Victoria Mizen

WRITER

LATEST NOVEL

I am a red-head with a passion for books, gardens, music and life.

victoriaI 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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LATEST BLOG ENTRIES

Friends in my Garden: Daisy, Coriander and Free Spirit

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.

DAISY

She is my daisy

with face always smiling

and petals of pink or yellow or blue

popping up

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

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.

 

FREE SPIRIT

Chirping, laughing

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

conquering oceans

and capturing hearts

for her spirit is joyous and free.

 

 

Harlow Carr Gardens near Harrogate UK

A very happy me at Harlow Carr Gardens, one of my favourites.

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.

 

Flooded on my previous visit.

On my previous visit much of the lower section of the garden was ankle deep in water and the only working toilets were those inside the cafe, so this time I was delighted to find that the weather was perfect, a bit chilly, but with clear skies and just the right light for taking photos.

 

 

Entrance is next to the tearooms. Betty’s Tearooms are well known in the area and we made a note to partake of their goodies later.

This was one of the gardens we could see without paying as it’s included in RHS membership  which we had organised from Perth in order to visit the Chelsea Flower Show. I’m sure the volunteer behind the counter must see loads of enthusiastic gardeners each day, but our smiles were enough to gladden her heart too as she welcomed us and loaded us up with pamphlets.

 

 

 

 

Once outside in the garden, these are some of the hundreds of photos we took.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Susanne loves getting in close, taking photos of the finer details in flowers, so I couldn’t resist this shot of her at work.

 

Here are some of those detailed images of hers.

 

 

 

 

 

The rhododendrons here are laden with luscious blooms

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’ve followed us this far you are probably also a keen gardener and can appreciate the joy we felt in walking around this stunning place. Unfortunately I don’t know the names of many of the plants, largely because we can’t grow them in Western Australia. From small bell shaped flowers, to the weird trumpet varieties and sculptural cones on conifers, we often captured similar images so I’m lucky to have Susanne’s photos as well as mine to select from.

 

 

 

We had reached the back end of the garden when a misty rain started to fall, providing me with this final image.

 

 

The cafe and tearooms were crowded by the time we made our way back across the garden but the short wait for a table by the window was worth it and my seafood salad was delicious. Betty is famous for her scones with jam and cream so we were compelled to share one serve between us, with of course a nice cup of tea (peppermint for me and English Breakfast for Susanne.) Thus fortified we couldn’t leave without a visit to the shop. I love to bring back small and useful souvenirs, so my tea towels and cups are often happy reminders of garden tours. This time I found a  table cloth, decorated with English meadow flowers, perfect for summer lunch parties.

 

 

Mystery Plays 2016 York UK

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.

I must deviate for a moment here, to try to describe the physical setup inside the Minster. The stage was constructed on multiple levels with the rear, high part starting from as close as they could get to the choir stalls near the front end of the building. Stretching right across the width of the central section of the Minster, it was also vast from front to back. Sections of the floor were able to open when required to let the actors drop down below the stage and the great height inside the cathedral allowed for any amount of assisted ‘flying’.

The audience sat in rows that were tiered up and away from the stage like a normal theatre but unfortunately with insufficient thought given to the comfort of paying patrons. The rows of seats were packed in so tightly that stretching legs was impossible and I felt as though my knees were up near my ears. In front of us a family of large men had to take turns to stand at the side of the aisle and sort of lean out into space so that others seated higher up could see past them. They and many others left at interval and we were able to move down to the lower, flat section which had less of a view, but proper seats.

The Minster was an awe inspiring venue for any theatrical production and an ideal one for staging this massive work, but places like the Museum Gardens, the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey and various parts of the universities in York, all of which have been used in the past, would possibly allow for the audience to spread out and be more comfortable. Just not the WOW factor provided by the Minster.

Back to the actual production. Trying to reduce the story of man’s history from creation through to the end of the world, meant of course that we only got snippets of the biblical story. Noah and the Flood provided the best entertainment for me. Not only were there vast numbers of animals on the stage, some real, some models, all herded into the little boat, causing havoc and lots of laughs, but, because Noah’s wife refused to believe the warning, (providing some hilarious wife/husband arguments) a couple of sons finished up man-handling their rather rotund mother, tossing her up in the air and onto the Ark, just before the flood hit.

We saw most of the well known parts of the New Testament from the Nativity to the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension. Jesus, played by Philip McGinley was (I think, from the information I could gather) the only paid actor. He was often in the background, which sometimes made it difficult for me to pick him out as the main character. He didn’t stand out as the star, which was unusual for a play, but I guess the real Jesus would have behaved that way, rather being too showy.

