Friday, 23 September 2016

Colours of the Equinox

In his poem 'September 1815' Wordsworth has it that

While not a leaf seems faded, while the fields,
With ripening harvest prodigally fair,
In brightest sunshine bask, this nipping air,
Sent from some distant clime where Winter wields
His icy scimitar, a fortaste yields 
Of bitter change . . . . .

Yet, there is still colour to be had in the garden. True, with the sun’s rage mellowing, summer has vanished, afternoon shadows grow long and there is a definite nip in the air when day lowers itself into the horizon. Autumn birdsong is less noisy, sweeter, more leisurely than the sounds of Spring, when the season's work must still be done. It’s the brief moment before trees wear the red, gold and amber uniform of Autumn and, finally, small beacons of light, the autumn bulbs, corms and tubers beloved of gardeners everywhere, come into their own.

For me the arrival of cyclamen is a pleasure every year at this time. I almost forget them, until I see the ivy-like leaves appear and wait for the curled stems to deliver on their promise, and produce dainty, delicately leafed flower heads.

The sight of a mass of cyclamen in full flower is enough to take your breath away. As if by magic, the carpet of white, pink and purple blooms of cyclamen hederifolium reappears year after year, the individual tubers becoming as large as plates eventually. I didn’t plant  many originally, in fact, only a very few of them; I must have been assisted generously by ants, birds and self-seeding, because new flowers, at first just one or two blooms, grow in all sorts of rocky cracks and shady nooks where none were before. There are varieties that flower in Spring but I love my autumnal show. September, October and sometimes into November is the time for cyclamen, when many other plants have lost interest and withdraw into themselves, prepare for the first cold winds of winter and huddle together in brown clusters.

For those of you who might like to try and grow cyclamen, here are a few facts from the website of the Royal Horticultural Society:

A delightful tuberous perennial providing colour often when little else is flowering, particularly in late winter or early spring. Hardy cyclamen species and cultivars are ideal for naturalising under trees, on banks or in a shady border and planted in association with other early-flowering woodland plants such as snowdrops, winter aconites and primroses

Common name Sow bread
Botanical name Cyclamen
Group Tuberous perennial
Flowering time Mostly autumn and winter 
Planting time Autumn, winter (when ground is not frozen) and early spring
Height and spread 5-13cm (2-5in) by 8-15cm (3-6in)
Aspect Partial shade
Hardiness Fully to frost hardy
Difficulty Moderate

PS: After reading the first comments, I think I need to add a PS. Indoor and outdoor cyclamen are slightly different varieties. The plants you buy in pots for the house need cool rooms, warm central heating will kill them, so keep them in a coolish corner.  The indoor varieties will not survive outdoors. The outdoor varieties are fully hardy, down to frost and snow, they won’t like being brought indoors.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Signs of Autumn

How very kind you are; thank you for saying nice things about this blog.Your comments gladden the heart and give me all the encouragement I need to continue.

It is as if we’ve been sending out ‘come hither before darkness falls’ vibes; friends and family have turned up on the doorstep, announced and unannounced, but all welcomed with open arms. It’s not as if we were on a beaten track, living where we do, miles from any fast road, with no airports or big cities within easy reach; it therefore behoves us to appreciate these visits even more. 

First came PhilipJohn, and Marilyn, the latter with their unruly dog, who raced about the house, under tables, on beds and sofas, on the lookout for food to steal. Millie was quite put out. Beloved had a lovely time with them, rehashing ancient histories about concerts, conductors and colleagues. We hadn’t seen Philip for a few years, he spends much time abroad, getting himself known as a composer. (I looked him up online, his works are performed by more orchestras in the US than in the UK).

Another musician, Judy, and her architect husband Peter (hurrah, someone for me to talk to - not a musician) came next. The doorbell went and there she stood. “I hope we find a welcome? Please?” That’s Australians for you. She said so herself. "On the way from somewhere to somewhere". We hadn’t seen Judy for years and Beloved was thrilled to chew the fat with her. Musicians are a gossipy lot. 


