A royal baby was born yesterday STOP
All well and happy STOP
A royal baby was born yesterday STOP
All well and happy STOP
Very grateful for stronger painkillers today!
and the sun
and caring friends
Cramped as I am by the restricted movements my spasm-splinted spine will currently allow, one recollection of Hampton Court Flower Show has come into sharper focus than the rest as I rather awkwardly sit down to write. We (that is hubby and me) visited HCFS last Friday, when a cool morning blistered into a sizzling sunny day, and throughout our time there I was continually struck (not literally, I’m glad to say!) by the extraordinary people who, despite the heat and dust, manhandled wheelchairs around the exhibits battling the crowds and the conditions so that their disabled charges could get around the stands and displays. We even saw what appeared to be a hospital trolley complete with drips attached to a clearly very ill person lying prone and still and with his face covered against the sun. He was accompanied by several people, all quite jolly and enjoying the day. Quite humbling.
Our day began with the carefree sense of embarking on a pleasant excursion. The train from Waterloo to Hampton Court gradually filled as the skyline emptied. By Earlsfield, the buildings we were speeding past were low enough to enable me to see for miles across rooftops and trees, while cheery parties of people – predominantly women in flowery dresses, tops and skirts – got on the train and chattered excitedly about the different brands of bubbly they’d bought for a picnic at the show, or how cool it had been in Nottingham as they’d waited for their early morning train to London. A lady and her husband, both of somewhat advanced years, sat opposite us and, as she told us excitedly that the visit to the show was a birthday treat, she hunched her shoulders and glanced at her husband with the smile of a delighted girl. The day was full of moments such as these – delightful little connections between strangers who briefly became friends.
On the whole I’m very not comfortable in crowds, but the atmosphere was so good-natured that, in spite of the jostling and obscured views, I was able to just get on with it, and shuffle to squint between shoulders and past hats with the best of them. However, at one point, when I turned back to see where my husband was, it was clear he hadn’t arrived at any such accommodation of the situation. Head back, chin poked forwards, he was doing a passable imitation of a cross-looking Easter Island head – complete with shades! It didn’t last though – succumbing to the tempting smell of roasting pork (mingled rather bizarrely with the coconut scent of suntan cream), we headed to the hog roast and had a spot of lunch. Sorted!
So what were we all there for? Oh yes – flowers. And plants and all things pertaining to gardens and gardening. Fortified by food, we set off to cruise the plant stalls (the gardens could wait!), our trusty trolley-box at the ready. Surely the sound of RHS flower shows is the rumble of the ubiquitous folding wheeled box with extendable handle, being trundled along ridged metal walkways, brimming with plants! True to form, we bought loads more plants than we should have, including a gorgeous rich crimson Achillea studded with gold dots like an Elizabethan courtier’s doublet, and (well, I had to!) a carnation with a striking scent of cloves. 😉 We bought this from a very helpful collector of carnations in the Plant Heritage Marquee, who told us the Bookham Clove was no longer available. Our carnation is a very respectable stand-in called the Duchess of Roxburghe, don’t y’know. And she smells lovely!
Partway through the day the weather was such that I had to deploy my brolly and scarf. The sun was so scorching I needed more shade than my hat provided and, not entirely trusting the Factor 50 suncream, I also covered up with a silk scarf. Stalls selling parasols were cleaning up, and ice-cream vendors were doing a roaring trade. It was hot!
When it came to the gardens, I was struck by how different they were from the representation on the TV coverage of the Show – inevitable, I guess. Sadly, reality can come off a poor second. For instance, one garden was designed to invoke a child’s eye view of being on a forest floor, but because the gardens are all roped off, none of the adult viewers were able to experience this – although I did see a child rather self-consciously picking her way into the centre of the garden to see for herself (yes – she was allowed, in fact, I think she was chivvied into it!).
Whites, blues and mauves seemed to dominate much of the planting in the gardens – with the odd radical diversion into bright oranges and reds.
In a darkly gothic garden called ‘Ashes to Ashes’ a mound of charcoal and black grass sprouted gravestones and blood red blooms, and was topped by charred and twisted tree trunks. I heard a rather irritable-sounding lady loudly exclaim:
So, isn’t there anything to explain to us what all this is about?
just as I twigged that it concerned Ash dieback.
