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Archive for the month “March, 2012”

The curse of the able body

I’m feeling a bit sorry for myself this week.  In fact prior to writing this I was wallowing in a bag of mini eggs and a good dose of  ‘woe is me’.  Usually Allan looks after the girls one morning a week so I can get my work done and today was supposed to be that hallowed day.  A lot of people are very envious of my online learning gig and I can understand why.  Yes it is wonderful to have a job that you can do anytime and anywhere.  The problem is that if you can do it anytime and anywhere this is inevitably what you end up doing.  I have graded assignments from cottages in the Highlands and from a summer house is Stockholm. I’ve logged in from an internet cafe in Les Arcs ski resort and even provided detailed feedback to a student on my iphone in Belfast airport. All of this is bad enough but I  usually end up  working on the sofa in the evening when I would much prefer to be watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory.  Allan and I decided that since I spend all day every day at the beck and call of our two charming children I deserved my own allocated slot of time in which I could mark assignments.  This would mean that I would get the bulk of my work done in one chunk and I would have more free time in the evenings. On paper a flawless plan.

The first couple of mornings didn’t go too well. It became apparent that Allan’s idea of going out for the morning involved going for a walk lasting approximately one hour and 20 minutes.  On their return the children latched themselves on to me like limpets who had been deprived of their rock for weeks and Allan slunk out of the door back to do whatever it is he does.  Gradually though we honed the system.  In fact I honed the system by simply leaving the house and not returning until lunchtime.  I set up camp at my parents house.  They have better biscuits than we do and their house is warmer so it really was a great solution.

Gradually though I have been having to wrestle with guilt at forcing Allan to take on these few hours of childcare.  You see he’s actually started to be quite busy.  We have a lot of business ideas but as the actual legalities of our croft are still not ironed out and we are waiting for grants and planning permission to come through we have to live on something.  Allan started with his janitors job and a bit of gardening.  Gradually more and more requests for gardening work began to trickle in and then a few general handyman sort of jobs.  I find all of this rather amusing as I was initially attracted to Allan for his long flowing locks and rather nice rucksack rather than his physical attributes.  His physique is closer to that of Plug from the Bash St Kids than Popeye and whilst there is no doubt he is fairly handy with a hammer he had previously been disinclined to wield one.  At first I thought people were being kind to us (and as Allan began to work longer and longer hours and I had to look after the children and do all the housework for longer and longer periods I frankly wished they would be a little less kind) but last night I came to a realisation……

A family friend turned up on our doorstep (well actually she just came in and sat down at the table as we were having tea which was good as her presence stopped Helen’s stupendous tantrum in mid scream) with tales of a DIY emergency of an extremely time sensitive nature.  She begged Allan for his assistance today and pointed out the unhappy truth that he was the only able-bodied man she could think of.

Musing over this this afternoon as I viciously pounded bread dough (yes I did imagine it was my husband a little bit) I realised that she was right.  All of the men who I think of as being able-bodied here are of my parents vintage.  My Dad is still a fine figure of a man but he is getting on a bit as are the parents of my friends.  Of the younger men on the island one had been injured in the DIY emergency and the few others we could think of were away or busy.  Whether I like it or not my husband is actually quite a marketable commodity. Believe me I know where this will end. Our unplanted vegetables are only the beginning. Already I see him as a sort of caped crusader with a tool belt holding up his pants (worn over his oilskins naturally).  Old ladies the length and breadth of the island will have immaculately mown lawns and well maintained fences whilst the girls and I will be stuck in an overgrown wilderness forced to change our own light bulbs and fix our own Hoovers.

And what became of my poor students waiting with bated breath for the results of the quiz on asphyxia? I have my own parenting techniques to fall back on.  I flicked on Cbeebies and let the flickering box in the corner babysit for a couple of hours whilst I got the bulk of my marking done.  Who needs a husband anyway?

