Monday, 3 September 2018

Amazing August

Most of August is, of course, documented on TravelsWithPickle. The whole month passed in a blur of family, friends and fascinating places, yet there were several highlights.

The biggest and best was to be together as a family for the first time since Cat and Andy's wedding in New Zealand two and a half years ago. We had already been looking forward to spending three happy weeks with Jonny and Adele, in the Pyrenees and travelling up to the Dordogne, but Cat and Andy's surprise visit to us in Axat was wonderful. Having left Iraq, en route to returning to New Zealand to await the arrival of their baby (and, in Andy's case, finish his Masters degree), they flew to Barcelona, hired a car and drove across the Pyrenees to meet us.

It was absolutely and undisputably the biggest pleasant shock of my life. (Mostly, shocks are not of the pleasant or kind variety. Another story.) Such a gift of time....

The farewells, though, arrived all too quickly. Jonny and Adele flew back to England from Toulouse; Cat and Andy drove back to Barcelona to catch a flight to Munich, Singapore, Darwin - to visit Andy's brother Jon - and then, eventually, Auckland.

It was quiet. The huge gap caused me a surprising amount of grief, though I tried to temper it, always, always, with gratitude for the gift of time together.

So motorhome life did, eventually, drop back into routine. Pickle was a little quiet, somewhat depressed (until we visited Bel and Richard and family, when she cheered up and had a wonderful time).

I continued, throughout, with nurturing the SCOBY which had miraculously survived extreme heat: the outside temperature, in the shade, was over thirty-eight degrees on one day: SCOBY worked triple time, producing kombucha within 24 hours. It - he - had also grown hugely: I had already separated him from his 'mother' a few weeks earlier, and pulled another 'baby' off the top, keeping both mother and baby separately in a close-fitting bowl in a SCOBY 'hotel'. (Yes, such is the language of kombucha making. Google it and prepare to have your mind blown with complicated instructions.)

We had other adventures with the kombucha manufacture, too. I managed to spill the tea one day, pouring it over the cooker, all over the floor and letting it trickle dangerously near the electrics. Another time, Richard moved the motorhome, not realising that the SCOBY was 'breathing' - i.e., didn't have a plastic lid sitting tightly on his container - and was just resting on the worktop. I came back in to the van to find liquid all over the floor (fortunately not, this time, near any electrics) and a surprised SCOBY sitting on top of said liquid.

Did I mention that kombucha is sweet and sticky?

Other wonderful benefits in August have been that our fitness has improved considerably, although not quite a the peak it was when we were walking uphill in the Pyrenees for up to five hours a day. My arthritic knee has benefited hugely through strengthening my leg muscles.

What else in August? Well, the weather was mostly very hot, apart from the odd cooler (as low as nineteen degrees!!) day towards the end of the month. We enjoyed foraging opportunities: blackberries, of course, but also wild strawberries in the Pyrenees, figs in Haute Garonne, blue plums, and 'Reine Claude' green plums in the Dordogne, early apples in Indre-Loire, wild thyme ...

And always enjoying the birdlife. Little owls at L'Isle sur Tarn; tawny owls at Chaillac; vultures, lammergeiers and eagles in the Pyrenees; buzzards everywhere. Redstarts, mountain chats, stone chats, swifts and swallows and, in the Loire, four magnificent white storks, taking flight from a field next to our cycle track. We even saw ospreys one day... And, of course, green woodpeckers were ubiquitous - the sound of summer in France.

Animals were rarer sightings, but we had glimpses of deer, cycled past a huge hare lolloping by a vineyard, foxes,  And unusual roadkill we spotted included a rat, a snake, and a badger...among, sadly, many hedgehogs.

The month wound down quickly to the end. We returned to Guernsey on 1st September. The summer was over: back to reality...until the next time. Indeed, as Guernsey French has it: a la perchoine! To the next time!

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Journeying through July

July began with the end of term craziness and the end of a delightful friendship for Pickle.

With the postman.

