On a gloomy day and in much pain, I asked my husband if he would drive me to the next village where we could sit quietly by the canal. I felt in need of fresh air, of some quiet time with nature while observing the sedate and elegant barges moored or gliding by in their unassuming fashion, a smile and a wave from the owners as they pass.
We parked in the car park of the country pub and made our way down to the towpath to find a bench. It wasn’t easy, my back was very stiff and painful, not helped by the damp, chilly conditions, but the tranquil atmosphere began working its miracle immediately.
There were lots of barges on the canal that day, most were moored but there were others passing through, immaculately painted and often decorated with pot plants. They left gentle ripples as they crept quietly by, almost surreptitiously.
Weeping willows graced the opposite bank and further along there were interesting, often eccentric, gardens leading down to the water:
But what fascinated us most was a male mallard. Seen first at some distance, on the towpath by himself, he was paying particular attention to something on the ground. We couldn’t see what it was at first and we approached slowly and quietly. He didn’t pay us any attention, he was completely focused on the thing he kept picking up and dropping.
As we drew closer, I realised he was trying to swallow whole acorns! He kept picking them up – they were still attached to the cup and stalk – tipping his head back and then letting it drop again, tapping it on the ground then having another go. He was completely oblivious to our presence and I clicked away.
This went on for some time. The slight rustling of a plastic carrier bag alerted the duck to a man approaching, but he carried on trying to swallow the acorn before the man reached him. He briefly and reluctantly gave up, walked away to the water’s edge and waited for the man to pass. He then walked calmly back, past other acorns and searched for the exact ones he’d been wrestling with.
He found them and with one almighty effort, he did it, he actually swallowed them whole! He then waddled over to the water, stood for a while like a child summoning up the courage to dive in and off he went to join the others.
This may seem a strange question on a health and wellbeing blog but bear with me.
This morning, I was woken by such a commotion in our front garden which seemed to then moved and down our drive. I could hear children, adults, a dog barking, someone shouting to a cat and a child calling to someone or something else and a lot of running back and forth. It took me a while to process it all. At first I thought the neighbour’s dog must have escaped again. I couldn’t hear my husband so I hauled myself out of bed and opened the curtains.
Rabbits! Two of them. Scampering all over, children chasing, adults cajoling and admonishing, a cat and a dog being restrained, utter chaos. I didn’t recognise half the humans running amok on my lawn, jumping over the newly blooming irises. I reluctantly went downstairs and found my husband completely oblivious as he was making juices and hadn’t heard a thing.
I went back upstairs, looked out and one of the fathers gave me a smile and a thumbs up! I assumed that meant ‘success’ and ‘thank you!’
We went about our morning tasks, I had a shower and washed my hair, husband finished juicing, and when he took out the compost discovered that the rabbits belonged to the son of our newly-widowed neighbour, a birthday gift for her older son. But they were back in their hutch, locked up and she was going out, not being any the wiser as to how they had escaped. It appears it wasn’t the first time, and her son gets so distraught when they do.
Not half an hour later, husband goes outside only to discover them sitting at the top of our drive where the young apple trees and tomato plants are, the cat from next door keeping a nonchalantly watchful distance. We had no idea what to do, neither of us having the first inkling of how to entice a frisky pair of bunnies back to their home, nor being sprightly enough to chase after them!
Picture the scene: I am standing holding a towel not exactly sure as to when it would come into play, my husband is wandering about looking clueless and wishing his phone would magically conjure up the neighbour’s number, but we don’t have it.
I suggested he at least shoo away the cat – it doesn’t take any notice of me but doesn’t like him at all – and then he remembered he had neighbour number 2’s number in his cycling book (really) from when we rescued her escaped dog (do you see a theme developing here? We have also in the past rescued former neighbour number 3’s ducks, neighbour number 4’s chickens and neighbour number 5’s two daft senseless dogs from being run over!).
It turns out, number 2 doesn’t have neighbour number 1’s number either, they communicate via Facebook, but does have new neighbour number 3’s (who lives in former duck neighbour’s house, are you keeping up?).
To cut a 2 hour long story short, we got the rabbits coralled behind our shed, hemmed in by wheelie bins and a fireguard.
Throughout the entire procedings, the robins kept a beady eye on us, their nest is nearby and they interrupted their collection of nesting materials.
Then the cavalry arrived – or rather by the wonders of bush telegraph, the local neighbourhood rabbit-whisperer!
She wrangled them into a plastic recycling box which was quickly covered with my towel and lugged them back to their home. Which, it soon became evident, was falling apart and all they had to do was lean against the door and the catch fell down, and out they romped.
