Thursday, 29 December 2011

Drive time!

I’m learning to drive. If you live in the Oxford area this should be enough to convince you that the New Year is as good a time as any for becoming a hermit. If you would still like to go about your business then you can take comfort in the fact that I am mostly driving in first gear at no more than ten miles an hour so the damage is likely to be minimal if you do come across me.

Taking to the roads is a big thing for me as I had an accident while learning to drive when I was 17 and haven’t driven since. Aside from being a total wuss I have reasoned with myself that till now I’ve always lived in cities so I have never really needed to drive that badly. And it’s greener. And wouldn’t it be cooler to cycle around anyway? The answer to the last question is no, unless by cooler you mean colder. That it is.  I have always said that if it ever came to the point where I was missing opportunities by not driving then I would man up and learn. Well, that time has come and after a no-nonsense email from a friend I decided to go for it and booked my lessons, the first of which I had today.
I’ve actually had nightmares about being behind the wheel and I had no idea how I would respond to being back in the driving seat. After a few instructions to ‘breath, for God’s sake woman’ I was on the road and, gulp, driving. At one point as I went up the main road braving the move up to third gear (go me!) I suddenly realised what I was doing and yelled ‘I’m driving!’ to which the instructor nervously responded ‘Err, yes. You are.’ I still have a long way to go till I’m test ready and more importantly ready to face the roads confident and solo but it was amazing to be doing something I had feared for so long and realising that it’s just not so bad after all.
I had developed a bit of a fear of public speaking a few years back (to the point where my knees actually knocked together!) that I well and truly bashed last year and now I can’t remember what it was like to be afraid of speaking in front of people. I feel so natural speaking and most importantly happy to be myself in front of an audience. So I hope driving goes the same way. Now that I’m conquering that Everest I’m looking around for other things that I’ve been avoiding and it’s really exciting to see that there isn’t really anything. For that reason I’m really excited about 2012. I know that by the end of it I’ll be able to confidently say ‘Well, I gave that my all.’ And as my very clever Dad used to say before an exam ‘You can’t do any more than your best.’ Amen to that!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas time in Rome

I’ve been thinking for a few days now what to say about our trip to Rome and I’ve been at a loss. Not because there isn’t enough to say but because there is so much. So first I thought I would post a few snaps of our trip that sum up what a breathtakingly beautiful city it is and some the festivities we experienced there like this amazing display of fairy lights...

I think there will be a few blog posts out of our trip as there was just so much to think about. Rome is a place that feels saturated with power, unsurprisingly really as it was the seat of a great empire, the ruins of which are all over the city (perhaps something to learn there about the nature of empire but that’s one for another day!) and the home of the empire that is the Roman Catholic Church. We found ourselves in so many weird and wonderful places as we wandered the back streets around the major monuments. On the way to the Spanish steps we stumbled across a whole road dedicated to what I call ‘church bling’ – Bishop’s Mitres encrusted with jewels, gold communion cups, gilded bibles. I’ve never seen anything like it. Another street away and we were surrounded by all the big fashion names – Gucci, Prada, Jimmy Choo.
So many of the buildings in Rome are a testament to people striving for greatness, whether that is a neighbourhood church designed by Bernini or the frescos by Michelangelo. It is inspiring and overwhelming all at once. But what I loved most about Rome is what lies beneath the glitz and glamour, the heart of the place that is warm and generous and typified for me by the big bowls of steaming pasta and the glass of limoncello that appears at the end of your meal free of charge. The language barrier wasn't such a problem when it came to making a whole lot of yummy noises over yet another amazing meal or having a boogie to a four piece band in a local wine bar. Good moves are international!
And so now we've back home with our family to celebrate and enjoy some well earned time together. Christmas Eve is one of the most special nights of the year for me. It was Christmas time seven years ago that in two weeks I went from calling myself an athiest to calling myself a Christian -  as bewildering a turn of events as it sounds! It was Christmas eve that I prayed a tentative prayer to 'give it a go with God' that has lead me down the most wonderful and extraordinary road since. 2012 promises to be a very interesting year indeed and for me I can trace it all back to that Christmas night without which so much would never have happened and so much joy would have been missed. So it really is a Happy Christmas this year and every year. And with that it's time to give you all my best wishes for you and yours this Christmas.
Happy Christmas to you!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Italian Adventures

This Sunday, weather and health permitting, we are off to Rome. I have been to Rome before but only for one day. Much as Rome wasn’t built in a day it can’t be visited in one either so I’ve been hoping to go back since then to see what I missed and to soak up a bit more of the place. I plan to do a lot of what I haven’t been able to do much of in the last few weeks - wander about, stare at the beautiful things and spend time with my husband.  I have started to think that I am married to a pile of school reports as he hasn’t seemed to have emerged from them for weeks now. I seem to have become surgically attached to my Blackberry. Our trip to Rome will be guaranteed report and email free. Bliss.

