Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Just. June.

 June flew by, yet was packed with both challenges and delights.

The first delight was Roseanne and Chris’s wedding, in Scotland, by Zoom. Rosie is Renee Cowan’s delightful granddaughter: very clever, highly capable, high achiever – a CEO of several prestigious companies and charities before she was 40 – and an absolutely sweet, wonderful person. We celebrated with friends, dressing up and enjoying afternoon tea with bubbles.

My time at school entailed much clearing up and clearing out, as I prepared to vacate my classroom and gather planning and resources for the coming year: a day and a half of teaching R.E. (It had also been referred to as a ‘weekly activity’ rather than a part-time position!) Still, it was very satisfying cleaning out cupboards and drawers, and taking cards and posters off the wall around my desk. I photographed most of the little messages which I had kept from the children over the years...I suspect I will find more squirreled away at home, once I embark on The Great Big Tidy Up in September....

Lots of little admin jobs, too: I won’t miss THAT aspect of class teaching. I even had to organise the hoodie order, where the children were each given a hoodie at the end of their time in Year 6. Hardly comes into the realm of teaching responsibilities...

June also saw us spend a LOT of time in the garden. Quite challenging to keep up with all the growth – plants seemed to explode. I’d barely cut one hedge before it sprouted up, inconsiderately, all over again.  While Richard was busy heaving 35kg concrete blocks around to create hardstanding for the motorhome, I took over lawn trimming and hedge cutting... or perhaps lawn cutting and hedge trimming. In any event, the cables for the power tools have survived so far: I think I might have cut the hedge trimmer cable about four times in the last few years. At least Richard had the foresight to install RCD sockets outside.

Found in the bush I chopped down. We replaced the bush with a jasmine: went to buy a Clematis montana only to find there were none to be had! Still, a jasmine has proved to be a welcome addition to the patio...

Hedges which border the road in Guernsey have to be cut, by law, between June 1st and June 15th. We were comfortably within that but there was still much frantic activity in the days just before and after the final date, landowners relying on the inability of the constables to get round the lanes quickly enough to catch them out. One afternoon, my journey home was completely blocked by a tractor busily cutting, but more than compensated by the sight of swallows swooping and diving over the hedge, intent on insects, while a large dragon fly escorted me down the lane.

I always think that hedge cutting, though necessary for safety (cycling down some lanes has been rather like entering an underwater tunnel, and quite scary at times as there is no knowing when a vehicle might suddenly appear from the opposite direction), is rather a shame: the profusion of wild flowers is quite incredible. Wild daisies cover the banks with white, replacing the yellow brassicas which have shouted from the field borders over the last couple of months. Pink campion is everywhere; valerian shoots dark pink blossoms from the most unlikely of crevices; and the St PeterPort daisies bloom profusely.

That is just the wildflowers: this year, osteospernum and mesembryanthemum almost hurt the eyes with their brightness, particularly the luminous quality of mesembryanthemum.

Meanwhile, we were busy at home preparing to go away next month and leave the house for guests: quite a mammoth undertaking. It’s a great chance to declutter and springclean, requiring quite a lot of organisation. This year, I was very proud of my ‘changeover’ system, leaving linen, towel, etc particularly neatly organised in boxes, stacked high, for Beth to put out.

Richard was particularly busy, preparing the motorhome and repairing a toilet which had gone out of order. The latter took a great deal of hard work and several days... but at least the hardstanding will take a break until we return in September and there is less pressure to get it finished quickly. All really, really hard work.

Meanwhile: term accelerated to a close. We caught bad colds/sore throats., which meant ringing the Covid helpline, having a PCR test and then waiting for the results. The end of the month. I crawled back into school on July 1st...

Monday, 31 May 2021

Meandering through May

May seemed to be a long month. Marked with four family birthdays, it began with Richard’s, then, after a brief hiatus, nephew Henry, sister Isabel and daughter-in-love Adele followed on consecutive days.

I couldn’t help reminiscing, with heartfelt longing, remembering Adele’s birthday with us last year. Tea on the patio...scones...beautiful daisies, her favourite flower. (She had a reprise in far away Tanzania this year, also remembering...)

