Merrily, Merrily, Merrily…

Oh Phil…

I have a bone to pick with Phil Rickman’s publishers. What do they think they’re doing publishing the latest Merrily Watkins novel at such a busy time of year? Now my poor family are going to have to fend for themselves and the tapestry is going to be neglected, while I immerse myself in the latest supernatural happenings at the vicarage in Ledwardine.

I suppose with an immense amount of will-power, I could have put The Magus of Hay on the shelf and waited for a quieter time, but come on – he’s not only given us the first Merrily book for two years, but he’s set it in Hay-on-Wye (my spiritual home). I mean really – how inconsiderate. I have no choice, I just have to read it…NOW!

IMAG3822Thanks Phil – please keep them coming…

 

 

-)O(-

 

Turning brown…

We seem to be having an odd autumn around here. I watched our local avenue of horse-chestnuts change from green to dusty brown without stopping at all in any part of the yellow/gold spectrum. Red seems to have been missed out almost completely – except for the holly berries which are trying very hard to fill the void. There are a few trees attempting to play the game, but it’s a half-hearted effort.

Then last week, the acres of green bracken suddenly turned a washed out beige.

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Already though, this has begun to change, as the first light frost, followed by hours and hours of heavy rain, has started to turn the bracken black. And now it is all beginning to sag. Sometimes it feels like only yesterday that I was excitedly spotting the tightly curled emerging fronds, and now the vast growth, taller than me in lots of places, is all about to sink back to the ground.

Melancholy is supposed to be the emotion of the month, but I try hard not to go down that road – it can be too hard getting back. Instead I like to enjoy the changes.

I can already sense the woodland opening up as the leaves start to fall in greater amounts and the floor changes from a green mattress to a scrunchy brown and gold leafy carpet. Soon we’ll have a heavier frost and wake up to a spangled scene. And in the meantime, I relish the mornings when the sun streams through the canopy…

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Impossible to feel melancholy with all that going on.

 

 

-)O(-

 

 

Last week we…

Is it me, or do these school holidays seem to come around faster and faster?

Last week was a bit of a whirlwind. Number Two daughter was in Paris on a school trip until Friday, so Number One daughter and I went around and about. We managed a trip to London – culture and shopping again – we’re getting good at it. Then a visit to Stowe Landscape Gardens near Buckingham (I’ll post about that on Mists of Time as soon as I have a chance), and then we decided that we should carve a pumpkin, even though Number Two wasn’t going to be back in time to enjoy the trick or treaters.

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And then, on Saturday, the highlight of our week – perhaps the highlight of our year – we went to Stratford, to see David Tennant in Richard II.

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We booked the tickets so long ago, we’d had a lot of time to get excited about it, but in the event, it was even better than any of us could have hoped. I have absolutely no problem in admitting that it was the attraction of our almost all-time favourite Dr Who (I’m of the Tom Baker generation), that made us go along to what you’d have to say is not perhaps the top of the Shakespeare picks, but oh my goodness, how brilliant it was.

Our party included two fifty-something ladies, a seventy-something lady, two middle-aged men and four teenage girls, and each one of us came away absolutely enthralled. In my opinion, nobody does Shakespeare like the RSC – so many people think that Shakespeare is difficult to understand, but go to the RSC productions and they make it entirely understandable – if our teenagers knew what was happening, anyone could – simply marvellous.

So if having someone like David Tennant in the cast is what it takes to bring in the next generation of Shakespeare lovers – that’s fine by me. (Oh and he was incredibly good – of course).

Back down to earth now…

 

 

-)O(-

 

First frost…

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Well I admit it was only just a frost, nothing terribly dramatic, but the first of the autumn around here. In fact by the time the delinquent dog and I made it out this morning, the sun was blazing and the frost almost gone – it is a beautiful day now, a true autumn glory.

If Number One daughter emerges from her cocoon, we might make it to Stowe Gardens for a stomp through the leaves…

 

 

Childish excitement…

IMAG3288Hands up those of you who can honestly say you don’t sneak the occasional conker into your pocket at this time of year. I’m sure I’m not the only adult who still gets a little thrill finding a new glossy brown conker on the ground – a split-second regression to playgrounds and autumns past…

My dog-walking coat is currently playing host to a small collection – I start off intending to bring them into the house for a seasonal arrangement, but somehow the coat stays in the car for days on end and finally when I pull them out, they’ve started to shrivel.  (There ought to be a message there I feel sure – choose your own).

But although I get very excited finding conkers, I really prefer acorns. There’s something about all that pent-up energy, sitting in its own, beautifully crafted cup, that delights me every year.

Annoyingly, acorns also appear to be the current weapon of choice of our bushy-tailed tree-dwelling terrorist friends (AKA squirrels). Once again the delinquent dog and I are having to sprint through the worst of the danger zones, checking overhead for any signs that the little devils are preparing to attack.

