Thursday, 10 January 2013

How Does Your Garden Grow?

My mum began busily planning the garden and buying in bulbs long before we left No. 7.  Boxes were arriving by the day.

The first bed that we would plant was this one below, which is just outside the door to the south of the house, facing the Church wall.  (The part of the wall that came tumbling down is on the other side of the gate.)

This is a very shady area, stuck between the house and the tall wall, so we decided that we would plant it up with hellebores.  We had these at the Horseblock and they were fantastic value, flowering from just after Christmas when most other plants slumber and carrying on throughout the summer.

So a selection arrived: Double Ellen Picotee, Double Ellen Pink Spotted, Pretty Ellen Red, Pretty Ellen Pink and Double Ellen White.

The Cornish refer to helleborus as "The virgin’s mantle". In Medieval times, they were said to be good for breaking bad spells and curses so were often planted next to the front door.  They are deer and rabbit resistant.  But I have seen neither here yet.  Just hedgehogs (an endangered species since 2007 so I need to know how to cherish them) and squirrels.  Hellebores prefer dappled shade with moist but well drained soil.  I'm no expert but when I cleared this bed to plant our hellebores, the soil seemed rich and loam-like.  I have great hopes that I will develop green fingers as a result.

There hasn't been much time for gardening.  We had a week off but it was spent unpacking.  Then we have had a string of visitors and Christmas.  However, we did manage to spend some time in the garden when we were on leave, clearing the leaves from the lawn (no mean feat and we now have bags and bags of rotting leaves to further improve our loam-like soil), chopping back the bramble shoots that were dangling over the walls into the lane and scratching at the cars and attempting to clear the bed below, the next project after the hellebore bed.

I thought it would be easy enough to do this but ivy is pretty tenacious and my plan of getting the alliums into this bed before the winter set in has not come to fruition.

This bed is next to my gin and tonic terrace.  The window that you can see below is our bedroom window.  The chimney is for the fireplaces in the sitting room, our bedroom and D's room on the second floor.  The shed that you can see on the right belongs to the Church on the Doorstep and it is where they keep their gardening tools, I believe.  The room below the window is S's study (or Mr Bennett's Library, as I like to call it, where he sits and plans how to marry off H for £10,000 a year).  And in the top left corner, you can just make out two of our three corbels and their plaque...of which more in a later blog.  I envisage the bed next to the terrace being pinks and purples, restful colours for a balmy summer's evening.

At present it is dark and forbidding due to the ivy.  And perhaps more fitting for a midwinter's evening.

A Church on the Doorstep

I've always lived near a Church, near enough to hear the bells.  Although, looking at the website, it says that nearly everyone does.  Of course, having moved just across the road, we are used to the bells of the Church that is now our nearest neighbour, the Church on the doorstep.  But, not surprisingly, they are significantly louder here than they were over there.  The good thing is that we always know what time it is, with the bells ringing out the quarter hours: one dong for quarter past, two for half past, three for quarter to and four before the hour.  Midnight and midday go on for some time.  The only problem is when the bell ringers switch to manual on their practice night and then forget to switch it back.  So sometimes we lose the quarter hours and then we are lost in time.  I know from No.7 days that when the clocks change, springing forward and falling back, it can all go horribly wrong with the hour being struck on the quarter hour and the quarter on the half and so on.  Just when you get used to the new time, they put it right.  And then the clocks change again.

The sound of the bells isn't annoying and sometimes I don't even notice them.  I like hearing them ring on a Sunday morning.  And on Christmas Eve, we heard not only the bells but the sound of the congregation singing "Oh, Come All Ye Faithful' drifting in through our slightly open window.  A lovely way to fall asleep on a Christmas Eve.

The trouble is that the bell ringers aren't very good.  I am writing this as I listen to the Thursday evening practice.  And it's hilarious.  Shouldn't it be 1-2-3-4-5-6, rather than a terrible cacophony of every bell ringing simultaneously?  It sounds worse than this:  And I don't think their sense of rhythm is that great either.  But it can't be that easy.  Apparently, there are five stages of bell-ringing, from learning to handle the bell to becoming an experienced ringer.  I think they're at the early stages at the Church on the doorstep.

