Sunday, 29 January 2012

Writing Words of Silence

I have exchanged a couple of comments recently with ExmoorJane after one of her posts got me thinking.  I spend a lot of my time thinking, it goes with the day job.  Now these thoughts are not usually high powered for I don't spend my working hours in a dynamic office environment; I spend them - often on my own - in the real, green environment.  And that's the problem: there are so many things to distract me.  A few days ago it was the fault of the jackdaws - they suddenly had realised that spring is around the corner and were in full display flight, tumbling and diving and generally making an awful lot of noise.  So I spent far too long wondering why I hadn't noticed their courtship before.

Yesterday it was the fault of the snowdrops and the winter flowering aconites.  They are to blame because they are in full flower a few weeks earlier due to the unseasonably mild winter we have had so far.  Some years ago I organised a visit to some gardens renowned for their display of snowdrops and we had to search hard to find one in flower - that was the 10th February.  Nature, like some people, can  be fickle.  The photo below shows a different garden's snowdrops: it is the garden of what I call the 'reincarnation' house.  They are at their best now.

The aconites were more fully to blame. Seeing the hundred or so yellow blooms staring up at me from the foot of our garden hedge made me decide to take a walk as, not far from our little cottage, further down the secret valley lies a very special woodland.  At this time of year it is a yellow carpet of flowering aconites, an extremely rare sight for they are not native to this country.  No-one knows by whom or when they were planted for there is no sign of there ever being a house nearby; they are of no value as a commercial crop unlike snowdrops that were sent to London in bunches for selling once the age of steam made it possible to transport them quickly.


But all this pondering can most squarely be laid at Jane's doorstep.  In her post on writing she mentioned that she sometimes writes just for the sheer pleasure of seeing words and thoughts on paper.  Then, satisfied, she destroys the work for there is no need or desire to share it.  I thought only people that were mad - or, at least, people that were a bit dotty - did that.*  And, insecure person that I suppose this shows me to be, I thought I  was the only one that ever fitted this description and did such a bizarre thing.  This is why I started writing a blog: I came to the conclusion it would be quite nice to keep my work somewhere secret so that I could look at it from time to time.  I decided Blogger would be quite a good place to store it, along with a few favourite photos.  I knew, of course, that the world in theory could see it but why would anyone want to stop and read something that I had written?  It never occurred to me that some of you might do so and some even come back regularly for more.  So on my way back from the aconites I was visualising Jane and myself scribbling away and ceremoniously (for it always seemed to be part of the ritual) tearing up the sheets of paper with our precious words on them.


I had walked along our little winding river to reach the wood but struck off over the hill for the return home.  This route always fascinates me because, from the top, the valley is totally invisible tucked away deep within the folds of the landscape.  One moment the ground almost appears flat and then, suddenly you are looking down into the secret valley.  The slopes are steep and grazed only by sheep, wild deer and rabbits and are, later in the year, awash with wild flowers of all kinds, including rare wild thyme, the subject of one of my earliest posts.  I sat myself down to admire the view, for I never tire of it despite seeing it every day, and pondered on what gives a person the desire to write, to play around with words, arranging them and rearranging them for hours on end.



And then this thought came:  what do you do when words just aren't adequate to describe the sights or the emotions?  How do you describe the indescribable?  Take a photograph - after all, a photo is supposed to say a thousand words.  But what if a thousand words still aren't enough?  What if ten thousand words still aren't enough?  Besides, an image only allows the viewer to create their own words, it can never convey those that the writer might be thinking.  How do you describe the intangible?  So I sat on the bank, looking across the secret valley, muffled up against the chill east wind and came to this simple conclusion - the only way out of this conundrum of how to express these silent words is to write a post about it.



* Well, I thought she did but I can't see it now.  Perhaps I am dotty, after all :-{

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Saturday, 21 January 2012

New Year in London

Perhaps it is because London will be hosting the Olympic Games later this year that the capital seemed rather quiet and devoid of people and traffic when I visited it at the beginning of the month.  Although it lacked its usual 'buzz' it did mean more comfortable walking and it was definitely easier to catch a taxi.  I imagine when the Games are in full swing you will not be able to move for people and public transport of any type will be crowded.


 We tend to follow the same plan when we visit; not because we want to play safe, it is just that we cannot bear to miss a morning coffee and an almond croissant at the Bluebird cafe.  A slow walk up the King's Road with it's exclusive shops and boutiques brings you to Sloane Square - just in time for lunch.  This time we found, to our dismay, that our usual dining spot had closed down so we tried the Botanist, almost opposite, instead.  It proved to be a good choice for the food was excellent, as was the service.  My biggest criticism of it is its name which, of course, with me being a 'planty' person had rather appealed.  The decor consisted mostly of pictures of insects so we now refer to it as The Entymologist instead. 

A taxi ride took us to the National Portrait Gallery.  One of our New Year resolutions is to take in a bit more culture as we are becoming rather reluctant to move out of the secret valley, generally preferring the peace and quiet of the rural life.   A trip to 'the smoke' from time to time is just what's needed to stop us from becoming complete country bumpkins.  We hadn't allowed enough time to look at the pictures in any depth -  we really need to visit when we are not being dictated by the thought of food.  A mental note has been made to visit again quite soon, that time bypassing the restaurants ..... Mmm, we'll see.


