August ramblings

The planned long weekend in France at the start of the month was put on hold for fear of quarantine on return, which would have wrecked the family’s visit to see the new house. (Quarantine wasn’t actually imposed for another two weeks.) Instead, my friends snatched a weekend in Kent, which started with champagne on the beach as the moon rose, and graduated to sea swimming as the temperature climbed the next day. I hadn’t swum in the UK sea for around twenty-five to thirty years so I was very proud of myself!

When the family arrived a few days later, we swam most days. (I’d bought child-sized swim shoes in preparation for the shingle beach.) I thought my grandson would find it way too cold but once he got over the shock he loved it. Peanut butter sandwiches were the perfect antidote to any salty water he may have swallowed!

I’d booked  a visit to Walmer Castle gardens and it worked very well for a family outing. Plenty of shade as the temperature rose, lots to see in the woodland walk and the gardens, hungry fishes ready to ‘snack’ on small fingers in the formal pond and thoughtful deckchairs set in the shade for when we needed to have a rest and a drink.

Visiting Wingham Wildlife Park on a day when the temperature reached over 30 degrees was more of a challenge – a lot of the animals were sensibly lurking inside – but Ellis loved the ring-tailed lemurs, the penguins and, of course, the go-karts. He was less sure about the moving dinosaurs. We were all ready for a swim after nearly four hours spent there.

Ellis loved playing with his Dad’s old toys – found in the loft when I moved – and he was pretty keen on all the ice cream to be had locally.

It was very quiet once everyone went home – but they left me with some enormous lilies, which filled the house with their perfume for days.

With a few days before the next visitors arrived, I had shelves built and spent a weekend painting them, filling one set with books, and assembling a flat-pack sideboard. Might have overdone it – the back has been playing up ever since!

When the family were here, we ate breakfast and lunch in the garden and dinner, too – it was such amazing weather. We tried a lot of the local take-aways (below left). The next visitors resulted in dining-out experiences for the first time since March! The food at The Rose (below right) was excellent, and the atmosphere at Eva’s was perfect for a suddenly damp and cool Saturday evening (we only tried the bruschetta, but they were delicious).

A fierce storm the day before – thunder and lightning for nearly an hour, flooding in town, a lightning strike on a house and subsequent fire – had upset the weather just in time for the Bank Holiday weekend. We did the traditional British stiff-upper-lip thing and picnicked on fish and chips on the beach (there may also have been champagne), sheltering behind a boat from the blustery wind, grey skies and flurries of rain. It was fun – and, of course, the sun came out just as everyone headed home.

July ramblings

The Beach

The first half of July was a whirlwind of organisation after the house move: things to be ordered and hung and built, plus a lot of learning to be patient as everyone is busy catching up with themselves after being unable to work for several weeks. So until I can get shelves built in mid August, I am learning to live with around 30 boxes of books and china, waiting to be unpacked. I did my usual thing and began spending money on things for the house (in this case some paintings by local artists) instead of saving it towards repairs to the fabric of the building.

There were quite a few early wakings and I realised it was silly not to take advantage of them and get out and walk along the seafront. The hour between 6am and 7am turned out to be magical – there were few people about, the sun shone on a sparkling sea and the beach was empty. The perfect time for standing a few minutes at the water’s edge, watching the waves work their way along the shoreline, before turning back for home and breakfast.

Morning walk2

From looking at my photos anyone would think July had been a month of glorious weather. In fact, after the heat at the end of June gave way to gales and then rain, it turned out to be a mixed month, with sunshine returning at the end and temperatures climbing to 30 plus degrees. This coincided with the arrival of my first guests – we drank fizz on the beach as the moon rose, they swam the next morning and I was shamed into taking my first dip in over 25 years in UK waters later that afternoon, after a long, hot walk around town. It was still balmy into the evening so we dined in the garden by candlelight, rounding off July in some style.

I’ve made it right to the end without mentioning masks and queues and hand sanitiser – there were definitely times when July felt almost normal. But I called off my trip to France over fears that quarantine would be imposed on my return (potentially wrecking a family visit scheduled for my return). I went to a barbecue one night and on another had pizza delivered to the beach, where we drank takeaway lemon gin sitting on the beach wall, then I walked home under a beautiful sky. I walked locally and into town, had takeaway coffee at Sandown Castle community gardens – under the circumstances, it was a good month.

