The laying on of bricks

Brimscombe is a rather unique place, dear readers, which is a converted factory in Stroud that used to be Damien Hirst’s workshop.

It’s now used both as accom for WRG which is ‘waterway recovery group’ which is quietly and rather ‘under the radar’ restoring the nation’s canals and a 2nd hand book shop raising money for same.

Have you seen the red vans with WRG on the sides? Were you aware, when walking towpaths, cycling or boating on canals, that WRG did its first shovelling in the 1970s? Motto: we didn’t know it was impossible so we did it anyway.

Photos exist of scantily clad muddy foolhardy enthusiasts with no H&S to be seen.

It is in fact quite risky work, what with working at heights, canals being deep, slippery, possible  purveyors of Weil’s disease,  and injuries with huge tools. Yes. And PLANT. Which is big Tonka machines, diggers and dumpers.

But nowadays we have personal protection gear to the max, including high vis to the point of radiance and hard hats and steel toe caps and plastic goggles and gloves. Sometimes all this schtuff feels a bit like overkill (!) but due to lime mortar it is needed. And as I got told, if we fall in, the high vis would help us be seen so we can get fished out, but please don’t as it makes a mountain of paperwork.

So I started with WRG in 2010 after being a NT volunteer before that, since the mid 80s.

These are called working holidays and I liked the idea of a *cheap* holiday and WRG is cheaper than NT, by almost half the price now.

People say, so you’re *paying* to do all that brick laying and wheelbarrowing?

Well technically I am learning skills from brick cleaning to wall preparation, dry stone walling, wacker plates, arbotechs, brick laying, mortar mixing..and the money pays for my food ( lots of it, and not cooked by me personally on a WRG camp, which is a big plus) and cake. And the accom. Which differs from NT accom in that you don’t get a bunk bed in a shared dorm (except for the Haybay  on the Chelmer which must qualify as best place to sleep on a WRG camp?)

Other drawbacks on a NT working week : you have to take your turn cooking on at least one meal, usually more. Plus the rota (same as on a WRG camp), so washing up, etc. And NO BURCO on site on a NT camp which is a HUGE wahhhhh for me, tea being vital.

I would say that the BIG plus for me on a WRG is meeting people like dear Rob, brick whisperer, time and again, but there again you have David, Margot and other adorable folk on a NT camp.

The basic standard of accom on both is not dissimilar , really, so think of a much used rather casually maintained but interesting historically ‘base camp’ so we’re not talking 4 stars. They used to be – and sometimes still are-village halls, so that will tell you.

Two showers at the most between 10 people? Often more than 10. NT tends to have more showers.

I actually prefer NOT sleeping in a dorm tbh as there’s always at least ONE mega snorer, one cougher, one getting up frequently bod, ( and it might be my own self doing all those!) one early riser and zipping and unzipping and lights going on and reading with torches that lights up too much, so it’s me outside in the van. Bliss.

So readers I hope you will consider the laying on of bricks for a week as a new experience- have I sold it to you?

Rebel with an Allotment

So on the 2nd of June I took over my allotment!

I was a bit apprehensive and very nearly said No when my name came to the top of the list, as I thought: I’m so busy already, how will I fit it in?

I’d been down and had a look, and it was overgrown and neglected *but* had rhubarb, apple trees and raspberries in a netted cage .Plus a view of the church, and right next to the  hedged bowling green ( endless odd unintelligible conversations, on the lines of ‘Good wood, Eileen’).

I met a few of the allotmenteers which was another source of trepidation, as what if they were uber bossy? But so far apart from Mr Scruff and Another One who I swear is assessing my value as compost material, they are either absent or silent, so all good there.

So I woke up  the morning after I’d said No and thought: I WANT this, so I rang back and it was very early but she was there, at the council, and I said Yes Please.

And I am so glad I did!

From the first forking of the weeds to the planting of our seeds and beans and coming to water every day and shrieking ‘Look! They’re growing!’ Much to our neighbours’ amusement. They also have been very generous with their surplus plants, so Yayy.

We’ve met birds, toads, frogs and slow worms, and three cats. And rescued a bird caught in the net of the raspberries. And had a bucket load of said rasps. Yum.

Everything tastes immeasurably different!

