The Deckmaster

One of the advantages of working from home is being able to enjoy the summer weather so I decided to take full advantage by obtaining quotes to have part of my garden decked. Subsequently, I contacted four contractors but as is the case here in Britain only two bothered to turn up.

I selected the company I had previously used for a small fencing job and as they had appeared to be fairly efficient arriving early, bringing along surplus timber just in case and speeding through the job. However, as he initially said he wouldn’t be able to start the job for some weeks I was amazed when he turned up one morning unexpectedly and told me that he’d had a cancellation and was able to start. A bit flustered I reluctantly agreed and that was when he asked me for an advance to pay for the timber delivery. Now that should have been the first red light but he was a small business and he had been very vocal about his marriage break up and child custody problems, so we agreed that he could have access from early the next morning.

I have to admit to being a tad disappointed that he didn’t arrive until mid-morning the next day citing family problems. It was then I noticed he was on his own carrying all his tools in a supermarket carrier bag so I enquired about his partner to be informed that he had left and was now working alone. I have to admit to being very concerned at this point but as I had paid for the timber I felt that I had to run with it but later that morning I was horrified when he asked which bus he should catch to the local hardware store as he had run out of screws.

The job progressed but I was seriously disappointed, it sloped and when it was finished it looked like something a first year woodwork student had cobbled together totally lacking the professional finish which I had asked for. The two steps I specifically requested onto the garden sleepers with incorporated ramp for my hedgehog visitors which I had provided a sketch for was frankly an amateurish eyesore and I had received a handful of splinters from the handrail alone. I realised that the works displayed on his website were clearly earlier projects when he’d been working alongside his former colleague or “borrowed” from google along with the reviews. The final straw was when he asked if I could lend him a level so I ordered him off site. Barbs, my bestie, told me to have a couple of vodkas as it would look better in the morning; it didn’t!

My not-so hedgehog friendly ramp

May All Who Come As Guests Leave As Friends

I may have mentioned before that two of our rescue cats prefer dining alfresco irrespective of the weather and that I usually am the one to sprint onto the patio to present them with the Table D’hote menu usually just after 5am when I’m getting ready to depart to work.

Hobo has always been a fussy diner but Charlie is not quite as discerning although I think it’s fair to say that he possibly may just love food more than life itself. After wolfing down his own platter he will usually sit inches away from one of the others drooling until they submit and walk away leaving him to the spoils.

The other morning I’d dished up the day’s specials when both Hobo and Charlie shot into the kitchen as if they were being pursued by the Hounds of Hell. I thought that perhaps a fox or badger had slipped into the garden and went to investigate.

Imagine my surprise when I spotted the cunning culprit gripping the edge of one of the bowls happily munching away. It was a little hedgehog!

As some of you may remember a couple of years’ ago I purchased a hedgehog house on a whim which was eventually placed between two of the larger lavender bushes because it was sheltered and protected from the cats. It became something of a standing joke with my family as they were certain that it would never become occupied but I remained optimistic.

Last summer I couldn’t help but notice the rustling in the lavender bushes and the cats lying in wait for hours but I didn’t explore further fearing a rodent encounter. I should just mention that Milo is the biggest scaredy cat of all, Hobo’s best friend is a house rabbit whom he sits alongside for hours, hasn’t much time for other cats unless they’re kittens and Charlie’s first and only love is a tin of Felix. I even caught a baby magpie using him as a step-ladder last summer to reach the bird feeder whilst he napped (his other favourite occupation).

Since then I have noticed a mother and baby hedgehog wandering around the lawn scavenging for peanuts and slugs. My Dad’s delighted with the presence of his little “Gardener’s friends” as they protect his precious dahlias by keeping the pest population at bay.

As I suspect the hedgehogs are fattening themselves up for the big hibernation, they have become regular supper and breakfast guests lining up alongside our feline family for both breakfast and supper. Of course, at Dyson Abbey we operate an open house policy and a twenty-four hour running buffet so we’re only too happy to oblige.

It’s hard to imagine these precious little creatures which have been such a large part of countryside folklore are under threat; fifty years’ ago there were thirty-six million now there are less than a million. With the hedgehog population in dramatic decline rest assured there will always be a welcoming dish of cat food for any of these enchanting wee folk here at Dyson Abbey.

