Tuesday, 5 January 2021

STALWART

This new year 2021 opens at a time when we need to be brave. Let’s face it, we knew something like this would blow back at us, and it would be foolish to react in a negative way. This time we need to stand up to the deprivations – after all, they are minor in comparison to some of the things people across the world live through on a daily basis: extreme weather, famine, war and terminal illness. 



This year, whether or not you are cynical about the pandemic and the way in which the government is reacting to it, perhaps try to put a more positive focus on your life and what you are doing. If you live alone, this is incredibly hard. Can you build some projects into your daily routine? Do you have friends on the end of a telephone line or on the internet to whom you can talk, giving them the benefit of your wisdom and experience? Is it possible to change something which has always annoyed you, such as tidying out a cupboard or moving a piece of furniture? Ask yourself what you can do to improve things. 

Take a look at the pictures on the walls around you – if you have any on display. Do you really like them… still? Or if your walls are bare, could you pin up some cheerful or inspiring pictures or posters, or even a calendar? Once you start thinking about your surroundings in this way, you become more creative and positive. I won’t labour the point: you know what to do! Just don’t let the depressing news drive you to complacency and giving up. 



Last year I spent a lot of time either gardening, doing housework and cooking meals, and sitting at my computer not really doing very much! This year I intend to write as much as possible, turning the opportunity the quietude gives to my advantage. Yes, I will be gardening, although perhaps I won’t sow as many tomato seeds as last year (far too many - although they were all delicious) and I might consider how I could change some of the flower beds. Here are just a few of the tomatoes I harvested. I also grew some cucumbers and - again - four plants is three too many!




January is throwing some cold and frosty weather at us, and here in this corner of Devon we had a fair amount of snow. I hope I’ve done everything I can to save my tender plants, but yesterday I noticed some pelargoniums which I had completely forgotten about. Instead of having been dug up and moved into the greenhouse they stood forlornly in one of the flower beds, brown and dead from the frosty cold nights. I think (hope) I took some cuttings last Autumn, otherwise I have lost them completely. 

But the joy of seeing some of the other plants still standing, stalwart against the freezing winds, far outweighs the sadness of those lost. The sedums have weathered the snow with beautiful mounds of icy snowflakes gathering on their crowns. These stems will of course be cut down in the spring, ready for the new growth. 

Below: a blackbird forages and daffodils are beginning to show!

I took a short, cold walk this afternoon with my new camera to try and capture some scenes for this blog. The sun was shining, turning the starkest bare branches into beautiful shapes, and there were cows grazing in the field beyond our house. My fingers turned to ice as I snapped away, but I am pleased with the results.
 

Finally, something which caught my eye on a social media page - which I hope will make you smile. Many of us remember 'Winnie-the-Pooh' by A.A. Milne from our younger days in the original book format. I had forgotten its delights until I found this little gem from Christopher Robin Milne, the author's son. I don't know if the quote comes from the book or whether he has written it himself, but it means something to all of us at the present time. Look after yourselves, and stay safe.

Saturday, 5 December 2020

WINTER LIGHT

Sunrise, 1st December 2020

 As we approach the Winter Solstice, I find myself checking daily the times of sunrise and sunset. This has become a ritual, available on my ‘weather app’ and consulted whilst drinking the first mug of tea of the day. Today, sunrise was after 8.00am – always a bit of a blow. Sunset at 4.15pm is not a surprise, as the light seems to grow duller from around half past three, which is the time when I usually close up the greenhouse for the night, lighting the paraffin stove when necessary. Correction: it is more often than not my kind spouse who does this now, when the air is rather too cold for an asthmatic to breathe in.

Cold air tends to mean a brighter sky though, and we all need as much light as we can get here in Britain during the Winter months. Moments of cheer appear in the garden, and you can imagine my delight to have spotted this primrose, apparently oblivious to the season, flowering in a corner close to the raspberry bushes.



The early sun casts long shadows over the lawn, creating a completely different garden, with soft pastel colours and sharp skeletal forms. 



The 'Annabelle' hydrangea has been transformed into something ethereal and ghostly when given a wash of a special process on my computer...




And as the new blue flowers on the other hydrangea fade, they are beginning to blend in with the darker mauves of the old blooms.










