Saturday, 31 October 2015

Chinese Lanterns

When we lived in the house before this one, somebody gave us armfuls of beautiful Chinese Lanterns she'd grown and dried. I kept them for several years, until they got too brittle and dusty to bring here when we moved.

In recent years I've been trying to grow my own. They are supposed to be easy - but can also be invasive in moist soil.

Year one: I planted them in a dry spot. They died.

Year two: Planted them in a large pot, but didn't water enough. They died.

Year three: Planted more in the same pot, but they got overshadowed by other things around them. I had only one or two lanterns among all the foliage.

This year: Was more conscientious with the watering, but realised too late that I should have staked them. All my stems grew crooked, instead of nice and straight.
Then I had the quandary of how to dry. Some websites said hang them upside down, others said the right way up. I dried mine upside down, but now my little lanterns mostly poke upwards instead of having that pretty droppy down effect! In addition, I managed to put my foot through the green garden chair, visible in the photo above, and cut the back of my leg! Don't worry though. It has already become a story.

Next year's mission will be to grow perfect Chinese Lanterns. All advice appreciated. Every year the prospect of winter seems worse, and I need the lanterns' vibrant colours against the enervating darkness.

In other news, I am delighted to have a story close to my heart in the latest People's Friend Special, number 114. Also a poem in issue 5 of the online magazine Kishboo. The former was inspired by my fascination with sewing; the latter, my fascination with the moon.

Kishboo publishes rhyming, light-hearted poetry, runs a quarterly short story competition, and includes various articles on writing. Do take a look.

Have a happy Halloween. May your pumpkins glow bright, and all your ghosts be friendly.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

On insects

We had a hummingbird hawk moth in the garden a few weeks ago. I'd never seen one before. It came flying towards me, like a tiny bird, wings humming audibly. Then it hovered by my red valerian (apparently one of its favourite plants) to suck up some nectar, and I realised what it was. Sorry I didn't have my camera handy, but here's a video of one from YouTube.

It's definitely insect time of year. Last week I was reading Maggie O'Farrell's wonderful book, 'Instructions for a Heatwave', when I had a nasty surprise at the top of page 183. Nothing to do with Maggie O'Farrell, I must add, who placed every single word in that book just perfectly. No, the surprise was of the eight legged variety.

Was it murder or accidental death? Suicide seems unlikely. I have disposed of the body in the hydrangea. Beasties are all very interesting, but mostly better in the garden.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

The Big Hoot!

Wild in Art, the lovely people behind numerous public art events, have taken over Birmingham with a fabulous display of giant painted owls. You may remember in 2013 they did a very popular exhibition with large figures of Gromit the dog, all over Bristol.

Now we have The Big Hoot, taking place in various locations around Brum. I already managed to spot about a dozen owls in the city centre. Here is Jack for starters, by artist Martin Band. Jack is situated by the Hall of Memory in Centenary Square.

There were lots of families out following the owl trail while I was in town. At the most popular spots, people were queuing for their chance to pose with the owls.

This one is Ozzy's Owl, designed by Ozzy Osbourne and Graham Frank Wright. Birmingham is Ozzy Osbourne's home town. I think his owl represents him very well. He's located in New Street, handy for the station.

It's interesting to see how the artists who have painted the owls have drawn on inspiration from the city. The next one is the Wise Old Owl, which reflects the architecture of the new Library of Birmingham. The artists for this one were Kieron Reilly and Lynsey Brecknell. It's outside the library, obviously.

As a side note, on our local news last night there was a report that Birmingham libraries have no money to buy new books! So, we have the biggest public library in Europe, which only opened two years ago at a cost of £189 million, operating on reduced opening hours and unable to afford books! ( I do get incensed by these things.) Apparently some branch libraries around Birmingham are appealing for donations of books published in the last twelve months, particularly fiction.

Anyway, back to owls, with One Giant Hoot for Owlkind, by Vicky Scott. This one recalls the 1960s enthusiasm for space travel. It's by St Philips Cathedral.

And just one more for today. Bluey. I adore this owl, in the Great Western Arcade. It looks right at home in the beautifully restored Victorian setting. Bluey is by artist Natalie Guy, and is reminiscent of blue and white china.

I hope to see a few more owls over the summer. They're in the city until September 27th, then will be auctioned to raise money for Birmingham Children's Hospital. I might put one on my Christmas list!

