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‘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.
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 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.
This morning there appeared
a flower I’ve not seen before,
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.
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
she came to grace my garden.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
Today I’m in the mood for poetry so I’ve gone to my book, Friends In My Garden for a selection. Two very different characters, but both written for women who inspired me and brought joy into my life.
Butterfly is the sort of friend who pops in with chocolates and champagne when you’re feeling down. Her smile and her laughter brighten any space when she appears. I hope you have several butterflies in your friendship garden and I’d love you to share my words with them.
There’s a butterfly
in my friendship garden.
A ray of sunshine
spreading warmth whenever she appears
always bubbling full of fun and laughter
I love her sparkle
When friends are down
in she whirls
a glow of yellow
to brighten our hearts.
Magnolia was written for the sort of woman who rises to the top in her field. She’s a leader who others want to follow. Please send this to the Magnolias in your friendship garden.
Magnolia has an air of grandeur.
with a heart as soft as moss.
Occasional bouts of jealousy
are sparked by lesser plants
weeds that endeavour to starve
or choke this lovely tree.
In stately manner
she disdains their poisonous pettiness.
Others are inspired by her,
the elegant stance
rich and glossy
the brilliance of her flowers
I think she’s quite magnificent.
Tickets for Chamber music by Ravel and Saint-Saens, played by musicians from the National Opera Orchestra of Paris, were waiting for us at the Palais Garnier when we arrived a little before midday on Sunday. My son and his wife had organised this special treat for us months before, knowing how much I love classical music.
Like most of the old theatres I’ve seen in Europe, this one was stunning. Red and gold everywhere; even without the music, the visit was worthwhile. The curtains were spectacular, made of what looked like
red velvet, masses of it, draped and flounced in theatrical fashion, almost like a separate character about to play his/her part. The dome above the front stalls told another story; decorated in bright colours with lots more gold and finished with a glistening chandelier hanging from the centre, it added to the atmophere.
This piece will be mainly photos because how else can one express the visual feast we experienced on our second day of sight-seeing in Paris?
The L’Ouvre was first on our itinerary, but trying to find the Mona Lisa, which was on my sister’s list of ‘must sees’ took ages. Standing behind such a large crowd that actually seeing the famous painting was fairly impossible, Susanne agreed with my estimation of that painting and the museum in general; it’s not worth the fuss.
We headed for the Musee d’Orsay instead, stopping for lunch in a real French (as opposed to tourist French) eatery where I had the best Salad Nicoise that I’ve tasted anywhere.
Once inside the museum we feasted our eyes. This foot photo is only a small part of the male figure but I am amazed by the detail that Rodin is able to portray in every part of his sculptures.
We took so many photos that only a few can be shown here.
A year ago today I was in Paris with my sister, Susanne, visiting L’Orangerie which is my favourite museum in that city.
When registering for the three day Paris Pass one must line up at the first museum you visit and buy your pass there. As the queues at Musee d’Orsay and the L’Ouvre are generally very long I guessed, correctly, that we shouldn’t have to waste much time standing in line at this small gallery.
Having been to Musee Marmottan and Monet’s garden at Giverney on our previous visit to Paris, we had an idea of what to expect and I had visited this gallery many years before, but the spectacle is amazing, no matter how many times I see it. The oval room has a large painting on each of the four walls with benches in the middle, so that viewers can sit and admire the art (provided the space isn’t filled with other people standing in front of the scenes.) Not only are the paintings themselves stunning but the way they are arranged makes me feel that I could take one step and be in there, a nymph (excuse my imagination) rising out of the water. The closest I came was in a photo, in front of one of the paintings. People speak in hushed tones and, although most are busy taking photos, the atmosphere is respectful and visitors are considerate of their fellow admirers, moving to one side so that we can all capture the image we want. I took many more than I can show you here, but if you get a chance, if you’re in Paris and you want to see some Monet, especially the water lilies, make this museum your first stop.
