I’m on a bit of a mission.
To create the *perfect* floral picture.
There’s a small problem.
I don’t really have a clue what a *perfect floral picture* looks like.
Hmm. When I look around for inspiration, I find myself in awe of others who seem much more than capable of capturing and creating some exquisite images – many of these are of floral origin or they include an element of flora within them somewhere. Some are gorgeous, serene, colourful and often textural too, whilst others are at the very least pretty.
But I’m not after pretty. Or even ‘near-perfect’.
So, it begs the question, what does ‘perfect’ look like to me? To anyone?
And therein lies the essence of such a question of course.
Because everyone has an opinion and opinions are subjective – they have to be, it’s what makes us individuals. If everyone had the same opinion about everything then we’d be living in some Orwellian nightmare that I, for one, would rather not consider a viable option, thank you very much. It would be awful, in the most true sense of that word.
Earlier this week I was reading an article by a friend from the Open Group for Bedlam Farm, who had been utterly devastated by the opinion of someone whom she figured was fairly important (to her) being a long way from the ideal ‘This is fabulous work – you are a force of nature, a creative genius and I bow to your awesomeness!‘ kind of feedback that clearly wasn’t actually expected. Even the most hardy of souls longs for acceptance, for reassurance and for encouraging feedback and when it’s not forthcoming, we find ourselves emotionally beaten up. It’s what we all do – anyone who makes something where there was nothing before. Anyone who ‘creates’ something, often from disparate raw materials – some pieces of fabric, a blank sheet of paper/computer screen, paints, knitting needles and some hanks of wool perhaps. It’s not the elements of what is used that makes something *art*, but the practicality of creating something from these things that makes a creative soul *tick*. And when someone offers an opinion on the outcome of all that creativity, we like to think that we’ve steeled ourselves for anything that comes our way, but the reality is of course that criticism, no matter how it is given, can usually sneak between the chinks of armour to slice our creative souls into a million teeny pieces as effectively as the traditional Japanese santoku.
My friend spent some considerable time thinking about what this knock-back had meant to her, for her; how it affected what she wrote or created in the future and came up with the awesome conclusion that everyone’s opinions are just and only that – their viewpoints, neither more or less valid than anyone else’s viewpoints. As ever, with sound advice coming from the inestimable Jon Katz, along the lines of ‘Never read what the critics say‘ I felt as though I had been taught a truly invaluable lesson. Stop trying to please others – you can please some of the people some of the time, but you can never please all of them all of the time. Simple, isn’t it? You’d think.
Now, if only I could come to terms with my own opinion, then maybe I’d be able to *see* that elusive perfection that I’m searching for. I wonder of Van Gogh or Frida Khalo or any of the other inspirational artists I can think of could *see* what perfection looked like for them? Did they ever achieve it? Does anyone?
So, with that in mind, I’m offering a few pictures that were captured earlier this weekend, most of which I’ve manipulated to create something new, which technically at least, I think perhaps makes me an artist.
I’m really not ready to put that down as my occupation though…
The City of Leeds rose was planted late – only about two months ago. The first buds began to open this week. It’s a stunning flower, with soft velvety petals and a deep, rich pink hue that seems almost perfect to me. It’s a challenge to get some good lighting though!
Like many amateur gardeners, I make up my own hanging baskets, usually filled with petunias, geraniums, fuchsias and lobelia, which I think gives a nice colour selection to them. The lobelia has been particularly profusely flowering this year so far.
My sweet peas adorn a south-facing wall about fifteen metres from my studio door. I don’t often venture out when it’s been raining, but it was warm rain, so I thought this might be OK. I’ve started to use a technique to extend the original picture into a framed mat – this one is lightly blurred. Maybe its the colours, but I do like this one.
The pinks sit next to the night-scented stock, creating a heady cocktail of perfume each evening. Their variegated petals look like a painting to me.
I have an ongoing battle with the wild poppies that love to pop up all over the place, often uninvited. This one sits happily among the sweet peas, like a cuckoo in a strangers’ nest. When I looked really carefully, I noticed the centre; far from the plain black button that I thought was what I’d find, in reality, there’s this delicate nine-pointed star with gossamery tendrils supporting tiny black seeds. And the pollen is purple! Who knew?
Naturally, I had to orb it! For poppy lovers, I wanted to extend the boundary once more, adding the original image incorporated into the mat background.
Asiatic lilies are undoubtedly showy, brightly coloured flowers with proper in-your-face-gorgeousness. I loved the colour on this one and treated it to a focus on that by using a Photoshop filter that gives a wide brush or palette-knife feel to the image. For me this one is all about the colour and details needed to simply take the bus home.
I can’t tell you how much joy it brings me to see bees pollinating so busily each day. This guy has his trendy U2 sunny’s perched up on his forehead (in my imagination – stay with me here people!) whilst he gorges himself on the strawberry flower’s offering. I’m just chuffed that I’ll be getting some delicious strawberries in a few weeks… I thought the plant had died!
In my efforts to attract pollinating insects, bees and butterflies, to my garden, I’ve scattered wildflower seeds all over the place – this one is a bit like a cornflower (or Batchelor buttons as I’ve heard them called) but it’s definitely not a cornflower. However, I find spiky flowers acquire this glorious linear quality when they are rondulated.
Of course, as ever, I do value your opinions about my work. I am not quite as evolved down that artistic path yet – but at least I am stepping out and walking down that road, something I couldn’t do a few months ago.
I’ve got nothing when it comes to an E.T.A. though…
Thanks for reading!
After the sorrow of last week when it seems that all was lost for Marty Jr. I am , as ever, amazed by the variety of wildlife that inhabits this corner of Yorkshire with us. Over the past couple of days, we’ve had an array of visitors to the garden, almost all of whom are very welcome.
I didn’t take photos of the ones that aren’t welcome, because, well that would be a bit daft now, wouldn’t it? Who wants to see pictures of rats the size of a small wheelbarrow? No, me neither!
