Orange and Rust

There are so many orange and rusty burnished tones around right now. I know it is said often, but it is a beautiful time of year and it never gets old for me. We have delved into autumn here with enthusiasm. Emily carved a pumpkin after school on all Hallow’s Eve, and I made pumpkin pie. We’ve never had pumpkin pie before, it is just not a thing in the UK and you’d be hard pushed to find a can of pumpkin purée in a supermarket around here. I made my own in the blender and the pie turned out better than expected for the novice pie-maker that I am. I used ‘this’ recipe. Not too sweet and set perfectly. The rest of the pumpkin purée was used up nicely in a vegetable curry and the seeds in this recipe.

Hanging the washing out on the line today was a risky business – will I be racing out in half an hour to bring it all back in? The skies are grey, but a slip of blue is seen momentarily. I don’t want wet school uniform, tablecloths and towels strewn about the house. So I say a little no-rain prayer, and do a little no-rain dance.

I pick a handful of spinach for  lunch and rinse off the dirt and a tiny grey slug washes down the drain.

The butterfly I saw yesterday, may be the last of the year. It looked black under the leaden skies. I think it may have been a red admiral, and I just caught its underside. It was bittersweet to see this symbol of another dying year.

Today we have leftovers of mushroom, lentil and ale pie that I made yesterday from this recipe. So delicious it was too. I used the rest of the pastry for a quick blackberry and apple tart. The kind of autumnal fare that defines the season.

I am still getting used to the evenings. The darkness falling so early now, it feels like midnight at half past five in the afternoon. Maybe I’ll never get used to the speed at which this happens. I enjoy the dark evenings though. My library books are overdue so I will catch up with them this evening. I am reading Neil Gaiman’s short stories ‘Trigger Warning’ right now. He is a perfect writer for this time of year. What are you reading on these dark autumn evenings?

In the Garden

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been enjoying the cooler wetter September days. I got fed up with watering so it’s a relief not to have to do that everyday.

I mowed the lawn for its last cut of the year and cut back some of the dying and overgrown foliage: the mint, fennel, and ivy which were starting to swallow up everything else. I also harvested the rest of the tomatoes, mostly green unripened ones. I don’t think they’ll ripen much more in the garden now and a couple of them were starting to show signs of the dreaded blight. A week or two on the kitchen windowsill and they’ll soon turn red. If not I’ll make green tomato chutney.

There seem to be more potent fragrances intensifying at this time of year. The sharp tang of tomato leaves. The smoky evenings when the neighbour’s burn their garden waste. It lingers on my clothes and on the cat’s fur. The fragrant herbs – mint, rosemary, chives, marjoram, lavender that I cut and bring inside to dry.  Occasionally, there is the familiar thud of an apple as it falls and hits the soft damp ground. A carpet of mouldering fruit… the air is thick and sweet with it.

There are few garden birds around this time of year. There is a pair of collared doves who live nearby and settle in the trees, and on chimneys and my neighbour’s fruit nets. And the robin has been visiting daily throughout the summer. Sorry for the picture quality taken through the glass window, but I thought he looked photogenic on the lawnmower handle.

I have not done such a great job with the garden this year. The plot has been a bit neglected and I have no worthy excuse other than perhaps laziness and putting other things first. I have grown some vegetables besides the tomatoes, there is kale, beetroot, leeks, lettuce and potatoes. But they are difficult to find between the weeds. I can only hope to do better in the future.

I’m going to scale back a bit next year and plant less. Focus on clearing some of the invasive plants and dividing the larger perennials. It is easy to get enthusiastic about all the plans in the spring – I know next year will be no different – but I shouldn’t make more work for myself than I can sensibly sustain.

I do not want a garden that is too neat and pruned, and soulless. I much prefer the cottage garden style, which seems to be a lot freer way of gardening, but it actually takes a lot of work.

It is a careful balancing act. One person can only do so much. I would like the garden to be a pleasurable space rather than one I’m constantly struggling to keep under control.

I wish you all a peaceful weekend. Weather permitting, I’ll be spending most of it in the garden 🙂

Catching Up

Sorry for my absence from blogland, dear readers. My computer died and I have been learning to find my way around a brand new one… it’s super fast and purple… I like it!

