I write novels, poems, short stories, travel tales and gardening rambles.
‘The Green Velvet Dress’ was my first novel, published in November 2014. ‘Friends in my Garden,’ a collection of poems depicting people as birds, flowers, trees and animals in a garden, was sold out within two years. I have had short stories and poems printed in anthologies. Read more
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We had planned for our last day in Ambleside, to visit Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum, Ruskin’s house at Coniston and generally enjoy driving around the picturesque countryside.
Mary Mary Quite Contrary (our name for the GPS system that came with the hired car) behaved quite well; only one little detour and we were parking beside the cafe attached to William Wordsworth’s former home.
With tickets in hand we soon joined the merry group of Wordsworth admirers for the tour of Dove Cottage where he lived with his sister Dorothy (who seems to have done much of the work around the place while His Nibs swanned about, creating his poems.)
We began in a small room on the ground floor where Wordsworth received his guests. Coleridge was a regular and, from what I’ve read of Dorothy’s diary, he stayed with them often.
Our guide was extremely informative, but she did need to stick to her lines and was distracted by any noise like cameras clicking, so we had to be quiet and listen intently as if we might be examined later. I kept getting left behind as the rest of them obediently followed her to the next room (while I stayed behind furiously flashing away to catch a few photos.) Not actually flashing – no flash allowed, despite many of the rooms being so dark I couldn’t even see what I was trying to photograph. I have to admit to ignoring that rule a couple of times.
The kitchen was next – a former bar – so small one wonders how they could fit in enough customers to make a living. The pile of coal in the corner provided the right atmosphere to give me sympathy for Dorothy.
I don’t think the great poet wrote about ‘burning the candle at both ends’ but we were shown how to burn a candle with three lights at once. In the days when everything from
windows to candles were taxed, the locals made their own candles from fat left in the pan after roasting the meat. A bit smelly, but apparently effective, although the walls were brown with grease before Dorothy arrived to clean and whitewash them regularly. A thin taper was pushed through the middle of the candle and could be lit at both ends – hence the saying, although I doubt if it has anything to do with the modern interpretation.
Upstairs we visited ‘the sitting room’ which William used as his writing room when not out in the garden or strolling around the countryside. His chair and a sort of chaise, as well as a grandfather clock and a cabinet displaying their china, were dealt with in detail by our guide, who did at that point tell us we could return to take photos provided the next group weren’t in the room.
I, of course, took advantage of this and had Susanne take my photo in that inspirational room. Sadly I didn’t manage to create a poem or two on the spot.
From there, we looked down onto the houses and the road, much as William and Dorothy would have seen them.
From the upper level we went out the back and wandered through the pretty cottage garden.
It slopes up very steeply towards a lookout from where the poet enjoyed views of rooftops and mountains in the distance.
After the house and garden we visited the Wordsworth museum. Manuscripts and notebooks are displayed in glass cases and I was heartened to see crossing out, writing down the sides of pages, and the occasional use of spaces between lines of another’s writing. (I think it was something by his friend, Coleridge.) Questions put in there presumably for children – ‘Why would Wordsworth do this? Had he run out of paper? Was it the first thing to hand? Did inspiration catch him unprepared? Etc. Well, of course, having done the same sort of thing I knew the answer was ‘Yes’ to all the questions. I was pleased and amused to discover that even such a famous poet was sometimes caught off guard by his Muse.
Returning to the exit via the shop, I bought a copy of Dorothy’s journals, from which much of the information about the life of the Wordsworths and the other ‘lakeland poets’ is taken.
Next stop was supposed to be Ruskin’s house, Brantwood at Coniston, where we planned to enjoy our lunch while taking in the spectacular views across Coniston Water. BUT. Two minutes down the road, the heavens opened.
Another minute of driving and my sister decided that we’d forget further site seeing (to which I heartily agreed) and we headed back to our B&B. On the narrow, winding road beside the lake, with rain so heavy she could hardly see, and a big truck up our backside, I took
photos through the windows while we both prayed and she did an amazing job of getting us back safely.