The gravestones were inscribed ‘RIP Chalara Fraxinea’ which – now I’ve looked it up – strikes me as odd, as the ‘chalara’ part refers to the fungus which is causing the dieback of the ‘fraxinus’ (ash tree). Not only that, but Chalara Fraxinea is the name of only one stage of the disease… Oh well. A sort of lava flow led off the mound into a thin trickle of sprouting shoots which widened as it curled round towards another mound, this time green with grass and tender but flourishing ash trees. Anyway – isn’t ‘fraxinus’ a great word?! (‘Spear’, apparently).
Velvety grey-blues and misty silvers blended beautifully in my favourite garden. I wasn’t particularly taken by the winch-operated screen of rusted iron rods which could be opened to reveal the vista beyond a seated area at the top of the plot, but I liked the stairway which led up to it. This was made of massive wooden discs turned from joined railway sleepers. I particularly liked the soft hazy effect of the faded sea-washed mauves, blues and greys of the plants burgeoning either side of the sleeper steps. But most magical and memorable of all was the effect of several small fleeting dragonflies darting about this garden like tiny silver-blue needles stitching and weaving an invisible web. They were breathtaking.
Occasionally, we’d see some very exotic butterflies fluttering by, or alighting on a prize cabbage, and we decided they must have escaped from the butterfly dome, set up by the RHS and the Eden Project. I’d love to have gone in to see all of the different types of butterflies flitting about freely inside the dome, but the queue! No way were we going to stand for hours in the sweltering heat. Instead, we gawped in at them from a clear panel in the dome – still amazing.
By late afternoon, we had a respectable haul of plants in our trolley-box and heads full of ideas we’re unlikely to implement, and were ready to head home. Rather than take the boat to the station which is a lovely little trip, we trundled past the Palace and over the Lutyens-designed bridge to Hampton Court station. We got a very clear idea of how dreadful the proposed development on the site of the ‘Jolly Boatman’ would look. In fact, I was quite surprised that there was no evidence of the campaign in evidence.Amazed to find seats available on the train we sat, comfortably exhausted, to enjoy the return journey. The train guard welcomed us all on the intercom and listed the stations we’d be stopping at on the half-hour journey back to Waterloo, cheerily reminding us not to leave ‘that expensive rhododenron’ behind. After a few minutes, the pleasantly dozy atmosphere of the train was interrupted by the silky tone of a woman’s voice announcing the availability of a buffet service, and asking us to clear the gangway. We were all beginning to exchange puzzled (and, in my case at least, slightly hopeful) looks through our various fronds of foliage when the guard interrupted her and apologised for pressing the wrong message button. Warming to his theme, said:
I mean, it could have been ‘Mind the gap’ or ‘Next stop Gatport Airwick’… Oh, you know what I mean!
and cut off mid-chuckle. He appeared in our carriage a few minutes later as we stopped at the first station, an affable, portly chap answering questions patiently and seeing people on and off the train.
When we got off at Waterloo, I was delighted to see him on the platform. He shook my hand and gave me a beaming smile – which more than made up for the fact he wasn’t wearing a cap with a carnation in it!
Posted in Countryside, Essays, Family, Gardens, History, Society, Writing | Tagged Eden Project, flowers, Frank, gardening, gardens, grandfather, Hampton Court Flower Show, London, nature, plants, writing | 2 Comments »
His face is screened by the newspaper he’s reading.
‘Um, you know in yesterday’s post…’
A corner of the newspaper is folded down, and he regards me with his stern courtroom frown.
‘Well, I, I… I guess I was being a bit of a smart-ar… erm, smart-alec.’
Do I detect the ghost of a smirk on his face as his eyebrows slowly rise? I can’t meet his eyes – I look down at the floor.
‘Well. Go on’
I’m squirming with discomfort. ‘It’s the first paragraph in your essay. I, well, I didn’t read it properly and then I took the mickey about what you’d written. I mean – you’d already made the point, hadn’t you?’
‘I had, lass.’
I rush on ‘I was just being stupid – making a silly joke about your ‘tall stature’, and…’ I gulp ‘…and then adding a winking face icon.’ I cringe. My cheeks are burning and I’m overcome with shame.
‘I’m so sorry.’ I say, and brave a glance at him.
‘Ah well, lass. Don’t fret.’
He turns back to his newspaper and straightens it with a shake.
He clears his throat, and then exclaims indignantly: ‘But, as for the Bob Flowerdew bit – now, that’s a different matter. I mean – the man wears his hair in a pigtail!’
Posted in Countryside, Essays, Family, Gardens, History, Society, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged Bob Flowerdew, Essays, Frank, Gardener's Question Time, GQT, grandfather, humple pie, Radio 4, Yorkshire | 3 Comments »
‘Happy Returns’ is out! Its buttery yellow face is beaming in a bliss of sunshine. Fantastic! We bought this sweet little lily in the Walled Garden by Helmsley Castle when we were in Yorkshire last year – I confess, I fell for the name.
