Sunday, 27 September 2009

Ode to Autumn by John Keats


Season of mists and mellow fruitfullness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun

Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run:

To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees.
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core:

To swell the gourd, to plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel: to set budding more.
And still more, later flowers for the bees.

Until they think warm days will never cease.
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Death is the Road to Awe

Today the weather was calm, overcast but trying to be sunny.

Work needed doing at the allotment so I decided now was as good a time as any. The cucumber wigwams won't dismantle themselves, and the sweetcorn is now finished. The ground needs to be cleared, weeded and covered in preparation for next season. There is a lot of work to be done but, no matter, slow and steady and progress will be made.

The Husband doesn't come and help me at the allotment. Once in a blue moon, if I ask very nicely indeed, he may come and do a bit of strimming or help me carry it all back if I've harvested a lot of stuff (the site is a 5 minute walk from home so I never drive). And while there's still many the time I could do with an extra pair of hands to help with the never-ending digging and weeding, his boredom threshold is reached after about 15 minutes when he starts getting twitchy and wanting to go home (much like the typical bloke in Top Shop on a Saturday afternoon), so he might as well have not bothered coming in the first place.

So I left him sitting on his sofa, playing a time- and attention-sponge of a computer game called Civilisation IV. This, though, is fine.

The allotment is my place. It's only my money that goes into it, and my labour that keeps it going. I enjoy being there, on my own, with no-one to talk to. Quite often I'm the only person on their plot on the whole 4 acre site, which suits me just fine. I like being outside, unless it's tipping down but then I can retreat to the shed until it passes over. I love watching the ever-changing sky, and I talk to the bees as they clamber over the lavender planted beside where I sit. The foxes trot purposefully along the path, keeping a cautious distance from me. Sometimes I think it would be nice to share this with someone but, hey, if it's just me, that's okay. It feeds my soul and that's enough.

The allotment is where I also do many other things. It's the place where I also dance, sing, think and, sometimes, weep. I managed to do all four today as well as weed and clear the ground. Now that's multitasking.

I took my iPod with me, as I have started to lately, and today was Classical music day. There's nothing like waltzing around the raspberry bushes while listening to Khatchaturian's 'Masquerade Suite':

It immediately transported me to a vast mirror-lined gilded ballroom in some middle European palace. I'm wearing a gorgeous gown and diamonds, and being swirled around the room by a knee-bucklingly handsome Hussar in leather boots and gold braiding. *sigh*.

As I was cutting the string tying the bamboo canes together I moved onto Vaughan Williams' timeless 'Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis':

I know we've been here before but you'd have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by this melody. It always makes my eyes feel a little 'hot', if you know what I mean. This particular piece, for me, is the distillation of everything it means to be English. (And I actually like the (admittedly fairly poor quality) video of scenes of the River Torridge in Devon that I've posted here.) Somehow it makes me feel that I'm standing in an ancient landscape which, of course, I was - St Martha's on the Hill looks down upon me from the horizon - a church built upon a hill that has been a place of pilgrimage for thousands of years. I stood and looked at it while the music swelled in my head. I thought about what a shame it is these days that bigoted fascists like the BNP have stolen the concept of 'Englishness'. I'm uncomfortable with overt and obvious patriotism such as you find in the States - it's too close to militarism for my liking - but I dislike feeling guilty for living in a culture that gave the world Stonehenge, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Elizabeth I, Capability Brown, Christopher Wren, Turner, Millais, Holst, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Charles Dickens, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Blackadder.

But what to listen to while pulling up the sweetcorn? I chose the soundtrack to the film 'The Fountain'. I am undecided whether the film is a staggering work of heartbreaking genius or an enormous pile of self-indulgent, pretentious wank (although it is beautiful to look at) but the soundtrack is absolutely breathtaking. Written by Clint Mansell (who, I was extremely surprised to discover, used to be the main guy in 90s chart-botherers 'Pop Will Eat Itself'), it's mostly strings (the Kronos Quartet, I believe) but with some electronica thrown in and is achingly, weepingly sad.

Briefly, the plot of the film revolves around Rachel Weisz and Hugh Jackman and their relationship through time - firstly in 1500 AD as a Spanish queen and a conquistadore who (I think) discovers the fabled Tree of Life; in modern times where he is a researcher who believes death is a disease that can be cured and she is his wife who dies of cancer (he is unable to save her); and then 1000 years in the future where he's in a big bubble, together with the Tree of Life, rising up through space towards a supernova called Xibalba where he will be reunited with his missus. I think. Hugh Jackman's pretty good in it and conveys this massive and eternal love for his wife, and what he had been through (and would go through) to be with her again. I started thinking about who would be there to hold my hand on my deathbed, or would I even be missed? I cannot have children so will never be a mother. This also means I will never be a grandmother. If (heavens forfend) The Husband should come to his senses and decide he's had enough of my lazy arse, slatternly ways and hightails it out of here, who would there be to comfort me in my hour of passing? No-one, that's who. There would be no-one to love me as much as Hugh Jackman loves Rachel Weisz and I'm just in that chocolate-centric part of the month where I'm prey to those loathsome girly-hormones that finds anything like that unbearably moving.

