Introducing Claydropsdesigns (Sunday 28th November 2021)

We’re a talented family, my little lot. The hubby Rob Spooner is an author. My son is a drummer, my younger daughter a skilled artist, and my older daughter (in addition to being mum to my two fabulous grandchildren) makes her own unique range of polymer clay earrings. She is completely self-taught, and currently in the hobby-that-could-perhaps-become-a-business phase, working it out as she goes along. Claydropsdesigns can be found online at etsy and will also (when I get my act together in the next few days) be available here at SomewhereinwestCornwall via the Shop page. I am particularly taken with these gingerbread men, and of course the various bee-themes danglers – and, my personal favourite, the knitted polo-neck-jumper danglies, which just happen to be an exact match to my own favourite winter-snuggle sweater, with which I’ve been wearing them. And then of course there are the Christmas specials …

Grow your own Soup: or, adventures in pumpkin land (Friday 26th November 2021)

The hubby has never really shared my passion for allotment-growing. He does enjoy the results, ie: delicious edibles; random plant-part (leaf, stalk, flower, fruit or bulb) transformed into plate of food. But, the ‘before’ bit – mud and dirt, seeds and compost – It’s just not his thing. There is, however, nothing like a spot of ‘friendly’ competition to get a man going. Thus, when a friend earlier in the year suggested a pumpkin growing contest – played out in public via the wonders of Social Media – he was in. So began one man’s first attempt at growing-his-own …

Here’s how it went.

April. Let the learning curve commence …

… June …

… July – August …

… September – October …

Sadly, ‘Giant Ginge’ didn’t quite make it to record-breaking proportions. So, no prize win for my man (this time). And, once picked and left to cure, the stalk very obviously started to rot. Meaning, this beasty had to be used sooner rather than later. So, it was, into the oven in large chunks (skin on, seeds removed) to be roasted to reduce moisture content and improve flavour (these giant pumpkins are bred for size, not taste, they are full of water and not the greatest for cooking and eating).

The cooked pumpkin flesh (skin removed) then went into the freezer and came back out again today, to be transformed into a big pan of soup (some of which we ate, freezing the rest as individual portions for future use). This, for me is the real winner. It’s all very well, al that macho ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ competition. Growing something that can be turned into something that can be eaten – this, for me, is the real winner.

Pumpkin soup recipe

When I say ‘recipe’ I use the term loosely. This is more a list of ingredients (in no exact proportion) and a general cooking method, to be adjusted to individual preference.

Ingredients:

Onion (red, white or a mix of each), 1 or 2, also a leek or two, if you want.

Celery, 1, 2, or 3 sticks, however much you want (none, if you do not like it.

Garlic (two or three cloves, more or less or even none, it is your choice)

Pumpkin, whatever type you happen to have, however much you want, either roasted (as above) or simply chopped and used raw.

Root veg: sweet potato, carrots, parsnip, whatever you have, in whatever amount feels right.

Orange split lentils. These give ‘body’ to an otherwise watery soup, but can be left out if you do not like or cannot eat them. (maybe add a normal white potato if you leave out lentils, for extra starch, boosting texture).

vegetable (alternately, chicken or beef) stock, or water.

Additional seasonings: salt, pepper, herbs of your choice. Chilli, etc.

Method: chop onions (and leeks if using), sweat to brown in pan, add celery, cook a further few minutes. Add garlic (if using) together with stock, lentils (if using) and other veg in order of how long it will take to cook (carrots, for example, take longer than pre-cooked pumpkin). Simmer until just soft but not overcooked. Blend or mash (stick blender is helpful here). Add seasonings – either mixed in or sprinkled on top to serve.

Community Spirit (Thursday November 25th 2022)

Well how exciting is this?

Our little community garden (Weethes Cottages Community garden, aka WCCG) is front page news! Ok, so it’s *only* the front page of a small weekly, but font page is front page. We are ‘trending’!

A moment of fame.

