Category: gardening

Beware the Ides of, um, April?

So, I’ve spent March, and the first part of April, working jobs 1 through 3. This was Fine, honestly. I met new people in job 2, who were all very lovely, and learned just how much a different office in the same department can have massively different ways of implementing the same admin systems. Whereas in job 3 I, erm, learned about being a self-employed person (read, pieceworker) and also, the underrated art of not throwing everything out of the window in despair. All told, I put in about 100 hours of extra work, most of which will not be paid until next month’s pay-cheque, alas.

Last week, however, the overtime at job 2 dried up (thus teaching a valuable lesson about pacing myself, which I will not learn because I apparently like to give value for money more than I like earning the stuff). The shifts at job 3 dried up as well, leaving me looking at an empty typing-queue at six every morning like a chump, but such are the vagaries of zero-hours contracts, as the G Monster said.

All was not lost, however! For instance, we had a trio of variously-sized border collie crosses to take in for half a week! A bittersweet opportunity to reminisce about Dogface, you might wonder? Even better, they’re his old pack!

My, three dogs sure are more work than one dog. I wasn’t strong enough to walk them all on the lead together, so they had to go in shifts, both before and after job 1. They had to be fed one at a time. Not only that, the evening the G Monster went out and left me alone with them, I was feeding them all (in ascending order of size), and while the biggest one was wolfing down his dinner in the porch, the other two had some sort of ruckus against the kitchen door, shoved the doormat up against it and basically barricaded the pair of us out. I honestly did not see that coming.

I eventually managed to wangle a gap no wider than my hand. I then discovered my arse and doorhandles, both of which occupy much horizontal space within such a gap, are at the same height.

Desperation can, however, achieve miracles.

With that excitement mercifully over, I could get down to making the most of my unexpected most-of-a-week off. With bonus unexpected good weather thanks to the east wind! Instead, I spent a good half of it asleep, because it turns out three jobs all spent sat on one’s arse, in addition to making it more difficult to sneak past door-handles, play merry hell with the physical tone and fitness and what-have-you. Either that or I’m getting old. Surely, just gutting the house, putting up 36 metres of chicken-wire (small dogs may now neither enter nor leave along the front of the house without permission; they can still go all the way along to the drive, but I have a better chance of catching them at it), replacing the raised beds and putting up a trellis would not have been that strenuous a mere ten years ago?

Of art and writing, there has unfortunately been none. Well, not quite none. I managed a short story for a “Grumpy Old Gods” prompt (there is a Grumpy Old Gods 1 anthology, turns out, and this is volume 2). I plan to purchase both, if funds finally arrive before the black hole in my bank balance starts expanding its domain uncontrollably, but may as well publicise them even if nothing comes of my submission; karma and a’ that. If it sounds like your bag, it might be worth a look. I also wrote a wee story ‘The City and the Dragon’ which, well, nobody who requested a swatch has commented, which could mean any one of a dozen things. Let us pretend it is a good one!

It hasn’t really been all work and no play, however. One weekend, I was deputised to attend a beer festival and bring back many beers; there was also steak and Prosecco and cocktails in the evening. I am amazed I can remember any of that day. And this weekend, fresh from a day of hauling logs, I got taken out to dinner and the Love from Stourbridge tour, which was most excellent. The Poppies were at their best, I think, of all the times I’ve seen them, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin played a blinder as well, and the G Monster not only endured Miles Hunt’s acoustic set at the start but admitted afterwards that he had very much enjoyed it.

Ooh, and I also had a job interview at the tail-end of last week, which… yeah. Funny story, it was for a job a whole lot closer to home, and with more hours, which is the reason I’m attempting to jump ship, but not until the morning of the interview did I read the letter properly and discover I was supposed to turn up… at my actual place of work! A lot further away and oh jeebus would you look at the time.

