Friday, 29 April 2011

April

What have I been doing these past few weeks? Well.....

....I have been entertaining friends in the hills of the High Peak and the flatlands of the French Landes;













I have been plunging through aquamarine Atlantic waves;






and wandering the streets of Bordeaux;





I have been visiting family and celebrating Easter and N's birthday in Sussex;



I have been chugging down the Thames on a boat in the sunshine with a glass of red wine in my hand, good food in my stomach, and sunshine and bunting all around;



I have been walking through Cornish gorse and granite, picking wild garlic, feeling sand between my toes and the warmth of friendship in my soul;










I have watched the Royal Wedding;








I have been packing and unpacking; cleaning and cooking; gardening and studying.




I have been slowly recovering after months of lingering illness; I have laughed, I have cried, I have comforted and cajoled.


But most of all, I have had special times in an April filled with sunshine.




Hope yours was good too.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Primroses


As the swathes of snowdrops around my garden were at their height, I was on the search for primroses. All too soon the pretty white blanket would be pulled back and with that a new, warmer earth would be revealed and needing something in sunnier hues to enliven it and remind us that Spring was here: a much needed lift after all the damp grey weather of recent months.

My attachment to Primula vulgaris (also known as Primula auculis), our wild native primrose, comes from my youthful wanderings through the Sussex country lanes with my mother and paternal grandmother. How she used to love to pick them! But oh how quickly they faded even when wrapped in damp tissue and plunged quickly into a little vase of water once home. No, I think they are best left outside, decorating the shady banks beneath woodland trees.

In these harsher northern climes and landscapes of the High Peak where open windswept fields predominate over woodland, it is hard to spot primroses in any number in the wild. I did see some on a walk in Edale at the weekend - but they were in an enclosed piece of private copse nestling amongst the trees. Still, I am lucky enough to have banks in my own 'dingly dell' at home which badly need some life between the fading of the snowdrops and the rising of the bluebells. True, there are daffodils (and I am planting more each year), but there is a particularly bare spot where we cut down a conifer and I decided it was the perfect place for some primroses.

I spotted some on a dash through the garden centre sometime in early March. Sadly there were only two pots left and I grabbed them both and planted them enthusiastically on the spot intended. I added some cyclamen too but they didn't survive for some reason, so I badly needed more primroses. I went back and back to the garden centre but still no more came in - just the rather garish mass produced ones which have never really appealed to me as they just seem so, well, false. Too bright, too cheery, no modesty or humility. I left my name and number but the call never came.

Then last week I found myself in the shop at Chatsworth and spotted some seed packets (Suffolk Herbs) of my favourite litte primroses. I bought a couple and I shall attempt to grow them myself. I shall let you know how it goes.

Meanwhile, I shall just share with you a passage which I found this evening while thumbing through my copy of 'The beauties of a Cottage Garden' by that High Priestess of gardening, Gertrude Jekyll. It describes her very own primrose garden:-

The Primrose garden is in a place by itself - a clearing half shaded by Oak, Chestnut, and Hazel. I always think of the Hazel as a kind nurse to Primroses; in the copses they generally grow together, and the finest Primrose plants are often nestled close in to the base of the nut-stool. Three paths run through the Primrose garden, mere narrow tracks between the beds, converging at both ends, something like the lines of longitude on a globe, the ground widening in the middle where there are two good-sized Oaks, and coming to a blunt point at each end, the only other planting near it being two other long-shaped strips of Lily of the Valley.

Every year, before replanting, the Primrose ground is dug over and well manured. All day for two days I sit on a low stool dividing the plants; a certain degree of facility and expertness has come of long practice. The 'rubber' for frequent knife-sharpening is in a pail of water by my side; the lusciously fragrant heap of refuse leaf and flower-stem and old stocky root rises in front of me, changing its shape from a heap to a ridge, as when it comes to a certain height and bulk I back and back away from it. A boy feeds me with armfuls of newly-dug-up plants, two men are digging-in the cooling cow-dung at the farther end, and another carries away the divided plants tray by tray, and carefully replants them. The still air, with only the very gentlest south-westerly breath in it, brings up the mighty boom of the great ship guns from the old seaport, thirty miles away, and the pheasants answer to the sound as they do to thunder. The early summer air is of a perfect temperature, the soft coo of the wood-dove comes down from the near wood, the nightingale sings almost overhead, but - either human happiness may never be quite complete, or else one is not philosophic enough to contemn life's lesser evils, for - oh, the midges!