June ramblings

Walmer 1

June brought an easing of lockdown and a chance to catch up with family members – in particular, my grandson, much missed and with noticeably more words! The weather took a bit of a nosedive for his visit, with strong winds blowing in and only brief glimpses of the sun, but we still got out for some local walks.

I was lucky enough to get a 2-hour window of sunshine on the afternoon of my birthday, allowing a socially distanced tea party in the garden with my book group, after a morning when it was cool enough to wear a coat!

Birthday

I discovered that my favourite garden in the area – Goodnestone Park – had opened, meaning there was chance to see it looking its June best on a sunny day. No tea and cake of course – those with foresight took a picnic.

And I walked again by the sea from Ramsgate to Broadstairs and back, under striking blue skies, and on the local paths around the fields.

By the middle of June, I had my moving date at the end of the month. I’d had an offer accepted on a property the day before lockdown, so had been playing a waiting game ever since. Moving out was rather similar to moving in – the temperature soared and we had the hottest spell that we’d had for some time. I was sad to say goodbye to my country cottage, but excited to move to the seaside – one road back from the seafront (top), yet with peaceful countryside at the end of the road.

Cottage

Walmer 3Moving felt like a relatively normal, if stressful, event, with exchange and completion just a day apart. I was rather hindered by not being able to have a clear out, with the charity shops closed and tip visits restricted so I’ve had to bring rather more with me than I would have liked. But it is still an abnormal time – most obvious when I’ve needed to venture into a shop, where queueing, restricted numbers and hand-sanitiser are the order of the day. Once more, I wonder what next month will bring – with a bit of luck, my summer holiday: a trip to France for a long weekend.

May ramblings

Landscape

I look back at my last post, to see that 7th May was review day for lockdown – apparently. I can’t remember if it happened or if it did, what it meant. On we drifted, for those of us not working in any regular way, every day was groundhog day. For me, the walks and the gardening continued, along with the marvellous weather. The death toll rose even further and I suppose we all searched for some meaning in it all, and wondered when the lockdown would begin to ease, while watching the news and grasping at straws.

The month began with a rainbow, and it did end with lockdown easing enough to allow us to meet six friends, outside, at a distance. Writing this, I’m wondering where we will be in a month’s time.

Rainbow

In between the two events above I worked in the garden, taking delight in the new flowers as they appeared – white aquilegia and lilac.

Then, by mid month, a positive deluge of pink – lupins, chives, more aquilegia, roses, osteospermum and alliums. The honeysuckle was having a very good year!

There were some creative endeavours, too: my painting-by-numbers picture – a Mother’s Day gift – progressed. And I finished the first draft of Book 3 of the new trilogy.

The foxgloves opened and surprised me by their colours – pink, of course, but not quite sure where the white ones came from.

And I tackled a box topiary job over several days – around twenty five spheres and cones, and five low hedges. Backbreaking work!

There was more than one walk by the sea – this one at Ramsgate.

On another occasion to Broadstairs and back, observing some great social distancing.

Dumpton 2

And at Dumpton Gap

And through the local fields, where the wheat and barley had put on a growth spurt in the sunshine.

My Buddleja alternifolia, also known as the fountain butterfly bush, flowered and filled the lane with its honey scent. And the paeony flowered for the first time since I moved it, but the stems were spindly and struggled to support the flower heads. I picked them for a vase and felt guilty; roses too.

Path

April ramblings

Church

I was going to just post images from my garden and my socially-distanced walks for April, because no words of mine can do justice to what has been going on in this new world we are inhabiting.

But that would be to fail to honour the fact that while many of us look forward to breaking free from some of these shackles and others are terrified at the thought, upwards of 25,000 people in the UK had died by the end of April. (I was shocked to discover that when I last posted on here, at the end of March, the number was 4,000 …) The latest figure is pretty much the size of the whole population of a nearby town (and will be beyond the size of it as May goes on). I try to imagine it and can’t.

It’s been a month where every day has been much like another for me – a walk, gardening, writing or editing, a massive spring clean, taking a deep breath and facing a trip to the shops alongside checking the news and, by the last week, being increasingly baffled by the statistics and the assertions. I had a lot of questions and no-one to answer them.

