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Stormy weather: saving the contorted willow

So as the storms battered the country, the dog and I sat next to the fire with a hot chocolate (me) and a biscuit (her) and listened to the rain lashing the window.  We both jumped, though, when suddenly there was groaning and moaning and the sound of someone tapping on the windows.

Luckily, Freddie Krueger wasn’t in Buckinghamshire, but unluckily, it meant that our beautiful contorted willow was leaning further and further towards the house – its twisted fingers reaching out to tap on the window and let me know that all wasn’t well.  It’s a beautiful tree.  In the summer, it weeps in its very own wonky, bendy way, across the front of the house.  Plus, it’s Ninja Cat’s favourite place for sitting whilst looking through the window at us with her ‘I want to kill you’ face on.

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An autumn update and lemon drizzle cake

Lemon drizzle cake - ENGLISH MUM

So after three weeks of back to back holidays, I have a huge amount to write, but I’m taking my time, settling back home, attacking the Giant Washing Mountain of Buckinghamshire, and doing a bit of nesting.

I love our house and, although I’ve loved every minute of gallivanting about on the med, it’s just been wonderful to come back to English Towers, find my slippers (although one was populated by a spider of epic proportions that prompted much hopping about and squealing), dig out my jimjams and kick back with a cuppa and a magazine.  I’m having a bit of a magazine crisis at the moment.  I’ve gone off my old favourite so I’ve been buying a few different ones to try them out. This one is really good.  One of my Instagram friends described it as a ‘lovely cosy warm jumper’

The Simple Things

But most of all it’s been lovely to get back in the kitchen and baking again.  On Sunday, we had a Moroccan chicken pilaf (an easy, one-pot wonder) and then lemon drizzle cake (which seemed somewhat apt as we sat at the table and watched the drizzle in the garden):

Lemon Drizzle Cake

170g butter
170g golden caster sugar
170g self raising flour
3 large free range eggs (duck eggs are fab for baking if you can find them)
2 large unwaxed lemons
2 tbsp icing sugar, sifted

So it starts off just as a normal ‘pound cake’ really.  Weigh everything out first, then cream the butter and the sugar until it’s really pale (preferably with an electric whisk – this should be really light).

Break the eggs into a bowl and add the juice and finely grated rind of one of the lemons, then it’s easy to just dribble it into the butter and sugar mixture, beating all the time.

If, when adding the eggs, the mixture starts to curdle, just add a tablespoon of the flour – this will bring it back together.  Now stir in the flour until it’s just combined.

Pour into a buttered loaf tin and bake at 180 degrees/gas 4 for about 30 – 40 minutes.  Check to see if it’s done by popping a skewer into the centre. It should come out clean.  If not, put it back in for 5 minutes.

Bring it out of the oven.  Put the zest and juice of the second lemon into a bowl and whisk in your sifted icing sugar, then carefully take the cake out of the tin and spoon the lemony liquid all over the top of the cake.  Serve at once with lots of cream or ice cream.  Or leave to cool and scoff with a cup of tea. Either way, it’s divine.

Lemons for lemon drizzle

Going home: things I’m looking forward to.

The packing isn’t going well.  I keep having mad panics and throwing things out that I shall probably need, like all the ice cream cartons I keep to put stock in, and about 75 glass jars waiting to be filled with jams and marmalades.  And I can’t get the order right – yesterday I packed all the glasses, so we’re now drinking juice out of mugs, which is ‘common as muck’ as my Grandma Maudie would say.  I also packed all my underwear, but then I realised that two weeks of rummaging in a suitcase for a pair of knickers would drive me barmy, and totally cancels out the satisfaction of having one more drawer emptied.  So back they went.

De brevren are the polar opposite when it comes to packing.  Little Chas has his entire room packed into boxes and ready, was counting down the days in his homework diary (which must have pleased his teachers no end) and spends hours glued to Facebook chatting to his mates.  The Prof, admittedly somewhat distracted with his exams, wants nothing to do with packing, so I’ve mostly left him alone to study (occasionally emerging to create vast sandwiches from the contents of the fridge and head back upstairs balancing teetering towers of said sandwich, crisps, packets of biscuits and glasses of milk) and spend hours talking to his mates on the Xbox (see the common theme here?).  I did nab him for half an hour to try and explain to me what all the wires were near the Xbox.  This did not go well.  Apparently he ‘needs it all’ and nothing must be packed.  Awkward.

Every day, I’m thinking of things I will do – the things I haven’t been able to do for a long time – things I’m planning and things I’m looking forward to.  Here’s my top ten:

1. Walking to the shop on a Sunday morning, buying an armful of papers and lolling around reading, with endless cups of tea.

2. Shopping in Waitrose with my Mum.  Oh I know, snobby and all that.  But I bloody love Waitrose.  And I love shopping with my Mum.  It takes us ages because we pick things up, have a chat about them, then put them down again – planning dinners and discussing ingredients.  I love it.

3. Hugging my Dad.  He always pretends that he hates to be hugged, so when the boys and I give him a massive cuddle he stands all stoney like a soldier, but for some reason that makes us all want to hug him more.  Look, he’s doing it here:

Oh and happy Fathers’ Day for this weekend, Dad.  This counts instead of a present right?  Right?

