Another action-packed year has been duly consigned to the family history, and I am pleased to report – in this, our twenty-somethingth annual Christmas epistle – that all five of us are still (just about) standing. Two thousand and seventeen was the year that saw all five of us – plus the daughterly duo’s brave boyfriends – head en masse for a ‘cinq-jour séjour’ (apologies to any native French readers) in the excellent and enticingly named “Villa Lavande” in southern France. This trip will no doubt one day be immortalised by the ghost of Enid Blyton as part of a hybrid adventure series entitled “Seven Drive on the Wrong Side of the Road”, but that is another story. It was also, sadly, the year that our unfortunate feline, Chuck the cat, proved that he shared his mistress’s lack of mathematical prowess by miscalculating how many of his nine lives he had left (none, it transpired). And finally, it was the year that Yours Truly formalised her tutoring activities and launched a new business, The Learning Cauldron, on April Fool’s Day...
When not pontificating about the finer points of poetry and prose or assuming the guise of grammar guru for my expanding band of avid academics, I now find my life being governed by my faithful companion and friend, the Fitbit. For any of you not familiar with these devilishly addictive little devices, they are essentially a smart watch that warns you that you have either been shockingly inactive (the perils of prolonged periods of proofreading) or impressively athletic (rarely, in my case). Mark you, having contemplated my retirement from the hallowed green Astroturf at the end of last season, I eventually decided that there was a little life left in this old hockey dog yet, and elected to stay on for another year. There are, according to my fellow team members, occasional moments when I become a little ‘excitable’ – such as the time when, having been belted in the foot by a particularly pernicious opponent, I yelled “You’re dead” in a moderately aggressive fashion at the offender – who promptly removed herself to the other side of the pitch for the rest of the game. In addition to my genteel hockey activities, regular bouts of badminton, weekly Zumba sessions (I still head in the opposite direction from everyone else during most routines…) and the occasional scoot around a squash court all conspire to ensure my Fitbit is still speaking to me at the end of each week.
HunterGatherer’s exercise quotient since last Christmas has been mainly achieved through his customary forays across the fields of Scotland à la recherche de multifarious soil samples. During his leisure time, he merely switches agricultural soil for the horticultural variety, as he has been going potty in the garden… I should explain here that this turn of phrase is no reflection on the gardener’s intellectual faculties, but rather an allusion to the burgeoning collection of giant red plastic tubs that he is amassing. The said pots have proved to be the ultimate weapon in his war against his arch nemesis – the chickweed that had previously laid siege to his beloved polytunnel and veggie plots.
His lapidary interests remain 'rock' solid (see what I did there?), and this year's finds have included a rather attractive chunk of Scottish amethyst. His wife and daughters are still fervently hoping he’ll stumble across a seam of gold, though Yours Truly suspects there’s more chance of him finding some at the end of a rainbow!
Son&Heir (22) currently enjoys one of the best workplace views in the country as he plies his barista skills at Kinross’s lochside venue, The Boathouse. When not there, he is to be found wielding weights at the local gym and is currently channelling his mental and physical energies into becoming a fully qualified personal trainer before moving south next year. Yours Truly hadn’t quite appreciated how much theory was involved in this until she’d to print off the 267-page course manual for him the other night! Here’s hoping that amongst all those words of physical wisdom there’s a unit on how to transform the body of a 54-year-old into that of a 30-year-old before the resumption of the hockey season in February…
Although we rarely see our daughterly duo in person, social media and Facetime occasionally allow us a vague insight into their London lives, and – as ever – any lacunae in information can be readily compensated for by liberal use of poetic licence by Yours Truly.
This autumn, DD1 (26) had to decide into which branch of commercial law she wished to qualify, and – as any self-respecting first-born child would do – she opted for ‘competition’. More than this about her work, I cannot tell you, as for reasons of confidentiality, she is unable to share anything of her professional life without having to kill us afterwards. Fortunately, having had sight of the density and dullness of the legal literature she was revising for her exams a couple of years back, her father and mother are – in all honesty – rather relieved not to be privy to the inner workings of English corporate law...
We are, however, wondering why our considerable investment in her education has resulted in a lawyer who doesn’t ‘do’ Scottish law and is thus of no use whatsoever to her poor parents! Actually, that is possibly slightly unfair, as she’s currently working in Berlin for six months, which allowed her fond parentals a welcome low-cost pre-Christmas winter break in mid-December – although Yours Truly’s sheep-covered Christmas jumper attracted the attention of airport security, evidently marking her out as a baaad(!) character, and she was promptly marched off to have her luggage and trousers drug-tested.
