Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Manor at Hemingford Grey. You might know it as Green Knowe.

Some books shape your childhood.  They catch at the imagination and become a part of you.  Alan Garner's "The Moon of Gomrath" and "The Owl Service", C. S. Lewis's "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", Susan Cooper's "The Dark is Rising", Arthur Ransome's "Swallows and Amazons", Katharine Hull and Pamela Whitlock's "The Far Distant Oxus" were all books that I read again and again, trying to leave just long enough between rereadings so that they regained just a little of their magical strangeness or their ability to surprise.  One of these books which made me was Lucy M. Boston's "The Children of Green Knowe".  Around ten years or so ago I read somewhere that Hemingford Grey Manor was the inspiration for Green Knowe and that it was possible to arrange to visit.  The idea hung around on the edge of my consciousness.  Hemingford Grey is near Huntingdon in the East of England.  We live way over in the west in Wales.  It seemed unlikely to happen unless we made a special visit but I always thought it might one day.  And last week the day came.

It was a quiet sunny day in the village of Hemingford Grey.  There were no signs to the Manor that we could see but I knew from the books that the house was by the river. We walked through the drowsy streets following signs for the river and the church, meeting only a cat sunning itself on a wall.  There: a sign.  An empty road with large modern houses, another sign and a long shaded drive and suddenly we came out into sunlight and there it was.  The garden exploded in colour around it.  A man was working in the borders but it was sunny and silent.  We had been told to come to the front door at half past two for our tour of the house so we had a few minutes to wander around.  Everywhere there were sights that jolted the memory: the statue of St Christopher who carried Tolly over the flood; the topiary crowns, the huge yew tree and the hidden garden.

We assemble by the front step, three couples, together with a man and his seven year old daughter who prove to be part of the wider family of Lucy Boston.  Diana is Lucy's daughter in law and it is she who takes us round the house.  In through the front door, over the threshold which Tolly had approached by boat when the house sat surrounded by flood water. 

Like Lucy, Diana is a storyteller, weaving the story of the house with the story of Lucy, her son Peter and with the story of the books which sprang from Lucy's deep connection with the house.  Diana has been sharing her house with people in this generous and informal way for twenty years.  How many people has she invited into her house?  How many times has she told the story of Lucy's musical evenings in the second world war when the oldest room in the house was packed with airmen from the local RAF base?  It all feels fresh and funny and new.  That is a true artistry.

Every spot in the music room was used for seating on those wartime evenings, two lucky people sitting right in the fireplace.

Everywhere you look there are things of beauty and interest.  The light streams in.

I love the idea that this nine hundred year old room was crowded with young servicemen listening to records before they launched themselves into the skies of World War 2.

But it is the room at the top of the house that makes you feel that you have fallen into the books.

Here is the rocking horse which Tolly heard riding away into the night.

In the toybox are Toby's sword, Linnet's doll and Alexander's flute.

And on the chest of drawers sits the little wooden mouse which Tolly took to bed with him and which slept under his pillow.

It is an extraordinary house and an extraordinary family have lived in it since Lucy Boston bought it in 1939.  You don't need to know the Green Knowe books to spend a fascinating hour or two here.  Ian hasn't yet read them but he too loved the house, the complexity of its story and the layers of history which surrounded you as you walked through.  One room is full of the stunning patchwork quilts which Lucy made by hand right into her nineties.  On the walls hang many beautiful pictures, some by the artist Elisabeth Vellacott who lodged with Lucy during the war years, some the illustrations for the Green Knowe books by Lucy's son, Peter.

Spending some time in Green Knowe is like listening to music, reading a poem or watching a play.  I felt as though I had looked into another world, the light was brighter, sound was little keener.  It was a privilege to share it for a short time.  Go if you can.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

The year of being sixty two

So here is the first slice of the longer piece I want to write, in fact this is what I wrote on my second day at The Hurst on the Arvon course in that sudden rush of realisation of what I wanted to say.  I don't intend to blog the whole thing, even assuming I can write it, but I thought I would try to put an extract on every month and this is August's.  I hope that the discipline of committing myself to do that will keep me writing and I also hope that you will tell me what you think.  I love feedback although I think that too much might make me too self conscious so with luck this will be a balance that works for me.  I hope it works for you too.

