Sunday 31 July 2011

You have been warned

So we sat carefully on a groyne,

watched our step on the wet sand,

looked but did not touch,

resisted the urge to hop along seaweed covered posts,

examined the water for obstacles,

 and played nicely

 with pebbles and shells.

No risks were taken in the production of this post.

Saturday 30 July 2011

Better than expected

The weather man predicted
a cloudy day with a few sunny intervals.
Happily he was wrong.

It was a perfect summer's day -
sunny with a few cloudy intervals.

I pottered,
washed and dried sheets and pillowcases
in double quick time,
read my book 
and picked the first Victoria plum.
The man next door was playing rather loud music
but he was up on some scaffolding
painting his house white
and singing along -
so I stopped fretting and enjoyed that too.

Friday 29 July 2011

Putting my feet up...

metaphorically speaking.
Actually I went to The Summer Exhibition
at the Royal Academy
with my friends Bridget and Belinda.
We had a spot of lunch first.
We were just too late for breakfast but one of our party
fancied the eggs Benedict from the breakfast menu,
and a polite request for it was successful.
All was going swimmingly until
 music started abruptly, 
from a speaker positioned at ear-shattering level.
It was frantic, moody, pounding piano.
Chopin perhaps.
The Sonata No 2 in B flat minor would give you an idea.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love Chopin,
but not when it's an unordered side dish
(chilli con carne in this case)
for my ham salad.
The mood of the room changed instantly.
Indigestion threatened.
We frowned and muttered amongst ourselves for a bit
and then we asked if the music could be turned down, 
or even better, off again.
The response was inconclusive.
Meanwhile disembodied applause rang out across the dining room
as the performance at the invisible concert ended 
and Chopin morphed into Mantovani.
No better really.
A bit like getting treacle pudding 
dumped on top of the ham salad.
More beckoning and firm but courteous words
from Belinda, and the matter was settled.
Silence fell. Bliss.
We were not lynched by the other customers demanding
that the music be turned back on.
We heard only the murmur of civilised conversation
and the clatter of forks and spoons*.

Then we went into the mercifully silent exhibition.
It is interesting to imagine the potential 
for dissonance between say,
Tracey Emin and Purcell,
Elizabeth Blackadder and Mahler,
Edmund de Waal and Glen Miller.
At the very least music would surely start to impact
on your feelings about the piece.
It would intrude.
And that's what it did to the food.

* the title of Richard Corrigan's cookery book.

Thursday 28 July 2011

The water feature

We have a modest pond in front of the kitchen window
made from a large black plastic tub, sunk in gravel.
Over time the gravel has been colonised 
by creeping violet, alchemilla mollis,
and a tenacious but unknown weed.
The once fine black bamboo flowered and died,
 so did an acer,
and many of the attractive stones 
disguising the edge of the pond, had slipped in.
My attempt at a Japanese garden had seen better days.

With the impending Visit,
I suddenly saw this sorry sight through new eyes
and although it was most definitely not on the list,
(see yesterday)
I found myself skimming off a thick layer of duck weed 
from the surface with an old plastic sieve,

perturbing a long standing resident.

I started weeding between all the stones
and delved into the pond for the missing ones,

about a hundred of them.
The water level dropped dramatically-
that would be a lesson in displacement there
if I ever had my time again and decided to homeschool.
Then I jet-washed the slimy black stones

taking care to avoid the well-camouflaged frog
and put them back round the pond.
In Japanese water gardens boulders are carefully selected
 then placed using the classic gogan-ishigumi stone-setting technique.

I lack this technique, and it shows.

For a touch of authenticity,
I bought three goldfish from the local pet shop.
Japanese koi ponds have sophisticated koi pond filters
that keep the water crystal clear.
Ours does not, so you cannot see the fish at all.

You can however see a reflection of the kitchen window.

Pond landscaping is groomed and shaped
using special pruning methods.*

These pots are looking nice
and I have clipped the box hedge in the corner. 

All I need now is a little bridge.

* My scant research is taken from The Journal of Japanese Gardening.

