Tuesday 22 December 2015

Christmas Greetings

 As you lovely regular readers of my blog will know from my previous post, I've had a bit of a rough year this year - hence the lack of posts. Loosing dad has been one of the most intensely painful and heart-wrenching experiences of my life, but it has been eased by the wonderful, loving and supportive messages from my dear on-line Blogger and Facebook friends and I want to thank you from the bottom of my slowly mending heart for that support....even though I've been rubbish as responding individually to you!

As we face our first Christmas without him, it's a time of conflicting emotions. All my family are gathering together for a few days to celebrate both Christmas and dad. There will be the usual laughter and fun but no doubt this will be tempered by tears from us all along the way too as we get used to the new normality of Christmas without him. I suspect that there will be an awful lots of sixpences appearing from the Christmas pudding in his honour as well!

This year's Christmas tree .... as traditional as ever!

First-Born realised how difficult this year could be for me and made me two new ornaments for the Christmas tree. The first one is a copy of our favourite family photo in a silver frame. I absolutely love it and it's perfect having us all together on the tree.

 She was a little bit wary of giving me the second one in case I got upset or offended ....but I nearly split my sides laughing instead! She made a 'Santa Dad'! He would have loved this. It would have really appealed to his sense of humour and the absurd!

It came with strict instructions that whenever we go to other family member's houses for Christmas, Santa Dad comes too! I can live with that! It's brilliant!

Of course, the one thing I really wish for I can't have, so instead I'll wish each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and joy-filled 2016 instead.

Hopefully normally blog service will resume in the New Year - I have so much to post about as we've still managed to finally do some fairly major works in the garden over summer on a project that been 13 years in the design process! No spoilers!!!

Merry Christmas everyone.


Wednesday 17 June 2015

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

Shakespeare was wrong, parting is most definitely not a sweet sorrow, parting is agony. It is curling up in a foetal position, holding yourself and rocking until the pain and silent screaming have passed, whilst knowing that the agony will strike again and again for the foreseeable future because it is outside of your control.

It's the seemingly endless tears we can produce at any time - the ones that stream down the face for what seem like hours and leave you snotty, red eyed and exhausted and the ones that just leak silently from the eyes unbidden at unexpected times. It's the howling like a banshee with your face pressed into an old coat, the sight of which had caused the flood in the first place.

It's that intensely sharp stab through the heart at a piece of music, a specific scent, the touch of a cashmere jumper, the memory of a frequently shared old family joke or seeing a beloved face in a photograph. It's the tossing and turning in bed at night, unable to get to sleep then finally doing so only to wake, exhausted, in the wee small hours to start tossing and turning all over again.

 It is the intense weight of lethargy - that sheer inability to make a decision or even to do anything some days, the total lack of enthusiasm for things that you normally love, the sudden inability to concentrate on anything except iPad jigsaw games for more than a couple of minutes at a time. It's the favourite book that has suddenly been translated into Russian and no longer makes any sense no matter how many times you read the same paragraph.

It is the burning desire and the need to become a hermit from the social world to be alone with your pain without having to deal with other people. It is the immense heaviness of grief. But strangest of all, it is the mind that wanders off to a different place at will - a place of bland nothingness, but where it was safe, where you weren't bereft, rudderless and adrift in the sea of life, alone as an orphan.

You may have realised by now that, at the age of 55, I have become an orphan. The death of a parent is always devastating and I don't think it matters at what age it happens, but the death of your second parent is even more so because of that complete loss of the guiding lights of your life and the only people who can and will ever give you total complete and utterly unconditional love.

My wonderful Dad died on February the 26th after a brief illness - the first in his 83 years of life. Ower Dave and I are left bereft. We had such a strong, loving, open, honest and laughter-filled relationship with Dad, as you can see from the photo below.

