The PenIs…Mightier Than The Sword!

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Of course…whatever did you think I meant… made you look though! And that’s my point – words are powerful things.

I was in town a couple of months ago, sneaking in furtively to fulfil my latest craving… violas. Yes, those sweet little spots of floral colour that provide a pleasing range of hue in the garden in those dark few months between autumn and spring. The lady on the plant stall laughed when I said they were very “more-ish” but she knew exactly what I meant.

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I sped away, clutching my new garden friends and decided to call in at the crystal shop, Lizians. That day, Ian was at the helm and we launched into, among other things, a discussion about literature and the actual art of writing.

I love words, the music they create as they flow from your pen, the pictures they paint in your imagination… it’s like a three-in-one hobby. We both like to actually physically write, put down initial thoughts, words, ideas, so we both have notebooks and pens always at the ready. Laptops are obviously more convenient for sheer volume but sometimes my fingers trip over themselves and both myself – and my laptop – have absolutely no idea what I was trying to say…

I find connecting with pen and paper very organic, an emotional action that helps layer flavour and imagery, a useful way of capturing a string of words that chimes in the mind like a musical note…I am possibly too wordy, and a bit of a grammar stickler, but Ian and I both agreed that when you write, your aim is to make your reader feel without getting too bogged down in spellings and so forth. These are the sort of weapons people use to put aspiring writers off, intimidate them, when really, the action of writing is very important – a way of immortalising yourself, and your surroundings as the very first artist realised in the caves at Lascaux when they turned an abstract projection of rock into the figure of a horse…

I hope you get what I mean…or am I waffling? A lovely crisp baked treat…or pointless meanderings of words. That’s their beauty – words can be used to describe, punish, communicate, immortalise or obfuscate, but some of the simplest words are also the most beautiful!

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Ambivalent About Birds…

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Although I welcome birds to my garden – and sometimes my house, usually courtesy of Lily – as part of my wildlife-friendly environment I have endeavoured to create, I have decided I don’t really like them. They’re quite rude.

Alex had a budgie, who was a much loved and sadly missed family member, but even he had issues – a small yellow and green bird with the heart of a lion and the temper of a wolverine.

But yes, birds outside. I was planting some dianthus and violas in the back border when I heard a scream of raucous laughter.

Rude,” I thought, “I’m just minding my own business.”

I heard the laugh again and looked up, prepared to make a cutting remark like “Go away!” when I saw a magpie, perched on a tree branch above my head watching me. It opened its beak and gave another yell of unrestrained laughter at my gardening efforts and flew away.

Then the other afternoon, I was calling Ting. Every time the word “Ting” left my mouth it was echoed by a chuckling rasp, like nails down a blackboard. I looked up, and sat in the ash tree on the park was a jackdaw. It cocked its head on one side and laughed derisively, glaring at me with its pale blue eyes.

Ting! Hehehehehe!” it bellowed, and flew off in a flash of silvery black feathers.

We have a park at the back of our house and I can look out over it from the one of the back bedrooms, and I often see crows and seagulls diving and whirling like fighter jets, executing such tight turns and spins a Red Arrows pilot would be envious. Usually they battle each other, but sometimes they will unite in the face of a common foe and mob the peregrine who flies across every so often in search of food, screaming and laughing like demented banshees.

I don’t mind the little robin, Mr.Gibbs, who is part of the Avian Quality Control team in my garden. He will sit in the honeysuckle and make politely encouraging remarks. I also have a pair of little wrens, charming tiny brown birds that flicker in and out of the hedges, although they have a terrible, booming alarm call if one of the cats wanders too near their territory:

Cat! Cat! CAT! CAT! CATCATCATCAT!”

Now. I have a herb garden, which I planted earlier this year, and I am quite proud of it, not least because I recently introduced my partner to the pleasures of cooking with herbs. I was gazing absently out of the kitchen window – the back door was open – when I heard the most terrible scream.

Uh-oh, Lily’s got a bird!” was my first thought.

I ran outside to find the source of the enraged screaming and fluttering, fully expecting to see Lily at least dragging a pheasant, when a black feathered ball of rage shot past me.

There, in my lovely herb bed, was a battle royal. Two male blackbirds were having a massive punch up, going at it like professional wrestlers. One seized the other by a wing tip and flung him into the parsley- which was flattened by the force of his landing. He rebounded off the sage and dived for the other, grabbing him by the leg and upending him into the lemon balm. The other one retaliated with a solid body blow that knocked him into my thyme – I’m very fond of my thyme as it has therapeutic benefits as well as flavour – and that was when I decided enough was enough.

Oi! Get out of it you little b$%*&@*s!” I shouted – most unladylike, I know, but I had glimpsed what they had done to the chives.

They turned and looked at me.

Fair cop guv!”

And fled.

For such little birds, they fought with surprising ferocity – easy to see they’re descended from dinosaurs!

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Now – butterflies I like!

Gardens Are Good!

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My garden earlier on in the summer

When I was a little girl, I used to love watching “Gardeners’ World” (and still do, actually) with my Nan and Grandad. The presenter at that time was the wonderful Percy Thrower, another Shropshire resident like my grandparents, and those evenings spent in the company of my beloved grandparents and the gentle voice of Percy Thrower stared a love of gardening in me.