The battle between Jesus and Lucifer in the dessert was great theatre between two strong characters, both of whom were excellent actors. I wish I could show you a photo of Toby Gordon as Lucifer, with his wicked eyes. I know if I had the chance to play an evil role, this would have to be the epitome. He was scary. Philip McGinley, as Jesus, was quieter, a perfect foil to his tempter and it was only at the end of that scene, when he told the devil to not quite ‘Piss off Satin’ but you knew that was what he would say today, that he lost some of his cool.

At the end, for The Last Judgment, it looked like all the one hundred and forty five actors were on stage. The chaos and destruction portrayed in that end of the world scene was quite terrifying and I found it very confusing. The backstage crew must have been particularly busy for that scene, hoisting the good souls up, some flying above the stage, while the bad guys were tossed down below the stage. Lots of screaming, fighting and tumbling and so much noise (the percussion section of the band was very busy at that point).

I knew that these performances required lots of voluntary workers, but at the time I didn’t realise that there were two hundred and fifty behind the scenes people, or that four hundred costumes were worn each night. Because York owns the Mystery Plays, being part of the production is an honour and a privilege.

In the past the various guilds had responsibility for producing different scenes; for instance plasterers and cardmakers did the Creation and the Nativity was the responsibility of the thatchers with support from the Chandlers, Masons and Goldsmiths. The York Mystery Plays began in the 14th century so of course the local community is very proud of their efforts. One of the things that I found interesting, apart from this long history, is the fact that the language and the type of presentation has changed and evolved over the centuries, but the stories and the messages behind them are still as powerful and meaningful as ever.

Because they are a community project and because so many people love taking part in them, the same actors have in some cases, performed a variety of roles over the years. Judi Dench and her family took part during the 1950s. The same applies to all the other aspects of putting the show together — music, props, costumes, make-up, publicity, and all those young people who move the audience into position as well as moving mountains around onstage.

Just as, when one visits Sratford-on-Avon, one hopes and plans to see a Shakespearean production, or in Vienna a taste of Strauss is in order, so, if you are ever in York around late May – early June,  the Mystery Plays are a ‘must see.’  If you have seen a performance, I’d love to see what you thought. Please write your comments here.

 

 

 

Characters and Theatre in York

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.)

Dogs, cats and birds were my favourite glass pets

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.

But, before we got to see the Mystery Plays, we ran into another performance when trying

The little girls were probably as dumbfounded as we were.

to cross the park to get back to our lodgings. Brass band, dignitaries dressed in their finest, and lots of fancy dress, uniforms, speeches which we couldn’t hear, and right near us, a massive gun salute. With all the soldiers dashing about, and after the Mayor (I think that’s who he was) dubbed the fancy dressed military person, we could tell the performance was coming to a mighty ending. Almost deafened by the canons, and all we saw was smoke. Then it was time for all to be upstanding to sing ‘God Save the Queen.’ with the help of the brass band and a lone Scottish piper.

 

All stand for God Save the Queen

A grand performance, all a big surprise and a puzzle, which would have remained a puzzle but the woman standing beside us, (who knew the Mayor and proceeded to tell us that the rumors about him weren’t true) handed me a brochure. We were celebrating the anniversary of the coronation of Her Majesty the Queen.

Being Australians, we had no idea what the fuss was about. Actually, I doubt if many of the other onlookers knew either. No doubt the celebrities had a nice little party afterwards.

We gave up waiting and took the long route back to the B&B, to shower and change for the planned theatrical performance. On the way we spotted this and of course had to take a photo.

Mystery Plays are definitely next. Based on the Bible, but that really is a book full of sex, violence, family feuds, power of good and evil — not for the faint hearted and should come with a warning. So, we found the production a romping, often hilarious, performance; keep watching.

 

 

York Minster Today

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.

New ceiling in the south transept, with the bosses designed by school children.

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.

 

 

 

He’s made himself comfortable

I think he had two wives. Not together of course

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No extras, so he’s probably a priest or bishop

Like all, or at least most old cathedrals, important people have been buried inside the building and fancy tombs, generally including effigies of themselves, created above or around them. Church hierarchy and royalty, or at least local lords, are the usual suspects, but in York Minster I didn’t recognise any of the names. Worldly goods and earthly status appear to hold more sway here than in most of the great religious buildings I’ve visited, but as the religious institutions around York were frequently allowed to fall into disrepair, I suppose wealthy citizens had to be called upon to pay for the necessary repairs and maintenance. One could theoretically buy one’s way into heaven back then.