Not that this was the aim when we set out to transform the overgrown green in the middle of the street into … well, we weren’t sure at that point exactly what we were going to so with it. We just knew that we wanted to do something with what was then something of an eyesore. An oval of grass, 28m-6m, of no particular point or purpose. This was back in November 2019. Fast-forward two years, and here we are. Front page news, with what is now an actual garden. A wasted space, transformed.

It’s been a steep but enjoyable learning curve, for all involved. My own role has been to get things going, and keep it going. This began with a ’round robin’ postbox drop, inviting all who might like to participate. Local Lib. Dem. councillor Penny Young played a huge part in this early stage, steering us forward under the criteria of various current environmental policies, and helping us seek the necessary permissions. We (various neighbours) had been talking for several months about the possibility, but none of us knew how to actually get started. Penny helped us with all of this.

November 2019

On a practical level, we’ve had some stops and starts. Deciding to go down the ‘no dig’ route, we set to work in November 2019, enthusiastically covering the ground with whatever we could find – I had various pieces of black woven ground cover going spare at the allotment, so we used these, and put out a call (via social media and word) of mouth for large sheets of cardboard – with which we were then inundated, from shops and offices, schools and anybody who’d recently had any large item delivered. All of this we used to cover the entire area, held down (or so we thought) firmly with rocks, planks and various other (again, so we thought) heavy items. The plan being to kill (or, at least, weaken) the grass, in preparation for work to begin in spring. And then … disaster. Typical Cornish weather. A howling gale, lifting everything up and off, so that I found myself out in the pouring rain one dark and windy November night, lifting off everything that had been put down, being concerned that we might find rocks, planks etc hurling through the air doing damage to all of our cars, parked nearby.

Summer 2020

Undeterred, we came up with a ‘Plan B’ – still going with the no dig ground cover, but now covering just a select few smaller areas, leaving most of the grass to do its overwinter thing. This turned out to be the way forward, enabling us to plant up small areas as we went, create different features of interest, over time. This also allowed individuals to get creative, contributing as much or as little as they wanted to, or were able. For some this meant regular daily sessions, getting stuck in weeding, digging, and planting. For others it meant buying or donating seeds, plants, or tools, offering ideas. For some it meant being unable to physically contribute, but nevertheless joining in with enjoying the end result; a shared space, to be used by all. Sometimes it’s ben the little details – for example, the donation of a part-tin of yatch varnish lurking in the back of a shed: exactly what was needed to finish off the project name signs, which I made using bits of old wood, otherwise going to waste. All contributions, large or small, have been equally valued.

2020 of course brought covid lockdowns. Here the project really came into its own, as people (who might otherwise be shut up alone at home) were able to work together, yet separately, outside, in shared purpose. This had the effect of really bonding people together, and since then, friendships have grown -as has the garden. A further year on, and this summer (2021) has seen things really taking shape, with the addition of gravel pathways connecting two seating areas, one with a bench and the other with a picnic table, and an ever-changing display from the variously planted areas. In July we participated on the Eden Project’s Big Lunch, everybody coming together in celebration of joint effort. And this week we made it to the front page! Who knows what the next two years will bring, eh?

Is there a doctor in the house? (Friday 24th September 2021)

Not yet, but there will be in a few years from now. Not that I’ll be able to fix anyone’s broken leg, because I won’t be *that* kind of Doctor, but one of those academics with a head full of knowledge that I myself find fascinating but does not necessarily enthral the crowd at my local pub (and is unlikely to save any lives). I am nevertheless feeling both excited and accomplished at being accepted as a Doctoral research student at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies. I am also feeling a little overwhelmed, because … well, y’know what they say about ‘be careful what you wish for’ … this of course only the beginning, for now the real work begins (just one week from now: start date October 1st. Gulp).