So, instead, here’s what we’ve seen in the past couple of days…
First there was Ben Bunny. My FAB hubby thought he might have been an over-sized rat at first, but was mightily relieved to find he’s just a little ball of fluff… although we’re taking extra precautions around the carrots now we know about Ben. I couldn’t really get close enough to get a really good shot – rabbits rely upon their enhanced super-hearing to stay alive, so as soon as he gets even the faintest hint of sound, he scarpers pretty quickly. Still, he is definitely cute!
Next came a little feathered chap who decided that the patio outside my studio might be a good place to rest his fledgling wings for a few minutes. He wasn’t spooked by my camera so much – until I made the mistake of trying to open the side gate and then he was off, quick as a flash. I was relieved he wasn’t injured and could fly independently – I’m not great at looking after small animals, or birds for that matter.
And then today I popped out into the sunshine to take some photos – look out for the next blog piece with some lovely shots taken today – when I found one of the red trays that I used to use for storing various school-work related ephemera. I
ronically, this one was labelled ‘Science: Living Things’! It’s been outside for a few days and has therefore (this is England after all!) collected a few centimeters of rainfall.
There was a variety of small water-critters swimming around in the water as well as skating around the surface. I am no expert when it comes to creepy crawly things, but these beetles seem to be entering into some kind of game of Thrones inspired orgy … or at least that’s how it looks to me! I love the fact that you can see where their little feet have slightly pierced the surface tension of the water. I hope that someone with more entomological knowledge than myself can put me right about the bug’s behaviour as I don’t want to get a reputation for posting dodgy pictures!
But the best sighting, by far, came this afternoon.
Just outside the FAB hubby’s den there’s a house marten nest, which has, like most of the others, been there for at least three years or so. We noticed that it has recently acquired an extension, so that it looks like a semi-detached house now. I heard some quite loud cheeping noises whilst I was out photographing the flowers which caused me to rush inside for the stepladders. I’m never very good when not in contact with the ground beneath my feet, so venturing up a step ladder, out of doors, in the big wide open that is the OUTSIDE… well, I didn’t rate my chances any way.
But I didn’t fall, not even a wobble.
I got to see inside both of the nests.
There are baby house martens in BOTH nests. At least two in each.
How do I know…
Well, here’s the evidence! It certainly made my heart sing!
I hope that the extension is housing the Marten family that I feared were lost last week… that glass there’s pretty much half full i believe!
Thanks for reading!
Last year, around this time, I wrote a piece about some of our summer visitors, the house martens, or as I prefer to call them, The Crazy Gang. For those with short memories (myself included) or for those who didn’t read the story about Marty McNofly, you’ll have to scroll down the page to find it, but the story about Marty McNofly is here.
I love to see our little feathered friends and watch their antics as they swoop and dive around the back garden’s air-space, clearly under instructions from flight control central somewhere – although I couldn’t imagine where that might be. Someone must be controlling their flight paths as I’ve never seen a mid-air collision yet and goodness only knows how they manage not to crash into each other on their manic manoeuvres!
On several occasions I have attempted to video the aerobatics but they just move too quickly and all I’ve managed to capture so far is a load of blurry blue skies followed by several minutes of brick wall, focused on the little mud edifices that they call home. The construction of these nests are a miracle of physics if you ask me – globules of mud mixed with bits of straw and presumably some regurgitated bird-vomit stick these nests to the walls of my home at various points, just under the guttering or the eaves of the house.
In early April we usually see them all flying around, restoring last year’s nests, adding patches on where necessary and lining them afresh with soft feathers to make room for their new arrivals.
The incessant chattering of the females as they sit on their eggs makes it so easy to anthropomorphise their conversations.
‘What do you mean you can’t find any mud? Get back out there and get me some TOP QUALITY mud, or, so help me, I will SCREAM until you do!‘ she berates the poor little chap.
‘Sorry, pet! Don’t get so excited dear, you know it’s bad for the little ones to hear you screeching… I’m going, I’ll be back when I find some of the best mud!‘ the beleaguered male marten attempts to soothe as he hastily retreats into the big wide world…
Yes, it’s an age old story of course. This year was no different. Approximately fifteen house martens returned in mid-April and the daily chit-chattering began in earnest. it is always hilarious to watch them as they come and go.
I was thrilled to see that Marty and/or Martina (his little sister) had most definitely returned to re-occupy the nest they were born into last year. In fact, the day they arrived back was such a lovely warm day, that I’d had my studio door open to let some fresh air flow through as I worked on my latest creative project. The nest is about five or six feet west of the door, so it was an easy thing to miss the nest and mistakenly end up in my studio – or at least that’s what I thought the first time it happened that day. And the second too.
By the time Marty had flown in and out of my studio eighteen times though, I began to realise that he was just saying ‘Hi!’ and ‘Aren’t you glad to see me?’ and ‘I missed you too!’ I was really thrilled that he was clearly communicating his pleasure at returning to me. Delightedly, I chattered back to him for the few moments that he stayed indoors.
‘Oh, Marty! how lovely to see you!’ I exclaimed.
‘Is everything OK? Just how you left it? Good, good, I’m so glad to see you!’ I interjected between his chattering.
So, you can imagine how I felt a few days ago when I saw him popping into the nest, delivering some delicious tid-bit to his new missus. I realised I was behaving like a proud grandparent!
I swear, he smiled at me as I waited to try to listen in to the goings on in the nest… sure enough, there were the same quiet little chattering noises that I’d heard him making last year.
There were definitely tiny baby Marty’s in the nest! They were still too small for me to catch photo’s of, but I was so looking forward to seeing the little baby martens as they popped their little heads up for the first time.
But it’s not meant to be.
A couple of mornings ago, I found this amongst my alpine plants in the nearby flowerbed. A small clump of straw, mud and bird droppings. With a few soft feathers for lining.
It’s the remains of the nest that has clung to the guttering outside my studio door for at least the past two years.
As soon as it dawned on me what it actually was, my eyes shot straight up to the nest-site.
