Monday, 5 December 2011

Beyond Leonardo

Spotted in Trafalgar Square - wonderful pattern of tiles
We have just returned from a magical four days break - hosted by dear friends living in Chiswick (London). From the moment we arrived on Friday, we were indulged and cosseted. It was perfect, and just what we needed after six months non-stop churning out feature articles. Don't get me wrong, please; I love what I am doing, thrive on it in fact, do not 'churn' but carefully craft what I write. But - just sometimes - to be able to spend time reading and chatting and exchanging remembrances of years past is a welcome respite. We meet about twice a year, here in our chaotic Cotswold wilderness; or in Chiswick where we do not have to suffer the daily noise of traffic passing our bedroom window. Indeed, there is no traffic sound at all! Bliss.

Leonardo at The National Gallery (London)
Enough of our private and personal exchanges. On Saturday we were taken to the National Gallery and the  fantastic exhibition 'Leonardo da Vinci - Painter at the Court of Milan'. Strange to be back in central London, once - over 50 years ago - so familiar to me when, as a student, I visited art galleries and museums, theatres and libraries and never felt the threat of people pressing too close. Yet the cosmopolitan presence all around me did not intimidate but had that buzz of individual participation; every couple or family oblivious to anyone else. Trafalgar Square is now, quite frankly, a mess, but no doubt with a purpose to draw visitors towards whatever they feel to be personally special. 

Spectacular - and the late afternoon light was such that I could capture
Nelson's ship-in-a-bottle AND Nelson's Column
Plaque explaining Nelson's ship-in-a-bottle - significant words
Arriving early for 'Leonardo', my camera drew me towards the curious ship-in-a-bottle, and not the rather boring and overshadowed traditional Christmas tree dwarfed by Nelson's Column (the tree: a Norwegian spruce, and a gift every year to the British people from Norway across the North Sea). Equally banal was the Olympics 2012 count-down clock which I might have photographed had it not been one of those 'must-have' images of "been-there, done-that; and here's the photo to prove it!" You experience it the world over, iconic venues destroyed by tick-it-off-the-list tourists. Of course, that's a personal opinion, as was my reaction to 'Leonardo da Vinci - Painter to the Court of Milan'. Even there, I was as much observing the stream of onlookers as recording my own reactions and wonderment. 

But, all that I have already written in this post is my considered observation, subsequent to the day; and my final penning - a 'word-whisper' - was written on the spot as I absorbed atmosphere and, truly, the magic of being there. I find the press of people difficult and withdraw into myself; but from that very special gifted day will emerge another sequence in my 'Quilted Journey'. The elements are now there; I must just make time to gather them into my ongoing mixed-media fabric and paper travel journal.

Double-click on the 'word-whisper' image (left) to be able to read it. My thoughts on how I will interpret the exhibition and what it meant to me will appear in due course - my notes at present are contained within one of my journaling sketchbooks.

Meanwhile, we are back home; so grateful for the kindness of friends - and if you read this, dear T & A, it's our turn to entertain you come the New Year, though we cannot offer mimosa and parakeets in a secluded Chiswick garden, nor high street shops, but fresh eggs from our eight hens in the apple orchard, and perhaps a muddy walk (tramp) through the local fields and woods.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Art Exhibition Extraordinaire

It was a privilege to be invited to participate in the first village art exhibition; to attend the preliminary meetings, where I always seemed to have plenty to say! And then to walk into the Church the day before set-up day and see where we had been allocated a space. I was thrilled with mine - out with the tape measure to find it was all of 5ft x 5ft, backed on two adjacent sides by white display boards, on a third by the wall of the early 14thC de Mohun Chapel, and the fourth 'the way in'. I wanted to create a little art room, and hit on the idea of it being at the top of a castle tower (Stokesay in Shropshire sprang to mind). Back home, I measured furniture (all made by my dear Raymond over the years - and as he was exhibiting too, it was an extension of the space he had not been given, but that's another story).

