Terrible lizards, bluebirds and a painting in the attic

Two of the smalls were around this morning, while their mother snatched a couple of hours’ freedom for studying. We were scraping the barrel with the games still unplayed. But Downfall and Connect 4 whiled away a happy hour, while big globs of gloopy, sticky rain landed on the glass above and around us. Despite protests, when a couple of jigsaw puzzles were unearthed, we got stuck in and particularly enjoyed the dinosaur one.

I tried to explain who Dame Vera Lynn was to one of the children. The term ‘forces sweetheart’ was far too archaic to feature. The small person claimed never to have heard the song ‘We’ll meet again’. I’m sure it was playing on a loop at our VE Day picnic.

Whatever your position on the political scale, however you regard the Second World War, there was surely something rather splendid – heroic, no-nonsense, lacking in personal vanity – about the dame? Having all your own marbles, being able to hold a tune and reaching 103 is pretty good too. I wondered if people would still be listening to those iconic forties’ anthems 50 years from now?

And the Streetcat Bob died a few days ago. Aged ‘at least 14’. He must have been, as his transformational relationship with his recovering addict/Big Issue seller human dated from 2007. By all accounts, Bob was a remarkable marmalade feline. I saw the film and blubbed throughout. I might rename our ginger cat ‘Vera Roberta’ for the weekend.

Miss Baxter brought in a critter while we were having a TV supper and watching Professor Brian Cox on astronomy. The part I saw started with dinosaur footprints. The husband was following the whole thing. I drifted off, deeply impressed by the spareness of the commentary, the flattened yet emotive vowel sounds of the boyman scientist in his black teeshirt and walking trousers. You know the sort of thing.

There may well be a really scary painting in the Professor’s attic. There’s probably no longer a small mouse under the sofa in the conservatory. It would be good to predict with confidence those mythical bluebirds appearing sometime again soon.

After the rains return

After the rains return, and children are back
in school, their days circumscribed, filled
with people, vivid with stuff;
and they’ve stopped playing slip-and-slide
or in the mud kitchen, or just
endlessly bouncing on trampolines, will
the arrival of eleven chicks still enthrall?

New life works its magic, especially
on the young, but more so now.

After the rains return, and blue is scarred again
with the tracks of jumbos,
and birdsong and bleating is fugged
a little more by cars;
yet we can hug, go to the pub, get
our roots done, dive into buzz and bustle,
nine-to-five, the full diary, will
we thrill as business beckons?

When ‘new normal’ is bagged and boxed
for the bin men, will we shrug it off,
slip back?

After the rains return, and news is
other than this plague, will
we submit to gaining our liberty,
while losing our balance? When we stop
waiting for the when and how, stop
clapping, will we chat and gossip
at the gates,

but waste less,
less life,
less time,
after the rains return?

Earth, dust and the memory of ghosts

Earth, sand, mud – what’s not to like if you’re a young child? My daughter and son-in-law have just made their two children a mud kitchen for their newly created garden. There’s great excitement about this. A family friend left a box on their doorstep containing pots, pans and kitchen equipment she no longer needed. So the project is completed and ready for play.

One of the donkeys likes to roll anywhere there’s a loose surface – earth, sand, concrete dust. Her morning routine is two rolls in the farmyard. Down to the ground, onto her back, from there to her left side and then up onto her hooves again, with some effort. Now we have no need to keep the camping area donkey-free, the ladies have the run of the whole field. Over the last couple of weeks, Honey has made herself a grassless, dusty, shallow indentation, an earth bath, in the middle of the flat camping ground. She can now complete her ablutions there. Like Baloo the bear, she’s found her perfect place to scratch.

Earth clings beneath my nails. Over the last eight weeks or so, it’s become difficult to keep my hands properly clean, keyboard clean. My excuse for not wearing gardening gloves is that adult ones are just too big for me.


If there are ghosts here, we’ve not yet met them. Or they’re extremely benign spirits, just minding their own business. We had no ghostly encounters in the last house either. But in the house before (two houses ago), where I planted that pittosporum, there were definitely presences. We all felt something.

When we left that house late in 2002, I planted, (or buried), a  glass bottle and this is the poem I wrote about it.

I want to make a giraffe’s head

The donks look awful right now. Their coats are between seasons, and they don’t shed prettily. Twice a year, there’s about a month when they appear unkempt and unloved.

They’ve rediscovered the last dandelions as a tasty snack to nibble on their way out to the field. Herb robert and cow parsley are considered delicacies too, but fat hen is out of favour. They know what they like. Docks of course are a big no, and they avoid most wild flowers with precision. But we have to distract them,( as you would a determined toddler), from eating  the oxeye daisies and the willow hedge.

Do most children still know about dandelion clocks, buttercups under the chin – ‘do you like butter’ and making daisy chains? I hope so.

The youngest ones’ mum is feeling better, on the mend anyway. She is enthused by a new project, constructing a giraffe’s head which will hang on the end wall of their cottage. For decoration.

‘Like some people have reindeers on their wall,’ her six-year-old explained to me helpfully. So, while we ladies were using the cottage on the back of the farmhouse as a hair salon yesterday afternoon, the children were collecting oddments of chicken wire for the sculpture.

My daughter-in-law gave both me and my daughter a trim. I can now see out of my fringe and while I don’t feel exactly like a new woman, I feel like less of an old one. We ate cakes again and the conversation moved from giraffes to incubating chicks to the easing of lockdown – the hows, whens and whats.

We’re planning to emerge briefly from ‘quarantine chic’ later today and have tea in honour of VE Day. I’ll bring out assorted vintage tea sets after lunch. Some of us may even put a dress on.

The season advances daily. Jasmine is opening against the wall in the farmyard, joining the clematis and the potato tree ‘Glasnevin’. There’s not a strong scent yet, but yesterday evening I went right up close to inhale the perfume. Sunset was staggeringly beautiful.

No Visitors

This Easter no cars pulled up filled with hot, tired children and pooches, with couples who’d had words about directions, with tales of nose-to-tail M4 jams. This Easter there were no visitors to greet, meet, feed, water, talk to, say farewell to.

There were no visitors.

This Easter no one came to ask for an extra key, more logs, or kindling, matches or firelighters. This Easter no one needed directions, or a restaurant booking, or a taxi. There were no visitors.

This Easter there were no recommendations sought for pubs, beaches, places to walk. This Easter no one asked for the hot tub, or an extra blanket, or BBQ coals or a plaster. There were no visitors.

This Easter the children still hunted for clues, but by themselves. This Easter the only cooking smells were our cooking smells. This Easter the only noise from children was from our children.

This Easter there was still chocolate and over-indulgence; the children feasted stickily. This Easter we were favoured with fine weather and good health.

This Easter there were no visitors.