It didn't feel right at all but I've done it anyway. I have sold these three little cherubs... I can see some may think they look a little macabre sitting there, and frankly I was beginning to feel the same.
These were my incredibly realistic demonstration dolls for teaching baby massage classes back in the day when such things were new and innovative, and NHS nurse managers allowed health visitors the autonomy to decide what would work best with their own caseload. I used to do free six week courses for about eight parents and their babies in a room in the library, and one carefully managed group session with some one-to-one time afterwards could often save me eight home visits to far-flung rural locations. I must have taught hundreds of parents over the years, and many's the time a mum would tell me the group had 'saved her bacon', and I still meet them in town and they tell me the friends they made at those sessions are still in touch even though the children are now teenagers.
Times changed even while I was still in the NHS, and the day we were all summoned to a meeting with a new sleeves-rolled-up-don't-mess-with-me manager from up country to be told that 'amongst other things I am not paying G Grades to sit around stroking dolls,' I knew it was game over. No amount of debate, explanation, even protest could change their minds; I was old fashioned, out of touch with the new ways of doing things, must have a proven evidence-base for continuing and in the meantime must hand the courses over to a much lower grade member of staff.
I never stopped using the skills though. Talking parents through a gentle baby massage session on a home visit would often defuse countless anxieties as well as calming a fractious baby who was picking up on all the stress.
So when I retired from the NHS five years ago my little tribe came home with me, stashed in drawers under beds, or in a bag, with a hand or a foot sticking out, and it was all a bit unnerving. They have spent the last year peeking out of a bag on a shelf in the boot room, a step nearer the door and out, but not quite. The boot room had a spring clean last week...it was time for the cherubs to leave.
One of the things I was taught on the training I did was to invest your doll with a personality; name it, dress it complete with nappy, and handle it as you would a newborn. This would ensure that you were never seen carting it around by the ankle, or banging its head on the floor and thus giving entirely the wrong message about childcare. In fact so realistic and flexible are these dolls that it has been known for someone to stop me in the street and ask why I have just put a baby in the boot of my car. It all felt odd to start with, slightly embarrassing to talk to a doll, but second nature after a while, and so you can imagine the torture I have just gone through in selling my two newborns and a premmie. I have no plans to teach again and there was little point in keeping them...but selling them...
Anyway they all had a top and tail, clothes and towelling nappies through the washing machine, dressed again and it all felt a bit sad...but far worse was the packing, the persuading them into a box, the parcel tape, the brown paper and the posting.
Eventually it became clear that they would have to be delivered to their new owners in the breech position.
But 'tis done. The Hermes man has been to collect, they have gone to good homes and I hear they are settling in nicely.
And I now have a tidy contribution towards my adjustable dressmaker's dummy, which, now I think about it is actually likely to freak us out even more than the cherubs, with its sultry silent presence.
Dodging out inbetween the deluges has become an art form here.
The merest hint of sunshine and it is out with the dogs...if there is no hint of sunshine I miraculously HAVE to empty the dishwasher / sort the washing / tidy up because really what's the point of us both getting drenched.
Anyway one glorious morning we downed tools and both wandered up to Bury Wood with the sun beating down as if it was full summer... From top left (click to enlarge)
The woods seem to have survived the worst of the storms intact, just a few stray branches down but no major damage...
With so much rain It has been a good winter for moss, masses of it everywhere...
And patterns on tree trunks that could, for all the world, be a Google Earth-type view of the landscape...
I always love the upwards view...
And it doesn't seem five minutes since we bade farewell to the bluebells, and now we greet them once more...
Nell on her usual ball-throw-fetch-drop-throw-fetch-drop routine...here she is pleading for just one more throw, the anticipation characterised by that raised paw which would look so endearing were it not for the fact that this is about the three hundredth time, and we are usually done in by all the ball-flinging.
The sun was creating ladders through the trees. Some days we catch the light just right and this was a perfect day.
And lastly, there's Rusty looking particularly handsome, this was just before he took himself off into the stagnant cattle trough for his regular dip.
Bet you didn't see that one landing did you... and when Scribe Books asked if I would be interested in seeing a copy of a book about Australian birdlife written ninety years ago, I'll be honest, I wasn't sure what to say really.
I mean how interested could I possibly be in anything that didn't land on my own bird table??
And anyway how many birds can Australia possibly have??
In the end I told myself not to be so parochial, and with the Kayaker working and travelling around Australia for the last eighteen months we feel as if we have half-lived there anyway, and we do actually have a very incongruous inherited eucalyptus tree in the garden. I'd be thrilled if a Pallid Cuckoo or a company of dapper green Lorikeets flew out, as it is the best it has managed is a stray budgie. So I said yes please to the book and a lovely hardback copy of Mateship with Birds by A.H. Chisholm arrived and as I started reading I realised I was going to have turn the seasons on their head a little...
'Towards the end of July, when blossom by blossom the Spring begins...'
then I read this...
'An almond tree in full bloom is a pageant in itself, excelling in pure radiance the magnificently assertive jacaranda and flame tree of Queensland.'
...and at the mention of almond trees I knew there was only one thing for it.
I am very grateful to Scribe, an Australian publisher now branching out and developing an interesting list here in the UK, for very kindly sending a copy of Mateship With Birds to Jude in Adelaide. Jude regularly comments here, offering a welcome Antipodean antidote to my seasonal musings, but Jude also farms almonds and last year sent me some... and I have to tell you they were utterly delicious and we had them in everything. Every so often I would blanch a batch and we'd sit and munch our way through them, but Jude has also been known to have the odd curse about the birds...
'...the keen Lorikeet notes the invitation of the opening buds and very soon then - for news of this nature travels quickly in Birdland - every branch has its bird,'
And I had this funny (to me) vision of Jude running up and down the avenues of almond trees going 'shoo...SHOO...' but maybe not quite that sedately.
So this week Jude goes to the top of the class for doing her homework and with grateful thanks from me, here are her thoughts on A.H.Chisholm's book. The upshot is that I am now green with envy about Australia's birds and want to see a Fairy Wren in my garden right this minute...
Last December, early in summer before the great heat set in, a lovely book arrived courtesy of DGR which she thought I might be interested to read: “Mateship with Birds” written by Alec Chisholm and first published in 1922, foreword by the great C.J.Dennis – one of Australia’s finest “bush” poets and reprinted in 2012 with another foreword by Sean Dooley from the conservation group Birdlife Australia. By coincidence I had been listening to Mr Dooley the week before on radio in a segment relaying the results of a competition to decide Australia’s favourite bird and was delighted to hear that the Superb Fairy Wren – a gorgeous blue tiny thumbnail size bird with a big fantail and an attitude to match – had won. A pair live in our garden and it’s dazzling to catch the iridescent blue flash (of the male) as they flit through the hedges.
I formed an immediate and strong affection for Alec Chisholm and this book from the outset. First sentence:
“I like to think that O. Henry was not altogether facetious in laying it down that the true harbinger of Spring is the heart. “It’s just a kind of feeling” he confides…”it belongs to the world.” “
Six pages in and, living as we do on a small almond orchard, I was hooked:
“An almond tree in full bloom is a pageant in itself…and when its bird guests are present the very air breaks into flower.”
Reading about Alexander Hugh Chisholm in the Australian Dictionary of Biography I learnt that he was a remarkable man. Born in 1890 in the Victorian goldfields he left school at 12 and started writing to spread his passion for birds, initially for the ornithological journal Emu, then for general newspapers. His first story of note was a plea to stop the killing of egrets for the fashion designers of the day, who used their plumes as fascinators. Chisholm went on to become editor of several newspapers and the editor-in-chief of the Australian Encyclopaedia. He was also a sports reporter in Melbourne and press officer for the governor-general. In 1976 he wrote a foreword for the Reader’s Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds.
Mateship with Birds is in two parts. Part One, A Pageant of Spring, travels through the seasons detailing encounters with “Rufous Song-Larks, Pallid Cuckoos, New Holland Honeyeaters, Yellow Shrike-Robins, Reed-Warblers, on it goes. Some names have changed from “Chis’s” time and very sadly some of the birds named are now rare or even extinct but the racket in spring certainly hasn’t! When I first came to Australia from New Zealand nearly 40 years ago it was one of the first differences I noticed – the noise, the colour and the sheer number and variety of birds here in Australia is truly astonishing. At any given time over summer in our small orchard will be rainbow and green musk lorikeets, rosellas, pink and gray galahs, sulphur-crested cockatoos, black yellow-tailed cockatoos, white corellas by the hundreds, black and yellow honeyeaters, wattle birds, silvereyes, finches, willy wagtails, magpies, piping shrikes, crows, kookaburras down by the creek, sparrow hawks, an occasional wedge-tailed eagle, not to mention the foreign imports; house sparrows, starlings, blackbirds etc. Deafening!
Part One concludes “With Children In Birdland” a delightful chapter about the Bird Day movement in Australia – similar in intent to Arbor Day which Chis was very instrumental in promoting. It is full of his joy and love of teaching about his life’s work and has the funniest set of school howlers I’ve read in a long time;
“The Magpie is black-plumaged, with white feathers.” Etc. Another more innocent world.
Part Two is entitled Biographies of Birdland and heads into chapters variously entitled “the idyll of the blossom-birds’, “the aristocracy of the crest”, “days among the robins”, and a whole chapter on black and white birds entitled “the Spirit of Australia” in which Chis – writing a mere four years after the end of the First World War – puts forward his idea that the spirit of the Anzac soldier can be seen in the spirit of Australia’s birds quoting a poem by E.S Emerson:
“For I’ve seen a nesting Magpie swoop undaunted on a man,
I have watched the ‘Burra kill a tiger snake.”
Chis’s book is a period piece and his style, to our modern taste, can be a bit overblown at times and full of the autodidact’s showing off of a hard-won education. Its individual and definitively upbeat style though was very reminiscent of another Australian classic – “Such is Life” a novel by Joseph Furphy published only a few years before - wry, humorous and independent of mind. And any defects fade away with the last chapter as the Paradise Parrot tragedy is relayed to the reader – a parable of species loss as pertinent today as it was then. The Paradise Parrot was one of a number of ground-nesting birds making its spectacular nests in termite mounds. The fatal introduction of feral foxes and cats into the Australian bush has seen the gradual extinction of all these type of birds with the last sighting of the Paradise Parrot in Queensland in 1927. Chis did get to see a nest before the end but never came to terms with its demise.
“Mateship with Birds” was a joy to read. This lovely, funny, learned, passionate book is a paen of love and affection by one of Australia’s early 20th century ornithological pioneers - “a conservationist before the term was even thought of” – to the birds of the Australian bush, the great glory of Australia’s unique wildlife. If , as Robert MacFarlane and many others today urge us, we are mindful and take notice of the natural world all around us , we will not become, as Chis says “gentleman who mix fatalism with finance” but rather we will be “mates” with our world and the better for it.
The Great Devon Sewing Bee of course and in the nick of time, before Series Two began this week (are you watching... loved it) I made the blouse that I felt inspired to make after Series One of The Great British Sewing Bee, having bought the pattern and fabric in John Lewis's last summer (New Look 6598.) Simple, 'V' neck, collar-less, with short sleeves to start with, collars will be in the next module.
For the uninitiatedThe Great British Sewing Beeis a sort of weekly TV sewing contest to find the best amateur seamstress. Everyone is given the same challenges to make, this week a sleeveless top, a skirt to revamp, and a silk nightdress, and the results are judged by W.I. teacher May, and Savile Row tailor Patrick. Now for many people I dare say this is all like watching paint dry, and it has had some lukewarm reviews, but I love every single stitch of it.
I can see that there will be a time for every purpose in this new regime of 'not working' which has just played out its first year; times when I knit, times when I stitch and times when I dig.... and now seems like the Time to Sew.
Several things needed to happen before I could really start dressmaking properly again, mainly moving my work table from the Bookroom to my little Sewing Cosy so that I could spread out a bit. The Sewing Cosy is just off the Book Room corridor and was the TV Cosy, but the TV went to the kitchen along with two comfy armchairs last autumn (to take full advantage of Aga heat). To make way for all that the big kitchen table went to Bookhound's Study, which used to be the Big Sitting Room, and previously Bookhound had occupied what became the TV cosy and is now the Sewing Cosy. We've gone round in a big circle, are you keeping up ..do you do this in your houses...change rooms around.
Anyway once the table was in I could set things up properly and leave them out... this I find is crucial to ongoing sewing projects. Sewing in the kitchen was lovely and warm last winter but clearing away for every meal is not conducive.
While we are in the Cosy here's the other side... I love it. The Tinker's fabulous tapestry surrounded by a riot of pattern and colour to cheer on even the dullest day... And my sewing cabinet is squeezed in too... And we might as well do the full 360 degrees... Never has such a quart been poured into such a pint pot, cosy is the word.
I set too with due care and attention, double checking before cutting out. Check twice cut once Bookhound used to say, back in the day when his chaps were installing someone's expensive kitchen, which he had measured and designed to the millimetre. Then I spent time notching, marking darts, overlocking raw edges before proceeding to TACK!!
The novelty wore off that and I was quickly back to the pins...for a while, but taking my time, no rushing. I am no longer a girl racer and now drive my Bernina well within the speed limit...
But this is all part of the plan, the gospel according to Merchant & Mills, keep it simple but make it well, so I have decided to pay due care and attention to the basics again as a sort of re-learning of detail long ago abandoned. At the age of sixteen I would start making something at 2pm and have it ready to wear by 7pm, and somehow get away with it... well it would hold together for an evening at least.
I managed to pick up a copy of the M&M Sewing Book on eBay for a song this week for some revision, and have already implemented the book's most obvious (but it had never occurred to me) brainwave. Cover the ironing board with striped ticking, not only to make it look nice, but also to have a row of straight lines to press against.
So within an hour I had gone from this, heaven help me, is it any wonder... To this.. There is hope.
Three things seem to have changed since I last did any serious seamstressing which was probably the 1980s.
...the tissue paper used in patterns is thinner by far, one sneeze and the whole lot was on the floor.
...and the tape measure now lies.
But had I ever really read all the printed pattern instructions properly before??
Maybe not because understitching facing seemed like a new one on me and it took me a while to figure it out... but what a difference it makes. No more persuading the thing to lie flat, it just meekly lay down and looked 'finished.' I was quite surprised.
Sleeves, whizzed in with my eyes shut by a younger me, suddenly seemed terrifying, but I have decided that this was all down to the 1960's fashion for puffed sleeves, surely the most forgiving of sewing tasks. It was back to the gathered ease and tacking, and when sleeve one went in with ne'er a pucker I was dancing round the room. I quite expected Claudia to come up and tell me I only had thirty minutes left and I would breezily reply 'No worries, I'm almost done here,' but was also hoping May and Patrick might just gaze upon my sleeve and be best pleased. My dummy would be wheeled into first place for sure, as it is Bookhound came in and said 'That's nice,' so all was not in vain.
We'll maybe talk about sleeve two on another day when I'm feeling stronger.
Anyway, it's finished and it fits a treat though looks pretty shapeless just hanging.
Finding an adjustable dressmaker's dummy is Bookhound's latest charity shop challenge, please don't ask how many we have walked past in the last twenty years, and I have my next project waiting in the wings so more soon.
Having strayed onto the subject of weather yesterday I wasn't going to mention it again for...oh weeks and weeks... unless we had snow of course, but as the flood crisis deepens (sorry, but true) here in the UK and, without being dramatic or alarmist, we seem to be verging on the brink of National Emergency, it's hard to ignore it all so I might as well just get it all out of my system.
I am trying to remember those days when the weather wasn't the subject of daily news headlines, but we are living through something above and beyond even the average British preoccupation at the moment, and it all seems to have been going on for weeks and weeks now, the old jet stream stuck over our heads and apparently the polar vortex over the US has been a factor in that, along with winds over the Equator ... a chain reaction that is seeing so many of us living through extremes.
Somerset I have already mentioned, the Thames is now off on a frolic of its own, and the entire West Country is a bit bruised and battered to say the least, and at one point was completely cut off by rail. As it is there will be no trains down past Exeter for a while since the Dawlish sea wall was pounded into submission last week. Heavens, the times I travel on that and have captured moments like this from the train window, or have walked it because the the Tinker and my mum lived nearby for fifteen years... Tens of metres of the sea wall swept away leaving the main train line into the South West (between Exeter and Plymouth) dangling in mid-air, and at one point the only other train route blocked by a landslide, so no trains running south of Bristol. A massive repair operation in progress, six hour shifts governed by the tides and the weather, a truly Sysiphian task if ever there was one. It really is all the eggs in one basket stuff, no alternative train routes, maybe tap into the zillions being poured into making the controversial route between London and Birmingham faster, it would be really good to be able to get in and out of Devon and Cornwall at all.
The Beeching railway cuts of the 1960s put paid to all the other viable aternative routes in the West Country, one of which passed through Tavistock, heavens what we'd all give to have the old Tavistock South station there now... Even this old workman's train would be welcome...
In fact Tavistock had two stations, North and South, that's how well-railwayed we were, both now long gone and replaced by council offices, social services and doctor's surgeries, but I wonder how everyone must have felt on the day in May 1964 when this happened...
Had the trains really become so passe with the arrival of the car ??
Did we really think we wouldn't need them again??
I was only ten so I'm not sure what I thought, if anything.
But the person who bought the old Tavistock North station and made it their home probably spoke for many when they named their new abode... Beeching's Folly indeed.
Now might be the time to confess that in the loft of our old house Bookhound built a replica model railway layout of Tavistock's railways for himself the children, and many happy hours were spent up their chuffing away to their heart's content, and these pictures were given to us many years ago by one of the town's old railway enthusiasts who had been there to witness it all. He and Bookhound would meet in the model railway shop and talk of the days of the Great Western Railway under steam for hours on end.