4. Going out to dinner.  I miss restaurants.  And wine.  I miss mulling over menus and dithering over starters surrounded by the people I love.

5. Cocktails!  I shall go for cocktails with my favourite girlfriends and talk waffle until we’re blue in the face.  Cannot wait.

6. Chatting with my nieces and nephews.  I have two nieces.  I adore them both – they are sassy, cool, funny and – as a mother of boys – they are the girly lights of my life.  I miss them so much.  My lovely nephew Jackson is a mean cook already and often tries my recipes for me. I can’t wait to catch up.  On Hubby’s side, he also has a brand new grand-niece that we haven’t even met yet.

7. Going on a family day out to Whipsnade Zoo.  When my cousin Moon‘s baby, Matej, is christened in June, our family will be together for the first time in a long time – my cousin Deb is coming over from Canada, and Moon and his lovely wife Miska are travelling from Slovakia.  We’re planning a mahoosive day out, with picnic, at Whipsnade – I’ve probably spent hundreds of days out there, and it was a big part of our childhood, and that of my boys.

8. Talking of the christening, I’m going to make cupcake towers for Matej – blue and cream, with little sugar stars and cars… big mountains of them.  Then I’m going to drink too much champagne, laugh with my wonderful brothers, giggle with my nieces and be all proud of my big strapping sons, home again in the midst of all their family.

9. Giving Ellie a cuddle.  Ellie is my Mum’s old labrador, once black and glossy, now grey and a little stiff in the legs, but still gorgeous.  It feels like she’s a million years old, although she probably isn’t.  Still, she loves a cuddle (demonstrated here by Charlie) and rushes to meet us, bowling us over with our suitcases and bringing us her ‘baby’, a stinky old stuffed cat.

Ellie’s ‘best friend’, Harry, is an equally old ginger cat who loves Ellie with a passion – even though she often sits on him by accident -and drools excessively.  He’d love to be cuddled more often, but frankly the drooling thing is a bit unpalatable.  When we first see him, we forget the drooling and give him a cuddle – then when the drool starts, we put him down again.  The worst bit is when he shakes his head and everyone gets a dribbly shower.  Poor Harry.

10. Enjoying being a family again.  Living apart from one another is hard.  English Dad has a demanding job and isn’t a big texter or emailer.  Things are often lost in translation and honestly, I’m not sure that we would have survived this long-distance family life for much longer.  The boys can’t wait to be back with their Dad.  Recently he texted me: ‘can’t wait to have you all here then I can annoy you all in person’.  Me neither.

16 sleeps…

I’ve taken to annoying English Dad by sending him a nightly email telling him how many sleeps there are until we’ll be together again. He’s probably enjoying having a bed to himself in England, sleeping like a starfish and snoring his head off without anyone jabbing him in the ribs, but hey, he’ll soon get used to it.

English Towers is rented out (a difficult decision after the damage that was done by our last tenants – did I tell you I solved the mystery of one of the missing huge Oak wardrobes?  I found one of the handles fused to the bottom of the fireplace).  Still I’ve been extra careful this time and met them and they seem really nice.  The letting agent wouldn’t actually allow me to give them all a questionnaire when they were looking around (Q5: How often will you clean the cooker? A: Every time I use it B: Once a week C: Once a month D: Never), but I sussed the really nice ones and startled poor Padraig the agent by texting him a big fat ‘NO’ after a particularly odd lady appeared at the door.

I’m feeling quite unusually efficient actually: the Bio-Flow sewage treatment unit thingy has been mended, meaning that the scent of poo no longer lingers in the air, and now the mower too, has been serviced so the lawn doesn’t have little grassy mohicans in the middle of each stripe. I’ve even packed a little, although my lovely friend Poppy’s Mum has made this a little more difficult as she gave me a load of newspaper to wrap my ‘delicates’ in and I keep finding interesting bits to read – and then there’s the fact that she finishes all the crosswords, too. I find myself sitting checking her answers with only one glass wrapped after half an hour.

We can’t go straight away at the Mad Professor has to finish his exams. They’ve now finished school for the summer (I know, right? three months off?) and he’s now lurching between periods of confidence: ‘I think I’ll get all As, no, A*s…’, and utter panic: ‘I’m going to fail them alllllllll!’.

The Death Wish One (I’m not allowed to call him the Death Wish Child any more as he is now 13) can think only of England and the skate park and emails Grandma on a regular basis to make sure she’s guarding his Remz with her life (these are his beloved skates).

Poppy’s Mum has adopted my chickens. I’ll miss lovely Lucy and her fluffy bottom, but I can’t ship them back and I know that they’ll be well cared for. I’m missing popping out for a nice warm egg for breakfast, though…

What else will I miss? I’ll miss lovely Poppy’s Mum, who is a wonderful friend with a wicked sense of humour and the kindest heart… oh, and my kitchen, and the mama cows with their babies…  and my garden (the trees we planted are really getting big now – the Willow is actuallly weeping…

BUT I miss my family and I have to do what’s right for the boys – they should be with their Dad. It also means that I’ll be able to say yes to all the lovely things I get invited to, although recently when I declined a press invitation, the PR replied ‘is there anyone else in your team that would like to go?’

