Posts Tagged ‘nature’

Poppies and Salvia

Eye-popping colours! (they were – it just didn’t come out too well!)

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.

limestone pavement

This limestone pavement effect was quite interesting… (you had to be there)

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!


Gorgeous colours

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!

crimson Achillea

Part of our haul – a luscious crimson Achillea

Duchess of Roxburghe carnation

Allow me to introduce the Duchess of Roxburghe – rather divinely, she smells of cloves – an unexpected delight!

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.

Ash dieback

The green shoots of recovery? (Have we heard that before…?)

Ash dieback

Gothic wins over green, I think…

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).

Blue garden

I loved the misty blues and earth tones against the huge smooth discs of the steps. Sadly, the stars of this piece – the tiny silver-blue dragonflies – darting about above the plants aren’t really visible. A magical memory, though

blue garden

As always, pencil-thin Cyprus trees create great punctuation – the seating area was a bit ‘by the way’ really – especially the screen (not really visible rom this angle!)

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.

cyclamen corm

A thing of beauty – in the making. This large primeval-looking lump, once planted, will give forth the loveliness which is a cyclamen …

Pink blooms - Angel's fishing rod - flowering grass

Part of our haul – a delicate arc of pink blooms… on a grass! It’s called Angel’s Fishing Rod, which conjures up a lovely image – garden gnome with wings and a halo, maybe?! I wonder if it would’ve appealed to grandfather…

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!


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As I read CCF’s later essays, I’m getting a sense of strain and pressure. I’ve just read scanned and logged two more, dated 1931. The first is shorter than usual, ‘King Cups and Brown Water’- written very quickly and up against submission deadline, and ‘Remembrance’, which he actually wrote and submitted to the SES in 1923.
In 1931 CCF was 60 and struggling with the daily grind – including all the joys and difficulties of having a four-year-old son. He probably didn’t know it at the time (although I wonder if he was already wrestling with the notion) but he was to resign from the SES in 1933, as he felt he just could not continue to commit the time or energy to his writing. I think there are only three more essays left for me to read. However – I’m hoping the next session of sorting through the remaining miscellaneous papers might yield more…
‘Anticipations’ which I mentioned a couple of posts ago, was written in the spring of 1931, and delightfully captures its theme:


He is, of course, anticipating a weekend’s fishing – what else! This city-dwelling countryman is joyfully looking forward to revelling in the restorative powers of his natural habitat.


And who can blame him – he reveals that he is currently presiding as temporary Chairman of the Court of Referees in Hull “which is the only tribunal to allow or disallow claims, under the Unemployment Insurance Acts, to the out-of-work benefit, commonly called by the recipients (but not by the Court) ‘the Dole’.” On the day of writing the essay, he had heard – and taken all the notes for – 50 claims, and says his is an “an honourable as well as difficult position” in which he feels like “…a cat walking along a wall newly guarded with broken glass!” He is a solicitor, and is working alongside two barristers.
According to one of the many articles about the inter-war years on the internet, unemployment peaked at around 3 million in 1933 – while England was in the grip of the Great Depression – which was about approximately 20% of the working population. Many of those who had fought for their country were unable to find work.
CCF seems to have been a very altruistic and sensitive person, and being in such a position where “…it must always be borne in mind that every claimant is out of work, and that every decision of the Court is of very grave importance to him or her.” must have been a huge strain – indeed, he mentions his “tired brain and soul”.
No wonder he was looking forward to “getting away into the open air for some days, [and] to feel and hear the water rippling past my waders once more!”

River Dove, Ryedale Yorkshire

Not fishing but eating – a pause in our walk along the River Dove

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Well now. I’ve read, scanned and logged six more essays (‘Cats’, ‘The SES’, ‘Laughter’ and ‘A Dramatic Situation’ all written in 1929 and ‘Anticipations’ and ‘School Days’, both 1931), but I haven’t posted on the blog for a few days. I confess, I had become distracted by the temptations of daily blogging to the detriment of the main job in hand – namely reading, scanning, logging and researching the essays. But balance has now been restored.
So this is where I’m at now: ‘Cats’ and ‘Laughter’ are self-explanatory and a pleasure to read, but ‘A Dramatic Situation’ is somewhat darker. It is the story of CCF’s capture on the battlefield of the Somme in July 1916, told in the third person (he assumes the name of ‘Jim Strickland’), 13 years after the event. It almost has the air of a confession, particularly as he has written a slightly defensive note on the front of the essay:

Qoute from A Dramatic Situation 1

After all, it wasn’t the ‘done thing’ in those days to admit to feelings or talk through emotions – and the nation is suffering as a consequence, even now. CCF reports ‘Jim’s’ thoughts in a bluff, almost hearty style – almost like the ‘speech bubbles’ of a comic book character. The account is workmanlike, bare and factual. He describes ‘Jim’ waking up disorientated in a shell hole and blundering into an enemy trench, shooting, killing and being wounded and captured.
When the word ‘sobbing’ suddenly appears, we get an abrupt and shocking insight into the lonely terror countless thousands of soldiers must have experienced in the hell of the trenches:

Extract from essay by Charles Clark Frank, 1931

On a lighter note, I had high hopes of finding out about the background of the Scarborough Essay Society when I started reading ‘The SES’ – but, although the essay is entertaining and interesting, it didn’t help much with my research! It does, however, show the great comradeship which existed between the members:

Extract from essay by Charles Clark Frank, 1931

Extract from essay by Charles Clark Frank, 1931

I have found another avenue of enquiry, though. Apparently ‘Paul Pry’ called the Society ‘out of abeyance’ after the War by sending a ‘judicious letter’ to the Spectator (it seems the response was so great that at least one other similar group had to be formed!). Frustratingly, that’s all I have though, and I suspect many man-hours of searching through Spectator archives would be required to yield any more information.
As is the strange way of serendipity, TMP mentions his ‘defective education’, and the next essay I read was ‘School Days’. Actually, I lie. It was ‘Anticipations’, – but more on both of these stories later… 😉
So – at last, here’s a post. I have actually missed making my little daily forays into the blogosphere (in a masochistic sort of way). However, I like to take time over what I write, although whether or not that is a good thing remains to be seen. The benefit of entering the Family History Writing Challenge was derived from trying to write to a deadline, which is good practice. However, in order to post every day as required by the challenge – I simply wittered. So, while my grey matter’s been galvanised by entering FHWC, I am releasing myself from the challenge’s benign repression, with a positive and hearty metaphorical pat on the back!

