Tag Archives: Summer

Best Laid Plans

Busy family life

Busy family life

Well both grandsons are off to school (Reuben’s first year, Oscar’s second), summer is drawing to a close and I’m all fired up ready to proceed with my Grand Plan – back to writing that novel again. Seriously!

Eight thirty in the morning I’m sitting at my desk, fingertips at the ready, but almost immediately the phone rings.
‘You’ll have to come to work’ – husband’s voice – ‘there’s a couple of things I need you to look at urgently’.
OK. So I jump into the car and drive straight to our business premises five minutes away.

All the problems are solved quickly but once at work I decide I might as well open the day’s post and sort through some invoices and then I remember I need to pop into town to get some food for dinner. And might as well drop off the ironing – after a houseful of visitors last week it’s all piled up and there’s this wonderful local business where the ladies are better than fairy godmothers.

Lunchtime already? I’m just settling down for a quick snack before starting work on my Grand Plan when the phone rings again.
‘Are you doing anything’ – daughter Sam’s voice – ‘only I need to pop to town for an appointment and Delilah’s asleep?’
No problem, Sam promises she will just be an hour – I grab my tablet, proving I’m trying hard to succeed with the Grand Plan and it makes me seem like an avant-garde gran.

Delilah wakes after less than half an hour. As soon as I pop my head around the door she takes my hand and leads me on a route march around her house, a guided tour, discharged in a language of her own making which she assumes I comprehend. As we enter the kitchen she waves a finger at the tap – time for a drink of water? Already, at one year old, her nature leaves me in no doubt she had a previous existence as a headmistress.

Sam arrives home. Relieved of duty I can shoot off home but as I leave she hands me a bag of freshly picked damsons surplus to requirements…if I don’t want them perhaps great-gran would?
It seems sensible to take the damsons straight to mum’s, it’s not very far, almost en route, and they’ll only go rotten if I take them home. Having had a spectacular harvest this year we’ve got piles of ripe fruit gently going rotten in assorted bowls and we can only eat so much jam and chutney and the freezer is full.

Dad’s mowing the lawn. As soon as I appear he stops work and leads me to the garage, a look of smug triumph on his face. Ever since my parents moved here two years ago the garage has been full to bursting with household goods and furniture deemed no longer useful. We suggested they give all the stuff they no longer want or need to charity shops but old furniture is bulky and unfashionable and even local auction houses aren’t interested in taking it. However dad has discovered a man with a van (a community charity) and he is coming to take everything away later today, so last chance if I want anything.

I’d been meaning to grab their emergency fridge –newer and smarter than the one we have at work and doesn’t need defrosting. And then there’s the brass coffee table – can’t let that go because I have its twin. But it’s hardly fair not to take them away immediately. Dad’s been waiting long enough to park his car inside the garage – it’s so untidy cluttering up the drive.
Husband isn’t too pleased but comes immediately. Another essential job done and dusted.

Now where was I? Better make the dinner…..best laid plans and all that. I’ll just have to start on my big plan tomorrow.

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The Country Diary of an Elizabethan Lady

We are experiencing what is likely to be one of the hottest summers ever here in rural Cumbria. Having lived in our little stone cottage on the edge of the northern fells since 1982 we’ve survived a variety of severe weather systems but during the bulk of those thirty-two years the outlook has been generally, if not persistently, wet. Locals will tell you that if you can see the hills it’s just about to rain and if you can’t see the hills it’s already raining. But apart from an occasional shower we haven’t had real rain for weeks and this dry hot weather is proving uplifting not merely because we are all sporting the kind of suntan usually got by forking out good money to catch the sun.

Complimenting this sultry season is the best display of wild flowers I remember. The scenery around our cottage is a pastoral landscape of undulating fields ringed by ancient hedges and mature trees which generally radiate every hue of green until the fields ripen to golden yellow, usually around the time July turns to August. But this year the pastures have already ripened and the harvest of grain ripples like an ocean in the breeze whilst the surrounding hedges look on, shaggy and dishevelled. Yet underneath their shelter lies a hidden and beautiful phenomenon.

In this part of Cumbria most fields are surrounded by hedges rather than stone walls, or fences, and the roads which criss-cross through our village are old droving roads with wide, grassy verges so the cattle or sheep could graze whilst being driven to market. Of course nowadays most beasts travel by wheels but thankfully the layout of the roads remain, and the modern lines of black tarmac are bordered either side with an amazing variety of wild grasses and flowers which spill with a bounty equalling the most carefully planted gardens. These wild borders are speckled in frothy whites, smouldering purples, beaming yellows and cerulean blues, as though nature is trying to show all her diversity. And I can almost forgive the abundance of weeds that have migrated into my garden, because who’d want to miss sunning themselves in this unusually hot weather?

I’ve tried to list those flowers I recognise. Drooping from the shadows is a froth of nettles surrounding the umbrella-like heads of meadow-sweet clustering behind. I can’t name the diversity of grasses heavy with seeds, but they are dotted with white and purple clover, yellow celandines and dandelions whose chrysanthemum-like flowers seem dull beneath the taller swathes of ox-eye daisies. Weaving between this undergrowth are purple-blue beads of vetch and golden lady’s slippers, hanging like jewels, and above them are trumpets of white bindweed and yellow honeysuckle poking their heads through the dark green hedge whilst tumbling through the very top falls a tangle of white and pink dog roses. Butterflies hover amongst the flower heads and if I stand and stare long enough I may even spy a field mouse, or catch sight of a red squirrel sidling up a tree.

