Sunday 25 July 2010


One of my favourite sights of the English summer is when the poppies appear in the fields.  If you have ever browsed a copy of the Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady or the spin-off craft and knitting books, you will be familiar with Edith Holden's water colours of English poppies. 

Although I loved the pictures that appeared in the books, I must have been in England for 12 years before I saw the real thing in the flesh.  They only appear in uncultivated fields or in the margins on the side of country roads and, until that summer, I'd pretty much always lived and worked in the city.  Then, one June, I spotted something orange at the side of the road and realised it was a poppy!

A month ago, when I was driving home from Site, I was treated to the tripple bill of poppies on the side of the road and wild roses growing through hedges rich in elderflowers.  Unfortunately, it was tipping it down with rain and I kept missing the best parking places from which to take photos.  Eventually, I gave up.

Two weeks later, I was back at Site and, on the way home, I tried again.  It was too late in the season for the roses and the elderflowers, but I managed to find some late poppies.


Aren't they pretty?

When I sort out our garden for good (as opposed to the annual temporary measures), poppies are one of the plants that are definitely going in.

- Pam

Saturday 24 July 2010

The Code

There is a code amongst women.  I don't know where or when we get inducted, but it seems to pass from one generation to another, almost telepathically.  No one talks about it.  Not every woman has it.  Do men get inducted?  I haven't a clue.   It is:  no idle hands (or "don't just sit there.  Do something!").  It's there when I can't sit down until after the dishes are done and lunches prepared for tomorrow.  It's there every time I sit watching TV, or travelling on a train/in a car/on a plane.  I can see my mother reaching for her crochet, for something to do in those snatched moments of time, and then see myself doing it too.

I keep remembering a woman I encountered on a train once.  Christmas 1996, Dumbo and I caught the night train from Sydney to Melbourne.  Sitting on the other side of the aisle was the stereotypical Aussie Battler and his wife together with their three children:  an 8 year old girl, a 5 year old boy and a toddler.  I watched them covertly, facinated.  The Aussie Battler* and his wife are mythical country people, fighting against the odds, battling drought and floods to raise their cattle, farm their land and breed their sheep.  And here they were in front of me.

They looked to be old parents, probably in their 50's, their faces weathered by the sun.  In their dress, it could have been the 1950's:  he wore proper trousers and an open-necked short sleeved shirt (I'm sure there was a tie tucked away somewhere); she wore a floral shirt-waister.  From snatches of their conversation, I worked out that they were farmers who'd been to Sydney for the day - they'd visited the bank and a medical specialist.  Why?  I didn't hear.  They were making a long round trip to/from Dubbo, so the visits must have been important.  (Dubbo has a big hospital and plenty of banks)     Whatever had happened in Sydney, they were worried and relieved to be heading home.  It hadn't been the best of days.  Through much of that long evening, until 2.30am when they left the train, she knitted away her worries.   She said as much, once, to her husband when he asked her why she didn't have a nap.

To that Aussie Battler's Wife, from one member of the Code to another, I salute you.

- Pam

*If you ever get the chance, read Henry Lawson's "Joe Wilson's Mates".  Joe is the embodiment of the Aussie Battler.

Friday 23 July 2010

Frugal Friday - to save or not to save, that is the question

As I struggled out of the office today (lugging my laptop, my handbag, an envelope full of invoices and a lidded plastic bucket that had just been emptied of the last of the office's dishwasher tablets), I started thinking about CrazyAuntPurl's recent post about clutter and obsessively collecting stuff for the sake of having stuff. 

(First though, a diversion: why the plastic bucket?  To make a nettle "stew" to feed my tomatoes next year.  Stuff the bucket with young nettles, chop them if you want.  Cover with water and a lid and allow to rot down for at least a month. Use as a liquid feed, pouring undiluted around the tomatoes.  You can dump the residual gunk around them too - apparently, they love it (it's rich in nitrogen).  It stinks, hence the lid. You can do the same thing to comfrey to make a more nutritious "tea", but I don't have that growing whereas nettles are free and not hard to find.  I just stalked a suitable bucket and purloined it when it was almost empty.)

CrazyAuntPurl talks occasionally about how too much stuff becomes oppressive and that you end up feeling like the stuff owns you, instead of the other way around.  It takes over your home, preventing you from relaxing because a) you have to clean it all, and b) you can't readily find whatever-it-is you were looking for because there is too much stuff in the way so you end up buying a new one.  And, eventually, you end up living like a bag lady in your own home because there is so much junk hoarded there that it takes over.

