Blackberry breakfast…

For the last few weeks I have been watching the blackberries ripen in the hedges as I walk the delinquent dog each morning.

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On Friday, I could resist no longer. The poor dog stood around, looking just like small children do when you stop in the street to talk to people – that posture that says something like ‘Oh really, haven’t you finished yet’…

While I had my breakfast courtesy of Mother Nature.

 

 

 

 

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Dollops of culture…

I really like Julia Cameron’s advice in The Artist’s Way, to set yourself regular time out, to do things that rejuvenate your creative spirit. And of course like a great many of us, it’s my ‘time out’ that is too often sacrificed when family life takes over. But I think I can go straight to the top of the class this September, because what I need to make time for, are opportunities to grab a little culture, and so far this month, I am doing rather well…

Half way through September and I have…

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Been to the Poetry Book Fair and met the brilliant Fancesca Kay (Whatever you’re planning for your garden next season, I wholly recommend obtaining a packet of her Garden Seasons – poems for year round colour & interest)

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The daughters and I have strolled around the British Museum. Both daughters were overawed by the Ancient Egyptian artefacts, big and small.

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Number 2 daughter successfully navigated our way from the BM to the Victoria & Albert Museum – not bad for a thirteen year-old who can still number her trips to London on the fingers of two hands.

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We’ve also been to Bath. Trust us to decide to go at the same time as hoards of Jane Austen reenactment enthusiasts – it was vaguely surreal passing men and women in full Regency gear chatting on their mobile phones. Although watching them dancing in the Assembly Rooms was wonderful – practically stepping back two hundred years.

We also made our pilgrimage to Bath’s girlie paradise, Alexandra May – I’m not sure you can classify this as culture, but it certainly gives me enormous pleasure, and the girls will happily spend an hour working their way along the displays (NB: not suitable for the Other Half, well not mine anyway, he has to go off and do Man Things…)

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And once we’d soaked up plenty of Georgian architecture (and played the compulsory family game of crazy golf – I lost it on the last hole, grrrrrr!), we headed off to Lacock Abbey, once famous as the birthplace of photography, then probably more famous for being a Harry Potter film venue.

The village is being promoted for its many film credits, although for those of us of a certain age, it will always remain Longbourne, from the 1995 TV series of Pride & Prejudice (the Colin Firth, wet-shirt version).

So, lots to keep me going for a week or two. And when I’m not gadding about being a culture vulture, I’m tucked up at home with my eBay find – an Old English textbook – (that’s a textbook on OE, not and old English textbook – somehow I imagine I’m going to have to brush up my grammar).

Hope your September is shaping up nicely.

 

 

-)O(-

 

PS: Just so you know, if you’re seeing any adverts on my blog, it’s WordPress, not me putting them there. If I’m feeling flush one of these days, I’ll go ad-free, until then, please forgive.

Melancholy and excitement…

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Strange sensations today.

The girls have gone back to school after the long holiday. For the first time in ages, we had a real sunny summer and what a difference it has made to us all. Number One Daughter who faces the heavy toil of Year 11 really doesn’t want to go back – and who can blame her – although her request at 7.30am this morning to be home-schooled fell on unreceptive ears. Number Two Daughter, who starts at the Upper school today, is full of excitement – I’m glad I’m not a teacher.

Not having the girls around, makes me feel a touch melancholy, but on the other hand, I am finally able to get back to what passes as my ‘normal’ routine – last night I excavated my desk so that today I could blog for the first time in weeks – a certain relief is beginning to flow in the veins.

The start of the new school year always gives me a buzz, which hasn’t anything to do with school, but everything to do with new beginnings, fresh starts and heightened enthusiasm. Especially strong this September I suspect because the summer has been so good and I’m definitely more refreshed and reinvigorated than I’ve been for quite some time.

And in the spirit of clean sheets – I think I should repent of my sort of failure – which is to admit to having failed on the no new book buying challenge. I gave it my best shot, I kept a wish-list instead of pressing Buy With One Click, I avoided the charity shops, I tried very hard- but during the summer I just couldn’t hold out any more. I now know, that being able to read something that sparks my curiosity is more important to me than I’d realised before. And of course reading blogs is a potent way to be pointed in the direction of writers who I’d never otherwise have encountered – and I love that.

