Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Where have all the hours gone?

It feels strange to be posting on this blog again - it has been such a hectic ten days with hardly time to draw breath. But here I am back online and anxious to greet new followers (hello), and also to apologise to everyone else who reads about the oddities of my life for lack of postings.

A few days ago, I noticed the first greening of the hawthorn, and rather than feel a lift of the heart at this first true sign of Spring (appropriate to greet last Saturday's equinox), I experienced a definite feeling of dread. Of the seasons inexorably walking forward, overtaking me. Morbid. I cannot keep up – there is so much to do, in the garden, the house, work, my ‘book’ ….. it is as if I am on a treadmill. Not that I don’t enjoy the things I am doing; I just don’t seem able to accomplish all I know I must, in the time there is available.

Maybe the feeling will pass when I get my hands in the earth again. It’s been a long hard slog, completing three little garden keepsake books to accompany an unexpected craft article (which I will document in due course in my journaling blog), but they are done and away to the editor, along with the instructional feature that I was commissioned to write.

In between writing and making sessions, I walked my garden, recalling the good things that uplift the spirit – hearing small birds sweetly twittering in the tall old wild-apple tree in our hedge; looking up, it was a flock of linnets, sounding like so many bright canaries. Seeing the shape of our elderly ‘Bramley’ (cooking apple) – now 120 years old; we have lived here for one-third of its life! Oh, the blossom in Spring, the apples it still showers us with each Autumn, the thought of apple pie, tarte tatin, apple-sage-and-onion compote to accompany an evening roast, let alone the cider or apple wine. Am I wishing the summer away?? !!!

Writing all this brings me back to earth (literally): reminding me how much I love to be in our garden, despite the slave it is to keep it ‘nice’ - and the misery of three years of neglect whilst we were barn-raising.

I recall the happiness of two weekends ago when I spring-cleaned my greenhouse, installed a bench of herbs in readiness for a photo-session, sowed some seeds, some of which a field-mouse subsequently ate!

Then last weekend, I created a herb terrace between my 'square-foot' vegetable beds and the 'cider-apple' garden (I give names to all the small sub-divisions of our acre of ground), and spent a morning back in early February surveying all that needed attention; horrifying and shaming. The square-foot beds need a makeover, or rather a vigorous de-weeding session, but the tiny terrace is now furnished with table and two chairs for when I have the time to write outdoors (when ????), plus a wooden planter that Raymond made me some while back which I unearthed from amidst the wilderness of dead nettles, and numerous pots - all now planted with culinary herbs.

Tomorrow I must withdraw again whilst I write a magazine feature to accompany the herb photos we have been taking for another commissioned article; and I must sow the peas that have been soaking by the sink - and catch up on all the blogging news I have missed.

Friday, 13 March 2009

An embryonic 'writing moment', and more ....

It has been such a slog of a week, with magazine deadlines and unexpected happenings; a visit from Raymond's sister and brother in law just as I was completing a must-catch-the-post-today article (good thing I had the wherewithal to throw together a speedy lunch for them); phone calls from long-lost relations and friends; a dash to find Raymond some shoes as the soles of his gardening pair had parted company with the uppers and he was walking around with wet feet - all adding to the happiness of the week (not the wet feet!), but time-consuming nevertheless. 

And then last night when I was posting my delight at another day away a week after the last, I totally screwed up what I was doing, lost the text and had to delete the remaining gobbledegook. And here was I thinking a few weeks back that I could master HTML !!!  So back to where I was last evening, wondering this time how to recapture the photos I uploaded, and determined to GET THIS RIGHT.

Last night's abortive post: "I find myself quite by chance (!) in another cafe, with a little time to spare, but a disinclination to write. Which is silly, for how often do I crave time away, and now when the opportunity is there, I sit and stare into space. I am exhausted ... a late night writing until 23.00 hours and I am awake very early so I can sit in bed enjoying the sunshine on the far hills, as seen from our bedroom window, whilst I undertake necessary research before setting off for Birmingham and another two exhibitions at the NEC (National Exhibition Centre) just over an hour's drive away. These were related public shows, 'Hobbycrafts' and 'Sewing for Pleasure', which I needed to attend for more press contacts, and a sort of spending spree - necessary craft replenishments, and a treat or two. For exercise, I walked the ten minutes from the car park to the exhibition hall, rather than take the free courtesy bus, and back again after 3 hours on my feet dawdling past and reviewing every stall, and doing a little purchasing.

So here I am now, in a garden-centre cafe which I drive past on the way home, drinking tea; relaxing; I am not expected home for a while so feel at ease with myself. It does not take long for words to flow. How pleased I am that I stayed up late so I could take the day off today. I met some interesting people, watched some fascinating techniques which I would love to try, and bought some new supplies. I was captivated by the materials being used by Kim Thittichai and just managed to resist buying her beautiful book 'Hot Textiles: Inspiration and Techniques with Heat Tools' as I have too much happening at the moment to tackle anything new. It's on my list nevertheless! 