Our final journey from the ship was supposed to be to Pompeii. On each bus tour on this cruise we were provided with poor quality local buses which had very little leg room – knees hitting the seat in front even for a short person like me, and bouncing over the rough roads which is agony for anyone with back pain. The concierge was not able to give me any satisfaction regarding the standard of transport, even when I asked for a private chauffeured car. It would cost about AU $500 for the two hour journey (and two hours return) but she couldn’t find out what sort of vehicle would be provided, ( I need one with good suspension) so in the end I gave up trying.
My sister made the journey and raved about the ruined city but she agreed that the bus journey was very uncomfortable. I have a small book on the history and her account of the wonders to be seen.
Naples makes me think of the Mafia, crime, corruption and poverty. Although we landed at the port, naturally, we didn’t in fact, see anything of the crime element and just a few areas of lower standard
We also noticed that parking didn’t seem to follow any rules, (similar to our photos from Rome) and that tiny cars are all the rage.
Once we joined the orgnised city tour, our guide showed us where the bus was parked, then took us on a fast walking tour to a couple of major sites. Unlike most group tours, we had no earpieces and his English was pour and fast, so all we could do was take photos, not knowing what we were actually photographing. I hope my descriptions, taken later from various google sites, are correct.
The castle, a few metres from our bus, was the most interesting site for me. I remembered from Medieval History lessons that the Normans ruled Southern Italy around the same time as their leader, William the Conqueror, landed in England and made himself king there. The round turrets here reminded me of similar structures around England. Looking it up later, I found that yes, a Norman king built the first castle here in the 12th century, on a site that had previously been home to a magnificent Roman villa in the 1st cent BC. This place later became a Royal Chamber, State Treasury and twice it was used as a prison – first an empress then a queen. It’s the sort of place that I wished we could visit, but our guide was in a hurry.
The other interesting looking place (again unable to visit) was the Piazza del Plebiscito, which our guide said was something to do with the government. Vast expanse of paving in front of the building had me wondering what the space was used for.
Back on the bus, we were taken on a quick
tour through the more elegant parts of the city and past several bays where the wealthy residents more their boats. As our bus wound up the hills (not Mt Etna, we didn’t go that far) we looked down on the city and out to sea.
Returning to the ship I was able to capture an image of our vessel including our cabin, from the shore.
The following poems were written for a man I once thought was the centre of my universe. It’s almost nineteen years since I shed those tears and I’ve found new, strong and lasting love. This post is for those of you who think that your life ends with the loss of one love. It changes and you change but it can get better. You just have to pick up the pieces (probably best to discard the not so good ones) and face life again. As usual, please pass one or both of these on to anyone you think might like to read it/them.
Rooted firmly in the ground
is tall and strong
that snuggle into his trunk
and hide in his leaves.
Wide he spreads his branches
and so high
his canopy is sometimes in the clouds.
I sit in his shade
and lean on him.
His bigness can be overwhelming,
too long in his shadow
I shrink and fade
then I need to walk in the sun
knowing he is there
in the centre of my garden.
A TIME FOR TEARS
Flowing like a waterfall
these tears I shed for you.
At night I wake to wrenching sobs
my pillow wet
my soul bereft;
I want to sleep forever.
Do you cry too?
Does guilt grip you with remorse
for leaving me
for what you too have lost?
Perhaps one day
my heart will mend
my tears no longer fall.
One day I might not
think of you with sadness
but after forty years
I know there’ll never come a time
when I can say
‘I don’t love you anymore.’
Kotor in Montenegro was to be our next destination but as we approached at about 7.30am on Saturday May 14th,
the skies were almost black in one direction and the forecast was for rain. Our ship moored away from Kotor itself, so guests were to be taken across the bay in what looked
like semi-open ferry boats. I didn’t like the look of the weather or the means of transport.
We took our usual lot of photos from the ship, noting the incredibly steep and rocky mountains immediately behind clusters of buildings close to the shore and decided to stay on board.
After a leisurely breakfast we tried to catch up on emails but, being just that short distance from land, and with those huge mountains blocking reception, the very expensive WIFI was useless. A time then, to work on our photos and do the laundry. It’s a pity I didn’t take a photo of the bathroom. There was a pull-out line across the bath, long enough for undies, socks and one pair of trousers. We then covered every towel rail and hung coat hangers from every possible hook, tap and anything else that would hold the weight of wet clothes. The poor fellow who cleaned the cabin had no chance that day. Drying clothes on the balcony was not allowed but even if it had been, it rained all day.
