Monday, 25 April 2011

Anzac Day.



This morning at 4am, Paul & I heaved ourselves out of bed in our London flat....threw on some clothes and put Alice's lead on. We walked through the deserted and still dark streets...over Oxford Street, through Mayfair to Park Lane and finally Hyde Park Corner....where we stood from 5am with hundreds of Australians and New Zealanders (mainly) and took part in the annual ceremony held at the Australian & New Zealand War Memorials there to commemorate the sacrifice of the ANZACS...the Australian & New Zealand Army Corps in the two World Wars and other conflicts since, including Vietnam and, of course, Afghanistan & Iraq.

Why did we do it? Neither of us is from that part of the world after all. We both have strong links with Australia, as we have close family living there (and in fact Esther is now an Australian citizen too) But I don't think that's it - well, not in my case anyway.

The word Anzac is particularly synonymous with the ill-fated First World War campaign fought in Gallipoli, Turkey. So many, so very many young lives lost. A few years ago I found out that my great-great uncle was part of the hell there...landing at Suvla Bay in August 1915. He survived Turkey (miraculously) and went on to fight on France's Western Front...but the war ultimately killed him, although he didn't die in battle. He took his own life shortly after the Armistice by throwing himself in front of a London train. His existence was unknown even to my Mother, he was never talked about by her family at all (probably as a result of his suicide)... until we discovered him quite by chance in the records of the War Graves Commission and I made it my mission to uncover more about his short and painful life. What demons drove him to that terrible end? What sights did he see, what horrors did he experience that made his life a nightmare and ultimately unbearable for him? I'm now writing a novel, based on him...we don't know enough facts about this brave, forgotten man so it must be classed as fiction.

He wasn't an Anzac. He was an Englishman. But he would have known and befriended and fought alongside many of them. And they all went through it together.

The song above may help to explain a little more (I love June Tabor's voice and the fact that she sings a cappella especially). It sends a shiver up my spine whenever I hear it...

This may seem to be a depressing post...war, and the thought of the suffering and loss caused by it, always is. But, for me, it's important to face it and remember and thank those who gave their lives in conflict.

So the reason I went to Hyde Park Corner, and stood in the dawn light, and bowed my head in silence this morning was to pay my tribute to all of them...and especially to my great-great uncle, Cyril Arthur Took. It's taken a good few years, but we've found him and he won't now be forgotten again.

xoxo

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Quiet History....

I hope you'll forgive me for yet more churchyard photos...I just can't keep away in this amazingly unseasonal weather. It's more like Summer than Spring...it was about 79f /26c today...and has been sunny and warm for days. My daily walk to The Coffee Tree (you can see what I deliver there at my food blog, Baking Brownies for Mozart ) is so gorgeous that I have to share it with you!

One of my favourite ancient streets is at the back of our County Museum here...Pebble Lane (although it's more a cobbled one)
the tree hanging over the high wall is a beautiful old pear...no one picks the fruit in Autumn and they drop to the cobbles below for the pigeons, mice ....and sometimes me! to enjoy...just under the tree is a black iron water pump that no longer works but used to supply this area with fresh water long ago...I love to imagine the women gathering there with buckets to fill, catching up on the gossip in the sunshine...

the other side of the lane is mainly taken up with the building that was for many years a school. It was turned into offices and now stands empty & somewhat neglected...a sad ending that I keep hoping will transform into something wonderful. It's a large place though, and after years of lack of care it will need a lot of money to bring it back. There are still echoes of it's past life if you stop to look...

these deep grooves in the brick are everywhere down the lane. Do you know what they are? I didn't for a long time, and always wondered until I spoke to a neighbour who knows about these things. They are the marks left by the Victorian & Edwardian schoolchildren who sharpened their slate pencils by rubbing them against the wall. Isn't that wonderful? It gives me a little thrill as I pass...real history, right there as we bustle past going about our busy modern lives.
So it's on to the coffee shop and then back the same way, until I reach the church gate...
and know that I'm nearly home for my morning break with Alice and a cup of good coffee before our walk....but first a stop to admire and sniff the lilacs...

will I ever have enough of this short journey, these lilacs, these serene gravestones? Somehow, I doubt it...
With love this Wednesday xoxo

Monday, 18 April 2011

The Cuckoo

My Mum & Dad heard the first cuckoo of Spring yesterday in the woods, while walking their dogs. Mum sent me an excited text straight away, as they always listen for it...and this year it was especially early. In fact, everything is early here it seems...the garden is a few weeks ahead of schedule and the warm sunshine is making it burst into life at such an amazing rate that I can hardly keep up! Every spare moment is spent pulling the weeds that seem to appear in seconds...and I'm having to water every other day (just the pots & new seedlings) as we haven't had rain for a few weeks and all is dry.

