Monday, 10 November 2014

winter already?!

How did that happen? Two weeks ago we went for a lovely walk, on a Sunday afternoon, warm enough to walk in shirt sleeves. Yes, it looked a bit autumnal - the leaves were thinning and the light had that slightly golden quality but there was still real warmth in the sunshine.



And the skies were blue...


...reflected in the water...







There were golden leaves on the branches but plenty of green ones too...


...and it was absolutely warm enough for a cold glass of golden bubbles to be enjoyed...


So how much of a shock has it felt for the temperature to suddenly drop about 10C, even if this is what we should be expecting for early November!

But it has been a good opportunity to do some therapeutic clearing in our little courtyard. The plants were so overgrown that I took a deep breath and then did some major pruning, digging and sawing. Three car-loads later (the buddleia had a 4inch trunk!), it looks a bit bare but I uncovered a couple of roses, a peony and several bulbs already trying to peep through. My little table is a bit more exposed now but I hope next year the plants will grow back healthier and easier to manage. And, worst case scenario, if the old plants like the buddleia and hydrangea (I discovered the 20 year old hydrangea was actually in a 12inch plastic pot, with its poor roots trying to force through the holes) don't survive the shock, then I will have to think about replacing them.


I'm sure lots of the plants have self sown over the years. that grassy thing in the background (which has vicious sword like leaves and underwhelming seedheads) had a much bigger brother where the pots are standing, which had been there so long that the centre of it was completely choked with dead leaves. It had made getting to the table in the summer something of an obstacle challenge so I spent about 3 backbreaking hours digging it out altogether  and have planted out wallflowers, lavender and tulips, which I hope will fill the space with colour until I can think a bit more about what shrubs or perennials might be more suitable. I think the other grassy thing will go too at some point, but I'm not sure the neighbours (or my back, come to that!) would have coped with any more clearing. There is something of a delicate balance gardening a shared courtyard - I'm the only one who really does anything out there but, technically, the ownership is shared so it does feel a bit like hacking back someone else's hedge!

I needed a bit of colour out there so have planted the pots with cyclamen, primroses, pansies, narcissi, tulips and forget-me-nots. Makes me feel optimistic about the promise of spring.




This space is where the hydrangea was; it grew across the path and on wet days its saucer-like leaves had a habit of emptying water over you on your way in and out of the house. So, I cut it out of its pot and planted it in the ground, then replaced it with this red cordyline and some winter heather, underplanted with bulbs (can't remember what I put in this pot so that will be a nice surprise!). In all honesty, I'm not quite sure this goes hugely well with all the 'cottage garden' plants but if it just brightens my pathway for the winter that's fine by me.


I have decided life is full of compromises, some of which you don't expect to have to face, but all of which have positive sides too and its about embracing new opportunities rather than feeling too sad about the things you've had to leave behind. The last few years have taught me that you cannot predict the responses of others, even if you think you know them very well, and that some friendships and relationships have to be consigned to memory. Similarly, the things I thought I couldn't manage without, actually, are really very few. Sure, I do miss a 'proper' garden and I would love to be able to hang washing out in the breeze... But, I love to be able to just walk out of my door and be in the city in minutes. This is my regular route into town...


...and home again...


Could be very much worse. And I am still discovering new open spaces and walks that are not far at all from home. This little walk is just minutes from the university but feels as though you are in open countryside. With a very friendly little donkey and his horse friend just wandering by the river...




I'm not good at winter. I dread the short days and feel miserable in the cold. But I am conscious that life is precious, and short, and I am determined to not spend that time feeling sorry for myself. I have a family that I love and friends who keep me sane. And it really is ok to have time to be alone sometimes. There is lots out there to be thankful for.

And, oh my goodness, it really must be winter - because this is round the corner...!


Best get on with the day!!

S x


Monday, 13 October 2014

Moments that make you think...

This week has been a bit mad. In addition to the usual manic work stuff, a few 'old house issues' becoming apparent (leaking drain, damp, condensation...) and the general day to day stuff of living, I've had 2 trips to London. Work related rather than pleasure exclusively, as a result of which I've decided a 2 hour plus each way commute is really not for me! I love going to London, but really, I think, because I like to be able to soak up the atmosphere and people watch. Running on and off the tube and negotiating crowds of people when you actually have to be somewhere at a given time not so much fun.

But I did sneak in a few little bonus 'moments'... On Friday evening after a full days meeting, we took in the Royal Ballet's Manon at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. This did not disappoint - the music was beautiful and the dancing defied what you think a human body can do. How those dancers manage to make something so physically demanding look so graceful and effortless is beyond me. Although in many respects the lead character doesn't exactly encourage your empathy (she's a bit shallow, flirts between love and riches with giddying fickle-mindedness) the story was told with such emotion that by the end of the second act I was reaching for a tissue... not that it takes a whole lot to reduce me to tears these days! 


Obviously, couldn't take pictures in there so this is copied from the ROH site. The sets and the costumes were stunning and the setting of the opera house beautiful (another first for me, had never been in there before). Several ballet 'newbies' in our group, who had come along with a healthy degree of scepticism, were completely converted - if you are not sure if you like ballet, this is one to see. Lovely way to spend the evening.

Then before heading home on the Saturday, I made the effort to go and see the poppies installation at the Tower of London. Over the summer this stunning sea of poppies, each representing service personnel that died during the First World War, has spread across the moat around the Tower. Lots more about the installation here - I was keen to see it before it is dismantled in November.