 

 

I can never understand why the choir in an Anglican church is at the front, in a section that is separated from the participating congregation. Choir stalls, up stairs, at the rear of the church, seem to me to make a lot more sense. Everyone can see the action on the altar, and at the same time, enjoy the music and singing. In the York Minster this separation, called a pulpitum, consists of a wall, decorated in the upper half, with statues of the kings of England, from William the Conqueror to Henry v1. No chance of the plebs getting near the action.

 

Two other things I find puzzling, are the inclusion of a clock (we saw this in Italy too) and a display of flags. The flags are colourful, and I presume they are meant to represent particular families or groups  who give lots of support to the church. A definite mixing of church and lay people, if not state.

Perhaps some of my English friends can explain these two inclusions in what is supposed to be a religious building.

 

 

As with all great old churches the stained glass windows in York Minster are quite stunning, but without being there on a day when the sun shone through them (it was a wet, dreary day, so no such luck there) we couldn’t really capture them at their best. And I’ve shown you loads of other stained glass, which I think is far more impressive. (See Notre Dame in Paris for one of my favourites – under the blog called Paris in Two Days, as part of our 2014 holiday.)

After all that history, culture and spiritual food, we were in need of some earthly nourishment. Walk out the front of the Minster, wander over the road and you’ll come to this very English cafe.

You might notice that I’m wearing ear muffs and under the coat, several layers of warm clothes. June in York that week was very cold but the scones with jam and cream were delicious.

 

 

York Minster: Tales and Treasures from the past

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.

part of a Saxon gravestone found during the excavations

While digging down in order to remedy the foundations problem, they also uncovered evidence of Saxons who lived in the area but unfortunately no remains have been found of the wooden church that was built in the 7th century. We only know about Christianity’s importance in the area during the 7th and 8th centuries, because of the writings of Bede and Alcuin. To be able to see something made by people who lived that long ago, gives me such a thrill. A Saxon gravestone. Not exciting in itself, but the fact that it was carved by someone who lived and worked and raised his family, hundreds of years ago, makes me want to know about him and the sort of life he led. History is such a fascinating subject.

Next came the Vikings, who raided Eoforwic in 866, taking over the area and calling it Jorvic (hence York) but their settlement was closer to the river and they don’t seem to have had much interest in the church, probably because the whole area had fallen into disrepute. Vikings and Anglo-Saxons intermarried, and soon a new, different community was established. Christianity was adopted by many of the newcomers, but generally the appointed archbishops concentrated on the alternative see of Worcester, rather than battle against the Viking’s pagan practices.

Of course, it was common practice for men of wealth to make valuable donations to the church.( I hope you can read the writing below.) I had thought of the Vikings as warring uncivilised land grabbers, but they also brought wealth and trade, turning Yorvik into a centre of manufacture and commerce. I thought this display of a non-religious artefact in the undercroft of the minster, was a good example of how laymen and the church hierarchy worked for the advancement of each.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1069 the old cathedral was burnt and a new, much larger one was built, using Norman principles. Realising that the Romans had chosen the best position in the area for their settlement, the church authorities decided to build this new York Minster on that same site.  The Normans, like the Romans, took care to build well.  Their layered timber foundations have lasted very well. It was the next lot of builders, for the Medieval extensions, who didn’t do such a good job. Some of the Norman  stone work is now on display in the crypt and we could see that it was strong, meant to last for hundreds of years.

Piers used in the Norman cathedral

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part of a Doomstone which was originally on the external wall of the Norman cathedral, is also now in this museum. Note that the fear of hell fire was a constant threat to be used on sinners (and everyone was a sinner) at the time. The power of the church and its leaders was enormous and unquestioned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While underground we also found these interesting reminders of the Medieval York Minster. The missal below isn’t very clear I’m afraid, but it shows the sort of fancy print that was used by clerics in creating these books for use in the mass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After our underground explorations we went back to the main body of the cathedral, which I’ll show you in my next posting.

 

 

 

 

 

Chewing Gum to the Rescue

 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.

As we were all accustomed to bush safety, we had several cans of water on board, so if the leak could be patched up we should make the journey home.

About an hour later, Lou returned and handed over a bag full of Wrigley’s chewing gum in little packets.

‘Right, start chewing,’ our leader instructed. ‘As much as you can, to get it malleable.’

We all emptied several packets of gum, popped it into our mouths and chewed away as fast as we could. It was hard work. I don’t think our jaws are designed to chomp on stuff at such a rapid rate. We did have one thing in our favour though—a full moon. Thanks to its bright light, Alan could see well enough to paste our combined efforts over the leak spot on the radiator. He got Lou to start the engine and was relieved to see the gum stay in place.

