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Stepmother’s Blessing

I needed some pavement under my feet today, so after a run (had to skip over black ice and lower our voices as we gossiped past the cottages)…I went to London. I sat on the train, which I love, worked hard for an hour on my writing and didn’t feel like getting out of the cocoon once we got to the station. The train really is a wonderful bubble in which time is still – it is peaceful, clean and calm. An unexpected soul salve. Anyway, out i got, into black cab, a quick lunch with some girlfriends – i’m not good at lunches, i get fidgety, talk too much, and need to get going…I went to have my haircut. i have been left with silky blow dried curls which even if i say so myself look not too bad. Sadly , these curls had nowhere to go other than back to the countryside – they didn’t even have a husband to come home to. And, being curls in my hair, they most certainly will not last ’til friday. I have refused to run again tomorrow morning so that at least i can enjoy them for a full day, but by the time i have watched hockey and rugby tomorrow, in the wind and the rain (forecast and inevitable), strangers will be offering to drive me straight back to the hairdresser. Anyway, when i had my hair done, i also had my nails done. a Mistake, i always forget that the lovely hungarian lady at the salon shreds the tops of my fingers so that it is actually difficult to type. my fingers resemble my teenage son’s who methodically works on the tops of his fingers with his teeth – with braces on! until they are raw. i paid for this privilege. While i was having my nails ‘done’, or ‘undone’, and she was tearing into perfectly good flesh down the side ..’hangnails’ i think some people call them, i remembered their other name – ‘step-mother’s blessings’! i felt outraged on behalf of my own stepmother, who is a real blessing (and whom i sense needs a hug right now.). So, in her honour, I have decided to hijack the expression and rename my curls after her. My stepmother’s blessings are going to bounce all day tomorrow and make me feel happy. whenever i have lovely curls, i will call them Stepmother’s Blessings. this blog is not going to make much sense to anyone other than her, and even she may struggle, but i think she’ll get the picture. give dad a hug too.


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‘Leonotus Leonorus’

I spent the day digging. Digging in the rain. Digging in the rain in my garden in England. At one point I did wonder, if I kept digging, would I really land in Australia? We grew up laughing that if you kept digging you’d end up ‘down under ‘ etc, but when I got to England (20 years ago)…I realised that that is an English joke. It’s really only ‘Down Under’ from here. SA itself is probably ‘Down Under’ from the Mid-West, or China. I looked it up. “Down Under ” in Chinese: “nan bian chang zhi mian ban qiu de ao zhou”. It doesn’t really have a comic ring does it? I imagine we’re called nan fei, SA, or just ‘Sou Arica’. Anyway, I was wondering about all of this while I was digging and then I remembered that I had brought some seeds back from my holiday in the Cape, and that they were still tucked away in a little washbag upstairs. Before the biodiversity police step in, I’m a paid up member for the protection of South African biodiversity and I even signed the online petition against Australia trying to steal the generic name ‘Acacia‘ from us, so please allow me a few SA specimens in my garden to remind me of home. Double whammy though, my seeds were Leonotus Leonorus. Try that on customs. Better known as Wild Dagga.. I am suddenly wondering if this is the kind of thing that gets you into trouble as a blogger?! Is someone going to out me as a biodiversity terrorist crossbred with drug smuggler? Ouch. They would probably put me somewhere that doesn’t have a garden at all for that. I hereby promise to keep Leonora ( or whatever her name is, see? I’m such an amateur!) in her washbag. That should do it.

Anyway, the real message of today’s blog was supposed to be that when digging in the mud, and the rain, with a friend, I thought a lot about one of the greatest joys of living here, which is all the more glorious after the filthy winter we are having. The signs of spring. When those first green bulb tips start nosing through the brown, and the snowdrops are dangling little heads in great swathes of hopefulness, and buttony buds are on the ends of the trees, I realise that there are some things about England that I really love. Spring here is long, and it is a rush … a long rush to growth. The plants have so far to go from where they’ve come, to where they’ve got to get to by the time the sun is out. It is like a headlong race for survival , and it is spectacular. You have to look hard in January for reminders of these good things, but if you look hard enough, the first signs are already there.

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For Christmas my father and step-mother gave me a rather unusual present. I’d go so far as to say it was one of the most unusual presents I have ever got. I am a very hard person to buy for ( so they say), and venturing anywhere near the territory of ‘things for the home’ is dangerous stuff…unless you don’t mind your present being recycled via my present drawer, going to oxfam, or the annual school fair where children buy alarming gifts for their parents, drawn from a pile that other parents have sent in… you get the picture. So this was a brave present. It is large, it is noisy, and it hangs on the wall! It is a giant clock, in walnut, that hour after hour, ‘chimes’ (this might qualify as a euphemism) with the sound of a different South African bird! On the face of the clock, next to each hour, there is picture of the South African bird that is going to squawk in the study, on that given hour. There’s a Fish Eagle, Guinea Fowl, and a Burchell’s Coucal. What can I say? I love it.

On the basis that the best presents reflect how well you really know the person for whom they are intended, this, along with ‘most unusual’, qualifies as amongst the best I have ever got. Firstly it surmounts all sorts of challenges – for example, it does not, most emphatically not, go with my ‘style’ (if you can call it that) of decorating. And I am picky about such things… Most people would not dream of buying me a big clock for the wall. My gardener bought me an outside clock once. There’s no hiding from the gardener that you haven’t hung the outside wall clock … Someone else who worked for me ( no longer – there may be a lesson in this) bought me a clock for my bedroom with pink creatures made of shells, covered in varnish, with small shell red eyes. No. Generally speaking, it is best to avoid wall clocks. But my dad knows me better than to be put off by such superficial things. He knows my heels are dangling longingly in the sea, that I’m permanently sick for home, that every time the black collared barbet calls i am going to be transported to my granny’s garden, to paw-paw on the bird-tray and wings in the sun…

There is, however, a small technical hitch. It’s called Longitude. South Africa is two hours ahead of us here in London. So, as I look at the Hornbill at 2, I hear the night jar, when I hear the coucal’s hollowed wood call, I look up to see the kingfisher. Ah well… It makes me laugh, every hour, on the hour. And my favourite? – You know of course. It’s at 7 o’clock, when, I get two of my favourites all in one – I see the bokmakirie, I hear the piet-my-vrou.

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