My last photo, taken through the side window, shows the water coming up almost to window height. When we turned into our driveway my darling sister burst into tears.
We sat in the car for about ten minutes, waiting for the deluge to cease. It didn’t, so we got out and ran in through the rain, to find water in the entry. Sue helped the owners and several lads from across the road came to help.
We retreated upstairs to view the flooded roadway and cars banked up as far as we could see in both directions. Locals had come out to guide the traffic through in single file around a BMW that had been swept aside by a passing truck and flooded with the wake. The tow truck eventually arrived nearly three hours later.
Rather an adventurous day. Thank God we didn’t try to do any more than Wordsworth’s place.
I receive heart-warming responses from some of you for my poetry, so here are a couple more. I may have posted ‘Evocative’ before; please forgive me if that’s so. It’s one of my favourite poems and one that I hope you will all enjoy. Please let me know if my images stir your memory.
If you’re not a ‘Busy Bee’ yourself (I’m certainly not one these days) I’m sure you will recognise a friend who is, in this poem. Please pass it on to them with love and appreciation; where would we be without them?
She buzzes about
ever so busy
my busy bee
darting from daisies
to dahlias and dianthus
dusting them all
and flicking it in flowers,
where would my garden be
Sweaty armpits, old gym shoes,
potatoes rotting in a cupboard,
dirty nappies, pig manure,
a drunk, lolling in his vomit.
Burning tyres, gutted homes,
flames roaring through the bush.
Fried onions, vanilla beans,
bacon and toast and percolating coffee.
Leather seats in a new car,
rain on parched earth,
a baby, fresh from the bath.
Eucalypt leaves on a wet day in London.
Yardley perfume that granny used,
sweet peas, picked from a garden.
Old spice after-shave,
the coat you always wore.
When Susanne and I received our tickets for the Chelsea Flower Show we were also given a year’s membership of the Royal Horticultural Society which included information about, and free or reduced entry into, amazing gardens all over the UK.
Discovering that Holehird Gardens was nearby, we had to take a look and as you will see from our photos, it was well worth the visit.
Stone walls surround the first, enclosed section of the garden which is managed by a group of enthusiastic volunteers. The day was warm but with rain forecast, we included umbrellas in our back packs. I love the way they have used the stone as a feature in the plantings.
Colours and textures are combined in a way that makes me want to paint these images, but as I’m not an artist, these photos have to satisfy that desire.
Walking outside the gate at the end of this section of the garden we found a piece of paradise. Looking through these photos again today, so long after our visit, I gasped with surprise and delight at some of these images. I can’t help thinking that the landscaper here was an artist. I say ‘was’ because the trees are such an important element in the structure, but they must have been planted many years ago and the lovely vignettes we see today, are possible because this garden has beautiful ‘bones.’
The trees also create shade to sit and relax; amongst the low growing flowers I could imagine myself as a child, searching for fairy creatures.
The view from the top of the hill, down over Lake Windermere and on to the hills on the other side, was misty. It was at this point that our umbrellas came in handy.
Clouds were rolling in over our heads as we neared the end of the garden. We didn’t want to leave without getting every last photo that beckoned, but eventually the rain was too heavy, Susanne’s camera was getting wet, so we returned to the car and drove back to the cottage.
Friends from Australia were staying in Ambleside the same week as us so we had arranged to meet them for dinner that night. The two men were walking across England from west to east, along a well travelled trail which included lots of hill climbing. We didn’t know then, how stormy the weather could turn, but the sky that evening should have been a warning.
The whole of the Lake District in England is noted for its beauty – blue water lakes, mountains, gardens, elegant architecture and lots of rain to make the countryside green.
Ambleside, our chosen town, is at the northern end of Lake Windermere, a perfect place for boarding one of the ferries that carry tourists around this idyllic waterway.
After our long drive the previous day, we were in no hurry to venture out, so it was after 1pm when we boarded our boat and headed for Bowness.
