Monday 29 June 2020

One Hundred (and 101) Days of Solitude

When I called the blog post published on 2nd April Love in A Time of Corona, little did I know that I'd be bastardising the title of Gabriel García Márquez's other masterpiece three months later. For someone who lives for festivals, loves pubs and gets twitchy if she doesn't go charity shopping at least twice a week I thought lockdown would have me climbing the walls. How wrong I was! One hundred and one days since we made the decision to self-isolate (four days before BoJo told us that we had to) and we've enjoyed every moment of our lockdown time.

In 2005, after stripping Stonecroft down to a shell, we'd planned to spend months restoring it but unexpectedly we sold our other house to a cash buyer within an hour of it going on the market and had three weeks to pack up everything we owned and move into a building site. We've lived in chaos ever since, half finishing one room and moving on to the next, at first while holding down full-time jobs, then having me out of action for six months following a total hip replacement and since 2007, running our own business. In between, we've dealt with not only losing Jon's Mum but also my Grandma, my Mum and my Dad and had to empty their homes, sell their houses and deal with all the often-complicated legalities associated with the death of close family members.

Lockdown may have robbed us of an income and a social life but it's given us the gift of time. Stonecroft is finally getting the care and attention it deserves and both house and garden have never looked better, Jon and I have spent over three months almost exclusively in one another's company and you know what? We're happy. I have no wish to visit non-essential shops, go to the pub or rub shoulders with a quarter of a million Brits on English beaches.

Today we're celebrating 101 days in solitude!

Anyway, back to lockdown life.......

I was first up on Sunday morning (day 100). Whilst waiting for the tea to brew, I applied a third coat of paint to the kitchen cupboard then took our mugs back to bed and stayed there reading until 8am. It was too late to wash my hair when I'd showered the previous evening so I did it when I got up. Jon made sausage sandwiches using the spelt loaf he'd baked on Saturday afternoon while I painted my nails at the kitchen table.

After watching the Andrew Marr Show I got dressed and put away the washing that had been hanging up in the utility room since I'd rescued it from the rain the previous day. Jon popped round to Tony's as he'd collected our tiles for us, unable to pick them up ourselves due to Jon's back being knackered.

Lockdown nails - Barry M's The Way You Make Me Teal
It was blustery but dry so I headed out into the garden.

WEARING: 1970's Van Allen cotton maxi dress (eBay, 2002)

I dug over the plot from where I'd pulled up yesterday's turnips, raking in some homemade compost and covering it over with plastic to deter any naughty cat using it at as a toilet. I weeded the patch of land by the water butt, cut back the bamboo, brambles and bindweed threatening to engulf the ferns and dug over the area beneath the apple tree ready for planting with something fairly shade-tolerant later in the week. 

It's been unusually windy for June and over the last couple of days, the blossom from the huge lime tree has covered everything in 2inches of yellow fluff - including the cats, the vehicles and us whenever we venture into the garden. Using a hand brush I swept under every pot on the patio and deposited four dustpans of sweepings into the compost bin. Doing it didn't half make me cough, I bet anyone passing by thought I'd succumbed to the plague.

By now Jon was back with the tiles and a bottle of fizz for me (a present from Tony). We had a coffee (most welcome after several hours of physical labour) and, feeling more flexible, Jon sanded down my freshly painted kitchen cupboards, applied a coat of waxed and attached the burnished brass peacock handles we'd bought from the roadside in Goa last year.

Jon decided to tackle Gilbert's solar panel as it wasn't working properly while I rummaged through the woodpile behind one of the sheds for some planks to use in the kitchen. 

I think it'll be a while before we need to buy any wood. Fly-tipping is a massive problem in the UK (and Walsall in particular) but occasionally the inconsiderate bastards who do it leave us with something useful like the pile of pallets that were chucked over our garden wall a couple of years ago (we've used three-quarters of them so far) or the empty 15kg bottle of butane gas dumped outside our gates last month, which will save us £15 when we take it to the camping shop to be refilled.

Planks sorted, I cut back the ice plants that were going crazy in the window boxes - the experts tell you to remove these at the end of the season and throw them in the compost bin, I've no idea why, this is their second summer and they look fine to me. Next, I decided that the patio plants could do with watering. Within minutes of finishing it started to rain. Good old British summertime.


Tea was pizza and oven chips. Before episode three of The Luminaries, we watched Black Panthers, Vanguard of the Revolution on the BBC i-player where we were rendered speechless by J Edgar Hoover's cointelpro infiltration of the movement using blackmailed provocateurs and the murder of 21-year-old Panther's leader, Fred Hampton by the Chicago Police acting on tips from the FBI. Well worth watching.

