Thursday, 21 October 2010

'Forty Shades of Green'

our ferry which bore us in comfort from Holyhead to Dublin port

Memories: all in the mind. The summer months since we returned from Ireland have been so busy that my promised 'Irish Journal' has been on the back-burner, until meeting again some of the people from the Caravan Writers' Guild with whom we shared that marvellous journey prompted me to continue. In essence, I was back with our motor home, boarding the Stena Line ferry (so quick and easy, so smooth a crossing, free WiFi; and so simple the disembarkation when we arrived in Dublin port). Approaching the Irish coast, I am looking again for THAT GREEN - a green peculiar to Ireland that I remembered from previous holidays - but it's evening and instead I am captivated by the misty blues, greys and purples of the Wicklow Mountains, silhoutted against the pearl of an early evening sky.

our fellow journalists are a friendly crowd and soon made us feel welcome (for this was our first CWG trip) - soon we were all sitting down to a bring-and-share supper - but another time, we must remember to take a folding table as well as chairs

That week in June had been jam-packed with activities and places to visit; some organised, others of our own choosing. I'll not forget the superb campsite and the hospitality of Edward & Nuala Allen at their award-winning Moat Farm, nor the camaraderie of fellow journalists, welcoming us as soon as we arrived. Nor meeting the marketing director of the Irish Caravan & Camping Council, Norah Heraty, and talking to her about those 'forty shades of green' that I had determined would be the title of a piece I had been asked to write about the tour. It subsequently appeared in the CWG magazine, 'In Touch'.

And I'll never forget being given the opportunity to visit an organic Irish smallholding specially arranged for me because I had expressed an interest in gardens; discovering what makes a place alive - the people and what they do.
early on a damp morning with clouds scudding across the backdrop of the Wicklows (I posted about this organic smallholding on my 'gardening' blog, post dated 14th June, 2010)

Then touring Dublin in the rain and drinking my first Guinness at the Dublin brewery, tramping through the wholesale market, riding on a tour bus, and shopping for fabric because I wanted something of Eire in the journal I was constructing; our three days in Eire went by in a whirl of discovery.

drinking Guinness at roof-top level - a pub in the sky at the brewery (the 'Gravity Bar' from which can can enjoy a 360-degree view of the Dublin skyline)

We headed north, over the border, for Strangford Lough, Belfast and Antrim for the second part of the visit (which will be outlined in my next post) but returned south to Eire for our last night in preparation for catching the return ferry from Dublin port back to Holyhead. By then we were on our own and I planned to write about the Boyne river and the battle of 1690 which still holds such implications for Ireland in the present day. For some reason, I forgot to take a photo of the actual site - we had stopped for a motorhome picnic - or perhaps it was because by then we were experiencing a little more of the soft, gentle Irish rain. So instead, I am including another photo taken in the Wicklow Mountains which hold their own magic and are beautiful rain or shine.

Blessington Lakes with the Wicklows in the background

Mind-mapping, remembering, is so different to reality; processing my notes so often puts a different perspective on what we have done and where we have been. Talking again to Norah only last week at the 2010 International Caravan & Motorhome Show in Birmingham, we realised just why we must go back. For out of the blue, she says she is sending me a book on Irish gardens (it's evidently in French, but no matter). I can't wait; we check our guide to Irish camping parks - I am planning already! To be let loose in gardens beyond these shores will be blissful enough, in Irish gardens I can see that words will flow; I'll be snap-happy, whilst creating poem-spills.

Raymond says he wants to visit County Donegal; I likewise, but also the Achill Islands (Co.Mayo), for I recently discovered my great, great grandfather was posted there as a coastguard sometime in the 1800s. Nora asks if we would cover Westport house and gardens; she has marked it in the book, which has now arrived. I discover there is a caravan site within the park; and it's not that far from the Achills. I'll have to persuade Raymond that Co.Mayo rather then Co.Donegal should be our next Irish destination! Now when shall I book the ferry?

Monday, 18 October 2010

Birthday Girl !

Today I am 73 years young, amazed to have survived another year after many a trauma and yet so much hidden happiness and joy. The tiny champagne candles say it all - they signify the last three years; the previous 70 receding day-by-day into the mists of time. It has been such a gentle celebration, from the early morning mug of tea brought me when I was scarce awake to this evening's candlelit three-course meal prepared for me by my dear, long-suffering husband. Champagne to toast still being around (actually a cheap Spanish Cava) and finishing our supper with sweet muscat grapes from the greenhouse - the vine survived the time in 1999 when I set the greenhouse on fire. I seem quite good at the pyrotechnics! (see last post).