I may not have a nightingale, and I do not have hazels, but I have wood-doves and a pair of pheasants who seem to have decided this is home. I watch them every morning when I come down to the kitchen, nodding their way across the lawn and trying to pinch the bird food in the feeder cups in the borders. Occasionally there will be a kerfuffle and a squawk and an elaborate flapping of wings when I disturb them in the dell. I have Lily of the Valley and some more waiting to be planted. And yes, I have midges. In abundance. Human happiness may indeed never be quite complete, but with a sunny bank full of primroses and the spring air full of promise and birdsong, I think I'm getting pretty darn close.

---------------------

Footnote:-

Miss Jekyll, I was pleased to note, also wrote this about sowing Primrose seeds in March (but up here, April will be fine):-

The seed is sown in boxes in cold frames, and pricked out again into boxes when large enough to handle. The seedlings are planted out in June, when they seem to go on without any check whatever, and are just right for blooming next spring.

So I shall now sow them with renewed confidence!

Friday, 1 April 2011

Fool's Friday

Bleak day. Bleak mood. The first day of April, but where did Spring go? All is grey and chill without, and reasonably similar within. Rest assured, not as bad as a week or two back, but sunlight is certainly lacking in mind and soul.

I should have used this grim day to get to work in my study: I could have been clearing it out (the teetering piles are clogging all thought at the moment) without any worry that I should be outside enjoying the elements. I could have been adding some more paragraphs to my book (a task I should be completing daily but at which I am failing dismally). I could have been revising for my gardening course (more exams loom after the Easter holidays). I could even have put a wash in. Instead, I have driven three girls to school and gone to the gym where I had a positive enough experience last week to wish to repeat it.

Before you get the wrong idea, I have not been to the gym for months and months. I have lost track of how many it has been, but it must be getting on for nearly a year - and if it's not a year, then the times I have been in the last twelve months must be countable on one hand - or hoof. Thus last week, having had to drive eldest in to school after a doctor's appointment, I decided I would Bite The Bullet. Now, if you went to your local leisure centre and asked at the kiosk for 'One adult to swim, please' and they piped up 'Thank you, that'll be £200 please', I trust you would tell them where to get off. But, effectively, my swim last Friday must have cost me about that. Mad, isn't it? Yet I know that if I cancel the membership I'll regret it and will then only have the local leisure centre pool to resort to for exercise. Which I would never do because the last time I was ever there I saw a man blow his nose into his hands and then swish them around in the water. I still feel queasy thinking about it, despite the fact that I know far worse things have no doubt gone into that water - not least the levels of chlorine. But it's the whole package isn't it? The wet, muddy changing room floor with the ubiquitous grubby plaster. The wretched metal lockers. The whole echoey unpleasantness of it all. All of this being the reason I cling to my gym membership so, at the very least, my swim can be half enjoyable and I get to go in a jacuzzi and steam room as well. And have a nice cappuccino and a nice slice of brown toast and honey and a nice large glass of freshly squeezed orange juice (no bits) served by a nice lady.

So that is how I spent the first couple of hours of my morning, though less enjoyably than last week because I was looking out on a cold grey car park rather than a bright warm sunny one as I did last week while sipping my coffee and catching up with my emails. And also the stump man was there - the one who leaves his leg propped up by the side of the pool, complete with blue sandal - a little unnerving the first time you see it. He is a wonderful man, of course, and fantastic that he keeps up his swimming clearly on a more regular basis than me but, I am reluctant and ashamed to admit, I am Not Good With Stumps. Despite my youthful desire to enter into medicine, I had the presence of mind to understand that there are many aspects of the profession that I probably wouldn't cope with: deep slice cuts, jagged bones poking out through flesh, scalps being torn back prior to brain surgery and stumps being just a few of them. I fear age has not lessened these aversions, something of which I am not proud. However, I am not scared of mice.

Before the gym interlude, I had been to the Co-Op and bought myself a whole pile of housey type magazines (we're embarking on much needed work on the house and I need inspiration), together with The Economist (so as to gain a better grasp of all that is going on in the Middle East), and a copy of the Macclesfield Express because it had an article in it about the retiring Head of Foundation at the girls' school - and in which I gleaned that he is 58, his wife is an historian, he likes travelling and gets the odd photograph published in National Geographic. However, this does not excuse him, in my view, for winning the raffle at the school musical last night and not having the good grace to turn it down so another member of the audience could benefit. Call me old-fashioned.

