Wednesday, 18 May 2022

MILESTONES

In February of 1952 King George VI died and was succeeded by his daughter Elizabeth. We are now celebrating the Jubilee marking 70 years of her reign, a breathtaking and extraordinary milestone. I too will be celebrating in less than a week when my own ‘Jubilee’ birthday takes place, having been born in the same year. This is proving to be quite a difficult milestone to absorb. They say you are only ‘as old as you feel’, and although there are days when my arthritic hands ache and I feel about a hundred, I can’t bring myself to feel more than about thirty five when the sun is shining and the garden looks a treat.


GARDENS

I would like to show you some of the gardens which have influenced my life, beginning with the one at a house in Buckinghamshire called ‘Berwyns’ where I was born. My mother hated hospitals and so both my brother and I came into the world at home. This first photo, taken at least ten years before I was born, shows my father in uniform standing in the garden of ‘Berwyns’ under a magnificent cherry tree. In the background you can just make out a lovely lawn and roses trained to grow up wooden stakes. One of my earliest memories is of this lawn, and my father mowing it with a terrible old pre-war mower which was so noisy that I used to run and hide when he started it up!


We moved from ‘Berwyns’ to a house in Little Chalfont where my brother was born in 1957. This garden was my father’s favourite, and also his passion. We children grew up playing in and around the trees and shrubs, inventing marvellous games and stories and practicing tennis, cricket and croquet on a sloping lawn which didn’t really work for ball games! The photo shows my father and brother mowing, the former using the same thunderous old mower from 'Berwyns', while my brother pushes a 'Suffolk Punch', purchased to take over from its predecessor which eventually ended up in Ransomes' museum.


Many years later when I moved to my tiny garden in Devon, I crammed as much into it as I possibly could. Over the years some beautiful shrubs and roses matured, and by the time we left I felt I could do no more to improve the little plot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now we live in Tavistock, and regular readers of this blog will be quite familiar with my garden as I always post photos. I can't resist showing you some highlights of this month, though! First: fruit, and this year for the first time we have more than a couple of gooseberries ripening. I think this is because I moved the bush into a better space where it has more light and air, and is not swamped by the redcurrant - which as you can see is already well into what looks like a bumper crop for a few weeks' time.

 

 

 

 

My herb bed, which started out as a tiny triangular bed before I got the hang of 'large gardening' has grown huge, and the fennel (right) which is thriving will completely dominate it in a couple of months' time! In the background you can see the redcurrant, and many raspberries promising another good crop.




The next photo gives a view of the main garden in a burst of sunlight a few days ago, showing a great deal of promise and also achievement after seven years' hard work!



BOOKS

I have a couple of recommendations for you this month. The first is a real brainstorming murder mystery by Anthony Horowitz called: 'Magpie Murders'. My review on Goodreads says simply:
'An outstanding 'whodunnit' which is structured like a layer cake - and just as indulgent!
Highly recommended.'

The other may not suit everyone, but I can't stop recommending it: 'The Windsor Knot' by S J Bennett. I've said: 'Although this book is based around the year 2016, I found it very appropriate to read in this Jubilee year 2022. And it's a brilliant, witty, well-paced and well written story. I absolutely loved it. Everything about it is cleverly done and polished to perfection. I recommend this to anyone feeling a little low and in need of a good, cheering book. Five stars. Would I read it again? Definitely!'

As this blog marks a milestone, I pondered whether to select a 'favourite book of all time' from my lists... but I couldn't choose one! I suppose I can only recommend one which I re-read whenever I feel particularly low, and it's probably rather dated now. The book is by Dick Francis: 'The Edge'. I personally think it stands the test of time extremely well. 

THE REST

That's it for now. If you've made it this far, thank you for reading and for following my blog. Can I recommend to you a new blog about birds and nature by someone rather closely related to me, and who I thank for the final photo at the end of the piece: Sharp's Shots

Finally, as 'the birthday' approaches and I also ponder the difficulties which lie ahead for all of us, I think this little verse from William Shakespeare's 'The Winter's Tale' sums up my philosophy and all that needs to be said.

Jog on, jog on, the footpath way,
And merrily hent the stile-a:
A merry heart goes all the day,
Your sad tires in a mile-a.