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There’s a moose loose aboot this hoose

I saw a mouse!
Where?
There on the stair!
Where on the stair?
Right there!
A little mouse with clogs on
Well I declare!
Going clip-clippety-clop on the stair

We don’t have any stairs.  That didn’t stop the mouse though.  This is the second mouse who has chosen to move in with us since we moved here.  The first took up residence in the cupboard where I kept my baking supplies.  It took me a few days to realise why all the corners of my flour bags were torn and by the time I did said rodent had gleefully romped his way through several bags of flour and a lot of sugar.  I had stocked up on flour for moving over here but after finding mouse poop in the bags I was forced to throw a lot of them away which was pretty gutting.  I retaliated by putting all of our foodstuffs into Tupperware boxes and then breaking the mouse’s neck.  At least he had a good last supper.

Mouse number two found slimmer pickings.  He manfully (or mousefully) chewed at a bottle of chocolate sauce creating rather a lot of blue sawdust but he didn’t manage to breach my defences.  (I threw the bottle away anyway since it was 3 years out of date).  He tore up one of my washing up sponges though so he was clearly planning to set up camp.  We no longer had the trap we had used for mouse no.1; instead we set a new fangled plastic version which did not look vicious enough in my opinion.

A couple of nights ago I was awoken by Max (our very annoying Great Dane) traipsing around the kitchen.  He woke up Sally too which so enraged me that I got out of my bed at 1am and took him down to my Dads shed to sleep with the other dogs.  This was not the cruel punishment it might sound.  Max has a strange love hate relationship with my Dad’s collie Spud (think Brokeback Mountain) and the two star crossed lovers could not wait to be reunited.  At 4am I was woken by a loud clattering and immediately thought what a lot of noise Max was making.  Then I realised that even if Max was making a lot of noise it would be unlikely that I would be hearing it from the shed.  I isolated the sound to the kitchen cupboard containing the mouse trap.  Sadly I was too afraid to open the door and after standing shivering in my pyjamas for a while I decided I was going to need to bring in some assistance.  Allan was not amused at being woken up at 4am.  Even when I informed him that he needed to deal with the mouse in a manly fashion he didn’t seem particularly keen.

I stood vigil in the living room doorway as he gingerly opened the cupboard door.  The mouse had its leg caught in the trap.  Allan knocked it onto the floor and brought his foot down ready to smite the mouse.  Sadly he missed and somehow hit the trap, freeing the mouse and breaking the trap in the process.  The mouse promptly disappeared and after swearing under his breath for a few minutes so did Allan.

The next morning we were faced with the grim reality of the fact that there was probably a rodent somewhere at large in our kitchen.  Allan may have rolled his eyes when I started moving the cooker but my mouse hunting senses are finely honed and lo and behold there it was – mooching around behind the cooker no doubt looking for something to chew.

It’s funny that whilst I have performed post mortems on corpses that are really long past their sell by dates without batting a nostril I am really rather squeamish when it comes to mice.  I must confess that I took up residence on top of a chair whilst Allan chased the mouse into an old washing powder box with only a broom to protect him. Sally and Helen were both in their high chairs so it seemed fair enough.  Helen was unperturbed by the situation and provided helpful advice to Allan such as ‘get it daddy, get it’.

The mouse safely vanquished I bleached my cupboards – obviously I want them to be spick and span for the next rodent who moves in.  It’s not all bad though; apparently if you have mice it means you don’t have rats!

Head for the hills, there's a mouse at large!

Digging for victory

So Spring has finally sprung on colonsay. After 6 miserable months of rain we had a proper sunny day today. I even saw a lamb, it wasn’t gambolling but you can’t ask for everything. Sally had me up early and I felt incredibly smug (well as smug as a person who is up at 7:14 having already been up at midnight and 3:24 can feel) that there was a load of washing sitting in the machine waiting to be hung out. It’s a sorry state of affairs when you sit down on the sofa at the end of the day feeling that the day has really been a success because you got four loads of washing through the machine.

