Nope, Not Going There…!

Scrolling through my WordPress Reader this morning I noticed that Fandango’s One Word Challenge word prompt for today is ‘screw’… Nope, I told myself, you’re a grown-up, just don’t go there. Then I noticed that Bushboy’s Ragtag Daily Prompt word for today is ‘shag’…

Seriously guys, even at my age how can I possibly prevent myself from snickering like a teenager at the merest suggestion of writing a blog post about such silly sexual innuendo? Except of course like I said, I’m a grown-up now and so I’m just not going there… 🙂

Winging It

Over this last year or so my blog seems to have more posts about my garden than anything else, but then I suppose my blog tends to follow my life and over this last year or so my life has been necessarily home-oriented (due to lengthy, ongoing Covid restrictions), and so by extension garden-oriented. My garden has given me a sense of purpose.

The thing is, I’ve lived in this house and with this garden for less than two years and my previous personal gardening knowledge is by no means extensive – the basics are not beyond me, I know to cut the grass and pull the weeds and dead-head the roses – but other than that I’m finding myself winging it a lot of the time.

Some plants in the garden I recognised easily, so I could look up online how best to look after them. Others I’ve only learned the names of through word of mouth, often having posted images here on my blog. And a few unidentified specimens still remain a mystery to this day, so sometimes I’m left with no option but to act on instinct.

I’ve now experienced two autumns, two winters, two springs, and this is currently my second summer here. For my first full year I took a wait-and-see approach to whatever appeared from the soil, to have a kind of base-line picture of the garden as was. And over this second year I’ve started to make changes – some big, some small.

As well as gardening by Google I’ve also taken to watching regular gardening programmes on TV to help with information and inspiration in equal measure, both of which together have given me the confidence not just to stick cautiously with what’s already there but to have a real go at creating the garden I want out of the garden I have.

I’m learning the difference between evergreen, deciduous and herbaceous plants. Between annuals, biennials, and perennials. Between sun-loving, shade-loving, or bit-of-both-in-between plants. Between spring-flowering, summer-flowering and autumn-flowering plants and how to balance them all out cumulatively within the same flower beds.

There’s a lot to it, creating a balanced structure in a garden all year round, and I’ve made a good start to finding my feet with it all. I’m trying to keep as much as I can of what’s already there, re-jigging and re-siting plants to suit my own taste, reducing those aggressive bullies who have tried to take over their patch and clearing the way for others with more delicate sensibilities to have their moment of glory.

I’m still winging it a bit, but as I gain more knowledge through experience there’s a little less flying by the seat of my pants these days. I’m trusting my instinct a lot more, and trusting in the garden to tell me what it needs, as long as I follow the signs. One way or another it seems that as we get to know each other better my garden and I are settling down together just fine 🙂

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Wing

Camera Art, Software Edited

I love messing about with photographic images to create something different.

This rather anonymous explosion of purple on white started life as a mainly green and dark zoom burst image taken on a shadowy pathway covered by a dappled tree canopy, which (using my standard laptop image editing software) I then turned into a negative, added a horizontal flip, then cropped to the particular compositional design I liked best.

Digital art, created via my camera and laptop, just for fun! 🙂

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Anonymous

Tomnahurich Swing Bridge in Action

There are three very similar swing bridges over the Caledonian Canal here in Inverness – two road bridges and one railway bridge, all working on the same principle and constructed around the same time. Yesterday I was passing by just as the bridge at Tomnahurich opened, so stopped to capture the scene on camera .

The road crosses over from left to right of the picture (or right to left, depending on the direction of travel) and the bridge sits really low on the water so boats travelling the canal cannot pass underneath without the bridge moving out of the way. The traffic is temporarily stopped on either side and the entire bridge swings open sideways on a pivot and wheel (very much like a giant heavy door opening) until it sits at right angles to the road. The boat sails on through, the bridge closes again immediately, and the waiting traffic is free to pass over once more.

During the summer months this process takes place multiple times a day, and it never ceases to fascinate me – I really love the clever engineering involved! There is a warning siren that sounds continuously to let people know the bridge is opening and closing, but amazingly the mechanical operation of the bridge itself is silent and smooth and surprisingly speedy – it only takes a few minutes. This particular metal bridge has been in situ since 1938, a replacement for a previous wooden bridge that apparently worked on an entirely different principle.

I know this is a long and boring gallery if you’re not interested in seeing a series of static images of a bridge opening and closing again, but the fault is mine for not thinking to video it in action instead – duh! Anyway, I’m hoping my swing bridge opening and closing can count as an honorary canal door for today’s Thursday Doors – I know Dan loves bridges as well as doors, so fingers crossed I might just get away with it! 🙂

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Fault

Buried Treasure

We’ve recently been working in our garden, and have been tidying up the rather ramshackle unloved space right at the back corner around the old compost heap we inherited from the previous owner.

When we first moved in the compost heap was not just full but absolutely overflowing with a precarious mound of garden debris – it was clearly no longer a properly cared-for usable compost heap but the whole area had become little more than an ever-growing garden waste dumping ground, with bits of bark, weeds, piles of rotten fruit from the plum tree, an over-abundance of grass cuttings, and with random weeds and discarded raspberry plants growing out of the top of it!