We were extremely lucky to have picked a fine day. Everywhere we looked, people were enjoying themselves on yachts, motor boats, small rowing boats or just playing around in the water. The bird life was having fun too.
Today I intended to write about our cruise around Lake Windermere. Unfortunately I’m using a different computer and the photos won’t show up as I want them to. Instead I will share more of my poems from my book, ‘Friends In My Garden’ and hope that you like them .
I wrote these poems for friends and family, depicting each one as something found in a garden. ‘Banished Rhus’, as the name implies, was one person who I thought was my friend but, while staying at her home for a few days I realised that she was actually not a friend at all. If you have been badly hurt by someone who you believed to be your friend, I’m sure you will relate to this poem. You might even want to pass it on to her or him, although I never did. Banishing her from my garden of friends seemed the best tactic.
The second poem was written for a couple who visited Australia each year from their home in England. Sadly, he has since passed away, but for all of you who are in happy relationships, or who have benefited from a loving marriage or partnership in your life, I hope you enjoy this. You might even want to share it with your loved one.
As always, I’d love to read your comments which you can write in the ‘comment’ box at the bottom of the page.
I had a rhus tree
with leaves that were brilliant
admired from a distance.
I stepped too close
spewing poison from her leaves
and dripping fiery sap.
was my reaction.
Even now the pain recurs
the rash appears
on tissue scar
when I recall
the venom of her wrath.
She’s gone of course
and if ever I see her again
I’ll take care
to keep my distance
from false vindictive rhus.
A Pair Of Doves
Two white doves
return every year.
I love to hear their cooing
a gentle sound that soothes the soul.
While he’s out during the day
she tidies and titivates the nest
chats with other birds
gathers garden goodies for tea
then fluffs out her feathers to look her best
when he returns.
They share a meal
and snuggle down for the night.
Ripples of kindness float across the darkness
It’s so long since I posted anything and too long since I promised to write about our visit to the beautiful Lake District in the UK in 2016. Well, here we are. It was about 5 pm by the time we arrived and the parking area was full, but our hosts were charming, very helpful and immediately made us feel welcome. He carried our cases up to the third floor, then parked the car for us while she did a great job of darkening the windows for me, (I cannot sleep with light) climbing up on a chair and pinning a length of dark material over the curtains. Nothing was too much trouble.
I wish I had photos of our accommodation, right across the top floor, with a separate sitting room and ensuite, plus a big bath in the bedroom. Romantic for a couple, but useful for two sisters for hanging out our washing, and Susanne did luxuriate in it one evening, after a hectic day of driving. I’m sure you can find Haven Cottage Ambleside for yourself on Google – we thoroughly recommend them.
I have a photo taken from the bedroom window, which looks down on the houses behind Haven Cottage and the hills which surround the town are visible in the distance. beyond them is Lake Windermere.
On that first evening, we partly unpacked to find clean clothes, then ventured into town, walking beside the river that flows under and around some of the original buildings. Italian was the best choice for dinner, but they had no empty tables so we took a stroll, after asking them to save us a table in about an hour.
This past week I’ve been thinking about friends and family. How some people stay with us all our lives, but others, no matter how much we care about them, move on and we loose contact with them.
When I wrote and published Friends in my Garden, the people in these poems were some of the friends I saw often enough that we could easily slot back into that relationship where the months and years don’t matter. Sadly, I have lost touch completely with Coriander and Free Spirit. Daisy is still around, somewhere, but I haven’t seen her for too long.
If you know where they are, I’d love to receive a message, perhaps a comment at the end of this posting.
When any of my poems apply to a friend or family member of yours, please feel free to pass them on. Friends in my Garden is meant for all of you who read my words and the poems are for you to share with your garden of friends.
She is my daisy
with face always smiling
and petals of pink or yellow or blue
wherever I need
a splash of colour
and warmth and fun,
I know she’ll be there
to cheer my heart
and nurture my soul.
Coriander reigns in my herb patch.
He’s quiet and a trifle contrary
tends to disappear when confronted.
Dreaming up dishes
tempting and delicious
his feathery appearance
adds a touch of artistry.