Want to help the hedgehogs in your neighbourhood? Then you’ll find some useful information over at the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.

hedgehog

Save The Last Dance For Me

My Dad’s allotment has been part of our family folklore for as long as I can remember, inherited from my Grandad who had also lovingly tended the plot for his entire lifetime. My Dad would become so immersed in his labour of love that he’d frequently forget the time so as a youngster I used to cycle at breakneck speed down the lane at the back of our house to drop off a packed lunch for my Dad or remind him that it was time for tea. I’d done the journey so many times that I knew every single bump in the road and even now the scent of wild garlic transports me back to those hedgerows covered in Bluebells and Queen Anne’s Lace. Apart from the time I misjudged a pot-hole, tumbled across the handlebars and ended up in casualty; I still have a slight scar across my eyebrow. In recent years it’s been more of a stroll often accompanied by One Speed Hobo, our elderly rescue cat; who enjoys a good excursion.

I’d help the old fella tidy up but not before we’d have a quick waltz amongst his prize-winning flowers bathed in the rosy hues of the setting sun to Nat King Cole or Frank Sinatra which would be blaring out from the old wind up gramophone or more recently a CD player. As a small child we’d do the father and daughter dance where I placed my little feet over the tops of his and he would mark out the steps for me. Then we’d both walk home arm in arm as we had always done, giggling together over some private joke.

During the winters we’d take refuge from a downpour in the shed where we’d lounge in the dusty old armchairs warming ourselves by the small camping stove nursing mugs of hot chocolate in our chilled fingers and in the hot summers we’d have home-made lemonade to quench our thirst. It’s provided us with somewhere to escape from the world and the rain and has been a haven for various wildlife over the years including a feral cat with her kittens and on occasion a traveller during harsher winters. My Dad’s caring endeavours are evident throughout; on the shelves which house his gardening books, the potting bench where he cultivates most of his seedlings and the boxes holding bottles of his home-made Blackberry and Elderflower wines.

It seems however, this golden chapter in our life has now come to an end and it’s time to hand the keys over to someone who’ll nurture our little horticultural paradise as we have done. Since Dad’s stroke we’ve struggled to maintain it but it’s tough watching your much-loved piece of heaven become overgrown and neglected. It’s going to be so hard saying goodbye to such an enchanting place and several lifetimes’ work. You see the thing is, it’s never been just an allotment to us; it’s been a magical kingdom sprinkled in pixie-dust. Somewhere dreams were dreamed and memories made in our fairy-tale castle where dragons were slain by white knights who wore flat caps and made Dandelion wine. I shared my first kiss there, had my first (and last) illicit cigarette and precious encounters with fey wildlife creatures. My journey from childhood into adulthood has been vividly measured there by the coming and going of the seasons; from the planting of the winter flowering bulbs, the shrubs laden with summer fruits to the tender preparation of the dahlias for the village show to re-starting the process all over again for the following year.

Inevitably its going to be harder for the old fella to lock up for the final time but we’ve come to realise that life is a dance which you learn as you go; sometimes you lead and sometimes you just have to follow the music.

For those of you finding yourself in the same situation as my lovely Dad, don’t struggle on alone contact the Stroke Association .

The Old Fella's prize winning dahlias

The Old Fella’s prize winning dahlias

The Great Escape (Part Two)

If you missed Part One you can catch it here

The following day Barbs and I discussed strategy over a hearty breakfast at the local organic café as my mother insists on giving us porridge, muesli, prunes to keep us “regular” but superheroes can’t march on granola alone and neither would it help hone my cat-like reflexes ahead of our stealth invasion.

As soon as we had finished our Big Girls’ Breakfast we returned home to gather “intel” for the covert mission ahead. Two discarded Toy Story walkie talkies were retrieved from the loft where the kids had left them a fair few years’ ago. The fact that they were now in my possession suggested that they were some toys you never outgrew and some adults who never grew up.

With the batteries replaced they were as good as new and the range so clear that I could probably have safely guided a Boeing 747 in to land on my Dad’s lovingly cultivated lawn.

Barbs’ late mother used to knit balaclavas which would have been ideal for the job in hand but sadly as she was no longer with us I had to make do with one of my Dad’s old gardening hats but as I picked up the scissors to insert eye holes my mother snapped “Deborah, don’t be using my good scissors for those” As opposed to the naughty ones!

We spent the next couple of hours assembling our outfits for the covert mission ahead and agreed on our radio pseudonyms; Barbs would be “Roller Chick” and I would be “Lawn Mower Girl” for use over the airwaves. We giggled as we finalised the details of our cunning plan and envisioned victoriously retrieving all our lost booty. We waited until midnight or the witching hour, which as you know is when Barbs and I do our best work.

