Sunday, August 31, 2008

Driving the Tractor

It has been so hot that the grapes are very forward, and harvest might start in as soon as two weeks. Today they were testing the sugars, but beforehand I went with Karen to feed the cattle and see the newest baby, soft donkey-grey hide, melting long-lashed eyes and still wobbly legs. Oddly, he was following one of the older calves, not his mother, who was so eager to get at the hay that she kept walking in front of the tractor while I tried not to run her down.

The filming went very well, even though we lost the antenna to one of the radio receivers - it is such a rough passage going through branches and over gopher holes we often seem to lose something or other.

I took some time out to go down to the spring and pick blackberries, such a timeless, evocative past-time. I am going to make a rough pie with them, with the edges of the pastry folded over.

Today is the day all Americans barbeque for the Labor Day weekend, but we will have family over for my birthday brunch tomorrow instead. for now, I just want to be quiet and mooch about in my garden, and digest all the family history I have discovered the last few days. And make a pie, pastry to Miriam's recipe.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


I have been immersed in the family tree started so lightly by Cissy, and think I have gone about as fur as I can go. I have discovered many, many cousins, but the most exciting thing was finding out about my own grandparents and great-grandparents. Over to the next generation now, I have ceased to care. Note to self: cancel the free home trial of before they start charging.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ceiling Cat Remains Inscrutable

I spent this morning cleaning the cameras, every nook and cranny, of salt dust and condensation. Batteries too, and the tripod feet had to be soaked. We have just come back from another exhilarating two days on the Great Salt Lake, filming the governor and the first day of harvest. Only 103 degrees this time.

Animal crimes continue to irritate us. I had left the keys for Dee to feed Suscipe, but Scout had a rampage that afternoon, piled all the cushions in the laundry (barricade? offering?), ate the tv remote and maybe also my keys. The week before it was Stefan's keys and her rather expensive retractable lead, and just to round it out Scout badgered Suscipe until she took refuge on top of the amplifier , had one of her seizures, peed and blew it up - loud bang, pouring smoke, the works.

The GPS was stolen from the car on Friday too, just before we had to drive up past Jenner for a new and very remote vineyard, result: we were an hour late. When we got there we drove until I saw a purple post-it note on a very nondescript gate, "Stefan, in here", drove through the cows to the note on the house door,"continue to vineyard", and finally on the vineyard gate, "we are in row 14". Low-tech, but it got us there, and we won't buy another one, at least not straight away.

Somehow all of that was very tiring, and we have been very happy to sit in the evening watching the Democratic Convention. So hot last night, and we were just about to eat when Hillary Clinton was due to speak, so we turned the set and sat outside to watch it with great appreciation, noting all the points she made, her tone, her oratory, eating comfortably with our feet up on opposite chairs and the swallows playing around us. Then we had more fun deconstructing it. I don't remember politics being like this in the UK.

Apart from work, I have been mooning after horribly expensive fabric from the Design Center for the sofa cushions, to be made with thick welts like an old-fashioned mattress; I covered four of Carolyn's chairs with antique French linen flour bags, and made her a hanging from her store of vintage fabrics. I wonder when Norma gets back from rowing down the Douro, I miss her, and Paddy does too.

Which of my talented dear ones is going to PhotoShop Felix into the family portrait taken before his birth? for my (ahem) Birthday?

Saturday, August 23, 2008


This site: just keeps me happy for hours. I thought I hated cute, but have been proven wrong, so I hope you all enjoy it.

There is a dog one too.


I have completed about as much as I can solo of the family tree, but my enthusiastic enquiries of brothers and cousins have turned up only silence. This is galling because I have far more on Stefan's side of the family, including cousins we will meet up with when in Oz in November.

That said, the female line goes straight back seven generations, mother to daughter. However I have nothing - nothing! - on my beloved grandfather, Davy Harper, and precious little on my father's family.

I have been reading a Catherine Cookson book, The Fifteen Streets, and it is such a familiar world to me, even though I left the North when I was five, and we were comparatively well off. Maybe it was the stories I heard, the pride in my aunts being schoolteachers, and my broken-down, disappointed grandfather, with his wonderful way with words and his poetry. I often wonder what would have happened if he had been educated, gone to a grammar school like the next generation. Still, my father was sent to King's College, while his sister ran the local sweet shop when she was every bit as intelligent as he was, and more astute.

