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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A Train … And Some Rain.

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I had an interesting day last week. Alex had an audition for an advert, so I went along to keep him company. The casting agency was based in Manchester, so I must admit to a certain curiosity about revisiting my old university stomping ground, especially since I haven’t been back in twenty-something years.

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The day dawned bright and early, a beautiful morning, the sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Alex had efficiently booked the train tickets online, brushing aside my feeble protests about maybe walking… so we boarded the 9.45 am train for Manchester.

It’ll rain, as soon as we get past the Pennines,” I predicted confidently.

Alex clearly didn’t believe me, as we sped through cities and across moors. Trains make me vaguely anxious, but I behaved well enough, and indeed, quite enjoyed myself, as it’s a long time since I’ve been anywhere further north than Asda…

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We alighted in Manchester Oxford Street station, and my usually reasonable sense of direction deserted me. It’s changed a lot as a city, but I still had an anxious feeling as the sky began to cloud over.

We found the casting agency and as Alex began to get ready, I chatted amiably to the receptionist:

Yes, we haven’t had rain for about ten days now!” she chirped happily. I replied darkly:

Oh, just you wait… it knows I’m here…”

And sure enough, just as Alex came out to get changed, it began to rain. We said goodbye, and as my foot hit the street outside it began to rain in earnest, a million tiny slaps of funny-tasting water all across my face… head… body… feet…

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Yep. We’d dressed for summer, light trousers, t-shirts, no coats or jumpers, and b y some bizarre twist I’d forgotten to change out of my gardening shoes, which a re canvas. With a hole in the sole. Of course.

It rained like it meant it. Manchester knew I was there and did its very best to try and drown me. It reached such a point, we had to dive into a nearby shop for Alex to purchase to umbrellas, while I dripped and muttered in the corner like a madwoman. Feet squelching like demented squids, we continued our tour…

I was surprised and saddened to see that my old hall of residence is under heavy repair, perhaps condemned, a wise decision in light of the Grenfell tragedy. The pub I used to drink in had, by contrast, gone completely upmarket.

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I was quite glad to reach the train station, for although we’d enjoyed a pleasant dinner, I was ready to leave. A thriving city, with a great vibe – but not for me. Too many memories.

As soon as we get past Stockport the sun’ll come out!” I prophesied confidently to Alex. And do you know what? It did!

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Bread.

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My mother’s freshly-made seeded bread

Looking back at this midpoint in my life, it’s funny to see how many markers are set in childhood, at least for me. By this, I mean how memories, smells, associations, images and even sensations like touch are ingested in early life, remembered both mentally and physically, and how they continue to have an emotional effect in later years.

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Brioche…with onion rolls on the right

When I was a little girl, we used to live in a village- a medium sized one, as it had its own little church and school – but most importantly, a bakery. Just across the road from our house, where it had been for years…

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Fig and walnut, sweet and rich…

I don’t know if it’s still there, I hope so, as it was the genuine article, big old bread ovens, kneading counters and proving trays, a real step back in time.

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Cheese and tomato flabread

And of course, the smell… that wonderful, evocative smell of bread baking, yeasty and warm, soul soothing and body nurturing.

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Wonderful artisan breads, thank you Alex for use of your photo

It was such a treat as a little girl to go carefully across the road with my mother and sister to collect the bread, choosing the great warm pillowy loaves, crisp and still holding the heat of the old ovens.

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Wholemeal…still warm… 

Then, at home, watching my mother break them open to reveal the complex textured inside, a miracle of tiny bready caves conjured by yeast, warm water and flour. A childhood memory layered with taste, smell and feel…

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A machine made cheese and onion loaf

This love of bread has stayed with me, and I am fascinated by the different varieties you can get nowadays…so essentially this is a food porn post… just look at that butter… melting…

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Pancakes And Protests.

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I do love a pancake. And despite my mother’s protests, Pancake Day – or Shrove Tuesday to give it its proper name – is a tradition to which I firmly adhere.

I remember when I was a little girl and my mother had to work, my sister stepped (wo)manfully into the breach to make sure I was not deprived of my seasonal treat. Batter mixed, oil smoking slightly in the frying pan, my sister poured a measure of gloopy liquid in and I watched in awe as she proceeded to fry a picture-perfect pancake.

