Saturday, 9 May 2020

RESTFUL

Today I thought you might like a little tour of my garden, photographed this morning with the early sun casting long shadows before the temperature began to rise. I don’t often post such wide views, partly because when I want to take them intrusions such as washing hanging on the line, open shed doors and wind result in disappointment. Today, though, was perfect.

This first view looks down the garden. You will notice that the entire property slopes in two directions, which can be challenging – especially with photos!


Move in closer and you will see the lilac bush flowering beautifully this year. This bush has a mind of its own, is oddly shaped and needs support, but in May its blooms make up for everything.




To the left of the Lilac the 'second round bed' holds a mature Hebe and our old Deutzia, brought from Pilgrim Cottage in a pot where it had languished for many years. This plant seems to have been rejuvenated by its position in the ground,  surviving the 'Beast from the East' a couple of years ago, and spilling its gentle blossom across and into the smaller blooms of London Pride - a gift from my late mother, which I cherish. Both my parents were keen gardeners, and this (rather dated yet still relevant) little poem aptly illustrates their attitudes and philosophy towards their gardens:



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


The wooden 'arch' was one of the first structures we put into this garden, and I planted roses and clematis on each side. Once the roses bloom I will post more photos. Turn back to the terrace where our predecessor planted this red azalea which is just starting to flower. The photo is taken through my clump of Camassias which have just gone over.


Turning round now, the 'first round bed' contains our Japanese dwarf cherry - not so very dwarf five years since we planted it. In this bed I put Sweet Williams - also from my mother, in gorgeous shades of dark red and pink, together with the more unusual thistle-like Cirsium 'Atropurpureum' all of which are doing well. Later in the year the pink Penstemon will try to take over, but I pruned it quite hard and I hope it will be less of a thug this year!



This ends our first walk round, saving a few areas to show you in a subsequent post and as time goes on. I will leave you with a close-up of those lovely stems of London Pride, with a Forget-Me-Not encroaching on their space! I hope you have enjoyed a restful interlude with me in the garden, and I look forward to your company again soon. Keep safe and well.


Thursday, 16 April 2020

UNSTRUCTURED

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.’

extract from 'Leisure', by William Henry Davis

As I write this, the sun is breaking through cloud to filter through the blind slats at my window.


Life has changed for all of us, providing an extraordinary break in time, and an opportunity to adjust our lives to a different tempo. When I stopped working as an accountant, I found myself seized with a kind of panic at the lack of structure in my days. For weeks I fretted at the apparent waste of time, watched the clock as it ticked remorselessly through ‘chargeable hours’ and tried to stop myself waiting for five o clock when I could ‘pack up and go home’! It takes a while to break the habits of a lifetime in which each day, by its very name, brings a recognised pattern.

As one twenty-four hour period merges into the next, I often forget which day I'm living in, and check the date with bleary eyes in case I miss a rare online delivery. Sleep has been difficult: heavy with disconcerting dreams and not restful.


It's easy, and probably human nature to swap one routine for another, to throw oneself into a frenzy of what the French call ‘nettoyage’ – cleaning, housework, tidying, or a massive clear-out of garages and lofts, and all those related substitutes for ‘work’. But should we not instead stop, and consider doing things differently? A change should always be regarded as an opportunity, and right now we have the leisure to sit and think, to pause a while and reflect on why our working lives have become so frantic. After this phenomenon there will not be a reset; nothing will be as it was and we need to plan for a slower, simpler life in which we hold better values.





I am guilty of overdoing things in the garden during the last few weeks, determined to sow seeds and become as productive as possible. A flower bed has been set aside for growing vegetables and the greenhouse is packed with seed trays and pots. I’ve trained and netted the fruit bushes, and searched online for French Bean seeds – on which there has, apparently, been a run. The photo shows little courgette plants growing fast.

We are definitely drinking more coffee and tea, but sitting out in the garden has been a joy and I am thankful to be able to do so. I read, and listen to audio books, but I am becoming more inclined to set aside a book which doesn't hold my attention from the beginning.

It's important to avoid anything sad or depressing during times like these, and I made two mistakes when listening to 'Sounds' on the BBC. The first was Evelyn Waugh's 'A Handful of Dust' which I had never read, and the second 'Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont' by Elizabeth Taylor, an author my mother used to admire many years ago. Both were beautifully written - but so very sad, gloomy and depressing. My favourite read this month has been 'Long Range' by the American writer C J Box. This author is a favourite. He writes about murders in Wyoming and a game warden called Joe Pickett. His descriptions of the countryside and wildlife there are quite outstanding, and I recommend giving his books a try.