Here's my alarm clock, which Jon brought back from touring Japan with The Charlatans back in 1990, now thirty years old, it's officially vintage. It went crazy during the first week of lockdown and, regardless of what time it was set, Winnie The Pooh started shouting in Japanese at random hours throughout the night (any idea what he's saying, Allie Jane?) Not that it matters, I was always awake before it went off anyway and now, during lockdown, I seem to wake up even earlier. This morning (day 101), it was another 6am start.

After my weekday Wii Fit session, I dusted and swept the lounge and mopped the hearth and had just finished when Jon came downstairs to join me for our fruit & yoghurt breakfast.

After our record-breaking temperatures, today had plummeted to 12°C so it was back to long sleeves.

WEARING: Vintage Indian block printed cotton maxi (eBay)

The garden was still damp from yesterday's showers so there was no need to wrestle with the hosepipe.

Anything new in the garden to report? I'm still anxiously awaiting the blooming of the crocosmia and agapanthus but two of the four dwarf french beans I planted last weekend have sprung into life, the Empress of India nasturtium which I thought bore red flowers instead is a spectacular combination of yellow, orange and red.  The delphinium has another pretty blue spear and the common poppy which appeared out of nowhere a fortnight ago has flowered once more.

The trailing geraniums we planted in pots on top of the trestles we'd rescued from the parental home are just beautiful (thanks for the recommendation, Eileen!) and Mark's marigolds provide us with a daily reminder of India.

Too windy and cold to stay out for longer than necessary, I decided to play around with the shelves in the kitchen, staying out of Jon's way as he was busy tiling.

Terrible photo. One of our legendary buffets back in the days when we used to have house parties (remember them?)

These shelves are part of Project Coffee Table, Jon's quest to upcycle the beast made from an antique Rajasthani door, that was far too big for the house and had languished under a tarpaulin in the garden ever since we'd replaced it with the glass-topped G-Plan Galaxy table we bought for £1 from a jumble sale in 2011.

Using the ornately carved edging strips from the sides of the table, a couple of planks from the top and the chunky rivets that held them in place, Jon made me some rustic shelves.

You've already been introduced to my Indian brick moulds. Before you tell me not to put plant pots on wood, I promise you that they are completely dry & I've laid plastic underneath as a precaution. The verdigris metal Buddha was an Indian flea market find back in the noughties and the Swedish Dala horse was out of the 50p bucket in the clearance charity shop.

The Rajasthani wooden merry-go-round is one of a pair, my Grandparents bought them for me back in 1972. The papier-mache chap (Kashmiri, I think) has a loop at the back and tips his basket up over his head when you pull it and was another 50p charity shop find. 

After our lunchtime noodles, Jon finished the tiling while I had a lazy afternoon, repotting my Chinese Money plant and the remaining two basil plants I'd grown from seed (the rest got eaten by slugs), catching up with blog comments and letting the lads in and out about a hundred times as neither was sure about the weather.

Tea was salad, cheeses, olives, pickles, coleslaw and some of Jon's homemade spelt bread.

Tonight we'll be watching the final episode of the Art of Persia with the heating on, it might say June on the calendar but it feels more like March.

Stay safe and keep in touch!

Saturday 27 June 2020

The Distancing Diaries - Day 98 & 99

Unable to get comfortable, at 3am on Friday morning Jon decamped to the spare bedroom accompanied by Frank. I stayed in our bed with Stephen Squirrel who, at 5am, decided it was time for me to get up. I managed to ignore him until just after 6am. He and I went downstairs and, joined by next door's crazy tabby, sat in a row on the old railway sleeper on the lawn listening to the birdsong and basking in the 20°C heat.

After my Wii Fit workout, I took some painkillers, biscuits and a mug of tea up to Jon, still entwined with Frank on the bed. I caught up with blog comments, loaded the washing machine and, as we'd run out of yoghurt, made myself some instant porridge from our stash of festival food.

Jon emerged shortly after 9am. I filled a hot water bottle for his back and he also had a pot of instant porridge. Ignoring the spots of rain, I pegged the washing out to dry, swept the downstairs rugs and misted the kitchen plants before getting dressed and watering the garden.

WEARING: Organic cotton, vegetable-dyed, block printed maxi dress from Cotton Cottage (bought in Goa, January 2020)

The previous evening we'd watched Gardener's World on the i-Player and Monty Don had mentioned that now was the right time to cut back wild geraniums so I set to work with the secateurs.

