Summer in England

Next Monday is the first of June. ‘Flaming June’, beloved of poets and writers, long light evenings following warm and sunny days. Mellow moods, vibrant flowers, and young animals frollicking in the fields. Crops reaching a good height, trees in full leaf, and the buzz of insects announcing the arrival of the long-awaited season of joy.

But this is England. So of course, it has been raining heavily for the last ten hours. The wind is ‘getting up’ as they say, and it feels a little chilly, not much more that ten degrees. It is dark enough inside the house to want to put on lamps, with barely enough light to read comfortably. The sound of the constant raindrops seems like a form of sonic torture after a while, and the damp can be felt in your joints, and in your mood.

The last day of the school half-term holiday, washed-out. Bored and listless children returning to electronic games, instead of enjoying the fresh air. Umbrellas recovered from the cupboards, wipers squeaking on car windscreens, the sound of water splashing as vehicles pass the window. The soundtrack to an English summer. Damp birds sit on branches, waiting to see if I am going to put out any bread today. Ollie has been fast asleep in the dark kitchen all morning, probably thinking it is still night. He came to look at me about ten minutes ago, as it is getting near the time for his walk. I explained to him that we were going to have to wait for a bit, hoping for the weather to break, at least a reduction in the strength of the rainfall.

He didn’t understand.

The shorts are on

After the popularity of my posts on fluffy gowns and slippers, I thought that it was high time to share my love of wearing shorts. Today was my first day (this year) of wearing them, and it was much later than normal, for the ‘shorts season’ to arrive in Beetley.

I generally wear shorts from my birthday in March. Once on, they are rarely off, until at least the end of October. However, the weather has not been very kind this year, so my usual time for donning shorts has been delayed, until now. I have to confess that I was pushing the boundaries, as it was not that warm. But it felt right to me, so on they went. That feeling is priceless. Cool legs, unencumbered by joggers, or normal trousers. OK, I have to be careful of nettles and prickly plants on my walks, but it is worth it, to once again experience the annual delight of shorts-wearing. My shorts tend to be of the longer-legged variety; at least knee length, sometimes a tad longer. They are always roomy, and some pairs have numerous pockets too. I am old enough to eschew fashion, and happily embrace comfort over style.

Not for me, the shorts of the fashionista. Mine are practical, a little baggy, and always a joy to wear. Today’s choice was an old favourite. A beige pair of goes-with- anything, traditional English baggy shorts. The type you might see in a WW2 photo, wide-legged, and superbly cosy. I also have some more modern shorts, slightly waterproof, easy-iron, and also knee-length, in a variety of colours. As well as beige, I have navy blue, khaki, and the ubiquitous stone colour. They all match with almost any shirt or top, and with six pairs in the wardrobe, I am ready for anything.

Whether thick cotton, or part-polyester, they are all good. They leave my legs open to the elements, available for tanning, and toughened to almost anything I might encounter. They are acceptable as evening wear in most Norfolk venues, and even if it is is a chilly evening, a warm top or fleecy jacket accompanies them perfectly.

It is almost June, and despite the occasional wearing of trousers to restaurants, or windmill volunteering, it is a safe bet that they will be on my legs until we see November. Feel free to join me in the joy of shorts-wearing. You know you want to really.

Letters from beyond

On the 18th January this year, I published a post about the sudden death of one of my oldest friends. Since then, his family, and all of us who miss him, have been to his funeral, read eulogies in the press, and continued to correspond about the hole that his passing has left in our lives.

Recently, the time came for his son and daughter to undertake the painful task of clearing the belongings from his flat in Surrey. This is never going to be a good thing, but often throws up memories that are as pleasant as some others are sad. One of the joys of my long relationship with Pete, was the fact that we always wrote to each other. We were not the sort to chat on the telephone, and during the long period that he lived and worked in Canada, we began a long series of letters, many sent during some very difficult times in my life.

This continued after he returned to England. Despite the fact he was back in the country, we had got into the habit of writing, and just carried on. Sometimes the letters were long, though occasionally just one page of updates, containing little of consequence. But they were important to me, and I hoped that they were to him also. Most were handwritten, but some were typed, others even printed off. Once computers became common, we progressed to e-mail, which was a real bonus, as Pete’s handwriting was never easy to read, and something of a skill to decipher.

Late last week, I received a hefty parcel in the post. Inside, I found a manila folder, with Pete’s distinctive writing on it. Inside that folder were most of the letters I had ever sent him, dating back to the late 1980s, and before. It is hard to describe how I felt when I started to look at them. The first thing that dawned on me was that I had not kept any that he sent me. I have never been a keeper of letters, despite corresponding with many friends over the years. I was touched that his son Jim had sent them to me. I have no doubt that Pete kept and filed similar correspondence from many of his friends, and hope that they might have received similar parcels.

