A Day in the Life of...

My strangely split life is probably best represented by a Thursday, when, although I am not in London, I am working at home in the morning so here goes:

I wake at about 7.30. If there is any sun at all the light will be flooding in through the window as we never close the curtains - there is nobody to overlook or to be overlooked by. The sun rises behind the hill at the far side of the valley and the sky this morning was palest blue, streaked with pink and gold. Perhaps because I am away from home a couple of times a week, I love waking here in my own bed on our quiet hillside. Ian will be on the verge of leaving for work or may have already gone, really early, without waking me. If he is still at home, he will bring me a cup of tea before he goes. I drink it slowly, cocooned in my warm bed, watching the sky change as the sun rises.

The first commitment of the day is a regular nine o' clock conference call. I get up and pull my jeans and fleece on and go outside to let the chickens out. Whoever thinks videophones are a good idea needs their head testing. Without them I can put my work voice on and nobody knows that there is straw in my hair. I did once have a client who clearly thought I was at my desk in a glass tower in Canary Wharf and who said a few minutes into a call, mystified "There's something wrong with this line. I keep thinking I can hear a cock crowing."

I eat eggs from our own hens for breakfast, boiled or scrambled, with toast and the first of countless cups of weedy tea. The black and white cat tries to get on my lap while I am eating. Sometimes I humour her; sometimes I don't. If it is warm enough I will take my breakfast outside and sit at the table under the yew tree. The house is tucked down behind a rocky wall and is sheltered so even a mild winter sun might be enough warmth, with my fleece on and rigger boots on my feet, to make it OK to sit outside.

Then it is into work mode for the call, followed by emails and more calls and documents to review and people to chase. I work at a big desk, too big for the room really, in my study. It is right by the window, the window sill two foot deep because of the thickness of the stone walls. Above my desk are two plant photos taken by my daughter and framed as a birthday present. On the opposite wall is a black and white photograph of Virginia Woolf, the greatest proponent of a room of one's own.

Every time I lift my head I look out of the window. At this time of year the hills are an apple green, dotted with sheep, the trees bare. The two farms on the far side of the valley are more visible now than in summer, emerging from their protecting trees. When the leaves come again they will retreat back into their green seclusion. In nearer view, right opposite my window, is the end wall of the bakehouse, stone with a slate roof, with an outdoor clock mounted at the top which was a present from my parents. I try to stop as soon as it reads twelve. If I am really disciplined I switch off my blackberry and turn my mobile phone to silent. Otherwise I leave them on but close the door. I will check for work messages again at about five o' clock.

Lunch is cheese on toast or soup. Ian might ring and I will walk up the drive for the post. A North or a West wind, prevailing here, will catch at my hair or buffet me with its strength. Today in the sheltered front of the house snowdrops are in flower and the snouts of daffodils pushing up. Before I get started on the afternoon I will have a wander around the garden and the field, deadheading and inspecting crops in the summer, at this time of year looking for signs of life: the drooping heads of hellebores coming into flower, fruit trees determinedly bare, one or two brave wallflowers throwing up a yellow flower against the green.

My afternoon is entirely dictated by season, and to a lesser extent, by weather. Soon I will be sowing broad beans outside, peas in lengths of guttering in the greenhouse and then the mad scramble which is April and May when no matter how the days lengthen there are not enough hours to be outside and to do what needs to be done. There is weeding and thinning and deadheading, cutting back and mulching and in autumn bulbs to be planted. There are never enough snowdrops and daffodils and tulips. Last year I also planted bluebells around the new hazels. In my head this is a shady corner, a little copse. In reality it is a collection of four foot high twigs grouped around a lovely little witch hazel. Still part of the glory of gardening is the garden of the imagination.

In January I will be ordering seed, crazily ambitious about both time and room; or planning the crop rotation. I might manage to sneak a plant order in. Last week I ordered thirty cyclamen, both coum and hederifolium. It sounds a lot but it won't be. Thursday evening is Welsh class so in winter I might sit by the woodburner and do an hour or so catching up. The class runs for two evening a week but I can only go to one so I am always running to catch up, hanging on by the skin of my teeth.

I need to go out at a quarter to seven to Welsh so our evening meal will be rushed. I fall through the door of the cafe where the class is held, not the last but never the first. There will be about twelve of us there, some of them related to each other. There will be much joshing and laughing, and taking the mick out of the tutor, a retired policeman, who is an exceptional teacher, quick and funny and with a deep passion for his country and his language. After the class there is a trip over to the pub. I like to go but it can be, if we have both been busy, that Ian and I will have hardly seen each other since the weekend. If it is one of those weeks I will come back home up the hill as soon as we finish. Our nearest village is not much lower than we are but people clearly think we are living in the heavens: "How are you finding it, up on the hill?" is quite a common question.