The year of being sixty two.

Ageing isn’t linear.  It happens in sudden leaps and swoops.  One day you look in the mirror and your chin has gone.   Your chin which has been with you all your life has suddenly disappeared and in its place is a soft fleshy decline from your head to your neck.  You never even realised that you liked your chin, it was just there at the bottom of your face, but now it has gone you miss it.  Hands are another one.  For years you have quite liked your hands with their narrow palms and long fingers.  Then one day you are drying them after washing the dishes and you see with a start that they have become the hands of an old lady.  The veins and the tendons stand up too sharply.  The skin is finely wrinkled and quite incapable of bouncing back.  They are your mother’s hands.
There is nothing you can do about any of this and in a way you don’t want to.  What would be the use of a long Canute-like battle against the incoming tide of ageing? Better to put your towel down on the beach and feel the sun seep into your bones or to paddle in the warm edge of the sea.  But it is odd nevertheless.  Your body has developed a life of its own.
I have never understood it when you see pensioners on the television insisting with a giggle that they don’t feel a day over seventeen.  I recognise the person I was at seventeen, just.  I think she has something to do with me but it is like looking at another life.  How naive I was, how self obsessed, how self conscious.  How little I knew about what I could cope with.  How little I had loved, learnt, suffered, enjoyed.  If I still felt like that girl after more than forty years of living I think I would have been wasting my time.  But I do recognise the disconnect between the outside and the inside, between the body and the mind.  The body is gently and inexorably moving into the later stages of life even while the mind insists that nothing has changed. 
It must have been like this for generations.  Perhaps every generation has always arrived in the foothills of age with the same start of surprise.  Perhaps no one is ever ready.  But I wonder if those of us born in the fifties and sixties are not particularly at sea.  Unlike my grandmother’s generation we can expect at least another twenty years when we reach sixty, probably more.  Her generation took to its perms and sensible shoes and corsets at the age of fifty or so.  I remember my own grandmother vividly when she must have been about fifty and she hardly changed at all in the way she looked and dressed until she died at seventy one.   Expectations have shifted since then both in terms of how long we might live and what we might look like as we do so.
The media can’t quite decide how to categorise us.   For a while Joan Collins was the only older woman who you might expect to see in newspapers and magazines.  Now it is Helen Mirren.  Both are offered as evidence that is possible to be attractive and desirable at around seventy.  I am really not sold on that one.  Most of us never looked like Helen Mirren in the first place and do we really want desirability to be the measure of our worth?  I think I might have had enough of that when I was younger. 
So here we are.  What are our sixties and seventies going to look like?  Most of us have worked outside the home.  Many of us have had interesting and demanding professional lives denied to our mothers and grandmothers.  Many of us are fortunate to be financially secure.  When I look at my friends I see political passion and environmental commitment.  I see women who take deep pleasure in their grandchildren and who also want to travel in Asia.  I see women who have devoted their lives to their families finding time and energy for themselves, starting businesses, writing novels, taking great satisfaction from the traditional female domestic crafts or deciding to work until they are seventy for the sheer pleasure of it.  Of course we are privileged, women like me, immensely privileged compared to most older women throughout the world, and privileged even in comparison to those in our own country who struggle with lack of money or ill health.  But I don’t see our lives represented in newspapers and magazines or even in fiction.  Too old to be a heroine, too young to be a crone, we seem to be invisible.  Does this happen to men of our generation too I wonder?  Perhaps not as overwhelmingly since men are still much more visible in the workplace and in the media and politics and anyway I could not speak for them even if I wished to.  But I can speak for myself and thus perhaps for women of my generation.
So here it is, a year of being sixty two, with its pleasures, its pains, its freedoms and its frustrations.  It would not be honest to write this without looking at ageing and mortality but neither would it be true to ignore the opportunities and happinesses of the last quarter of life.  I would not put the clock back.  To be here is a pleasure  and a privilege.  But where to next?

