Saturday, 30 August 2014

Meerkats & auction finds...

First....thanks so very much to everyone who read and commented on my last two posts...it's meant such a lot to me and it's been so moving to hear of others' links to this turbulent and catastrophic time in history...everyone who served in that terrible war deserves to be remembered and honoured in my opinion, and I'm thrilled that so many of you agree.

Now...lighter subjects! Our youngest nephew, Will, is hard to get hold of in the summer holidays. Even though he's only 6, he's completely crazy about (& very good at) golf...so his free days are mostly taken up with practising or playing...but I managed to grab a whole day with him last week and we had so much fun! We went to London Zoo by train (the journey there and back was half the fun for him!) and to make it extra special I treated him to a VIP animal experience. There are quite a few to choose from....but I thought that meeting & feeding the meerkats would be the thing!
 They are such delightful, animated, quirky little creatures. Only 5 of us (plus the keeper, Christina) were allowed into the enclosure. We felt so special as the gates were unlocked for us. Will had the biggest smile on his face...
 Meerkats are, obviously, wild creatures...so actually touching them is not a great idea...and we didn't want to spook them....Christina gave us some live mealworms to feed them. They absolutely love mealworms..as you can tell!
 We also threw down plenty of special damp moss in little piles for them...they really enjoy foraging through this for little bugs and tasty tender bits. Meerkats are only happy living in big family groups...they are absolutely miserable alone, which is why misguided attempts to keep them as pets never work. Why would you want to? Just to see them playing, squabbling, scampering around the enclosure was such a joy. They are extremely inquisitive...
 Whenever a plane went over (which was frequently as the zoo is on the Heathrow flightpath) one of the little creatures would squeak the alarm and they all dived into the various holes they had made...before one brave little face would peek out to see if the danger was passed. I think I enjoyed the experience just as much as Will did! It's not a cheap option, but I would highly recommend it as a special treat if you ever visit.

We've also been taking part in some live country house auctions recently...such fun! We've bought all kinds of things - books, the odd painting, a corner cupboard for the dining room....but I thought you might like to see what was in this beautiful old leather case...

 It's an artist's treasure trove! I just loved the actual case....but the inside is full of delights too....

 oil pastels, palette knives, scrapers, oil colours, brushes of all kinds...some in appalling condition! Part of the charm, though. I can imagine this being toted around the countryside...its owner putting up a folding chair & easel and settling down to paint some rural view....
 The locks still work perfectly, and on the base is a clever little rivet to stop the leather actually resting on the ground...
Designed just so correctly and elegantly to fit its purpose, don't you think? It made me think of my dearest friend Sue Branch even though she's really a watercolourist...because I thought it was a lovely, unfussy real painter's case. I do not paint.....sadly. Neither does Paul. But, for the few pounds we paid, we have a little piece of someone's history...and we'll find a home for it, somewhere!
A last photo of Will, mesmerised by the penguins zooming around the pool at the zoo....summer holidays are almost over now....it's all gone so quickly this year... I can feel Autumn in the air already.

I hope you're having a wonderful weekend x

Friday, 15 August 2014

Yesterday....

I realise that my last post may have not been to everyone's taste (even though I received some lovely comments)...World War 1 is a subject that has always been of great interest to me and very close to my heart. I want this blog to reflect all the facets of my life...home...garden...travel...but also some of the deeper feelings I have and so it feels right to share some darker aspects from time to time...or it wouldn't be me!

So this post will be the last for the time being about First World War subjects, I promise...I have the next one planned and it is much lighter & fun, so do bear with me!

Yesterday, 14th August, was the 95th anniversary of the death of my great-great-uncle, Cyril. I mentioned him in my last post, but there is greater detail about him elsewhere on this blog (if you look for a post titled 'Anzac Day' for instance) In a nutshell, he was the youngest brother of my great-grandfather Walter. We didn't know he ever existed until about 10 years ago, when a chance search of the Commonwealth War Graves website revealed the site of his burial (in England...in the town he was born in in Suffolk on the East Coast...) My Mum was absolutely amazed. She thought that she had known all her great-uncles on that side of the family, and that they had all returned safely from the war (although damaged, as detailed before.) Cyril was never, ever spoken about and we knew that there must be a secret there which would unlock the reason. Families are so full of hidden emotions, lies, shame...if you just delve a little bit, you are sure to find this in your own somewhere!

After (literally) years of searching, I have managed to piece it all together finally. The last bits of the jigsaw were fitted together for me by an amazing company called Fourteen Eighteen which undertakes paid (but very reasonably,in my opinion) research into the soldiers of WW1. I won't reveal it all here...much of it is extremely personal, of course, and I owe him his dignity even after all this time.

But what I can say is that his life ended by his own hand. He threw himself in front of an underground train at Elephant & Castle station, in London one late summer afternoon at the age of 29. Another victim of the terrible war that killed so many. Now that I have all the facts, I really wanted to honour him as he has been forgotten for so very long. So yesterday I travelled to that same station...
 It's right at the end of the line, and after the train had emptied I was quite alone on the platform...