There's a melody on the soundtrack called 'Together We Can Live Forever', which made me stop and look up into the sky, ostensibly blinking away the tears, but then I noticed, waaaaay up above my head, two large birds of prey, probably buzzards, dancing around each other, slowly circling in the thermal, flying together, higher and higher - it couldn't have been more appropriate and fitting to the music.

So please forgive the length of this particular video but it contains the whole of my favourite track off the album 'Death is the Road to Awe', which is a pretty cool title just by itself. The music builds in layers and repeated themes until reaching a climax.

So after this rollercoaster of emotions, I came home to find The Husband still sitting where I left him, playing his life away on a computer game. "So, did you get up to much?" he asked. "Not really" I replied - well, where could I start?

Rosemary Beetle

Just in case any of you out there were desperate to know what the beetle from my previous-but-one posting was, I did a bit of detective work and found out that it's a Rosemary Beetle. Which would explain why I found three of them on my Rosemary bush this afternoon. (Although it does sound like a librarian - Mrs Rosemary Beetle....)

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

(Mostly) Wordless Wednesday

I found this website today. I advise you all to rush off and spend a very amusing few minutes to create your own yearbook pictures from the past. These were mine. I am a sex goddess.

Rather alarmingly, I do actually have a school picture taken in 1979 that does look remarkably like the fourth picture down:

Butter wouldn't melt, eh? Sadly about as far from the truth as you can imagine....

But I leave you with this, a picture The Husband sent me to brighten my day:

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Autumnwatch Update

We seem to have much better sunsets in the Autumn - these pictures were all taken on the evening of 9 September and are totally without any kind of enhancement at all - what you see is what it looked like. Just gorgeous.

The autumn spiders are also coming out to play.

The Mountain Ash/Rowan trees are covered in red berries

And fungi are appearing underfoot

This year I was given a Cynara (Artichoke) plant by the lovely Grace who lives at the end of my close. It has the most beautiful thistle-like flower (picture taken on 16 August this year):

But these have all sadly died now. However I thought the dead dry flower heads might make an interesting picture so I was taking some:

But then something bright, shiny and impossibly colourful nestling in the dead leaves caught my eye, turned out to be this absolutely gorgeous jewel of a little beetle. If anyone can tell me what it is I'd be truly grateful 'cos it's just exquisite. I got as close as I could to take a picture but I recommend that you click on the picture to make it bigger still.

As far as my two Japanese Maples are concerned, the red one is beginning to show the very first signs of changing colour, mostly in the central stem bit of the leaves:

But the yellow one is as yet unchanged:

How's the autumn shaping up where you are?

Friday, 11 September 2009


Science flies you to the Moon;

Religion flies you into buildings.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

The Beginning of Autumnwatch, or, I finally get a living room I can invite visitors to!

So, the main living areas in our house are now, more or less, finished! I am vacillating wildly about the curtains (as oppposed to oscillating wildly which is a completely different thing). The old ones kinda go but I think it would be nice to have some new ones.

I spent two hours yesterday tramping the streets of Guildford (and there were plenty of young women there that would SO suit that soubriquet - I mean, don't they look in the mirror before going out first?) looking for curtains. And, despite Dusted Damson being such a weird colour, I actually managed to find some that matched, see:

Trouble is I now don't know whether I want purpley curtains or neutral beigey-cream ones - I suppose what I'm saying is which walls do I want them to match? I dunno. Plus it's quite a pricey thing as the ones in the above colour would have to be made up and I suspect it'll be the best part of 500 quid, which is a lot of money.

So, in the meantime, the old ones have gone back up just so we can at least have something to shut the dark out with. (ooh, bad sentence, but you know what I mean...)

I apologise in advance for being competely incapable of tidying up before taking the photos but, hey, if I spent all my time tidying my house, I would end up with nothing at the end of my life but a tidy house, so just suck it up, people...

We're also going to replace the side tables as well (The Husband's is an ancient narrow thing from Ikea donated to us by his sister and mine is huge, heavy, round and marble topped but it used to belong to my late father and as I have so few things that were his, we're not getting rid of it - it'll just have a different use somewhere). We'll also get a pair of new table lamps as well - currently The Husband has an ancient standard lamp from Ikea donated to us by his sister (can you detect a pattern here?) and mine is a mother-and-daughter uplighter and reading light, also from Ikea, that The Husband hates.