It’s gardens all the way, in this post. For starters, we’re dusting off our broad-brimmed hats and Factor 50 in readiness for a scorching day at Hampton Court Flower Show on Friday (can’t wait!), and it turns out that the next essay is a spookily appropriate – ‘Some Easily Grown Flowers’, 1923 (although, curiously, it was written in January).
Of course I fell to wondering if my grandfather had ever suggested to Dorothy, my grandmother, that they take a trip to London to attend what is now known as The Chelsea Flower Show. It’s seeds were sown (sorry – couldn’t resist!) as early as 1862, and it grew (that one’s not too bad, surely?!) into the Royal International Horticultural Exhibition in 1912 staged in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, where it has blossomed (ok – I’ll stop, now!) into a monster of a show.
The Hampton Court Flower Show is a mere upstart by comparison, but to my mind, a much more enjoyable day out. It started in 1990 as a result of a plan to rescue the ailing fortunes of two completely diverse organisations – Hampton Court Palace and Network Southeast. The railway sponsored a flower show at the palace, and the rest is history (the RHS took over when the network withdrew its subsidy in 1992). In addition to sponsoring the show, Network Southeast laid on special trains from Waterloo on which all the porters wore carnations in their hats – I bet that made everyone smile! It’s funny to think that there were porters on trains not all that long ago – and they wore uniforms! (After an admittedly cursory search, I was disappointed not to find any pictures).
As you’d expect, there are plenty of pictures of carnations available, but I did search for one in particular – in vain, sadly. ‘Bookham Clove’ was Grandfather’s favourite apparently: ‘a really gorgeous carnation of a most sturdy habit, and with a real clove scent’. He also expresses a fondness for pinks – Mrs Sinkin’s and Her Majesty in particular: ‘which are the pride of my little garden’.
Unusually, the Frank plot, (which, despite his tall stature, TMP describes as a “small amateur’s garden” 😉 ) was a shared area in Woodbine Terrace, in Leeds, and, as such, is pictured in ‘The Garden – A Celebration of One Thousand Years of British Gardening’. This is a little hardback book which was published (both ‘casebound’ and ‘limpbound’) in 1979 for an exhibition of the same name at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
Marking the page showing a photograph of grandfather’s garden is a copy of the text of a letter composed in September 1987, printed in the spare, square dot matrix ‘draft’ mode of the time. There is no addressee, but it seems my father had been invited by this unknown person to give a talk about his childhood home, and the letter is his response to the invitation. I don’t know whether he ever gave the talk. I’m sad to say, I doubt he did.
I find the paragraph very poignant. Family lore has it that small children weren’t allowed in Woodbine Terrace (I suspect, given their ages when they moved there, my grandparents weren’t expecting to have a child) and, so I think my dad was probably quite lonely as a young boy. Also, it seems that Grandfather was able to afford to live there partly because he lent his legal services to the running of the terrace in some way, which was also why my dad’s existence was tolerated.
Happily, however, things are different now. When we saw the place last year, there was a colourful tangle of children’s play apparatus installed in one corner of the gardens. The sun didn’t shine on us that day – the rain was coming down in sheets, and we fell foul of a mysterious glitch in the (several) electronic route-finders we had at our disposal, so – as the location seems to be invisible to satnav software and Google Maps alike – we didn’t realise we were being hijacked. (And, no, sadly we didn’t have any old-fangled paper-based street-view technology to hand 😉 ) So we unwittingly swept through the leafy Leeds suburb of Headingley (which was actually our destination) to an anonymous, dispiriting, down-at-heel part of town, and ended up at Back Woodbine Terrace – which was so eerily similar to Woodbine Terrace that we thought it must be the right place. The troubling thing was – the gardens had been built on! I can’t remember how, but we did find the real thing eventually and I snatched some photos through the gateway before we got drenched to the skin.
It’s funny to think that gardening is now a multi-million pound celebrity endorsed industry. Only thirty-odd years ago Marcus Binney, who took the photo of Woodbine Terrace (in support of the article ‘On the conservation of gardens’ which he contributed to the V & A book) feared for the state of the nation’s gardens – great and small. If Mr Binney ever visits Woodbine Terrace again – or even if he happens to see the above photos – I hope he would be cheered to discover that there is still a sense that the gardens are cared for communally (I like to think this is indicated by the stripes in the lawn going right across the width of the shared space – the like of which my dad would have been proud!), and that the gardens still appear to be flourishing, even when the vista is screened by rain.
