… to you all, I hope you have a wonderful Sunday ahead of you.
I’m just about to get up to put the shoulder of lamb in the oven that the Boy, the Dog and I will share (the Husband doesn’t eat meat). It has to cook at a low heat for hours and hours which makes it pretty much the easiest way to cook a satisfying Sunday supper.
Below are some scribblings from the week. The first one is rather long so feel free to scooch on down to the short bits at the end.. although if you do, you will miss my night of gothic horror.
The long, dark night of the nibble
… On Wednesday night, I was deeply asleep, dreaming about a wild marshland with a flock of birds taking flight, their wings flapping powerfully in the vast white sky. Then, in an instant, I was awake. A scratching, scrabbling noise was coming from the corner of the bedroom. I knew what it was and a deep, sinking despair filled my stomach. Yet another fucking mouse.
We’ve had rodent guests for a while now. In the past we’ve had one every two years or so but 2017 has been the year of the mouse. The building work that’s currently being done to shore up the steep slope we live on, started off with a mass clearance, cutting down a swathe of trees and bushes. And displacing a mouse city it seems. They tried to move in with us.
They initially confined themselves to a lower kitchen cupboard which I used to keep rice and flour. When we came back from Antigua they had eaten it all. A day later my husband caught the fattest mouse you’ve ever seen. Another time he managed to catch one in his hand, it was so dozy from having stuffed itself on dried couscous.
We moved the food. We put in traps. We searched in vain for their point of entry. Admittedly I keep the doors open almost all the time during good weather (I feel suffocated if they’re shut) so blocking up air bricks is probably a bit pointless. We began a war of attrition which, due to our greater size and infinite resources, compared to a mouse, we thought we’d won.
There were difficult moments. Once the trap caught three mice in one; a mummy and two babies. She had shepherded her young towards the delicious hot cross bun of death, in high hopes of sating them for days. Instead, as all three reached their heads forward- snap! Gone in an instant. I thought The Husband was going to cry as he disposed of their tiny bodies.
And they are tiny. These aren’t lumbering, grey suburban mice. These are delicate woodland mice, with soft fur and huge brown eyes. We felt guilty killing them. Whenever possible my husband would try to catch them alive and return them to woods next door.
They’re so sweet, the husband and the boy would be quite happy for them to share the house with us.
But I can’t. I have some atavistic fear and loathing of their scattering, skittling little bodies. I cannot share my house with them.
For the past three weeks, we thought we’d won. Then came the 2 am scratching.
I lay awake listening to it for at least half an hour. The husband had been at the hospital all day receiving his treatment and the journey there and back is debilitating for him. He also had an appointment with his consultant the following day at a west London hospital even further away. He’d been barely able to walk on Monday so getting him to these appointments can be difficult. I knew he needed his sleep.
Mabel was sleeping too. Tucked up on her pink satin blanket in the other corner, she was snoring happily. I wondered whether we should have got a cat instead.
The scratching became louder. Quite insistent.
The Husband stirred.
“Can you hear the mouse?” I whispered.
“Well, I can now,” he said. “I’ll get a trap.”
We turned on the lights and of course no mouse could be seen. The scratching stopped. He set the trap, bated with the irresistible mixture of chocolate and peanut butter. We turned the lights off.
Seconds later there was a loud snap. Lights on.
There was no mouse but a very surprised looking Mabel was staring down at the trap. I checked her for injury but she was fine. I picked her up onto the bed, where she started snoring again. Trap reset. Lights out.
Turns out this mouse didn’t like chocolate and peanut butter. It did like tap dancing. It ran around the room and scratched all night. My husband laid there, dosing fitfully and becoming ever grumpier. I lay rigid, sweating at the possibility of feeling its tiny feet scurrying across my face.
At 5 am the mouse, avenging its murdered brethren, upped the torture level. It began to run up and down the curtains. My face is very close to the curtains. I sat bolt upright and turned to see its frail body silhouetted against the dawn. Its torso, long and narrow, its arms and legs splayed out, delicate and skeletal as it scurried over the fabric.
I got out of bed and stood before the curtains. I put my hands on them. Trapping the mouse between the material and window.
“Hold it there,” my husband said. “I’ll get it and take it outside.”
I held the fabric down firmly and at first the mouse didn’t move. But the husband, with his rheumatoid arthritis and long day, couldn’t exactly leap out of bed. He hauled himself up, groaning.
“Hold it,” he commanded.
The mouse experimentally moved to the right. I flinched.
“”Don’t let it go!”
“Hurry up.” He was nearly out of bed.
The mouse was feeling bolder. It ran to the left. I moved my hand, I couldn’t help it.
“Keep it there…” he was standing and began to hobble around the bed.
“I can’t! It’ moving …” and the mouse ran towards my hand again. I let go of the curtain. I simply couldn’t stand to have it touch me, even through thick furnishing brocade.
It emerged on the window sill then leapt, superhero style, onto the floor before disappearing under the bed.
“Oh, for God’s sake!”
The husband was not amused.
And the mouse is free. Three nights and four traps on, we still haven’t caught it. Maybe it’s back in the woods, with its band of sweet faced renegade rodents. Waiting. Planning. Watching….
