Saturday 14 December 2013

Winter Sun

'Mummy, don't be afraid, flying is fun.'

And when I looked out of the window, down below seemed very, very far down indeed; shades of weak tea brown, white spots, threaded black lines. Over a Spanish mountain range I thought I saw a giant alligator etched in its peaks. Shapes in the earth, not in the clouds. I was nervous. Over an hour in I was still wearing the seat belt. This was my first flight since the honeymoon. It didn't matter then, it was just Younger Dad and me. Now there was Little A to consider; all week I'd worried about the plane crashing, that sequence from Flight on auto replay, over and over. I couldn't be sure if the pilot steering our plane - flight something, something, something, bound for Lanzarote - had the same skills as Denzel Washington.

How would I save Little A?

And I wasn't ready to die. My novel wasn't finished, not even the first draft.  

On the toilet, the plane hit turbulence; one hand clung to the sink, an elbow propped against the opposite wall. Balanced. Just. I couldn't concentrate, that annoying ping-pong sound and red - red for danger - image of the seat belt sign.

I returned to my seat shaken. Certainly not soothed.

'Don't worry Mummy, it's just a bit bumpy.'

And if in panic, boiled travel sweets are the best remedy by far. Half the tin had disappeared by the time the plane circled over the volcanic land of seal skin grey. Welcome to Espana.

Lanzarote is made for moon people. If you took a small jump, you might float in the air, weightless. The villages - tightly clustered, their low lying white buildings brightly off set by their dark, arid surroundings - like the out postings of an interplanetary mission. There is an other worldly beauty and grace here, empty of complication, naked, a severity of truth.

We stayed on the blustery north east coast in an eco retreat, a finca, consisting of varying sized yurts and villas. Ours was a family villa originally converted from an old water tank. The lounge housed the most ornate day bed. In fact, throughout the entire property such exquisite detail had been paid to all the decoration and furniture. There was a donkey called Molly, and well over a dozen chickens, their fresh egg yolks like baby suns.  

I didn't write. Instead, I read, flopped in the sunshine, enjoying the simplicity of words, or I spent precious time with my family, burying our feet in cool, wet sand, splashing about in the water with Little A. The temperature was perfect, like an English summer's day; it was the end of November, winter, and the time of year didn't seem real. On the afternoon of my birthday, we paid a visit to a Cactus Garden set in a circular walled enclosure. Hundreds of varieties. Aliens. Unsure of the prickles, Little A admired the various forms and shapes and colours, 'that one's furry Mummy, a silly furry cactus.'

It was an easy holiday. We woke up late, spent most mornings in our pyjamas, the odd morning scrambling a bag of essentials together for a spot of sight seeing; the Timanfaya National Park was a favourite, Little A's face pressed against the window, jaw dropped, 'WOWSERS, look at the volcanoes Mummy and Daddy, they're AMAZING.'

The afternoon's were enjoyed either on a beach - not all the sand was midnight black - or by the pool side back at the finca,Younger Dad, his teeth clenched, taught Little A how to swim in the not so solar heated water. I rediscovered the art of deep relaxation; a reflexology session and a yoga class kissed my worries away. I had forgotten, had become addicted to the tension held in every sinew and muscle. My body sighed with the release, the relief. And I remembered.

On the return flight home, I was too relaxed to care about dying.

And in the fortnight after we'd arrived home, I revived my yoga practise with gusto, and bought Little A her own mat, and DVD.

Breathe In. Breathe out...

Tuesday 19 November 2013

#One Week - Autumn '13 - Noted

Leaves, that's what I've really noted this autumn. My focus shifted south, down there, towards the ground. Walking to preschool, I avoid the clutter, the mulch and decay, the foul undisclosed. The garden is littered by a tide of yellow and broken twigs, a landfill of fungi.

What a mess. What a complete anarchic mess. Autumn is conkers bonkers.

And I still haven't bought a rake...

I noted the air one exceedingly blustery day, a gap in the garden fence, a missing tooth, a large branch collapsed on the road outside. Quite dramatic, the most exciting theatre before we'd woken up. The wind, caught and howling in the chimney.

