A Blustery Day in Kington St. Michael

The longer you don’t write, the harder it gets to write. Life took over for a while… a new job, Emily’s exams, coursework, housework, you know how it is I am sure. But, I have missed blogging, and so I am determined to ease myself into more regular postings. It is the spring that spurs me on, so much is going on outside and we have been out exploring and taking photos, so who else can I inflict these on but my lovely readers?

I have been self-employed for several years, and do various work for local people mostly admin and some copy writing for business websites. I recently started working on the reception of a local caravan site and it is one of the most enjoyable jobs I have ever done. I am very much an introvert and suffer from anxiety in most social situations, yet I have really enjoyed meeting the holidaymakers as they come to enjoy their time in the South West of England. It never ceases to amaze me that people actually choose to come here for their holidays, a place I’ve lived most of my life, while we head eagerly for the coast at the first glimmer of a ray of sun. It makes you want to try and appreciate what you do have right under your nose, you know?

We have many beautiful places to visit near here. The pictures above were taken in the small village of Kington St. Michael a couple of weeks ago. It is within walking distance of my house. Unfortunately the day was cold and blustery. This was good for whisking away winter’s cobwebs, but not so good for taking photos. The pictures are gloomy to say the least. Have you ever tried to take a picture of the delicate snake’s-head fritillary on a windy day? Well the above picture was the best I could manage under the circumstances.

I get weirdly excited when all the spring flowers are blooming and have this urge to take pictures of them ALL. I’d never seen the above tall snowdrop-like plant before, but have since looked it up (thank you google) and discovered it is called ‘leucojum‘ – a peculiar name for such a dainty flower.

I hope you are all well, and enjoying the changing of the seasons whichever part of the globe you live.

K xx

11 Explorations into Life on Earth

‘Life makes the wonders of technology seem commonplace… It is worthwhile, from time to time, shaking off the anaesthetic of familiarity and awakening to the wonder that is really all around us all the time.’

~ Richard Dawkins. From ‘Growing up in the Universe’ Christmas lecture series at the Royal Institution, December 1991.

My knowledge of science is, I am embarrassed to say, very limited. When I was at school science was not a compulsory subject, and so I dropped it at aged thirteen in favour of languages and humanities. Now, later in life, I regret this and wish that I had taken biology back then at the very least. Still, I can begin to address some of the gaps in my education, with books! I was very grateful to receive a review copy of Helen Scale’s book: 11 Explorations into Life on Earth, Christmas Lectures from The Royal Institution.

The Christmas Lectures are a highly regarded British tradition. For nearly two hundred years, a scientist has been invited to the Royal Institution in London to give a lecture for young audiences on a topic of scientific interest. In this book by Helen Scales we have a taster of some of those lectures from the past. It is a beautiful little book with an intricate gold-veined leaf on the cover, designed by Anna Morrison, and I loved the natural history illustrations inside the cover on the endpapers.

It was interesting to read which views have changed over the years, and also how some of the concerns in the past are still very much concerns of today. Some topics of the lectures include ‘The Childhood of Animals’, ‘The Haunts of Life’, and ‘The History in our Bones’.

There is other intriguing ephemera alongside the words – historical drawings of the lectures, invitations, letters and even an inventory of fossil specimens that were borrowed from the natural history museum.

Sir David Attenborough’s lecture of 1973 was titled ‘The language of Animals’. And when he discussed the complexities of bee communication, he produced a large model of a dancing honeybee to emulate the movements with which the bees communicate the location of flowers and their angle to the sun to each other. This book is full of these wonderful examples of scientists who are passionate about their area of exploration.

I’ve heard it said that it ought to be enough to just spend time in nature, that we don’t need to learn the specific names or know how it all works. There are many ways to interact with nature, but I do think it can only enhance our sense of wonder to learn more about the science behind it all.

As Helen writes in the epilogue:

More than half of the human population now lives in cities and many children are growing up with little contact with nature. There’s never been a more important time to find ways for people to reconnect with the natural world and to know and care about what’s out there. The R.I. Christmas Lectures play a vital part in bringing nature into vivid view for so many people and nurturing a sense of curiosity, encouraging everyone to think about the living world in new ways, and simply to go out and explore it.