I really want a team now.

In which our hero makes decisions and does lots of sighing

So Easter was blimmin’ fab.  Two weeks of blistering sunshine at home – two weeks with English Dad, and lots of time to see the family (although my beautiful niece Turtle finally had her tonsils out and then wasn’t allowed to socialise with any of us for fear of her catching all our germans, so our barbecue had to be cancelled.  Still, there’ll be other times).

I’ve got loads of stuff to tell you about – I’ve already done Portobello Road and not one, but two birthdays, but there’s much more – we had a fabulous and very boozy visit to the Sipsmiths, we ate out more than I thought humanly possible, and on The Mad Professor’s birthday, before going for a lovely Chinese meal, the Disreputable Dad took us up to the bluebell woods up at Ringshall in Hertfordshire.  The light was filtering through the trees, and the deer were sauntering around just by the side of the road. Just beautiful.

The main reason for the visit, though, was decision making.  We both knew that things would have to change (read all about it here)  and amongst all the eating, drinking and socialising, stuff was sorted.

The biggest decision, not unexpectedly, is that we’re moving back to England.

*sigh*

Yes, I love English Towers.  I love Ireland full stop.   I’ve made some precious friends here.  But a house is not a home unless it’s filled with the people you love.  There’ll be other kitchens (I keep telling myself this) but there’s only one family.  And we need to be together.  Hell, the oldest is now 16 – we won’t all be together for too much longer.  Our precious family time must be savoured.

So my lovely friend Poppy’s Mum has decided that she’ll keep the chooks (they were at her house for their ‘heniday’ anyway).  I’ll miss them, but now they’re finally settled (after some interesting turf wars) it seems mean to mess them about again…. and poor Ninja Cat of Death will have to relive the ‘poo of shame’ in her cat basket on the ferry again.

Yesterday, feeling that I should crack on with the epic task that is packing (I hate packing) I enlisted the Death Wish One to help be get started going through my massive collection of cookery books, packing them into boxes, and trying to set aside ones that I really don’t need.  This ended badly after about 15 minutes of him holding up books and going ‘surely you don’t need this one?’ and me bleating about really needing it and not being able to live without it.  A Nigella classic was hurled.  The subject is now closed.

Turns out, I need all of them…

From the sublime to the ridiculous…

So last week, then, after publishing my ‘woe is me’ blog post, feeling sorry for myself, hating everyone (not YOU obviously) and wanting desperately to curl back under the covers, I decided that a walk down the boat road was in order.  Fresh air, I decided, would blow the cobwebs away.

The two, brand new baby calves were right by the gate.  Obviously, as is my luck at the moment, this was the day I’d decided to come out without my camera.  In fact, as I discovered when I patted my pockets for a second time… something else was missing too.

My keys.

Shiiiiit.

As I walked back up to the house, I wished, hoped and prayed (sorry, Mother) that I’d left the back door open, but even as I tried the handle, I knew what I would discover.

Locked.

I knocked next door and lovely Miss D and I sat and had a cup of tea as we decided what to do, and also agreed that maybe not keeping spare keys to each other’s houses wasn’t our most epic idea.  As luck would have it, D chose this particular moment to walk back into the house, home early from work.

‘I’m sure one of these is yours’, he muttered as he grabbed a big handful of keys off his key/peggy/hanger thing – what ARE they called?  And we walked back to English Towers, feeling optimistic.  Our optimism soon started to fail after every key had been tried in every door about three times.  We did, however, notice that the bathroom window was slightly open.  The upstairs bathroom window.  The really high bathroom window, upstairs.

D grabbed the ladder from the garage (it’s not my ladder, but Poppy’s Dad helpfully left it behind last time he mended my gutter) and he stood at the bottom, averting his gaze from my fetching baggy tracky bottomed-bottom as I teetered up the ladder, emitting small, worried squeaks as I climbed higher…

‘You are holding the ladder tight, aren’t you?’

‘*sigh* yeeeessss.’

The small window, happily, was open.  It was just a case of posting myself through this 1′ x 3′ hole with as much dignity as I could muster.  Well, I mustered none.  I posted my upper body through the hole, squealing a bit louder as my bra strap caught through my shirt on the catch of the window.  I was then half-way through, teetering as my waist caught on the window and my legs flailed in the air.

‘Pull yourself through!’, called D helpfully

‘I’m trying! But I can’t grab onto anything’, I wailed…

By this time, my hands were flat on the toilet seat and the window frame was painfully embedding itself into my upper thighs.  All the blood was rushing to my head.  It’s years since I did a handstand.

‘OWWWWW! That bloody hurts!’, I yelled…

‘Go in backwards!’, was the helpful response.

Fighting the temptation to tell my helpful neighbour what I thought of his coaching, whilst simultaneously sweeping the entire contents of my bathroom windowsill onto the floor with my arse, I changed orientation so that I was now facing the ceiling, and was hanging from the window by the backs of my knees.