Local tribulations, as if all this stormy weather wasn't enough, and an accident on one of the major bridges over the Tamar into Devon at Gunnislake (man, van, through bridge, into swollen river, lucky escape) sees it closed for several weeks, and much of the traffic now finding its way over our little crossing down at Horsebridge.
Built by the monks in 1437, the Brothers can have had no idea of the chaos to come some 577 years later over their sweet, quaint little bridge, now also a bit floodified...
Forget the English Civil war battle fought at this very spot (reconstruction, not actual pic)
...just imagine hordes of cars queued either side of a single track bridge, with a car trailing a boat stuck in the middle of said bridge, and with the Tamar approaching bank-bursting levels beneath. We hear there was a Cavalier - Roundhead stand off which thankfully stopped short of a pikestaff charge, but the extra traffic whizzing around the lanes is adding extra excitement, and much reversing, to every trip out.
But it's not just us, the whole country/ world has taken a battering... so enough whingeing from me and I am optimistic. It's all been a national wake up call so I have a feeling good things will come of this entire waterlogged episode.
So time for an update from you all ...how is it over your way??
'Stamp your foot on the earth in winter or spring and you will feel the ground tremble and hear the water gurgling and undulating around you, only inches below the surface.'
Do this on the Somerset Levels suggests Roy Preece, in his wonderful memoir The World is a Bundle of Hay, though sadly not this year, and now seemed like the perfect moment to settle down with the book that Carol (who comments here) very kindly gave me for my big 6-0 birthday last year. Now I have to get this right, Carol is the daughter of Roy's cousin, and Roy has written his recollections of growing up on a family farm in the 1940s and 50s on the Somerset Levels, all published in this book.
Of course even without this book we would all be complete experts on the Somerset Levels, if you had never really taken much notice of them before, anyone who lives here in the UK will have done so now. Quietly and stoically submerging under the flood waters and generally 'getting on with it' suddenly everyone realised (especially those that lived there) that four weeks had gone by and the people on the Levels were still suffering, entire villages abandoned to the flood water, others still being evacuated, homes still under water and awash with sewage... we actually had homegrown refugees and nothing was being done.
Well cue pandemonium...Royal visits, ministerial visits without wellies on, ministerial visits with wellies on, TV crews taking up residence, the Royal Marines rolling up their sleeves, boats, sandbags, irate MPs, people digging moats around their homes, promises about funding and dredging... goodness we are all now experts on dredging....and in the midst of it story after story of real loss. Finally yesterday came an unreserved apology to the people of Somerset, whose pleas for funding for dredging last year had fallen on deaf governmental ears. Deaf to the people that is, the government instead apparently only listening to the Environment Agency who had set firm agin and advised accordingly. Now there's a right old political bunfight going on and meanwhile people remain homeless and displaced. Maybe, as it would seem they have lost sight of the fundamentals, those in power should all read Roy Preece's book to get a sense of this unique way of life. but above all to hear and consult the voices of experience; those whose families have worked and managed the Somerset Levels, the Land of the Summer People, for centuries, and who know every last ditch, gutter, rhine and pill. These constructions for managing the water said to be a collective effort down the centuries equivalent to that of building the pyramids... their purpose to keep water at bay from land that is below sea level, but land that holds a special place in the hearts of many...
'Dig a hole or a grave and it will immediately fill with water. The flat land...may distort your sense of physical proportion so that walking across a twenty acre field with the complete semicircle of sky above, you will sometimes have the curious feeling of being ten feet tall...'
In her introduction to artist John Caple's book Somerset, writer Nell Leyshon defines this again...
'He sees that flat land stretches to the sea; it has rivers and rhynes, droves and withy beds. It's fields are silver in the floods. Pollarded willows shake clenched fists at the darkening sky. Black peat lies under the topsoil, motionless, ancient. Silt and sand and sea reach out to the horizon.'
So I thought I knew everything about the Somerset Levels having watched the news for the last month, but predictably Roy Preece had plenty of fascinating things to tell me. For starters, originally transhumance was the order of the day, the Somer settlers would move to higher ground for the winter until eventually efficient drainage systems allowed them to farm the land all year round. But what hard work those were, and what we now all know, there can be no let up in maintenance of drainage channels and ditches. Every field boundaried by a ditch to improve drainage and lower the level of water in the ground, and every ditch had to be 'thrown out' (cleared) annually to forestall flooding.
And here's where Roy's book tells of something of relevance right now...
'The spacing and depths of the drains are matters of experience, depending on capillary properties of the soil, and it was always said that land drainage was as much an art as a science...'
Roy Preece classes the period after the second world war, the late 1940s and 1950s, of which he writes about in The World is a Bundle of Hay, as a unique one. Conditions were fair for the labourers, support for agriculture gave farmers security and a reasonable prosperity...
'The English countryside was flourishing but modern farming was still mostly in the future. In this time of transition many aspects of the way of life and sustainable farming practices had not changed for centuries.'
Everything still done by man and horse power, and though this era was coming to an end there was still time for Roy to learn many basic skills now lost.
Haymaking surrounds us here in the Shire through the summer, and as Roy says 'It's only dried grass,' but what skills are required to preserve large quantities for winter feed for stock, and I'm almost up for building a traditional hayrick now that Roy has explained it all. What a sight they were, what beautiful and treasured tools were used and with such skill, and how cleverly constructed the hayrick was to keep out water for the winter. This original photograph by Henry Fox-Talbot c1840 used by Roy to demonstrate the art...
Every single aspect of this picture 'matters' when it comes to building a hayrick, from never trusting a painted ladder (it may hide knots in the wood, a source of dangerous weakness) to the angles of the roof, to that horizontal guideline, to that 'pole' sticking out (the handle of a lethally sharp cutting tool). Ricks slowly replaced by Dutch Barns and now it's much more fancy stuff, a highly mechanised process, all wrapped and baled. We did get a little glimpse of our Lovely Farmer haymaking last year, the weather too good not to get in some more small bales, and this field to the front of our house we discover aptly called Mowhay Meadow in years gone by. There is a beautiful moment at the end of Roy Preece's book when the cows are taken out to their summer pastures after wintering indoors, leaving the barns quiet and empty...
'There is something about a deserted farm building which powerfully, though indistinctly, speaks to the imagination, more so even than does a church or a castle : a feeling of things hidden in time or unexpressed, or inexpressible. In castles and churches time is linear and punctuated and articulate; in farm buildings time is cyclical, mute and anonymous and so is mostly unknowable and without limit; we are aware only of a vibrant cycle of life repeated over and over from time immemorial, whose details we shall never know.'
Watching the TV news and seeing the distraught farmers on the Somerset Levels loading stock onto trailers to be driven away from their ground... the farmer walking off through water waist high, his farm and his buildings, for now, desolate and useless... and I could only hope that they, and all the others who live there, would each hang onto that vibrant cycle of life and know it would be repeated again soon.
I haven't indulged for a while now, but there it was in the shop at The Devon Guild of Craftsmen last week...the latest edition of Selvedge magazine, and I decided that if you can't undulge in dark dank January then when can you. With its strap line 'The Fabric of Your Life' ...well I'm going to fall for that instantly.
In fact the fabric of my winter has been the warmth of knitting this year. Gifts various made for people various, and the huge pleasure that accompanies wrapping and posting something off to someone knowing you having made it with them in mind, and stitched love and friendship into it. Maybe they are having a tough time, maybe it's just about saying thank you, but there is much to be said for the giving of.
In the background has been the slow-growing hitchhiker scarf... I bless the day one of you pointed me to this pattern over on Ravelry, the rows now so well-established in my mind that I can almost do it with my eyes shut, but actually whilst being driven or watching TV. Garter stitch but such a clever effect, beautifully enhanced (well I think so) by the very reasonably priced King Cole wool.
Yes, I would love to be doing this in Rowan Kidsilk Haze but at £6 or more for 25gms the cost is prohibitive, I'd be up to £36 worth by now. This is King Cole Riot double knit (£3.99 per 100gms) in shade 401, 30% wool, 70% acrylic, soft enough to snuggle around the neck, and I am now into my second 100g ball and going for the full 42 point 'shawlette'...it won't have cost much more than £6.
Not much knitting in the January edition of Selvedge (if anyone has back issues could you tell me which have good knitting content so that I can catch up) but some interesting articles on historical costume, pattern drafting and dressmaking.
On the home sewing front hooray...Selvedge reveals that The Great British Sewing Bee will be back on TV, and news of a wonderful website and shop for all those notions and some good old fashioned patterns in card rather than tissue paper. Merchant & Mills have a fabulous range of fabrics too, and if someone could go to the shop in Rye (thank you Fran!) and check out the Factory Dress I would be very grateful....just don't tell Lizzie (my style guru) that I am heading back into loose and shapeless, but the thing is it looks like just the sort of multi-purpose garment for summer gardening and all things outdoors. Unfussy and no complicated fastenings which they suggest so often don't go quite right ...agreed ... zips ... buttonholes, many-a disaster in my time...
'In our experience, the classic, simple designs, place emphasis on the cut and silhouette whilst intentionally avoiding detailing and fastenings which can make even the best dress look homemade.'
I am already psyched up for some Spring stitching after that trip to the pattern department in John Lewis... Any more Selvedge fans out there??
Any nice creative things happening over your way??
Today is Groundhog Day in the US but, with apologies to all lovers of groundhogs, I can't work up much enthusiasm for them so I have decided that the ancient celebration of Candlemas needs reviving. Whilst we may not all wholly associate Candlemas with the Purification of the Virgin Mary after the birth of Jesus, or the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple at Bethlehem, perhaps we could buy into the 'preponderance of candles' as described by Steve Roud in The English Year.
February 2nd, Candlemas, falls midway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox and was also traditionally the day that candles were blessed in church, very much in keeping with the notion of shedding light into darkness, and the day apparently big news in the Middle Ages. So we are half way there in the Northern Hemisphere, and after weeks and weeks of rain and gloomy dark days that feels good.
In many indoor trades Candelmas marked the moment when candles could be dispensed with until the autumn for working during the day, for others it marked the end of the Christmas period... all feasting and fun should now cease on the assumption that we've all been frivoling and jollying non-stop since December. Another common superstition which originated here in the Shire surrounds the weather...
If Candlemas day be dry and fair, The half o' winter to come and mair, If Candlemas day be wet and foul, The half of winter's gone at Yule.
Chances are it will be 'wet and foul' and my answer will be to light my candle.
My Christmas candles were a huge success. No major disasters, the kitchen glowed each evening and thanks to the old glass ice bucket, which has doubled as a safe container, the coffee table didn't catch fire this time round.
All were nicely burned down by Twelfth Night and replaced with a single one in the Book Room which has in turn burned itself out this week. I have a Candlemas replacement to start off today, pure beeswax which I am hoping will light me through to the clocks going forward, when I will dispense with them until the autumn. My music for the day will be An English Ladymass - medieval chant and polyphony sung by Anonymous 4 and one of my favourites this winter. Gaude virgo salutata... Salve mater redemptoris... Lux et gloria... Kyria christifera... Missus Gabriel de celis...the names enough to conjure up the Candlemas of old perhaps.
So there you have it, Happy Candlemas, and if the days still feel a bit dark may be light a candle to see you through to spring as well. (Sorry Australia, this will seem all wrong down your way.)
Firstly Happy Australia Day Australia. I expect the Kayaker is working flat out in the bar in Hobart keeping you all in drinks.
I have spent the entire week trying to find 'singing' clothes. The requirements for my new choir are a plain floor-length black dress (well not for the men obvs) with sleeves but no ornamentation, distractions, slits or other revelations. My plan is to look and sound like Renee Fleming on a personally imposed budget of ...er...£10.
I scoured everywhere from Mole & Foal Sanctuary, Cat's Protection, Labrador Rescue to British Heart Foundation, Oxfam and Hospice...charity shops-a-plenty and was beginning to despair, even upping my budget wasn't helping. To be honest I'm not over keen on buying into someone else's sleeves/ armpits etc, call me fussy I know. Anyway, the very last shop before the car, Children's Hospice (bless them) and home and there were three. One was more of a tube and did me no favours (nor does black as we know) the other a size 20 and that did me no favours either, plus so much diamante I'd have upstaged the soloist, and that wouldn't do. Then suddenly there it was, washable, black, stretchy, flaring out from a twisted pleat under the bodice into a lovely shape, 3/4 sleeves, V neck and a size 14... sniffed it (fine) pulled it on over my trousers, perfect fit, room for a thermal vest underneath... £8.50, done deal. Now I've gone and exceeded the budget with a £4 bolero jacket, but hey ho, I'm sorted and can now 'do' concerts.
I took the jacket into the dry cleaners because all I had seen were the words Professional Dry Cleaning on the label. 'That'll be £10,' said the woman...eek, budget doubled, '...but you do know you can wash this don't you,' and there on the other side the magical 40 degs.
Should have gone to SpecSavers.
Though the choir I now sing with is unaffiliated to any church we will be singing three services at Exeter Cathedral in February, choral evensongs and a Sunday morning choral Eucharist, and I can't believe how much I am enjoying singing psalms and anthems once more, plus some of those good old plod-along Anglican hymns with the antiquated words and the tune that you could never remember twice, as well as a few more well-known ones. Choral Evensong of course means a sung Magnificat and Nunc dimittis (apologies, I realise this may be double dutch for many...significant Biblical passages set to music and part of the tradional round in the Church of England) and for those we will be singing Stanford's setting in Bb. It is glorious and uplifting enough in the rehearsal room, imagine singing it in a Cathedral with full organ accompaniment, and all in my £12.50 outfit. I had wearied of week after week of psalms, Mags and Nuncs, Te Deums and Jubilates twenty years ago when I left the church choir, how good to return to them with new enthusiasm.
And over Easter a concert when we will be singing Stainer's Crucifixion and also Schubert's Mass in G ...I am loving it all.
A pleasing for those who have asked after Magnus of late, let me tell you that he has entered a winter hibernatory phase; in the bedroom window at 8am, onto his fleece blanket and sparko for the next eleven hours before rousing himself for food, a curl up in front of the fire and then back off out on the prowl. It's a cat's life...
Isn't it always the way...so easy to spend so much time worrying about natural disasters around the world that you can miss those happening right on the doorstep.
I know we have readers who live on the Somerset Levels and I just wanted to send good wishes and please do let us know how you are if you can. Watching the local news day after day you suddenly realise that all these villages and homes have now been underwater and cut off for three very long wet weeks, and with more rain and gale-force winds forecast for us all here in the West Country this weekend they must be living in dread. Now declared a 'major incident' it was awful to see flooded villages completely deserted and to hear that it could be weeks before the water subsides. Yes. the novelty would wear off for me too.
I went to a beautiful and incredibly moving service in celebration of the life of a young woman called Emily on Friday. After weeks of dark gloomy rain-sodden days how right that the day should dawn with rare clear skies and brilliant sunshine. It was standing room only, we sang our hearts out and I am surprised the roof stayed on the church.
Emily had been born nineteen years ago with a very complex cardiac anomaly and I had the privilege of being the family's health visitor for the five years until Emily started school. Living the fullest and happiest of lives despite countless hospital stays and operations, Emily had just left school, passed her driving test and got her place at university...as her mum said so eloquently, Emily was ready to fly, when sadly the final battle with her health began last summer.
Hearts go out to Emily's family, many of us have been right alongside every update on Facebook, and you realise how clever and good social media can be in keeping people 'together' and thinking of someone in that way. But what a lovely idea to give us each a bag containing nineteen daffodil bulbs, one for each year of Emily's life, as we left the church, how perfect that there will a special place in so many gardens that will be forever Emily.
It's actually called Colour Me Beautiful... in my case I'll settle for Better... where you place yourself in the hands of an expert and are advised on which colours suit you and which don't. I have several friends who had brandished their little book of swatches and told me they are Spring or Winter and would never wear anything outside their allotted colours, and whilst it has all looked very interesting and I had wondered, I had never thought about going along... until last year.
There's something about turning sixty that can take you by surprise...well quite a lot of things actually, I hadn't realised quite how much I would want to change and shed, de-clutter and move on from as well as consolidate, though have sensibly not thrown the baby out with the bathwater and so decided to keep Bookhound.
This Colours thing all started when I went to a Women's Institute meeting.
That all started because the handicrafts judge at the Village Show said I really should be in the W.I.
I'm very impressionable like that so overcoming all prejudices about singing Jerusalem, I then discovered that our own village W.I. had collapsed into dissent and recriminations, folding years ago after an unseemly power struggle. All that's left to show for it is a nice set of cups and saucers in the village hall kitchen cupboard. Undaunted I found a branch in a neighbouring village and took myself along one winter's evening back in 2012. I'll gloss over why I only ever went to one meeting...
..no I won't, these things matter.
Comfortable as I am in a roomful of strangers, I'll happily strike up a conversation, but I do find that if no one speaks to me at all in return, and stays huddled in their groups leaving me sitting like billy-no-mates...well I might not want to go back for more unless I get a good vibe. Migraine-inducing fluorescent lights, chairs in rows, and then the table came out, and the 'committee' sat around it giving out notices and magazines and asking for subs, and I thought 'Nope, this isn't for me.'
Anyway, there was a saving grace because the speaker for the evening was Lizzie Fox, a Devon-based style, image and colour consultant, and she was inspiring. A retired TV journalist and reporter now in her seventies, Lizzie looked fantastic and I completely warmed to her engaging and unassuming personality as she talked about confidence and self-esteem, and that whilst much comes from within, plenty comes from without too, and knowing what to wear can all get more difficult as you get older. As she demonstrated colours and styles for a few people that evening I realised I was suddenly itching to know mine.
Yes I thought, I'd willingly put myself at your mercy for a revamp, and when I contacted the Knit Angel she was up for it too, we'd book a Friends Day and make it our Jubilee Birthday Treat to set us both up for the next decade. So off we trotted to Lizzie's home near Exeter, almost a year ago now, for our day. One of us styled in the morning, the other in the afternoon, lunch inbetween and we'd come out looking and feeling a million dollars. The clever thing about this was that we sat in on each other's consultations which is how the Knit Angel knew that the shawl she made me for my birthday was spot on...