She had got to know him quite well. He always seemed pleased to see her, even when, one day when he was sitting doing paperwork in his van, she hopped in the back, ready to come on his rounds with him. He even took to getting her to sign for the parcels he delivered...

Now, we have different posties. All quite pleasant - this is Guernsey, after all, where the community is small and friendly - but none have, as yet, begun to bond with this little Patterdale terrier....but she's working on them. Her friendliness is very hard to resist.... watch this space.

So... end of term. A week so crazy busy that I had each day planned down to the last half hour. Packing and cleaning were, for me, secondary to the demands of school, but Richard worked intensively to get the motorhome ready and the house cleaned ready for guests. Intermittently, I packed for going away and packed away unnecessary clutter, leaving the house clear.

Evenings were filled with prizegiving and concerts, interspersed with catching up with friends. We sat on the roof terrace of Wendy and Nicholas's flat overlooking L'Ancresse beach and common, watching kestrels swooping and hovering. There was even a visit from four goldfinches, who perched on the balcony wall. Wonderful to catch up on news in such an idyllic setting. Then, the night before we left, our wonderful neighbours invited us over. So relaxing to sit in the garden in the warmth of the evening.
Evening sky over Morningstar
And, of course, the week was full of finishing off and goodbyes to our Year Sixes before they moved on to senior school. I had cleared my classroom the week before, so we were able to concentrate on organising a wonderful Leavers' Service at church. The children wrote and read their own prayers: most of the year group stood up in front of 200 people, reading clearly and organising themselves beautifully. We were very proud of them.

Inbetween, I managed to put posies of hydrangeas and ox-eye daisies together for my some of my wonderful, supportive colleagues. Such fun, to write appreciative notes. And to reflect on how things have changed this year, and how far I have been able, with God's help, to come. A year ago, my blood pressure was dangerously high: now, the best it has ever been. And I am stronger in my spirit, in spite of all the attack last year. I can reflect and be thankful for God's strength and my friends' and colleagues' love and support. God is good, good, good - as the children sang, having chosen 'King of My Heart' as one of their songs.

Last day of term was emotional for children: last game of football together (boys AND girls!); last game of 'Empires'; final assembly. Lots of awards, but we finished with a spontaneous performance of George Ezra's 'Shotgun', which Year 6 have been mad about. The school joined in with the actions which the children had put to the song while they were away on activity week.

The end of term is, always, an anti-climax, so I was happy to jump on my bicycle, five minutes after the last child left and all the goodbyes had been said, to whizz down the hill to meet Richard at the ferry. We were off to here we come! In the words of George Ezra:
"I'll be riding shotgun, underneath the hot sun, feeling like a someone - oh yeah"

Of course, the rest of the month whizzed by in a heat haze...but one more thing must be said. Richard bought a SCOBY (which apparently stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast) and some starter tea for making kombucha, which is, basically, sweet fermented tea. Aarrgh!  What to do with this 'monster' which has to be delicately and carefully nurtured, using precise measurements of tea, sugar and hot water, precise temperatures for brewing and precise instruments and vessels. (No metal AT ALL - remove rings! - and brew in a glass container.)

How to do this in a motorhome?

Well, poor SCOBY. He got shoved into a plastic box, covered with a lid for travelling more often than was supposed to happen, jiggled around for hours in the van, rather than sitting sedately on a countertop; encountered direct sunlight (big no no) and was subjected to temperatures far above those recommended. Oh dear.

But guess what? HE THRIVED!  He grew enormous very quickly, birthing a 'baby' (yes SCOBY should be 'she' but there is no doubt that all its characteristics were, in my mind, masculine: sensitive fussy, needing to be looked after carefully....) and brewing kombucha at an astonishing rate.  It should take 5 - 21 days, at 21 - 25 degrees Celsius, but Mr Scoby manages to produce a delicious brew at temperatures well above thirty degrees in just a matter of hours: 24 - 48, to be precise.

I've separated 'baby' from 'mother' once - and he instantly seemed to double in size. What to do now....?

