Friday, 31 July 2009

Garden Under Construction

Before..... (okay, its in the snow, but you get the picture, there was nothing here.)

Having spent an embarassingly large amount of money in the garden centre on Wednesday, planting up is now well under way, in spite of the weather. Its beginning to look like a real garden. All salutations to Pat, who has done all the backbreaking work!

And we have the photos to prove it! He showed great dedication is sifting out stones, which he estimated was about 15 trugs full!

The roses we have bought are going to be excellent. They are all old roses, and include 'Winchester Cathedral', which is the white one we had at our old house (a salute to the sight of my graduation), and 'Geoff Hamilton', a variety I've wanted for a long time because of its fabulous pink ruffled blooms and glorious scent. This one is called 'Eglantine', I think.

It all looks a bit spindly at the moment, but when it gets established I will probably find I have planted everything too close together.This is the border with the lavender hedge. The bottlebrush tree in the corner is having a second flush of flowers, and we managed to find a bush fuschia that is smothered in blooms. When I had finished putting everything in, the whole bed was teeming with bees and hover flies!

As you can see, its starting to get there. Next year, when the Philadephus, Weigelia and Sambuca Niger start thickening up to form a screen at the back corner, it will really start to look nice. Lets just hope the whole scheme is 'peacock-proof'!

It so nice to have a garden to potter about in, in the evenings. I feel much more at home as a result. It's amazing the sense of wellbeing I get from gardening, even if its only deadheading and watering. Such bliss in the twilight. We still have to get to grips with the section under the windows of the house, which will need digging over several times because it is so full of ground elder and nettles, but we'll get there. I already have ideas for planting there too - a lacy hydrangea perhaps, and definitely a red japanese quince, which flowers in winter and always reminds me that spring will eventually come! Pat wants to cultivate echinacea there. And of course, lots more hollyhocks!

Friday, 24 July 2009

Savour the moment...

A storm is coming. Thunder has been rumbling around the house and in over the fields for fifteen or twenty minutes. The woods have gone still, the pheasants holding their breath.

I go out into the back garden to feel the cool air on my skin. To feel the anticipation in the atmosphere. I want to see, really see, this moment before the storm. I want to taste the impending doom.

The sky is the colour of a starling's wing. The ash trees around the pond shiver, shake themselves down like Labradors. A sudden gust of wind comes up from the west, through the oaks that line the track to the farm, rippling the ivy on their trunks. The bullrushes sway. A single dead leaf flips along, side over side, on the grass. The cows in the far field stand with their heads bowed, ears down, oppressed. The chickens are panicking, the cockerels screeching.

Darkness gathers. The pace of the thunder quickens. Now comes the deluge. I run inside, cold drops slapping on the back of my neck, aware of the pressure under my sternum. Not just the drop in barometric pressure, but the excitement too. I hide in the shadows, watch for the lightning flashes, count the miles it takes for the thunder to arrive until the deafening crackles are overhead.

The gutter over my window must be blocked. Rainwater streams in over the windowsill until I come out of my trance to realise the depth of the puddle building up, and pull the window shut. The ducks are quacking frantically on the pond. Good weather for ducks.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009


It rained today. A big fat gushy thunderstorm. I sat in the house and watched the drops coming down, little diamonds dripping from the tiles on the roof of the shed. I opened the window so I could hear the sounds better. The water rushing in the leaves of the trees that surround the house, and drumming on the roof.

I love rain. I love to lie in bed at night and listen to it roaring on the roof overhead in winter, hear it glugging in the downpipes. I snuggle down under the duvet with Pat next to me, listen to his steady breath, and then turn my mind, my whole concentration, to the sky. It doesn't lull me to sleep. It's too important for that. I always stop and listen when it rains, whatever I am doing, because to me it is the sound of being safe, warm, and loved.

I've thought a lot about why this is, and I think it comes down to one particular memory. My mother came to collect me from school one lunchtime because I was sick. I'd gone down with a migraine. Not a bad headache, the real thing, with the psychedelic tunnel vision, the numb arms and legs, the vomiting, and the dreadful pain as well. (Anybody who tells you they have a migraine and are still walking around, functioning, does not have a migraine, believe me!) My mother never drove me to or from school so this was a big occasion for me. She had to stop off on the way home for some reason, perhaps to get some painkillers for me. I lay on the back seat, head hurting too much to open my eyes, and listened to the rain pelting on the roof of the little fiesta. I knew I was going home. The sound of the rain soothed me. As I relaxed, the pain eased. I was warm and safe, and I had been rescued. I knew my mother would make me feel better. Even though I felt atrocious, it was a good moment.

This is the reason I like rain. It reminds me of a happy childhood memory. But lately, I've come to think of it another way. I look out at the brooding sky, watch those icy pellets smacking on the path, and think of all those poor souls who are not lucky like me, and have no where to go to escape the rain. I think of them more and more now, when I hear rain at night, huddling in doorways, under cardboard boxes, trying to stay dry, because once you get soaked its so hard to dry out. Unlike me, they have no one to rescue them.

