Friday, 30 April 2010

The Barbary nuts are flowering

I had a wonderful lunchtime walk today – not a long walk, just down through the Rock Garden and back – but it felt like being a thousand miles away from the office for fifteen minutes.

It’s an odd day, weather wise; constantly threatening to rain, yet never amounting to more than a shower. All the time I was out, there were occasional spots of drizzle coming down, and smooth, grey clouds overhead, lowering ominously and giving a strange, haunting, muted light. At the moment the forecast for Beltane tomorrow is for heavy rain >sigh< - of course, it’s a Bank Holiday weekend...

But the Rock Gardens are a mass of wonderful Mediterranean flowers; carpets of aubretia and dwarf phlox, scarlet rock rose and snow-white iberis, and all the wild iris species including my beloved Barbary nuts (pic above reproduced with my thanks from Seeing them carried me back ten years, to another strange, haunted grey day like this, walking in the hills behind Montejaque in Andalucia; coming up a long, steep trackway and over a ridge to find myself in a little alpine meadow full of these lovely stubby iris-flowers, so thick on the ground that the whole field looked violet-blue.

I’m having my usual struggle at the moment to book a holiday for my annual leave in May; I really want to go back to Greece, but the fact that Greece may not have an economy fairly soon is a trifle alarming. But my yearly dose of Greek food, walking in olive groves, swimming in the Aegean and painting the views is very precious to me, and (Andalucian nostalgia notwithstanding) I feel my heart is in its home when I am in Greece. If reincarnation is the answer, then I was Greek in a past life.

I’m sorry never to have managed to write properly about “Cinderella”. I had managed to get a ticket for the divine Miyako Yoshida’s last performance in Britain, and it was a moving occasion. She has been a delight during her years at the Royal Ballet – a luminously musical dancer, the epitome of grace and lightness, never showy, never hammy, exquisite but never precious. She was a lovely Cinders, as she has been a magical Ondine and a definitive Sugar Plum Fairy in recent years. I will miss her…

Bank Holiday weekend now, hurrah!

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Busy busy bee...

...that's me at the moment. Just spent my lunch break answering work 'phone calls because my colleagues were already too busy answering other calls. And now my lunch break is over and I still haven't reviewed "Cinderella" (magical) or written about my lovely Sunday afternoon drawing waterfowl at the London Wetland Centre... or my tomato seedlings... or the weather... or my ultrasound results.

All in good time. I hope.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Oh boy...

Or perhaps that should be "Oh byo"...

I'm not at my best today. I keep having typing upsets; my fingers are all over the place. I just wrote "toady" instead of "today", and then retyped it as "roady", still instead of "today"... It's a good thing I proofread myself as well as anyone else who'll let me.

Kew is on the Disictr line. I'm sorry but we only allow gidue dogs into the Gardens. Come see the liclacs and rhononedrons.

I rather like "liclacs", actually; they sound edible.

Back at work today...

...after two days off sick. Feeling a bit washed out and trying to face up to having a blood test and an ultrasound next week and then seeing a gynaecologist. Bleah, the joys of womanhood...

At least tonight I'm going to "Cinderella".

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Cheap but cheerful

I had a ticket on Monday to another of these "Insight evenings" - public open classes at the Royal Ballet - and just as I got into central London I realised I'd left my sketchbook at home.

I dashed into a stationers and bought their cheapest A6 sketchbook, which turned out to have brown paper pages. I thought I'd wasted my £3 - but it turned out to be a pleasure to draw on. It took my 4B pencil really smoothly and without smudging, and gave a lovely rich soft line. I filled nearly a third of the pages at the one sitting.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Garden weekend...

I’ve put on weight the last few months – being inactive and comfort eating is a bad combination – and the last couple of weekends I have noticed how out of shape I am. I’ve been trying to get started on the garden, and my back is protesting.

When I moved into this shared terraced house in Turnham Green, the view out of the back windows was of a rectangle of uneven paving surrounded by beds of nettles, brambles, old-man’s beard and convolvulus, plus an old supermarket trolley, a hideous metal fence, and the embankment of the District Line railway... It was neglected and unloved; the soil between the wild plants was dry and bare, and everywhere was thick with fallen leaves from the three trees - two whitebeams and a big Lawson’s cypress - that dominate one side. But where the landlady saw a terrible mess, and the other tenants saw a bit of waste ground where they could have barbecues, I saw a garden.