Mr Binney is, after all, big on conservation. He was a driving force behind the foundation of SAVE Britain’s Heritage (SAVE) in 1975, and remains its president. He has written numerous books and articles, and is the architectural correspondent for the Times. SAVE campaigns for the salvation of Britain’s architectural heritage, and for the preservation and reuse of endangered historic buildings, placing particular emphasis on finding new uses for them. In fact, he has been awarded an OBE and a CBE in recognition of his conservation work.
In what is turning out to be a truly tangled web – I’ve just unearthed an article written by Marcus Binney for the Times Online in 2008, speaking out against a development near Hampton Court. It can be read here (it’s quite short!): http://www.hamptoncourtrescuecampaign.com/Marcus%20Binney%20The%20Times%20December%2018.pdf
Oh, the irony! Hampton Court Palace and the surrounding area were given a huge boost by Network Southeast in the 1990s – but now, a piece of land currently owned by Network Rail is under threat of a development which will horribly mar the historic beauty of the area. A campaign against the development was begun in 2006, and is still being vigorously fought – and thoroughly reported – at: http://www.hamptoncourtrescuecampaign.com/site.htm
Please check it out and add your email to their petition!
Then spread the word!
(before you ask – yes, I have 😉 )
Anyway – after that breathless diversion – I’m back on track!
My guess is that Mr and Mrs Charles Clark Frank didn’t make the journey from North Yorkshire to London to visit the Royal International Horticultural Exhibition. I suspect they wouldn’t have had the spare cash for what might have been an expensive trip, probably necessitating an overnight stay. Besides, he was busily becoming a cheery garden advisor in his own right, dispensing hints and tips to fellow SES members in his essay. Much of what he suggests is similar to what you might expect from modern gardening pundits (such as the ubiquitous Mr Titchmarsh who also hails from Yorkshire!), but there are some interesting snippets peculiar to the time. He mentions flowers, such as carnations and pinks which are ‘tolerant of soot’ and which ‘the smoke of our great Cities scarcely affects…’ and he advocates the use of ‘coarsely sifted household ashes (weathered first by exposure to the air) [which] will make the soil much more kind for the development and increasing of the “corms”’ for his favourite flower, Lily of the Valley.
And, although it’s a hundred years on, I can almost hear Bob Flowerdew counselling a bemused member of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Gardener’s Question Time’ audience, that carnations:
…positively revel in old mortar! Get some really old mortar, smash it up into very coarse sand, and mix a handful with the soil when you put each plant in and observe the result. When you have occasion to lift a plant in the following Autumn you will find that it has put forth numerous little “hands” of rootlets and clasped them firmly round bits of the mortar!
Another Flowerdew-esque titbit from TMP, is:
Shirley Poppies seem to like rather a “poor” soil, and if you can get some road scrapings (and free them from petrol and plantain seed!) and add them to the soil this will suit your poppies well.
Road scrapings? Could this mean horse poo? But if so, why would it be covered in petrol?! Not only that – how would you remove said petrol?!
‘Some easily grown flowers’ has no criticisms attached to it, but I can imagine comments from SES members might have been somewhat droll. As one of TMP’s more ordinary efforts I’ve been surprised and delighted that it has led me on such a meandering trail of discovery (and feel rather churlish being so derogatory about it!). But, as the sun cools, and the shadows lengthen, I’m conscious that a hundred years ago when he was writing his jaunty notes about small frilly suburban flowers, empires were toppling around the globe, new orders were struggling into being, and the seeds of the second World War were germinating.
However, happily for this sceptred isle, Britain was preparing to celebrate a royal wedding. In April 1923 Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon married the Duke of York. Apparently, the bride – the ‘Queen Mum’ as she later became – unexpectedly laid her bouquet at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior on her way in to the service in Westminster Abbey, in memory of her fallen brother Fergus.
And, as evinced by the shadows in the footage of the wedding, the sun beamed down on the happy couple and cheered the waving crowds: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/events/george_vi_wedding
Posted in Essays, Family, Gardens, History, Society, Writing | Tagged Alan Titchmarsh, Bob Flowerdew, conservation, Gardener's Question Time, GQT, grandfather, Hampton Court Flower Show, Marcus Binney, Radio 4, SAVE, Yorkshire | 1 Comment »
I heard a particular word on the radio this morning and it made me smile – so much so, it stayed with me all day, and now insists on being published – so here it is:
It’s a word I use quite a lot, but don’t often hear. It’s also an activity I indulge in frequently 😉
Ho hum, better go ‘n’ walk the dog…
Miss Villiers used to trill tunelessly when she wasn’t talking, and seemed to walk on her toes swinging her hands around as she went along. She was my form teacher when I was 13. One of the many random questions she frequently asked out of the blue and apropos of nothing at all spooked me slightly at the time, enough for it to be the only thing I remember her saying (so much for the expensive education!)
