Saturday, 1 November 2008

Tribute to my Mum

Margaret Leathley was a remarkable woman. As we mourn the loss of her, we should also celebrate her life.

Margaret Tolson was born in Bradford on October 14th 1920. As a child, I always thought that Nanna and Grandad Tolson’s children were very special people because their names were Mary and Joseph.

Margaret was brought up in Hartlepool with her younger sister Agnes and her brothers John and Peter. Another brother, Dennis, sadly died as a baby and although she didn’t ever speak much about him, she must have felt the loss of a baby brother very deeply.

The family moved to Peterborough in 1934 leaving Margaret with the extended family in Hartlepool to continue her secondary education. Margaret re-joined the family when she left school and worked as a shorthand-typist at Baker Perkins in Peterborough. Like many of the females in our family, she told me that she wasn’t always keen to get up for work and would often be riding her bike, pedalling madly whilst eating a slice of toast.

During the war, she was called up and joined the army where she learned to drive and do some car mechanics. She mainly drove ambulances but very rarely spoke of her wartime experiences as they were obviously painful memories. I do remember a few years ago she told me that if she’d been brave enough, she would have refused the call up and been a conchi (conscientious objector). If she’d done that, then she’d never have had that dance with Clark Gable J

Don Leathley appeared on the scene in the early 1940’s and courted Margaret. With Don in the RAF and Margaret in the WRAC, stationed in different places, that courtship must have been difficult, but love prevailed and they were married in January 1944 at St Peter and All Souls church in Peterborough. They were to be honeymooning at Auntie Hilda’s in Beckenham, but because of an air raid which caused delay of the trains to London, they spent the first night of their marriage on a cold and draughty station, eventually arriving at Auntie Hilda’s at about 8 o’clock the next morning just in time for Dad to go to bed and for Mum to go to Mass.

Mum and Dad had almost 56 years of happy marriage. In 1945 I was born, followed by Christine in 1947 and Barbara in 1950. Catherine was a wonderful surprise addition to the family in 1962. Both Mum and Dad were so proud of their daughters and the families they themselves produced. Mum and Dad are solely responsible for the creation of 29 people. An achievement many of today’s generation may never reach.

During their marriage Mum worked hard in various part-time jobs to help to buy their first house and ended her working life as a cook – a talent she has passed on to all her children.

Mum was strict with us but never stern. She expected and received respect for ourselves and others, high standards of decency, dignity, decorum and modesty. Her high standards have been passed on to us girls and we in turn, in our own ways, have passed these standards on to our own children and grandchildren. In spite of loosing Dad in 1999, she still retained a wicked sense of humour, and would often have a good girly giggle with us.

Our Mum was a daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, mother-in-law, grandma, great grandma, friend and confidant. Mum was a proud lady. Kind, generous, dignified, determined, often stubborn. She loved to be in control and be the main decision maker. She was always a very independent lady and deeply resented loosing that independence due to her blindness and illness. She was a devout Catholic, never missing Mass if she could help it and always received Holy Communion whether at Mass or at home. The Lady’s Guild was one of her few activities in her later years and she made many good friends through that. She died on October 16th 2008; all of her girls were with her as she breathed her last. She will be so very sadly missed by so many people whose lives she has touched. She will always be remembered with love by all of us.

We sisters, her 4 daughters, all make a solemn promise to you Mum that we will always stay in touch with each other, we will share our good news and our not so good news with each other, we will ask each other for help if and when it is needed. We will also, for as long as we are able, have at least 1 silly get-together every year.

We love you Mum, so very much. We will miss you. God bless you and keep you safe.

By the way Mum, don’t forget that you’ve told Christine you’ll send her a text message or an email to let us know what it’s like where you are now.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

October - oh dear!

October has been a bad month for me, so until I get myself in the "proper" mood, I'm not doing anything to this blog for now. Just wanted you to know that I haven't forgotten it!

Monday, 29 September 2008

Some good news

I've been able to start harvesting more produce from the allotment. Even the biggish pumpkin that was hammered by the hailstorm has continued to grow, and although it still shows the scars, we may just have something for hallowe'en. I had a really good crop of climbing french beans, so many that I've got plenty in the freezer to see me through the winter. The remaining beans I'm leaving to go to seed and I intend to save some for planting next year as well as having a go at drying them to add to soups and stews.