Whatever. Scoby has been a great travelling companion and I shall do my best to continue to keep him happy.... more updates next month.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Jaunty June

This has to be the best month of the year. Spring has exploded into summer, the air is warm and the sun is shining - most days, it seems. Flowers are EVERYWHERE.
Drooping over the patio from our neighbours' garden.

Tree hydrangea

I am amazed at how quickly June is flying  by. The cycle commute to school has changed, as the hedges and banks which, at the beginning of the month were towering over my head, have been cut. It does make cycling down the lanes safer... I can now see vehicles coming, although the tractors which tear round the island are somewhat daunting....

One day, a magpie hopped insouciantly along the bank by my shoulder, so close I could see its wing feathers; a cock pheasant strutted his stuff at the edge of a field, just a couple of metres away from me, quite unconcerned; then, as I took one of my favourite back lanes near home, I saw a buzzard dive down and land at the edge of the field. He hadn't seen me, so I quietly drifted to a halt and climbed the ban to peep over. He flew up, almost in my face, yellow legs dangling as he slowly flapped white-patched wings towards the nearest tree before continuing on across the meadow. mobbed by two crows who pursued him with tremendous determination until he had safely left the area.

Goldfinches swoop busily in and out of the trees and bushes which blackbirds fly low-level across the garden, assiduously digging for worms in the early morning. Thrushes shriek from our neighbour's tree, almost deafening at times. A baby chaffinch rested thankfully on the bird table, its parent perched anxiously above it while it caught its breath.

There was other wildlife, too. Sawfly larvae emerged and started chomping away at the Solomon's Seal, effectively stripping the leaves. Nature's pruning. I started off the season by trying to remove them, before giving up: perhaps they would be food for the birds... but not before the leaves had been stripped to bare stems...

Inbetween bird watching, I teach; read the incredible World War 2 adventure stories the children have written; help them put together a 'museum' of all the incredible work they have done this term; help a group of girls created miniature Guernsey landmarks for our wheelbarrow 'garden'. Our entry this year for the annual schools' gardening wheelbarrow competition is a living 'map' of our island, surrounded by a beaches of bright yellow tagetes and a sea of trailing blue and white lobelia....  Our school 'garden' has now been converted into an outdoor learning area, so no more gardening club for me...

And lastly: Activities' Week. This year, I was fortunate to be with Year 4, 'supervising' them at the beach while they attended Surf School. Apart from a couple of misty, windy mornings, we sat in blazing sunshine, rejoicing over every successful attempt at standing up on the board. It was a blessing, too, to get to know colleagues who normally pass by briefly in the staffroom, as we don't usually work together. My journey down on the bike afforded me wonderful views of the coastline as I navigated the lanes. 30 minutes freewheeling downhill....40 - 50 minutes back up again....
View from the lookout at Le Grantez: site of a former windmill, a Napoleonic era fort and a German defence fortification.

A jack rabbit rests in the shade...

Vazon bay. #tropical

Then, as if I didn't have enough to do, we started making kombucha: fermented tea. Boy, reading the instructions and researching on the internet took hours of my life, but eventually I combined tea, sugar and hot water, letting it cool before gently inserting the mushroom-like 'SCOBY'. Waited a few days, then decanted the sweet fizzy drink. It was actually quite tasty... Now, can we keep it alive and going over the next couple of hot summer months...?
The SCOBY from above. Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. So there we are.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Thoughts of a Grandmother-To-Be

Some of us in our family do rather like games and quizzes:
Quiz clues

Italian diminutive for the mother of the grandchild’s parent.                                       

Daring youngsters leap off this high rock into the sea at Grandes Rocques.           

Jesus started off in this world  as one.                                                                                                                                
 Hope not to be like this character in Roald Dahl’s ‘George’s Marvellous Medicine’.

He went with Charlie Bucket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory                                              

Due date is during the penultimate month of the year...                                                              

They produce offspring.                                                                                                                           

Diminutive for Catharine, a feline.                                                                                            

Answers: Nonna; The Grandfather; baby; Grandma; Grandpa; November; Parents; Cat.