What have we been up to? Well, enjoying the grand entrance of Autumn in all its glory. The crisp leaves and crisper temperatures (although today is quite balmy). The scent of bonfires on the breeze, and a garden full of rotting plants, overgrown bushes, and dry stems that need cutting back and clearing up. I have been studying hard, trying to get a little ahead with my course in anticipation of Christmas. Emily carved the pumpkins pictured above. And on Saturday, we had a little Halloween tea, and listened to a creepy-classics playlist.

Over tea, we had a long discussion about horror films and fear. Emily loves to watch scary movies (though she doesn’t watch 18-rated films). I do not much like to watch horror films at all. I used to watch them when I was younger – the likes of The Shining, Salem’s Lot and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Back then I enjoyed the rush of adrenalin, the dark subject matter, and all-round spooky creepiness. But the films were never really realistic enough to truly scare.

Later films were not so enjoyable for me to watch though. Occasionally, after watching one of these films, images would haunt me for months. Take Se7en for example – there are scenes which I simply could not get out of my head. It was as if they were burned into my brain in full technicolour.

These days, in order to keep my sanity, I find I need to stick to subjects that mostly bring a positive state of mind. I am so thankful for the space to be less afraid and more aware of what is going on around me, rather than having all those imaginary fears whirling inside my head. So, boring though it may be, I am more than happy to stick to pleasant uplifting music and films these days.

I have much blog-reading to catch up on and I’m looking forward to reading what you’ve all been up to lately. I also just wanted to end today by thanking you for visiting my blog and to say I really do appreciate all your lovely, kind and interesting comments. Now I have my new zippy purple laptop I hope to be blogging more regularly.

Wishing you all a great week!

Spiders, a Penguin Book by W. S. Bristowe

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‘Swallowing a spider gently bruised and wrapped up in a raisin or spread on bread and butter.’

~ Dr Watson’s remedy for fevers

Most of my life I have had an extreme phobia of spiders. As I grew up my mum would love to torture me by buying me spider-related presents. Books about the different varieties and little creepy-crawly gifts would invariably end up in my christmas stocking.

When I became a single mother in 2006, one of my worries was how I was going to deal with the multiple eight-legged fiends that find their way into our home. I tried hard not to pass on my phobia to my children, but they were not too keen about having to catch them either. But you know, when you have no alternative, you have to be a big girl and deal with things yourself. Consequently, over time, I have learnt to catch and put outside all but the largest and most scary looking (for those I am sorry to say, I resort to the vacuum).

I have actually become quite a fan of these fascinating creatures. Now, if I see a spidery book in a shop, I usually add it to my collection.

This 1947 penguin one was on my Pinterest board for years, and when I saw it in the local Oxfam shop, I could not resist. It is by the English naturalist and arachnologist W. S. Bristowe. The cover is exquisite, designed by Mary W. Duncan. And inside are beautiful plates of some British spiders painted by A. T. Hollick in 1867-70.

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There is also a written section in homage to the spider.  Little anecdotes, stories, and medicinal cures such as Dr Watson’s remedy for fevers at the top of this post. According to the book there are over 500 varieties of British spiders. These creatures are an essential link in the food chain, consuming billions of insects. They are ingenious in their design, methods of camouflage, and web-weaving.

Not least of all the forty different kinds of Aranae – or garden spider – that is so visible in hedgerows and gardens at this time of year:

‘When starting to build a web the Aranae stands on tiptoe, raises her body, squeezes out some silk and allows the air currents to waft the silk whither the spider knows not. On the thread getting attached to a neighbouring object, she pulls it tight, walks across her bridge, and strengthens it. Next she makes the rest of the frame and then lays down her spokes or radii. After the radii the spider builds three distinct sets of spiral threads. First, a few very close together in order to strengthen the hub. Then a widely spaced spiral to the outside margin. And third, starting from the outside, the evenly measured spirals which give the web its characteristic appearance. The second set, the widely spaced spirals, were used merely as temporary bridges and the spider destroys them as she lays down the last set. The last spirals to be spun are the only threads in the web which are sticky. The thin film of gum with which each thread is coated is broken up by surface tension into evenly spaced globules and the appearance under a microscope is of a lovely bead necklace. The feet of the Aranea are slightly oily and in that way she avoids getting trapped in her own web.

Daily in summer, these superb craftswomen destroy their old webs, except for the frame, and then build a new one in the space of about half an hour.’