Friends regard him as
a culinary wonder.
smile bubbles bursting
in she flies
a flurry of welcome
her visit a sparkling surprise,
tales of the past are recounted
and fantasy flights foretold.
Autumn leaves tumble
She’ll soon fly away
and capturing hearts
for her spirit is joyous and free.
Leaving York on the 4th of June, we were excited to be on our way to the beautiful Lakes District, with a stop at Harlow Carr Gardens. Our hire car from Hertz was a very comfortable Mercedes. Susanne did most of the driving while I navigated. When making the booking, back in Australia in March, I had requested a navigation system with the car, but for some inexplicable reason, none was available from the York depot. Google served the purpose, as we only needed to take a small diversion from the main route, from York to Ambleside, in order to visit one of my favourite gardens in the world.
Harlow Carr Gardens is one of the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens in the UK, situated near Harrogate in Yorkshire. This was my third visit and, as on each occasion, a breath taking delight. Having my sister, Susanne, an equally keen gardener, with me, made it even more enjoyable as we dashed from one spectacular panorama to the next, with about a thousand stops on the way to capture a vista or the details of a single flower on camera.
The 2016 production of the Mystery Plays was one of the most impressive pieces of theatre that I have ever seen. I know that for some of you, the idea of a religious performance in a religious venue conjures up images of an evening spent in the most boring possible way. Believe me, this was anything but boring.
As the director, Philip Breen said in an interview, from which I’ll quote, ‘We return to these Plays again and again because they are asking the most profound questions about who we are, where we are going and what it means to be alive.’ In the bible we have stories about love and hate, families – supportive and destructive, power struggles, sex, war, good and evil, birth, life and death, racial tensions, moments and events that changed the course of history. What more could one want for any number of highly dramatic scenes and a play that makes Shakespeare seem tame? There are also some very funny scenes.
In all, eighteen scenes were presented for us that night, beginning with the Fall of the Rebel Angels and the introduction of Lucifer as he defied God, leading his ‘devils’ down under the stage to hell.
We missed seeing the famous Jorvik village in York, because it was destroyed by the river flooding and damaging much of the lower parts of the town. I mentioned that in an earlier blog, but we still wandered along and around The Shambles where we found buildings so old, we wondered how they were still standing. The great thing about these old buildings, apart from their beauty, character and history, is the fact that, unlike many similar looking buildings and ancient towns in Europe, York’s structures are genuine originals. (Maybe with additions and renovations, but basically as they were back in the 14th – 16th centuries.)
Also, unlike so many tourist towns, York has some genuinely original interesting shops and ones that sell quality products. I wanted to buy all these cute dogs, so tiny that I could fit them into my case, but so fragile I wondered how many would arrive home unbroken. The two I bought now have a special view on my kitchen bench.
Another shop which won our custom was the Edinburgh Woolen Shop. Found all over the UK, they sell the sort of quality knitware–scarves, gloves, hats, coats etc–that lasts for years and when the temperature plummeted, I had to have those ear muffs. i still have and use a lot in winter, a cashmere shawl that I bought from one of their stores in Scotland back in the 80s. So light and warm, it’s also a blanket on my travels.
While testing out the effectiveness of those muffs, against the wind that was so biting it had given me an earache, I ran into this jovial fellow who enlightened us about an event which would take place in the Minster that night. The Mystery Plays have been performed at various venues around York, initially traveling with mobile stages (probably horse and buggy varieties) and performing throughout the day – Feast of Corpus Christi – in different parts of the town. In 2016, for the first time since 2000, the drama took place inside the Minster and I think almost every citizen of the city played some part in the massive production.
Last week I mentioned that two events caused major restoration projects to be carried out on York Minster during the latter part of the 20th century. The second one was a fire in 1984 that destroyed the south transept roof. Lightning started the fire in the old roof timbers. If it wasn’t for firemen pulling away the affected timbers, with the risk that the whole section of the ancient building might collapse, then the whole lot could have gone up in flames. Smoke damage and rubble meant that major repairs had to be undertaken.
