Pastures new: Blackberries and plums

Here we are in July. That means we are into the second half of the year. Can you believe it? Time is just flying by.

This month began in earnest with visit from Down Under in the form of my stepmum, B. Originally from Kent, B emigrated as a young adult and built a life in Australia before meeting and marrying Dad over thirty years ago. So at far-too-early o’clock on July 3rd, I collected her at Heathrow Arrivals and brought her back to Gidday HQ for a few days of rest and recuperation.

To pass the time we spent a few hours at the Museum of London and a day playing tourist on one of London’s Hop-On-Hop-Off buses – as well as eating some delicious ice-cream in Green Park – before deciding to do some exploring closer to home. Dad and B are committed geocachers and B was keen to add a London badge to their treasure-hunting travails. The geocaching app told us there were two caches near Gidday HQ so with the sun shining hotly overhead, we set off.

The first was a relatively easy find in Victoria Park just a five minute walk away. The GPS on B’s phone pinpointed the approximate location and the clues led us straight to the cache itself. Bingo!

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All smiles after finding B’s first London geocache nearby

Inspired by our success, we decided to head to another cache a little further away. We made our way down Long Lane to where the North Circular passed overhead and followed an unassuming footpath up to the right behind the row of houses.

This is how I found out about Long Lane Pasture.

Long Lane Pasture is a meadow in the middle of North London suburbia that is chock full of local flora and fauna. It covers 2.6 hectares running parallel to the busy North Circular on one side, the Underground’s Northern Line along its south-westerly border and a host of allotments to the north-west.

LLP Map

We entered via the gate located at the south-east corner and wandered along the grassy paths. We passed blackberry bushes and plum trees swathed heavily in almost-ripe fruit, trees cast their intermittent shade on our shoulders and butterflies flitted busily between the wildflowers ignoring, or simply oblivious to, our passage. The busy North Circular Road faded from our minds as we immersed ourselves in this wonderful patch of nature busily getting on with ‘its business’.

Long Lane Pasture

LLP Redcurrants and plums

With exception of a short period during World War II, Long Lane Pasture has remained uncultivated since 1912 when the Mayor of Barnet planted an oak tree here to commemorate it as a recreational community space. In the early 1980’s it was closed to the public because of proposed roadworks and the meadow lay unattended until 1999 when the Council decided to sell the land for housing development. This prompted a public campaign to keep the pasture as a green space and the Council’s decision was finally overturned in 2006.

The Long Lane Pasture Trust was formed to replace the pressure group originally set up to prevent houses being built on the land. The Trust was first granted a licence to access the land in 2005 and then in the following year, was granted a 25-year lease to protect, restore and manage the Pasture, safeguarding the land for the benefit of the community. In 2012/2013, Long Lane Pasture was awarded a Community Green Flag for high quality management of public green spaces, one of only 43 awarded across London at the time.

For two hours each Saturday morning volunteers gather at the pasture to help maintain the meadow – weeding, trimming, mowing and clearing rubbish (shame on those who leave it!) – and also support school visits and special event days.

We grew more and more delighted by the minute as we wandered around with one eye on the GPS (after all we had a geocache to find) whilst drinking in everything around us. We found some shade beneath the leafy drapery of a gorgeous willow tree at the far end of the Pasture and spent ten minutes or so wallowing in this welcome respite from the heat. Then it was on with finding the geocache before heading back out into the sun.

Under the willow tree (LLP)

Feeling absolutely thrilled to have discovered the Pasture, that evening I jumped on-line and registered as a supporter. I’ve also put the annual blackberry picking event – just three weeks away – in my calendar. Mmmmmm I do love blackberries.

So this unexpected adventure has reminded me that delightful things happen when you venture off your regularly beaten path – and it doesn’t need to be very far off either. It has me wondering what other delightful surprises are just waiting to be discovered…

ps…speaking of delightful surprises, the birthday countdown continues in earnest with just 17 sleeps to go. This in itself is not surprising if you know me at all but it would be uncharitable of me not to remind you of how much I love to be surprised and delighted – *hint* *nudge* *wink* and all that…

Counting down

I was fossicking about on Facebook this morning when Licensed-To-Grill (Mum’s partner) mentioned that I had been unusually silent. He didn’t mean generally – I always have plenty to say and share – but he was pointing to one thing in particular. So this post is designed to address that gap, to fill the space that has been created, ironically enough, as a result of my busy-ness.

There are 38 sleeps to go until my birthday.