William Shakespeare
The Winter's Tale [1610-1611], IV, ii, 133
















 

Tuesday, 29 March 2022

HEROES KNOWN AND UNKNOWN

 Here we are at the end of March! I worked diligently on my latest book until 24th February, when the horror of war interrupted my flow, and for some reason I’ve been unable to revisit the manuscript or update my Blog – until now. 

Let me share with you a few lines from Rudyard Kipling which seem to have found new meaning in the last few weeks. They come from his famous poem ‘If’.

‘If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone.
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’’

These words, written in 1895, so accurately reflect our ability to endure suffering, especially under the terrible cloak of war. There will be many heroes, both recognised and lost, when this 21st century conflict ends.


***


'THE FELLING OF THE FAMOUS YEW TREE'



For no particular reason I happened to be browsing through some of my late father’s old photographs, and this one caught my attention. A very special day for my eight-year-old father and his young brother Paul (five) is taking place in the garden of their Rectory home. An old yew tree has been cut down by my grandfather (with other help, I’m sure), and two special visitors have come to enjoy the event, one of whom is an aviator and WWI hero. I estimate the date to be 1918 or 1919, so it’s over 100 years old, a matte black and white affair, just an old family snap. Or so I thought, until I turned it over. On the back my father has written everything he wanted to remember about the occasion, in his careful best handwriting. You will forgive his mis-spelling of ‘Yew’!


The lady on the far right, ‘Mrs Learmount’ and her dog ‘Pongo’ struck me as interesting, because I had never heard anyone in the family mention them – and yet she appears to be enjoying her day with my grandparents and the two small boys (and their nanny), so much so that her husband (the hero) has set up a camera and taken the photograph. Further on in the collection I found another: same day, same people, but no handwriting on the back. 


In the light of the information that Major Learmount must be a hero about whom I should know more, I set to searching for him on the internet. Believe it or not, I did not have to look far to find him! Their grandson David Learmount has a website with an entire section devoted to the history of this remarkable man. He was indeed a First World War hero, and you can imagine how excited those two boys must have been to meet him. To quote David: 'Aviation was so new, and most people had never – or hardly ever – seen an aeroplane. It was only ten years earlier that Louis Bleriot had flown the channel and crashed on grass near Dover Castle, but having completed that simple flight he achieved absolute rock-star status in Britain, let alone France.'

I contacted David and we are now exchanging ideas about the possible connection between our families. The website is most interesting and I am adding a link to it at the end of this post – it’s well worth a look. Incidentally, neither David nor his family had ever seen or known about the photographs, but he was able to add the information that his grandparents married in May, 1918 so we estimate the date of the photos to be perhaps a few months after then or early in 1919. 

There is a lesson to be learnt from this: always label your photographs! My father began doing so at a young age, and continued the habit throughout his life, even making odd notes on the card surrounds of slides.

***


Our pear tree is in full bloom and the garden has benefited from a couple of weeks of warm, dry weather. This has enabled us to carry out many of the tasks which sometimes get overlooked at this time of year because of bad weather. I just hope the pear blossom survives the cold which has been forecast for later this week, or it will suffer the same fate as last year when it was all burnt off by the frost. I think you will agree, though, that the tree is worth having for the beauty of its blossom alone, and forget about the pears!



I have read a number of books over the past couple of months, some of which were fairly mediocre and do not deserve recommendation. Two others stand out. I’ve just finished ‘The Man in the Bunker’ by Rory Clements (who usually sets his books in Tudor times) – an interesting take on Hitler’s possible survival in 1945, not for the faint-hearted, but a good and enjoyable ‘yarn’. I am now reading an old book: Margery Allingham’s thriller ‘The Tiger in the Smoke’ published in 1952. It’s not the easiest of reads: the style takes some getting used to, but her descriptive narrative is breath-taking and (for an author) enviable. I am only one third of the way through, but captivated by the whole thing.

All for now. Let me know if you have found any good books to recommend, as I’m always on the look-out. Take care of yourselves, stay cheerful and enjoy the Spring weather - when you can!