On Sunday we harvested beautiful carrots, baby turnips, a cabbage and a lettuce, oh yes, and just a few beans.

I had some thrilling news last week. Becci, my youngest daughter (the one with the chickens) had told me a couple of weeks previously that she'd been nominated for "something" but didn't know what it was. She found out last Thursday that she'd been nominated for the Student Midwife of the Year Award! How wonderful is that! But - it gets better. She's been shortlisted as a finalist and will find out the final results at an award ceremony on October 9th in Birmingham. I'm so proud of her, her determination and commitment in everything she does, whether it was studying when the children were tiny so that she'd have the required "A" levels to get into University, bringing up 3 little girls (though at 14, 13 and 9 they're not so little now), coping with 2 dogs, one of which has epilepsy, and caring for 6 ex-battery chickens. It's been really tough for her, and still is as she's only just coming to the end of her 2nd year of her training. All my children make me feel really blessed.

This weekend, Adrian told me he was taking me out for the day. I've been through a bout of manic depression and he felt I needed a bit of "me" time, time to relax a bit and get things into perspective again. We set off from Stafford at 11am and went down the M6 and M5 towards Evesham, then towards Oxford, then Banbury. At 1pm (or thereabouts!) we arrived at Cotswold Chickens. I was flabbergasted! He told me we'd come to choose my birthday present, even though it's a bit early. Oh the beautiful pullets they had there, it really was difficult to choose. Anyway, we came away with 2 Black Star and 2 Bluebelle who I've named Marigold and Honeysuckle (Black Star) and Bluebell and Pansy. They're so cute, haven't grown their combs and wattles yet. They're 17 weeks old so it'll be a few weeks yet before they start laying any eggs.

This is Pansy on the left, and Marigold below.

Honeysuckle on the left peering out at this strange new world.
As you can see, they seem to be not too phased by their new home. Bluebell did a very good impression of Houdini just before bedtime, she managed to fly over the fence and joined the other flock quite happily. She did want to get back in to her enclosure though when it was time to go to bed. I let all the chooks out just before 7 this morning - isn't it getting dark early and not getting light till late now? When I opened the converted hutch door, 4 pairs of bleary eyes looked and me and blinked. Honeysuckle was the first to venture out, followed a little later by Marigold. Pansy put in an appearance about 8.30, but Bluebell didn't appear till after 10am. I didn't want to push them, I want them to do their own thing and get used to where "home" is before taking the next step of integrating them with the other 8 girls.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

September? Feels more like winter to me!!!

Since my last post, I've been busy in the garden and on the allotment.

I've harvested loads and loads of french beans, there's so many packets of them in the freezer I certainly won't be short of a veg to go with dinner :). The peas are coming along too, lovely and sweet, though the pods don't look very inviting, they seem a bit mildewy. I tried one of the purple cauliflowers and I must admit I'm not that taken with it. It tasted ok raw, very strong flavour, but cooking it - well!! I made the mistake of putting it in boiling water to blanch it for freezing. It went a sort of bluey-grey colour, not a feast for the eyes at all. The water turned bright blue too. Wonder if it'd make a good dye? Might try that one day when I've nothing better to do.

September 2nd saw the most awful hailstorm I've ever experienced. It lasted a good 15 minutes, and the hailstones were almost the size of a 1p piece.

The chickens all hid under the laurel hedge while it was going on, but once the hail turned to rain, they all came out to investigate all this white stuff!

The weekend of 5th, 6th and 7th September saw Adrian and I at Whiteley Village Outlet Centre near Gosport where we were selling our jewellery. It wasn't a bad weekend sales-wise, weather-wise rain, rain and more rain interspersed with showers. I didn't take my fleece off all the time we were there! The B&B we stayed at though was wonderful, I can highly recommend it. A thirties house restored as close as it could be to the period, perfectly cooked breakfasts, and really comfortable rooms. The Art Deco style gave Adrian lots of inspiration for more jewellery designs, one of which was a piece of Whitby Jet with fine silver bands inlaid into it - sold within half an hour of it being finished! Steve and Angela Macauley are the owners of Milvil Corner in Lee on the Solent.