The Roof of the Sistine Chapel from The Telegraph

The trip is being partly funded by some money that my Grandma left me. It’s quite ironic that I would be using money she gave me to go and feast in Italy as she hated any food that wasn’t either from a Birds Eye packet or could be traced back at least four generations to an olde English house wife.  She never has the opportunity to travel but I think that if she had of been born when I was born then she would have. Talking to my great aunt at my Granny’s funeral my Gran was something of an adventurer in her youth. She signed herself up to join the Women’s Air Force during the War to the horror of her family. She asked her sisters to go with her but they were both married and refused so she went on her own. She always said it was the most exciting thing she ever did. While she was there she met my Granddad and soon became a married woman herself and that was the end of that!
Have you ever had the conversation with people about what era you would have liked to of been born in if not the one you were? I have always said I was made for this time and wouldn’t exchange it for the world, particularly as a woman. This is my first Christmas without my Grandma but it’s also the first Christmas with a new member of the family, my gorgeous and charming little niece. I’m pleased that she will grow up in a place and time where she can have as many adventures as she chooses and marriage is a happy option and not a necessity (Though I’m sure a man in an RAF uniform wasn’t too hard to take on for my Nan!)
When I hear about my Granny as a young woman she doesn’t seem so different to me. A stubborn streak, going her own way – it rings a few bells! And I can tell you that my niece is showing signs of being cut from the same cloth! Even though my Granny’s experiences made it that a few days in Rome was an impossible thought, I like to think that she will see a bit of it through me on a trip she made possible. So off we go to marvel a while at the Sistine Chapel and throw a coin or two into the Trevi Fountain on her behalf. Despite her hatred of Lasagne I like to think that she’d actually heartily approve!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Follow the leader?

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about leadership. I, like most people, have areas of my life where I consider myself to be a leader and other areas where I am very much the sheep at the back of the queue merrily trotting behind the others. I think that is quite healthy, stopping us from becoming too self-important. You have to be a pompous person indeed to never be led by anyone else. It always makes me smile when you meet someone who is a very stern ‘boss’ at work and then you meet their two year old who has them entirely subjected to their will. We all have our Everest!

Recently I’ve encountered a number of very effective leaders with very different styles. In many cases they have been successful where I thought that kind of style would be like walking in to a lion’s den dressed in the Lady Gaga meat dress. But alas, Daniel-like, they have survived. Some have even has the lions rolling over on their backs to have their bellies tickled. As these leaders are so different, I wonder whether good leadership is about the leader being true to who they are and so super effective at it or if it’s about them being what the context needs them to be and them understanding that? What do you think? If people need tough words do you get tough? If they need a bit of TLC do you become fluffy and obliging? I suppose that is part of it, reading the dynamics of the group you find yourself in. That idea also makes some sense to me as skills and personality are always evolving.

I’ve worked with leaders who are very directional, and often very successful as a result. One person’s view point is easier to reach than a group consensus but then will people really follow if they aren’t heard? If their presence in the team is incidental and of no real relevance to the leader’s vision of moving a group or organisation forwards? In my experience you can lose heart with that kind of leader who doesn’t value you as an individual. You then start to think of yourself first just as they are doing and the team dynamic quickly breaks down.

One thing I can certainly pin down as an essential of leadership, and a very interesting one at that, is character. Because a good leader, after all, is surely just someone that people want to follow. They are a person that you see something in, something you want and value.There are many leaders who use their power or authority over people to make them do as they want. They are managers rather than leaders I suppose. Are the results of that kind of leadership permanent or just temporary? To use a modern day analogy, it’s the boss who when their back is turned the staff are all on Facebook.  I do believe that great leaders are those who inspire and for that reason it has to be about the heart and insight both for their cause and for the people they lead. 