I made it, to my vast surprise. Unfortunately, I was thrown into something of a tailspin by (re)discovering my own idiocy; that and having spent the whole week talking to nobody other than the G Monster and the canine crew, and as soon as the first difficult question was asked (hint, it was the first question) I just turned into a stumbling, stammering mess. So that was… special.

Also, my colleagues don’t recognise me when I turn up unexpectedly in a suit with makeup on and so forth. That was quite nice, actually. Well, apart from the screaming.

So imagine my surprise when I got a phone-call yesterday and they offered me the job. The G Monster is all delighted. Me, I’m suspicious, being of the opinion that It’s A Trap! Because it usually is, I’ve discovered. Sometimes, life just decides your wagon needs fixing, whether as punishment for hubris, a test of personal growth, bit of both, who knows, and you can tell because a) a Challenge arises! and b) you start sucking. But you try anyway, goddammit, only the more staggering and stumbling you do, the more pitfalls you oh-so-narrowly avoid, the higher the stakes rise and the greater the thump when you finally do fall over.

On the other hand, if it isn’t A Trap!, that would be very nice.

The 28 Drawings Later Challenge has ended in the nick of time!

The 28 Drawings Later Challenge has ended in the nick of time!

For the last few years, I’ve entered this online challenge, where you produce something creative (or at least work on one – and it can be a scribble, a doodle, a piece of knitting, bark sculpture, or as one person did on a day they were short of time, a face made by hoovering the carpet just so) every day for the whole of February. This year, I actually managed to put something up on time every single day!

Fortunately it’s all over, not because I didn’t have a lot of fun, but because this week I not only got offered extra days at a different office, covering long-term sick-leave, but also I’ve been accepted for some piece-work; technically I am Lady Three Jobs for the foreseeable, and there will be no time for such self-indulgence, by crikey!

Because I am just as great at timing as I am at making money (none of these are particularly well-paid gigs, I’m hoping to save up a bit simply by sheer… mass?) it is also the season to start on the garden after its winter sleep, there are gallons and gallons of wine to be racked off, and I took on being treasurer of a charity, didn’t I, because nobody else was available. For free, of course. None of us are getting paid for any of this!

Meanwhile, the 12 Days of Cthulhu-mas proofs came back and they are BORKED, so I have to do them over even though I have little idea what caused them to go wrong in the first place. I can see this being a Groundhog-Day-esque fiasco where I endlessly tweak the template and pay my money and wait three weeks and get back roughly what I got back last time.

I’m a bit scared of how much I have bitten off, in short, and am thinking wistfully of how, if I didn’t need to sleep, I would have two whole extra days in the week to get stuff done!

…Mind you, there is something psychologically very comforting about the way sleep breaks life into manageable chunks. ‘Eh, I’ll deal with it tomorrow,’ I can say, tossing the borked proofs wrathfully into a corner.* ‘Eh, I’ll deal with it in… seven hours and forty four minutes’, by contrast, really lacks a certain something.

*I didn’t. That was earlier this week. I still haven’t, and probably won’t for some time.

Anyway! Here be a whole lot of pictures; not exactly 28 of them because some were works in progress, and some are from January. My theme this time around was ‘Skyrim’, if anyone’s familiar and wants to play ‘guess where this is’, please feel free! Just don’t look at the names at the bottom which I did not know about when I uploaded them, ha. Live and learn.

While there is either little or no artistic Value to these (I cannot sell them, they are not originals, etc), I had a lot of fun playing with the lighting and colours, and I feel confident that I could use the practice as a good basis for turning flatly-lit and boring photos of castles (of which I have many) into something a good bit more striking. I could even, or such is the dream, sketch out my own structures purely from imagination and bring them to life!

…Oh wait, I’m Lady Three Jobs. Never mind!

2018 – a retrospective

Ah, it’s that time of year when I get to get all about me in public (oh wait, it’s a blog about me and my artistic endeavours, I do that every time I post, whoops).