In between loading and unloading the washing machine I did something else today. I can’t quite believe that I’m typing this but I might just have done some gardening!

I never thought I would become a gardener. It’s always been a side of Allan’s personality that I’ve viewed as being slightly deviant. I mean who would want to be grubbing around in the dirt at the weekend when you could be ensconced on the sofa reading Mills and Boons, scoffing Snickers and purchasing exotic (and clean) vegetables in Sainsbury’s (other, cheaper, supermarkets are available)? Six months of being reliant on Uncle Mike’s fine emporium has caused me to revaluate my thinking slightly. Don’t get me wrong the shop is great. I’ve done my time there and it’s not a job I would take on for the world. Nonetheless it is truly gutting when you don’t manage to get round the afternoon after the boat has come in and rock up the next day knowing that the veg fridge will be looking as bare as the corn fields in Little House on the Prairie after the grasshoppers had been through it. Mike does his best – the other week he presented me with three only slightly rotten aubergines FOR FREE!!! But a girl cannot live on festering nightshades alone and I long to be able to dictate what veg I have access to. Mind you having a more limited selection has really expanded my cooking repertoire. When the only veg you can lay your hands on is a bag of spinach and some vacuum packed beetroot you’ve got to think on your feet!

Sorry I digress.

So Allan has been the gardener for the last ten years. When we moved here the idea was that he would grow fresh produce and I would cook inventive and nutritious meals for us and the children. I saw myself as a modern day, British, non-embezzling Martha Stewart. Slight problem………Allan is really much too busy doing gardening for other people to do any for us. He now has a shed full of fancy tools – even a chainsaw- swoon but he uses them all for the good of others whilst I and the girls are barely getting by on or spinach and beetroot sandwiches.

I took matters into my own hands and asked my dad for help! He kindly allowed me to dig up a patch of our (his) garden and a couple of weeks ago I spent numerous hours dodging the dog poo and digging up a sizeable plot. I even made a major archaeological find of an old stylee sixpence. In fact I found a lot of coal too. I’m looking into selling the mining rights to our garden so it may be that in future I’ll be able to afford to get our veg flown in direct from Uruguay.

Yesterday I dug some seaweed through my plot and I’m now just waiting for Allan to help me with the fence (yeah I’m not that independent) before I sew my seeds. Beetroot and spinach (obviously), carrots, onions, lettuce and potatoes. I’ve also planted some cucumber, basil and cress inside. I’ve got a few melon seeds too. I have a dream where I will have a melon farm. I will recycle all my old pre-baby bras as melon baskets (this is a bone-fide gardening technique by the way not just some sort of weird, kinky, melon-bra fetish) and the children and I will feast on Melon every morning.

This afternoon the sun was shining, Allan was off touting his wares elsewhere and I found myself at a loose end. Well, the house needed cleaning, but if you’re outside you can’t see the squalor. My eyes lit on our borders. ‘What a mess’ I found myself thinking. ‘What would Grandpa say if he could see the brambles mating with his rose-bush?’ Before I knew it I was ripping at the brambles with my bare hands. I stopped quite quickly after I started bleeding. Seconds later armed with the bread knife and a pair of gardening gloves I resumed my attack. I quite enjoyed myself. It was hard work, I had to lift up stones and there was collateral damage to some nice leafy things also growing but by the time Sally woke up I had vanquished the brambles. I feel so proud; I can’t wait to get started on the nettles tomorrow!

Fear not gentle reader, I promise this will not become a gardening blog.  Unlike Allan I am well aware that my new hobby is deeply uninteresting to 99.9% of the population.  I would imagine that by my next bit of bloggage I will either have got a life or (probably more likely) the rains will have come again and we will be forced to barricade ourselves indoors for a further six months.

