losing the plot

This time last year I was a little over halfway through Nanowrimo, an international event in which participants attempt to write a novel in a month (or 50,000 words). I was wrestling with a story I’d been writing on and off for several years and although hard work, it was liberating to just write and be damned. Writing without looking back, without tinkering with your copy, is essential if you are to have any hope of crossing the nano finishing line. There is also a lot to be said for the whole idea of writing as badly as you can. To be able to say to yourself “this is SO atrocious, so cheesy, so cliched” is incredibly exhilarating.

Anyway, I crossed the finishing line. Just. And then I put the manuscript to bed, at the back of the filing cabinet. I’ve tinkered with it since, but not much. My plan was to plough on with the rest of the story for this year’s nano, and then kick it all in to shape in the New year.

But the starting gun for Nano 2012 was fired in the middle of half term. There was no way I could manage 2,000 or so words a day (however bad they were) during the holidays – not fair on the girls, not fair on me either, frankly. I thought that perhaps a late start would be possible – I would have been happy to limp in at around the 40,000 mark.

However, on our return from Dorset a whole run of family-related events, issues and life stuff rolled over the horizon, as it does from time-to-time, and the slightly late start became a non-start. But a few days ago, whilst out on my morning run, and very much in the spirit of my new found love of running, I decided I could do a half-Nano (25,000 words) instead of the full Nano, and write like a demon for the last two weeks of the event.

I tell you this by way of explaining the lack of activity on my blog, and the fact that it may remain rather quieter than usual until the end of the month.

I’ll finish by saying that I really enjoyed all the comments on my last post – who would have known that a humble canvas shoe had so many names? It might warrant another post – not least because I have these two books sitting on my desk, and I am itching to read them.

Oh, one final thing, if you are hopping around the internet this weekend, there is a nice word game taking place here – I’ve found it a fun, if maddening, distraction this week, and  it’s not too late to join in for round one.

PS trees are all in Ashton Court, a favourite place for walking the dog and now running. 

going, going, gone!

This hasn’t been a great year for balloon spotting. Usually, by mid-summer, we’ve spent many an evening watching balloons glide across sky, sometimes directly overhead, on their way from Ashton Court to Bath. But not this year. According to the man from Bristol Balloons, the weather has been against them and the wind direction all wrong, so that the flights were going too close to the airport.

But in the past two weeks the balloon sightings have been closer to their normal levels for August (seven on Friday evening, presumably balloonists gearing up for next weekend’s fiesta). So last Wednesday we took the dog and the children up to Ashton Court for an early evening walk, in the hope of a balloon sighting. We were in luck.

It’s an extraordinary thing watching a balloon take off. First there is a lot of faffing around as acres of fabric are unfurled across the ground. Then the bottom of the balloon is held open and hot air blasted inside so that it gradually inflates. The whole process looks impossible: the fabric ripples and collapses, rises up and deflates again. Then suddenly the balloon is full – has ballooned, even – and the basket, which until this point has been lying on its side, is righted, and you register how very tiny it is and how it looks exactly like an old laundry basket. With holes in. Windows apparently, but holes nonetheless. Next there is frantic shouting from the balloon gang, ropes held tight, and spectators told to move back and passengers to step forward.

And finally, silence. It was a thrilling and magical sight watching the balloon gently rise from the ground. And then I caught a child’s voice calling out “bye bye mummy!” which I found heart-wrenching – pathetic, I know.

Anyway, time for me to post my farewells too. We are off to France today and I should really be packing, but I can’t seem to find the enthusiasm for it despite my mounting excitement at the prospect of sun, sea, and delicious cheese …

which brings me to my final, and entirely unrelated photograph - unrelated to the balloons that is. In the general pre-holiday tidying up I realised that I hadn’t got round to posting a decent photograph of the cheese dish that in our house serves as a butter dish. Here it is. I bought it a couple of years ago for £2 on the Gloucester Road where charity shops outnumber all other forms of shop, including estate agents. Apparently the Gloucester Road has more independent traders than any other high street in Europe.

And with that startling fact I’ll say good bye.

blaise castle

One of the many things I love about Bristol is its size. Although nearly five years since we moved to the city it still surprises me that I can zip from north to south, or east to west, in a matter of minutes, and the countryside beyond the city in only a few minutes more. Back in London a trip to see a friend on the other side of town could easily take over an hour – if you drove for an hour in Bristol you’d be in Wales, or Dorset, or Bath, or Weston-Super-Mare.