Do let me know if you're out owl spotting this summer.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

What a hoot!

There's an interview with me at Susan Jane Jones's lovely blog. For a change I talk mostly about writing, with a bit less on dogs and sewing.

More about owls in my next post.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Stepping Stones

Oooh, look. Last time I blogged, it was Christmas. Now it's summer! All winter I barely wrote a word. My concentration was nil. I wasn't even reading much. Generally, if I'm not reading, I'm not writing either. The one activity seems to fire up the other somehow.

Harvey is still tootling along, albeit at a slower pace now he is approaching twelve. Thank you to everyone who has enquired about him during my absence from the blog.

February saw the purchase of my latest toy. It's an overlocker! (If you're reading this in America, you will probably know this better as a serger.) Four spools of thread, two needles, two loopers. Intimidating at first. Incredibly fast compared with the regular machines I've used before. Pretty soon I was rattling away on it, and now my ordinary sewing machine seems slow.

Since then I've done a lot of sewing with knit fabrics, including several of these T shirts, below, adapted from a free downloadable pattern by Maria Denmark. I can run one up for a pound or two if I get to the market early for the best remnants. We'll turn a blind eye to the cost of the overlocker, won't we?

Then I became a bag lady, and made four of these totes. Once I get onto a theme, I seem reluctant to let it go! The blue one is my new writing bag, in case I go to any groups or workshops, and I sewed the red one for my work colleague. I like the fact that I still get to see it every day, and make sure she is treating it right. No heavy vegetables or leaky drinks, please.

Finally in March I had a sudden urge to begin writing again. I always knew I would, but I refuse to feel guilty if my brain needs to take an extended break for a while. There is so much else to do in life. I was lucky to sell the first story I sent out in this new writing phase, otherwise I may have returned to my mission to overlock everything in the house.

I feel as if the months of frantic sewing were a stepping stone between one episode of writing and the next. There's a difference between how I felt about my writing in the autumn (slightly jaded) and how I feel now (full of ideas and just wanting to get on with it!) So it was time to revamp the blog, with thanks to Keith Havers for the inspiration for the little collage of some places where I've been published.

Even so, all my human endeavours seem very small, when you see what a tiny robin can make using pure instinct and natural resources. Amazing, isn't it?

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Bears, wolves, and a bit more sewing.

I think it must be Christmas. A giant, slightly scary bear has appeared in our local shopping centre.
November never seems to be a good month for us. This one was no different, and passed in a blur. Harvey has been diagnosed with a kind of dog dementia, presenting us with some new and unusual behaviours. We have been up at all hours of the night, Harvey wanting to do strange things at even stranger times.

It all reminded me of an elderly couple I looked after many years ago. I used to stay with them overnight, because they would try to go out shopping at 3a.m. This was long before the days of 24 hour opening. I had to keep their house keys in my shoe, knowing that if they couldn't find they keys they would eventually give up and go back to bed. They were lovely really, and it was so sad.

Anyway, with various changes of routine we've managed to get Harvey more settled. He is very well and happy in himself, and has been getting in touch with his inner wolf. This week he ate a bird in the garden, feathers and all. Whatever is going on in his brain it's clear his digestion is as robust as always.

My concentration has been dreadful, so I haven't been reading or writing much. One of the best things this year is that I've totally fallen in love with sewing again. Yesterday I went on a course at Stitch Solihull where I made this!

Sorry the photo is looking slightly grainy. My camera hasn't been quite right lately either. I think I changed the settings and now I can't get them back. Actually, if you click on the photo to see it bigger then it's a lot better. I wonder why that is. Oh well - the course was great and I sense a purse making frenzy coming on!

If I'm not back in blogland before Christmas, I hope you all have a merry one.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Margate, ghosts, mermaids

I am pleased to say that I have a story included in The Day Death Wore Boots, a collection of ghost stories from Alfie Dog Fiction. Mine was originally published in Writing Magazine in 2007, after winning the summer ghost story competition the previous year.

There is also a story from writing friend, Angela Pickering. Last month Angela and I spent a lovely weekend in Kent. Here we are, windblown in Margate.  (Thanks to Biddy for the photo and for showing us the sights.)
And here is the Folkestone mermaid, who has the most wonderful view, but must feel a bit chilly in the winter. However, I still rather wish I could spend every day gazing at the sea, like her. It's not a bad life, is it?