Image

Helen building up strength for a hard days digging

Surveying the job

I’ll have my say thank you very much

I’ve finally put finger to keyboard and started a blog.  I’ve been talking about blogging for years.  In fact I’ve been writing a blog for the last couple of months but it’s on the WeightWatchers website .  Now don’t get me wrong I have nothing against WeightWatchers (or WW as we fatties call it), they have been responsible for my dramatic weight loss and consequent return to my pre-pregnancy trousers (well, I will return to them once i’ve exhumed them from the attic and scraped the mould off) but I feel that my audience there may be rather limited.  Furthermore I am in the happy position of being only 4lbs from my goal (that’s target weight to you non-fatties out there) and once I have reached this hallowed weight I will probably stop frequenting WW making my blog obsolete.  I’m not sure that my current weight loss buddies will want to hear about my late night Pringle fuelled orgies and suchlike.

Anyway I have finally been forced to start a real life proper grown up blog because I have been in the papers!  My appearance in the papers is entirely my own fault.  Well also partly my Dads fault.  You see my husband and I have moved to a small island in the inner Hebrides to try and become crofters.  Not particularly interesting or newsworthy I hear you say.  I would agree.  The island only has 120 inhabitants – slightly more interesting………..o.k. we gave up our jobs as doctors to come here and now my husband is a school janitor……….vaguely interesting but I must say I’m still surprised the Scotsman wanted to publish it.  They clearly didn’t think it was particularly interesting either as they had to give it a fabricated and sensationalised headline in order to make it in any way newsworthy

‘We earned huge salaries as doctors, but life as crofters is sheer paradise’   

I would like to say that in no uncertain terms did either of us utter this rather ridiculous and frankly bizarre statement.  We also didn’t utter a number of the things which we are quoted as having said in the article.  Believe me if I ever have the misfortune to meet Moira Kerr face to face I will have absolutely no qualms over drowning her in the quagmire that has become our front garden following six solid months of rain.

The truth of the matter is though that we have given up our jobs as doctors (which commanded reasonably good salaries) to come here and try and make a living.  Is this a moral outrage as suggested by some Scotsman readers?  I don’t know.  I went to medical school when I was 17 and I worked as a doctor for 9 years before I finally gave in and admitted it wasn’t for me.  Is this a crime? Should all people who study for vocational qualifications be tied to that vocation for the rest of their life?  Should the plasterer who almost won Masterchef be forced back to the plastering world and told never to darken the doorstep of commercial cookery again? – in my experience it is a lot harder to find a good plasterer than a good doctor.  Mind you some of his flavour combinations were a bit out there.

For better of for worse here we are.  Me, my husband Allan (although he’s not actually here right now, he’s on the mainland learning how to be a fireman) and our two children Helen (2) and Sally Bally Bee (6 months).  Helen is currently sleeping (I hope, I have already had to go into her bedroom once this naptime to rescue her finger from where it had become entangled in the curtain).  Sally is on her play mat engaged in a life and death struggled with her arch nemesis Captain Calamari – from the loud shrieks coming from the other side of the laptop screen he is putting up quite a fight.

As our croft doesn’t have a house we are living in a cottage which used to belong to my grandparents.  In fact my parents lived here some 30 years ago when they gave up their jobs as teachers (what a waste) to come back to Colonsay and try to live off the land.  I do have my concerns over my ability to live off the land.  When I was 12 my parents timed me cutting some thistles, I lasted 8 minutes before the strenuous effort became too much for me.  With retrospect I don’t know why I agreed to cut the thistles in the first place – had they offered to pay me?  Was I the victim of some sort of child labour scam?  Fortunately Allan is slightly better at the outdoorsy stuff than I am.  We have many grand plans – campsite, coffee shop, gourmet packed lunch provision, gigantic yurt to hire out as a wedding venue…………….  I’d like to keep a record of what we do here in this blog.  For now though I must away.  Bested by the scurvey sea knave Sally has returned to my lap and is now doing her best to make her own blog entry.  I shall leave you with a rather better picture than the one chosen by the cretins at The Scotsman.

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