'I'll cry if you take teal off me,' might have been my first words after hello, which after a quick look up and down, eyes, hair colour, skin tone, body shape etc Lizzie promised she wouldn't.
There's the first revelation...I am an Inverted Triangle, broad shoulders, narrower (though I have to say not necessarily 'narrow' ) waist. Lapels will do me no favours whatsover. I must direct the beholder's eyes to my waist not my shoulders, even 'bulk out my hips', which I'll confess I can't bear to do because I still feel sure they know perfectly well how to do that for themselves.
And that baggy, comfy, expensive and brand new Boden tunic dress with leggings, and my lovely Fat Face boots?? The leggings were fine, so were the boots, but the tunic was doing my trim (ahem) figure no favours whatsoever, I must accentuate not hide.
'Oh this old thing...yes I wear it for gardening...'
I do now.
You'd think a person would know what suited them by the time they were sixty wouldn't you... well I couldn't believe the mistakes I had been making, For starters I must never go near a nautical stripe or a bold geometric ever again, nor must I wear black. I had just started the black thing thinking it was just what you did as you got older, but thankfully dove-grey and pewter are me. It has to be cream not white... bright yellow, orange and jade green absolutely forbidden. Tomato red (the colour of the coat I was wearing) really the nearest I could get to a total fail. In fact jewel-colours a great big no-no. I need muted tones and have been completely transformed by, of all colours, lavender and aubergine. Brown is back having made me look seriously unwell for years and thus avoided, shell pink is no more after being the one colour I could always rely on...all because of age, changing hair colour, skin etc. In contrast the Knit Angel with her dark hair colouring can wear a stained glass window and look fabulous.
The biggest revelation for us both was hair.
Bless Lizzie, she has developed a lovely way of telling people what doesn't work. My hair... fringe, centre parting, straight to my jawline etc, far too severe for someone who laughs so much she said, and two days later I was in the hairdressers having it taken above my ears, side parting, keeping the length on top etc. I felt completely transformed and haven't looked back since.
I don't do much make up but it was good to have a basic foundation professionally matched to my skin tone for the first time since I went to the Revlon counter pre-wedding back in 1976, and also to be introduced to the magic of the Foundation Brush. If you haven't discovered these and you wear foundation, well hightail it to Boots and buy one instantly. Using the minutest amount of foundation you brush on the finest layer and avoid all manner of jawline disasters and cakey blotches.
Lizzie doesn't do seasons, so I emerged as Soft/Cool/ Deep...
Soft is a colour category which is both feminine and elegant. The blended colours complement the blended, natural colours in your hair and you will find that your colours all work well together; especially when worn tone-on-tone rather than contrast. Your secondary category is Cool, which indicates that you are well suited to blue and blue-based colours and your tertiary category is Deep with stronger, blue-based colours that are great in accessories or in cardigans and jackets, or within patterns.
When the e mail with personal advice notes arrived that same evening, and after such a positive day, I felt completely uplifted. I get the notes out every so often when frumpiness prevails, and especially at this time of year. I know I am very lucky, my family all say lovely things about me, but I don't think we do this often enough... go somewhere where other people say nice complimentary personal things.
"You have good cheekbones, lovely, strong-coloured eyes and a good mouth – which smiles a lot! "
" You are petite and fine-boned...'
"...as you have a defined waist'..."
"...'as you are slim and petite you should go for smallish patterns with colours that merge rather than contrast'...
"You will always look good in the layered look, with separate layers in colours which ‘go’ together and complement each other..."
It's not about vanity, it's about being cheered and feeling good and we all need that.
Interestingly my wardrobe was not as bad as I first thought. I clearly, though sub-consciously, must have known about the yellow because not a single thing could I find, and with my swatches to hand I rooted out a few more forbiddens whilst patting myself on the back for the inordinate amount of blue and grey and teal of course.
The tomato red Craghopper coat with fleece lining, on calculation, proved to be the one I bought back in about 1993 when I was completely fed up with getting cold and wet through winter visiting out on Dartmoor. I probably thought the colour would be jolly on dull days and people would see me approaching through the mist.
Doesn't time fly, and don't Craghopper coats wear well, I have now relegated it to dog-walking
I wondered whether the day would transform me beyond that single consultation, so easy to go to these things and then lapse, but interestingly, in the long-term I think it certainly has... though maybe not when I'm out walking on the moors.... I do consult my swatches...I love the colour names... geranium, periwinkle, soft violet, teal, chocolate, verbena, eau de nil, sapphire, and if it was about feeling more confident with colours and styles and also comfortable with the sixty-year-old me I certainly do now... as I sit here wearing my Tesco's fleece-lined 'aubergine' tights ( as above, great discovery) and one of Bookhound's baggy old fleece jumpers down to my knees... but at least it's the right shade of rose-brown.
Has anyone else done anything like this??
Had a colour or style consultation??
If you can find the right person I can highly recommend it.
...while we in the UK are struggling with this and think it is bad enough... I have a feeling things might be a whole lot worse for you and the Polar Vortex... Apparently it's colder in Winnipeg than it is on Mars, and watching the news there were people outside without GLOVES!!
I hope you are all safe and warm and have your gloves and thermals on, please do let us know how you are x
All the animals were well catered for in the Christmas present department, we can't be the only ones who do this...
Magnus was particularly pleased with five tins of Sheba from Offspringette having been used to bog standard fare of late, and has spent much time flaked out in front of the fire nabbing the reading chair... The wild birds have enough food to see them through to 2015 at least and they are very grateful and busy...
and Nell and Rusty had a ball flinger EACH to save them both running after the same ball.
We realise we could just take two deckchairs out in the field and sit there. Nell has chased her ball for two hours and still not wearied of the game, just taking the occasional dip in the trough to cool off. Sadly that water has been in that trough for years. so she emerges smelling much worse than when she went in.. Rusty surrendered after about twenty minutes... lay down with the ball firmly in his mouth and played possum, refusing to budge.
I'm hoping you have all been warm and dry and that the roof has stayed on and the river has stayed far from your doors. I had read The Children of Green Knowe (again) through a day of endless rain on Monday, and by the evening, having checked the webcam, (click the X to close the adverts) we couldn't resist nipping down to see the Tavy at full throttle. This is normally a sedate series of weirs and salmon leaps... And before you all tell me I'm TOO NEAR THE EDGE...it's deceptive and not as near as it looks, remember me and The Cob...terrified. There's poetry on the river bank now too, and I wondered as well... Our Christmas was quietly filled with nice food and lovely gifts, a minimal amount of TV bar the usual (Call the Midwife and Downton of course) and we are now in those lovely post Christmas days when you try and make it last as long as possible. This will be the first year in many a long one that I am not governed by a Return to Work date, which always seemed to make the days speed by way too fast, so it will probably still feel like Christmas in February.
I had two very nice books which Father Christmas had obviously heard me mention.
Knitting Yarns - Writers on Knitting which (despite some misgivings in comments) I am really enjoying. It's a one-a-day read and thus far fits nicely with all my thoughts about the pre-Christmas gift knitting....and why I do it. I am also very grateful to one of you who contacted me on Ravelry when I was begging for easy knits and suggested Norwegian Baktus scarves. I managed to make two, plus a shawl collar, plus two mini hot water bottles which all went to their new owners and I am now doing a Hitchhiker scarf for me. It's all TV-watching knitting of the best variety.
Shetland Hap Shawls Then & Now by Sharon Miller is going to give me plenty of history as well as inspiration, and having expected the book to have been produced in Shetland what a surprise to find it comes from a few miles up the road in Okehampton.
My reading as always didn't quite go to plan...
I finished The Goldfinch on Christmas Eve and collapsed in a reading heap having loved it, so hardly surprising, that in the wake of that, the Cazalets weren't going to cut it so I am saving them for another day. A couple of other books were disappointing...I gave one 120 pages before abandoning and then headed for the second in Peter May's Lewis Trilogy The Lewis Man which worked like a dream and had me stabbing holes in the Kindle screen to get to the next page, I shall probably cave and buy The Chessmen the minute I finish it.
Now all our neighbours' chimneys smoke, And Christmas blocks are burning; Their ovens they with bak't meats choke, And all their spits are turning. Without the door let sorrow lie, And if, for cold, it hap to die, We'll bury't in a Christmas pye And evermore be merry.
Wither's Juvenilia, 1622
I am still browsing Old English Household Life by Gertrude Jekyll and came across that little rhyme on the subject of firesides. I'm something of an expert on firedogs various now, taking note when I may have walked past before, and we came across this one on a Christmas visit to Buckland Abbey this week... I may as well share the Tithe Barn tree too (sorry, blurry iTouch pic) There is something majestic and haunting about this 15th century monastic space, more about Buckland Abbey soon.
If you have ever built a chimney as we have...well Bookhound has, I watched and said reassuring things like "Of course it won't fall down," when a steel girder was unexpectedly required 'that minute', but you will know there is an art to it. They can be stubborn creatures, the 'draw' up a chimney flue is not a foregone conclusion, whilst a room filled with smoke often is, and I didn't know that a reliable method of loosening the soot was to fire a shotgun up a chimney (maybe don't try that at home) .
Gertrude Jekyll has much else to impart about the social importance of the fireplace and interesting to note their presence in just about every ancient building we see, the Neolithics on Orkney had it sorted too..
'There is little wonder that the much-valued fireplaces, useful in purpose, rich in intimate associations, and elevated to real centres for home and family ties, should have evoked the familiar sayings and home-made village ditties made in praise of them.
And to say we have been in praise of ours for several months right now would be an understatement. Even in the mild climes we seem to have been living in recently, lighting our three woodburners is the pinnacle of satisfaction each afternoon. Bookhound keeps the Tinker stocked with logs and leaves him to it and the Tinker has swiftly mastered the woodburner rather than the central heating thermostat. The whole wood collecting thing is an ongoing saga which Bookhound loves; the chestnut and ash was cut and stored several years ago, and our wood for 2015 and beyond (dv) is just coming in from the latest logging expeditions. We see the smoke curling out of the Tinker's chimney and know that he will be as warm as toast.
We must have burned every variety of wood since we bought our first stove, a Canadian Fisher 'Grandma Bear' in 1980, and thus can vouch for this little ditty too...
Beech-wood fires burn bright and clear If the logs are kept a year; Store your beech for Christmastide With new-cut holly laid beside; Chestnut's only good, they say, If for years 'tis stored away; Birch and fir-wood burn too fast Blaze too bright and do not last; Flames from larch will shoot up high, Dangerously the sparks will fly; But ash-wood green and ash-wood brown Are fit for a Queen with a golden crown.
Oaken logs, if dry and old, Keep away the winter's cold; Poplar gives a bitter smoke, Fills your eyes and makes you choke; Elm-wood burns like churchyard mould, E'en the very flames are cold; It is by the Irish said; Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread, Apple-wood will scent the room, Pear-wood smells like flowers in bloom; But ash-wood wet and ash-wood dry A King may warm his slippers by.
I would have to add...
Eucalyptus creates a hum And expect your flue to be blocked with gum.
It was a mistake...what on earth were we thinking. Days of scraping thick black treacle out of the flue though we did all have crystal clear sinuses.
I light the little fire in my Book Room, Bookhound lights the bigger one in what was our big sitting room but is now his very big 'study', and we all hibernate off into our corners to 'play.' Gathering in front of one or the other for the occasional beverage and a natter. We will all have a Yule Log too.
I'm not quite sure how this will differ from an ordinary log but it will be designated 'Yule', though I had no idea of the traditions behind it.
Plenty of superstitions... an ill omen if a bare footed or squinting person crossed the threshold while the Yule Log was burning, and if a barefooted person with a squint stumbled in who knows what hell and damnation might descend. According to Gertrude the log should be lit with a brand 'carefully preserved from the Christmas fire of the previous year' ...we have failed.
And fireside accoutrements were also of great importance. Shovels, tongs, trivets, bellows, brand tongs for picking up fragments of fuel blown into flame for lighting candles, spits and pot-hangers, tinder boxes and flints...there can't have been room to move, and all a far cry from my 'bucket' with Zip firelighters, matches, shovel and gloves.
And who knew about the medieval 'coeverfu.' Originally used when the bell tolled for for 'fires out' at eight or nine o'clock, the coeverfu was placed over the fire to extinguish it and from whence cometh the more familiar 'curfew.'
I had often wondered exactly how a bread or clome oven actually worked too. We have two in our old fireplaces, sadly minus their doors, and in our kitchen minus the fire, but when required for use Gertrude explains all...
' a faggot of dry brushwood went in and was lighted; by the time it had burned and the ashes were removed, the right degree for baking had been obtained.'
Very occasionally we might find a well-baked sleeping cat in ours. Firesides for you... or not??
And talking of Yule, my thanks to whoever recommended Anonymous 4 a while back. I have been listening to An English Ladymass all Summer and now have On Yoolis Night - Medieval Carols and Motets for Winter Solstice listening.
That's it... we got there, to the Solstice and beyond, the evenings will be drawing out now (sorry Australia, we are having that sun back up our way) but in the meantime we are all off to St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall today where they sometimes have this...
I am in the mood for some nice, safe, convenient snow of the right sort now, I'll bet Canada and the US are hogging the lot.
Enjoy to the accompaniment of more beautiful singing from the children at Killerton last week. Apologies for camera work, it was dark and we were halfway up the stairs, but listen out for the perfect diction and that lovely clear 'Nowell.'
Happy Winter Solstice everyone, and now that it seems easier to live my life by the equinoxes than by plodding from one lot of annual leave to the next I find these solstice days quite special.
If we have a clear sunny day we may get one of those maginificentt shortest days sunsets where we can actually watch the sun sink directly behind Beckadon Wood. The sun's furthest setting point of the year before making its way back across the valley towards the longest day... If we don't, well never mind, the days will be drawing out now anyway so time for rejoicement, and in any case, look..
Just a few weeks ago we were visited by Angel Wings...nay Archangel wings, a cloud formation that we can't ever remember noticing before... Blessed we are indeed, and with plenty to share around...
I can remember splashing out hard-earned Woolworth's Saturday girl wages as a teenager to buy a dumpy bright orange candle. I think I then probably just lay on my bed dreaming by candlelight and listening to Simon & Garfunkel singing...
A winter's day In a deep and dark December...
...and with the candle lit on a rationed basis to make it last longer. Nowadays we have an array of sconces in the summerhouse and there is nothing more magical than sitting up there in the flickering candlelight on a warm summer's evening....I'm not sure I imagined myself being here and now when I was fifteen.
When it comes to winter candles I was a regular illuminator until the fateful New Year's Eve when we stepped outside at midnight as usual to watch everyone else's fireworks around the Tamar Valley, only to find that we had an incendiary of our own indoors. One of those pretty grass and plant embedded candles had burned down too far, caught alight and the coffee table was ready to go with it. A few more minutes and the aftermath would have been a great deal worse than the residual scorch marks which remind me of those uncontrolled flickering flames to this day.
And I haven't had the nerve to light a candle indoors since...bar the beautiful and safe looking one that I won in an online competition. The exquisitely scented limited edition Ormonde Jayne 'Navidad', (£62!) perched here next to the scorch marks when it arrived as a warning to myself... Soon only this remained ... Now the merest layer of scented wax in the bottom of the glass, and I prefer to listen to Radio 3 these days...but the compelling scent of amber, cardamom, tonka and clementine lingers on.
I have been reading Old English Household Life by Gertrude Jekyll recently. We found it for £1.50 at one of those National Trust second-hand bookshops that have sprung up at every house. Published in 1939 the book is an attempt to record the vanishing aspects of English village life; manners and customs 'that have almost ceased to be.' It is not a book that wallows in sentiment and nostalgia either, as Gertrude Jekyll points out...
'Age alone may not signify merit; the good old days, like the new ones, owned strains of badness in plenty, both in people and things. Nevertheless, the best thoughts and striving of every time and age lives on...'
On the subject of candles a reminder of what we are missing...
'With all the advantages of present efficiency, something has been lost. When candles were plentiful and in vogue, the white upright stems, lit and burning and supported on shapely holders and sticks, spread soft rays of light; they brought to evening hours a peculiar charm...'
We now live in a fast-moving, fully lit world where night still happens, but is optional to experience. Our 24/7 culture has phased out the night. In fact we treat the night like failed daylight. Yet slowness and silence – the different rhythm of the night – are a necessary correction to the day.
I think we should stop being night-resisters, and learn to celebrate the changes of the seasons, and realign ourselves to autumn and winter, not just turn up the heating, leave the lights on and moan a lot.
Night and dark are good for us. As the nights lengthen, it's time to reopen the dreaming space. Have you ever spent an evening without electric light?
It doesn't matter whether you are in the city or the country, as long as you can control your own little pod. Make it a weekend, get in plenty of candles, and lay the fire if you have one. Prepare dinner ahead, and plan a walk so that you will be heading for home in that lovely liminal time where light and dark are hinged against each other....
I do go for a walk in that 'liminal time'...now as we approach the shortest day at about 3.30pm, Nell and I often take a brisk walk to the top of the lane and back, and I do have my candle lit on the wall sconce when I get home.. How about you and candlelight...
Sort out a stack of books I think I might like to read over Christmas and it always includes Bleak House which I must have re-started six times and still not finished, so this year I have taken the drastic step of leaving it off the pile.
Meanwhile the 'pile' includes quite a few Kindle reads as well as some 'real' books, here are a few of my choices...
