Monday, 30 April 2012

What a Grey Day!

After worrying weeks of dryness, empty water-butts, threatened hosepipe bans, wilting plants and general anxiety the rains came.
 The rains came as we splashed our way to the Royal Horticultural Society's flagship gardens at 'Wisley', in Surrey, and they continued throughout the day as we travelled over racing rivers, the Thames, the Avon, the Severn, and down motorways made opaque in the spray.
The rains gurgled and gargled and dripped on these beautiful gardens, and the plants drank deeply and gratefully while their admirers sat beside the windows in the several restaurants and cafeterias, drinking coffee and proclaiming excitedly at a possible sense of  lightness in the dark grey swirling sky.

So I went looking for grey to complement the day, and was captivated by the colour and structure of these wonderful plants.

It was magical in the great glass house, where people in their sodden rain-wear steamed gently with the plants.

Outside, more greyness in the crevice garden, created in vertical slices of stone and grit, where alpines can feel so thoroughly at home. The rain drains almost straight through, as on a mountain side, and the plants colonise cracks and crevices.

I love the greyness, the range of colour embedded in something that apparently has so little, but for those who like a bit, or even a lot of brightness there was the wonderful display from the Orchid Society of Great Britain

Wisley, like the other very special gardens of the RHS, the National Trust, and the countless smaller private gardens open to the public are places for families and fanatics alike. Places where there is a tremendous wealth of specialised knowledge, extreme erudition and very good scones.
There are people with large, expensive-looking cameras and large expensive looking pushchairs.There are people with magnifying glasses and classification books full of Latin terminology, and there are small children playing hide and seek between the palms.
Then there are people like me, looking at grey things, and people exclaiming with joy over a small brownish lump which happens to be a very rare orchid.
A wonderful place on a grey day.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Baring All

No, not just a series of puns about bare and bear, although this is a selection from my number of English bears, most of whom are about the same age that I am, which makes us all vintage at the very least.

The google-eyed character in the front is a guest from Russia. Not strictly a bear, not strictly an anything really, he is known as Cheburashka, (Чебурашкаand he is the one who interests me most at the moment. He demonstrates the power of vulnerability, something I'm having a bit of a struggle with myself.

Cheburashka is loved by Russian children, and he stars in books and cartoon films.
He was accidentally transported in a crate of oranges from his native tropical home and ended up in Moscow. When the crate was opened he was found, numb with cold and cramp, unable to stand or even sit, but his gentleness made him instantly loveable.
In England we might open a crate of bananas and be bitten by a poisonous spider;  but in Moscow a crate of oranges housed a charming little Thing.

This particular Cheburashka sings a synopsis of his story when his chest is pressed. He says his softness and gentleness make him lovable. People didn't understand him, but because of his vulnerability everyone grew to love him. Everyone responds to kindness and gentleness, even in odd little creatures. Perhaps especially in odd little creatures.
(Cheburashka occasionally lives with a crocodile, but this is not mentioned in his song, and it does nothing to detract from his charms. There are many of us who might appreciate the company of a crocodile at times.)

When I'm not gardening or otherwise messing about at home I am frequently to be found working as a volunteer 'here'. I do lots of different jobs and in all of them I am learning to be so much more responsive to vulnerability, both in myself and, much more importantly, in others. I am hugely privileged to be working with people who extend a hand and admit to needing a bit of support. I can take the hands and offer the support, and in doing so I receive infinitely more than I can ever give.
For so many people in my age-group of over 70 the 'stiff upper lip' was important. As a child the two greatest rules I had to obey were not to be a nuisance, and not to cling. This is not a criticism of my parents, but an observation of how things were. But now things are different. Of course emotion is recognised, feelings can be discussed, pain can be shared, weakness can be revealed.
Oh, the power of vulnerability! How brave we have to be to admit it. How lovable it makes those who can do so, and how vulnerable we all are, even if some of us can still hide it rather well.

So, long live Cheburashka, and may his message of gentleness and vulnerability spread beyond Russia!

For those who care about bears, the photograph shows (from top left clockwise) large Merrythought, House of Nesbit, sheepskin Tinkerbell, small Merrythought, Cheburashka and Wendy Boston.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Not Playing the Game.

It's early days, but I am already planning my escape. I thought it might be necessary to leave the country, and indeed this might still prove to be the case.
Although my son is no longer living in Kazakhstan the idea of a yurt on the Central Asian Plain has distinct appeal.
But for the time being my plan is to stay here, at the bottom of the garden.

Past the lamp-post, over the bridge, through the bamboo thicket and I enter, not Narnia, but a wi-fi, television, telephone and radio-free summer-house. I can hide in here with some good books, a tea-pot and lots of writing and drawing materials. I can't even hear the doorbell unless I try really hard.

Already there are ominous signs. There are Union Jacks and replica medals appearing in shop windows. There are kits to make cup cakes with those interlinked ring symbols on top. There are tee-shirts and other jingoistic rubbish items for sale.
It is worse that last year's Wedding, and that's saying a lot.

It's worse, because it's all about competition, about beating other people, about being the best at the expense of others. Sport on its own is bad enough, but Olympic sport is truly distressing to my mind. However, I think I am quite reasonable really, and I accept and even strongly suspect that others may feel differently. The problem for me is that those who think differently are going to take over this country for most of the summer, and it will be really hard to escape their domination.

It distresses me because for every winner there have to be hundreds who are made to feel that they are losers. The competition is already so ferocious, with hopefuls being eliminated left right and centre, and it can only get worse as the pressure builds. No matter how many quotes are made about it being the taking part that is as significant as the winning, this is not so. It is the winning that matters. Coming second or third is not exactly triumphant, even though it's better than being fourth.

The paralympics are perhaps even more savage, with people pitted against one another in a frantic effort to be the best, physically.
It takes years of training and all hope is dashed in seconds.
At least with things like cricket people can spend a few hours in the sunshine and have a decent tea afterwards.

But I write as one who increasingly dislikes any form of competition, and as one who finds it increasingly hard to avoid witnessing it.
On many evenings you can, if you wish, witness competitive cooking on television, or competitive home improvements, or dining experiences, or bed-and-breakfast catering.
People get very emotional, upset and angry. There are tears and shouting and the occasional tantrum which presumably makes for good viewing.

I write as one who had a brief foray into Britain in Bloom, which is competitive planting on a grand scale, where whole towns are pitted against one another.

Perhaps I should also add that I write as one who spent many games lessons lurking in the shrubbery. That fact may be rather noticeable.