DEAR TIM MINCHIN

It's not complicated.

I love you Tim, but not as much as I love my girlfriend, my soon to be ex-husband and our daughter.

  • SuzanneG

(25) Small Fish

Updated: Apr 10



I am making bread again.


We have a kitten. There is ingrained earth under my fingernails. I drive my girl to the bus at twenty to seven on some Monday mornings and I am making bread again. I have had a necessary time out of this writing things down and I now have the dilemma of having so many things and thoughts to include, that my instinct is to procrastinate a little. I am a happy procrastinator, but only to an extent. I can shelve things and ignore them up to a point, but they eventually have a way of making me notice. Mental boxes tend to put on weight.


It is sunny and I am at the kitchen table, looking out of Garden Cottage into the garden. Isabelle is strimming small path routes through it and we have made minor headway with the Garden part of this whole adventure. The cottage is on Applecross Estate, to the side of the Big House, behind the picturesque Walled Garden and up through a small woodland. The woods, the cottage and the garden are all necessarily enclosed, to keep out the deer. Our own bit has a definite border but because there is no fence or wall between the woods and us, it is easy to imagine that we are renting them too.... Beyond the hawthorn arch, a shady path through mature trees - The Ladies' Walk - takes you down to the back of the Applecross Walled Garden.


Garden Cottage, long ago, was where the Gardener of the Big House stayed. When I lived here previously, with Ian and Katrina for three and a half years, I made herb beds and a small rockery, but nothing beyond that. I am more or less a virgin gardener but we have sought advice and help from gardening friends. A rambling, somewhat wild cottage garden is what we imagine one day. I think the Gardener from long ago, would have approved our intention. Out the back we have re-dug the beds for rockery plants and have started plots for onions, lettuce and kale. Last week our lovely friends, Elaine and Chrissie, braved the Bealach in their camper-van with some of their own plants, potted from their beautiful garden in Gateshead. Over the next couple of days they put in many hours with us, helping us dig, plan and begin. The back three pages in a scrappy notebook are now filled with names of shade loving plants, sun-loving plants, herbaceous border plants. This is the first time in my life I have used the term 'herbaceous border' and I feel very happy that words such as Delphinium, Hellebore and Rudbeckia are beginning to extend my vocabulary. I know I am going to have to consult them again, as notes I wrote down that made sense at the time don't give quite enough information. 'Compost green brown layer' almost makes sense, but 'Almondi near door in/out' does not.


When we arrived up here on the 18th of April, the daffodils were all out, swathes of yellow.



Now the daffs are dead headed and there is a May carpet of blue.



Brer Fox and Brer Owl roam about on a near daily basis and Brer Pine Marten also visited yesterday. Hoppity hoppity. Which is really rather lovely, but gives us worry for the newest addition to the Gillies/Kerjose clan. Just before moving up here we got a little kitten. She is Minette, a general term of endearment in french, a rough equivalent of 'Little Kitty'. It's quite funny that the french Urban Dictionary has other, ruder meanings. To be fair though, I don't rate the urban dictionary very highly. Everything means something else. Anyway, Brer Cat will have to learn how to come when called in at night.


You would think that taking a new kitten into your home while you are dismantling it, would be a nightmare for you and for the kitten. But this kitten seems to cope well with change. Every day for her first three weeks with us, boxes shifted, more boxes arrived, hiding places came and went, in three different houses (she stayed four nights at Ian's to avoid extra journeys). She was shy but inquisitive, cautious but adventurous. A killer of flies, a chaser of tails, we are fortunate to have a kitten who likes to fall asleep lying on her back in your arms.


The Monday mornings that I have to get up to give my girl a lift to the school bus bring me joy. The pupils from Applecross board at Plockton High School from Monday until Friday each week. It is too long a journey, especially during winter months, to do every day twice. I have, obviously, missed out on those runs and now have great pleasure when it is my turn. I am not saying AT ALL that all is easy. Mother and daughter relationships are often slightly fraught, this one is no exception. We almost have opposing personalities in some aspects. I communicate better when writing than out loud. She finds that extraordinarily annoying. Katrina wants a robust, put your opinions out, argue them loudly, keep arguing them until things are sorted, sort of discussion. I have a lifelong habit of keeping serious thoughts in, until I am sure of them, sure of the words, sure that what I am saying matches what I am thinking. And I cannot think while someone is waiting for a fast answer. We are pretty extreme in our ways of communicating ideas, and our reaction to each other's opposite method is also pretty extreme. With Katrina's 14 year old hormones battling my definitely peri-menopausal hormones (in 3 months I will not have had a period for a year), boundaries are pushed, feelings are hurt and some resolutions are further away than they seemed to be at the start. However, I am absolutely optimistic that headway can be made there also. Isabelle is enjoying her path making, tree planting, people counting (yes, it's part of path work); it is nice to see her back in her element, outdoors. I am childminding a beautiful little boy for three days a week. Minding him involves some singing, some ukulele, some listening to music, some dancing, some french, some walking, some looking for the cows and counting the deer, some pointing out of common birds, pointing out gorse and hawthorn, and some chatter. He smiles a lot and he loves Minette. She avoids him when she is pouncing on things, but lets him stroke her when she is sleepy. I am also doing holiday home changeovers on Saturdays and the odd cabin and toilet clean at the campsite. In the evenings we are mainly in the garden or still unpacking.


After coming up in mid-April, to help Ian move out of Garden Cottage and into his cousins' bungalow at Camusterrach, we went back down to Linlithgow to move us up here (TWICE), and now we have finally started SORTING (which we are aware we should have done before the packing....). There are letters I have hung onto for thirty odd years that I have never re-read. I am making my way through them, reflecting on them and mostly throwing them out. It is a good thing to be doing. I am keeping my diaries and photos though. They begin when I am thirteen and I am not ready to throw them away.


Our move up was tiring -a policeman stopped Is to tell her that her van was carrying far too much weight, but he let us move on as there was no second policeman to help with the weighing. The van hire places don't broadly advertise the fact that the long wheel base vans, while they carry more volume than the shorter ones, can bear no more weight. The second van had not been planned for at all. The second trip down to return the second van, gave us the welcome opportunity to fit into the first van, the canoe, the plants and the mattress that hadn't fitted in it the first time... Tiring as it was, these many 6am starts and one 12 hour there and back day, the move also gave us new energy. We are indescribably happy to be back here. We seem to have found ourselves again, it being so clear that part of each of us was a little lost in Linlithgow. That said, it was necessary to be away.


We are both so pleased that Katrina is in our lives on a more regular basis and that we see Ian as often as we do, for dinner or for a walk, a paddle in the canoe, or a Monday chat when he delivers the post. We are also very happy that he feels that while Garden Cottage was the best house in Applecross, The Bungalow is actually better. It certainly has one of the most spectacular views.


I went to a local bookmaking workshop in my last year here, sewing pages into a concertina-style booklet. I decided mine was going to be called How To Live Better. I filled it with ideas that I thought would improve my way of going at life. Breadmaking; mushroom gathering; eating a fish that I had caught myself; going up more of the local mountains; building something; singing in front of people; learning more about the local flora and fauna. I managed to do many of these things, but the book wasn't opened at all in Linlithgow. I look forward to unpacking it and adding to it.


Someone asked me recently how I felt about having been the head teacher here and now cleaning holiday cottages and did I mind giving up my teaching career? To be honest, that was a different chapter and I am no less happy doing this set of jobs. I have smaller fish to fry. I have a garden to grow and bread to bake.









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