It’s a funny old feeling – like the world (well, not the entire world but my own personal little patch of it) has shifted, whilst at the same time remaining the same. The news came on Thursday, initially, by email (followed the next day by a more official letter) and in celebration we (hubby and me) went skipping off downhill for fish & chips on the prom (tiddley-om-pom-pom). Ah yes, we know how to live. Even the intermittent cloudy showers could not spoil it for us. There’s a lot to get organised – a major point being funding (or, at this point, lack of, but I’m aiming to get this sorted ASAP). And in the meantime, this last few days – while I have headspace free – I’ve been plodding on with the edit of my MA thesis material, which I am reworking into what I hope will be saleable products, ie. a series of books aimed at those with an interest in local Cornish history and folklore … (I know, I know, I ‘m being a little cryptic here, not quite revealing the whole just yet. But I will. When myself and my work are ready for public scrutiny) …

Harvest Moon (21st September 2021)

2021 Harvest Moon, Penzance (photo credit Greg Huckfield)

Barley moon, Corn moon, Fruit moon … call it what you will … is the final full moon before the Autumn equinox, and a marker point for farming cultures throughout human history, calling time on crop harvests before the weather takes a seasonal turn. Hence the name. A full moon hanging heavy and bright in the night sky, is always a sight worth seeing, and living on the far-southwest Cornish coast we get to enjoy a really clear view of this natural phenomena, enhanced by the relative absence of overbearing electric street lights and surrounding expanse of sea, lending a mystical feel to the whole experience. I really enjoy summer – I function best, both physically and mentally, in warmth and light rather than cold and dark – so for me this time of year has a tinge of sadness, because I know that winter is on its way, necessitating a shift in to hibernation mode. I do however value the ‘pause and reflect’ effect of this seasonal downshift, looking back on the last few months and making plans for what’s to come next.

Which for me of course means bees, plants, and words.

This season for me has not been a good one, for bees. There, I’ve said it. Nothing instagram-worthy about that declaration, eh?! (I did a business start-up course years ago, and the tutor would repeatedly tell us: ‘Make out that you’re a great success, even if you’re not’. Pretending to be something I’m not has never come naturally or comfortably to me, so obviously I struggled with this – supposedly basic – aspect of self-promotion, being unable to con myself – never mind others into *believing*. Good thing I never went into advertising eh?!). Nor has it been a particularly prolific period on the allotment, the obvious point being that I’ve spent so little time or effort there, having insufficient energy and inclination to do so. It has, however, been a good few months on the academic and creative side of things. Proving the point, that it it is true what ‘they’ say: that you cannot have it all (and perhaps should not try).

But back to the bees …

sole survivor (colonies 1 & 2 out of 5, combined)

From what I’ve seen on social media chat and also in the news, it’s not been just me. Beekeepers everywhere have had a difficult year this year. Beekeepers in France have been so hard-hit they’ve had to request financial help from their government, with honey harvest in some areas dropped to below half the usual amount. On Facebook I’ve seen others such as myself, starting the season well but by early summer realising that something is very wrong.

wax moth larvae

I ended last year with six colonies, all separately hived, all doing well; out of these, five came through winter successfully, and I looked forward to what I thought was going to be a great year for honey. And then … The cold wet spring meant insufficient food-forage at that crucial time, and from there they not only didn’t pick up but floundered. Unusually, I’ve had to continue supplementary sugar feed right through summer, and still they’ve struggled. Add to this enthusiastic robbing by wasps, an infestation of wax moths, and the end result is just two out of those five colonies survived. Ironically, this is the two that I moved from one location to another back in June, downsizing from three apiary sites to two. Transporting beehives from one place to the next is a risky business, in this case resulting on one of these two hives becoming queenless, so that I then took the further decision to combine the two into one. Astonishingly, it’s these that have now survived. Leaving me with just this one, supersize (double brood box) hive to pin my hopes on, for overwinter. Fingers crossed they will get through, and in spring I can start again – raising new colony splits from this one hive, to continue forward.

frames of beeswax

On a positive note, this has given me lots of new beeswax (to be transformed into candles). Far less bee worries over the next few months. And more head space for everything else … which right now mainly means writing. I am currently awaiting confirmation of a place as a PhD research student, building forward on the MA which I completed earlier this year. It is very exciting but also quite daunting. PhD or not, I’ll be taking these ideas forward in the creation of a series of books, which I am now working on (Watch. This. Space) ….