I've noted Little A's ever growing love of language. 'B' for book and boy and boat. Curly 'C' for cat. Kicking 'K' for kite. I bought a Pocket Oxford Dictionary. She was fascinated by it's size, page after condensed page of nouns and verbs and adjectives... It all began with, 'can I borrow it,' to, 'can I have it?' Then, 'you can buy yourself a new one mummy!' Now she takes the tattered dictionary to bed with her, shifts a teddy out of the way, opens and places it besides her plumped pillow. Words to send her to sleep, for dreaming... I have given up sneaking in, snatching it for back-up with my bedtime read, I am going to have to buy myself a new copy.

I've noted how incredibly industrious I've been as the days shortened and the dew on the grass thickened and frosted. I've attempted NaNoWriMo over November, trying to make head way into the final third of my novel. It's going okay, although I've had a few inert days, juggling words while I organise Christmas (my mother and brother coming to stay), preparing for a holiday, and planning Little A's fourth birthday party - it isn't until the end of January but in these parts, halls for hire tend to book very quickly. The theme is lovely, whites and creams and blues. A winter wonderland party.

...and Christmas, I've never planned it this early before, my hosting cherry is on the line. Most of the presents and decorations are procured. I've even placed the order for the meat, a large lump of strip loin beef, Younger Dad's been itching to cook one this Christmas, the seal of approval from his in-laws. I'm secretly glad we're not having turkey, it tastes of, well, not very much at all...cardboard?

And I've noted that it's my birthday next week. I'm going to be forty three. 4.3. I've really enjoyed 42, as I said last year, it tasted very good, the richness of a chocolate fondant pudding. And what am I doing to celebrate? Well I mentioned it earlier, we are going on a week of winter sun to Lanzarote. From bleak weather to black beaches. This is my first holiday abroad since my honey moon, and Little A's very first adventure on an aeroplane.

I haven't decided if the laptop is staying at home yet. If I do bring it, it will be for the novel; I've harboured romantic notions of tapping away against a backdrop of volcanic wasteland.

All social media is barred.

This is the third and final day of the seasonal linky One WeekI wanted to say a big, big thank you to all those lovely bloggers who joined in, and those who commented, and tweeted, in support of this project.

One Week will return in winter, dates TBC. So get your cameras at the ready and imaginative hats on! For more details about One Week, take a gander here. You can join in for one, two ... or the full three days...

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Monday 18 November 2013

#One Week - Autumn '13 - Hands

My hands; they are ageing. 

Poor, dear hands, never much cared for, left to mercy of wind and rain. What little respect given, when they have opened the world to me. The pleasure of touch. Brushed cotton, silk, sand through fingers. The sharp edges of danger. Sensation as warning. Hot and cold. Skin. Little A's perfect skin. Young and velveteen. 

My hands spun records, alert and nimble. Have turned page after page. Scribed imagination in words. Caressed my baby's face.

My hands create and love and comfort.

Without my hands I would have no...  

What have I given them in return? Nothing. Not a jot for their manual servitude. Mother said, 'moisturise your hands everyday.' I was twenty four. They were plump, ripe, so I didn't bother with creams. Not even in my thirties. Now I have a tube in the bathroom, a tube on the chest of drawers. I think the tube in my handbag is past expiry.

The creams, they smell of July over grown. Too flowery. Too condensed. I like neutral, plain. Honest vanilla for me. No wafts of jasmine please. Or lily.

Looking at them, they have lost youth's sheen. Dry mud flats. The pitted surface of fruit. Veins bumping under skin like roots breaking free. Wrinkles. Fine lines etched in wood, all markers of minutes and years. Knuckles. Flattened stumps, pummelled by stone and earth.

When Little A was birthed, and my body cancelled out, numb, it was my hands that touched the moment; retained the ability to impress, be impressed upon. My baby, my child, my girl. Her fingers on breast, the first object of love, finding existence through touch, through her hands.

Leopard spots. Gravy taints of decline. Junk mail landing on the doormat. Will I get them? When will they happen? Long, long ago, I asked a baby sitter what those things were on her hands. Leopard spots she said. Leopard spots.  

My Grandmother's hands, warm and soft. Before the end, unusable, frozen, curled like talons; raking away memory, making room for sempiternity. Those hands once made food, and party dresses, and touched with such tenderness...

...Hands, I would like to shake yours.

