. We also want to build a better run for our ferrets and move their hutch: currently they have a run on our decking but can escape!

The only plants growing in this area at the moment are some wild strawberries and a couple of rather unhealthy looking shrubs, and our compost bin is in one corner. The lap boarded fence fell over in the snow as the wood is rotten and the posts hadn’t been dug in very deeply. This has rather precipitated the need to replace it, which I wanted to do anyway to let more light in: we also need to get the fence running up the side of the house where we have a boundary with a neighbour as otherwise the children go into her garden.

Lack of light was not only an issue at the back of the house and we are slowly trimming back or removing the bushes and conifers along the front. We have an area on top of a retaining wall which was completely overgrown which I’ve earmarked as a future ‘bee garden’: I want to make it look like moorland with lots of heather and similar plants, which I hope will not only attract the bees but make that area look tidier as well as keeping the weeds down. Ivy is a particular problem: when people built houses in the 1980s did they get a cheap job lot of ivy and conifers to stick in everywhere? Conifers were hiding some other lovely trees.

Colour has been added so far by a plentiful planting of bulbs but I’m now thinking of having a stone trough or an old bath at the front of the house containing alpines and, just because I think they’re beautiful, a camellia in a big pot. Likewise double-petalled primroses are on my list, just because I saw them advertised and fell in love with them.

I’ve mentioned colour and light, and the third sense I want to introduce into the garden is scent, so my study is littered with bits of paper torn out of magazines with ideas. Every trip to a garden centre is fraught with danger for my bank account. Anyone got anything they want to recycle from their garden?

Monday, 26 April 2010


The JobCentre was horrible.  I knew things didn't bode well when a security guard (bouncer) informed 'madam' that she couldn't bring her Costa Coffee cappuccino into the building.  Well, if they opened their doors a bit earlier so that one didn't have to stand around in the freezing cold prior to a 9a.m. appointment 'one' wouldn't have even have thought of going to fetch a cappuccino.  At least it kept my hands warm, and as there was a relatively lengthy queue of people waiting to get in I was never going to be precisely on time anyway: but I had thought I ought to try to make a good impression.

The staff are very nice; but I didn't half feel out of place.  I had to sign a Job Seeker's agreement which specifies I will look on their website every day and apply for 3 jobs per week: I'm assuming writing letters on spec. complies with that stipulation.  I have in fact applied for one job: it's based in Glasgow but I was able to send my C.V. off by email and I asked whether they would consider someone home-based and part-time.  It did strike me that in fact earning anything more than £65 per week would be better than signing on: except I'd have less time for looking for another job and doing the many other things I'm trying to do!  After I had taken the children into Waterstones yesterday I looked on their website, just in case they had any vacancies. I rather fancied selling books: the staff always seem enthusiastic about their product.  I also looked on the Disney website as the Disney Store said it had vacancies, but I couldn't find anything: probably just as well as the staff are all very young and ultra-friendly so it would only work in that twee Disney way if they dressed me up like someone's Mum or Grandmother (I hate to reflect too long on the fact that there are plenty of women around of my age who are grandmothers, including my singing teacher).

I also have two appointments in May: one with the Next Steps after Redundancy people, whom I can ask about training (will they pay?); one with the Chamber of Commerce, which is where Business Link would apparently have pointed me for self-employment/setting up business options.  I'm also starting to get replies to my first speculative letters - nothing positive so far.

The horror of the JobCentre was nothing to the horror of the Hawkshead Trail Race on Saturday.  a) I wasn't prepared, having only done a 64-length swim in the previous week and having only run 8 or 9 miles once;  b) we'd had our St. George's Day dinner the night before so we'd had a large joint of roast beef and plenty to drink: not really race fuel;  c) it was hot.  In fact it's a lovely route and I'd like to get better at it, but it was HILLY.  Not undulating.  Not in the slightest.  I'm sure there was more uphill than down.  But you could see why Beatrix Potter bought up the land she did: it is a glorious piece of England.  By the end I wanted to walk and felt sick.  Tomorrow I'm meeting up with a running friend down at Keswick and, being gluttons for punishment, we're going to try part of the Derwentwater Trail run route.  I've eaten pasta and not drank any alcohol today.

The horrors listed above were alleviated this morning however when I went shopping with Daughter.  Husband is having a themed party on Saturday, and as the only medieval outfit I could find that I liked was £375, I opted for evening dress instead.  I have bought myself a bright red long dress in a lovely soft fabric which falls in such a way that the dress looks almost Roman or Greek: and Daughter very cleverly picked out a 'gold' necklace thing to go with it.  She then insisted on having make-up put on her (goodness knows why she's so besotted with make-up, and I'm not sure that, at 4, it's healthy: but on the other hand it seems to be one of those things it's not worth making a huge deal about) at which the lady (girl) serving on the Benefits counter brushed some lipgloss on to her and said how cute she was.  THIS ALWAYS HAPPENS.  We also bought Daughter red tights.  She does look rather good in red, I have to say.

