The Sticks

We inherited Flash, a short haired border collie,  in 2009 when my uncle became too ill to care for him. He was seven years old and of nervous temprement due to traumas in his life. He was a failed sheep dog about three years old when he had been rescued by my uncle.  Flash had been his constant companion, the only person he trusted. Losing my uncle, the first person to show him kindness and love,  was another trauma for this damaged dog. 

It took a long time to settle him in. Others had tried and given up. He barked at night and peed on the floor when left alone. He had been banned by the local pub.  We were his last hope. After six months and a bit of help from the vet he relaxed and settled.


Who ever said making preserves was an Autumn occupation? This year we started in July with the first batch of Plum jam and continued through to mid November. 

For the last few months our kitchen has been on a seemingly endless cycle of coring, peeling and slicing apples: spicy apple jam; pickled apples; frozen apples; stewed apples; apple and tomato chutney, apple and tomato soup. Apple strudel, apple crumble, apple juice and just plain, fresh apples have added a desert course to our evening meal, unusual at the Sticks as the chef, who also doubles as the Webmaster, refuses to make desert and won't let anyone else into "his kitchen" when he is "creating".

We recently assisted a Mexican migrant enter the UK and settle in Staffordshire. The migrant left Mexico in November 2019 and spent 8 months in California. Several earlier attempts, including via the Netherlands, to get her into the UK failed because coronavirus disrupted the travel routes. When she eventually arrived she  had to spend a mere 24 hours in quarantine and that was only due only to a mistake in the paperwork, otherwise she would have been waved through. She has been granted permanent residence in the UK for a relatively small sum of money - certainly less than the cost of a visa. Everyone we speak to thinks it is a touching story. 

The recent upsurge in the Black Lives Matter campaign reminded me of the time we met civil rights campaigner Annie Pearl Avery at her Ancient Africa, Enslavement and Civil War museum in Selma, Alabama. It was only three days after a far right white supremacsist had killed Heather Heyer in Charlottesville as she demonstrated against a Unite the Right rally and with Trump seemingly emboldening such racists (a view now supported by the data), the importance of Annie Pearl's project couldn't have been more striking. 

Annie Pearl explained that her mission was to inform (or remind) everyone that Africa was the cradle of human life and that African history is something African Americans should


Mrs Cat, Cleo, the twin sister of Mr Cat, spends her time hunting mice, sleeping where she can find a warm spot, although, unlike her brother, rarely on one of our beds.  In the evenings she likes to curl up on the Webmaster's lap while he is watching television, but it has to be on her terms. All the cats like sitting on the Webmaster, the two "fluffies" will come to a fragile agreement with one on his lap and the other his chest, but Mrs Cat demands exclusivity. Her hiss is louder than her purr and her claws are sharp.  Unlike her brother she never greets the dog by rubbing noses, she is more likely to be seen lashing out at him from above as he innocently walks below.

It's Monday. The Webmaster's discarded clothes from yesterday are on the bedroom floor, next to the laundry basket.  The basket is empty, the contents dumped on the utility room floor the previous night. "We have a laundry basket" I shout. He's in the next room tapping away on his keyboard and letting out large, loud sighs. "Yeah, OK," he calls back, signalling his total ignorance of what I'd said.

"So why don't you use it?" 

"I've found the problem but it's a bastard to fix."


After a cold, wet, windy and bleak winter which saw floods in many parts of the country and waterlogged gardens in many more, this week has given us a taste of what we can only hope will be brighter days ahead. With the current coronavirus pandemic and the fear of its effects and consequences stalking many of us anything to bring cheer and distraction had to be welcome. 

Each February since I retired and began to pursue the good life my house begins to fill with seed trays. This year has been no exception, albeit with a greater degree of organisation and a little more technology as I attempt to learn the lessons from previous years. So each morning for the last four weeks I have done the rounds to check on my gradually enlarging collection of seeds and seedlings. Which needed watering? Which should stay in the propagator or on the heat mats and which should be moved to somewhere cooler? Do I go with what I think is right or what the experts say? And which of the conflicting experts is correct? 

I was in Syria for only one week in 1993. A long time ago.  Every time I transcribe another section of the diary I kept for that week in 1993 I am saddened. I wonder what happened to the people I met. The children I saw then may be scattered refugees now, or grieving the loss of their own children or struggling to keep them safe and warm. Something I can say and know but which I struggle to understand. But I do know they deserve our help whether they arrive here as refugees or are struggling on at home.

Over the last month, while the dismal weather limited activities in the garden and the dog preferred to lie curled up with his nose under his tail rather than venture out for a walk, I distracted myself with family history research. I started building the family tree of my daughters more than twenty years ago, and over that time many names have been added to it: some famous, most not. 