*
When the weather in November changed, making gardening more difficult, I turned to sorting out an enormous bundle of old photographs, some of which have been inherited from my parents and others simply packets of my own photos from the 1970s, 80s and 90s which had not yet been scanned onto my computer. Well, many of them have now, and although the task is often sad, many of the memories are happy ones, echoing with laughter and the voices of old friends and family. 

A couple of photos made me pause, remembering a day decades ago in an office in London where I was conducting a 'Lloyd's Audit' on a large group of Syndicates. In 1980, long before desk-top computers completely took over offices, the computer was so big that it was housed in an entire room. We audited its print-outs which emerged on huge, endless folded sheets of paper pre-printed with groups of green vertical lines and punched with holes on each side for filing in large cabinets. Most of the ledgers were manually written up by the accounts team, and we would bring in comptometer operators - ladies with odd-looking machines with lots of buttons - to add up and check the totals. All this sounds archaic now! Anyway, in February of this particular audit I took a few days off to get married to my first husband. The day before I left, the accounts team took me to the pub for lunch, and I do not remember much work being done that afternoon. So here we all are, for you to be amazed, and I hope the old-fashioned look of the desks will make you smile. The cigarette smoke would certainly not be allowed now!


Sadly I do not know what happened to Paul, Tony, Len or Lesley... so if anyone recognises someone in the photo on the left, please send them my good wishes.

*

Finally, I found this little poem written out in my father's handwriting, for my mother. I found it touching, and I hope you will too. The author is anonymous.

A little work, a little play,
To keep us going — and so, good-day!

A little warmth, a little light
Of love's bestowing — and so, good-night!

A little fun, to match the sorrow
Of each day's growing — and so, good-morrow!

A little trust, that when we die
We reap our sowing! and so — good-bye!








Monday, 9 November 2020

NOWHERE


 ‘Um,’ typed my friend H as we held the usual online conversation a couple of weeks ago, and in answer to my inane query as to how he was doing. ‘Still trying to understand what Tier two actually means. I try to carry on as usual with masked precautions and social distancing etc. But I have to look up what the new Tier two restrictions are, as they are not delivered by a dalek or even a Morris van with a loudspeaker on the roof like they would have been forty years ago. To be honest, it, the whole Covid-19 situation, makes me pine for the 1970's.’ 

I am old enough identify with his final remark, and to miss the simplicity and straightforwardness of life then, not to mention the genuine freedom we experienced, and which younger generations will never know. 


View from The Monument 1979

It doesn’t do to dwell on the past, though. Recently I watched a broadcast of the 1977 play ‘Abigail’s Party’ which, unusually, I had never seen before. It felt oddly familiar to see the fashions, the hairstyles and above all the drearily ‘modern’ interiors which we all thought so new and ground-breaking. My memory recognised the smoke-laden atmosphere, which had to be endured both at work and in pubs, buses and trains and in homes. Would I go back? Well, I’d love to visit London again, where I worked for ten years. I would happily take the tube (in a non-smoking carriage) out to Buckinghamshire where I was born and brought up, and glimpse my parents’ house.

My parents' lovely house in Bucks


Most of all I would love to sit down with long-dead members of my family and just talk to them. But this is daydreaming, and so it should remain.

To return to our conversation, H’s struggle to find a definition of ‘Tier Two’ was wiped out overnight, and all of us are once again in lockdown for the next few weeks. It’s getting beyond tedious, and it feels to me as though we have marked time for almost the whole of 2020. We struggle to ‘move on’, getting nowhere.

So how do we lift the gloom, other than rummaging through old photos – which is what I confess to have been doing when the November rain prevents me from tidying up the garden. It’s a huge question and I’m not entirely sure I can answer it in a few words. Perhaps we are all muddling along in the same distracted fashion, sick of the media broadcasting what they want us to hear and longing for someone grown-up enough to give us some hope. Whatever happened to those sensible, parent-like figures who responded to trouble with wise words and sound advice? Surely they haven’t, as a species, died out? Or have we stopped listening to their quiet, patient voices?

* * *

Last time I wrote we had just finished dismantling the garden shed, and were preparing for a new one. Well, we are still waiting for it! The 'nationwide shortage of sheds' to which I referred continues to cause despair and heartache for the smaller businesses who sell them. We will wait until the Spring, as it would be stupid not to. But for now, our garage and greenhouse - and various other corners of our home, house the contents of the old shed, and we work around them.