Finished mixed-media journals: paper and textiles; old maps - and
many other recycled materials and artifacts
Next day (Friday) came the unearthing of my chosen pieces, the carrying downstairs, the loading into our trailer, the lifting out and carrying up the long path into the Church, the manipulating down the aisle and past the lectern and another exhibitor's booth into my available space. Exhausting (and we knew we had to dismantle it all at the end of the day). It would have been easier had the chapel door alongside been open, but the key was missing!

Working sketchbooks and illustrated journals
Well never mind, I eased our tables into place and then set about arranging the work I wanted to show, and the artifacts I had created for sale - proceeds to be added to the window-repair fund of this ancient Church - village history is fascinating; details appear in my great-aunt's book on medieval architecture. A beloved lady from whom my love of history first sprang (and that, too, is another story!)

Items created for sale: label tag-notebooks, pocket note-holders with
my own 'pressed-flower' printed notelets; bookmarks and blank
travel journals made from altered antique maps fused to textile covers
And so my castle turret became my workspace for the Friday evening preview, and the Saturday show. I did not want it to be something static; I wanted to create the feel that my map-trails, illustrated journals and textile books were ongoing living things (indeed they are) and so positioned myself with my pocket-sized diary and mini-paintbox to continue the miniatures I sketch when away and rarely have time to finish. There was time to chat, about what I did and why.

Working in my 'castle turret' (5ft x 5ft space in the de Mohun Chapel)
Time to share with others my joy in creating; not to show off, but to show that anyone can begin with a single word, a first scribble, and from that what you do can grow, and - as I discovered to my delight - give pleasure to others. It was a wonderful experience, demonstrating something I love doing so much, in snatched moments. Actually my life-line in times of stress (and that is yet a further story).

Close-up of my work table and display of finished travel trails

Work in progress: Malvern Map Trail -
words, sketches, fused napkins and photos
relating to working visits to the stunning
Malvern Showground (with thanks to TCAS)
Let me end with my 'artist statement' which we all had to produce for the show catalogue:
"An Unfinished Journey: My life as an amateur mixed-media art-maker has evolved alongside my work as a published writer on travel, gardening and craft. I have moved through many genres and phases over the years, involving paper, yarn, fabric and stitch, documented in my illustrated journals. I am currently working on a series of decorated map trails and quilted books. 
From writing diaries and journals on an almost daily basis since childhood, I have only recently progressed to adding sketches and illustrations; and, for certain items, transferred and stitched photographs, hand-embroidery and patchwork. Articles on some of my mixed-media work have appeared online and in a number of magazines. "     

The exhibition was for me one of those unexpected life-changing moments; something that in my declining years I now plan to weave into my daily life in those fleeting moments of snatched creative bliss. Stay with me, I still have a whole world of creativity to explore ...

Monday, 14 November 2011

A little bit of adventure

Crossing into Wales
We are back from a week of wandering: a double assignment - assessing a new motorhome and, alongside that, a circular tour from Bristol to Wales and back again through Shropshire, Herefordshire and Somerset. Four campsites in seven nights; a workout of the not-yet-on-the-market m'home (the Bailey Approach 620SE launched at the NEC last month, and loaned to us for the week by the manufacturer), plus route description, photos, where to go and what to do in Carmarthen, Knighton, Hereford and Bath.

This is not a full account of the week - for that will appear in 'Discover Touring' magazine issue no 3 in February 2012, but more a taster for what I will be posting over the weeks ahead in my other blogs. There was something of everything for us in these seven days, and hopefully also, for readers of blog and magazine pages. History, gardening, mapping, art, journaling, and at the end, a link with where I began my life 74 years ago.

