Six on Saturday 9th January

I’m struggling to type this as my hands are so cold after our return from a nice long (ish) walk around the park this morning, punctuated by a delicious jacket potato from the best spud shop around. Unfortunately it’s closing its doors today until after lockdown – lack of footfall has meant it’s not worth their while to open.

My pictures today are somewhat weighted towards the cold again. I do really hope I can start to share colourful, cheerful pictures again soon, but there’s a severe lack of that at the moment outside in these parts!

I don’t think I’ve shared a photo of the whole garden (or most of it, anyway) for a while, so here it is in all it’s wintry, dormant glory. This is my view all day long at the moment as I sit beavering away at home. I haven’t been into my office since 23rd March and it doesn’t look like I’ll be there any time soon. I have to say though, this is a vast improvement on the building site that was my view for the previous few months in the office, and it’ll only get better as the year goes on.

I’ve come to realise, in all these months working from home, quite how active our garden is. We have all sorts of wildlife making their homes and going about their lives completely regardless of us out there. In the next two photos you can see the evidence of some of the most regular visitors. First up, squirrels.

What dainty little feet they have. They’re incredibly agile – I watch them as they dart along the fences and wind their way around trees chasing the tail in front of them at unbelievable speeds. I know some people consider them vermin (and I guess they are) but I like them. Such cutie pies, even if they do try to dig up my lawn!

Next, I noticed that we’ve quite literally got the cat amongst the pigeons! Well, actually, it could be magpies or jays I guess, looking at the size of the tracks, but that doesn’t work as well so we’ll assume these were pigeons.

When I took this photo I was actually aiming to capture the bird tracks, and it was only once I got back inside that I noticed the pussy cat paws as well. I went back out to try to get a better picture of both, but the snow had melted away and I was left with just blobs! This is probably the first time since I was a child that I’ve actually cursed the snow for melting!

These spider webs were outside my home office window earlier this week. I’m so glad I took the photos straight away because by lunchtime they’d gone! Aren’t they pretty? There was no sign of the tenant!

I did manage to find some colour to include. I think the berries really ‘pop’ against the snowy backdrop. This shrub was in the garden when we moved in, although it was completely hidden by the jungle that was growing around it until we got ruthless and had the whole lot chopped back. I think it’s a Cotoneaster (can anyone confirm?) This year is the first year I’ve paid much attention to the berries – I’m surprised, given the visitors that we have to our garden, that they’ve not been eaten already.

Finally, I’m moving back inside to warm up but returning to the animal theme! Last night BBC 2 showed an hour long best of 2020 Gardeners’ World episode.

It was so lovely to see Nigel again after he sadly passed away last year. Monty must miss him so, but is hopefully comforted by Nell and little Pattie. Olive was also pleased to see him!

There’s my Six for this week. Don’t forget to check out the Propagator for more. I’m off to have a bath now to warm my bones! Please tell me it’s summer soon!

2020 A Year in Review

2020 may have been the oddest year of most of our lives but it’s done now, and we have to have hope that 2021 will be better. I have, for the most part, managed to stay mentally sound throughout most of the year, which I know isn’t the same for everyone. I thank my lucky stars that this happened now and not a couple of decades ago when we would have been far more isolated that we have been thanks to Zoom, FaceTime and Teams.

I also massively appreciate the fact that we have outside space which, although at the moment isn’t at all enticing due to the inclement weather, got us through the warmer months of the year with relative ease, especially so when we were allowed to have people in our garden.

Here are some of my favourite garden photos of last year.

The garden was reasonably productive in terms of fruit and veg in 2020 …

… and we had quite a few visitors of the fauna variety!

Inside the house, we made a few home improvements. The first was pre-lockdown when, with the help of my Dad, we transformed our bathroom from dingy to sparkly clean safari wonderland.

During lockdown when I was furloughed and hubby’s workplace was demonstrating exactly how a zero hours contract benefits the employer (they still are!) we tackled first our spare bedroom/my home office making it a homage to all things Harry Potter …

… then when I was unfurloughed but hubby was still unbusy with zero hours, he decided to tackle the woodchip in our living room and we completely redecorated including wallpapering, laying laminate flooring, opening out the fireplace and hanging the TV on the wall.

Outside we built a catio on the side of the kitchen so our furry girls can get some air safely.

Away from home, amazingly we did manage to squeeze in three holidays. The first was, to paraphrase Craig Revel-Horwood A-May-zing!! A week long cruise round the Caribbean preceded by a two night stop in Orlando and a trip to Universal to go on the new Hagrid’s Magical Creatures coaster. This was pre-COVID, in fact I remember the first I heard about it was by scanning the Sky news app whilst I was sunbathing on deck, and I assumed it would be like the previous SARS disease. I never even entertained the thought that it could turn into what it has! Blissful ignorance, eh?