 It is hard to know where to start: still slightly shocked by the unexpected news that Cat is pregnant and expecting a baby in early December.  I have, however, had a few weeks to get accustomed to the thought of grandparenthood: Cat told us nearly three months ago, but we have been waiting to ‘go public’ with the news until now.

It has been really, really hard to 'sit' on it, keeping quiet. She said I could tell just one person: but I did have to ask several others for advice...and one friend asked me outright if there were any grandchildren in the offing: I couldn't lie, now, could I?!

It has been a little bit of a shock as we just weren’t expecting this wonderful event. Not quite so soon, anyway.  Cat had only just completed one year of her contract with MedAir in Iraq and seemed quite set on continuing. She and Andy expect to leave MedAir at the end of August, when she will be 24 weeks along, to return to New Zealand where they hope Andy will find work; and get settled – in New Zealand – before the baby arrives. They might, however, be returning to MedAir...or go somewhere else, still working in aid and disaster relief: who knows?

Amazing news, but so many issues and puzzles thrown up in my heart and mind.

Firstly: it has been wonderful to have them so much nearer us. We have spent several weeks with them twice this year: on safari in France last summer, and then when they surprised us with a long visit at Christmas. Their imminent departure for New Zealand has generated feelings of loss in me yet again...they will, once more, be at the opposite end of the world.

Secondly: the timing! Cat and Andy were due to visit Jonny and Adele in May: we wondered if they couldn’t, depending on how safe it would be for her with the risk of malaria and Zika fever. How disappointing that would have been for everyone.  Still, after several weeks of anxious consideration and much prayer for  protection, they decided to go ahead with the visit and all had a brilliant time together. And stayed healthy!

Thirdly: 'Grandma' does not sit well with me.... so I explore a variety of names from other cultures I have connections with: Mormor (Sweden); Yaya (Greece);  Cũcũ (pronounced Shosho) (Kikuyu); Bibi (Kiswahili, Kenya/Tanzania); Dani (DhoLuo); Nonna (Italy, from my own childhood 'Nonna')... I could even go to my French or German ancestry with Gra-Mere, Mémère or Oma... but whatever we all – and, especially, Baby Dow – decide: I will NOT be called ‘Grandma’, for reasons too painful to go into here... (not a big deal, actually, but a really, really strong preference.) 

My personal favourite is from our dear friend Mary, who refers to her own mother as ‘GladMama’. Now that, I like. I am certainly GLAD. 

There is more... but a definite sense that we need to pray and wait and trust God for the outcomes of many uncertainties....

Meanwhile: we rejoice. I make cake. Celebrations!

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Marvellous May

It was somewhat of a relief to end April, filled as its latter days had been with sadness, loss and grief. Yet the passing of days into the next month have, in truth, done little to change my feelings.

Still. Much to be thankful for in May, not least those family members whose birthdays fall in the first half of the month: Richard, then, a couple of weeks later on consecutive days, my nephew Henry, sister Isabel and dear daughter-in-law Adele. Quite a challenge remembering to get organised with birthdays in time...

The weather helped. April ended cold enough for a fire, but May began warmer, excelling itself with the warmest Spring Bank Holiday on record: it reached 24 degrees here...

That first weekend - with a few days added on - was busy. Dear friends to supper on the Friday evening - our summer resolution is to get together, one way or another, on a Friday. Beach, even, if it is warm enough; Healing Rooms on the Saturday morning, afternoon tea later and then a surprise visit from Mags and Lewis, bringing their 'Save the Date' card for their wedding next year...

The Saturday had been warm: the Sunday, warmer still. After church, we whizzed down the road to the Dollman gun battery. We missed the firing of the gun, but the bunkers - with reconstruction of what a bunk room would have looked like - were open: an annual occasion. I had visited with the school just a few days before, but what a difference it made to see it all opened up, with members of the local history group in attendance with a wealth of information.
Blackout warning

Beware - the enemy is listening!  The Germans were convinced that Britain would do everything within its power to recapture the Channel Islands

The reconstructed bunk room

Harley Davidson!  More than 70 years old - complete with rifle holster!