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Buoyed with success and imbued with the confidence of two weeks of cookery lessons, she grasped the frying pan firmly by its handle and prepared to flip… The golden brown circle rose… and rose… and rose into the air… and stuck. To the polystyrene ceiling tiles. Of course, the dogs had been watching the entire proceedings with great interest and turned their eager faces upwards to follow the pancake’s progress. With a timing so perfect it could have been scripted the runaway pancake chose that moment to unpeel from the ceiling and flop over Damask, the Great Dane’s face. A dogfight ensued as the other dogs decided they wanted to share…

However. I persevere with pancakes. Part of the returning me to boarding school ritual involved stopping on the M1 motorway services at the Little Chef…

Please Dad – I don’t really want to go back -”

Rubbish. We’ll stop for a Jubilee Pancake and you’ll be fine.”

This was a thicker, more American style pancake that was served with cherry pie filling and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Delicious.

My mother hates making pancakes. I can’t. I haven’t even attempted them to be honest. So I am forced to resort to wheedling…

Mu-um…pleee…aseee…look pancake mix! Plee…..aaaasseeee!!”

Oh for God’s sake Samantha! Why do we have to go through this every year..”

But I LIKE pancakes! And I never…” (cue trembling lip)

ALL RIGHT! ALL RIGHT!”

I got my pancakes. And very nice they were too… this year I had salted caramel spread on them…

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With thanks to Alex and friends for the use of their pancake photos as I forgot and ate mine…

Stop Bugging Me…

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It never ceases to surprise me, the variety and colour and sheer detail of the insect world. From beetles like enamelled jewellery, to the delicate grace of butterflies and moths, I remain entranced by these tiny miracles of Mother Nature, all with their own particular place on the page in this Book of Life.

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I remember when I was a little girl, our cottage had an enormous lavender bush in the garden, with the most wonderful soft, silver grey leaves and tiny rich, purple flowers, brimful of scent. When my Nan used to visit, she loved to pick and dry the stems then sew the dried flowers into dainty lace and satin bags. She would place these pastel coloured sachets in her lingerie drawers and wardrobe and say with satisfaction:

Lavender is such a lovely scent for a lady, dear, very suitable.”

To this day, I love lavender, the oil and the flowers, although the plants aren’t terribly happy in the cold clay soil of my garden. Point being, the original plant played willing host to all varieties of bee, my favourite being the large furry bumble bee, traditionally striped in black, yellow and grey; so drunk on the heady lavender nectar they didn’t notice my little girl fingers, stroking them…

And ants. I was always fascinated by their busyness and wonderful communication – I attempted to convey a sense of this to my son. He was only about two at the time and he squatted down beside me willingly enough.

Look! See the little ants! Watch how they talk to each other!”

My son (to be honest, I can’t remember whether it was my older or younger one) gave me what can only be described as a withering look, stood up and stamped on them…

I remember my older son, at about seven years old, telling me earnestly about some homework from school, looking for ‘minibeasts’. To demonstrate this, he picked up a rock to show me how a little creature could be living underneath, only to be greeted by quite a big spider…

Oi! Put it down!”

He flung the rock down in horror…

At this time of year, I find that spiders give way to daddy-long-legs, and I must confess, I don’t really like them very much. I find the buzzing way they fly straight at you quite off-putting and when you try to capture them, they appear to cast off legs and throw them at you in self-defence…this reduces me to hysteria as I try to bat away the offending leg.

Although, on second thoughts, it could be useful… next time I am accosted by our over-enthusiastic postman (“Does somebody need a hug?” “No. Give me my letters and go away.”) I shall simply throw a leg at him and fly off….

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Blue Calcite And Brave Cats

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Calcite is a useful and easily found crystal. Most of the specimens – like the ones pictured here – have been treated with acid to gently enhance the colour and smooth the surface. This does not harm the metaphysical and as my son’s lovely crystal lady says, it’s good to work with colours.