AND I now have a huge poly tunnel and am experimenting.
The radishes are just spectacular and magical.
STILL more raspberries, a ‘punnet’ or so every day.
I continue to build my raised bed which is hilariously inept, made as it is, of leftover bits of wood, all different sizes and rottenness, and with a dash of brio and zany DIY skills that caused a sharp intake of breath from my son.
But I’m enjoying it, so that’s all that matters.
And I’m learning HOW to be a driller, which is just wonderschon.
I planted a mint plant under the raspberries , and yes, I know it’s a thug, but it should be OK in there.
I’m having the best time doing What I WANT to do and ignoring all the books!
Yayy REBEL of the Allotments.
I read the packet and it says ‘sow in April’ and I think.. well, I only got the plot in June, so how’s that going to happen?


‘There’s just Too Much Politics At the moment’

In 1913  a woman who was determined to make her voice heard ran out at the King’s horse and was knocked flying and trampled.

She dies 4 days later, on June 8th.

June 8th is also the day we are having an ( unexpected ) General Election.

I wonder what Emily would think about the woman who said ‘Oh not more politics, I’m sick of it’.

Emily might also  be surprised that 9 million women didn’t vote in the last election, because :

‘they’re all as bad as each other’

‘my husband votes for us in this house’

‘I can’t be bothered with all that politics stuff’.

These might be the same women who look at the price of courgettes and say ‘Blimey, they’ve gone up’ or ‘Why are there no cheap oranges?’ or ‘I dunno why someone doesn’t do something about the state of the roads’ or ‘My nephew is in a class of 40 now and we got a letter asking us to help with buying text books’.

They might also be told they can’t have that knee replacement or catraract operation, and their Granny was on a trolley in A&E for 12 hours.

4,093 operations were cancelled last year.

Some schools have lost over £500 per pupil, which is why they had to make some teachers redundant, which is why…

but y’know.

Don’t bother voting, and don’t worry about it.

Although I wonder what Emily would say.


Canal capers. ‘What floats your boat?’

There really *is* nothing so nice as messing about on the water, folks. And if, like me, you were feeling uber stressed after yet another speeding fine ( !?) and if, like Pixie you were feeling pretty frazzled after  being i/c a class of wee darlings and if, like Numero Uno son you’d had health issues..but in fact Anybody would be better for a few nights ( in this case) 4.. or even 6.. or more!

Of being away from Traffic, Noise, Hustle and Bustle, Work, People, and the 21st Century generally..

The peace that surpasseth all understanding can be found in a narrow Nature reserve ‘corridor’ that seems unchanged since the industrial age began and horse drawn barges were towed up and down at a pace that we should all aspire to and return to, if only to re-charge.

The quacking of ducks and the gentle chugging of the boat as you proceed through the green water at a pace only slightly faster than an amble, plus the hypnotic sight of GREENery and trees and golden brickwork bridges and vistas and views and willows and swans; fine old buildings coming down to the water’s edge and almost bowing  down to admire themselves in the reflections.

Of course this man -made haven, created in the late 1700s in many cases, has been painstakingly preserved and restored by none other than Volunteers and Enthusiasts, often in the  1960s and ongoing ..

If there is a down side  to all this it *might* be the locks and the only downside there tbh is IF there is an audience and IF there is That Odious man of a certain age ( always over 50) there he will ALWAYS tell you ‘You shouldn’t do it like that, you want to be doing it like this’..Curse him and pity his poor wife. But leave him and his interfering narkiness behind and sit on the arm of the lock gate and watch the rushing waters and marvel at the simple mechanism of a design that survives centuries of use and has not been improved on.

Many fascinating stories can be told of How the canals began and How they were brought back from a sad neglect to their present day idyllic selves.

One of my favourites is a plaque on the Stratford canal : ”SONACS; we were not experts so we did not know what could not be done’ Hutchings, MBE, project leader.”

There’s a lesson for us here; until we try we can’t know what we can do.

Testing Day.

OK well.   There was I , offering to be assessed to see if I was ( like an astronaut)  and had the Right Stuff.

The place was a weird sort of refuge or conciliation or summat Christian reconciliation centre or some such , completely off the beaten track down a long rutted road, shades of The Avengers episodes from the late 60s.

Stained glass and a warren of little rooms and narrow staircases.

