Wednesday, 23 July 2014

High Summer

It’s hardly credible,
a very rare year,
but summer continues.
Temperatures in the mid to high twenties,
little or no rain except for the occasional thunderstorm,
bringing ever more sticky conditions,
and a garden which threatens to burst its borders.
There’s no way I am going out to work in it.

Garden gates are overgrown,

roses flourish 

as do herbaceous borders.


Behind this window lies the coolest room in the house.

I am finding it very hard to keep my cool; 
between lunch and tea it’s siesta time, and I do as little as I can.

High Summer is here with its languors and absence of stimulus; it's rather difficult in these drowsy, breathless days to keep the flag of high-minded culture and meaningful employment
flying strongly from Sleeping Beauty’s bower.

Believe me, 
I realise that for many of you these would be pleasantly balmy days;
but do take into account that, in normal summers, 
I wear rubber boots (wellies) and mackintosh,
and that a run of weeks of good weather 
is an enormous shock to the system. 

complaining about the weather is the national sport.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Who Cares

except me,

that the grass in the lower field, where Millie and I walk daily, is finally being cut and I can actually see her again  rather than just follow a movement in the grass,

and that a nice farmer is turning the rows to dry them prior to baling the hay, all out of the kindness of his heart - I really can’t see the Duke of Norfolk, who owns the land, paying to have it cut - and for the sake of the village carnival at the beginning of August,

and that the garden is a perfect wilderness and my despair, but that Paul is back and is hard at work cutting hedges and trimming shrubs and that he and I are planning to dig up lots of herbaceous plants this autumn and replace them with shrubs to lighten the load for future years,

and that after a very hot period today was actually made quite pleasant by the addition of a few clouds but that a heatwave (i.e. nasty and sticky weather with thunderstorms) is forecast for the weekend, and that that means that I will once again have to disappear from view and hide behind a book and a tall, cool drink,

and that I’ve been to a vernissage and bought a couple of water colours for which I have yet to find the most suitable space in the house,


Image Source: Sticky Wallpapers

although, come to think of it, there may well be a few million other people who do care about the latter. I sat up half the night watching the celebrations on German TV, wishing myself to be part of it. And I’m not even a football fan. (I lost a follower the night of Germany v. Brazil;  if you are a Brazilian, I am sorry; 7-1, what on Earth happened?)

It’s been too hot to blog, there’s been Wimbledon, the Football (soccer for you in the US) World Cup, some theatre, an informal party or three, a bit of gardening in early morning and late evening and not a lot else.  Nothing to blog about. I wouldn’t want to admit to reading rubbishy thrillers and very light-weight novels for hours on end, so I won’t mention doing that. Absolutely nothing to blog about.

After all, who cares about other people's boring recital of the banal doings of their daily grind. Just pretend you hadn’t read any of this. Sorry to have been wasting your time.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Brain Boxes

What comes first: a great intellect or a great memory? Can you have one without the other?

We have just waved goodbye to a couple of visitors, family, who are doing a tour of the UK and came for a flying visit lasting less than 24 hours.  Eve is of ordinary intelligence, artistic, Adam's the brain box.

It’s impossible to have an argument with Adam. He’s read every book on every subject remotely connected with natural sciences, history, the environment, literature, etc. etc. He remembers them all and can quote every argument expounded in them. It’s most tiresome.

Not every book written is worth the pulp it’s made from, whether wood, cloth or grass. New research unearths new facts and findings all the time; some last, others are overthrown.  My mum used to say “paper is a patient medium, you can tell it anything, it never complains”.

We were talking about the theatre. Beloved and I are enjoying a particularly rich period of play-going, mostly Shakespeare. We love it.

“Ah”, says Adam, “ did you know that there are great doubts that Shakespeare wrote the plays?”

Yes, we had heard. Theories as to who wrote ‘Shakespeare’ are as old as the hills.

Most people are content to accept that an Englishman with that name was born in 1564, died in 1616 and wrote plays, sonnets and poems in the interim that changed English literature forever.