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Extra special gifts

It’s that time of year again where we are all to be found wandering glassy eyed about the tinsel bedecked high street listlessly thumbing over packaged presents with an ever increasing feeling of desperation that we will never get the blasted Christmas shopping done. Fun, isn’t it? There is nothing like giving a present that you really can’t wait to give but when Christmas comes around and present giving en masse is required it can all become very panic making. I spent an afternoon wandering about the shops yesterday and returned with some glittery twigs and a fake robin for my trouble. Lovely for the Christmas explosion in my living room but not exactly what I was hoping for when I set off.

I long to give well thought out personal presents that don’t immediately end up in someone’s bottom draw but it really is much easier wished for than done.  It’s the annual dilemma but a very privileged one to have as the problem really arises from the fact that we all have so much already. I tend not to give charity gifts to my family as I like to get them something for themselves, I'm a fan of homemade gifts for that, and I intend to do the same this year. I did however decide to use the charity gift scheme to add someone else to my Christmas list this year as well as the usual trinkets to my friends and family. I don’t say this to give you warm fuzzy feelings about how nice I am (that would be a grave exaggeration anyhow!) but in the hope that it might give you and others a merrier Christmas if it is something you decide to do yourself. 

I’m reading a book at the moment called Cutting for Stone which is set in Ethiopia. One of the main characters becomes a gynaecologist and a condition I had heard of before is mentioned in some depth – obstetric fistula. There are details about it here if you wanted to read up but needless to say it is a terrible, yet curable, affliction that has women cast out of their communities. In the gospel stories a woman reaches out and touches Jesus’ cloak and is healed and it has been suggested that this may be what she was suffering from. Women were cast out of society for the condition then and they still are now. So for Christmas I decided to save some pennies and buy someone an operation to fix a fistula. I did this through Mercy Ships, who I know do great work around the world. UNICEF, Oxfam and others all do similar schemes offering all sorts of gifts from equipment for a safe delivery of a baby to a hundred vaccinations against measles. That’s a gift that won’t end up gathering dust and what better to give at Christmas than new life? That's what the season is all about after all.

Happy Advent lovely blog readers.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

My All

I feel like this blog should have some stirring Mariah Carey soundtrack running in the background but luckily for you I’m not that cruel. Yesterday I had some meetings about a rather significant opportunity (cryptic or what?!) and it made me think about what it means to give your best. Perhaps craving to give your best is a residue from those days of being given a gold star colouring in with such intense concentration that you go nearly through the paper or perhaps, slightly more healthily, it’s the satisfaction of seeing your potential realised. Perhaps it’s simply the satisfaction of a job well done.

 I remember vividly the feeling of studying for my A Levels. It was an unbelievable amount of work. It felt insurmountable at times with absent teachers and high grades to aim for to get into University. Do you remember that feeling of being so utterly stretched? When I was studying for my degree I remember reaching what I thought was the limit of my abilities and the absolute joy of going further than you thought you could. Or writing my Master thesis and desperately googling ‘food to help your brain work’ as I struggled to read the manuscript for the one millionth time. It is hard, hard work but oddly I know I’ve come to a place where I desperately want to give my all like that again.

It’s very easy to become dulled in day to day life. When the cheerleading of adolescence is over and you have to make your own opportunities. What you once thought of as your A* abilities are just that - stars blinking away in the distance that you can’t even remember possessing. I honestly think I forgot that I worked that hard for my University of choice until I was reminded of it yesterday. It was the first time in a long time that someone said ‘that’s good,’ and ‘you have something to offer’. Too often it’s easier to work within the limitations set by no one but yourself simply because no one challenges you on it.

I also think it comes down to motivation. Frankly it is difficult to summon up the desire to give your all when you spend your day creating mail merges. Of course there is a place for this routine, day to day stuff. Tackling the washing pile is never going to be a life changing event but on the flipside we only have one opportunity to see what we are made of and what we have to offer to fellow mankind (not to be too dramatic!). And more importantly only one today, one now, to do that in. I find it easy to see the potential in my friends and family but it feels big headed, and very un-British, to have a serious assessment of your own abilities and potential. But I’m more and more convinced that it is only through this honest reflection that you can really figure out what it is that you have to offer. 