It was a clear crisp night with a full moon and having disconnected our security light we snaked over to the privet hedge. I tried to persuade Barbs as the littlest and most lithe to venture across the great divide but she wisely declined which meant that I was going to have to be the one to defend the family honour.

“Now be careful with that garden shed; it was put together on a wing and a prayer like all his other DIY projects. One slight tap and the roof’ll fall off” hissed Barbs.

As I struggled to heave my ample bottom over the hedge I couldn’t help but think it would have been a damn sight easier if we’d got the local WICCA coven (one of the members makes jam with the old dear at the Women’s Institute) to create some potion or other for us; one that involved a good deal of discomfort, of course.

Sitting astride the hedge with the blackberry brambles ripping me to shreds, Barbs handed me the walkie-talkie and as I slid down into enemy territory, I nodded “See you on the other side” as they do in the movies.

Having landed safely on Turbo’s decking, I crawled across to the shed. Crouching I gingerly reached up for the handle and carefully opened the door.

“Lawn Mower Girl calling Roller Chick, come in Roller Chick” I hissed into the walkie-talkie “I’m going in”.

I sneaked into the shed to retrieve as many familiar items as I could and handed them across the hedge to Barbs who was stood on tiptoe on the other side. After locating my Dad’s last spade, I whispered into the handset “mission accomplished Roller Chick, I’m coming home”. However, my excitement was short-lived as suddenly there was a creak followed by a large groan and the shed collapsed leaving me holding just the door handle.

Immediately the light in the upstairs window came on and I hightailed it back to the safety of the hedge. Across the airwaves, Barbs dulcet tones screamed “abort, abort”.

Well aren’t you a little late to the party, my little vertically challenged friend I thought as I scampered over the top of the hedge. I was literally one minute away from being undetected when the bedroom window swung open and a torch was shone in my direction.

“Who’s there? Dallas, is that you?”

Cringing with embarrassment I recovered quickly informing him that we were doing a little blackberry picking as a surprise for the old fella’s breakfast. He asked if I’d seen any intruders and with a sharp intake of breath I shook my head unconvincingly.

Hedgehogs” I exclaimed “loads of them around this time of year looking for somewhere to hibernate”

Without missing a beat that’s when my partner in crime piped up “they’d have to be ninja hedgehogs on steroids to bring a shed down”. After throwing me under the bus, she giggled softly “told you to be careful, didn’t I.”

Turbo scratched his head and said “Can’t understand it but the instructions were in Japanese so I just bodged it when I was putting it up. I’ll get your Dad to give me a hand with it in the morning.”

Relieved that we’d dodged a bullet, I  realised I was in dire need of  some fortification so we had a shot of my Dad’s dandelion wine but after Barb’s flagrant display of disloyalty I decided to save the good stuff until she’d departed for home.

hedgehog

No Hedgehogs were harmed during the writing of this post

The Great Escape (Part One)

Most of our neighbours have lived alongside us for several years in relative harmony where we’ve seen their children raised and move away from home to make their own way in the world. We’ve shared in their family celebrations and tragedies as they have in ours. So it is always sad to wave goodbye to family you’ve grown with but always nice to welcome new friends both young and old into the area. That is until Turbo moved in!

For some time now I have become increasingly irritated by our neighbour’s bad habit of borrowing items from us and never returning them. As a single long-distance lorry driver and aptly named (as he manoeuvres even slower than one speed Hobo) he moved into the house next door about three years ago and has regularly “borrowed” everything and anything from tools, tin groceries, portable heaters, garden and power tools none of which are ever returned. He assembled a shed about a year ago and asked us to lend him the necessary equipment which none of us have ever seen again. My Dad’s garden spades, forks and rakes, which had been lovingly cleaned and oiled over the years, have all been thoughtlessly abandoned in the rain once borrowed and when we request their return he tells us he is unable to locate them. One morning at 5.30am he rang the doorbell to borrow clingfilm and whilst I was already awake for work, the rest of the household were less than impressed.

Another source of constant irritation since wearing out the batteries on the doorbell is that he now bellows across the fence should he wish to catch our attention which is frankly going to drive the old dear to drink. I truly believe that if he heard we had nits the kleptomaniac next door would want to borrow them.