This is the second book celebrating the Christmas lectures, the first is 13 Journey’s Through Space and Time. The Royal institution is an independent charity connecting people with science. For more information on the lectures and book, you can visit here: The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures.

Biddestone

We took a walk around the small village of Biddestone last week. This is a small village just a few miles away from our home with a population of about five hundred.

I have a photo of myself at about eighteen months old in an immaculate white dress balanced on the stone stile by the pond here. My usual clothes would be scruffy trousers with patches and old faded t-shirts. But when I was with my nan she liked to dress me in pretty feminine dresses, much to my mum’s disgust. So it is a rare picture of me in a dress, but there is a scowl on my face to go with it!

When I was a bit older we would ride our bikes through the winding lanes to Biddestone. We would take food for the ducks who live by the large pond and sit outside on the benches. My brother and I would drink bottles of coca-cola through thin straws, and eat salted peanuts or crisps before we all set off for the ride back.

Last week, the sky was blue and the sun was shining, however it was bitterly bitterly cold. Perhaps the coldest day of the winter and we didn’t get far before we had to go back to the car to return circulation to our fingers even though we had gloves on.

The village dates back to Saxon times, and has been home to many industries, people and activities over the years. Though there is no longer a shop or school here, there is still a village hall and two pubs – the 18th century Biddestone Arms and the White Horse Inn.

If you have seen the 2013 film The Christmas Candle, you may recognise this village as some of it was filmed here, including at the White Horse pub.

The village water well in the top picture with its beautiful shelter still stands beside a row of cottages and traditional (still functional!) red telephone box, and we stopped to see the grade I listed St Nicholas church with its 13th century bell tower. The overgrown churchyard showed signs of spring bulbs pushing through the soil – narcissus and snowdrops – and flowering hellebores were dotted around the sinking gravestones.

There was more surprising wild beauty to see at this the most barren season. A long driveway was carpeted in yellow winter aconite and crocus. Overlooking the real ducks on the pond, there is a thatched roof with its own brace of ducks made of straw.

So the walk was short, but it was well worth venturing out on this chilly day. I am looking forward to many more walks in the coming months

Winter Heron

‘To dwellers in a wood almost every species of tree has its voice as well as its feature. At the passing of the breeze the fir-trees sob and moan no less distinctly than they rock; the holly whistles as it battles with itself; the ash hisses amid its quiverings; the beech rustles while its flat boughs rise and fall. And winter, which modifies the note of such trees as shed their leaves, does not destroy its individuality.’

~ Thomas Hardy, Under The Greenwood Tree

I hope you are settling into the whispering rhythms of the new year.

It was my birthday last Monday, and although they seem to come around so much more quickly as I get older, and even though I was in bed with the flu, still, I like the quiet that accompanies birthdays these days. I can read, or go for a walk or cook something unfussy but delicious and there is no pressure for it to be anything more than that.

This heron was spotted from my bedroom window, I almost didn’t see him as he blends in so well with the bare branches and greyish bark of the winter trees. I like the way his white head is turned toward the sun and he seems to have his shoulders hunched like an old man. There is a pond not far below where he’s sat, and we often see herons fly over and disappear behind the hedge in search of fish.

Christmas wishes

 

The tree is up and twinkling with lights. The presents wrapped beneath it. It will be a very quiet Christmas this year. There are no complaints about that!
I made an advent calendar inspired by so many on the Internet and Emily and I have been enjoying our Christmas baking. This is one of my favourite traditions at this time of year.
In the photo above are Salted Caramels. We’ll also make Peppermint Bark, peanut butter kiss cookies.
 I just wanted to wish you all a peaceful Christmas and thank you for reading and commenting here over the past year.
Warm wishes to you all,
Kim xxx

Remembering Summer in Brighton

Back in August, Emily and I took a trip to Brighton. We only went for a few days, but this was our first trip away in years and the first time for both of us in Brighton. I usually prefer to travel somewhere a little more off the beaten track, but was pleasantly surprised by how quiet Brighton was despite it being the middle of the school holidays.