Family came too. More signs of autumn, the personal kind. They visited after giving due notice, as our family does. Nick and his wife Ali, who live in Massachusetts, decided that if they had to come to see Beloved before his personal winter sets in, they might as well make a proper trip of it, travelling to Holland, France and Italy, both to see family and the sights. They were with us for just an afternoon and evening; the visit went off well, during those few hours we found plenty to discuss. Some of it catching up, some of it current affairs and politics. Our conversations usually have some depth, even if we don’t always all agree with each other.

Sally, one of Beloved’s daughters, stayed slightly longer; Beloved and she looked at old family photos and told stories of past generations. Sally is an archaeologist and history, both personal and the academic kind, are her great interest. She has written a number of books about the area of Southern England where she lives.


I wonder if any of you have similar experiences to mine. Beloved and I have been married for thirty years and in all that time his children and I - apart from one daughter - were never on really cordial terms. We never fell out and the relationships have got better over the years, but real warmth was always lacking. Until now. I am not looking to blame anyone, there are always two sides to every story, but a more relaxed attitude would have made our lives more pleasant. Always having to be careful, always afraid of slights, always preparing oneself for a visit by donning some kind of armour, make for uneasy situations. 

As I said, meetings during the past few years have been less of an ordeal (oh dear, that does make it sound difficult!) and these visits in recent weeks have been a genuine pleasure. In fact, I liked both of them so much that I gave them keepsakes: Beloved’s Breitling watch for Nick and two pairs of earrings of mine for Sally. (Does that count as the sort of kindness I mentioned in my previous post?) We parted on the very best of terms, with close hugs; Sally almost shed a tear while she whispered “thank you” in my ear, and Ali, Beloved’s daughter in law, who has been the most difficult of them all, made a special effort to praise me for taking such good care of her father in law. She thanked Beloved for being the kind of man he is and for having raised his son to become a wonderful partner for her and a devoted father to their children.

I was touched. Why do people soften so when it’s almost too late? I know that we may not see them again, this was a kind of leave-taking. Father, son and daughter were all very aware of this fact, but nobody put it into words. The feeling was there and there were both sadness and gratitude in the air, unspoken.

Monday, 5 September 2016

The Selfish Gene

This may not be exactly what Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene is all about but there’s certainly a connection between ‘Doing Good Makes One Feel Good’ and the survival instinct of genes, that is the survival of the most selfish and therefore fittest genes.

I’ve been in one of these spells of ‘why blog - who could possibly be interested in my throw-away drivel’,  followed, a bit later, by ‘if it gives me pleasure to blog, who cares if anyone else wants to read said drivel’.

That’s me being pensive - via a selfie. (selfish selfie?)

Anyway, to repeat, why blog. Do you blog because it gives you pleasure, whatever it is you write about, even it it’s purely self-centred? Can the general kind of blogging, the kind I indulge in and most of you, whose blogs I read, be anything else but self-centred?

Is there a kind of blogging which benefits others?
Perhaps blogging is a pure form of selfish altruism, after all, it benefits ourselves most of all.

Very well then, I’ll do some ‘blowing my own trumpet’ blogging,  having decided once again to take up recording my drivel.

I have been kind on several occasions recently. Only once entirely without an ulterior motive. I had no choice, really. Unlinking a shopping trolley at Aldi’s I noticed a woman rushing past me. She’d obviously just returned her own trolley and was on the way back to her car. I noticed her for two reasons, one she was wearing a bright orangey skirt and two, she was swinging her hips rhythmically at speed, clearly in a great hurry. Having stared at her for a moment I turned my attention back to the row of trolleys; on one of them sat a tan leather handbag (purse to you over the pond), well scuffed and filled to bursting. I grabbed the bag and asked various ladies occupied with their own trolleys if they were the owner of the bag. All of them shook their heads. I kept hold of the bag, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake I had made several years ago in the London Underground, when I found a well-stuffed wallet on the floor, asked the young man in the seat opposite if he had lost it, was told ‘no’ but instantly informed that he was getting off at the next stop and would hand the wallet in for me. Like a fool I handed it over. As he ran out I realised that  no way would he hand in that wallet to Lost Property or a station guard. I just hope he stole no more than the cash and returned the rest. Probably not.

