Bideford Long Bridge in the morning sun.  All is calm.

A moment earlier I had been passed by an excitable crocodile of fluoresence as a stream of school kids walked past.  I heard one of them say, as they pointed to one of the moored boats, rusted and land-bound and in the process of slow refurbishment, “Is that the Titanic?”.  Unfortunately I didn’t get to hear the answer.

Ice Road Trucker

Don’t be my friend, it is dangerous.  I just can’t help but share.

This morning my phone rang, it was Hero.  Laughing.  What a nice surprise.  Although perhaps a little disturbing.  “I thought I’d ring and give you a giggle”,  “OK” I said, never one to turn down the opportunity for a chortle,  “I’m stuck”, “How, why, where and how again?”,  “I tried to get up the hill to the garden but started slipping backwards, so I thought I would carefully, and in full control of the car, reverse back down.  I ended up 1cm from Peter’s wall and I can’t go forward and I can’t go backwards and I’ve blocked the road”, “Oh dear”, more manic laughter, “I’m shaking”, “Do you need to go to the loo?”, “Well I didn’t until you mentioned it, I suppose at least it would melt the ice”.

Several years ago we were driving to work in similarly icy conditions and had ourselves an incident.  On that occasion we had a close encounter with a dry stone wall.  The day before I had filled a bucket with grit from the silo opposite the garden and used this to help us get out.  Let me mention two things at this juncture, first of all this is the only time I have knowingly done anything sensible, secondly you are not supposed to “half inch” this grit and if anyone reports me to the authorities I will deny it and this blog will spontaneously combust.  I suppose breaking the law isn’t very sensible.  Disregard the first.  But I had learned from this experience.

“Have you got any grit in the car?”, “No but I can see a container just up the hill and I think I’ve got a carrier bag somewhere, the problem is that it is too slippy to get out of the car.  Actually, if I walk up the narrow grass verge I might make it, I’ll call you back”, “If you fall over aim to land on your bottom”.  Always ready with a top tip.

Time passes. I imagine broken limbs, a severely bruised behind. My phone rings.

“I managed to get there and back, scattered the grit and now I’m waiting for the thaw”, “Shall we come over?”, “Then we will both be stuck”, “OK, shall I send a drone with a bacon butty for you”, “You could send a man in a helicopter to climb down a rope ladder”, “I’ll see if I can find his number, call me when you are free”.  I was left wondering if she wanted to be rescued by Helicopter Man or just have him deliver the sandwich.

Time passes.  I imagine a painfully swollen bladder.  I message her.

“I’m home now, some nice people who had been walking on the beach found me, the man managed to get the car out of its tricky predicament, all is well.”

Once more the kindness of strangers.  There is a lot of it about.

Later she popped around for a cup of tea and a couple of ginger nuts.  She seemed relatively unscathed.  Still laughing.

Six on Saturday – Return of the Sun

I am happy to report that this Six on Saturday is written with the sun in my heart and, more importantly, in my garden.  Yesterday, when I took these photographs, it was doing the usual, no need to dwell on that nonsense, that is the past.  Let us raise a cup of tea to the Return of the Sun.  Expect the mood to be optimistic and expectant of great futures.  Don’t forget to nip over to The Prop’s to find out what is happening in lots of other gardens.  If you are nosy like me this is a godsend, there is absolutely no chance of getting caught rummaging in someone’s herbaceous borders and being firmly asked to leave the premises or the local constabulary will be called forthwith.  Not that that has ever happened to me of course.

First of all we have a desiccated hydrangea flower.  In a few weeks these will be removed, giving space for the new growth to emerge and the cycle to continue.  It is worth keeping the heads on, both for protection of the vulnerable young foliage and for decorative purposes.  Even when soggy they look good.  I wish I would say the same for myself.

Next my bully-boy Narcissus ‘Tête-à-Tête’ who are exploding from the front planters at a rate of knots.  “I was here first!” they shout as they push the poor pansies out of the way, lifting great clods of composts as they rise triumphant.  I will not tolerate such behaviour, there is room for everyone.

Now the empty husks of hosta flowers.  These live in the front garden, in pots just by the front door so we can be ever vigilant in our war against the slimy ones.  They still get eaten.  Still, for a short while we will enjoy them intact and the flowers are rarely attacked.

On to Campanula poscharskyana, looking very washed out in this picture, which seeds itself in walls both front and back.  This piece is on the short pillar on the pavement.  This pillar is very important to the local dog population.  Messages are left here to be sniffed by the next passer-by which are then promptly replied to.  Doggie Post Office.

