Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Parting Gift

Pascoe was about to leave.  Nigel had already driven off with the twins. 
If you had only two hours before your oldest child disappeared off to a neighbouring country, what how would you choose to spend the time?
Well near us, there’s an old gravel pit, now a picturesque lake, where Pascoe once learned to sail.  He spent many hours in and on the water and I spent many hours by it.  To while away the hours, I used to watch the grebes.
We decided that we just about had time for a walk round the lake.
As so often, we saw the grebes with their sharply drawn plumage.  A pair of them were sitting in the water, bobbing their heads at each other.
“You know, Pascoe, for the last couple of years I’ve had it on my to-do list to see the courtship display of the great crested grebe.”
“For longer than that Mum.”
“It’s meant to be pretty spectacular.”
Disappointingly, the pair stopped head-bobbing and dived beneath the water. 
“No.  I’ve still never seen the whole display.”
“Maybe it’s just after they dive that they do it,” joshed Pascoe.
I laughed, and we walked on.
But something made me look back at the gleaming water.  The grebes had re-emerged.  Heads down, they were speeding towards one another, low in the water.
As we watched, the grebes met each other and somehow stood up in the water.  And finally, the male presented the female with the magical gift of a strand of weed, the clincher, the bit I’d never seen before.

“That’s it, Mum, you can tick it off your list now.”

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Now you see it...

For a couple of weeks, the house was full.  Deep into the morning there were lumpy figures snoring in all the beds.  Friends appeared some evenings and I was cooking each day for somewhere between five and eight people.
We were ourselves again, except better.  I felt like inviting John Boy and all the other Waltons over to show them what a really great family was like, but sadly couldn’t find their phone number.  And the weather.  Even the weather was wonderful –bright and brisk.  We tramped through bluebell woods and climbed grassy hills together with our friends the Thompsons.  We were backlit like the idyll scene in a nineteen-seventies’ film.  Think Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
And then, on Bank Holiday Monday, suddenly, it was over.  Still-damp washing was crammed into suitcases.  Parting gifts of home-made wine and jam were wrapped in newspaper for the journey.  There was a lot of head-scratching round our apparently broken bicycle rack.  Finally it was resolved.  Or not.  And then Perran and Carenza scrambled into the car and were gone in a puff of exhaust.
I took Pascoe to the station a couple of hours later.  
So had the past two weeks been just an illusion?

I went back into the house and saw the heap of sheets that needed washing – no illusion at all.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Carnivorous eels?

Dan helps Pascoe and Nigel
Pascoe’s next adventure in helping elderly relations concerned Nigel and I – we needed assistance with our garden pond. 
“Will it involve killer spiders this time?” he asked suspiciously.
“Of course not,” we replied, but we didn’t quite meet his eyes  – who knew what was in there.  One friend whose goldfish were disappearing mysteriously had discovered an angry eel at the bottom of his pond.

The lining had ruptured and floated to the top of our pond.  We now had left only two of the magnificent koi carp we inherited seven years ago, and one of those looked sick.  Maybe this was the time to convert it into the wildlife pond I’d always wanted. 
Dan arrived too and together with Nigel, he and Pascoe moved the carp into a huge paddling pool and drained the pond.
What they found in the gungy bottom of the pond was not, however, a huge carnivorous eel.
“Mum,” called Pascoe, and I came out to the wonderful sight of frogs, tadpoles, dragonfly nymphs, and best of all, newts. 
The pond had already begun to turn itself into a wildlife haven.
Pascoe was my favourite person for a bit until he said,
“I’m putting the newts in this bucket in case you need their eyes for anything, Mum.”
Then I got the Macbeth reference – the witches making their spell. 
Thanks Pascoe. 
My new best friend

Now where did I put that poisonous spider?

Saturday, 19 April 2014

The Lawn-mower of death

Photo by Pascoe - my hand shaking too much.
Pascoe has been at home with us this Easter, and as a strapping young man with ingenuity and enormous patience, older family members are taking advantage of his presence to get those awkward little jobs done. 
One such task awaited us in Cornwall.  His Granddad needed to replace his large and leaky shed, but there was heaps of stuff in it, including those conundrums – purchasing mistakes.  There were in the shed an unwieldy electric mower, a garden vacuum cleaner and a hedge trimmer which just weren’t useful to my father.   
“It seems a shame to throw them out when they’re in good condition.”
“Don’t worry, Dad, we can take them away with us and eBay or Frecycle them.” (I speak Internet)
After some token protests from my father, Pascoe waded into the depths of the shed after the items.  They were a bit cobwebby so I brushed them down. 
Pascoe got a brush too and turned the lawnmower over to clean it.  I was about to say – “Don’t bother, I’ve already done that,”  when two huge spiders appeared from behind the blades.  They had long black legs and mottled red abdomens.
“False widows!”  I shrieked.
“Oh, they’re no trouble, said my Dad, there are loads of them in the shed.”
Pascoe manfully exterminated the arachnids with fly spray. 
I needed to sit down.  We all went in for a cup of tea.  On our return, Pascoe lifted up the lawnmower to check that the large spiders were dead, but half a dozen more, smaller false widows dropped out of it and started to scuttle off.  There was clearly a nest of poisonous spiders in the workings .  I screamed and ran down the drive.
When I came back, Pascoe was dismantling the lawnmower and spraying fly killer into it.  I began to make “Don’t really want that in the car” noises. 
Dad, however, really didn’t want it cluttering up his shed any more and was reciprocating with “You said you’d get rid of it” noises.
Pascoe was now checking my identification of the spiders using his mobile phone and the web (ha!). 
“Definitely false widows.  But look here – it says their bite has never yet been fatal in the UK, and it’s usually not much worse than a wasp sting.”
“There you go,” said Dad, “You’ll be fine.”
“Dad – it’s a five and a half hour drive home on the motorway.  Have you ever heard of the film Snakes on a Plane?”
Finally I solved the issue by spotting that it was bin day and pushing the lawnmower down the drive to stand next to the bin.  We went out for a walk and when we came back the lawn-mower of death had gone.
“I paid over seventy quid for that,” muttered my father, ruefully.

That was over two days ago and Pascoe is still enjoying creeping up behind me and tickling the back of my neck.   He has learnt a lot of choice new words from me. 

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Suddenly Summer

Photo by Hannah Thompson
So we wanted to make sure that we got together as a family over the summer. Over a two-week period of nagging, I extracted term dates from the offspring and we then went ahead and rented a cottage in the UK at a point when we should all have been available.  Then Perran got a Summer job and couldn’t join us.  Then Carenza realised she had exams after what should have been the end of term and would join us later.  Pascoe had succeeded in putting the time aside for us, but even so, when would all five of us be together again?
Seems like the answer is now.  At Easter. 
Offspring have appeared from each corner of the country and taken up residence.  It is as if they had never been away.  I have to keep reminding myself that this is an illusion.  I am no longer here – I am training to teach.  And my children are no longer here – they are studying.  Except that now there is food to be bought, beds to be made up, relatives to be visited.  Just like the old days.

 I look at the weather forecast.  It’s going to be cloudy.  It might rain.  There’s a chill breeze.  But whatever it says, as a family, our summer is now.