I wanted to say so much about Dad, but as Ower Dave gave a fantastic and very moving eulogy at Dad's crowded funeral, and as I share so many of the same strong memories, I figured I couldn't write anything better than that so I've pinched a few bits from it instead. It's over to Ower Dave now, but any bits in brackets are my comments and thoughts:

Dad was a big family man and most of my earliest memories are around the things we did as a family:
  • the way we used to go for walks in Derbyshire every weekend, and how brilliant Dad was at playing hide and seek in the heather when we had picnics
  • the way we always ate together as a family and how he teased us by hiding our cutlery when we were distracted at the dinner table
  • the children's parties we did and the treasure hunts he organised as part of those
  • the way he could always pick out the last piece of the jigsaw and put it to one side to prove it, even when we'd just started (took me years to work that one out!)
As we grew up, home and the family continued to be important to Dad. We lived as a family in three houses over the years but whichever house we were in, he and Mum always made it a welcoming place for other people.
  •  I remember the house often being full of both our friends and theirs
  • there was always a meal available
  • many of our friends came round just because they felt it a comfortable place to be when they were growing up
  • In my head it seems that Mum and Dad often went out to parties and, especially when I was young, the way everyone dressed up in long dresses and posh suits made being a grown up just seem so glamorous (Mum and Dad, circa 1971. Dad was Regional President of the North East Region of the National Federation of Master Painters - now the more boringly titled Painters and Decorators Association)
As the family grew up and we found ourselves with our partners, Dad and Mum embraced them all fully as part of the family and of course loved and treasured their 4 granddaughters when they came along.
  • It's telling that one of the most consistent messages we've heard since Dad died, from the funeral director, from dad's florist, from his neighbours, Father Desmond (Dad's parish priest) and others is how proud he was of us all.
  • looking back over his life, one of the reasons I think he was able to be so proud was because of the safe spaces he created for all of those around him. Whether it was us, our friends or those he came into contact with, he had a way of being supportive and present in a way that was right for each person even if he didn't know that was what he was doing.
Part of that was Dad's sheer capacity to love, his underlying kindness, personal resilience, courage and fortitude. He was devastated when Angie (our sister) had an accident that left her paralysed. And I'm certain he thought he was going to die of a broken heart during the first few months after mum died in 1991. But he found a way of working through these and Angie's subsequent death in 1996, and continued to find great joy and pleasure in the family. He loved it when all the family was together. (Like the time 2 years ago that we had a professional photography session for the family - he was at the centre of the family then, as he always was. This was the photo we chose to go on the front of the Order Of Service at his funeral as it seemed so right to surround him with our love one last time)
The last area of Dad's life I'd like to touch on was the overall way he was able to connect with people. When Mum was alive she was so vibrant that I thought she was the main connector, but I've come to recognise that Dad and she were at least equally matched.
Both before and since he died, so very many people have told me (us) what a genuinely good and nice man he was and how fond they were of him and I think that was one of his true gifts. Sometimes it's just the little things. People remember him as being kind, thoughtful and caring - a true gentleman, but they also remember him being smartly dressed with a jacket and tie or his trademark cashmere jumpers.
Wherever Dad formed his connections and friendships, he held them all dear, and this completed the circle for him of family, work, faith and friendship. The one thing that was common throughout all this seems to have been that there was always laughter wherever Dad was. Liz often tells the story that the people where she worked always knew when she was talking on the phone to Dad because she laughed so much and I remember Angie saying much the same thing.
Even amongst the sadness we laughed with James from Bartholomew's when we were arranging the funeral. We laughed with Sasha at the florists when we were the flowers. We laughed with Father Desmond when arranging the funeral service and we've laughed amongst ourselves as we've remembered what Dad meant to us and the things we did together.
Dad would have been fine with that. I came across a piece of paper when I was checking his papers for his thoughts on today which said, in his words, that it was alright to take the mickey out of him at his funeral.
One of the things that Dad often said in good humour to us, usually after he'd been teasing, messing around or just generally being daft, was "you'll miss me when I've gone".
He was right. We do and we will, but these then are some of the ways I'm going to remember him:
  • as the man who could magically squeeze toothpaste back into the tube
  • as the man who always found the sixpence at Christmas
  • as the man who could always find the last piece of the jigsaw
  • as the man who loved his family and friends enormously and was loved equally by them
  • as the man who left us with a legacy of doing up houses that so far has lasted for more than thirty years
  • as a man who brought love and laughter wherever he went
  • as the 83 year old with two replacement knees who could still get up at ladder to paint his chimney
  • as the man who adored spending time with his beloved granddaughters