…..has an unrivalled knowledge of reality television. Apparently this is not because she watches it. Of course not. It’s because when she’s busy in the kitchen, she puts the TV on to watch the news and finds that ‘someone’ has changed the channel to ITVBe or similar. She feels it would be rude to turn over from the Real Housewives of Nowhere once they’re in front of her. Considering that she rattles around a huge house with my father as it’s only other occupant and that his preferred television viewing is Clint Eastwood films and programmes about boats, I’m not quite sure who this ‘someone’ is. Except they seem to have moved into my house. Honestly, I was just sitting down to watch something incredible cultured on Sky Arts when ‘someone’ had turned the television onto E. And so I had to watch a three year old episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. It would have upset ‘someone’ if I hadn’t.
….. is to explain why I’m talking about the Kardashians. In the old episode they are on one of their endless family holidays, on some island, and they go on a hike. The thing that struck me was how, walking through a bit of uninspired scrubland, they are so effusive in their praise for the landscape. “Oh, it’s so pretty”, “This is real naychure” they gurgle and twitter.
I am in wonder that there are so many people who live such suburban lives that even the most barren and dull bit of ‘naychure’ becomes some kind of tourist destination in its own right.
I feel very fortunate that although I live in a town and close to London, somehow I’m embedded in the natural world. I’ve always like being outside but now I have Mabel, I spend a good part of my week in fields and woodland. I know nothing about plants (don’t expect an informative nature ramble from me) but I see how life moves on. From the texture of the earth, the curling of the leaves to the massive trees stretching upwards that make me feel I’m walking through the Jurassic era.
Conversation (about oranges)
“I bought you some oranges.”
“What’s wrong? You love oranges.”
“Nothing, I do love oranges. So nothing. Nope. No problem at all.”
“OK, obviously there’s something wrong with the oranges. What is it? Have I bought the ‘wrong oranges’?”
A laugh, as if to say, how could there be such a thing? A pause. Then,
“Well, these aren’t exactly the variety of oranges that I like. I mean, I wouldn’t have bought these oranges.”
“I like the ones with the thicker skin and also I weight each of them in my hand because the heavier an orange is, the more juice it has in it. These are all quite light which means they won’t be as juicy as the oranges I would have bought for myself.”
“Thank you. I really appreciate that you bought them in the first place.”
“But now I’ve been given a gift that I don’t want and I have to eat a bowl of oranges that I don’t like because if I don’t then I’ll feel guilty that I’m ungrateful and guilty that these oranges, which someone else might love, are going to waste. And I already feel guilty about absolutely everything and I don’t need to feel guilty about oranges too.”
“Especially because …”
“Yes, especially because…”
“Oranges are not the only fruit.”
“Here, have this,” he says, throwing me a plum.
The Tarty Plum
- A sheet of ready made puff pastry (unless you want to make you own, find the instructions here)
- Lots of stoned and halved plums
- Ground almonds
- Flaked almonds
- Golden caster sugar
Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees. Line a large rectangular baking sheet with baking parchment. Unfold the the puff pastry and sprinkle 4 tablespoons of ground almonds over it. Then arrange the stoned and halved plums across the pastry sheet. Sprinkle over the flaked almonds and 3 tablespoons of caster sugar.
Bake the tart for approximately 20 minutes (start checking it a little earlier) until the plums are soft and golden and their juices have mixed with the ground almonds to create a kind of frangipane. Let it cool, sprinkle over a little more icing sugar and then serve with cream or creme fraiche.
… Dunkirk. And loved it. Cliché but I was absolutely on the edge of my seat all the way through. Loved its subtle but intriguing multi-timeline, loved its quiet but incredibly powerful drama. Loved Harry Styles (who’d have thought it?) There are issues with it; it doesn’t represent the many commonwealth soldiers who were present on the beach and although they talk about the staggering numbers of soldiers who needed rescuing (400,000), from the film visuals you’d only think it was two thousand or so. Also, though I’m no expert, I’m pretty sure the train at the end is a 1960’s one, about thirty years too modern for Dunkirk. These are niggling grumbles, though. It’s wonderful entertainment, a great historical testament and the film is a hymn to a lost Britain of honour, compassion and tenacity. Really, who wouldn’t want Mark Rylance’s Mr. Dawson as Prime Minister right now?
… In the second of my Accidental Hero series, I’m bringing you someone who is absolutely my new crush. One of the (too) many projects I’m working is a series of short on-line courses about bringing creativity in your daily life. As part of my research I came across this truly wonderful woman, Tiu de Haan. As a non-denominational celebrant and musician, Tiu’s work spans wedding ceremonies, performing as a singer/songwriter and being the creative angel in residence at Bristol University. At first I thought all this sounded a bit too perfect to be true but then I watched her TEDex talk on the importance of ritual in our lives and I was completely won over. Please watch it. You’ll fall in love with her ideas and with her, I promise.
Day out with a teenage grump boy.
A day out in London with a morose teenage boy was saved by our final stop; the Gilbert Scott bar at St.Pancras. Admittedly he only had a lemonade and some frightfully fancy truffled nuts whilst his parents drank a cocktail or two, but he appreciated the grown-up environment. It is an exquisite bar and the mixologist gave a great show that has given the Boy a new career ambition.
Best of all was the private tour I gave him of the creepiest corridor in the whole gothic edifice. Surprisingly, it’s not in the old section, but a bright white hall that leads towards the hotel’s modern bedroom extension. This hall serves as a gallery for some sincerely sinister images. They are modern photographs edited to look like old portraits of the hotels original staff. And their eyes follow you.
We had the best fun naming each character and coming up with their murderous weapon of choice. Highly recommended entertainment for adults and adolescents alike, especially after a rhubarb gimlet or two….
And more photos from our day out.