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Calcite, then, is a useful crystal to add to your collection. As it is blue, it also works with the throat chakra to aid the flow of communication so you can speak your words with truth and confidence. It calms and encourages you inwardly, to complement the outward appearance of bravery.

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Blue Calcite can help memory health and also give you the courage to make judgements and stand by them.

Sometimes bravery is found in unexpected places against unexpected odds… Ting and her sister Tooty were abandoned as kittens in the hedge at the bottom of our garden, and although now Ting is the more confident cat, Tooty was the first kitten who was brave enough to come out and meet us, to take the chance that we might be good or bad prospects.

Cats are by nature, generally solitary creatures who prefer to avoid conflict rather than engage… However, there have been times when my girls have banded together in a show of bravery to see off an intruder…

There is a large black and white cat who lives over the road and who likes to take the occasional wander over to my garden. I don’t know his name, so I just call him Big Ears. Because he has, well, big ears. We have a corner house, so I was watching from a hidden vantage point as he casually jumped the gate and sauntered down the path. Tooty appeared from behind a plant pot and darted off around the bend of the garden.

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A few seconds later, she returned, accompanied by Charlie. Big Ears stopped and sat down, appearing somewhat disconcerted.

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From another part of the garden, Ting emerged… Big Ears was now facing a triumvirate of feline warriors. All just… staring at him.

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Then Lily appeared, (late as always) squeezing through a gap in the hedge after she’d cantered across the park, the fourth member of this feisty feminine feline family was too much for Big Ears. Charlie rose to her feet, and took a step forwards – Big Ears’ nerve broke, and he turned tail and ran.

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It’s easy to be brave in a crowd, but it takes a special sort of courage just to take that one step, by yourself, sometimes.

Or… “Animal Tails”…?

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Here’s the start of my other option… how does this compare to “Dream”?

The Beginning…

Why is it that the colour palette of childhood memories remains so vivid in your mind’s eye, so poignant, so carefully delineated…my very first memory involves a cat, and from that day to the present I have usually been accompanied by a cat or two. Or three. Currently four…

My very first cat, my very first friend was Snoopy, a large black cat, who was originally a gift from my father to my mother. She however, has resolutely remained a “dog” person so Snoopy, by default, became my particular friend and comfort.

I was born in the seventies, not so far removed from the Golden Age of Hippydom, the Summer of Love and Psychedelia, but very different in terms of attitudes as strikes, unrest and power cuts made the news. For me though, it was a time of learning and sharing, an establishing of my own little foothold in the world around me.

My first memory then, my waking into being if you will, involves the sort of day we all remember from being a child: golden, dusted with magic and sunshine. On this day, I remember very clearly, bunching my fists in my cat’s furry armpits and hauling him upright to walk with me.

I remember so very clearly – I was maybe about two or three – the thick plushness of Snoopy’s fur, soft as love, the smooth cotton of my dress – blue with white flowers – and the springy dry feel of grass under my bare feet. The colours were bright and crisp, so bright you could taste them and smells – I wish I could bottle the scents of childhood, the golden days of summer when the sun shone, the sky was blue and the Earth gently baked.

Snoopy walked tippytoes with me, good naturedly and patiently. He was the first in my long and usually rewarding association with animals, my first introduction to the value of their friendship and love. He went on to be my best friend, dressed uncomplainingly in dolls clothes and a major player in my childhood adventures in the theatre of my imagination.

The sun was high overhead and the clouds were white and puffy, like cotton wool or cold candy floss that you could reach up and pull down by the handful to eat. At that age, every day is an eternity, a page waiting to be filled, a story just beginning…

Moths… and Moving On

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When I was a little girl, I had the most magical experience which has stayed with me in clear and vivid detail, right to this very day.

It was when we lived in the cottage in the country, and we had the typical garden that goes with those types of converted cottages, flowers, bushes, a lawn, a pond… I was playing outside, lost in a world of my own imaginings, watched benevolently by Nikki, our German Shepherd at the time, and my black cat, Snoopy. They were often drawn into my games, and participated, bless them, with good heart.