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

An Arvon Foundation Writing Course

I have been wanting to do an Arvon writing course for years.  When I had the time I simply did not have the money.  When the money was not a problem it was because I was working so hard that I could not imagine giving a week of my hard earned holiday to something that did not involve the rest of my family.  But suddenly earlier this year I realised that I could do it.  I had the time.  I had the money.  Ian was going trekking with some friends in Norway.  There was not even the faint residual guilt of going away and leaving him looking after everything.  We would both go away.  Nobody would look after anything at all.

I knew I wanted to write non fiction and when I found that a course on creative non fiction was offered in one of the weeks when Ian was going to be away it seemed entirely meant.  After years of writing with ease and pleasure, I have been struggling with writing the blog since my father died.  Maybe it would give me a kick up the pants.  Maybe it would set me going again.  I booked it quickly one night before I could change my mind.  And then I forgot about it, nearly.

The week before the course started I looked it in the face again.  Why had I done this?  There was no wi fi, mobile signal, tv or radio.  I was squeezing out once a month blog posts with huge difficulty.  There was no way I could call myself a writer.  It seemed a joke, a self indulgence, a bit of pretention.  I wandered around the house kicking myself and muttering.  Then I got a grip.  Never mind, it was done and paid for.  I was going to The Hurst, once the country house of the playwright John Osborne.  It is near Clun in that beautiful hidden country which is neither England nor Wales.  I would go, of course I would.  If I hated it I could always go and sit in a cafe in Clun and drink tea.  I could even get in the car and drive home.

We arrive in time for an evening meal.  After dinner sixteen of us, fourteen women and two men, are sitting with two tutors around the edges of a large lounge.   I am not the oldest.  There are a couple of people who look older than me.  Not all the participants are from the UK.  There is a journalist from Belgium and a quiet, beautiful American girl who has flown in from Dubai.  There is a young Muslim girl from the Caucasus, now studying in London.  Some are employed and juggling jobs and families.  Some are self employed.  Some are not working or taking a break with the deliberate intention of writing a book.  Some are confident, some diffident.  People have many different reasons for coming on the course but most have something that they want to write.   I seem to be the only person who is here because I cannot write.  The tutors are clever, funny, encouraging, sympathetic.

Upstairs we each have a room with a single bed and a writing desk.  It is simple but comfortable, not quite a monastic cell but functional as a private space to write.  I go to bed having had one glass of wine too many.  It looks like it will be ok.

The following morning is spent with the tutors, Alexander Masters and Andrea Stuart, around a huge table in the study room.  The pace is fast and furious, the atmosphere frank, funny and supportive.  We are given exercises to do as well discussions to have and each time we take away an exercise for twenty minutes or so and return to share the results, or not, as we choose.  It becomes very clear that I have no difficulty at all in writing to order about anything that is thrown at me.  That is a bit of a revelation.

I have decided to have my first tutorial at the earliest possible chance, 2.30 on Wednesday afternoon.  This means that I have to leave some work to be looked at by 4pm on Tuesday.  For much of Tuesday afternoon I wrestle with reducing a piece I wrote about my father, which you will have seen because it was my tribute to him here, to around one thousand words.  This is hard and not entirely successful.

When that is finished I sit at the laptop and write another piece for my other tutorial in a glorious freeing rush.  It seems that I know what I want to write about: aging, mortality, the experience of being sixty one, not to be morbid, not to be deaf and blind to growing older but to look it in the face in all its complicated glory, to look it in the face and be glad to be alive.  When I read it again before delivering it to the shelf of work for review my piece makes me smile.

