Saturday, 30 January 2016

This Week

Hello there, and thank you for all your lovely comments on my last post which was all about poetry. I must confess that when I wrote it I was a bit worried that it might be met with a rather quiet response. However, I should have known better, and I was delighted to discover that you enjoy poetry too - yay! It was fascinating to hear about your favourite poems and to hear about why they're special to you. 

This week has been pretty chilly with a good deal of stormy weather. Last weekend I managed to do a bit of gardening: tidying up dead perennials, a bit of weeding and some pruning. It felt good to be outside digging the soil and being active, and I spent an hour or so in my shed afterwards.

Some muscari which I bought from a supermarket a week ago are doing well and will bloom soon, and brighten up the shed with their wonderful blue-ness. I can't wait.

Yesterday they were in bud next to their scented cousins, the hyacinths. Such a lovely spicy, springtime smell.

At Christmas I bought another Mark Hearld concertina card decorated with a scene of winter birds. It's in my shed too, reminding me of the birds outside in the garden.

This weekend I plan to take part in the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch, spending an hour watching the birds in my garden, and taking part in the survey. I already sent off for a pack and have refilled the feeders ready for our feathered visitors.

As you can see, Clover took an active interest, hanging about while I put out the seeds. Not sure the birds appreciated this.

I can see this might not work. Cats are not ideal birdwatching companions.

Whilst I was out in the garden I had a look round to see what was blooming, and discovered that there is a surprising amount of colour out at the moment. Outside our back door is this potted rosemary.

Looking at its flowers closely you can see how very blue and delicately marked they are.

There are pretty frilly primroses,

sweet violas,

hardy little snowdrops,

spotty-leaved pulmonarias,

richly-coloured and scented wallflowers,

bell-shaped heather

and shyly nodding hellebores,

delicately freckled and patterned.

And indoors on the window-sill a bright vase of sugary pink tulips glow in the sunshine.

More indoor flowers were to be enjoyed at my friend Jane's house which is where I spent a very pleasant afternoon last weekend. We have been friends a long time and share a love of making things, gardening and baking. When we can we take turns to go to each others' houses for a creative afternoon. Jane had prepared a very cosy corner with pretty miniature daffodils and a scented candle. Bliss. We had an inspiring time together sketching, sewing, crocheting and knitting.

It was lovely to chat and bounce ideas for projects around, as well as seeing what each other are making. 

Jane is talented and sells her brooches and artwork on Etsy - you can visit her shop here. It was fun to be surrounded by someone else's creations for a change, and very relaxing.

We drank tea, ate slices of stollen, and I started to crochet a basket from some chunky handspun wool which I bought online a few years ago. 

I finished it this week. Can you see the little star beads which have been spun into the yarn on the inside of the basket? I bought this gorgeous yarn here, as well as the yarn which I used to make my autumn garland and crocheted pot in this post.

It makes a good container to keep my wool in.

Or my knitting. I do like baskets, don't you?

This week I discovered overnight oats, as recommended by Jane. I had never heard of them, but after a bit of online research I discovered that they are quite a big thing. You may well know about them already. Not sure how I missed them, but I think they are the answer to my breakfast dilemma: I know porridge is delicious, healthy and excellent for keeping weight off, but I never seem to have enough time to make it before work. Overnight oats, however, make themselves. You simply put rolled oats in a container with milk, yoghurt, or a dairy alternative like soya, almond or coconut milk, and leave it in the fridge until morning. You can also add fresh fruit, like berries or banana, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and a sweetener like honey or peanut butter. You can even add cocoa powder the night before. That's all a bit rich for me first thing in the morning, so I kept mine quite plain with milk, walnuts, seeds and a little honey. Delicious. Thanks, Jane.

I shall leave you with two glorious sunrises this week. The colours are so gorgeous, I don't mind that they signal unsettled weather for the day ahead. As far as I'm concerned they're a great way to start the day.

See you soon x

Monday, 25 January 2016


Do you know, I've wanted to make a post about poetry for a while now, and Burns Night seems a very good time to do so. Poetry has been a constant thread which runs through my life, and I love it very much. However, I'm aware that for many people the mention of poetry induces a big yawn or a groan and I'm never quite sure why. Perhaps it's an association it with pretentious, posing types prancing around waiting for inspiration to strike, or because of a bad experience at school with the way it was taught. Some poems do make you work hard to understand them, that's true, but for me they can capture an idea in a way that's often instantly recognisable and makes you say 'yes, I get that' or 'I've felt that too'. They can also take you to another place and time, and tell you a story or weave a spell. Let me take you on a journey through my own favourites.