  • as a man who's competitive spirit and unending sense of fun caused so much laughter over the years - traits that he has passed on to Ower Dave and myself! (This photo, from the same photo shoot is made up of individual photos of us all role playing 'jobs' from one of our favourite family games ...Cranium. It was supposed to be a quick part of the shoot, but we all got competitive and wouldn't stop until our 'jobs' had been correctly guessed, so it beautifully sums up the fun we all had together)
Back to me now for the final word.
I feel so fortunate to have had such amazing parents. We were financially poor when I was little, but we 3 children were never aware of it because we were love rich and protected from such adult worries. Dad and Mum both set us firm and consistent boundaries with known consequences if we didn't follow them - and they never failed to carry out those consequences either, but they also praised and rewarded us for the positive things we did and for our achievements - even though Dad was smarting a little when, at age 12, I finally beat him in a swimming race! (Competitive? Us? Dead right!)
The best thing they gave us throughout our lives though was the knowledge that we were loved. "I love you" was a commonly used phrase by everyone in our family.....although from Mum and Dad, it was sometimes (okay, often) followed by "....but I don't like your behaviour right now!", but it was never used in a trite or offhand manner. It was always heartfelt and meant.
Dave and I had the painful and heart-wrenching privilege of being with both Mum and Dad when they died, 24 years apart. But we also had the immense privilege of hearing the last words from both of them to each of us be "I love you".
I love you too Dad.

Monday 22 December 2014

Merry Christmas!

It's been a funny old year one way and another, but Christmas and the New Year beckon so I'd like to wish everyone in Blogland and very Happy Christmas and wonderful 2015.

I also want to thank everyone for reading my blog and for putting up with the huuuuuge gaps between posts! I'm hoping to get back into blogging again properly in the new year :-)

May your celebrations be joy-filled and I hope Santa  will be good to you!

Ho, Ho, Ho!

Thursday 23 October 2014


Erm.....oooops indeed. I'm not quite sure where the summer went, except in a frenzy of gardening, but I certainly didn't quite get round to blogging - but here we are now, ready for another except from the delayed tales of how to build a Japanese garden!

Some of you with sharp eyes and long memories might remember that in the early days of the garden, oh so long ago now, there was a fruit cage behind the the tea house....frequently complete with a football care of the son of Mrs. AnotherBloodyEyesore! This photo is from May 2011 - oh how things change! ;-)

Anyway, that summer we had Big Bud Mite on the blackcurrant bushes in the cage and the only rememdy was to dig the fruit bushes up and burn them ...incurring the wrath of Mrs. A.B.E yet again because she had some laundry out! BUT given that my magic eyes aren't quite strong enough to see through a 6ft high, 3ft wide thick holly boundary hedge and it appears that she always has laundry out so that she has an excuse to shout at people, it was a risk I had to take! 

Anyway, I burnt the bushes, survived the verbal mauling from our delightful neighbour and resisted the urge to get drawn into pointing out how often their footballs had damaged our plants, landed in the pond, nearly hit us on the head, etc.etc.etc before realising that I couldn't replant new bushes in the same place in case of recontamination from mites in the soil. 

Relocating the fruit cage meant that suddenly there would soon be all this unclaimed land up for grabs! .....Now what could I possibly do with that eh?!
I have to confess that I was never particularly happy with having the fruit cage directly behind the tea house as I felt it detracted from Himself's work of art, but as the fruit cage was there first, I'd never come up with a strong enough reason to shift it - until now!

