What I did in the holidays

My list, made on the last day of the old term, mainly involved the garden. There was so much weeding to be done that I divided it over eight days, adding some planting or potting on to add interest, and, with a little help from everyone in the house, we did it. Fliss and I sowed dozens of seeds. John lifted a lot of edging that the nettles had got under, threatening to overrun my patch, and relaid them with a thick layer of cardboard underneath. Ben mowed the lawn, twice, and spread compost on all the beds. Seb and Ilse started a herbal remedies company, the main ingredients of which appeared to be nettles and dandelion roots, so I gave them couple of trowels and lots of encouragement. Perhaps best of all was when I came in from the garden last Tuesday, dirty and tired, to find that my very favourite dining establishment, Cafe Magnifico, was open for business. There were bluebells on each plate and Easter chocolates for dessert, and although the two charming proprietresses looked familiar they assured me we’d never met before. It stayed open that whole second week when John was back at work and I was pushing myself to get through my list, serving luncheon every day and even taking care of the washing up.

My only other real goal was to finish my cardigan in time for Easter which I did – in plenty of time and on Shell Island, in fact. I cast on for a pair of socks and got as far as turning the heel, knitting in the evenings. As it was all going so well I added some more to the list: to wash the fleece and a half that had been languishing in the shed since autumn, and to piece all eighty nine-patch squares for Ilse’s quilt. I did both, and what began as a session where Ilse and I laid out the squares on Sunday afternoon became a game for the whole family, moving things around, swapping one square with another to spread the colours out more evenly. I could – perhaps should – have retained more control of it, but it is just a little girl’s quilt after all, and they had so much fun. I glanced at it briefly once they were all in bed and it looked all right to me, so it’s all packed up in that order, ready to be sewn together this week.

When people ask what we did in the holidays I tell them we went camping in Wales, which we did, and we had a lovely time. There were day trips too, and lots of lazy days in the house and garden for the children, reading books and making potions. We had a glorious Easter lunch with Mother and Father, and Mother outdid herself once more, producing a simnel cake when we had just about recovered from the previous three courses. And there was time for resting in the sunshine by day, and by the fire in the evenings.

Yet Easter always feels like a turning point, however early or late it falls, and this is the holiday in which I end up doing most. Now that term is back in swing, it feels good to have new projects and new rhythms on the go. More time in the garden. The end of a quilt top within sight. Daily spinning while the supper cooks. If I hadn’t worked so hard during the holidays none of this would be possible. And it isn’t work, really – not if you choose to do it. It’s just another type of play. So that’s what I did in my holidays. I played, hard.

Postcards from the bothy

Follow the track along the edge of the mere, where the mossy woods slip down the hillside to greet the lake. Look out for a clearing, one with a rope swing hanging over the curving pebbled beach and benches made of thick felled trunks, and, in front of it, an old hatchery with a stone bay full of firewood. Stay for a night and have a rest. Stay for several and leave the world behind, rushing ahead at its insistent pace while you slumber in the woods like Rip Van Winkle, with nothing to do but stoke the stove, heat the soup and knit as the sun sinks over the tops of the fells.

We had a wonderful time at Holme Wood Bothy, resting, playing, eating and sleeping. A little bit of everything, bar work and a sense of time. A week without watches, appointments, school or the office. Without electric lights or the wireless. Even the newspapers were out of date, good only for coaxing the stove into life. We retreated from the world, entering it only to buy thick coils of cumberland sausage or fireside pints at the local pub. And in five days we had a little bit of everything: frost and snow, glorious warming sunshine, and a storm which whipped the lake up into galloping white horses and wet mares’ tails. Proper Easter weather. Spring in the Lakes, unreliable and wild and absurdly beautiful.

I sent a note home to myself, each day, to stick into my diary. Something to remember this little holiday by.  I’ll stick one in each day this week, from Tuesday to Friday. A series of snapshots. Souvenirs, if you will. Postcards, from the bothy.


A moveable feast

No Easter is quite like any other. It flits about, this feast, like the birds between the trees and the ground, gathering twigs, building new partnerships. Some years it’s sun-soaked in a predictable, comfortable sort of way: one of a succession of days in the garden, sowing and hoeing and mowing the lawn. Others, like this year, it is as unpredictable as spring can be, moving from showers to bright skies and back within the space of an hour. And sometimes, rarely, like the time we stayed in Appleby, there is an unexpected fall of snow and we spend the morning sledding and building soggy snowmen which melt before the day is out.

It feels right, that Easter weather is so unknown. After all, nobody knew what was happening that first Easter. Christmas is different: people knew, even the first time, what was going on. A fact which is reflected in the depth of our traditions: in plum puddings and roast goose, in presents under the tree and a visit from Father Christmas. We know how to celebrate a birth.

That first Easter, though, very little was known. The killing of God took place, and yet the world didn’t end. For three days there was mourning. And then nothing but an empty tomb, an absence of a body, a mystery. Nobody knew what was happening, until, somehow, they did.

The only fixed things in our Easter celebration are a trip to church and a chocolate egg for each of the children – and even the eggs are brought home by John. Unlike the run up to Christmas, Easter is a time when there is very little for me to do in the way of fulfilling the children’s expectations. Which is a very good thing, given all the other tasks I am enjoying just now: all the sowing and planting, weeding and planning. There’s the spring cleaning to come, too, the washing of windows and curtains. The sweep to book, once the last fire has gone out. Outgrown clothes to send to the jumble sale.

All of which has the lovely effect of making everything we do an added bonus. This year the children blew eggs, and painted them with watercolours. I bought some twisted willow inside, pruned last autumn and left over from the Christmas wreaths, and they hung the eggs from its branches. Twiggy and bare, full of unexpected loops and tangles, they have space for all sorts to dangle in their embrace. Ilse had to be shown how to blow the eggs, which made me wonder how long it’s been since we’ve done this. It’s not as though we’ve done nothing in the meantime: sometimes we boil eggs and draw on them with pencils, making monochrome designs. Other times we might slice their tops off, stuff their insides with cotton wool and wait for a full head of cress to grow above their funny faces. One year a neighbour, who was watering the plants while we went away, left a treasure trail of tiny foil-wrapped eggs around the house, chocolatey and precious.

I found the time to make some hot cross buns while the children were busy with their eggs, and we had them as an easy Easter breakfast. In the evening Mother cooked for us all, making the sort of feast that the children save room for, guessing there will be more than one pudding. There was. It was a happy day, this year, relaxed and joyous, full of laughter and silliness.

There have been other Easters which have not been so glad: as I say, it’s a moveable feast. Changeable as the season it falls in, with rain and sleet as well as sunshine in the forecast. Each one unique, each one met afresh, but always full of love. While all else may change, that part never does. Happy Easter.