Who said walking the dog was boring…

 

 

-)O(-

 

Time…

tree section

I’m fascinated by the ways in which we visualise time, especially the passage of time. Although we’re used to seeing circular clock faces, with the hands turning round, ending up back were they begin, I suspect that many of us think of time passing as a linear progression – from now to then will be a straight line moving away from the start point.

If we think about history – do we consider that events happened in the distance – further away from us the longer ago they happened?

If  we think about our lives, do we consider them to be linear progressions – and if we’re over fifty, do we think in terms of more behind than in front?

For ages now, I’ve been wondering about other ways to visualise time. The one that appeals to me is the circular progression.  Here, instead of imagining life moving forward, I see it turning, through the four seasons, coming back to the start point, but now enfolding the experience of the events lived through those seasons – the good, bad and ugly. In this way, each new turn in the season sees us having within us all that which has already gone before – just as a tree adds a ring with each year that passes, some rich thick rings, some meaner, thin rings – but with the whole tree growing wider as time turns, containing within it, all that it has experienced.

I like to think of myself like that – embracing the cycle of the seasons and the cycle of life, growing all the time and benefiting from everything that happens as I go round. And from this perspective, as we get older, we have more within to sustain us, who knows, maybe getting a bit wiser each cycle?

Of course if you take the analogy too literally, you see yourself getting fatter too – oh well…

 

 

-)O(-

 

 

What a difference a week makes…

First there was this little chap poking up in the hedgerow…

IMAG3142Soon he was joined by these little poppets…

IMAG3172And then, just a few days later, they looked like this…

IMAG3280That’s the original chap on the right. Now joined by all those babies.

Less than a week and such a transformation.

I walk the dog in and around woodland most days, and decided last year after noticing such a lot of different fungi popping up practically every day, that this year, I’d get myself a field guide.

I’m not planning to pick any – I’ve watched far too many Midsomer Murders etc, for that, and although I’m sure the Other Half loves me, I suspect asking him to trust my mushroom identification skills would be a step too far. (When we visited the poison garden at Alnwick a couple of years ago, he was very disturbed to discover just how many species I already grow in our garden, and how much I knew about their poisonous properties…) – poor boy.

No, I don’t want to eat them, but I would really love to be able to put a name to a cap, as it were, and know more about them generally.

So please, tell me which guide do you have? What would you recommend a beginner to use?

 

 

 

 

 

Blackberry breakfast…

For the last few weeks I have been watching the blackberries ripen in the hedges as I walk the delinquent dog each morning.

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On Friday, I could resist no longer. The poor dog stood around, looking just like small children do when you stop in the street to talk to people – that posture that says something like ‘Oh really, haven’t you finished yet’…

While I had my breakfast courtesy of Mother Nature.

 

 

 

 

Dollops of culture…

I really like Julia Cameron’s advice in The Artist’s Way, to set yourself regular time out, to do things that rejuvenate your creative spirit. And of course like a great many of us, it’s my ‘time out’ that is too often sacrificed when family life takes over. But I think I can go straight to the top of the class this September, because what I need to make time for, are opportunities to grab a little culture, and so far this month, I am doing rather well…

Half way through September and I have…

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Been to the Poetry Book Fair and met the brilliant Fancesca Kay (Whatever you’re planning for your garden next season, I wholly recommend obtaining a packet of her Garden Seasons – poems for year round colour & interest)

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The daughters and I have strolled around the British Museum. Both daughters were overawed by the Ancient Egyptian artefacts, big and small.

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Number 2 daughter successfully navigated our way from the BM to the Victoria & Albert Museum – not bad for a thirteen year-old who can still number her trips to London on the fingers of two hands.

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We’ve also been to Bath. Trust us to decide to go at the same time as hoards of Jane Austen reenactment enthusiasts – it was vaguely surreal passing men and women in full Regency gear chatting on their mobile phones. Although watching them dancing in the Assembly Rooms was wonderful – practically stepping back two hundred years.

We also made our pilgrimage to Bath’s girlie paradise, Alexandra May – I’m not sure you can classify this as culture, but it certainly gives me enormous pleasure, and the girls will happily spend an hour working their way along the displays (NB: not suitable for the Other Half, well not mine anyway, he has to go off and do Man Things…)

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And once we’d soaked up plenty of Georgian architecture (and played the compulsory family game of crazy golf – I lost it on the last hole, grrrrrr!), we headed off to Lacock Abbey, once famous as the birthplace of photography, then probably more famous for being a Harry Potter film venue.

The village is being promoted for its many film credits, although for those of us of a certain age, it will always remain Longbourne, from the 1995 TV series of Pride & Prejudice (the Colin Firth, wet-shirt version).

So, lots to keep me going for a week or two. And when I’m not gadding about being a culture vulture, I’m tucked up at home with my eBay find – an Old English textbook – (that’s a textbook on OE, not and old English textbook – somehow I imagine I’m going to have to brush up my grammar).

Hope your September is shaping up nicely.

 

 

-)O(-

 

PS: Just so you know, if you’re seeing any adverts on my blog, it’s WordPress, not me putting them there. If I’m feeling flush one of these days, I’ll go ad-free, until then, please forgive.

