Saturday, 23 July 2016

. . . . a little western flower . . . . .

After all the raving and ranting I’ve done recently, not forgetting moaning and whining, perhaps it’s time I turned my attention to gentler topics. How about the humble pansy? Anyone interested? Thought not. See what I can do.

Let’s start with the common European wild pansy, viola tricolour, also known as Johnny-Jump-Up, heart's ease, heart's delight, tickle-my-fancy, Jack-jump-up-and-kiss-me, come-and-cuddle-me, three faces in a hood, or love-in-idleness. And that’s just a few of them in English.

In German the wild pansy is called, inter alia, Ackerveilchen (viola of the field), Muttergottesschuh (Mother of God’s shoe), Maedchenaugen (maiden's eyes), Schöngesicht (beauteous face) or Liebesgesichtli (Lover’s face).

The English illustrator, Cicely Mary Barker (28 June 1895 – 16 February 1973) was best known for a series of fantasy illustrations depicting fairies and flowers. The wild pansy is one of the flowers used by her in her rather whimsical drawings.
Shakespeare mentions the wild pansy in two of his plays:   In Hamlet, Ophelia, who is mad with grief at the death of her father, rambles on about strewing herbs:  “And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts…” (Act IV, Scene 5.)
And in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Oberon commands Puck to bring him “…a little western flower / Before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound / And maidens call it love-in-idleness.” (Act II, Scene 1.)   It is the effect of this natural aphrodisiac that causes the mayhem and entertainment of the entire play!  You could say that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is woven around the magical properties of heartsease.

Georgia O’Keefe produced a very beautiful painting of a black pansy and followed it up with a depiction of a white one.

Wild pansies were used as herbals, to cure venereal disease for instance, acc. to Culpepper; ditto headaches and dizzy spells. The ancient Greeks used it as a love potion and a symbol of fertility.

The violet has ever been the emblem of constancy. There is a French proverb which goes something like this: “Violet is for faithfulness, which shall in me abide, hoping that in your heart too, it shall not hide”.

The German name for the garden pansy is 'little stepmother’ Stiefmutterchen. There is a very sad tale attached to it:

Stepmother, symbolised by the large lower leaf, only allows her own children
to adorn themselves in colourful array.
Her stepchildren, the upper two leaves of the flower, have to remain in the background, clad in modest colours, or plain white.

Sorrow at the poor treatment his own children receive has turned the pistil, representing the father’s hair, white.

Lastly an explanation for the name in English, which is, as so often, a mispronunciation of a foreign name.

A small bouquet of pansies, given by a lover to his love, was called a pensée, - hence pansy - a thought, symbolising devotion and faithfulness, remembrance, honour, even humility.

But mainly it means: "I am always thinking of you".

In other words, the pansy is an all-round excellent fellow; humble though it is. we should plant many more of them, in spite of their dowdy image with some gardeners. The pansy will brighten any spot and is at home equally in the ground as in any kind of container.

Still reading? Well done. I’ll stop now.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Seriously, Dear World,

what is wrong with you? Have you gone stark staring mad?

After last year’s horrors, I was counting on the silly season being exactly that: the lazy, hazy days of summer, when the living is easy and the news is frivolous, with maybe a 'crime passionnel’ amongst the more hot-blooded classes to exercise the mind.

Instead we have more of the same, possibly even worse. Dear World, why are you turning at an ever faster pace, the news being outdated even before it’s been digested and events overtaking each other at breakneck speed? How did we allow this to happen? Sitting, as I do, in front of screens and pouring over newspapers doesn’t help. Neither does it help to mouth pious speeches: “Our thoughts and prayers are with you” being one of them, favoured by politicians and the general run of commentators at the scene and in memorial gatherings alike.

