Monday, 30 May 2011

unexpected treasure

Yesterday Jen and I visited my cousin Bridget, who I've only seen twice in the last thirty years or so. She has two children I've never met, and produces the most beautiful botanical paintings, a few of which you can see here. She and her sister Ruth lost both parents in quick succession during the past year, I lost Mum, and we have gradually been more in contact over these difficult months as the preceding generation leaves us behind.

We drove up from York. I had planned a nice B road country route, complete with cows, sheep, villages and lovely views. I had noted that the petrol tank was a bit low, but ignored it as we could "get some on the way, and anyway, there should be enough to get us there". However there were several miles of deep, stomach churning, nerve tingling panic as I realised I was running out - there seem to be fewer petrol stations per square mile here that I'm used to down in the crowded, busy south! Eventually a benevolent local sent us in the right direction, "there's one at Thirsk - that's only 11 miles up the road" - note to self - do stop letting that tank run low!! There was considerable personal pride at stake here, not only could I have run out in the middle of nowhere and had to be rescued, I had blithely stated that I'd be on time "not like Mum who was always late". So bad was she at this, that on one visit to the above mentioned cousin's parents, when we were small, Mum left really early and hid round the corner in her car so that she would be on time. She never got over the fact that Uncle Alan rumbled her and called her bluff by suggesting she'd done just that, as her being on time was quite simply unheard of!

Anyway, back to our visit. We arrived exactly on time (hurrah) and were give a wonderful greeting and treated to much needed cups of tea and happy chatter. I looked enviously round her and her husband's studio - delicious botanical painting on one side, exquisite violin being worked on on the other, sheep safely grazing framed through the window in the evening light. She showed us round her garden, all her own hard work, with some raised beds in construction which she, despite being a willowy and graceful soul, had filled up and dug over all by herself. The greenhouse was full of tasty things and the most beautiful copper beech hedge with an arch in the centre screened the garden from the quiet country road they are tucked away on. Once the children - sorry, teenagers, were also assembled, Bryony was at work just down the road, and Barley was deep in the throes of shooting virtual somethings when we arrived, we were served a very fine supper of roast beef and vegedibles, seated round a beautiful dining table her husband Barry had made. There was chat, and more chat, and more chat, and much laughter and more and more laughter, shared family tales and deliciously outrageous stories about Bryony's school friends. In fact I'm not sure when I've had such wonderful fun. We felt enclosed in a little bubble of happy warmth and beautiful things. Eventually, bearing in mind the hour's driving needed to get us back to York, we reluctantly left. On the drive back I reflected quietly to myself on the years that I have missed by not being in contact with these good souls who share my genes. I felt I had discovered a great treasure, which I didn't realise had been there all along. 

People are so precious

Saturday, 28 May 2011

bees and fishes

I am away in foreign climes, visiting my wonderful daughter in York where she is studying biology and knows all sorts of things I don't understand. I was delayed by two hours on the way up by traffic chaos on the M1 on Thursday, but had Fleet Foxes and Emily Barker to keep me company. Yesterday, as therapy, I took us here to get our toes nibbled by tiny little fishes - something a good friend recommended. It was a very curious experience I have to say, but one I would repeat. You put your feet in the tank of water and the fishes swarm all over them, nibbling away - Jen, who has very ticklish feet, didn't stop giggling for about the first five minutes! I can only describe the sensation as like the tickly part of pins and needles, but with an odd sense of vibration overlaid. Afterwards our feet felt wonderfully soft and smooth. We had to stay and watch two burly young chaps put their feet in the tank - seeing a grown man squeal because he has fish on his feet was not to be missed!

 Today we went to the Quilt Museum to see the exhibitions on display. It is my treat each time I go to see Jen to pay a visit, there is always so much to look at, the staff are always friendly and helpful, and there is a little shop full of treasures downstairs. This time there were celebration quilts of all sorts, including this beautiful little christening gown by Jacquie Harvey. The stitching on this was so fine, I had to do my mad visitor thing of putting my glasses on top of my head and trying to get a close as possible to the work, my sight not being what it once was! I had vowed NOT to buy any more fabric, but you can't refuse a daughter's offer can you? After we'd been there we went to sit in the beautiful St Anthony's Gardens just by the museum. it is a wonderful spot to stop, tucked under York's ancient walls, a real oasis of colour, shape and the soft sound of wind in the trees.

Now we are back at her student digs, she is cooking for me and there are the incomprehensible and raucous tribal sounds of the male of the species watching football, bruising their way through the walls from next door!