The month breezed on by. Bright sunshine, cold days. A couple of days of heavy rain, greening up the grass once more. Often warm in a sheltered spot, but not really until the second half of the month did it warm up....

School took over my life. Reports, planning, monitoring of work... it seemed endless. The pressure is on to prepare documents before inspection in six months’ time. Yet I got my reports written, relatively easily, by the middle of the month. We managed to see friends; I hosted the regular ladies’ breakfast and the ladies evening group I started in January. Inbetween, I pottered in the garden, Richard worked on a project to create hardstanding for the motorhome, and we planted pots and hanging baskets, ready for the summer. Beginning to get ready....

...and becoming weary. Finally, the head came up with a suggestion for my part-time hours. One day teaching R.E. and humanities at the top of the school ...half a day teaching R.E. at the bottom of the school. The latter is a small class, so perhaps I will...

I find myself marking last milestones, as the end of term is only a few weeks away. Last final reports!  I've always enjoyed writing them, marking and appreciating the children's progress as the year has gone on. I have started to tidy out my cupboard, throwing away old files, worksheets...decluttering, always satisfying. We even managed to take the children on our annual trip, driving round Guernsey to investigate the legacy of the German Occupation from 1940 - 1945, always fascinating.

And my colleague is also moving out of the classroom. He is just over half my age, but we have got on well and worked creatively together. New beginnings for both of us...

Halfway through the month, I was able to take part in the online Leadership Conference organised by Alpha and HTB. Such incredible stories and testimonies: so encouraging. What a privilege! Our little ladies study group perseveres, moving on slowly as members tend to come rather sporadically. 

But May was full of sorrow as well. A dear colleague's 14 year old son had a serious head injury. A week later, despite all efforts to save him, he lost his fight to survive. I taught him 4 years ago, a delightfully polite, kind and fun-loving boy. His mother is a particularly lovely colleague, popular among the staff and working in the next room to me. His grandmother is a good friend from church. We are all devastated: I cannot begin to imagine their grief. 

In the middle of that were catch-ups with friends, some having moved into a house just a couple of hundred metres away. Good to have connection.

And the weather... well, by the end of the month, and unusually for a bank holiday, the sun shone with unexpected warmth. Summer arrived... over the bank holiday weekend, at least. Guernsey is at its best this time of year, the hedgerows and banks exploding with colour, birds nesting, the butterflies and bees in profusion.

Saturday, 1 May 2021

Amazing (and amazingly cold) April

April began in the most marvellous way with an unexpected card and long letter from Cat’s parents-in-law, Allan and Sue Dow. What a wonderful treat to sit down and read, like having a long chat. These are truly precious people who God has blessed Cat with. I marvel, often, that we are so so blessed with our daughter and son’s in-laws, who have become family to us. I really have no words to express the wonderful gift they are and the great part they play in our children’s lives. As for ‘labels’ – as well as 'really lovely lovely friends' - what DO you call your children’s parents-in-law?! 

Last month, after being inspired by the proximity to their kitchen window of a friend’s bird feeder, I decided to move our little feeding tray as close to the house as I could get it. Partially hidden in a particularly prickly bush, it was an instant hit, especially when I discovered that garden birds absolutely adore porridge oats.

That was the beginning of a welcome distraction. I discovered the binoculars for those all-important close-ups. I pulled the camera out permanently once I remembered that we had a tripod, which now sits proudly on the kitchen worktop. Every opportunity, I gazed out of the window, mesmerised.

The birds came. The robins, aggressively guarding the bird table: often four of them at one time. One would wait on the feeder, staring accusingly at the kitchen window, waiting for emerge. Initially, the bird would fly off and then wait for me to retreat into the house but very quickly the robin would become so familiar that I would barely have closed the door and then, eventually, I would stand outside a couple of metres away while the birds would wait on a nearby twig, scowling at me while they waited for me to go in.

Two agreed to feed together while the others waited their turn, perched strategically on nearby bushes or the birdbath. There would be aggressive flybys or even competitive invasions.  However, it was not all antagonism.  One morning,  I found one robin feeding another, putting scraps of oatmeal into its beak.

A wren hopped in and out of the bushes, but preferred to peck at the lawn, in company with a pair of chaffinches. Sparrows were shy, hiding in the cotoneaster before darting fleetingly onto the feeder, grabbing a scrap and then flying off.