The grandad had been so excited at making the hutch himself for his grandson’s birthday, but unfortunately the wood near the catch was rotting and the screws were loose. These rabbits were very nifty and not short of a few brain cells.
My husband made a temporary repair, the catch was tied up and a box leaned against the door. An hour later, they were still ensconced in their residence looking a bit out-witted and not at all happy, but safe.
We had all been worried that their young owner would come home from his school trip to find them gone – there are several dogs adjoining our garden, including a Jack Russell and a Retriever, so it could have been very dodgy – it would have been too much so soon after losing his dad, but hopefully he will be none the wiser.
His mum came home and thanked us profusely. She is going to buy a more secure hutch.
What I wanted to say here though, was that out of a potentially disastrous and emotional situation, a new friendship is building.
I have never said more than hello to our neighbour as she passes by on her way to or from school always in a hurry, but since her tragic loss, we have offered help in the form of using our drive for all the visitors coming to support her and her son has begun chatting with my husband when they see each other on the drive: it seems he has a keen interest in cycling, as does my husband. Today was my first proper conversation with his mum as I explained what had happened with the rabbits. She was so grateful and so relieved and as we chatted about her son, she mentioned that she wasn’t sure she had the confidence to take out the two boys on the bikes by herself. I immediately offered my husband’s assistance and she looked really pleased and suggested that perhaps he might take the older son out on the bike track some time. I said he would be pleased to, and he later agreed.
It was a good feeling to have helped saved the day and prevent the family from having to face another loss, as well as finally getting the opportunity to meet properly and offer our friendship if she ever needs it.
Postscript: This episode was particularly poignant on this day when news was coming out about the awful slaying of young children and their waiting parents and grandparents at the Arianna Grande concert in Manchester. It felt good to feel useful and to do something positive for our young neighbour at a time of helplessness in the face of such an atrocity.
Today, I was minding my own business, helping my husband make up the Christmas Ocado order when the postman arrived. There were the usual cards and statements, but also a small padded bag. I looked at the back and saw the name and address of my old friend and former primary school teacher, Evelyn. Many of you will have read my tribute to her earlier on in the year. She had emailed that she had sent me card and so I was expecting to see her writing any day soon, but not on a padded bag.
I opened it and out fell a hard object wrapped in bubblewrap. The envelope had originally come from a bead and crystal shop and I thought she had sent me a crystal for Christmas. I carefully unwrapped it and to my astonishment out fell a very old fountain pen and propelling pencil – do you remember those?!
I couldn’t speak. I sat there with my mouth wide open and nothing coming out. When it did it was ‘Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god’ on a loop (my apologies to anyone offended by this) accompanied by my husband’s ‘What, what, WHAT?! I imagine we looked like a couple of goldfish in a bowl.
I held in my hand the very fountain pen and pencil Evelyn had used to mark the class register, write reports and letters to our parents, the same white and gold pen I had coveted all these years. I was only thinking about it quite recently and wondering if she still had it. And here was the set, looking a little the worse for wear, sitting in the palm of my hand. I was in shock.
This means so much to me, I don’t have the words to explain.
I looked inside the bag for a note, but all I found was a Christmas card wishing us a Merry Christmas and a Happy 2017 followed by the words ‘Over half a century now!’
Nothing about the pen and pencil. I desperately wanted to speak to her. I tried Skyping but there was no response. She is probably at her sister’s for Christmas and I will have to contain my excitement and inquisitiveness until the New Year!
I don’t quite know why I was so fascinated by this pen. I loved the gold pattern on it and I loved the black Indian ink Evelyn filled it with. I was 9 years old and this was my first experience of a fountain pen at close quarters. I was inspired by it. I loved her handwriting, big and loopy, very informal, arty and friendly. I would recognise it anywhere. To me, this pen set was symbolic of her youth and style, it was modern, unusual, fun. It is so slim and light. It also looked very posh to my impoverished eyes!
I have always loved using a fountain pen and I can’t wait to clean this one out and see if it still works. Wouldn’t that be something, after all these years?!
Needless to say, my husband had to finish off the shopping list all on his own, he didn’t get any sense out of me for the rest of the day!
I’ve been on an Ebreak. No iPad or iPhone for 8 days. No blogging or blog-reading for 9 days. No Social Media for 10 days. I didn’t take one photo. No texts.
I needed the break because I was exhausted. I wasn’t sleeping, my mind was racing all the time, coming up with ideas for posts, getting up in the night to write them up.
Blogging was beginning to feel like a full-time job. I was constantly taking photos for the blog, for Instagram etc. Every mealtime, my husband would have to wait to eat while I took photos, ususally asking him to move something that was in the background, even the furniture!