One result is the new ceiling in that section of the Minster. School children were invited to create the decorations now used on the bosses Six designs won the competition and craftsmen made the copies which we now see.
Visiting churches might look like a religious interest, and for many I suppose that’s all it is, but for me, being able to step back in time, particularly when I can step DOWN in time, to see the layers of history hidden underneath the present day structure, is a much more interesting reason for visiting old church buildings and the older the better.
York Minster, as we see it today, underwent two massive restoration projects in the second half of last century. The first one required going deep below the structure in order to strengthen and restore the foundations that were put down for the Medieval part of the building. As a result of uncovering those problems, evidence of the original Roman settlement can be glimpsed through small holes in the floor of the undercroft.
Looking at a map of the Roman settlement, called Eboracum, I am fascinated by the fact that today’s minster is situated at least partly, on top of it. Back in the first century AD, when Romans marched into what is now York, deciding to establish their first ‘British’ post there, they chose this same spot. This happens quite a lot throughout history I’ve found. Sometimes the reason is obvious – the highest spot for miles around, therefore good viewing and readiness to defend against attack, or a central place where two or three rivers meet, that sort of thing. With York, this exact spot is not so obvious. Sometimes I wonder if there’s an ancient, mysterious power at force, that the ground is regarded as sacred from ancient times, before history. Whatever the reason, York Minster is built on one of these ‘blessed’ sites.
This short story will be included in the Memoir I’m writing. It’s all true, even down to the names as I see no need to hide the identities of my fellow gum-chewing partners.
For those of you who don’t know, Alan and I were married in 1961. We traveled around Western Australia with a caravan and a utility, camping for a week or more wherever he had work, surveying new farmland east of Narrogin. I was only on the road with him for a few months,but I have some ‘interesting’ memories from those days.
Chewing Gum to the Rescue
We left the camp near Wave Rock at Hyden at about four o’clock on that October afternoon. The boss lived in Narrogin, so we allowed time to collect the men’s pay cheques on our way and be back in Perth in time to sleep in a proper bed at my parent’s house that night.
All went well until the radiator started boiling. On a Saturday night in 1961, when even the pubs were probably closed, three miles out of town, nothing moved. Hoping to find something open, Alan sent Lou, his assistant, back to the nearest little blip of a town, to buy chewing gum—as much as they could supply.
Never having regarded the chewing of gum as an enjoyable activity, I hoped that my husband’s plan would not involve my participation. I realised that the local garage, if there was one, would be closed and out of action until Monday. The chance of them stocking a replacement for our radiator was remote anyway and with only a measly pay cheque and little cash, we couldn’t have paid for it even if one was available. Alan was pretty good at thinking up new ways to overcome problems but I wondered how chewing gum might help us with a leaky radiator.
This week I am writing about my other love – classical music, and the concert which thrilled us last Saturday night at the Perth Concert Hall.
Being Grand Final day for the AFL (Australian Football League for my non-Australian readers) meant that the audience was the smallest I’ve ever seen for a concert of this standard. That meant that we, and many others, could move to better seats and enjoy the performance even more.
Anything composed by Claude Debussy has me in the clouds, so when Nicolas Altstaedt touched his bow to his cello and Aleksandar Madzar ran his fingers over the keys of that grand piano, I sat back and let the music they created, carry me away.
The novel I am currently writing is about a former concert pianist who loses his right hand in a motor accident, so I am always keen to sit where I can study the movement of fingers, hands, arms and even the shoulders of a maestro, while listening carefully to the music they make. The Russians tend to over-dramatize, using large, flourishing lifts and pounces, while some pianists seem to use their whole upper torsos in a sequence of movements up and down the keys. I am a fan of Simon Tedeschi, having followed him since he was doing gigs as a teenager (maybe a bit older but he looked like a teenager) but his performances, although spectacular, remind me of an athlete as he pounds the keys with so much energy that I feel quite exhausted and he certainly looks worn out. I haven’t seen him lately so, maybe that’s an outdated comment.