When we came out of the gallery daylight was fading fast and London appeared to have renewed energy.  Somehow a city at night with all it's lights seems a more exciting place.  I seemed far more aware of statues, theatres and red buses - I'd forgotten just how much I like cities!  I've never lived anywhere other than in the country and I'm not too sure how I would fare if I suddenly found myself in one permanently.  Not too well, I would think.




Another taxi ride took us to my favourite London store; favourite perhaps because it is another food place.  Forget Harrods, which I'm afraid I dislike intensely, give me Fortnum & Mason's anytime. The Christmas windows and decor were still in place but even without those, F & M exudes quality from every pore - or do I mean from every chocolate? 



Who could possibly bite into these white chocolate bears, though?



The first thing I do when I enter the store isn't to think of my stomach, surprisingly, as I am surrounded by goodies to eat.  I always go to the central circular staircase and lean over to look down which is dramatic, then descend down the old wooden staircase which is equally full of character.




A wander around the coffee and tea halls with their wonderful aromas is another must.


The store has a reputation for making some of the best hampers in England.  I was lucky enough once to be given one for a Christmas present and it was such an exciting treat unpacking it and seeing what all the tins and shiny wrappers contained.  I was rather taken with their picnic hampers but there would be no point in us having one: although we picnic rather a lot because of our outdoor life, they always end up big social events.  What starts off as a casual chat with a couple of friends snowballs and it is not unusual to find twenty or thirty arriving to enjoy the feasting.  Fortunately they usually bring food and drink with them too.  If we had a Fortnum's picnic hamper it would have to be a quiet, small affair - just the sight of the baskets conjures up images of check tablecloths laid on the grass, eating in the shade of the willows down by our little winding river.



And what would a visit to Fortnum's be without having one of their splendid traditional afternoon teas?  By the time I had forced down two scones with strawberry jam and Cornish clotted cream and cake, all washed down with a pot or two of Orange Pekoe tea it was time to think about returning home.

If we were lucky and didn't get held up in traffic jams we would be back in the secret valley just in time for supper.  I think a belated New Year's resolution ought to be excercise more and eat less .....




PS  Don't forget you can find me on Facebook now and get regular updates from the secret valley


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Saturday, 7 January 2012

First Build Your Bank ....

Some time ago I was asked if I could plant a hedge.  Straightforward enough, I thought and as it was to be a native hedge, I was especially keen to do it.  Using only native species is always a pleasure for not only are you maintaining a tradition that is centuries old, it is also excellent cover for twentyfirst century birds and animals.

It was only when I went to visit the site that it was mentioned that it would be rather nice if the hedge could be planted on top of a bank, reminiscent of those that are found in the West Country counties of Devon and Cornwall.

West Country banks use large amounts of stone in their construction and were built to protect livestock from the gales and snowstorms that sweep in from the Atlantic.  Over time they become encrusted in lichens and mosses with ferns, primroses and other wild flowers sprouting from every crevice.  They are usually topped with a beech hedge or, sometimes, gorse (or furze, as they call it on Exmoor).

The bank that I had to build was to be similar but faced with turf which would not be as strong. As it was to divide two halves of a garden and (hopefully) not have to keep out determined sheep or cattle, this didn't matter.  The thing that did matter was that I had to build it in a way that would prevent it from falling down .....


I've always found that if you want to create an impression bring in a digger.  There is a morbid fascination in watching a digger at work for the destruction can be immediate and swift.  It certainly would have been if I had been in charge of the controls but, as is so often the case, when you need an expert it is better to bring one in.  I know where I am when it comes to shovels and forks and trowels but it is best not to let me loose with all those knobs and levers.

The ground cleared we were then able to lay out and start building the bank.  We imported the rubble and clod for the base which after being well rammed and compacted could then have a top layer of better quality topsoil spread over the surface.  All was held in place by large mesh chicken wire netting.



Next came the turf and this was laid direct onto the netting and held in place with hazel twig 'pegs'.  These would gradually rot but not before the turf had grown its roots through the wire.   The netting, too would quite quickly rot (we didn't use galvanised for we didn't want it to last for years) and, by then and fingers crossed, the bank would be quite stable and self supporting.


It was with some trepidation when, a few weeks later we cut the top of the turf and the wire out so that we were able to prepare the bank for planting the hedgerow; especially so as we had had some torrential downpours giving me anxious moments about landslips and mudslides.  All, fortunately was well.

Having plants delivered, I find, is always an exciting moment.  It reminds me of when, as a child, I waited for Christmas morning and couldn't wait any longer to open my presents.  Despite knowing what is coming out of the van, each plant or variety is met with little gasps of delight.   The thrill of knowing that, with luck, they will thrive and continue to grow for many years and may even be there long after I've been buried and forgotten is great.


The hedgerow was not the easiest thing to plant but the end result was pleasing.  The final combination was Hawthorn, Field Maple, Wayfaring Tree, Hazel, Dog Rose, Spindle and Hornbeam  with an occasional Honeysuckle to fill the evening air with perfume.  The birds took to it straight away and, in my imagination at least, mice and voles shelter amongst the trunks hiding from mirauding stoats and weasels.  Best of all is the knowledge that, a few years on, the bank is still standing!



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