Like many of you I have had an itch to reacquaint myself with Elizabeth Jane Howard's Cazalet family since All Change arrived. Unfortunately I sent them all to the charity shop in that purge, but I did pick up The Light Years on a Kindle Daily Deal so I may well see if the Cazalets hold the same magic they did back in 1991 when I started reading them. Interestingly, and here is the joy of that reading journal, I see I was reading a lot of Susan Howatch at that time too... Glittering Images, Glamorous Powers, Ultimate Prizes and a few years previously Penmarric, Cashelmara and Wheel of Fortune, yet I hear little of her these days. I wonder if a renaissance might be due.
I have been hearing good and promising things about a book due out in January. Amazingly the buzz for The Silversmith's Wife by Sophia Tobin ( a librarian by day) started for me right here in the Tamar Valley via a friend who has her finger firmly on the pulse of up-coming historical fiction. A copy has arrived ( just look at that cover) and I am going to dive in...
The year is 1792 and it's winter in Berkeley Square. As the city sleeps, the night-watchman keeps a cautious eye over the streets, and another eye in the back doors of the great and the good. Then one fateful night he comes across the body of Pierre Renard, the eponymous silversmith, lying dead, his throat cut and his valuables missing. It could be common theft, committed by one of the many villains who stalk the square, but as news of the murder spreads, it soon becomes clear that Renard had more than a few enemies, all with their own secrets to hide. At the centre of this web is Mary, the silversmith's wife. Ostensibly theirs was an excellent pairing, but behind closed doors their relationship was a dark and at times sadistic one and when we meet her, Mary is withdrawn and weak, haunted by her past and near-mad with guilt. Will she attain the redemption she seeks and what, exactly, does she need redemption for…? Rich, intricate and beautifully told, this is a story of murder, love and buried secrets.
I have also been saving my entire Lucy M Boston collection for a mid-winter festival reading feast, and though I read The Children of Green Knowe yet again earlier this year I am going to read it once more and then move onto the others... I have also found a copy of Lucy Boston's very first novel Yew Hall (£1 in another of those National Trust bookshops...good spot Bookhound) published when she was in her sixties...'so polished, so effortless, so mature. As an author she appears to have sprung out of the ground fully armed,' said the critics at the time, and having read the first few pages I couldn't agree more.
Offspringette will be here over Christmas, and on Boxing day, while Bookhound is out helping the Gamekeeper on his shoot, we will be curled up on our Green Knowe sofa... with our fire lit and our Green Knowe curtain pulled... and we will just wait for Toby, Alexander and Linnet to make their presence known.
We had such a lovely pre-Christmas visit to Killerton's late-night opening last year that we have been again this year. Last year I had been chained to my desk doing loss and bereavement work for hours on end on that particular day, and I was feeling very un-Christmassy, so Bookhound had planned Killerton as a spur of the moment cheery Rescue Trip and it most certainly worked its magic.
This year, feeling much more relaxed and in tune with life rather than the lack of it, we met the Knit Angel and the Weatherman (remember them from Port Eliot) for tea and cake and a browse around the shop, before wandering off down to the house as dusk was falling.
I love it because you rarely get the chance to see inside a National Trust property after sundown, so as we go in it looks like this... and by the time we emerge... Unbeknown to us, we arrived just as the children from a local primary school were about to sing some carols so mixed in with the enchantments of the house decor was this most beautiful singing..
We stood on the stairs and listened, and how can you not recall all those frazzled years of children's school carol services and nativity plays, and the way that somehow, even with three children, you never seemed to get the same part twice. I must have made a complete wardrobe of nativity attire in my time, from wise man cloak with stencilled gold stars, to the ubiquitous tea towelled shepherd, and probably a donkey somewhere along the way. We were spared the Mary-blue-robes because poor five year-old Offspringette, off with mumps (in the days before MMR) was unceremoniously replaced, an act of betrayal for which she never quite forgave the Head Mystery, as she thought the Head Mistress was called.
Anyway, the children were wonderful and we came over all teary-eyed as we wandered around the house looking at the decorated rooms which the staff at Killerton have turned into an art from each year.. Of course 'someone' couldn't stay out of the dressing-up box... and I took a real shine to the library chair..
and could have sat in it for hours staring at the library tree opposite... Perhaps another Killerton post to come, and maybe some more singing (no dancing) but the blog is probably going to be a bit of an occasional gallimaufry from now until the 'other side' I think... some this and that... candles... firesides... Christmas cheer... that sort of thing, but no in-depth book thoughts until the New Year, apart from my traditional Christmas Reading Pile that is.
And I am thinking we should move our next A Suitable Boy discussion from December 28th to the first weekend in January...would anyone mind??
Meanwhile any nice Christmassy events down your way ??
We have put the garden to bed for the winter now, and I have to say I am really missing being out there all day every day and can't wait for the spring. I haven't forgotten the Seed Swap idea either and will let you know what I have available to exchange early in 2014
As the frosts start I have my fingers crossed for my new Lavender plants, though why I should worry I don't know, when I cam to transplant them even the tiny plants had put down a great long network of roots, they are bit like swans and icebergs, a great deal going on below the surface. We have one old plant that has survived some very severe winters in recent years and I have added varieties various to the collection this year after that inspiring visit to Cheristow Lavender Farm, and reading Sally Festing's book. Some Hidcote, and a Devon variety that we found at an out of the way place called Mr Pink's Herb Farm on the way home from Cheristow, plus several others grown from seed including all that Munstead, plus some Blue River and Provencal Blue and I will sow more in the Spring. When we finally got around to testing our soil it proved to be very alkaline, perfect for Lavender.
Mr Pink of the herb farm was a lovely chap, with a bit of land, some polytunnels and a trailer home, selling herbs at £1.50 each, and amongst them some really unusual old varieties. I had Gertrude Jekyll's list of Munstead Wood herbs with me and added Hyssop and Costmary to my little Physic Garden, along with Camphor Thyme. Costmary was used in medieval times as a place marker in Bibles, it has a lovely aroma so I hung some to dry and have added it to my homemade pot pourri.
The pot pourri idea sort of grew through the summer. It started with the 'Munstead Wood' rose, planted in a pot with the mycorrhizal fungi which I happened to hear about on a gardening programme. Apparently it helps the plant put down a good root system much faster and everything I have used it on has certainly thrived. Munstead Wood flowered prolifically for months dropping dozens of beautiful petals as each flower faded...
It seemed a shame to waste them, and then I looked at everything else in flower and thought how lovely it would be to have it indoors in some form through the winter.... It wasn't difficult, or even time-consuming. I just set some bowls on the window-sill and added the flowers when I came across them. As they dried I would put them all into a paper carrier bag which, in the best of traditions, I had completely forgotten about until a few weeks ago.
I haven't added any preservatives or Orris Root powder (where on earth do you find that??), just some drops of lavender oil, gave it a shake and tipped it into the only thing I could find, an old glass ice bucket. The faded colours are just right, the glass shows them off beautifully; a lovely reminder of what went before, and hopefully the promise of much more that is to come next year.
A cat in for surgery last week, not Magnus, you'd have to catch him first, no this was Muffy, one of the Dowagers, sporting a cyst on the top of her head which started life the size of a pin-head many years ago. By the time we decide to finally sort this it has moved into the much more expensive pea-to-plum sized pricing category at the vets.
The vet has checked it over in recent years, drained it, given me the needles and syringes so that I could drain it myself (my fault...'That looks easy,' I had said) and always very reluctant to operate because of her age, but it obviously wasn't going to stop growing and...
Well the cat reached 16...
and we kept thinking 'Any day now...'
and it was obvious that for now we have a cat showing all the signs of immortal life and really we had to deal with this because you now couldn't stroke the top of her head, we were having to clean it daily, plus it was blighting her classic and very lovely tortoiseshell straight line, but more than that we sensed she was miserable with it.
I didn't want to write that 'immortal life' bit for obvious reasons (and what will be now will be) but anyway, bless our lovely vet who did the deed the very next morning, having warned us that with Muffy's dicky ticker, and the post-anaesthetic renal-failure-in-cats thing, the surgery was high risk, and therefore not leaving us any time to change our minds, just get it over with.
Bookhound left her at the vets with strict instructions...
'She's stone deaf, please make sure she sees you coming before you pick her up or you will make her jump,'
He left out the bit about her being able to lip-read (which of course she can) honestly, what must they say when you go out of the door.
Interestingly we think Magnus is very aware of her deafness and looks out for Muffy. If she goes out on the lane he invariably goes too, as the hearing cat, just hangs around and is the early warning system for the rare cars or tractors that come along, and he has hovered nearby, mirroring the shaven and tonsured Dowager ever since the operation... The Elizabethan collar stayed on for such a short time when we got her home that I didn't even find the camera, the poor thing so distressed we thought she would keel over from that rather than the surgery, and as we took it off the words of the veterinary nurse were ringing in our ears...'put on under anaesthetic...if you remove it...any subsequent trauma is YOUR responsibility...'
Bookhound and I then have a completely sleepless night expecting to wake up to a cat with half her head scratched away, and wondering how much the repair will cost, only to find she hadn't touched it and nor has she since.
So what is it that makes you go and buy tins of Sheba rather than Tesco's Own for a post-operative cat??
Just the special offer seven for £3, once they are gone they are gone and it's back to Tesco's Own.
Oh no it isn't...she won't eat anything else now.
And you just can't change the ways of an old cat can you.
'Keep her indoors for ten days,' said the very detailed post-surgery instructions...
So I stocked up on litter and nice new tray only to have it stared at with disdain as she sat by the front door at 10pm, as she does every single night. She doesn't go far these days, two minutes later she's in around the back door through the cat flap, having done a circuit and stopping to do what she must do (on the Tinker's garden) before hopping into her basket for the night and expecting the light to be switched off immediately.
Magnus was nearby the next day too, not even complaining that he had to make do with the blue basket when he much prefers his own red one... Bless the little creatures.
After much soul-searching, and five seasons with them, I have left all my friends in the back row of the sopranos of Vocal Harem and joined a new choir. A non-auditioning (thank goodness) mixed community choir, just across the border in Cornwall, who, though not church-affiliated, specialise in singing four-part choral music. They have been so welcoming, and I knew I was in the right place when they launched into Zadok the Priest at my very first rehearsal, and when someone thrust a well-thumbed copy of the New Church Anthem Book into my hand, well, I couldn't have been more delighted. I never thought I would say that, having given up the church choir twenty years ago, but the John Rutter 'Come and Sing' day ( that John Rutter couldn't make through illness so Christopher Robinson led instead ) backalong in July, was all it took to convince me that I wanted to go back to singing purely choral music. I've had great fun with Vocal Harem but my heart had leapt as I flicked through the book we were loaned on that day, and I spent the rest of the day wondering if maybe they wouldn't miss just one copy. Of course they would, and of course I handed it back.
The new choir were preparing for a Harvest Festival, and to my amazement I remembered Thou Visitest the Earth and Blessest It from Holy Trinity Church Choir, Wallington, sung when I was about sixteen. I'll be made up if we do Fling Wide the Gates because I still sing that at the drop of a hat to Bookhound when I need to drive the car out and can't be bothered with all that opening and closing on my own.
The Chris***s music quickly followed the anthem book and as I leafed through my copy of Noel I couldn't believe how excited I felt at the thought of singing them. Singing still gets to a bit of me that nothing else does.. I can drag myself out on a winter's evening nursing every ache and pain known to mankind, yet I always come home with a spring in my step. It's the best therapy I know.
Little lamb, who made thee? Dost though know who made thee Give thee life and bid thee feed By the stream and o'er the mead; Give thee clothing of delight, Softest clothing, woolly bright; Gave thee such a tender voice, Making all the vales rejoice...
I have heard The Lamb countless times but never sung it before. Fortunately everyone else had and standing in the middle of it all as this gentle sound just launched I almost forgot to sing. I was alongside the 'buddy' I was introduced to on week one back in September and found myself singing as if I had known it all my life.
I hadn't known The Lamb was written for ' Simon's 3rd birthday'.. but what depths of meaning that brings to those words.
As I drove the six miles home, up and over Kit Hill and back into Devon, with a waning gibbous moon (I looked it up) looking enormous and reachable ahead of me, and with a planet hovering nearby, and by chance Mozart's Requiem playing on the car radio, I thought about John Taverner, who had died on November 12th.
How sad it is when a true appreciation of someone only really comes after their death, I could kick myself sometimes. Now I almost wish I could write to John Tavener and tell him what an experience it was to sing his music, an unforgettable first for me. I can't claim to be an afficianado, I probably knew little of him before that day in September 1997 when half the world watched as Princess Diana's coffin was carried down the aisle of Westminster Abbey as the choir sang Song for Athene. I certainly didn't know that he had been signed by the Beatles Apple record label way back in the 1960s.
There was a superb tribute to John Tavener on The Choir on BBC Radio 3 last week, enough to have me turning the house upsidedown looking for the one CD I knew I had, Chris***s Proclamation. When I eventually found it I was delighted to find it was conducted by none other than Christopher Robinson, who had unwittingly started this return to my singing roots in the first place.
That programme is on Listen Again for a few more days, and if you listen to it for one thing only don't miss the stunning performance of John Tavener's last work. A setting of Shakespeare's sonnets that he had still been working on the night before his death, and which was due to be premiered two days later. The performance went ahead, with his widow present, and there is a stunned and incredibly emotional silence at the end, where the music just hangs in the air before the audience comes back down to earth and remembers to applaud. John Tavener's funeral will be held at Winchester Cathedral on November 28th, and what a magnificent and well-deserved choral send off he is bound to receive.
Also featured on the programme (which I caught by chance at 4.30pm on a Sunday and will now make a point of listening to) are a composer I had never heard of Carlo Gesualdo, more beautiful choral work to seek out, and in complete but wonderful contrast a piece by Bobby McFerrin, Say Ladeo, from his CD Vocabularies, which was utterly captivating.
Something I had known, but am not sure how I knew, was that the two of the sons from Hardicott, the farm that surrounds us here, had been killed in the First World War.
I have often wandered the fields nursing a bit of a tragi-romantic notion of young lives cut short, wondering how many times perhaps they too had walked those paths and looked out over those views. Maybe even this picture in their mind's eye as they sat in the trenches, and then just imagine the grief of their parents... Think on it though, they must have seen this view daily, the corner of the field forever England in which we sit was once part of their farm; our house two farm worker's cottages knocked into one, so they would have known it well. We discover from the 1911 census returns that the horse men lived here, the carters and the ploughers.
In one cottage, perhaps the one that is now Tinker's Cott, lived George and Selina Peck and their four children, Alice, Frederick, George and Alfred, in the other James and Eliza Holman. As when Mo and Arthur stopped by this summer, I love the fact that I now know more names. Maybe George and James even kept their horses in the field behind the house and from which this picture was taken.
The soldier sons of the farm were Eri and Thomas Wonnacott, confirmed on the war memorial in the village. Eri an unusual name, not Eric with the 'c' missed off by mistake, but Biblical and meaning 'watchful' and also unusual enough to be traceable with some certainty. A bit of work exploring the census and Parish records as well as some information online ( the family is vast and has its own website) and I discovered that Family Wonnacott of Hardicott Farm was quite a tribe.
The 1881 census reveals that Eri Senior was born in 1851 and is now 29.
He farms 190 acres at Hardicott. He has a housekeeper and two servants. Eri's first wife Selina Palmer dies in 1880 at the age of 24 (I wonder whether in childbirth) and is buried within sight of this memorial. Eri then marries Elizabeth Palmer aged 22 (Selina's sister?) in 1882.
The 1891 census reveals a rapid succession of children for the couple, two (not twins) in one year even ...
Frank (1883) Harold (1883) John (1885) Ethel (1886) James (1887) Mary (1889) and Annie (1890) all born before Elizabeth is thirty, seven babies in as many years. Much of the criticism levelled at the BBC TV series The Village was that it was relentlessly dismal, but somehow, apart from the odd glimmer, I can't imagine that raising so many children here and running a farm can have been easy. We are miles from anywhere even now and with a car, and the farm itself is still isolated and a fair old trek from the village. It is cold and damp and exposed to the extremes of the weather, heaven knows how Elizabeth got the nappies and the clothes washed and dry with no mains water or electricity.
Moving onto the 1901 census and I discover that father Eri has died (1899) at the age of forty-eight but not before some more begetting, Ira (1894) and finally our two boys, Eri (1896) and Thomas (1897)
So in 1899 Elizabeth is left with ten children, the oldest just seventeen and a big farm to run, and in very a unofficial-history-like way that would doubtless make academics and proper historians shudder, I start to think of all the perhaps and the possiblys and the maybes in my imagination.
I felt sure Eri Senior's death at forty-eight would have been unusual and unexpected. My money was on a farm accident perhaps, so it was back to the library and the microfiche of the local newspaper. What I discovered came as quite a surprise, but that's another story.
In March 1912 Eri Wonnacott's second son Harold, now a grocer's apprentice, and his wife Annie, and their daughter Mary aged three, along with Harold's younger sister, also Mary, travel from Liverpool to New York on board the Lusitania, thus missing the Titanic disaster by weeks. They pass through Ellis Island before finally settling in Edmonton, Alberta where I discover, not surprisingly that more Wonnacotts still live. I doubt there can be many places in the world where the sun doesn't rise and set on a Wonnacott family.
And the two youngest sons, Eri and Thomas will go off to war.
Eri, a Lance Corporal in the Gloucestershire Regiment dies in June 1918 at the age of 22 of wounds received. Some weeks earlier his battalion, the twelfth has been involved in the Battle of Hazebrouck and I wonder whether this might be where those wounds were sustained. Eri is buried in the Tannay British Cemetery at Thiennes in northern France, just seven miles from Hazebrouck where the casualty clearing stations were located, so it seems likely.
Thomas, a Second Lieutenant in the Devonshire Regiment has been killed in action in May 1917 at the age of twenty and his name is recorded on the memorial at Arras. Given that the dates of the Arras offensive are April to May 1917, it seemed likely that Thomas was killed during that, and with no known grave. A microfiche search of the local paper eventually yielded an announcement in the weekly War Notes column on May 25th 1917...