Some, however, see things differently. They don't doubt that the man from Stratford-upon-Avon existed, or that the plays attributed to Shakespeare are foundational and sublime. But elements of the Shakespeare canon are incompatible with his known biography, they say. An intimate knowledge of court affairs. Fluency in French. Familiarity with Italy. Shakespeare, they claim, was not written by Shakespeare.

Not only that, but  no hand written manuscripts are in existence and his signature appears only twice, with different spelling.

It seems that a Stanford Physics Professor has developed a scientific way of evaluating Shakespeare.

Adam had obviously either read the new book or detailed reviews of it. We hadn’t and aren’t likely to do so. He had us silenced pretty quickly. I couldn’t even work out if Adam himself believed in the theory he threw at us, or if he was merely playing Devil’s Advocate. Don’t you just hate it when somebody’s superior intellect and phenomenal memory grind you into the dust?

There were other debates and arguments, none of which we won. We are exhausted.

Eve spent a lot of the visit texting and phoning.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Where Are My Socks?

Or Aunt Josephine’s walking stick?

I don’t know about you but my short-term memory seems to have gone on a long holiday, perhaps it’s even moved out entirely.

So when the nurse taking blood to check for some malfunction or other said: “Erm, we are running these memory tests. Nothing too serious, you’ll walk through them. Would you be willing . . . .?”
I thought, why not, perhaps we’ll even find that mislaid memory stick.

Question 1: “a name and address, to be repeated instantly and then recalled at the end of the process.” John Brown, 42 High Street, West Kensington - easy peasy; I’ll never forget the gentleman and his fictitious address now, not ever. But what about the walking stick?

Question 2: “what’s the date today?” It was lucky that I’d checked the date before coming out to the surgery. It doesn’t do to present yourself when you’re not wanted. Normally I don’t even know what day of the week it is, much less the numerical date.

Question 3: “What’s in the news at the moment ?” Ah, that I do know. The horror of it! So I came back with “apart from football? What’s not in the news: Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, people fleeing impossible hardship, war, hunger and disease, Africa, children dying . . . . . .”

She stopped me, “Yes, but what about London, what’s happening there?” Well, as far as I know London is quiet apart from the insane noises politicians are making. So I nearly but not quite scratched my head. “London? Nothing much?”

“Yes, yes,” she said and clicked her tongue, tick-tock-tick-tock, while batting her hand from side to side.

“Oh, London, Wimbledon, the tennis you mean?”

She beamed at me. "Yes, Wimbledon”!

Friko, get your priorities right!

She asked two further questions, which I answered correctly; sadly I have forgotten what they were.

Aunt Josephine’s walking stick and the socks were found, peacefully cohabiting, on the newel post.

Somebody - could it have been me? -  moved the socks from the rail around the AGA, where they were drying after I’d got my feet wet in the tall grass, and had hidden them under Beloved’s cardigan, which had also found a temporary home there.

I thought I remembered that I had slipped the walking stick inside through the open door, while I took my shoes off and promptly forgotten all about it. When I came to look for it next day it was not to be found in any of its usual places: not hanging from a rung of the ladder in the shed, not slipped over the towel rail in the scullery, not in its proper place in the umbrella and stick stand in the lobby. Somebody had moved it. Or had I lost it on the way home yesterday and never brought it in at all?

It’s my favourite stick, fits into my hand and is high and sturdy enough; Aunt Josephine was as tall as me and the stick saw her through many an arduous hike in the mountains. It’s handy for whacking nettles and fighting off axe murderers. I needed to find it and therefore went out and retraced every step of the walk of the previous day. Nothing.

And then I found the socks.

As for John Brown? He’s still at 42, High Street. West Ken. And ever more shall be so.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

A Game Of Patience

A Game Of Patience, 1937, Meredith Frampton

Alone again.
Would not one of them ever stay?
Sooner or later, there would be a parting of the ways,
and all her hopes come to nothing.
It had been civilised, this parting,
but so had all the others.

The men she chose 
- hand-picked each one - 
could be trusted to behave well.
For a while they seemed to fall in with her wishes.
She, tempting them with promises of fair reward,
free rein and generous refreshments.
They, nodding fulsomely, and keen to demonstrate
their prowess, bared strong arms
and grabbed their tools.

