Tuesday, 30 August 2011

TV as soporific?

At a very late stage in her life, my mother, always politically aware and with an interest in what was going on in the wider world, stopped watching the 10.00 pm news.

She was, she said only able to cope with disturbing news earlier in the day, and if she watched TV late at night she wouldn't sleep, or, if she did, would have nightmares.

I used to consider this a little melodramatic until a few years ago I discovered I was suffering the same reaction, so much so that I now never watch TV news after early evening and try to avoid dramas or films of a grim or potentially insomnia inducing nature.

The exception to this,for me, is that I have a fascination with holocaust stories.

The very best of these, like Schindler's List, or The Last Butterfly while intensely moving, have so much to teach that for me they are compulsive viewing.

This evening I have just watched "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas", and while there was a sort of inevitability about the ending, and while the story was merely sketched in rather than fleshed out as well as it might have been, the acting was mainly good, and in the case of the two young boys, really excellent.  The brooding atmosphere of the whole thing was well portrayed and the confused thinking of the individuals caught up in events well beyond their control was convincing.

Not entertainment  by any standard, but another one to add to my growing list of WW2 required watching.

Another sleepless night awaits.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Hoist with my own Petard

Sorry I can't find a suitable illustration for this post.

As previously mentioned, our annual BBQ is about to take place - tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon - and as usual wishing, without thinking it through before-hand, to be of use I found myself uttering the foolish, time-honoured phrase, "please let me know if I can do anything to help". 

Late yesterday afternoon my chickens came home to roost, when opening the front door, the smiling faces of two of my neighbours greeted me with, "you know you wanted to help, well, will you make the potato salad please"

Of course I agreed readily, too readily.  

What have I done? I thought.  I've never made a potato salad in my life.....still how hard can it be?......Yes, well I found out this morning.  

I was  handed two huge jars of H mayonnaise plus two 2Kg bags of salad potatoes.

Now, at 2.30 pm on Saturday afternoon, I can confirm that scrubbing, removing blemishes from and washing 8 and a half pounds imperial weight of potatoes, then boiling them in 4 separate batches ( I only have one massive saucepan - ex jam-making - in my small kitchen), then cooling them, wrapping them in foil and depositing them - with great difficulty - in my small fridge, was as nothing, compared with the clean-up.

Is it just me, or is there another lunatic out there who contrives to cover every work surface, tiled wall, window sill and sink/draining board with minute particles of potato skin.?

I hasten to add that I scrubbed them first and removed only the small specks and blemishes, otherwise they retain their skins.  So just where did  all the mess come from?

Tomorrow, on my return from church I shall make the mayonnaise, adding a host of 'secret' ingredients to the bought jars of the stuff.

You may have gathered that i am not one of nature's cooks.  Sadly for me, however, I am an incurable volunteer.

Friday, 26 August 2011

The Close

Some of the neighbours from our close are off to buy the basics for our annual Close BBQ.

This is a truly happy event, usually starting around 3.00 pm, gaining momentum through late afternoon/evening and finishing  if the weather holds, around 1.00 am

It is 31 years today since I (we), moved into this house, our first house, one we thought, of many.  Not so.  From the stark building site of 1980, it has developed into a really pleasant friendly and peaceful place to live, and neither John nor I could have asked for better.

We left the removal men packing the last of our 'stuff'', put the most valuable and likely to be needed soonest, items into the car and off we set, from Northwood to Aylesbury, a journey of about thirty miles.

Mitzy our tortoiseshell cat started the journey in her carrying basket, but her anguished wails became so loud that we stopped the car took her out of the basket and I held her in my arms all the way. (with the window open so I could put out handfuls of her fur).  She shivered and cried all the way and was quite inconsolable.

When we arrived, we had already carpeted and curtained a couple of days before so we thought it would feel more like home.  Mitzy shot upstairs into the corner of the small bedroom where there was an empty cardboard box with bits of newspaper still in the bottom, she crawled inside under the paper and shook and shivered for hours.  Nothing would tempt her out, so we put her food and water and her litter-tray in there with her and left her to it.

It took her, and us too, about a month before we even felt remotely at home, and even then, since the estate was being built around us, it still didn't feel permanent.

Once we had neighbours and the bits of 'street furnishing' like lamps, kerbs etc appeared it began to take on a different feel and bit by bit we found ourselves starting to examine new people as they moved in and slowly getting to know them.

Living in what I call, the key-hole end of a smallish close has distinct advantages as well as significant disadvantages.