I tried to read some of the letters. It is strange reading something that you wrote to send to someone else. Not something that you would normally ever do. Once those thoughts and words had been posted, they tended to be forgotten, unless they were referred to in the reply. I looked at the dates, the different addresses, saw more than thirty years of my life in writing and print. Then I closed the folder again. I am not sure that I am ready to read those thoughts once again. Not just yet, anyway.

Even in death, Pete proved what a friend he was, and left me a legacy that has no price.

Flowers and Weeds

As I have mentioned many times previously, I am neither a talented, nor an enthusiastic gardener. But as we have a gravel driveway at the front of the house, neglecting the tiresome job of clearing the weeds that protrude through the gravel tends to make the house look unkempt, and unloved. The recent heavy rains and warm days have caused a veritable explosion of weed emergence, leaving the wide driveway looking decidedly scruffy. Despite an effort to spray the area last year, most of the weed-killer was caught on the stones, so did not penetrate deeply enough to do any good.

With my car away being repaired today, I decided to tackle the area where it is normally parked. This may not sound like much of a job on a sunny morning, but take it from me, it’s a hard one. Some of the grassy clumps have root-balls the size of my head, and even the spindly, forlorn-looking individual weeds have roots that seem to go down to Australia. Scraping, digging with a fork, bending down to collect the dislodged plant, then raking the earth and stones back into a tidy covering, it is exhausting work. And it isn’t the least bit enjoyable, despite what dedicated garden-lovers might have you believe.

After two and a bit hours, I had only managed to clear half of one side, and it was getting near the time for Ollie’s afternoon walk.I came inside for a bath, and was soon ready to head off over to the Meadows, and Hoe Rough. On the wander around, something struck me. I had spent a long and tiring time getting rid of things that were really just plants, grasses, and flowers. People spend lifetimes cultivating grasses, growing plants, and admiring flowers. Some of those so-called weeds that I had been flinging into the garden bin were actually quite appealing. There were those with attractively-shaped small leaves, others topped by tiny yellow flowers. One that caught my eye had a minute purple flower, although the body of the plant underneath was spindly, and had little substance. There were the ubiquitous Dandelions too, stubbornly holding on to their place, tuberous roots requiring more effort to remove than would seem necessary, given the size of the plant.

I pondered about when it was decided that some things should be called weeds, and deemed to be undesirable, and others be applauded as plants and shrubs, and be considered essential to have in the garden. Who were the people making these decisions, and when did it all start? Why is the bright yellow flower of a Dandelion considered less of a bloom than any other yellow-headed flower? Why is one type of arrow-leafed creeping plant deemed to be a ‘creeping menace’, yet the same thing with dark red leaves is sold as ‘ground-cover’? And why do we spend good money on ornamental grasses, whilst at the same time digging up the not-unattractive large grasses that grow naturally?

Perhaps we should think again, and begin to embrace the humble weed. They require little effort to cultivate, will grow in the poorest soil, and need no fertilizers. And as as a real bonus, they also don’t need to be ‘weeded’.

Let’s start a new trend. Natural gardens, with the plants that really want to be in them.

Cars and cameras

I posted a couple of articles about cameras recently. I wanted to change my elderly SLR, and discussed the option of getting a modern compact camera that would give me all the features and functions I desired, alongside more traditional operations, as well as having a decent lens. I arrived at my shortlist, and asked for suggestions from my fellow bloggers. I got some very helpful comments and recommendations, which was only to be expected, given the number of enthusiastic photo-bloggers out there. I said that I would let you know the outcome, so that is what I am doing with this post.

Today, my car went in for the annual major service and MOT test. (For readers outside the UK, an MOT test is a compulsory safety check. There is a strict list of requirements to be checked, and if your car fails any of them, it is essential to have them rectified.) This is always potentially expensive. The service alone is around £250, and the test fee is £49 on top of that. Even on a good day, I was going to be £300 out of pocket, but I had budgeted for that. I left my car with the dealer at 08.45, and headed off for a walk into Dereham, in bright sunshine. After a quick trip around the town, I went into the library, to use the one hour of free Internet access allowed for members. I thought it would kill some time.

No sooner had I logged on, than the garage called my mobile. The car had failed. A rear tyre was damaged, possibly from a pothole in the road. As well as that, there were some other issues he wanted to discuss, and he thought it best that I return to talk to him in person. As soon as he emerged from the back, and showed me into his office, I knew that the news was not good. He went down the checklist, advising me what would have to be fixed to pass the MOT, and what needed doing in addition to that, but could be out off until later. Front brake discs, front brake pads, the offending tyre, all would have to be done, no question. These items added well over £300 to a bill that was already well over that figure. Wheel alignments and tracking of the steering (again probably caused by potholes), another £50. As these were fairly big jobs, it will have to go back in again tomorrow, but at least they will collect it free of charge, and leave me a car to use too.

