Lilac Time



This was the sunset last Monday bank holiday, after we went out for an early evening picnic since the daytime had been too hot for us! We took sausage sandwiches to a nature reserve and sat on a bench perfectly placed for watching deer. We also heard and saw a cuckoo and a barn owl, and smelled the bluebells.

There’s been a few visits from swifts, although at first they didn’t hang around. We hope they’ll soon be here every day to provide their summer soundtrack of whistly screams. We also found out this week how endangered they are, and we’re going to find out if there are any nest boxes suitable for our house (being a bungalow, it might be too low for them).


The real theme of this week has been lilacs, they are flowering everywhere. We had a walk in the village and smelled all the ones we saw which we could reach! This enormous one is on a field boundary. From a distance it looks like a big purple rectangle.

Since we plan to do as much walking as we can, this year Lucy’s birthday acquisition is this rucksack. It sits neatly in the bicycle pannier for lifting out at work, and when we go on a walk from home its the right size for anything we would want to bring.


The plan was also to get some sandals and it was a lot of fun looking for some…however, in the meantime an older pair that had been disregarded as too scruffy from years of going through muddy puddles while cycling have scrubbed up really well with shampoo and a nail brush! Here they are drying off (in our snazzy 1960s pink bath.) They will definitely do for the time being.


This weekend is cool and damp, but we are lucky to have big windows that show us the garden from every room. Some days the living room is like a bird hide – lately we’ve seen great tits and sparrows within a metre of the window collecting insects in this border.


The kitchen looks out onto the driveway hedge and trees, and this week the hawthorn blossom is coming out. It seems like every time we walk into the kitchen the view has changed and got even more blossomy!



Library books:
Arundhati Roy – The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Donal Ryan – All We Shall Know
Rachel Elliott – Whispers Through a Megaphone

SuRie – Storm (deserved a higher score at Eurovision!)
Paul Simon – Peace Like a River
Janelle Monae – Neon Valley Street
The Lilac Time – Salvation Song (had to listen to them after naming this blog post after them!)


Spring weeks packed with nature & treats


There has been so much going on in the Spring! We could hardly keep up over the last couple of weeks.

First, the flowering of snakes head fritillaries which we planted in a nice wet boggy area..


This wonderful misty-morning sunlight was also stunning in the wood…


All the tadpoles are active and growing rapidly….


It wasn’t just nature celebrating the spring, it was also Lucy’s birthday. It rained all weekend, but we enjoyed being indoors…


After eating the banana cake, we went on to invent a new super-rich home-made hot chocolate drink using cocoa powder and chopped dark chocolate melted in milk, and finally perfected Lucy’s everyday breakfast recipe which now = oats and almonds soaked overnight in soya milk, plus a kiwi fruit and some red berries (and some more chopped dark chocolate on most days)!


As the sun and rain shared the skies for a few days, some spectacular shades of blue were seen next to the wild cherry blossom and hawthorn leaves…


Over the last week, with sun and warmth, there has been a bluebell burst….


This hawthorn shield bug was found having a wander about on Brian’s t-shirt, so he placed it onto a log to photograph it…


This bank holiday weekend has been really hot. We had a spontaneous trip to the seaside for the full fish & chips, ice creams and beach experience!


And although its too hot to venture out yet today, yesterday we had three walks (and one picnic), the last one a beautiful evening visit to a local nature reserve….


Library books:
Salley Vickers – The Cleaner of Chartres
Sarah Perry – The Essex Serpent
Sally Rooney – Conversations With Friends
Donal Ryan – All We Shall Know
Arundhati Roy – The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Siouxie & The Banshees – Dazzle
Grizzly Bear – Sky Took Hold
SuRie – Storm (less than a week until Eurovision!)
Cud – One Giant Love
Massive Attack – Paradise Circus
Joan Armatrading – Down to Zero


Frogs, floods & garden friends




Until a few days ago, our ditch has been busier with frogs than ever before. One night-time visit to see them showed there were at least 35. In the daytime, we could see up to 17 at a time but they were really tricky to photograph.


Their frogspawn is in a new shallow shelf area which Brian dug last year. They must like it here because it warms up quicker than the deeper, darker water. The frogs have now gone, and the tadpoles are starting to emerge. This should be a good frog year with lots of tiny froglets in the grass in the summer. We’ll have to be very careful when mowing the lawn…

After the heavy Easter rain, one end of the ditch filled to its highest ever level and we had to cut a channel to help it drain into the other end rather than flood its banks.


It was pretty exciting watching the water rush through, and at one point a female newt travelled down!

