Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Back soon

We're in, but there's no internet connection at Pottery Cottage until Monday. I'll do a mega blog catch up then. Until then, enjoying the baking sun in the garden and adjusting to living in just one room (four of us!) and no kitchen...

Sunday, 20 May 2012


Seth's looking a thousand times better having had the best haircut of his life to date. Someone had to find something to do with that mop, and this time they've managed to do layers without giving him a seventies look. (And finally his godmother is happy, after months of telling us to get his Dumb and Dumber style hairdo chopped. Macu, he'll be thanking you...)

Last view from here

Tonight is our last night at the cabin. It's been our home for the last eight months and we've absolutely loved living on a farm, with the amazing views, and having our little hilltop hideaway. The boys feel totally at home and have especially enjoyed springtime with the newly born lambs, foals and calves.
We've had this cow groaning outside the cabin for the last couple of weeks since she gave birth to two calves.

Here are the boys (Seth pre-haircut!) showing off the calves to their two little friend Bethan and Issy. Unfortunately I didn't have my phone with me when a beautiful peacock strolled into the farm and the four kids and a white horse chased the peacock down the hill. 
We're sad to be leaving Clyro Hill Farm, and Tony, Sally and Penry Herdman, who have been incredibly kind to us, patient with all our chaos, and the best neighbours we could have asked for as newbies to Clyro. Now that we've cleared out, the cabin is available for holiday let bookings. Go to their website for details. We highly recommend it!

Our last evening view from the cabin. Too hazy to see the mountains, but a lovely warm glow and every day that tree looks different. I wish I could paint like Hockney and do a series of paintings of that tree in the different seasons and lights.

We'll definitely miss the view...

Flavours of India

What a hectic few weeks. I'm behind on blogging, so will do some quick posts to catch up. I really enjoyed a morning of making pakoras with Noel Kingsbury at his cottage in Brilley. We made three types: kale, onion and pakora, with a tomato, ginger and tamarind dip. Noel passed on to me  tips he'd picked up from Gujarati ladies he got to know while teaching English as a second language. Now he's a world renowned horticulturalist, and the kale and onion were from his wonderful garden. He's also writing an amusing soap opera for gardeners, Dig, Plant, Bitch, which is available on Amazon as an e-book.
Ollie talked for about an hour with a group made up mainly of Indiaphiles, recounting tales from our time in India and introducing characters from India Rising. He a great feel for modern India, and left me wishing we could go back. Ol's mega disappointed that the book hasn't been picked up in the weekend papers post-publication, but he was spoiled rotten last time when it was reviewed in each of the nationals. He has a string of good event bookings though, which is all good publicity. I'm trying to keep his spirits up!

He had fantastic feedback from the talk at Booth's, so if you're in any of these places or know friends who are nearby, do book to go/spread the word, and hear him presenting at these events.

23 May: Felsted School (near Stansted), 6.30pm
28 May: Salisbury International Arts Festival, 11am
31 May: Frontline Club, London, 7pm
6 June: Hay Festival, with Ian Mount and Andres Neuman, 2.30pm
8 June: Hay Festival, 'The Future of Travel Writing' (with various writers), 1pm
23 June: York Festival of Ideas, 12.30pm
18 August: Edinburgh International Book Festival, 7pm

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

My gardening buddy

I have just about made it through some of the most stressful days of my life. I was so glad of the company of an American friend who came to stay with us for a week. She was just the person we needed around and being with her was a welcome distraction from other pressures. The sun has been out though, which has also helped me through the gloom, and now the rain has stopped Seth and I have started work on our garden. We're moving to Pottery Cottage at the weekend and said to the boys today 'we're not going to have a TV there, what are you going to do???!" Seth replied, 'Not watch TV.'  Brilliant. I hope he'll always be that straightforward. He's very excited about having his own vegetable patch, so maybe with carrots and tomatoes to tend to he won't even miss Tree Fu Tom and the Octonauts.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Star siblings

Ollie's brother, Bo, sold 50 copies of India Rising to his work colleagues on the day it was published.

His sister, Boney, brought a pack of friends to the launch, all of whom bought up copies.

My youngest brother, Jomps, produced a fab pull-up banner for India Rising, to have at all the events.

My other brother, Ben, who lives in New Zealand, came to stay this weekend and got up at 6am both mornings to play and chat with Seth and Bo while I had a lie in!

My sister didn't do anything particular, but she has my blog as her homepage, so better mention her too.

You're all fab, thank you!
 Jomps and Bo keeping the celebrations going on Thursday

India Rising: London launch+

A huge thank you to everyone who turned up on Thursday, especially those who'd made a big effort to be there. Sorry if we didn't get chance to chat to you know how it is. Hope you enjoy the book!

Newborns and the night sky

Three foals and a calf were born here at Clyro Hill Farm over the weekend, and we've been woken at the crack of dawn by a groaning cow and the farmer heading down the hill on his quad. Last night the moon was AMAZING. It was huge and low and glowing a gorgeous golden yellow. Of course it didn't come out on my iphone but you can see that virtually the only light we can see from the cabin is from the moon and the stars. 