And who says where the buzz of giving your all is going to come from? For me, I need it to be my day to day work - of that I am very sure. For others it’s signing up for a marathon or putting the Women’s Institute through their paces with their latest craft endeavour.  What I do know is that it takes courage. It’s so much easier to say ‘I bet I would win Masterchef if I had a go,’ or ‘I could totally get a Phd.’ It’s much harder to try and risk the possibility of failure. For some reason it seems to get harder to take these kind of risks as we get older. Perhaps it’s more embarrassing to get it wrong or to even admit that you still want to try such foolhardy schemes! 

When faced with fearful moments I have a formula I have been using and it is simply this - what is more important to me? In this case is it more important to me not to fail or is it more important to me to try and possibly succeed? The answer plays itself out in little decisions every day. Gosh life is scary, but isn’t it FUN!

Friday, 18 November 2011

Brainwashed by Sylvanian Families

They may look cute but their intentions are sinister! (from
A couple of weeks ago I was perusing the Argos catalogue (the laminated book of dreams for all you Bill Bailey fans!) and I came across an arm chair that I thought would be perfect for our living room. It was upholstered in deep red fabric with wide arms, perfect for curling up in with a book. Then I looked at the price - £5.99, surely not! This must be some sort of wonderful, magical error! My finger hovered over the ‘Buy Now’ button. And then I realised it was a toy chair, for Sylvanian families. Oh the disappointment.

That same week I was wandering around the covered market in Oxford. It was particularly blissful as it was a Friday morning and therefore had all the fun of a Saturday minus the hordes of people impeding your progress and preventing your speedy access to caffeine. I wandered into my favourite tea shop and purchased a delicious smelling bag of pear tea and then on to the florist for some beautiful red lilies. As I wandered past for my favourite baking supply store, feeling utterly happy and relaxed, a thought struck me. This was what I used to do with my Sylvanian families. I set up a little community in my cupboard and walked them from store to store picking up their groceries and bunches of flowers. Sylvanians were in my home décor, my weekend plans. The thought struck me - I’ve always wanted to live on a river boat. I had a Sylvanian river boat! The Sylvanians even have control of my dreams! I could almost see my giant furry puppet master in the sky pulling the strings. 

Where else to go in times of crisis but a fellow sufferer? A friend of mine, who for her own good reputation will remain nameless, has recently set up her Sylvanians again in an airing cupboard. She is 32. When her husband suggested visiting children could play with them we both scoffed at his foolish suggestion. You can’t let children play with Sylvanians! We were exceptional children who had saved up for months for the racoon family and so treated with the love and care they deserved. Modern day children, with their sticky fingers, not so! When I told my friend of the disturbing echos from my childhood I had been experiencing not only did she know exactly what chair I was talking about but also said ‘Oh yes, haven’t you realised my house is basically a full size Sylvanian house?’ Scary. And true.

They say all things come in threes so I was not surprised when this week, while watching Kirstie’s Homemade Britain, another childhood behaviour that lives on in me came hurtling to the fore. Kirstie was entering a craft competition based on the book The Secret Garden. I remember reading it again and again as a child so it’s little wonder it has entered into my adult psyche. I had pretty much forgotten the story until Kirstie started making felt robins. It was the robin that led the little girl to the Secret Garden. My gaze went out of the window to my bird feeder. Designed to attract robins. Oh my.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Indulging the inner fun seeker

I am quite convinced that sometimes the best thing to do is whatever you bloomin’ well like AND that this is good for your health, happiness and general well being. I practice what I preach by holding regular evenings where the star guest and only one who needs pleasing is ME - the last of which featured a Jane Austen DVD marathon and an extraordinary amount of chocolate. This may seem like extravagance but nay friends, how can you be a good friend/employee/partner/daughter if you don't take care of yourself every once in a while?

I have taken this well and truly on board this week and have booked myself into a one day bargain Creative Nails course courtesy of Groupon, aka my new best friend. I love, love, love having my nails in an array of colours and my nail varnish collection was one of the (many) things that shocked my other half when we moved in together. This is coming from the man who owned 15 (no word of a lie) identical white t shirts. No glittery goodness there folks.