 I looked up the steps, and thought that this may have been where Cyril descended all those years ago. There are two platforms - Northbound & Southbound - and I don't know which side he fell. I had brought a bunch of roses from my garden with me, tied with a note. I left them at a point exactly between the two platforms...
 And I stood and thought of that young man...of all he had been through in those terrible war years...of the pain and suffering that had driven him to this extreme. The death of Robin Williams is fresh in my mind too, this week...another victim of depression and despair who saw no other way out.
 Such a terribly, terribly sad end to a life....and one which affected the family that had known him for the rest of theirs, I have no doubt...because he was loved, I am absolutely sure of that. My great-grandfather named one of his sons Cyril in 1924...and this could only have been in tribute to the brother he had lost 5 years before...
And then I got back on the train and started my journey home. I was so pleased to have done this small thing for him. To show the world that he was in it. And he mattered...& matters still....

Amazingly, last night I received an anonymous message from someone who had stopped to read the note attached to the roses that they had seen at the station on their way home...and who had cared enough to Google Cyril's name which had led them to this blog. They were pleased to know he had been 'found' and honoured, as he should be. I was very touched - and thrilled on his behalf, too.
Cyril Arthur Took - a secret no longer.

Have a wonderful weekend x

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

August 4th...a century on...

 If you don't live in the UK, you may not know that last night there was a very special ceremony to mark the centenary of the day the First World War began in 1914. It was a brilliantly conceived & executed evening, I thought...it included those in Belgium & France and also Germany...moving readings, music and prayers interspersed with contemporary accounts, film and photographs. The culmination came in the hour leading up to 11pm, the actual time at which the British government declared that this country was at war. At 10pm, we were asked to extinguish all lights...save for one candle. And at 11pm, we were to blow that candle out as a symbol of the darkness that fell over Europe at that moment....
 We went for a walk around the neighbourhood at about 10.30....the air was heavy & warm, as it probably was 100 years ago. It was very quiet...although not as quiet as it would have been then with barely any motorised vehicles in general use...
 World War One has been a special interest of mine for as long as I can remember. I feel so privileged to be around for these commemorations which will continue over the next 4 & 1/4 years, until the centenary of the Armistice...
 As we walked, I thought of all the changes that were wrought by that terrible carnage. Some of them good...the elevation and (in most cases) eventual equality of women in society is one....
 But, of course, what really overwhelms & endures in any thoughts of the Great War is the loss. The millions of men & women from all over the world who were drawn in and cut down by the conflict. The music, books, poetry that were never written because their authors died. The children that were never born. The bereaved mothers, fathers, wives and children whose lives were never the same again. My mothers' schoolteachers who were all 'Misses' because their fiances had been killed & they had never met anyone else....
 The flower and hope of youth, the enthusiasm and passion that was decimated....and the ones who fought and lived to return, but remained scarred by the huge and terrible experience forever. My oldest friend's grandfather who fought on the Somme but never, ever talked about it...my own great uncles & great-grandfather ...Edgar, Walter and poor Sidney who was so shellshocked that he spent the rest of his life a hermit & became a figure of fun for those with no idea...absolutely zero understanding or tolerance of the horrors he had faced week in and week out for years...
 And Cyril. Dear Cyril.Who was posted to Gallipoli in 1915. Who was shot and suffered from enteric fever. Who was sent to France when he recovered, where he was wounded again...and returned to the Western Front until the end of hostilities. And who committed suicide just 9 months later as a direct result of his wartime experience....
This couple stood in the churchyard for the entire hour, each holding a candle. How lucky we are, in this country at least, to know that those we love will not have to march away...perhaps never to return. How must that feel? To read printed casualty lists, sometimes days out of date, to find out if someone you care about more than anything else in the world is still in it?

It's horrifying to think that in so many places this violence and grief carries on today. We can only hope for a time when there truly is peace...because humankind has to really want it to make it happen, and there are too many who don't...who believe that a piece of land or the way in which one chooses to worship a god is really, really worth taking life for. While that is true, there can never really be peace. So sad. And so pathetic.

I can't think about it too much. If anything demonstrates the futility and loss of 1914-1918 for me it is this piece of music....
Its composer, George Butterworth, was killed during the Battle of the Somme in 1916...and this piece is, to me, a perfect and beautiful reflection of the comparative innocence, tranquility and beauty of an England that was lost forever that day in August 1914. I think it is wonderful and I hope you do too.

xx


Sunday, 20 July 2014

And the winner is...

I am so busy this weekend...but I just had time to draw the winning name for the giveaway...in fact, Alice helped!! I fanned all the names out on scraps of paper and picked the one she put her paw on first (unscientific, perhaps...but as random as it gets, and also very cute!) I love this picture of her taken during a balmy evening last week, resting on her prized duck - if you look closely, you'll see that he's had to have 'open heart surgery' already...and no doubt one day soon he'll be ripped to shreds, but for now he's virtually intact.