Climbing the steep and somewhat muddy path on Knucklas Castle 'mound'
It rained for much of the time, which was good for testing the vehicle, though there was much mud to contend with. We seem to favour campsites in fields near rivers; and even with the rain, managed some photos and brief strolls in watery conditions: the rivers Towy, Teme, Wye, and a tributary of the Somerset Avon. The motorhome was luxurious but most of the trip was spent driving between venues, and report-writing - hardly the holiday we so needed. We managed a morning in Aberglasney - the gardens are restful no matter what the time of year, with a delicious lunch on the covered terrace, despite the rain sweeping in sheets across the valley onto our table! And another day in Knighton, eating again (!) in our favourite tearoom. We climbed to the top of Knucklas Castle hill - spectacular views - and enjoyed the poem trail through the new community orchard; I was minded to whisper my own (never go anywhere without paper and pen); but they are for another time. And so via Presteigne (yet another tea-room), Hereford for an overnight stop, and on to Bath for a publisher's book launch - a scholarly and entertaining book covering three hundred years of the Pump Room Orchestra. We'd been invited because I had supplied some material relating to my father's time there conducting; the year I was born, 1937. 

The week was not without its heartache, which had nothing to do with what we did or where we went, but has affected my future outlook on all I attempt to do. I need to think hard and deep as to how I can continue, and without my dear husband's love and continuing support, I would not be writing this now. Life is all about decisions, and this last year has seen me needing to make more than usual; and I am so weary.

I'll never forget this monument to the past, on the top of  the Knucklas Castle site. Looking north up the Teme valley towards its source. I can forget weariness and troubles when remembering the climb, and descent, and just being there for a few brief hours.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

As the years roll by ...

The two of us - my Facebook followers will have seen this already, but it was taken on a day we were actually relaxing and doing nothing - which is unusual for us
Today is my birthday and now (aged 74) I move into my 75th year. It's been a lovely day; quiet with time to play (unusual for me). Despite a more than usually strenuous twelve months, I am grateful for so many things: my beloved husband who is so supportive of all I do; our three amazing children and nine very special grandchildren; my extended family, friends and acquaintances; our home and garden; and my health, even if it does wobble from time to time, and I frequently think I am going senile!  My hobbies rejuvenate me - words, paper and textiles scrambled into mixed-media creations and my many illustrated journals. I am a poor correspondent and owe letters or emails to so many people; I can only apologise and wish I could make more hours in the day. I know I should do so.

issue two - just published
And I am grateful to all those who still offer me work, without which it would be difficult to survive. Magazine commissions proliferate; sometimes I remember to post them on Facebook - usually I forget. But the one that has consumed most of my time these last months has been the title for which I have been engaged as Travel Editor ('Discover Touring'). That was some task: researching, collecting and editing all the material and images to cover the ten UK tourist regions. Eventually it was done (and my role was but a very small contribution to the whole); the result is an issue of which I am so proud to have been a part. It should be on sale now in WHSmith - I know this is a bit of a hard sell but this is only the second issue and it deserves to be better known. If you are into touring by caravan or motorhome, or even camping, here or abroad, do take a look.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The sun is still shining ...

motorhomes and caravans continued to arrive all day, yet in no way do we feel 'cramped' - so much space surrounds each outfit - and what a view
It is the most amazing feeling to be somewhere you love being, with work to do and yet somehow not the same pressure; here below the long line of the Malvern Hills (where we were only a week ago, also working) time slows. Usually when we are away in the caravan or motorhome, we cannot ever relax - deadlines loom, the clock ticks, words must be written and photographs taken. It's become second nature to both of us to capture the moment; something we may not need for months to come - text and images that must be pulled from the well of experiences. All must be catalogued and annotated.