My sister, Lil Chicky, and I love a countdown. I mean what’s not to love about a Christmas countdown, (especially when you are smugly/annoyingly organised like me)? And every second Christmas I’m usually heading back Down Under so there’s the additional excitement of seeing loved ones again and enjoying a stretch of warm weather smack bang in the middle of a London winter.

Yep, that’s a pretty great thing to count down to.

But what about the birthday countdown?

Mum, Lil Chicky and I moved to Melbourne when I was ten which put us a plane trip away from a lot of our family. It also meant that the usual day-to-day experiences of girls growing into teenagers were not available to them. As a result, a couple of times a year, Mum would find herself fielding a host of ‘what would she like?’ requests as our birthdays approached. Being a family that doesn’t do ‘here’s some money, buy what you like’, we would be asked for a ‘birthday list’.

As I got older – and I mean into my 20s, 30s and *ahem* 40s – I started to have a bit of fun with this by dropping it into regular conversation. Things like ‘Oooh I’m excited, only 38 sleeps to go!’ or ‘Did you know there are only 37 shopping days until my birthday?’. It gets a laugh but it also does something else.

Remember how excited you used to get about your birthday when you were a kid? (And if you can’t remember that far back, just check out any kids aged up to the age of ten with an impending birthday in your vicinity.) Well, this silliness creates a huge dose of childish excitement…in me. I absolutely love it. I don’t know about you but I reckon we could all use a bit more childish joy in life.

On the practical side, I still supply a birthday list each year that gets built in the weeks leading up to my big day. (I like Amazon Wishlist as I can build it as I think of things – instead of in one go – and I can restrict the list access so it’s not public.)  I treat it as a way of showcasing things I’m currently interested in so loved ones can either purchase directly from it (instead of shipping stuff from Australia) or be inspired by it. Books feature a lot, jewellery gets a regular look in and every so often there’ll be something a bit more random like a fancy lampshade I’ve fallen in love with, a funky kindle case or a pretty summer dressing gown.

But every year I am reminded of the power I have to generate my own joyful moments. And to remember that the day I came into the world was a gift and will always be worth celebrating.

There are 38 sleeps to go peeps.

And I AM excited.I'm excited

 

The road to motherhood

Today is Mother’s Day in the UK.

I am close to my Mum and always have been. Even though I now live on the opposite side of the world, we still keep all the connections going and spent time together just recently when I was in Melbourne over the Christmas / New Year period.

Others are not so fortunate. Some will spend the day in remembrance whilst a great many more will fall somewhere between the luxury of close proximity and feeling separated emotionally. For still others, this is just another day.

In Australia, we celebrate Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May so today is a bit of an awkward one for me. There’s the flurrying around me here but my official nod happens in May. I’ve been grappling with how best to acknowledge this UK version for the last couple of days.

Continue reading

En route to Christmas

I am currently sitting on the couch at my sister’s place in Melbourne. It’s been a hot day and the night is balmy and warm meaning that we have every possible window and door open in an effort to catch the breeze. It’s my bi-annual pilgrimage Down Under for a family Christmas, it’s day number two and with Christmas Day looking like a scorcher, I couldn’t be much further away from the chill of a London winter.

It’s a long way so as is my usual habit, I paused for a week on the way through to soak up some sun, read lots of books and enjoy some amazing food. This time the pause was in Hua Hin in Thailand at the gorgeous Anantara Resort.

I had a room overlooking the pool…

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After a ‘busy’ day poolside, I would spend a couple of hours curled up on this comfortable couch before heading out for dinner.

…and there was a lovely message from Dow, my room housekeeper, on my pillow every evening.

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Speaking of locals, there were elephants everywhere – this cutie was my favourite…

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A welcoming hello at the entrance, just one of the Elephant Parade installation scattered throughout the grounds.

…and Alex, the resident blue and green macaw, was a colourful sight around the resort.

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Apparently Alex is bi-lingual (English and Thai in case you were wondering)

All up nature was at her best whether big and breathtaking…

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View from the beach bar at the Anantara Hua Hin resort…it’s a tough life for some.

…small and delicate…

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There are orchids of all sorts everywhere. I passed this one every day on the way to breakfast.

…or there for just a moment.

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This water lily had blossomed overnight so I got this shot on the way to breakfast in the morning – the flower had drooped by mid afternoon and was gone by the evening.

The food was delicious..

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A traditional Thai appetiser. Take a leaf and add a bit of everything – peanuts, dried shrimp, dried coconut, shallot, garlic, lime, chilli and palm sugar paste. Wrap up the little parcel and pop it in your mouth. Delicious!