RIP Cuffer

I mentioned previously that we managed to move Cuffer, our cat, to the Old Rectory without too much bother.  (Cuffer?  Do the phonetic alphabet - Ah for Apple, Buh for Bat, Cuffer Cat - geddit?)  We kept him in the lobby at the north side of the house.  (We have four doors - one facing in each direction.  The house, of course, being a vicarage and next to the Church, faces East.)  He stayed there for a couple of days to settle down.  When we moved to No 7, he was so freaked out that he shot into H's wardrobe and stayed there for four weeks!  This time, he managed to escape in the first week and was missing for half a day and over night.  Luckily, I still had access to No.7 at this point and found him in the shed there the next day.  After that, he had to go into solitary for a couple of days.  This wasn't entirely our decision as he was visibly terrified when we opened the door to let him into mum's sitting room, which is adjacent to the lobby.  Eventually, he did venture out and would come and sit with us for short periods.  But he was obviously very upset by the whole experience.

On the Thursday evening, he had a strange turn.  I thought he had a hair ball or something as he was shuddering oddly and I thought he might be going to vomit.  However, he seemed to recover.  At night, he went back into his lobby, which I was spraying copiously with Feliway as well as having a plug-in.  It is supposed to relieve cat stress.  However, maybe I gave him too much and he overdosed.  I went to wake him up on the Sunday morning, to give him his breakfast and to clear out his litter tray.  He was lying on his side.  I called his name and he didn't move.  It wasn't unusual for him to lie in that position but he would normally have looked up at my entry.  I ran to find S.  He went to check him and came to the same conclusion.  Poor old Cuffer had died in the night.

S and his son, C, laid him out in his basket on the grass covered with one of H's towels.  S had alwasy declared his hatred of the cat but as he was moving him, I heard him say "Come on, matey".  I wanted to make sure that he was dead before we buried him, although he was cold and showing all the other signs of death.  I then had to ring H, whose cat he was.  S and C buried him in the late afternoon.  He is under one of the trees, marked with a stone at present, but we will get my brother, the sculptor, to make him a proper headstone.

People who know me will know that I have hated the cat for years.  He has driven me mad.  He wasn't very domesticated and would wee and poo all over the place if not closely monitored.  We bought him after an invasion of mice and, rather than catching mice, he filled the house with birds, frogs and more mice, dead and alive.  He was extremely unfriendly, verging on the psychotic.  If you stroked him for too long and he got fed up, he would practically have your arm off.  But I spent the day in tears.  He was 16, a good age for a cat, and had been diagnosed with a heart murmur about three years ago.  The vet thought he was at death's door then but he survived the night and, although he slept a lot and wasn't very sprightly, he seemed none the worse for wear, even after my dad decreed that the expensive medicine was a rip-off and that we would buy no more.  After all, he had only cost £3.50.

When we first got him, he wasn't litter trained.  I took him to the vet for his injections and explained the problem.  She said that cats normally learn how to use their litter trays from their mother and that this one obviously hadn't been taught.  (The person we bought him from had been told that he needed to be separated from his mother early as she was struggling to feed him, which might explain his psychotic behaviour.  Not sure what Freud would have made of it all.)  Therefore, the vet went on to explain, I needed to take the role of his mother, who would have taught him how to use the litter tray by licking his bottom to stimulate him to go to the loo and then show him how to scrape up the litter.  I should don some rubber gloves and...well, you can imagine the rest.  I'm sure the vet fell about laughing with her colleagues the minute that I left the surgery, screeching "I've got another one!"  I dutifully went home and pulled on the marigolds.  Afterwards, the cat retreated to a corner, looking as if he'd been buggered.  Which, in fact, he had.  I only did it once.  When he was naughty thereafter I only had to shake the marigolds at him and he was off.

We used to keep him in at night at first but the weeing and pooing was just so awful that I had to let him out at night.  But we had no cat flap so I got woken up every night by the cat throwing himself against the door.  I installed a cat flap.  So I got woken up every night by frogs shrieking in agony (a horrible human-like sound) while the cat tormented them outside my bedroom door.  Or by stray cats who had wandered in to destroy my front room.  I locked the cat flap at night.  Cuffer had a very small head and a very large body.  "He's not fat, just big boned", H would say.  The small head suggested a very small brain.  After all, he couldn't get the concept of the litter tray.  But, confronted by the locked cat flap, he turned into a doctoral level engineer and figured out that, by stripping off the rubber surround of the cat flap door, he could then bang it back and forth to make such a racket that I was forced to get up and let him in.  I got no sleep for about the first ten years of that cat's life.