If just one person (family) jars on the rest of the community, while the opposite is true, and if good luck holds and each new arrival is welcomed and made to feel a part of the group, it goes from strength to strength, the odd 'bad apple' soon (at least in my experience) either is absorbed into the group or moves on.

Since John's death two years ago, I have had more even than normal, to thank my lovely friends and neighbours in the Close for, and we have  become even closer.

Mitzy grew to love the area and was a favourite with a number of the early occupants (though, on her own terms of course).  John, who was not gregarious would exile himself to his 'office' rather than mix and chat, but even he was appreciative of the nearest bunch of neighbours and became quite close to a few of them.

For myself, it has been a huge comfort and support in a very difficult time, and what could have sealed my  loneliness and left me a total hermit has been the  means of exploring a whole new way of life.

It is my home, and I hope it always will be, but without the people around me it would just be a house.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Chopin Bird

Since my childhood I have always loved birds and bird-song.
Both my parents were bird lovers and we often had discussions/arguments about which was the most beautiful.

Nearly always someone would choose the thrush, my father always the blackbird and I always caused amusement for choosing the robin.

"But, it has such a sad song", my mother used to say, and, "typical", one of my brothers would say.  "Trust you to go for the melancholy one"

There is an element of truth in this, in that i have a melancholy streak which colours my attitude to most things, but the lovely downward spiralling plaintive song of this solitary bird strikes an echo in my heart, which no other song can equal.

The song changes at a particular time of year, and for me, this is the first indication that Summer is over, a harbinger of Autumn.

This morning, in the unwelcome midst of household chores, I sat briefly with the window of the 'office' open. watching the rain and listening to  the heart-rending sadness of the first Autumn robin song this year.

If the Blackbird is Mozart, the thrush Haydn, then the Robin is definitely Chopin.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Just another quiet day at St. M's

This is just a small experiment.  The very poor picture on the left is one of the first I took with my (new, to me) digital camera.

It is a part of the lovely West window at St.Mary's.  Difficult to get at and for a new photographer even more so.

On the same day, I tried for a close-up of one of the scenes depicted on the left, with only marginally more success.

What I want to do, is to try to add it to this blog.  Here goes.

No, No good.  It will not let me upload the one I want, I know it's there in the picture collection, but for some reason I can't access it.  Oh well, another time.

This morning cleaning the brass, it being weary Wednesday, I was approached by a couple who wanted to know why our handy leaflet about the main features in the church, said that the above mentioned window was mediaeval, when clearly it is Victorian.

I had great difficulty convincing them that the leaflet refers to the stone setting only, and the glass is indeed Victorian (and extremely beautiful).  Finally, they accepted that it was not a misrepresentation of the facts, and thanked me for the information.

Sometimes i answer visitors' questions with my fingers crossed, but on this occasion I was not guessing!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Dry and Crispy

Sunday afternoon being one of the (numerous) dead spots of my life, and it being dry and warm, I thought I'd have a go at some much needed dead-heading.

Starting with my (despite Thursday's all day downpour) poor dried roses, only the few well in the shade are still fresh. I was drawn as if by a magnet to my lovely blue hibiscus.

Many of the royal blue buds which should have opened into spectacular pale blue with darker centre, have been turned, first by the downpour into slime and then by the never-ending winds and too-close semi-sunshine into a handfull of dry, crisp, greyish paper-like crumbs.

I love this hibiscus, which is not only fully hardy, at least 20 years old and in a good season covered in hundreds of 4 inch diameter blooms of a true blue.  The photograph makes it appear to be mauve or lilac, but in a country where blue flowers are rare as hens' teeth, it is a wonderful ornament in any garden.

My late sister-in-law gave me a white one with a maroon centre, which is in poor health and in any case never produces blooms of the size of the blue one, but it has hybridised and seeded itself all around my small front garden with a profusion of lilac shrubs with a purple centre.

More surprisingly, one year, about 10 years ago, a pure white bush appeared next to my blue one.  How and from what accident of nature/pollination no-one (including Wisley RHS) is able to explain.

The combination of the two side-by-side in a good season is quite breath taking.

This year however, it has been a constant fight, little bits of judicious out of season pruning to conserve moisture, constant dead-heading to save the existing buds and give them at least a chance of survival and watering when all else failed.

Needless to say, with all this attention and so little time and energy being dedicated to the growing jungle of weeds, the rest of the garden has as they say, gone to pot.

What is it about gardeners that gives them the optimism to grow what they choose despite the vagaries of the English climate.