A trip into town to post letters allowed me to treat myself to a quantity of antique canvas-backed maps (practically as old as I am!) from which to make concertina travel journals. At such a knock-down price, I could not resist them; have in fact been buying the odd one or two for months; but today I was told they were all to be thrown out and would I like the lot ?? You bet; twenty have been added to my stash. I can hardly bear to re-purpose them, for they tell such a tale of social history, how places have altered and grown .. I will not spoil my birthday by bemoaning creeping suburbia, the loss of landscape, or the sanitising of the countryside.

The sun shone; leaves scuttered across the road, swirling in the chilling wind. I think on how lucky I am to still be alive, after two previous health scares; and contemplate even more on all the pictures I will shoot with the lovely new camera Raymond has given me, "so you can take photographs of a professional standard." It won't be the fault of the camera if I don't. I learn how to switch it on (!); am terrified of damaging it. Realise it will be brilliant, once I have mastered its intricacies and made it do what I want it to do. Which is far more arty than Raymond would like, but I will try to live up to his expectations. As the light fades I take my first photo - more grapes (ones suitable for making wine); I've set the camera on auto and (which is brilliant) it somehow stops the fruit and leaves from being blown every which-way: my usual problem, for you would think we live here in an aeronautical wind-tunnel. The moment I decide to take pics, up springs half a gale!

And so to the end of a perfect day, with flowers from my daughter's garden, emails and an e-card from one son, a phone-call from Iceland from the other, and 'happy birthday' sung to me down the telephone by three of our grandchildren. As I enter my 74th year, I make a birthday resolution - one which I hope I am sufficiently strong-willed to keep. This time next year, I'll tell you if I have succeeded.

And so to bed ... and I send love and best wishes to all my blogging friends and acquaintances, indeed to bloggers everywhere; for blogs have added immeasurably to my life and I do not know where I would be without such friendship.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Setting the house on fire!

walnuts in their pungent green casing, picked from our tree

There are all kinds of shenanigans occurring in this household at present; noises in the night, properties toppled over, strange rustlings and whisperings - unaccountable dreams just before waking. I do not know whether to put it down to overwork or the fact that a whole summer seems to have passed me by; tasks negelected or overlooked. Today could have been disastrous - it's not the first time we have almost set the house on fire. Just an ordinary Saturday morning; Raymond cooking weekend breakfast, me feeding the hens. I walk back up the garden with a bucketful of pungent walnuts (a typical October day, with a grey Cotswold cloud-cap overhead, mist in the trees, the grass wet and new weed seed germinating everywhere). I am greeted by an acrid fog, clouds of smoke, which my husband seems not to have noticed.

Can he not smell or see? He is grilling bacon, but it isn't that which is burning - for some unaccountable reason last night, I placed a plastic seed tray containing scraps for the hens ON TOP OF THE WALL-MOUNTED GRILL! R. did not notice it was there (why should he?); the plastic is melting and dripping down through the burners into the grill pan; the kitchen is filled with smoke. "Turn off the grill," I yell. We wait for the seed tray to solidify so we can peel it away from the metal. R. takes the grill apart ... he does not berate me for my stupidity in putting the tray where I did, high up where you could not see it. Two hours later, we sit down to a very late breakfast.

There was method in my madness of course; the need in this old house to put anything edible out of reach, be it scraps or candles or the bag of flour I left on the sideboard. It happens in phases, these episodes, a nightmare when it does. I will not spell out the culprits, but if I suggest you read - if you know it not already - the 'Pied Piper of Hamelin', all will be revealed. R. stands with a gun in the kitchen .... and I, by now completely phased (for I have not told the half of all the trauma), sit by the fire in the dark with a glass of wine and crack open and eat our own walnuts, fresh from the tree.

Monday, 4 October 2010

The Silk Worm Diaries - chapter two:

No cheating or peeking, or fast-forwarding! Read on (as Mr Bennett said in Jane Austen's 'Pride & Prejudice'), and then see my final entry written this evening (Monday 4th October, 2010)

Monday 27th September, 2010 (20.15): I put the babies to bed, swathed in my best American muslin (sorry, Kristi, all I could find in a potential worm-wandering emergency). Will they be OK? Believe me, living in a farming community, once breeding my own ducks, geese and hens, I am not sentimental about animals; but a challenge is a challenge and I am now responsible for these tiny creatures. And I want some silk!

Tuesday 28th September, 2010 (8.00 am): I draw the curtain (remove the muslin) from the 'oaks' and take the lid off the box containing the 'eris' - for I am not sure if they have sufficient air. Do the larvae sleep at night? For there's not much evidence of leaves having been eaten. There's a quantity of worm pooh in both boxes so at least they are still alive. I am convinced the eris have doubled in size since I bought them on Sunday, but that may be wishful thinking and they are still depressingly miniscule. Maybe I should photograph them each day for comparison.