Almost ready for delivery - each car is personalised to the requirements of the owner-to-be, from start to finish
Yesterday was different. We visited the Morgan car factory - a 2-hour tour that anyone can take, but this was organised by TCAS as part of the 'Escape to the Hills' weekend. What always fascinates me when on such an outing is looking behind the scenes, the organisation, the attention to detail in so many aspects of a company. This post will not be a 'write-up' of Morgan - a British-owned, family-run firm since 1905, every beautiful car put together by hand, skilled workforce using hand-tools - just a gallery of the snapshots I was able to take as we walked from one dedicated workshop to another. I won't even caption the photos, for I cannot pretend to understand the technical aspects; hopefully such shots as I was able to take will speak for themselves. Words fail me for once - though I could research it if I needed to; most of the time I couldn't hear the tour guide anyway, for I lagged behind aiming for photos that showed the workmanship and not the backs of strangers!

A group of strangers, with one purpose - a tour of the Morgan Car factory













An Edwardian advertising photo, seen in the Morgan Museum (I probably should not have snapped this, but thought it was so beautiful, taken on the common near the factory, and with the highest point in the Hills in the background)
Our day ended with steak and salad by candlelight, sitting outside in the dark, stars above and an owl hooting (amazing, 30th September and so warm) - and I had spent a WHOLE AFTERNOON working on my 'Malvern Map Trail' - a mixed media words and images collage about which I will post as it progresses.
In my element - an old map, crayons, collage components, paints - and time

Thursday, 29 September 2011

You'd think it was Summer

The new building at the heart of the Three Counties Showground
Truly, you would think it was midsummer - the temperature still so warm at 19-18, though the sun has already dropped below the line of the whale-backed Malverns. Yes, we are here again - you could almost say we cannot keep away! But actually, would you believe it, we are semi-working, covering the new Three Counties 'Malvern Caravan Show'. The weather is perfect and there is much planned for our delight over the next three days. A tour of the Morgan Car factory tomorrow (which will take us back to the days of our youth when Raymond sold his beloved 1932 Aston Martin Le Mans sports racing car in order to marry me. That was in 1958; a long while ago).

Just the two of us - Raymond's experimental photography; and I got the giggles!
Right now, I cannot believe we are still sitting outside in shirtsleeves; the glow over the hills lights up the skyline, a magnificent silhouette. Tomorrow maybe we'll walk on the hills, or drive over them into Ledbury (another favourite spot). Saturday there's a farmer's market, and new caravans to see (we don't want or need a new one). I plan to work on my map-trail journal if I have time, and then Sunday ... not sure yet. I'm just not used to having so much spare time. It is almost dark, pinpricks of light emerge along the hills; a robin sings in a thorn tree. Acquaintances from the Caravan Writers' Guild have just arrived, and Raymond suggests we force down the bottle of cheap Cava that has been chilling in the fridge. Good idea, for it's too dark now to see the keyboard. Tomorrow is another day.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The baking urge

My attempt at icing cupcakes
There's something about this time of year that has me dashing to the kitchen to bake something for teatime treats - maybe it's the onset of imminent Autumn, or the fact that dear Raymond needs regular breaks from building (he's blocking up the old doorway into the kitchen right now). Or maybe it's the fact that the kitchen is becoming the room it never was - after all these years it will be a working space and not a corridor with an ever-present easterly wind blowing out the gas every time someone opened the door into the garden.

Too embarrassing to show the state of the place with bags and boxes littering every work-surface, pending new shelves where the door once was - an old print-room typesetter from our former magazine publishing company and print works slotted into a convenient gap because R. still thinks this 4'6" high x 3' wide x 2'6" deep monstrosity has some value, twelve years after we decided to 'retire' (though we never did!) There's still much to do, and the kitchen's flat roof to repair because it leaks when it rains. R. will tackle that next, and probably before the shelves and new work-surface. We still managed to prepare a three-course family meal last night, despite balancing hot pans where no hot pans were meant to be. Saturday evening roast with a grapefruit and orange starter, fresh veg from the garden (five varieties, plus sweetcorn that we cannot grow here), then chocolate profiteroles, pancakes and 'toffee crisp'. 

