Monday, 26 August 2013

A Trick of the Light

I have been dreaming in Panavision, Technicolour and 3D recently.
Well, not recently exactly - my dreams are generally pretty full-on.
But this last while they have been - weird.

When, over the breakfast cups, I casually say: 'I had the strangest dream last night,' the In-Charge rolls his eyes and pulls a face that says: 'Here we go again'. 
But then, as I don't hesitate to tell him, he hasn't an ounce or romance in his soul.

Last night I dreamt that I flew to London and checked in to a hotel. (Why would I do that? I have lots of friends in London.) The American woman in front of me at Reception was having her earrings minutely examined by the girl behind the desk, and I nosed in just in time to see the eagle-eyed Receptionist remove a tiny, pin-head antennae from the top of each earring.
The American was mutely astonished and allowed herself to be led away.
As I say - weird.

No sooner had I got upstairs to my hotel room than the extremely over-efficient girl from the foyer came racing up to accuse me of having flown to London with a knife attached to my keyring. The knife in question was a miniature (and I'm talking doll's house here) folding penknife.
How did she know? And what had it got to do with the Hotel Receptionist, anyway? If the airline didn't care, why should she?
I admitted this gross misdemeanour and was immediately locked in my room pending an investigation.
In my dream, this seemed an entirely logical step, and I acquiesced without a murmur, just like the American..

But I was concerned about the dogs being locked in with me. They were looking anxious and had their legs crossed, so to speak.
(Did I not mention the dogs? That could be because it was only at this point in the dream that I realised I had all three dogs with me - Top Dog, Under Dog and Model Dog.)
Obviously I was dreaming in the past. I dream in the past more often than not.
Maybe everyone does.

You don't really want to know any more.
It got weirder and weirder as the night wore on.
I believe our dreams can happen in a very short space of time, but while you're dreaming them, it feels as if they go on forever.
And in some ways they do. This one has lingered around me all day, like my shadow - perpetually just out of sight.

I sometimes wonder if dreams are actually reality and our day to day lives are the dream.
I rather hope not, as in that case, my life is very odd indeed.
But not as odd as my sister's. She once dreamt that she was half a glass of water on the moon.
How does that format itself into a dream, exactly?
I've never been able to work it out.

I often wonder why it is that in my dreams I regularly revisit places, houses - streets, even - that I recognise but which bear no relation at all to the actual places they purport to be. Yet frequently they are the same from dream to dream.
So the same as what, exactly?
And I remember other places I have dreamt about, with that strange, intangible clarity that attaches itself to childhood memories. Pictures that cannot be described. Atmospheres devoid of words.
What weird games the brain plays on itself.
Like juggling with a trick of the light 
But why?

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Zen and the Art of Gardening

According to my friend DodoWoman, my new model garden would make a perfect home for Madame Butterfly.

It was odd she should say that, as when I was constructing it, I spent some time wondering how to create butterflies that would sort of - well, flutter-by, but I didn't quite manage it. However, I don't think DodoWoman and I are talking about the same kind of butterfly, but then I don't share her personal acquaintance with Puccini's opera, or its tragic heroine.
(I shall have to take her word for it on the garden's suitability.)

The Temple glimpsed through the cherry blossom

Perhaps I'd have done a better job with a full orchestra on the other side of the kitchen table. They say children learn better if Mozart is playing softly in the background. Perhaps Puccini was just what I needed to bring the abandoned butterflies to fruition.

I was a little disappointed with the state of the sand after my attempts at raking it into gentle curves.
I don't think there is a career ahead of me in a Japanese garden.
When I mentioned this to my friend of Talentui fame, she said: 'You probably weren't using the right implement.'
'A kitchen fork,' I replied.
'Quite,' she said. 'I don't think they use forks in Japanese gardens.'

However the fossil pavement and the Sun and Moon Stone are truly remarkable, as is the Yin Yang stone - not, or course, that I take any credit for these items - all were found on our local shore.
The Yin Yang stone brings tears to my eyes whenever I see it. The In-Charge stooped down and picked it up just as we were leaving the beach one day at the end of November last year. He's good at spotting things, the In-Charge.
He handed it to me with rather a sad smile.
We had taken Under Dog to our favourite beach for one last walk there. Of course Top Dog and Model Dog came too. We didn't know it then, but as it turned out, it was the last time either of those inseparable twins ever walked that beach.
Sweet boys. How I miss them still.

The Yin Yang stone

But I digress.

It seems hard to believe, but it's a year ago that we were at this lark the first time round - making tray gardens with the kids at Beltra Country Market

Such fun, everyone loved having a go, and this year we had more kids than ever, not to mention a few parents 'helping' their offspring along. It's amazing what you can do with a supermarket tray full of sand and a load of found objects, or inexpensively bought things like lollipop sticks, pipe cleaners, pompoms and feathers.