'Mrs Wonnacott, Hardicott, Tavistock has received information that her youngest son, Second Lieutenant T.H. Wonnacott, Devon Regt, was, on May 9th reported wounded and missing. He was in command of a company and was seen some time after he was wounded. Stretcher bearers were fetched but before they could arrive the Germans were in possession of the ground.'
On today of all days, November 11th, it seems right to remember Eri and Thomas Wonnacott and I wonder if you too have people you are remembering today??
Studying the family tree, I discover that a great-nephew of Eri and Thomas, son of a son of their brother James, is Tim Wonnacott of TV's Bargain Hunt fame, small world indeed.
If Flodden doesn't mean 'flooded' it should, and in any case to say the garden looks like a battleground would be an understatement, and things got off to such a blue-sky promising start too... ..though Nell and Rusty looked on with some mistrust it has to be said... If only we'd unearthed some treasure or something it would have helped.... in fact we have sort of... 'STOP!!!' I would shout like a banshee, and poor Bookhound thinking he has killed something would jump a mile, 'just a bit of pot,' and I would leap in and rescue another finding. Lots of willow pattern, it's been like Time Team and suddenly seemed important to keep these shards, the fragments of the lives of the people who have lived here in the past ... all suggestions welcome as to what next ...how do you do mosaic??
Glue and then sort of grout around it??
Press it into something??
It would make a lovely I'm-not-sure-what.
We are telling ourselves that this is 'definitive and final' landscaping rather than 'dumping earth and quickly making good after building' as in the past, but booking the JCB for a week was bound to induce the wettest weather front and the most torrential rain we have had in ages. Rain has stopped play for several days and the only redeeming feature of it all is that the hire company are too busy to come and collect so could we please hang onto the thing at no extra charge for another four days.
Weeeeell...oh alright then.
Somehow Bookhound has managed to dodge some of the weather with early morning starts or late night endings so most of the shifting is done, we could just do with it to dry a little so that the smoothing out can happen.
Along the way we have wrecked the grass (again) and broken up two little homes and I am still feeling very bad about the ants.
I blame Janet Frame's lovely little book Mona Minim and the Smell of the Sun. I really hadn't given ants a thought until I read it... maybe cast around the odd dusting of Nippon if I found a nest...poured on the boiling water. The book is about much more than an ant who strays a little too far from home though...
It's a book about discovery and bravery in adversity, about fear and courage, about making your face fit where it may not usually do so, about the expectations of others, about being uncomfortable in new surroundings, about pretending to be something you are not and then about being true to yourself, about the constant search for something unknowable, dreaming and imagining, about close shaves, challenges, disappointments and happy moments, staying and leaving, celebrations and family, love, loyalty and friendship...
There has been an ant's nest around the top step outside the Book Room for years and we have adopted a live and let live approach to its existence. It didn't bother us, they weren't trailing into the kitchen, they never strayed far from their basecamp which we assumed was underneath the step somewhere, but in this brave new garden the top two steps have had to amalgamate with the one below to make one big step into the greenhouse, and as Bookhound lifted the slab there it was, this whole lunar-landscape world beneath... When you think how tiny they are, what an amazing feat of earth-shifting and engineering this is, and all those little Mona Minims scurrying everywhere trying to save the day.. It was pointless of course, it all had to go and I shall be strangely delighted if another ant's nest makes itself known in the new scheme of things.
Round the corner (second picture above ) I just happened to be standing watching, leaning on my fork which I had just plunged into the ground, when I glanced down and saw this... The digger bucket had been there minutes before and my fork wasn't far off with its aim, so this toad is very lucky not to be a flat toad or a kebab-ed one. We get lots of lizards but we really can't remember finding a toad in the garden before, so anyway it was rescued and we had a chat with it before rehoming behind the woodshed... Except that night there was a little procession of them hopping across the grass clearly unimpressed and seeking pastures new.
The greenhouse base is done and Bookhound took full advantage of a JCB at his command and double dug his new vegetable garden, and we have cleared a patch for a proper go at a wildflower meadow, rather than a 'leave it to grow and hope for the best' one. Three sacks of Cornish bulbs have arrived and we plan planting on an industrial scale this weekend, forget one-by-one and the bulb planter, we have a JCB... finally perhaps I will have my coveted host of swaying daffodils.
So how's your week been??
Thank you for all your lovely comments on the poetry posts, and also 'Gillian'...the internet has the power to be a truly special and magical two-way place sometimes doesn't it.
Some years we miss it but on Friday, with a storm forecast, we were out in the garden and thus happened to witness the Gathering. It is an amazing sight, swallows flying in from every direction, eventually the wires covered as far as you can see...Poised and ready we wonder who gives the signal for the off...They haven't nested with us this year but there is always the Farewell, a circling of the house and much dipping and swooping as we wish them God speed and realise it is time to sweep the chimneys and get the logs in, and then the Departing..And then you look again and in the merest blink of an eye the sky is empty, they are gone and I am momentarily awash with melancholy before that delicious anticipation of autumn wraps around, and all the fresh sights and projects it will bring.
I know it's not a Bank Holiday for everyone, but have a fine day if it is, and if not, have a fine day too, and some pictures from this past glorious golden week we have enjoyed here in the Shire.
A posy of flowers for you from our garden, and mind the bees...thanks to the borage, the cosmos and the sunflowers (Earthwalker and Ring of Fire) the garden has been buzzing with bee-life for months now. A sudden influx of honey bees on the sunflowers makes me think there has been a bit of a bee dance going on... 'This way to the pollen chaps' ... As August shines on towards September, and I am refusing to let go of Summer until the equinox at the earliest, the countryside has been spectacular. Just the right balance of sunshine, rain and warmth to keep everything in perfect shape... And just to see how this horticulture thing is really done, a trip to The Garden House with Fran H-B last week and plenty of good ideas for some late summer planting for next year...
and finally a lovely picture of the loveliest happiest farmer you could ever wish to meet, making hay while the sun shines etc. and apparently his father bought that baler in 1963, and it's still going strong. They don't make them like that nowadays.
It's not a good thing to discover late into the evening is it, but it had been building through the day and I had searched high and low because there is no mistaking the foetid aroma of decaying protein is there, and we had reached the conclusion that there must have been a concealed deceasement of some sort. Fear grips the heart really doesn't it, especially when you combine the word 'fitted' with the word 'kitchen' and add in 'efficient mouser' as applicable to Magnus.
I have a complete aversion to mice indoors, dead or alive really. If alive, and ingress is evident, as in this hole in the larder ceiling, discovered at the spring clean back in March... ...then Bookhound knows he has about thirty minutes to achieve resolution before I have packed a bag and headed off to a nearby luxury hotel, which I think is perfectly reasonable don't you, because it always ensures that this repair happens pronto, not next week. But back to the smell in the kitchen.
To my mind I have the loveliest of lovely kitchens. In situ for eighteen years now, a mellow combination of maple and delabole slate and granite, and tiles a shade of yellow of which I never tire and which can lift even the weariest of spirits on a dark winter's day. Built in a little workshop to Bookhound's own Shaker design and full of nice homely things, all lived-in and well-used and bearing the chips and scars of family life, but if there is a tiny flaw it is the gap between the far edge of the granite work surface and the window-sill. The intended piece of wood just never made it
through, Bookhound employs a useful Chinese proverb in cases like this...'If man finish house he die,' which has got him off the hook many a time.
But who knows what may have bounced down the back, including perhaps a mouse out of the jaws of the feline this week, or perhaps it had run in and got trapped... add in hot weather and the eeeeeugh potential is huge. The last resident to reveal itself in this no-man's land was a rogue potato that had valiantly sent out a three foot long shoot in its search for light, and which suddenly grew through the gap. That was easily sorted, we just kept pulling until it appeared, but this smell was far worse.
By 11.30 pm it was clear that action was needed, so I went off for a bath and left Bookhound to dismantle and discover.
No point in me sitting there watching was there, and the smell was by now eye-wateringly appalling, chances are we would all have died before morning from the vapours. I could hear much banging and wrenching and levering, and could only be thankful (from afar) that at least Bookhound had designed and fitted it all in the first place, so he did know how to take it apart.
Sadly photography was forbidden on the grounds that it might incite environmental health involvement, but you should have seen the pile of 'stuff' that emerged in amongst the fluff and the dead flies..
The new tea-strainer that had gone missing on day of purchase...
The double CD of Gregorian chant..
The kitchen scissors that everyone had accused everyone else of not putting back on the hook about three years ago...
The wooden lid off a very nice pot that has been lidless for about five years.
Lots of little mysteries solved but all covered in something foul-smelling and slimey as Bookhound built up to the Big One.
As his arm reached in and his fingers sank into something soft...and wet...and soggy he feared the worst. Not just what might be in his hand but the implications of a dead mouse behind the kitchen units are far reaching, especially if the mouse is not cat-related and has found its own way in.
Then suddenly it all came back to him.
The missing hard boiled egg that had disappeared off the plate on the work top last week...
'Oh yes,' he said, very good-naturedly all things considered, 'I had forgotten all about that.'
To celebrate their return to the North East of England there is an exhibition of the Lindisfarne Gospels on Palace Green, Durham from July to September 2013... I made a point of seeing the Book of Kells while I was in Dublin last year so can highly recommend any trip to see anything like this. The delicacy and the intricacy, the colours and the penmanship are astonishing.
Then I start to think how about old it is...
And just how they have survived intact...
And the mixing of the colours...
And the monk sitting there writing and illustrating with such painstaking care..
And making a blobby mistake and screwing up the page and throwing it in the bin (well they might have done)
And saying 'Oh %&$£ it,' and going off for a walk along the beach to recover his inner calm (well maybe)
"Throughout human history artists have been influenced by their surroundings and the sounds of the landscape they inhabit. When Eadfrith, the Bishop of Lindisfarne, was writing and illustrating the Lindisfarne Gospels on that island during the late 7th C. and early 8th C. he would have been immersed in the sounds of Holy Island whilst he created this remarkable work. This production aims to reflect upon the daily and seasonal aspects of the evolving variety of ambient sounds that accompanied life and work during that period of exceptional thought and creativity."
The track listings for In St Cuthbert's Time, Winter, Lencten, Sumor and Haerfest sound intriguing enough, and though I have only listened to the MP3 extract from Sumor here, and the other extracts on You-Know-Where here, even after a couple of minutes I felt 'there'. The pictures that Rhys took, and which I used on Monday, give a real sense of place, I could almost hear the water lapping as he travelled across to the island... One reviewer of suggested as follows...
'Watson has not sought to create music, but to produce an accurate aural artefact. Similar to how an archaeologist might work to rebuild an image of history through the research of remains, this recording attempts to recreate a moment in history...'
Listening, I now realise that this idea weaves in perfectly with the imaginative wanderings seeing something like the Lindisfarne Gospels conjures up in my mind... just can't quite catch the cursing monk. If you do listen to the extracts be prepared for that 'there-ness' to come to an abrupt halt when the clip ends, it may well leave you dangerously wanting £10.86 worth more.
I felt quite bereft.
I have never really taken much notice of this sort of thing before, soundscapes... I mean they sound a bit boring really don't they, and who really has the time to sit and listen to lapping water and screeching birds. But I was completely mesmerised, even for that short time, and can now see their power to transport; had I listened for any longer I'd have been away with the fairies. I think Chris Watson has been at Port Eliot in the past, and if we and he are back there next year I shall be first in the queue.
Honestly, you wait all year for a Royal Visit and then two happen in as many weeks, in fact three if you count Fran H-B's visit to us here tomorrow....the red carpet has been doing overtime.
Prince Charles was in Launceston last week, we didn't turn out, but we were up bright and early for Queen Victoria today and took you all along to swell the numbers which I hope was OK. Two trips out in a week, you'll all be exhausted.
'We are still here profiting by the bad sea to visit many beautiful points de vie in this mostly beautiful county. We saw yesterday one of the loveliest places possible - Endsleigh - the Duke of Bedford's about twenty miles from here...'
Letter to King of Belgium 14 August 1856
The Royal Yacht had arrived in Plymouth on Tuesday 12 August 1856 and, accompanied by Prince Albert and the Royal children, Queen Victoria disembarked up the Tamar at Morwellham Quay on 13 August before setting off for Endsleigh and I love the fact that she took time to write to the King of Belgium to tell him.
And bless her, Queen Victoria made a return visit to Morwellham today, on the anniversary... Morwellham Quay, in the Tamar Valley just a few miles from us here, is one of those living history tourist attractions on your doorstep that you never bother to go to, all the children went to this one with schools at various times but we never did. I'll bet you all have something similar too??
I'd love to know where...
In its mid-nineteenth century heyday, the port of Morwell-ham (as it is pronounced) was the main means of transport for all the copper ore extracted from the mines in the area, and for that reason I had bought a year-long ticket earlier in the year and have been doing some walks down there, and travelling on the underground mine train as I research for Beating the Bounds.
Setting Queen Victoria's original visit in its historical context, the Crimean war had ended, the Victoria Cross had been instituted and Florence Nightingale had returned home the week before. The Queen had sent Florence a letter and a brooch earlier in the year, which seems like measured thanks for all that hard work, but there was nothing to award a woman then, no great national honour that could be bestowed.
There was apparently a 21st century crinoline crisis when it became apparent that the Queen would not be able to extricate herself from any sort of landing craft, ancient or modern, and step ashore with the dignity required by us her loyal subjects. We were well prepared and had all been given a quick lesson in 'Her Majesty' followed by 'Mam' to rhyme with 'ham' and a curtsey or a bow, though I left this reprobate in the stocks for fear of trouble... To the dulcet tones of a piper the Queen made her entrance from the Garlandstone, the ship moored down on the Quay and we all hip hip hoorayed and waved our flags when required.
In 1856 the visit was reported in the Exeter newspaper with details of the Queen's attire...
'Wearing drab coloured dress with flowers and blue trimmings, blue silk visits and white lace bonnet..'
So sporting an approximation Queen Victoria set foot on land again today, and there really is no point in ordering your own frock, they had sold out across the country within hours this afternoon.
The Queen greeted her subjects... and had a quick game of Tossing the (previously cleaned) Horseshoe... before heading around the Quay for a full diary of engagements...with the blacksmith... and the school.. By this time someone had let the reprobate out of the stocks which was clearly a mistake as he was busy trying on all the clothes...you can dress in Victorian costume for that really authentic visit.. We had a good wander around.
The river Tamar is beautiful everywhere in our eyes, and very different on this tidal stretch.. Wide and deep enough to cope with larger shipping, and in quantity. Imagine the bustle and the noise when the port was working to capacity.
There was a fine looking shire horse, with apologies, far too big to get into one picture so I settled for a bit of his head ... and his hooves. just to give you the general idea... And while we are on the 'H's, a heron down by the river gave us the watchful eye but unusually didn't shift... There is plenty to see, including Ruth's Cottage where the BBC series Edwardian Farm was filmed, and you can even see what Ruth kept under her bed...
We extracted the truth from a costumed living history cottage person...
'Go on then tell us...did Ruth really 'live' here... did she 'sleep' here??'
Basically no, they all lived comfortably in other cottages in the area whilst filming took place... too much to ask for really. I wouldn't have wanted to stay there.
The trip to Endsleigh bit wasn't re-enacted. We've been trying to work out how long it would take a carriage and horses to make the journey... quite a while was the best we could come up with. The road up out of Morwellham is steep and twisting, the Fiat Panda struggles enough and the journey takes us about twenty minutes. Queen Victoria would probably have made it for a late lunch with the Duke of Bedford.
Meanwhile I will complete the day on Queen Victoria's behalf, with a trip to Endsleigh for the Salon this evening...
A truly lovely thing happened the other day, so unexpected for all concerned that there were tears and I am so pleased I can make it fit Beating the Bounds.
It was about 11am and we were all out in the garden. I was pottering, Bookhound was mowing, and the Tinker was tickling his tomatoes with a brush which seems to have gained him at least a truss ( as I gather they are called, tomato ones, not surgical) if not two, in the contest that he and Bookhound are having to see whose plant yields the most. It's all very secretive, mystery feeding solutions being added along with covert observation of the opposition, with any threat of storm or gales seeing the pair of them rushing out to make sure all is well staked and sheltered.
Anyway, there we were a picture or rural contentment when a car pulled up at the gate.
Now on an average day maybe three or four cars go past. If anyone stops for any other reason than visiting us, or delivering a parcel, it is usually via the postcode on a SatNav which brings them to our gate, but we share the postcode with two other properties and invariably redirect. But no, it was obviously our house they were interested in as the car slowed to a crawl.
'Can I help,' I inquired, leaning over the gate whilst wielding my secateurs.
'I was born here in 1950 ' said a very excited voice from the back seat.
Now I can't tell you the hours I have spent wondering who may have lived in our home in the past., I think we talked about it on here recently so I know I am not alone. We only have the deeds dating back to the sale in the 1960s, so I have ploughed through census returns and Parish registers and discovered residents various for our house in 1911, farm workers all but little else, and no photos of how the house may have looked back in the day. We only know what local people tell us, mostly that the place was dilapidated and the roof was 'off' for several years before it was renovated in the 1970s.
Well, we had that car parked in the drive, the occupants out, Mo and her brother Arthur and Mo's husband Peter, and the guided tour in progress before you could blink.
And yes Mo had been born in Tinker's Cott in 1950, back then not even called Youngcott, but Nos 1 & 2 Hardicott Cottages (which sheds new light on all those 'wrong' searches I may have been doing) and lived here until she was 14, with Arthur and their parents Beatrice and Gerald Rooke. Gerald worked in the grounds over at Leigh, the Big House next door to Endsleigh, about two miles away, and he would cycle to work each day up the steepest of hills.