No, I wasn’t going to make that mistake again, I would hand in the purse myself, to a supervisor in the store. I went up the aisle and saw the woman in the orangey skirt harangue a uniformed member of Aldi’s staff. As I came nearer I heard “but it must have been found in the shop, I haven’t been anywhere else. Are you sure it wasn’t handed in?”
Orangey skirt lady had a high, angry, scared colour. She saw me loitering, and glared at me, ready to accuse me and anyone else within reach of theft. The member of staff was upset too. “No, I’m afraid no bag has been handed in; I can make enquiries, of course. Have the shop searched.”

Aha, orangey skirt lady was bag lady!

I went closer and brought forth the bag with a dramatic flourish from behind my back. No fanfare, just an accusatory “there’s my bag, where did you find it?” Member of staff joined  in the chorus. “Yes, where did you find that?” And, turning to bag lady in orangey skirt “Do you want to check it?”

What? I am handing in a lost bag and my credentials need checking?

Both of them saw my thunderous look and both withdrew. Orangey skirt bag lady finally calmed herself, hands still shaking, and after giving further action due consideration - you could see her weighing up the pros and cons of checking me out v. thanking me, she decided to trust me and fell upon my neck in a short but powerful hug. Finally, I got my “Thank You”.

Isn’t it strange that the two women's first reaction was to suspect me of evil-doing?

This post is now long enough, recording the next act of kindness will have to be postponed. Until next time.

Friday, 26 August 2016

It’s Pouring . . . . . . .

Both Beloved and I belong to the generation which has life-long ‘Saving’  with a capital ’S’ as part of their genetic makeup. We, that is me in particular,  have in recent years been a little less dogmatic about the rainy day vision and the need for having a large umbrella to catch the inevitable downpour, and I have persuaded us to allow ourselves the really rather modest luxuries we indulge in; in other words, becoming skiers, spending the kids inheritance. All the same, just as well that the Boomer years have meant well for such as us, because the rains have started to fall in earnest.

On top of the newly necessary sums of money we need to spend on carers, assistance in house and garden, etc. the property itself is falling down around us. In the case of trees literally so.We had very high winds during the weekend and when Millie and I went for our morning walk on Monday we found a huge chunk had fallen out of the beech tree. As we are on the edge of the castle grounds this was cause for concern. Had somebody been walking in the moat at that precise moment they’d never walk again, they’d be dead. As it was the second time within a week that a branch had come adrift I thought I’d better call Jonathan, a proper, bona fide, letters-after-his-name arborist. First of all to remove the part-corpse from the path, secondly to cut it up and chip the unwanted bits, and thirdly to give me an idea of the state of the patient’s health or otherwise.

Jonathan hedged his bets. “Well, hm, I can see none of the funguses (fungi? or is that only for mushrooms?) associated with large trees. “  ( The beech is at least 70 feet tall - it’s massive).  “On the other hand, there is some die-back which might indicate that the tree is stressed.” The tree is stressed? What about me? I am stressed just thinking about his hourly rate! “On the whole the limb sections look normal, it could just have been the high winds. Or mechanical weakness”. Deep breath out . “On the other hand. . . . .” Renewed intake of breath on my part. The noughts are simply tumbling into place following the initial figure, in itself a fearful thought!

We’ve left it that I keep a very  close eye on developments and call him the minute I see anything untoward, like a white blob or a tarmac-like black blob on the stem near the ground. Mind you, Jonathan says,  sometimes these blobs come out and immediately withdraw into the tree again, like they are some delicate violet shrinking away from the light of day.

A definite help, that.

This is the third and last of our large trees threatening imminent departure. We’ve lost the sycamore and the horse chestnut to a deadly fungal disease, I really don’t want the beech to go as well. It’s also the last of the beeches, there were three originally, two before our time; we have merely the stumps left, one of which has thrown up  a large new limb which might not be viable for long, coming from a diseased parent plant. We still have more normal sized trees, like maples, a few ash trees,  ancient hawthorns and a thirty year old walnut, mere Johnny-come-latelies compared to the big boys who may have seen a few hundred years of tourist activity around the castle since the Normans first threw it up to ward off those Welsh barbarians, thinly disguised as tourists but really after Norman damsels. And loot, of course. As well as the land the Normans stole from them. 

