Sunday, 11 September 2016

A cut above

So back to school season is upon us yet again. You can’t move on Facebook for pictures of offspring all resplendent in their new school uniforms and shiny new shoes, which we all know will last but a fortnight, if that. Up here we are not immune to the rituals of a new school year: smart (ish) new haircuts, last minute panicked trips to the nearest major supermarket to rifle through the slim pickings of schools skirts and a whole new set of autumnal resolutions (largely relating to trying to preserve as much of the glut as possible but without completely destroying our new, massively expensive new cooker – I am actually typing this standing at the kitchen worktop directly next to said cooker to try and avoid the inevitable magic porridge pot over-spill of a batch of plum jam – and have already failed. Must Try Harder.)

But before all the chaos of the new term started, we were paid a visit by a good bushcraft friend of my husband’s. A teacher by trade and a countryman by heart. Keen to put off the inevitable new term lesson planning and preparation he escaped to our place for a couple of days, bringing his trusty scythe to help us tackle our ever-present grass problem for only a good feed and a few glasses of wine in return. Of course we all thought he was completely stark raving mad. Who in this day and age would choose to cut the grass by hand when you have all the machinery and equipment you could ever possibly need on hand? (if only you had the time to use it, in our case). But as he set out (sans cloak) after breakfast and got into his rhythm it soon became apparent that he was onto something. Not only was the grass cut beautifully and piled up onto neat, natural looking piles (rather than the harsh, ripped-up aftermath of the tractor and mower) he was also dripping in sweat and looking like he had had a rather demanding core workout. Turns out there’s perhaps some factual basis as to why Poldark does not wear a shirt…

The trim reaper

And in the spirit of tidying the place up a bit before the winter, my husband decided the time was ripe to tackle the branches which have been tickling the broadband cable (and my lifeline to the rest of the world) bringing all connectivity to a shuddering halt with the first breath of wind. Believe me, when you work from home there is nothing more stressful than the white bars going dead on the bottom right hand side of your screen. And so off we went in the driving rain and a howling gale, with his two chainsaws, one precariously fixed to the end of a long pole ready to balance on the roof of his Landrover to reach the highest branches. What could possibly go wrong? I’m not sure insurance companies even have a category for this kind of carry on. But to be fair to him he delicately and meticulously trimmed through all of the trees along the cable. All that is until the last one, when he “just nicked” the line (if there are any BT Engineers reading this please turn a blind eye. And don’t sack Tom – see below). So in our valiant attempts to resolve the broadband issues we ended up breaking it once and for all. And so I was plunged into a week of resorting to my mobile phone (I know, an actual telephone) to dial in to meetings where everyone else was gaily pulling faces at each other over videoconference and live sharing documents to their heart’s content. You try telling a team of hip, young and trendy creative designers in New York City that you can’t connect right now because your husband has severed the phone line with a chainsaw. They all thought it was some form of bizarre British joke and guffawed uproariously down the phone at me. Or at least I think that was what they were doing, it was hard to tell through the dodgy reception. Anyway a lovely man called Tom came on Monday morning and fixed it all for us and even promised not to tell BT that it was our fault. And breathe.

Dodging the falling boughs

Last week also saw our eldest daughter turning four. Given that we suspect this might be one of the first birthdays that she might actually remember (and also owing to the fact that for all of her previous birthdays she has had hand-me-downs repurposed and wrapped up for her) we thought we had better pull it out of the bag. So we thought a trampoline would be the perfect present: great fun for us all, good source of exercise (read: wear her out so she goes to sleep at 7pm on the dot every night) large enough to etch on her memory and effectively an oversized play pen where she can be contained whilst I get on and deal with the myriad of other pressing outside jobs. I had mentioned to my husband ‘once or twice’ that we had better get this thing ordered so we could get it all set up for her Big Day. "Yeah, yeah", he replied and didn’t actually get around to ordering it until the week before the Bank Holiday weekend. Long story short there ensued a series of panicked phone calls to stockists up and down the country and manufacturers in the Netherlands with much pleading and pulling on heart strings and appealing to people’s inner parent, all of which culminated in the trampoline arriving the day before her birthday. In our wisdom we decided on an in-ground version which basically means you have to excavate roughly the size of the meteor crater in the North Arizona desert before you set the bloody thing up. No problem we though, we can use the back actor (diggery bit for the uninitiated) on the back of the tractor and the hydraulic trailer. It will be done in no time. What we had overlooked was the fact that the trailer only tips if attached to the tractor and if we have the digger on the back then…..well you get the picture. So followed the slow realisation that my husband would have to shovel ten tons of earth BY HAND. Before the end of the day. And so he did, and the trampoline was erected with head torches in the dark. And it was worth every ounce of hard graft to see her face on the morning of her birthday, overcome with excitement and disbelief that this was all for her. She has not been off it since.

Below: meteor crater?
Above: one happy little girl

In other news, I’ve been plagued by toothache this week, I’d like to think from the natural sweetness of all the beautifully ripe plums and raspberries that are now in full swing but nah, who am I trying to kid, much more likely to be the mountains of marzipan on my daughter’s birthday cake or the essential tasting of chutney and jam (the amount of sugar you have to put into these preserves never fails to astound me). So a fair amount of drilling and filling for me followed by a sizable bill. I am not sure which hurt me the most.

We were also beside ourselves with excitement to see the world’s leading cyclists pass by our very gate as part of the Tour of Britain. It’s not every day you get to see the likes of Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish zooming past your fields followed by a peloton of seemingly hundreds of motorbikes and support vehicles. We were delighted to have also been recipients of two water bottles thrown at us at speed (but I like to think of as intended souvenirs) which the girls have now adopted as their own. In fact they now refuse to drink out of anything else. Why have Tommee Tippee when you can have an Olympic gold medalist's cast off to take your water drinking to a whole other level?!

Missiles or souvenirs?
Postscript: During the course of writing this post I have successfully* managed to make 12 jars of plum jam. If feels good to be back in the jam saddle after a particularly traumatic incident earlier in the week where I managed to burn the rowan jelly. We buggered it up last year too. Maybe it was just not meant to be…

*I say successfully but you can only ever tell whether it has set once you open it and eat it. But on the upside the cooker will live to see another day. The pan, not so much. 

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