But there have been Zoom conversations with family and friends, yoga classes, an awful lot of memes, a belated discovery of the wonderful taste of potatoes, tomatoes and raspberries bought in the farm shop. And above all, an appreciation of nature unfolding and breathing all around. The trees have gone from bare branches to mostly full leaf, the blossom – never less than spectacular – has been and, in some cases gone, and the birdsong (skylark, blackbird, song thrush, robin, wren, goldfinch and, the biggest revelation of all, blackcap) continues to lift the spirits.

There’s also been the feeling of loss of six weeks gone by, of a grandson much missed as he changes every day, of inadequate conversations on over-stretched wi-fi links – yet this loss is barely worth mentioning compared to the grief that others have faced.

Onwards we go into May, wondering what lies at the end of it whilst also trying not to wonder too much. Life at the moment is best lived day by day.

I was surprised to discover just how many of my photos this month featured paths and tracks leading away into the distance.

The blossom everywhere – pear, cherry, ornamental – was fabulous.

The garden was glorious –  tulips at the start of the month, then quince and Sun Disc narcissi. The weeds flourished and the grass needed a regular cut.

Clematis at the back, honeysuckle at the front …

Forget-me-nots, muscari and rosemary in mid-April, lily of the valley and bluebells at the end of the month.

The Easter weather was so beautiful. Like so many people, I missed seeing the family – particularly my favourite Easter bunny on his Easter egg hunt. I tried my hand at painting, and soon realised I was better off sticking to the writing.

Writing

Book Three of the latest trilogy is now up to 80,000 words. I’m determined to finish by 7th May – review day for the lockdown…

 

March ramblings

Walmer

March 2020 will go down as the month when the UK, held hostage by a virus, began to live out a dystopian novel. The time when a health emergency turned into a pandemic and we went from freedom to lockdown overnight.

During the first half of the month, there were rumblings in the background. A few deaths began to be logged to COVID-19, although it still felt like a vague threat – to the general public, at least. It seemed inconceivable that we might suffer in the same way that China had, until Italy and Spain showed signs of going the same way. By the end of the month, schools and businesses were closed, the streets were deserted, even in London, the supermarket shelves bare, stripped of packets and tins and toilet rolls. We were allowed out for an hour’s exercise a day, alone or with the people we lived with, or to go and buy essential shopping. We stood in line, 2 metres apart, to go in to shops one at a time to check whether butter had come in, or hand sanitiser, or tinned tomatoes.

The saving grace, which proved to be both a blessing and a curse, was the weather. After months of gloom and rain, the sun came out – but not without giving us a beating from a weekend of gales first. The countryside, parks and gardens (for those lucky enough to have them), came into bloom and the birds sang their hearts out, from dawn chorus to dusk, to prove that for them, at least life went on as normal. Better, in fact. The climate benefited from the fact that there were so few cars on the road, industry had all but ground to a halt, planes no longer flew.

I write this in the hope that, looking back in a few months’ time, it will all feel like a bad dream: the whole world in the grip of a virus that as yet no-one knows how to beat; a million dead worldwide, over 4,000 in the UK and rising. Every individual death, logged as a daily total, a tragedy for that person’s family, made particularly cruel because of the isolation of both the death and the funeral. And through it all the key workers soldiered on, putting themselves at risk for us, while we hid, alternating between fear and irritation, wondering whether there was a way out and if so, when it would come.

The relatively normal start to the month began with the publication of my fourth book, The Margate Maid, in hardback and ebook and audiobook – two firsts there for me. I went up to London – although I chose to drive as a precaution rather than take the train – in the midst of the worst rain I have ever driven through. On the Friday, Ellis and I went to the playground and to a café – both memorable for being activities now forbidden.

Saturday was very special – a visit to Bekonscot model village – much loved by my own children and now an amazing new discovery for Ellis. Choo-choo train heaven!

When I got home, there was a lovely delivery of publication-day flowers from my new publishers. And I received the final large-print copy of my Yorkshire trilogy from my previous publishers.

I managed a couple of walks with friends, although by now social distancing measures were beginning to come into force. There was much washing of hands and keeping 2 metres apart. Then that came to an abrupt end, too. In its place, a new world of chatting to friends and family on HouseParty and WhatsApp, video calls for Mothers Day, writing group meetings and yoga classes via Zoom. And each day, a solo walk in the countryside – perfect for social distancing where I live.