We also found a flood when we went for a walk, which usually is quite a long walk past a mill and houses. However, this was what the start of the footpath looked like on the day:


Lucy was able to get this far as she was the only one wearing wellies. Instead of the walk, we found a pool next to the river which was good for skimming stones in.

The overcast days this week were ideal tree pollarding days as the sun couldn’t get into Brian’s eyes. He found this unusual branch on the willow. This genetic anomaly is called fasciation – a flattened stem.


A sunny day yesterday was a good opportunity to dry some laundry in the garden. We had forgotten how much pollen beetles love the colour yellow, but within seconds, Lucy’s cycling jacket was covered in them.


Although the frogs have gone, we have still been going out into the garden at night,  to see if any newts are in the ditch predating the tadpoles. A few nights ago Brian was casting the torchlight around the house and found this new housemate:


This is a noble false widow spider, the first false widow spider we have ever seen. Its living in a hole in the wooden boards under the eaves of the house, and emerges at night. It is our most venomous spider (in the UK) but is a non-aggressive species and is no worse than a bee or wasp sting to most people. This photograph was taken standing on a chair in the dark, using a mobile phone on the zoom setting. Quite tricky!

Library books:
George Saunders – Lincoln in the Bardo
Salley Vickers – The Cleaner of Chartres
Sarah Perry – The Essex Serpent

REM – Pilgrimage
David Bowie – Loving the Alien
Siouxie & The Banshees – Dazzle
St Vincent – Save Me From What I Want
Erasure – Breath of Life


In the woods and on wheels


Here is a Scarlet Elf Cup fungus which Brian found in the woods. We are definitely not experts on fungi but this one is very distinctive. It isn’t poisonous, and some people consider them edible, but we’ll be leaving it where it is.


After being off-road for the snow week and then while we replaced a broken derailleur, Lucy’s bicycle got back on the road a couple of weeks ago and it was very exciting to be cycling again. Even the return of ‘helmet hair’ was welcome! Its a great time of year to be passing by the verges with their new flowers every day.



Brian has been doing a lot in the woodland, to make it as good a site for conservation as possible. These willows have been planted as a renewable firewood resource for us and  future generations. They have been recently pollarded to keep the re-growth out of each of nibbling deer. In a year’s time they will be up to fifteen feet tall.


Now we have a week off together and so far the theme has been: rain. Our ditch is very full and we have lots of frogs – about 18 seen together, lots of spawn, and a newt! This is the wettest Easter we can remember. We just got in from a walk at the university which started as a nice rabbit-watching wander about, but ended with us getting so wet walking back to the car that foam came out of the knees of Brian’s trousers. Most of our clothes are now hanging up over heaters around the house, while we sit and eat chocolate and dry off. We thoroughly enjoyed getting wet knowing that we were going home to a warm, dry house.

What we do for the rest of the week will be guided by the weather a bit, but there’s always something nice we could be doing…such as making a banana cake…and eating it.


Library books:
Salley Vickers – Cousins
Elizabeth McKenzie – The Portable Veblen
George Saunders – Lincoln in the Bardo

Final Fantasy – That’s When the Audience Died
Tegan & Sara – Hang On To the Night
Coldplay – O (Fly On)
REM – Pilgrimage
David Bowie – Loving the Alien


The woods and the snow


While the weather was good in February, Brian spent lots of time in the woods. It probably isn’t easy to figure out what this photograph is of. When one of the poplar trees falls over, its shallow roots lift up a plate of soil and leave a sort of pond. This is where Brian is standing – the water is the pond, and his shadow is cast onto the plate of soil that was previously underground! You can see what it looks like in the below photo.


Another mystery photo below. What caused the marks on this tree branch?


We looked this up online and found that it is caused by woodpeckers in the summer, making holes in willow to get sap. What a lovely thought, that we are providing sweet drinks for woodpeckers on hot days!


On other walks together we visited favourite places which were all wetter than usual, creating some lovely reflections.


And then it snowed! This was the result in our garden of the ‘Beast from the East’. We particularly like the way the teasel heads got covered.

It was lovely while it looked like this and all we had to do was take photos, but it was challenging too, as in this country snow is so rare that we don’t have winter tyres or other preparations. The buses stopped, and when they came back they were unpredictable, so that Lucy ended up walking the last 3 miles home from work one afternoon. Any ideas we may have had before of how great having a White Christmas one year would be are now more realistic!


Other things we have done recently: we got rid of a chair from the bedroom which was being used as a bedside table. We haven’t replaced it with anything, and the empty corner is making cleaning so much easier. Its been a long time since we decluttered an entire piece of furniture, and it was exciting!