After lunch we wandered around the historic centre, discovering this delightful sign for the street of Swinegate. It’s not about gates as such, but about passageways, or access, so, a bit like a gate as we know it.
The old Barley Hall was not on our ‘must see’ list, but we couldn’t resist exploring when we stumbled across this sign. Without any date, it was still easy to work out the approximate year as Susanne’s head almost touched the top of the passage that led to the ancient hall. I hope you can read that the owner was a former mayor of York. By today’s standards the residence was relatively simple, but the gentleman had servants, a ‘study’ and all the necessary ‘stuff’ to show that he was a person of importance in the area. The house was narrow with rather unsafe ( by our standards) stair cases and I was confused by the layout as the rooms seemed to be all over the place instead of following a logical plan.
Our travel editor for the West Australian newspaper, Stephen Scourfield, wrote about touring around England in last Saturday’s travel lift-out. I feel that I could qualify for having similar tales published, particularly with all that we saw and did in York last year.
Stephen even mentioned the squirrels – see the little fellow that we met, along with pigeons (or are they doves? I never know the difference.
One of the things I love about England is the abundance of parks and the fact that they are well cared for, with well-placed trees and clusters of shrubs and flowers, especially when you arrive in spring, as we did.
The Museum Gardens are situated about two minutes walk from our accommodation and are the most direct route to the centre of town, so, whenever possible (the gates are closed every night) we walked through it, coming out at Museum St on the other side.
Spring is here again, and my camera has been busy, so today, instead of York in England, I have to write about my garden in Glen Forrest.
The view from my bedroom, into a private courtyard which is now finished, is already a delight and in a few weeks, when everything blossoms, it will be heavenly. From my study, where I write these blog posts as well as my short stories, poems and the latest novel (about halfway there), I am inspired by nature, which often includes a friendly goanna and lots of birds.
One of my favourite places in the UK is York. Like Bath, it is a large city with a very interesting history and the architecture (much of it dating from the middle ages) begs for camera action at every turn.
The famous York Minster requires at least one visit, as the foundations go down to Roman times with so much to see and absorb from then on. The Vikings settled there during their raids in the Dark Ages, giving it the name of Yorvik, evidence of which is still to be found (when not closed due to flooding as it is for several years, but more of that later.)
We travelled there by train on the 30th May last year. From Banbury this is very easy as, provided you catch one of several direct journeys, it should only take about three hours with none of the awkward darting about with luggage to swap from one train to another. However, as we came into Derby, (which puzzled us as that wasn’t on the original route) we were informed that an incident on the track ahead of us had forced the closure of that section of the line. We were then advised to stay in our seats while a group of passengers from the affected train were loaded onto ours. Everyone closed gaps
This week I am at last back to presenting my thoughts and images of The National Gallery in London. Although I love the French Impressionists and therefore, the famous galleries in Paris, some of my favourite artists are to be found in this London landmark. I generally like to have lunch in the small restaurant near the entrance, but as we had already eaten at the V&A and we wanted to catch our train back to Banbury ahead of the crowds, we went straight up stairs to the grand galleries where even the walls and timber work are impressive.
When searching through my photo files, I couldn’t find any from this visit, so we have Susanne to thank for the images you see here. I guess that, having stood in front of the same paintings so often, and having many photos of them from precious visits, I must have decided to not bother taking more that day. The main purpose in going there was for me to show my sister the amazing skies produced by Turner.
Amongst his other works, this view of the steam train crossing the bridge, is well known to all followers of English art. Again, the sky is an important feature of the painting. Susanne was suitable impressed.
I promised to write about the National Gallery in London, but I hope you will find this description of the last week and half amusing.
Buying a new residence and moving in, should be an exciting exercise but we all know that the stress levels for a house move, or in this case setting up a second home, are up there with death of a loved one and divorce. Well, believe me, having experienced both, it’s nothing like that bad, but despite my determination to have everything organised to the nth degree, because something always goes wrong on such occasions, it wasn’t exactly a smooth and simple operation.
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