The choice appears to be squishy, soggy and slimy or crisp and dry.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Cats Tails (2)

Having coffee yesterday with someone to whom I had (perhaps unwisely) admitted to being lonely, I was asked, "have  you not considered getting another cat.

For those you may have read previous blogs, it will come as no surprise that a, I have not considered it and b, I don't believe one "gets" a cat.  In my experience the cat chooses after careful consideration, the - lucky - recipient of his or her attentions.

Sam (crookedly displayed above), was one such.

We had been in this house for about 3 months (John, Mitzy our tortoiseshell cat) and I, when one frosty November morning I saw a large thin tabby 'stealing' a potato peeling from the pit in the rough ground full of builder's rubble which was then our back garden.

I knew at some s tage I'd be starting a compost pit and had thrown out all vegetable peelings from day one.

The tabby jumped the chain-link fence into the rough field at the back and began to gnaw ravenously at the scrap of peeling.

I called to him to try to give him something more palatable, but he fled.

The next morning, before leaving for work I put a bowl of milk and a handfull of dry biscuits outside the back door, which, when we returned some 13 hours later was gone.

This went on for about a month, and gradually he became less nervous and would eat the food we put out as long as we went nowhere near him.

Every day I moved the food nearer and nearer to the back door and began slowly to leave the door ajar.
He would eat very fast and run if we made a move so one day I put the food and milk in its usual place and stood beside it without moving.  He advanced very slowly and very bravely began to eat, but with his ears back, ready to leap away.

This went on for a week, then one day, while he was eating I bent very cautiously and touched the top of his head.  He flattened almost to ground level so I stood up and he went on eating.  I did it again, and this time he just stopped for a minute then continued to eat.

The next day, I stroked his head with one finger and after the initial stiffening he relaxed and let me stroke him.

The weather was getting colder and John suggested we put a cardboard box outside and cover it with PVC.
This we did and put a bit of old carpet in the bottom and with  the box on its side left it overnight.  In the morning, it had snowed, and all that was visible of the tabby was one gigantic paw, a nose and his whiskers poking out of the box.

In time this was replaced by an old bedside cabinet converted into a kennel-like house, covered in PVC and carpet lined facing in to the house to keep out the weather..

Sam, as we now called him slept in that for the whole of that first Winter.

When, after many months he bacame handleable we took him to the vet, had him checked over and neutered.
We were told he was young, about three years old, and fairly healthy apart from  the inevitable fleas and malnourishment.

Within twelve months, apart from the odd spat with Mitzy, he was a fully paid-up member of the family a simply massive, totally beautifull and very affectionate cat who lived with us for 14 years before finally succumbing to kidney failure.

Mitzy survived him by two years.

Our lovely lovely feral Sam left a vast tabby hole in our lives when he said his last goodbye.

Never be put off by the idea that feral cat's are untameable.  It takes time, patience and a lot of love but it is so very worth the effort.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Making Use Of People (In a nice way)

Whew!  Took some persuading to move onto my blog but here it is, one not very good picture of the least good roses from my decapitated shrub.

Thanks to a lovely neighbour who was kind enough to take pity on my ever-present techophobe status, I now know how to down-load pictures (using a lead) direct from my camera.

This is a different technique from that shown me by the Vernacular Curate, which necessitated taking the memory card out of the camera.

This way, the card stays in place and the process needs even less hands-on skill.

The endless patience and kindness of people with busy lives never ceases to amaze me, and I am once again
the beneficiary of someone's generosity.

I had feared that David's departure would mean I'd be stuck in a semi-semi-skilled mode for the rest of my blogging life.  Not so, there seems to be a vast storehouse of both knowledge and goodwill available for the asking.

The roses we put on John's headstone were really lovely, so hopefully they will look good for a while.

Just had to share the latest bit of success with someone!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Everything Happens for a Reason

I'm afraid I was unable to download my latest pictures from my camera this morning so no picture, sorry!

It is the 2nd Anniversary of my husband's death today and after lunch-time Communion, where he will get a special mention, one of my lovely neighbours is taking me to the cemetery where his ashes are interred.

The arrangement was that I would buy flowers after the service and meet my friend in the town square.

Overnight, in the gale-force winds we have been experiencing for a few days, my huge white "Silver Anniversary" rose bush has had one of its main branches snapped and about half the bush was lying on the ground.

I took secateurs and cut in the region of 60 or more roses, the very overblown, the partially open and also many buds. 

