Updated: Aug 29, 2020
Most people choose a house based on its location, its wow-factor and the local amenities. We chose ours based on swans - and, unbeknown to us at the time, vegetables
I'd love one of these boats and one of these cabins, please. This was where I went walking last week super early in the morning to avoid people and heat
I’ve talked about vegetables quite a bit, so I thought it was time to talk about something else. To be fair, I talk about vegetables a lot because I’m overwhelmed by having a lot of vegetables – namely courgettes. My plants have gone mental and because I didn’t realise every seed sown would take, we have a whopping eight plants for two of us, and one of us (Gautier) doesn’t even like courgettes. Look, there are LOADS of the things. I've made courgette cake (disastrous), courgette fritters (average) and tonight's dinner is a courgette, feta and new potato frittata (probably not too bad) but I swear to god am going to look like a courgette by the end of the month. If Gautier asks what's for dinner I'll be saying, 'courgettes and something' for the next month.
That's my new biscuit tin from my brother and sister-in-law. Snazzy! It's got ginger snaps in there. What's in your biscuit tin? Those new pineapple Jaffa Cakes? I want to try them but I'm just not convinced. If anyone can tell me what they're like, please do.
So, with my courgette farm in full swing, I can now add vegetables to the mix when it comes to swapping food with our friends in our street. Not in a ‘give me three chickens for this goat’ manner, but more in a ‘I’ve made a massive cake because the recipe said it was for 10 and I went ahead anyway knowing that at the last count, only two of us lived here.’ I’ll pop to Carol’s with some pineapple upside-down cake or gooseberry cake, she’ll make banana and chocolate chip loaf and we’ll get a couple of slices of that. Christine, as I’ve mentioned, is the queen of pavlova and she’s much nicer than me because she’ll make an entire one for us, no measly slicing business. I've had some lovely green beans from Neil's garden and I've popped to Jayne's with courgettes because nobody else needs any (due to me giving everyone courgette plants back in May) that are now going nicely mad. Look at my beans! Oh, and on Sunday we had a barbecue and had a baguette left over, so I headed round the corner to Neil's with it at 8pm and as he opened the door he said, 'Swap!' and Christine appeared with a dish of blackberry and apple crumble. The next day Neil dropped off a bag of frozen blackberries that Christine had picked. I really need to up my game.
Now, I’ve not talked about this before, but since Covid-19 doesn’t show any signs of abating, I thought I’d give it a whirl. I’ve been shielding since the end of February – well, both of us have – due to my health conditions: rhinitis (which means permanently blocked sinuses), asthma, ulcerative colitis, spinal arthritis and a very weak immune system. Oh, and being on immuno-suppressants, too. It’s quite the heady mix and I pick up infections and viruses everywhere I go, or even if I don't go anywhere, so the last thing I need is coronavirus. Anyway, Gautier and I have done nothing but socialise in our magic street for the past three years, pretty much, since having to move 200 miles away from our friends in Brighton. In all honesty I have a better social life within my postcode than I ever did in Brighton, but that’s mainly because when I was in Brighton I was so ill and in so much pain I couldn’t actually go out. My parents and brother visited last month for a long weekend and I hadn’t been that excited about someone coming to see me since I awaited Father Christmas' descent down the chimney after asking for a doll’s house in 1976.
There’s not a great deal you can do when you’re shielding, though. Initially Gautier and I followed the advice to the letter, other than him going to the supermarket once a week as we had to wait so long for a priority slot with a supermarket. We chatted with our friends on their driveways, and even had organised drinks one Sunday with two sets of friends who live opposite each other. We brought our own drinks (god knows what the other neighbours thought when they saw me walking down the road with a bottle of wine and a full glass) and we yelled at one another for a good hour in the sunshine. Gradually we progressed to a socially-distanced drink whereby we didn’t go inside but straight into the garden and only with one couple. Fortunately we all like each other, otherwise it could all have got a bit Lord of the Flies. Mostly, though, I've been pottering in the garden or going on local walks. I miss Brighton so much it gives me actual heartache, and while Peterborough city centre sucks, its many nature reserves are wonderful. We chose the house on the basis of it being on the river, and the fact that despite it needing so much work we're still not finished three years later, I do get to feed the ducks from my back garden.
The best thing in the world about living here is the swans. And ducks. And babies of both. Honestly, I spend more on swan and duck food than I do on our food. I love them so much. This dad swan is the nuts; he comes and stands next to me, looks me over, sits down and lets me hand feed his kids. How mad is that? I'm very quiet, very still and very nice so while mum keeps watch for dogs running into the water, dad just relaxes and chats to me. This was one of the best days of my life, no joke. The cygnet on the left did have a head, it just looks like he's lost it.
Pre-coronavirus we would often go to the local pub en masse on a Friday evening. At 5.30pm Geoff would walk by and we’d join him in knocking for Carol and Robin. We’d walk to Neil’s and pick him up, then Sailor Pete (haven’t seen him in ages, I wonder if he’s OK?) would step in line as he’s at the other end of the street. At 7.30pm we’d all go home for dinner. It was a lovely little ritual, when I felt up to it, but those days are long gone.
Instead we now host drinks for each other in our gardens, weather permitting, which means not very often given that we get a heatwave then torrential rain and mental winds and none of us have proper shelter. The men go to one house for beer, the ladies go to another for gin and tonics. There are 10 of us in our gang so that’s five at each house. Nobody lives more than three minutes' walk from anybody else, which is pretty nuts. To go to Carol's takes me 25 seconds. To go to Pauline's, it's 20 seconds. Jola is the furthest away; it takes a full 90 seconds to get to her house. What japes!
I like these humans but I still prefer the company of swans; in saying that the dad bit my leg a couple of days ago. I was holding a bit of the terrible courgette cake while chatting to a goose and he just lunged at it, taking a pinch out of my thigh in the process. I can tell you this for nothing, swan bites HURT LIKE MERRY HELL. I've still got a bruise, but I don't mind, I'm sure it was an accident* *side eye*
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