There is still a sea of colours in our November garden. Above you will note how the Sedums have darkened, lending a final maroon glow before they fade to brown and die. These plants are so worthwhile growing; as well as lending solid colour to their surroundings they attract so many bees and other insects, although I saw a marked reduction this year which is sad. 


In the front garden the Hydrangea with its odd double-season continues to show off its new blooms, while the older ones have darkened like the Sedums. The splashes of blue are most uplifting on a rainy day.

Finally, speaking of the 1970s and simply to amuse you (and Heaven knows, we need more laughter at the moment), I'm posting a photo of a production by the Playgoers Amateur Dramatic Association of 'Hay Fever' dated 1978, in which yours truly played Sorel Bliss (the one in pale green pyjamas!). Happy days!!

Amersham Playgoers' 'Hay Fever' 1978




Wednesday, 23 September 2020

DISMANTLING

We have spent the last couple of weeks taking down our old shed. What remained was not pretty, and our attempts to improve the site and prepare it for the replacement were thwarted by the sheer effort involved in heaving around heavy paving stones and hardcore – it’s back-breaking work.


Two days were completely wasted when we employed the wrong person to help, and our ‘shed fund’ is now reduced by a frightening amount of money spent on him making it – actually – worse! The company selling us the shed have come to our rescue, working out a competent (and rather expensive) plan, which will – I hope – improve the entire corner of the garden. Watch this space!

*


The dismantling of parts of our lives has not been confined to the garden. The mandatory six years have now passed since I ceased my accountancy practice, and I am allowed to dispose of all the related paperwork. When we pulled all the various boxes of files from the dusty corners of storage, the task looked very daunting indeed. Earlier in the year I made a start and broke the shredder. I always manage to break these machines, and this one was not cheap when I bought it.

 

A quick look on the internet and I found a confidential shredding service… and so began the dismantling of all those years of hard work. Hundreds of schedules, computations, neatly clipped tax returns and beautifully bound accounts are now sitting in large eco-friendly ‘paper bags’ in our garage, awaiting collection. It was quite an emotional experience, remembering each and every client (some of whom have since died or become very ill), and recalling their lives – often in intimate detail. 

*

We reached the Autumn Equinox yesterday, and it is beginning to show in the garden. The colours are starting to fade into that gentle richness which defines the new season.

Much to my amazement though, the blue Hydrangea decided to produce some new flowers, so there is a beautiful melange of brownish mauves with bright new green-blue. Another newcomer is one of the new Hollyhocks which I sowed last year has bloomed with a dark magenta flower, quite a surprise.

Many of the annuals will need to be cut down fairly soon, but I’m leaving them for as long as possible to do so. The thought of yet more dismantling is a gloomy one, especially at a such gloomy and depressing time in all our lives. 


We need a little bit of hope to hold on to, and mine might be the choosing of some bulbs to plant during the Autumn months ready for Spring flowering. As my late father used to quote (from ‘Macbeth’):

‘Come what may,
Time and the hour runs through the roughest day.’

We all experience such days, and this little phrase is true, even when those days feel endless.

The highlight of September has been a rare visit from two members of our small family on one of the sunniest days. We are a very close family, so such meetings are precious. I close with  a bright, cheerful photo taken by our son on that day - somehow he has made the garden look stunning, and I hope you will enjoy it too. Keep safe, and above all, stay healthy!


 

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

AUGUST: INCONSISTENCY

 The mole, who periodically decides to throw beautifully sifted earth up on to my lawn, has returned this week. We share this mole with the friend in the neighbouring garden above ours, and for all we know we may be sharing hundreds of little velvety creatures living beneath our properties. 

We never hear them, unlike the raucous rooks and magpies who feel the need to shout at each other quite often during daylight hours, and the irritating squirrel currently tearing unripe hazelnuts off the branches overhanging the garden, barking and screeching as he does so. 

August is often a trying month, during which half the country takes it into their heads to set off on holiday while the other half sits it out staunchly at home, happy to complain about the first half. This year has proved more difficult, if only because the weather has been inconsistently wet and at times unbearably hot. Then there is the virus… but we won’t go into that.