And on the way home: cow jam. #everythingstopsforcowsinGuernsey
A walk the next morning yielded stunning views of flowers on the cliff path and then a serendipitous meeting with friends, driving past, who came in for coffee. We caught up with Martyn and Heather quickly before cycling across to the West Coast to help with marshalling for a charity walk in aid of, among other worthy causes, the Tumaini Fund which works in Tanzania.  We stood at the side of the road for an hour or more, directing walkers and the odd car. I saw quite a few of my students.. always fun seeing them out and about.
Seriously scary for a Small Dog - a robotic lawnmower scaring off canine intruders

Beautiful borage

Sea campion

Lovely thrift.

And what a gift it is to cycle: we meander down unexplored lanes, discovering all kinds of treasures we would never see from a car. On the way, what looked like an ancient traction engine, covered over by creepers. On our return, we discovered the site of an old mill - fallen into disrepair by the start of World War 2 but completely destroyed by the Germans and a bunker built in its place - completely by accident. Up on a hillside, it gave commanding views of the west coast.

Discovery: there are zebras (well, one at least) on Guernsey!
Traction engine? Pre-war?

Site of an old mill, converted into a German bunker, on top of a hill in Castel

Unusually artistic graffiti

The bunker - a tunnel leading out to undergrowth and bluebells

Back home, pottering in the garden, catching up on jobs inside and out... a gift of time. And then... 9th May, Liberation Day in Guernsey. We cycled off to town through a maze of lanes, joining the crowds who wandered the stalls and waited for the cavalcade. Met two Dutch ladies visiting, who told us that their Liberation Day, while not celebrated as much as ours, happens on May 5th with an act of remembrance - a la 11th November - occurs on May 4th, where everything stops for two minutes' silence at 8pm.  And, of course, as this is little Guernsey, we met friends and acquaintances before the military vehicles and vintage cars arrived. (We had, in fact, passed the military vehicles, whose occupants were all in forties costume, having a party in a field a few hundred yards away from our house, complete with music from the Forties as well.)

Two days at school before the weekend seemed rather strange.

And the weekend... lovely evening to kick it off, eating curry with friends; cycled off to Cobo again, doing errands on the way; finishing painting a table and moving it into the spare room; tidying up, in preparation for Chris and Kareena's visit. (They are coming to stay for a week or so while their house is being renovated - 'we will house share or 'flat' together, as they say in NZ.) And then, reconnecting with Delia and Ernest after four years... talking non-stop for several hours.

Then, slowly, we set about preparing our house for our summer absence. Cleaning out cupboards, sorting, storing away winter clothes (at last!), tidying up the garden. We created a wonderful wood pile: very satisfying stacking logs carefully.  #almostartwork  Spring is such a vibrant, energetically busy time...So a daily cycling commute to school; weekends exploring. It is a daily joy to see buzzards wheeling and crying overhead; a little crowd of goldfinches swooping in and out of the hedgerows before me as I cycle along the lane; the early morning sun piercing into the bedroom, dazzling in its brightness. One morning, the car ahead slowed down and swerved to avoid a trio of quarrelling sparrows on the road, so intent on their argument that they flew into safety only at the last minute. The high banks bordering the narrow lanes are awash with pink campion, yellow creeping buttercup and white wild garlic.  Soon, they will be trimmed: but for now, wildflowers and greenery grow high above my head. I cycle as if entirely alone in a tunnel of herbiage....
Lovely lilies scented the house for a fortnight

Early morning summer sun.. still only 6am

Vazon beach to myself...

Saxifrage? On the cliff path

A clifftop valley of cow parsley

Cornflowers emerge as the gorse seeds..


Clematis on our patio...
....and then, the last weekend. Blazing summer sunshine, high temperatures... I ventured to Vazon with my board and managed the first swim of the summer before a steep cliff walk. Too hot for Pickle... but we enjoyed tea in the garden with our dear neighbour Nicky and later catch up dinner with old friends...and the first barbecue of the summer.

Wonderful weather. Good friends. Contentment.