I’ve put in a lot of work in the year and a bit since then; getting rid of the shopping trolley, clearing back a large proportion of the nettles etc (but leaving a few, because nature has her rights too, and nettles are a food plant for butterfly caterpillars), raking up all the fallen leaves and cypress bits, and putting in rooted cuttings, seeds, and things I picked up cheap in the staff plant sales at work. As well as flowers, last year I grew three kinds of tomatoes, two kinds of climbing beans, chard, spinach beet and a few small beetroots. This year I’m aiming for three different kinds of toms and three kinds of beans, and the same greens. I may try carrots, as I’ve been given some carrot seed, but whenever I mention this everyone I know who gardens says “Oooh, carrot fly!” and groans, which makes me a little nervous…

Yesterday I cleared a lot more leaves, put in my dahlia tubers and some cheap corms of crocosmia “Lucifer” from Wilko, scattered the first of a great many batches of seeds, some home-gathered and some bought, and planted the three little saxifrages I’d bought at Kew. The leaf-clearing is a back-breaking task and of course it will come around annually. Still, at least neither whitebeam nor Chamaecyparis lawsoniana drop prickly fruits. I grew up in a garden with a sixty-foot sweet chestnut, and no quantity of delicious chestnuts ever quite compensated for the vicious stab of empty chestnut husks into my unsuspecting flip-flopped feet.

My wallflowers are almost out, and the honesty I sowed last spring; there are buds on all the aquilegias I cadged off my mother (whose huge, rambling cottage/dry garden is my dream and ideal) and the orange tulips I put in are coming up well. My pots of narcissi are all flowering, filling the air with their sweet scent. The pansies I grew from seed have survived the winter and are starting to flower, and the ones I bought in when I thought mine had died are flowering like mad. My little ginkgo sapling is just opening its leaves. The kerria is flowering. Both jasmines (summer and winter) are putting on new growth, and I discovered yesterday that my little clematis has pulled through. Both lavenders are producing healthy new shoots, though I am beginning to think my purple sage didn’t make it – frustratingly, Mum’s didn’t either, so my source of cuttings has dried up. But every little bit of growth, every opening bud or flower, however tiny, lifts my spirits and tells me again that the wheel of the year turns and turns, whatever our human troubles or obsessions.

If only my back weren’t so quick to protest and seize up! I would like to spend every spare minute out there at the moment. I will look on the bright side, and say that my physical limitations mean I have to keep up with the rest of my life as well as doing the garden!...

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Satori in Starbucks with Ella and Louis

I’ve had a good Easter weekend, busy and happy, and yet somehow it all looks and feels different in the light of a few moments at noon yesterday. The smallest thing can change everything. Describing it like that, it just sounds a little odd; I will try to explain.

I had a ticket for a matinée at Covent Garden and had gone up into the West End on the tube. I was looking forward to seeing Yuhui Choe dancing Lise for the first time (Yuhui Choe is wonderful). The starting time was an irritating one;12.30 instead of the more usual matinée time of 2 pm. So I found myself sitting in Starbucks on the Strand, just before midday, having a quick sandwich and a coffee. I never have lunch before 12 noon! – my stomach rumbled at the unexpected food, and I anticipated belching like a marine through most of Act One.

My back hurt from all the gardening I’d been doing on Sunday. My black coffee tasted good. Outside the sun was shining down on the traffic and the crowds. Three bluetits flew into the street tree opposite and hopped around feeding. A bus went by carrying a poster for the movie “Remember me”, with the tag line “Live in the moments”, and I thought with amusement that this was exactly that; then at the same moment one more simple thing happened; the hi-fi in the café started to play Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong singing “They can’t take that away from me”.

It’s hard to put this into words; I realise that “satori” is a grand term for a humble and fleeting experience, but it is the only word I know. I was suddenly more there than before; fully there, in the moment I was there; fully in my aching body and fully in the crowded café, with the light falling in the street outside, the table leg pressed against my leg, and my mind for a moment utterly silent; just being there. I felt alive to an unearthly degree, as if full of light. Everything was beautiful. Everything; the street, the coffee, the shouting French tourists, the cheese sandwich, the back-ache, the birds now flying off again, the faces of strangers passing. My anticipation passed from me. My fears and hopes passed from me. My memories passed from me. I just was. And Ella and Louis sang on; and then the moment passed from me also.

But it remains, too, in some strange way. Knowing I have been there again (it has happened before, although rarely enough that sometimes I think it was a dream, or something that perhaps now I am too old, too busy, too much in-my-head to reach again), I can still feel an infinitesimal thread of connection to that moment, that light, that sense of oneness and of the being-ness, the rightness of things.

And after that, “La Fille Mal Gardée” was great fun, too. Yuhui Choe was lovely, Brian Maloney was lovely (and has turned into a hunk when I wasn’t looking!), and Philip Mosley was an unusually sweet-natured Widow Simone. And I made myself a fine curry for supper. It was a good day.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Happy Easter!

Whether for you Easter means resurrection and life, or piles of chocolate, or both, or something else, have a very happy one! Four days off! Concerts of Gothic religious music. Swan Lake. Old friends visiting. Gardening. Cooking. Relaxing. And maybe some writing or drawing, squashed in among the wrist exercises...