As for the pigeons... one particularly huge fat pigeon broke the bird feeder. Enough said.

The biggest delight, though, was discovering blackcaps for the first time. These sparrow-sized little grey birds have a distinctive black cap adorning the top of their heads – the female’s a beautiful chestnut brown. They didn’t come to the feeder, though, but to the Fatsia japonica , also known as the castor oil plant, the fig-leaf palm or – my favourite – the glossy-leaved paper plant.

The Fatsia seeds itself prolifically – there are tiny plants coming up all over the garden, growing in corners, under trees or through bushes. The seeds are striking, initially white, on a globular head and look wonderful in flower arrangements.

The blackcaps wait until the seeds turn black before methodically and intensively stripping them off the plant. I watched in amazement as, over a twelve hour period from dusk to dawn, one tree was completely denuded of seeds. Blackcaps, seemingly, are the locusts of Fatsia world.

This was all helped by the sun. April, true to form, was sunshine and showers, especially at the beginning of the month: one day, even, brilliant sunlight interspersed with snow showers – first grains, then, another time, actual flakes which melted as they kissed the ground.

Walks and cycle rides yielded glimpses of buzzards, although not as many nor as often as in March. The few that did appear over the cliffs were mercilessly mobbed by crows. (I do like crows, though: they are such characters and such aerobatic fliers.)

April wasn’t, of course, just birds. Easter. So much sorrow and joy within such a short space of time.

Breaking up for the holidays just before Good Friday gave time for reflection, the days after, time for catching up with friends. One weekend was so busy, with back-to-back social engagements (including a lovely ruby wedding celebratory tea), that we needed the next weekend just to catch up...

The break also gave the opportunity to catch up with jobs, already thinking ahead, completing school reports and beginning to ready the house for the summer when, hopefully, we will be able to travel and rent the house out again.

Back to school, and the weather turned cold. Bitter, some days. Temperatures as low as 5 degrees, rarely rising above the early teens. No rain: officially, by the end of the month, a meteorological drought. And fierce winds, cutting through. Still, we managed a lot of garden jobs: hedge trimming, planting out pots and hanging baskets, tidying up after the winter...

And, always, lovely photos and videos of Cara and Rosie, delighting with funny conversations and charming smiles....

But it was a dry month. A cold month. A back-to-wearing-winter-woollies month. And a month of bright, bright sunshine. 


Thursday, 1 April 2021

Mercurial March

March came in like a lamb... beautiful weather. Beach weather, even: Kareena and I met for a socially distanced walk at the beach and then ended up sitting by the wall, socially distanced metres apart, for our usual chat and pray.

Teaching online had become a joy, as we had devised a system which gave the children instant feedback on their work and cut down on the many hours of marking. I still worked long days, but was able to take breaks at lunchtime to sit in the sun and relax for a few minutes.

Back at school on 8th March, so we were up earlier for our morning cycle ride: mine to school, Richard’s to accompany me. One day, he spotted nine buzzards circling together in the air above. It was good to get back to a regular cycling routine.

It was strange to be back at school in our Covid ‘bubbles’ – out of our usual classroom, sitting apart, unable to share books or equipment, only able to use certain areas of the school at certain times. Still, the children were glad to see one another and it was good to reconnect with them after a 7 week break.

However, restrictions lasted for only two weeks until Guernsey reopened on March 22nd, with plans for further relaxing of border restrictions until later on in the summer. One of our colleagues burst into tears of relief at the news.

But spring has sprung. Daffodils, violets and primroses exploded everywhere, trees and bushes started to come into bud and birds arrived on patio. Robins – 4 at one point; dunnocks; great tits, blackbirds and thrushes; and even a pair of coal tits all visited the bird feeders regularly. A great joy to watch them from the kitchen window....

 ...and out like a lamb, after acting like a lion in the penultimate week. Several days of stormy weather: wind, rain, gales, hail... everything spring has in its wide repertoire was thrown at us. And then came beautiful balmy weather.. a warm wind with bright sunshine raised temperatures into the late teens and the front hallway thermometer registered 35 degrees. 

Sprimg sprang into action big time.