Sunday, 5 June 2022

saying goodbye

Regular readers will be familiar with our lovely Cat Chaps, Rum and Raisin. They came into our lives in late 2008, rescued from a very good RSPCA Center in Hastings. We had lost three cats in the previous couple of years and I had been sent out to find "just one female cat", but these brothers captured my heart and so became part of our family. They had been deserted when previous owners moved house and left them to fend for themselves. Raisin was quite extrovert, came out of their "pod" to see who I was and trotted about looking very cheerful; Rum was the shy one, refusing to come and perform, but when I put my hand carefully into the space where he was he let me stroke his head, very briefly, before ducking it away with a motion that became utterly familiar to me over time. It was his "not now, but maybe later" declaration of independence. I couldn't leave them there after that. 

Christmas in the menagerie window of daughter's old bedroom

Since they arrived we have moved house, coming to our current home after my Mum died in 2010, and they have appeared from time to time here as part of our happy lives. They found the advent of a much larger new garden rather overwhelming at first, especially as it was dusted over with frost and then snow in the first few weeks

Crikey, this needs a bit of a tidy up

But they soon settled in, and games of "cowboys and Indians" on the lawn, followed by exhausted luxuriating in the warm sun on the path, became a regular entertainment for us and them

a peaceful pause with paws

As all lovers of pets know, we only have them for a short time, and last week I had to take our beloved Rum to the vets for a final visit. He was very poorly and one always knows what the kindest course is when this happens, but the repetition of loss makes it no easier to bear. My daughter and I took him along, the Good Man being too upset to come this final time. All was done with great kindness and gentleness, and his leaving this earth was a quiet and peaceful passing. His death is a small and insignificant thing in the context of all the sadnesses that are happening in the world just now, but I found myself unable to come back to writing here without marking our loss. So this is to say "goodbye Rum", you were a very fine cat chap, warm and loving, always eager to be stroked and fussed and brushed, independent to the last and we miss you. We are so grateful for the joy and gentleness you brought to our lives. 

slumbering potted cat

Saturday, 2 April 2022

Garden glow

Sometimes when you are delighted by something which is catching the sun in your front garden, and are hoping to capture that feeling

someone else comes along, who feels the same way, and just has to get involved

the primroses are still shining in amongst the forget me nots

our tulips, a wedding present from a friend, planted four years ago, are still bringing joy

there are hellebores, tucked away in spots behind other things, which tease with their shy beauty as they catch the evening sunlight

the rill, which runs down into the pond, tempts frequent visitors to adjust their feathers and primp and preen ready for spring courting

and the little water boy looks on serenely as the garden blooms behind him

I will be away for a couple of weeks as from next Tuesday. I am going here. I am very excited, and just a little terrified, but am expecting to see marvels and delights. There will be photographs, but perhaps not until I come home again

Sunday, 20 March 2022

some stitching, trees and beasts

My good friend Steph and I went to Ramster House and Gardens on Friday to view the embroidery and textile exhibition they have there every other year. We went for the first time in 2019 and of course they couldn't hold it last year so we were very glad it was on again this year. As well as lots of interesting bits of stitchery to see, we also thought we'd take a brief walk around the garden this time and were rewarded with some very fine trees and interesting creatures.

As with my last visit, I found that it was hard to take photos of the works I was most inspired by because of the amount of reflections. The beautiful 17th Century Hall where the exhibition takes place has a lot of lovely low windows which bring in natural light. This of course bounces about off the glass behind which most of the embroideries are framed. A distraction both when taking pictures and when viewing the stitchery close up. However, here are a couple which I did manage to capture despite the reflections.

Maggie Grey's Oranges Are the Only Fruit, inspired by an Italian Fresco

A lovely use of breakdown printing by Jane Mckeown - Rain puddles 

Isobel Moore's Secret Garden

these delightfully delicate landscape embroideries on eco dyed fabrics by Helen Followfield 

and Golden Tree by Jane Cobbett

After a refreshing lunch in their tearooms, we then ventured into the gardens where we found

130 year old Japanese maples, planted when the garden was first laid out in 1890

children at play beneath the trees, frozen in time - a delightful sculpture by Christine Charlesworth called Oranges and Lemons

cranes pondering the reflections in the lake

a kingfisher poised in the mossy banks

some glorious oaks spreading their branches to the sky. They presumably remain from the original oak woodland which predated the garden

woven stag and deer in the glade

a very imposing Wellingtonia - I found myself pondering about the life that must be supported underneath its soft, fibrous bark skin

and this very fine family of boar, sculpted from a fallen tree on the estate

All in all an extremely enjoyable day out which fed both body and soul. I hope yo have had an enjoyable weekend?

Friday, 25 February 2022

springing forth

A lovely walk on our blustery seafront shows me that Spring is decidedly here

I hope Spring is also springing where you are too

Saturday, 5 February 2022

Waking up

Just the garden, doing it's thing. Just Nature continuing with no regard to us. though we love what she offers at this time of year. 