So for anyone managing to sustain the challenge, I admire you enormously – but now I have confirmed the disappointing extent of my will-power.

Over the last few blogging-free weeks, I’ve been thinking about what I want to spend my energies on for the next few months. This has boiled down to:

Getting back into regular yoga practise (as I get older, maintaining flexibility becomes more and more important – my mother was a tremendous example of what could be done, and I’m determined to follow her example – and I’m lucky enough to have an excellent teacher who integrates the spiritual elements smoothly, which I appreciate even more than the physical exercise).

Getting to grips with the garden: No chance of turning into a Gertrude Jekyll, just the realisation that much needs to be done and finally, after only living in this house for fifteen years, beginning to get a feel for what I actually want in the garden.

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And finally – don’t laugh, I’m going to teach myself Old English. I’ve been intrigued by the evolution of the English language ever since I studied Chaucer for A Level, but over the summer, the programmes about the Anglo-Saxons, with Michael Wood, sparked a new interest in the early origins. Each programme showed texts written from the time of King Alfred and his immediate successors, and had extracts of the texts being voiced, with subtitles. It was so delicious to listen to, but also I found myself desperate to be able to read the texts. I’ve investigated text books, although not yet decided which one(s) to go for – they seem to vary from strictly academic, deeply grammatical, to the Old English equivalent of Teach Yourself in a Weekend. If any of you wonderful readers have any old books on OE sitting around unloved, or any advice on teachers, courses or text books – please get in touch!

Of course all this will take place against the background of daily life and endless tent stitch – life’s never boring…

Flights of fancy…

You know how it is, nothing happens for weeks on end, then suddenly everything is going mad and you’re racing to keep up.

It’s been like that here for the last few days – but in a fabulous way.

A friend of ours loves to fly, and last weekend he decided the weather was perfect for a trip around the Scottish Islands and Highlands. The Highlands are my favourite place – and so I leapt at the chance to go hopping around.

We went up the West coast, stopping first at Gigha – the airstrip is a field – you can just about see it in the picture…

Gigha
Gigha
Not exactly Heathrow...
Not exactly Heathrow…
The Gigha Hotel - gorgeous.
The Gigha Hotel – gorgeous.
Iona abbey
Iona abbey

Next day and a view of Iona and Staffa

Not the most dramatic view of Fingal's Cave
Not the most dramatic view of Fingal’s Cave

Then we were off to land at the airstrip at Barra – yes, it’s a beach.IMAG1993

The view of Barra airstrip from the air traffic control tower – that’s our plane on the sand

The islands going out towards Stornoway are unlike anything I’d seen before.DSCN3703 DSCN3715 IMAG2034

And then we stopped for fuel at Stornoway

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And then off around the coast of the mainland….

my favourite beach at Sandwood Bay, Sutherland
my favourite beach at Sandwood Bay, Sutherland

Then the lighthouse at Cape Wrath

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And Balnakiel Beach

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We spent the night near Forres and then off again from Inverness down the Great Glen – I kept looking, but no sign of Nessie…

DSCN4012 DSCN4027 IMAG2139 IMAG2166 IMAG2213Watching the mountains of Aran come out of the clouds.

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Before flying back through the Lake District and home.

Now I’m back it all feels rather like a dream and I have to keep pinching myself to remember that it really happened. An amazing experience I’m sure I’ll never forget.

Getting back into the swing of things at home again now and looking forward to the girls breaking up for summer. Hope you’re enjoying the weather and staying cool.

 

PS:

Theresa, do you happen to know what this is? He was flying about on the sand dunes at Barra – so pretty and strikingly vivid.

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A churchy day out in York…

Warning: this post contains gratuitous references to bell-ringing. Anyone with allergies to bells should stop reading now.

York is one of my favourite cities in the UK, and I was delighted to be able to spend the day there last Saturday.

Now of course there’s more than enough to keep you happy and occupied in York for days on end, but we were there for a bell-ringing event, so inevitably the day was dominated by visiting churches.

York Minster is one of the granddaddies of gothic architecture and an absolute ‘must-see’ at least once in a life-time, but we started our visit to York with a very special tour of the two towers of York Minster that house the incredible Minster bells. For bell-ringers, the best bit was the fact that a peal was being rung during our visit, so we could see, hear (and feel) the sound of the bells in action.