Primroses were in flower and a solitary cistus bloom appeared, very early. All the spring yellows came out in force – daffodils, forsythia, mahonia – and the tulips were up and waiting in the wings.

In the first week of lockdown I threw myself into cooking recipes new and old. A variation of a Nigel Slater recipe with coconut, spinach and tomatoes, tweaked to include what I could find in the shops. Cauliflower soup, very much enjoyed at a friend’s house but lacking in flavour when I made it, enlivened with a delicious garlic and coriander Zhoug (not made by me…)

Then spiced lentil soup,  a Delia recipe that I’ve been making for well over 30 years (recipe now lost but engraved on my memory). And, when the sun came out, pear and roquefort salad, with the addition of bacon, eaten in the garden one sunny lunchtime, accompanied by a glass of white wine because – why not?

I’m lucky in that I’m used to being at home, with writing and researching taking up a portion of every day. It’s been much harder for friends and family, having to adapt to home-working with two people needing to make calls and use computers plus looking after children and maybe home-schooling, too. Ellis was keen to get in on the act. He enjoyed the chance for a run-around, too.

The photo at the top was taken just before lockdown, as is my final image. It felt too sensitive a subject to post to my Instagram account at the time, but the church and graveyard at Kingsdown are so beautiful and peaceful – a moment of solace in the strangest, and saddest, of times.

Churchyard

February ramblings

Ramsgate 1

At the beginning of the month I went to London to have dinner with my NCT group – we’ve been meeting for 34 years now! And as my intended trip to the Garden Museum was thwarted as it was closed, I got to see the exhibition at the Wallace Collection of wonderful and intricate Indian paintings done for the East India Company in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Back in Kent, the weather was warm enough to sit outside for coffee in Ramsgate, where the harbour (top) looked positively Mediterranean. The Clock House on the quay proudly displays the fact that Ramsgate Mean Time is 5 minutes and 41 seconds ahead of Greenwich Mean Time!

Ramsgate 2

I was back in London again for a champagne tea – lots of lovely sandwiches and cakes (I didn’t make the one pictured) for a friend’s big birthday. And the chance to spend some time with Ellis as well as have a fabulous family lunch cooked from the Dishoom cookbook.

In Kent, the skies threatened – and frequently produced – all sorts of weather. We had at least three different storms (Ceira, Dennis and Jorge) with gales tearing down trees and heavy rain turning the fields into swamps. But we escaped the flooding that affected so much of the rest of the country. And two days after taking this photo I was in the garden, giving the grass its much needed first cut of the season. While I was out there, a van arrived bearing a very exciting delivery – a box of my first-ever hardback, to be published in March and set in Kent.

Later in the month, I found my book already in the window and on the front table in Waterstones Westwood Cross, when I popped in to ask whether they would consider ordering a copy. The Canterbury branch already had it on order, too. To add to the excitement, the family sent flowers and gifts from afar.

 

At the end of half term, it was back to London to spend some time with Ellis. And in the last week of the month, Ellis turned two – he had a trip to the London Aquarium and a fairy cake to tide him over until his party at the weekend, when I joined forces with his mum to create his birthday cake. It may look professional in this photo, but that ribbon is hiding a multitude of sins!

January ramblings

Goodnestone1

Another month with rather a lot of very gloomy days and lots of rain, as well as the tail end of Storm Brendan (or something), which made for winds that battered the house for two nights, and treacherous driving. I went to London in early January to see the last day of the exhibition of a beautiful quilt local to that area, known as the Acton top. Dating to c. 1825 its appliqué border is a wonderful guide to the fashions of the era, as well as depicting flowers and fruits such as the pineapple, still rather exotic at the time.

Acton quilt1Acton Quilt2

Another London visit a week later saw me battling the crowds to visit Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh at the Saatchi gallery. It was a challenge to get a proper look at a lot of the exhibits, but patience and perseverance paid off in the end. Statues, shields, jewellery, pottery, containers – all breath-taking craftsmanship and a fascinating story. And boomerangs – for hunting in the afterlife.