The consequent ease with which a spur of the moment outing to Ashton Court, Blaise Castle Estate, Tyntesfield, Snuff Mills, Leigh Woods or the Downs can be arranged never ceases to amaze me; and feels nothing short of miraculous during the long summer holidays – which from this end, do look very L O N G indeed.

Today we went to Blaise Castle and met up with friends for a picnic. The castle itself is a folly built in 1766 and restored in the 1980s. There are regular open days throughout the year, but somehow our trips never seem to coincide. Not that this matters as there is so much to do: a fantastic children’s play area; Blaise Castle Mansion, which is now a museum with a large collection of toys including some wonderful dolls’ houses; and over 600 acres of woodland to explore. Maps of the various walks can be downloaded here.

On a baking hot day, Blaise is the perfect place for a picnic in the sunshine followed by a walk in the cool of the woods. And reluctant walkers are usually persuaded by the promise of a real, if pocket-size, castle at the halfway point – or at least ours were.

finished

School is over for this year. And what a relief it is to have a six week break from my life as a human sheep dog: herding reluctant children up the hill to school each morning, and herding grumpy ones back down again at the end of the day.

Today, the first day of the holidays, still involved herding children though, but this time two dogs were doing all the leg work. My friend Nicky and I took our children and dogs geocaching. We ambled along at a leisurely pace in the light drizzle that characterises the British summer, whilst the children walked twice the distance, skittering back and forth between us and the dogs. Armed with an iPhone and accompanied by our team of enthusiastic helpers we began to feel the first stirrings of happy nerdiness. We felt that the purchase of many-pocketed anoraks might only be days away – ones with special places for keeping maps visible but dry.

By following various clues and coordinates we found a mosaic -

and a pet cemetery -

But no “camouflaged box the size of three 35mm film cases.” Three hours later the helpers started to mutiny. Cries of “mum this is getting quite boring now”, and “are we ever going home?” rang through the air. All thoughts of Gortex anoraks were quickly forgotten and our quest abandoned in favour of digging up treasure of another sort down at the allotment.

The joy of turning over a clod of earth to reveal a pale gold potato never diminishes; today it was enhanced by our earlier failure. The potato bed is empty now, though there are no doubt a few spuds lodging there still – the children may be energetic potato diggers, but they are not very systematic.

So school is finished, the potato bed is finished, and last night two nice knitting projects were finished as well, though both still need a little finishing, which is what I’ll do now.

Both hat and spotty bag are from Jane Brocket’s book The Gentle Art of Knitting, which has kept me happily occupied during recent revision avoidance, passport office loitering and other moments when the merry-go-round that is the end of term has slowed for a moment or two.

And just a final thought on geocaching: though our first geocache was an abject failure, it was good fun, totally free and kept everyone entertained for several hours. Nicky and I have vowed to do it again, but with a compass and a slightly better understanding of what the various bits of orienteering lingo actually mean.

another plot

Whilst work on our garden is suspended, that itch to get out and get digging will be more than satisfied by my mother-in-law’s kind offer of a temporary share in her allotment. The girls have always enjoyed pottering about on Sue’s plot, and this mostly involved digging holes which they filled with water for high summer mud baths. But last year, Sue’s wonderful crop of raspberries (below) opened their eyes to the other pleasures that an allotment holds.

This year, now that they have a section to call their own (and have been reassured that there will still be raspberries), they want to grow flowers. They are not remotely interested in growing vegetables. But I am. My vegetable beds, which were just outside the kitchen, were one of the things I loved most about our old garden in London. I am very excited about the prospect of growing potatoes again, and beetroot, not to mention carrots and courgettes…

So yesterday we went to examine our section of Sue’s allotment. We have two large beds and, once an old strawberry patch is cleared, a third smaller bed which I think the girls are hoping will be theirs. The allotments, surrounded on three sides by old stone walls, were once the kitchen gardens to Ashton Court and our plot looks directly into part of the deer enclosure with views of Clifton beyond.

Although our visit was really nothing more than a recce, the girls wanted to attack a few weeds and have fun with the wheel barrow. Sybil, who is tolerated on the site as long as she is well behaved (which I think translates as tied up, or in the car), sat in the sun and eyed up the bare earth around her, clearly all too aware of the fun to be had if she could only get free and get digging.

Next weekend we’re going back to get stuck into the weeding and perhaps even plant out the potatoes I’ve been chitting.