The NW tower houses Great Peter, a huge bell, one of the biggest in the UK (10 tons), which sounds the hours, and the quarter bells.

If you want some idea of how Great Peter sounds try this YouTube clip here (but imagine it so loud your teeth rattle).

The SW tower holds the ringing bells. As they were being rung, I didn’t take pictures, (I was too scared I’d drop the camera into a swinging bell). We went up onto the roof of the SW tower to get one of the most amazing views of the city. The weather was so good we could see for miles. (Actually the sky was that amazing deep blue, but I’ve had to adjust the pictures to show the details). I just adore the gargoyles on the pinnacles.

Click on the pictures for a better view.

After enjoying our very noisy tour, we strolled along to St Olave’s Church in Marygate.

This was a wonderfully gentle antidote to the size and magnificence of the MInster. Of all the churches we visited on Saturday, this was my favourite. You know that feeling in some churches of serenity, calm, peacefulness – well that’s St Olave’s.

The font cover soars into the air – click the picture to see it better.

By contrast, St Wilfrid’s church, built close to the Minster is all about sturdy Victorian values. As an example of its type, it is pretty amazing, but my own response was to feel over-powered.

Some of the family went in search of other bells, but I went in search of refreshment (lager shandy – not my normal lunchtime habit, but it was soooo hot!).

Later we headed off to St Lawrence’s Church, just outside the city walls. The girls were competing in a striking competition there, so mother mode took over and I didn’t take photos – in fact I sought shade and a place to sit where I wouldn’t be in the way. St Lawrence’s is another Victorian church, built on the ground of an earlier church. All that now remains of the original church is the tower – a slightly forlorn relict. But the most poignant element for me was this derelict tomb – so sad and with a rambling white rose growing wild across it.

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After the excitement of the competition, we took a very slow walk back to St Helen Stonegate, which was acting as the hub for all the ringing events. They had a little mini-ring set up and the girls enjoyed having a go – it’s quite different to the normal ringing we do. The lovely people at St Helen’s laid on lashings of tea and cake – they understand their audience very well indeed!

I’m afraid I gave up taking ‘proper pictures after that. We went on to St Michael Le Belfry (the church where Guy Fawkes was christened), where the competition results were given. Suffice to say it was extremely exciting and quite out of the blue, our team won. I’m not going to embarrass any of them with ‘proud mother type’ pictures – but it was fantastic and I am incredibly proud of all the young ringers who took part.

During the afternoon, I’d re-visited some old-haunts in the city. I was disappointed to find that Taylors of Stonegate had been renamed Betty’s – I know it’s all the same firm, but Taylors had a certain something special. I nodded at the Judges Lodgings – which used to be my favourite place to stay in York, I’ve spent some happy times there. And of course, no visit would be complete without saying hello to this little chap…

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Apologies for a rather indulgent post – it was a beautiful day I will always remember.

Now, get out into the garden and soak up some rays!

Re-reading is challenging…

Well it’s a few weeks since I embarked on a self-imposed challenge not to buy any new books, but instead to read or re-read titles languishing on my shelves (or piled up by the bed, in the bathroom, on my desk – oh you know the score).

So how am I doing?

Umm. First the good news – I’ve managed to avoid buying any new books (for me that is, for some reason, at precisely the same time I start this challenge, my two daughters, brought up from birth in a seriously bookish house, but until now hardly avid readers, have decided that now is the time to be smitten by the reading bug. This is good news, so obviously I’m going to encourage it).

IMAG1644When I started, I was waiting to read A TIme To Keep Silence by Patrick Leigh Fermor.

It’s a short book, describing Leigh Fermor’s experience of monastic retreats. I was intrigued, because in the distant past, I went on a couple of silent retreats and still vividly remember the roller-coaster of emotions I felt while keeping the silence. As I’ve got older, I do feel myself valuing silence much more than I did in those days. I’m not sure I could honestly say I enjoyed the experience back then, but now, I’m pretty convinced that I’d welcome it, at least for a few days. It was fascinating for me to read about Leigh Fermor’s response to longer periods of silence and the rhythmic cycle of the monastic day. I read it, drawing parallels with my own experience and I wonder how it would come across if the reader hadn’t had any similar experience.

After that, I picked up Alison Weir’s Isabella, She-Wolf of France.

