Tuesday, 30 September 2014

For The Love Of Autumn

Every year round about this time, in common with many other bloggers, I post pictures of autumn colours. Trying to ring the changes, I’ve given the posts various titles, ‘Autumn Cheer’, Autumn Leaves’, 'Autumn Tints’ etc., but basically they are a celebration of this most spectacular season of the year. I don’t get bored setting out and admiring the splendour all over again; after all, this kind of beauty remains inspirational, and repetition does nothing to diminish it. Not as far as I am concerned, anyway.

This is the view from an upstairs window of the cherry tree and the sun-kissed stems of a rowan, with the wooden bridge over the river visible through the trees.

Another perennial favourite is this Virginia creeper on a neighbour’s house which is only just beginning to turn. My own is a little later in the season and burgundy-coloured.

Even the very ordinary and utterly humble ground cover workhorse, the prostrate juniper, useful as weed suppressor and for winter colour, becomes attractive when brown leaves nestle in its folds.

Nothing humble about this spectacular variety of spirea! Golden in spring, it really comes into its own this time of year. I have two bushes growing side by side. When I look out of the window during late afternoon, when the sun streaks into the garden from much lower down on the horizon than it does in high summer, they positively glow. I took this photo after an overnight shower. 

Viburnum opulus is another common or garden tree/small shrub (cut it to whichever size you want) which shows its true colours in September. The leaves will turn yellow before they fall and the fire-engine red berries hang in generous clusters; birds gorge on them until none are left.
(btw, although viburnum opulus has been adopted under the name ‘European cranberry in the US, 
it is absolutely nothing to do with the fruit) 

Two very common wildflowers brighten disturbed verges and open grassland in September. 

Pink rosebay willowherb has lost the fluffy seed heads, exposing the bottle brush like flower stems.
Willowherb is such a pest, self-seeding everywhere, but I have to admit that it is really quite spectacular and I am willing to admire its architectural qualities when situated nowhere near my garden.

Another familiar sight in waste places, roadsides and hedgebanks is yellow tansy, with its 'gentleman’s buttons' bundles of flowers. Once upon a time tansy was a culinary herb, French chefs used it when preparing omelettes in much the same way as we use fines herbes today. Our palates have become less sturdy than those of our ancestors, the rather spicy savour is too overwhelming for modern tastes.

I’ll leave you with the wise words of a gardener in charge at Kew Gardens Arboretum. On the news today, he was asked by a reporter if we should get worried about the extremely dry September we have just experienced.

“Oh no”, he said, stretching each word with his flat Yorkshire vowels.  “No need to panic. Nature’s great. It’ll all work out in the end.”

He also promised us a very colourful autumn. Bliss.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

As Happy As A Cow

in a meadow full of juicy clover.

That’s me.

A week ago I needed to check the internet consumption on my iPhone. Vodafone told me I was nearing my monthly limit and would have to pay extra for further use.  Investigation was needed. There’s this handy app called ‘My Vodafone’ but, somehow, I couldn’t download it. Vodafone promised to help. “You’re not fully registered”, the chap said. “You need to be fully registered first, before you can download the app”. 

Not fully registered? I’ve used the phone for nearly a year and paid the monthly bill by direct debit.

The chap accessed my phone (with my permission), fiddled and faddled, registered it and downloaded the app. “Fine,” I said, and “thank you very much.”

Very quickly I noticed that internet access had slowed down to almost a standstill. Mysteriously, my IP address had changed to an unrecognisable set of figures. More investigation. More Vodafone chaps. Three of them, in fact, each taking about an hour to tell me they couldn’t help. Over several days.

If you are anything like me you will know how I felt. Lost, injured and insulted, confused; like a patient coming round from an operation to find that the surgeon has forgotten a foreign object in her innards; furthermore, a surgeon who has no idea how to remove the instrument.

