Friday, 28 June 2013

Slippery stuff, grass

Next Wednesday, 3 July, Marcia will be at The Harbour Bookshop in Mill Street, Kingsbridge. This is an unusual event as some of the Willa Marsh books that we had forgotten we had until I eventually unpacked all the books following our move about a year ago will be going on sale. Added to that, of course, Marcia is hoping to meet some of those of you who live near enough to make that possible.

Those of you who are at all interested in tennis will know that this is week one at Wimbledon. We are, of course, immensely proud that the All England Tennis and Croquet Club was the one that started off this whole business. You could, I suppose, describe it as a sport but when you see the open snarling mouth, more becoming on the face of a baboon than a human being, on the face of a young man who has just won a point or are watching two young women screaming at each other over the tennis net you are forced to wonder whether it is more of a gladiatorial contest than anything else. Was this the atmosphere during the ‛games’ held by the Romans when “we who are about to die, salute you, Ceaser”?

Anyway, it has been a remarkable couple of days, not least thanks to the injuries which have been caused by motley slips and tumbles. These courts are grass and grass is a very different surface to those on which these tennis heroes and heroines usually play. As has been pointed out, in the early days until the wear of play takes its toll, grass tends to be slippery. It is, of course, the same for all taking part so there is no unfairness involved. As John MacEnroe said, “you have to adjust the way you move”.

I suppose I was about thirteen when I decided I wanted to learn the names of the various grasses that were to be found in the lanes, fields and woods. In those days my preferred reference books were from the ‛Observer’ series which were published by Thomas Warne from 1937 until the beginning of this century. I had – still have, come to that – quite a few of these pocket sized books. British Birds was, I think, the first and that was followed by British Butterflies, British Wild Flowers, Common British Insects and Spiders, Larger British Moths, Pond Life, Dogs (as you would expect) and British Grasses, Sedges and Rushes. A small enough selection, really: the list runs into three figures.

And so it was I set out boldly that Eastertide to start to learn the names of all the grasses in the neighbourhood. I failed, of course, in much the same way as I failed when it came to wild flowers, insects and spiders. There are just too many of them with many species that look so alike that you have to take infinite pains to work out to which your specimen belongs. I just do not have the patience.

One thing all these books did, and the book on grasses etc. was no exception, was to get me looking. It is a habit that remains with me to this day and, despite a love for the arts and music, from where I sit nothing transcends the glory and beauty of the natural world.

Anyway, I decided that I would browse through my photo files and see what I could find in the way of interesting grasses, sedges and rushes.

How about that for a truly noble head? Still using memory rather than my notes, I am pretty certain that this most regal dachshund is, quite simply, known as Jack. 

Friday, 21 June 2013

Paintings versus photographs

I have a feeling that we have been here before, you and I. If that is the case, please forgive me.

Trundling around the countryside seeking that that we seek (if it had a name it would be quite helpful but, as you all know, it doesn’t) could be quite boring when your prime function is to act as the chauffeur. It isn’t – and in part that is because if I am anything I am the elephant’s child. That means I have moments when something that has caught my attention grips me and I become a temporary fanatic. Once I have satisfied my appetite I can move on quite happily but until then I am stuck with it. “It” at the moment is corrugated iron.

It started, I suppose, when we were living the other side of the moor and there, to the north east and about a mile up the valley, was a barn. It had a red roof – rusty corrugated iron – which would glow in the evening sun. Then it was painted. That was a tragedy.

We have a painting titled “The Red Barn” by David K Stead so I am not the only rusty red roof nutter. This hangs on the wall beside the chair where Marcia writes. He is a local artist and we have bought another of his paintings which depicts The Narrows in Totnes. 

This one, which hangs beside me as I write this blog, shows the castle at Totnes in the background with The Bull public house in Rotherfold in the foreground. You can compare that with my photograph of the same scene. I am sure you will agree the painting is the better of the two.

While we are in Totnes, as it were, another painting versus photo may interest you. Chaos rued for about six months while the main road through the town was torn up so that some pipework that was long passed its sell-by date could be renewed. I took a few photographs as the work progressed. 

Anyway, in Totnes this morning pausing to gather breath in Rumour staring at the paintings on the wall I realised that these were of that time. So, I took a photograph of one of them and here it is. The artist is Stephen Bower.

Anyway, back to corrugated iron. It is fascinating stuff and you find it in all sorts of funny places. I am going to try to create a short video all about it in the not too dim future. If it works, I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, just for fun, this is a link to a short film showing Queen Canute on Torcross beach illustrating that retreat is better than defeat.

Having already confessed that I have lost my notebook (the one in which is recorded the names of the dog blog) here is another which should be anon. However, by some freak of memory I think this could be the one called Zeta. That is not to say I am sure for I am not. If this is complete nonsense, I do hope that all involved will forgive me.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Badgers and Swans

This week it’s all about links. To be honest, when I woke up this morning I was in a bit of a panic. What on earth would I write about this week? Mind totally blank. Coffee helped to dispel the sheer blind terror but did little to provide a theme, a subject, anything!

The Marcia said something about a member of the family. Nothing of any real consequence, just the idle comments that most couples throw to and fro - the small change of conversation , the contact calls that hold everything together rather like the delightful chattering you get with a flock of long-tailed tits. Out of that comment, and I now have idea what it was, came that thought. Links - I shall talk about links.