We’d already removed the worst if the surface debris from the space last year, and underneath it all had found a manky old rotting carpet that had been used back in the day to cover the working compost heap proper. We disposed of that, too, and tidied up a bit around it but left our internal exploration of the full contents of the heap for later on as we weren’t at all sure what we would find or what we would be doing with it all in the future.

But the time has come to address that back corner so this week we’ve dug over and cleaned out the old flower bed beside the compost heap, and yesterday we removed and potted up the raspberry plants growing on top of the compost heap to see if they’ll maybe grow enough to produce fruit. We wanted to try to use some of the compost to pot the plants up in, so decided that probably required using a garden sieve to remove any suspicious material before use, just to be sure. We could already see there were loads of roots and weeds we didn’t want in the mix.

My husband dug it all over, and I sieved only what we needed for now. We successfully create enough good, clean compost to pot up four tubs of raspberry plants, which we’ve now caned up, so we’ll see what happens. But while digging we also found several bits and pieces that really didn’t belong in a compost heap at all. There were a few broken roof slates, several discarded broken plastic plant pots, a couple of broken terracotta pots (the sherds of which we can re-use as pot drainage) and a couple of plastic fertiliser bags opened up and laid out flat like sheets of lasagne or layers of wafer in a biscuit.

We also found even more rotting carpet layered deep in to the mix, and a whole colony of dead tea-bag skins peppered throughout – instead of opening them out to use only the leaves in the compost heap it looks like the whole used tea-bag has been thrown in, bag and all, time after time, and although the tea leaves themselves have composted down nicely over the years, the bags definitely haven’t. Hence the collection of gossamer-thin tea-bag skins, soiled and stained and ripped and now thankfully picked out of the mix by hand.

Further down in the heap we hit something hard and metallic, and out came an aluminium roasting tin, buried upside down but still in one piece. And also an egg… Whole… Well, with a wee crack in it. It literally just popped up in a shovel-full of compost, white on brown, and it bounced along the surface before coming to rest. We thought initially it may be one of those old-fashioned darning eggs for using inside a sock or something, or maybe a decoy egg, but on closer inspection it still seems to have something inside it, and it smells a bit.

So the egg is a bit of a mystery. It’s far too big to be a hen’s egg, is about the right size but the wrong colour for either a duck’s egg or a gull’s egg. I’ve got absolutely no idea what else it might be around here, or how long it’s been sitting in the depths of our compost heap doing… well, whatever it was doing. And how amazing the digging spade didn’t go right through it, or smash it bringing it up. Anyway here it is, our buried treasure – the aluminium tray with the egg in it, alongside a dice and a marble dug up from the neighbouring flower bed for scale.

The last picture is the egg in my hand – it has a bit of weight to it, and when you shake it you can feel a bit of movement of whatever is inside… I’m intrigued, but not intrigued enough to break it open to find out – the unpleasant smell coming from the small crack is quite off-putting, as if whatever is in it has been dead for some time. My suggestions were it may be either an alligator or a dragon or a dinosaur egg, although admittedly none of these creatures tend to roam around freely here in Inverness, so it’s probably not any of those. But other than reptiles I’ve no idea what else buries its eggs until they hatch…

Has anyone else ever dug up a buried egg from their compost heap? 🙂

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Ramshackle

Conspicuous By Its Absence…

I had Covid in January, thankfully just a mild infection (as in not hospitalised) but I certainly felt pretty crappy for a good couple of weeks – and OMG for months afterwards the ongoing tiredness and breathlessness and residual cough just would not go away.

I kept waiting in vain for everything to get back to normal but sadly for me the stubborn straggler symptoms of Long Covid seemed to be here to stay. Although my absent sense of smell returned relatively quickly, disappointingly my sense of taste didn’t improve much beyond the basic blunt-instrument differentiation between salty/ sweet/ spicy/ sour – sigh!

I’d read somewhere that for some people, having the Covid jab kick-started their system into a return to normal, so I had my first vaccine dose with high hopes of a similar response but although the grotty side effects certainly passed within a day or two, my Long Covid symptoms did not improve much. So I settled down to accepting (grudgingly) that health-wise I was likely to be in it for the long haul, and began to adjust my long-term thinking accordingly.

Last week I had my second vaccine dose, and this time around didn’t expect so much from it. However I was very pleased to find I had far fewer side effects this time – just a couple of days of extra tiredness, aching limbs and a thumping headache, but lots of rest and a few rounds of painkillers did the job. And to my surprise and delight now those minor irritations have passed I find I can actually breathe properly again, and day by day my sense of taste is subtly improving.

It may of course be total coincidence that things have started to return to normal for me at exactly the same time as I had my second vaccine shot – I mean it’s been five months since I first caught Covid, and ordinarily I would expect any post-viral fatigue to be naturally on the wane by this point.