This picture of Mo with her mum was taken outside Tinker's Cott... and at a place were there was once a porch and a door but where the Tinker now has a window.. But I keep looking at that pillar, with maybe a rose growing up it, and thinking how strange that we too have unwittingly placed a post in almost the exact same spot to support the veranda roof which Bookhound built. Mo was born in December 1950 and I reckon this picture is probably taken in spring 1951, and that rose is just beginning to sprout.... wonder what it is??
Mo's bedroom was the one the Tinker sleeps in now, whilst Arthur's is now a bathroom. We did a grand tour and Mo was moved to tears when she looked out of 'her' bedroom window and saw the familiar view, and there was so much that she and Arthur were able to tell us in response to my daft questions...
Did they have a cat... yes, a white one called Snowy.
What colour were the walls .... they were painted with green distemper, and we have found traces of that.
This hook in the beam... that was for the oil lamp.
Mo noticed it instantly....the same door latch on the bedroom door...
What did they grow in the garden... apparently Mo's dad would turn in his grave if he knew what we pay for rhubarb in a shop now. There was more rhubarb than they knew what to do with, along with raspberries and lots of flowers, antirrhinums a speciality.
We are about to plant rhubarb again and have some Timperley Early ready to go in.
And how on earth did they keep warm, because we have to work hard at it...
Mo didn't remember it being a particularly cold house though agrees it must have been, especially given that they had no electricity until 1960, just a range for cooking in the kitchen which was also used to heat the flat irons. I wonder if it resembled this range we came across in Truro Museum. I took pictures at the time just in case they came in handy one day... Where the Tinker now has a woodburner, was once an open grate and fender. When the fire wouldn't draw Mo's mum always blamed the wind, as do we. If it's from the north we struggle, and that is usually when you need the fire the most, we always joke about it.
As we had guessed, the wood shed at that end of the house was the privy, and I'm mighty glad we have that better sorted now.
Milk was delivered and there was a mobile butcher, and a fish man, otherwise it was a two mile walk across to a shop in the neighbouring village, and also to school, with a bus service into Tavistock once a week for the Friday market.
The bus service hasn't improved a jot, in fact almost non-existent now. We joke that if you get the Thursday bus to Launceston you can't come back until the following Tuesday when there seems to be another one.
Interestingly Mo talked about being a child here, and how self-contained they had to be. To get to a friend's house was a long walk, almost time to come home by the time she arrived, but of course she knew of the woods, and the holloway and walked them often, and for all the seeming deprivations she never remembers being bored, there was always something to do.
When Mo's father Gerald died in 1964 they lost their right to live in the house (more of this in another post to come) Beatrice took a job as a housekeeper and moved with Mo and Arthur to the outskirts of Whitchurch near Tavistock. But in a nice moment of serendipity Mo told us that her mother had left school at fourteen and gone into service at the Manor House in Tavistock. Well our first house, the one we left to come here, was one of the terraced worker's cottages right opposite, so what a lovely sense of continuity that gave everything.
Mo has often passed by this way since 1964 for old time's sake, but this was the first time she had been able to see inside the house...her email afterwards said it all really...
"We can’t thank you enough for allowing us into your homes yesterday. It meant so much to me and it was quite emotional to step back into my childhood home. I know Arthur was as appreciative as me. It is just wonderful that such lovely people live in our childhood home and care so much about it and and love it...."
And me so overcome with excitement I completely forgot to take a picture of them, never mind, next time.
I have been reading Jane Brown's inspiring book Gardens of a Golden Afternoon, the story of the partnership between Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll. The iconic Thakeham seat originally designed for the garden at Little Thakeham, near Storrington in West Sussex, also featured in Gertrude Jekyll's garden at Munstead Wood, and in many of their subsequent collaborative gardens. The Thakeham has now become wonderfully symbolic, an emblem, and an indicator that nearby, maybe, there just might be some evidence of Lutyens, Gertrude Jekyll or both, so my hopes were raised when we saw one at at Cheristow Lavender Farm.
And as we rounded the corner there it was... the most beautiful surprise of a secret garden... Purposefully landscaped and new planting, but I am convinced, if this isn't a replica Gertrude Jekyll garden, perhaps from one of her original plans, then I'll eat my sunflowers (and they are huge, I will be gone some time) Who'd have thought it tucked away secretly in off-the-beaten track Devon, and with all that salty coastal air to contend with, but for sure someone here is a kindred Jekyll-loving spirit.. Lilies were central to many of Gertrude Jekyll's favourite planting schemes and I doubt I will come across a finer batch anywhere than these... Someone has worked incredibly hard with this garden, and must work hard on it every day, but I suspect it is a garden that brings them huge pleasure, along with a well-deserved and tremendous sense of achievement.
As well as every book there is on the subject of lavender, I have a stack of gardening reading on the go at the moment too, so much wisdom, and many thoughts which chime so well with my own as I rediscover my inner plantswoman. Anna Pavord suggests this, in her book The Curious Gardener - A Year in the Garden,
'The point of gardening is the doing of it, not having got it done. It's the process that matters, though of course it is directed towards an end result... we live in an impatient age, used to quick results...'
And as I walked around this beautiful garden I could see and sense how much pleasure the 'doing' of it must have given, because this hasn't happened overnight. For starters someone has taken a field and landscaped it, edged and dug the beds and prepared the ground with meticulous attention to detail. Then the winters of poring over designs and catalogues, the researching and sourcing of the plants, and the excitement of the arrival of the infant specimens or the seeds followed by the nurturing, the watching and the waiting and the weeding and the watering and the wondering.
It's all a concept for which I would have had little time or energy last year, whilst this year I am understanding it, and the 'doing of it', and that wondering. If you could know how much time I have spent 'wondering' what things will look like when they eventually flower, or how much they might have grown by the next day (the sunflowers) ...well it explains why I haven't read the Booker longlist yet. Miss a day of looking and wondering and there's a chance I would miss a moment, add in Monty Don's advice to be sure to sit and stare and enjoy the fruits of our labours and frankly it's no wonder little else gets done. Once I step outside the door each day that's it, one job leads to another, to another and before I know it four hours have gone.
So if you are down West any time definitely take a detour and visit the Cheristow Lavender Farm, I am so glad we found it (eventually) the colour and scent of that lavender will stay long in my memory, I'll think of it in the depths of winter, and this garden really does deserve to be seen, enjoyed and recognised, and in case you had forgotten, the Lavender and Coconut cake is to die for so please do help yourself to another slice...
Me:: 'Oh look, there's a lavender farm up in North Devon, we must go...sometime. Open 11 to 5.30... closed on Fridays... nice tea room... nursery...'
I am seriously into lavender this year and have borrowed every available book on the subject from Devon Libraries, as well as buying Sally Festing's excellent little book The Story of Lavender, more of which soon. Our own humble lavender installations have flowered well, perfect dry conditions, lovely drifts of purple amongst everything else, and quite unwittingly we had planted them in the best drained spot in the garden; ignorance for which I am grateful since you all then advised on keeping their feet dry etc. Back in June I sowed a packet of Lavender 'Munstead' not expecting much to happen, apparently it's hard to germinate and it was like sowing fleas, the seeds are so small, so I wasn't hopeful. I showed you the fledgling tray a while back, and now I have pricked out my babies...all one hundred and twenty of them... I think you are supposed to discard the weaker ones, but somehow I couldn't. I can see I am going to be hopelessly soft about caring for every seed that has taken the trouble to grow, no matter how sickly and in fact they had all put down wonderful roots which just needed untangling. Even at this infant stage the scent of lavender is already strong. You will just have to believe me when I tell you that I unravelled one batch up in the Potting Shed, one hot summer's evening whilst listening to the radio; Joshua Bell presenting a programme of his own music prior to his Prom appearance, and yes...he played it... Ladies in Lavender....just for me I'm sure.
You know those moments of supreme contentment in life that you remember for ever... well that was one, and I immediately came in and ordered a copy of the film which to my horror I realised I still haven't seen.
Anyway, a visit to see lavender grown properly and in quantity seemed like a plan.
So just a few days on from that massive dropped hint, off we trot to find the lavender farm.
Me :: 'Do you know where we are going??'
Bookhound :: 'Yes, I had a quick look, it's easy....'
Now you really have to want to go to the Cheristow Lavender Farm because it is a little off the beaten track up at Hartland Point, north of Bude, and I suggest you take a map with you rather than rely on the 'quick look, it's easy' method of navigation. As we drove along we spotted a sign that said 'Lavender Farm and Tea Rooms...Follow the tea cup', which we did...for a while, but of course the trees and hedges had grown over most of them, and when we ended up at the lighthouse car park (£5) and not a hint of swathes of purple, there was much reversing and retracing of tracks.
On the day of our visit it was scorchio everywhere except Hartland, buried under a sea haar of blanketing proportions and we caught barely a glimpse of the cold sea shrouded as it was by the warm air. Haar is the Scottish term, and sea fret the Yorkshire, so I am not sure what they are called down west, but Cornish for sea is 'môr' and fog is 'niwl', so môrniwl will do, even if we were marginally in Devon.
Well worth the effort when we eventually found it if only for the Lavender and Coconut cake..
But the lavender too was looking exquisite...
More varieties than I ever knew existed and the scent on the air, and the waving sea of lavender, in every shade of...well lavender, more than made up for the day's lack of ocean views. But after the lavender there was another unexpected treat in store, the gardens.
There was no one around to confirm this for me but here was the first hint... As for what was around the corner... well I'll show you tomorrow.
And before you ask, yes of course I bought a plant in order to bring something of Cheristow and this lovely visit back to our garden for posterity. Lavendula angustifolia 'Little Lady', chosen for its unusually light-coloured flowers which will make a nice contrast to our existing, and until now much-neglected Lavendula angustifolia 'Haven't the First Clue What it is.'
Meanwhile how's your lavender dilly-dillying this year, and please do tell me all the things I can do with this modest crop of dried lavender I will have. The Tana Lawn is ready and waiting for the sachets, and I am busy with some home-made pot pourri, but any other ideas??
...and one more inclined to make you want to laugh at the same time, than an animal wearing a buster collar?? A clever invention, but what torture for them. We had put it off and put it off but eventually I made the call and booked the appointment for Nell's spaying, and after a pre-op bath..
...and nil-by-mouth from the night before, off she went bright and early, and us feeling very naughty indeed telling her that she was going somewhere really nice for the day as she jumped in the back of the car, with her blanket and Woofy, thinking it was to be a lovely walk on Dartmoor or something. Her beloved Foxy had eventually been kidnapped and disembowelled by Rusty and the garden littered with kapok, replacement Woofy 20p in charity shop. Incidentally, about two days after I showed off that lovely indoor pen Little Nell howled the place down, refused to go in it and, until this week had been sleeping very happily with the grown-up dogs outside in her own kennel and run ever since.
The nil-by-mouth had been bad enough and had involved keeping her on the lead for fear of her finding a nice juicy pile of long-dead something-or-other, but the walking into the vets with a shivering little dog was much worse, and we realised that in thirty-four years of dog-ownership we had never actually left a dog at the vets before.
Cats yes, guinea pig the day the ferret attacked it, hamster for facial surgery (yes, really) children if only they had accepted them, but never a dog.
Honestly, you'd think we were taking a child for surgery... blanket, cuddly toy, questionnaire, check-over, consent, swallowing hard as she was led off by the nice nurse, going shopping and for coffee somewhere afterwards to take our minds off the fact she'd be frightened.
Of course Nell was fine and very sleepily pleased to see us later in the day, having apparently been a model in-patient, the epitome of good canine behaviour which is what any 'parent' wants to hear, but I expect they say it to everyone. But she looked so hang-dog and embarrassed by this lampshade around her neck.
A post-anaesthetic Sprocker is an unexpected, and dare I say it, enjoyable respite actually... and they had trimmed her claws while she was under because we have been trying to pin her down and do it for weeks and failed. The nurse advised us that she may or may not be clever enough to figure out how to eat whilst wearing a lampshade, some dogs apparently just sit and stare at the food and can't work it out at all. No surprise to find that Nell plonked the thing accurately around her bowl and knocked back scrambled eggs and rice for her first post-op meal before flopping off to sleep on her bed again.
None of this lasted long (including the scrambled egg dinners) the collar was off the next day and with lumps chewed out in an effort to punish it, she was going stir-crazy indoors and having the canine equivalent of panic attacks as she tried to scratch some maddening itch and couldn't. I can confirm that it is best to see how those collars have been constructed before you take them apart and then try to re-fix one onto a conscious and unwilling dog. It took two of us half an hour, the Tinker ran back to his house to escape, and tempers were fraying all round. Back on it went because the surgery is expensive enough at £193 without a return visit for chewed stitches and back into her kennel where she calmed down instantly. It's home and it's safe.
Rusty admittedly was trying not to laugh.
We have reached a compromise though, collar on if she is out in the kennel and at night (sleeping back indoors for the week) collar off for walks and food. In fact she is now surprisingly used to it, sits quietly while we slot it back over her head and poses out in her kennel looking for all the world like a cosmonaut dog about to go into space... bless. She has also learnt that if she tosses an apple up in the air she has a much better chance of catching it now.
The trouble is animals don't seem to realise they've had anything done do they??
And according to the post-op missive sent home with her, it is our job to ensure the success of the surgery and a good recovery with light exercise only (this is a dog who probably runs the equivalent of twenty to thirty miles a day) and not letting her run, jump, or otherwise exert herself in any way for ten days.
Ten days of frustrated lead walking *sigh*, like walking soap on a rope... five done, five to go and once it's all over Nell is off to the grooming parlour for a decent bath and a trim of those hairy legs. I'm looking through the magazines for suitable styles for her ears.
If only you could bottle success, but in the meantime I have had two succcessful bottling moments this last few weeks.
Firstly the Elderflower Cordial... Why do I make these things first and look for the bottles next??
How many green glass bottles have we ditched??
Ended up having to drink the contents of the fridge to free up these.
Anyway, I can vouch for the recipe as follows, this is the best we have ever made, so good that I went and picked a second lot of flowers and made another three bottles, and I am hoping there will be some left to enter in the Cordial Class in the Village Show in September...
Gently rinse over the elderflowers to remove any dirt or little creatures.
Pour the boiling water over the sugar in a very large mixing bowl. Stir well and leave to cool.
Add the citric acid, the orange and lemon slices, and then the flowers.
Leave in a cool place for 24 hours, stirring occasionally.
Strain through some muslin and transfer to sterilised bottles.
And the second bottling episode, not to be confused with the first... I have always meant to do this because we have plenty of comfrey, and thank you Monty Don on Gardener's World for reminding me...
'Put the comfrey leaves in a bucket, fill it with water, hide it for a month and be prepared for it to smell dreadful (worse than dreadful) and then in a month's time,' says Monty, 'I'll tell you what to do next.'
Well of course I thought I must have missed the What To Do Next programme, by which time the covered bucket is exiled to the far reaches of the garden, and still we can smell it, so donning rubber gloves and yet again seeking out any available containers, I funnelled off fifteen pints of this nectar.
Apparently I now have a rich mix of nitrogen, potash, phosphorus and calcium thanks to the ten foot tap root that we know comfrey puts down. There's the secret apparently, deep enough to draw up nutrients from way down, and a cupful in a watering can will have my plants thanking me from the bottom of their roots.
It's all looking pretty full of gratitude right now, thanks also to plenty of watering through the dry spell (we bless the free spring water and hate to let it go to waste.) The clematis montana has been pruned drastically to stop it finding its way under the slates and into the loft, and plenty of cuttings layered and streaking away in pots, a long-lost late-flowering clematis has reappeared out of nowhere and is busy climbing up through the purple wisteria in the middle which is joining up with the white one on the left, and both are flowering again. To the right the evergreen honeysuckle has been reduced by half so that Jim the Postie could get to the front door. Meanwhile cosmos and sunflowers are about to burst into a rainbow of colour... we'll be trapped in the house by all this growth any day... Honeysuckle and an old Rambling Rector are doing battle on the veranda pillar, and the Veilchenblau climbing rose, planted right next to the front door fifteen or so years ago, but that was flowering up on the roof with just bare stems below, has been cut right back. I know, completely the wrong time of year to prune a rose, but things were getting a bit desperate. I took sixteen cuttings on the off-chance one might take in case we lost it... we now have sixteen flourishing Veilchenblau climbing roses to put somewhere, and the pruned one is sprouting anew...is it a really crazy year for growing things, or do I just have the time to notice it now ??
It's all a bit crowded (lesson learnt, cosmos are big) but the little Jacques Cartier rose is peeking through there somewhere, second flowering so they must have slurped up some comfrey too...
Monty finally dealt with his bucketful of gunk on last week's programme, and we had it about right and could have done likewise with the nettles had we given it a thought.
I love Monty Don and BBC Gardener's World. I don't need trendy and shrill when it comes to the garden, I need a quiet, soothing, voice offering gentle encouragement and which suggests that everything I try has a chance of success. I need to see things going wrong too, and they do. Monty's had aphids and something or other has got rust/fungus/black spot, so it is not all perfection. He reassures on every front, not least that one day we might have, in Little Nell a dog like Nigel, who LIES DOWN AND SLEEPS while Monty gardens. Nell much prefers to dig, and bury things, it's a disaster. I looked with envy at Monty's beautiful newly planted wild flower garden last week, fine tilth as smooth as velvet, and I thought how it might look after a visit from Magnus and Little Nell. Last night's programme and Monty's wildflowers would seem to have grown already, but did you see the wisteria??
On the homemade gardening front we are not quite Mr and Mrs Bob Flowerdew, (for a start neither of us has enough hair for a plait ) and when I spotted some old tractor tyres up the field Bookhound was very quick with the 'Don't even think about it...' as I eyed them up for planters, but this garden venture is all about saving money where we can in order to have more to spend where we want to. I love the idea of making our own plant food from another plant, and using toilet roll holders for rooting pots (it works, thank you for that one Carol Klein) and tying up bunches of herbs to dry using cut up strips of old tights as string (it stays tight as the herbs dry). Thank you to Tesco's too for the plastic trays that the yoghurt pots are shelved in, they are perfect for drying seeds.