This is the second day of the seasonal linky One Week. From Monday till Wednesday, I'll be posting a photograph(s) and a few words that diarises and distills my experience of autumn '13. Take a peep at the details here. You can join in for one, two ... or the full three days. And don't forget to add #oneweek on Twitter, and comment on each others posts...

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Sunday 17 November 2013

#One Week - Autumn '13 - Champagne

A walk over the ploughed flats of Norfolk. Brown and grey. 

Cracked clods of earth underfoot, thick and heavy from harvest. 

The dog bounds off the leash, after sticks, after birds.

And here we all are, to bid farewell.

A goodbye in the wind.

Granny says, 'she said the air was like champagne up here.'

I adore that description. Champagne.

Bubbles through the yellow leaves. Fizz through the sloes.

And onwards, a thoughtful walk, on dirt track, 

under canopied boughs, and mossy floor.

Here we are, journeys end, her resting place. Only us.

A pond at low ebb, ferns and reeds bent over.

One bench.

She loved to walk her dogs here. In the champagne.

I liked her. A lot.

Straight and sturdy (if you discount the broken hip).

Honest to the bone.

A fierce wit.

Out comes the jar and spoon. Sacred dust.

Like course granules. Chalk white.

Powder in the grass. Particles of a life well lived.

Ashes and atoms.

In the air.

Away and beyond.

Little A says, 'Bye bye Great Granny.'

Little A says, 'Great Granny has turned into a star.'

Life and death in one burst.

Flesh and bone between her fingers.


A foot note: This was Little A's Great Granny on Younger Dad's side of the family. She passed away over a year ago, her ashes scattered this September.

This is the first day of the seasonal linky One Week. Over the next three days (Monday till Wednesday) I'll be posting a photograph(s) and a few words that diarises and distills my experience of autumn '13. Take a peep at the details here. You can join in for one, two ... or the full three days. And don't forget to add #oneweek on Twitter, and comment on each others posts...

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Wednesday 25 September 2013

Festival of The Middle-Aged

Well this took me back. At least I had an en suite shower, eggy but functioning. Back in the day it was the communal washroom, a corridor of fifteen or so lecture-hardened women legging it for the last dregs of hot water each and every morning. I never made it. I blamed my daily misfortune entirely at the door of the banana skins I'd smoked the night before. But when you're nineteen years old, tepid will do, and anyway, the hang overs were worth it.

And here I was again - de ja vu - a student for three days. Not stoned but brain addled from motherhood and middle-age. No tie-dye or kaftans but neutral woollens and lycra-stretch trousers. The comfort factor. For two nights, I replaced memory foam for bed springs circa '87. I. Felt. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. And did I mind? Absolutely, categorically no! You see, I was in attendance at The Writers Festival, an event I'd been looking forward to for months. It didn't disappoint. Wine. New friendships. Fine dining in the student refectory - the mango and brie filo parcels were heavenly, and of course, cake and biscuits - a writer's staple.

It was wonderful to spend a weekend in the company of other writers talking about, well, writing. But I wasn't fooled by the mini courses and workshops or the presence of agents and publishers disguising the real agenda of the Festival, that we were all participating in a giant meeting of WA (writers anonymous)....

'It's a drug, I can't control it, I've been doing it for years, sometimes in the open, brazenly, in libraries, in coffee shops, but mainly behind doors, when no one's watching, no one else understands, but you do, that's why I'm here, to come out, as an addict I mean, this is so hard..... my name is Older Mum, and I'm, I'm, a blogger/writer, writer/blogger. Don't shoot me.' 

The average age of the festival goer casually rested on forty five years young. Sedate. Relaxed. Apart from Pam that is, a silver haired, 70's+ party wagon. I loved hanging out with her. She missed out on the Saturday of the previous year, totally hungover, rollickingly drunk on red wine the night before. She told me - little miss innocent - that people kept plying her with booze. I raised a questioning brow.

Then there was Tor, my life saving anchor for the whole event. Isn't it lovely when you just click? And someone who was writing magical realism and another who'd spent five years writing her post second world war crime thriller and another who..... it went on and on. And when someone asked me about my novel I was left scratching my head, 'it's about a DJ who, er, loses her record box...' I really know how to rock a pitch (not).        

But as it turns out, I received very positive feedback on my writing from both an agent and a book doctor (big-up yourself Older Mum). And that's left me in a bit of quandary....