I don’t know what happened. Perhaps the owl or some other night-creature had spotted it and somehow attacked it during the night. Perhaps it was a result of the downpour, accompanied by the gale-force winds from a couple of nights ago. I don’t know what happened.
I only know there’s a hole where the nest was.
And the babies that I’d heard chirruping quietly a few days before were gone.
I now that women my age often have trouble with what is termed ‘empty nest syndrome’, but I’m pretty sure that’s not meant as a literal term.
There’s a small part of me that has hope for them. Perhaps, just possibly, maybe, it’s not inconceivable that the baby martens were older than I had imagined and they had somehow fledged before we had a proper chance to get to know each other. They would be flying off somewhere, safe and sound. And they will return home next year. As usual.
I really hope that’s what happened.
Thanks for reading!
A couple of days ago, as the planets and stars aligned – by which I mean of course that the sun was shining on a day that I felt like ‘getting out and about’; the two are frequently connected, but not always reliably so – we decided to pay a visit to the local lavender farm which is about five minutes down the road. The sign sits on the side of the road and we pass it every time we have to go westwards at all, since it is the next left turning off the 64.
Actually, I say ‘sign’, but this is Yorkshire where we don’t do *ordinary* so it’s not exactly a sign. It’s a white Bedford van with ‘Wolds Way Lavender‘ emblazoned on both sides of the vehicle, parked conspicuously on the grass verge at the corner of the road. You can’t really ignore it. Which, if you think about it is quite clever marketing…
So, I’ve been there before, a couple of times and rarely have I walked away without a considerable hole in my pocket. It’s a glorious place, as long as you like lavender of course. And it’s not that it’s expensive – quite the opposite, considering the artisan nature of the products made there – just that everything is so beautifully presented that the temptation to buy the entire stock is almost completely overwhelming, and I’m really not good with resisting such impulses!
As you embark from your vehicle in the car park the magnificent aroma of lavender makes an immediate impact as it envelopes you, enticing you to venture into the arena, led, almost in a trance, by your olfactory organ. I think it’s possible that I let out a small squeal of delight right there!
The shop-cum-cafe is the heart of the whole operation and greets visitors immediately upon arrival. There’s an air of Zen-like calmness as you push open the door to a welcoming gentle tinkle of the traditional bell. Well-laid out products, thoughtfully organised so that edible items are on one side whilst everything else lies alluringly to the other side by the unobtrusive till, silently beg you to ‘Buy ME! Buy ME!’. A glorious range of delicious ice-creams, sumptuous home-made cakes and the aromas of refreshing teas beckon you further into the centre of the room, where delightful tables and chairs are arranged, so that you have to decide whether to partake now or after you’ve had a look around. Beyond this lies the plant sales area – on my first visit, about eight weeks ago, I headed through here straight away and spent about half an hour selecting a couple of beautiful small lavender plants as well as some herbs and a couple of wild-flower seedlings too.
I had never before realised how many different varieties of lavender exist and how diverse the genus actually is. I eventually settled upon ‘Old English’ and ‘Grosso’ varieties to start my lavender garden off. Clearly, I’d be back for many more, as long as they grew well. I also purchased two pots of mint – ‘Eau de Cologne’ and ‘Berries and cream’ – and the wild flowers, two cornflower and two forget-me-not seedlings. I have to say that two months later all eight plants are not only thriving, but are doing exceptionally well. What I didn’t get chance to do on my first couple of visits was wander around the lavender fields. Hence the visit earlier this week. The only disappointment (and this was only slight) was that I’d expected vast swathes of blue flowers to fill the horizon – it’s still a little early for that, so I fully intend to return in about a month to capture that glorious sight, which I fully expect to be utterly spectacular! It’s just a matter of timing of course.
What I did see was more than exquisite though. The plot is large – not gargantuan, spreading for miles and miles, but definitely large enough to spend a good hour or two simply wandering among the flowers. There’s a very helpful map on the fence as you enter the gardens, which might have been a good idea to peruse a little more carefully before setting off. But, you know me, dear reader, and are fully aware of the the fact that I am occasionally somewhat tempestuous and impulsive, so you won’t be surprised to find that I made a bee-line for ‘The Wold’s Largest Bee-hive’ to see the precious pollinators busily making our (Pooh Bear’s and me that is) favourite preserve – honey. I had mis-read the sign as ‘The World’s Biggest Bee-hive’, but my enthusiasm wasn’t dampened by the marginally reduced grandeur of reality – the hive was busy with many hundreds of workers and the queen, contrary to popular belief I think, was getting down to the task of being queen bee very effectively. A family of swallows kept zooming in and out too – their nest was high up in the roof of the hive, an unusual location for sure!
The Drying Shed caught my eye and didn’t disappoint upon investigation. Such beautiful machinery! Charming ‘Olde-worlde’ artefacts, including a magnificent wall-clock and some antique examples of long-forgotten lavender products nestled on a wooden shelf, with (what I think might be) a Green Man carving keeping a watchful eye over all the distilling proceedings.
Just outside the Drying Shed sits a glorious pond, with gently trickling water providing a home for some large koi carp (or they could just be big goldfish – I’m not a fish expert at all!). Chinese Feng Shui would dictate that there should be eight of these, but I don’t think I counted as many as that.The pond also hosted some magnificent waterlilies and the ubiquitous puddle of coins that people throw in to ‘make a wish’.
Surrounding the pond gorgeous lavender bushes sit alongside a mound of peerless poppies, resplendent in their roaring redness against the powder blue sky. I began to relax a little, just from the tinkling water as it flowed under the little bridge separating two halves of the pond.
Next we wandered around the rows of lavender in various stages of growth. In about a month, these will be incandescent with the lilac-blue flowers and the scent then may well be overpowering, although I suspect I’ll still enjoy the experience! Nevertheless, the plants already attract the hard-working bees and beautiful butterflies, giving the whole arena a gentle buzzing as a mellifluous background noise. I relaxed a little more.