…and the cocktails many and varied across the balmy evenings…

…but in the main, I lay by the pool – cooling off with a dip in the water every so often – and read.

I devoured four magazines (two Vanity Fair and one each of Raconteur and The Economist’s 1843) and five books: Emma Donoghue’s absorbing The Wonder, Jeffrey Archer’s sixth in The Clifton Chronicles (Cometh the Hour) and the eighth novel in Bernard Cornwell’s Viking series (The Empty Throne), a light and fluffy Lift and Separate by Marilyn Simon Rothstein and the utterly gripping How I Lost You from Jenny Blackhurst. I was also halfway through Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings when I left.

It was such a blissfully solitary and self-indulgent week. Reading is my favourite thing to do and is exactly what I book the holiday for (as well as a much-needed dose of sun). It also stands me in good stead for the next phase of my trip – a little me-time before the hustle and bustle of Christmas and the inevitable flurry of activity with family and friends.

Which brings me back to where I started – a balmy night in the Melbourne suburbs on the night before Christmas. So before I embark on the various opporunities for festive cheer scheduled in the days ahead, all that remains for me to do is wish you a happy holiday season however and wherever you are spending it.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Hanging out

It’s been a busy few weeks and if you’ve been reading recent posts, you’ve probably gathered that Mum has been for a visit. The last time I saw her was on my bi-annual pilgrimage Down Under in December 2014 and, being rather a long time between familial drinks, we made a plan for her to have a three week sojourn at Gidday HQ.

Over Easter we had ourselves a three-night city break in Liverpool but this was just the tip of the iceberg – for three weeks we drank coffee, saw a few sights, did a bit of shopping and cooked some meals – Mum made some old favourites from my childhood and I added a few new dishes to my repertoire (so great to have the time and opportunity to try out a new recipe on someone else). But mainly we just enjoyed hanging out together. Here are some of the highlights.

We strolled along the Thames on a cool Spring Saturday and met some friends of mine for lunch at the Design Museum.

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Mum, yours truly on the banks of The Thames

We took a short tube ride and spent a colourful couple of hours at Camden Market.

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Left: Camden High Street is a mecca of self expression. Right: Statue of local girl Amy Winehouse

We also managed a Fab Four, post-Liverpool top up with Richard Porter’s Beatles In My Life walking tour which wound its way through John, Paul, George and Ringo’s London haunts and culminated in that crossing on Abbey Road.

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I stopped traffic but it had to be done

We went to see Glenn Close demonstrate some serious vocal chops as Norma Desmond in the musical Sunset Boulevard and also took a trip into the world of Downton Abbey with a visit to three of the show’s most famous filming locations…

Cogges Manor Farm (aka Yew Tree Farm) in Witney…

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The top middle photo shows where Mary’s antics with the muddy pigs were filmed (fans will know what I mean!) while the roof seen top right is where Daisy gets a new perspective on Andy in the closing scenes of the series.

…the village of Bampton (aka Ripon in the series)…

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The village church (top right) was the scene of many a Downton wedding whilst the hospital scenes were filmed in this old schoolhouse to the bottom right

…and of course “Downton Abbey” itself, Highclere Castle.

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The castle is a family home – the family being the 8th Earl of Carnarvon, George Herbert, Lady Carnarvon and their children – and as such is only open to visitors 60 days a year. Did you know that their ancestor, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon discovered Tutankhamun‘s tomb with Howard Carter in 1922?

Then on Monday night I put Mum on a plane and that, my friends, was that. Three weeks – gone by in a flash.

It was busy and full and so fabulous to spend time with Mum. And even though it’s always tough to say goodbye, there’s only about 8 months (or 251 sleeps) to go until I arrive in Melbourne for Christmas. In the meantime, this weekend has been ‘going-out free’ and today, with the washing drying in the Spring sunshine, the patio might be beckoning…

Smartie

This morning on the way to work, I opened an email from Mum containing some sad news – that Smartie (the cat) had died.

Smartie and sister Kit Kat arrived at Mum’s beachside pad about 12 years ago and quickly made themselves part of the family. While the hormonal effects of having them spayed led to their affectionate dubbing as Fatty and Scatty by Lil Chicky, there was no doubt of their permanent place in all of our hearts, especially Mum’s.

I’ve been living overseas for 11 of those 12 years and Kit Kat and Smartie have been every bit a part of my familial pilgrimages Down Under, whether curling themselves through my legs as I come through the door, mewling plaintively as I sit in ‘their spot’ on the couch or purring quietly next to me in Mum’s tiny courtyard garden, me draping one hand over the side of the chair to stroke an upturned chin or bowed head while I read.