How was it then, the whole experience?  Clearly it gave me my kick up the pants.  It was phenomenally hard work, intense, exhausting, exhilarating.  I lost a day to feeling dreadful with IBS, not what I meant by a glorious freeing rush.  The tutors were brilliant: challenging and supportive in perfect balance.  The other people on the course were as mixed and interesting a group as you could imagine and included some whose writing made me want to weep or shout with joy.  The single best thing about the week was that everyone from tutors to all the other participants treated you seriously as a writer.  There was none of that pussy footing which you engage in so as not to seem to be a poser.  "Of course I am not really a writer, I only do this or that or nothing at all."  There was no apologising or explaining or belittling oneself or anyone else.  So we talked about writing.  We asked each other about what we were doing and how it was going.  We took it for granted that we were writers and that learning more about that craft was why we were there.

Being in that environment and without the distractions of home made it easy to write.  After all, there was nothing else to do.  There was nothing to procrastinate with, no one to look after, no list of jobs in the house and garden calling insistently.  There was just a morning workshop and an afternoon in your room writing away and an evening listening or talking.  It was a shock to come home and I was glad that I had a couple of days entirely by myself to adjust again.  It has taken me some time to decide what to do with the experience.  Do I want to write a book and try to find an agent and do something very different from writing a blog?  I like my blog.  Finding my voice on my blog again was the reason I went on the course in the first place.  So after a couple of weeks of mulling and knitting and walking and not thinking about it in any sort of active way I have come to the conclusion that I will try to write a sustained piece of writing.  It might not work and I hereby give myself full permission to give up if it doesn't.  But I would like it somehow to be part of the blog as well so once a month I will post an extract from what I am writing and I would be immensely grateful if you could let me know what you think about it and if you would like to read more.  The rest of the time I will blog as I usually do about life, food, books, gardens, family and whatever comes to mind.  At least that is the plan.

And if you have ever wondered about doing a writing course, look at Arvon. It was a great experience.  It might turn you upside down and shake you around but it is worth every bit of your time and money.  I have just about recovered now.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

On being out of touch....

I am trying to reconnect gently.  From Monday to Saturday morning I was living in an unconnected world: no wifi, no television, no radio and only sufficient mobile signal for the odd grudging text message, with no guarantee of reply.  Air silence.

I was at an Arvon course at The Hurst in Shropshire, spending a week with fifteen others and two tutors immersed in creative non-fiction.  I'm still processing that experience and may write about it sometime but right now I am just considering how it was to drop out of the digital world for a few days.

I hadn't noticed the "no wifi" when I booked to go on the course.  Checking what I needed as I packed last week I saw it:  no wifi, poor mobile signal, payphone in the hall.  My heart sank.  I like my connectedness.  Email produces mostly selling these days but every now and then there is something interesting with news or photos from friends or family.  Facebook is much the same.  I don't post very often myself and my daily checks are swift but I do like seeing pictures of friends' babies and walking holidays and having a loose sense of what is happening in their lives.  I love Instagram with its ease and simplicity and succession of snapshots of other people's lives and of course it is a rare week when I don't read at least a couple of the blogs I really like.  And over and above all that there is the sheer usefulness of the damn thing: news, research, instant answers, phone numbers, opening hours, weather forecasts.   How would I manage without it all?  Was it really necessary to abandon it?  Apparently so.

And a bit of me was curious to see what it would be like.  I have wondered sometimes as Ian and I sit by the fire, ipads on our laps, how much time we spend online.  Not a problem, I would have said.  We talk and walk and read and knit and garden and spend time with friends and our children and grandchildren.  It is only a part of life, but an everyday part.  As much a part of our routine as cooking and shopping and brushing our teeth.

Turns out that whether you miss it all depends.  The days were so full with workshops and tutorials and writing exercises and writing time that I missed the social media stuff not at all.  Indeed I couldn't have spent any time engaging with social media and also done all the other things I was trying to do.

At home I am a news junkie, likely to listen to the radio or watch the news at least twice a day.  For most of my life I have been interested in politics and current affairs.  I usually have a week or two off when we go on holiday and I expected this break from tv, radio and newspapers to be just like that.  It's normally good to have a break but after a few days I begin to feel out of touch and I return to my normal news diet refreshed and keen to get engaged again.