In the rich brown earth, like crumbled fruit cake, under the bush near where we were playing, lay what looked like a curled up dead leaf. I prodded it, experimentally, as you do, and it wriggled… I was quite a curious and gentle child, and I wanted to prevent Snoopy from showing too much interest, so I picked it up and put it in the palm of my hand to examine a little more closely.

It wriggled again, and then, perhaps encouraged by the warmth of my hands, little splits appeared in the leaf-like surface, and a milky fluid started to seep out. The thing wriggled more enthusiastically, and then, before my enchanted, entranced and totally disbelieving eyes, a little miracle happened.

Slowly, a damp, crumpled creature emerged, and I recognised it as a moth… but what a moth! It sat, quite happily, in my hands, drying out and letting its wings dry and spread. Beautiful creature, I was amazed – I’ve never been able to repeat this experience, even though I’ve found other moth chrysalises.

As it dried, Mother Nature touched it with her delicate palette, borrowed from a sunset sky of pink and gold, each tiny hair on its body drying and fluffing, each miniature scale on its perfect wings powdered with gilt and rose. Antennae, as fine and sensitive as cats’ whiskers, quivered, and two tiny glowing eyes looked at me.

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I must have sat for about half an hour holding this little wonder, until it was dry enough to fly away. I later found out that this amazing creature was actually an Elephant Hawk moth… I have retained a fondness for moths of all variety of moths, from the slender brown ones and delicate white Plume moths to the flashy red Burnet moth to the cuddly brown furry ones, the Brian Blesseds of the Lepidopteric world… I try to prevent my cats from eating them, as they do a valuable job of pollinating night opening flowers…

Recently, I have been blessed with moth appearances from all branches of the family… to such an extent I wondered whether there was actually any symbolism attached to theses little night-fliers, and whether someone was trying to tell me something. I duly Googled “Moth Symbolism.”

In brief, although moths are more usually night time creatures, they seek the Light, consequently they symbolise determination, attraction, psychic abilities and faith. Intuition, higher awareness and psychic enhancement are all mentioned too. I don’t make any claim towards psychic ability – although I can sometimes freak my son out by my uncanny awareness of what he is doing… but despite, or perhaps because of, various things that have happened to me in my life, I have tried to maintain a path, a striving towards the Light – I’m nothing if not determined!

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Coincidentally – or maybe not – I have always felt spiritually drawn towards India and her mysticism… as I mentioned to a friend, in the past week I have met two men who have looked at me and said I should go to India… one man had just come back from Kerala and perhaps saw the interest in my eyes and said; “Go. You know you have to…” And then I had a very interesting conversation with a wonderful man who had the kindest and most peaceful blue eyes…

One final little gem… if you pardon the pun… the novel I’m writing is set in India…

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“If Music Be The Food Of Love…”

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You may have noticed that my replies to comments lately have been more … picturesque. This is because I’m in love. I am in love… “Finally … it’s happened to me, right in front of my face… “

I have a new phone. I saved for it. I researched it, I bought it. (How we met is a story for another time…)

Like a skilled lover, it has opened my eyes to the pleasure of owning a decent phone, leading me gently from one experience to the next …

I can unlock it with my fingerprint. It loads Twitter easily and quickly. WordPress works like a dream. It makes me look like a decent photographer.

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And last night… together… we discovered music. Yes! This phone holds and plays loads of songs without complaining about storage and the quality of sound is amazing.

So. Last night was spent meeting a lot of old friends again… a party in my head; and it made me think of a music tag, if you will. By all means, pick it up and carry on, I’d be delighted. This phone made me realise just how much I’d missed music and the pleasure is… intense.

1. The corniest song you have and like…

Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You” by Glenn Medeiros. I first heard this song when I was about 14… quite a few years later, I STILL know all the words. Why is this…?

2. Song by an artist no-one would expect you to like.

Mockingbird” by Eminem. I have a secret fondness for rap… thanks to my nephew.

3. Song from your past that takes you straight back to that moment in time.

Since You’ve Been Gone” by Rainbow. Straight back to the Union bar at Manchester University drinking Taboo and watching the first boy I ever kissed playing air guitar. Enough said.

4. Guilty pleasure…

Anything by Justin Bieber. Bless him. (He just needs a cup of tea and a hug.)