Melancholy and excitement…

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Strange sensations today.

The girls have gone back to school after the long holiday. For the first time in ages, we had a real sunny summer and what a difference it has made to us all. Number One Daughter who faces the heavy toil of Year 11 really doesn’t want to go back – and who can blame her – although her request at 7.30am this morning to be home-schooled fell on unreceptive ears. Number Two Daughter, who starts at the Upper school today, is full of excitement – I’m glad I’m not a teacher.

Not having the girls around, makes me feel a touch melancholy, but on the other hand, I am finally able to get back to what passes as my ‘normal’ routine – last night I excavated my desk so that today I could blog for the first time in weeks – a certain relief is beginning to flow in the veins.

The start of the new school year always gives me a buzz, which hasn’t anything to do with school, but everything to do with new beginnings, fresh starts and heightened enthusiasm. Especially strong this September I suspect because the summer has been so good and I’m definitely more refreshed and reinvigorated than I’ve been for quite some time.

And in the spirit of clean sheets – I think I should repent of my sort of failure – which is to admit to having failed on the no new book buying challenge. I gave it my best shot, I kept a wish-list instead of pressing Buy With One Click, I avoided the charity shops, I tried very hard- but during the summer I just couldn’t hold out any more. I now know, that being able to read something that sparks my curiosity is more important to me than I’d realised before. And of course reading blogs is a potent way to be pointed in the direction of writers who I’d never otherwise have encountered – and I love that.

So for anyone managing to sustain the challenge, I admire you enormously – but now I have confirmed the disappointing extent of my will-power.

Over the last few blogging-free weeks, I’ve been thinking about what I want to spend my energies on for the next few months. This has boiled down to:

Getting back into regular yoga practise (as I get older, maintaining flexibility becomes more and more important – my mother was a tremendous example of what could be done, and I’m determined to follow her example – and I’m lucky enough to have an excellent teacher who integrates the spiritual elements smoothly, which I appreciate even more than the physical exercise).

Getting to grips with the garden: No chance of turning into a Gertrude Jekyll, just the realisation that much needs to be done and finally, after only living in this house for fifteen years, beginning to get a feel for what I actually want in the garden.

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And finally – don’t laugh, I’m going to teach myself Old English. I’ve been intrigued by the evolution of the English language ever since I studied Chaucer for A Level, but over the summer, the programmes about the Anglo-Saxons, with Michael Wood, sparked a new interest in the early origins. Each programme showed texts written from the time of King Alfred and his immediate successors, and had extracts of the texts being voiced, with subtitles. It was so delicious to listen to, but also I found myself desperate to be able to read the texts. I’ve investigated text books, although not yet decided which one(s) to go for – they seem to vary from strictly academic, deeply grammatical, to the Old English equivalent of Teach Yourself in a Weekend. If any of you wonderful readers have any old books on OE sitting around unloved, or any advice on teachers, courses or text books – please get in touch!

Of course all this will take place against the background of daily life and endless tent stitch – life’s never boring…

Flights of fancy…

You know how it is, nothing happens for weeks on end, then suddenly everything is going mad and you’re racing to keep up.

It’s been like that here for the last few days – but in a fabulous way.

A friend of ours loves to fly, and last weekend he decided the weather was perfect for a trip around the Scottish Islands and Highlands. The Highlands are my favourite place – and so I leapt at the chance to go hopping around.

We went up the West coast, stopping first at Gigha – the airstrip is a field – you can just about see it in the picture…

Gigha
Gigha
Not exactly Heathrow...
Not exactly Heathrow…
The Gigha Hotel - gorgeous.
The Gigha Hotel – gorgeous.
Iona abbey
Iona abbey

Next day and a view of Iona and Staffa

Not the most dramatic view of Fingal's Cave
Not the most dramatic view of Fingal’s Cave

Then we were off to land at the airstrip at Barra – yes, it’s a beach.IMAG1993

The view of Barra airstrip from the air traffic control tower – that’s our plane on the sand

The islands going out towards Stornoway are unlike anything I’d seen before.DSCN3703 DSCN3715 IMAG2034

And then we stopped for fuel at Stornoway

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And then off around the coast of the mainland….

my favourite beach at Sandwood Bay, Sutherland
my favourite beach at Sandwood Bay, Sutherland

Then the lighthouse at Cape Wrath

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And Balnakiel Beach

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We spent the night near Forres and then off again from Inverness down the Great Glen – I kept looking, but no sign of Nessie…

DSCN4012 DSCN4027 IMAG2139 IMAG2166 IMAG2213Watching the mountains of Aran come out of the clouds.

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Before flying back through the Lake District and home.

Now I’m back it all feels rather like a dream and I have to keep pinching myself to remember that it really happened. An amazing experience I’m sure I’ll never forget.

Getting back into the swing of things at home again now and looking forward to the girls breaking up for summer. Hope you’re enjoying the weather and staying cool.

 

PS:

Theresa, do you happen to know what this is? He was flying about on the sand dunes at Barra – so pretty and strikingly vivid.

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