St Martin's Housing Trust

Lets try to do something to help these people that is more than giving a few quid to the Sally Annes or Crisis at Christmas once a year. Lets stop and speak to them, and treat them as human beings. Human beings with crippling problems created by the society in which we live. We are all responsible. Lets make the rain a happier place to to be in.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Pants in the Post, or how to cheer yourself up

I woke up with the Black Dog this morning. The bastard canine creeps up on me occasionally with no warning. These days I get it comparatively lightly compared with how I used to. No long months staring at walls, unable to move, unable to think, frozen like a rabbit in the headlights by the overwhelming misery of knowing, really knowing, that my life is a waste of time, that I am a burden to everybody, and I'd be much better off dead. No, I am lucky. That time is over.

But it still comes to me sometimes. The leaden heart. The sense of wishing I could cry but not being able to. The physical pain of sheer, bottomless sadness.

However, after thirty years of dealing with it, I have some habits that help. Three pages of A4 paper written longhand (Julia Cameron's famous 'Morning Pages') help to leech the poison out. Listening to Monty Python songs (I can't help but smile when I listen to Michael Palin warbling 'Finland, Finland, Finland, the country where I want to beeeeeee'). Singing. Very loudly. (This takes the place of screaming which, for psychological reasons, I am incapable of). Mozart's Magic Flute or Carmen is pretty good for this. And a bunch of other stuff.

Today, after scribbling in my morning pages book, I realised that what was really getting to me was this 40th birthday party we are going to on Saturday. I don't get to go out very often, and that means dressing up is important to me. But I've got no money to buy new clothes. That £55 Monsoon chiffon top would be perfect (except that I'd have to buy jeans to go with it), but its out of my league. I was so miserable about having nothing to wear. Then it occurred to me that we would probably only be there for a couple of hours, so why buy something new for that? What have I got in my wardrobe?

Cue trying-on session.

Out came old faithful, the black jersey dress. Okay, I never wear black these days because I feel like it makes me look about 100. Nevertheless, it makes me look very curvy and goes with everything.

Then, the master stroke. I remembered I had these shoes:

Now, you may say, how can a person forget she owns such a perfect pair of shoes. Exactly. Just look at them. Red satin. Aren't they just fantastic??? And believe me, they feel even better on! How could I look at these and feel gloomy?

So I am going to wear these, and my black dress, and I am going to go out this afternoon and buy myself a big red silk rose to go in my hair. 'Simples'.

Which brings me to my point. When I am sad, I find something that I really, really like, to look at, to contemplate. Something that makes my heart sing. Like the shoes.

I take a leaf from my niece, Amelia's, book. Last year, when we were moving house, and I was having my 'mini-breakdown', I got a parcel from her, out of the blue. Inside there was a label, which said 'No one can be sad with pants in the post'. And when I opened the tissue paper enclosed, this is what I found:

How could you not laugh? Every time I feel blue now, I look at my 'Pants in the Post'. They please me. Right to the roots. Not just because of her thoughtfulness, but because they genuinely are fantastic things. What fun. Red frilly pants. And then life seems just a little bit easier.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Being Still

It's ages since I've contributed a post to this blog, but somehow daily life has been getting in the way. You know the stuff. The laundry. The gardening. The washing-up. The diary gets full and I wonder what is happening. Where did all this STUFF come from?

Well, I've reached a hiatus. It has come about as something of an accident. My counsellor was going to be away, and offered me a four week holiday from our usual appointments. It's a great chance for what we have been working on lately to bed in. And what we have been working on is, strangely appropriately, 'Being Still'.

Being still. Listening to my body. Listening to my life. Accepting where I am, every last detail of it. Even the bits that hurt. Being mindful. Just stopping and standing still occasionally to really smell, to really look, to really taste or hear. To imprint that single, unique moment on my brain, to really experience it, because I will never have it again.

For example, right now. The window is open. The study is full of cool air and the damp, mossy smell of the woods after rain. The cockerel is crowing round the corner. I can see light rippling on the pond below me, and the tail of a duckling bobbing up and down as it trawls through the mud. The warm softness of my cardigan sleeve on the skin of my arm. The stillness of the house around me.

Life at the moment seems to be a procession of perfect moments strung together with frenzied blur, periods so busy I don't have time to be aware. This came home to me the other day when we went up to Ditchingham Hall for the open gardens event in aid of the NSPCC Full Stop appeal, one of our favourite charities. The gardens are spectacular, as I hope the pictures in this blog testify. But I found I spent the whole afternoon rushing round taking photos in a frantic effort to capture the garden for later, instead of experiencing it in the moment. If I had only sat there and looked quietly at the rose gardens or the peonies, I would have seen them, really seen them. I came away feeling cheated, as if the afternoon had been wasted. I wanted to go back the next day to really look. But of course, I shall not have the opportunity to do that until next year now.

As I get older, I am becoming aware that time is finite. I have only so many of these moments left. Not that I am ancient, but you get the idea. The point of these few weeks is to try to be present, to be aware, to accept what is real, right now. Not to always be thinking about what has happened, or what the future might bring, or how it ought to be.

So I am busy Being Still. And it's okay.