As a teenager one of my favourite books was The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady. A facsimile of Edith Holden’s personal notebook it’s a charming and intimate study of the British countryside during 1906 and her sketches describe the incredible abundance of wild flowers. But the countryside surrounding the tiny village where I grew up, in North Kent, seemed devoid of any native vegetation, something I later realised was due, at least in part, to farmers blanket-spraying with chemical weed-killers and DDT in order to kill anything that might harm the fruit crops that kept the Kentish economy afloat. Thankfully Cumbria’s agriculture has a completely different axis, and the fact farmers here are less willing to expend good ‘brass’ on chemicals helped give our beautiful and well-endowed landscape a reprieve. And the first thing I noticed when I moved here was the beauty of the hedgerows, just at Edith promised. It’s taken time for me to appreciate it’s true wealth but with this exemplary weather the summer of 2014 will be noted as fondly as that of 1906.

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Encountering Wild Things

What to do on a summer’s day with two inquisitive boys under the age of four and a baby aged less than one week? With dry weather promised we planned a family day out at the SouthLakesAnimalPark. Unfortunately the park is just about as far as you can travel from our home without emigrating out of the county. And driving seventy miles with two impatient boys sitting in the back seat, boys who hadn’t slept a wink all night because they were ‘so excited’, seemed to triple the length of the journey. Their constant duet of questions, ‘are we there yet?’ and ‘are we there now?’, meant the stop-slow traffic-jam we joined just four miles before reaching our destination nearly caused mutiny, from granddad. By the time we queued to park the car and queued again to pay our entry fee we were beginning to wonder if it had really been worth taking a day off work. But duty called.

 

My oldest grandson loves nature, in any shape or form. Curiosity drives him to study the many spiders, snails and wood-lice he finds in his own garden. Last week he came home with half a sheep’s skull he’d found (walking on the Fells) which now sits proudly on a shelf in his bedroom. He loves to point out the funny-shaped teeth still set in the jaw bone and remembers the important role they play in a sheep’s lifestyle. Of course pre-historic creatures are his special subject and he dreams of one day visiting that temple of dinosaur bones, the NaturalHistoryMuseum in London – ‘perhaps when I’m six’.

 

The animal he was most hoping to see at the SLAP (why they don’t use that acronym?) was a leopard. He’d done his homework and recognised the pair of spotted jaguars curled fast asleep in the first major compound were not ‘real leopards’. He admired the tigers, briefly, but was unimpressed by the monkeys’ mischief and didn’t like the smell of the penguins, otters or rhinoceros’s. Although his younger brother was keen to stroke the animals in the ‘close encounters’ compound and was highly entertained when an emu decided to shadow him, despite its hovering like a primeval predator, the need to see a leopard was burning a hole in Oscar’s enjoyment.

 

It was a beautiful day and we ate our lunch with giraffes peering inquisitively over the railings while a large family of gibbons ran wild between their feet. And we were still sitting on the restaurant’s high boardwalk when four sturdy rhinos marched out below us to eat their mid-day brunch. But still no leopard!

 

We’d almost given up hope when we discovered a large shed set aside for quarantine animals. Lying in one small room was a soulful snow leopard, flopped against the railings as if he’d given up on the world. Just as Oscar bent to look closer it opened its eyes. Have you ever witnessed the moment when a child’s dream is fulfilled – his face beaming happiness he told everyone within radius, strangers and family, that this was indeed his leopard.

 

We later learned that the park have only just acquired this beautiful creature, and a huge new compound is currently under construction, a purpose-built paddock where they hope to join international efforts to save this extraordinary breed from extinction. Oscar will certainly do everything he can to help. 

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Summertime

The English are defined by their summers. By the time we get to June the first complaints strike everyone’s lips – When will it ever stop raining? We’ve not had much of a summer? We need a bit more sun!

 

We spend the winter months hoping for the right weather to take part in all the things we love. Things like walking around other people’s gardens, touring around other people’s houses, walking through places we have never been before to discover the things we have never known. And every weekend from June to October there are many private houses, grand and small, which open to the public just one or two days a year to raise money for charity, and although they can be enjoyed in the rain a hot sunny day makes the outing more exciting.  

 

For the last seven years summers have been dull, August particularly dismal, the moment term ends in July the rain comes every single day. And recognising that the weather might follow a similar pattern this year we decided to take every possible advantage to adventure out in June. Last Sunday we made the acquaintance of Kirklinton Hall and the wild surrounding landscape which the guide describes as gardens. Once it was a palace but now the empty shell of this beautiful building sits like a sandstone crater at the side of a meandering river, conjuring up dreams of what might have been. Ruins have such impact, such enigma attached.

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We met the owners, distributing the mandatory tea and cake, and talked of their plans to re-build the hall, to re-instate its former glory. And we learned something of its history. Once there was a castle, just beyond the gardens, but being on the fringes of the Debateable Land it met its demise in the fierce Border Wars back in the sixteenth century. Anyone familiar with those lawless times will be interested to know the stronghold then belonged to the Musgrave clan. But when the current building was raised England and Scotland shared a ruler. Its final claim to fame is that it sheltered a more dubious London family, the Kray twins. The house was an unlicensed casino in the fifties and sixties and whenever the ‘twins’ found it necessary to ‘lay low’ they hot-footed it to Kirklinton. If only walls could talk? 

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Our day was only tested by the Faerie Glen. We set off down to the woods with the map provided and tried to identify the whereabouts of the host of faeries known to inhabit the trees. Reuben (aged 2) and Oscar (aged 4) crawled and climbed through the undergrowth in search of the little ladies but I think they heard them coming. We only managed to find about half the resident population, but what memories! We followed the path by the river until we came to a natural ‘beach’ where the boys paddled and played while we lazed in the sunshine and watched the buzzards wheel overhead. Such stuff as summers are made of.

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If you want to learn more about Kirklinton Hall you can go to: www.kirklintonhall.co.uk

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