Beccy phoned me on the Saturday to tell me some sad news. Petunia, my hop-a-long chicken had died. She was soooooooooooo loving, always the last one in to bed, always waiting at the gate for me to pick her up and give her a goodnight cuddle. I've buried her in the garden near Rose. I'm getting paranoid now! Every time I go to the chicken run, I'm counting them all and if there's 1 not visible I steel myself to look in the coop hoping that I won't find another one has gone to chicken heaven. I know it's bound to happen to them all sooner or later, they've had a really stressful life before coming to retire with me, but I love them all dearly - even Hyacinth when she pecks at a thin shelled egg to try and steal the contents.

I didn't go to the allotment today. Instead I started clearing a pile of composty rubbish in the corner of the front garden to make into a flower bed. Got loads of small plants that have been ready to be planted out for ages. After shifting 3 wheelbarrow loads of soil and compost from the front to the veggie patch at the back, I was exhausted! Anyway, it's all been spread over one of the raised beds, then a good thick layer of compost from the "dalek" before I covered it all with weed-suppressant membrane. I've planted lots of my strawberry plants through holes cut into the membrane and hopefully, slugs and snails permitting, I'll get a good crop of strawberries next year.

I've thinned out and potted on some Kale and some of the Ailsa Craig onions. They're looking quite sturdy little seedlings, but they're not going out into the allotment until I've got some fleece or something to give them some protection from critters and the elements.

Right then, think that's all for now - till next time :)

Monday, 25 August 2008

Bank Holiday Weekend

Gill and Adrian came up from Milton Keynes for the weekend to help me with the allotment. Wow, what a difference a couple of extra pair of hands can make. Almost all the digging and weeding is completed now, just a small patch where I'll let the chickens have a scrabble around in, and the patch under blue tarpaulin that has pumpkins growing through it. I'm fighting a battle with caterpillars too, so Adrian had the job of going round all the brassicas and spraying the little pests with Garlic Fire Spray. It's a constant battle, but I don't want to loose too many. I know the chooks will have a feast when I've harvested and washed them all.

The pumpkins have some golf-ball size embryo fruits on them, and it's just this last day or two that there's been both male and female flowers open at the same time. That being the case, I gave nature a little bit of a helping hand and hand-pollinated 4 or 5 just in case the bees don't get round to doing it for me. I've also got a couple of tiny red cauliflowers starting to head up. Never tried them before so hope they taste nice.

I've dug up the biggest Olive tree from the back garden and re-planted it at the allotment. I've also dug up a big peony and a little peony. The big one has found a new home over at my friend's garden together with a clump of a blue flowered plant that I think might be cat mint, and a clump of Jacob's Ladder, 'cos she admired them both every time she came over for elevenses. The little peony is in the front garden now underneath the front window. should look nice in a couple of years or so when it gets bigger.

Gill had a lovely time this morning collecting eggs from the chooks, was really excited (or eggsited) each time she found one. She's taken them home with her - might last a couple of days :)

Here's a couple of pictures of Adrian sitting on the make-shift coop (a converted rabbit hutch) with Ivy. She's a tart!!! She doesn't mind being picked up and admired.
I've been down to the allotment again with Gill this morning to get a basket of goodies for her to take home. They've gone back with potatoes from Stewart's allotment (they're getting big and slug-eaten!), a lovely butterhead lettuce, courgettes, and some french beans from mine.
That's all for today folks, might get some more nice photos uploaded again soon, well once I've given them names so I know what's what that is.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Ooooooo 2 days in a row :)

I only did a bit of an update yesterday, but here I am again adding more.

Always impatient (well nearly always) to get things moving, as it was at least not raining this morning I wanted to do some sowing. Perhaps it's not really the right time for some of these, but if I succeed then I'll be well pleased. If I don't succeed, then I'll know for certain that I was wrong, and as I've only sowed a few of each, I've still got some left for when the right time comes around.

