Sunday, 30 January 2011

spring is coming!

Over the weekend we went back to the old house, which is very nearly sold/rented out - just another week to go! Spring in the old garden was very obvious, with snowdrops, cyclamen and viburnum flowering away.

Here in the new garden it is a more subtle affair, but still the signs are there if you poke about a bit. I spent some time out there today clearing overgrown vinca and chopping back where needed. It is all rather Secret Garden'ish, which is just how I like a new garden. There is the joy of poking about and finding things you never suspected were there, shoots poking through gravel, buds swelling and flowers shyly hiding until you take the trouble to gently bend back a leaf or two. You'll find a few more pictures here.

We discovered over Christmas that this garden was nurtured for forty years by our neighbour's parents. How delightful to know a little bit of the history of the place. Now we can love it and look for it's spirit ourselves, adding out own little quirks and bits of history.

The front garden, which once swooned to the scent of honeysuckle, was cleared by the people we bought it from; reduced to a barren patch of gravel. However, I have plans and plants and good contacts in the nursery trade who are going to create us a new garden over the next week. At the moment it is a line of sand on the gravel, but I can see it in my mind's eye in a few year's time, enclosing the front a bit, giving a sense of privacy, but embracing all who approach the front door, or at least that is the plan!

I have brought a collection of plants from our old place, including some cyclamen and a single snowdrop that I hope will survive.
They are all destined for the new front garden, and will include two trees that I have been growing in pots since my daughter was quite a small child. They will give spring flowers and autumn colour and berries for the birds, since both are native. Then there is a collection of lavender cuttings I took last year, for scent, some grasses to shimmer in the breeze and trap light, and a large pot with wisteria to flow along a trellis and fill the air with perfume, so we can give pleasure to ourselves and to passers by.

I will keep you posted as to progress.

Quilt Festival at Ardingly

Yesterday I had the fun of going to the Spring Quilt Festival at Ardingly, just an hours drive from where we are. It was a real pleasure, interesting and inspiring. There were plenty of people there, mostly female and of a particular age range it has to be said, though gratifying to see a couple of young girls there, and I did notice the occasional man

The quilts were a mixture of traditional, traditional with a twist and a wide range of art quilts. All the pieces were rich with stitch and texture, some machine worked and some with a variety of hand stitches and embellishments, each labelled with a bit of information from the maker on what had inspired them to work in this particular way.

Aurora Borealis by Rosalie Furlong, detail

I am new to the world of quilting, and to the whole way in which stitch, fabric and time can be woven together to create such a wide range of beautiful objects. This sort of show is great for the way in which it gathers such a variety of works together so one can begin to understand what is possible. I took a raft of photos to try and capture those I found most inspiring, waiting for people to get out of the way, dodging, diving, reaching, smiling, apologising! You can find them here if you'd like to see more.

Thursday, 27 January 2011


this evening was like this

Subtle gradings of colour captured by the trees,

entangled in the light catcher, 
soft gloaming

Monday, 24 January 2011

Third Week at work

I have just begun my third week at work. It is exhausting, but also tremendous fun. People are delightful, customers in the library, staff some of whom I have known for 20+ years. There is something to be treasured in that patina of long acquaintance; those I work with make that work pleasurable. Certainly there are times when customers are rude, or someone irritates the hell out of you, but they are simply human. Why should we feel that life must always be kind to us, since it so evidently isn't for almost everyone else? But these last two weeks, having spent the past year thrown a great deal on my own resources and often solitary, have been a reminder of the kindness of life. I have been greeted, hugged, smiled at, by so many people, shared bits of news, fragments of their own past years, but also had moments when I've felt terribly insecure. That is the way of life, with pattern variable as the sea by which I live.

There is, however, less time for everything else, so blogging, both following and writing must fit into the spaces in between!

Friday, 14 January 2011

A War Blanket

This blanket is one of the things from mum’s flat that I couldn’t bear to part with, because I know it’s tale. Old things have stories attached to them, sometimes  we acquire them unknown and speculate about their past. I am lucky enough to know the past of this blanket. It is a war time blanket, marked with the label Battle Rural District Council. 
In the fifties, their offices were at “The Watch Oak”, named for the legend of Saxon Edith of the swan neck. It was here that my parents met; both employees of said council. One or other of them chose the blanket when they were finally offered out to staff by the district council; war surplus that had never been used. There was a tale attached about some petty office rivalry because one member of staff got (“Grabbed!!”) a better quality blanket than another, an act of deep treachery never to be forgiven! Mum had many tales like this, all told with delightful accents and mimicry that will forever echo in my head. She and Dad were married in 1957 and moved to Petersfield in Hampshire, where I was born. 