Meanwhile having been so hot on Saturday, it rained all day yesterday: which was good for the pond.  Yesterday evening I was looking out of Son's bedroom window when I saw frogs jumping everywhere.  We must have counted 8 or 9 jumping out of the pond.  When I later went into the sitting room to do some singing practice at least 3 were sitting on rocks near the window completely still: it was as if rain-bathing is as much fun for frogs as sunbathing (which they also appear to like).  The number of them was somewhat reminiscent of something out of a horror-film.  I'm sure there is one called 'the Frogs'; or was that an Aristophanes play?

List of tasks for the near future: get new washing line pole; spread weed killer around liberally on the area I want to turn into a heath and moorland type garden; finish weeding the vegetable-patch-to-be; tip anti-algae stuff in the pond; do a lot of drastic pruning; finish painting the bathroom; paint Daughter's room (have now had paint a year); finish writing article on gardening and start others; look up Tefal courses; oh, and of course the minor matter of: apply for jobs.

I'll be rich one day.  Maybe.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010


I've just remembered why I turned the computer on, and in fact why I turned it on at 6.30pm this evening as well.  I wanted to find some recipes which used Limoncello.  I inherited a bottle from my Edinburgh Aunt when she died (well, I took it while I was clearing out her flat) and so far all I've done is drink it.  I'm sure it would make a good sorbet.  Thinking I should look up recipes gave me the idea that there should be a recipe book for little-used and relatively unknown ingredients.  For example Jerusalem Artichokes (or fartichokes as they get called) - Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall suggested roasting them which is, in fact, delicious, but I've only found a reference to them in about 2 books.  Swiss Chard I think I found in Prue Leith, in a sort of flan thing; Kohl Rabi again I think Hugh suggested using like other root vegetables and in fact I used it under his 'Weeping Lamb' recipe along with all sorts of other things such as potatoes, parsnip, carrots, onions, celery... in fact whatever had turned up in the 'oddities' vegebox on Tuesday.

I love getting an organic 'oddities' vegebox.  The problem with vegeboxes is that you never really get round to using everything, but it's like Christmas wondering what will turn up in the box this time.  I still have some beetroot and have decided to make beetroot and feta soup; one of the passionfruit got eaten by me but the other went all wrinkly; the red cabbage will get used when we serve up our St. George's Day dinner on Friday; and we had Fartichokes once again (under the Weeping Lamb with the Kohl Rabi).  I wonder if they'd deliver a box on Friday morning so I can use the veggies on Friday evening.

The St. George's Day dinner was Husband's suggestion.  It would probably have passed me by, but he remembers it each year: in fact I'm surprised he doesn't hoist a Union Jack or the cross of St. George outside the house.   We have invited our Best Friends Locally around: they share quite a few meals with us, in fact hardly a week goes by without us seeing them; they have intimated that they may bring a bottle of one of my favourite wines, which you can only get in France: Muscat de Rivesaltes.  The Rivesaltes bit is important: bog-standard muscat or muscatel is usually really raisiny and I loathe it, but the muscat grown and made in the Rivesaltes area has a lighter, slightly honeyed flavour.

We were thinking of going to France this year: going skiing in Chamonix made me miss France, if that doesn't sound too stupid.  When I lived and worked out there it felt so good to be there; I felt at home, and my french-speaking improved drastically.  Being back there to ski this year brought all sorts of memories flooding back: being child-free for one.  I missed Husband more when he went home than the Children whom I had left in Angleterre.

Which brings me by a roundabout route on to job-hunting.  My optimisim was, of course, unfounded.  There will be a vacancy advertised when the current contract person leaves.  Do I want it?  Shall I apply?  I'm not sure.  There is so much about being self-employed and working from home for the majority of the time which appeals, but I'm scared that it will never take off and that I'll never earn big bucks again.  I've got so many ideas for what I want to do with the house and garden, but they all take money... likewise I still have a hankering to send the children to private school.  I know Husband won't agree with me but Daughter especially is showing the signs of being very bright (don't you just hate pushy, braggy mothers...) and Son is bright but needs discipline/pushing.  I won't start talking about the education system because I probably won't stop, not until sometime in 2011 anyway.  We hear tomorrow where Daughter is due to go to primary school in September: a bit nerve-wracking as Son's school was over-subscribed and I didn't put down any alternatives.

