Sunday, 27 February 2011

Cats - amazing creatures

Until I had two myself, I never realised what incredible creatures cats can be. As demonstrated yesterday by my own Katie kitten (aged 3).

Bearing in mind that she leaped from a narrow shelf-like surface on the landing, about three feet high, up onto the top of the door. Not only that but she explored the picture rail with a view to attempting to walk along it.

Lara Croft, move over. You're well outclassed.

Monday, 14 February 2011

My weekend

The weekend was great....after a somewhat unpromising start, it suddenly took off and was a lovely, enjoyable time. Dylan came down on Saturday and we made the new gates (fitted on Friday) dog-proof; we then ended up at the Beacon, Sedgley for a pint, came back and went for a curry. Sunday was our pre-arranged day at the PreRaphs in Birmingham. The exhibition was excellent; well laid out, well arranged, enough information on each section; two hours went extremely quickly.

We then headed further south to the Fleece Inn at Bretforton for a late afternoon meal....absolutely yum. Called at the White Lion (Barthomley) before coming home.

The weekend has been an unexpected delight. I was sad to part company with Dylan...he has made his choices in life; and those choices do not include me. I am sad about this, but I have to accept it.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Love, and The PreRaphaelites

Today I woke up eager to get on with the day, and filled with happiness. I am spending the day with the man I love most, the man I love with all my heart and soul. We are going to an art exhibition in Birmingham, “The Poetry of Drawing”, a collection of Pre-Raphaelite drawings and watercolours.
I love the work of the PreRaphaelites, with its deep symbolism, crowded detail and glorious colouring; wonderful stuff. I remember very early on when the the man I love (I’ll call him Dylan) came to visit me and he told me about his friend who had a picture on her wall of a woman in a boat (she wanted to be that woman, I think)....I nipped upstairs, took one of mine off the wall, and showed it to him saying, “Was this it?”
He said that picture has followed him around. Waterhouse’s Lady of Shalott has long been a favourite of mine too, not least because it’s based on Tennyson’s poem which I also love (not much of a poetry person really). I was lucky enough to see the Waterhouse exhibition a couple of years ago at the Royal Academy, and got to see the Lady in the flesh....ok, in the oils...I was moved to tears to see her at last. I can confirm that she’s even more beautiful than a printed reproduction can show; every strand of hair lovingly painted in. It was fantastic seeing Waterhouse’s masterpieces gathered together; absolutely brilliant. Wonderful.
I’ve been to quite a few galleries and exhibitions over the past few years and want to see as many of the PreRaphaelite paintings as I can.
I said I’m not much of a poetry person, but there are times when it comes in this poem of William Blake, which just about sums up days like today:
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity's sunrise.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Achievements and Yoga

Today’s achievements: I sorted my art and needlework books into one of my bookcases – so now they have their own dedicated shelf – and put my yarn stash on a shelf below, so I can see what I have to work with. Another bit of organisation done.
I’ve also ordered coal, and booked the piano tuner. Two more items ticked off the list....all right, only two, but at least I’ve done them! The gardener is coming this week to fit the gates half way up the garden, so that’ll be something else to make life easier. The old chickenwire wood-framed barrier my H made many years ago has all but given up the ghost.
I was surprised, and somewhat touched, to see that a solar powered light my H put up in the garden, was glowing earlier. Maybe he is looking out for me? It was nice to see anyway.
Today’s yoga session was about trust. Mainly trust in ourselves....the premise being that if we can find that inner trust and self-confidence, we can more easily trust those around us.
An interesting concept. It has taken me a long time to build up my own trust in myself; to know when my gut instinct is right, rather than irrational thinking. So the yoga session was helpful in that. I don’t know about the wider picture....I tend to think that the only behaviours and ideas that we can change are our own; the actions of others are beyond our control, and more importantly, beyond our responsibility; we can of course learn to trust others, if they prove themselves to be worthy of that trust.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Quarry Bank Mill