Then I thought I’ll ring Apple Inc. They’ll know. Three hours later the new iOS 8 was installed on my phone but the interloper IP address remained obstinate and immovable. Thanks for trying, kind and patient Tiger in Kentucky. I had a lovely time chatting with you throughout but, in the end, you had to refer me to Alex, iOS Senior Advisor, who took me through the whole process again; sadly, again without success.

Overnight I had an idea: switch off everything, disconnect all Apple gadgets as well as the router, leave the lot to stew for an hour and reconnect them all at the same time. As an amateur with a colourful imagination I thought the four of them could encourage each other to whoosh along the same wifi path and come up with a single address between them. Preferably the correct one.

It worked.

So what, you may say. We’ve all been there. This is boring.

But now comes the extra special bit, an instance of Customer Service which is pretty much unheard of in the UK.  A day later, Alex Tanner, the iOS Senior Advisor, rang all the way from Kentucky to find out if my internet access had been restored, and, if not, he was offering to get in touch with talktalk, my broadband company, himself.  I couldn’t even find a talktalk helpline!

Luckily, there was no longer any need. Instead, I asked Alex to help me install iOS 8 on my iPad, which he promptly did.

In the US you may be used to such service, as a UK citizen I am certainly not.

So, thank you once again, Tiger and Alex, all the way over there in Kentucky in the offices of the Apple helpline.

I am glad to say I am back in the Land of the Connected.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Self Pity And Other Vices

When delving into the philosophy of how best to live life in midlife and beyond, many bloggers stress the importance of remaining productive, being positive, keeping busy, working for others via charitable deeds, and practicing gratitude for everything life hands out, every breath we take, every additional day we are granted. Idleness, self-indulgence, a bout of self-pity, a moan about ’the unfairness of it all’, some healthy self-interest, are castigated as unworthy, foolish, sinful. There’s that little word ‘self’ again. Perish the thought it should get a foothold!

Well, I don’t agree. Not in the blanket, no-deviation-allowed-ever way.

What did the ancient Greeks call a person who takes the afternoon off instead of concentrating on filing her (overdue) tax return? A lotus-eater! A diet not to be sniffed at in my opinion. What’s the point of having reached that famous midlife and beyond point if I’m still flogging myself into a frenzy of activity?

I am looking up poems for tomorrow’s poetry group meeting. The subject is ‘Happiness’, which, according to the advocates of all those virtues mentioned in the first paragraph, is the sure-fire result, if only you practice what they preach.

Guess what, not a single poem on Happiness I found, praises relentless positivity, busyness, rattling through the days on a quest for achievement, aching muscles and a to do list with every item crossed off. A bunch of lotus-eaters if ever there was one, these poetry merchants. They are happiest lying on their back in the grass, watching drifting clouds,  their reverie interrupted by the cries of a flock of geese. That’s all they need to set off a train of thought ending in something as fleeting and immaterial as a poetic idyll. (Unless they are enclosed in an attic, starving and warming their hands on the pitiful flame of a candle stub.)

I’m all for it. (The lying in the grass, not starving in a garret)

As for the most vilified sin of all, self-pity, who can say that they are entirely free of the occasional bout? Why is it considered to be particularly disgraceful? I see it as neither a virtue nor a vice, but simply an inevitable emotion. Others may sympathise with our misfortune, but the moment affairs of their own divert their attention, we are alone again, unconsoled. We have to be sorry for ourselves: nobody else can sympathise with us as steadily, as loyally as we, and it is from such sympathy that we draw strength to put a decent public face upon our misfortunes.

I’ll allow gratitude. Aesop, another ancient Greek, said ‘Gratitude is the Sign of a Noble Soul’. But I doubt he meant it in the sense of being grateful for all the nasty surprises life has in store for us. When the people of Delphi sentenced him to death on a trumped-up charge of temple theft, he cursed them. After they’d thrown him to his death off a cliff, the Delphians suffered pestilence and famine.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Sometimes Things Don’t Go So Well . . . .

but then again, they do get better eventually. Not only all good things, all bad things come to an end. It’s been that kind of a week. Up and down.