September already (8th September 2021)

How did that happen?! The year has whizzed by, and summer has passed in a whirl, with family fun as priority. With grandchildren aged 8 and 2, and the beach on our doorstep, there’s been a lot of sun, sea and sand, plentiful ice-cream, and a fair amount of fish ‘n’ chips eaten straight from the box whilst sat on the sand/grass/prom bench: a lot of wet towels, soggy swimsuits and sandy shoes, bags of sea-glass, crabs in buckets and bundles of driftwood, with the highlight for me being my first attempt at SUP boarding – including of course the inevitable fall-off with a grand splash. To top it all, we’ve been back-garden camping in a fabulous VW tent (Simple pleasures and – bonus – no campsite fees!). Inevitably, the allotment has gone neglected, with only the occasional visit, purely for family fun.

And then there are the bees. This has been an unusually difficult bee-year, with a number of factors impacting on bee health and honey production. Starting the year with five hives (of six overwintered) I am now down to two! I’ll be nurturing these through autumn in preparation for winter: this will be the first year I’ve taken no honey off for human use: instead I’ll be leaving it all for the bees, giving them the best chance of surviving through to next spring. As ever, my granddaughter has been keen to help – with her baby brother watching (and learning) from a safe distance.

Write. I’m on it. (Sunday 4th July 2021)

10.48 PM. Just a few hours since my previous post. Mission accomplished. I attended my first (of what will be many) ‘live session’ of the Memoire writing course, as per today’s previous post. Like a lot of people, this whole Zoom-meet thing is quite new to me … well, not *completely* new, because my MA was by distance learning, studying ‘at’ the University of Wales Trinity Saint David via the magic of modern internet connection. So, not entirely new. But new enough. And then there was lockdown. And now we all have Zoom fatigue. The positives, nevertheless, still outweigh the negatives – most obviously, now, being able to ‘attend’ a course hosted by a tutor in Canada, along with fellow students all around the world, accommodating different time-zones, altogether in cyberspace. Live chat and interaction – plus – bonus! – the whole thing gets recorded, so we can watch it again, whenever, wherever, and however many times we might want or need. A wholly different experience to my undergraduate studies, way back when …

But I digress ….

Topic for the evening was ‘memoire as poetry / poetry as memoire’ with guest speaker Canadian poet and glass artist Kim Mckellar – who, I confess, I had never heard of until now. Here is an example of her work …

Poetry is an art that I myself am yet to master. Yet. If ever. One day (perhaps) I may try. Perhaps. In the meantime, this first session was inspirational, and energising … yet it left me depleted. I’d not known what to expect, found it difficult to stay focussed, and then when it was over I felt fidgety and strangely emotional … Simultaneously flat, weirdly tearful, yet oddly also rested and lifted. Only one thing for it: a hot, deep, bubbly bath. With tea. And chocolate. Waiting for the kettle to boil (for said tea) my gaze followed through the kitchen window to this climbing rose (pictured, below) currently sprawling, in full bloom, up and over the back fence. Framed against a dramatic sky (not yet dark with night, but heavy with impending weather) it somehow matched my mood. The picture does it no justice: poor lighting and insufficient techno-whizzary to make full use of the camera settings. I’ll take another tomorrow. In better light.

I acquired this rose almost exactly five years ago, in the first week of July 2016. It was then very small and scraggly, merely a couple of short stems with a few leaves but a strong root system, bursting to escape the 5-inch pot in which it sat, grasping onto life, in a forgotten corner of my mom’s overgrown back garden. She had died, suddenly, just a few days previous, five weeks short of her 80th birthday. I brought it home and planted it out in my own garden, where it has since grown steadily, extending its reach to fill almost the entire fence, drooping indulgently over into the back alley, all sprawling branches, sharp thorns, and abundant foliage. It flowers every year at this same time, marking the anniversary of her passing with an ever-expanding display of outrageously glorious magenta pink blooms.

It must mean something, I am sure. I just don’t quite (yet) know what.

Write on. (Sunday 4th July 2021)

Well this is exciting. A change from the more usual blog focus on bees, garden growing and health. Last week I enrolled on a creative and nurturing writing course. A memoire-writing course with award-winning Canadian playwright, performer and best-selling author Alison Wearing .