After crossing the miniature train lines, we spotted a little bridge, as the paths entwined around the acreage.
Meandering along these stunningly simple tracks led me to find some really fine examples of wildflowers, growing profusely together, harmoniously creating an oasis of tranquility that I felt I simply must bring my children and grandchildren to see and experience – it’s truly a wonderful trip.
I spotted a butterfly, bright blue in colour, flitting inconsequentially between the many cornflowers – I managed to snap it, with a tiny little thrill as I did. It turns out that it’s a simple Common Blue butterfly, which is apparently widespread across the British Isles, but I’ve never seen one up close and personally like this before and was simply delighted that the little chap was happy to pose perfectly for my pictures!
We found a bee who was clearly on a mission – he only stopped to collect nectar from blue flowers. There were thousands of daisies, buttercups, poppies, thistles and of course lavender florets for him to explore, but he was single-minded in his vocation… cornflowers. Cornflowers and only cornflowers. None of these other flowers would do. He was fascinating to watch!
Fortunately for me, at least, one of his fellow pollinators was less fussy. I watched him settle upon the yellow, pollen-laden stamen of a large Bellis Perrenis (that’s a daisy to you and me!) and took my chance… I think he looked at me briefly as I clicked away, but he was dedicated to his task. I’m sure he wasn’t ‘workin’ the lens’ but I think I can be forgiven for imagining that he was when I looked through my pictures later on the computer screen. Finally, I had a possible shot for the OGBF Photography Competition!
Keeping watch all over the proceedings are numerous statues and bird-scarers. They are elegantly artistic edifices in their own right, but placed in these particular situations, they seem comforting and natural, almost blending in with their surroundings. There are classical scantily-clad nymphs, natural sculptures of gigantic deer and ironwork dinosaur skeletons to accompany you on your stroll around the flowers.
A large pond sits in a landscaped dip almost in the centre of the flowers, with a lovely arboreal seat, which I imagine must provide most of the water to irrigate the plants with – like an enormous water-butt!
We didn’t have time this time to walk all the way round (real-life pressing in on our Utopian experience), but could also see an area set aside for children (of all ages!) to play with large versions of popular board games – chess, connect four, etc. It’s tantalizingly visible from most of the paths and would definitely encourage my little ones to keep going until they reached them – what a genius idea!
With time running short we returned to the entrance, but couldn’t pass the ice-creams without indulging. They were heavenly! I cannot recommend the place highly enough – if you are ever in the area, you simply MUST stop by and spend a little time in the tranquil environment. The restorative properties of lavender and wildflowers so beautifully managed are immeasurable. You won’t regret it I hope you’ve enjoyed my photos – I’ve used a few to manipulate into images with a new perspective, which if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll be familiar with my orbs already. Take a look at this short slideshow of my Wolds Way Lavender Orbs show… and then, thanks for reading!
I don’t remember experiencing the extremes of excessive daylight as a very young child – probably because I lived in Barbados until I was eight years old. So the first time that I noticed the days getting longer would have been the Spring of 1970, when I was coming up to nine years old. I couldn’t believe what my mother was telling me – soon it would be light when I had to go to bed and getting to sleep when it’s still light outside can be very difficult, especially when you’re nine and not used to this whole idea. It turned out that, like most things, she was right. For months that summer, I simply lay awake in my trundle bed, staring at the still gloriously light evening sky until well past my eight-thirty bedtime.
It was like some kind of celestial miracle to me. As if the heavens were divulging at least part of their mystery to us mere mortals. I’m sure that for a short while I even believed that I was the only person (apart from my own mother) who could see the luminous evening sky, which could only mean one thing of course. I was a celestial being of some description.
Perhaps I was an angel.
Evidence to the contrary included decidedly un-angelic buck-teeth, straggly, wispy and totally unmanageable plain, boring brown rats-tails for hair (as opposed to shining locks of pure gold that all angels depicted in books seemed to possess) and a decidedly devilish disposition that usually led me far from the ‘right path’, so that teachers, classmates and neighbours frequently ‘tut-tutted’ at my latest Mephistophelian escapade. Plus, I was a girl who *liked* playing football. And for *liked* read *obsessed over, largely because I possessed some wicked ball control skills*. Goodness knows, THAT was a crime in the early ’70s! Of course, I grew out of it eventually, but if things had been different, I’d have been winning the World Cup for England, no doubt about it.
So, not an angel then.
What about a fairy then?
Fairies, according to all of my literary experience (which was actually quite extensive – I spent all my pocket money on Enid Blyton books and simply adored The Green Goblins, otherwise known as ‘Tuppenny, Feefo and Jinks’), were undoubtedly real creatures who along with pixies, imps, goblins, sprites, naiads and nymphs help humans to stumble through their short lives on this planet, usually by leading them (unwittingly) to finding Utopian health, wealth and happiness. Fairies were always depicted in my story books as petite little girlies, with very beautiful, often cherubic faces, long slim fingers and tiny, nipped-in waistlines. A look in the mirror, even at this tender age, would have confirmed this was an unlikely option for me. I even tried ballet classes – which I persuaded my impoverished mother to send me too somehow. I just wanted to wear a pink leotard and fluffy, frivolous tutu so that I could look like a fairy too. Unfortunately, all the other little girls in the pre-primary grade class were a good six years younger than me and I left the first lesson feeling like the proverbial elephant in the room. Possibly, I actually WAS the elephant in the room, come to think of it…
So, not a fairy either.
And no matter what kind of supernatural being I imagined my self to be, there always seemed to be a firm, down-to-earth and ultimately obvious explanation for my fantasies to lead me to the conclusion that I was just plain daft.
Of course, later on when I hit the last year in Primary School (if memory serves me correctly) I did a project on the planets and discovered the real reasons for the differing lengths of days in the Northern (and Southern of course, although we didn’t investigate them – it WAS the 70′s people and England remained massively egocentric at that time!) which was to do with the physical rotation of the ground that we walk upon around the actual physically entity in our sky – the sun – so once again, my childish fancies were dashed, my demiurgic self quashed under the weight of reality. Ah, Enid, I could no longer inhabit your cosmos of chaotic creativity, such was the shame of it.