Amazing fossils and the Sun and Moon Stone in the background

I decided to go for the Zen-Yogic-Buddhist-Transcendental-Japanese-Meditation-Temple-Garden this year, while DodoWoman built a Mayan jungle with an Aztec teocalli in the middle - the only thing missing (as she was the first to point out) being the whatsit containing a sacrificial human heart. However, don't be thinking that the kids were cheated here - she had featured a beach-combed-treasure that looked a bit like a dinosaur, rearing up on one side behind the trees. Six out of ten kids would probably prefer a dinosaur, anyway.

Now I come to think of it, it looks more like a Dodo than a Dinosaur on the left

Jil, one of my lovely German wwoofers, did a rough blueprint design for the temple. She and Marco then built the walls, but it was the In-Charge who created the roof. It is constructed from card and - well, lollipop sticks; plus one or two other stabilizing bits and bobs, like glue, gold paint and such. We were very pleased with the glittery pipe cleaners creating the necessary lilting curves, and I thought my Chinese lanterns came out a treat - especially the tassels made from embroidery silk.

The string of prayer flags was a hot favourite.

And we were pretty chuffed with the stream as well, and the ponds and the waterfalls - not to mention the dinky bridges. And the water really did cascade down over the little rocks and shells, and swooshed over the koi carp (designed and created by Jil and Marco) before collecting in the bottom pool outside the temple.
Totally thrilling.

Dinky bridges

Sadly, the water then started to dissolve the play-dough from which the stream itself was constructed, but one has to rise above such small inconveniences, stiffen one's shoulders and raise one's chin. No self-destructing pond is going to take the edge off my garden, and koi carp probably like sinking slowly into the sludge at the bottom of the stream.

Anyway, if it does slowly dissolve, by the laws of Zen, surely that's meant to be - so then the pond, the water and all will be as one with the rest of the garden..


Shame about the butterflies, though.

(You can see last year's miniature garden here.)

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Days We Will Remember

I went to a wedding recently.
It was a small, intimate affair. Home-made in the very best sense of that two-edged phrase, a wedding that, without flouting any rules, adjusted to be what the bride and groom wanted. For one thing, the whole day had been transported several hundred miles south of the bride's home parish to enable the groom's elderly parents to attend, a gesture that was greatly appreciated.
(No easy task that, re-locating a wedding.)

It was a warm summer's afternoon. A perfect time to get married, and the perfect sort of day for a wedding. A lazy August afternoon, warm and still. The village was sleepy as we walked the hundred yards or so to the medieval church of St Mary Magdalene, and standing beneath the short, square bell-tower looking out over the ancient gravestones, the world seemed to me a timeless place and all of us just part of a continuum.

The bridegroom and best man arrive

The groom and his best man - his son. arriving on bicycles that probably predated their combined years, had their trousers tucked into their socks, their jackets flying. A few people had gathered on the street outside and, at the couple's request, all the guests were waiting by the ancient church porch, so an enthusiastic cheer went up as they swept through the gate.

The bridal car had paused half-way up the church laneway, so everyone inside also witnessed the groom's arrival, and as the bride emerged from the car, helped by her daughter, the groom stood and watched, his face a picture of contentment. It was just as they both had wanted.

I paused to take a few photographs as the guests made their way into the church.

Then the bride and groom walked down the aisle together, hand in hand.
Beautiful as they both looked, Jane Austen might have said that neither them were in 'the first flush of youth', but the bridesmaids certainly were, and sitting behind them in the church, I felt as if they had stepped straight out of one of her novels.

During the service, it was impossible not to feel how happy the bride and groom were to be there, making a lasting commitment to each other on a summer's afternoon. Impossible not to share that happiness.
Just what weddings are all about, really, but somehow more poignant for those not in 'the first flush of youth', those who have instead arrived at this place after long, hard and separate roads.

Weddings are usually lovely, and when they are small, intimate and hands-on, perhaps they are even more so. The groom's sister had found the bicycles, plundered her kitchen cupboards to supply their chef, lent wonderful old jugs and vases for the church, ferried guests to and fro and hosted a garden buffet lunch; his brother performed at the ceremony reading a poem and, later, the 23rd Psalm; and his other sister arranged armfuls of flowers - supplied by his mother - into the aforementioned jugs and vases. His son was the best man - a role he carried off with aplomb; his three daughters were bridesmaids alongside their new step-sister, and his nephew wielded his nifty camera to record every moment of the day.

The groom's mother

With the church bells pealing out to celebrate another new marriage, everyone laughed, threw confetti and took more photos. Champagne was produced from a lovely old trunk in the Rolls Royce and the couple toasted each other and - bedecked with coloured paper and roses - kissed again.