I now have a vase (which I photographed but couldn't download) of large squashy white blooms, a smaller bunch of better quality ones which i gave to my neighbour and the very best newly opened ones with dozens of buds to come, for John's headstone.

Why last night, when we have had winds for a week.

Why "Silver Anniversary" when all the other roses are intact?

Who knows.  God really does move in mysterious ways.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

"Farewell MY Lovely"

Sorry about the title - just couldn't resist it.

This morning we, the Parish of St. Mary's with Bierton and Hulcott, said our final farewell to our beloved curate David Cloake.

I say final farewell, because there have been many. Each of the churches in the Benefice and all of the many individual communities and groups within them have had their own goodbyes.  Today was the last sermon he will  preach in St. M's so  his similarity to Dame Nellie Melba, who had more farewell concerts than during her performing life, end here.

It was for us as well as for David, a huge celebration of his time with us as well as overwhelmingly sad for us all.
His sermon, as we had expected was somewhat "off the wall", no change there then, and the rest of the service became more and more of a three-ring-circus than even we were used to.

The readings were excellently done, the first by a supremely confident 6 year old and the other shared by two young brothers.  Unusually and rather naughtily this produced a round of applause, (the first of many in this one-off service).

The two other priests in attendance joined in the spirit of this service/eucharist/event and the whole was rounded off by the organist playing - in place of the usual voluntary - "Wish me luck as you wave me Goodbye".

Altogether a wonderful mixture of joy and sadness with the country's best ring-master in overall charge.

We knew we had to let him go at some stage, but no-one wanted the actual day to come.  As one of the other two priests said "we love you David and you will be greatly missed".

Look out Whitton, you won't know what's hit you!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Distance Lends Enchantment

My techo/mentor has often expressed the opinion that putting a photograph of myself on my blog profile would attract more visits to the site.
I on the other hand, am of the opinion that the few visitors i have on a regular basis, would depart at a gallop, if i did anything so unwise.

Having mentioned (once or twice) before that I loathe being photographed, i have found one or two old pictures of myself which are not quite so 'Dracula's mother' as more recent ones, so accordingly, having SCANNED it in I am going to attempt to post one such here: As you can see, I failed to put it where I intended, but at least it appeared.

This was a 'posed' Mum (standing) Dad complete with noxious pipe (seated) and self sitting in accustomed place on the floor beside Dad.

Taken in about 1982 they were re-decorating - hence picture on floor behind my father - and John decided he wanted a picture of the three of us.  It looks very artificial to me, but everyone else liked it, so there that's what I looked like then.

When I have the courage and can find someone with an equal amount of courage to take an up-to-date one I will add it to the profile.

If anyone wonders why such trivia is occupying a post it is simply that inspiration is at an all-time low, and my sitting-room is being painted, and it's raining hard so I can't/won't go out, and I am trying to  avoid doing the ironing and I have nothing better to do.

At least my sitting room is beginning to look really good, can't wait for it to be finished.

The next task will be to wean myself - kicking and screaming - from most of the accumulated junk (five decanters among other things) of half a life-time, in order to better enjoy the fruits of my painter's labours.

Minimalist I will never be, but some of it must go!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Quite a Day

Today started with my actually being in time for morning prayers for once.  This was courtesy of a lift from the man who is starting my decorating today.

I was particularly glad to be in time for this morning's prayers as our time with our lovely curate is rapidly running out.

His has been the major influence in my becoming a Christian, and in becoming even slightly proficient as a blogger.

After a morning filling in for people in various capacities who were absent for a variety of reasons, I enjoyed mid-day Communion, again with Father David as celebrant, after which he shot off at speed to take a funeral, I got the bus and returned home to discover that my friendly neighbour and painter was well into the preparation.

About an hour and a half later I had a promised visit from David Cloake in technopriest mode this time.
He has once again updated my access to my blog and i am rapidly running out of excuses for turning out inferior work.

It is quite amazing just how much time and effort this one man has put into everything he has done in this parish.  With only just over a week before we reluctantly let him go, many of us are already wondering how on earth to fill the gap he will leave.

We are fortunate in that we have a rector and other clergy in the benfice who are well liked and respected,
but the loss of our air-borne, all-singing, all-dancing curate will leave a large empty space in the lives of many indeed, i would say most at St. Mary's.

While we all rejoice in the fact that he and his family are soon to be settled in what sounds like a very nice place, we will all regret their departure from Aylesbury.

Just a heartfelt mini tribute to someone to whom I owe an immense amount.

Blessings to you, Jo and the girls Cloakey.