Battles in Syria, Iraq, the Ukraine, the refugee crisis, Islamist terror in France, The ascension of populist right wingers everywhere, with Donald Trump the most visible, Brexit in the UK, which one commentator explained as  a “howl of outrage" by those left behind in the global scramble for a place in the sun, whose votes were tricked out of them  by shameless lies and, most recently, the attempted military coup in Turkey with far from transparent origins. We hear of endless shootings in the US, which we hardly recoil from any longer, telling ourselves that  an obsession with readily available weapons will logically have only one outcome.

So much is happening, Dear World, how can we stop the carnage?

It may sound macabre, but we are so swamped with daily dollops of unbearably horrendous information that we are in danger of forgetting that 1000s have drowned in the Mediterranean  on their way to a “better life"and that the Italian coastguard has recently found a boat on the bottom of the Med with 675 corpses.They’re just the ones which have been discovered. How many more are there? How many more atrocities can France bear?
How many more men, women and children will have to leave everything they hold dear behind and run for their lives? Nearer home, what will Brexit mean for the poor in our own society?
hashtag “jesuissickofthishit"

Dear World, could we please stop now and start again?

Monday, 27 June 2016

A Warning

Since Friday morning six a.m. I have done little but follow the unfolding Brexit horror story; on the TV news, in political debates, newspapers, both digital and paper; I have opened every chime on my phone and checked news of developments on my tablet for hours every day. And when there were no new developments I read the old ones over again. And comments. And political blogs.

In a word, I’ve been obsessed. Still am. But I want out now. Enough, for heaven’s sake. You will understand if I tell you that I have done this in two languages other than English, namely from the EU viewpoint via German and French sources as well. As my French is pretty poor I earned myself several severe headaches into the bargain.

After months of relentless bombardment with ‘project fear’ on the one hand and a merciless diet of lies, some of them whoppers, rebutted and shown for the lies they were, but taken as gospel by people desperate to believe them, on the other, the populace has voted. Lots of them have since woken up saying "WTF have I done”, particularly now that the liars are back-pedalling like mad on their promises and the ‘project fear’ lot are suddenly not quite so certain that Armageddon, a nuclear holocaust, world war III, and economic collapse loom. It’s too late, in spite of a three-million-signatures-strong (so far) petition to reverse the process. We have ‘project farce’.

The funniest result is that the winning side now has absolutely no plan on how to implement vox pop’s wish. “There’s no hurry to execute withdrawal” they say. now that the repercussions are becoming apparent. I am allowing myself a smidgeon of Schadenfreude seeing that I am on the losing side.

The winners have been handed a poisoned chalice.  'Le Monde' said that it’s like a death sentence without an executioner. Nobody wants to carry out the sentence.

Now for the warning: many of my readers are US citizens. You are being offered a poisoned chalice yourself. Before you accept it make absolutely sure you know what you’re doing. And that you have a shrewd idea what the wrong decision will mean for you.

Good Luck to all of us.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Just when it felt safe to cheer up

and come out from behind that black cloud, they decided to have a divorce.

(image it’s nice that)

.... alle Menschen werden Brüder ....

not bloody likely!

Monday, 20 June 2016

A Mixed Bag of Inconsequentials

It’s really hard to come up with a worthwhile blog post when your mind is preoccupied. I may also be suffering from writer’s block, all my writing, even my diary, remains ignored for the most part. But I love reading. I can’t get enough of that; books have always been my bolt hole, from a very early age I felt the need to escape into someone else’s life when I didn’t like my own very much. I’ve just finished two books, Emma Healey’s 'Elizabeth Is Missing', a story about an old lady’s Alzheimer’s-coloured obsession with her friend’s whereabouts and buried secrets of her own past, and Kate Atkinson’s ‘A God In Ruins’ about a bomber pilot in WWII, a kind of second half to her ‘Life After Life’. Neither book is light escapism, but well written and easy to read in spite of the subject matter.

The weather has been filthy, there’s been little gardening; the picture of Paul and Beloved having a tea break was taken on an exceptional day.  I am very glad we have stopped opening for the public. The tallest and most impressive flowers are the white umbels of the pernicious ground elder, an absolutely destructive thug whose roots get into anything and are very hard to eradicate. The bane of my life, second only to the dreaded dandelion.