For many weeks I have thought that these hanging brown bats on the Begonia fuchsioides were the last of the flowers which had been caught in the light frost.  On closer inspection they appear to be seed pods.  I collected them and brought them in to dry.  Already the miniscule seed is spilling out.  Small things, big smiles.

Yesterday I sat at my computer, checking my dreary photographs, trying to pick something at least vaguely in focus.  My eyes turned towards the window, as I wondered whether I should go outside and try again.  A single white feather slowly drifted to the ground.  The feather is a symbol of the spirit in many cultures, and some believe that a white feather is the sign that an angel has passed close by.  It would be nice to think that.  Nothing to do with seagulls at all.  Nothing.

All done, until the next time.

GMBG – January – Lanny by Max Porter and Betsy Bee

Welcome to the inaugural Great Monthly Book Giveaway post, known forthwith as GMBG.  This month the lovely and lucky couple are Lanny by Max Porter and Betsy Bee.  The above photo is of my book.  Betsy’s edition has a beautiful copper leaf on the front.  It made me a little bit jealous.  I suppose I could have swapped them over in the hope she believed it had been well-thumbed in the bookshop.  Unfortunately my conscience reflex is far too strong.  Heyho, you may imagine a beautiful embossed leaf, if you wish.

I first read this book because of a recommendation.  Not of this particular book, but another by the same author.  The advice came from either Chris Packham or Simon King, I don’t remember which, but I am certain it was a wildlife presenter.  I scribbled “Max Porter” on a piece of paper but not who to blame/thank and filed it in “big pile on desk”.  Then Lanny came along and with it a twinkle of recognition.  And I was very pleased for that scribble.

Lanny is a book of Nature, both mother and human.  It is not cutesy Disney nature, but tough, vengeful, own rules nature.  At first it is delightful, gradually becoming more shadowy, hints of something I didn’t want to acknowledge.  Oh dear, I thought, I didn’t sign up for this, please don’t let it be true.  I was irritated by this particular diversion, a bit sulky, Mr Porter wasn’t playing the game how I wanted it played.  Of course, and quite rightly, he did what he wanted.  Not only are the words beautiful to say and hear and read, they are beautiful to see and they scamper or trail or lounge around the pages.  I’ll tell you no more.

I have sent this book to my friend Betsy, known to me as Betsy Bee.  She keeps bees.  She lives between sea and moor, is open-minded, receptive to new ideas and very clever.  They are well-suited.

Betsy was not my first choice. I bought the book for Div on a whim and when I tentatively investigated she had just started reading it.  At the time I didn’t tell her as I thought she might feel bad, but there would be no need.  These things often work out for the best.  Betsy is presently engulfed in tax office torture and she is longing for distraction.  I hope this proves to be a good one.

As for Div, she won’t miss out, I have something else planned for her.

Introducing The Great Monthly Book Giveaway

I have been feeling singularly uninspired.   Blame it on the time of the year, blame it on the weather, blame it on the state of the universe, blame it on the boogie.   It just is.  I am struggling to find my factory setting “annoyingly upbeat” persona.

Then a book arrived, delivered by our very own Stealth Postie, a gift from my good friend and most talented jeweller Div.   Postcards Stories written by Jan Carson, not one previously on my literary radar.   Every day in 2015 the author wrote a short story on the back of a card and posted it to a friend, and this diddy little book features the best of them.  It is finished, I have eaten every last crumb.  And I greatly enjoyed it.   It was an appropriate choice.

In a similar vein I have periodically, with my usual randomness, been posting cards to friends, delving into a reservoir amassed over the years, always attempting to match subject to subject.  A dating agency of sorts.  I decided there was no need to hoard these jewels picked up in galleries and museums, tourist information and local shops, they were better off shared.  The joy of receiving something in the post far outweighs the ping of an email.  It was a way of sending a little joy.  A drop only, but a drop is better than a bill or someone trying to sell you life insurance.  On the reverse of these cards there are no clever and concise stories lurking, just the odd rambling “I thought you might like this” “Reminds me of you” or other such dull lines.  It is my hope that the card itself makes up for my lack of poetry.

And then in a flash, or maybe a slow fizzle, it came to me. The catalyst of course was the ever-generous Div.  A new project.  Each month of this year I am going to send a book to someone and share on my blog why I have chosen the particular book and the particular person.  Not a book review, or a person review even, just why I thought they would be a good match.  Perhaps there will be feedback from the recipient, perhaps not.  Perhaps you will be inspired to seek out the book, perhaps not.  It will be called The Great Monthly Book Giveaway, a title which contains only one possibly inaccurate word.