But what I think I admired most were the various student exhibits; such gifted work and so many ingenious ideas. I particularly loved an assemblage by one young student, set within a viola case; not a very good photo as it was taken under artificial light through the glass of the display case:

But the display that captivated me most was that of the Yorkshire Coast College which offers a BA (Hons) course in costume design, construction and textile integration. I was so carried away by the stunning display of 16th century theatrical replicas that I omitted to take any photos. One dress particularly: made entirely of distressed calico and muslin, you would think it had been made from the finest silk and lace. It was the work of just one of the YCC's exceptional graduates, Julia Knatchbull-Hugessen; her professional career is sure to blossom in theatre, films and TV, and deservedly so. A name to watch."

So my embryonic writing moment became reality, and as so often happens when I put pen to paper, the ink records what is in my head. I am so relieved I did write, for on reflection and in so doing, I have captured a moment that was for me truly special. After all these many years, I still come back to theatre.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

An overflowing of inspiration - and shortage of time

It has been such a hectic few days with insufficient hours in the day to carry through all I have begun, and enough material for a blog-a-day, but without the time to post them. To go back to my short walk on Wednesday - that was intended to be the start of a new regime; a far more healthy lifestyle this year, for the body has got out of hand and it is affecting mobility, and the brain! I had some serious talking to myself to do about a number of things, and began a 'Food Field Guide' last Monday, listing EVERYTHING I eat and drink (Raymond as well). So far I have lost 1.5 kg (just over 3 pounds) and have avoided snacking.

Inspiration has followed me all week - (but I wish I could sort out how to post photos in this blog so that text comes between pics: you are not meant to see the black-and-white pics until the end of this posting !!!)

Five days of interlinked activities that all inter-relate with each other:

  • Worked on my booklet samples (see my other blog) all Wednesday - I now have five almost ready for binding, each of eighteen pages - just covers and embellishments to do; 
  • Managed a significant writing session and a long walk on Thursday; 
  • Cleaned the house - some of it - on Friday and prepared a meal for some of the family; 
  • Enjoyed a day out in Tewkesbury and beyond yesterday (Saturday); 
  • Gardened this morning (Sunday) until it rained, then made sufficient space in the laundry-room-cum-workroom this afternoon so that I can more easily access the tools, equipment and materials needed for a particular project, and can reach the back of the washing machine when it threatens to overflow.
To go back to Thursday and my significant writing session, you first have to understand that I very rarely manage to be totally alone, but on this particular day circumstances were such that I could, without feeling in the slightest bit guilty; and you have no idea what that meant to me. So I took myself off, notebook in hand, specifically to sit and write - and this is what transpired.

"I am sitting in the window of my favourite bookshop, sipping a cup of hot lemon-and-ginger tea. I am not in a hurry, so I can enjoy one of those JC (Julia Cameron) moments – putting pen to page. For this is a bookshop-café and far more inspiring than a pure coffee house where I would be obliged to drink coffee I cannot stomach – or rather it cannot stomach me, screws up my insides! I always find an unusual book whenever I visit Jaffe & Neale. Sometimes I buy one; sometimes, to my shame, I order online at Amazon, at reduced prices. But never have I had the time to sit and write, and drink tea.

Today I buy a book on English customs needed for research, and an art-card, intended to be the catalyst for a ‘warm-up writing exercise’. Why do I need a ‘warm-up’? Like the five-finger practice session of a pianist, my self-imposed writing challenges always precede the serious writing of ‘my book’. Have I mentioned this before? ‘Cotswold Meanderings’ tells the story of our house and reclamation of our garden; how and why we came to buy it, rebuilding it ourselves over the last forty years – we still are. Plus plants and nature notes, excursions around the country and forays to foreign shores; wild places, poetry, history and creative art, and all the things I love and cherish.

Part fact, part diary, I began my book nine years ago, have much already written, shelved it; and decided this time last year that writing a book was my ‘deferred dream’ and I would set-to and DO something about it. Which I did; but as always, other things took over; I was appalled at my lack of guts. But as this year we celebrate forty years of ownership, I am determined to find time between my magazine features to complete this first book; I have sequels outlined on my writing-bulletin-board.

The reason for this morning’s self-imposed writing exercise is to loosen up; to just write – not about what I know, or what is floating around in my head, but because I am stuck on my opening chapter. Starting afresh, as I will with the art-card just purchased as catalyst, will focus me. So, as the sun streams through the window, so warm I remove my coat, I crouch low on the window seat, and begin ….”
(My art-card exercise will appear in my next post.)

(Pics show the bookshop-cafe and photos of our house, taken in 1969).

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Five minute walk

After a night when gale force winds tore the catkins off the hazel bushed in the orchard and rain was lashed horizontal against the windows, we woke to a sky-rinsed morning with blue sky, white clouds and not a twig stirring. I was awake early, making the first mug of tea and then writing for an hour whilst still in bed. I can look out of the window and see the hills beyond and am watching for that tell-tale fuzz on the distant wood that is the first real sign of Spring. I wanted to take photos of the golden aconites up the road that are growing wild on the verge and set off, camera in hand and wrapped up against the cold; but it was too early - the sun was still too low in the sky and they their cheerful faces were closed and bedraggled.