My family and friends needed support, which I’m always happy to give. But thephone was always ringing. Messages kept pinging. I felt stressed, my digestion was shot and I felt on edge. My back, neck and shoulders were so painful, I felt permanently hunched over, all my muscles were in a spasm.
Action was needed. So I had osteopathy and my Ebreak.
The first two days were easy. I regularly have osteopathy and always take the opportunity to have a break from electronic devices and to rest afterwards. For one reason or another, I hadn’t been able to fit in an appointment for some time and that’s why everything had built up.
After treatment, I naturally don’t want to start typing and scrolling – I don’t want to undo all the benefits by immediately returning to behaviour that had got me to that state. But after a couple of days, I get bored and twitchy. I want to know what’s going on.
Fortunately, this time the weather was mostly good and I was able to spend time outside, just relaxing, contemplating, watching the birds etc. My husband did a tidy-up of the garden while I supervised as he has a tendency to dig up the plants and leave the weeds!
I began to unwind.
I found I was going to bed earlier. I listened to relaxation tapes and audiobooks.
Soon, I got out my craft box and began making cards. I hadn’t made any since the start of the year and I’d missed it, but I could never tear myself away from the iPad long enough to change focus and concentrate on something else. It felt good to do something creative again. I became engrossed and time passed more constructively.
I really began to feel calmer. I could feel myself slowing down, my muscles relaxing. I was giving full attention to everything and everyone instead of reluctantly giving half an ear to what was being said while I continued to write a blogpost. I was more patient. I was taking note.
So much more was attended to. All those little things you keep meaning to do but never get around to. I sorted out the drawers of my desk. Decluttered my wardrobe. My bookshelves. The (grown-up) kids’ books. Dvds. I sent a lot of things to the charity shop, others went on Ebay (I had to rely on my husband for that, I was on a break!). I sorted through the dreaded paperwork.
I would have managed a longer holiday, but on the eighth day I had to contact a company and the only way was by email. Unfortunately, this meant that I also saw I had 125 emails waiting in my inbox and I began to panic about how I was going to cope if they kept on coming. So I started to scroll through, deleting those that were just notifications, telling myself I would only do so many and then stop. But you know how it goes, one or two were from people who really needed the support of a full reply and before you know it, you’re back! But I’m trying to be more disciplined.
All in all, I thoroughly recommend taking a break from all the electronic chatter. Everything and everyone will still be there when you come back. I feel refreshed. I feel like I can be a little more disciplined about my iPad use and not quite so obsessive about checking up on everything and everyone.
I was a little anxious that people might have moved on, that out of sight might mean out of mind, but not at all. I had some lovely messages and comments awaiting my return which are much-appreciated, thank you.
Oh, and if you see me here after midnight, tell me to go to bed! (I now have 10 minutes to log off and make tracks!)
Enjoy the Friends Clip! (You’ll need to click onto the blog if you’re reading this via email).
This recipe was born on a freezing wet British Friday in August! It is just the thing to curl up with on a chilly afternoon or evening now that it’s time once again to don the thermals and woolly pullies.
Warming and very chocolatey, this hot chocolate is made with Raw Cacao, Hemp Milk and a touch of cinnamon, but you can opt for nutmeg, ginger or even chilli or cayenne if you’re feeling that way inclined! (You can of course use nut milk if you don’t have hemp seeds but it will have a different flavour).
2 Cups Hemp Milk made with Raw Chocolate Company Shelled Hemp Seeds* (or any nut milk)
2 Tbsps Raw Chocolate Company Cacao Powder
2 Tsps Coconut Oil
1/4 Tsp Cinnamon
3 Squares Raw Chocolate Company Pitch Dark and a little extra to grate on top
2 Tbsps Raw Chocolate Company Raw Coconut Palm Sugar
You can do this 2 ways: If you have a high speed blender, place all the ingredients in together and blend for about a minute. The blender will warm up the mixture so it is ready to drink straightaway. If not, warm but don’t boil the Hemp Milk in a saucepan – it is best done from room temperature – and stir occasionally.
Add the warm milk to the rest of the ingredients and blend. Grate some Pitch Dark over the top.
Makes enough to fill a huge Friends-type cup or 2 small mugs, so depending on how generous you’re feeling, curl up or cuddle up in front of the fire and unwind with Van the Man’s ‘Oh The Warm Feeling’ (youtube link: http://youtu.be/os9nt93BhqE) or better yet, find an episode of Friends (usually on Comedy Central) and remember what Friday evenings used to be like… Chandler, Joey, Frasier, Niles…
I feel a song coming on… ‘I’ll be there for you…’
Warning: A very few people are sensitive to cacao and are advised not to drink this on an empty stomach eg first thing in the morning.
This recipe first appeared on the Raw Chocolate Company Blog in an edited form.