Our favourite things to do were to walk along or sit on the beach and read, or talk, or listen to the waves crash and see who could throw their pebbles the furthest. We had the beach almost to ourselves some of the time in the early mornings and late evenings.

We walked along the pier at night, which was also very quiet, although there were plenty of people inside playing on the games and fruit machines. Needless to say, we won and lost countless 2p pieces. At the end of the pier all the fairground rides were closed down for the night and it was quite spooky to see them all in the dark.

We had the most delicious very posh cream tea for Emily’s special belated birthday treat. It was a struggle, but we managed to polish off the lot between us, and I fell in love with a beautiful cast iron teapot, which has made it on to my Amazon wishlist.

Away from the beach, Brighton seemed a little tired and run down, but maybe this is because we visited the week after Pride. There is some refurbishment work going on to revive the seaside town, and I felt in parts it was sorely needed. But it didn’t much affect our trip as, like I said, we preferred to stay on the beach anyway.

There is something about the atmosphere in Brighton that is very relaxed and welcoming. I definitely plan to visit again one day.

Orange and Rust

There are so many orange and rusty burnished tones around right now. I know it is said often, but it is a beautiful time of year and it never gets old for me. We have delved into autumn here with enthusiasm. Emily carved a pumpkin after school on all Hallow’s Eve, and I made pumpkin pie. We’ve never had pumpkin pie before, it is just not a thing in the UK and you’d be hard pushed to find a can of pumpkin purée in a supermarket around here. I made my own in the blender and the pie turned out better than expected for the novice pie-maker that I am. I used ‘this’ recipe. Not too sweet and set perfectly. The rest of the pumpkin purée was used up nicely in a vegetable curry and the seeds in this recipe.

Hanging the washing out on the line today was a risky business – will I be racing out in half an hour to bring it all back in? The skies are grey, but a slip of blue is seen momentarily. I don’t want wet school uniform, tablecloths and towels strewn about the house. So I say a little no-rain prayer, and do a little no-rain dance.

I pick a handful of spinach for  lunch and rinse off the dirt and a tiny grey slug washes down the drain.

The butterfly I saw yesterday, may be the last of the year. It looked black under the leaden skies. I think it may have been a red admiral, and I just caught its underside. It was bittersweet to see this symbol of another dying year.

Today we have leftovers of mushroom, lentil and ale pie that I made yesterday from this recipe. So delicious it was too. I used the rest of the pastry for a quick blackberry and apple tart. The kind of autumnal fare that defines the season.

I am still getting used to the evenings. The darkness falling so early now, it feels like midnight at half past five in the afternoon. Maybe I’ll never get used to the speed at which this happens. I enjoy the dark evenings though. My library books are overdue so I will catch up with them this evening. I am reading Neil Gaiman’s short stories ‘Trigger Warning’ right now. He is a perfect writer for this time of year. What are you reading on these dark autumn evenings?

Station Eleven ~ Emily St John Mandel

 

This was a book I took to Brighton in the summer. Borrowed from the library after a recommendation from Sarah (read her enchanting blog here).

I’m so glad I chose this to read as it was an engrossing journey from start to finish, though it raised many questions. The story-line follows the events as the world’s population is ravaged by an infectious disease leaving only small groups of survivors to weather the subsequent collapse of civilisation.

The focus is less on the cause and details of this apocalypse than the after-effects and new meanings it brings to relationships between people and to their things. Objects we might give little significance to in our current world, a paperweight perhaps, or a couple of science fiction comics (from which comes the title) take on a whole new value in this irrevocably changed world.

I loved the way the author played with time throughout the novel. It was masterfully done, and I can’t imagine the kind of planning that went into crafting the constant to and fro between the past, present, and future. And also the way a minor character comes to the fore to play a key role at one point in the novel then recedes or disappears again at another point. The most consistently main character is Kirsten. She is a child at the beginning of the novel, acting a small role in a play of Shakespeare’s King Lear. After the apocalypse she joins a travelling group who perform Shakespearean plays and musical entertainment for the small settlements that have evolved out of the dying civilisation.