Seriously, my garden is not some suburban plot with a few newly planted decorative specimens. even the plum and apple trees are groaning under the weight of considerable agedness; they really are in need of chopping down!  Everything in Valley’s End is old, including the human inhabitants, so we should all be left in peace and allowed to disintegrate  into the ground gracefully, as nature intends for all of us.

To quote Jonathan once more :  “if the beech were in a field or a wood somewhere it could just shed limbs as it went along. It might take another hundred years over it. As the saying goes:  A hundred to grow, a hundred to stay and a hundred to die.”   Lovely. 

Friday, 19 August 2016

The Remorseful Day

When I heard young Morse (in a repeat of Endeavour)  recite the last two stanzas of A.E. Houseman’s  “How Clear, How Lovely Bright"  I realised that my attitude has lately changed to a calmer, lighter mood. Not that there have been any great differences in our circumstances, it’s simply that I am perhaps coming to terms with what cannot be altered. At least, I hope so. What lies beyond our control must be endured. Sitting, like Mimir the Dwarf in the hole at the foot of the dead sycamore tree, plotting, worrying and endlessly turning the same problem over in my mind won’t bring relief.

I’ve also found my material feet, which helps. All the legal formalities have been dealt with - and paid for. ouch! - . I have a brand-new, fat file full of solicitors’ letters, legal documents and official declarations. Neither one of us likes it but, there you are. It was necessary.

Most of the long neglected jobs around house and garden have been tackled; I have assumed responsibility for them and, being a rather methodical and tidy person, they have been initiated, if not completed. Beloved is more the type who puts jobs on lists, where they are allowed to grow whiskers. In his opinion, collecting items on a list means that the job is half done. Not so, as far as I’m concerned. Now there’s only the large-ish stain on the sitting room ceiling to be dealt with; the bath in the room above overflowed and the stain is most unsightly. I dread the thought of emptying the sitting room of furniture; let’s see, perhaps I can organise a couple of hefty chaps to do it. Painters are notoriously slow in coming, so maybe I shall have to live with the stain for a while yet.

Another thing which has helped enormously is that I have taken to gardening again. I know I’ve rather been going on about gardening recently, but the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. The same applies to keyboard and fingers, in this instance.  The place already shows signs of improvement, which spurs me on to get out there and labour.

There’s one other thing which has gone by the board, i.e. unresolved issues with people, family and acquaintances both. Up to a few months ago these issues would pop into my mind at the most unsuitable moments, I’d fret and worry at them and allow them to depress me. No more. When you are faced with a situation which goes right to the heart of existence itself, anything else becomes mere ballast, an irritation to be shed until such time as you actually have the strength - and time - to bring it up again from the depths. I am, of course, hoping that these issues will  have disappeared into outer space by then anyway. Never to resurface. Going back to the first paragraph: it’s best not to burden yourself with things you cannot change.

So, dear old A.E. Housman, who wrote the haunting poem "A Shropshire Lad" and whose ashes are buried just outside St. Lawrence’s Church in my county town of Ludlow, sent me a timely reminder on how to avoid The Remorseful Day. I cannot promise that every day I shall see the bright new morning, or that I shall be strong every day granted us, me and Beloved, but I shall endeavour.

How clear, how lovely bright
How beautiful to sight
    Those beams of morning play;
How heaven laughs out with glee
Where, like a bird set free,
Up from the eastern sea
    Soars the delightful day.

To-day I shall be strong,
No more shall yield to wrong,
    Shall squander life no more;
Days lost, I know not how,
I shall retrieve them now;
Now I shall keep the vow
    I never kept before.

Ensanguining the skies
How heavily it dies
    Into the west away;
Past touch and sight and sound
Not further to be found,
How hopeless under ground
    Falls the remorseful day.