Tuesday 26 July 2011

Chasing my tail

We have important visitors coming from Japan
a week tomorrow.
There is much to do and this pinny 

is clearly the appropriate garb,
for the efficient accomplishment of these labours.

 Many lists have been drawn up and a preliminary shop
is the first task of the day -
mirin, soy sauce, ramen, sushi rice,
tofu, wasabi, rice wine vinegar.
I know they will try to like Western food,
but I'm happy to provide some familiar faces.

So far so good.

Then to acquire a laundry basket, a bedside lamp
and a biscuit jar for those awake and hungry at unfamiliar times.
One out of three successes there.
The biscuit jar fell to the tiled hall floor 
as soon as we crossed the threshold,

and the lamp was missing a vital screw.
I fixed the lamp with a spare screw 
from the tool cabinet in the garage

but that is where things started unravelling.
Washing lines beckoned,
windows needed cleaning,
and whilst I have the squirty bottle why not do the mirrors too
and those pictures leaning against the wall,
find a space to hang them them 
and clean their dirty glass, 
start supper, boil some potatoes for a fish pie
(because it's fish pie weather again),
return to the high windows with a ladder
because a swivel chair is not a good idea,
I see that now, but it's only a tiny bruise,
get a close up view of a glass lampshade
with its mini-mortuary of dead flies,
dismantle it with difficulty,
spot the discarded screws from the lamp-fixing exercise,
take them back to the garage,
turn a deaf ear to everything 
calling and hollering in the garage
and hurry out to be reminded of the washing line
by an impending shower,
rush in and hear the potatoes boiling over,
catch sight of some scarves put to soak.
By whom? When?
Remember the hanging baskets by the front door
and water them in the hope
that they will last until next week.
Water cascades off the parched soil
onto my shoes.
Pick beans for supper but get arrested
by the sight of this creature -

unlike anything I have ever seen before
and must be photographed and identified. Anyone?
Books fail me, so resort to Google,
and whilst here decide to have a little sit down
and attempt a blog post but
Blogger refuses to save and logs me out
deleting everything I have written thus far.

I tear the pinny off, eat large quantities of fish pie
and peanut butter fudge and start
all over again.

Edited to add:
And the job that fell off the conveyor belt?
The lightbulb in the bathroom
which, as I discovered later that night,
I had failed to replace in its holder.

Sunday 24 July 2011


Buddleia self-seeds all over the garden
in the most inhospitable places
and because it is known as the butterfly bush 
I have let it be.
Sadly there has been a distinct lack of butterflies
until today, when I saw this beautiful peacock butterfly
feeding on the flowers.
I attribute this success to the fact that I have left,
for the first time,
a patch of Stinging Nettles
and a large clump of Golden Hop,
both being the preferred foodplants of the caterpillars.

Friday 22 July 2011

The Pipers, Issey Miyake and Sandy Calder

In one of those lovely moments of synchronicity
I had half-planned a post for today
based on this passage from
Over the Hills and Far Away, an English Odyssey
by Candida Lycett Green which I am reading again.

Her parents, John Betjeman and Penelope Chetwode
were great friends of the artist 
John Piper and his wife Myfanwy.

My father had met John in 1937 when they
began to collaborate on the Shell Guides 
and Myfanwy and my mum hit it  off instantly.
The Pipers were my paragons and their simple,
solid, flint-and-brick farmhouse
near Henley-on-Thames, my ideal.
I always wanted to live like them, but never got near it.
They had the artist's clarity of vision and there was a calm,
spare, almost Shaker-like quality about their style.
The washed-out sycamore table in the living/eating room
always had a jug of garden flowers on it
(we never had flowers in our house except when
my brother and I arranged them) and
white china candlesticks; an upright piano
stood on one side of the room and
a grand piano on the other.
John and his son Edward played duets after lunch -
'Chattanooga Choo Choo' or music-hall songs
like 'Joshua, Joshua', which we all sang along to.
Through the doorway to the kitchen you could see
the dresser full of bowls and brightly coloured mugs
bought on successive trips to France.