D seemed to be having a bit of a coughing fit now and was no help at all so I let my back move slowly down the cystern and rested my neck and shoulders onto the toilet seat, then did a rather awkward backward roll into the room.  D’s cough was getting worse, so by the time I got downstairs and opened the back door, he was bent double, face red and looking like he was going to expire.  I inspected him for signs of hilarity, and finding none, thanked him for rescuing a damsel in distress, bestowing upon him the spare key so this can NEVER EVER happen again.

I’m a bit of a big poof at the best of times and I bruise like a peach.  This morning I am black and blue.  The fronts of my thighs are a fetching purple and the backs of my knees are red and sore.  Seriously, I even have bruises on my ankles.

Oh the embarrassment.  Still, I’m sure I can trust him not to tell anyone… especially the bit when my bottom was stuck out of the window and my legs were waving jauntily in the air…

As he went off down the drive, though I swear his shoulders were shaking a bit.

In which our hero wonders exactly where home is

I am sad, dearest reader.  Confused and sad.  This is unlike me.  I am usually happy.  In fact, I’m usually so happy and perky that I verge on the irritating. I suspect some people close to me have to rein in their slap reflex when I’m in full happy.

But everything seems bad at the moment.  There is a dark cloud hovering over English Towers that just won’t shift.

The Death Wish Child is unhappy. This is not like him. He’s perky too (I wonder where he gets it from?) – a ray of sunshine who brightens any room.  Our very own Mr Blue Sky.  But he misses his mates in England and, try as he might, just hasn’t really settled here.  He’s a livewire – he’s sporty and outdoorsy – but they only have one PE lesson a week.  Plus, he misses the skatepark.  He’s hard wired to hurl himself around in a dangerous fashion (the clue’s in the name).  He doesn’t feel quite right unless he’s a bit bruised.  He is constantly glued to Facebook, talking to his English mates and making himself even more homesick.

Our recent trip back home made him – well, all of us, a little sadder than before.

‘Maybe he just needs to be active?’, said P, the lovely hubby of Poppy’s Mum.  ‘Get him down the GAA, that’ll sort him out’.  But they shout at you a lot at the GAA, it’s just not his bag – he’s a laid back dude.  And at the latest game, one of the lads said to him ‘I don’t pass to English people’.  Another sneered ‘you don’t belong here’.  Thanks fellas.  Another nail in the coffin.

English Dad is mostly in England.  There’s no work in Ireland and he rarely gets back to see us.  This is hard.  I’m not cut out to be a single mum.  I need family: hugs and banter, long, drawn-out mealtimes, clinking glasses and laughter.  Solitary evenings with a glass of wine in front of CSI just don’t do it for me.  As hard as I try.

I love this house.  This is our dream house.  I love the garden… the interior that we spent happy hours choosing: my gorgeous kitchen, the fabulous fireplace… my dream oven… the chickens rootling in the garden… everything perfect.

But is it just a house?  Did I make a mistake bringing my family back here because I missed it?  I was worried about them growing up attending a big Comprehensive school – maybe mixing with the wrong sort of people…  Should I have given them more credit?  We thought it would be fine… was I wrong?

The Mad Professor wants to go home too.  The lure of the Sixth Form is strong – he can do ‘all that nerdy shit’ that he loves: Maths with Mechanics… Physics… Over here, you do the same subjects for Leaving Cert as you do at Junior Cert – everything.  It’s not for him.  He’s got his future mapped out.  England’s the place to be.

And me?  I miss my family.  I love my brothers.  I want to be with my parents.  The recent trip to the Albert Hall was classic Disreputable Dad.  The Mad Professor was limping in a ridiculously flamboyant fashion after twisting his ankle at his cousin’s (miraculously, it was completely healed the next day).  Trying to bag a taxi in London when you’ve got a teenager limping like Jake the Peg isn’t easy.  I got cross. The DD got cross with me. There was swearing.  But there was silliness too. And flag waving.  Food and wine and laughter.  I miss all of it. (Yes, even the swearing).

My mum comes to visit. But it’s not the same as popping in and saying hi, sharing tea, swapping recipes, going shopping…

‘Sometimes you have to try something, after trying something else (!) to find out it doesn’t suit everyone’, said my friend Foxy sagely.  She noticed that I wasn’t as ‘ebullient’ (great word, by the way, Fox) as usual, during our recent trip.  And she’s right.

‘Home is where the heart is’ is a confusing phrase.  English Towers will always be our home – happy memories abound here: family Christmases, visits from friends, sunny wanders down the boat road…

But when everyone spends every day missing people they love… wanting different things?  Is it time to call it a day?

In which our hero is a painting legend, with short bouts of hysteria

So as you know, dearest reader, I’m generally of a calm and vey vey placid demeanour and not at all prone to bouts of hysteria *cough*.

Okay, so I might be a bit of a rabid hysteric, but generally I have good reason. That good reason of late was the general state of our house when we moved back in. I won’t go into detail, but I’ll just say the tenants loved it a great deal less than we do. It became clear, due to the inky scribbles, nail varnish splodges and big, yawning holes – that most of the walls were going to have to be filled and painted.

I am SO not a painter. Unless we’re talking nail varnish, in which case I can apply base coat, two layers plus a top coat without once smudging or even touching a cuticle. I can even do French manicure. Walls, though. I don’t do walls.