As I struggled with the door to the office car park, I looked at the bucket in my hand and I wondered if that is the slippery slope I'm heading down.   I don't need it "right now" - I won't be able to make nettle stew until next spring - so will have to store it.  Will it turn into just another thing to find a home for/get in the way/forget about?

I don't think of myself as a big collector of things.  When we put the house back together, I won't need a wall of display cases to show off my collections.  I don't collect Royal Doulton figurines or stamps. Nor do I clutter up the spare bed with stuffed toys*.  But I do collect books.  And knitting magazines.  And yarn.  And embroidery stuff...

...And bread bags.  And the tubs from Innocent Veg Pots.  And small plastic containers. And soup containers. And Douwe Egbert jars. And Yeo Valley yoghurt pots.....

Hmm.... Maybe I could have a problem?  My kitchen has the potential to be a hoarder's paradise.   At least one of the letters published in the Tightwad Gazette laments:  I've saved bread ties and egg cartons and orange juice lids, etc, but what do I do with all this stuff?  Amy's response boils down to "only collect what you need.  If it doesn't have a use, don't collect it".

It's a balancing act.  One of the hard parts of frugally acquiring things that are useful is that they don't usually appear just when you need them.  I've learned to snap up free/cheap items with potential because they won't be there when I go back looking of them.  (I'm still lamenting not buying that double-boiler from the charity shop when candle making was only a vague idea in the back of my mind.  I had to buy the more expensive microwave wax and sacrifice a glass jug because it's safer than heating wax directly on the stove top.)  

I've only collect the bread bags, etc, because I have a use for them.  I use the bread bags instead of freezer bags, particularly for meat and fish.  I give the Veg Pot tubs away filled with coconut rough.   The soup containers fit the freezer door's shelves so I freeze them full of stock, and smalz, and leftover stew.  I store my spices in the Douwe Egbert jars.  I use the yoghurt pots as starter pots when gardening.  And they can also be used as plastic glasses for parties (we found this one out by accident when hosting a BBQ.  People helped themselves to the tower of clear plastic "pint glasses" in the kitchen).

However, I don't need 100 yoghurt pots.  And I recognise that there is a point where you have to call "stop" and just bin the excess however useful they may be in the future (for instance:  I store the bread bags in an old tissue box; when it's full, I bin any excess).   Hopefully there won't be an episode of Life Laundry for me.

- Pam

* I think I still own four soft toys:  two rabbits made by my mother, a tiny teddy bear acquired from somewhere and Bearjing, a 12-inch white teddy bear that I picked up in Beijing in 1986.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

accidental hiatus

It seems as if everyone is taking a bit of a hiatus in the blogosphere.  Me included. I don't know if it's the lazy, hazy days of summer or the pressure of work.  In my case, it's a combination of everything and sheer exhaustion.  The bite on my ankle turned nasty, which probably hasn't helped.  I'm on my second course of antibiotics for it.  Cellulitis - I haven't seen it for 20+ years, but boy is it recognisable.

I have a week's leave booked for the first week of August and I'm really looking forward to it.  We aren't going anywhere; it's just a chance to rest and recuperate. 
In the meantime, I'm running on coffee.
- Pam

Thursday 1 July 2010

Why do insects keep taking chunks out of me?

I am getting seriously pissed off at whatever it is that keeps biting me. Why am I such a bug magnet?  I know that if there is a mosquito anywhere within two miles, it'll find me, but these are something else. What is making me so tasty?  Whatever it is, I need to work it out soon, before I start looking like I've got chicken pox.  (No, I don't have chicken pox for a third time.  I have clear memories of last time and these bites aren't it.)

And I don't even think it is all the same type of bug.  This is my arm, a week after I noticed the first bite appeared:

It wasn't itchy.  Then something else munched me around the elbow, and boy did THAT itch.  Then, on Tuesday evening as I parked up at my hotel, something took a bite out of my ankle.  Again, I didn't feel the bite.  I caught my ankle with my suitcase as I unloaded it and suddenly it was massively itchy and swollen.  Yesterday evening, it had a deep red ring around a white spot.  Today, not so much.

(Also, why is it when you wait for better light to take a photo bite marks go down?  It was furiously angry 8 hours ago.)

I haven't got a clue what bugs are doing the biting - I've reached the point of longing for the days when the enemy was just honest to goodness mosquitoes. 

- Pam