Front and back are showing signs of life - spring is almost here

Thursday, 27 January 2022

An Unusual Wedding

 I have spoken about my Great Aunt Connie before; of the three Rowe sisters she was the one who neither wrote novels nor had children. She sits in my dim memory as a sweet faced woman with a very crooked ankle, broken in childhood and never properly healed. 

Perhaps that memory comes more from this photograph than my experience, though I know we met several times when I was a child and I'm sure I have an image of her limping down Lower Park Road towards the home she shared with "Harry". Connie and Harry have been a couple in my mind for all of my life but their coupledom was most unusual for their times.

Connie, was the first of the three daughters of Alice and Howard, my great grandparents. She was born in May 1896 in Birkenhead where her parents had been married. 

Some time in the next year or so the family moved to Arklow in County Wicklow, both Alice and Howard being Irish by birth. Howard, a qualified chemist, suffered from brittle bone disease, and was to die, aged 44, when Connie was just 18. Unable to keep the family business going, Alice and her three daughters, Connie, Ethel and Rhona, moved to St Leonards in 1921. All the girls found some kind of work and Connie, always the most physically fragile and spiritual of them also found inner sustenance with an organisation called the S.S.K.T.P. (the Society for Spreading the Knowledge of True Prayer), an offshoot of the Christian Science movement. It was here that she met Harry; baptised Evelyn Cowland. 

Evelyn Annie Muriel Cowland was born in London in September 1890, the only child John William Cowland and his wife Annie. 

Evelyn Cowland

The family moved to Hastings after 1891, initially to All Saints Cottage in the Old Town, but then to Lower Park Road. Sadly John William also died young, in 1894, aged just 42. Evelyn was a striking young girl, but at a relatively early age delighted in dressing and presenting herself as a boy She was known by her nickname, Harry. 

Harry being a boy

One can only imagine the joy these two women found in each other; both had lost their fathers tragically young, both were interested in the "New Thought" ideas of the S.S.K.T.P. and Christian Science and both were close to their widowed mothers, existing in a very female world.

The classic Hastings image - lovers at "The Seat"

A Warschawski Studios portrait photo of the couple

Their relationship blossomed and Alice, having prayed for years for a girl husband for her, since she felt she would never survive the rigours of childbearing, determined that her oldest daughter should not be deprived of a wedding. A ceremony was arranged for them, in the mid 1920s, in the back garden of Alice’s house in De Cham Road, going by the pictures, with Ethel and Rhona as bridesmaids. 

Rhona, Harry, Connie and Ethel in their finery

Here they are, Harry looking very dapper in a suit and the three girls dressed all in white with appropriate bouquets in each hand. Connie and Harry went off on honeymoon in their car, 

driving out to Iden Lock, just outside Rye, where they rented a summer cottage by the River Rother, called Sedges. This proved too small as Ethel and Rhona provided them with nieces, and family visits increased in size, so Harry arranged for Nirvana to be built, having the raw materials brought up from Rye by barge. 


Those nieces, my Mum Rosemary and my Aunt Cecil spent many happy times there with Connie and Harry. In their letters from holidays in Nirvana, Harry is always referred to as “he” and indeed, in pictures from the time, one might assume that this couple were man and woman. 

They lived all their lives in Lower Park Road, Harry embarking on a variety of  ventures including running a mushroom growing business from the land behind the houses. I remember the drying chimneys and concrete floors of the growing sheds still being visible when I was a child, playing behind the house I too was eventually to live in.

Harry and Connie cycling by the river Rother

Their relationship, and Harry’s unusual wardrobe would have been notable at the time they were married. The author Radclyffe Hall published her novel of lesbian love “The Well of Loneliness” in 1928. Judged obscene by the English courts, it caused a furore and was banned for thirty years in the UK. Connie evidently wrote to Hall at the time, expressing sympathy and telling her of their own life. Hall’s response, in January 1929 includes this lovely sentiment

“Your letter has made me very happy because it is always something to know that a few inverts [lesbians] are understood, you are fortunate indeed in having such a mother, and your friend and you in having each other. I wish you all possible happiness” 

A poignant response when one considers that Hall’s own relationship with her mother was deeply toxic, and probably a source of great sadness to her. 

Connie and Harry did indeed have around 40 years of happiness together, sharing a loving life, both in Hastings and Nirvana, and nurturing their two nieces when they came to stay. Connie died in September 1966 and Harry followed her four years later in 1970, by which time I and my Mum, having lost my Dad, were also living in Lower Park Road with Ethel, my “Ganna”. We were to inherit Connie and Harry’s home, so I grew to adulthood there feeling those spirits around me, nurtured by a sense of their presence hovering somewhere in the interstices of time. 

In a small footnote, Nirvana, which I also visited as a child, was eventually demolished and became the subject of a Grand Designs in 2015, when a new property was build there. James Strangeways, the owner, was kind enough to allow me and my Aunt Cecil to visit so she had the pleasure, aged 90, of seeing the place where she had spent so many happy childhood days with Connie and Harry, transformed into something new for the future.