Later that day I took more photos during a break in the rain. We were intrigued by the structure that seemed to head to nowhere, part way up the mountain and only later discovered that it was part of the old city wall.
Seeing others returning later that afternoon, we were pleased with our decision to skip the city tour.
The next day was spent at sea. We’d booked a massage each and again, spent much of the day working on our photos.
I hope that many of you have at least one person in your life who fits this image of a good friend. Mine has been a bit off colour lately so this is a tribute to her, to remind her how much I appreciate her.
Please feel free to send this poem on to the exotic bird(s) in your garden of friends. My words are free for you all to enjoy and share. If you would like to leave me a comment that would be great, thank you.
Exotic is my little bird
gorgeous her plumage
of brilliant emerald
and the richest ruby red.
She’s something of a loner
and quiet until she sings,
then she leads the chorus.
Her voice fills my garden
with the sound of crystal music.
I love to sit and listen
not only to her song
her words are never wrong.
We share a tranquil moment
rest for a while on a bench
chat about friends and daily affairs.
A peck on my cheek
a feathery wave
and she flies home to her nest.
Late last year I entered this story in a writing competition. It’s not my best short story but when I won first prize I promised to post it once it was published. I then forgot about it, so here it is. If you read the longer version last year under the title ‘Lightning’, please ignore this repeat so that my newer followers can enjoy it.
I’ll also post a couple of poems from ‘Friends In My Garden’ today as I know that some of you enjoy them too.
In the paddocks around the house our cows had gathered in groups, their calves, now ready for weening, herded within the protective circle created by their mothers. Hay, almost a metre high, was ready for harvesting in paddocks around the dam and up the hill, towards the forest. November brought hot winds to much of our south west. In Europe they talk of the mistral that blows for days or weeks at a time, sending vulnerable people in France and Spain mad. Coming overland from the desert, our easterly winds had a similar effect on me.
On that particular day I’d gone out to check the water troughs in the paddock below the house and was surprised to note that, instead of lumbering towards the utility which they usually did in the hope of finding easy food, all the cows with calves stayed put. There was little movement amongst them, except for the odd shaking of a head, accompanied by a high pitched moo or a sort of snorting. I could feel their agitation.
The air was still and oppressive. Looking up, I noted thick grey clouds which seemed to grow darker and heavier as I watched. Tails flicked and ears twitched; my four-legged mob didn’t like Nature’s developments.
Then I, too, heard it – the low rumble of thunder. The first bolt of lightning pierced clouds, forking down into the forest. Walking back towards the utility, I heard the thump as a tree or a large branch hit the ground.
Driving back to the house, I felt sorry for the cattle and wondered why they stayed so far from the protective covering of the trees which were all around us. The answer was obvious when, ten minutes later, I watched through the kitchen window as lightning struck the tallest karri, near where I’d parked, shearing it in half.
As a newcomer to the role of farming, I was concerned about fire. Animals grazing near the house were my insurance against losing our home that way. Rain wiped out our first hay crop, but our simple beasts taught me two important lessons – stay away from trees in a storm and if the cattle are concerned, it’s probably time to seek refuge.
Our visit to Dubrovnik was on Friday the 13th May last year. I tried not to think about the day because I am a bit suspicious about a few things; for instance, I won’t fly on a Friday 13th. Suffice to say that I didn’t have great vibes about the day, and despite not having the opportunity for a guided tour of the city, Susanne and I chose to walk around on our own rather than take an extended trip through the countryside and hopefully make it back in time to explore the city. (Which was probably a smart choice as friends who did, were delayed by traffic and road works and didn’t actually step inside Dubrovnik.)
The most picturesque part of the day was as we sailed towards land at about seven that morning. The sky looked even more threatening than it had over Split, but I call these my Turners and am hoping that an artistic member of my family will create a painting from them.
Even from the ocean Dubrovnik seemed to be wealthier than the other ports we had visited. This might be because so many of the residences look fairly new. Everywhere I turned, up and down the coast, terracotta tiles and white or cream walls covered the hillsides, interspersed with trees.