Miss Villiers asked us how we knew we were real. Hands flapping, she excitedly warmed to her theme, asking us each to imagine going alone into an empty sound-proofed room and closing the door. How did we know that anyone left outside really existed? Could it be that we didn’t really exist and they did? Maybe we didn’t really exist unless we were in someone else’s presence? What if we sang a song in the empty room – was the activity somehow invalidated because no-one had witnessed it?
I wonder what Miss Villiers would have made of mobile phones. They’ve melted the metaphorical walls of her horrible hollow room, and we can all be ‘validated’ 24/7 these days (even in company 😉 ).
Such musing arose from re-reading the essay ‘Back Again’ after half an hour’s stumbling guitar practice – I fell to wondering about ‘valid’ activities. For no good reason I can think of (except perhaps, that my Dad bought it for me – which is a very good reason now I think of it!), I have kept my guitar since my vain attempts to master the scale of C major when I had a few guitar lessons at school. I’m not particularly musical, and not in the least bit talented, but I’ve always loved the sound of classical guitar. A number of decades and strange quirks of fate later, I found myself at lessons again a few months ago, and have now almost mastered – I use the term very loosely – the lovely ‘Spanish Ballad’ (Anon, 17th Century). I find I relish the absorption in practice – the ‘walk’ up and down the strings to strengthen my fingers, and the sound of the tune emerging in spite of my clumsy beginner’s mistakes. But in the shadows lurks a sense that I should be doing something else, something useful, something productive – something valid.
I doubt whether my countryman grandfather had such nonsense in his head when he set off for a day’s fishing at the Shallow of the Chestnut Stream in Sinnington on a fine September day in 1922. In ‘Back Again’ he paints beautiful vignettes of nature (and even of the activity of fishing itself!) and is rewarded by his critics with heartily appreciative remarks – rightly so, I feel. Take his recollection of a close encounter with kingfishers some years before on a similar trip, for example:
…I never fish the Shallow now without remembering that moment of intense life and beauty – It was such a breathless affair! – as thrilling in its way as the stoop of a Falcon –
(Punctuationistas, please note – I probably agree with you, but that’s what he wrote a hundred years ago! 😉 )
TMP marvels at the fact that, apart from three years during the War, he fished at Sinnington “…every season for thirty eight years past, and it is rather singular that the Chestnut Tree Stream has altered so little in that time.”
When we visited Sinnington in September last year a hundred years after ‘Back Again’ was written, it still seemed barely changed – a time-capsule village around a green, along a stream, nestling against a slope of heather-dark moorland. I don’t know how many more seasons grandfather was able to go to fish in this idyllic spot. Change was coming. He travelled to Sinnington by train on the Thirsk & Malton Railway. This line had opened three years after his birth, but by the 1930s, passenger numbers had dwindled to about 35 a week, and the line slowly died – finally closing in 1953, three years after grandfather’s death. Five years’ after he wrote ‘Back Again’, he would become a father for the first time, at the age of fifty-six.
But let us return to ‘Back Again’ and revel in an enchanting description of the autumn foliage over the stream:
To-day the roof was golden in decay and flecked with spaces of blue. …Once I knocked one of the hanging boughs with my rod and a shower of leaves rustled down around and upon me – floating down the water like little fire-ships.
The day’s activity resulted in a catch “…nearly two spans in length; a most noble fish for those waters.” In fact, TMP was so proud of his trophy, he was tempted to leave a record of his triumph, as he and his school fellows had done in years gone by:
I wonder if two marks were cut into a rail near a stream in Yorkshire a hundred years ago – by a tall, slim man with a ruddy face, in his middle years, burdened with canvas bags bulging with fishing gear, and carrying a prize trout. If so, perhaps those marks remained for decades, slowly succumbing to lichen and moss, and the smoothing of hands, while the stream nearby flowed unchanging.
Posted in Animals, Countryside, Essays, Family, Fishing, History, Society, Sport | Tagged family history, fishing, Frank, Genealogy, grandfather, kingfishers, Ryedale, September, Sinnington, trout, writing, Yorkshire | 2 Comments »