As life has been demanding all sorts of sensible thinking recently (shocker) I have been particularly sensitive to my need for fun. I can count the number of things on both my hands and my toes (beautifully polished of course..) that I do because I know I should or because I need to clothe/feed myself and my nearest and dearest. But how often do you get the chance to do something just because you quite fancy it or because it just seems like fun?It is far too rare!
Whenever anyone comments on my brightly coloured nails I always say it makes typing less boring when one is chained to a desk. This is TRUE and it is also the reason that I believe a nice bunch of flowers or a bird feeder is a very good investment for your mental health. It’s these things that make you stop and smile in the day, and don’t we need those things in our hundred-mile-an hour existence?  I’m finding the autumn to be a great time for this. How can you be grumpy when there are piles of orange leaves to kick and a big fluffy warm scarf round your neck?

So I for one am very excited about this little day trip to learn the art of the manicure. I am also very excited about the MAC goodie bag I will get at the end of the day, more nail varnish for the collection! My husband will be so pleased!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Who's afraid now?!

I love crafting but up until today I have had one persistent nemesis. The sewing machine. This began at school when we had to make oven gloves. Most of us spent the majority of the class trying in vain to untangle our sewing machines while glaring at the person gliding effortlessly through their project and ending up with a vintage apron that would look at home in Liberty. Our sad offerings found their way into the loft for 'safe keeping' much faster than we made them.

When I was in my early twenties I went to Zambia and visited a bunch of ladies who were sewing clothes and homewares to make some extra cash. They had gorgeous antique Singers and as I sat in front of it I thought, 'Yes! I can do this! I could have one of these in my home and make curtains and dresses and all kinds of wonderful things.' Oh how optimistic! Half an hour later I was being removed from the machine by the Zambian ladies having butchered a shirt that they then patiently unpicked. They gave me another go but I was beyond redemption. This was enough to convince me that me once and for all that sewing machines and I do not mix.

I do love all crafts though and lots of friends have taken pity on me as I painstakingly hand sewed all my creations and offered me a shot on their sewing machine. With images of past disasters in my minds eye and not wanting to wreck anyone's family heirloom machine I have always said no and merrily continues my (very) slow progress of hand sewing. This week however I discovered just how cheap some machines are these days. Cheap enough to not worry too much if I destroyed it on my first attempt. That combined with a tempting range of projects in the new series of crafting with Kirstie Allsopp convinced me to give it a go. I reasoned that it is possible machine may have changed in the last fifteen years...perhaps. So here it is – my new baby!

After a brief sidetrack caused by my thinking I had lost some parts that were actually the base of the machine, I was sewing! AMAZINGLY fast! I even managed to re-thread the machine several times and make half a string of bunting. The only problem I can now foresee is  an attack of the usual over enthusiasm I develop whenever I discover something new. If I'm selling on ebay, everything that isn't nailed down goes, if I'm painting furniture you're best not to sit too still on the sofa or you might end up with a coat of duck blue eggshell and primroses painted up your legs. With Christmas coming up I'm hoping to put this enthusiasm to good use and knock up some gifts and decorations. Not more sewing machine fear for me!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Will eat pop tarts for vouchers

We are all feeling the pinch at the moment and for me this has re-awoken one of my most favourite behaviours – Thrift. I’ve been especially obsessed with it since I read India Knight’s – The Thrift Book and can often be found leafing through its pages as if it were the manual to life itself expounding such gems as ‘you could make that body scrub for 57p you know…’ It is also where I discovered the wonder of Rocket Gardens who have been my faithful grow-your-own companions for the last two years, turning me from gardening dunce to living the good life faster than you can say shovel.

I have been a long term fan of the voucher and am a recent convert to the world of market research. I remember as a kid road testing prototype pop-tarts (as if they even needed to pay us, living the dream!) These days I’m commenting on exciting things like margarine and sanitary products but still. The one thing this does mean is that you have to get over voucher embarrassment pretty fast. This is why I love the rise of Groupon and Voucher Code. The voucher is becoming so much more reasonable rather than something slightly strange people do which holds up normal people in supermarkets (you know who you are).

I’ve been instructed by my husband to not yell this from the roof tops (but since when have I listened to him?! Ha!) as it is VERY embarrassing but I have also recently become a Naked Angel! No, I’ve not become a lady of disrepute, no one needs vouchers that much. I have joined up with the company Naked Wines (I actually have no idea why they are called that…I hope I’m not alarmed when I find out!) and am enjoying the most delicious wines to my door for bargain prices. As an Angel I receive a free sample bottle a month and 33% cash back on all my purchases! This has awoken a slight worry though as I am now one of those people who has a full wine rack. This all seems very adult (I’m usually a buy it, drink it kind of gal) and is taking some getting used to.