But I’ve never lost my sense of wonder when I look at the evening skies, particularly as they grow shorter each day towards the zenith of the Summer Solstice. The magic of that event each year is palpable. As every evening during May and then June, I am usually to be found doing the rounds of my living flora in the garden, watering, offering sustenance, talking or communing with my plants like a certifiably crazy person, I find myself looking heavenwards at the inexplicable glory of the eventide. I let my inner infant loose and resume my musings on celestial beings. I find angels, fairies and a host of heavenly divinities sharing their glory in the distant skies.
A visit to Stonehenge some years ago left me in no doubt that there is more to this life than can ever be explained by whatever we can prove to be actual, or physically reality. There is a sense of something inexplicably intriguing, possibly simply a sense of history, for the ancient yet ageless stones in their magnificence stand against Time itself, revealing only mystery upon enigmatic conundrum, wrapped in puzzling secrecy. Why are they there? What caused them to be, at all? Who created them? Questions that are really about life itself. I love that about them.
So, today, in my nod to the vertex of the year (which was yesterday of course), I decided to look at them with a new perspective. Here are my orbs of some of the glories that show the sun rising at Stonehenge. I hope you find them peaceful.
Is it possible that I might be a wizard?
Once again, thanks for reading!
I think it is possible that a momentous change has happened and nobody noticed.
Well, no-one in my world that is… not that I would expect all seven billion people on this planet to notice. I’m not crazy-cat-lady you know!
No, this momentous change is only really a big deal to me.
And maybe my FAb hubby.
And possibly the Neanderthol – although, he really probably hasn’t noticed at all. It’s kinda challenging* (*for ‘challenging’ read ‘impossible’) to drag him away from amusing epic fails on YouTube or out-takes of ‘Friends’ or ‘How I met Your Mother’ or blasting some cyber-dork or another with some unimaginable cube-shaped W.M.D constructed in MineCraft, or something else like it. I KNOW he’s a boy and boys have to do stupid stuff when they’re teenagers so that they will grow out of this stage before some sweet, baby-faced female-type person comes along and charms him into abandoning his poor mother for ever, but I am edging ever closer to creeping into his room one day when he’s out at college and messing mightily with his passwords so that he HAS to initiate a conversation with me rather than pretending I don’t exist.
I imagine he’d come downstairs and ask me sweetly if anyone had, like, been in his, like, room or whatever, like during today or something, like, because someone has, like, messed up his passwords with some, like, shizzle, that he, like, simply cannot get a grip on, ‘cos, like, it’s kinda, like, well, blown his mind? (I offer my sincere apologies to well-spoken English people everywhere … )
I also imagine I will swivel slowly in my special turny-round chair, stroking a random white Persian kitty (whom I think I will call ‘Mr Tinkle’, for no reason other than it’s a darned stupid name…) and sporting a rather fetching monocle (of course – what were you expecting?!) I will smile sweetly at him before delivering my killer line… ‘I’ve been expecting you…’ . Dammit, that one’s been done before hasn’t it? Ah, well. Back to my seeds of change.
You see, this change is very simple. I’ve discovered, after about forty years of thinking the exact opposite, that I quite like gardening.
Hold onto your hats there folks… I realise that was pretty Earth-shattering stuff there! Maybe I should have placed a big warning sign on this piece – at the very least I could have warned you to make sure you were sitting down and not doing anything that might cause you damage if you had a little bit of a teeny shock or something? I must remember to be more considerate in the future!
Gardening was always something I never really quite understood. I mean I *get* the whole ‘pretty flowers’ thing that most gardens seem to have going on. I can appreciate a beautiful example of fetching flora from an artistic point of view of course. I’ve always enjoyed spending time in people’s gardens that follow that principle – lots of attractive, colourful, magically-perfumed blooms to look at, sniff the air around and feel ‘close to nature’. Yep. That one was ticked off the list many moons ago for me. (cue lots of pictures of my glorious flowers for your perusal!)
I even sort of understood the hordes of horticulturalists who like to grow their own food – vegetables and fruit picked straight from the garden and eaten within an hour of them being coddled safe in the ground/on a vine/tree/bush or wherever they were growing, just taste amazing. My brother used to grow vegetables and fruit in the garden and made a special effort to grow cucumbers just for me and wonderful simply can’t get close to describing how fresh and flavourful was their palatableness. I was indebted to him for many things, but the cucumbers are probably the most favourable memories!
But the problem with gardens, whether they are devoted to floral phantasmas or vegetable vagaries, or even (as many seem to) some combination of the two, is very simple. They are darned hard graft. All that digging and weeding, scrabbling around knee-deep in earth, wheeling the wheelbarrow to distant corners of the plot, carrying water everywhere, jousting with hostile hoses, wrestling with leaky watering cans – did I mention the digging? And the weeding?
How people know the difference between which greenery are weeds and which are prized plants, I wondered (possibly slightly in awe) for many years. As far as I could tell, you had to have some kind of sixth sense as a gardener that enabled you to read books about agriculture or cultivating plants without dying of dullness from the taedium vitae.
Of course all of this goes hand in hand with the second serious drawback of being a *gardener*. The fact that I would have to do daily battle with alarming arthropods of every variety. I’ve said before that spiders are on my list of creatures that should be damned to Hell and back, but they are only the tip of a very long list of similar critters and since I recognise that there’s a lot more of them in this world than there are of me, I’ve always been happy to compromise – as long as they don’t get all uppity and attempt to join me in MY dwelling-place, then I will allow them their own space outdoors. It’s only fair. Me inside. Them outside. It’s a very agreeable compromise I think. And I can be generous to a fault about this arrangement, believe me.