Now I'm ever so determined to finish the first draft of Four Gigs. End of the year is my goal. I'm in an uncomfortable situation where it's novel vs. blog. What do I do? All that consumes me is the next chapter and what my characters are doing. I've even caught myself talking like the main protagonist! This has left no head space for ideas for blog posts. It's completely full at the inn. And I have to participate in NaNoWriMo this November, it'll give me such a push....

....So I might have to blog a little less.

Please don't shoot me! 

Tuesday 10 September 2013

#One Week - Summer '13 - Not Vintage. Just Good.

I've returned from a holiday. Seven days and seven nights. It's never enough. I need more time... More sunshine. More sunsets. Ankle deep in warm waters and sands as fine as golden breadcrumbs. I'm not in shape for Autumn. After only two months of visible sun, the stock pile of vitamin D is low. I could do with an Indian Summer - a complimentary burst of happiness. One last hurrah.

It could have been the Algarve. It wasn't. We were in England. Lounging on The Lizard. And Carbis Bay was a delight. Palm trees. Clotted cream. Daily triple chocolate ice cream. An open view of St Ives and flat, turquoise seas from the decking.

But Little A was in a grump. Insistent whining. She just pushed and pushed....

"What's up Little A? What's upsetting you?" I asked kindly as we walked down a slope towards the beach.

"You're upsetting me mummy... you're annoying me."   

"How am I annoying you?"

"All you do is go blah, blah, blah."

Pardon? What had my three year old just said to me? Blah, blah blah?

Her cheek was out of the ordinary. I knew it, and I knew what it was. Anxiety. Apprehension. The lack of structure over the summer. That Younger Dad would be returning to working away from home the following week.

Little A has had a landslide of change thrust upon her this year. A new home. A new school. Younger Dad's absence five days a week - Sunday evenings regularly infused with bedtime dramas. And if she needs a target for her confusion, I will happily play the bulls eye to her angry darts, reassuring her that all is well in her world.

This summer has notched up a tally of new experiences.

Play dates with friends (that's Little A, not me).

An ant invasion. An army of pesky crawlers over the hallway and kitchen work tops, found behind cereal boxes, on top of the microwave, in between supermarket coupons. Younger Dad enticing them with noxious, sweet, sticky stuff. Then one day, they were gone.

Wasps. A first sting. Little A screaming for her Daddy. A remedying cocktail of vinegar and anti-histamine. Soft cuddles from Grandma and Mummy.

A little wooden garden house. Painted in sea grass and holly. A new secret hide-away. Home to special treat tea times and clandestine talks with teddies and rag dolls.  

A very steamy stroll through the rain forest biome at the Eden Project. Electric blue butterflies gliding like gulls.

I have salvaged a forgotten garden. Grown courgettes. Courgette tart, grilled courgette, chopped courgette in salad. Have harvested half a dozen plump ripe tomatoes. Charmed strawberries, lettuce and sweetcorn.

And such precious time with Little A, a budding comedian and philosopher....

"Mummy we have to drink lots of water or our pee-pee will turn like Daddy's beer."

"When someone dies they go to the moon and stars."

And at last, she has reverted back to addressing me as Mummy again. Answering to my first name was starting to grate....

I took my blogging hat off over the summer and put my novelist's boots on. The words came marching out. I am not the fastest of writers, but I am pleased to say that I have now written thirty thousand words of Four Gigs. Getting there. And this weekend I am going to a three day Writer's Festival in York. I can't wait but I'm so very, very nervous as well #goingonmyown. Wish me luck!

I guess it's time to close the curtains on summer. The heating's already on. I've already worn the first woolly jumper of the new season. Summer 2013 was a good one. Not vintage I don't think. Just good. And that will do for me.

This is the third and final day of the seasonal linky One WeekI wanted to say a big, big thank you to all those lovely bloggers who joined in, and those who commented, and tweeted, in support of this project.

One Week will return this autumn 18-20 November. Get your cameras at the ready and imaginative hats on! For more details about One Week, take a gander here. You can join in for one, two ... or the full three days...

Badge Code ...

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Monday 9 September 2013

#One Week - Summer '13 - In Full Bloom

I think I am forgetting.

May be I have forgotten?

What it's like to be young(er).