After both Dad and Mum’s Dad died in 1968, we moved back to be with her mother – my Ganna. Mum needed to work to support us, and having kept in contact with past colleagues, was found a shorthand typists post in that same district council, returning to the same office that she had worked in when she met Dad.  I have always wondered what the effects of this erasure of her married life must have been like for her. To become again a daughter, to work once more at the place where she had been so young, so full of hope, after such deep loss. She told me once, when I was old enough for that sort of conversation, that she had never really felt happy, since he had died. He was a treasured gap, an endless absence in our life.

John Bone

I hope to use this blanket as the base for a lap quilt to keep me warm in my corner of the sitting room, which sits by a north facing wall. I’m not quite sure how, nor whether I have the skill, but to sit under it in winter, hearing it’s voice, could be a deep pleasure.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Back to work

I returned to work this week, after a year off, part of which was spent looking after Mum until she died. I was quietly apprehensive about this new beginning in my life. A year is a long time, one in which some pretty major life changes have taken place for me and my dear man: bereavement; house moving; retirement and for me the continuing need to monitor and support the care of my godmother who lives several hours drive away from me. All quite stressful, so back to work was a big bump on my horizon. I have completed my first "week" (I work part time) without disgracing myself, I even feel I've done one or two useful things, but the thing  that has marked it most for me has been the kindness of others. As I have "busied about" the past several days, all sorts of people, colleagues and friends, have greeted me and made me feel welcomed and appreciated. It is such a simple gift from one person to another, a smile, a hug, shared laughter and a bit of a gossip, yet it gives the day a lift and lightness. Life is always changing, it is one of the few certainties we have. I am very aware of the contrast between my return to one of the things that has given all my adult life context and meaning, just as my man retires and so loses this aspect of his life. It is such an embedded part of who we feel we are.
Then I came home and caught up with some blogs I follow and this comment by Pen struck a chord, so I thought I'd share it. it seemed of a piece with appreciating the good and fruitful aspects of humanity.

Monday, 10 January 2011

little hanging

Now Christmas is over and my lovely daughter has been and gone I can share this little something I made for her.

I blogged about it earlier in it's life here. It began as an experiment - a few scraps from the quilt top I was making using squares I had cut out pre rotary cutters and cutting mats. Many of these were from fabrics used by Mum to make dresses for herself before I was born, or for me as I grew. Mum was not a confident seamstress, her first dress, made to prove her usefulness to Dad before they were married, brought her out in a rash "all over", but she persevered being a very tenacious soul, and by the time I came along she was sewing with great accuracy and determination, though not with the confidence that she knitted. I cut up these bits of cloth when I was in my late teens, then packed them away in a bag and carried them around from place to place for about 30 years! Having finished the patchwork I sewed a few scraps together and gradually a little "picture" emerged as I experimented with some machine and some hand stitching.

Then I added a border from some remaindered curtain fabric I bought and another from some delicious velvet I found in Penrith.

I have backed the hanging with a panel from one of Mum's dresses. She probably wore this when she was carrying me, if not within her womb, at least when I was a baby. It seemed a poetic thing to give to Jen, now Mum is gone. Fabric new and old, fabric which enwrapped me now carrying my love to my own daughter, my stitches and Mum's combined to create a thing for someone we both love(d).

Saturday, 8 January 2011

War was declared

I have just had the delight of my daughter's company for a week and we were going through some of the things left in Mum's flat when she died last year. One of the gems, of which there are many, was this little writing case that belonged to my grandmother

Inside it are precious letters, collected over her lifetime. One, which Jen and I read together, was written by my mother, when she was thirteen years old, while staying with her aunt in Hastings. I reproduce it here as it is such a poignant document of the declaration of war in 1939, as seen through a young girl's eyes: almost incidental to the pleasures of staying with a much loved relative.