When we moved from this house and S, who is seriously allergic to cats, arrived in our lives, Cuffer had to go and live in the shed for a while until we moved to the Horseblock and my parents took over our house, the shed and the cat.  So Cuffer moved back in with them.  My dad, who had managed to murder every pet we ever owned, trying to gas the budgie in the gas oven and doing terrible things to a goldfish with a poker (not to mention the terrible tale of Tommy the Horse), called him 'bonnie lad' in his Geordie way and seemed weirdly affectionate towards him.  The cat survived my dad, a rare feat for an animal in our house.  After my dad died, the cat would curl up at my mum's feet.  Terrified of most animals, she would talk to him and he gave her a focus in those first terrible months.

And now poor old Cuffer is no more.  And, after sixteen years of having him in our lives and of being driven completely insane by him, I feel the loss and miss having an animal about the house.  RIP Cuffer.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

The Bells, The Bells!

We've been here about ten weeks now.  And, other than the bathroom, have basically moved our furniture in and settled down.  I have to admit that I haven't yet got round to cleaning all of the rooms, although I did unpack the final box (excluding the junk room, which is still stuffed full of them) whilst on Christmas leave.  And the house has just accepted us in and relaxed back into being a home.

The Sitting Room
The Dining Room: View One
The Dining Room: View Two
And we've become oblivious to the fact that it was once a business, even though delivery men sometimes try to get in through the front door to head to the old reception, which is now my mum's living room.  However, there are some obvious signs of this recent past around the place.  For example, I am writing this in my study.  As you enter the study, there is a huge green fire exit sign above the door with an arrow pointing to the study window.

In Case of Fire - Jump Out of Study Window and Hope to Land in Tree!
I only noticed this again the other day; most of the time I'm oblivious to it.  I don't even notice how the signs on the landing glow in the dark when you switch the lights out.

Luminous Signs - A New Art Form!
Or the other give aways of its previous usage.  Such as the hand drier, complete with out of order sign (although it does actually work if someone mixes up the switch with the light switch and then you brush past it - but not sure that I want to risk using it all of the time and, somehow, it's not very homely!), in the downstairs loo next to the paper towel dispenser.  (We still have piles of spare paper towels in the cupboard under the sink - must remember that next time we run out of kitchen roll!)

Towels Also Available On Request...

I've forgotten that we have 24 light bulbs in our bedroom alone.  And haven't yet had an idle moment to count how many we have throughout the entire house.

Very Loud Red Bells All Over The House

We also have an industrial fire alarm system.  This came to my attention before Christmas when my friend B came round for a bite to eat one evening.  I was griddling steak and producing quite a lot of smoke.  I'd just said, "We don't have an extractor fan in here" when all hell was let loose.  Imagine the fire alarms going off in your place of work.  Well, this was a place of work and the fire alarms are just like that.  I had no idea that the system was switched on.  And I had no idea how to switch it off.  Or whether the alarm was going straight through to the fire station.

Leaving B using a fork to try to prise open one of the smoke detectors in the corridor outside the kitchen, I raced into the back lobby where there is some sort of control box.  But that wasn't it.  So I phoned S, who was out at some business dinner.  He didn't answer.  I tried him again.  Thankfully, he realised that I did really need to speak to him and answered the phone.  The control panel was just behind the piano.  I unlocked it and frantically pulled at wires and switches.  Miraculously, the noise stopped.

The Control Panel
B was disappointed.  She had been hoping for five firemen in thigh high boots bearing hatchets.  And, despite the racket that seemed to me to go on for hours, none of our dear neighbours came to check on us.

But the best bit of all was my dear old mum emerging from her sitting room after about ten minutes, having finally figured out that the noise wasn't on the telly.  "Do we all have to assemble outside?" she asked, worriedly.

Excavating the Wall

My brother arrived for New Year.  One of his many hobbies is excavating First World War trenches in France and Belgium.  His finds include human remains as well as artefacts.  I knew he wouldn't be able to resist the pile of rumble in our garden and the revealed earth that the wall had been retaining up until the other Saturday.  We had spotted a gravestone at the top of a pile but it looked modern and neither S nor I fancied clambering about on an unstable pile of bricks.  But he did. And, having clambered up to read the stone, he then carefully retrieved it and brought it down.  It is now resting against the front of the house and is not modern at all but dated 1729.

It reads:

Ann, daughter of 
Thomas and Louisa Avenall 
Died December 26th 1729 
In the 22nd Year of Her Life
My days are past
My grave you see
Prepare dear friends
To follow me.