Millie has recovered from her crise de nerfs; luckily we have had no further violent thunderstorms round here, although other parts of the country have been  inundated. We were invited to a birthday lunch at a very grand and very rich house, not by the owners, who were not in residence, but by their dog and house sitter, our good friend Jay, who is neither grand nor rich.
The dogs in question are pugs. a small black one and a beige-brown one, a little larger. (The picture is from the net They were in a spacious enclosure behind a wire fence. Apparently the owners are terrified that they could escape and get run over. They are never allowed to leave the premises.

Surely pugs are among the ugliest dogs ever? I am sorry if you are the proud owner of one, I mean no offence, although, no doubt, you are offended now. When I went up to the two of them to do my usual silly impression of a dog-besotted idiot they barked at me. Well, barking is exaggerated. They wheezed and snuffled at me in a hostile manner. The small one was pathetic: every two wheezes and he had to take a laboured breath before he could squeeze the next wheezy bark out. He had no tail at all, not even a stub end. His rear end was smooth, he’d been docked until there was not even a smidgeon of tail left. Poor little blighter, no wonder he was in a bad temper. The other one was older and seemed resigned.

How can it be good for a dog to be bred until he has a completely flat face and no nose to breathe through? Give me a Millie, with a great big wet hooter and a solid tail to wag any day, even if she’s the result of an unfortunate liaison between a collie and a lab.

We took her to the pub where she found shelter from the storm after she escaped and were told that she rushed in like a bat out of hell and shook herself all over the guests sitting at the tables. Well done Millie, they’ll not forget you in a hurry.

Millie’s been to the dog groomer. I swear that girl moults more than other dogs. She hates it when I leave her there and if I should stop and chat to Tina, the groomer, and Millie is already in her pre-wash and brush up cage, she growls and whines and weeps bitter tears. ‘Mummy, how could you’, she says. Two hours later when I pick her up, she pulls like a train to get out and away. Dogs just don’t appreciate a pampering session. Not like me, I went to Helen’s for a delicious facial and I didn’t growl or whine once! Instead, I purred.

Beloved hasn’t got any worse, in fact, he’s perked up a bit. I treated him to a couple of theatre visits: the RSC’s almost all black ‘Hamlet' with the rising star Paapa Essiedu in the title role and the Globe’s 'The Merchant Of Venice' with Jonathan Pryce as Shylock. Both productions were excellent. “The seats are too hard”, Beloved said of Hamlet (his bottom is skin and bones now) and when asked about The Merchant he flatly stated that he didn’t like it. My friend Sue, who had asked, was rather taken aback. “What don’t you like, the play or the production?” "I simply don’t like plays whose entire action revolves around prejudice”, he said. Okay, Hm? Are there any plays that don’t have some form of prejudice? In fact, isn’t human frailty the whole point of Shakespeare? I agree to some extent, though, The Merchant is tragically nasty throughout.

Anyway, I have booked tickets for three more productions; I shall be going by myself.

Sunday, 12 June 2016


Sunday wears a crown, and has a golden beard and a ring.
Sunday sings his psalms, and laughs and jokes,
and teaches his lessons in a booming voice.
And all creatures sleep in the peace of the earth,
and the earth in Sunday’s hand. *

I like this poem, particularly the last two lines; true, the mystical aspect of it is of less importance to me than to the poet, but the image and feelings he conjures up go right to the heart of my own Sunday self.

For as long as Beloved and I have been together I have made our Sundays stand out. The only exceptions have been the Sundays when he had a Sunday engagement, an afternoon concert, say, in some spa town, or at summer festivals. Moonlighting at weekends. If I went along we’d usually have a quick pizza between rehearsal and concert, which was all that was on offer in places like Tunbridge Wells or Brighton. Things might have changed a bit since then.