Cuckoos, as you know, lay their eggs in other bird's nests. When the giant cuckoo baby emerges, he isn't happy until he has kicked the other occupants out of his adopted home and he can be alone to be pampered by the poor parents who must wonder what they've bred and where the other eggs went! It's a good subject for today...as this is quite a difficult post for me to write. I so hope that you'll understand when I tell you that we are, once again, an only dog household. I took Charlie to his new - and final - home yesterday and, as you can imagine, I'm feeling sad today. Maybe melancholy is a better description. And I'm not sad on Charlie's behalf at all...his new family are wonderful, warm people who've always had wire fox terriers and lost their last (much loved) boy 9 weeks ago. They were in tears of happiness when they saw Charlie! He's now living as the only dog, on a large farm with it's own wood and acres to play in. He's sleeping on their bed at night, and eating chicken that's been especially cooked for him at dinnertime. I'm glad that Alice wasn't with me when I met them as she may have decided to go with him on hearing all that! My last view of him was such a happy one...after a long cuddle and a good drink of water, he bounced off with them for their first walk...and he didn't look back at all. I know he'll be more than fine.

The truth we've had to face is that Alice wants & needs to be an only dog. In the 6 weeks we had Charlie, she was never really happy...and she made his life very difficult. However much attention we lavished on her, she couldn't take the fact that, as she saw it, our love was divided. And she made it very plain that he wasn't welcome. We've had far too many nasty fights...and I mean real ones where blood was involved. They were all started by Alice, and Charlie did his best to avoid them...but if he was cornered he fought back. And he was much bigger & stronger than her. She has a big puncture wound on her head, a scar on her shoulder....we couldn't allow it to continue for either of their sakes. We took advice and decided that we had to put our own feelings aside and think of both dogs. We'd never been able to walk them together, which was time consuming and annoying. Fights would start over the smallest thing (never food, funnily enough!) and neither of them really relaxed. So a couple of weeks ago we decided that we should get in touch with the lady who found him for us and see if there was a better home for him. Amazingly, and so happily, there was!

We'll never regret having him for those weeks, despite the difficulties and stress. He's shown us that, even with the easiest and nicest natured dog, it's not the right thing for Alice to have another dog permanently in the house. And if we hadn't taken him in, he never would have found what I believe are his true family..as they weren't ready for him when we first got him. So I like to think that we took care of him for them.

This morning, I took Alice for our walk on the hill. All was calm & quiet. She's happy and content again knowing that she has pride of place in our hearts. Number one. Our little cuckoo!
I hope that you have a wonderful Monday xo

Friday, 15 April 2011

Lions & Lilacs...

It's flowers, flowers, flowers at the moment...everywhere I look. One of the most beautiful Spring sights (and scents!) in the churchyard is the huge lilac trees which grow on both sides of the square...
They are very old and bent but produce such amazing flowers each year...some white...

and the others the traditional...well...lilac!

I wish that I could post the fragrance that follows you as you walk around the square. I throw open our bedroom windows to let in Nature's air freshener! Wonderful...
Earlier in the week, I had a lovely day's outing to Woburn Safari Park just over the county border in Bedfordshire. I met my youngest sister, Lucy, and my 3 year old nephew William plus my two cousins, Emma & Mike and Emma's beautiful teenage girls Beth & Amy. We hadn't all seen each other for a couple of years so decided to meet halfway between our homes and have a day out and a picnic as well. Although we chose the coldest day for many weeks, it was a fabulous time. William's eyes grew wider and wider as we slowly drove around the park and he spotted rhinos, elephants, giraffes, MONKEY'S (his capitals!!) tigers...and these beautiful animals...
to see a pride of lions so close (they were very calm, didn't even glance at the cars!) was very special. After eating our picnic in freezing winds, sheltering as best we could, we decided to finish the afternoon by going into the aviary where exotic birds fly freely and sit on your hands, heads & shoulders to feed on the nectar that you take in for them in little pots. A huge success with all of us! There is something so magical about a bird landing on your arm...it's like a little miracle to be able to see them up close. My special favourites were the Rainbow Lorikeets...

these are one of the most common birds in the skies around Esther's home in Australia and the sight & sound of them took me there in an instant. Gorgeous things. We had a great time catching up, chatting & laughing...it reminded us all not to leave it so long next time!

Even my daily dog walking is suffused with flowers right now...I had to share more pictures with you!

the wild violets are still there in their thousands...I took this on the hill this morning...

the colour is so vivid, it fills up my heart somehow!

New this week, though, are the beautiful yellow cowslips (or are these oxslips? I never know the difference!) Such an English flower I think. They used to be so common a few hundred years ago that people would pick them by the bucketload to make wine each Spring. Then, when I was young, they had died out so much that they became a protected species...I remember occasionally seeing one and being so excited! I'm happy to say that they seem to be coming back now...at least, I saw lots and lots of them this morning! And I still get excited....x

The coconut-scented bright yellow gorse is now blooming everywhere too....bees must congregate in drunken pleasure after gorging on all the pollen that's around right now.