Today I went to Quarry Bank Mill at Styal. Can well recommend it, although for non NT members it’s not the cheapest of days out; anyway, driving along the A34 I thought about driving, briefly; I used to work in the Cheshire countryside and part of my working day was the drive to and from work. Only 13 miles, but through beautiful countryside. There are several routes and I explored them all. Towards the end of my H’s life it lifted my spirits to see the scenery around me. In the weeks after his passing I would take his car and drive. Anywhere. Just point in a direction and go, listening to all kinds of music. It helped, not just to be out of the house, but to be out, alone, driving.
I have since discovered the joys of walking but the two are quite similar, to a way, the drive to a destination seems more significant than the arrival itself; walking and driving along a route seem to sum up our journey through life. I do my best thinking while walking...and yes, when driving; in the days when I did such things, I wrote my sermons and intercessions in my head while walking. The steady tramp, tramp, tramp of walking lends itself to logical thought. I will often take a circular route of some length, and by the conclusion I will have also reached a conclusion to my thinking.
I love the countryside; I love this country, full stop; and I hate seeing swathes of green areas dug up and replanted with horrible matchbox houses and new tarmac roads....and yet, I also enjoy driving along a decent stretch of road. I discovered the new Alderley Edge bypass; it badly needed one but all the same, it’s sad to see the area lost to it. That said, the embankments on either side have been planted with fine grass which is already well established. Not a haven for wildlife, but at least it’s green. There is some significance to me, of roads, that stems back to my childhood, although I have no idea why. I do remember poring over maps and imagining the reality of the areas on them. As an adult I learned to read them properly and now I get a great deal of pleasure just reading Ordnance Survey walking 1:25000 maps and being able to visualise the lie of the land. Sad, but each to his own.
Quarry Bank itself was fascinating; the machinery is still working and still produces cloth; the factory is still partly fuelled by an enormous iron water wheel which is enclosed within the building – something that was new to me; previously I’ve seen waterwheels on the outside with a mill race, but this one is at the base with water from the Bollin River running through it. Damp must have been a problem. Hearing loss must also have been a problem. Children from 9 years of age worked long hours in an appallingly noisy and dusty environment, six long days a week. Sundays they were expected to walk to church and back. It was regarded as a clean, and presumably, desirable, place to this 21st century woman it was just a depressing thought. No real prospects, meagre earnings, a life shortened by hard labour; hmmmm.....we have it so easy now.
These people were part of the basis for our modern capitalist society. I am glad that we have a record of their way of living, so that we don’t forget them, and that we realise how bloody lucky we are to be born now, rather than then.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Photos of my garden, 5th February 2011


Poor roses, choked with weeds...

Looks better, doesn't it!

Next task - don wellies, and pile in....

A new gardening year.

Today I decided against a visit to a National Trust place, and instead tackled something nearer to home.
My garden.
We bought this place in 1986, complete with overgrown weed infested orchard. Most of the trees were way past their best and I now have three left (one is dead now); H and I spent ages getting the weeds up, then we had someone come in to rotovate and lay turf. It looked good for a long time but has been neglected over the past fifteen years, so last year I bit the bullet and found a really good and reasonable gardener. This chap has been worth his weight in gold....he’s transformed the front garden from a weedy eyesore into a neat area with bark chippings and two large planting boxes, which I have filled with Lady of Shalott roses (it’s quite Pre-Raphaelite here, you know!)
My H once made a barrier to fence off the top area of the garden – the fencing isn’t secure and our dog escaped a few times. This barrier is now falling to pieces – it’s been there for quite a while – and Mark the gardener has made a proper pair of gates which he’s going to fit.
Yet something else to make life easier....I will just be able to open a gate to get to the garage and top of the garden, instead of mauling a wood-and-chicken-wire construction around.
Mark’s plan for this year is to returf the garden and put in two wide, curving beds which I will plant with roses, and maybe some interplanted lilies. It will look fabulous. The garden naturally divides into two areas; the area behind the house which is a rectangular, rather messy thing, in progress; and the top end where the garages and dog run are – totally overgrown and currently used as a dumping ground for garden waste. Eventually my plan is for this area to become a veg garden in raised beds, and my greenhouse should be relocated there too, if it survives dismantling...
I was trying earlier to remember when we did this....some years ago H and I put a small pond in, next to the greenhouse at the top of the formal garden area. It started out as a stepped rectangle lined with butyl, and it was nice for a while, but for one of my birthdays (can’t remember which one) H bought me a preformed pond liner.
We then proceeded to have WW3 while digging it in. If you’re thinking of doing a pond, trust me....butyl is by far easier. And if it does leak, you can easily drain the pond and just reline it with more butyl. However, after much sweat and toil and bad language we got it level, filled with water, and in time, we bought goldfish and shubunkins. A passing heron made off with some of them, and the rest sadly died of tadpole attack (yes, really) some years back. It was horrible...the tadpoles latched on to the fish and gradually nibbled away at their scales. I have never seen anything like it but googled the net and found that this can happen, especially when there is insufficient weed cover for the fish.
Quite possibly it might have been a good idea to fish out and relocate the frogspawn; the pond was probably over populated with frogs.
Since then, the pond has been neglected along with everything else, and up until half an hour ago, it was full of stagnant water and coated with duckweed. One of the cats (Katie) fell in it when she was a curious little kitten. It’s now empty, the duckweed is lining the sides, and there is a nice layer of sludge at the bottom. It will be easy enough to clean it out. A job for another day.
I’ll wait and see how the garden develops before restocking the pond; firstly I want to see if there will be a place to hide the filter box, and secondly I need to rig up another cable to the power source (in the garage).
While the pond was emptying I weeded around my remaining roses, and weeded the boxes in the front garden. Didn’t take long and well worth the effort....not least because it helped my headache subside, and I feel better for having got outside and achieved something.
There are a few rugosa alba roses left in the border (Mark ripped the majority of it out last autumn) and I notice they have new leaf buds on them.
A sign of spring.
I used to get such pleasure from gardening.....and this year, I hope to regain some of that joy.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