I can barely see my twenties, faintly sniff my early thirties, but fully taste my forties. Oh I'm gorging on middle age alright, fat and full on lattes and chocolate fingers. I've swapped clubbing and guest lists for weeding the borders and a vegetable patch. Hundreds of records lay piled in storage, their place taken by giant sized jigsaws, miniature tea sets, organza princess frocks, and boxes of glitter and pipe cleaners and glue.

And a walk down Brick Lane with a good friend one warm July evening sealed the deal. We were misfits among the younglings, their ironing board stomachs, their kicker-length dresses. Oh the curry was good. The curry was wonderful. An in-the-know curry house down a side street. Prawn Pathia (no 52.). Tarka Dhal (no 83, as a side). Tiger Beer (cool, straight from the fridge). For the first time, I didn't feel part of a London jigsaw. All the pieces were in place elsewhere. Snug. Watertight. I was an outsider looking in, a suburban creature now, petunias and lobelia hanging from garden baskets.

But do I care? Do I really care? Actually no, not one minuscule jot. I always thought I'd spin vinyl forever, hearing aid on, false teeth floating in a glass beside the 1210's. So glad it won't turn out this way. I became a mother. Anxious, terrified, hormonally insane. Fragile. The meniscus formed on water. But over time, the edges levelled and rounded. I greeted the hidden notes, I met myself, all the shitty narrative. Acceptance. I discovered love without limit. My skin was safe, a good place to be.

I am in full bloom. Not the brilliant petals of a young flower, they belong to years gone by. My cells are dry and sagging. No, I'm like an ageing sunflower head, one you might find at August's end. Hundreds of seeds. Dark grey and tear shaped. Ripe with insight, with purpose. I'm getting the gist of this middle aged lark. Now is the time of harvest, when originality might finally find place, and shine. I am both neurotic and at peace with myself. And this makes me smile...

This is the second day of the seasonal linky One Week. From Monday till Wednesday, I'll be posting a photograph(s) and a few words that diarises and distills my experience of summer '13. Take a peep at the details here. You can join in for one, two ... or the full three days. And don't forget to add #oneweek on Twitter, and comment on each others posts...

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Sunday 8 September 2013

#One Week - Summer '13 - The Zen of Washing

...And so I stared at the naked notepad in front of me, then to the calendar, then back to the white pages. How was I going to fill the six weeks ahead of me? A list. I had to make a list. An itinerary of entertainment. Visits to farms. Visits to parks. Play dates...

We had busy days and slow days, and not-putting-on-clothes-till-gone-lunch time days.

And what was the common thread that wove together the full and the empty?

Why the washing line of course.  

I finally have a washing line. Not even since the days of my mother's whirligig. It stretches from a grey pole at the front of the garden to the fence at the back. This line has become a ritual steeped in yoga. Everything slows down pegging up the knickers and socks. There are wooden pegs and pink pegs and blue pegs. I use two pegs for shirts, three for bed sheets, one for bras. There's something undeniably satisfying when the washing dries in the blink of an eye. Then, the smell of air dried, sun-kissed clothes. Perfect.

No, I am not a fifties housewife; but I have discovered a middle way, a slice of zen, in watching Younger Dads boxer's waft in the breeze, or the way the arms of his upturned checked shirts swing like those of lazy monkeys.

My washing line. A not so subtle social commentary. Here's what it says about us. Father. Mother. Child. That I wear too much blue. That Little A has the best socks. The garden across hangs uniform rows of dark socks or plain white shirts. To my mind, that says corporate worker bee. Clock in. Clock out. What my line doesn't reveal is lover of cheesecake, and writer, and listener, and friend.

My washing line. A transparent narrative in the art of obsession. When I dress the line, I am clothing a body from top to bottom. First Younger Dad's shirts, the hanging monkeys, followed by t-shirts and trousers, underwear and socks; all dangling over the wooden play house. Little A passes the pegs. We make our way up the lawn item by item, the odd drunken butterfly, tissue winged and white,  looping towards the buddleia nearby. I don't like to muddle the order of clothes. Visually, it would look plain wrong. A row of broken teeth. Jagged and disjointed. I prefer a smooth graduation, from long trouser legs to size-eight-little-person socks. A flow respecting an order in height.