It was lovely to see Ellis on my trips to London. He was a bit bewildered when I wore his party-bag mask – is it a pig, a donkey or Grandma? And his little boy haircut made him look very grown up all of a sudden.

On a visit to Goodnestone gardens (top) on 18th January,  a sunny weekend, I found witch hazel (in two colours), snowdrops, daphne (glorious scent), camellias and viburnum in full bloom.

Ten days later, on another rare sunny day, I spotted the first signs of blossom (cherry plum, perhaps) on an exposed ridge. Checking my photos from last year, it was at the same stage in the third week of February…

And on the last day of January I found a crocus in flower in my garden, along with a snowflake, winter honeysuckle and hellebores, while tulips were showing confident growth in the pots and the euphorbias were doing particularly well.

 

 

December ramblings

Weather 3Another very wet month, with many gloomy days – so I’ve chosen photos that picked out the rare moments of beautiful sunshine, sparkling frost or stunning sunsets. After an election month, let’s hope the rainbow signifies better things on the horizon…

It was a month with plenty going on – the best meal of the year, for example. At the Salutations restaurant in Sandwich, in the company of my book group – a lunch beyond compare, with an amuse bouche of cauliflower pannacotta and beetroot jelly, carrot soup with onion bhaji (totally undersold by this description), fillet of sea bream with a crab ravioli on a bed of fennel, and a dessert featuring a frozen soufflé (from memory…), cracknel, coconut and lemon curd ice cream. Wonderful flavours – now just need and excuse to plan another visit…

Christmas has to be a big feature of this month, of course. It’s always fun to visit a glamorous bar in London and to put up the decorations and transform the house with some sparkle and glitter.

The best bit, though, was witnessing a 22-month-old’s puzzlement and delight in Christmas. From decorating the tree to being taken on a visit to a scary man with a white beard, wearing a traditional green Santa Claus outfit …

to getting presents as big as yourself and being more interested in a refuse truck than your Christmas lunch, there were so many new and exhausting experiences. And it was such fun to watch.

The days between Christmas and New Year, when every day is surely Sunday, were, with rare exceptions, some of the greyest days. The perfect time to visit The Turner Prize exhibition at the Turner Contemporary in Margate. It was interesting to see how much two of the artists relied on words in their work: films relating to the incarceration and torture of Syrian prisoners, and to the troubles in Northern Ireland. Being alone, apart from the ‘guard’, with the papier mâché figures was pretty spooky, while the room-filling installation by Tai Shani was curiously compelling.

Tate 1Later that day, it was on to a New Year’s Eve party and my first experience of the countdown to the New Year at the Timeball Tower in Deal, waiting for the timeball to drop and the fireworks to begin.

Christmas brought the page proofs for my new book, too, The Margate Maid, due out in March. Exciting times – Happy New Year everyone!

Copy edits

November ramblings

Roses

Another month where the weather was against me, making the paths locally too wet and muddy for enjoyable walks most days – but I did manage to make a break for it on a few occasions.

And on one very beautiful day mid-month a friend and I did a circular walk from Bridge via Bishopsbourne, followed by a special-treat lunch at The Pig, once a nightclub and now an upmarket hotel and restaurant.

The lawn put on a growth spurt after its end-of season-cut, then annoyingly became too wet to cut again. The roses thrived though – the photo (top) was taken on 17th November, when I decided that I really must give them their final pruning.

On a visit to London I went to the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, which focused on the women behind the well-known artists: their models, muses, lovers and wives and – in some cases, artists themselves. Women such as the models Annie Miller (above) and Fanny Cornforth (below);

the artist Evelyn de Morgan (below) and (below right) portrait of her husband William de Morgan, the ceramicist;

shoes embroidered by the model Marie Spartali Stillman (below), and portraits of Jane Morris, artist’s model and later wife of William Morris and also a skilled needlewoman and designer (centre and right);

and a portrait of the Anglo-Saxon queen Elviga (below left) by the artist Joanna Boyce Wells, who also painted the beautiful portrait of the Jamaican model Fanny Eaton.

Family came to visit in late November and it was a great excuse to have food from the lovely Sumac Levantine cuisine foodvan – Sumac and pomegranate chicken, falafels, fattoush, beetroot salad, houmous and tahini. We ate it all up before I could take a picture! So here’s one of lovely Ellis instead, still the most delightful bookworm ever.