Scanned from my 1950s
cookbook (still in use)
There's nothing new under the sun, as the saying goes. Indeed, cupcakes may be the latest culinary craze, but they featured in the basic cook book I bought when Raymond and I were married, back in 1958 (all I could cook was pork chops and boil an egg!). I still use it - very battered now - for it has basics to which I still refer, like the pancake mixture made yesterday morning in readiness for the grandchildren's arrival.

The cakes had travelled from
Devon to Capel Manor College in
Middlesex for the 'Waooh' launch,

and were delicious
And just why did cupcakes re-enter the baking equation when I haven't made any for years? Read my Dobies of Devon gardening blog and you will discover the catalyst - mouth-watering cakes that were handed around at a press event to celebrate the launch of a new sunflower.  'Waooh' is a wow indeed, as were the little cakes; the plant itself is a branched sunflower perfect for growing a pot.

Excellent for beginner or
experienced cook
Well, having realised that nowadays cupcakes are 'cool', I wanted to try my hand at a modern recipe. I searched for an English cookbook and discovered a really special one. Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery’, by Martha Swift & Lisa Thomas and published by Kyle Cathie Ltd. It is the work of two young mothers who started baking cupcakes for children’s parties and now run a flourishing business in Primrose Hill and Covent Garden, London. Splendid recipes are given for all types of cupcake: vanilla, lemon, chocolate, caramel and many more, all to a basic simple formula using easy to acquire good quality ingredients. The buttercream icing is equally simple to make, though my swirling over the cakes was less than professional. (I'm more used to glace icing drizzled into place over a madeira sponge baked in a bread tin.)


These silicon baking cases were easy to fill 
Clearly I needed easy-to-use cupcake cases for my spooning of the batter into paper cases ended in something of a mess. But kitchenware supplier, Lakeland Ltd, have the perfect answer:  pastel-coloured silicon cases: the cakes do not stick and slide out easily once cooked and cooled. Their silicon piping set is ideal for decorating. Both products are dishwasher safe - perfect. To serve, I popped the cakes into pretty pleated paper cases and presented them to the three grandchildren who live only a few miles away, for their verdict. K. ate one on the spot, and popped another into her satchel before dashing off for evening swimming training. The remainder had evidently disappeared before bedtime, so Grandma's cooking couldn't have been too bad! And now my new hens have started laying, I can foresee more baking sessions throughout the coming months. Cakes galore in fact, and with practice, maybe my icing technique will improve - so many flavours to try, I'm wondering which to make next. Click on any of the highlighted text for more information on book and equipment and a direct link to purchase if you wish.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Just Words - Remembering

I will never forget
the day
the world changed
forever

Such evil, such hatred
So much hurt
and anguish
Even for those of us
who could only
watch, open-mouthed
in disbelief

Never forget
what happened
on that day
The shattering of life
the fortitude of so many

And can the human race
ever replace hatred
and mindless violence
with everlasting love?

asm 11th September 2011

I wrote about this terrible and tragic event in my journal, the day it happened, and am reminded of it every time I see the iconic New York skyline in photos or on TV, bereft of so much more than buildings. In a way, that gaping hole brings home even more sharply the loss of so many people, and the affect it had on countless others all around the world. I wrote about it in the first year of my blog here. Then I baked a friendship cake; today I will whisper words to myself as I make cupcakes to a new recipe. I will never forget, a scene imprinted in my mind forever. Rest in peace.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Friday evening idyll ?? No chance!

Quiet, on the terrace, 
we sit reading.

then
the strident cacophony 
of dogs suddenly barking
in next door's garden,
others beyond the orchard;
and yet more distant
poor-pampered beasts
from the village half a mile away.

It irks my ears, actually hurts,
such a yapping and a clammering
as yet more set up their baying
as if they need to drown
the still of the evening
in perpetual attention-seeking noise.

My ears by now disturbed,
attuned to sound
and not the sight of words,
I sense the whirr of pigeons' wings
hear the high hum of an aircraft engine
the slamming of a car door
the mindless thump of 'music'
from the village pub.