With two big men and one pregnant woman squeezed into the front of the ute, and our intrepid Labrador puppy on guard in the back, we set off again.

‘Keep chewing. That lot won’t last long and we’ll need lots more if we’re going to make it back to Perth.’ Alan didn’t sound exactly confident that his idea would be successful, but we all chewed away, hoping that it would.

I think I must have dozed off. Well, I was pregnant, so trying to stay awake would have taken some sort of miracle. I don’t know how far we travelled before the radiator boiled again and the next coating of that very useful gum was needed. My jaws ached and my tongue felt numb, but I had dutifully chewed my way through several packets of the stuff, despite the dozing.

After the second round of repairs we squeezed back into the ute and repeated the performance but didn’t get far this time. The guys were really too tired to be driving and I was suffering from motion sickness so Alan decided that we should try to get some sleep. He and I propped each other up in the cabin, hoping that our breath and body heat would eventually warm the space, because, although the daytime temperature had been uncomfortably warm, we were still far enough inland for the nights to be cold. Lou was relegated to wherever he could lay his head outside. He had brought all his clothes with him, so the bulky green jumper his Gran had knitted, came in very handy. Our dog was already sound asleep, curled up on the tray of the utility. Lou headed off into the bushes and must have found some soft growth because at sunrise he knocked on the window, grinning like the teenager that he was, claiming that he’d had a good sleep.

I don’t remember what we ate for breakfast, but as we were leaving the camp for about a week, I had emptied the perishables from the caravan fridge so we probably had a lump of cheese and a tomato each; washed down with a swig of water from one of the large bottles.

Anyway, civilisation was not far away, and surely, even on a Sunday, we’d find something open soon. That was wishful thinking.

More chewing gum, hours of chewing gum, until my jaw was stiff and my mouth so swollen, I felt as if there was no room for my tongue, but still I chewed more packets of the stuff and helped keep the old ute going.

Heading for Armadale we were delighted to see signs of human activity. A couples of policemen got out of their vehicle and waved us down. Thinking that they must be desperate to catch drunk-drivers with hangovers from a Saturday night out on the town, we pulled over.

‘What’s your name? Where are you going? Where have you been? Why are you driving along here at this time of the morning?’

All of these questions, fired at Alan and then Lou, didn’t make a lot of sense at the time, although, after a sleepless night, with the men needing a shave, a shower and a change of clothes, they probably could be mistaken for unsavoury characters. Perhaps there’s a murderer on the loose, I surmised.

The police then started on me. ‘Who are you? What are you doing here, with these two?’

Dumbfounded, I stuttered over my answers and in the end the older police man tapped the young officious one on the shoulder with, ‘It’s not them,’

‘You can go,’ he said to Alan, ‘but watch yourself. Don’t stop for anyone.’

Do we really look like criminals, I wondered. Checking in the mirror, I saw a pale and frightened face, not one that should cause suspicion. The guys, on the other hand, looked decidedly scruffy.

It was about eight o’clock when we rattled up the driveway to my parent’s house in Kalamunda, having dropped Lou off at a train station along the way. As they’d been expecting us the night before, they hadn’t slept well either; we received reprimands as well as relieved hugs. We were delighted to have made it home, thanks to the chewing gum.

I was hungry but my mouth didn’t want to take another bite of anything, so after a good scrub under lots of hot running water (such luxury after our bucket washes) Mum gave me a bowl of delicious fruit salad. Alan, of course, ate a proper full breakfast.

Later that day we listened to the news on the radio and heard about the escaped prisoners, two young men, who had been sighted in a utility with a pregnant woman, thought to be the partner of one of them and presumed to have assisted in their getaway. One of the men was of Italian descent, of medium height with black hair and facial stubble; just how I’d describe Lou. They were armed and dangerous according to the report.

There was still a lot of surveying for Alan to do, as the government was opening up areas for farming in the eastern wheat belt, but that was the last of my trips for a while.

Music for Piano and Cello: Altstaedt and Madzar

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.

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York England: History everywhere

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.

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York England 2016: Day Two

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Spring in the Hills

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.

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York in England 2016

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.

York Minster, visible from most parts of the city

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

 

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London 2016: The National Gallery

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.

National Gallery where even the walls 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.

Turner is famous for painting skies like this

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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Moving House

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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Banbury and London 2016

 

A famous lady on a white horse

One of the cosy pubs in Banbury.

‘Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross

to see a fine lady upon a white horse.’

When I recited that nursery rhyme as a child I didn’t realise that she was famous because of what she didn’t wear while riding that horse.