So, how do I feel I did this year? Well, it started out on target:

1. Fix greenhouse.

The greenhouse we finally put up last autumn lasted a whole week before a storm ripped the sides off. We reinforced it with batons, I spent a happy week building lots of bespoke furniture for it, and it managed to house my first successful tomato crop before the storms ripped the roof off instead. So we went back in with the batons and reinforced the roof, too.

Status: so far so good. Unfortunately, all it needs is a really good storm and the whole thing is away again, no matter what we do to it.

2. Get new job.

This was kinda urgent since the old job was a contract. My boss got it extended, which was very sweet, but all good things come to an end. As luck would have it, I got a new job that began the very next day. Miles and miles further away, slightly fewer hours, slightly lower pay, but any port in a storm, what? Status: sorted.

3. Get taken back on at old job.

Would you Adam and Eve it, almost as soon as I started the new job they needed someone to fill in at the old one again. So I took on both.

Status: ker-ching!

Sadly, this had a bit of an impact on the old free time, as did:

4. Organise hen-do for best mate

As the only bridesmaid/ maid of honour for me mate’s wedding, it fell to me to do the honours for the hen-night. And with only three weeks’ notice, what! There was no time to get money out of everyone up front (hassling people you don’t know for cash is always the best way to make friends before you see them all at the wedding, right?) so I told them it would be free and hosted it at mine. (See under: ker-ching, above). I mean, we had room to sleep twelve. Just about. If I got more beds. And gave the place a thorough sprucing-up; by which I mean, not only moving everything out the way and giving the place a hose-down and several coats of paint, but also building some walls that had been left unfinished when we first got the place. Yes, myself and the G Monster had quite merrily* lived in that squalor for over a year while doing up the main house, but asking other people to do so? Unthinkable!

*For a given definition of ‘merrily’, obviously.

In my panic, I went a bit balls to the wall with the nautical theme (the wedding was at a lighthouse) – sent them on a cruise, hired a naked butler, put up an ‘under the sea’ theme for the lounge, bought pirate-themed cocktails, made the guests fish about in a paddling pool filled with coffee and cocoa powder with their toes for coins (I ran out of time to make them walk the plank, which was going to be done blindfold in the hopes that they would believe they would fall into water rather than just being on the lawn).

Status: There were inflatable parrots everywhere in the morning, including in the toaster, so I think it was a success?

5. Build lean-to log store


I did this in a couple of days out of only what was lying around, and very pleased with myself I was too. Unfortunately for me, next door promptly built a lean-to too, only hers is professionally-made by a team of workers, and is a gigantic thing made of all the shiniest materials. You have an excellent view of it from my lean-to, which you could easily fit twenty of into her one. In fact, our house would fit into it. She is lovely, so I am not jealous at all. Am not.

Status: Okay, I totally AM.

6. Me mate’s wedding

I got through this without participating in any arguments, letting the bride down or making a Scene, which is my best-case outcome for social interactions. Also, the lassie who did my make-up made me look like Katie Perry. Although according to the photos I actually looked like a giant blue pineapple, but you can’t have everything. The bride looked wonderful, the cake was an octopus attacking a lighthouse, the first dance was in a bouncy castle, the photos were amazing.

Status: It was awesome.

7. Operation Windbreak

It’s a bit windy here, almost all the time. A lot of the time it’s very windy. I had tried planting all the fruit bushes along the front very close together, but they still hated being the first thing the gales hit after the wind-farms you can see on the horizon. I’ve been feeling a hedge might help – despite the fact that we have a big hedge, and a big fence, along the side, and sure, you’re still blown off your feet on especially windy nights – but I had to talk the G Monster into it. However, with all my spare cash from working two jobs, I now had money to burn. I just had to build some mighty raised beds for the fruit bushes to move into, dig out 45 bushes and move them, dig a 33m trench and prep it, shift all the strawberries that had escaped into the lawn while I was working two jobs, make some planters, put up a trellis, and get it all done before 130 baby trees arrived in November.

operation windbreak 1.jpg

November came and went with no baby trees. Or confirmation email, now I came to think of it. So I repeated the order. 260 baby trees turned up, nearly giving me heart failure.