Some houses came almost to the water, where moored boats presumably belonged to the property owners.
Our ship was turning, heading for the harbour opposite the glamorous homes when, through the rain, we saw a beautiful bridge, seeming to hang in space. With bad weather making further photography impossible, as well as threatening to give us colds, we retreated into our cabin for breakfast.
By day four we learned to order just one cooked breakfast with two plates and cutlery as the kitchen staff seemed unable or unwilling to follow our requests for anything other than giant sized portions.
Our ship was moored some distance from the city so, after passing through the usual customs routine, we headed for one of the local buses which were lined up, waiting for us. A notice in our daily sheet had warned us that we’d have to buy a return ticket for about US$12, before leaving the ship. Sometimes the organisation for such simple things struck me as ridiculous. Apparently our shuttle buses were supplied by the cities at earlier ports, but for Dubrovnik, a fifteen minute ride, we had to pay extra. Ship’s crew added everything else onto our bills; why not make it simple for all and just add on that fare too?
We were driven to one of the four main gates and dropped off near the Franciscan Monastery which is famous for its pharmacy, opened in 1317 and still operating today. Photography wasn’t allowed and all information was printed in Croatian so all we could do was admire and wonder about the ancient glass and porcelain vessels used for storing or measuring herbal potions formerly dispensed by the friars.
From the monastery we stepped straight onto the main thoroughfare, called Stradun, which is closed to traffic but bustling with tourists. Shops and cafes line its sides and narrow alleyways run for a short distance on level ground then climb the steep hills on either side. It was close to 1pm and visitors were hungry. Susanne and I briefly investigated a few cafes but the food looked pretty basic. We had travelled a long way and I was determined to find a memorable venue and meal for this, our only taste of Dubrovnik.
The shops had nothing exciting or original to tempt us. All I brought away with me was a small book, ‘Get to Know Dubrovnik’ which would have been useful if I’d found it before landing. Unlike Rome, Florence and Venice, where quality and originality managed to entice me despite the high prices, I found goods in Dubrovnik and the Dalmatian coast in general, not worth a second glance.
Susanne and I did get a few interesting photos though.
Windows in old buildings often fascinate me and the Rector’s Palace, which has a mixture of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles used in its architecture, caught my eye. Originally used to store gunpowder, the building was badly damaged several times (and I presume restored depending on the fashion of the day.) Now it houses the Cultural Historical Museum of Dubrovnik, after being the seat of local government for most of its life since the 14th cent. Because of the cross on the roof and the fancy windows on the first floor, I initially assumed it was a church and would have liked a quick look inside but that wasn’t permitted.
Some cities and towns in Europe also make use of their roof space creating unusual and imaginative windows and what appear from outside, to be tiny rooms. In a place like Dubrovnik, surrounded by ocean, I imagine that these spaces are sort after by artists.
Now at the end of the Stradun, we realised that the crowds were vying for a place to sit down and eat. One cafe, at the end of the thoroughfare, had a couple of tables left but again, the food looked like mediocre tourist fare. Beside me, a well-dressed couple opened doors to what looked like a smart hotel. I grabbed my sister’s arm and followed them, realising as soon as we entered, that we’d found the right place. Tables were full, people were drinking wine or champagne from good quality glasses and the aromas were enough to have me salivating. What hope for a booking, I wondered. We hovered at the entrance to the restaurant and a very busy waiter suggested that we sit down on a bench in the adjoining passage.
Five minutes later we were led to the front of the terrace and seated at a table for two, overlooking the water. Our glasses were filled within minutes and the food arrived soon after. Susanne had fish and chips (gourmet fish and chips) and I ordered more chips with a salad.
In front of us boats buzzed around, ducking into moorings and almost colliding with the previous occupants trying to get out, young lads larked about in canoes, ferries unloaded passengers, picked up the next lot and raced away again. People walked along the footpath and we were delighted to see friends from the ship who stopped to chat.
To our right was an ancient looking stone structure which we decided to investigate as a way of walking off some of those chips. Once we reached it and turned the corner it was obvious that we’d come across an old fort. We could see our ship on the opposite bank, so Susanne walked out along the Porporela (a concrete breakwater built in 1873 to protect the inner harbour from wind and storms.)
