Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Summertime and the living is easy

Easy for some maybe. Not, it would appear, for us. Summer for me used to mean daring to go to work without tights and a jacket, sweating it out on the Tube and watching reams of punters drip their way around the statutory sights, walking at an infuriatingly slow pace as they hinder my progress towards an al fresco glass of something  crisp and cold after work.  And then of course you have all the wonderful weekend senses of summer – the smell of cut grass, the coconutty twang of the sun tan lotion from last year’s beach holiday, the sound of ice cubes clinking in a mojito as you watch the sun go down. Oh yes. Summer at its rose-tinted bespectacled best.  I had imagined living in a place like this all of this would be beautifully magnified into some hazy country idyll. The reality, however, is proving a little different…

For starters, you can forget stretching languorously out on the grass to soak up the rays. First you've got to attack the damn grass and that is easier said than done when it literally towers above your head in the couple of acres that we have that are neither officially lawn nor field. This sort of grassy limbo is where we had idyllically imagined we would waft around the pretty meadow, Timotei advert style, running our hands through the wild flowers and tiptoeing lightly after butterflies. Yeah right. Who knew that grass could grow at such a rate?! We are now faced with the challenge of conquering it before it swallows us all up, vicious brambles n'all, and, in true Sleeping Beauty stylee, it takes ten men with machetes to get us out again. So we are now investing in what is known in the game as a ‘topper’. Not, as the name suggests, a nifty device to end it all (although I could see how that might one day come in handy for the increasing number of beasts wandering about the place with a number on their heads), but rather a souped up lawn mower for tackling large expanses of unruly grass.


We’ve also been engaging in a little light fencing this week to tackle the large patch of long-neglected marshy scrub (which the estate agents so poetically described as the “wildlife conservation meadow” in the bullshit patter that only they can do so well) so we can whack some sheep on there and win ourselves another couple of acres of productive land. Turns out the drains (ah yes the beloved drains again) have not been unblocked for many years creating a des res for any number bog dwellers and a nightmare for any form of farm equipment. So to action! For the precision lovers among you, fencing is quite possibly your perfect form of mental and physical exercise. First you’ve got to line up your poles to the absolute millimetre and then you belt the living crap out of them until they are the requisite depth below the ground. Satisfaction incarnate.

Check out that straight line of poles
June always used to be a busy month at work, everyone working late into the evening trying to hit their milestones and deadlines before the City packed up and buggered off to Saint Tropez or other equally glamorous locations for the whole of July and August. Here overtime has taken on a whole new meaning. Basically as soon as the kids are asleep (or at least confined to barracks) it’s a quick game of rock, paper, scissors, stone as to who gets to go back out and try and salvage the remnants of their over ambitious To Do list, embarked upon in the morning and usually in tatters by lunchtime. This week, I found myself up at the veg patch in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt at 9 o’clock at night, in the glorious evening sunshine, manuring a trench for my peas and I was, quite literally, as happy as a pig in shit. Less overtime, more Über time.

And so to the weather.  I’d love to be able to tell you that everything you have heard about the Welsh summer weather is wrong and we have been basking in sub-tropical heat for weeks now. I could tell you that but I’d be lying of course. I’ve also given up torturing myself by obsessively checking the weather in the South East to see how much nicer it is than here. Not helpful.  That said, it’s been ‘good’ enough for me to somehow get myself sunburned (who thinks about SPF protection when you’re speed weeding for half an hour before baby wakes up/toddler kicks off?!) and my nightly two-step to get the baby to sleep each night is now doubling up conveniently as a rain dance. I never thought summer for me would mean avidly watching the weather forecast for the slightest promise of a few drops of rain. Our veg patch, not on mains water and not yet set up with gutters and rain butts, is rapidly starting to look like something out of the Grapes of Wrath, dust and shrivelled up seedlings all over the shop. As I write this it has just started to rain and I swear to God I involuntarily gasped “YES!”.  Nor did I ever expect to find myself coming out in cold sweats in the middle of the supermarket or the dead of night stressing about whether or not I have opened or closed the sodding greenhouse. It feels like my young tomato and cucumber plants are like an extension of the family now and I can’t bear to think of them wilting in the heat or shivering in the cold. As if I didn’t already have enough to worry about…

And finally summer wouldn’t be summer without the ubiquitous barbecue and I’m pleased to tell you that we had our very first one of the year this week. Well, I say barbecue, we actually ended up spit roasting the back legs of a roe deer so we could experiment with some different culinary techniques ahead of our Woodland Banquet at Camp Bestival in August. Thankfully we had some willing guinea pigs in attendance to sample our venison delights which went down a treat. All washed down with some amazing rocket fuel cider that we have discovered is brewed, somewhat dangerously, just a few miles from the house. Oh dear. Summer may have just got a whole lot more fun. But in the interests of our To Do list, not to mention our livers, we have also been dabbling with some elderflower champagne this week. Not alcoholic but deliciously refreshing and made with flowers from our own hedgerows. For the first time I don’t have to be paranoid about chemical fertilizers and petrol fumes contaminating our fizz.  I'll take that as my al fresco post work refreshment any day of the week. Cheers to that!

Elderflower champagne in progress

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