So it’s as much a surprise to me as it probably is to you, dear reader, to find me up to my elbows in soil as I re-pot tiny seedlings into larger containers. To find I have my own special gardening gloves (proper suede/leather ones too – none of those shabby namby-pamby cotton ones with little rubber grip-spots that you get in the supermarkets!) and that I wear them to hoike the two hundred yards of hose-pipe around most evenings, giving my little darlings precious watering, if it hasn’t rained today. To find me ostentatiously nattering about my delphiniums and lavatera, my sweet-peas, fuchsias and clematis as well as my marigolds, geraniums, bizzy lizzies and petunias to anyone who will listen? I swear, I go into paroxysms of pride about my wonderful wisteria (which has grown at least eight inches in less than two weeks!) and I’m almost weeping tears of joy because my magnolia has sprouted at least five nodules in it’s new position on the back (North-facing) patio! It’s MADNESS, I tell you!
So, when my friend Avril pointed out to me that I could collect the seed-heads from my well-past-their-best violas that had filled some of the hanging baskets, which would save me a fortune in buying new ones to replace them, I found myself doing exactly that. Who knew?
On Wednesday I took the bull by the horn, or rather the dry, dead flower-heads by the roots, and pulled them from their comfy resting places, leaving holes in the soil that I filled with other small plants (that I had potted on earlier!).
I fought with arachnids, black beetles and woodlice to retrieve the prized seedpods from each little floret. There were so many! It took a fair while to collect them in, but I was pleased with my achievement.
I took the seed pods into my studio and set them down onto the table, next to a small pile of ironing, whilst I went off to research what to do with them next.
I forgot about them (briefly) as dinner called.
Later on, as our national football team skipped around the stadium in Brazil (the less said about that, the better probably) my FAB hubby decided to do some ironing.
I didn’t connect that with what happened until this morning.
Entering the studio, eager to pursue my seed-gathering learning, I was horrified to find that there were seeds ALL OVER the table-top. Simply EVERYWHERE!
I knew what had happened immediately and began berating my FAB hubby in no uncertain terms. He’d just GRABBED all the ironing yesterday evening, in his hurry to watch the match and hadn’t noticed that he’d made such an unholy mess of my poor little seeds… it would take me FOREVER to gather them all up and collect them together to sow them now. HARUMPH! His crest-fallen apology fell upon almost deaf ears. I really was quite cross.
After considerable ‘huffing’ and pointed glaring, I began the task of collecting together each tiny, lost little seed. It was painstaking work. I needed a magnifying glass, some tweezers and a whole lot of patience. I’m not long on the patience front.
But then, I noticed the way that the seeds were spread across the table, the chair and the floor. He must have REALLY smacked the ironing pile to create this random pattern for the seeds to fall into. It almost looked like some kind of explosion had occurred.
Then, I looked into the tray where I had gathered the pods into and noticed something.
Many of them weren’t rounded any more.
Many, if not all of them, had opened up into a kind of three-pointed-star shape, with some still having seeds along each arm of the stars. It struck me as very pretty.
THAT’S when it hit me.
The seed-heads had behaved entirely as Nature intended them to. At a predetermined moment (set by Mother Nature herself, I imagine) each little seed pod had EXPLODED, catapulting all the seeds they contained as far as their last store of energy could possibly take them – about half a metre across my table, over my chair and floor, into all sorts of nooks and crannies, that had they been left outside would have ensured their survival as a plant.
It’s called ‘bursting’ and there’s a fabulous little animation if you click on the dispersal picture on the right. Hmm.
I needed to apologise.
You’ll be surprised to hear (I suspect) that it’s not something I excel at. (See Eileen, and others who think I can do anything well!)
I made some tea and found the chocolate bikkies to give my compunctious words more gravitas.
The FAB hubby graciously accepted them in the spirit they were given. Thank goodness for that!
Thanks for reading!
A while back, when I was in the middle of a photography course run by my friend and ace photographer, Jeff Anderson, he posted a gorgeous photo of a little bluebird. It was earlier on in the year and he’d commented that this was the first one he’d seen this year- surely the sign of the coming of better weather and with it, of course, a return to the plenteousness of Summer. It was a dear little picture of a cherubic and innocent-looking young blue bird. I loved it straight away.
You see, here in good ol’ Blighty we have many wondrous and magnificent manifestations of all that Mother Nature has to offer, from red squirrels to badgers and water voles to barn owls; for a brief glimpse of some of these creatures have a look at this British Wildlife Centre video, it is worth a visit! But one of the creatures that I don’t think we see much of over here is the bluebird. This, I’ve discovered (thanks to Google of course!) from the National Geographic website is because they only live in North America. Well, that WOULD explain it of course!
So, when Jeff was expounding the virtues of this cheerful and gorgeously colourful little chap, most notably as the harbinger of Spring, after what has been one of the longest, coldest, wettest and generally miserable winters since Time began (or for at least the last five years!) and even though he appeared many thousands of miles from where I live, I too was greatly cheered by his presence.
I asked Jeff if he was OK with me using the image he had posted as a model for a water-colour painting I intended to create, to illustrate a haiku about the Bluebird of Happiness – which is all I really knew about bluebirds at the time. I realised that I don’t actually know very much about them at all, except that bluebirds were always considered to be omens of good fortune and happiness by Native Americans in particular, and that there are many cultural references to bluebirds all over the world as heralds of happy times. Some time ago, my FAB hubby gave me a small glass bluebird, promising that there would always be happy times ahead of us. Intrigued and inspired to include a haiku about bluebirds in my forthcoming collection of colour haiku poetry, I dug a little deeper. I found this wonderful poem;
The Bluebird of Happiness, by George J. Carroll
“And in the valley
Beneath the mountains of my youth,
Lies the river of my tears.
As it wends its way to the ocean of my dreams,
So long ago they have gone.
And yet, if I were but to think anew,
Would these dreams evaporate in my mind
And become the morning dew upon a supple rose
Whose beauty is enhanced with these glistening drops,
As the sun of life peeks o’er the mountains
When youth was full.