Status: if this works, it will be the densest hedge in all Christendom.

8. Dogface!

dog with hair

I’ve spent years saying I want to get organised and disciplined enough to get up early before work every day and take some exercise. Last Christmas the universe sent us a dog, so now I damn well have to, let that be a lesson for everyone reading this. He turned 15 in November, and the G Monster’s sister came to celebrate with him. We have fallen in love with him soooo hard. This year we took him to Wales, where he got ill, and Stonehenge, where he walked 10 miles in one day (and got ill), and Arran, and the Lake District, so whatever he was up to for the first 14 years of his life, he’s been about a bit now. I don’t know if it’s possible for dogs to be on the spectrum, but he does have a number of… odd… habits:

  • If you throw a stick for him and it lands on the path, he will tidy it away to the side.
  • Shortly after arriving, he banned himself from going on the furniture.
  • If he wants to go out to the loo in the night he will not bark. Or whine or make any sort of fuss, despite being repeatedly told we really don’t mind (not when the alternative is playing “where is that godawful smell coming from” in the morning. So much fun when your schedule means you have to leave for work now, but you can’t just leave that on the rug for twelve hours). He will, however, put his nose over the side of the bed and whiffle hopefully; this works if you’re sleeping facing the right direction, but not if he just gets your hair.

Obviously your dog (or cat, or tortoise or whatever) is objectively the best one in the whole world, but Dogface is the best one for us.

Status: yay, Dogface. Never leave us. Oh wait, one day you totally will.

9. The Twelve Days of Cthulhu-mas

I am laying the blame for this on the G Monster’s sister. When she came up for Dogface’s birthday she said she would commission a portrait of one of her own dogs but “didn’t want to do it right before Christmas because you’ll get stressed trying to do that plus Christmas”. This was very sweet and thoughtful on a number of levels, but sadly I got a fever right after and, knowing I was free of the stress of trying to do a Commission Plus Christmas, I spent the next three weeks doing something far more stressful instead. Go me. I should be proofing it for stray pixels right now, in fact, because having got this far I might as well go the whole hog and attempt to put it out as a novelty book.

Status: who the hell do I think I am, eh.

10. Volunteering

I’ve spent years saying I want to get organised and disciplined enough to do some volunteering, because I am conscious that I have a very idyllic, me-centred life and ‘should give something back’, and also, see under 8) above, I am incapable of learning from my mistakes. I was more specific about this notion, however – it has to be volunteering that doesn’t involve a) going anywhere or b) meeting people or c) interacting with people. Lest you think it’s laziness, it’s not; it’s simple cowardice.

Comeuppance arrived the week before Christmas when the G Monster’s mate needed someone ‘reliable and conscientious’ to help out with some charity work at short notice; all those people were busy, so she got me. Boom boom.

Status: I have spent the festive period on one hell of a learning curve.

11. But, wasn’t 2018 supposed to be all about the art and writing and stuff?

Yes, yes it was. I just wanted to get my feet clear first. Never do this. It’s like in Red Dwarf (the book, not the series) where Kryten, the droid who is programmed to clean up after humanity, is on his way to escaping from Better Than Life. Only he sees a pile of dishes that need washed, so he decides he’ll just get that done before he goes. Three months later the pile is no smaller and he realises he’s been conned. If you never do anything creative until you’ve got your feet clear, this will be you. It’s certainly me.

Anyway. Here we are in 2019, which I am starting with a bugger of a head-cold. The dishes are done, the world outside is so frozen I just had to use a pick-axe to break up the mound of left-over earth that the G Monster has been giving me meaningful hints about getting out of the way, Dogface has been taken for a three-mile walk over the moors and is curled up asleep by my feet, and all is well with the world. Quick! Time to get creative!