The apple-pie order of the Piper's domestic life
dovetailed with their diligent work routine -
John in his studio painting,

as well as designing stage sets, stained glass
and pottery; Myfanwy writing librettos for
Benjamin Britten at her desk.
Lunch and supper were prepared with ritualistic care 
by Myfanwy, using the best fresh ingredients 
and vegetables from the garden.
Everything they did they did well and elegantly -
John staging spectacular firework displays,
Myfanwy wearing Issey Miyake clothes.

and Sandy Calder jewellery.

And there was the moment. 
I didn't know his work so I looked him up.
Sandy Calder is Alexander Calder (best known for his mobiles)
 and today Google featured him because it is his 113th birthday.
See here for more of his jewellery.

Their economy of style had nothing to do with virtuous piety; 
only a simple editing out of the unnecessary...
I think John and Myfanwy were better at the 'business' of life
than anyone else I have ever known.

Thursday 21 July 2011

Vines on an old stone wall

Agatha Christie and her family loved to collect things.
They put serious time, energy and money into their collections
and some of them are displayed at Greenway.
A great many things though were piled haphazardly
in glass fronted cupboards and display cabinets
where they looked excessive and unlovely.

 I am trying to reduce my possessions,
and I have to admit to a mea maxima culpa cupboard 
containing a small collection of Poole pottery jam pots,
so this was a thought-provoking sight.
In the end, I decided that
this vine,
on this stone wall, 
was the loveliest thing I'd seen at the house
and that I could take a lesson from it.

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Mystery at Greenway House

No photographs were allowed in the house
so I've taken this description from Agatha Christie,
by Laura Thompson.

Greenway House, that magical white box 
set above the gleaming Dart;
Greenway, with its wild romantic gardens;
Greenway, rooted in its Devon history and yet,
with its ghostly pallor,
looking as if it might at any moment vanish into air.

Agatha Christie wrote to Max in 1942,
"Too dear for our possessing" 
but what excitement to possess it!
I thought tonight, sitting there -
it is the loveliest place in the world -
it quite took my breath away.

Agatha bought Greenway in 1938 for six thousand pounds...
The main rooms opened out from a central hall:
library, dining room and sitting room,
which itself led to a drawing room with long,
white windows giving on to a small, secret lawn.
The first floor had five main rooms,
with a large handsome master bedroom
and a vast lavatory with a wooden surround,
the kind that Agatha favoured.
Above were more bedrooms
and a bedsitting room for Rosalind;
behind was a complexity of servant quarters,
a pantry downstairs and a huge
high-ceilinged kitchen.
Everything was high, deep, rightful.
Everywhere was secrecy, enchantment, mystery.

A strange thing happened.
A false door, put in by Agatha to balance the real door 
on the other side of the fireplace in the drawing room, 
has been opened up by the National Trust
to facilitate the flow of visitors.
As I walked through it I heard something fall, 
seemingly at my feet, 
clattering loudly onto the floorboards.
The people just ahead of me turned sharply at the sound
and we all looked to see what had been dropped.
I checked - it wasn't my lens cap which has 
an annoying habit of popping off the camera,
it wasn't my glasses. I carried nothing else.
In any case, it sounded heavy and had bounced noisily.
Did the couple in front drop anything?
No. They were mystified. 
We all looked carefully
to see if anything had rolled away, 
but there was absolutely nothing there.

Monday 18 July 2011

At the water's edge

 At river, lake and sea side,
we saw fish leaping up and kingfishers
flashing by - recognition coming after the fact.
Swallows and swifts grazed the surface
to scoop up insects rising.
Swans braked vertically for a crash landing,
 wings beating with the noise
of a thunder board 
and then recovering their poise,
swam sedately upstream.
Ducks bobbed and uptailed,
men canoed,
our host bailed
120 litres from his dinghy.
Waves rolled in and deposited their dead
wreathed in weeds.
Monsters emerged as the tide receded
and cows slumbered like a pride of lions, 
in a glade at the water's edge.
Perfect pebbles striped, mottled, layered,
begging to be selected,
had lost their shining allure
when pockets were later emptied.