Happily, The Hubster’s a whizz with the roller. He’d filled, sanded, edged and painted the walls of every downstairs room, plus The Mad Professor’s room upstairs, in the first week. He swears a bit, but generally if you just let him get on with it, he’s really efficient.

But then, dammit, he had to go and earn a living and it became clear that The Death Wish Child’s room would have to be down to me. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it’s that wailing pitifully: ‘but I can’t do it’… to a stony faced 12 year old whose brother’s room has already been painted is going to get you nowhere. Shit.

What’s worse, when looking at the paint colour brochure from Woodies (think B&Q but in lime green) he chose ‘three walls of ‘Dawn Chorus’ with an accent wall of Chocoholic’. Shitting shit.

The first problem was finding suitable attire.  Frankly, all my clothes are a bit crap, so finding extra-crap clothes that I didn’t mind getting paint on was a bit of a trial. Second was getting the lid off the bloody paint (I broke the Death Wish Child’s front door key but don’t tell him – he’ll never notice). Third was my natural proclivity towards dropping things. It’s okay when it’s a cup or a plate – de brevren are used to loud crashes followed by bouts of shouty swearing – but dropping a painty brush lends its own special problems. I went through a whole pack of Flash wipes just on his carpet.

But apart from one fall off the bar stool I was using as a ladder (I can still do the splits – who knew?), nearly hurling Ninja Cat of Death out the window after she firstly kept attacking the dust sheet (which was a really crap plastic one that stuck to my feet as I walked around) and secondly proceeded to stroll daintily through the paint tray and then across the curtains I’d laid carefully on the bed (Flash wipes again) and some pathetic, solitary sobbing after I blobbed a big dollop of ‘chocoholic’ onto the freshly painted ceiling whilst edging, I think I did pretty well:

In fact, I liked the ‘chocoholic’ so much, I decided to do the chimney breast as well.  It’s the colour of melted Green and Black’s – what’s not to like?  But that’s it now.  I’m never painting anything ever again, mkay?

From henceforth, you can call me English Mum: Painting Legend.

The Friday Photo: what next?

So one of the downsides of moving back was that I had to give up my chickens.  Happily lovely Madge and Bluebelle went to a farm where they’ll be well looked after and *gasp* meet a cockerel for the first time (brace yourself, girls).

So now we’re happily settled back at English Towers what’s it to be?  I thought maybe quails, but then a friend said they’re ‘horrible little bastards’, and then I thought maybe I’ll just settle for normal chooks again.  Or maybe I’ll get chooks AND a puppy (that’d please the Cat of Death)…

Pigs?  Goats?  Trouble is, I’d be no good as a smallholder as I’d never be able to despatch anything.  What about you? What would you have if space (and time) allowed?

Proud parenting moments, motorway hysteria and the Poop of Death

And so it came to pass that we were packed and ready for the off. God alone knows why, but we’d decided that I’d take the car on the ferry, accompanied by one of de brevren, while Hubby flew over with the other one. This was a bit complicated, but we’d already booked our flights and then realised we’d need to take a car. Dammit. A quick check of the ferry booking showed that in a spectacularly proud parenting moment I had forgotten to book my allocated child (number 2) onto the ferry and a panicked phone call to Irish Ferries ensued (whilst holding on the line, I imagined him standing on the quayside with his suitcase, sobbing gently as the ferry slipped out of the harbour).

Still, that sorted, we faced our next hurdle: packing a furious Ninja Cat of Death into the cat box. Not as easy as you’d think: crowding round the cat box, we’d get half of her in, then the other half would bite someone and they’d let go of their bit of the door and she’d escape, then everyone would shout at the person, and they’d have to go and get her from under the sofa again. Half an hour later, bleeding and battered but otherwise unscathed, we set off, trying to ignore the yowling and hissing emanating from the box on the back seat.

The child, somewhat hidden behind several bags of absolute necessities (I won the argument about not trusting the shippers to take Larry the Lobster – he’s made of papier mache and is a bit delicate, okay?) was allocated the position of Chief Navigator and did a valiant job of shouting directions over the clank of baking tins (what? they’re precious). We were doing really well until the M40:

Chief Navigator: ‘Urgh, what’s that smell’

Me: ‘Oh, we’re probably just going past a farm or something’

Chief Navigator: ‘Did you take the turn for the M40? Jesus, WHAT is that smell?’

Me: ‘I think the Cat of Death has done a Poop of Death’

We pulled over. NCOD had made her displeasure at being cooped in a cat box squished between two duvets perfectly clear. Gagging and dry heaving, we weighed up our options:

Put up with the smell for another five hours

Risk going in with the seething, spitting emanator of foul smells to clear it up

Leave her on the side of the road and leg it (joke, joke – no, really…)

Sadly, we knew what we had to do. The Chief Navigator held the box still and I got the short straw. Luckily, when I’d moaned about taking the devil cat on the ferry, English Grandma had come up with a brilliant plan: disposable Pampers changing mats, black bags, heavy duty rubber gloves and Dettox wipes. It was pretty easy for the Chief Navigator to fend off the snarling beast with his free hand while I donned the Marigolds and used a cunning ‘pull and roll’ manoevre on the changing mat and its festering cargo.