It was heaving with people, but even so, no less impressive to see this flow of red that certainly focuses the mind in terms of the scale of wasted lives. Very powerful image.





Something of a reminder of the value of life.

There have been a number of sobering things this week, most not for mention on here, but this little waif touched my heart too...



My middle son's girlfriend is a vet nurse and found this poor little lost soul curled up in the road, cold, blue and very nearly history. He is about 6 weeks old and, she is pretty sure, dumped. I don't understand how anyone can do that. I had said I wouldn't have cats in this house - no garden, too near a busy road, out all day...  but was seriously tested here!! Fortunately, within a day a kind home had been found for him so I'm sure he'll have a happy life now.

So, enough dallying, back to the tedious business of 'day off' activities - chasing the water authority re the drains, washing, ironing, cleaning... though have to confess to a degree of obsession with what has become something of a scientific exercise monitoring the relative humidity and checking the dehumidifier. Should this house ever resemble something less than tropical levels of humidity (without the warmth!) I shall be putting flags out!!! 

Sx






Monday, 22 September 2014

Living the dream - things that memories are made of...

My youngest son and I have shared something of an obsession with VW campers for some years now. We have admired them at our local VW festival, oohed and aahed when we spot one on the road and planned our 'if we win the lottery...' trip round the world. (We don't actually do the lottery, minor detail...)

This year he turned 21 and in a rather rash moment I decided it was time to indulge a little of that obsession with a holiday/birthday present that would be a treat for us both - on the spur of the moment, I booked a Mon-Fri break with O'Connors Campers. Check out their website if you are a VW fan - they have some lovely vans!

Last week we set off for Devon for our little road trip, via an overnight stop in Bath to extend the holiday. I had never been to Bath before and was not disappointed - it is a beautiful city with grand sweeps of town houses, lovely parks and a palpable sense of history.


Somehow, it didn't seem particularly odd to see people wandering around or reading in the park in full Regency style dress...!

We wandered around in the lovely late afternoon sun, just taking in the quirks of this beautiful city. These two little characters were observing us from an upstairs window...
 We stayed at YHA Bath, very comfortable, lovely old building and pretty reasonable value. 
The following day saw us heading on to Devon, with a brief stop in the pretty Somerset village of Dunster for essential coffee and cake...
Much excitement (and more than a few nerves on my part!!) when we picked up this beautiful little van from Okehampton, engaged our inner hippies and set off for the North Devon coast...


This is Barbarella, and she certainly has some quirks from a driving perspective! Dating from 1967, she has a something of a mind of her own as far as gears are concerned, brakes that required physical effort of the downhills and a fabulous engine roar. I'm not sure how long it is since I drove something without power steering or brakes and even the position felt very weird to begin with! We may have caused a few curses behind us as we crawled along to begin with but there is something very liberating about just tootling along. By the time we got to our first overnight stop I had sussed that a bit of gentle handling in the gears department was the way to go and was beginning to enjoy the drive - Tom was definitely enjoying the ride and the sideways glances of people we passed!

First stop North Morte Farm, with stunning views as the sun set over the coast...




We had packed for autumnal weather but in fact, summer seemed to have had second thoughts and we woke the next day to a beautiful sunrise that turned into gorgeous blue skies...



Thought my blankets looked at home though...
Next stop Port Isaac and the lovely, quieter Port Gaverne (cream tea :-) had to be done!)...


Our stop for the night was a campsite near Padstow - both minor disappointments to be honest - the site was nice and quiet but very basic facilities, which didn't bother me at all except that it was relatively expensive! Padstow just seemed rather commercialised and felt a little like it has lost its heart to the tourist trade (noting that we were being those tourists!) - that may be unfair because we only saw it at night and perhaps it has a different feel during the day.


Tom would have loved to drive Barbarella, but insurance didn't allow - didn't stop him posing though... Essential for social media!


...and he 'dressed' Barbs with the blankets the next day...


On round the coast to St Ives via the Bedruthan Steps (the guy on the car park said he thought the van knew its way there! obviously a regular stop!!). The coastline here has a rugged dramatic beauty...



It was a bit misty & blowy, these little sparrows were getting decidedly ruffled...


We stayed at a really lovely campsite on the clifftops above St Ives - Trevalgan touring park - great facilities, good value and a lovely walk down to the town along the coast path.


We were in St Ives primarily to see Seth Lakeman, who did not disappoint - had everyone on their feet by the end of the night...


The next bit of the coast road around the headland to Lands End was great - stunning scenery, gorgeous blue skies and I was really enjoying the van by this stage. 


We had planned to visit the Minack Theatre but didn't quite make it as the fees for almost everything just start to really add up after a while so instead walked around to the beautiful beach at Porthcurno, where a spent a happy while taking photos of the sea...




Just gorgeous. I could've happily stayed here for hours. But sadly, our little road trip was coming to an end and we eventually made our way on to Woodovis Park near Tavistock for our final night with Barbarella. This was a really lovely site complete with an indoor pool which was a real treat to end the day.



We had such fun in this old van - is it the most comfortable way to travel? Nope. Are you likely to get the best night's sleep? Probably not. But there was something very liberating about just chugging along, knowing that however long the queue behind you, there's no point in trying to go any faster and I'm pretty sure she brings a smile to most people's faces.

Did I discover a bit of my inner chilled out hippy chick? Yep - wish I could bottle that feeling and keep it going day to day. Would we do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat - only next time I might just keep driving... ;-)

S x