Then I must not supply this endless fountain
That creates the river of my tears
But look beyond those mountains
Where the bluebird of happiness flies.”
Now of course I know all there is to know, having read the information on the Nat. Geo. website – I am a certifiable expert now less, surely!
Jeff agreed to let me use his picture and I’ve been attempting to do any kind of justice to drawing the bird for about two months now. The picture below is the fourth attempt and I cannot decide whether to start again and just go straight to painting this time or whether to add water to this picture – sketched using water-colour pencils.
And then, I’ll still have to write a haiku too!
I’m a big movie freak, I think it’s the visual nature of the story-telling that appeals to me and of course, to millions of others.
A while back, (thank you IMDB, for the reminder!) in fact fourteen years ago now, there was a superb film entitled ‘Pay It Forward’ in which a young boy (Haley Joel Osment) tries to change the world with a simple principle: instead of payback for favours that others do for you, why not do favours for other people before they do something for you? He started to ‘pay it forward’ as a guiding ethic and found that he was able to effectively change the world. Yes, it was probably a bit schmaltzy in places, but the basic tenet of doing kind acts for other people, without expecting something back from them has grown and grown as a concept and is now a global movement.
I was fumbling around on the InterWeb thing a few days ago, looking for something else (as usual) when I came across the Pay It Forward Experience. Founded by one man, Charley Johnson; it exists to simply make someone’s day better by doing something kind for them.
The principle here is even simpler than the movie of the same name – Charley isn’t asking any one person to change the world, but if each person who hears the message can be kind to one other person each day, well, that’s a great start and if you think about it, if everyone did it, then the world WOULD be a better place. A million people doing something nice for a million other people. THAT’S the way to change the world my friend!
I would encourage anyone reading this piece to go and check them out – it certainly makes you think. I can hear John Lennon singing ‘Imagine’ all the while when I’m thinking about it myself. A true brotherhood of Man.
The thing that sparked me on this train of thought was the arrival in the morning post of a present. Given to me with great love and consideration by a wonderful lady whom I have never met. Her name is Eileen Hileman and she’s another one of those wonderful angels that walk amongst us.
I first ‘met’ Eileen about twelve months ago as we became a part of the amazing community that Jon Katz, an American writer whose books about dogs (in particular) have made me laugh and cry and squeal with joy, founded based upon the brilliant blogging journal he writes about his life at Bedlam Farm. It is an online community that is like no other, a place to share art in multitudinous forms with like-minded people. The friendships that have been forged in the Open Group for Bedlam Farm (or OGBF/ Farmies) in the past year are remarkable – I’ve found so many people who share a common passion for beauty, nature, sensitivity and creativity and all of them live many thousands of miles from my home, here on the grange. A collective uproarious sense of humour is usually at the heart of everything shared there, which makes each day seem just a little brighter and more cheerful than before.
We’ve all taken thousands of photos, posted poetry, artwork and blog posts as well as taking group courses and giving each other considerable positive feedback and support. We’ve laughed and cried together, congratulated and consoled each other at appropriate times. We have all shared many aspects of our lives, past and present with each other. In short, we have become true *friends*. It’s been a remarkable adventure into the unknown and I’m immensely glad that I’ve been able to be a part of it.
Eileen is the wonderful person who makes beautiful quilts for people. She’s made them for several group members – each for their own reasons. I’m not sure why she decided to make one for me, but I am so very pleased that she did! On Saturday my quilt arrived. A cuboid cardboard box was just waiting for me to rip it open. Then came the layers of tissue and then finally, out poured this glorious emerald-backed quilt with the most beautiful, jewel-like colours arranged in an intricate pattern all over the top. it is just so lovely, I can’t tell you – so here’s a picture.
I wanted to thank Eileen so much for her wonderful gift. It’s amazing.
In the true spirit of paying it forward, I’m going to have to think of something that I can do for others. I guess you’ll just have to watch this space to find out what that’ll be!
Thanks for reading!
Earlier this week, my father-in-law’s emotional, uncontrolled weeping as he sat next to me looking at my computer screen gave me serious cause for concern that my attempts to achieve something useful had, in fact, had the polar opposite effect. I was, as always, worried that I had inadvertently provoked this spontaneous, tear-jerking reaction and that he would never forgive me for my transgression. I know I’m a bit difficult at times, but surely not enough to bring a grown man to tears?
As I wracked my brain to consider the possibilities that may have led to this event, another, perhaps less rational part of my grey-matter began to muse on the following: angels live amongst us, of this I am sure. Sometimes, their presence is fleeting, so that we barely notice them until they leave. And then, when an inexplicable hole appears in our lives, we grapple with grief and anguish. Only occasionally do we realise that we have been touched by something celestial and awesome in the most inspirational sense of the word. Perhaps my action was the immediate trigger, but these heart-rending sobs clearly had a deeper, more visceral origin. An angel was affecting him, as she has done for every one of the sixteen thousand, six hundred and fifty-odd days since she left him. Her name is Tina Denise.
My biological father and I have never met, although I recently found out a great deal more about him than I ever had in the first half-century of my life.
My Daddy, the man who was married to my mother, died when I was eight years old. When my mother died five years later, I was looked after by my (much older) brother and his wife, along with their family of five children (my nieces and nephews) who were all of a similar age to me. It was a very complicated arrangement that many found difficult to understand, particularly when I went to the same school as my two eldest nieces who were both older than me. Other teenagers simply couldn’t get their heads round the fact that I was their aunt, yet they were older than me. Did that make my brother my father? This was a typically poorly considered question that I usually answered with a withering glare. Possibly, this was also (in part) where my rather bizarre sense of humour comes from.
