Damsons and Dissertations

Two activities have dominated the last couple of weeks – finishing my dissertation and making an awful lot of damson jam!

I have never known a summer like this for soft fruit. I think it’s because we had a warm spring and the bees were out in force . It took us weeks to clear our glut of cherries – not that I’m complaining! – and now the damson tree has obliged with about 40 kilos, fruit as big as plums. I can’t bear to see such bounty go to waste so there’s been a basket at the gate for several days inviting the neighbours to help themselves. Also I’ve been touring my friends trying to offload large baskets.

We had the kitchen revamped last Spring, and that’s turned out to be a good investment. There used to be a comedian called Ken Dodd back in the 60s who went on about “jam butty mines” (For those who don’t know these important things, “butty” is a Norhern English word for sandwich). Anyway, that’s what my kitchen has been like. I’ve made 24 pots of magnificent jam and almost as much puree for the freezer. My Kenwood Chef fruit processing attachment has been working hard removing all the stones.

And we also have an awful lot of apples to get through. A rather unusual variety called James Grieve, lovely flavour but it doesn’t keep or travel well, hence you never see them in the supermarkets.

And then the dissertation. Well, I finally printed it out yesterday ready to submit by 1st September. It’s about how Shakespeare is portrayed in children’s historical novels. Only 12,000 words so I had to make some choices. Mainly I look at Geoffrey Trease’s Cue for Treason, written in 1940, and hence a prototype of the Elizabethan adventure with the Queen and Shakespeare and various shenanigins with traitors and such. And then what I call the coming-of-age novel, represented mainly by Susan Cooper’s wonderful King of Shadows. It’s fascinating how similar such stories often are to the boarding-school tale, with Shakespeare standing in as a benevolent Dumbledore figure. For quiddich match read performance, but you don’t get a lot of Hermione characters unless they’re dressing up as boys.

It’s almost the end of my Shakespeare adventure. If all goes well, I’ll graduate in December from the University of Birmingham. It’s been a wonderful time, but also a great challenge. I’m rather amazed and proud of myself that I’ve persevered and managed to work at that intellectual level. The dissertation was by far the most difficult because I had to be so self-motivated. Going to classes, though also hard work, was a hugely enjoyable social experience that I shall miss a lot.

Finally, wonderful news about my son Tom, who is now reading Philosophy at Essex. He has won a prize for the most outstanding academic performance of the whole first year. Not bad for a boy with chronic health problems who couldn’t get out of bed two years ago and was almost kicked out of school by a hardline Head of Sixth Form who thought it was all in his head. Also not bad for someone who was badly screwed over by the AQA (exam board), missed out on his first choice of uni when they missed out a section in their marking of his paper, and then they didn’t even have the courtesy to tell him or his school when they remarked it and he got an A grade after all (He found out by accident when he went back at Chistmas to pick his certificate up).

I guess the moral of that is that if you are despairing about your own grades, or those of some young person close to you, hang on in there. Things sometimes have a way of turning out better than expected. Or, failing that, they could always pinch a TARDIS and scarper.

Digging for Victory

We have just had our garden wall rebuilt (very expensive) and it was a sunny weekend, so I spent quite a bit of time repainting the decorative iron bars and gate. Partner dug out new flowerbeds and filled them with compost. Backbreaking.

For those who are interested our garden now contains – kohl rabi, agretti, chilli peppers, leeks, beetroot, Swiss chard, tomatoes (pomodoro and gardners delight), eight different basils, cucumbers, fennel, pumpkin, courgettes/zucchini, spinach, borlotti beans, celeriac, broccoli, Conference pears (over 100 this year, the tree collapsed), rhubarb, land cress and probably a load of other things I can’t remember.

We started growing stuff in our front garden 2 years ago when we were told we’d have to wait 2 years for an allotment, and we’ve never looked back. We really know our neighbours so much better now. In fact, you never get as much done as you hoped when you go out there, because they all keep chatting to you. It’s like Digging for Victory all over again!