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These petunias are called “Galaxy” – you can see why!

It’s only in the past two years that my love of gardening has been able to translate itself into the creation of my own garden. For some reason, it was assumed that I didn’t like it, the dirt, the labour, the bugs… However, this misunderstanding is something I have endeavoured to put right.

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These are “Ray Sunflower” – love the name!

Also – the link between gardening and the benefits to mental health are undoubted. That veritable green-fingered gardening god Monty Don and the brilliantly brave and lovely Rachel De Thame have both in recent programmes talked about the emotional connection with their garden. I found it very moving.

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One of my wonderfully tactile ornamental grasses, “Pennisetum Rubrum” – or “Basil” to his friends..

I am perhaps a somewhat chaotic gardener. I start out with the best of intentions (“Why don’t you make a plan Mum?”) but then I get carried away digging, or something, and I forget what I’ve planted where… It’s like my birthday every day in my garden when Spring arrives, as there are new surprises sprouting up all over, much to my delight.

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I named this one “Casanova”…although he is more properly “Pennisetum Fairytales,” just couldn’t keep his hands to himself on the bus home!

I love the stately beauty of tulips, the robust colours of dahlias, but perhaps my favourite, well, in this year just gone at any rate, have been the petunias and ornamental grasses. The grasses bring a lovely flow and movement to the garden which I find ineffably soothing, and after a stressful day, there is nothing more I like than to come home and dig a few holes, plant some things, tend to others and communicate my love for my garden, watched, usually, by my four faithful girly gardening buddies.

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Not unsurprisingly, one of my favourite books is “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and I would like to finish with this quote:

If you look the right way you can see that the whole world is a garden”

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A Vision Of My Old Age

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She wandered, this woman, age indistinguishable from the lines on her face. Up, down and along, the breadth and width of the country. Her face was strangely calm, bleached and blanched of the pain of past emotion, past trouble, past life, that had scored their marks indelibly on her skin with a sharp instrument as bitter as words.

Instead, now, she raised her countenance to the kindly sun, let the rain fall upon her eyes, the snow colour her hair and the wind slap her cheeks. At night she slept – never in towns, never on streets where malice and pain lingered, collected in corners like dirty washing up left too long, grey and grimy.

Instead, now, pressed against the earth, curled against a tree, buried by leaves or grass she found her rest.

She wandered, crossing the country, past looking but always searching for a memory. She filled her eyes and mind with sights and sounds to comfort her empty heart. Home; a memory, warmth, light, family, children – curdled like milk left out too long, sour and tainted with expectation. She sometimes took that memory out and carried it, looked at it like an untrustworthy torch, flickering and weak, two small faces raised to hers – “Mummy!”

Then she put it away, put it away in a box at the back of her mind and continued to wander.

She walked north, feet drawn by ancient blood memory and right-feeling, walking away her own family history but unknowingly walking where her ancestors had first come ashore, first lived in sight of the rest of the world.

One early morning, as she lay in the shelter of an old hedgerow she became aware of a fox looking at her, and perhaps stirred by the echo of a family pet, dog or cat, she stretched out a hand to it. It regarded her steadily for a moment, nose working busily to process all the rich human scents and then it turned and slipped away into the undergrowth again.

She sighed, a little saddened, but rose to her feet and raised a calm face to the horizon.

I stoop again to tighten the knot in the rag that’s holding my boot together and walk on, heart beating in time with the rich pulse of the earth.

Well that’s not Cricket!

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Yep. I know it’s not a cricket but I spent ages looking for one, couldn’t find one, got bored, sat down and then this obliging little chap hopped on my knee!

Alex and I went to visit my sister – this was a few months ago now – but while we were in the kitchen talking, I gradually became aware of a noise … faint, but distinct and very persistent. I thought perhaps her fan oven was making a weird noise, or she’d set an alarm and left it on somewhere upstairs, forgetting to turn it off.

Eventually, I could ignore it no longer – “What is that noise? I asked, irritated by her seeming acceptance of it.

Lisa – my sister – looked somewhat resigned and replied: “It’s a cricket.” In answer to our puzzled faces she went on to explain: “I bought a box of live crickets to feed David’s bearded dragon and one escaped. And now it’s living behind the cooker.”

I couldn’t help myself … I burst out laughing. The cricket joined in, merrily chirping away from its new abode.

Alex asked: “But what does it eat?”

Still snorting with laughter I said: “It’s probably eating all the dogfood and growing to massive proportions, snugly tucked behind your oven!”

Lisa paled somewhat, clearly not relishing the thought of Cricket-zilla squatting in her kitchen … coming out with the dogs… sitting for its dinner…

Right! That’s it! I’m evicting it tonight!”

We took our leave, I cheerfully reminded her to message me to let me know what transpired at Cricket-gate… Later that night I received an irate text saying: “Can’t get the bloody thing. Now it won’t let me concentrate, just keeps chirping all the time!”