And the other jobs, the ones that need doing sooner rather than later? Cam-belt and water pump, well over £300 the pair. Rear suspension mounts; a big job, not yet priced. Tailgate struts, (they don’t keep the big rear door up properly) £150. Best part of £800 the lot, was his best guess, on top of the more than £600 I have to pay tomorrow. So, those extra jobs will have to wait a bit, until after the summer, I expect. That leaves the new camera, its budget blown on keeping the nearly eight-year old car on the road. It looks as if I am going to have to rekindle my relationship with my old SLR after all.

Still, try as you might, you can’t drive a camera.

Significant Songs (80)

Everybody Wants To Rule The World

In the early 1980s, I became aware of a new British group. They were a duo, called Tears For Fears. They had a fresh and distinctive sound, and a very different line-up. The main vocalist, Curt Smith, was a fashionable, good looking young man. The guitarist was Roland Orzabal, not your usual image of a pop star. There was serious talent in there somewhere though, and I was keen to hear more. I found out that the duo formed the public image of the group, but also recruited other musicians to perform on their records. They were from Bath, in the county of Avon, not an area known for British bands at the time.

In 1982, they issued the single ‘Mad World’, from the soon-to-released album ‘The Hurting’. (This track was later featured in the successful film, ‘Donnie Darko’, released in 2002.) The album achieved worldwide fame, and was a massive hit in many countries. By 1985, the new album, ‘Songs From The Big Chair’ was released, and secured them a massive following, as well as staying in the charts for over a year. This track comes from that album, and was also a massive world-wide hit. By now, it was becoming obvious that Orzabal was the talent behind the band; writing the songs, and being heavily involved in production. Influences from The Beatles, and the electro-pop era were coming to the fore, and at the time, it seemed that they could do no wrong, with sales in excess of thirty million.

In 1990, ‘Seeds Of Love’ was released, including the huge-selling title track. This went straight to number one in the UK, and was in the US top ten at the same time. By now, their sound was instantly recognisable, and often described as ‘Epic Pop’. By 1991, it was all over. Smith and Orzabal had a public and acrimonious split, and Smith blamed the band’s success for the break-up of his marriage. Despite re-forming in 2005, and touring extensively, they never achieved that level of success again. On paper, they are still working now, but we have yet to hear anything to compare with the early successes. One thing’s for sure, I only have to hear this introduction, and I know what to expect.

The small things

As I sit in Beetley, it is towards the end of May, but it is raining hard and has been since I woke up. It also feels quite chilly, the first time it has been so for some while. Hardly the stuff that memories are made of, but it has cast me into a reflective mood, nonetheless.

I have recently been sent lots of e-mails from various companies. New cars, electronic goodies, better and faster computers, and sophisticated mobile phones; all have featured in these sales promotions. There are curved televisions with screens of unimaginable size, gadgets to make life easier, and cameras that do all but actually go out and take the photos for you. No doubt that will come soon.
All this bounty and luxury made me think about what we value, what is important, and what truly enriches our lives and existence. My list is not definitive. It is personal, and may mean little to others. Search inside yourselves, and you will discover your own.

A photo of my mother, in an old frame. It is taken in 1939, when she was fifteen years old. She has all her life ahead of her, and she smiles into the camera, anticipating the years to come. Little did she know then, that the next six years of her life would be consumed by a world war. There can be no value put on this picture from the past. To me, it is priceless.

Warm sand under your feet, walking across a beach. A sunny day, perhaps fifty years ago, possibly last month. The feeling is the same.

Climbing into a freshly-made bed. Clean sheets, and the prospect of a refreshing sleep before you.

Shaving with a new blade. Effortless, leaving you feeling smooth-skinned, and relaxed.

Lying on your back in long grass. Looking up at the sky, watching the cloud formations, sensing the ground on your back, feeling like a small part of eternity.

The companionship of a pet. No need to speak, no communication necessary. Just being together is enough for both of you.

The feeling that you know you are in love. Hard to define, even harder to explain, you just know. And it feels very good.

Sitting in a small boat, moving across water. You let your hand drift just under the surface, and feel the water passing across your skin.

Picking up a new book. Starting the first page, you immediately realise that it is going to be an incredible read, and you almost cannot wait for the next chapter.

Leaving a cinema after watching a great film. You stand outside the building, and are suddenly aware that you have seen something quite wonderful.

Standing before a work of art, its meaning and power becomes apparent to you. You get the message implied. You understand the artist’s intention.

Colours in nature. A seemingly unlimited palette, never ceasing to amaze.

A family gathering. Generations together without discord, understanding what it means to be human.

Laughing about nothing with good friends. You are the only ones who get the joke.

The sea crashing ashore on a stormy day. Feeling insignificant in its presence.

What’s on your list, I wonder?