Look after yourselves, my dear readers and followers. Stay positive and try to turn this quirk of fate into a time you will remember not only for its sadness, but also for its little glimpses of joy.





Thursday, 19 March 2020

PRIMROSES AND CHOCOLATE SAUCE

THIS IS A TIME for sharing, so today as well as having reduced the price of my first book ‘Losing Time’ to just under half price, I’m going to publish an old family recipe for everyone to enjoy. We all need treats at a time like this.

This recipe, for Chocolate Sauce to be poured over Ice Cream, originated from a friend of my mother’s and I’ve forgotten how long ago I first began to use it. You need to be quick at serving it, because it turns to a kind of toffee when the hot sauce hits the freezing ice cream.

The method is simple and you need only three basic ingredients:

  • Butter – approx. 60 gm (2 oz)
  • Golden Syrup – approx. 1 – 2 large tablespoons
  • Cocoa (not drinking chocolate) – approx. 1 – 2 large tablespoons
  • Optional: a few drops of vanilla essence

The measurements are approximate, because I have never actually written this down before. This quantity will serve about 3 people, depending upon how greedy you are.

This is what you do: simply measure all the ingredients into a small saucepan and heat gently, stirring all the time until a smooth, warm sauce appears. Be careful not to cook for too long, because it will go like glue and be useless.
Pour immediately over bowls of very cold ice cream – any flavour will do, but simple vanilla is gorgeous. Serve at once!






PRIMROSES AND THE GARDEN

The garden is awash with primroses again this year. Our lawn, springy with moss, has had its first mow – simply because its rampant growth needed to be curtailed. The blossom on the ornamental cherry has just about faded and fallen, but the huge Camelia bush has surprised us with a riot of pink blooms. There is much to do when the weather improves. I tried edging a flower bed the other day, but the soil is claggy and heavy with moisture, and my knees became quite soggy as dampness seeped through my garden kneeler. I gave up!



BOOKS TO READ

Should you need book recommendations (other than ‘Losing Time’ of course,) I have read three excellent novels so far this year. I can recommend all three:


  • The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty – a fantasy novel. My review in brief: ‘This is an extraordinary book! If you love fantasy and are tempted by something completely different, a breath of 'Arabian Nights' meets Scheherazade but even more fantastic, then - like me - you won't be able to put this down.’ 
  • Bury Them Deep by James Oswald – a thriller. The tenth in an unforgettable series of suspense thrillers. Unputdownable!
  • The Long Call by Ann Cleeves – a thriller. This is the first in a new series by popular writer Ann Cleeves. It is based in North Devon, and wonderfully written, a powerful novel.

Of course, if you haven’t read LOSING TIME why not give it a try – but hurry, because the offer is only for a short time. Here’s the link https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B016X4HXCE


These are dark times for some of us, and the tip of the iceberg for a few. Here are a couple of lines which have brought me comfort in the past, and I hope they will help you too.

A brief quote from Shelley: 

'O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?'

And this from Dame Julian of Norwich (b. 1342):

“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”













Friday, 6 March 2020

REMEMBERING ROSES

WHILST this Winter has not been particularly cold, its soaking dreariness seems to have lasted for months. News is bad, spirits are downcast… I want to try and bring a little beauty into our lives. Their wonderful scent cannot be shared, but I can talk about roses…

When we moved to this house five years ago, I was determined to bring roses into the rather bare garden. I could easily have planted duplicates of the ones I left behind, but with a couple of exceptions I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to choose new ones. Time has passed, and on the whole my roses have flourished, but I still feel nostalgic for the ones I left in my tiny garden in Mid-Devon.

William Lobb is a rose I first heard of from famous rose-grower Cyril Fletcher. I wanted a moss rose, something old-fashioned and highly scented, and sure enough this flourished on a trellis from the word go. Planted in 1989, when I left it in 2014 this rose had matured and spread right across the trellis and beyond.

I chose not to plant it again, because it only flowers once and not for very long. This photo (left) is from June 2010.




One rose I have planted again is 'Compassion' which I first came across in my Uncle's garden at Oxford. It's not the healthiest of roses, and it doesn't really like it here, but the scent is quite breathtaking.  In the photo (in my old garden) it mingles with Paul's Himalayan Musk, a strong and rampant climber which can be a bit of a thug and is very thorny. The combination worked extremely well at the cottage, but I'm in two minds about Paul's Himalayan Musk, as it's quite a lot of work to keep under control, although again it is sweetly scented.