Later everyone repaired to the lovely Edwardian house they had rented for the week, to relax on the terrace or by the pool with glasses of bubbly and smoked salmon canapes before sitting down to the 5-course feast that had been prepared.

Nothing ever goes according to plan. In fact, to quote the groom's eldest daughter, it would be less memorable if it did. Needless to say, the chef got roaring drunk, but not before he'd cooked most of the evening's wonderful menu. Someone else stepped in to cook the fillets of lamb at the last minute, but it didn't spoil anyone's enjoyment, and well-timed, funny speeches from the groom and his best man kept everyone amused during the hiccup, while the rainbow of fruit on the beautifully original wedding cake brought forth oohs and aahs of appreciation. As the menu said: 'After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one's own relations' (Oscar Wilde).
The evening ended everyone sitting on the stairs while the bride's best friend played the piano and sang.
I don't think there was a dry eye in the house.

Later, on my way to bed, I paused to look up at the cloudless sky. The Milky Way was stirred through the darkness like a wisp of foam, and amongst the millions of stars I saw one plummet through the sky like a diamond in freefall. I hoped the bride and groom had seen it too, and made a wish.

I expect they had. It was basically encapsulated in the poem they'd included in their wedding service. 

I cannot promise you a life of sunshine;
I cannot promise riches, wealth, or gold;
I cannot promise you an easy pathway
That leads away from change or growing old.

 I can promise all my heart’s devotion;
A smile to chase away your tears of sorrow;
A love that's ever true and ever growing;
A hand to hold in yours through each tomorrow.

Two loving arms to shelter and protect you,
The knowledge that I need you more than ever,
And all the happiness that love can give you
As, hand in hand, we walk through life together.

I made a wish for them anyway, just in case.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Showtime: Hello Bonniconlon!

A few days ago, the In-Charge came home and said: 'It's Bonniconlon Show on Monday.'
Year after year, we hear people enthusing about Bonniconlon Show, but we've never been.
'We ought to go,' he added.
Later that evening I finally managed to track down the winner of a giveaway I'd organised for Country Markets. 'Here's my address,' she said, 'Or if you're going to Bonniconlon Show, I'll be in the Craft Marquee.'
That settled it. We agreed to meet there.

It started, we noticed, bright and early. '8.30am sharp' it said on the website.
8.30am sharp in Ireland generally means 'We'll start at 9am whether you're here or not.'
But an early start was fine by us. The In-Charge had promised to help someone later in the afternoon, so we needed to get back, and the statistics - which never lie, after all - had recorded 30,000 people attending the show last year.
Here in the west, 30,000 is A LOT of people, so we decided to go first thing.

The best laid plans etc etc... I'd overlooked the fact that I had to ring the florist in England first thing to confirm an order for flowers (it's not a Bank Holiday in the UK) - and what with one thing and another, we didn't get to the Show Grounds until well after midday.
It was packed. And quite expensive to get in, I thought.
But it was great fun.

By then, a smoky bacon and sausage stuffed bap was just what we needed to perk us up, and, happily munching, we found all sorts of stuff to look at.

The first thing that caught my eye was a model railway

And close by there were some homemade model farms.

I love miniature things.
I was poring over them, vaguely aware of some traditional Irish music playing in the background, and out of the corner of my eye saw three people sitting, playing. It took me awhile to drag my eyes away from tiny tractors and straw bales, but then I realised that the musicians were also models - full-sized model people.

A shame we hadn't taken Model Dog with us!
She could have posed alongside them.

There were lots of other dogs though.
Gorgeous Borzois - a rare sight here.

I'd forgotten just how big they are!

The Borzoi kissing his mummy

There were dogs all preened and prepped for the show

And dogs not remotely interested in being in the show

And some dogs far more interested in the possibility of poussin for lunch

I was pretty interested in the poultry section myself. I hadn't thought about it beforehand, or I would have taken an empty cage with me. The ravages of old age, disease and Monsieur Renard have left poor Wellington sadly depleted of wives over the last few months. (We won't mention the TeenQueen in relation to sorry ravages. It is time to let bygones be bygones.)

I was extremely taken by the headgear some of the ducks were sporting

In another cage, some duckings had opted to sleep the day out, perhaps in the hope that when they woke up it would all be over and they'd be back in their own little ponds at home. Bless them.

But, as the In-Charge didn't hesitate to remind me, it wasn't ducks I was supposed to be looking at.

There were lots of chickens, so it was quite hard to choose, but in the end we came away with 8 young pullets who are even now settling into the big pen in the hens field, happily exploring the boxes, dust bath, food and water bowl that I have hastily put in there for them.

They are not without an audience. The TeenQueen is extremely interested in the newcomers, and Mistress Bluebell looks quite outraged.

I will introduce you to them properly next time.