"But break, my heart"
for where is silence
and a place for contemplative thought?

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Saturday ... "not waving but drowning" ...

I am wrung out - 
words, words, words; never-ending
articles, proposals, reviews,
blogs, diaries, journals,
word-spills, word whispers
and lists, interminable lists
of things that have to be done.
I suddenly stop, come
to a breathing space
and am like a cloth squeezed dry
a limp rag doll
eyes blind, flaxen hair a-straggle,
and all creativity deserts me.

We eat again in the garden,
a warm, still evening,
one of many in this blissful summer
that has all but escaped me;
my wine glass is empty,
our grandson's warring cockerels
are at rest ....
Tomorrow, Oxford.

Them, come Monday,
the treadmill will begin again.
And yet I love what I am doing,
Hauling bucketsful of words
from a well that may have run dry.
I trust it is not so; for without words
we would go hungry, the body and the soul.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

She did it!



Kate’s Epic Swim

5.35pm: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
the little swimmers chant 
at the side of the pool –
and K. is off: a gliding start
as if she were a young lithe fish
in her pretty costume;
swimming to save the lives of others.

And what are we thinking,
we who sit quietly by and watch?
Perhaps of when we ourselves
first learned to swim,
to splash or cleave the water;
or let the waves break over us …
pebbles beneath our toes,
… not swimming, but waving …
to our parents on the beach.

But here in the school pool
on a soggy Tuesday,
whilst Kate swims
I sit and write –
already she has swum 30 lengths,
and more … and more.

I all but dream of those distant days,
as K. swims on and on;
mesmerising the watchers.
My head throbs in the soporific heat.
But, once upon a time, 
seven years ago, 
this determined child
hated water, screamed in fear,
shrieked at the very sight of it; 
learned to overcome
what caused her anguish 
– learned to swim.

Half an hour – a mile
(has she set herself too fast a pace?)
Perfect front crawl, and tumble-turns,
intake of breath on every third stroke.

122 lengths, pit stop to take on water,
a smile and she’s away again.

128 lengths – 2 miles in 50 minutes
(increased striking rate)

150 …

176 – 1hr.10mins.31seconds – half way.

on, and on

And, as if a glutton for punishment,
she’s wearing a double-skinned swimsuit, designed to create resistance
so that she has to work that much harder to achieve a faster time:
an extra challenge to herself.

3 miles – 1hr.17mins.19 secs (I think)

swim, swim, swim,

When, this time around, will her low point come?
(Looking good, stronger, tonight)
swim, swim, swim, on and on and on,
length after length.

7.25pm – K. still swimming, swimming, swimming …

totally focussed

... on and on and on and on ...

4 miles, 256 of the 352 lengths: ?hr.?mins.?secs
too much chatter around the pool to monitor time –
all the kind people who have come 
to support this final leg
to encourage her – 
and still she’s there in the water,
in her element, this pretty fish,
this quiet, demure young girl,
hardly a ripple as she passes by.

Length after length

The loneliness of the long-distance swimmer

5 miles – 2hrs.10mins.?secs – strong and smooth

Half-a-mile (32 lengths to go) -  a mere doddle now!

24

16

12

10

In sight of the French coast

8

Watch out for the ferry there

6

Oops – is that a jellyfish?

5. 4. 3. 2 – final tumble-turn

1 – she breaks into butterfly, her victory stroke –

7.57pm: We clap and cheer her to the finish.
She’s crossed the Channel in 10hrs.24mins.45secs
Her final challenge to herself?
To complete the 22 miles in under ten-and-a-half hours.
She did it.


Kate swam each of the four 5.5mile legs faster than she anticipated; she smashed her own record by 12 mins on this, her final leg. Outstanding. (And to tell the truth, Grandma was almost in tears!)

