Friday, 29 June 2007

Ephemeral sounds of childhood

The other morning I just caught the end of a radio programme about disappearing noises, milk floats, the ching of cash registers, police car sirens and the like. That set me thinking about what sounds played in the background of my childhood.

When very small, and not allowed beyond the bounds of our garden, I remember the sound of my Dad’s circular saw working in the tiny sawmill next to our cottage. He worked as a forester for the National Trust and I can also remember the whine of chain saws coming from the woods. I wasn’t scared by these sounds, they were just the background to everyday life.

The noise that scared the wits out of me was the spooky coo of wood pigeons. And the woods round our house was just full of the wretched birds. (Just like my allotment, D **n them!)

My big sister, who went to school and therefore knew everything, told me they were witches calling to each other. The first soft hoot would have me banging on the back door to be let in. I never told my Mum what the matter was and she never thought to ask.

Later we had a golden retriever who could hear my Dad’s Landrover a long time before it came into the lane. We’d know he was on his way home when she ran to the door with her ears pricked up. Sure enough Dad would arrive minutes later. It just gave us enough time to get out our homework and turn the record player off.

Sounds are so ephemeral, with so much noise about nowadays I wonder what modern children will remember. My home was on its own in a wood. I was so used to natural sounds that I often took them for granted. I think that’s why the noise of the saws are so prominent in my memory.

What were the sounds I liked best as a child? Foxes barking in the woods or and owl hooting overhead while I lay snug in bed were nice, but best was the wind whipping the plum trees until they nearly touched my bedroom window. As I type I can almost hear them now. Even the thought sends a delicious shiver down my back.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

A nasty case of green fingers

I’m feeling just a bit guilty. It’s the village summer vegetable show today and the ‘Hidden Gardens’ open day on Sunday and I’m not going to either. I’m off to an old friend’s big birthday bash today and it’s best that, for once, I boycott the Hidden Gardens. They only make me dissatisfied with my small plot of earth, though most of the posh heritage gardens, the ones that make me really jealous, are firmly closed this year. They’re probably fed up with us humble cottage dwellers staring maliciously at their manicured lawns and perfect rose arbours. I can be a spiteful gardener at times. I would love a few rolling acres but realistically my little garden and half an allotment are about all I have time to manage. That and the fact that I haven’t got about a million and a half quid to spare.

I knew someone, a previous work colleague and a waspish sort of chappie, who would visit gardens with a pocket full of seeds specially saved for the purpose of scattering when he felt garden envy coming on. He brought a whole new meaning to green fingered. I guess it makes a change from visitors pinching plants. Sadly he never felt the need to scatter those secret little seeds in my garden.

As for the show. I really meant to enter some peas and other bits and pieces. I grew some specially. They were looking good too, but they were even lovelier in the vegetable lasagne we had last night for supper. It was either that or walk up the village to the greengrocers and, as I may have said before, I can be quite lazy at times.

(There was actually a famous ‘lady’ gardener, Miss Wilmot, who would scatter white Eryngium seeds in all the gardens she visited, the resulting plants came to be known as Miss Wilmot’s Ghost. I am not sure if I’ve got that completely right. Does anyone know the whole story?)

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Midsummer memories

I’m feeling wistful. On this day last year I was drinking beer around midnight in a bar in Destruction Bay, the Yukon, and it was still daylight. I can’t say I saw the midnight sun as Destruction Bay doesn’t do sun, just eerie twilight and an amazing scouring wind that blows 365 days a year.

The bar was crowded with construction workers and some of the toughest looking women I’ve ever seen in my life, but they were all amiable and we passed a pleasant evening talking football and the world cup. I know absolutely nothing about football but beer helps to extend opinions and I don’t think anyone else knew much either.

I remember feeling a bit wistful that evening as well . We were coming to the last couple of days of our drive from Seattle, into Canada, along Highways 97 and 99 to Dawson City and up the Alaskan Highway, on route to my friend’s home in central Alaska. An epic drive through the most amazing scenery ever.

My Alaskan friend’s daughter had just graduated from Washington State and needed to drive her car home, so we joined her for one of the most amazing road journeys in the world. She drove most of the way , with her mum, my man and me hanging out of the windows snapping photos, yarning, singing and generally behaving like a bunch of teenagers on a spree. It was great, even if our cheeky young driver did tell people we met on the way that she’d just picked us up at a pioneer home (Old folk’s home to us in the UK) Bless her!

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Some tru(ish) confessions

It seems I’ve had a few days off school and the whole place has erupted into nakedness and true confessions. I’ll pass on the nakedness, it has to be very hot for me to take off my cardi, but I’ll have a go at a few true(ish) confessions.

I learnt early on that you can get away with most things if you have the right disguise.
I’d rather be out in the wilds but have lived much of my adult life in a town.
I have been accused of being aloof and standoffish. This is always a surprise to me as I see myself as thoughtful and restrained.
I was brought up in a cottage with no electricity and 15 cats.
I love travelling to wild places. I’ve sat with mountain gorillas in Zaire (Congo) and camped wild in Alaska.
I tend to be rather lazy.
I can be bossy and self opinionated.
I’ve surprised myself at writing this as it is very out of character. I detest being the centre of attention.

(If you are interested in the fate of mountain gorillas, check out )

Thursday, 7 June 2007

My sister would kill me if she knew..

My big sister, who lives in the wilds of North East Scotland, was asked by her local womens' group to write a promotional poem about where they live. Rather tongue in cheek she wrote:

Welcome to rural Scotland
Where mountains are so high
Standing stones and waterfalls
Rainbows in the sky

See our lovely coastline Dolphins in the bay
Castles perched upon the cliff
'Tis life the highland way
Sweetly blooming heather
Grouse upon the moor
You'll get a smile from friendly folk
At every cottage door
Goodbye from rural Scotland
Haste ye back once more

To her surprise it was greeted with much acclaim, but, after a few weeks of very trying weather she wrote the antidote:

Welcome to rural Scotland
Wi' it's midges and wi' bogs
Hurricanes and aeroplanes
And everlasting fogs
If you should come to Scotland
Be sure to bring a mac
Wi' rain and wind and hailstones
Will you be coming back.

(If anyone recognises her style, she loves it there really. Don't tell on me 'cos she's bigger than me.)

Monday, 4 June 2007

The truth has to be told...

Thanks for the lovely comments about my pest of a cat but I’m afraid the truth has to be told. He isn’t the sweet furry little number he appears to be in photos. I’ll forgive him the bits of chewed blue tits left on the washing basket lid. I’m used to mouse guts squidged behind the kitchen door. I calmed down quickly when the live magpie he bought into the kitchen wrecked my show daffodils. I didn’t make a fuss when the smell in the shoe rack turned out to be a badly mauled mouse that had crawled in there to die. I know he is a cat and likely to do these things.

What I can’t accept is that he bullies small children. When brave, bold, cat confident children arrive he runs for cover under the bed or he sits scowling up the apple tree, but two of my grandchildren are timid around animals.

Then the brave garden tiger finds them irresistible. As soon as they arrive he starts some serious intimidation, rubbing round their legs, walking across their toys, sitting on their books, all the time purring aggressively. The more they stiffen with fright, the more he smirks and enjoys himself. They stand still with their little hands in the air and he purrs and winds round them in an intimidatingly friendly manner.

Even the older, bolder granddaughter, eyeing him cautiously, remarked,

“It’s lucky he hasn’t learned to eat people yet.”

I’m not so sure. I’m certainly keeping an eye on him when the little ones are at our house.