I have my stitching with me, so hopefully Bee will have a bit more landscape to fly over by the time I go home.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

stitchin' done

I am happy with the stitching on Norfolk Furrows. Having put it by for a while to distance myself from it, always a good thing with creative projects, I added a bit more and now, I feel there is enough. Just got to work out what to do next - bind with fabric and put a hanging loop or, as the Man suggests, get it framed like a picture. I tend towards the binding and looping - if you know what I mean!

Meanwhile I've been adding to Uffington, bit by bit, but have now put him to one side as well to work on bees; well, a bee. 

The homework I came home with from the embroidery group is to create a themed bee from the pattern above, with wings for goodness sake! All will be hung at the regional show day in Ardingly so I thought I'd give it a go. No harm in trying, but it's the first time I've done anything like it - it's a 3D object! 
The theme for the "challenge" was flight so they chose bees as an interpretation. There were several very fine bees at the meeting on Saturday. I can't hope to match them, but we'll see how my "bee's eye view" goes. Still in it's "pupal" stage one might say, I'll keep you posted. 

These  are little bee bodies, with the fabrics evoking the landscape the bee buzzes across. I want to couch some silver and gold threads across to represent the little bee paths that other bees see when they fly across the landscape

This is the side I've started stitching - I take photographs of things as I'm working, partly to show you, but also so I can see how things are going. You can see more in a photograph, it puts a distance between you and the object, rather like turning an almost finished painting to the wall for a while, so you can see it clearly when you look again. The open space on the left is where the head is supposed to attach.

I was glad I did this. I made the classic hurry'ers mistake, forgetting to turn the template for the mirrored half. Much turning over and marking of new outlines ensued. Then I had to patch some bits in at the tail end to create enough space for the template to turn round in, then I stitched the outline again, having done it once the other way round ..... then I put the template on to take this photograph and realised I've sewn the wrong outline in the fore end of the body!

Back to the sewing machine!

The head - not even started yet, will be in bee colours, with a bee face and beaded eyes .. bzzzzzzz

Monday, 23 May 2011

floral delights

hello, just a quick post to bring you come of the lovely things my garden is giving me at the moment

 some beautiful iris
 these poppies, which were almost hidden by weeds and grass, I'm hoping once both are established that the colours of the poppy and and the deep purple clematis will sing together

 this beautiful delicate rose, which is full of buds just now as it rambles across the front of my shed
the rusty patterns on the water tank which make me smile
and this ash tree, which I will regularly curse as it's babies spread themselves profligately round the garden - look at that great truss of seeds waiting to flutter down and find some nice safe spot to germinate!
However when the wind rushes through the garden, the leave flutter and swing against one another, making the most wonderful shushing sound, and the whole tree looks as though it is waving at me in a very regal fashion - that funny side to side motion of the hand that they do so well!

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Embroiderers anonymous

I have just had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with the local branch of the Embroiderers Guild and a very nice group of ladies they were. This month, luckily for me since it was my first visit, there was a talk by Lucy Goffin, which was tremendously interesting. She showed slides of her work, from the very early days, through working with Jean Muir in the eighties to her current collaboration with Anokhi in Rajasthan. It is always inspiring to see an artist talk about what they do and how they came to be doing it. She had lots of slides of her work, and included some lovely tales behind some of the commissioned waistcoats she has made, her time in residency at Great Dixter and her other commissions including one for Glyndebourne and the ecclesiastical robes which provided timely income just as her husband was setting up Marchants Hardy PlantsShe also brought along some examples, which ranged from the most delicate gauzy scarves dyed with Japanese Indigo, to a wonderful waistcoat with a shibori lining.

So, a fine afternoon with pleasant company, interesting talk and more to look forward to in the coming months, including a workshop in October on using fusible fabrics. I thoroughly appreciated the warm welcome I was given, and will go again.

Then I decided to go with my plan for walking home, it was "only" 2.4 miles. I started out in good spirits with the sun shining on all the neat suburban gardens, holding Beachy Head in the distance, in a blue veil of haze. I love the meditative swing of walking in town, I think it reminds me of the hours I spent walking home from school, books full of good intentions tucked under my arm and summer breezes wafting across from the distant sea. However, I had to be rescued by me dear man after 1.8 miles, which is at least better than not trying at all. 

I really do need to get out more!!

Friday, 20 May 2011

how my garden grows

things are slowly evolving in this lovely space we have come to. In the back garden, the moon bed has gone from

to this
ready for compost and other goodies to enrich the soil. You can see how dry it is, made more pronounced for the fact that it sits directly below a yew tree, but I love the tree, so will have to try and plant things that like dry shade. This well turned soil is not my work I have to say. My good soul stripped off the grass and dug it through. The darker soil to the right is the spot I cleared a while back, which has had soil enricher. You can see the difference.