The final straw for me was when I was doing a spot of weeding during Barb’s visit. I was enthusiastically attacking the nettles whilst the lazy trollop was lounging in a deck chair supervising my endeavours. Turbo looked over the fence and asked whether he could “borrow” my gardening gauntlets after I finished as he had an urgent gardening project. Over the next two days I watched the lack of activity in the garden next-door and fumed when I realised that I again been duped. I decided there and then that I was going to carry out a midnight raid (think Expendables style but with less dynamite) ably assisted by my right-hand (wo)man and take back what was ours!

And if you want to know whether Turbo gets his comeuppance you can catch Part Two here 

I'm going in!

I’m going in!

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?

Most of you will know that the garden and the old fella’s allotment are wildlife havens although my Dad has had to install deterrents for the Herons arriving to lunch on his Koi carp. Anyone on either two or four legs is guaranteed a meal at Dyson Abbey, even the birds eat A La Carte on the rare occasions when any of my mother’s homemade baking is left to go stale.

So one unbearably humid evening last week as I was trying unsuccessfully to grab some sleep before my alarm clock woke me at 5am, I heard this rather loud snuffling sound coming from the garden directly below me. I thought it might be one of the cats being ill, as we live in the countryside and it’s not uncommon for cats to fall foul of rat poison that farmers have distributed to eliminate the growing vermin population.

I grabbed my trusty old Star Wars torch (another classic birthday gift from the old fella) I reluctantly left the comfort of my bed to pad downstairs and opening the patio doors I crept into the garden. I quickly scanned the garden with my light sabre to determine where the noise was coming from and whether I would be making a mercy dash to the local veterinary hospital.

I refrained from switching on the industrial security lighting which my Dad had installed mainly because it had enough power to light Wembley Stadium and I didn’t want any low-flying aircraft mistaking our lawn for a runway.

To my amazement there was a mother and baby hedgehog eating the remains of Hobo’s supper. To our intense frustration Hobo insists on dining al fresco during the summer months and I’m guessing with the lack of rain that we’d had the soil was probably rock hard preventing the little folk from foraging. My Dad is always pleased to see a Hedgehog who after all is a gardener’s friend and it may well have been that this adorable duo had been visiting our garden for some time completely undetected.

I was totally enchanted by these fascinating creatures and even more thrilled when I opened another small tin of cat food and the baby, obviously very hungry, boldly ran across the lawn to dine on chicken and vegetables. Mum who was three times the size, was a little more reticent and hung back until I made my way inside the house.

Since then I’ve noticed that they arrive regularly every night to dine at the four star Dyson Bistro and arrive in crocodile formation walking the same route up and down old railway sleepers and eventually onto the patio to partake in the evening’s menu. As our rescue bunch who as strays were accustomed to scavenging bins have developed champagne and caviar taste since coming to live with us, we always have a substantial amount of surplus cat food and can usually accommodate the most discerning palates.

The past few evenings the little folk have out foxed me by arriving at different times but the other night I noticed that there were four of them so clearly our reputation as a four star wildlife catering venue has reached the rest of the local hedgehog community. We’re not complaining though as there’s something very special about hedgehogs and its a privilege to be able to share our time on this earth amid such enchanting creatures.

The earth has music for those who listen – William Shakespeare

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The Quiet Place

Each of us has a quiet place, somewhere where we go to write, reflect, create or just be alone. Of late I seem to have lost the key or forgotten the combination to the door of my secret place. Overlooked or misplaced either way I am struggling to find my way in where previously the door had somehow always been left ajar.

I envy my father in that way, that the second he plucks at a weed or picks up a shovel he becomes blissfully immersed and emotionally invested in his joyful occupation whilst the worries of the world just slip away. I seem to have lost my way to my own happy place and writing no longer beckons me or offers me solace in the way it has before. I envy those that find comfort in much-loved pastimes but I have always struggled to write if my soul is in disquiet.

Maybe all I really need is a little faith, trust and pixie dust but there again it might be that old familiar thief called time has stolen away my happy place when I wasn’t looking. What will help me find my way back? I’m not sure but when I find that magical road map, I’ll let you know.

So wherever you are today, I hope you find your quiet place and spend it doing just what makes you happy.

And then there were four!

And then there were four!

Every Summer Has A Story

Strolled through our village yesterday with my trusty photographic sidekick aka my Dad and I thought we’d share it with you.