Alright, suspense over...the prize goes to SHARON CALVERT ....Sharon, if you email me at the address shown on the blog here and let me know your address, I'll make sure I post your package to you asap! & thanks to EVERYONE who left beautiful comments on both posts..it's so lovely to know you're out there, it really is!

There's another giveaway currently over on my other blog, Sugar Moon Brownies ,with 2 wonderful prizes...so if you're not Sharon (or even if you are!) you can enter that too....

Thanks so much for taking part, and for reading. Hope you're having a fabulous weekend. xx

Saturday, 5 July 2014

The Beauty of Now...Part 2

So, this is the scene as I write this morning...
pouring rain...which is a great shame, as the past week has been filled with sunshine. I feel so sorry for all the revellers taking part in the annual Roald Dahl Festival in the town today...especially the schoolchildren, who have spent weeks making flags, costumes and banners for the big parade. But they'll have fun anyway...we're used to rain after all, and it's still very warm. And the garden is soaking up the precious drops and sighing with pleasure, I just know it is!

Talking of gardens, as you know I love to do...a few weeks ago we visited one of our favourites, Queen Mary's Rose Garden in Regent's Park, London...
 so many varieties..
filling the air with perfume and bees....absolutely glorious!
It's wonderful to see so many people of all ages & nationalities wandering through, just enjoying the sight and scent.
I love the entrance gate too...
so...royal! If you know the fabulous movie, 'The King's Speech' (& if by any chance you haven't seen it, you really should...it's moving, uplifting and very beautiful...I defy you not to cry just a little bit at the end!) then you may recognise the Italian Garden below...
Even though the film was shot at a very different time of year, you will probably recognise it as the path where Lionel & the Duke of York had a big argument!
Even though I wouldn't like our own garden to be so formal and regimented, I do admire these landscaped wonders...
You may remember that last year I took lots of pictures at the farm, in the wildflower field that my Dad sowed years ago. It was always his dream to have a meadow full of native British wildflowers...and now he does!
Mum and I took a walk up there at the peak of its beauty, along with the farm dogs, of course. Millie was rescued just under a year ago, from a horrible life as a breeding bitch in a puppy mill. She was frightened of everything and everyone. She cowered and shook and hid behind doors and couches, trying to make herself as invisible as possible. But little by little, with patience, routine, consistency, kindness and lots of love...this is her today...
Happy and carefree..just as a dog deserves! Isn't that a great picture?
and here...

you can see her smile! Remember little Cora? Well she was there too....
the wildflower meadow has too much long grass for her tiny little legs...so she had a special lift from Mum (her favourite person)...and here are those flowers...
the pale mauve spikes are wild orchids. You can imagine the butterflies and bees that proliferate here, too...so much, in fact, that a friend who owns a honey business has sited 6 of his hives here! This is the perfect spot for them as they also have a pond to drink from right outside their front door...
and it obviously suits them as we were just given our first precious glowing jars of unfiltered farm honey...
..a strangely touching moment.
Midsummer is just beautiful anywhere you are right now...my daily walk with Alice on the hill is flower-filled too...

and I also love the wild grasses that ripple on the breeze like a moving carpet...
Lots to explore on our walks...
 I have to keep a close eye on this grubby little fox terrier to make sure she doesn't disappear down the interesting holes!
 The tiny purple flowers above are those of the wild thyme that mass in cushions on the side of the hill...I crush some as I walk and the scent filters through the warm air and smells delicious...
 ..this little beetle obviously loves it too...
 and this is birds-foot trefoil...such a singing colour for a tiny flower...'come and get me, bees!'
 It's reputed that on a clear day you can see 7 counties from this hill...
 We head for cooler spots halfway through....so lush & green, gentler than the unshaded chalk land...
 Wild scabious lasts until well into the autumn...but, much as I love that season,I can't think of summer being over just yet!

And now, the giveaway that was promised in my last post. I haven't done one of these for a long time, and as it's also my 200th post this is a special celebration! Firstly, some of the most delicious chocolate I've tasted...
 made in Wales & bought in Wales, in Hay-on-Wye while we were at the festival. Next, some very pretty little cupcake wrappers and toppers...
 so sweet and summery, I love them and hope you will too...and finally...
 a delightful little transfer mug...it's not vintage, but it looks the part...lovely to drink from of course, but I also see it as a vase for a sweet nosegay of wildflowers to sit on a windowsill or bedside table...
So there you have it! A Mozart's Girl giveaway at last. And all you have to do to be entered into the draw is to leave me a comment on this post. I'll make the draw in 2 weeks time, on the 19th...and I'm happy to send the package anywhere in the world, so don't worry about that! Just be sure to check back, and enjoy your weekend!

With love x