5. Enduring crush.

Robbie Williams. A song for every occasion and a cheeky smile to match…

6. Band or artist that you think most people would associate with you.

Coldplay… and I do actually like quite a lot of their music.

7. Favourite piece of classical music.

Mozart’s Symphony No.25 in G minor… like tiny clear quartz crystals falling softly on your senses… Genius.

8. Favourite song from an era before you were born.

California Dreamin’” by the Mamas and Papas… I would have loved to have been a hippie…

So. Here you are then… just a few of my old friends, not mentioning The Doors, Dr.Dre, Supergrass, Oasis…

I hope you’ve enjoyed a taste of my pleasure… it’s been emotional.

(With apologies to Shakespeare, CeCe Penistone, Vinnie Jones… )

Crystal Cats And… Um… Cats

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I’m guessing from the title of today’s post you can see where I’m going with this… but just in case… My love of cats started even before I was born. My maternal grandfather died shortly before I was born, so in order to try and provide a little comfort, my father bought my mother a small black kitten, duly named Snoopy.

He would sit on my mother’s bump (me) and purr… I have since read that you can play Mozart to your unborn child to encourage the growth of genius… not sure about purring, whiskers maybe? Snoopy was the first in the line of my feline family and I have been blessed with many memorable characters that have brought their own particular magic to my life.

From the age of about 6 to 12, I had a brown Burmese, Ming, a wonderful companion and comfort. A very vocal and urbane cat, he accompanied me to my grandparents’ house in Wales on weeks away while my parents carried on savaging the wreckage of their marriage.

My grandmother took the presence of a cat in her previously animal-free home with her usual aplomb and ladylike dignity, perhaps recognising the very real comfort I drew from his presence. She only showed concern when Ming set about her textured wallpaper with his toe knives, saying with a slightly pained expression:

Darling, could you perhaps have a word with Ming and ask him not to do that… Nanny quite likes that wallpaper…”

Presently, my Furry Four are my comfort and inspiration, bringers of mice (Lily) and laughter (Ting), muddy pawprints (Tooty) and beauty (Charlie) My attraction to crystals came later, although even as a child I was drawn to the colours and shapes of stones that I found…

So… imagine my delight when my son’s lovely crystal lady had this Malachite cat. I had to have him and rushed to buy him at the first available opportunity. Malachite is quite a powerful crystal, and should be used carefully, ALWAYS in its polished state as it is toxic when rough. Its green swirling patterns reminded me of tabby cat fur, but can also be taken to mean that this crystal is still evolving.

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It is protective and amplifying – if used in healing, it’s especially good for female problems but benefits from being used in combination with something like Clear Quartz. It can soak up electrical and atmospheric pollution and will clear the chakras, bringing fresh alignment and insight, understanding and mental clarity.

This little crystal kitten is Tiger’s Eye, protective and grounding. It brings integrity and determination to the wearer, to help with achieving their goals, promoting confidence and clarity while balancing emotions and helping with depression … my cats always cheer me up…

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And then this crystal cat is Opalite – a Mother’s Day present from my son. Now, Opalite is actually glass, given a milky iridescent sheen, yet even still, it has useful properties. It is linked to the third eye chakra and is said to help with spiritual communications. Opalite is said to have quite a subtle vibration that can help to soothe emotional upset and deal with anxiety in a calm and thoughtful manner. As such, it is an excellent focus for meditation.

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Generally, crystals that have been shaped have a special quality to their energies: spheres emit energy in all directions, rather like turning on an overhead light, eggs can be used to direct and focus energy while rough pieces have a free-flowing energy ready to be purposed to your intent.

I haven’t actually come across any set interpretation for animal shaped crystals… perhaps using an animal form gives the crystal that particular quality … the faithfulness of a dog, the regeneration and joy of a frog… cats admittedly don’t appeal to everybody, but they do have a grace and elegance which is hard to deny as they move silently through the world.

Perhaps, then, feline crystals are purposed with grace and gratitude; a quiet, yet powerful energy, reminiscent of a tiger in the jungle… the warmth and love of a domestic cat upon your knee.

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