I took her photo then she almost got washed away by a wave breaking over the top of the wall. All she worried about was her precious camera lens which also got wet.
From there we decided to walk along paths that ran parallel with the Stradun. Most visitors climbed the famous walls that went around the old city but with a lot of tourists vying for space up there, and very few sets of steps to get up and particularly down, I wasn’t prepared to risk an attack of vertigo which can come on me at any time. As with many historical stairways, there was also a lack of hand rails. We intended to rejoin the Stradun along the way, but kept rising higher and higher with no obvious safe way down.
We certainly got a feel for how the locals live, peering into their tiny patios, walking along winding pathways and photographing greenery that seemed to sprout from stone walls in the Mediterranean climate. When
I’d nearly given up hope, we came to a passageway that had reasonable steps and a wall I could hold onto and part way down, tradesmen were at work. If I slipped, they would hopefully catch me.
Back on the main drag, we celebrated with ice creams and headed to the city gate for a return bus ride. I’d forgotten about my concerns with the date and we were looking forward to the second of a series of talks on the History of the Mediterranean by Michael Tunks, an Australian lecturer who seemed to be a combined philosopher, historian, geologist, and modern day Renaissance man. More about him and his lectures later.
During the week I had an unusual (for me) experience, presenting my book ‘The Green Velvet Dress,’ and my personal story to a group of men who get together each week in their Men’s Shed. I imagine lots of tools, noise, dust, a bit of swearing and plenty of talk about football or other sports; maybe the grandkids, state politics, especially our recent election, but probably not books they’ve read.
So, I happily went along to the Mundaring Speaker’s Circle on Thursday, presuming that I’d have a few men and more of their wives, as my audience. One lady arrived, followed by another one I know from my own social groups. All the rest were men. I’m used to public speaking so that wasn’t a problem, but a bunch of guys who get together to fix and make things? Too late to adjust my talk, I leapt in, hoping to at least keep them awake. One chap gave a mighty yawn and another seemed to be nodding off, but when I got to the part about me being a nerdy teenager they all laughed and I could relax a bit.
My son is a comedian. He had warned me about adapting to the audience. I skipped a few paragraphs and elaborated on the more entertaining sections of my development as a writer. Once I got to the part where I read out sections of the novel, I could lay it on, (I’m a frustrated actress as well as a writer) and we all enjoyed ourselves.
Now I feel ready to entertain any group – old or young, male or female. They get free entertainment, I sell a few books and we share afternoon tea. Any suggestions for groups near Perth in WA wanting a speaker, I’m available. Please just tell them about me and/or ask me.
Split, our next port of call, was what I’d hoped to find on this cruise down the Dalmatian coast. Having read that the scenery was spectacular, we were up and out on our balcony again early on the morning of the 12th May. I missed the sunrise, but as we approached the city, I was
struck by its
similarity to Nice on the south coast of France. Palm trees lined a boulevard that runs along the water front, the harbour was busy with large tourist ships like ours, lining up to dock, and the local fishermen seemed to compete with leisure craft bustling about on the water which really was a stunning shade of blue.
From a distance everything looked well maintained, but this is an old port city. The famous palace, which still occupies a large area, was built towards the end of the 3rd century when the then Roman emperor, Diocletian, decided to retire from his position in Constantinople (he was very unpopular, so the smart move was to return to his homeland before someone killed him) and use Greek slaves to build his palace, including a mausoleum. (More about that later.)
The following poem was written for one of my granddaughters when she was about four years old. Many other grannies bought my book because they had their own little snowdrop – a sweet child with blonde hair and that entrancing giggle we hear from a happy little girl. Mine is now in her twenties, a charming young woman, she still fills my heart with joy when she comes to visit my garden.
If you are fortunate to have a Snowdrop in your garden of friends and family I hope you enjoy this poem and that you will pass it on to your own Snowdrop even if she is no longer little.
A Cute Little Snowdrop
A Tinkerbell laugh
an ‘Aren’t I beautiful?’ grin.
soft and light
shakes her head
shimmers her leaves
twirling and dancing on tippy toe
swaying and bowing in the breeze.
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