Empty Nests and recipe postcards

Nineteen years ago this week our youngest child was born; and on almost the same day years later, she’s flown the nest to university. And so the next stage of all our lives begins; an exciting, sometimes scary, emotional rollercoaster of readjustment.

I’ve had SO much advice from friends, acquaintances and even strangers about how to cope with ’empty nest syndrome’ over the last few weeks but I think I’m more prepared for this than for any other event in my life so far. I’m prepared for the quietness, the abundance of food, the tidy house and the space that the two of us have for the first time in twenty two years. I’ve abandoned myself to the inevitable waves of grief that will wash over me. (I’m a Celt. My feelings are never too far from the surface.) “Grief is the price we pay for love,” my own mother told me, long before the press were quoting the late queen Elizabeth. Grief comes with the realisation that I am no longer part of my children’s day-to-day lives, that one or other of them will not be here to share a joke, or a moan or a funny anecdote about my day when I come home from work and that the old days of #teamsmart are in the past. I’m even at peace with the fact that we didn’t get to do half the things I wanted to do with them all, despite having twenty two years to accomplish it. Robert Burns was right about what happens to plans.

The natural rhythms of life prepare you for the changes ahead. Children grow up and spend more time with peers than parents before they move out. Temporary loss of those you hold dear prepares you for final partings. I have a faith and I’ve had a practice run with the boys. Now that the last of our chicks has flown the nest, I know how to trust that all will be well. We have nurtured strong, independent humans with good sense; they provide mutual support for each other rather than leaning on us; they know there’s a warm, safe space at home but they also know how to build a home away from home and that it isn’t always easy but it is worth it, because it is yours.

I won’t be turning bedrooms into sewing rooms or renting them out any time soon; neither will they be shrines to their childhoods. I won’t be initiating contact every day but I will answer queries straight away about black mould in showers, washing disasters and budgeting. I will enjoy being a couple again and never forget that we are parents. I am not defined by being a mother of three but it is the most important job I have ever done or will ever do. I have plenty to fill my time, some decisions to make and some changes to initiate but I am a Celtic mother. The Christmas pantry is already underway for when we are all together again in a few weeks’ time and I’m sending favourite recipes to three corners of the British Isles on a regular basis with handwritten notes. They are special postcards from the plot for three much-loved young people who are striking out on their own.

Sloe (sic) down

I’m pretty sure time moves faster at the end of the school holidays. There’s the usual scramble to pack in so much to the last few days, not least because we have two September birthdays and three young ‘uns to see off to university in different parts of the UK. But this year I am determined to keep the calm summer vibe into the autumn. Having too many tasks to achieve in the time available is standard for a teacher it seems; ironically creative thinking and efficiency – essential for teachers – spring from having time to focus and reflect. I have always attempted to prevent cognitive overload in my pupils; teachers need to cut themselves the same slack, I think.

It seems as though Mother Nature is running at double quick speed too as the sloes have already put in an appearance. It’s usually best to wait to pick until the first frosts but by then they’ll have rotted on the trees. If they’re squashable, pick them now and stow them in the freezer for 24 hours to burst the skins. Then follow one of any number of online recipes to make sloe gin for Christmas. By then you are probably imagining being huddled in one room by the fire, wearing all your clothes at once to stay warm and keep spiralling energy costs down. A few glugs of sloe gin might be very welcome.

The New Moon yesterday brought transition, transformation and new intentions into sharper focus. Home alone for a few hours I sat outside after dark with candles, a coffee, my notebook and a pen. I’m a born again listmaker, as those of you who have been here before will know. I let my mind wander and noted down what appealed.

There are big changes afoot as we get used to the empty nest. As summer moves into autumn, as well as reaping the harvest, thoughts inevitably turn to the cold, dark days ahead, to death and renewal. Bear with me – I’m not remotely maudlin. Now seems a good time to pay attention to the detail and put in the work to shape a different and, in some ways better future; one where every day brings moments of deep contentment, taking me closer to what I really want out of life, rather than relegating this to the school holidays. I’m thinking big but starting small, clearing the emotional (and actual) clutter. I’m attempting to live in the moment, giving it my full attention, avoiding whatifs and, on no account, striving for material goods. Enough is plenty.

I’ve neglected my passion for amateur theatre since before lockdown but am about to go into rehearsal for Blithe Spirit in November and I’ve long wanted to volunteer to do some bereavement counselling so have sent an exploratory email to Cruse. Little acorns which will bring me fulfillment in the future. I hope whatever the next few months bring for you there will be moments of deep contentment. Lots of them.