Perhaps it was the timing of this break that was different.  After the shock of the UK referendum vote and the sense of chaos that overtook UK political life, I  was punch drunk with news, reeling, sickened with it.  Being without it seemed to free my head to think about other things and to give me a respite from being battered by matters of huge importance about which I could do nothing.  I did feel a leap of guilt on coming out on Saturday and learning of the deaths in Nice, realising that I had not known.  Why guilt? I do not know.  It was as if in not knowing I was not caring.  That is a response which makes no rational sense but clearly demonstrates why I normally follow so avidly.  But a period without news and the analysis of news was oddly calming. 

And all of the other facts and research and usefulness?  I didn't notice their absence at all.  Admittedly I was not living my normal life.  I was mining myself for what to write about.

So the only thing I really missed was talking to people, especially Ian who is away trekking in Norway and not very easily contactable at his end either.  It made me realise how much I use talking to him and to one or two others as a way of examining what is happening to me and making sense of it, the very process of expressing myself to someone who knows me intimately and with whom I don't have to censor myself helping me to understand what I am thinking and feeling.

As I drove home I turned on the radio to listen to the news.  Over the last day or so I have caught up with emails and social media.  No desire at all to remain in purdah.  It has been good to get back in some ways and tonight I shall turn off my brain and gently watch Countryfile on the TV and that will be a relief and a rest after such intensity and hard work.

I don't suppose I learnt anything from the experience that I didn't sort of know already: social media takes up a lot of time; television does the same; watching the news can do your head in.  But it has been a very clear and concrete lesson.  If I want time for writing I can clearly make it by spending less time online and watching TV.  Listening to and, particularly, watching the news can oppress you, especially in times of great turmoil.  Talking to the people you love is a wonderful thing.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Wondering how to use the blog...

I have been writing this blog since 2007. That is an amazing thought!  In that time I have made lots of real and virtual friends and had a lot of fun with it.  I have been to Chelsea and to the Malvern and Tatton RHS Shows.  I have blogged about gardens and houses and cooking and had the occasional rant about consumerism and the way we bring up our children.  I have blogged as often as three times a week, although generally my pattern has been to write a weekly blog.  I have blogged with photographs and without and have found that the urge to write has been like an itch I need to scratch, a pleasurable itch, but the itch of a strong urge to connect and to find the words that make sense of my life.

So why do I feel that I am grinding to a halt, losing it, letting it drift away from me?

It is hard to put my finger on.  At one level I very much do not want to stop.  I love the connections I have made and I know my life would be poorer without them.  Yet again and again I find that I do not sit down to write.  I don't know what to say.  In part that is a simple reflection of having blogged about my life for so long.  You know that the daffodils come out in spring and that in May the cow parsley is in flower in the verges on the lane.  Do you really have any interest in  my telling you again?  Partly it is a shift in what I am doing.  For much of its life this blog has been about an obsessive interest in my garden and the attempt to create one out of a rough field half way up a hill.  For the last two years I have lost the garden as the needs of my father and father in law, particularly the weekly six hundred mile round trip to Devon to try to support my father, have squeezed out the garden.  There was only so much time and energy to go round and the garden had to be let go.  It pained me but it was necessary.  And now six months after my father died I have still not really reconnected.  To do so seems to need more energy and commitment than I have.  I am doing bits but I am also holding it at arm's length.  I am too tired, too battered.  At the moment I can't do it in the way which I have done.

And I suppose that is at the heart of the matter.   Before my father became ill and my mother died it was very clear to me what this blog was for: it was to celebrate the beauty of this place, to record the progress of the garden, to celebrate times with family and friends.  It was not for personal disclosure.  It was a public platform on which I always tried to speak honestly but it was not a place where I wrote about the intimate or the personal.  I found I could not keep entirely silent when seismic changes rocked our world so I did write briefly about the serious stroke which disabled my brother five and a half years ago and I did write a tribute to both my mother and my father when they died.  I  think any reader would know the outline of the huge shocks which have rocked my family.  But there was much that did not make it onto the blog, particularly over the last couple of years as Dad's Motor Neurone Disease took hold.