Ironically, DD1 had been far more concerned about the attire that her father might arrive in, judging by this Facebook message received prior to our visit: “Please tell dad to bring boots for dinner that aren’t from a hiking shop. And does he have any clothes that aren’t hiking-esque?” Her angst may have been prompted by HunterGatherer’s behaviour on the beach in France, where he stood bewildered in his full-length trousers, long sleeves and ear-flapped hat, beholding an entire beach bedecked with bikini'd and bikini-less bodies. By the end of the afternoon, however, he had taken the very daring step of rolling up his sleeves and even... his trouser legs.
Hot on the heels of insulting aging rock stars in 2016, DD2 (24) continues her precarious path to musical supervisorial (yes, it is a word) supremacy in London, and this year was caught pondering aloud in the office how interesting it was that quite so many of the songs in the Take That ‘Wonderland’ show she was working on had been written by some unknown guy called Robert Williams… She also managed to engage a certain well-known actor in conversation for 30 minutes in the office before casually asking him, “So what do you do?” Fortunately, the said thespian had a sense of humour and merely responded, “Do you watch TV?” When not listening to music and watching films all day (and getting paid to do so… call that work?!), DD2 hares around a hockey pitch in her usual inimitable fashion and apparently has moments of ‘excitability’ (can’t think where she gets that from…).
So the time approaches for New Year’s resolutions to be made (then promptly broken), all that remains is for me to wish all of you a very happy Christmas and a ‘merry’ New Year when it comes.
Hope 2018 brings you and yours good health and lots of wonderful memories!
We were thrilled to be featured in this autumn list of top gardening blogs by the lovely folk at Thompson & Morgan Seeds. Our garden here at The Sparrowholding is still – even after 20 years! – very much a 'work in progress', and we have so much we still want to do.
Our major impediments (and the reason for the sporadic nature of our gardening blog posts!) continue to be time and money, but even though we may have to cut corners at times and not do everything the way we'd like to, we still have the pleasure of tucking into our own produce for six months of the year (from asparagus and fresh herbs in May through to late plums and fresh herbs in early October) – not to mention leeks and parsnips during the winter months. If you’d like to see more of our photos and short videos, do check out our Facebook, Instagram and YouTube accounts.
Quick shout-out this month for our long-suffering polytunnel, which is a life-saver at times. Literally, a life-saver in mid-April, when it can provide much-needed shelter for newly born lambs, protecting them from sudden spring snow showers and freezing rain. Even our rough-tough Shetland ewes are grateful for a windbreak during the worst of the weather.
Mark you, the little blighters don’t show much appreciation, as the minute they are unleashed in the garden, the first thing they do is try to scale up the side of the polytunnel and put their sharp wee hooves through the plastic. New polytunnel plastic sheeting may be required soon at this rate!
This winter, we’re planning to cut back Vinnie the Vine significantly, as we noticed during our five days in France last summer just how draconian/vicious the pruning of the vines there was. And we presume that in the land of grapes, they know precisely what they are doing. Our hope is that if we follow suit, the savage Gallic approach might help promote the growth of more grapes – a feature that has been significantly lacking in the last couple of years! We’ve had lots of vine and vigorous leaf growth, but very little fruit.
HunterGatherer is sharpening his sheep/vine shears as I write…
After weeks of relentless sogginess in Central Scotland (and a range of temporary water features in the garden and paddock here at The Sparrowholding!!), at last the weather seems to have taken a turn for the better in the first part of this week. Over the weekend, I had tackled the three unwieldy bushes which were all but blocking the garden path, reducing them by around 50% in volume and giving them a short back and sides. I suspect I was not cut out for a career as a hairdresser, as their coiffures look fairly frightening!
Then on Monday, Son&Heir was minded to get some fresh air and sunshine, so he kindly tackled both the front and back patio areas of the garden. He edged the lawn along the path, removed all the dead leaves from the borders, plus scraped the grass and mud off the paving stones. And what a difference he's made!
Meanwhile down in the polytunnel...
So much for the patios... However, just 20 metres away, in the polytunnel, there's still a LOT of work to be done... HunterGatherer is out in the fields seven days a week at the moment, and Yours Truly has been making her way (wo)manfully through mountains of proofreading, so we've rather left the poor polytunnel to its own devices over the winter.
To save having to water them during the frosty spells, HG dragged most of the Tublyx tubs (of which he's built up quite a collection!) containing herbs out of the polytunnel way back in November. As soon as we can get some time, the plan is to fill half the polytunnel with them (and get some seedlings planted) while keeping the other half free for a couple of lambing pens. Although lambing is about a month away (unless Ivan the Terrible sneaked out of the field when we weren't looking one night!!!), we hope to get the pens set up this coming weekend. I can hardly believe it's over eleven months since the last wee woolly bundles bounced into the world - scary how quickly the last year has flown. (Eek! Now I'm beginning to sound like my mother...)