But I digress.  Job-hunting.  I wrote and posted another 7 targetted letters yesterday.  I have my interview with the Job-Seeker's People tomorrow and have contacted Business Link so I can pick their brain about setting up on my own.  Meanwhile I need to register with a host of job websites as well, and I still have a handful of people to write to.  I also need to find a TEFAL course and get started: the booklet listing Accommodation in Hadrian's Wall Country glares at me every time I sit down at my desk.

Which reminds me of something else I have forgotten to do: I really do want to look up a recipe using Limoncello.  And perhaps I should start a recipe book or collection of recipes using obscure ingredients.  Anyone with any suggestions, please send them through to me.

Monday, 19 April 2010


On Friday evening I went for a lovely bike ride - the first one in ages - in the early evening sunshine.  It made me think that I really should get out on my bike more often.  It was followed by an evening out with some female friends, which was lovely.  And the children and Husband were away so I got up when I felt like it the next morning!

Just before I set out on my ride I had a phone call from the Job Seekers Allowance people.  They don't seem terribly organised - the guy said they needed to ask some more questions and it would take about half an hour, and when I asked if this was on top of the form I'd filled in on the internet he said it was to complete that application.  Then he opened up my virtual file and found I'd answered all the questions.  So he then arranged a Job Seeker's interview for me: and then asked if I would like him to do a job search then and there.  Well, you never know from where you may hear of an opportunity so I said yes.  He asked whether Cardiff or Blackburn were any good.... and when I burst out laughing apologised for his lack of geographical knowledge.  I wish I'd asked him if they were all based at a call centre in India - they may as well be.

The interview was arranged for tomorrow but then I realised I wouldn't be able to fetch Alex from school, so I re-arranged it: which took being directed to about 5 different people.  Tuh!  My interview is now arranged for Thursday morning.  In the meantime, today 5 of my CVs would have landed on people's desks and already I've had a phone call.  It was from a local authority who I would quite happily work for again (well, I wouldn't have written to them if I didn't want to), so I shall phone back and see what's on offer.  Suddenly it looks as if my freedom may possibly be cut short: though I shouldn't jump the gun and leap to optimistic conclusions.  It's nice to be contacted so soon though.

Another beautiful day today and I'm concious that I really must sort out the compost heap - I moved it on Friday and it absolutely stank: it made me retch.  So I busily put some hedge trimmings on it and every earthworm I dug up when I was digging over the vegetable patch later.  But it transpires I need to move it off the concrete paving slabs as well.  So one heavy lifting job coming up plus another move of the stinky heap.  Yuck.

We also need to sort out the rear fence and I'd like to get some turf as the lawn looks manky: I also want to create a raised bed.  So at least if I get some work and have some income coming in I may be able to afford to do all that!  Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Friday, 16 April 2010


I came to the conclusion yesterday that I was possibly the world's worst mother.

That's probably rather an exaggeration, but what kind of a mother lets her 4-year old daugher sit in front of an entire 'Roobarb and Custard' DVD because she's (the mother) got too absorbed in the gardening?

I've never considered myself a gardener, and still don't, but there's something addictive about clearing an area of weeds, bushes you don't want, and so forth, then digging over the soil, putting some extra soil and/or compost down, and then.... planting new plants!  I have started the beginning of my 'bee' garden just outside the TV room window (so I was at least near my daughter) with 8 different types of heather, an orchid (just because I liked the look of it) and two things which I think are carnations or something: they were pretty anyway, and Daughter agreed with me - she would - that we should get the pink ones.

Husband will doubtless be somewhat put out that I didn't write job letters and also I spent money at Houghton Garden Centre when I shouldn't really have done.  I checked my bank account this morning and my redundancy payment has gone through: I've also finally got around to starting the signing on process.  Nowadays you can sign on online: I now await a phone call to arrange a 'job seeker's interview'.  Quite a change from last time I signed on, 20 years ago.

The good news is that I have finally officially started job seeking.  I have written 5 individual letters this morning to various people in an attempt to entice them into paying me to do some work for them: I also started looking up TEFL courses but only got as far as registering with the British Council website and checking an email for which sort of course I would be best doing.

I have to say I feel better for having written some letters, but at the same time I am also rather enjoying my time 'resting'.  The weather's been lovely for gardening and if it rains any time soon I'm hoping to get my painting finished: there's something very satisfying for me in having everywhere a bit tidier than if I was rushing around at work, choir, singing, meetings and so forth without time to do the washing (for example).  I really hate it when the washing basket starts overflowing and I end up doing 4 or 5 loads in one day.  Recently it's even got dry outside in a few hours!