Loads of young hopefuls all looking like extras for Game of Thrones.

Plus a guy with handlebar mousetache like a 25 year old Jimmy Edwards.

Started to feel like I was hallucinating.

5am start and somewhat sleep deprived and low blood sugar from no brekkie.

Older folk ( my age)! arrived with one called ..  the lead singer of Rolling Stones, but only one G. Again, I had a strange ‘am I dreaming?’

One of the women was going on about how great her job was and I asked, what is it?

”Admin for an air conditioning company”.

My face.😳

First task was ( shudder) ”Team Activity’

(more shudder) Which comes up next to ‘ice breakers’ on two words you don’t want to see on your agenda.

OK so ( in teams)” build a plastic straw structure with pins which will support a brick”.

Heart sinking.

Later we have the ”blindfold build a tower from wee bricks and your partner tells you what to do” schtick.

Both of them are really ‘how does this person work in a pair or a group? Are they uber bossy/talk too much/take over/ can’t co operate?”

In between we have ‘interviews’ and ‘written plans’ and ‘what to do if one of the dorms floods” and schtuff like that.

We also had: over lunch , while eating, we will observe you ‘chatting’ and doing that ‘getting to know you” malarkey.

If I do say so myself I could’ve waltzed most of the day if I hadn’t been so knakkrd *plus* wondering if – now I’m retired- how desperate am I to have a full week in  charge of about 12 teens? And y’know who might be the person I am teamed with…arghh.

SHE of the  Motor Mouth Micro Managing and telling peeps in exactly what size cm chunks to slice a gourd.

BUT will be interesting to get ‘my score’ as apparently we all will have a feedback which will tell us how suitable we are.

So. Looking fwd to that.

Oh and going back to my ‘ types at the bunk house’

I missed out:

VERY capable dynamic and inexhaustible Women who make you feel like you are watching Wonder woman but not in her red sparkly head band.


Kneels in awe.

AND they are super whizz at jigsaws as well.

Guilt trip

We need this sometimes.
Personally I spend my life in a constant fog of guilt and self recrimination and beat myself up literally ALL the time.
1) what happened to my resolution to de- clutter, de-junk and sort out all the accumulation in this teeny house? There is less and less carpet in here and more and more bags, boxes, piles of schtuff and utter guff.
I am now completely paralysed by the sheer AMOUNT and how long it takes me to do ANY of the chucking and sorting. I’ve now got seven years’ worth plus 4 peoples’ JUNK in here. When I left that school and took a tiny weeny amount of the GEAR from there, literally a car load really and YET I had no room for it and possibly should have left EVERYTHING.
2) Eating. Shouldn’t eat this , that and t’other and should be doing X and Y instead.
3) Exercise. Same as 2. Altho’ I am often going swimming and fairly long walks , mainly so I’m not in the house!

AND I should have done a whole list of things today already, or at least not sat here on my astoundingly wide arse typing away and achieving nowt.. mea culpa maxima culpa

Oh well

On the chucking out.

Once it’s gone, it’s gone. And Then What? Will I suddenly need it? Miss it? Long for it? As I did for my lost toys that I’d kept since I was 5 and left behind in the previous house when that was suddenly  ( bit of a long story there).

So basically I need to weigh up which is worse: having all the clutter against the pain of sorting it and the dread of missing it once I’ve chucked it.

I seem to be in a kind of holding pattern with it. Impasse.

More on that story later..oh and btw that isn’t MY angry christmas rabbit, but it works as an image, no?


Mouse in the house

In the last fortnight my little bit of Bohemia was invaded by rodents , or maybe – hopefully, but highly unlikely to be- just ONE mouse.

Everyone knows the chances of JUST one mouse are enough to fuel the improbability drive to Neptune and back.

So there I was in the bathroom at 7am when suddenly a little rat like creature emerged and was black beady eyes  and dark grey fur about 4 inches long, sans tail. Well, it had a tail, but I’m not including that in the measurement.

Cue screams enough to wake the neighbours and son arrives post haste and by this time it has vamoosed *past me* and into the impossible small gap where the pipe goes into the wall. I THINK. Anyway I stuffed said gaps with steel wool ( Ha!) and set traps and what not.