As we were out of yoghurt and also running low on milk, I offered to walk to Johal's but Jon said that his back was finally beginning to ease up and decided to go shopping himself.

Despite the forecast being for rain and thunderstorms, it turned out to be another baking hot and sunny day. After I'd finished my cutting back I stripped down to a bikini and spent the rest of the morning reading on the lawn.

The previous evening we'd heard a strange noise coming from the louvred recess in the hallway (aka the cupboard of doom) and discovered that the wooden dowel we use to hang our coats had snapped in two. After our lunchtime noodles, I emptied the cupboard while Jon assembled a clothes rail I'd found lurking at the back.

I rehung the coats, had a general tidy up and put the completed paperbacks I'd tossed in there on a chair outside the gates for passers-by the help themselves to.

We spent the remainder of the day in the garden, me on the grass, Jon, upright on a chair, the lads slumped inside the house, keeping cool.

After tea (halloumi with roasted vegetables) the boys ventured outside and we joined them with mugs of tea. I gave the patio plants another watering, brought in the washing & the remainder of the free books pile and we watched Gardener's World and Bethany Hughes' A Greek Odyssey accompanied by a few rum & colas.

On Saturday (day 99) I awoke to discover both cats staring at me, it was 7.15am and breakfast was late. It was raining which only served to add to their disdain. I fed the lads, made mugs of tea and brought them upstairs where we read until 8.30am. I stripped the bed, removed the plants from the bath where they'd been soaking overnight, loaded the washing machine and joined Jon in the kitchen for fruit and yoghurt (unusual for a Saturday but we'd missed out yesterday).

On Thursday, the filter on our old kettle disintegrated. As it had been leaking for months we decided it was high time we treated ourselves to a new one so went online to search for something affordable that didn't look like a spaceship or come in battleship grey. Finding just the thing, I placed my order and along with the confirmation email I also had a message telling me that delivery would take around two weeks, so I resigned myself to having to use the stove-top camping kettle for the next fortnight. I was amazed when, shortly after 9am, our friendly My Hermes driver turned with a box containing the new kettle.

Once dressed I got to work mixing some more DIY chalk paint to makeover another of the kitchen cupboards. Halfway through I had to dash out and rescue the washing, I'd foolishly pegged it out earlier believing that the rain had stopped.

Once I'd applied the first coat of paint the sun had made a reappearance so I took the opportunity to dig up the turnips as they looked like they were ready to harvest. I stripped off the leaves and roots, popped them in the compost bin and took the turnips into the house ready for cooking later.

I'm wearing a dress I made from a 1970s Kenzo pattern using some vintage Heals' curtains printed with Grace Sullivan's Treetops design. It's self-care Saturday so there's lashings of coconut oil combed through my plaits.

Talking of food, Jon made sandwiches for lunch using the wholemeal spelt loaf he'd baked and frozen earlier in the week. His back was still experiencing the odd twinge but felt a lot better than it had been but wisely, he decided to take it easy today and stay off ladders and away from woodworking tasks, while I applied another coat of paint to the kitchen cupboard, he made another wholemeal spelt loaf.

Once I'd finished in the kitchen I went upstairs, swept the spare bedroom rug and dusted the surfaces.

I moved on to our bedroom, putting on the fresh bedlinen as Stephen had been wrapped up in the duvet after I'd stripped the bed earlier.

The fireplace had been annoying me for years. The chimney is bricked up and after the endless dust from opening up the fireplaces in the rest of the house when we moved in, we decided that, as it was only us who ever saw the bedroom (this was 2005, pre-blog days!), we'd leave it sealed off.

The solution? The remains of the roll of sticky-backed plastic which we'd used to cover the camping tables. I made a template using cardboard rescued from the recycling bin and Jon did the tricky bit, peeling off the backing and sticking it in place.

We ate our homegrown turnips for tea, accompanied by salad and a beer.

Turnips with a Parmesan Crust

  • Peel and boil the turnips until you can pierce them with a sharp knife.
  • Drain well.
  • Gently crush with a potato masher (take care, they squirt out quite a bit of water!)
  • Leave to drain until cool.
  • Brush with seasoned olive oil - I used black pepper and garlic
  • Cover with vegan Parmesan
  • Oven bake until cheese is golden and bubbling.
  • Sprinkle with chives and serve.
The plan for tonight won't include watching any of the BBC's coverage of past Glastonbury festivals, I can't even bear to watch the ones we were at, it makes me too sad. There will be rum and cola, though.

Stay safe, stay away from all-night raves and see you soon!