Making plans for next year

I’m filling in my 2021 diary, making plans for next year – I’m an optimist- determined to bring some balance to my life.

2020 did not bring the opportunity to spring clean the attic, clear cluttter, redecorate the entire house or learn Swedish. Neither did I sit back and reevaluate during lockdown. School life, if anything was busier than usual. The box of tulip bulbs in the garden shed that has been awaiting planting since October is a testament to that.

So what of 2021? More walking, more cooking, more gardening, directing a play, more family time, home improvements maybe finally getting that part in The Archers and, God willing, everyone staying healthy. All these are going in the diary before work commitments. Today’s first step was to pot up some paperwhites (finally) and to order these fragrant beauties for the garden – two more daphnes, a Carolina allspice and a winter honeysuckle.

Aftrr all, teaching is just a job. There. I’ve said it. Probably for the first time in my life. It’s what 2020 has taught me.

Christmas Cake 2020

This year’s Christmas cake is in the oven – an annual half term job. More than ever this year I feel the need to prepare for a truly memorable Christmas. Nothing fancy – just the simple pleasures of family walks, log fires, books, board games and comfort food. I am a Celtic mother after all.

I used Mary Berry’s Christmas cake recipe this year but substituted honey for treacle, cut out the nuts as some of the family don’t care for them and used my own special mix of dried fruits. The fruit was liberally soaked in brandy for four days prior to cooking (obviously) and will be fed once a week with more brandy until Christmas – if I remember. Sometimes I don’t- but the cake is all the better for getting slowly sozzled.

I enjoy October Half Term more than any other holiday with its colourful Autumn walks, bulb planting and tidying up the garden, store cupboard cooking for Christmas, bonfires and domestic chores. The gutters have been cleared and cleaned, the firewood chopped and stacked, the quince tree mostly harvested, the dresser cleaned and polished with beeswax and the tree surgeon and oven cleaning guru are booked to do their magic over the next few weeks. The latter, I admit is a bit of an indulgence but I treated myself and my still-broken arm. Full time teaching in a new school during a pandemic, all the while without proper use of one arm needs rewarding somehow. A professional oven clean and a vastly expensive bottle of elderberry tincture to ward off the usual school lergi should be just the job.

More about elderberry tincture to follow.

Summer 2019: Charity Shop Finds

Yesterday on St Swithun’s Day – a golden day – I drove across the Wiltshire downs to Marlborough for a mooch around the bookshops and charity shops.

A lovely shabby chic pot holder and pots caught my eye. I’m going to smarten it up at the same time as repainting the terrace table and chairs – an annual task as they’re outside in use all year round. They’ll hold herbs in the summer and candles in the winter, I think.

I also found a copy of Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, ripe for making copious director’s notes in preparation for next summer’s show at the Tithe Barn in Bradford on Avon, which I’m directing. A gloriously atmospheric gothic tale of Cornish smugglers.

Teacher’s are never idle in the summer holidays

An actor’s life for me

Playing the nurse in Romeo and Juliet in performance

All teachers are actors, right? We’ve had a theatre company in school today and the whole experience was energising for  me and my students. Above all it made me reflect on how much of a kick I get out of acting and of working with a group of friends and strangers who become friends on a creative project. There’s fun and camaraderie to be had, skills to develop and a sense of a achievement in putting on a performance which brings joy to so many people. I even enjoy the inevitable stresses which come with working under pressure.

and in rehearsal

As my students (and my own children) approach the final leg of exam courses it seems vital to me that they continue to pursue creative and sporting endeavours alongside their studies. Balance is all for a healthy and fulfilling life.



Thoughts of summer.

Astrid Bishop brilliantly operating our awesome puppet dog Sammy with Douglas Bessant as Willie Beech

There’s never enough time to fit in much in the way of theatrical productions in the first term of the school year; but round about now it’s time to start thinking of next summer’s large-scale production at the 14th century Tithe Barn in the middle of town. It’s my way of escaping the greyness of January – along with preparing to sow seeds when the weather warms up and the odd jug of indoor bulbs like these crocuses. 

The first week of my school holidays last summer was production week for ‘Goodnight Mister Tom’, one of my favourite stories and a project that has been part of my life for a long-time as I waited for the script to be written, published and available for license. We played to packed and appreciative houses over five nights in the Tithe Barn in the midst of a heatwave.

It was a huge team effort, as indeed is every Bradfordians’ production and a great way to begin the summer holidays.