Spring has sprung! Thus setting the scene for the massive gardening fail later on!

Spring has sprung! Thus setting the scene for the massive gardening fail later on!

(Pictured above: the sort of scene that only excites the sort of people who post on Allotment Life, so apologies for the niche interest.)

Spring took its sweet time about it, too. Truly, we have had a winter like the ones child-me thought were “supposed” to happen, where the ground was covered with snow more often than not, and every time I ran outside with a spade I was beaten back into the house by a big blast of hail from one of a number of ‘Beasts from the East’ (can we call them Easterlies already? Or, just ‘wind’?)

The snow was great, actually. One day we got our first ever Red Weather Warning (they only brought them in last year, which might have something to do with it) and the snow stopped me going to work, woo! Then I had to make up the hours later, of course, but it’s the principle of the thing. The only problem with the snow is its fragility. If someone so much as steps on it, or it melts even a little bit, come nightfall it’s transformed into ice, which is a whole different ballgame. (I don’t remember ice being a problem when I was a child. Probably because I weighed about a fifth of what I do now, so falling on my face wasn’t such a big deal).

Still, in between the various Beasts, the garden’s all prepped for the rest of the year. I might have gone slightly overboard on the number of fruit bushes that needed weeding and composting. It might also be that planting a fifty-metre hedge entirely composed of thorns was not my smartest move. Every time I went in with a shovel-full of mulch for the ungrateful thing, it grabbed me by the hair and I had to fight my way free.

The good news is, the newly-reinforced greenhouse has (touchwood) stood up to the storms so far. Mostly because they came from the east and it’s sheltered by the house from that direction. Three years of tending a mighty, spiky hedge to try and keep the westerlies off – we’re kinda elevated, so there’s nothing at all between here and the hills of the west coast but wind – and suddenly it’s all coming from the other direction. Where there is a whole street, nay, village, and trees and high fences and you name it as a barricade and none of it seems to stop the wind a damn, so… yeah. A single hedge. Well, it seemed a good call at the time.

Nothing I planted in the greenhouse has come up yet, however, because it’s too sodding cold. I predict another cold snap, too, because I just got the raised beds planted. Not that it’s all about me, of course, but next door have planted theirs too and therefore we’re doomed. You can set your watch by the weather round here; the heavens open at going-to-work time, school-run time and evening rush hour, with enough kept back for a sudden downpour once enough washing’s been hung on a sunny day. Tis a cunning beast.

Anyway! The garden is now all set up to produce: basil, cabbages, four types of chilli peppers, courgettes and cucumbers, leeks, parsnips, peas, runner beans, swedes, tatties, tomatoes and tomatillos. In the perennial beds, we have rhubarb and borage; in the tubs there are strawberries, blueberries and oh god I still need to pot out and compost the herbs. Fruit bushes and trees: gooseberries, currants of all three colours, goji berries (ha. These guys apparently live in the Himalayas and ‘thrive on cold and windy conditions’. Not so far), raspberries, elderberries, cherries, plums, apples, rowans and a single, rather optimistic pear tree. The hedge might yet do something useful if the hazelnuts and rose-hips and sloes ever get going.

I mention all this so later, when I report on the solitary parsnip that comprises the entire harvest, the contrast will be extra emphasised.

The other thing that happened this spring is, we had a wood-burning stove installed. You know, just in time for it to not be cold enough to need one. Since the garden was a massive grove of feral Leylandii when we moved in, getting rid of the buggers left a colossal pile of logs, so it made sense to make use of them. We thought.

But lo, the guys fitting the wood-burning stove casually pointed out that Leylandii is, apparently, the Wrong Sort of Wood for wood-burning stoves. Too much resin, burns too fast, something something. Let this be a lesson to everyone else to do your homework before forking out; also, if the neighbours offer you cash for something you’re not immediately gonna use, for godsake take the money and run!