We didn't have time to do much else. It took us awhile to find the Craft Marquee, but eventually we managed to deliver the prize to our delighted winner.

A Talentui Organics box of goodies for the Country Markets Giveaway winner

The In-Charge paused for a quick gander at some of the old cars while I was negotiating the purchase of my hens, so the only vintage vehicle I saw was this one. A lovely specimen, though - I've always liked those old Austins.

After that it was time to try and find our way back to the remote field where we had parked.
We did spot a familiar face as we edged through the crowds. Beltra Country Market's sister from down the road - Ballina Country Market had a stall selling all sorts of things from homemade cakes and jam to handmade denim bracelets.

Their stall was starting to look fairly bare by that stage, as they'd already sold so much, yet when we finally got to the gates, people were still streaming in.

Maybe this year Bonniconlon Show has topped last year's figure of 30,000!

While I and my boxes of hens waited for the In-Charge to go and bring the car, I looked back across one small part of the showground. There was lots we hadn't had time to see.

 Maybe next year...


Friday, 2 August 2013

What Price the Perfect Getaway?

It's blowing a gale out here on the edge of the world today.
My poor trees, heavy in their summer frocks, are being whipped back and forth. It's not fair.
But then, as we all know, life isn't fair.

Mercifully the promised rain has not yet arrived. I've got soaked most days this week, trying to garden in the rain, so today's wind, blowing warmly - if rather too enthusiastically - from the south wasn't going to put me off. However, it seemed only sensible to do a job out of the teeth of the gale, so I headed into the flower garden which is generally fairly sheltered and found to my delight that not a leaf was stirring in my new little moon garden.

The little moon garden

There was plenty to do. The weeds and grass have encroached into the semi-circular bed, and lots of early summer perennials needed a good cutting back. I was soon wading through dense knee-high greenery, and thought as I often do, of my ex-sister-in-law's words many years ago.
'At least there aren't any snakes in Ireland.'
She and my brother were living in Africa at the time, their children still quite small, and I'd been apologising for the wet August weather that attended their visit to us, along with its consequent lush growth overflowing the garden paths. It was like a jungle, but the kids loved it, and no one minded the rain either. 'It never rains in Africa,' they said.

Today it didn't rain either, but the ground was still soft from the wet week we've had, and the weeds in the new bed came out easily, so that within moments of starting work, my mind had wandered off onto lots of other things. The dogs rummaged through their ossuary while I sat on the little bench drinking a cuppa and contemplating my newest patch - barely a year old, yet already ripe with flowers and growth. I found it hard to visualise how that small area used to be - a wilderness of overgrown fuchsia and bamboo - even though we'd lived with it for donkey's years.

It's now a place of seclusion and peace - even on a day of stormy southern winds. And the little seat that the In-Charge made by recycling two old bench ends and some lengths of teak he had stashed away in his workshop, fits as if it had been made to measure.
Not many weeks ago we made the happy discovery that it is the perfect place to catch the very last rays of sunshine when the mid-summer days are so long, the sun practically sets in the north.
Our very own little getaway.

Hard at work in the moon garden - so called for its half moon path

Everyone needs a getaway. Somewhere quiet and peaceful to contemplate something green.
I often think that in today's overcrowded world we expect a lot from human beings. I am so lucky to have so much space, but most people are squashed tighter and tighter together, and yet, more than ever before, we expect everyone to 'play nicely'.
Losing it isn't allowed.
But everyone needs somewhere to let off steam. Somewhere calm and green.

The only big city I have lived in for any length of time is London. I moved there as a student and just sort of stayed for the next twenty years. London has its fair share of dreadful housing, but it also has lots of green spaces - squares and parks, woods and commons. I was commenting to my mother only recently that while I don't ever recall having the luxury of central heating as a student, I only ever chose flat/house shares that had some sort of garden, however small.

I watched a wonderful programme the other day, about the inspirational designer Thomas Heatherwick, he of the fabulous Olympic Cauldron fame (amongst other things.)

The wonderful Olympic Cauldron

If you didn't see the programme, do watch it - BBC2's Culture Show - I think it is only available for a few more days.
He is designing a Garden Bridge for central London. A pedestrian bridge filled with trees, flowers, birds, bees and butterflies. I'm not sure if it was originally his idea, or Joanna Lumley's but whoever thought of it, 'more power to them', as they would say in Ireland.

They just need someone to pay for it. Needless to say, it will be very expensive.
But what price such a perfect, green, soul-replenishing getaway?
Maybe the Beckhams could fund it. They have plenty of money, not to mention a child named after a bridge.
They could do this one in reverse - name a bridge after a child. The Harper Seven Bridge perhaps?
I don't suppose anyone would mind what it was called, if they could sit there and breathe out steam and breathe in green peace and birdsong.

An artist's impression of the proposed Garden Bridge for Central London