But it was summer and the redcurrant and gooseberry bushes were still in fruit so moving the cage had to be an autumn job if we didn't want the birds, squirrels, foxes and badgers to get to the fruit before we did! However, having got rid of the blackcurrant bushes, there was space inside the cage to work! I laid out my trusty bit of old hosepipe to form the route for a new path I'd envisaged and Himself kindly offered to dig it for me - and who was I to refuse?!

 It was hot, hard work ...glad it wasn't me that was digging! I was nice - I kept the pints of water coming!

Once the path was dug to a  depth suitable for motorway foundations, Himself raided our sandstone store up the garden (which was created with what we'd dug out of the pond years ago!) and used that as hardcore foundations. I got him to pile all the topsoil up to create a 'mountain' for the path to curve round and to give that very flat area some topological interest (Ooh er, there's posh!)

 The mountain in the background.

And, as usual, the new bit stayed like that for quite some time! Well, actually, that's not quite true! Being me, I couldn't resist a bit of instant gardening, so I pinched various grasses and ferns from other parts of the garden to use purely as temporary fillers, planted the Killmarnock Willow that our lovely neighbour, Tony, had bought us as a Silver Wedding anniversary present.......

Found a few Hebes going for a song on the 'Rescue' table at the local nursery....unlike the Twisted Beech, which was also at the local nursery, but wasn't exactly going for a song!

I then bought some Irish Moss as ground cover.

And I left it to get on with its own devices for 3 years until this spring!

I wanted to join up the now-not-so-new path to the veranda, so Himself had to move the huge rock that had acted as a retaining rock when the fruit cage had been behind the tea house, from its original upright position to a horizontal position to make a step from the veranda to the path.....no mean feat given the size and weight of the rock and we bent the scaffold pole lever - again!

 You can see here that the grasses have become too dominant and need to be moved - fortunately I appear to have got myself involved in the after-school gardening club at one of the primary schools we teach tai chi at, so the grasses have found a new home as part of the redesign of their raised beds in the playground ....quite useful that I was doing the redesign really! ;-)

Anyway, the next few photos were taken yesterday - and our trusty bent scaffold pole makes a very good netting support to keep the leaves out of the pond. A bit over-engineered (as ever!), but it keeps Himself happy!

The grasses have gone, the hebes have grown, box balls have found a new home and the Irish moss, which worked well in the very wet summer of 2012, didn't like the direct sunlight of 2013 and died, so has been replaced by a creeping ground cover that I don't know the name of and don't have a photo of either!

I've finally made a start on doing the path edgings - bought a load of old  roof tiles from the local reclaim yard for 35 pence each - bargain! The path, which will soon be covered in weed repellant matting and a thick layer of pea gravel to match the other paths, now joins the veranda step at one end.....

goes up to curve round past the twisted beech on the mountain.....

and has currently got as far as my lovely Buddha statue, which was a Christmas present from our best friends - they know me so well!

There is still a way to go yet though - but I'm hoping to get it finished off during the half term holiday next week if the weather is kind to me!

The sharp-eyed amongst you may have spotted a certain final bit of annexation! There was a metre (or so) beyond the back wall of the fruit cage that went up as far as the concrete path just behind the maple tree. This area was originally planted up with rhubarb and blackberries which appear to have moved themselves to the other side of the garden to be with the rest of the soft fruit ;-P

Various other bamboos, cornus, pieris, hebes and an acer have somehow appeared in the empty soil ...don't know how it happened! 
I have now had very strict instructions from Himself that I am not allowed to annexe any more of the garden :-D

Friday 27 June 2014

Many years ago.......

.....in a small market town in Derbyshire, some fool decided that building a Japanese garden and tea house would be a good plan and probably wouldn't take all that long. That fool was me and eight years later, it's still not finished! However, we have just about finished renovating our 1920's house, learnt how to grow fruit and vegetables, made a lot of other changes in the garden and had a life with our gorgeous daughters, so all is not lost!

I'm not known as a speedy blogger and many of my posts refer back to stuff we did ages ago - ok, MOST of my posts are about about stuff we did ages ago...life gets in the way of blogging at times! Today's post is no exception. Today we're going back 4 years to the finishing off of the top pond and the tea house courtyard....if I can find the right photos after all this time!