Until we met and moved in together, Sundays were nothing special to Beloved. Many English people use Sunday for d-i-y jobs, shopping trips, household chores. During my years of single-parenting and a full-time job I did as much as I could on Saturdays and always attempted to keep Sundays free; admittedly, mainly to recover from the past week and recharge batteries for the week following. There was a lot of solitary putting up of feet, involving listening to music and reading. The kids were old enough to amuse themselves and happy doing it. All three of us enjoyed solitude. except at Sunday dinner, which was a far more elaborate meal than weekday ones.

In my years with Beloved I have kept up the custom of making our Sunday meal special. Three courses with wine are the minimum requirements. Not that I do all the cooking, I might buy something at the delicatessen’s, certainly the starter, and sometimes the pudding too. But we sit and eat at leisure, savouring the food, sipping a glass of something pleasant, and talking. Talking is the main ingredient. it’s almost as if sitting at table fires up neurons and loosens the tongue. We are never at a loss for topics, even now. We might start by remarking on the weather: “Isn’t it still today, not a leaf stirring”/ or: "Heavens, just listen to that rain pounding the glass roof (of the conservatory)”. Then there are compliments about the food and, after careful sipping of the wine, a remark about how pleasant it all is. We'll mention what we did during the week, recall people we met, a play we saw, maybe a lecture we attended. Because it’s Sunday and Sundays are for being kind, I keep criticism to a minimum. Beloved is always kind, even on weekdays. Until we reach politics, current affairs and the deplorable state of beastly humanity, as evidenced by scores of examples daily. We never have to look far. We might not always agree on the causes or the strategies of amelioration; the debate could even get quite heated. It’s amazing how (mildly) reactionary I have become with age, when I was accused, for most of my life, of being “your textbook bleeding heart liberal’.

In this fashion we spend a good two hours being friends and enjoying each other, until Millie nags me into getting up and feeding her. She has her second meal of the day at 3pm on the dot and woe betide me if I forget. So I don’t. Usually.

And after that? Like the creatures in the poem we “sleep in the peace of the earth”. The wine might have had something to do with that.

*Eliseo Diego

transl. from the Spanish by J.M.Cohen

Calmer Waters

And so it goes, there’s little change; days flow into each other, one after the other.

This is how I started the last entry in a private diary about our slow slide into oblivion. I don’t feel that I can - or want to - share every moment with all of you, some things need to remain private. Pain, distress, the inexorable progress of disease, mental and physical, are not suitable subjects for the mundane and often frivolous confessions we spill into social media.

I have since realised that the first statement is not altogether true any more. There’s little change in the situation, yet there is some small change in me.  I may have said, here or in my private diary: “I am permanently stressed and permanently depressed.” If I haven’t said it, or written it, then I have thought it. But that’s not true now, either.

There comes a time when one accepts even the most hopeless situation. Life goes on. An innate sense of survival takes over. I think that is what’s happening to me.

The weather has been fine, I have spent a lot of my free time gardening and when it’s been too hot to go out I’ve read indoors. Beloved has been happy to potter about outside, leaning on his stick, snipping at this and pulling on that and when he’s been tired he’s just sat in the sun.

I’ve stopped watching him all the time. In an emergency he’d soon know how to get my attention. Besides, he has a panic button. I’ve gone out for up to three hours at a time and he’s been fine. He’s not likely to attempt anything that requires physical strength or mental athletics.

Even Millie is settling into the new routine. I take her out for a short walk in the morning and not again until late in the afternoon. She has a daily paddle in the river and several doors are open for her to come and go as she pleases. She is not meant to leave the garden - we are hedged or walled in and gated, but the other day, during a violent thunderstorm, she panicked and got out, I don’t know how or where, but she made her way into the village and ended up at the pub after having raced along the high street. I expect the pub door was open and she made for its darkish, cool and cavelike interior which might seem to be a safe haven to a frantic dog. I happened to be out in Ludlow at the time. Beloved never even noticed that she was gone until a young man brought her back after the storm. Two messages told us not to worry, she was safe; we didn’t listen to either of them until afterwards.

Perhaps Millie has the right idea, a village pub is indeed a safe haven in a storm and we should all three seek its comfort more often.