All I know is that after five months of ridiculously laboured breathing after the least amount of exertion, my previous level of breathlessness is now thoroughly conspicuous by its absence and I honestly feel like a weight has been lifted from my chest. For the first time this year I feel like life might actually get back to normal after all, and oh, it feels so good! 🙂

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Conspicuous

Clutter

I’m not at all a minimalist. I do like to have ‘my’ stuff around me, making my environment feel homely and ‘mine’. But I’m not at all a hoarder either. I do have a good clear-out regularly – almost twenty years living in a small, first-floor one-bedroom flat in London inevitably leaves you very cautious of clutter. Every time you buy something new, something old has to go – usually to a charity shop, or given away to friends, rarely dumped or binned.

I often see images of people’s pared-down, bare-surfaced show-home-style spaces and I think wow, imagine how cool it would be to live in a clear, no-nonsense space like that. Except I can’t really imagine it, because it’s just not me. I like having possessions, and I appreciate that I do have things around me that are useful or beautiful or have sentimental value. I have books and photographs and ornaments and blankets and… stuff… just stuff.

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Clutter

Lucid is a Relative Term

My 85-year-old dad has vascular dementia, the result of four strokes over several years, and one of the things we’ve learned over the last few years is that when it comes to dad, lucid is a relative term.

We’re lucky in that thankfully he still recognises us, he knows who we are, by name if not always by relationship. He doesn’t always get the family connections quite right, but it’s close enough for dad to have a reasonably clear conversation with the people he knows best. He sounds a little bit confused, perhaps, and if you don’t know him well it seems like nothing more than memory playing a few minor tricks on a sweet old man. Everything seems perfectly fine until for whatever reason the conversation turns to the realities of time or place, and then the extent of his confusion becomes apparent – because more often than not dad has no idea where he is, geographically or chronologically.

My parents still live together in the house I grew up in – they’ve lived there for forty-seven years. When it comes to familiarity for someone with dementia, this is probably as good as it gets. Dad spends most of his day sitting in his chair – he has mobility issues due to the strokes – but can’t always find his way without guidance to the bathroom, or his bedroom. By late afternoon he frequently frets about where he’s going to sleep that night, and sometimes stops in his tracks with his walker frame, mid-journey, unsure of where to go next. He worries about which way he needs to go ‘to go home’ later on, does he turn left or right at the front door, which car will he be driving (although dad gave up his driving license due to medical reasons years ago)…

We tell dad he is already at home, and he looks startled, irritated, telling us he is in a strange place he’s never been in before. We tell him it’s OK, he’s somewhere safe, but he’s unconvinced, unsettled. ‘Do you know this place?’ he asks me – Yes, I say, this is the house I grew up in, we all lived here together as a family. ‘Where was I then, when you all lived here?’ asks dad, and I tell him he was here too. He looks at me blankly, so I try to reassure him that it’s all fine, as long as we know where he is and where to find him, everything is fine. He remains uncertain, insecure, and behind his piercing blue eyes seems lost, looking for constant reassurance, and this pattern of conversation repeats in variations on a theme, day in, day out.

Time has different meaning for dad these days, too. When we visited last week, both dad and mum were due a birthday – dad’s 85th the following day, and mum’s 79th a few days later. Dad made jokes about them getting old, and we all laughed. Then my husband mentioned he’d be turning 60 this summer and dad said ‘Oh, I suppose I must be coming up to 60 soon!’ so we gently reminded him that ship had long sailed, by a good 25 years… I told dad I was going to be 58 later this year, and he was shocked. I asked him what year I was born and without hesitation he said ‘1963’. We pointed out to him this was now 2021, so we did the sums together and dad conceded – for that moment at least – if that was the case he must be older than he thought.

The last time I took dad for a walk outside in his wheelchair, he was smiling and animated and I took a few lovely pics of him on my phone camera. When we got back home again, dad settled down in his chair with his usual cup of tea and a biscuit. I showed him the pics I’d just taken and he wanted to know who the old man was in the wheelchair? He was surprised to hear it was himself, so he wanted to know when they’d been taken? I told him – About half an hour ago… And got a blank puzzled look in response… Sad not to be able to build new memories with him, but thankfully we can still share old memories from the past. Well, most of the time, anyway.

Although one old long-term memory of dad’s that seems to have been erased completely has had a surprisingly positive outcome. In the past – at least in my lifetime – dad never ate yoghurt. Apparently one day when I was a tiny baby my dad was holding me up above his head when I was sick straight into his mouth, and ever since then even the smell of curdled milk in all forms had dad gagging and retching. Until his brain destroyed the memory, and now dad happily eats yoghurt without a care in the world. No memory, no trigger, no reaction. Amazing.

I suppose every cloud has a silver lining…

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Lucid

Buoyant

Sometimes my mood can feel quite buoyant, but at other times not so much.

Sometimes I can bob around quite happily on an easy-going flat-calm sea of life but at other times I know I struggle to stay afloat in an ever-undulating ocean of atmospheric depression, limbs flailing in desperation as I fight to survive wave after wave of stormy waters, sinking slowly into the depths, drowning in despair.

All I can do when I hit such rough seas is keep swimming, and hope the storm passes soon enough…

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Buoyant