The author Emily St John Mandel was extremely courageous to attempt such an ambitious tale. It is not a long novel, but it is intricate and daring. At no point did this novel feel like a work of fantasy. This scenario is a real, if very unlikely possibility. Can you imagine a world without electricity or electronic devices; no cars or planes or the vast populations and the complex infrastructures they uphold including the food system, but still knowing what we know? It is horrifying to read about and to imagine, yet there were elements of it that were appealing. Life might not be better, but it is simpler when surviving is all you have to think about.

Inscribed on the front of the caravan in which the travelling group tour from settlement to settlement are the words ‘survival is not sufficient’, a quote from a long forgotten Star Trek episode. What is sufficient? What does make life worth living. What would be worth saving? Despite my sometimes love often hate relationship with technology, computers, the Internet, and mobile phones, like the characters in Station Eleven I know I would miss them. And I know I too would turn to books (I’d be lugging around a suitcase full of ’em), art, poetry, music, dancing and friendship for in these I find meaning in what often feels like a meaningless world.

It was a thought-provoking read and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Berry Weird Weather

Rosehips

Blackberries

Autumn Leaves

These photos were taken a few weeks ago as the summer turned to Autumn. We’ve been blackberry picking and leaf collecting and appreciating this beautiful time of year.

Today however, it feels like we have gone back to summer. Now it is hot and humid as I sit reading the news about impending ex-hurricane now storm Ophelia. It should not get more than a bit windy where I am in the UK. Poor Ireland is forecast to receive the strongest winds and rain.

Right now here the light is a very strange yellow hue and everything is quite still. There is no birdsong. The humidity is high and I have a summer dress on in mid-October with the windows wide open, while all around me the ground is covered in fallen leaves. I remember the days when you could rely on October to be scarf and gloves and wellies weather. It’s weird to say the least.

If you want a giggle to cheer you up this odd Monday morning the Irish humour over hurricane Ophelia on Twitter is hilarious and had me in stitches.  ‘Always look on the bright side of life’… and take care xx

 

In the Garden

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been enjoying the cooler wetter September days. I got fed up with watering so it’s a relief not to have to do that everyday.

I mowed the lawn for its last cut of the year and cut back some of the dying and overgrown foliage: the mint, fennel, and ivy which were starting to swallow up everything else. I also harvested the rest of the tomatoes, mostly green unripened ones. I don’t think they’ll ripen much more in the garden now and a couple of them were starting to show signs of the dreaded blight. A week or two on the kitchen windowsill and they’ll soon turn red. If not I’ll make green tomato chutney.

There seem to be more potent fragrances intensifying at this time of year. The sharp tang of tomato leaves. The smoky evenings when the neighbour’s burn their garden waste. It lingers on my clothes and on the cat’s fur. The fragrant herbs – mint, rosemary, chives, marjoram, lavender that I cut and bring inside to dry.  Occasionally, there is the familiar thud of an apple as it falls and hits the soft damp ground. A carpet of mouldering fruit… the air is thick and sweet with it.

There are few garden birds around this time of year. There is a pair of collared doves who live nearby and settle in the trees, and on chimneys and my neighbour’s fruit nets. And the robin has been visiting daily throughout the summer. Sorry for the picture quality taken through the glass window, but I thought he looked photogenic on the lawnmower handle.

I have not done such a great job with the garden this year. The plot has been a bit neglected and I have no worthy excuse other than perhaps laziness and putting other things first. I have grown some vegetables besides the tomatoes, there is kale, beetroot, leeks, lettuce and potatoes. But they are difficult to find between the weeds. I can only hope to do better in the future.

I’m going to scale back a bit next year and plant less. Focus on clearing some of the invasive plants and dividing the larger perennials. It is easy to get enthusiastic about all the plans in the spring – I know next year will be no different – but I shouldn’t make more work for myself than I can sensibly sustain.

I do not want a garden that is too neat and pruned, and soulless. I much prefer the cottage garden style, which seems to be a lot freer way of gardening, but it actually takes a lot of work.

It is a careful balancing act. One person can only do so much. I would like the garden to be a pleasurable space rather than one I’m constantly struggling to keep under control.

I wish you all a peaceful weekend. Weather permitting, I’ll be spending most of it in the garden 🙂