In our shopping, we’re trying to eliminate palm oil. Recently documentaries have opened our eyes about how devastating the effects of palm oil cultivation have been. Really, we knew about this already, but needed a kick up the bum to take action. It is in so many products, that avoiding it has made us very mindful shoppers, and the added bonus is we have massively reduced how many biscuits, cakes etc we could buy – now if we want a treat we usually make it ourselves!

 Library books:

Emily Fridlund – The History of Wolves
Virginia Woolf – The Waves
Rabih Alameddine – The Angel of History
Gail Honeyman – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Elizabeth Strout – My Name is Lucy Barton
Anne Tyler – A Patchwork Planet


Joanna Newsom – ‘81
Radiohead – Present Tense
Patty Griffin – Kite Song
XTC – The Loving
Thomas Dolby – Cruel
David Bowie –Fill Your Heart
James – Don’t Wait That Long
Smiths – Oscillate Wildly
Joan as Police Woman – Tell Me
REM – I’ve Been High


Yuletide rest

A new tradition for us is to make sure we have a bit of holiday before Christmas, and this weekend was four days off. We like the pre-Christmas weeks, and taking our time over things to really enjoy them. Our tree has been up for a while now, using alder branches from the garden again, and this is our biggest ever tree!


Our living room is small but we can pack in a lot of decorations….

Its been a cold December so far. Not much snow, but some very frosty mornings, which can be an issue if you forgot to bring in your laundry.


It also brings some wonderful wintery skies and bracing walks.


During our long weekend, Lucy has had a bit of a cold, and the cranberry mince pies made today reflect this…the tops are meant to be stars, but not having the right sort of cutter, she went for the easy option.


Watching lots of Christmas crafts on TV has inspired the knitting to come out again, and this time without any pressure to develop as a knitter – if all you make is simple scarves, that is fine! It should be a relaxing hobby. We also went to the library and have a good stack of winter reading, all free of charge.


This will be our last blog of 2017, so thank you for reading our simple living stories, and have a relaxing festive season.


(Yes, that is a gherkin decoration on the tree!)


Recent reading:

Patrick Gale – Notes from an Exhibition (re-read)
Anne Tyler – Breathing Lessons
Sarah Winman – Tin Man
Matthew Quick – The Good Luck of Right Now
Ali Smith – Winter

Current listening:

Aimee Mann – Patient Zero
Jessie Ware  – Alone
Alison Moyet – The Rarest Birds
Sia – Chandelier
Radiohead – The Numbers
Case/Lang/Veirs – Supermoon
Clean Bandit  Symphony
Elbow & John Grant – Kindling (Fickle Flame)

Creatures and comforts

Today there is a chill in the air and we are feeling autumnal. Lucy has polished her cold weather shoes, the heater is on and we just made and enjoyed our first apple spice cake with apples off the garden tree…


We haven’t blogged for a while as we were enjoying our summer holidays. This was a good chance to question whether we even need to be regularly blogging, and of course we don’t. There is no reason why it should be done monthly or on any particular day, and it feels good to be more relaxed about things. Now we’ll just be posting whenever we feel like it!

During the last few weeks there were many nature treats for us. We went to the coast and managed to catch a low tide which revealed rock pools and some big crabs. Standing barefoot beside the rock pools, Lucy was surprised when one emerged from the sand beneath her feet! We caught one, though it wasn’t happy about it and gave a good finger-pince! It was nice to see it close up but nicer to put it back in it’s pool again.


Here is our garden hedgehog, which we saw several times at the end of August. It seemed to have a route it strolled in the early evening, past the woodshed and then across the bridge over the ditch, before returning home under a pile of sticks and leaves.


We also uncovered this fantastic big warty toad, under a wheelie bin.


On a visit to a nearby wood, Brian saw two young roe deer in the adjoining field, incredibly close and, when they started barking, quite loud too!


Lucy and her mum had a day out in Bury St Edmunds this weekend, somewhere new to explore. There are two rivers with lovely names, the Linnet and the Lark. Here is the River Lark, which is easy to walk to in the Abbey Gardens. If we have a good year for colour of autumnal leaves, it will soon look spectacular reflecting in the water.


We are excited about all the things that make autumn special – the colours, the sunrises and sunsets, Strictly Come Dancing (of course), lighting fires, warming foods and cosy clothes. The whole hygge concept comes quite naturally to us, so bring on the season!

Maggie O’Farrell – This Must Be The Place
John Boyne – This House is Haunted
Kit de Waal – My Name is Leon

Grizzly Bear – Three Rings
Bjork – Thunderbolt
Janelle Monae – Cold War
Goldfrapp – Systemagic
Mama Cass – Make Your Own Kind of Music
Beirut – Port of Call

June: A sunset, some sparkle, and living alongside wildlife


June – midsummer – a beautiful time of year, and this year we took more time to enjoy it by having some long weekends, or sitting in the garden after work (sometimes with a gin and tonic each.)