Friday, 12 August 2016


Tea break and Paul, Beloved and I are sitting in the conservatory over a cuppa. It’s eleven a.m. We’ve been depressing ourselves thoroughly, talking about politics and the mess current and future politicians are creating. We’ve roamed from national crises to the apparent willingness of a particular prospective politician to drop nuclear bombs as a means of emphasising a point.

Paul laughs, “this is depressing, have we had enough?”

I have been meaning to talk to him about a particular matter, which you already know but he doesn’t.

“I want to change the subject” I say, " it’s confession time”.
Paul sits up. “Oh dear?"

“Yes, my confession time.
You must have seen that various jobs have been done in the garden, but not by you?”

“Yes, I have,” Paul is all ear and I can tell he is getting nervous.

It comes out in a bit of a rush. “I have been very unhappy with the state of the garden for some time, as you know. It looks like we’re never going to get on top of it. I can’t do as much as I once did and your three or four hours a week, with interruptions because of weather, illness, other obligations, don’t cover the work there is.”

I carry on talking, noticing a bit of a pink glow on Paul’s face. But I need to say it all, I can’t allow misunderstandings.

“So what I did was ring Austin, my previous gardener and ask him for help. I asked him to chip in with two or three sessions a month, mornings only and he agreed to come. Do you mind awfully?

Paul swallows hard, I think he thought I was going to dismiss him.

“Not at all,” he said quickly. “Not a bit. I do as much as I can but I never thought I could do the garden all by myself during the hours I have available and I can’t give you more time.” He repeated himself. “I do as much as I can but I always said that if you need someone else that’s alright with me.” I’m not sure that he said that about someone else in so many words before, but I’ll take it as fact.

We’re both relieved. Wisely, Beloved has kept out of it. Paul does his whole speech again,  and I redo mine about being unable to do as much as I’d like to do, about being sad and having lost interest because of the uphill struggle, about even Paul's and Austin's combined mornings not covering as much ground as a fit and healthy Austin and me used to cover over a monthly average.

We’ve finished our tea, Paul and I get up and say “Best crack on.” We drop the subject and instead talk about the newly pruned hedges. The hedge cutters came yesterday and there’s a bit of their mess left behind, although they cleaned up after themselves as well as they could.

Paul’s going home time is one p.m. He collects his bags and I stand at the backdoor with his pay and some magazines I keep for him during the week. As he turns to go he says  “Thank you for being open with me, I noticed that you had had work done but I thought you weren’t going to mention it.” He gets a bit pink again and I go a bit mushy myself.

“Of course I needed to tell you”, I say. We’re both a bit touched at how well we understand each other. “See you next week,” we call out in parting.

After Paul has left I tell Beloved about his comment. “Well, you did that rather nicely,” he says. “You spared Paul’s feelings and still got what you wanted.”

Tuesday, 9 August 2016


held on the meadow
between he castle
on the hill

and the shady river
lined with stately water balsam

is an annual village event.
For some the highlight is the Show,
where villagers vie with each other
for first prize for best blooms, produce, jam and cakes,
artistic efforts like painting and photography 
and WI best decorated shoe boxes or some such,
all exhibited on long trestle tables covered in white paper cloths
in the huge Show Marquee.

The Show tent gets very hot on a summer’s day,
so tea tent, open BBQ and beer tent,
the amenity which attracts the greatest custom among young farmers,
are close by.

And right next to the beer tent is the First Ad station.
Could there be a connection?

These racing bicycles haven’t been used for a long time,

neither has there been a village cobbler making shoes for many years,

but the chainsaw wood carver has only just packed up the tools of his trade,
leaving behind a pile of offcuts which disappeared quickly.
Firewood, anyone?

The general consensus was that
 Carnival was very lucky with the weather this year.
It was a day of glorious sunshine, people came out in great crowds.
Efforts by organisers and an army of volunteer helpers paid off
and healthy profits were made not only by the
Carnival Committee (of course there’s a committee - this is England)
but also local charities.

It’s all tidied away now until next year.