This week we heard that we have been nominated for two more awards for local theatre – best Dramatic Production and Best Company Crafted Production, which delights me no end because it rewards every single person involved in the show – and this truly was an ensemble piece.

A bit of drama is good for you, a real hygge experience, as I’ve written before. And so I was overjoyed when the script for this year’s production Tess of the Durbevilles landed in my in box for perusal, prior to auditions in March. It has the director Phil Courage’s signature jaw-droppingly visually powerful final scene and I for one can’t wait to get involved.

While living in the moment is to be recommended above all else, having something to look forward to is good too.


Potted bulbs and gardening



December 20th -Potted bulbs and gardening

Paperwhites for Christmas with glass baubles from Sarah Raven. It’s a Country Gate tradition – even though there are bags of tulips in the garden shed which still need planting, a million leaves blowing around the garden which need to be bagged to make leaf mould and sweet peas to sow in the greenhouse. If it ever stops raining, I will get out in the garden for a green workout as an antidote to the mince pies!

A Circle of Love

December 19th – Christmas wreaths made with love

Some years I’ve made my own wreath from homegrown apples and chillis; sometimes a simple holly ring; I even contemplated fashioning one from Brussels Sprouts when we had an abundance; last year it was made by a student on a horticultural therapy project; and then there was the year our super special wreath made by Sara Willman, long time friend and one time business partner was stolen from our front door whilst we were having supper in the kitchen. The youngest member of the family spotted it being torn from the door; we gave chase but the thieves were super speedy and Sara, bless her heart, made us another.

Here is this year’s made by Sara. She has created dozens overthe last few wweeks and helped countless others create their own. If you are anywhere near Upavon then check out her workshops and home grown blooms of gorgeousness. It was so lovely to catch up on all her flowery plans for next year over a coffee today as I collected this beauty.

Thanks Sara.


Time to say goodbye

I can’t remember when I took on my allotment. I know I applied for one when we first moved to Bradford on Avon and I waited nearly three years on the ‘list’ so it must have been ten years ago, judging by these photos of the children with their allotment beds. 







After months of clearing brambles, weeds and even mounds of rubbish which had been buried and covered with old carpet I started to grow potatoes to break up the soil and planted some raspberry canes, strawberries, gooseberries, currants and rhubarb. Gradually I laid some wood chip paths, built a double compost bin from recycled wood and installed some raised beds. I collected dozens of green wine bottles which I used to edge the long cut flower bed and planted herbs and foliage plants to add to cut flower bouquets but I never really tamed it.  It was always on the edge of getting out of control as I fought back the encroaching brambles, the council hedge which was rarely trimmed as resources were cut and the huge diseased horse chestnut trees and hedge on the edge of the neighbouring municipal golf course, which never were.

I have spent hundreds of hours on the allotment with the children when they were small and working alone as they got older and gardening became less interesting for them. They even coined the phrase ‘allotment time’ to describe my propensity for nipping over there for half an hour and coming back four hours later. Best of all I have fed my family with homegrown produce and grown hundreds of my favourite flowers for cutting.

In truth I have a difficult relationship with my allotment. I loathe the inaccessibility when it’s time to mulch with compost or manure, the lack of water – no standpipe and regulations preventing putting up a shed from which I could harvest rainwater, the visiting badger who is determined to dig up bulbs as soon as they are planted and knows exactly when the sweetcorn is ripe enough to eat and the occasional thieves who pop in and help themselves to whatever they fancy. I’m not too keen on the person who regularly allows their dog to defecate in front of the gate and doesn’t pick it up. But I love the space to grow, to be alone with my thoughts only two minutes’ walk from home and the memories of the children growing up playing archaeologists and then learning to grow things over ten years.And the herbs grow better on the allotment than in the garden.

I have nurtured this little piece of Bradford on Avon for a long time but everything has its season and returning to the classroom has given me even less time to spend on growing. I need a space i can pop out to for ten minutes before leaving for work or whilst the supper is cooking and , in all honesty, it won’t be long before the children fly the nest and I want to make the most of the years we have left. I’ve put in two potager beds in the garden now that it no longer serves as a football pitch and so the time is right to let the allotment go.

Over the last few months I’ll admit that I have struggled with this. I thought about looking for a partner to share the allotment but that didn’t seem quite right and now that I’ve made the decision to give it up I am at peace. I remain true to my precept of always leaving a place better than I found it. I hope the next keeper of plot 2b has as much joy as I have over there. I’m even a little excited to see how it develops in someone else’s hands.

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