On the road once more then, the windows wound open to clear the stench and an even more livid NCOD hissing foul and inventive death threats from the back seat, we did really well bar a short moment of hysteria somewhere past the M6 Toll (well, it’s confusing):

Chief Navigator: ‘…get to junction 15 of the M56, signposted Runcorn’

Me: ‘Yup, I’m here, taking the turning now’

Chief Navigator: ‘…keep right’

Me: ‘Bollocks. I took the turn! I took the frigging turn! We’re going to Runcorn! We’re going to miss the ferry and get lost and go round in circles and be stranded somewhere near Runcorn for ever. I’ve never even heard of Runcorn! We’ll starve to death and the police will find our emaciated remains years from now… or the NCOD might escape and live off our flesh, turning into some sort of zombie cat of death…’

Chief Navigator: *sigh* ‘Take the next exit, go round the roundabout, and go back the way you came’

Me: ‘Oh right. We could do that too…’

Arriving at Holyhead just as they were loading the ferry (phew), we grabbed some nice comfy seats and were soon nodding off, coming to just as the twinkly lights of Dublin appeared in the distance. Returning to our vehicle, we checked the cat box and found a pair of glittering black eyes shooting burning death glares in every direction. The Cat of Death had survived the journey.

The Chief Navigator rolled down the window, ignoring the yeowling, which had resumed at even greater volume. ‘Ah, Ireland. It even smells lovely.

Me: ‘You’re right – fresh gorgeous, Irish air

The Chief Navigator: Much better than the Poop of Death at any rate

Me: ‘Amen to that’.

Home.

I never made a secret of the fact that I didn’t want to leave Ireland.  In fact, when I wrote this, I was probably the lowest I’d ever been.

So we’ve made a decision.  Probably the biggest decision we’ll ever make.  And we’re going home.  Back to Ireland. Back to lovely English Towers.  Back to the Boat Road.  Back to fields of cows, home made bramble jelly and finding sheep on your front lawn in the morning.

Back to find out how D-next-door and his fiancée (also D-next-door – that’s going to be confusing) are doing (the brevren can’t wait to see little C and gorgeous Lou).  They’ve got a dog called Riley – can’t wait to meet him too).  Back to see if Mrs Lovely’s got the kettle on (she has), and chat with Poppy’s Mum.  Back to see Olly for a drink at the Pundertakers.

Back to school buses and places shutting for lunch and driving miles to the supermarket, and no Waitrose. Do I care? Not one bit.

I can’t wait.  The boys are looking forward to seeing their friends – sad to leave the new ones they’ve made, but we made the decision as a family, and we feel it’s the right one.

I was saying goodbye to my lovely friend Foxy this morning.  I said that I wished we’d never left – that it messed the kids about and in my heart, I knew that it was the wrong decision.  ‘Well maybe it was worth it, just for you to realise exactly where you belong’, she said.  And she’s right.

It’s where the heart is.  Where you’re happiest.

Home.

The Gallery: Friendship

So my lovely friend Tara has this amazing blog where all sorts of magic happens.  Once a week, Tara (or someone else) suggests a theme and people from all over the world and all walks of life enter photos (old or new) that they’ve taken that fit the theme.

This week’s theme is Friendship.

You all know I’m not a photographer.  But I am a friend.   I just couldn’t let this one go without entering.  Here, then, is my take on Tara’s Gallery theme:

It’s a rubbish picture, but I’ve only got this one to remind me of a whole fantastic, hilarious night, so it’s very precious.

This photo was taken on New Year’s Eve (actually, New Year’s Day – 01/01/2008) with our lovely neighbours – and good friends – from next door in lovely ol’ County Cavan, Ireland.  From left to right, that’s Little C with Bert (and his laser eyes), above him is my #1 son, then C’s daughter Lou, then C, #2, C’s hubby D, and then my Hubster at the end.

C was a beautiful girl – when she was well, she had long dark curly hair and was a stunning creature.  By this stage, you can see she was really quite ill and didn’t want to have her photo taken at all.  She had made the effort to walk all the way down her drive and all the way back up ours (we used to hop over the fence, but she was too ill by that stage, her very aggressive HER2 breast cancer having spread to her bones and her brain) and was exhausted.  But we had a fab evening – we popped party poppers, drank champagne, talked rubbish, danced… and it’s a memory I’ll treasure.  C died in May 2008.  I don’t have many photos of her but this is my favourite – happy memories of a precious evening.  When C died, my friend Jay summed it up so well when she said Iit doesn’t matter how long we know someone.  If they creep into your heart they are yours forever.’

She’s right here in my heart.  All the time.

PS: And check out Moon’s Gallery entry – it’s all about yours truly!

A mass of contradictions

I am, dearest reader, dazed and confused. And no, it’s not because I’m sitting in the library, still suffering from broadband-withdrawal, although that’s true too. No, I’m homesick. At home.

I don’t even know if I can explain. You know that feeling you get when you’ve just come back from the most amazing holiday and it’s back-to-work-Monday-morning? Well it’s kind of like that. And it’s kind of like the feeling you used to get at school, that first day back in September, in an uncomfortable collar and squeaky new shoes.

Nothing fits.