The gorgeous red rug is a genuine Persian one and was given to us by The Husband's parents, and the large palm plant in the corner I have had since about 1987.

I put up my prized Norman Ackroyd etching 'From Malin Head - Tory Island' that I got from this year's Royal Academy Summer Exhibition a couple of days ago on the wall that faces me when I sit watching the telly. Here's a close up of it - apologies for the funny angle but it was necessary in order to avoid reflections:

Looking the other way, down to the back door, the bridge and the garden beyond:

The wall lights are pretty groovy - a cross between 1930s cinema lights and props from David Lynch's version of 'Dune'. We've decided to not hang any curtains here because they interfere with the view (not that the view is all that, but I like to see what's going on out there). The small white metal bucket by the door is what the cats drink their water from - don't ask, it's a long story....

All the floor laying paraphernalia is still there against the wall on the right because we've decided to replace the floor outside the kitchen, which is next door to here (you can see the 1960s-style serving hatch above the square table - an ancient table from Ikea that was donated to us etc., etc., you know, the table that's next to our drinks cabinet which is ancient, from Ikea and donated ...... ) but there wasn't time before The Husband had to shoot off to slum it drinking wine and ogling beautiful women in Rome. And, yes, you really can see The Cat [that] Sat On The Mat. I'm nothing if not a cliche.

So that's that. I actually really love it - you can't imagine what a massive improvement it is to the hideous student-like pit we were living in before - now I actually feel I can invite people in and not feel embarrassed about the state of the place. Oh, we also did the upstairs landing too in the same colours but we need new carpet up there so you'll have to wait for pix.


It's 3 September 2009 and Autumn is definitely on its way. The temperatures have plummeted, the winds have picked up and we had stormy weather including thunder, lightning and 3 separate power outages last night while I was trying to watch 'The Reader' (remarkable film, by the way, watch it if you haven't already).

So this morning I've decided to instigate an Autumnwatch, tracking the progress of the inevitable death of the garden. I find Autumn very bittersweet. It saddens me almost more than I can say that everything starts to die off, the weather gets colder, the nights get longer, as we slide inexorably into the freezing heart of winter but, on the other hand, there's apples, conkers, kicking red and yellow leaves about, mists, the smell of bonfires, the gift of a single unexpectedly hot day in the middle of October. Pain and pleasure.

Callicarpus is grown for its profusion of grape-like berries that change from green to purple with the onset of Autumn. Today my plants look like this, they're definitely on the turn:

Next to the Callicarpus I have a Sedum called 'Autumn Joy' which flowers pink in the autumn (the name's a bit of a giveaway really) but the bees absolutely adore it:

And finally I have two small Japanese Maple trees, one that goes flaming red, and the other that goes through every shade of yellow until it hits orange. Neither of them have started to change colour yet, but I'll post pictures of their progress because they're usually spectacular. This is the red one that lives at the end of the garden - as you can see, nothing much happening yet:

And this is the yellow one, which is right at the end of the bridge:

Again, not much happening, but it's good to have a base from which to delineate colour change. Now I've bigged them up, they'd better do a good job this autumn or I'm going to look really stupid.

Talking of which, I need to go and put pink highlights in my hair before The Husband gets back.

Ciao, bambini....

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Half a week of indulgence ahoy

Dinner tonight was a frankfurter sausage sandwich, complete with onions, French's American Mustard and tomato ketchup, followed by chocolate mousse. I've changed the bedclothes and put my pillows in the middle rather than on the left hand side. I can play my music as loud as I like and I can watch whatever I want on the telly without feeling guilty.

Why? Because The Husband is away on business. We had to get up at the godawful hour of 3.30 this morning to get to Gatwick airport but now my time is my own until probably Friday.

I'm typing this at the same time as watching 'Twilight' and thinking how annoying the Kristen Stewart ('Bella') character is but how groovy the Washington State landscape looks - very Twin Peaks. It is very much a teen movie and pretty formulaic, but I can see its appeal. This is not the sort of film The Husband would be much interested in (admittedly, I don't do 'chick flicks' either - but this has vampires!) BUT HE'S NOT HERE!!!

Don't feel too sorry for him, though, he may be on a business trip but it's in central Rome (his hotel is right behind the Pantheon) and the temperature out there is currently a sunny 31 degrees centigrade/88 degrees Fahrenheit while here, in England, in summer, it's currently raining and 67 degrees C/19 degrees F.

The redecorating is very nearly complete - the floor is down, the old curtains have been put back up until I can find some new ones, pictures are starting to be put back up, and it's looking bloody fab. I'll post some photos tomorrow, especially for Ms Shoes. But that's after I've lain in bed for several hours reading first....

PS. WTF? Since when did vampires play baseball?