Here is the link to David Learmount’s website. This link takes you straight to the section about his grandfather, which you need to follow through a number of 'episodes' to reach a photograph of him and his bride, who you will recognise from my photos above. The rest of the website is also extremely interesting for those keen on aviation. https://davidlearmount.com/2021/03/05/leonards-war/





Monday, 10 January 2022

NEW YEAR REDS PINKS AND BLUES

 


I happened to be standing near the window when this brightly coloured bullfinch landed on the Japanese Cherry tree and began pecking away at the buds. Having decided that this was as good a breakfast as he was going to get, he stayed there tucking in, while I crept away and fetched my camera, and was good enough to let me take a few shots. 


I was forced to take them through the window pane, so they lack clarity, but the impression is there and I hope he brightens up your day as much as he did mine. Because it’s truly dreadful here today! I just went outside to open up the greenhouse, and it’s a chilly, damp day: raining in that half-rain half-drizzle kind of way that soaks one’s coat and heart. 


A few little gems shone out against the brown stillness. Five small cyclamen plants – a Christmas present from our son – are surviving the wet, having been planted out in a hurry! And when I rounded the corner of the house, I found to my surprise that my Winter Jasmine – a cutting from my late uncle which has grown huge – is covered in little yellow star-shaped flowers. I've tried to photograph these, but the wet conditions have made for rather poor results! 



When I went out again this afternoon, I was able to catch a couple more of the cyclamens and some heather, although everything was even wetter than before.




It’s hard to feel positive against such a dismal background, but we have to try. I have found a certain escapism in a fresh bout of writing, and my third book is back up and running… slowly. But my reading has been forced to revert to ‘comfort books’ after an excess of binge-watching thrillers on TV over the Christmas and New Year period, combined with a challenging and particularly gruesome thriller, led to sleeplessness and bad dreams. If you are wondering what I watched and read to cause this, I will simply name a drama called ‘Stay Close’ which had me both laughing in grim amusement and turning away from the screen in horror. The book I’ve had to set aside is equally harrowing, but shouldn’t really be affecting my sleep. It’s a WW2 thriller called ‘Agent in Berlin’ by Alex Gerlis. The suspense in this is more powerful, because although this book is fiction it echoes so much real history about Germany in the late 1930s and at the start of the war. It’s an excellent book, which I will read, but not just now.

To some extent the way we have been living over the last couple of years is affecting all of us in odd and behavioural ways. In December, I began to write a blog on concentration - which everyone is finding difficult - but I’ve since read so many articles on the same subject that I fear I would be repeating them without any positive outcome. If you too are feeling rather low at the moment, just remember that you are not the only one, and perhaps take comfort from these two photos I also took this afternoon of bulbs which are constant in their annual flowering come what may. These little irises and the promise of daffodils are a promise of the good things yet to come.

 
And finally a photo of some little violas I planted in our hanging baskets for the winter. They have survived being thrown around in gale force winds, rained on and neglected - and yet they flower just as brightly. Don't forget, if you really are looking for an escapist read, take a look at my books by heading over to my website where you can find the links to purchase them: https://www.prfordauthor.com/
Take care of yourselves, look after your health and keep smiling. Until next time...



Friday, 29 October 2021

CASTING ON

Those of you who have been following my blogs over the years know that one of my secondary hobbies is knitting. I began knitting at a very young age, taught initially by my mother, but given additional inspiration to knit in the Continental style by my aunt. Many years ago she spent a couple of wet weeks holidaying in Italy, and for something to keep her occupied she bought some wool, needles and a pattern and began to knit a jumper for her daughter. She asked for help in translating the pattern from various Italian knitters who also instructed her in this alternative way of knitting, and the jumper – when she eventually finished it – was gorgeous. In those days a lot of people – but mainly women – knitted, and while the pastime seemed to wane for a few decades it’s back with a vengeance and now everyone knits.

I found myself listening to the Olympic diver Tom Daley on the radio the other day, describing how he took up knitting originally to calm his nerves, and now he can’t stop. As a hobby it is certainly quite soothing and therapeutic, but last year I found myself beginning to falter, eventually stopping and packing away the bright pink scarf I was attempting to create.


Knitting had become too painful, because I have arthritis in my fingers. I put everything away, out of sight, and eventually forgot about it when gardening and other tasks took over as the seasons changed. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I found the knitting bag when I was clearing out my wardrobe. There was the gorgeous bright pink wool – which is actually a mixture of cashmere and other fibres, very soft indeed – and it looked very inviting. So… I picked it up and began again. It wasn’t easy. The pattern is typical of me – tricky and not very forgiving. 