In the blue pots we have iris nestled in front of the rhododendron
Meanwhile, down in the dell I was creating a rough mown path with the strimmer
through all this lovely greenness and motion, grasses and plantain flowers which swish and swoosh
while above me the fresh walnut leaves sang in the blue, blue sky

The front garden too is developing from
through these

to this, shimmering in the breeze and catching all the south facing sunlight
grasses to swing and sway

veronica and penstemon


And this greets me every day when I come home from work, lifting my spirits with its exuberance.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

White horse grows

I had a strange glitch with Blogger that has resulted in a repost of my first Uffington post.
Here is the update - his land of dreams is expanding - time to go talk with him some more!

On white horses

Having finished Elephant, I wanted to try something similar and found inspiration from our oldest chalk figure, the Uffington White Horse. He gallops his way across mystical realms in Oxfordshire; you can read more about his history here. I've not visited him myself, but we have our own chalk figure in Sussex, the Long Man of Wilmington who watches over us from the wonderful Downs. I have climbed up the very steep hill to look down on him from above and salute him with affection each time I drive past on the A27. His presence is one of my earliest memories of coming to Sussex from Petersfield, when Dad was still alive and driving us to visit Ganna, "quick, look, look to your right, there's the Long Man". There is something very evocative about these ancient chalk figures, speaking to us of human activity and the desire to mark our landscape and advertise our presence. Something evocative too about the Downs themselves which roll and roll across the south of England, part of my own life's background, scoured by sheep and carolled by sky larks.

My white horse has been edited and added to, partly to make it possible to use applique to create his image, he is very slender in his original form, and partly because I sensed he wanted to feel the wind in his mane and tail. I am hoping he is pleased with my additions and will enjoy a little landscape growing in stitch around him.

mindful body

One of the things I keep thinking about,and feel I could blog about, is living this life of mine, in which I have to manage constant pain. Because that is simply how my body is. I can't remember having no pain in my body, ever, though I know I must have as a child. 

We have a genetic condition in the family, which we inherit from Howard C Rowe, my great grandfather.

Howard C Rowe

In most of the slim strand of women descended from him, it manifests itself in very brittle bones.

My lovely Mum,
Mum with Dad in their youth
 dear Ganna, my second mother, once Dad was gone
Ethel H Lomer, nee Rowe
Great Aunt Connie, whom I barely remember, but whose strong personality lingers in family tales
A Constance Rowe
all had this life inhibiting fragility. They fell, they broke. Simple as that.

I and my daughter Jen, who is 25 this year, are the lucky ones, we don't break. But we do hurt. If we jarr our bodies, we often injure muscle or tendon and that takes forever to heal. If we leapt slightly awkwardly as children, we tore, or bruised really badly. For years I have been restricted to nothing faster than brisk walking pace, I know a muscle may tear if I move more quickly. But our bones don't break, which is a Good Thing.

And I still have dreams about running!

This does mean, though, that we hurt most of the time. Not screaming agony type hurt - though occasionally it gets a bit exciting, just nagging, every move you make, grinding sort of hurt, day by day, in all the usual suspect places. So we have to manage it. I try, each day, to keep part of my focus on moving in ways that minimize the damage. I try to hold this focus not in a life restricting way, but accepting that there are things I simply should try to avoid doing. I absolutely exclude gardening from this list of things, but I garden very carefully, as I've talked about before!

There are also things that I, that anyone can do, to support this fragility. I took advantage of training offered by the local physio department on using core muscles to support bad backs. I listened and carried the advice away into life, not enough admittedly, but some. I focus on supporting movement with those muscles, as often as I am mindful to. Simple things like getting out of a chair, tying a shoelace, benefit from this sort of focus: from remembering to cradle the back carefully with those muscles, just before you move. Things which we often do mindlessly, I try to be mindful of.

The mindful bit comes from Buddhism, from the writings of various good souls much wiser than me, and is about recognizing the value of being alive, and trying to use the hours, minutes, seconds, that we are truly awake to, in a meaningful, life affirming way. remembering that even though your back is really, really sore, there are still good things to notice about simply being alive!

I could ramble more about this - I'd rather not preach - but I may return to it from time to time.

Monday, 16 May 2011

The heart of the woodland

On Sunday we went for a walk down to the woods, as we often do. The newt pool, which was so bubbling with life and activity just five weeks ago is now an empty sink of soggy leaves and mulch

I wonder what has happened to all those little creatures hurrying about in their underwater world. I hope they have found a safe place, but I suspect the tadpoles have simply died, they were nowhere near froglet stage last time I looked, though an online article here suggests they may have had time to develop lungs and little legs. We have had no rain at all, bar that one lovely downpour I reported a few days back and that did nothing to replenish this rain fed pool. However, elsewhere in the wood there was much to see, as the last stages of a very hot spring flourish.