I know I'm home when I follow this lane to the allotment

I know I’m home when I follow this lane to the allotment

In a week or so this field will be full of blooming wild irises

In a week or so this field will be full of blooming wild irises

village 012

No fairies at the bottom of our garden, just a cowshed

No faires at the bottom of our garden, just a cowshed

I’m off now to catch up with all of you over a cup of tea; have a sunny & safe weekend my friends.

Waifs & Strays

Tis true that I have made some random choices and decisions but one of my most impetuous moments was a few years’ ago when walking to the car park after a late night Xmas shopping event I was hailed by a homeless man slightly intoxicated and waving a bottle of cider in my general direction. Like many he would sit on the pavement of the underpass near the railway station with his dog at his side on an old blanket calling out to the commuters as they made their way home.

I’ve never ignored anyone including those annoying canvassers that stop you constantly whilst you are shopping for market research purposes, believing it to be rude as we all have to earn a living and I think a simple “no thank you” is more civil than passing them by as if they’re invisible.

So I bid him a good evening and was about to carry on walking by when he asked me for money which I politely declined to give him so it was then that he started asking me if I wanted his dog which was a huge bedraggled mastiff type. “Good dog” he slurred “worth a tenner at least”. Realising that this poor animal’s fate lay in my hands I duly agreed and returned to my car where I knew that I had one of my niece’s skipping ropes laying on the back seat. I went back and handed the homeless man the money. “likes his food, he does” he mumbled snatching the money out of my hand. Judging by the poor and near skeletal condition of the dog he clearly hadn’t been getting much of anything recently. So attaching the skipping rope to the collar of the forlorn Mastiff, we started to walk towards my car leaving the homeless man running off in the direction of the off-licence without a backward glance in the direction of his faithful friend.

I hadn’t realised just how large the dog actually was until he was walking alongside me and then of course, it was apparent that he was actually the size of a small Shetland pony albeit a malnourished one. I decided to call him Arnie after the actor and realised this poor trusting animal must have been incredibly confused losing the only person familiar to him.

Back at my car, which at that time was a small mini metro I tried to entice Arnie inside. Judging by his reluctance to jump in, I assumed that he’d never travelled in a vehicle before. Eventually, I managed to squeeze him into the passenger seat where he seemed to fill the entire car and then it was all too apparent that Arnie was in dire need of a bath. As soon as, I switched on the ignition he began to wail like a werewolf and on the way home I almost sustained a perforated ear drum and pneumonia from having to drive with the window wide open in what had been the coldest of winters. Serial Shagger and I had bought a do’er upper in a nice neighbourhood but he was currently away serving Queen and country so it was just going to be me and Arnie until such time that I could find him a suitable home.

Once home we made a beeline for the bathroom where Arnie received his first shower and by default, so did I. After a tin of Marks & Spencer steak for tea followed by a quick drink from the toilet, clearly his table manners were going to need some work, Arnie crashed out on the sofa.

We spent a challenging few weeks together as the howling had increased my popularity with the neighbours tenfold to the point that I’m sure a couple of them considered moving. Walking an exuberant mastiff with no basic training had improved my own agility no end; particularly as Arnie wasn’t receptive in the recall department as it was so much more fun to run around the park having me charging after him until we were both fit to drop with exhaustion. My upper body strength was also on a par with Arnie’s namesake as he dragged me along the pavement every morning on our way to the park. Whilst incredibly friendly Arnie had the strength of ten thousand men and I had no doubt that we were a constant source of amusement in the village as this exuberant Hound of the Baskervilles bounded along with me in hot pursuit.

The vet whom I had taken him to for a check up confirmed that he was a dogue de bordeaux and an exceptionally large specimen. Apart from poor nutrition he was given a clean bill of health and I set about finding him a new home.

As luck would have it, one of my neighbour’s a kindly elderly gentleman used to pass me each morning on his was to collect his newspaper and as we sprinted past he always remarked to my rapidly retreating back what a lovely dog Arnie was. On one morning when Arnie wasn’t in such a rush to get to the park, we stopped and chatted for a while when he told me that he had so been looking forward to travelling the world together with his beloved wife but sadly cancer had taken her only a few months into their retirement so now he was all alone. It was inevitable that he eventually gave Arnie the home he deserved.

I see them fairly often when I pass the old gentleman’s garden where he always tips his Panama hat to me before handing me one of his homegrown roses and telling me that they’re a present from my two admirers. As I watch dog and master walking alongside each in other in companionable silence, I am reminded that dogs really do have a way of finding those that need them the most.

And if you’re thinking of getting a new friend to join your family please consider adopting because you may just save a life!