From the writer's point of view, thoughts and ideas: plots and characters if the writer is a novelist, bullet points in other cases - these come somewhat out of the blue, hanging there invitingly, asking to be given due consideration and to be remembered come what may. That last is so important. It may well that this 'thing' will have nothing to do with the book or article or blog on which the writer is working. In such a case it can, usually does, cause distraction and muddle but it is there for a reason. It might not be for the next book/article/blog nor even the one that follows that but these are the nuggets of gold that will become the building bricks from which the final work is built.

It is the links that turn these nuggets into stories - and even the most mundane of non-fiction writing should tell a story and tell it in a way that holds the reader's attention to the bitter end. Suddenly it becomes clear that there is a link: to use Marcia's The Sea Garden to illustrate the point, a link between Kate and Joss. At this stage there will be no idea what that link is: only much later will another piece of information be revealed and we learn that Joss has won an award endowed by Kate's late husband.

Sometimes one of these nuggets is in storage for a number of years. The vision of a journalist living in a converted coastguard cottage waited in the wings for many years before Marcia realised that there was a link here with the Chadwicks and, especially, with Jocelyn. Meanwhile, Cordelia (for it was she in The Prodigal Wife) had to be kept firmly at bay until it was time for her to step forward.

I suspect that some of you are wondering why we have the badgers and the swans. Well, the link is that these photographs were sent to us by readers - the swans by Helen in Portsmouth and the badgers by Susan in Kent. Many thanks to you both for sharing them with us.

Now for a terrible confession: I have lost the notebook in which I have recorded the names of the blog dogs. Marcia and I were having a cup of tea in the community shop-cum-cafe in Holne on Dartmoor when we came across this most delightful person but I cannot give you a name. So, if you know this week's blog dog, please post a comment here to put right this terrible wrong.

I should add that they do serve some really superb home made cake  - so keep well away if you are on a diet.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Lunch amongst the birds

The other day we received a copy of the latest book to be published in Brazil: The Summer House. Its cover has real charm but we are both wondering who the girl is meant to be.

Incidentally, a bit of advance warning for those living not too far away: Marcia will be in The Harbour Bookshop, Kingsbridge from 11 am to 1 pm on Wednesday, 3 July.

By way of celebrating my birthday (which was actually at the beginning of May) a great friend of ours treated Marcia and me to lunch at Turtley Corn Mill. Time for some history.

Turtley was a prehistoric ovoid hilltop enclosure of which there are still a few surviving ramparts. Despite its ancient beginnings it is known locally as ‘the Roman camp’ although there is little evidence that the Romans ever occupied it. The name Turtley or Thurreclyve derive from the Old English for a dry slope: dyrre clif. At some point – probably in the 1300’s but I have been unable to pin down the date – a grist mill was built alongside the Glaze Brook just before it joins the River Avon. It was called Turtley Mill and it continued to grind corn until 1956. After falling into dereliction it was converted into a restaurant which opened in 1978. At that time it was known as The Mill at Avonwick and when we lived in that village it was one of the places where we would go to have a good meal. Since 2005 it has become something even more impressive. Now known as Turtley Corn Mill it is, and rightly so, one of the best places for a good meal in this area. Click here for their web site.

Apart from being a pub with a restaurant, it includes four rather swish bedrooms should you wish to stay. As a result of all this, it is extremely busy and M and I tend to go there only in the winter when things are rather quieter. Last Sunday, however, the place was heaving, every table inside and every table outside (and there are quite a few) was occupied. Nevertheless we had a great time and the birds were in good form.

Birds? A word of explanation: the mill has its own resident bird life: chickens of various breed, ducks and guinea fowl. These are all free range (although they are not allowed in the pub itself) and the guinea fowl in particular were in a state of high emotion with males chasing females, males chasing males and one female chasing everything in sight – including one really inoffensive chicken who wanted nothing more than to be left alone to check out under the tables for dropped eatables. I hope you enjoy the pictures I took there.

And before we move on from bird pictures, here is one that arrived as an attachment to an email from Jeanne Meyer in Oklahoma showing two of the Canada Geese that spend the winter in her neck of the woods but disappear in the summer to go up north to breed.

Talking of birds, the village has a fairly large resident population of jackdaws. They can be very funny at times but quite a nuisance at others. At this time of the year they have nests in all the chimney pots we can see except those that have been fitted with cowls to keep them out. Click here to see a short video on the subject. Some people here love them, some hate them and yet others hardly seem to notice them.

I was brooding on the relationship between the jackdaws and the villagers when I came across the following which is about a completely different sort of relationship. Anyway, I decided to share it with you.

Now, an hour or so later, I eat my breakfast and brood upon the delicate mechanism that exists in an intimate, on-going relationship between a man and a woman. I see this relationship as a long intricate dance; sometimes the dance becomes almost tribal, aggressive, with stamping feet, waving fists and ugly contorted mouths. At other times each rests peacefully against the other, smiling dreamily, the rhythm slows and our arms go out to encircle the loved one, drawing close, heart against heart, eyes closed. Most of the time, however, the steps are weaving, dexterous, advancing, giving ground, circling, hesitating, marking time. We watch our partner's movements, studying the body language; the energy or lassitude of movement; summing up, giving out, rejecting, in turn.

As I crunch away at my toast, which is loaded with my own home-made marmalade, and pour a second cup of coffee, I try to decide at which point the need for subterfuge, emotional blackmail, the cut and thrust, enters these relationships. Do we even recognise that we are using these stratagems? Surely we do. These little parrying lunges on the matrimonial dance floor are so integral with the daily round.

I am sure you will agree that this is all very true. Any idea who wrote it?

Lucy, above, is often to be seen in The Bedford Hotel in Tavistock keeping Jean in control.