My wonderful friends here in chilly Hertfordshire have welcomed me back with open arms: lovely Tums, one of my oldest (and most glamorous) friends, had the most magical, amazing and fittingly glamorous 40th birthday party in a beautiful old country house hotel. We dined in a private room, danced until we had to take our shoes and hobble home, and ate beautiful pink cupcakes for dessert. I loved every minute (and you know I’m not really a party person). Then Mr and Mrs Foxy, more of our long-term friends, threw us a ‘welcome back to England’ dinner party, with lashings of wine, fantastic food, a roaring fire in their beautiful home, and laughter until our sides ached.

My friends have re-opened their social circle and slotted me back in. I’m beyond grateful.

So it’s not that, then.

I miss my dog. Yes, he was growly and unsociable on occasions.  He hogged the sofa and hurled himself at guests. And yes, we thought we were doing the right thing by having him rehomed. But now I’m not so sure. I miss tootling down the boat road together and writing my blog with his head resting on my lap, looking at me with his ‘a walk now, please?’ stare.  Should I get another one?  Hubby says he doesn’t mind.  I just don’t know. 

And I miss all our Irish friends… The Lovelies, Poppy’s Mum and D-next-door.  But I’m glad to be home, have spent lots of time with the wondrous English Grandma and seen my brothers, nephew and my beautiful nieces.

But I’ve argued with my Dad.  I never argue with my Dad.  I adore him.  I don’t, however, adore his partner.  It’s all wrong.

My new kitchen is nice. It’s got the same oven as English Towers, but it’s not my oven. We’ve got a garden, it’s not big, but it’s nice, really.  Maybe I should get some chickens?  Or maybe not.  The new occupants of English Towers say that it’s all lit up for Christmas.  They’re so happy there and I’m really pleased for them.  They keep in touch and tell me not to worry.

So what’s wrong with me?  I’m usually all Christmassed-up by this stage in December.  I haven’t bought a single present.  Although, as I bake in a crisis, I have baked, and consumed, my own body weight in mince pies.

Bleurgh.

To Ireland, with love.

English Towers in the snow (c) Englishmum.com

So that’s it, then.  Packing has commenced, the chickens have been collected in a trailer and carted off to their new home,  and in a very short time we shall land back on terra firma in the good old Kingdom of United.

I have mixed feelings, frankly.  When we first moved to Dublin I was miserable.  I missed my friends, my family, the familiarity of having lived in a place your whole life; bumping into people you know in Tesco (frankly, being able to even go to Tesco without an hour’s round trip).  It was rotten.  The children hated their new school (#1 was the only native English speaker in his class), everything was alien, everything shut for lunch, or on a Monday, or on a Wednesday or had to be requested in writing, and I lasted about 6 weeks before I fled home, leaving poor Hubby blinking in a bewildered fashion in a big empty Irish house.

Still, we made it back.  And with a new school for the boys, a new dog (the wonderful and much missed Becks), a new friend in Jenny and a new blog to take up my time (EnglishMuminIreland.blogs.ie – where it all began), I started to settle in.  The Irish are a wonderful breed: open, friendly, always up for a laugh, never too busy to help…  With Hubby’s new job we found ourselves here in Cavan and from the moment we walked over the threshold of English Towers, we felt at home.  With the lovely C next door already terminally ill when we arrived, a sad by-product of being able to help in small ways like minding children or fetching medicine from the chemist was that we (selfishly) felt needed and wanted very quickly.  We made friends with The Lovelies, the Galway Cs and Poppy’s Mum and her family (if you’re new here, check out ‘All about me’ at the top of the screen for more info), all via D, who was unceasingly generous with both his time and his friends, and have felt happily and contendedly as though we were home for the past two years.  D now has a new, lovely lady in his life.  The children are delighted and so are we.  We wish them all the love and happiness that they so deserve.

But things change.  The Recession came and bit us on the bum and it’s time to move on again.  I’ll miss the beautiful countryside, the wonderful people and the laid back lifestyle, but the hustle and bustle of town life is calling me back too.  Living in this huge house with the dog and the chickens and the lovely garden has been a massive adventure for us all.  The children have made lifelong friends, received a fantastic education and enjoyed some amazing life experiences.  They have benefitted immeasurably from their time here, as have the Hubby and I.  We’ve been lucky enough to share this fantastic place with our friends and family when they came over for our wedding blessing and have even been welcomed into the new community of the church by the kind and gentle Revd Craig – something I never would have imagined in a million years.  I know we’ll return so much more open to new experiences, and with a fresh appreciation for all the people and places that we’ve missed over the last four years.

Onwards and upwards, then.  Pass the bubble wrap.  Goodbye Emerald Isle.  It’s been a blast.

Hay bale (c) Englishmum.com

Note to self: dogs and empty houses? Uh uh.