      A few rows had to be unpicked and re-knitted, and my hands and fingers seemed incredibly clumsy. 
And it was painful! But… the scarf grew, and as time went on I began to overcome the pain because the scarf was turning out beautifully and the process of making it has indeed been very relaxing. Last night I managed to finish it and I’ve already chosen some new wool and another pattern for my next project. 

Just as well, then, that I have something else to occupy my time, because October has not been the friendliest month in the garden. When I began writing this yesterday afternoon, rain was beating against the window. Everything looked windswept and damp, but today the garden has been brightened by some patches of sun, and the dahlias, fading Michaelmas daisies and late roses continue to provide quite a bit of colour, which is cheering. My white hydrangea clung on to its ‘whiteness’ until this week, when every flower turned to dappled golden brown. There’s a lot to do out there, but it will have to wait until the rain stops for a few days. I hope for some bright dry days in November!








The photos show the hydrangea, some very late cosmos, one of the last dahlias, and an unexpected second flowering of a hebe - a lovely surprise!

The News, which I try hard to avoid, has been pretty awful here lately. When isn’t it, you may ask, and will it never end? In need of diversion, I picked up a ‘comfort read’ in between the thrillers which dominate my reading, and I’ve become addicted to a new author. Now I hasten to add that she’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you fancy something easy to read and humorous, with a bit of a comfortable story to it, the inevitable romance and fair-to-middling writing, I recommend ‘One More Christmas at the Castle’ by Trisha Ashley. I finished it this morning, and will definitely read more from this author when I need a little light reading. My next read is Susan Hill’s latest book in her excellent ‘Simon Serrailler’ series of crime novels, ‘A Change of Circumstance’. The superb quality of writing from Susan Hill cannot be compared to that of Trisha Ashley, the genre is totally different in any case, but for enjoyment – in my opinion – both authors stand out. And at the end of the day surely enjoyment is the main reason for reading, otherwise there is no point?

I leave you with one of the last roses on my large climber. I need to prune it before Winter, to avoid wind damage to the long stems, but I can't bear to do so while it's still flowering! Look after yourselves, and hang on to your hats – the season is changing, and I have a feeling this winter is going to be a bumpy ride for many of us. I'll be back in November, when I hope to bring you some of the jewel colours of autumn leaves to brighten your days.

Monday, 6 September 2021

EGG & ANCHOVY SANDWICHES AND BUTTERFLIES

 When I worked in the City (of London) in the nineteen seventies, I was sent all over the place auditing various companies. At some of the larger establishments there were canteens where marvellous lunches could be had at subsidised prices.


But more often than not we relied on finding somewhere that sold sandwiches – and at that time there was a great choice of such places. Many were Italian, staffed by people who could put together a fresh sandwich at top speed, as you told them what you wanted. Queues were never too long and always moved quickly. The choice of fillings, types of bread and additions such as mayonnaise, was enormous. 

Food was still very plain in those days, but beginning to be more interesting. I remember being introduced to an exotic-sounding ‘egg and anchovy on brown bread’ (before ‘granary’ was introduced) as a very junior articled clerk. I was given the task of fetching sandwiches for the entire team on an audit in Shepherd Market, a slightly dodgy area of the West End, renowned for its ‘ladies of the night’. I was advised to ‘be a bit careful’. The entire experience would be unheard of now, but in those days we all accepted whatever we were asked to do. As it happened I was fine, although the other girl on the team who foolishly decided to wear a fur coat to work, was almost propositioned on her way and didn’t wear it again.


One of my favourite sandwich shops was on Bishopsgate, and their ‘cream cheese and chutney on rye’ was to die for. Another, under a railway arch off Minories sold the best cheesecake I have ever eaten, to this day. Topped with dark cherries and with a creamy texture, I would carry a slice in a greaseproof-paper-wrapped parcel back to the office, where for five minutes I could forget everything and indulge.

I doubt any of those sandwich shops have survived – or would survive in the London of today, but sometimes I yearn for one of those sandwiches, or a slice of the cheesecake. They probably wouldn’t taste the same or anything like as delicious, but one can dream.