So, having a father-figure in my life had been a tad hit-and-miss until I was eighteen and met my husband. My husband had a ‘Dad’ and I found this intriguing from the outset. I had no real idea of how to *be* around this man, who looked remarkably similar to my then boyfriend, just a few years older perhaps. There’s a number of hilarious stories involving Mark (my hubby) and his Dad in farcical mistaken identity scenarios resulting in the elder being thrown out of pubs at the age of around forty, whilst his seventeen-year-old son happily knocked back a few pints in the tap-room. Bar staff in local pubs simply couldn’t tell who was who unless they were standing side by side.
You see, Mark’s father had a very youthful appearance. as you can probably see from the picture … go on, have a guess at his age in this photo… what do you think, maybe fifteen? Sixteen? In truth, he was about eighteen when this was taken. 1957 -ish. I’ll just let you absorb that for a moment.
I found myself attached to his son a quarter of a century later and with my husband came his family. For many people this can be a difficult transition, meeting the family, hoping they’ll like you and that you will like them – but right from the start, Mark’s Dad became my Dad, with his warm smile, irrepressible charm and generous spirit; qualities that he had passed to his son osmosically. And yes, I know that’s a made up word. That’s how I roll. It should be a word and now, I’ve made it one!
I mention this because when you consider the traumas he had lived through in his life, it is utterly remarkable that he showed little evidence of any difficulties in his demeanor or visage. Not a crinkle or a wrinkle in sight. Clearly, some supernatural force is at work here! No-one looks that young for that long, unless of course they are policemen, who look younger by the day, I swear.
Not long after I met his family, Mark told me about their circumstances and the fact that he had once had two sisters, but that his youngest sister, known to everyone as Little Tina, had died when she was three, some twelve years before we had met. Leukaemia had been tragically diagnosed when she was very small and the young family had lived with the consequences for over eighteen months. She had responded well to treatment to start with and after initial hospitalization went into remission. Unfortunately this was not a permanent circumstance and shortly after her third birthday, in October 1968 she passed away. The only photograph her bereaved parents displayed was a very small oval picture of her in a little knitted dress, standing next to a bush in Seacroft Hospital gardens, grinning broadly, but clearly affected by her medication. The photograph had faded very badly over the years, taking on an unpleasant greenish hue that made it look overly antiquated. It almost felt as if she had faded into oblivion when I looked at this miniature portrait, as it became ever more ghostly.
I was empathic, for I too had suffered similar calamities and it was one more thing that seemed to bind us together. I didn’t, at that point at least, consider the actual impact on Mark’s parents until we had children of our own. I visited Little Tina’s grave with my fiancée and lent my moral support whenever and wherever I could. I had always found that those people who had experience of such losses were more understanding of my plight as an orphan and that they usually offered few words – perhaps knowing that words are generally less comforting than actions: so I complied with the general rule of mentioning her only very, very rarely, if at all.
But as time passed, I found myself weeping silent tears for the loss of this small child, especially when our second daughter was born, as she had so many similar characteristics; a startling physical resemblance coupled with some uncannily agnatic mannerisms and personality traits. I was painfully aware that Dad found being around Natalie when she was between two and three particularly challenging. Part of me was ever-so-slightly upset for my daughter, after all, it wasn’t her fault that she had this genetic link and shared so many idiosyncrasies with her deceased aunt.
Seeing him suffer, albeit in silence, tugged at my heart-strings though, much more firmly than my concerns for my own child. I began to consider what it must have been like to lose a cherub at such a tender age. Mark had often mentioned the frequent stints spent at his gran’s home (where he was born) mostly after school or at weekends or during school holidays, when their parents were busy at the hospital with their sick child. Dad would return to pick them up and walk them home, telling stories to them all the time; frequently he would be sporting a new tie that had been cut, up near to the knot at his neck, as Little Tina had been holding tightly to it as she fell asleep. His mother was equally torn between spending time with one child at the expense of the other two. It must have been an agonizing choice.
And then I realised how very young they must have both been when this all happened – in 1968, Dad was 29 and Mum only 26. The cost of travelling to and from the hospital must have been a heavy financial burden as well as physically and emotionally draining. The incredible uncertainty of the unknown – would this treatment work? would she improve sufficiently to come home? how long would she suffer? – must have also taken a significant toll on their sanity as well as everything else. Yet, they came through and were able to pull together, regroup and get on with their own lives as well as their surviving children, giving them an otherwise remarkably happy and settled childhood. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how much bravery this must have required from them both. I cried a river mourning for them and for the lost relationship with my unknown sister-in-law.
And so, when Dad asked me for a little help in restoring a long-lost photo of Tina Denise (Little Tina’s full given names), which was taken in the hospital activity room, whilst she was receiving some treatment, I agreed instantly. He said that he’d heard I was a bit of a whizz with Photoshop and could I do anything with the photo, even though it was badly showing its age, with not only faded colours, but several large cracks when the paper had been bent and folded in the box. I didn’t hesitate to agree. How could I refuse?
Here’s the original photo he gave me to work with:
He wasn’t wrong… it was in dreadful condition. He instructed me to do whatever I could with it, maybe take his cousin Irene (the lady with blonde hair on the left) out of the picture, so that it could just be a picture of Tina knitting. You can see the concentration on her face; you can also see the canula taped to her cherubic, chubby left arm, a stark reminder of the circumstances. His voice cracked just a tad as he spoke to me on the phone about the project. I reassured him that I’d do whatever I could to give him a picture he could treasure. I’m not sure he believed me. I’m not sure I had any confidence that I could do a good job. But I was determined to give it my best shot.
So, here’s my best shot:
When he saw the image for the first time, his silence was devastating. I was terribly concerned that he was disappointed or annoyed that I had not done a good enough job.
When I looked at his face, I saw the tears, streaming down his face.
For the first time in over forty six years, he could see his little girl.
She was real again.
His eyesight, which had never been spectacular even in his youth, has been fading steadily for many years and the tiny oval photo’s evanescent countenance had blotted her from view. But here she was, in full colour, looking remarkably lively and cheerful.
He loved it.
Hence the tears. Happy tears.
An angel touched him once more. I’m so glad I was able to bring them both back together.
Thanks for reading.