I am once again feeling inspired.


Item number one on the list of things I plan to get done this month (absurdly long and in truth yet to be composed into one comprehensive entity) is to tidy/sort/bin/hide in another room, the mountain of “stuff” on my desk.  Desk sounds very impressive doesn’t it?  Are you envisaging a highly shined mahogany expanse, so broad I zip up and down the length in my castered smoker’s bow?  Alas not.  It is an old pub table, too small for its purpose, although this has not thwarted me in my mission to pile nonsense on every available millimeter.  And some that aren’t available.  Trying to find anything is like playing is a rather unstable version of Jenga.  Attempting to tame this chaos was today’s job, although I am yet to venture beneath, that joy will be saved for another occasion.  Amongst the weird, wonderful and sometimes diverting, I found a folded piece of paper.  Knowing the enemy, I carefully opened it.  Dahlia seed.  As there are no accompanying notes, that is all I know.  I suspect it is from a special dahlia, but other than that I haven’t got a clue.  The seed are now safely filed away, in a packet marked Mystery Dahlia 2019.  Sounds exotic.  We shall see.

Nothing is New

I love to read, I always have done, ever since I was a little girl and forced my younger brother to listen to me show off my prowess.  However exhausted I might be, I read every night, even if I have to reread the same pages the next day.  It is the full stop to my day.  Not to do it would seem bizarre.  Sometimes I am eager to return to the story, sometimes not so keen, but I almost always persist until the end.   I usually have two books on the go.  An Upstairs Book and, you’ve guessed it, a Downstairs Book.  Even with two on the go at the same time I have a lot waiting in the wings.  Post-Christmas the pile has grown substantially; poetry, memoir, cookery, nature and novels, and I feel secure surrounded by the potential wonders contained within.  The recent days of relaxation have meant more reading time, which has been a great joy.

A couple of weeks ago, on the Mantle Estate I was recalling a story of my youth to Their Lordships.  I think they were enjoying it, both with their eyes closed and mouths agape, making snuffling sounds as I told my tale.  Now you can savour my words.  Any insomniacs might save it for later.  Many years ago I went travelling with my boyfriend of the time.  We ended up in the south of France, bunked up in an enchanting house that his parents were in the process of renovating.  They were aiming to move there when it was complete, which they indeed did.  The house was in a small hamlet reached down a winding tracking off a winding road, deep within the sweet chestnut forests of the Cevennes.  It was a place of great beauty and I will always remember my stay there with great affection and a smile.   The property at the time was not much more than a shell, there was basic electricity, but no fresh running water and the toilet was in a outhouse where scorpions lurked and emptied to who knows where.  Each visit the family brought books from home which meant there were a meagre three shelves full of a varied assortment, a hotchpotch of fiction and non fiction.  These included The Glass Blowers by Daphne du Maurier, Hotel New Hampshire by John Irvine, Alistair McLean’s Where Eagles Dare and The Well Tempered Garden by Christopher Lloyd.  Mike was also an avid reader and having been on the literary wagon for many weeks we devoured these with undignified relish.  What I remember as especially wonderful was the fact that I was a captive audience, it was a case of “take it or leave it”, I would never have considered reading a gung-ho book about Special Forces or, God forbid, a gardening book!  Both I enjoyed immensely.

Waking The Mantles from their meditations I spied a large cardboard box spilling over with books and wondered what it was there for.  “Take what you like” Her Ladyship said “they are on the way to the charity shop”.  Then quick as a whippet “After that story, I think you should close your eyes first”.  Oh dear, she is rather fond of her Barbara Cartland, it could be a scary outcome.  Without peeking, honest guv, I rummaged around and pulled out the chosen one.

Yesterday I read the following passage in the current Downstairs Book, the very one that I had blind selected at the Mansion.  As I am a great fan of Hardy (both Thomas and Tom) it was a lucky pick.  This piece made me laugh and I read it out loud to OH who, from memory, had a similar countenance to that of my little brother all those years ago.

Nothing is new.

Here they turned over sundry flat stones and killed the slugs sheltered beneath them from the coming heat of the day, talking of slugs in all their branches–of the brown and the black, of the tough and the tender, of the reason why there were so many in the garden that year, of the coming time when the grass-walks harbouring them were to be taken up and gravel laid, and of the relatively exterminatory merits of a pair of scissors and the heel of the shoe. 

The Trumpet Major by Thomas Hardy