My own precious Mummy,
The time is 7:30 and I am sitting up in bed writing this with the new pencil I bought on Friday on the new pad I bought ditto. Yesterday I had a lovely run in the car, I ate no barley sugars, I only felt sick once a wee bit, and I didn’t get out at all. My chauffer went at about 40 per hour the whole time (nearly). He overtook about 20 cars. The car was lovely and I felt I was in a Rolls Royce. This pad is perfect. When I got here Gags and Haza were out so I got all my things upstairs and unpacked very busily. Then I unpacked my writing case. I am sleeping in the winged bed in the centre room facing the big windows. In front of me at the window is the table that was our dressing table, minus the cloth, with books on it. On the left are all the chairs for the meeting Barbara has just brought me a cup of tea). Gags every Sunday is going to take my bedding away and turn it into a couch, and is going to hold the meeting. (Gags says that she will give Nanya a treatment.) On the right is the little table that you can make into a chess table that used to stand in the window. (It is simply pouring outside). On it I have my clock, Roly my little glass dog, my mouse, my bird, my glasses, Bible, Science and Health, my little picture, my brush and comb and all my little ornaments that I used to have on my mantelpiece at home. On the left of me on the floor are my gum boots, barley sugar and gas mask. I love looking at the picture of the boat on the river, with all the mountains behind that we have in the drawing room beside the door because it brings back home. I will continue this letter later because I have to get up now.
I am sitting at the drawing room table and the time is 10:30. We are still waiting to know whether there will be a war or not. It is awful. I have been in the park with Gags. We made up a rime [sic] about Benjy, that he was a “blue bag bright billeting beautiful bally Benjamin boy”. I don’t think that “bally” is right and I know there was more than that but I can’t remember. Yesterday when Gags and Haza were at Iden Lock they saw Mac and he still held to it that there would be no war. I have made a lovely “Own Desk” out of my writing case. I have put it lying down on the table beside my bed with a little box beside it for a waste paper basket. I lock it and when I open it everything is like it was at home. I put the blotter of my writing case on top so that I only have to take it out and write on without disturbing anything.
I confess that I shed about four tears last night but I think it was more due to tiredness than unhappiness, the day had been rather hectic. Gags says that she will, or I will remove the books from the table and that I can have it for an “Own Desk”.  It is very kind of her. I have settled down here and am very happy, especially after the treatment I gave this morning. I have eaten one sweet out of my war supply. I am afraid my writing is rather tending towards getting worse and worse, I must try and improve it. I am just going to listen to the Prime Minister’s speech so will stop a minute. War has been declared and just as we turned off the wireless we heard and air rade [sic]. I got my gas mask, mac and we all sat in the darkened hall while Gags took the meeting. It all seemed so sudden.....

Must stop now, tons of love and kisses to all including yourself
Rosemary (Baa)

...PPS It is very funny to think that the air rade warning was not true at all, “not at all” as the Americans would say.

"Baa" is the pet name my grandmother used for Mum. I had forgotten it 'till I read this, and was intrigued since one of my pet names for Jen is "lamb".
The place she describes was also my home from the age of 11 'till I left home at 25.  "Gags" was her aunt, "Haza" was her Aunt's lifelong female companion, quite daring for those days. They lived by Alexandra Park in Hastings, hence their walk in the park. The "treating" that is mentioned is the Christian Science "version" if you like, of prayer. My grandmother and her two sisters, though brought up as Methodists in Ireland, became deeply involved in Christian Science and were quite sure that they had received healing through these treatments. Weekly meetings were held in the room that Mum was evidently sleeping in while she stayed with them. The picture of the little boat she describes, one of Nanya's, is waiting to be hung in our new home and I have the little ornaments mentioned, carefully packed away 'till I have found a safe place for them.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

tree gone!

As I sit at my computer at the moment, there is a great racket of chomping, grinding and buzzing outside. When we moved to this place, I particularly noticed a lovely Scots pine gracing the house across the road, giving it an air of dignity and history with its elegant twisting branches, brushy clusters of needles and confident sturdy trunk. Something to notice, to look out for as I came round the bend in the road. This is an area that I suspect was once heathland, there are a lot of pines, birch and heather in the gardens round about and the soil is acid. Sadly, this particular pine is no more, reduced in a few short hours to a pile of sawdust and logs after long years of quiet existence. I can only hope it had some disease or rot - it seems a sacrilege to destroy something of such age and beauty. I suspect however that some health and safety geek suggested it might be a danger to the house, or perhaps they just thought it was getting too big, as if this wasn't what tree were for! I shall mourn its passing, a landmark no longer.