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I have managed to re-read it – even though I knew how it ended! It was just as interesting as the first read through, and had me wondering how women lived in the Middle Ages, but I think perhaps my views on Isabella have hardened a little over time. I’m sure she faced some truly hideous situations, but I’m not sure she’d have been someone I liked much on a personal level.

And now I have to confess – I think I’m experiencing a few withdrawal symptoms. I have been very good at avoiding browsing on Amazon, but not having a new book to look forward to (even though I’ve plenty of unread books sitting here), is making me a bit anxious. And I can’t seem to feel the same anticipation and excitement about the books I have lined up. Why is that?

Anyway, I’m not about to cave in, so I’ve decided that next I need to read something I haven’t read before – maybe I need to balance a re-read against a first time – so, what will it be?

In a moment of nostalgia, last summer I downloaded to the Kindle the complete works of Anthony Trollope. (I should say I read The Prime Minister for ‘A’ Level and didn’t mind it – maybe because it wasn’t that long after the BBC had serialised The Pallisers). At that time, I remember my English teacher, Alan Holden of Bromsgrove (the same wonderful teacher the actor Mark Williams credited with being one of his heroes – see here), saying that he loved these novels and re-read them regularly. I wondered then what is was about Trollope’s novels that marked them as special to such a widely read teacher as being worthy of re-reading. I’m going to take him at his word, and give them a go. I wonder if he’d be amused to know how long his influence could still be felt.

So off I go to charge the Kindle. I’ll take them one at a time in sequence – it’ll be interesting to see how that goes.

It could be a long summer…

 

– )O( –

If anyone else is sticking with the challenge, I’d love to know how you’re getting on too.

Squirrel Attack…

My advice is this – if you go down to the woods today – wear a hard hat.

They're up there, watching...
They’re up there, watching…

I’m used to trying to squirrel-spot before the Delinquent Dog does, because experience has taught me that if I don’t, I risk having my arm detached from the shoulder as he races towards them on the end of the lead. This has rewarded me with several good laughs, as I’ve watched Mr Nutkin and friends deliberately cross the paths in front of us, taunting the boy with their agility. Sometimes I’ve noticed that a pair will go in one direction and another will whizz round behind him.

Fortunately the poor boy misses most of them as he’s too busy sniffing the doggy Facebook notifications (trees), but we do get the odd attempt to climb trees – I keep telling him not to bother – it only encourages the squirrels to do it more, and let’s face it, even if he wasn’t on a lead, he’s hardly built for climbing, but he takes no notice.

What the Delinquent Dog thinks of squirrels...
What the Delinquent Dog thinks of squirrels…

But lately the squirrels have definitely upped the ante, not content with driving him wild and taunting him from the branches, they’ve now started bombarding us with missiles (bits of tree). At first I thought it must just be the wind, but now it’s happening on calm mornings, and with far too great a frequency to be a coincidence. And the force with which some of these cones hit the ground makes me grateful they haven’t yet quite managed a direct hit.

I listened out his morning after another incident and I could almost swear I heard a snigger from up above.

Of course you can’t see the little devils up there in the tree canopy, you’d have more luck trying to find Edward Snowdon in a Russian airport, but I know they’re there, plotting their next evil deed.

So be warned – wear something protective, but on no account wear anything that could resemble a target from above – we don’t want to help improve their aim.

Happy walking in the woods…

 

 

The Chef lives…

In the 1970s, my mum became the proud owner of a Kenwood Chef. She was an enthusiastic cake maker (and eater for that matter, although unlike me she had hollow legs, but that’s another story…). She must have used it practically every week for the next thirty plus years. When she died and we cleared her house, the Kenwood was still sitting in the corner of the kitchen, unaware that it had helped make its last cake.

It’s been boxed up in our garage ever since.

Until that is, a couple of weeks ago.

Because some niggling little voice has been calling to me from the garage – ‘Why not use the Kenwood – it even has a bread-hook you know…’ and I really fancied making bread…

So in it came. I gave it a good clean, out came the strong bread flour and yeast, in it went, on went the switch, it purred round and round – I smiled. It suddenly went berserk – I switched it off – and then back on again – it whizzed around maniacally, and a nasty electrical smell came out – and then it emitted one very loud and abrupt BANG! I cried.