Then a few days go by, with us checking traps and contacting water ( to check drains) and council and everyone else I can think of, getting quotes of upwards of £45 for ONE visit. I’d already spent a LARGE amount of money on traps, steel wool, poisons and an electronic zappy trap.

So Saturday I’m sat in the kitchen – again, bright daylight-and it comes UNDER the door ( again a tweeny little gap) and runs past me again and goes behind the fridge.

So now I’m not going in the kitchen OR the bathroom and it’s looking like I’m being driven out of my home!

So traps in the kitchen. And I wasn’t going in there unless I had one of my house mates with me.

Bad times. I forgot to say I also looked in the upstairs cupboard where I’d kept the top of the cake I had made for son 2, Arnie’s face ( long story) and it had been GNAWED and various clothes chewed up and made into nesting , presumably. Garghhh.

BUT then a few days ago we were checking the traps and K was blithely assuming they were all empty when we opened the zappy one that takes 4 x AA batteries and !!!!

THERE was the varmint. Much to K’s shock; and then L pokes it with a spoon. K   says ‘we’re not using that spoon again?’

L takes trap outside to empty it and I’m screaming ‘Put your shoes on’ and ‘double bag , double bag it’ and ‘Not in there’  and ‘Aaarghh’

..and then he comes back in, without the trap, so we have to get it and re-set it, because *surely* there’s more?

And breathe.

The saga continues.

‘To the bunk house!’ a report



So I am now back from two weeks away, and will be offering my comparison of WRG versus NT working holidays. Tentative title: ‘Once more into the pleach” this is a hedging term.  Wow. Impressed?

Good things about WRG holidays: seeing all those familiar faces you know and love! Might also belong in the ‘less good things’  column, depending on your POV..

However now I’ve done a fair few NT hols I am seeing the same old faces ( old? Who you calling old?), and some of them are jolly fine faces at that.

GOOD food on both. Healthy *and* tasty, and learning new recipes and jolly FINE cakes in plentiful amounts.

Snorers on both, but luckily campy van saves the day, with judicious hot water bottle and new duvet, so *warm* and *silent nights* yayy.

BUNK beds on NT camps and accom standards roughly similar, BUT  usually no showers on WRG camps where there are on NT camps, and as we all know, WRG camps are actually HALF the cost.

Over heard this past fortnight:

‘I never let anyone hose me down”

‘I’ll have you working like you’re in a sauna, tomorrow!’ ‘Do you mean sweat shop??’

‘Is there anybody here?’ to a lounge full of people…

Characters, types and personalities:

See if you can spot who and where:

Is this you, dear reader:

1.Unwanted advice given?  The person who ( usually in a nasal voice of great  monotonous penetrative power) tells you how to suck eggs/cook bacon/ light a fire/ use a bill hook/ use any tool/ make a cup of tea /mop a floor.. you name it.

2.Radio wikkipedia?

Often the same person, will also discourse *at length* and not allowing interruptions , on a subject you actually know more about than they do, eg making bread and butter pudding, or New Towns,  Or Shakespeare… aaarghhh

3. The fitness guy/gal ; who wears sports gear and has his mountain bike; can also be a bit Radio Wikkipedia ‘ about his/her  ‘activities

4. ”All the gear, but no idea” how to perform the tasks on  the  ‘actual work’. Whether it be hedging or brick cleaning..


5.’ Just an hour’ contestants, who can talk without hesitation ( but often *with* repetition and deviation* )  on *any* subject of their choice ( not yours)  for as long as their breath holds out.. aarghh..

…often times this person is assistant leader so  exerts full force and you feel unable to tell them to ‘stow their gab’ and let someone else have some air time so we can actually get to know each other!!

Also you may experience a feeling of ‘wow, I have never been so bossed about in my whole life *ever* not even at work! Or as a child, and I am On Vacation for cripes’ sake!

6. LOVELY chaps and ladies, who although ‘perma single’ are completely adorable and you wish you could put them in your rucksack and warm your hands at their vibes of peace and humour, the utter darlings. Often painfully shy or very quiet, never monopolising the convo, often ignored but well worth the effort to ‘draw them out’ and gently ( without being too scary)  getting to know them. Brilliant sense of humour and a little chuckle like an elf.