Starlight Express (left) is an unscented rose. I seldom choose a plant without scent, but the colour was so gorgeous and this rose grew incredibly fast and well.











Spirit of Freedom (right) is, in contrast, a highly scented rose. The full-blown flower head must be seen in all its glory before the petals fall, because they all fall at once, forming a carpet of rose-confetti... 


To end this little essay on roses, I must share with you a wonderful poem which is centuries old, but which illustrates the timeless beauty of the flower.

Extract from: ‘On New-blown Roses’ by Decimus Magnus Ausonius (c. 310 - c. 395 AD) – a Roman poet. Translation: Helen Waddell, 1948

Spring, and the sharpness of the golden dawn.
Before the sun was up a cooler breeze
had blown, in promise of a day of heat,
and I was walking in my formal garden,
to freshen me, before the day grew old.

I saw the hoar frost stiff on the bent grasses,
sitting in fat globes on the cabbage leaves,
and all my Paestum roses laughing at me,
dew-drenched, and in the East the morning star,
and here and there a dewdrop glistening white,
that soon must perish in the early sun.

Think you, did Dawn steal colour from the roses,
or was it new born day that stained the rose?
To each one dew, one crimson, and one morning,
to star and rose, their lady Venus one.
Mayhap one fragrance, but the sweet of Dawn
drifts through the sky, and closer breathes the rose.



Thursday, 30 January 2020

WINTER REMEDIES

My uncle had a wonderful remedy for a heavy cold, which involved dark rum and a red-hot poker! Not that he ever demonstrated, sadly, but on his sound advice I have found the liberal addition of dark rum to hot milk at bedtime certainly assists sleep.

Uncle Douglas spent most of WWII in a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany. Perhaps it was before his capture, or after his release that this story came about, but at some point he encountered some Russians who were in possession of a bottle of dark rum… As he related it, they would pour rum into mugs/flagons/steins, then warm a poker in a roaring fire until it was red hot. The poker would then be plunged into the rum. I can only imagine the steaming, hissing and sizzling reaction, and the smell of hot rum must have been wonderful! I’m not sure if milk came into this story at all – it seems to me that the Russians simply drank down the hot rum neat to cure their colds!

I may have written before about the debilitating effect of colds, and this one has rounded off a wet and thoroughly miserable January in perfect character. I’m fighting the onset of a chest infection, but that’s another story, and I may be winning. Copious mugs of hot lemon and honey - to which rum may also be added - have undoubtedly helped.

My January reading was as indifferent as the weather, until I discovered a new (to me) author. Peter Grainger writes crime novels set on the Norfolk coast, and his writing is a cure in itself. I reviewed the first in a series ‘An Accidental Death’, giving it five stars:

‘Some books are written in such a way that you know you will come back to them when all else fails - and this is one of them.
Peter Grainger - a new author to me - gently and subtly takes the reader's hand and guides the way like an old friend, with beautifully crafted prose. Add to this some unusual and truly likeable characters, an excellent plot, and reading doesn't get much better. I loved this, and have immediately started to read the next one in the series.’

A good book is an essential part of recovering from winter ailments. I usually return to an old favourite, but this time I’ve been lucky find a substitute and I’m now racing through the series.

I can only view the garden from the window at the moment, and its bleak contours are lifted by the amusing ‘blackbird wars’ which never end in and around this part of their territory. Birds are at risk at this time of the year, especially when the temperature drops and food is scarce. As well as one of my blackbirds, I leave you with R's lovely photo of a little Goldcrest on a cold morning, and an extract from Thomas Hardy's poem 'The Darkling Thrush' which so wonderfully describes the month about to end...







'I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.'





Tuesday, 31 December 2019

COMFORT AND JOY – AMIDST THE CONFUSION OF 2019


2019, as we reach the last day, seems to have been a year of political, national and global confusion. I won’t linger on any of these aspects, which are far too gloomy. Instead I’d like to share with you some of my own highlights.

First of all: the BEST THREE BOOKS of 2019. I read every day, and managed to get through 70 books this year – a few less than in 2018, but remember that during the earlier part of the year, my eyesight wasn’t really up to ‘binge reads’.  I am almost addicted to crime novels and thrillers, so the three I have chosen will not be a surprise! I've provided links to the books on Goodreads, so that anyone interested can investigate further.

My favourite read was ‘Natural Causes’ by James Oswald.
Here is my review:

‘Some people are put off reading crime novels when an element of the supernatural is introduced – but I am not one of them. Quite the opposite, especially when the ‘dark side’ is not overwhelming but written in such a way as to be credible – which in this book is beautifully carried off. ‘Natural Causes’ is James Oswald’s first novel in a series featuring the eminently engaging Inspector Mclean, and I can’t believe I’ve taken this long to discover such an excellent author. The narrative is careful, almost casually well crafted, with the reader sliding effortlessly into Mclean’s Edinburgh-based world – a softer, and more tolerable background than that featured in Ian Rankin’s books.