However I know that I won't like not having any income once I've run out of money, and I'm also concious that our back fence is collapsing more and more: and of course the fence panels I particularly like seem to be the most expensive I could have chosen.  Quel surprise.

But that reminds me that I could use two of the bits of wood as battens for my trellis for the rose I want to train up our rear wall, to make the house look prettier from the back....  Off out to the garden!

Monday, 12 April 2010


Monday 12th April - first day of term; Daughter at nursery.

I came to the conclusion over the weekend that I had chosen the wrong title for my blog.  Still, too late to change it now: but I felt that I'd rather follow the path set by actors and say that I am 'resting'.  Not that it's been much of a rest so far: I was just thinking this morning that when I was younger, single and unemployed, being out of work seemed really to drag: not so when one's trying to keep a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old occupied.

However I'm not complaining.  So far I'm really enjoying myself, partly as the weather is fantastic.  In a minute I'm leaving for an RICS meeting down in Warrington (a place I'd rather never go near, ever again) but so far this morning I have written down a list of the first 9 organisations to whom I am going to send my CV, and I have also updated my CV and printed it off 9 times.  I also found out the relevant addresses, so tomorrow I shall be ready to write the letters and post them off: before going for a run at lunchtime with a Forestry Commission friend.

Nine doesn't really sound very many when I consider that I wrote to about 300 firms for project management work when I got made redundant by Hillier Parker back in 1990 - and got no jobs from that!  However this time I think I have more to offer - an extra 20 years' experience for a start.  One of the people to whom am I going to work did an English degree, so I can mention my English/Music degree: and one likes cycling (though he looks a far, far better cyclist than I ever was).

The other task for tomorrow is to go to sign on.  Not something I desperately want to do really, but it would be silly not to.  I shall also see if I can enter lots of competitions and win us holidays, cars, money and so forth.  It's difficult not to feel optimistic when the weather's so lovely!  We counted SIX frogs in our pond this weekend!

Thursday, 8 April 2010


Hey, I have one follower!!!  Fame at last!  Thank you Nicola!

Well, it's good to know someone is taking some notice (unless this all gets too boring with lack of progress).

The nearest I have got to any job seeking today is to pick up the 'Hadrian's Wall Country Holiday and Short Breaks Guide 2010'.  At least this means that once I've done my Tefal course I'll have a list of accommodation providers to contact in the hope that some of them will either have people coming over who wish to learn English, or may be interested in helping me promote learning English.  I guess I really should sign up for a course.... I also have an invitation from a guy in the Lake District who runs a language school to go to look around his premises and have a chat with him - which is kind.  Apparently the college in Newcastle has new premises: but they haven't replied to my email, which is something else on the 'to do' list.

Meanwhile friends are on Facebook waiting to chat but I need to make beds, hang the washing up, make some fairy cakes (well, that's maybe not really a 'need') and I was also thinking of planting some seeds in the garden.  Mind you they're marigold seeds and I'm not a great marigold fan - I think the kids picked them up in some shop or other (along with carrots, broad beans and goodness knows what else).

The other thing I need to do is find out where in Carlisle I sign on - Monday's task is to sign on prior to going down to Warrington (dump of a place - sorry anyone who loves it - I've always thought it was a dump and now it's home to NWDA I feel even worse about it) for an RICS meeting.

Think I'll take the kids to the beach tomorrow afternoon - we've been in Cumbria over 2 years and haven't yet been to the Solway coast, and there's a Discovery Centre at Silloth which looks good.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010


P.S. not sure how I get back into my blog, so you may never hear from me again....


Well, it's not really the first day - officially I was made voluntarily redundant on 1st April.  But while the children are still on holiday it doesn't really feel as though I'm not working yet.  Apart from this niggling worry about income: when will I start earning some more money?

It sounds silly to be worried at the moment when I have a small redundancy payment about to come through, and when I chose this situation myself.  I'm just not convinced that my Husband really realises that his salary will not go far: or at least, I don't think so.  Money seems just to disappear.... for example the car is about to cost more money as its brake discs will need doing.

But I should be optimistic.  Both kids are now pestering me - Daughter is meant to be tidying up her room and Son is meant to be getting dressed.  So I'd better stop writing.  I had planned to take April off but I would really like to get on with sending out my CV.  I had this vague idea that being unemployed for a while would give me a chance to get fit and to do lots of things, such as decorating - I've had a sinking feeling over the last few days that I'm just going to end up doing lots of childcare and housework instead and running out of time: particularly as Daughter won't be at nursery/pre-school that much.

They've now just tipped a load of my stuff on the floor.  I hate them being in my study!  More tidying up to do......