Back in the here and now, and I am inundated with tomatoes from the greenhouse. The two plants I planted outside have been a bit of a failure. I think they have suffered ‘tomato blight’, which I have been told by my neighbour is affecting not only his crop but many others around here. So I think I’ve been lucky with my ten plants in the greenhouse, all of which have been very healthy and abundant. The red ones in the photo are 'Crimson Crush' from three plants I bought online from D T Brown Seeds. This was a very successful purchase, as the plants arrived in very good condition and grew fast. The others are 'Sungold' which I grew from a very few seeds left over from last year!

I haven't grown any other vegetables this year. Instead I've concentrated on plants, and also for the first time since my mother died I've grown Sweet Peas. She loved them so much that I simply found it too sad to contemplate, but Mike came home from the supermarket with a small punnet of tiny plants and I couldn't resist growing them on. They have been spectacular!



We are in the process of extending the large circular flowerbed. Mike jokes that at this rate in a few years' time we won't have any lawn left! The main reason, though, is to move a couple of roses which have been swamped by the Hydrangea 'Annabelle' - which clearly loves its position so much it has gained huge proportions. In the photo I have placed some potted box and petunias to cover the newly exposed area and safeguard it from the local cat community.


I won't move the roses until the autumn, but getting the turf taken up and moved has been quite a task and I'm now ready to dig over the exposed soil. We are on clay here, but it's mixed with rubble and stone, which isn't ideal - but you can only work with what you've got. I will add in a lot of grit and some compost before planting up. Plenty of work ahead!

Finally, I must show you some of the butterflies which have made the garden so uplifting this year. Since the buddleias came into full bloom they, and many other plants, have been covered in butterflies, especially on sunny days. 





As we move on through September I hope you will enjoy everything the season has to offer, wherever you are. We will discuss reading next time. Look after yourselves!

Note that the photos of sandwiches and cheesecake have been sourced from the internet and are not my own.

Monday, 9 August 2021

CLOUDBURST

 There are days when it seems as though the skies will never finish emptying of rain, and today is one of them. I snapped a few photos through the window to show you our ‘cloudburst afternoon’ here in Devon. As you can see, I had been preparing for a dry interval: the washing line was out and all the windows of the greenhouse open. It was not to be, and dashing out to amend the situation was not an option.


















This has been a very testing year for the garden, and July was no exception. Very strong winds and more rain were forces under which my ‘show’ hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ could not maintain its shape, with the gorgeous ‘mop’ heads bending and even breaking under the strain. As a result one of my rose bushes is half hidden beneath the supported stems of the hydrangea, although it is still determined to make a second showing!

Before...
and after - supported as well as possible!





The last six weeks have seen changes in all our lives, and one or two 'normal' tasks resumed. The two of us managed to visit the dentist after over a year, and a major improvement to my own self-esteem was accomplished by a visit to the hairdresser. My last haircut was in December 2019, so my hair has seen quite a transformation over that time. If you cast a glance at my website prfordauthor you will see a 'before' picture from about two years ago. The photo here shows the length it was the day before I had it cut.

With some trepidation I left the shaggy mass in the hands of 22-year-old Emily who has done an excellent job in cutting, snipping, 'thinning' and generally making me feel more human again. It's surprising how much better one can feel after chatting to a youngster via a mirror and over the multiple noises of hair being tended to!


Last time I asked you what you were reading, and I was regaled with some wonderful suggestions. I always have a list of books on the go, so I have added your recommendations to the list, although they are still a little while away from reading. I have always found that I tend to read in phases, rather as one might develop tastes for certain foods. Thus I work my way through different genres until I am sated and move on to something different. Maybe you are the same? I recently discovered the author Daniel Silva whose 'spy thrillers' are based mostly in Italy, Germany, Switzerland and across Europe, including Britain. I am currently working my way through his 'Gabriel Allon' series, espionage that focuses on Israeli intelligence. He writes beautiful prose, the plots are exciting and fascinating, and I'm so lucky that there are no fewer than 20 books making up the series!


Meanwhile, when it's not raining, here are some little gems from the garden over the last six weeks which will, I hope, make you smile. Look after yourselves, and if it's raining: stay dry - until next time.