George rang to say that  Millie’s biopsy lab results had come in. Would I like to come and discuss them with her. (George is a girl vet, real name Georgina; I don’t think she can remember far enough back to when she was last called that.) Well, she said. why do things the easy way when complicated is an option. Talk about unusual, she said; personally, I’ve never come across another dog with the same symptoms.

This sample shows an extensive area of ulceration and superficial necrosis. There is a heavy cellular infiltrate dominated by granulocytes with a substantial number of eosinophils. There is haemorrhage. Lymphocytes, plasma cells and macrophages are also present. . . . .
...locally severe ulcerative dermatitis . . . . eosinophilic folliculitis and furunculosis of the face is present. . . .”

Enough already, this is Millie we are talking about, Millie, who is a sweet and gentle creature with a rare ability to stick her nose into all sorts of dungheaps and a well developed talent for scavenging, who loves everybody, animal and human and would never willingly forego the pleasure of demonstrating this love. The short diagnosis: Eosinophilic Dermatitis. No certain trigger, except possibly an allergy to arthropod bites or stings. Among even more uncertain other triggers. 

The only treatment for the condition is steroids. Although steroids hinder the healing process, the holes on Millie’s face are closing up; unfortunately, along the way she decided stitches didn’t suit her; she unpicked them,  and now she has a small scar on her nose which is permanent. 

All that before her second birthday in our house! (She’s nine-and-a-half now and going strong). In spite of her recent trials she happily comes for walks, although on our ramble to the blackthorn hedges on the Shropshire Way to pick sloes for Beloved’s wine making she appears to find her tongue a heavy burden to carry.

Paul and I made some beautiful compost this week. He is shaping up to be a worthy successor to Gardener in that respect. I wish I could help lighten his mood, but he is a true clinical depressive and we just have to be patient and wait for his medication to kick in. I really should know that the dead-eyed monster cannot be influenced but, in spite of knowing, I still find myself chatting brightly and encouragingly. Idiot woman. There’s a large dollop of selfishness in my thinking: although I am deeply sorry for Paul, I am also desperately worried that I might have to find yet another gardener which would send me into another black hole, being one of the causally afflicted.

Even on a dull day as here in this picture, our part of the world is an earthly paradise.
It’s rotten luck that sometimes the golden fields of paradise are obscured by gloomy skies.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

What’s HE Doing?

Thanks Hilary

The waiting room in the skin clinic was quiet; people were  reading, staring out of the window, occasionally shuffling their feet and drinking water from plastic cups filled at the water fountain. Although the clinic was busy, there were plenty of empty seats and the atmosphere was peaceful and patient. Everybody was middle-aged and older except for one young mother and her son, a little boy too young to be able to read but old enough to look at pictures and recognise what they depicted.

I had my Ipad to read; there was one empty seat between me and the little boy and his mother. The centre table held a pile of magazines which soon engaged the child’s interest. He fetched one magazine after the other and plonked them on his mum’s lap; once he’d collected the whole pile he asked mum to open them and to look through them page by page. So far so good, he was perfectly quiet and didn’t really disturb anyone else, except those who might have wanted to glance at a magazine themselves.

Now comes the bit I found to be worthy of comment: the magazines had pictures, the usual stuff,  people, cars, houses, etc. The little boy pointed to each picture in turn and said “What’s HE doing”, the emphasis on the ‘HE’ regardless of the subject.  Again, that in itself is no great cause for concern but to me the mother’s reaction to his unchanging question was. Invariably, patiently, kindly, she answered him by telling him that 'the car was shiny, the man smartly dressed, the house big, the lorry articulated', etc. etc. Never once did she do what to me would have been the most natural response, namely to invite the child to explore the picture with her and for the two of them to work out what was happening in it.

After about the 20th ‘What’s HE doing’, I muttered under my breath ‘You tell me, mate’. He heard me and very briefly looked at me, but quickly turned back, continuing as before.