I've put some Rhubarb Chard and White Chard into single modules, 1 in each as the seeds (of which I understand are really capsules containing more than 1 seed) are quite large. I've been told by my optician that to slow down the progress of Macular Degeneration that I should eat more dark green leafy veg, so I've got some Scarlet Kale and sprinkled a few pinches of seeds in some bigger modules. OK I know it says Scarlet and not dark green, but it's still Kale! I've never tried it before, so I don't know if I'll like it or not. If I don't then the chooks are in for another treat.

I've been dying to grow some mahoosive onions and someone once said that if you can grow good onions from seed, then you're truly a gardener. So a good pinch of Ailsa Craig has gone into a seed tray. These will be nurtured as well as my babies were :) I've also sowed some red onions and some White Lisbon. Fingers crossed for a reasonable crop.

The cover of the mini greenhouse has been off for the summer and now we're getting these horrible torrential downpours, I thought it'd be a good idea to put the cover back. I found lots of nice fat juicy snails for the girls when I got it out. So that's now ready and housing my precious soon-to-be seedlings.

Chickens are behaving themselves again and giving me about 6 eggs a day. Hazel was grumbling this morning though, the make-shift mini gazebo I'd created for them to shelter under and to keep their food dry collapsed under the weight of the water that had collected on the top. Maybe someone will take pity on me and make a more permanent shelter attached to the shed. It only needs to be a sort of low-down lean-to with a sloping roof so the rain can go into a bucket. Maybe I'll do that in the next week or so if the weather's not too bad again.

I'm getting a greenhouse tomorrow. Given to be through a friend-of-a-friend who turns out to be one of my old bosses about 30 years ago. Son-in-law Andrew, grandson Christopher, Milly's boyfriend and some of his friends are all going to help dismantle it and bring it to my garden. It's going to be "fun" assembling it all again isn't it :). Reminder to self - take a marker pen to mark where all the pieces fit together!!

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Wow!! Doesn't time fly!!!

It's been 2 months (well nearly) since I first started my blog, and it's one of those things that keep getting put on hold - "I'll do it tomorrow". Anyway, tomorrow's here now, so I'll try to remember what's happened, and hopefully add a few pictures this time too.

This is Rose on the left, and Daisy on the right when I took them for a day out at the allotment. As you can see, there was loads of weeds etc for them to scrabble around in and eat, but I also loosened the soil a bit so that they could dig out a few worms. The chooks have been down to the lottie with me a few times, the last one was August 14th when we had an Open Day down there. I took 2 of the "oldies" - Hazel and Myrtle, and 2 of the "newies" - Petunia and Daisy. They were admired by lots of visitors and had their photos taken for some publicity stuff. Hope it will encourage more people to do a bit of rescuing some ex-battery chickens for themselves.

I had a very sad day on 11th August, my beautiful chicken Rose died. I don't know why, though I suspect it may have been something to do with the fact that she nearly always laid eggs with no shells, or a very thin membrane around the egg. Maybe an internal infection of some kind? Anyway, it must have happened very quickly as I'd checked on them all and collected the eggs before going to the allotment at 10.30am, then when I got back at 12.30pm to check again for eggs, Rose had died inside the coop. I remember reading somewhere that you are not supposed to bury chickens in your gardens, but I thought "What the heck" she'd been one of the first pet chickens I'd ever kept and she was really beautiful, had all her feathers and was soft, silly, and an escapologist :) Anyway, I dug up part of the back lawn (well a weedy bit of grass) and dug a really deep hole to put her in. My mum had bought me a tiny Olive tree when she last stayed with me and as I'd been thinking of putting it in the garden anyway, I put it on Rose's grave so we'll always know where she is and will always think of her when we look at the tree.

Things are moving along slowly but steadily at the allotment. There's still quite a bit of deep digging to do to get out all the nettle roots. The brassicas are enormous!! How long that will last I don't know, there's loads of fat caterpillars that I'm fighting with. I keep spraying them with Garlic Fire Spray to kill them but for every 10 I kill, I find another 20. I should be able to start picking some climbing french beans in the next day or so providing the flipping rain eases off. The peas are starting to swell, and the pumpkins are starting to flower with some tiny embryo pumkins behind the female flowers, no sign of any male flowers opening yet though.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Well here we go!