There was nettle, a wonderful source of food for the peacock butterfly when in its caterpillar stage, and a beautiful plant in its own right in my view - such a clear shining green with leaves like zig zag hearts

Tiny little holly flowers, delicate as stars
speckled wood butterflies dancing their spring dance in the sunlight, then alighting on the ground where they almost disappear amongst last year's fallen leaves
wonderful foamy clusters of cow parsley, which is also flowering riotously in the hedgerows just now
and wild honeysuckle, with a fragrance so familiar yet still exotic. However slowly and softly you manage it, you can hardly bear to stop breathing in!
All these things, quietly getting on with their lives, providing food for countless little flying and buzzing things. They may not be showy but to me have a simple beauty that could be missed if one wasn't looking mindfully.

On Saturday we drove to Basingstoke for a relatives 50th birthday celebration. As I was not the one driving, I watched the roadside verges and hedgerows and saw that they too were overflowing with flowers like those above; honeysuckle clambering and tumbling in great mounds over trees, umbellifers, daisies and buttercups in swathes at the foot of hedges and rioting across untilled fields, the countryside a great nectar bar for all those little flying things that are so low on the food chain, yet so vital for so many reasons. It did my soul good to see such abundance.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

There's an 'ole in my backyard

dear Liza, dear Liza,
which is going to be a little conservatory very soon. Just enough to sit out in and enjoy breakfast while watching the garden, or perhaps a space for cross cats to hide,

ones who want absolute reassurance that they are NOT going to be taken to that nasty place where someone sticks a needle into them. They sat here in a defensive huddle for the entire afternoon. Trust may now have been restored, but only by liberal application of the best biscuits in the house

Meanwhile more discoveries tucked away in little nooks and corners of the garden, like

walnut "catkins" swaying in the evening breeze

the subtle beauty of granny's bonnets - one of my favourite flowers

and this wonderful vibrant poppy which we discovered almost smothered in grass and weeds, but which is now reveling in weed free soil and a good watering. There are two more flower heads to follow ...

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Visiting Ganna

I love this image, partly because those who are in it, and the presence behind the camera, are all gone, but also because this was the one that wasn't accepted - a little breeze must have flurried its way up the front steps, corralled by the houses, and you can see my very tactile delight in it, as it tosses my hair. In a second picture we are all "properly" posed, but this one has life in it. We would have been visiting from Petersfield, probably the trip that gave me my first sighting of the Long Man.
 The dress Mum is wearing is now part of that "first quilt top".

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Sunshine after the rain

I asked for rain, and so it rained, lovely big fat drops overnight that freshened the world, so that when I walked out into the garden yesterday morning I could smell that wonderful scent of damp earth, which always smells like growth. The garden has soaked it up and smiled.

Then this evening this lovely tree at the bottom of the garden, which guards over the badgers in their nocturnal wanderings, was brilliantly lit by the setting sun. This is the tree I speculated, and now know is a walnut because it is just coming into flower. For some reason this gives me immense pleasure – walnut seems such an exotic thing to be flourishing at the end of a suburban garden in Sussex by the sea. It seems that it should be surrounded by Persian gardens with rills and still pools and arabesques of beautiful blue tiled work. A strange fancy I guess!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Emily Barker & the Red Clay Halo

This is just so lovely - it's the theme tune to a series just started on the BBC - The Shadowline. Each time the trailer came on, I couldn't begin to work out what the actors were saying - I was too mesmerised by the music hovering beneath their words. Series started this week and looks good.

Needless to say, I've ordered the album!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

more grandmothers gifts

I am gradually sifting and sorting "things", and thought I'd share a few more precious bits that have come to me, handed down through the generations. Some I found in the past, some have come more recently on Mum's death. They are little fragments of lace and embroidery about which I know nothing. I have treasured many of them for years, tucking them away in a drawer, wrapped in acid free paper to try and ensure they don't deteriorate, though I have to confess that the little embroidered bag was once home to my marbles! I have no idea of their age, but suspect they are mostly Victorian. I do know that my great grandmother's family moved from Ireland to Liverpool in about 1869. My great great grandfather had been a Methodist Minister, travelling all around southern Ireland preaching. He lost his faith after the deaths of six children from illness in a very short space of time. Once in Liverpool the family seem to have set up as drapers, and are recorded as such in the census. My Aunt recalls her Aunt Annie doing the "most beautiful delicate smocking" on dresses, and teaching her the skill; my grandmother embroidered, knitted and worked crochet lace; Mum knitted and sewed and my Aunt is a very skilled needlewoman. I like to think that some of these things were worked by family hands, I am happy to feel that I carry on that tradition in some small way. 

Here are just a few of the treasures.