But when she mentioned digging in her beds,
pruning abundant growth and taming hedges,
they blanched, they gasped,
too soon their strength deflated
and they professed themselves
unequal to the task.

Bring out the pack,
lay out the cards.
Perhaps this time she’d solve the riddle?
What have we here?
Thoughtful she stared into the future.
At last.
A gardener for Lady C!

A rather free interpretation and off-the-cuff quickie for
today’s Magpie Tales.
For more ideas click on the link.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014


I expect Florence had something there.

Fear can be quite debilitating. Shakespeare says in Romeo and Juliet: “ I have a faint cold fear . . . . . . . that freezes up the heat of life.” I know what he means.

Being afraid is not always cowardly. In fact, fear can make you think before you do something stupid or dangerous, which is surely good.  I have little sympathy for people who risk their lives unnecessarily and expect rescuers to endanger their own lives to extricate them from their folly.

But it doesn’t always have to be quite as serious as that. Beloved tells the following story against himself:-

While floating along on a narrowboat on the Oxford canal with friends, their seven year old daughter fell overboard. Beloved can’t swim, he is terrified of water and doesn’t even like to get his face wet in the shower. Nevertheless, he instantly jumped after her, only to find that the canal was no more than 5ft deep. His heroic effort ended with him STANDING on the bottom, feeling rather silly, while the girl swam back to the boat and scrambled aboard. The fact remains that, when he saw the girl fall, his instant, thoughtless, impulse to rescue her overcame his fear of drowning. He also tells me that, had this been a fast flowing river instead of a gently drifting canal, he might have needed rescuing himself.

What Shakespeare and, to a lesser extent, Florence Nightingale mean, is something different. Something with which I am very familiar.

Both Paul and Gardener have been poorly, neither has come to work for three weeks. Some serious jobs were waiting, so I attempted them myself. Pulling apart large root balls, grubbing up stubborn weeds, cutting back overgrown clumps of herbaceous plants, shovelling and a bit of digging. I was enjoying myself, adrenaline flowing. Gradually I became aware of a niggling pain in the throat area; "hay fever", I said to myself, although I should have known better. True to form, during the following night I woke up with a racing pulse, thumping all over the place, an episode of Atrial Fibrillation. Since last November, the last time I was hospitalised, I had only had a couple of minor, short-lived episodes, not more than half a day long, and I had put my otherwise more or less permanent apprehension about a renewed attack to the back of my mind. Along the lines of “new medication - new improved me”. Apprehensive, but a bit foolhardy.

I am better again, it was a mild attack, lasting nine hours; for most of the time I slept thanks to sleeping pills and tranquillisers; and then it stopped again, as it always does. A couple of days of taking it easy (saving me from a play-reading party for which I had little stomach anyway) and I was back to normal.

Back to normal, but also back to the ‘faint cold fear, that freezes up the heat of life’. You have no idea how sad that makes me feel.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Weather for Chickens - Permutations 3

We are not far from home now; there’s just the castle field to come. I promised Millie a paddle in the river and I must keep my promise.

Here is another reason why I am not a great enthusiast when it comes to summer days: our daily walk takes us through lush meadows, where grass and wildflowers reach chest height in places. As I come down the slope to the river I can hear a great cry of joy going up “DINNER!” Before I go out I have to put on Jeans, socks and shoes, nettles sting me and bloodthirsty creatures feast on bare arms and legs.

The tallest plants to wade through are the common hogweeds (not giant hogweed) with their large flat umbrella-shaped (hence ‘umbels’) flower heads.  Reflecting sunlight they are very pretty but by moonlight they turn luminous, ghostly. They are a bit of a menace in one of the meadows by the river because lack of access makes mowing impossible.

Another large spreader by the river is water balsam; very pretty, but another eager coloniser. I think there have been efforts to remove it; as you can see, without much success. 

And here she is, almost at the end of our walk, enjoying a bit of a splash before we make our way through buttercups and clover, our errand done and tea waiting for us in the garden.

 Not bad for a total of thirty minutes’ walk, give or take 20 minutes either way for contemplation.