Yes, I know that I just finished an M.A., I have a few projects on the go, and am applying to start a PhD (fingers crossed) this coming autumn. But this is different. A side step from formal academics to more personal endeavours languishing far too long on the back-burner. I am beyond excited, as I’ve been wanting to do this for quite some time (several months, in fact) but I kept putting it off, awaiting that mythical *one day* … you know, the ‘one day’ that never comes …

Well, that ‘one day’ is now here. Result being that, simultaneous to feeling ‘beyond excited’ I am somewhat apprehensive … because of course now there is no excuse. Nowhere to hide. The time is here. The time is now.

My li’l ginger study buddy, October 2017

Reinventing the Wheel (Sunday 20th June 2021)

‘I feel like a rat on a wheel. But the thing is – I built the wheel. This endless cycle of ‘to do’ … I created this … I put myself here … ‘

This realisation hit a couple of weeks back. I’d been feeling it for a while, but it took until now for those feelings to crystalise into thoughts expressed as words.

Living with so-called ‘invisible’ disability places limits on normal daily function. And because none of it is physically obvious – there is no wheelchair, no walking stick, no missing limb or prosthetic aid (hence the term *invisible* disability) the effects can be misconstrued as behavioural trait or personality fault. Lazy, unreliable, flaky (Yes, I’ve been called all of these and more. Mainly not to my face). The no.1 problem in all of is work. How to maintain a *normal* job in a no-longer-normally-functioning body? Hence my return to education in 2017 (embarking on an MA, which should have taken two years but, in reality, stretched out to more than three) – at this same time starting again with beekeeping (fifteen years on from my initial ‘dabble’) …

Skip forward three and a half years. MA completed (final mark pending) with various writing projects in process and the potential to continue on to a PhD this coming autumn. Health struggles are ongoing – exacerbated, of course, by the government-led Covid response (all ‘non essential’ hospital treatments – including my own rehabilitative therapies – were stopped last April/May, only recently restarting, after a year of non-intervention).

Meanwhile, on the beekeeping side, what started out as one hive has grown into several, across three different sites. Plus all of the associated activity (honey production, candle creation, hive maintenance). And then there’s the growing: flowers, herbs, veg … I’ve also, in this last 18 months, instigated and managed a community garden project in the street where I live (more of this another time, in a future blog post). As each new opening has arisen, I’ve gone with it. A fun-filled learning curve, at some point turned ‘rat on a wheel’. But here’s the thing: if it is me who put myself here, then it is me who can free myself back up. Reset the wheel.

This, then, is exactly what I am now doing. First up, the most obvious: reduce the physical work-load and time demands. Editing three apiary sites down into two. The choice (which one to let go?) has been easy: the Bee Garden, my very first apiary site, where I started out, back in 2018. Despite my best efforts, in nearly three years there’s never been a good honey harvest here: whole colonies have died (one of them quite suddenly) and/or struggled to survive overwinter, largely I think due to the adjacent farm fields (on all sides, stretching several miles, meaning insufficient wild forage and potential contamination with agro-chemicals). Add to this the land-owners plans to sell up in the near future, meaning I’ll have to be moving at some point anyway. As the saying goes, a ‘no brainer’. Nevertheless, I felt a considerable pang of sadness as I closed up the two hives, dismantled the hive-stand, loaded everything up and drove away for the last time – very soon overlaid with relief, as I settled them together into their new location at the Bee Field, which will now be my main apiary site.

Life is a constant process of change. We can resist – remain stuck – or go with it. Stagnate or adapt. Survive or thrive. The choice is our own.

End of an Era (28th April 2021)

Yesterday we buried the cat. What a sad sentence that is to write. At somewhere around seventeen years of age, Shooey the Wonder Cat was the last of a feline trio, central to our wider family life. His old ma, Twink, shuffled off this mortal coil several years back, having made it to not quite a decade, while the ginger ninja known as A cat Called Chicken survived well into his twenty-first year. The house feels eerily empty. And quiet.