From the gym I wandered into town (sporting my bright pink raincoat which I found in the boot of the car in an attempt to lift my spirits) because I thought there was a lunchtime concert at the Church which the school was involved in and which I enjoyed very much the last time I went. But there wasn't. So, to make the most of the extra hour I had just paid for parking, I popped into Fat Face for a browse. I managed to find 8 things to take into the changing room. All hopeless. Please remind me that I am now a middle-aged woman and that pretty Little House on the Prairie style floral print tops and dresses Do Not Suit Me Anymore. If they ever really did. Whatever, they certainly don't now and I could have saved myself half an hour. From there to The Works to check out the gardening books. Picked up three, including one on growing fruit and one on growing vegetables. I don't really need them as I have all my gardening course notes and a hundred books at home already, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. I also picked up another one for 59p which was full of quotations around gardening which I shall pepper about the place in subsequent posts. Bet you can't wait.

Thence back to the cold grey car park and over the equally bleak (but beautiful) Cat and Fiddle (lots of moorland, lots of sheep, lots of out-of-place speed cameras) to Buxton's industrial estate. I lead a glamourous life, I can tell you. I found my way to Swift Welding to pick up our Volvo wheel. N hit a pothole the other day on his way to Manchester which not only burst the tyre but cracked the wheel too (he swore he was only going about 30mph...). Enquiries at garages had us staring at a £500 bill for a new wheel. But my old friends Selecta Tyres had mentioned a local welding operation so I had gone to check it out the other day. While stumbling around the industrial estate, rather incongruously set amongst the hills and dales outside Buxton, I discovered a huge depot for Norbert Dentressengle, a French haulage operation which I associate with our times in France rather than the grit and limestone of deepest Derbyshire.

Swift Welding, on the other hand, was certainly devoid of any Gallic glamour. Its yard was like a scene out of Steptoe and Son and the 'office' was a ramshackle old caravan pitched at an unnerving angle as if one were on a boat furnished with a counter top and two manky chairs two manky dogs in residence on them (one with a dodgy white eye which gave me the creeps). The place stank and the stench was still trapped in my nostrils half an hour later. Incongruously, in amongst all this, was a very nice lady whose style and manner rather belied her circumstances. Let's just say that if you saw her in the street you would never imagine that this was where she spent her days. We had a nice little chat and she said that fixing the wheel would be no problem - they do hundreds of them - so I hauled it out of the back of the car and left it with her, remembering only at the last minute to ask how much it would cost. £30 she said. A little better than £500 don't you think? So, tip of the day: if you crack your wheel on a pothole, find your local welder. Good as new.

From here I resisted the temptation to go via Waitrose to pick up some food for the weekend and instead headed back to Chapel to Morrisons where I knew I would contain my spending. I got a brisket of beef and some root vegetables, in case you were wondering. Then I went to the petrol station where Unleaded has reached new heights at 132p per litre. My final stop was the dry cleaners to pick up N's shirts and chat to the lady who works there whose husband dropped dead in January. She's only just come back to work, poor thing.

Once home I unpacked the car - wheel included - and put the kettle on. The girls would be home soon for a quick tea and turnaround before heading back to school for the final night of the Year 6 musical. Last year, you may remember, it was E's time to shine as Belle in Beauty and the Beast. This year G is bouncing around in the chorus of Guys and Dolls. Such a different show to Beauty and the Beast and, I must admit, I wasn't sure how good it was going to be. But I am suitably humbled because it is fabulous. This year's Year 6 is a particularly large yeargroup with 75 children - about 20 more than last year. So they fill the stage with colour and energy - the set's fantastic, the main parts all perform brilliantly, having really grasped the American accent and the swagger of the crap shooters. It is hard to believe they are only 10 and 11 years old. As last year, I have again been one of the Props Ladies and we've been having a blast. It's great fun to be part of all the backstage shinnanigans and you really get to know the children and parents that you previously hadn't come across.

So with that, dear friends, I must leave you. The Show Must Go On, after all, bringing some much needed light, colour and music into an otherwise grey April Fool's Day.

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