Chickens and Sewing Boxes

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A few months ago I heard, by chance, about a job in a workshop that’s not two and a half hours (by train) from The Boy, so I decided to get in touch. A number of emails, a couple of visits and a week’s trial later and they offered me the job, which was rather exciting. And then the stress of finishing my long-term projects in my current job, finding a flat and dealing the Kafka-esque bureaucracy (seriously, Switzerland, Das Schloss is a sort of satire; not something to model your system on) hit me. So I was pretty glad to get back to Blighty for 10 days’ break in the real world.

Unfortunately a couple of weeks before I got back we lost all but two of our chickens to the fox. The two that survived were fairly traumatised but seemed to have bonded over the experience. 10 ex-battery hens were parachuted in to comfort them (and to continue the egg supply.) They were unbeLIEVEably scrawny, poor things (my sister described them as oven-ready, which just about nailed it) and looked rather forlorn compared to our remaining, glossy birds.

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The new feathers are coming through, but for now they look a bit like hedgehog spines.

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A feather-duster chicken.

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Ex-battery bottoms, and well-feathered ones.

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This one reminds me of Roadrunner.

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A brave hen investigating an equally brave cat.

I’m normally collared to do a bit of mending whenever I go home, because a) I’m often at a loose end without my own sewing projects and b) I’m still at the stage where I actually rather enjoy it. This time however my dad needed something stretchy mended, and since my mum’s ancient, hand-cranked sewing machine doesn’t do zig-zagging, so I retrieved my Granny’s machine from the loft, got out my other Grandma’s sewing box and used them both. (Actually after a promising start, when I actually came to use the zig-zag stitch I couldn’t get it to work properly. I think there’s a problem with a cam – the needle moves both up and down and side to side, but the two directions aren’t properly in sync with each other.)

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Cat approved.

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Between photographing chickens, trees and sheep, I also managed to get in a bouldering session with my sister, bake two not-entirely-successful batches of hot cross buns and see a number of friends including the little girl who has now thoroughly out-grown this, which I made for her last September:

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And indeed, this (which I hope she hasn’t yet outgrown:)

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Two nights before I left we caught the end of Storm Katie (or rather, the end Storm Katie caught us) and we came down in the morning to find a branch from one of the pine trees in the drive, a dent in the bonnet and the car’s badge on the floor. It’s been around since Lady Di hasn’t, so on its last hubcaps anyway.

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Sunday Evening

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Our car was one of a hundred, a thousand perhaps; like a stream of ants going between waypoints, with nothing to do on the way except ensure that the journey is uninterrupted. Back towards the anthill we marched, and if ants can’t plug in a Walkman and sing along to Tom Waits as they drive it’s only a minor discrepancy. I wonder if ants ever look up at the landscape and objects that they pass, and see that the sun – the first proper sun of spring – is casting a receding golden wash over the top storeys of the taller buildings.
A combination of the sunlight and the grainy booze-infused portal to Tom’s world – a world where the carpet needs a haircut and the piano’s been on the sauce – made me say “Let’s get out and walk for a bit.” And so this particular ant swung out of the column and into a side street. I cut Tom off mid-growl and we left the car and took the flight of steps opposite two at a time. Some internal reserve of energy that I didn’t know about seemed to have been activated by the evening’s somewhat expectant calm. The air whispered, waiting for spring’s tendrils to start pushing through the remains of winter.

The city lies in a valley, the old centre spread across the flat of the valley floor, while the hill sides to north and south are arrayed with fine houses and tall trees watching over the spires and towers and little roof-top terraces, looking out across rural urbia to the hill on the other side. From the winding cobbley street below, the layers upon layers of houses that climb the hills glare stoically, sombrely down. Standing guard. Always watching.
Roads wind up the hill sides, but in between and crammed into the gaps between the houses are flights of wooden-edged stairs. I lost track of how many flights we climbed, chasing the sun’s departing rays. They had already left the tallest towers of the lower city. We had to search higher.

When my breath was clawing like nails at my lungs, I stopped to look back at the city. Fairy lights were wound along a balcony rail below me, even though the sky was still light, and the almost-full moon hung in the branches of a bare, knobbly beech tree like a pale grapefruit. The top of the southern hill opposite – my hill – crested with bristly larch and bottle-brush spruce was turning slowly from green to grey.

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We followed the streets and stairs still further, to the layer of the city before the top, and came out opposite a wall guarding the muddy garden of a monstrous, square white house that squatted on top of the hill like a Vogon settled defiantly in the garden of Eden. Over the Vogon’s shoulder, however, were tantalising wisps of pink cloud promising something far more spectacular. The view from on-tiptoes, on-the-wall, was still unsatisfying. So we took the last flight of stairs and marched up a gravel path until the sky to north and west was as open as it can be in such hilly country.