The Kenwood after Techno-hero had his wicked way with the screwdriver.
The Kenwood after Techno-hero had his wicked way with the screwdriver.

But the advantage of being married to a techno-hero, is that he can take things apart and put them back together again.

He took out his screw-driver, did a considerable amount of muttering, googled  ‘Kenwood repairs’ and now, two weeks and a new resistor later, I have a functioning Kenwood. Hoorah!

According to Techno Hero, this is the blown resistor - umm, yes, he's probably right.
According to Techno Hero, this is the blown resistor – umm, yes, he’s probably right.

I just know my mum is cheering from her fluffy cloud and my dad is thinking what a good job I married someone just like him.

So today, in their honour, the first cake from the repaired Kenwood – is mum’s favourite – a Madeira. (And a loaf is just proving now).

Madeira Cake from Nan's cook book.
Madeira Cake from Nan’s cook book.

I’m very happy indeed.

Here's to the next thirty years service.
Here’s to the next thirty years service.

That sort of week…

I won’t bore you with the details, we all have them in some guise or other from time to time, let’s just say it’s been that sort of week.

But the sun has come out, it’s practically the weekend and I’m feeling a lot better, so with a bit of luck next week might be a nice simple run-of-the-mill affair and I can get back into my basic routine.

I’ll leave you with the highlights of the last couple of days…

IMAG1725It’s two years since I dug out all the irises in the garden because they weren’t producing any flowers, but surprise, surprise, look what’s happened – how’s this for tenacity – just goes to show, you can’t keep a good flower down.

IMAG1719 IMAG1712And raindrops on roses – one of my favourite things (make a good song lyric that…)

Have a good weekend.

Low energy levels…

It’s probably hay-fever and the antihistamines that are to blame, but I have to say, I’m feeling tired today – mind and body.

Happily though, the garden is carrying on, doing its own thing, not bothering if I turn up to poke it or prod it – just as well.

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I shall go and have another nap – and hope the fairies sprinkle energy-dust over me while I’m dreaming.

x.

Iain Banks: Away the Crow Road…

I was elbow deep in potato peelings when I heard the news last night, that the author Iain Banks had died at the grossly unfairly young age of 59. I’d missed the apparently well publicised announcement that he was suffering from terminal cancer, so it came as a huge shock.

Like many of his fans, I can date my attraction from the mid 1980s and his first novel The Wasp Factory. (I just checked and I have the second edition – 1985). I remember reading it while on holiday in the Highlands, in fact I can even tell you that I read a lot of it sitting in the dunes of Balnakeil Beach near Durness, engrossed.

Until then I hadn’t read much outside the classics I’d studied for A level, so his novel came as quite a surprise. You can see from the reviews, he  included in the beginning of the book, he wasn’t to everyone’s liking….

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But I was one of the very many who thought he was wonderful.

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Over the years I’ve read my way through a number of his Iain Banks books – the Other Half likes his sci-fi titles better (Iain M. Banks).

If you’ve been here recently, you’ll know that inspired by Susan Hill, I am undertaking a challenge not to buy any new books for a year, but to read the ones I already have but haven’t read, or re-read titles that call out for another airing.

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As you can probably see, all my Iain Banks books are well and truly read. In the normal course of things, I wouldn’t have put any of his titles on my list for this challenge, but after this sad news, I may well re-read The Crow Road, which I think is my favourite of all. (Occasionally if I can’t sleep at night, I try to remember the body count and sequence in The Crow Road).

My all-time favourite opening sentence!
My all-time favourite opening sentence!

One of his books that I didn’t buy, was his travels in search of Single Malts. This was out of pique – having spent a couple of years doing my own informal whisky tours and being peeved that he’d got a book out of it.

But it is my sincere wish that he is now sitting in heaven at a bar stocked with all the best single malts and with the Black Bowmore on tap.

I appreciate his works may not be to everyone’s taste, but I was a fan and so to his family and fans world-wide, I for one extend my sincere condolences – a sad day indeed.

 

 

What a pest…

I know they cause problems, the rangers at the woods near our home have spent years and a huge amount of sweat removing vast amounts of them. But they’ve left a few – and at this time of year, I’m glad they have.

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IMAG1621Rhododendron – not one of nature’s shrinking violets – excuse the pun – but glorious when in full sail.