7. The ‘should be ‘ (and probably is) leader,  an ‘enabler’ who is quietly confident, notices what needs doing or saying and does it or says it. Keeping things on an even keel like the good Capt with a steady hand on the tiller. GOLD.

Helps everyone to get to know each other and keeps the  conversational ball passing around, without trying to score any goals themselves… such glorious folk have been my pleasure to know on both WRG and NT camps, and long may they do the job that others struggle to do.

Listing the lists

Anyone else being lured into ticking those lists? How many places have you visited, how many books have you read, how  many lists have you gone through?

Not just me is it?

Ok assuming you have, here’s MY list of books you shoulda oughta read, because if you haven’t, you still have the brain and ideas you had when you were last made to read anything, which is probably *at school*.

So here’s what you first have to take on board. All the ideas in your head, all your opinions. Where’d they come from.

Was it: out of your parents’ mouths? Your friends? The *newspapers* Or on the interweb?

You think they came out of your own observations, right, and your own life experience. Which *might* be quite a narrow area to build a whole philosophy on.

Some of my readers have barely left their place of birth, apart from holidays. How many have lived in Germany, or indeed anywhere other than English speaking, for more than 5 years? We’ll look at that another time.

Actually while I’m digressing, yesterday I was reminded that I’d dressed as Michael Jackson and danced to Thriller, for the entertainment of my then students. A huge event, of which I have NO memory.

But now: ( drumroll) my list of BOOKS. Please RSVP how many you’ve read.  What would be your LIST?

#The Narnia chronicles, all seven, by C.S Lewis

#Alice in Wonderland and through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll

The Children who Lived in a Barn by Eleanor Graham

#Miss Pettigrew lives for a day, Winifred Watson

#Just William; all of them; Richmal Crompton

#Sherlock Holmes, all of the stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

#Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

#1984, George Orwell

#I, Robot, by Asimov

# H.G. Wells stories and the History of Mr Polly

#A prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving

#East of Eden, by Steinbeck

#Lord of the Flies

#Chavs, by Owen Jones

#Mansfield Park, Austen

#David Copperfield and Great Expectations, Dickens

#The Railway chiuldren, E. Nesbit

#A town like Alice, Nevile Shute, and On the Beach

#To kill a mocking bird, Harper Lee

#The Miracle worker, Gibson

#Lost Horizon, James Hilton

#All Quiet on the Western front, Remarque


Now the reasons why. Apart from, if you haven’t read  MOST of these, you are just not a mensch or kosher in the least; you have no framework or ‘code’ by which to measure, analyse and form opinions;  you are just an egg a vacuum without a clue.

2nd reason: they are just blindingly well written and the phrasing, words, ideas and enlightenment- oh and funny, also. For which I give you : Jeeves and Wooster, Lucky Jim, S.J Perelman and James Thurber. Bill Bryson .

3rd reason: Time Travel. It is only by reading that one may see through the eyes of one who lived THEN, and think their thoughts and live in their clothes.

‘You can see back two thousand years in the light of words’.

Enjoy the trip.




Why I actually and truly hate New Year’s Eve

Dear readers ( if there are  any, I might be talking to myself, but no harm done if so).

Why do I hate New Year’s Eve, I hear you say?

Well, first off there’s all that ‘expectation of jollity’ and ‘enforced joie de vivre’ and the merriment mafia all hard at work, constantly exhorting you to be happy and positive and ‘why aren’t you doing anything?’ and making you feel like a bluddy failure if you are not carousing, Auld Lang Syne-ing and the hub of a weird CROWD of similarly over smiling almost manic over alcohol-ed jollifiers.

Second: if you want to just go to bed as normal and treat *every day* as the first year of a New Year instead, you’re wakened up by fireworks and carousing.

So instead of desperately trying to find a place to go and be with some folk to socialise with; of inviting myself somewhere and being a bit cringey all night; or inviting folks to my own house ( which isn’t really on, as it’s a wee sentry box of a cottage) I decided to have a bonfire in my front garden.

I thought: I’d write a few words on paper of things I wanted to go up in smoke from this past year! And a few wishes of events I would like to come to pass.

So we have a bonfire and we have a little sing to bid farewell to the past year and welcome in the New.


A new tradition is born.

Many happy new beginnings to my readers.