In between lockdown 1.0 and lockdown 2.0 we managed a short break to Norfolk which was a game of two halves – lovely to get away and see the sea, but I got bitten by a dog, we had to come home early because hubby had a job interview (which he didn’t get!) and I got a flat tyre!

In September we went to Edinburgh for my birthday. This had been booked pre-pandemic and we didn’t know until the last minute whether we’d be able to go, but I’m so glad we could because we had a fantastic time. One of the best holidays I’ve ever had.

We had a few great days out – we walked alpacas, visited confetti fields, played with meerkats, met gorillas at Twycross Zoo and we walked and cycled many times in Sutton Park and Kingsbury Water Park …

… and we also had a couple of great days in making up for things that we should have been doing. We had a non-Jamaica party for two on the day we were supposed to be flying out and we had a tennis afternoon tea on the day Dad and I were supposed to be going to watch the ATP tour finals in London.

I also did a lot of crafts – mainly crochet, but also knitting, baking, jigsaws (do they count as crafts?) model making, felting and, obviously, mask making!

So, all in all, although it certainly didn’t feel like it at times, 2020 was actually a pretty full year and I achieved quite a lot. Amongst all this, I was also working full time (apart from being furloughed for nine weeks in the summer) in a job that I only started six weeks before we were plunged into lockdown and home working, and I feel that I managed very well to learn the new job (although this is an on-going process) under challenging circumstances. It turns out that home working, while it doesn’t suit everyone or every job, works pretty well for me, and for my team. As I mentioned before, thank goodness for technology!

Now it’s time to look forward to 2021 and I’ll finish with a quote that I recently read in a fiction book, the sixth in the Seven Sisters series by Lucinda Riley but that is based in fact (the first book I didn’t enjoy as much, but I’m so glad I persevered because they got better and better and one thing to look forward to in 2021 is the release of the final in the series).Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards – Soren Kierkegaard.

A catio for our cats

We have been talking about getting a catio for our furry girls pretty much since they came into our lives, and they’re five now so it’s been an epic conversation! I’ve never had house cats before, in fact I never considered it, but when we moved into our house, our previous cat, Willow, was hit and killed on the road, so we made the decision (controversial to some) to keep our girls as house cats. They were tiny kittens when we adopted them so they’ve never known the outside world. I wouldn’t keep a cat inside that was used to going out.

Over the last few months we’ve been home with the girls a lot more and have had more time to consider and research the catio. There are a number of companies who sell ready made catios, but boy are they expensive! We started looking at them and then did some research on YouTube and decided that we’d be able to build our own at a vastly reduced financial outlay, so I got planning.

The catio is essentially a wooden frame with cat safe wire mesh attached to make it secure, but it was actually harder than I anticipated to design it. The basic shape was easy enough, but then I had to consider exactly where the screws should go to avoid drilling into another screw where three lengths of wood needed to be joined, and I had to bear in mind the width of the mesh and where we would need additional struts to allow us to attach it. Even with all my meticulous, pencil-chewing planning, we still had to tweak the design as we went along, but we got there.

I think we ended up with three trips to B&Q for supplies.

It’s a good job I’ve got quite a long car because we needed eight 2.4 metre lengths of wood in order to make the catio big enough to clear our back door.

Our first attempt went a bit wrong – I’m still not entirely sure how it happened, but I think it must’ve been something to do with the conversion from inches which we measured in, to centimetres which we cut in! We won’t dwell on that!

Newly measured, and double, triple and quadruple checked, we got going again – luckily we were able to reuse most of the bits of wood that we’d cut so we didn’t waste much, and this time the frame fit over the door and window. We decided not to include a door because this would’ve made the design more complicated and expensive, and we have another door into the back garden so it’s not necessary.

So far, so good!

The timber we used was only thirty eight millimetres wide so the frame was quite flimsy whilst we were still assembling it so we had to be really careful as we moved it around.

Soon we got to the stage where we could staple some of the mesh onto the frame so it became more stable.

We chose the mesh carefully because the cats may decide to climb it which could hurt their little paws. This mesh is plastic coated and is sold as animal proof. We made sure that all the edges are secured and/or tucked away so curious paws can’t find them.

I picked up a few hanging pots to go on the outside of the catio, as well as some quirky additions to prettify the whole thing and I moved some of my existing posts to make a feature of it. We picked up some cheap fake grass for the bottom to soften the look. We’re really pleased with how it turned out.

I picked the plants up from Webbs last weekend. I needed plants that wouldn’t get too big for the four around the sides, and two that will trail for the top corners. Obviously they all had to be cat safe too, just in case!

I’ve wanted an ornamental kale for ages and this was the perfect opportunity.

The cats were a bit hesitant about the whole affair to start off with …

… but they’re getting more and more used to it now. Tink even scratched the door to ask to go out there yesterday.

Next job then, it would seem, is to get a cat flap so they can let themselves out there whenever they fancy. It’s nice to know they can get outside in a safe and secure way to get some air and some sunshine.