Back live!  Hope you’ve all missed my inane ramblings.  We had a lovely time in England – saw all the family and had a fab trip up to London (details to follow).  One thing that was slightly ominous while we were there, though, was a text from D.  All his texts had been ‘dog fine, stop asking’, ‘been for a walk, he’s grand’, etc, but then I received one that said : ‘Been trying to ring.  Dog fine but couple of toilet accidents and he has damaged window sill in hallway (badly).  Wood can be replaced don’t stress’ 

Stress?  Me?  Nooooooo.  The dog’s just eating my house and I’m in a different country.  What else can possibly go wrong?  Well, lots apparently.  D then locked him in the kitchen thinking he’d contain the damage but oh no.  Bert started on the wall next to the back door:

Wall 1

And then the utility room door:

Door

And then my lovely bar stools:

Bar stools

And then the back door itself:

Door handle

And this was the window ledge – not sure if you can see but he’s actually completely broken the corner off too:

Window ledge

I’m completely dumbfounded to be honest.  He’s never so much as chewed a shoe before – yes okay so he’s nicked the odd bar of chocolate we left lying around, but this?  Apparently he was absolutely fine for the first four days, then D and the gang started to hear him crying in the house and no matter how much time they spend with him, every time they left him alone he did more damage.  And poor Lou – however grown up she is, it’s not fun to have to clear up a big dog poo that Bert generously left her on the landing carpet.  He’s never ever messed in the house either.  All I can put it down to is stress.  It’s my own fault – Hubby decided to join us at the last minute and I thought Jen would have Bert, and then when she couldn’t, it turned out that his innoculations had lapsed and I couldn’t get him into kennels.  D, Lou and Little C did me a great favour saying that they’d look after him, come in four or five times a day, take him for long walks, etc, but he just obviously couldn’t cope with the nights on his own.

I’m not cross.  Actually I feel really guilty.  Poor Bert, he didn’t know what to do when we came home – he was crying with excitement at the same time as shying away from us as he knew he’d done something wrong.  I wonder what the hell my house insurer is going to say about this little mess.

In which English Towers suffers a stinky situation

Following on nicely, then, from all our chat about self sufficiency/knitting your own yoghurt/composting toilets, etc, I think I’ve mentioned before that here at English Towers we’re a teeny, tiny bit eco-friendly.  Firstly we’ve got those very thick, specially insulated walls that mean you can forget trying to hang a picture, because one tap with the hammer sees you elbow deep in your plasterboard, however it does make it incredibly warm upstairs, which flows nicely downstairs and saves on the costs of the heating system, which, coincidentally, runs separately upstairs to down.  Good eh?

Secondly, and yes, I’m getting to the point now, we have one of those ‘bio-flow’ systems for our..er…waste.  Here’s the rub, as understood by my peanut-sized brain, and with no technical terms thrown in: the toilets and sinks are linked up to a drainage system which take all our household ick to a big green tank which is buried in the garden.  Here, a small constantly running motor injects a supply of air into the ick which bubbles through, aerates the ick and encourages bacteria to break it down to a liquid which is then fed into the garden by a system of tentacles planted all under the lawn, where it harmlessly, odourlessly seeps away.  This system doesn’t create any harmful gases (apparently – they haven’t met my children) and leaves a very small amount of  ‘sludge’  which collects in the bottom and only needs ‘de-sludging’ (I know, it’s a fantastic phrase) every 5 years.  Here it is with the lid off (and yes, I took the photo from inside – it was very bloody smelly):

The ick tank

Trouble is, ours broke.  We noticed first of all that weird things were happening: if you flushed a toilet, water bubbled up in the shower.  We got worried.  And then we looked outside in the drains and we were even more worried:

Hubby: ‘oh look, there’s one of yours’

Me: ‘I think you’ll find that’s not mine’

Hubby: ‘oh right of course not, yours don’t smell, do they’

Me: ‘nope.  And mine are pink and sparkly’

Cue several days’ worth of quality poo jokes and lots of worried conversations with the water treatment company.  Turns out, when we finally got the bloody lid off, that the air hose had popped off and had been happily aerating half of Cavan instead of our poo for the last goodness knows how long.  One look into the main tank and we knew we had one giant, stinky problem.  The system had completely broken down and we needed help fast. 

Long story short, then, we had to had to be ‘de-sludged’ and have our pipes cleaned before the whole process was ever going to start working again.  To add insult to injury it turns out that our gates aren’t wide enough to allow one man, his tractor and his de-sludging equipment through, so we had to do a bit of long-distance desludging, which doesn’t exactly help matters.

Who built those bloody gates?

The whole thing cost a packet and was extremely stinky.  See what happens when you try and go eco-friendly?  Next up is a visit from the bio-flow company who are, unfortunately, based in Cork.

And no, sadly, this was no April Fool’s joke.  Still, as I pointed out to Hubby, we may be cash poor, but we’re poo rich.

The Friday photo: what a difference a week makes

Lovely day

 So I wake up this morning (first one up, don’t you just love half term?) and walk outside with Bert, bracing myself, to be confronted by…sunshine.  I’m a  little shocked at first.  What’s this?  The sun on my face?  I rush back upstairs and fling open the curtains to show Hubby.  ‘Look!  You can even see the windfarm through the mist!’ 

This was the same view less than a week ago:

Snowy day

And here’s a close-up of that skyline.  And then I remember exactly why I love living here.  Half an hour’s drive to Tesco?  Pah.  I’ll settle for it, in exchange for this view.

Windfarm

 

Oh, and the Friday Fridge?  It’s over at Aussie’s house.