I replied saying she should think of it as her very own brand of ambient music, some people pay good money for recordings of things like whale music…cricket song… I heard nothing else for the rest of the evening, and indeed the rest of the week. Most unlike my sister.

Meanwhile, the cricket chose to accompany Lisa with some choice pieces of background music in whatever she was doing until one day she decided shereallycouldn’tstanditanymore

Now. My sister is only small, and had at the time broken her toe, having fallen up a step; yet with irritation levels threatening to overflow she managed to haul her fridge/freezer halfway across the kitchen floor to make enough space to pull the cooker over a bit so she could crawl behind it to catch the cricket. Suitably armed with a plant pot the battle began … they raged back and forth in the limited amount of space behind the cooker until in a last ditch heroic effort my sister launched herself across the floor and rugby tackled the cricket, trapping it firmly beneath the plant pot.

She lay, for a little while, catching her breath while the cricket chirped away in the pot, perhaps pleading for mercy… But no. Lisa got to her feet, clutching the captive cricket and took it outside to the very top of the garden where she left it sitting miserably inside the plant pot.

Back indoors, she made herself a well-earned cup of tea and sat down to do a little relaxing sewing. What was missing… ? The silence was, well, deafening. I remarked upon it myself, the next time I saw her.

Well, I don’t miss the bloody thing!” she stated defiantly.

Then one night, later on that week, she went to the kitchen door to let the dogs back in:

Ee-ee ee-ee ee-ee!!”

She looked down.

And there, at her feet, on the step, sat the cricket!

Smelly…

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My sense of smell has vastly improved since giving up smoking, although obviously humans don’t have the ability to smell as acutely as dogs or cats.

It always amuses me when my mother’s dogs greet me, I can see their noses actively working to “read” me and decipher where I’ve been; but it has also recently been put forward that in fact cats have a better sense of smell than dogs.

Here’s the science bit… all mammals have three different types of scent receptors, dogs have nine variants of this, humans have two and cats? Thirty… It is thought, therefore, that scent and smell play a far more active part in a cat’s well being and health than previously assumed. I must say though, that any self-respecting cat owner is bound to be aware of their feline friend’s almost supernatural sense of smell…

Oh my God… what is that perfume you’re wearing?? Vile!!

And they will grace you with that gape-mouthed, whisker wrinkled expression of complete distaste that leaves you feeling vaguely inadequate and revoltingly smelly… This is actually more correctly known as the “Flehmen response” – cats have a special scent receptor in the roof of their mouths which helps them analyse what hey are smelling, hence the disgusted look they pull as they open their mouths to allow the scent molecule laden air in to flood their receptors… try not to take it personally. Or maybe just change your perfume…

Anyway, I had to buy some peacock feathers the other day (a costume for Alex) and I had laid them out on the bed while I looked for something to pack them in safely. When I came back, Charlie was sitting on the bed, studying the feathers intently. I wished then, that I could see into her mind – what was she seeing?

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Her little nose was working, wrinkling back and forth, and I would have loved to have known what pictures were conjured up in her little mind as she smelled the iridescent feathers… did she see majestic blue birds strolling serenely across well-kept lawns, their feathers gleaming under the heat of an Indian sun…Was the lush verdant jungle, so unlike our own garden, brought into being in her mind’s eye, emerald green vines wreathing the long-forgotten remains of mysterious crumbling redstone temples…did these foreign scents call to her own inner tiger… or did she merely think:

Good grief! That’s the biggest bloody sparrow I’ve ever smelt!”

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Buddleia And Butterflies

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When I was a little girl, my grandparents had the most wonderful buddleia bush in their garden – a truly magical place for me to visit and explore , and populate with my imagination, aided of course by a feline friend.

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I can remember sitting beneath the buddleia’s silvery arching branches and looking up into the natural architecture of the tree, an intricate fretwork and interlacing of branches reaching upwards, an arboreal cathedral.

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The flowers! Sumptuous, heavy-headed spikes of tiny purple flowers, overflowing with intoxicating fragrance; the scent irresistibly drawing crowds of various butterflies and bees to feast like gluttonous courtiers at Henry VIII’s table.

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I remember my grandmother carefully deadheading and pruning this wonderful shrub, and my father – perhaps in a fit of envy, or perhaps to please me – visited every garden centre in the region to procure our very own buddleia.

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He even managed to get an orange buddleia (“Golden Knight”) which was quite rare in those days… even though the man down the road has one in his garden. Nowadays, everywhere you go you can see buddleia growing prolifically – apparently it’s quite invasive, it self-seeds on waste ground, hence its nickname of the “bombsite plant.”

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Not bad going really, for a bush whose origins lie in China. Of course, it’s a great source of nectar for all sorts of creatures – some have even evolved flowers designed specifically for a hummingbird.

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Buddleia is also known as the “butterfly bush” and it was originally named after an English botanist called the Reverend Adam Buddle.

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This year, I’ve tried my hand at a little gardening, and to be honest, I have both enjoyed it and found it therapeutic. I’ve even joined a Facebook group for gardeners… Throughout the post I have included some pictures of the visitors we’ve had – I hope I’ve managed to recreate a little of the magic in my own garden that I was lucky enough to experience at my grandparents.

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