Kate's idea is to raise £5,000.00 for competition starting blocks for the school pool, and a life-saving defibrillator for the school and village community. Thankyou to all those who have sent her messages and donations. And her idea of 'Crossing the Channel'? On the ferry one day going to France, she evidently said she could swim across! Well maybe one day she'll do it for real. 

where it all took place
Actually, there's a whole lot more to exactly why Kate wanted to do this, and the people who inspired her - it warrants a post of it's own. That story will follow once I've checked my facts, for it is applicable to all swimmers, and the more fit they are, the more susceptible they become. The clue is in my altered 'non-quote', which you might have spotted.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

A Blow of Lavender

I went out to take this shot early this morning, but my camera battery was flat! Then searching my library of photos, I found I had taken the pic I wanted exactly one year ago.

Capture the scent of Summer, 
now, in this moment -
the herbs and roses,
lupin and sweet william,
new-cut hay-meadows
soft on the horizon.
Brush your hands 
through lavender, or rosemary;
breathe deep, and deeper,
for second time around
I might be deaf, or blind,
oblivious of my blow of lavender.
I whisper to myself,
"Will this Summer be my last?"
And hope it is not so.

I don't know why these words came to me last night, and why the scent of my lavender by the back door should cause me to lapse into such maudlin thoughts. Maybe the past week with its endless problems jump-started it; maybe the feeling that I need time to myself - I will make time, in snatches if need-be, this very morning; I want to make a fabric folder-cum-notebook into which grand-daughter KFM (she of my last two posts) can store all her good-will messages that even complete strangers have so kindly sent her. And then I'll pack a picnic tea and Raymond and I will drive somewhere quiet (some hope) for him to experiment with a new camera, whilst I will word-whisper and paint onto a concertina map, and my world will right itself again.

Whilst I was searching my photo files for lavender photos, Raymond was doing likewise through his - and found one taken some years ago, in a part of my herb garden that now no longer exists - a more compact variety that would be better placed by the back door than the one I actually have.
Even that plan will go awry if the camera does not arrive - we've paid for 'guaranteed Saturday morning delivery', but these days you never know. He's been searching the internet for weeks to find stock of this new model, and it will be wonderful for him to have it for Press Day at the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show, where we are headed early on Monday.

Still-life for a magazine article
As this seems to have turned into a post about lavender, I could not resist including another photo that Raymond took for me when I was writing an article on - what? I've forgotten now, probably on herbs but I do remember going to great lengths to set up the shot in our guest bedroom, and having to create a backdrop so you could not see the usual clutter, or tell the pic was taken where it was. The lavender is true French lavender, brought back for me from Provence by our daughter. There, just writing about lavender has revived me, brought me to my senses. Here's to a productive weekend!

P.S. A plea: I know it is 'not done' to promote one's own blogs - but if you are a lover of books, please visit my newly created book blog: so far, just the introductory post and a site in the making, but the second, about actual books, is written and scheduled for this weekend, as soon as I have found (!) the books I want to mention, and taken pics. I would love it if you wanted to follow my journey, as I'll be bringing you news of new books as well as old, and info about authors and publishers. Another activity for which I am making time.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Three Down and One to Go

three- quarters into today's stint: struggling yet determined 
An update on KFM's fund-raising 'cross-channel' swim. This evening, she completed her third leg; another 5.5 miles (352 lengths in 2 hours 34 minutes and 15 secs, beating her time for the previous two lengths). We were even more proud of her this evening, for by the third and hardest quarter, when she knew she still had so far to swim, she was alone in the pool, swimming up and down, up and down, up and down. She had set herself the challenge of beating her previous times but had set out at too fast a pace, and she was flagging. The only allowable 'pit stop' was to drink water, and off again. We were amazed at her self-discipline to proceed - the loneliness of the long-distance swimmer; close to tears at times, but determination conquered aching limbs. We were also initiated by her mother (our daughter) into the science and maths involved in self-pacing, counting strokes, knowing when to push the speed; and still - with no-one to watch but us and her parents (and swimming tutor who taught her to swim age six) - she broke into butterfly again for the last length. She admitted she had the strategy wrong and will work on it for the final stretch on Tuesday 5th July. 