Less than five minutes from our house, and in need of exercise (but that's another story), I was in no hurry for once and stopped to really LOOK at what is so close to home. The rural view across a cattle pond to my friend's beautiful stone house over the wall. The pond is filled by countless springs all winter and overflows regularly into the road, but dries up completely in a hot summer. I dawdled, bending down to pick up fir-cones in the road that had fallen from a tall pine tree by the pond. Most were squashed from passing traffic, but I held a couple just fallen in my hand, loving the roughness of them, thinking how I could 'scumble' them in crochet (scumble is a way of doing free-form crochet, very organic and textural). I stuffed them in my jacket pocket and scrubbed the mud off back in the kitchen; they are now drying by the fire, gradually opening. They make excellent firelighters, though I would rather see them heaped in a willow-wicker basket.

I took a good look at the two stone 'fountains' from which you can still obtain water, though they have not been used for real for over 50 years. They served those cottagers who did not have access to their own well, as we have; not that we use it for household purposes, but the water is invaluable during periods of draught for watering the vegetables. (In the year after we came here, 1970, I planted 20 or so apple trees in a really hot summer; we had no running water in the semi-derelict house, so I bucketed water from the well, two buckets per tree, morning and evening - that was when we decided we would not fill it in, as has happened to the line of other wells down this road. The next pic I took was of the group of trees which we overlook from our house and which cause us concern all summer for they obliterate the daylight from our main living room - you need electric light on, on a dull day. The worst culprit is however beautiful in winter, so I snapped the trunk and branches to add to my collection of tree shapes for collage work. It has become host to mistletoe, sufficiently low down that I could take a close-up.

From the earliest times mistletoe has been one of the most magical, mysterious, and sacred plants of European folklore. It was considered to bestow life and fertility; a protection against poison; and an aphrodisiac. It is rapidly expanding northwards in the UK and one tree in our village now has numerous large bunches dangling from its branches; we spotted the first signs only five years ago. As I looked upwards, above the mistletoe to the blue sky above I noticed that the tree - which is a type of ornamental maple - was covered in what I took to be bright crimson shoots; magical against the blue sky. I took one shot and looked more closely at the lower branches; they were not leaves but tiny flowers with minute twisted petals that reminded me of miniature sea-anemones, or witch-hazel (hammemelis). I know of no maple that flowers in this way and am wondering what the tree really is, come to think of it, it is too big for a maple. I am now thoroughly intrigued and will shortly be searching through my 'Royal Horticultural Society' plant bible. I tried to take a close-up of the flowers on the lower branches but as so often happens when I want to do macro work, a breeze sprang up and the flowering twigs are out of focus! I picked a couple of sprigs and will watch them opening on the window-cill.

It just goes to show what you can find when you stop for even five minutes and really look at your surroundings; all too easy in our hectic lives to pass these things by. (Click on any of the photos to view them at larger size.)

Monday, 2 March 2009

Out into the garden once more

We have spent the day in the garden and it has rejuvinated me, and no doubt done a world of good - to my body, my mind and most of all to the garden. It was so warm and sunny that it was good to be outdoors and so I decided to clear my potager-patch (herbs and herby sub-shrubs) whilst Raymond tackled the veg plot. Three of my six 8ft x 4ft raised beds have had all the dead growth cut back; little spring bulbs are emerging everywhere though not in flower yet, sweet violets have spread and seeded themselves throughout the beds, and new juicy herbaceous plant growth is pushing its way above ground; whorls of sea-green columbine leaves and mint-green alecost and valerian. The buds are almost bursting on the elegant Jargonelle pear; crocus flame like purple stars in the grass of the 'Plum Patch' (a triangle of grass between two plum trees and a damson); hellebores hang their demure heads all around the shrubby areas of the garden in numerous shades of pink, apricot, purple and smokey blue. I love them, because they look after themselves and flower so early, whatever the weather. I succumbed to a new variety last Friday when we called in to one of my favourite, but rather distant, garden centres on our way back from sourcing a new camera lens for Raymond.

Today's endeavours were particularly special because we have not worked seriously in the garden for about three years now whilst we have been stone-by-stone rebuilding our barn - 33ft x 17ft x 28ft high (to apex). We have planted our veg and 'done things' with our fruit, but maintenance has been almost nil, hence it is SOOOO overgrown; brambles and nettles have re-established themselves and elders seem to have sprung up everywhere. Little by little we will take it back into our own - it was a joy to see that underneath all the tangle, the bones of the areas I created so many years ago are still there. 

Raymond took some pics but I haven't seen them yet, so will post some of my own: the hellebore display at the garden centre where we love to eat as well as buy plants; close-up of the 'Ruby Glow' hellebore with which I fell in love, the 'Plum Patch' with spring bulbs which are gradually spreading to my great delight, and  a close-up of a group of miniature ones that have opened like stars in the sunshine. For once, I do not feel daunted at all there is to tackle, though my arthritis is playing up and my right hand is very swollen this evening. I can put up with that, to see the garden in all its former loveliness once again. It is not a manicured garden by any means; really a sort of tamed wilderness that has 'got away' for the present.