The bedclothes are an entirely different story, one told every Thursday morning. The duvet covers and bed sheets divide the garden in two, hiding the borders and the gravel pathway. When they're dismantled, I'm a magician reuniting a pair of legs and a lonely torso. A garden conjured, complete again.

I love nothing more than unpegging the line at day's end, a calming marker, in company of mellow wood pigeons, shy rustling of silver birch, and the screaming children two doors down. I take pleasure in folding the clothes, watching the pile grow; a multi-layered cake. I roll Younger Dad's boxers into giant cigars, shove Little A's knickers down available spaces. And when it's completely full, the line bounces up with joy, a return to freedom; relieved from the weight of our family of three.

This is the first day of the seasonal linky One Week. Over the next three days (Monday till Wednesday) I'll be posting a photograph(s) and a few words that diarises and distills my experience of summer '13. Take a peep at the details here. You can join in for one, two ... or the full three days. And don't forget to add #oneweek on Twitter, and comment on each others posts...

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Friday 26 July 2013

Out to Lunch

Have you ever sat in a jar of marmalade? I have. These last few weeks. Sticky. My skin ripening, a pale orange tone. I have a sallow complexion, I like to think almost olive, although I suspect many Southern Europeans would laugh at that assertion.

The heat. I love the heat, the giddy temperatures, the smell of sun cream, lolly pops, chilled beer. And after such a shoddy spring, I can't bring myself to complain about the dial soaring past thirty-one degrees. I hope it continues long into September, when golden leaves shine like the sun, and I'm a shrivelled satsuma.

With all this ghastly summer stuff going on, I've barely been near this blog. Writing is very much an indoor pursuit. And the words ain't flowing with the sunshine.... it's like scratching sentences with a fork.

Today, Little A and I stood on a cliff, below the waves and a little boat made for two, across on the horizon, the very faint view of another coast line. A signpost lent next to our spot. It pointed in the direction of the far away land. It said 'Autumn Term'. So Little A and I must navigate ourselves through the summer sea - there will be calm, there will be storms, but we must work as a *captain-second mate team (*I am the captain) if we are to reach the other shore in one piece. There will be play dates and parks and butterflies and fairies and tea and cake and lazing and staring at the skies....

And with so much to enjoy and do, I am taking a much deserved break from Blogland over August. I simply want to sit back and relish the time with my family. The garden awaits. As does wonderful mummy-daughter time. There are my summer reads, brand new, stacked on the book shelf. And there is my novel..... the only written words these next six weeks.

I will return - if I can stay away that long - on 9th September with One Week which will only run for three days from 9-11 September as I am going to a Writing Festival, and actually, if I'm honest, I'm worried I've run out of ideas to extend it to the usual five days.....

So until we meet again, when the nights are drawing in, adieu and farewell.


Ps. I am also cutting back on my blog reading, so please don't be offended if I don't comment as often over the next month or so. I will be back!  

Tuesday 9 July 2013

On Hold

The garden. It has pulled me from fug and haze. Saved me from tears and tantrums.

But therein lies a problem.

Beer. Sunshine. Alfresco dining. Strawberries and ice cream. Potting. Planting, Growing. Admiring.

There's been very little writing the past fourteen days.  

Every time I've stepped on the gravel, viewed the surrounding beauty, a tempting voice in my head coaxes my wallet, 'just one more pot - a small one along side those larger two would look perfect,' 'one more hardy shrub,' 'another flowering sage,' 'more lavender.' And then to the garden centre, my new, bestest hangout. Younger Dad has told me STOP. But I can't help myself. I have a store card. 10% off all plants. A free cup of tea. What's a girl supposed to do eh?

And it's not just flora. I've purchased garden stakes, a Buddha head, a fat stone hippo, a wooden wind chime. The latest buy, a garden table and chairs. Heaven help me....

Do you think I am indoors writing this? Mais non. 

I'm sat under the parasol, breathing in the air, blue sky, the hollowed harmonics of the wind chime, pinks, creams, mauve, electric blues. White lavender. Purple lavender. The feathery green acer, the russet red.

The spindly flowers of the tomato plant. The bright orange trumpets of the courgette - the way they suddenly open, then curl in, fingers entwined. The ripening strawberries. The fattening lettuce leaves.

I am so looking forward to a long lazy summer.

Social media is on hold. 

Mammasaurus - How Does Your Garden Grow?

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