We'll start with Himself putting my granite lantern into the pond....and making it work, obviously!
He put a couple of large flatish stones on the pond shelf before drilling a hole for the wire in another stone and resting that on top. The water looks skanky because we hadn't got the filter working at that time - the water is lovely and clear now.

 The granite lantern came in 4 parts - because it was chuffing 'eavy and couldn't possibly have been hoiked into place as one complete lantern. The base went on top of the drilled stone,

it was of course perfectly level!
The light was then threaded through the hole and the wire was carefully placed in the small gap between the 2 base stones.
The clamps and stuff on the edge of the tea house veranda were because Himself had glued some mahogany pieces onto the edges to completely encase the softwood and protect it from the weather.
The second piece of the lantern went on next. In Japan, the windows are open  to the elements, but our elements are a bit too inclement for that, so I used pieces of plastic milk containers to provide protection - an idea I borrowed from Purelands, a Japanese Garden and Meditation Centre near Newark which is well worth a visit if you're in the area.
The mountain of soil inside the fruit cage will get explained in another post very soon!

Himself making sure he'd not dribbled glue onto the grantite whilst sticking the third piece on!
The fourth piece finally in place.
 Once Himself had done the heavy work, I could move in and do the arty-farty bit! I covered the shelf  and the surrounding edges with more small rocks, stones and pebbles. If there is one thing I can't abide with home-made ponds it's being able to see the liner - you can't see any liner anywhere around my ponds.......except if you lie on your tummy on the veranda and peer back underneath to the bit I can't get to! :-P
 A goodly chunk of the pond shelf and edge sorted and the waterlillies in place in the deep bit of the pond.
Himself's next task (it's begining to sound like 'The Twelve Labours of Hercules' here!) was to make me a Tsukubai - a stone water basin. Traditionally they are smoother on the outside, often rounded, but hey - we had lots of big rocks lying around the yard....!
First he drilled a load of holes,

 before chiseling the stone out
 to make a nice smooth central water hole.
The only slight problem was that he'd done the job down on the yard and the tea house courtyard was about 100 yards up the garden! Everywhere is UP in our garden, including the stone, which was levered up
 and placed in our long-suffering wheelbarrow for Himself, Last-Born and the Drummer Boy to take up the garden. I can't remember which bit of me I'd injured at that point or how, but I was on light duties and therefore exempt from rock hauling!
hence we got photos.
There are no photos of getting it into place because I was too busy bossing them around and choosing which face of the stone I wanted facing outwards to take any!

The Wonderful Pete had put the step stone in place the previous weekend (but can I 'eckerslike find those photos!) and I laid down the stepping stones - in Japanese gardens the stepping stones are always deliberately close together to make you slow down as you walk on them so that you have chance to take in your surroundings.
They were then taken up so that sand could be put down

A fully sanded courtyard.
Then some left over butyl pond liner was put on top of the sand as a weed suppressant
before I had the fun job of putting all the pebbles down in the courtyard - individually handpicked and carefully placed, obviously!
 before putting pea gravel on the path from the bridge to the courtyard and blending in where they met. And so it has remained ever since!

To finish off, I've added in a few photos of how it looks now at 6.45pm on a grey and wet June day - when we've had stonking hot sunny weather for days, I know, I know - should have taken 'em yesterday!

 There will one day be a rainchain from the roof to the basin to fill it with fresh rainwater. At the moment I use the ladle to fill it with pond water ...but I do have to be careful at this time of year as I have been known to accidentally ladle tadpoles in as well!

 The granite lantern is a bit greener than it really ought to be ;-P

 Hope you enjoyed your tour? It's not finished yet....will it ever be?! I'm in the middle of replacing a lot of the 'filler' grasses with hebes, euphorbias and box balls. I'm also planting moss and other ground cover. Still got 2 paths to finish and some other stuff to do, so watch this space!