Onward, and hopefully upward with the plants but meanwhile... any more homemade gardenitis tips I should know about ??
Anything else I should be taking cuttings from now??
Along with the clematis and the roses I have chanced my luck with honeysuckle, jasmine, philadelphus and lavender, we'll see.
P.S. I hope by now you have realised that dovegreyreader scribbles is on Summer Vacation Posting Schedule until the autumn, and so book thoughts of any depth may be scarce for a while, but I will still be here and wittering on to anyone who will listen, and nattering away to anyone who is kind enough to post a comment, so please do.
The bluebells in Berry Wood had their last fling weeks ago, just a few seed heads left now, but the light and the hush are mesmerising... The canopy is at its summeriest, lush and glorious.. and my most favourite view, framed by the branches...well I could sit there all the day long... But we have made an interesting discovery about this beloved place.
I am speaking to as many local people as I can in my search for information about the past around us here, and we had tea with John and Ann at their home in the village a while back. We have known them for years, now retired they have lived and farmed around here for a very long time, their house in the village looks across the fields and is surrounded by the most immaculate and beautiful garden. John regularly wins prizes for his vegetables at the Village Show while Ann scoops the art and cookery honours; people like this are the beating heart and soul of traditional village life, welcoming and friendly and a gold mine of information, so we spent a memorable afternoon with them. They showed us some original eighteenth century maps of part of their ground which they still own but now rent out, and we were engrossed...
...once I got my bearings I realised this was part of one of my Long Walks, setting off from home, along the lane to the footpaths and through the woodlands. I am hoping you can get your bearings too with the help of this image from Google Maps, the secret is to start at the top of the picture (yellow star). I hop over a stile at the top of that very narrow strip of field (yellow star) and walk on down to the woods.
Some of the old hedgerows have gone but that narrow strip was once the driveway leading down to the farm, which has now lost its house but still has some old barns. It was fascinating to hear John talk about how, as a young farmer, he had cleared some of that woodland to create more grazing land. Having walked down through, and seen how steep it is, that is no mean achievement. The minute John's back was turned it reverted to woodland, to what it wanted to be, we say likewise about our garden reverting back to field while we sleep.
The conversation moved onto our own Berry Wood....well not exactly ours, but we walk up there almost daily so almost ours by default perhaps.
When might it have been planted, and why there... This is one of our heavenly places on God's earth, so how disconcerting to learn from John and Ann that they had always understood it to be an 'anthrax wood', and they mentioned a couple of others too... clumps of trees surrounded by a carefully built high wall, and the place where the farmer would bury the sheep and plant the trees as sign that the land must remain undisturbed and would not be for ploughing.
There is no question, the wall is high, deceptively so (too high to jump down from...for me anyway, and even the dogs think twice about it) and very solidly and purposefully built, as this picture taken in April shows... My thoughts immediately turned to Gruinard Island, a slight over-reaction admittedly, and it hasn't stopped us walking up there. No skull and crossbones signs that we can see, but maybe we'll hold off any digging. I am also pleased to report that it is well below the source of our spring water which laboratory analysis shows to be pure enough to bottle... and to think we just water the garden with it.
I didn't know much about anthrax either, and I still don't beyond being bacterial and not contagious between humans, because on looking it up I either encounter the rock band by that name, or scary stuff on chemical warfare which I can't bear to read. Yet thinking about it, just what would the farmers have done with infected sheep all those years ago when the disease was so common??
It would make perfect and practical sense to bury them all deeply in the same clearly identifiable place given the potential for the spores to live on in the soil, and thus to limit the spread of infection to other grazing animals and humans of course.
All fascinating, and now I am thinking that I had only spelt it as Berry Wood on an assumption, but that a spelling of Bury Wood, and Bury Lane leading up to it, might make far more sense. And I am sure someone has mentioned here before the possibility of "Bury" also being the site of an old fortification.
I am on the trail and hoping to discover more soon, but meanwhile I can ask my worldwide encyclopaedia out there... has anyone else heard of anthrax woods or anything similar ??
Lesley Chapman, in her book The Living History of Hedgerows, recommends seeking out the local 1840 Tithe Map as an aid to research. I had already done this (thank you library microfiche) and from that we have not only been able to see the changes in the hedges and boundaries, but also to identify the original names of many of the fields around us here.
I have to be honest and confess that I didn't really know exactly what the 1840 Tithe Maps were but, as expected, it involved a tax of money paid by land owners to the local church, thus replacing the previous one tenth of everything made, earned, grown or produced. Charges were set as a proportion of the value of the land owned and this involved the massive national survey that produced these historic maps.
There, now we all know.
I can highly recommend the microfiche adventure in your local library if this sort of thing is of any interest. I commandeered the thing for hours, running off photocopies and taking notes for the best part of a day, and with no queue waiting I carried on. I have since discovered that Devon are in the process of digitisng this archive so eventually access will be online.
This may not seem very exciting, but to know more about how this Parish land that I am walking looked in 1840, and to know the names that those who lived and worked would have used for the fields, does feel like a real and vibrant connection with the past, and an important one given that so much has been eroded and lost down the years.
As you can see we are right on the limits of the Parish Boundary, and our house (red arrow just below the centre, and not yet built in 1840) we now know sits in the corner of Lower Parson Dart's Field, whilst nearby we have Scramble Land Orchard and Long Field, and that field to the front of the house is called Moor. Closer perusal suggests that, unlike many, our little portion of the Tithe Map is highly accurate, especially when compared with the 21st century Google maps satellite image... even down to that dog-leg bend in the hedge in the field behind us. How on earth the Land Surveyors achieved such accuracy without an aerial view defies belief. The shape of the fields around us largely unchanged since 1840, though some hedges have disappeared, but I can now look out for their traces as I walk and reimagine the fields as they would have been.
But the 1840 Tithe Map Records also revealed something else.
When we moved here in 1994 our house was called Youngcott Cottage. That seemed entirely too many Cotts in one name so we dropped the 'Cottage' and had thousands of address labels printed that said 'Youngcott.'
When some derelict barns, situated on the original Youngcott land lower down from us, were sold for conversion, our new neighbours asked if they could reclaim the proper name. We threw the labels away, had a think and came up with umpteen suggestions before eventually plumping for Higher Youngcott, and for no other reason than that we were 'above' them on the lie of the land. It seemed obvious even to our twentieth century rural sensibilities.
So imagine my surprise when I came across this, on the 1840 Tithe Map details...
Has anyone else out there researched their home and its history, or their environs in a similar way??
I would be really interested to hear about it, and also other possible sources of information...
Located just a mile along the road from The Garden House at Buckland Monachorum in West Devon, we have been on an inspiring visit to Keith and Ros Wiley's Wildside Garden and Nursery. Wildside is only open to the public for the first four days of each month (April to September) and so we headed across at the beginning of July, on what turned out to be the last wet drizzly day before the UK's now legendary heatwave arrived. and incidentally I am sure someone asked about the meaning of that village name and I have it..
Buckland is derived from the Old English word bocland meaning land held by royal charter whilst Monachorum means 'of the monks' referring to the nearby medieval manor of Buckland Abbey, once home to Sir Francis Drake and now owned by The National Trust. My thanks are due to a little book picked up in the market, Place-names in Devon and Cornwall by Arthur Grigg, for that information.
For many years Keith Wiley (this is Keith giving a talk on the day of our visit to Wildside) was the Head Gardener at The Garden House, in fact moving to the village in 1978, the same year that we did, though we didn't know it at the time. In 2003 he moved along the road to establish a garden of his own on a south-facing four acre site.
In On the Wild Side - Experiments in New Naturalism, his book about those years and experiences at The Garden House, Keith explains his guiding principles, self -evident when you see what he created there... and what he has since created anew from this previously flat site which now has hills and valleys, even a gorge.
"Looking at the treasure trove of gardening ideas to be found in nature, from under our noses to far-flung corners of the globe. By allowing our observations of natural landscapes to inform our plantings, I believe that we can loosen the strait-jacket that long-established horticultural practices impose allowing the enormous creative potential, latent within most of us, the freedom to express itself."
Wanting to 'take the lid off a vast,untapped reservoir of gardening possibilities', Keith calls this...
'...Wild West, seat-of-your-pants, pioneering gardening where you are never quite sure what is coming from year to year...'
Replicating this naturalism, how plants may grow in the wild, feels like a method that our own garden has readily embraced to its core, and much of this year has been about prising open that embrace (alright, taking a strimmer to it sometimes) and seeing how we can work around it and with it, because as sure as thistles are thistles we will never eradicate it, and nor would we want to.
We are doing as many garden visits as we can for inspiration and ideas, and Wildside was full of them, innovative landscaping, layouts and planting, all convincing Bookhound that he had found a kindred spirit in the art of thinking big and moving your garden around with a JCB. He started muttering the fateful words 'Well, now then...I could get a digger in...' as we walked around, which I swiftly countered with ' But you've already done that three times,' before attempting to overrule with toddler-taming style distraction techniques...
'Look at this lovely Iris...' 'I'm sure this is Echinops...I've been trying to grow this...no...no, it's Eryngium'Every so often came a gentle reminder that we were actually still walking around a field in rural Devon...
... something quickly forgotten because this is like being transported to many different countries, as you explore the rise and fall of the garden, and the beautiful walled courtyards with the feel of the Mediterranean, or some corner of a much more southerly latitude hacienda about them, and all on the edge of soggy wet old Dartmoor. There was the occasional reminder of the British weather... and all surrounded by the cloister-like pergolas, draped and roofed with prolific bracts of a flowering, and very sturdy, Rosa rugosa...
Suddenly you realise with what care those pots have been placed, as your eye is drawn from one to the next, in that way that Repton used trees across acres of land to lead your attention to where he wanted it to go... and then you spot one, like a leit-motif at the end of a cloister walk and suddenly you have your focus and your bearings in this magical place.. It was the yellow flowered Santolina (Cotton Lavender) that epitomised the breathtaking impact of this garden in July for us, used like splashes of colour on a canvas when you viewed the garden from afar and even more so as I look at the pictures again now.
If we return in August (open again this week from Thursday to Sunday ) or September I suspect it would be something completely different that would grab our attention, but the Santolina was our purchase in the nursery along with something for the Tinker's rockery garden, and it has thrived, bringing a little bit of Wiley Wildsiding to my Book Room garden.. We eavesdropped a little on Keith Wiley's tour and could hear the enthusiasm and passion in his voice as he described the work involved so far, and how much more he has planned. This really is a lifetime commitment (he has yet to build his house) and reading his book after the visit it is clear that he sees anything as possible, travelling far and wide and bringing landscapes and planting ideas to super-impose with huge success on Devon's fertile rich red soil. The book is filled with optimism, nothing need be seen as a deterrent to having a go, experimenting, creating the conditions that work, and sometimes this has involved creating a sort of antithesis to the norm by making the soil less fertile. Honestly the hours we spend feeding it all... I am going to create some starved corners next year, it won't be difficult.
In Keith Wiley's own words and a bit of a rally cry ..
'The particular set of conditions in which we garden are different for all of us. Factor in the experiences we each have had and our personal tastes, and our gardens, if they truly reflect those things will be unique... One of the sublime beauties of this style is that there are no rules, with parameters being set only from the limit of our own imaginations, experiences and memories...hold onto your hats - I know how exciting the ride can be.'
Well actually it's more like Been and Sung which I did yesterday.
I have really missed singing this year; prawn allergy armageddon, viruses, coughs and some very anti-social vapour rub on my feet (it really does stop you coughing...counter-irritant etc) all conspired to keep me away from even trying to hold a note, let alone singing several together and in the company of the rest of the choir, so I passed up the last season with Vocal Harem.
But we are blessed in Tavistock because each year the Exon Singers gather together in July and come to the town for a choral festival, and this year they organised a Come and Sing Day with John Rutter. I love John Rutter's choral music. It is accessible and singable for people like me who have lapsed in the church choral tradition, and there is something uplifting about the context of his words, and the melodies and harmonies. I was onto it in a flash and booked my ticket so I'll own up to a little moment of disappointment when the message came through that sadly John Rutter was unwell and the day would be directed by someone unknown to me, Christopher Robinson.
In fact it turned out we had fallen into the capable hands of another maestro...
"Christopher Robinson is widely recognised for the award-winning, best-selling series of English choral music CDs he made for the Naxos label with the Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge. He was Organist and Director of Music of the prestigious Cambridge choir for twelve years, following similarly important posts at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle and Worcester Cathedral, where he conducted at the renowned Three Choirs Festival.
He enjoys working with amateur singers, a field where he gained huge experience as conductor of the Oxford Bach Choir for 30 years and of the City of Birmingham Choir for nearly 40 years. His expertise in and affinity for Elgar’s music led to several highly praised performances of the Dream of Gerontius, and he conducted such notable 20th century works as Messiaen La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jesus Christ and Tippett’s The Mask of Time."
Yes a very safe pair of conducting hands.
Poor chap, having to apologise for not being John Rutter, but as a very close friend of his gave us an update (on the mend) as well as some background into just how busy John is, but also how generously he 'gives' of himself for choral music and recording in this country and around the world. Christopher then proceeded to lead about 150 of us through a packed day of singing and musicology. Music was provided and we sang both John Rutter compositions and arrangements all interspersed with some fascinating musical insights.
We launched right into All Things Bright and Beautiful to get us warmed up, then Bruckner's Locus Iste followed by the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Verdi's opera Nabucco.
Now anyone who has heard me moaning along the lines of 'Not MORE Wagner!!' on Facebook this week (the BBC Proms are recycling the flippin' Ring...sorry, I can't bear it) can have a good laugh that I have sung some opera.
Then two John Rutter anthems...
Look to the Day with its warm message of hope which was written for a service in support of Cancer Research and first sung in Ely Cathedral, and This is the Day, a setting of verses from the Psalms commissioned for and sung at the Royal wedding of recent times.
We squeezed in some 16th century music, O Quam Gloriosum by Tomas Luis de Victoria, and we sang someone's Ave Verum Corpus, just not sure whose but probably Mozart's. I fell in love with the loaned copy of The Oxford Book of European Sacred Music edited by John Rutter, and could hardly bear to part with it by the end of the day because I had also forgotten how expressive it can be to sing in Latin.
O quam gloriosum est regnum, in quo cum Christo gaudent omnes Sancti. Amicti stolis albis, sequuntur Agnum, quocumque ierit.
No wonder everyone kicked up such a fuss when Henry VIII said they couldn't, the English translation hardly moves me to spiritual heights...
O how glorious is the kingdom in which all the saints rejoice with Christ, clad in robes of white they follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
My best move was to arrive coincidentally at the same time as Rosemary, the MD of Vocal Harem, so seated next to a professional I was hardly likely to sing too many wrong notes (well maybe one or two, but well below my expected % for unseen music) and we had a really magical day. When the person next to me sings confidently and strongly, I do likewise (mostly) and so it spreads back and forth along the row... when that person coughs and stops... well it's a bit of an 'exposing' moment.
Christopher Robinson was delightful and quickly got the best out of us with a sense of humour and attention to the right detail, focusing on things that we could improve on instantly. Well almost... it's like vocal Pilates, so much to think about...phrasing, breathing, right notes in right order, fast-slow-loud-soft-whispered, pulse and rhythm and listening to the other parts too, and the piano, oh yes, and watching the conductor.
I emerged awash with that sense of elation you have after a jolly good sing, and oddly exhausted and almost glad it had rained and I wouldn't have to water the garden. Home to iTunes and downloading the music from the day as a wonderful reminder, and for a bit of a singalong on my own.
Is anyone else singing at the moment??
In a choir, or thinking about joining one in the autumn maybe??
Sissinghurst it is not... that will be next year we open to the public, but we keep reminding ourselves that in spring 2012, half of the back garden looked like this as we re-re-re-landscaped the Book Room garden, and created the garden for what is now Tinker's Cott... some then and now pictures bring it all back...
So it is nothing short of a miracle that anything is growing at all because we really have started again from scratch, moving every existing shrub to a new place and creating that dividing hedge, re-seeding the grass and hoping for the best, and then taking our eye off the garden ball with the all building work again, so it did its own thing for a while....fatal. But we have reclaimed the Bookroom Garden and the steps, done a lot of digging, sieving and new planting for my little Physic Garden (fanciful but satisfying) and have lots planned for next year...
And the Tinker is working miracles having decided that when a garden gives you stones, make a rockery... The daisies reappear come what may, old faithfuls.. weeds to many people but much-loved by us, summer drifts of snow on a shady horse-shoe shaped north-east bank, nothing else would grow there anyway, and I will have lots of seeds to swap if anyone's interested...
I'm happy that it looks natural and 'pretty' even if not prolific in the proper flower department just yet (sweet peas coming along under the window) but lady's mantle is wonderful stuff for its shades of green, the ground and flopping-over-the-wall cover and of course the water on the leaves.
I have had a poppy...just the one... and I am now guarding that seed head with my life.
The steps are an assault course, but are looking a treat and the geraniums and fuchsias are on their way.. You can see what I have had to contend with, but that cement mixer has now gone (a good thing as I was threatening to plant it up as a feature) because the final plastering is done and ten tons of new gravel is slowly going down around the paths. We are so thankful for our spring water supply four fields away which is keeping everything looking lush and green. A meter, with the amount of watering we have had to do, doesn't bear thinking about.
Existing lavender, ignored for years but now my little pride and joy, is having a wonderfully dry sunny year and coming on nicely.. ...and through it all, alongside the kitchen door, my lovely shade-loving clematis Niobe has survived every building onslaught for the last fifteen years. A couple of years not a sign of her, and I would think all was lost, but this year, fed and watered, trained and tended, and her best velvet frocks are on display again..
My seed-bed around the front is another story, I'll take you round there soon. Brace yourselves for a whole lot of ...oh, never mind, you'll see it when we get there.
