Monday, 19 July 2021

Driving over lemons

Coming from wet and cold Yorkshire, I would never have imagined that I would have a surfeit of lemons in the middle of winter. I read Carol Drinkwater's book entitled "Driving over lemons" many years ago, and envied her the challenge of using so much citrus fruit from her trees.

Our tree went berserk this year, despite being planted in the wrong place. It's the excess rain - they love being rained on. So here I am, wondering what to do with them all.  They are ugly, in a way that only their mother could love, but delicious and juicy.

There are only so many lemon drizzle cakes you can make.........or perhaps not. 


Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Arthur

I inherited a lot of family postcards from the Edwardian era, which were largely correspondence between my grandmother and her sisters and brothers. As is often the case, there were a number of mystery cards, either because I had no context for them, or because I simply didn't know enough about my grandma's life at that time. Also, the mystery cards could have come from my grandmother, her siblings, my great grandmother or my great Uncle, as all their effects ended up with my father and later with me. 

Tonight, courtesy of a WW1 website called "A Street Near You" I was able to finally put a history to a photo. 

This postcard said simply "Arthur" and on the reverse "Remembrance" and the date he died, a month before the end of the War.

Arthur was a similar age to my grandmother's eldest brother Bill. They would have grown up together in the village.  Both worked as gardeners on large estates, Bill in Canada, and Arthur for Stapleton Park, whose grounds and gardens were designed by Capability Brown. Bill signed up to go to France with the Canadian Regiment, but was never deployed, Arthur joined the Durham Light Infantry as a Lance Corporal and died in France.

I cannot imagine the devastation caused by his death in such a small village. Three young men were lost from the tightly knit community. A hundred years later on I find it so sad as I look at this young man with so much promise.

RIP Arthur Etty, son of Alice and Thomas Etty. 

Forever with the Lord


Sunday, 18 April 2021

Royal Funeral

 Grief caught me today, as I watched a coffin draped with a Standard.

My own father's coffin was draped with his Squadron's standard and his service medals. He wasn't a Duke, or a Lord, but he was a father.
And today a father was mourned, by his children who walked. No matter the titles and wealth and position and the history of millennia. They were fighting back tears as children do when they know they will not hear that voice again, hear that laugh.
So grief grips us by the hand and we walk, so reluctant, wanting to run back in time.
Grief is an eternal companion, sometimes with the iron grip of memory, other times just a sad reflection in an old mirror looking behind.
But we walk and we walk on.

Monday, 1 March 2021

Waiting for the rain.

The air this evening smells like Africa before a storm; that high tension state when the grass almost speaks to the cloud heavy sky and begs for rain. The grass is very, very dry, baked hard with no possibility for birds to feed. We have fire warnings in place, and we wait for the sky to crack. The smell will change first then the colour, then the light will sharpen and refocus through the haze. I wait for the moment. But I will miss the smell. The Smell that invites animals to scratch in the shadows, pause and listen, then scatter. I wait for the scattering at the first boom, the first hammer and flash. Then the metal roof will timpani and throw the drops to dance and white water will gutter in gutters and overflow and crash. Yes, tonight feels like the veld.

Friday, 27 November 2020

On the trail of the lonesome agapanthus

 


This is our first agapanthus of the season.  The weeping elm has grown into a massive bush and the rest of the garden is exploding. I wish we were brave enough to keep a goat, but with a vineyard next door, and the endless ways they find to escape, I'm not sure my nerves would be able to cope.


Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Grass

Tonight I smelled the scent of Africa. It was so brief, and died so quickly, it sat like a heavy weight around my feet. It was the grass cuttings I think, capturing the last moment of heat before sunset. It was that petal thin wisp of time when animals scuttle away with their young after grazing, or start to wake to hunt at dusk. That small moment of capturing an even smaller movement just beyond the eye arch, and wondering "friend or foe? Snake or mouse, leaf or frond?" When the minutes and seconds freeze and you are not sure whether to rouse yourself and shake them free, or be static with them, hoping for a glimpse of something as yet unknown. 
 I remember a midnight bush ride. Bouncing in the back of a vehicle, shining an arc lamp into the dense trees, stealing myself for a view of something other worldly. I got my wish when bush baby eyes stared back at me, and as the light beam passed, so did she. Legs scurried in the undergrowth. We heard them, so we stopped, turned down the light, and listened as the leaves crinkled with the dying heat, and somewhere a bird screeched. 
I miss Africa. I miss the hair on my arms rising to a primordial sound. I miss eating fruit from the trees and wondering if it will mean a night with tummy cramps or a night feeling exotic and far away from home and overwhelmingly free. Strangely, I miss the drums of settlements, of women walking along high ridges at dawn, making their way to fields and crops and hard labour for the day, yet singing an awake lullaby. 
 I remember the roadside markets at night, lit with kerosene lamps, making a road brighter than bright. Twinkly, like Christmas, but smelling of mangoes and bananas, and children running around free in the cool and dust, laughing, not noticing they were poor. 
So I am glad of the drying grass and the wink of the veld and the memory of a distant home.

Friday, 25 September 2020

Dusktide

We are on the cusp of spring and the days are longer. This evening, a rare trip to the supermarket alone prompted very strong memories. I seldom shop at night, but this evening I just wanted the quiet pace, the meandering without pressure.
I wasn't prepared for the effect of being in a car alone at dusk would have on me. When I lived for 7 years in a desert, this was the time I would go shopping. It was generally after a very busy and stressful day in the office. The grinding heat would have lost its edge and you could always smell the scent of some flower or plant as the temperature dropped and the ground sighed with relief.
One of the many delights of my desert life were the encounters with shop assistants. They were all unfailingly polite and friendly and it gave me the chance to make small talk - a luxury not really possible during working hours. My local supermarket had beautiful girls from mainland China at the tills. They wanted to practise their English on anyone who had the time to stop. The giving of change and packing of bags was slow and gently drawn out in order to make conversation. The Indian salesmen in the material souks were charming and funny and would tease and laugh. My local florist was Syrian and kept birds in cages all around his shop. He always had time to talk. The people were often intoxicating, as if from another world.
And there is something in that pause between day and night which triggers the deep emotions I so often felt, returning to an empty apartment, making a meal, checking on my neighbours then falling exhausted into my bed. It was a strange zone between sweet contentment and crushing loneliness. Delight in the ever changing variety of each day, followed by the brief interlude of a sensual dusk, the call from the mosque, and the swish of sand as it hurried across the road.
Tonight I am thankful for a brief return to the intensity of that time. But I am also grateful that tonight I don't fall into bed alone and the only sound of the night I hear is of our resident owl calling its mate.