her smile says it all - final 5.5 miles is on Tuesday 5th July
And from Grandma (me) thankyou to everyone who has sent K. a message of support: I printed them out and they are pinned to her 'Go for it K' display board. She is so grateful.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Guts & Stamina

"The morning began with silence, sitting in the studio; 
only the quiet sound of pupils breathing; emptying our minds of thought, 
reflecting on why we were there - 
for what we might give thanks since we last sat quite still, in silent peace."

perfect action - even when you are swimming 5.5 miles
This was but the start of our day: we were here to support our 12-year old granddaughter (one of our  nine grandchildren) in her attempt to raise - on her own - £5,000 for starting blocks for the school swimming pool, and a defibrillator for the local community. The challenge that she set herself was impressive - to swim the equivalent of crossing the English Channel (approx 22 miles), in four sessions. She made it more difficult for herself by wearing a training swimsuit, one that is double-skinned, thus creating drag - more effort required than when she is swimming races.

How many more miles?
KFM planned the publicity, wrote letters to all our extended family, and others who had been at the school, many of whom had raised the funds for the pool to be built. She wanted to give something back, for as a small child - years before she became a pupil here - she had been so terrified of water, screaming even in the bath, that her parents enrolled her for swimming lessons in this very pool. (I have to say here, that KFM is fifth generation of the family to attend this particular school.) She sent flyers to everyone who lives in the village, for it is they who will benefit from the defibrillator.

Phew! She did it - swam the equivalent of one quarter the width of the English Channel
Into the pool at 10.00am to swim within a cordoned off lane; others in and around the pool counted her down: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and with an underwater glide, she began the first quarter of her challenge: 5.5 miles (352 lengths). Whilst watching her swim, I was amazed at not only her grace and agility, but the careful planning, pacing, the hours of training, knowing how to pass through her low point half way through which lasted until about 50 laps to go when her headmaster arrived to check her progress. 

Happiness - and red-rimmed eyes from over-tight goggles
Looking white and tired, and having said she felt sick, she perked up, upped the pace; swimming as if she was in her element, a beautiful fish, or a little lithe mermaid. Had she been swimming in training or competition - she trains almost every day, races most weekends - it would have been easier; here she had to pace herself - a solitary young swimmer doing what she loves most to help others.


So far, £1,000 raised
And so as her mother logged the lengths swum, K. approached her first goal - 5.5 miles, in 2hrs 51mins 12secs. I had to admit to holding back tears as she started her last length, for she broke with a flourish into butterfly. Later, I asked her what she had been thinking as she swam. "Nothing really," she said, but the cheques and cash donations proved just how much her effort is - and will be - valued. 


Yet that is not all. An hour later, she took part in the school sport's day - 1500 metres, four laps of the track. Lagging behind after all the morning's effort, she gradually picked off the competition, finishing second. You would never know what she had achieved from her quiet and modest demeanour. And on Thursday, she is back in the pool to swim the next 5.5 miles, and again this coming Saturday to swim the third leg; the fourth quarter in two weeks; she'll have been swimming for a total of almost 12 hours.


One hour later - out on the track in the 4-lap 1500 metres (KFM is in the middle)
The fact KFM is our grand-daughter and I am singing her praises is immaterial: I admire anyone who puts themself out for the benefit of others; and all the more remarkable when that person is a child. And is it not sad in this day and age that you cannot identify a child on the internet? Cannot sing praise where praise is due. Indeed, we had to jump through hoops to be allowed to photograph her. Our daughter has provided a pinboard for those who care to send encouraging messages - so I'll be printing any kind comments, and adding them to those she has already.

Final lap - she's overtaken the opposition and races for the line, a worthy second