The first poems I can remember are the nursery rhymes I learnt when I was tiny. Rhythmic and catchy, they were songs too, and I can remember my mum and dad reciting lines of poems of their favourite poems. They both left school at 14 but have always had a love of learning, and have always been interested in things. They taught me Wordsworth's 'Daffodils' when I was quite little, and I loved to imagine those jolly lakeside flowers 'fluttering and dancing in the breeze'. I can remember drawing bright yellow pictures of them.

Later on at junior school I discovered Walter de la Mare's 'Silver' when we had to copy it out for handwriting practice. I loved the idea that the moon could magically turn everything to silver:
'Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon'.

As I moved into my teenage years I consumed poetry. In those pre-internet days I borrowed library books and copied out poems from them into my own notepads in tiny writing. I also kept copious diaries full of my own thoughts (I'm so glad they no longer exist!). I had lots of favourite poems and poets at this time, especially the Romantics like Shelley, Keats and Byron, and others like W B Yeats.
I fell in love with his poem 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree' in which he dreams of escaping the city and living contentedly on an island, where he would build a little cabin:
'Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade'.

At A-level, I discovered more amazing poets like Ted Hughes. His poem 'The Thought Fox' is a description of his experience of writer's block which is resolved by the arrival of a fox:
I imagine this midnight moment's forest
Something else is alive
Beside the clock's loneliness
And these blank pages where my fingers move'

 The fox steps stealthily out of the dark, snowy forest and inspires him to write: 'across clearings, an eye, a widening, deepening greenness'.

I also encountered Thomas Hardy at this time, and loved his wintry poem 'The Darkling Thrush'. He perfectly captures the frosty bleakness of a grey December afternoon:
'The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires'.

A winter theme re-appears in Hardy's 'Snow in the Suburbs'. His words capture the soft, muffling sound of snow, and describes how it gathers on branches: 
'Every branch big with it,
Bent every twig with it;
Every fork like a white web-foot;
Every street and pavement mute'.

I like poets who are inventive with language. In his poem 'Pied Beauty' Gerald Manley-Hopkins praises 'dappled things' in delightfully playful words:
'Skies as couple-colour as a brinded cow...
Fresh fire-coal chestnut-falls: finches' wings'.

Dylan Thomas is someone whose skill with words I've long admired. His 'Poem in October' speaks to me as my birthday is also in October, and in it he recounts the summers of his childhood:
 'A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
Streamed again a wonder of summer
With apples
Pears and red currants'.

After college I was lucky enough to do a degree in English Literature at university and spent 3 years studying lots of writers and writing, although poetry remained close to my heart. I met P there, and I got to know Shakespeare better, especially his sonnets. My favourite is Sonnet 116 in which he describes the constancy of love:
'Love is not love 
Which alters when it alteration finds...
it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken'.

You'll have noticed that my favourite poems are often about nature, as I'm fascinated by flowers, countryside and the seasons. But I really enjoy poets who write about relationships and life's events too. While my children were growing up I started to discover poets who were new to me. Wendy Cope in 'After The Lunch' captures a moment in an everyday, ordinary, but very touching way:

'On Waterloo Bridge where we said our goodbyes,
The weather conditions bring tears to my eyes.
 I wipe them away with a black woolly glove
And try not to notice I've fallen in love.'

Maya Angelou really caught my attention with her powerful and joyful poem 'Phenomenal Woman' which celebrates just being female:
'I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.'

I now work in the English department of a secondary school and have discovered poets like Simon Armitage. I've been reading his translation of 'Gawain and the Green Knight' which is a rip-roaring 14th century poem that I studied at university, a medieval tale of chivalry and adventure. His translation is beautiful and glittering, and transports us to a time and place where knights, ladies and mythical creatures co-exist.

Imtiaz Dharker is a poet I've recently begun to read too. In her sensual poem 'How To Cut a Pomegranate', she conjures up wonderfully exotic images:
'The juice tasted of gardens
I had never seen, voluptious
with myrtle, lemon, jasmine,
and alive with parrot's wings'.

Finally, as it's the 257th anniversary of the birth of celebrated Scottish poet Robert Burns, the last word belongs to him. I'll finish with one of his most famous poems, 'A Red, Red Rose':

'My Luve's like a red, red rose
That's newly sprung in June:
My Luve's like a melodie
That's sweetly play'd in tune'.

I really hope you've found my poetic wanderings interesting, and not too boring, and I'd love to know if you enjoy poetry too. If you do, do you have a favourite? I'd love to hear.
See you soon x