My thrifty ways don’t stop here however. I have recently stocked up on seeds of fast growing salad veg that I am growing indoors. The only problem here is that they do require a bit of warmth and I am currently in a stand-off with my heating to see how long I can put off turning it on.  So far I’m winning but I have to say my chances aren’t looking good judging by the weather forecast.  

Any thrifty tips, wise blog readers?

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Love Mondays! A pyjamas at midday update

A few months ago when I started this vocation seeking adventure I blogged about the perils of homeworking, most notably the great temptation to stay in pyjamas way past any socially acceptable hour. I then got loads of hilarious tweets back from other homeworkers confessing that they too suffered from this and had even been masterminding ways to leave the house for quick errands without having to change. Slovenly homeworker ways! Well eight months later I am glad to report that it is quarter to twelve and I am sitting in my living room in my jammies! I feel this is a testament to a good decision going well. This little adventure has had many a twist and turn but the pyjamas remain!

When thinking about life choices I don't know how the rest of the world does it, they all seem so wonderfully organised and sensible, one reasonable decision following neatly and sensibly from the other. I've never really been one for that and have so far lived mostly by trial and error. My hope is that one day this will add up to a life where I don't wake up thinking 'Not Monday AGAIN!' and I can use my skills, gifts, strengths and weaknesses in a role that fits me truly as I am.

I think I realised that my desire for this was greater than my desire to do the sensible thing on the umpteenth occasion of sitting in a bosses office and them saying to me, 'So Nicola, what is your five year plan?' You know you can't realistically say 'Well, Boss. I'd really like to NOT be working here.' Instead you have to create some elaborate, falsified life plan of striving to take their place in the organisation with much head nodding and jaw aching enthusiasm. I was never much good at that and usually mumbled something along the lines of 'Oh well, who can tell?' I'm not sure that always went down so well!

Taking on part time work so I could write more and work in church for six months while we were Vicar-less was one of those happy occasions where the trial was a success rather than an error! My hours these days definitely suit me more, the jammies at midday are testament to that. I'm creatively more active and no two days are ever the same. This suits my temperament perfectly, I like variety.

The flexibility has allowed me to do more of what I want. I've been able to go to conferences and have coffee with people I find inspirational. I'm going to be visiting people pastorally under the wing of the church. I have no grandparents now myself so a cup of tea with an elderly neighbour is as much a treat for me as for them. I've had time to reflect on why I enjoy what I enjoy and otherwise. I play piano mid afternoon and potter about my garden. I probably work more hours now than I have done before but I'm much more likely to be doing something of my own choosing that I actually enjoy.

Most of all I love that I haven't had one of those mumbly, I can't really tell you the truth, conversations with an employer since I started this whole thing. I hope that means I'm on the journey to finding my place where Mondays are not just tolerated but celebrated. Now that really is a tall order – watch this space!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Trauma in the Hulks Garden

Last week was very sad day for the Hulks garden empire. We rent our house which is absolutely fine 99% of the time, not so when you return home and someone has gone to town with a chainsaw on your beautiful wildlife-friendly garden under the direction of the very absent (and therefore ill-informed) landlord. As I mentioned in a previous post I have befriended a rather territorial robin who has been hanging out in a large tree outside our bedroom window.

Now I have a real soft spot for not only my own garden but wildlife in general and I can’t stand manicured gardens with no room for real life. Another little known fact is that my first ever piece of writing to appear in print was an article about robins in BBC Wildlife Magazine’s Young Writers Competition. You may be getting the picture that I REALLY like robins. So imagine my dismay when I returned home to find my robin’s favourite tree lying across our garden path. Bad times.

After this sad episode the robin was nowhere to be seen.  I decided drastic action was needed. As the natural goodies (spiders, bugs etc) had also had their homes removed by the chainsaw happy gardener our robin was also now not only traumatised by the butchering of the landscape but also low on snacks. Not one to give up on bird-kind I decided to head into town to do some shopping for my feathered friends. A couple of hours later and some time with a screwdriver and my paint box lead to what can only be described as the most bijoux robin house in the whole of Summertown, nay Oxford, nay THE WORLD.

I am very proud of it. And the good news is, so is my robin! He was re-sighted yesterday standing proudly atop his new house, puffing out his chest and saying (I like to think) ‘Check out my pad!’ And that is how order was restored to the Hulks garden! :)