Meanwhile lots of beautiful evening walks in Rocky's Field behind the house to the sound of happy farmers cutting hay all around.. and plenty of balmy evenings for digging by moonlight... So how are your garden favourites doing??
I wrote about artist Mary Martin, and her sister Virginia Spiers' book Silver River on here a while ago....
"Virginia and her sister were brought up on a farm in the Tamar Valley (so really local as opposed to us incomers) and these pieces reflect the knowledge that comes from a true bond since childhood with the area and its traditions. It can be hard for newbies like us to know where the old orchards may have been, or how vital the flower trade was to the area's income, or quite how the flowers and fruit were sent up country, so these pieces also become a vital and informative record of that history...."
Silver River sits on the shelf next to another of the sisters' books Burcombes, Queenies and Colloggetts The Makings of a Cornish Orchard the book bursting with more of Mary's exquisite paintings alongside Virginia's narrative history of the fruit trees of the Tamar Valley. Many of the species in danger of becoming extinct have been rescued, grafted and revived by Mary and her partner James, and in case you were wondering, Colloggetts and Queenies are apples, Burcombes are cherries.
Tucked inside the book I was pleased to discover this postcard entitled Burcombe Harvest, along with the catalogue for the Spring Exhibition 1993 which might just be the last time we went.
Incidentally, are you a Tucker In Of Interesting Things into relevant books I wonder??
I do it all the time and am always so pleased that I have bothered because, as in this case, twenty years later, it is a neat little reminder of what I now remember was a really lovely event. Now of course I'm thinking we probably should have bought a painting then because the average price of a Mary Martin original now is nearer £2000 than £200.
'On rare sunny days last year fields of June grasses and expanses of golden corn gleamed and shimmered. Mary captures the essence of Summer in the Tamar Valley, where foxgloves, hawthorn and ferns thrive in the hedges. Her flamboyant paintings of campions, bluebell woods, orchards and daffodil fields contrast with those of tidal river and reed beds..'
The pictures were exhibited in Mary's home across on the opposite side of the valley to us, and we were delighted to have spotted the exhibition details in the local paper having obviously missed them since 1993. We parked in the field behind the house and walked down in suitable shoes (needed) as instructed and found eighty beautiful paintings hung around the house, which made for an intimate and immediate setting as you looked out of the windows and onto the Tamar Valley. Only the first day after the preview but almost everything already sold and all I could think of was each fortunate person who would now have a slice of this glorious scenery in their home to enjoy.
Us... well, we will have to make do with looking out of the window, or walking up the fields every time we want to see it...
I think there can only be two topics of conversation today... Wimbers and strawberries.
So did you watch??
Wimbledon Men's Final that is, for anyone who has been on Mars.
Bookhound felt it was an honour and he had to, I just couldnt bear it, so I cooked up tennis-watching lap-eating fodder in the morning (quiche and cake) and then 'watched' from the garden and ran in every time I heard a big shout, until victory felt within Andy Murray's grasp, but even then it was nail-bitingly tense.
'His mum will be crying,' I said as my voice cracked, but what a moment. Thank goodness we no longer have that Fred Perry thing going on (magnificent though I am sure it must have been in 1936, when he was wearing long trousers, and 'cars on the road looked like this'...bless the BBC and their trailers) but imagine in seventy-seven year's time when they are waiting here in Britain to win it again... 'and can you believe it, in 2013 computers looked like this,' etc.
But well done Andy, you absolutely deserved that.
And on the subject of strawberries, I went to the picking fields last week... It's not a prolific year in my humble opinion, or maybe the strawberries are very late and I went too soon, but Wimbledon's over, we should have been knee deep in them, but I had to work very hard, in the drizzle, to fill my punnets. Clearly not enough sun and warmth up to last week, this week the things will be jumping off the stalks. No matter, what I eventually picked looked fine... and the strawberry jam-setting nightmare has been and gone, and is now but a distant memory.
You'd think I would have learned my lesson last time, (Quick Jell added in desperation at 11pm) and I almost had.
Firstly, make the jam before the hot weather, we now seem to have the predicted heat wave.
Start making it earlier in the day to allow for inevitable crises, not 8pm.
Use the gas hob by the back door for the cooling breeze, not the Aga, which is switched off the for the summer now anyway.
I just failed miserably on the pectin yet again, taking the W.I. recipe's word for the addition of the juice of three lemons as sufficient to set 6lbs of strawberries.
Bless Bookhound who dashed into town for Certo (liquid pectin) as I stared into my rolling boil, with the thermometer stuck at the Jam mark, but no sign of solidifying, and only to find that the supermarket had sold out. Clearly everyone has been to the strawberry fields and we were all sweating over the pucker-on-the-saucer moment. Sod's law that Bookhound, his arms full of powdered pectin, would then bump into the best jam-maker in the village who wanted to know what on earth we were using that rubbish for, when cooking apples were perfectly good.
Anyway, add powdered pectin late on and you are asking for trouble. It's a little lumpy and runny combined, in other words a bit of a mess that may merit a quick reboil, but the jars of Strawberry and Vanilla jam made separately seem passable. I found a recipe in The Lady magazine, in a coffee shop, and copied it out ... yes, honestly, I really didn't tear the page out. It involved steeping the strawberries overnight in a sugar and vanilla pod-laden concoction that would have sent any passing diabetic into a coma with a glance. Then boiled up the next day with possibly more belt-and-braces pectin than was called for, so when it reached setting point I had about ten seconds to get it in the jars, and it will probably need a drill to get it out.
But anyway, that's the strawberry duties done, now I must move onto the elderflowers.
I'm going to try a different recipe this year, having made some indifferent cordial in the past, and am hoping this one, from the BBC website, may succeed where others haven't, unless anyone out there has a better one.
Well how wise I was to get out for my Beating the Bounds walk a few weeks ago (six or seven I now realise) before the weather changed for the considerably worse (and we have had better-worse-hot-worse since) and I had forgotten to post this so please bear with me. I need it on here for posterity or I am going to be all out of synch and meeting myself coming back.
Glorious sunshine was replaced by plummeting temperatures, howling gales and torrential rain, a reminder that we were not quite there yet, though I was so fed up with my winter clothes I did the change-over a little early for me...before the May is out, but did keep a few clouts (thermals) to hand just in case.
This, you can be forgiven for having forgotten, was my planned route... left out of the gate, along the lane, hop over the stile, walk up that Parish boundary, nip across to the woods, down the Holloway, nice and tidy should be back for an early lunch.
This is what I eventually walked...
All went well as I skipped down the lane with a bit of a spring in my step, though sadly minus Little Nell who was seasonal for the first time and thus attracted by and irresistible to anything on four legs. What a palava all that is. Rusty had to go back to the Gamekeeper's kennel for the duration and there will be surgical intervention in two months time for Little Nell. There will be no Little Little Nells, one is plenty.
I headed towards my ingress point down in what we, with some originality, call The Dip, at this stile... before making my way along the boundary line marked by those trees. Unfortunately progess was then thwarted by barbed wire and bullocks so I had to do a few detours... I also came across a bridle path within my square mile (ish) that I had always wondered about so I followed that for a while before getting my bearings and looping back through the farm, along to the woods and down the green lane towards home.
It was steep uphill walking for a while but along the way the views were even more stunning than I am used to, and easy to see that the earth is definitely round as I turned through 180 degrees on this spot. Isn't it amazing how appealing everything can look on a sunny day, even the thistles, the curse of our own garden, had a shape and symmetry that it would be churlish not to admire. I did a short detour along the edge of the woods on my way down to say thank you to our spring water supply, bubbling merrily out of the overflow pipe. This can be routed into the house in an emergency should the bore hole and the pump be in trouble, but we have it piped to various taps around the garden for copious lovely cool, fresh, un-chemical watering, and we never take its presence for granted. and how welcoming the re-greening Holloway looked... I didn't see another soul all the way round, but then that's usually the case, and so by this time I'm singing Joni Mitchell's Little Green, because why ever not...
Just a little green Like the color when the spring is born There'll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow Just a little green Like the nights when the Northern lights perform There'll be icicles and birthday clothes And sometimes there'll be sorrow...
Except no sorrow today as I made my way down, just aching feet.. A last look back at the woods also greening nicely back on that May day...
and then home to a cool drink and a Rammalation biscuit...or two... or three because lunch had been and gone.
On this day in 1893, Dorothy L. Sayers was born in Oxford, the only child of an Anglican vicar Henry and his wife Helen. I have chosen this picture of her in her younger days. There is an element of latent mischief in that face, almost ready to laugh; pictures of Dorothy in her later years reveal a sterner, more severe and matronly countenance.
By all accounts intelligent, precocious and much-loved and indulged by the various adults that surrounded her, Dorothy was heading for the Godolphin School in Salisbury and thence to Somerville College in Oxford, becoming one of the first women to receive a degree. A contemporary there of Vera Brittain and all a cue for me to dust off my copy Dangerous by Degrees by Susan Leonardi.
I'm sure some of you will know this book, an account of women at Oxford between 1912 and 1922 and six Somerville novelists, Dorothy L. Sayers and Vera Brittain as well as Murial Jaeger, Doreen Wallace, Margaret Kennedy and Winifred Holtby. I have only read Dorothy and Vera, have almost meant to read Winifred, have both Doreen and Margaret on the shelf and had never heard of Muriel. I have also been dipping into the biography Dorothy L. Sayers - Her Life and Soul by Barbara Reynolds.
All lives are fascinating but Dorothy's the more so for the fact that she bore an illegitimate son in 1924 whose existence was kept a well-guarded secret from the public until twenty years after her death. Fearing that the discovery would heap shame on her parents, Dorothy hid herself away, taking eight weeks leave of absence from her job with an advertising agency to give birth to John Anthony, who she then proceeded to breast feed for several weeks before appointing a distant relative as a guardian and handing him over; adoption was illegal until 1926 ( I didn't know that) and swearing the guardian to secrecy, a vow that Ivy Shrimpton appears to have kept faithfully, loving John Anthony as her own.
I had just one Dorothy L. Sayers novel on the Have Read list and that was Gaudy Night some years ago, at which point I did the usual and acquired a shelf full thinking how much I had enjoyed it and I must read more, and never quite got around to it, so this week I have been deep into campanology and The Nine Tailors.
It's all a tangled mass of sallies and clappers and Grand Sire Triples, and bodies in the wrong place, and poor old Peter Wimsey who finds himself stranded in the snow on New Year's Eve just as the village of Fenchurch St Paul is in crisis. A man down on the bell ringing team, and with fifteen thousand, eight hundred and forty celebratory Kent Treble Bob Majors to be rung for the next nine hours before morning. Obviously no one needs any sleep in Fenchurch St Paul, and as luck would have it Sir Peter is an accomplished campanologist, along with all his other competencies, and is ready (sort of) and able to slot into the team.
'Nothing would please me more than to ring bells all day and all night. I am not tired at all. I really don't need rest. I would far rather ring bells...'
There may be trouble ahead.
I haven't finished it yet but I am loving it all which is more than can be said for Q.D.Leavis who clearly had the knives out for Dorothy's fiction in general...
'... but no novelist with such a parasitic, stale adulterated way of feeling and living could ever amount to anything. And Miss Sayers' fiction,when it isn't mere detective-story of an unimpressive kind, is exactly that : stale, second-hand, hollow...it is only the emanation of a 'social' mind wanting to raise a snigger...'
Goodness me Queenie, that's bulldog-chewing-a-wasp writing if ever I saw it.
But reading The Nine Tailors was all enough to have me first in the queue and jumping up and down (in my mind) with excitement when we saw this at the summer fair in Buckland Monachorum last Saturday... Chances to go up church towers are rare but there was the church dressed overall, not a cloud in the sky and trips up to the roof . More about our belfry experience to come, and how we squeezed up the ninety something steps and decided how very thin people must have been in them days and how on earth did they build this in 1490 ...
Buckland Monachorum village history reveals it was not just Fenchurch St Paul that was awake all night listening with copious joy to the music of the bells...
'Church bell ringers have always practised their art and skill with enthusiasm, but records reveal that in 1815, their fervour overcame their judgement and good sense. It seems that although forbidden to have the key to the belfry door by Mark Tucker, Clerk and Schoolmaster, they managed to enter the church late one evening and rang throughout the night. Understandably the village was not pleased, and for their "mutinous and riotous behaviour" they were dismissed.
That music as Dorothy L. Sayers writes it..
'Tin tan din dan bim bam bom bo - tan tin din dan bam bim bo bam - tan tin dan din bam bim bo bom - tan dan tin bam din bo bim bom...'
Are you keeping up...have you got your bell competently up and set up at the backstroke and have you adjusted your tuckings, and are you ready for the hunting up, the hunting down, making the thirds and fourths and laying the blows behind before working down to lead the dance again. I do hope so. I think I am almost starting to understand it, and if I tell the musical amongst you that the notes for the Buckland Monachorum bells (smallest to largest) are as follows...
E - D# - C# - B - A - G# - F# - E
Well look, you could almost sing it or replicate a Kent Treble Bob Major on the piano couldn't you.
But meanwhile Happy Birthday Dorothy... any fans out there??
Back in the dim recesses of time, as an almost qualified health visitor, I was dispatched to Tavistock to do something called Supervised Practice. This used to happen after final written exams and would involve (and may still) three months based in an area that had to be in complete contrast to your previous nine month student placement (mine had been a baptism of fire on the naval estates of Plymouth City) You would be given a mini-caseload of a hundred families to practise on visit in that time, before heading back into college at the end of the stint for a rigorous viva voce and hopefully a Pass.
Thankfully I passed but I doubt I will ever forget that Summer of '78.
Fancy being paid to drive around these lanes, and up onto Dartmoor; fresh-faced and mustard-keen I really couldn't get enough of it, so when a health visitor post came up in Tavistock while I was there, and was offered to me, I snapped it up. No matter that I would have to drive out from our flat in the gloomy Dockyard end of Plymouth every day, it would be worth it. Those were the days when you were given an NHS car, so I had an ex-Police Panda car cast-off (with the word POLICE barely sprayed over) sporting very random gears and the worrying number plate RTA, but about a month into the job I was offered an unfurnished 'Community Nurse' house too, in the village of Buckland Monachorum.
It's odd when you look back and realise how so much of your life just slots into place by luck and happenstance isn't it, and I'm sure similar things will have happened to many of you. It only took about three trips to move our two years-worth of married belongings to our new home, included the mandatory Swiss Cheese plant sticking out of the back window. We furnished sparsely... minimalist was us, decorated appallingly remembering that this was the era of the two-toned emulsioned room (Cinnamon and Spice ...a whole lot too much of brown) and got a Border Collie puppy as we proceeded to see what it was like to really live in the country.
Returning to Buckland Monachorum last Saturday, and walking through those same fields we had walked with Ben, it dawned on us both that this was where it had all begun, our road to where we are now and our love of country life and splendid rural isolation. We loved Buckland and would have happily settled there had we been able to afford it, but cottages were going for about £15k and we had a mortgage maximum of £12-14k... laughable when you look back, won't even buy a car these days. We had driven the ten miles or so for the summer fair last week but on the way turned into The Garden House just outside the village.
Now we hadn't been to The Garden House for years. To be honest we couldn't remember there being much that was of interest to us back in the day when it was a five minute walk away, but we had followed its progress over the years. We knew that the garden had been extended and that innovative head gardener Keith Wiley had wrought miracles before moving onto his own nursery along the road, that the garden has featured on Gardener's World and presenters Alan Titchmarsh and Carol Klein both adore it, and that Sophie Wessex had paid a Royal visit recently
The house was originally the Rectory for the village church and is now the tea rooms, the whole plot bought and developed by Lionel (an ex-Eton schoolmaster) and Kathleen Fortescue in the 1960s, this much we had known before.. I was, as usual, much in need of a cream tea and having had my cholesterol done last week and not yet been in receipt of the phone call to tell me off, thought in for a penny etc before I'm back on porridge. A pile of egg sandwiches, scones, jam, clotted, Earl Grey etc later we stepped out to look at the gardens before walking along the footpath to the village, and thinking the garden would only take us take us twenty minutes or so on the way and we'd moan at having payed £7 something to get in.
Cue...HUGE SURPRISES around every corner.. breathtaking ones at that Acres and acres of it. The wildflower meadows in full flight as were the rhododendrons, this beauty (Vanessa Pastel) in a shady glade but pickled with glorious flowers... and perhaps my favourite, unbeatable, biggest-gasp moment...
The meconopsis bed ...plant envy doesn't come close... I WANT A LOT OF THESE... Everything looks so natural, yet planting schemes worked out meticulously to capitalise on the setting, its possibilities and above all the long gaze of the beholder... There in the distance the village church and beyond that Kit Hill which we look across to from home. The church tower a reminder that we had meant to go to the summer fair, but we still had so much to see. Reluctantly we slipped down onto the footpath, did the village in quick order but couldn't wait to get back to The Garden House.
Far from begrudging the entry fee we were almost the last ones out, but not before we threw more money at them and became Friends, buying a year-long double ticket so that we can go whenever. Monty Don suggested on last week's Gardener's World (now avid fan) how important it was to go and look at other gardens to get inspiration for your own, and I was reminded of so much, not least that this is the only garden where we have failed to establish a good show of Aquilegias/Columbines which I love, so that is one of my many tasks for next year.
God knows what else I'll be wanting to grow after a year of seeing all this, watch this space, plus all tips for growing meconopsis, and while we're about it poppies too, gratefully received
Team Tolstoy A year-long shared read of War & Peace through the centenary year of Count Lyev Nikolayevich Tolstoy's death, starting on his birthday, September 9th 2010.
Everyone is welcome to board the troika and read along, meeting here on the 9th of every month to chat in comments about the book.
Team Tolstoy Bookmark Don't know your Bolkonskys from your Rostovs?
An aide memoire that can be niftily printed and laminated into a double-sided bookmark.
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