Even so, I was surprised by how upset I felt by the news.

I walked along Victoria Embankment to the office today, through Whitehall Gardens with the Thames on my left, the morning sun glistening gently off the water. And it was the perfect place to give in to my tears. I cried for the cat for whom endless patting would never be enough. The cat who climbed into the bathroom sink each morning to watch Mum put her makeup on. The cat who sat out in the rain yesterday and then hid herself away to die.

I cried for Kit Kat, wondering where her sister and playmate has gone.

And I cried for Mum, for whom this is so sad a loss. Her email brought her worry, her search for Smartie and her sad discovery all the way across the world to the banks of the Thames and it pierced my heart to read her words and reflect on Smartie’s affectionate – albeit insistent – charm and the Smartie-shaped gap left by her passing.

As I dried my tears. I kept thinking to myself it’s not Mum, it’s not Lil Chicky or anyone else in my family. It’s not like the family pets we lost as I grew up, the ones I shared a house with and shouted at in frustration to ‘get off my beanbag’ or ‘leave the sausages alone’. But there it was anyhow – a heaviness in my heart and warm tears in my eyes.

Smartie now lies peacefully in the bower in Mum’s tiny courtyard garden.  The very place she’d come to find me, meowing insistently until my hand fell from the arm of the chair to rub my fingertips between her ears.

May she rest in the place I always found peace.

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You’ve got mail…16 sleeps to go

I staggered out of bed this morning to be greeted by a drizzly Saturday and have been faffing about (great word that, faffing) instead braving the elements and getting out to do the list of things I need to do.  This is also known as re-prioritising and is a very useful skill to have here in the UK, saving hours of damp trudging and allowing one to enjoy the soothing sound of the rain from a dry and comfortable vantage point at the front window.

But I digress.

My faffing meant that I was home when the postman arrived.  Nothing exciting really comes through the mailslot: just the usual assortment of bills to pay, flyers advertising things I could never imagine needing and To The Homeowner letters from local estate agents wishing to sell my little flat from underneath me.  But today was different.  As I whipped around, startled by the metallic clunk of the mail flap, I saw a flash of girly colour.

‘Pink!’, my little heart cried.  ‘Could it be…my first birthday card?’

And so it was.

Itinerant Father and Erstwhile Wife have won the Birthday Derby again, and although 2 days later than last year’s stirling effort, getting in with 16 sleeps to go can only be vigorously applauded.  (Sounds of wild cheering and me doing a little ‘Hooray it’s my birthday soon’ dance around my postage-stamp-sized lounge room).

The card (we are allowed to open birthday cards pre-special-day in the Hamer clan) is a testament to their continued concern about my welfare in a faraway land and featured some handy hints for me to consider in my advancing years:

An ode to ageing gracefully

May your bum stay firm and pert
May your boobies not head south
May your lippy never blend
Into thin lines round your mouth
May you eat a ton of chocolate
But never gain a pound
May you always look your best
Whenever Brad Pitt comes around.
May you never wear big pants
Or grow unwanted hair
And Birthday Girl if all else fails
May you be to sloshed to care!!

 

Well, don’t mind if I do!  And I have 16 days to plan how…

Dad & Bev, thanks for the birthday tip and the lovely wishes.

ps…for a little more detail on the Birthday Rules according to the Hamer clan, click here…my sister Lil Chicky sums it up so succinctly in her comment!

8 sleeps to go…I want a pony

My lil’ sister (fondly known as Chicky) has had a tough week and it’s one of the times that living over here feels especially far away.  So in an effort to make her smile and to honour our special ‘Big-Chicky-to-Lil-Chicky’ relationship, this post captures some more of those defining moments from my childhood but in an ‘advice from a big sister’ kind of way:

I know you’re not sure what the cake with the little crib on it is all about…but smile anyway!

I know it’s your first birthday…but it’s good to share!

This Marching Girls caper is pretty easy…but you are supposed to be looking straight ahead, not chatting!

Oops…an elbow in the cake…don’t worry, it won’t be the first time.

I know it’s a birthday but should we be having THIS much fun in matching dresses?

And here’s the most important piece of advice of all…

Sisters always look out for each other

BTW, the Chicky-and-Husband parcel arrived last night and quite apart from the anticipation of opening my present on the 1st (strict family rule not to open one’s present until the birthday day itself), the card (family rule does not apply), as quite possibly the most appropriate card ever given to me, simply demonstrates how well she knows me…

8 sleeps to go people, 8 sleeps…can’t wait to ride my pony!