Now I do not know what the blog is for any longer, perhaps because I myself am still a bit adrift.  I feel very changed by the death of my parents and the events of the last couple of years.  I still laugh and talk and drink wine and love good food.  I still take deep pleasure in the time spent with the next generation, four of whom have arrived in the last two and a half years.  I still read and knit and walk and watch property programmes on the TV.  I still love spring and plants and being outside.  So I would find it hard to explain to you what I mean by feeling that I am changed.  I am very aware that we are now the oldest generation in our family: my mother called it being at the head of the queue.  I am aware that the time that is left is much much shorter than the time which has passed.  I don't find that difficult or depressing but it does make me think a lot about what I want to do with it.  Nothing is more important than those relationships which have always been the core of my life but I find I want to do more looking out, going out, being out in the world.  I want to travel a bit more, even if it is mainly in my own country.  I want, I suppose, more adventure, even if those adventures are small ones.

And oddly I find that I cannot quite work out what I want to write about.  This new life, feeling my way to how it works without the loving restrictions of the responsibilities to parents, still feels very tentative.  I am doing a lot of things with my time, some of which I suspect might be simply diversions from those losses.  At New Year I blogged about trying to build a year based on adventure and reflection.  I am perhaps doing too much and reflecting too little but I also feel that I just need to live this year or so to find out how it works.  Perhaps the time has come to use the blog as a place for the reflection when it the past it has been so much about practical, physical things?

What do you think? If I take fewer pictures of the garden and spend more time thinking about what I am doing and where it is taking me, looking at how and where I want to live, telling you about my adventures instead of just doing them, would that be too much of change in the contract between us, between writer and reader?  I don't want to stop blogging but I may need to blog differently.  It won't all be contemplative stuff - I am too easily distracted by a fine flower or a good bottle of wine.  What do you think?

Friday, 13 May 2016

In the garden again

The blossom on the wild cherry is perfection in its white delicacy.

In the garden the intense yellow green sings of May,  here smyrnium perfolitatum, a triennial.

And here euphorbia characias.  If I were an insect I would live in it.

Or maybe in these magnolias.  Look at the thick creamy sculpted flowers.  What a home they would make.

Out in the orchard the apple trees are coming into flower.

And in the pots in front of the house an explosion of orange tulips: Ballerina, Hermitage and Couleur Cardinal.  Can we just hold the moment for a little longer?

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Looking back over nine Aprils

I haven't blogged for a while and seem to be having something of a blogger's block.  There seemed to be nothing new to say.  So last week I sat down and just looked at older posts and tried not to think about writing one.  One of the lovely things about having written a blog for a long time is the ability to go back and see what I have been doing.  It's like reading old diaries.  I have been looking at this time of year on my blog for the last nine Aprils and being reminded of so much that had gently slipped into the stream of time.

Here is a photo from nine years ago looking up behind the house to the Victorian privy.  We never use it, just in case you are wondering.  It  has two seats side by side.  That must have been companionable.  I remember when I was a child going to visit my grandmother's older sister who had one of these.  I was afraid I would fall in and it was a great comfort to have the loving presence of Nana sitting next to me, with her bloomers around her ankles, holding my hand.

Here is April 2008 and the arrival of the wooden greenhouse, a really beautiful one made by Gabriel Ash which has to rank as one of the best birthday/Christmas presents ever.  I had intended when we bought it that it would act almost like a little conservatory and be a place to sit in the sunshine and out of the wind.  It does do that, indeed there are three basketwork chairs in there for that very purpose.  I thought it could also house my collection of scented leaf geraniums and it does that too.  Somehow some other plants and their accompanying detritus have also sneaked in when I left the door open.

In April 2009 I find we went to Great Dixter which did not disappoint.  It is always a bit dangerous to go to somewhere you have long dreamed about.  Sometimes the whole experience just does not take off and then for ever after the dream has lost its lustre.  Not here.  I must go again because the garden was not in its high summer pomp.  The tulips were fantastic, as were the meadows, but the borders should be revisited in June or July I think when everything is throwing out its glory.  Another thing for the list.