I have been reading about the German occupation of Europe during the Second World War, from the point of view of those sent from Britain as spies. ‘Prince of Spies’ by Alex Gerlis took me through the first week of August and was so thrilling that I promptly read its sequel ‘Sea of Spies’. In the first, the very likeable hero is sent to Copenhagen, where his mission is fraught with danger. In the second, he is attempting to find out whether the Germans are developing the notorious V1 and V2 rockets, and a terrifying journey into and across Germany follows. Both the first book and its sequel are well crafted and beautifully written. They make tense, gripping reads as well as adding well researched facts to one’s knowledge of both places and history at that time.

In contrast ‘Night Flight to Paris’ by David Gilman is based, as you will guess, in occupied Paris. It is more harrowing to read, grim and depressing, and I was glad to finish it – even though the twist at the end was remarkably well contrived. Sometimes it is wiser, in my opinion, to consider whether reading a certain type or genre of book when one is feeling low or depressed can make one feel better or worse. I definitely felt worse after reading the Gilman book, and have had to make a careful selection for my next read – the safe hands of author Ellie Griffiths – to try and return some equilibrium to my life!

I have peppered this blog post with garden views. The poppies and early roses are long gone, but all my hastily planted Cosmos are now blooming wildly and many roses are in their second phase. The sunflowers have hated the extremes of weather, but my American Canna which stubbornly refused to flower last year has perked up in the heat and produced one gorgeous red bloom.


Finally: this particular Blog is dedicated to my father, Noel Unsworth, who fought with the King’s African Rifles in Burma during WWII, and for all those brave souls who fought with him, 75 years ago this week. This was one of his favourite poems:



“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.”

― William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

Friday, 24 July 2020

LISTLESS

I promised to show you the other side of my garden, but a feeling of listlessness has delayed our walk and July has only a week left. We’ll do it today. The weather has been very changeable, so some of my photos – taken this afternoon – are less colourful than I would have hoped. Let’s stroll down the lawn and through the arch…


The lawn stretches out in front of us to left and right, ending at the long fence which marks the boundary between us and our neighbour. I am not a fan of this fence: old, somewhat rickety and apt to blow backwards and forwards in the wind, it needs replacing. We can’t afford to do so all at once, but we managed two panels last year, and hope to put in a couple more in the Autumn. I particularly detest the colour, but I guess it could be worse!

To the right, the Devon bank stretches down to the corner where a bent old conifer used to grow at an alarming angle. We took this out a couple of years ago, deeming it a potential hazard in high winds.



The site is shady and damp, so we planted Rhododendrons and Laurel, with Hostas and a little box border. Much to our surprise they have thrived, although a sharp frost caught the Rhododendrons early this year and they did not flower. They also hated the drought in May, but I watered them copiously and fed them, and they are now showing signs of a late flowering! Watch this space…

Moving left and back up a steep part of the garden, the lawn curves round the edge of the terrace bordered by a rockery.

We planted two apples and one pear tree in 2018 and hope for fruit next year. We had some blossom in the Spring, but the birds appear to have put paid to any resulting fruit!

From this point you can see my ‘Buddleia Corner’ where – more by accident than design – I have put in cuttings from other Buddleia plants which had grown profusely, along with one which I found against the house wall when we moved here, and which I have encouraged.


Looking back up the garden from the fruit trees is one of my favourite views.


In the photo, every plant you see except for the Camelia on the left and the fern in the rockery (which has put itself there), has been planted by us. I even replanted the rockery with Persicaria (the pink spiky flowers, brought with me in a pot and first acquired from a nursery in Penrith), Hebes and the low spreading conifer whose name eludes me. When we came there were no other flower beds, no arch and no trees – the lawn was bare and a blank canvas!

Moving back towards the arch we are finishing our walk. You are looking back up the lawn at the greenhouse and the shed - which is fast disintegrating! We have taken the plunge and ordered a new shed which - because of the pandemic fall-out and thus a national shortage of sheds, will not arrive until September or October. There goes the money paid for the holiday we were unable to take in April, and fingers crossed we will get our refund as promised next month!


I can't bring the walk to an end without showing you some of the lovely flowers which have graced the garden this month. Thank you for your company, I have thoroughly enjoyed taking you round my garden and I feel less listless for so doing!

This particular blog is dedicated to our friend and neighbour Yvette, who died earlier this week aged ninety, and for whom gardens made life worth living...