Two performing monkeys

In case you're wondering, Bo's saying: 'I have a tiny turtle, his name is Tiny Tim. I put him in the bath and he can swim! He drank all the water, and ate all the soap, and bubble, bubble, bubble, pop!'

Friday, 4 May 2012

Not to plan

I was really looking forward to my London jaunt. I was dreaming about four hours of Ollie's undivided attention on the train journey, a free afternoon to go and see the British Design 1948-2012 exhibition at the V&A and a date with my book on the journey home. The reality was Ollie had to work and barely uttered a sentence to me the entire way from Hereford to London. When he did close his laptop I ended up dropping in that I was planning on us camping out in his writing shed during the Hay Festival, which didn't go down at all well at all. We arrived too late into London for me to make it to the V&A and instead had to try and get over our issues of silence and sheds and make friends again before the event!

All was forgotten and Balch family harmony restored when we had a brilliant evening out and a breakfast date this morning at Minkies in Kensal Rise before heading our separate ways for a week.

I found a seat in the quiet carriage on the train and had my nose in John Lanchester's brilliant 'A Debt to Pleasure', really happy to have a whole morning to finish it, when the phone rang. A distressed teacher was on the other end telling me that Bo was having an asthma attack in the woods during Forest School. By the time I arrived in Hereford he'd been taken home by a friend and he was really wheezing and didn't even have enough breath to finish words. We dashed him down to the GP who sent him straight across to hospital in Hereford and he and I were there until late this evening. They gave him steroids and soon he was charming the socks off the nurses and lapping all the attention! He's now conked out on the sofa next to me. An exhausting day in the end, so I'm going to sign off and have a snooze with my little friend. More soon.

We made it!

When Ollie's editor, Walter Donohue suggested a book on India we jumped at the idea and a couple of months later we were on a plane to Cochin with Seth and Bo for our biggest adventure yet. We hadn't really thought through the practicalities, we both just instinctively knew it was something we wanted to do and we always seem to be in easily agreement on decisions like that.

We lived in two rooms in a beautiful art deco house with an Indian family who ran a homestay. They provided a vast breakfast each morning that I would make last throughout the day as we didn't have a kitchen or even a fridge. Seth started at Apple Kids, a local pre-school where he got used to eating with his hands and running around with no shoes on, and made friends with Indian kids who spoke Malayalam, Hindi and Gujurati and not much English. I passed the days with Bo, narrowly avoiding hazards like falling coconuts and the cobra in the garden, melting in the heat and fighting off people trying to photograph and pinch the cheeks of this strange white baby in a pushchair (I wrote a blog, which helped me get through the six months there, and got me started with blogging.)

Meanwhile, Ollie was travelling around India, interviewing a huge variety of people, in boardrooms and Bollywood sets, in shiny malls and in slums. He returned to England with a suitcase full of notebooks and feeling totally overwhelmed by the task of writing a book on India. In the end it was written in Holland (where we stayed in a trekkers hut and I cycled with the boys each day and Ollie wrote sitting on sofa in a barn), Argentina (back in our rented apartment on beautiful Avenida Caseros in San Telmo), Spain (in a room with a view in Andalucia), in Coggeshall (sitting across from a dear family friend who died suddenly shortly after, making those times with him all the more special) and here in Wales, in a cabin on a hilltop. But he did it! India seems an age away. It's been a difficult process for us, so many changes for our little family, and Ollie writing the book on top of working full-time. India was a really lonely time for me, such a contrast with Buenos Aires and here which are so sociable, and then Ollie flew back to India for an additional two months while I took the boys back to Argentina. It all seems quite crazy now I think about it, but I don't think it felt like that at the time, and we all survived it, 'we made it!', as the boys always say with huge relief at the end of a long walk. Best of all, it felt worth it last night, surrounded by so many lovely, supportive friends, celebrating the publication of India Rising, and Ollie looking more relaxed and happy than he has done for months. 
(Now please go out and buy lots of copies to make it really, really worth it!!)

Thanks to Jamie Crawford for the photos of the India Rising book launch at Daunt Books in Holland Park.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

A house within a house, and trees in the garden

A quick update before I head off to London for the launch of Ollie's book. These pics are of how our bedroom is taking shape. It's two steps higher than the rest of the first floor, giving us extra height as we enter the kitchen, which I hope will be worth it as we've lost some space in the bathroom above to allow for this.

There are ten guys working full-time at Pottery Cottage at the moment, so it's really moving quickly. Work on installing the plumbing began today. The fantastic garden wall is almost finished and we've decided to level around the side of the guest cottage and add a little patio.

I've just ordered two fig trees and an apricot tree to plant and train alongside the walls of the neighbouring former schoolhouse. We're going to plant a rowan tree between the drive and the steps down from the street, a wisteria on the back of the cottage, and a magnolia outside the kitchen window so I can look at my favourite tree as I wash up!