I loved this book. It’s a gritty story, leaving little to the imagination, yet skillfully manipulating the reader through the worst of the crime scenes and back into Mclean’s day-to-day world, where humour and some instantly likeable colleagues make this such a compelling read.’

Next up was 'The Stranger Diariesby Elly Griffiths.
This was an unusual and compelling read, a ‘Gothic/suspense/crime novel’ which I would not hesitate to recommend.

And finally: 'The Comforts of Home' by Susan Hill. This is the ninth in an excellent series of beautifully written crime novels by the author better known for ‘The Woman in Black’.





FAVOURITE PHOTOS taken in 2019 are far more difficult to select, and readers of this blog will be familiar with my garden photos. Therefore, I’ve chosen a couple from wonderful places we visited this year.

This view of part of the Rock of Gibraltar (taken from the other end) looking out towards Spain is one which lingers in my memory. My third trip to the Rock in September proved even more enjoyable than the others, and it's a place where I could quite happily live, were it not for the traffic which has increased beyond belief. Every Gibraltarian taxi driver complained about it! The Rock is just another example of a place where the infrastructure is not keeping up with increasing population demands. But for a peaceful and restful holiday all this can be avoided by climbing or riding to the top and walking. The views are quite breathtaking.



Closer to home, Brentor is one of my favourite places on Dartmoor - as those of you who have read 'Stopping Time' will already know. We climbed to the top in July on a glorious breezy day, totally unlike the windswept rain-drenched visit of my book.


Finally, I cannot wish you all a 'HAPPY NEW YEAR' without a flower photo to lift the gloom of December. From a warm day in May, here is one of my roses...



Friday, 29 November 2019

CALENDARS

I know I’m getting older, but… when did Advent Calendars stop being for children and morph into expensive and sometimes ridiculously extravagant self-gifts for adults? As my cousin wrote this morning: ‘What is with these hundred-pound-plus beauty advent calendars? Have we gone completely crazy?’

It's a stretch to go back to my childhood these days, but I vividly remember the excitement generated in our home by my parents handing out Advent Calendars. Each had a Christmassy picture printed on to a foolscap (sorry… A4-ish) sheet of card, with the usual little doors cut into the scene and numbered. Every day the opening of a door revealed a little picture, and I can still feel the delight, and hear the loud proclamations from my younger brother that his was the best. Sometimes the numbers were hard to find, hidden in the detail of the Calendar. The pictures were very simple: robins, holly, lights, a church… but the best was always the last on Christmas Eve: a Nativity scene hidden behind a larger, or perhaps even double doors.

At some point Advent Calendars became more complicated and chocolates replaced the pictures hidden behind the doors. I suppose this heralded their transformation into adulthood. I’m not yearning for the past, but my nostalgia for a simpler, less self-indulgent lifestyle can’t be swept away by today’s richer offerings.

*

A year ago, as I was recovering from my first cataract operation, choosing and sending Christmas cards and gifts was a struggle. This year sees a new ‘normal’ and I threw myself into the task with renewed enthusiasm. And this year everyone in the family is getting a personalised calendar! I started with a ‘Family History’ version for M, which led to a ‘Cars and Old Family Photos’ one for my brother. I sorted through hundreds of old photos to arrive at suitable choices for each month of the year 2020. I spent several days wading through childhood scenes, prompting memories and even dreams of our childhood, before reaching December. Even my computer seems to have been taken with the idea, for some inexplicable reason seizing upon this old photo of C, (which incidentally my transfer from a slide has mirror-imaged) and making it the start-up photo when I log into Windows!

The rest of the family will receive smaller calendars with ‘Garden Scenes’ taken from my huge collection, some of which are visible on my website (here: https://www.prfordauthor.com/gallery). Once these were complete and saved to a ‘basket’, the printing company was keen for me to purchase a variety of other gifts, all sporting my photos. Soon, little magnet calendars, cards and a mouse mat were also in the ‘basket’. I’m a sucker for this kind of thing, and was easily drawn into such temptation! However, the results have been well worth the effort, and I can only hope that the members of my family will appreciate their calendars as much as I have enjoyed making them.

Roll on the next round of tasks: the Christmas cards. Oh, and I almost forgot to tell you: I'm also knitting everyone a scarf...