10 June - sparkly sandals

Sparkly sandals are a simple pleasure of summer. £15 well spent last year! This month was the first month since 2013 when we didn’t record all our expenditure. It felt like a big change for us to stop doing it but now we are settled and coming up for 2 years on our one-income budget, there really isn’t any need to do it.


This day-flying moth was a new sighting for us. It’s called a Mother Shipton, named after the prophetess whose face the wings resemble.


We also have a new house-mate! This is our porch, where a leafcutter bee has made a nest. We’ve seen it carrying in the pieces of leaf, and packing them in tightly.

17 June - Sheringham sunset

Another first for us was the experience of seeing the sun set into the ocean. On a very hot afternoon we headed to the coast expecting a cool evening sea breeze. It wasn’t much cooler there, but we enjoyed ice creams, fish and chips, and a walk along the shore before the sun turned deeper orange, then red, and then appeared to be swallowed by the sea!


We collected some jam jars and added to our wall of candles. The Mexican fleabane was only sowed into the wall 1 year ago, and now looks like it was always there.



Kevin Maher – The Fields
David Whitehouse – Mobile Library

Goldfrapp – Annabel
case/lang/veirs – Greens of June
Perfume Genius – Otherside
Ludovico Eindaudi – I Giorni
James – Nothing But Love
Radiohead at Glastonbury
Grizzly Bear – Mourning Sound
Years & Years – Shine – This month Lucy finished listening to all the music we own, A-Z, and de-cluttering unwanted tracks. This was the final artist of the alphabet. The whole process took 3 years!

Rays of Light


Evening walks are a treat at this time of year, with the extra daylight hours. As the sun starts to move lower in the sky, you can catch rays of light as they hit the ground.


We’ve also had our first evening meal in the garden, and gin & tonics, listening to people cheer and/or groan at a TV football match a few houses away, and watching the Mexican Fleabane slowly start to close up for the evening.


Mexican Fleabane in our concrete block wall

The incredible diversity of flower shapes and colours in the garden, for attracting pollinators, is fun to observe. Watch and see where the bees like to go best – foxgloves are a favourite…the detail is stunning when you look closely.

05 23 Foxgloves B sent me

We like to do some Spring cleaning and de-cluttering. A few weeks ago this table had a big potted ivy on it and twice as many objects as there are now. The ivy had to go as it was covered in insects secreting sticky liquid all over the mirror and everything else! It feels so much fresher and cleaner after being pared back.

05 17 Ivy gone and jug added

Posting pictures like these, of our everyday life, feels like an incredible thing to be able to do, given how this week has unfolded for so many other people.  To have something you can even call ‘everyday life’ is an immense good fortune. We hope that in some small way this blog contributes to a message that every day of every life is special and we should act accordingly.

Current library bookshelf:
Philip Pullman – The Amber Spyglass

Lucy’s current playlist:
James – Nothing But Love


May Days


Spring is turning into summer and it’s been a fun couple of weeks. We’ve heard hedgehogs snuffling in the garden (their mating ritual noises), there are plenty of birds feeding young, and we’ve seen mating ladybirds and shield bugs.


Lucy’s bicycle went in for a service, which seems to be needed every 18 months when the chain starts slipping over the rings because everything is worn.  The week without cycling was enough time to realise that cycling a 15 mile commute is actually quite a significant thing to do, and so it’s not necessary to feel as if a day on the bus when it’s rainy or because of tiredness is a failure. It feels good to switch this thinking around and celebrate on all the many days of cycling instead.


Cycling, pottering in the garden, woodland archery and fire-pit cooking…most of the things we like to do are free or cheap (after the upfront costs), and this fortnight there was also, of course, the Eurovision Song Contest, always a reminder that the TV license is good value for money! Last night was very entertaining and Portugal were worthy winners with a genuinely heartfelt and original song.

We had a day out today to an open garden, with tea and cakes, £18 spent in total which goes to charity, so that always feels like a worthwhile and fun thing to do. And they were really good cakes this time!


Ridiculously floriferous – one of our hawthorns


Things change fast at this time of year. Breathe in the smell of the blossom, and enjoy the colours, and if it rains (as we badly need it to here), celebrate that too!

Current library bookshelf:
Philip Pullman – The Subtle Knife
Sarah Moss – The Tidal Zone

Ali Shaw – The Girl With Glass Feet

Lucy’s current playlist:
Thomas Dolby – Airwaves
Rufus Wainwright – Tiergarten
Crowded House – Love This Life
My Brightest Diamond – Feeling Good