It's as though the countryside has woken up suddenly. There's almost too much to look at...but I'm trying to take it all in!
Today is soft and warm again...the sun is out as the dogs stretch on the deck luxuriously. I hope you have a wonderful weekend, whatever you do! xoxo

Thursday, 7 April 2011

A day to celebrate...

Today is my parent's 49th wedding anniversary. I saw them both yesterday and they have decided to have a quiet day...after all, next year will be a big Golden celebration! Mum told me that the day they married was not only very cold, dull & windy....but that there were no daffodils out yet. Well, as you can see....almost half a century later things are very different! In fact, our daffodils are now almost over for the year...
our garden was an absolutely joyous place to be this morning...I knew that you'd like to share it with me....I wish that I could have shared the birdsong, the warmth and the softness of the air too...

the churchyard, of course, was also at it's most beautiful...

I could barely bring myself to go back to the kitchen....although in the end I had to. But I stayed out just a little longer...

drinking in the beauty...

And as I looked into the faces of these beautiful tulips (Paul & I planted them in the churchyard ourselves!) I thought of my parents, marrying in that chilly East Anglian church all those years ago...twenty years younger than I am now...so in love and full of hope and joy for the future and all their plans and dreams. How wonderful to think that, for them, the dreams have come true...and the new, exciting love they felt then has mellowed and deepened so much over time that we can't now think of one without the other. Happy Anniversary to them and Happy Thursday to you! I hope your day is worth celebrating too.... xoxo

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Here Comes the Bride...my April Garden

I always think that this beautiful cherry tree at the bottom of the garden looks like a bride! Only foamy & beautiful for a short time, but so glorious while it lasts. And the perfect illustration of my April garden...where things are really bursting into life at a pace now.
the blueberry bushes are sprouting pale green leaves and flower buds...I have a few plants to ensure cross-pollination and therefore plenty of berries!
One of the young peony bushes...planted a couple of years ago and yet to flower...but I've found that a secret to successful gardening is patience!
To the left of the path, my old stone ' butler's sink' is starting to fill with marjoram again...and other herbs are in the raised bed behind. There's still room for plenty of plants, so I'm weeding religiously to keep the spaces clear.
And to the right of the path, my vegetable bed stands tilled, fed, and ready for the new season's seeds...as soon as the threat of frost is over later in the month!

I've decided to line the path with thyme as well as lavender this year, for added colour & scent...it's one of my favourite herbs and there are so many varieties!

Hostas are one of our very favourite plants...and we are known for our pots full of their huge and beautiful leaves! Pots help to keep the slugs under control I find (a terrible problem in town gardens!)

The rose bushes are well under way...

Charlie helped me to check them this morning!

And just as I was about to head inside for a cup of coffee, I spotted this cute little visitor on a lavender bush!

Happiest of April's to you...I can't wait for things to really progress in the garden... now, what was I saying about patience??

xo

Friday, 1 April 2011

NOT an April Fool!

Happy April! How wonderful to be able to say that...because it means that at last Spring is really here! Today is soft & warm...a chilly wind, but I don't mind that in the least! I've been busy planting & weeding & forking the flowerbeds...pictures of my April garden will be posted shortly!
But today, as it's April Fool's Day, I thought I'd make you smile!

I spent this morning in Oxford - or more accurately in Headington, on the outskirts. Paul had a hospital appointment and as he wasn't allowed to drive afterwards I was his chauffeuse! The appointment was about 2 hours, so I walked into town from there and suddenly remembered that in the 1980's there was a man who had a big battle with Oxford City Council's planning department because he decided to have a great white shark dive through his roof! A fibreglass replica, obviously...but lifesize! Eventually, he won the fight...and attracted hordes of sightseers (my much younger self included) come to gawp at the 'Shark in the Roof'! I wondered if it was still there...and it is!! In fact, it now has a preservation order on it (isn't it funny how time turns everything around eventually?) I'm sorry the picture is a bit dark, but you get the idea. It is amazingly lifelike...the tiles and beams are even arranged around the 'entry hole' so it looks as though sharky really has crashed in from the sky!
I'm not sure it would appeal to me at our house...but I have to say that it's quite fantastic and it was wonderful to see it again! I remember that there used to be a cinema opposite that showed arthouse movies..on top of that building was a huge pair of crossed legs, clad in red stripy stockings & black t-bar shoes! So the street was definitely a quirky feature. Sadly, the cinema is long gone and the old buildings there have been demolished and replaced with a new & very boring office block!

Happy new month to you...so many good things to look forward to. I hope you are having a fabulous day xoxo