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We had missed the sun – it couldn’t have been expected to stick around while we climbed 200 or so feet up the hill to see it off – but it had left several thin ribbons of golden fire floating above the hills where it had gone down. The trails of aeroplanes far above shone like little glow-worms. The sky above the hills went from purest gold on the horizon to a greyish winter-blue above us, and fantastic rose and dusky purple clouds crept in from above the lake which lay, unseen, away to our right. The swirls and ripples looked so contrived that in a film it would be mistaken for a lazy CGI job. I said “If we painted this now, exactly as it is, no-one would believe us. They’d say we exaggerated it for effect.”
The strips of gold floated higher and their light began to diffuse. The pink clouds inched closer to the gold. Three teenagers passed behind us, chattering in clipped dialect. Voices high, jeans low. The magic broke. We headed back down the hill.

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The street lights had come on now, like more fairy-lights draped along the streets of a toy town. A couple of snowy mountains peered through a gap in the hills. I wanted to push the hills back so that Säntis had a better view. I watched my feet carefully on the stairs. If I tripped and fell, I might knock over the cathedral, or crash through the carefully-placed little streets and houses.

We didn’t follow the same route back, so as the houses grew once again to full size around us, we turned down a back road and into an unlit street. All of the buildings in the row were dark except for one room, from which light, veiled by semi-transparent gauze curtains, spilled. Muffled swing music seeped out of the room too, and I stopped level with one of the curtained windows. Once my eyes had agreed to ignore the gauze and look into the room beyond, I could see the couples dancing, and the sports hall, the mirror on the opposite wall and exercise balls on a rack above it.

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“That… looks like Lindy Hop” I said. I’m not an expert, but we were taken to a taster lesson by a friend in the area once, and the movements of the dance were distinctive. He laughed and said “It is Lindy Hop!” and we stared some more. I pointed at a large, slightly brooding figure at the far end of the hall: “And that looks like…” He stepped nearer and peered more closely through the curtain. “Yes! It is!” he said. We looked at each other and laughed at the strange serendipity of the moment. The music stopped and the women all moved one partner anti-clockwise. Now that he was standing still we could see more clearly. “And that girl… she was in the group that I was in the mountains with the other week!”
When the music started again we tried to recall the dance steps, but the dancers, far more advanced than we were, gave few clues to the basic steps that we’d been taught. Eventually he hopped over the fence at the side of the building and ran up the sloping path to a small uncurtained window, floor-level on the outside, but high up in the inner sports hall wall. “You can see better from here.” We crouched down and watched, looking like children that hadn’t been invited to the party. “It’s the same teacher we had!” I’d already seen. He was hard to forget. Pale hair and skin; a t-shirt, trousers and a boater-style hat on his head, even when walking, he moved with grace and purpose.
The music, slightly tinny, came through an air-vent a few metres away on the wall, and we attempted the steps again, trying not to stumble off the narrow path into the damp soil beside it.

Eventually I said “You know, we still have to cook this evening.” We climbed back over the fence and ran the rest of the way along the street, feeling like naughty children who have been spying on their elders. We skipped back to the car. The stream of ants was smaller now. We rejoined it and headed back to our anthill.

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Where I went: West Dean

My Easter break was an extended one – the Friday after Easter was the start of a bi-annual 9-day violin restoration course, which I’d been hoping to attend for some time, and not only because of the fantastic learning environment that everyone who comes back from it talks about. What they also talk about is the almost magical bubble that you disappear into, and the waking-from-dreamland state you find yourself having to deal with at the end of it.

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Respect your Elders: Two Ideas for How.

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It’s just about the middle of the elderflower season here. Since any blossom is only out for a short time, the differences in timing across the country is quite stark. For example at the weekend we took a wander up the hill (these are Swiss hills, you understand, not little English mounds,) to a village that is 530 ft higher than the city, and their lilac was still in full bloom, whereas ours was more than a month ago. And my boyfriend’s parents had the peak of their elderflower season a good few weeks ago, and their village is a good 700 or so feet closer to sea level than I am.

But I digress. Every year, I see the flowers on the elder trees and bushes and I think “oh I must make some elderflower cordial / champagne / gin / vodka.” I love foraging, the idea of making scrumptious things from natural ingredients Continue reading “Respect your Elders: Two Ideas for How.”

Middle Spring

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Welcome back to the blog after my unofficial Easter break. There’s been a massive leap in the progression of spring in the 10 days that I was away. The leaves are no longer pretending that they’re just peering blearily out of the buds, and the blossom is prolific. Continue reading “Middle Spring”

Some creative plans for warmer seasons

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Here are a couple of plans for clothes for the warmer seasons. I’m determined to start making a larger proportion of my wardrobe, and buying much less. I’m the sort of person that considers time wasted if I don’t have anything physical to show for it. I have to have a knitting project on the go to take when travelling somewhere by train, or watching a film. Setting out my plans on paper is a good idea for someone like me, because it makes me feel as though I’ve done something useful towards my project once it’s in hard copy, it feels like a commitment rather than a random idea, and I’m much more likely to get started. Continue reading “Some creative plans for warmer seasons”

Agnes Jumper (3)

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Agnes was finished two weeks ago, but until this weekend I haven’t had a chance to get any pictures of Agnes-in-action. Spring is definitely springing, and this afternoon was lovely and sunny, although the wind still nips a bit, demonstrating that Agnes is perfect for the days that the sun through my kitchen window persuades me that going out without a coat is a clever idea. Continue reading “Agnes Jumper (3)”