Wednesday 29th September, 2010 (17.52): All is well, but then four of the Oaks went walkabout. One on the muslin; it would not release it's hold, took me 15mins to encourage it back to the hawthorn leaves. Then two more walked around the edge of the box and another squeezed its way down the glass jar and almost into the water, even though I'd padded that out with kitchen towel to guard against drowning. So now the end of the hawthorn twigs are encased in damp paper and the bunch laid in the box with a mesh pizza tray on the top. They've grown in size and seem to be very active during the day. The Eris are growing, too; must have doubled in size. Still in the little microwave box that the Oaks came in, but now not all bunched together. I'll have to find them a larger box in the next couple of days.

Thursday 30th September, 2010: It's box-cleaning day, and I am still obsessed by the pooh count! For that tells me whether they are eating - and supposedly growing - or not; don't read on if you are squeamish. The Oaks' pooh is as elephant dung compared with that of the Eris, "just as sweet and dry as tobacco dust" as the English poet Edward Thomas wrote during World War One not that long before being killed in action at the Battle of Arras. I don't know what brought this poem to mind but tobacco dust is an apt description of Eri pooh, at the size they are now - still so tiny, but alive. (ET was not of course referring to silkworm pooh when he wrote those words, but likening the state of the soil to tobacco dust - soil fit for sowing.)

Friday 1st October, 2010: the Oaks are feeding like crazy, their bodies swelling and looking formidable. Are they doing well? I know so little about the rearing of silk worms but am reminded for some unaccountable reason of visits to the health clinic with my first child. Each week weighed and figures entered on a chart. 'He's not gained much weight this week,' the nurse would say, or 'well look at his weight increase ...' I would worry, until I twigged that he did not appear to have gained weight if he had poohed his nappy before attending the clinic, and he did if he hadn't, if you see what I mean. Well this first fine son is now approaching 50, senior training captain for a UK airline, and has three thriving children of his own. So why did I worry - and why do I worry now, for all seems to be well with the young larvae.

Saturday 2nd October, 2010: I come down stairs to make our early morning cup of tea; the kitchen is cold; it's grey outside and remains so all day. Endless rain. The Oaks are torpid, nothing like they were yesterday. They seem to have shrunk.

Sunday 3rd October, 2010: I am beginning to wonder what has happened; I cut fresh hawthorn leaves for the Oaks (the tiny Eris are still not exactly active but are scything through privet leaves in a 'wrong-end-of-a-telescope' fashion). I'm not concerned about them; they are younger and their life-cycle is not the same as the Oaks. These seem lifeless, but some hours later, as the sky lightens, there is a little movement. Not much. I read all I can find on the internet but it hardly registers. Fresh food every day is perhaps significant: I've been giving new offerings every other day but the hawthorn is decidedly Autumnal; maybe insufficient food value. I read that as they grow (their size seems to have diminished), they should have twigs placed in a jar of water to keep the leaves succulent, as I did at the start of the week. I read about their skin-moult and wonder when and how often how this occurs, and how - skin splitting and a new larger larva crawling out? Or what?

Monday 4th October, 2010: We have to leave very early for an exhibition. I move the silk worm containers back onto the window cill, hoping the increasing light during the day will enliven the larvae. They appear lifeless and I am ashamed, for has my mismanagement caused their seeming decline, or perhaps their death? On the way home, whilst shopping in the supermarket, I buy a new home for the Oaks, just in case I am wrong about their apparent demise. "Not another container!" says Raymond as I emerge with a lidded bucket, sufficiently deep to hold a jar and upright twigs. "It was only 65 pence," I retaliate, "and it for the silk worms." Which seemed to satisfy him.

a potential new silk-worm home

Back in the house, sunshine is streaming through the kitchen window - they will have been cooked, I think, for sunlight is not good for them. Some were lying on the floor of their box; other hanging shrivelled within the hawthorn leaves. I gently prod one and it sort of twitches; I'm not sure if it is dead or not. Are they ALL dead? I fill a jar with water and insert fresh leaves through holes pierced in a cap of foil (to prevent drowning should some show any sign of life). Maybe they ARE in one of their five skin-shedding stages - in which case they should not be disturbed. I gently lift each twig holding a lifeless caterpillar to lay it into fresh growth in the new tub. And then I notice one lying on its side with flakes of dry skin curling away from it (see pic at the top of this post). There is a faint movement. Maybe they do not shed their skin whole, as snakes do; maybe they are OK after all. The morning will tell.

As for the Eris - well their size remains about the same, but I notice that some have changed colour and are now miniature editions of the magnificently large ones seen at Malvern. I feel happier, and look up the vendor's website only to find that some hybrid larvae are still available; ones more beautiful even after their emergence from the cocoon stage than the baby Eris I am counting on for white silk - but the hybrids will provide me with silk in varying shades. (Sigh as I visualise tiny fabric keepsakes incorporating handmade silk paper.) Maybe I will telephone in the morning; ostensibly to discover at what temperature the larvae should be reared, but also, perhaps, to make another purchase. Three 'incubators' .....