The elusive secret of happiness?

Well.....this week seems to have been a turning point.
I’ve tackled my sleep routine – for a long time now I’ve gone to bed later and later, and as a result have been getting up later too. Not only that, but I’ve spent the morning sitting around in my husband’s dressing gown surfing the internet, and having breakfast at around 11am.....
My normal pattern is to get up about 8.30 and let the dog and cats out, while putting their food out.
I’ve changed this slightly. I wake up at 7 with the alarm, and get up shortly after; less than ten minutes to shower, brush my teeth and get dressed ready for work, I then see to the dog and cats. They don’t seem to mind the wait.
Trivial as this might sound, it’s made all the difference to my day. I now actually feel like doing things. Small things, I mean; cleaning, preparing tea (as in, my main meal of the day; round here it’s breakfast dinner and tea); getting laundry done dried AND put away...I’ve also improved my going to bed routine, and get a tray ready during the morning with tea bags, cup and soya milk ready for my last cuppa of the night (could have one in the morning, really....) I have a kettle in the’s little things like this that just make life that tiny bit easier, somehow....
The past couple of years have been all about making life easier. When I think back to how life was, it seems that we (that is, husband and I) did everything in the most labour-intensive way....we had a home filled with clutter and no storage space. We kept the coal in a coal-hole at the top of the garden, with a rough floor and a low wall three courses high at the front of it; not the easiest place to shovel coal out of. And not the most pleasant experience in winter. Yet this was how it was (we also fetched the coal ourselves in a trailer.....)
I now have a coal bunker outside the kitchen, and the coal man delivers too. It just makes life that bit easier.
Yes, ok, I probably get through a lot more coal, but what the hell.
That’s just one example.
The other is the kitchen. It was the thing that H and I were planning just before he died; we bought a sink and drainer in B&Q’s sale and were going to rip the old one out and put new cupboards in.
I’ve spent the past twenty odd years cooking in a hovel with damp mouldy wallpaper, two base cupboards, a dust-attractant plate rack, and a very large single glazed window.....finally, last October, I had a very nice man come and fit more cupboards than I will ever fill. Some are still empty. I now have a place for everything, I have surfaces I can easily keep clean, and just over two years ago I had the window replaced with a lovely double glazed one. And a new back door that really does keep draughts out. just makes life a hell of a lot easier.
And today, I realised....even though I haven’t got everything I want in life – mainly the man I love – I am happy.
Maybe I’m finding the secret of contentment.
Maybe that secret is in being on top of chores; not feeling bogged down...and as a lovely lady pointed out to me about half an hour ago, finally being in control of my own situation.
I think she’s right.