Saturday, 19 June 2021

BALANCE

Almost midsummer, and the roses which have been late this year are finally cheering up and performing. I found a couple of almost blown blooms whose stems had drooped to the ground under their weight, so into a vase on the kitchen windowsill they went, and here they are for your enjoyment.


I received my second vaccination on 23rd April, but only now am I beginning to feel that the balance in my body is restored. The first vaccination, you may remember, knocked me for six, and just as I was beginning to feel more myself – wham, the second one threw me out of kilter again. Of course this all may be a figment of my over-active imagination, but I don’t believe so. The situation now seems to be ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’ – so like so many of my generation I’ve chosen to be damned anyway and on we go.


The third book progresses slowly. It’s complex, exciting and great fun to write. The plot is unravelling in my head and taking time to reach the point when I actually commit it to written words. This too needs balance, and careful planning, but I think I’m getting there. For those of my readers who love the character Tobias, I can assure you he is playing quite a major role once again, alongside some new people and other old friends. Watch this space!



What are you reading? I've worked my way through some exceptional thrillers, and must mention a couple. Rory Clements has written a series of historical novels set in the late Elizabethan era, all of which I enjoyed and recommend. However he has now turned his hand to a different era: the nineteen thirties and forties, with an American Cambridge spy, Tom Wilde as his lead character. These books are incredibly exciting and the latest: 'A Prince and a Spy' is enthralling. I recommend all of them, but this in particular. Secondly, I may have mentioned M W Craven before, and his latest - the fourth in his 'Washington Poe' series is another unputdownable crime thriller. Again, highly recommended. I'm finding it hard to adapt to my next read now, but not every book needs to be exciting... or does it?



Slightly more relaxed Covid rules have meant that one or two people have been able to come and see the garden. I am always delighted when this happens in normal times, but now it's even more of a pleasure. Last weekend our son brought his partner over - we hadn't seen her since Christmas - on a beautiful day, and created memories to treasure.


Patience Strong was a 20th Century poet famed for her short, happy little pieces, often sentimental. My mother had a piece of embroidery which featured this little poem, and whilst it may seem a little old-fashioned I think it touches the heart of everyone who loves gardens.

'In a garden green and gay
All my troubles fade away
Sweet contentment here I find
Joy of heart and peace of mind.'

I leave you with the thought that balance and harmony are essential to our wellbeing, and whilst it isn't always possible to maintain either physical or mental equilibrium, it is important to recognise their absence. Sometimes this in itself can help recovery. For now, keep well and look after yourselves. I must go and water the tomato plants!







Saturday, 8 May 2021

ICE IN SPRING

I promised photos of blossom. Well, in my garden the Cherry blossom has been and gone, but here are a couple of the many photos I took for you back in March.

  



Other blossom appeared in April: the Pear tree made a lovely showing, but one of the late frosts which have plagued us destroyed all hope of any fruit. 


The larger of our two Apple trees is blooming now for the first time, and seems to be holding its own despite the cold. 


One other major event has taken place in the garden: at last the new shed has arrived and been built. After a nine month wait, you can imagine our excitement (well, some of us more than others), and with it came the opportunity to improve the path which runs along the side of the greenhouse to said shed. The work was carried out with skill and cheerfulness by a local firm, and has made a massive improvement to the shed/greenhouse area. A bonus is another, albeit small area where we can sit out – when the sun shines!



I was well into writing the third book in the ‘Losing Time’ series, until my vaccinations caused my inspiration to dry up. This has been incredibly frustrating. Only now am I beginning to put together the next stage of the plot in my mind, and I hope soon to be able to make some sense of the ideas and get them recorded. I have introduced some interesting new characters, as well as revealing the not-so-enchanting side of someone who we all thought was 'on our side' in the previous book. It all makes for enjoyable and sometimes challenging writing!

The unseasonal weather has delayed many things in the garden: plants and trees are well behind, as is progress in the greenhouse. However there have been some little moments of joy, and I leave you with these and the hope that all is going well with you despite the challenges which have been heaped upon us recently. We are a tough species, and working our way through the lockdown loneliness and depressing Winter/Spring has not been easy. Look after yourselves!






 

Saturday, 13 February 2021

ENDURANCE

 An easterly wind blew like a train across this corner of Devon over the last few days. Leaves and small branches sailed high in the air around the lawn, and empty pots which I’d forgotten to put away rolled like uncontrolled wheels into far flowerbeds. It brought with it a bitterly cold blast, the kind which chills every forgotten corner and exposed finger.


In a bizarre echo of the weather, my first Covid-19 vaccination knocked me for six too. If you don’t want to hear what happened, stop reading now and look only at the pictures. Because it’s been a rocky forty-eight hours… The inoculation itself was easy, even though I don’t enjoy any kind of ‘jab’ and always turn away from the endless film shots on TV news of people being vaccinated. Mine went smoothly and I arrived home feeling fine. My other half received his two days earlier and whilst he had some side-effects they were quite mild, so I thought I’d got away with it. The ‘flu-like symptoms’ hit me after about six hours, when I turned very cold and went to bed. Despite hot water bottles and blankets over the duvet, I shivered violently for half an hour before falling into what felt like a drugged sleep. I woke a few times from the most vivid of dreams, heart pounding, only to lapse back into more of the same. Yesterday I endured the same drugged feeling and a bad headache, unable even to turn on the computer, or read. Only today has the real ‘me’ resurfaced, thankful to have returned from my zombie state to the land of the living. Oh, and this morning my arm aches, but it’s nothing compared to the rest!

