It's taken me a year to get used to having both Beloved Firstborn and Merci Beaucoup Enfant Deux away from home. End of term dates gradually slipped, as they stayed on in halls for a few days having a ball with their chums and each other; merci boo followed him to the same university, good girl. All welcome signs of progress in the necessary growing up / growing away process.
A year on and I've successfully negotiated my weekends. I'd rather forgotten just how fabulous being childless can be. Driving home on a Friday night, I turn into the drive and as I pull up to the house I'm already anticipating the peace; the quiet; the tidy kitchen; the full fridge. No uniforms to wash; no chauffeuring about over half of Derbyshire; no late night taxi services; no Planet Rock. Just me, a bottle of cold wine and something outrageously lovely pinging in the microwave. I love ready meals. I grew up in a household where the sight of veal bones in the larder meant a dinner party was on the cards. Everything, from veal stock to puff pastry, was made from scratch. My greatest indulgence at uni was buying packets of Mr Kiplings. "OMG it's not home-made," I'd sigh.
This weekend I had no gardening planned, just a long lie-in and maybe a bit of Christmas shopping if I could be bothered. One Saturday ritual that is never missed is buying the Telegraph. I always read it online first, then go out and buy it purely for the ritual of a leisurely read mid-morning taken with a cup of tea and a French Fancy. Rip open the cellophane wrappers, quick scan through the Weekend section, then Property, then the main paper, flicking through the news until I get to the hatch, match and dispatch, which I read vertically. Then back to the Weekend section for a proper read. I like to save the Gardening section 'til last. I scan through quickly, put the papers to one side then carry on with the rest of my day. Sunday is my deadline for finishing off the papers before chucking them into the recycling with the rest of the weekend's detritus.
So I always settle down on Sunday afternoon to read properly the Gardening section. I work my way gradually towards its apogee, Helen Yemm's section. I'd love to be Helen Yemm's neighbour. I'd stand at my upstairs back window and stare into her garden. I wouldn't have to read the Gardening section's What To Do This Week article; I'd just do whatever Helen was doing. This week she advises lifting and transplanting seedlings, dodgy old perennials and anything you can't be bothered to properly care for. Good timing Helen; it's our Church Christmas bazaar at the end of the month, so I'll lift and pot up all the things I can no longer be bothered to care for and give away to someone else's charge. Rather like the role of universities... The What To Do This Week section, however, is a laughable disgrace. I'm reproducing it here so you too can laugh derisively with the rest of us RHS trained and qualified gardeners.
"*Some might wonder why it's worth growing blackberries in the garden when there are plenty to be picked from hedgerows. But cultivated blackberries have real advantages, they're often thornless, crop earlier than the wild forms and produce larger fruit. Fair do's. AI
*Keep plants tidy and productive by cutting out the fruited canes to ground level. Agreed. AI
*Next, select the strongest new canes for tying in. Weak or surplus canes can be cut out completely. Agreed. AI
*Blackberries have long, vigorous shoots that need tying to a trellis or wire support. This keeps the fruit off the ground and prevents the shoot tips from rooting into the soil. Too right. AI. Allow plenty of space - at least 10' per plant and 18" between horizontal wires. 18"? I don't think so. 9" between canes is quite sufficient and if any offshoots start to wander vertically just prune them back into line. AI
*Use soft string or flexi-tie when tying in. The new canes are very flexible so there's no set method. Er, not in November they're not! Tying in canes this time of year means lifting and manoeuvring vast Triffid-like monsters as thick as your thumb. One mis-judged manoeuvre around the pond pump cables and SNAP! you've lost half your cane. AI
* Try twisting them into ropes along the lower supports, leaving space for next year's canes on the top. Or loop them up and down, serpent fashion between two wires. You're having a laugh. AI. Or even spiral them in two large swirls, one to the left, one to the right. I've just choked on my Mr Kipling. AI
I'll leave the last word to Rod Liddle, whom I despise. "I often wonder to what extent the jabbering, self-obsessed, narcissistic bilge you read in your daily newspaper is a consequence of several grams of Bolivian marching powder rammed up the left nostril."