I had quite forgotten the beauty of this Frisian cockerel, here strutting his stuff under the little quince tree that has since given up the ghost.  The hens roamed free in those days.  Nowadays they live in a large grassy run behind an electric fence - one too many visits from Mr Fox!

In 2010 things were very different from the way they are now, both inside and out.  Inside the house the old plaster came off in the kitchen and the stone walls were beautifully replastered by a father and son team who really loved working on such an old building.  And outside the apple blossom was out.  It must have been a very warm spring because this year there is no sign of either blossom or leaf on the apple trees, only the plum and the damson blossom white against the sky.

2011 must have been another warm spring  because the peonies were in bloom in late April, in all their brief, lush complexity.  I love them and every year the heavily cut foliage is a real presence but this year the buds are hard and tight.

And in 2012 the tulips were already flowering!  This is Hermitage which has become a real favourite.

And rather less trimphantly, I tried to make an annual wild flower meadow.  Funny how I had quite forgotten how much work it was to weed and rake and sow although the fact that I have never repeated it must mean that at some deep muscular level I remember.  I used a mix from Pictorial Meadows and produced something that was in many ways lovely but didn't quite work for me.

I see that I described it as a mixture of the glorious and the disappointing.  This is a picture from the glorious end.  At the other end docks and hogweed flourished.  I am glad I tried as I learnt a great deal from doing it.  One of things I learnt is that this garden is better suited to perennial meadow.  So many of the annual meadow flowers which I love such as the poppies and corncockles do not really belong up here on the hill where the land is meant for sheep and the native flowers are paler and shyer.  At some level I knew that when I started but I couldn't resist having a go.

Three years ago I had a go at something else entirely, the challenge to "Live below the Line", to live for five days on a pound a day.  The picture shows my shopping for the week.  You can see it was heavy on rice, lentils and porridge oats and had to be entirely vegetarian as the money just would not stretch to meat.  I found soups were easy and  tasty and vegetable curry was satisfying and strongly flavoured.  I really missed cheese and eggs, far more than meat!  I gave the money I would normally have spent on food to UNICEF.  The challenges of the last couple of years with ailing father and father in law have knocked ideas like this right out of my head but I might do something similar again.  I have been musing about eating more vegetarian food although I am too much of a meat and fish lover to turn vegetarian but reading about doing this has reminded me that it is just a matter of committing to doing something different.  Maybe I will commit to two vegetable based days a week.  It would probably be good both for my body and my purse.

Between April 2013 and April 2014, in early November and quite out of the blue, my mother died, tearing a hole in the world.  Life became a blur of long drives up and down the country, my sister and Ian and I struggling together to support my father who was already losing many of his functions through the onslaught of motor neurone disease and Ian and I trying to support his father who was failing too at the end of a long and happy life.  I remember wandering out into the garden, which had received no attention for months over the winter, and finding the erythroniums in flower and the trees blossoming as if nothing had happened.  It is both terrible and consoling, the way the natural world follows its own rhythms.

And last year I went with a friend to Leiden to visit the bulb fields and Keukenhof and to retrieve my long submerged cycling skills.  Ian's father had died the previous summer, a few days before the birth of our fourth grandchild.  My father was hanging on with extraordinary determination and good cheer as his speech began to desert him.  This week was a glorious week of just being me with a good friend who knows Leiden really well.  A space to look around again and see how the world works.

And so we come to April 2016.  My father has gone.  Two new grandchildren have arrived.  The hills are still beautiful.  The swallows are flying.  This is my very favourite time of year.  Time to sit and take in the world, to miss those who have gone but be glad that we had them.

Time for more adventures.

Looking back has made it vividly clear that some things change and others recur.  I am trying to balance the pleasure in those that recur with striking out and making new things happen.  Seize the day and all that.  How would you like to seize the day?  What adventure do you plan?