What have I learned from this? I will tell my brother, and the other members of my family who may be similarly affected, (and you) to prepare as though for a short bout of flu. Get in all the food you need, because you won’t want to go out or even to receive deliveries. Make sure you have plenty of hot drinks, and paracetamol at the ready. And remember, it only lasts a couple of days or so.

I can’t tell you whether or not to be vaccinated – that decision is for you alone. What I can say is that I chose it, and if whatever has been injected into me is an experiment, well - life is pretty much an experiment too, isn’t it?

       *

My February photos are not current, because I haven’t felt in a mood for photography – and I’ve been too busy writing my third book, whose ideas kept me going when I was feeling so bad. All of them, though, were taken in February.


The ‘windy’ photo was taken in February 2017 passing Dartmoor. The snow was 2015 in our garden. The drifts of snowdrops were photographed when we lived in Mid-Devon, in 2014. The little Wren was snapped by my son, but the Robin is mine, and I hope they will bring you a little joy in this most difficult of times.



Next time I write, there will be cherry blossom…

 

Blow, blow, thou winter wind,

Thou art not so unkind

As man’s ingratitude;

Thy tooth is not so keen,

Because thou art not seen,

Although thy breath be rude.

Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly:

Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:

Then, heigh-ho, the holly!

This life is most jolly.

-        William Shakespeare


Monday, 1 February 2021

SLEEP


 “To die, to sleep – to sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there's the rub, for in this sleep of death what dreams may come…” (William Shakespeare: Hamlet) This is said by Hamlet to himself when he thinks he is alone.

Forgetting the words ‘die’ and ‘death’, I use this quote today, on the first day of a new month, to describe the troubled sleep many of us are experiencing at the moment. For me, the problem falls into two categories, the first of which is insomnia. Lying awake, trying to sleep yet unable to set aside not just the worries of today or yesterday, but odd and random perplexities from the past. Why did I do that? Why did I say such awful things? Why didn’t I choose another path? From the number of articles I’ve been reading in the newspapers recently, this appears to be a common problem – and a very instinctively human one. Dr Jenna Macciochi, immunologist, says: '... sleep is the foundation of the immune system, and worrying about insomnia only exacerbates it'.

According to a study commissioned for the Daily Telegraph, “the nation has been gripped by sleeplessness... Fear is the bane of a good night's sleep.” The main factors cited in a survey are: work worries; financial stress; anxiety; depression and loneliness. “Sleep is a biological process that cannot be controlled. The more you seek to do so, the further it slips from reach.” One idea I have gleaned from this interesting article is this: “When our brains race over old feuds, regrets, work crises and family fears at night, that is an evolutionary response described as 'our brain default mode network' which is like a filing system. For this simple reason, when the storm clouds of negative thoughts pass over at night, we need to say: 'Thank you, brain' and see the thoughts simply as words and images passing through our minds, rather than getting bogged down in emotion. A good night's sleep boils down to the 'paradox of acceptance'. When you can let go of the idea that you need to be asleep, you remove the obstacles preventing you from getting there.”


When my brother and I were children, my late mother used to tell us not to worry if we couldn’t sleep, because at least the body was resting. Part of this is true: however much we toss and turn, we are resting from being upright, and I have always found the idea both comforting and relaxing.

The second problem, which has been affecting members of my own family, is heavy, vivid dreaming and nightmares. Again, this is probably easily explained by science and the pandemic. My dreams have been extraordinarily vivid. The other night I dreamt I was shopping in D H Evans (which used to be a department store in London) with my mother – years ago, because she was young. We were looking at material: beautiful, brightly coloured fabrics spread out over huge counters. This dream felt so real that I woke up with a start, surprised to find everything fading away – as dreams do. In others I have been troubled, lost and pursued, unable to find my way home. I don’t have an answer for this, and I don’t know whether it’s preferable to insomnia!

 *


Here we are on the first day of February, and I have to say that in my particular neck of the woods it’s a sombre, grey day, dripping with damp – like so many others we seem to be experiencing at the moment. To cheer us all up, I’m adding a few colourful photos. The cherry blossom photo was taken at the end of February last year, so we have that joy to come and I promise to post the best of it here.



*

And why, you may ask, does this article begin with a picture of the sea? Well first of all, it is a cheerful photo of a lovely beach, but more importantly it is connected to what I was saying earlier. The other night I attempted to chase away all the noise in my pre-sleep mind with this picture, and I imagined walking along that beach, barefoot, and paddling in the cold water. I tried to hear the wonderful noise of the tide, as I marched along an endless stretch of sand. And I think it may have worked, because I don't remember any more! The photo below is me doing exactly what I've been describing, back in 2014.


I hope my article will be of help to any of you who are suffering from lack of sleep, or bad sleep. I am indebted to the Daily Telegraph for the passages quoted above, and for helping me in my search for answers on this most important of topics. Should anyone be interested, the link is here, but may not be readable without a subscription to that newspaper: 'Say Goodnight to Insomnia During Lockdown'

Take care, all of you, and - dare I say it - sweet dreams.

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