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Poem - St Valentine's Day (3 verses)

This is all that I have


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Off masks; and let me applaud a brother, [and] a fellow countryman…’ enthuses  ‘Paul Pry’, and ‘Sigma’ concurs, although with more restraint ‘… it is longer than T.M.P.’s average, but not long enough’ while ‘Agricola’ keeps it simple, stating ‘A beautiful corner of England beautifully described.’ All twelve critics were delighted by TMP’s 15-page submission of July 1928, ‘A Corner of England – Douthwaite Dale’.
CCF’s fellow SES members are right to praise him so wholeheartedly (although ineveitably, one or two can’t resist a niggle – this is an essay society, after all!). This essay is serene and evocative and is from the heart of a countryman who truly understands the land and the seasons. A countryman ‘in exile’ living in Leeds – and perhaps that is what lends the writing such gentle power. He welcomes us to share his delight in his beloved Yorkshire landscape, but it’s a wistful reminiscence, written in a city terrace.
‘” Let us stroll over to Yoadwath bridge and watch the fish rise” This has been the standing summer evening invitation and custom of our house for two generations past…’ So grandfather accomapnies us on a walk along the River Dove – evoking rich pictures of the scenery, and remembering companions over the years.  The narrative detours to take in Douthwaite Hall, and he tells us that the estate belonged to the Shepherd family for centuries, until sadly the last Squire of Douthwaite, William Shepherd, became a reclusive eccentric and let the Hall – and it’s unusual ornaments – fall into ‘ruin and decay’ (‘them’ in the first line refers to rabbits, hundreds of them!):

Quote from A Corner of England 1

Tired and ready to return we head home, grandfather lingering a little behind us:

Quote from A Corner of England 2

His little son, my father, did ‘grow up to be a … fisherman’. However, he didn’t fish as much as he would have liked, I think. In the early days of my engagement, dad taught my fiancé (now my husband) about fly-fishing and how to cast. Oddly, lessons took place in the garden – not a drop of water, never mind any fish, in sight. 😉

I couldn’t resist inserting a bonus pic:

Surprise View at Gillamoor, North Yorkshire

Surprise View at Gillamoor, North Yorkshire

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I’ve finally got back to reading and scanning the essays (80 down, 13 or so to go!) and I was well rewarded today – what a cracker! Called ‘An Ancre Trout’ (written in 1928) it’s the cheery tale of a sunny Sunday on the Somme in June 1916.
Grandfather is roused from a snooze by his captain, Norman, as a fellow soldier – ‘Cossack’ – has sought him out for his fishing expertise. Cossack proposed a fishing trip as “… it seems a pity to miss a good chance of trying for a decent trout” – much to the interest of grandfather’s fellow subalterns (or ‘the Children’ as he calls them!). So off they jolly well trot, with a makeshift rod and line, for an afternoon’s sport.

Extract from An Ancre Trout, 1928 written by Charles Clark Frank (alias T'Moor Poult)

Extract from An Ancre Trout, 1928 written by Charles Clark Frank (alias T'Moor Poult)

After heroic struggles by both hunter and quarry, they landed a whopper.

Extract from An Ancre Trout, 1928 written by Charles Clark Frank (alias T'Moor Poult)

Extract from An Ancre Trout, 1928 written by Charles Clark Frank (alias T'Moor Poult)

How I wish I’d known my grandfather. How about that – going fishing while you’re under enemy fire. The hunter hunted.

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I wish I could share an actual scent – words sometimes just aren’t enough. Today, in the first sunshine we’ve had since the Dark Ages I drank in the sweet perfume of Winter Honeysuckle. Literally – I stuck my head into the middle of the shrub and breathed deeply. It was like taking in a draught of pure delight (I soon stopped when I was hailed by a fellow dog walker!) Sadly, though, until someone invents a way of sending scent over the web (a slightly scary idea!) all I can share is a photo:

Not much to look at, but wow - what a scent!

Not much to look at, but wow – what a scent!

The Winter Honeysuckle’s lucky – it’s tall and throws its delicious scent out loud and proud and gets itself noticed. Before my nose was hijacked by its sweet aroma, I’d actually been thinking about snowdrops. I’m always cheered when I see them – and I think of my dad. He gave us some from his garden, and they now flourish in ours.

If ever there was ‘…a flower… born to blush unseen, / and waste its sweetness on the desert air’ it’s the snowdrop. It’s so short! You have to take time to appreciate its true essence. A major design flaw, in my view! Snowdrops – tiny but brave. Like people sometimes.

Strangely, neither snowdrops, nor a favourite of my father’s – Lily of the Valley – feature anywhere in CCFs essays about flowers or gardening so far. I’ve still got about 12 or so to read and scan, so we’ll see, but I have a feeling they’re not going to be in the same lyrical vein as ‘An Ideal Garden’ or ‘Some Easily Grown Flowers’.


Thank you

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