I know that my paternal grandparents were politically very active, part of the working men's movement and the Labour Party when it was a bright new hope. The driving force in my mother's family was my gran. Not a comfortable woman, but she saw her youngest sister and her daughters educated, though she herself had to give up her ambition to be a doctor and go to work at fourteen when her father died. I know so little of him, but I'm sure he encouraged her and inspired her, before her dreams for herself turned to shame and bitterness.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The End of the Week

I have been calling my neighbours - so far about one hundred of them - about the community meeting tomorrow. I am quite surprised at myself, so community minded! About time!

I had a lovely day with Felix in Larkspur, just walking and chatting, and the best, richest hunk of chocolate ever shared, at Rulli's.

there is still painting to do, but it can settle for a while. The air and the light are so magical I just want to take off and walk.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Little Sisters and the Tuneless Whistle

Since I moved the rocks under the yucca we have had a stream of tiny brown ant across the entrance, behind the bookcases and into the kitchen everywhere. I even had to wash the kettle: so, holding a pocket handkerchief before my streaming eyes, I poisoned them.

Big gap between principle and practice since I revere the beguinage, and identify with spiders and ants, and bees: my sisters. In their place.

I have been industrious this week, painting my bedroom, finishing a load of sewing, power-washing the exterior, so I can go to bed properly tired. I am aware that I whistle constantly under my breath in a maddening way, quite beyond my control. It is in my genes but I can't remember if dad did it, I just know that Tim does, and so does Felix so it has seeped into the next generation. What contagion have I handed down.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sea Otters

We were having lunch on the deck with Cissy and George when we saw two dark heads in the water: sea otters! They were catching quite large fish which was enough of a surprise in itself, and an egret shadowed them in envy. We watched for about an hour, magical.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Up and Offing

I found a shark on the beach this morning while Carolyn and I were walking, so I brought it home, with a fender and a piece of wormy wood. The joys of beachcombing.

Tonight we watched Sally Potter's Yes and I loved it, loved the verse and the rhythm, even loved the roughness, but not the terrible sound quality and mix. I saw the vision, that's enough, especially after a full day. I painted the first coat in my bedroom, a pale bone or putty called Joa's White, and I cut back the lower spikes of the enormous yucca, much bloodshed, and rearranged a lot of the stones, and did a little work as well. All good. And I have done a lot of planting the last few days.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Another W.H.

Little Dieter Needs to Fly, very interesting. I hadn't realised Dieter Dengler lived on top of Mount Tam, on Panoramic Highway, I recognise the house. Much more interesting than Rescue Dawn, which was the feature film, but I'm glad I have seen both.

Reading in August

I have been revelling in a Darwin-fest and have just finished The Voyage of the Beagle and his autobiography, with great pleasure. He writes so well, with transparent honesty, that I might tackle The Origin of Species - William says it is just as enjoyable a read.

I have been reading novels as well, though they cloy me quickly. All very August.

I have finished the first round of drawings of the ground floor of the new-build I am obsessing. First floor next, then elevations.

Monday, August 04, 2008

An Old Friend

This is a photo of an old friend and neighbour, Alan Rice, a lovely man, who just died. He had the honour of becoming a Chelsea Pensioner.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Life in Pictures

Looking from my front door this morning was like an overblown Edwardian painting, Down the Garden Path, all riotous bloom and dewy foliage, with an artless artisan spade leaning against the arbour. All that was missing was a gentle overblown maiden.

Towards the inlet it was The Land That Time Forgot, mud flats and reeds receding mistily towards the islands.

Inside has a touch of Carl Larsson, not so much the colours as in simplicity, domestic occupation and order, the wooden floors, chairs flanking the wood stove. We are set up for an interview on Monday, Stefan has been rebalancing the head of his pole-cam and these things belong here as much as a loom or an easel.

Saturday, August 02, 2008


Rescue Dawn last night was dominated by the jungle, impossibly lush and green, making me realise: I long for the rain.