It's coming up to the 2nd anniversary of my retirement and already I can't imagine going back to work, or at least working for someone else. All those cliches are right. Retired people are so busy they can't understand how they ever had enough time to work.

Now Boris Johnson is off to find a ditch we may still have time to finish upgrading the insulation and replacing the storage floor in our loft before he delivers Brexit, although personally I hope he never does.

Late last year I needed to climb in to the attic to retrieve a couple of old suitcases. The attic is poorly lit and dividing walls and narrow walkways make it difficult to move around. To reach the suitcases I had to wobble past the water tanks, climb over a one metre high dividing wall and jump down into the boarded area where the "junk of ages" is stored. As I approached with only the dim light from my headlamp and its drained batteries I could hear a distinct buzzing. 

As I reached for the suitcases I noticed hundreds of dead flies and assumed that the buzzing I could hear was from their still living relatives. Where on earth had they come from? As I grabbed the suite cases I came under


The local common where we walk our dog is known as 'Marshes Hill'. My grandmother used to claim it belonged to our family once upon a time, before it was lost to another family through death and a second marriage. For years I could find no evidence of any such connection despite easily tracing my Marsh family ancestors to the local area. Earlier this year I finally found probate documents showing that in the early nineteenth century one of my Marsh great-grandfathers occupied property - Burnfields Farm - on what is now known as Marshes Hill and also a newspaper report indicating he received an allotment of land under the Enclosures Act 1814.

Maybe there is something in my grandmother's claims


I didn't know it was a thing, but there are apps which introduce people who like looking after dogs to people who need someone to look after their dog for a few hours or days. 

But I do now. The former Student has signed up to one to earn herself a bit of extra cash and she is doing a reasonably brisk trade. 

I was worried about it at first. A succession of strange dogs coming to stay in my house. What if they pee on the floor or chew up my precious belongings? What if they don't get on with my dog or dig up my garden?

Of course it might still happen, but so far all the dogs have been well behaved, from the boisterous young pup which wanted constantly to play to the older sedate, gentle


It's raining again. Looking at the weather forecast it will be overcast and wet until the end of the week, so instead of out working in my garden I'm sitting in front of my computer typing this.

It's my second year of gardening since I retired and I've been a lot more ambitious this year than last; my expectations are higher and my disappointments more acute. Last year my attitude was, well I tried, I'll find out what I did wrong and avoid repeating the problem next year. This year I'm trying to pretend I know what I'm doing. 

Irregular watering in the greenhouse: no problem switch to capillary matting. It seems to be working well apart from the slight problem of a scary looking orange


Doesn't time fly when you're fighting against Brexit? Well, here we are in the middle of April and two Brexit days have come and gone and the Brexit mess is no nearer a conclusion. Now we have the European Parliamentary elections to look forward to next month. I hope all the psychologists are ready to cope with the country suffering a mass attack of cognative disonance when they turn out to vote to elect the unelected dictators.

But then again, Brexit has already driven most of the country mad. Self help gurus giving advice on how to survive the stress are thriving and last week I was interested to see that one of the most popular activities taken up in response to Brexit is gardening.


We knew the time was approaching when we'd need to make "the decision" but when it was time it didn't make it easier. What gave us the right to decide our dog had reached the end of her life? Who'd be God?

We'd been prepared. We'd spoken to the vet about it several months ago. That had been when her back legs started to wobble and she couldn't make it round her daily walk however slowly we plodded along. We'd taken her in for a check up. She was good for her age, he'd said, and he advised we kept her active to fend off the muscle atrophy. Even if her days of long walks were over she could still do the other things she liked: pottering around the garden sniffing, listening, watching the world


In just over a week it will be one year since I retired. As my retirement had approached my already retired friends and relatives warned me I would wonder how I had ever found time to fit in work. Now I half see what they mean. I can't remember an earlier year passing so quickly or in which I undertook so many projects or made so many new friends. But I do know how I fitted in work: I neglected myself (apart from my running) and my home, or more precisely my garden. 

In a nutshell: after one year I feel much better than I have for years and I don't miss work at all. Due to the circumstances in which I came to retire most of my work colleagues had left before I did, so there was no wrench of


We know that Summer is over when the cats come indoors, find themselves a warm spot, preferably inside a cardboard box, and Mr Cat moves into our bedroom. They've been indoors now for at least three weeks and the late resurgence of Summer I had hoped for has not materialised.

It's been raining a lot too and the daily chore of watering the vegetable garden every day is becoming a vague memory. The plants in the greenhouse are taking less water now, which is fortunate because with the cooler, damp and rainy weather I am tending to forget that they need watering. The tomato plants are still producing plenty of tomatoes for harvesting every day but the aubergines turned from raging success


Page 1 of 2