As this is the very first time in my life that I've ever done a "blog", I'm hoping that it lives up to my expectations.

I first started keeping chickens in February 2008. I'd toyed with the idea for a couple of years and seriously thought about getting some "pretty" ones. Then I saw the programmes on TV by Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in January highlighting the plight of battery chickens. "That's it!" I thought, "I'm going to rescue some ex-battery chooks and give them a life". So, armed with the Battery Hen Welfare Trust website, I set about getting more information and put my name down for 4 chickens. I bought a coop from Ebay, and with a friend, made a movable run. Then came the big day! On February 23rd off I trotted to Wales to see the rescue co-ordinator and pick up "the girls". Now I had printed out the driving instructions and they told me that it would take about 1 and a half hours to get there. I always leave myself at least 10 minutes "getting lost" time but this time I needed 90 minutes! I got really lost but I did manage to phone Leanne and get more directions.

When I eventually arrived at the rescue centre, Leanne asked me if I could only take the 4 I'd originally asked for, or would I like 6. I couldn't say no, now could I? So 6 girls came home to their nice new coop, which I named "Chuckingham Palace". They all looked so pathetic, almost featherless, frightened of seeing this new big wide world, and all huddled together just as they'd been used to doing in their battery cages. I named them Hyacinth, Ivy, Myrtle, Hazel, Rose and Poppy (I like flowers :)). It took a couple of days for them to realise that this was home now, and they soon settled into a routine, eating well, and providing me with lovely fresh eggs each day. I gradually started to let them out of the run and roam around the garden and veggie patch. This was March so nothing much was growing, and I hadn't planted any veggies out yet. They de-weeded, de-slugged, and manured the garden superbly :)

In April, I decided that although it was lovely to see the girls roaming around the garden, when summer came I'd like to have a bit of lawn and some flower beds, as well as being able to leave the conservatory door open without the chooks wandering into the house. so I sectioned off a large part of the garden with chicken wire and made a sort of archway with a gate. A bit ricketty, but what the heck! it served it's purpose.

Towards the end of May, one Sunday when 3 of my granddaughters were visiting, I had the bright idea of letting them adopt an ex-battery chicken each and I would look after them as long as they came over to help to clean out the coop, and help with the food costs. They were so excited! We contacted another rescue co-ordinator who was easier to get to, and asked if we could have 3, and went to Coventry to collect them. I'd managed to get a large rabbit hutch from Freecycle and converted it to a coop with nest boxes and sleeping area, and fixed to previous run to it so the new girls could settle in without too much hassle. These chickens were even more pathetic than my original ones, a bit smaller, and hardly any feathers at all. The children named these 3 Janet, Maggie and Sheldon. They did settle down very well, perhaps seeing other chickens at the other side of the wire was a help. They laid 2 or 3 eggs every day that I kept separate for the children.

Becci and Baz (Emily, Hope and Pheobe's mum and dad) had a "chat" and realised that they'd have room in their own garden for the chooks, and that they'd like another 3 as well. 1 converted dog kennel and 2 weeks later saw Janet, Maggie and Sheldon move again to their permanent home.

With the 3 "newbies" gone, I thought my flock was a bit small, so when Bec said that she'd asked Ian Farrar for another 3, I also contacted him and asked for 3 as well.

June 21st we went again to Coventry to collect our new additions. These chickens were in much better condition than the last ones, bigger and not so many missing feathers, just bald necks. Bec and her girls took 3, and I took 4 (don't like odd numbers!). Bec's 3 got on really well with Janet, Maggie and Sheldon almost straight away, but I had tantrums from my existing chooks when I put Violet, Daisy, Iris and Petunia into the isolation coop and run. What a racket!! I thought the neighbours would complain, but they didn't. I even had 2 eggs from them the first day :)

For the last 3 days, I've been letting the new ones out of the run close to bedtime so they can start to get to know each other close up. Yes, there's been a few scraps and complaints, but on the whole, not too much to worry about. Today I let them all out together at 6.30am and things have been fine. The original 6 seem to stay together and the new 4 stay together, though all are sharing the same feeder.

More posts and pictures later ................................. if this works that is :)