The English town of Banbury sits on the edge of the Cotswalds, surrounded by lush green farming countryside, quaint villages with cottage gardens and because of its rail connections, it’s an ideal place for a base out of London, only an hour away by train. It’s even more convenient for me because I have family living nearby.

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Friends In My Garden: Hyacinth and Peony

Life has been hectic for the last few weeks, hence my lack of postings on this site. I am keen to return to the travel tales from England but for today, I hope to please those of you who enjoy my poems, especially those from my first book, ‘Friends In My Garden.’

Hyacinth was written for a friend who lost her daughter in tragic circumstances. It was the kind of situation from which a mother would never totally recover but this lady was/is always graceful and composed. Whenever I read this poem I think of her with love and admiration.

If you know someone who bravely bares a tragic loss, you might like to share this poem with them.

HYACINTH

Hyacinth is a fragile flower

sometimes seeming aloof

in her need for seclusion.

The colours of her petals change

from purple on the sad days

to whitely unobtrusive

when she’s hiding from the world

or palest blue

in times of her remembering.

For the memory and the loss

will always remain

despite her efforts to hide the pain.

The image she presents

of calmness and restraint

is it a facade?

I think I hear her crying

in the emptiness of night

when she’s alone with her sorrow.

She’s determined to not falter

but I should remember

to tend more often

and with more care

my saddened, delicate hyacinth.

 

Peony was written for another brave lady. Sadly she didn’t manage to overcome cancer, but she always looked elegant and despite her condition, she was determined to live life to the full. I only really had one meeting with her but was so impressed that I sat down as soon as she left and composed this poem in her honour.

‘Friends In My Garden’ was published in 1995. Sadly, my Peony died about a year later, but I still think of her. It’s a sad poem, but I wanted to express my admiration for her determination and for the joy she radiated, despite the suffering she must have endured. I hope that my words give comfort and encouragement to others who are facing serious illness.

PEONY

This morning there appeared

a flower I’ve not seen before,

a peony.

The climate here is harsh

for so delicate a plant

but to see her blooming

you’d not be aware

of her struggle for survival.

Elated,

blossoms in profusion,

the image she presents.

I know she lost her petals

felt her trunk grow weak

but sun gave her warmth

rain fell softly on her leaves

the one who cares

for flowers and trees

nourished her with love

and hence

today

she came to grace my garden.

 

 

 

Albany in Western Australia, cont.

The Gap, famous for the number of foolhardy tourists who have been swept to their death by irregular waves that seem to leap up from a deceptively calm looking sea and fling them onto rocks or toss them around in the deep inaccessible water, is a must see on every visit to Albany.

Natural bridge

For me, it looked very different as this was my first experience of the new viewing platform that juts out over the edge of the rocks, enabling people to get amazing photos without risking their lives.

Looking east from the bridge, I caught the sun setting over the bay and, walking along the pathway, this natural arrangement of dead wood.

Nature’s sculpture

 

 

 

 

 

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Albany in Western Australia

Those of you who live in Western Australia have probably enjoyed the peace and the beauty of Albany, the town that was once a whaling station and which was nearly settled by the French. When

Two People’s Bay, Albany

walking along the coast down there, you feel the winds blowing up from the Antarctic and readily accept that this is the first place where those cold cold winds touch land. In winter it’s bl—y freezing. An amazing place though, as the colours of the sea, the rocks and crisp white sand make for perfect photographs and even I can feel like an artist of sorts.

 

Totally the wrong time of day and wrong direction, with the sun blinding me. Amazing.

Facing directly into the sun, unable to see what I was taking, I watched the sand and clicked as the water came towards me. And look what happened.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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UK: Chelsea Flower Show People

Every year they wear these coats , bought many years ago.

 

Fancy dress for the occasion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Co-ordinated in stripes.

As promised, I have some interesting characters to show you this week. I think gardeners must be a particular breed, often rather eccentric, especially the English variety and we found several of them at the Chelsea Flower Show last year. I have Susanne to thank for most of these photos.

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UK 2016: Chelsea Flower Show

When planning our cruise down the Dalmatian Coast and parts of Italy, I allowed for a few days in Paris, (which I hope you  have enjoyed reading about) but we had to be in England in time for the Chelsea Flower Show. I think this was my fifth visit and it was my sister’s second, but it’s always different, always a day of bliss for me and for any gardeners from anywhere in the world. Susanne and I took over a thousand photos each, so I’ll have to do this in sections, selecting a few of my favourites to share with you.

Brilliant colour was the first thing that wowed us as we entered the huge tent full of prize winning entries. Aren’t these stunning?

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