Is learning really just being told what’s in front of you or is a great part of it discovering things for yourself, with the help of someone else naturally, working them out, browsing, getting them wrong sometimes but persevering nevertheless. It’s a long time since I had small children but I can’t remember ever just stuffing them with ready made answers to their questions. Not that they would have appreciated this, they probably complained that I ‘made a fuss’ and 'talked too much’.

There is this lovely story about David Attenborough  -  Godfather of Natural History TV  and one of Britain’s National Treasures  -  as a young boy finding an animal bone in the garden and taking it to his father, a GP, who pretended not to recognise it. Instead, they pored over zoology and anatomy books together. “They shared the excitement of discovery."

If one of the little people in your household shows open curiosity and a wish to explore, indulge them, and gently lead them on the path of discovery. You might even learn something new yourself.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Stupidity squared

I really shouldn’t give this book free publicity. Rarely have I been more cross with myself for wasting hours and hours on a book. Another 700+pager but, oh dear me, what a lot of rubbish.

BookBub or a similar site were advertising the title as an Amazon ’special offer' ebook; as I’ve seen the author in the Guardian bestseller lists I thought I’d give him a go. Bestseller lists are by no means indicators of quality writing; I really must remember that for the future.

So there you are in a story about the intended rape and plunder of a pharaoh’s hitherto unknown tomb with the regulation sets of baddies and goodies. The goodies do all the work and the baddies reap the benefits. Once, twice, three times. The goodies (who aren’t really much better than the baddies because they also plan to smash and grab for themselves rather than a worthy cause) don’t seem to learn that the baddies are only a step behind them at every turn and merrily and enthusiastically dislodge a whole river and mountain to get at the treasure, trusting all and sundry on the way with their secret (secret? shifting a river and half a mountain?) undertaking. Scores of people are mown down irrespective of creed, colour, holiness, except, of course, our heroes and heroines (yes, two very beautiful women also figure prominently).

Naturally, the baddies die horribly, each separately and slowly and our heroes emerge victorious. Even more nauseating, the author inserts his name into the story as the famous chronicler of such derring-do throughout the book, just in case we forget who is serving up this delightful dish of tripe.

Why did I persevere?
a) because I am stupid and
b) I wanted to see the ending.

Although I skipped a lot of the book during the last third I was hoping he would surprise me and do what he did to the river: diverge into an untried channel. He didn’t, he stayed true to formula right to the bitter end.

Friday, 29 August 2014


What is it with me and, no doubt, many others.
You know that what you are doing isn’t good for you. Experience has shown that that is so and you have often paid the price. And yet, you refuse to learn.

"It needs doing”, is what you say. Or  “It’s my duty”.  Or  “But I enjoy it”.
“Maybe this time I’ll get away with it”.
“Let’s just test the waters, no more than a toe .... "
“I promise to stop at the smallest sign”.
“I’m sure it’ll be alright”.

Luckily, it was. At the first sign of trouble I stopped, terrified. Sat down, swallowed my medicines and waited. Pathetically whimpering “please, please, not again.”  Not out loud, of course, that would be too shameful. I do have a bit of dignity left, in case you’re wondering.

Stretching up into the plum tree, picking what the birds had left, then heaving a dozen heavy fork loads of damp vegetation from one compost bin into the other, following this with filling the green wheelie bin ready for garden rubbish collection and dragging it 170 yards down the drive to the road, none of that would have fazed me before. In fact, it would have been barely a couple of hours work.

I hate that I can’t do this now without repercussions. It’s not fair. Not bloody fair.

How stupid of me that I can’t get it into my head that things are what they are and that the judicious application of common sense would ensure a relatively trouble free existence for many years to come.

“Yes, but ..........

"Against stupidity the Gods themselves struggle in vain,” so old Friedrich von Schiller said.

I left the fork leaning against the compost heaps. Every time I go by I pick it up, load it up and dump the load into the next bin. One or three forkfuls at a time. I wonder how long I manage to restrict myself.