Winter or summer, when I get home we will open a bottle of wine and sit by the fire or wander around the garden. Sometimes we talk and plan, sometimes we both sit with laptops on our knees. Ian might be on Ebay or researching something, while I will be blogging, or reading blogs. Our grown up and away children seem to have some strange shared time clock so it is likely that if one rings, the others will too, so some evenings are full of the sound of the phone and catching up conversation.

To go to bed in my own bed is as lovely as to wake in it. I am as likely to read a gardening book or a cookery book as a novel (novels are good for the train). This week I am rereading Christopher Lloyd's "The Well Tempered Garden" and dreaming of new flower beds.


  1. Ho to be that organised one day i will succeed! HONEST.
    I feel very calm after reading that...I forgot to say because we where all so busy chatting, You've shrunk and you looked really well not that you didnt before..
    I found another map very similar to the other but a few years older, i'll keep on looking it just takes so long i'm to easily distracted with all the interesting places on them xx see you soon

  2. Having seen your farmhouse overlooking that broad green valley I can imagine your day at home. You must be so disciplined to remain undistracted by those breathtaking views.

    And garden plans too - I think that's what keeps us going through these dark wet months - the promise of new life stirring beneath the soil.

  3. Hope you are feeling better....like Moutainear I can see this so clearly because I have seen it for real. Cant wait for all those bulbs to start appearing in the photographs.

  4. I loved this, it was indeed very relaxing to read and I know it must be for you to experience, living where you do.

  5. Yes hope you feel better soon.
    Sounds a lovely day and beautifuly writen.

  6. Your Thursdays sound lovely.

  7. I found this very calming to read too. What a lovely decription of your day. I really enjoyed reading about your plans and ideas for your garden all the things you have planted and plan to plant. Lovely xxPM.

  8. What a lot you get done in your day, without any rushing about! Your home sounds lovely and your love of gardening comes through so well. Hope you are feeling better.

  9. man i love this. you are such a vivid and graceful writer; i can see everything you did, your desk, your thick-walled sills, your cyclamens (and i have never seen those growing anywhere but indoors, in pots), your welsh class, your evening with wine and laptops.

    it's beautiful.

    i love this line very much:

    I can put my work voice on and nobody knows that there is straw in my hair.

    just know that somebody in minnesota is thinking you have quite the wonderful life on your welsh hill.

  10. Are you really that calm and organised? I love the sound of your home. Thanks for sharing it all with us.

  11. A lovely calm read into a day in your life Elizabeth.

    Sounds absolutely wonderful where you live, beautifully written Elizabeth, thank you for sharing with us, and hoping that you feel better soon.


  12. Glorious cyclamen - wish I could grow them here in the north. I identify with a lot of what you say about working at home - my desk is in the window, too. I try to discourage people from phoning too early as I don't sleep well so sometimes start late - hate work phone calls when I'm wearing my nightie!
    When I'm in London one of my rituals is to say good morning to the little bust of Virginia Woolf in Tavistock Square, as I head to the office.

  13. Oooh, Elizabeth - I'm so impressed with your discipline. I'm sure I would get much more done if I disciplined myself to certain hours and didn't keep checking my email manically in the hope that some work might have somehow winged its way to me. And I bet you can really throw yourself into your gardening in the knowledge that you've done several hours' work. Reads like the sort of work-life balance I would like to aspire to. (And by the way, you don't look anything like old enough to have two grown-up children.) Good luck with the Welsh classes.

  14. Mmmm, need to say here that I may be calm but I am not organised, at least I can only be organised in one area of my life at a time - so if the house is organised, work is falling apart, if the social life is happening, everything else stops and, as you can tell, if it is spring nothing happens that doesn't happen outside.
    Hang on in there, those with children. Any semblance of calm came when the kids left home.

  15. That's a really lovely piece of writing (as all yours are) and the pictures you paint of your home and lifestyle must be the envy of all those Canary Wharfers. But however do you keep work at bay? Still you seem serene, floating over everything - in love with the nature that surrounds you and I'm sure you have a lot of fun.

  16. Hi Elizabeth, you instantly transported me back to our visit last year - I didn't even need to close my eyes. Your words painted wonderful pictures.x

  17. i hadn't been entirely sure what you had meant by the comment you left on my posting about the sister study, so i went back and read your journey of last year. ah....

    a journey, indeed. i am glad it was found, and i am very very glad you are all right.

  18. I love the idea of someone thinking there was a cock crowing in Canary Wharfe.....

  19. All this sounds lovely; I suppose the best most interesting lives have contrast.
    And you certainly have!
    Love the straw in the hair while talking the serious busimess..

  20. You write beautifully, fantastic Blog.

  21. I always feel so mellow after reading your posts. It was lovely to follow you through the day. Beautiful writing.

  22. I loved reading about your day - at the end of mine. I envy you your hens as I am temporarily without hens and having to buy my free range eggs at great expense!

  23. I think I have mentioned before that I find many of your blogs very calming and serene. I think it probably must be where you are in your life shining through...



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