Monday, 28 May 2012

Location, Location, and, oh yes, Location!

Yesterday I sat in a train, heading for London.
It was a glorious day, with a clear blue sky, and wonderful fresh greenery everywhere.
I thought London was not the best idea in such idyllic weather, but I was going to see people I love, so of course I would go.
I would go in rain or fog or snow to see them in their new apartment. Of course I would go.

At every station more and more people packed themselves into this little three-coach train.
Many of them had giant cool-boxes, and all of them were dressed for hot weather. There were acres of flesh and some shorts and skimpy tops which revealed a great deal too much, especially when their occupants slumped asleep.
I sat disapprovingly, feeling and possibly looking, like Edith Sitwell. People who really live in hot places cover themselves up, not strip off.

Further down the line and more people clambered in, tripping over the cool-boxes and finding nowhere to put their own immense bags but balanced on the seat-backs beside other passengers' heads.
Suddenly there were faces painted in red and white. There was a group of women, dressed in union jacks, there was bunting and red,white and blue ribbons.
The couple beside me explained that there were two BIG matches that afternoon, one at Wembley, one at Twickenham.

Luckily, at Oxford another three-coach train was connected and some of the cool boxes and giant bags were transferred.
We arrived, all of us, at one of the major London stations. It took a little while to get out, but my son was there, waiting. He's very tall. I could see him over all the face-paint and banners and cool-boxes, but I was still thinking that London was possibly not the best place to be.

Within minutes we were in the new apartment, protected from road noise by tall trees, a sense of coolness and filtered light, tall windows, high ceilings.
Within a few more minutes we could walk away from noise and busy-ness, down beside the canals. A choice of restaurants and cafes, a selection of shops, chemist, dry-cleaners, small supermarkets neatly tucked into a grassy amphitheatre.
Then we could walk, in shade and breeze and flickering sunlight along a choice of canal paths that cut through the centre of the city. A fascinating walk beside houseboats and narrow boats, with people strolling and jogging and pedalling along on 'Boris Bikes',  There are boats painted with 'roses and castles', with complete gardens on their roofs. There are waterside pubs, and leafy green community gardens. You can walk along to the London Zoo, or see 'Lord Snowdon's Aviary' for free from the tow path.

You can be at a major rail and underground terminus in minutes and Heathrow in half an hour. You could be in any of the great  museums or art galleries, or any of the famous shops in the same sort of time. You could stroll along to the major parks, or sit by the Thames, or go along the Mall and see what's occurring at the Palace.
And then you could get away from it all again in a tree-lined street or beside a leafy canal.

I now understand, completely, why an apartment in this area costs about three times as much as my family-sized place in Middle England.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

A Little Life.

Yesterday, in the sudden warmth, a puffed-up infant blackbird crouched on the bird-table, fluttering, quivering, squawking at its resigned-looking parent. There was still the remains of a yellow gape in the infant beak, and the seemingly smaller parent wearily pushed food into the demanding mouth.
The parent bird flew off, and the fat infant decided to feed itself, which it could do perfectly well.
Then a couple of sparrows landed nearby, and the infant reverted into a fluttering, beseeching, gaping cushion. The sparrows turned their backs, and rightly so.

This morning, in a cool mist that presaged considerable heat by afternoon, I went out to fill the watering cans. On top of the clipped bay tree beside the shed lay a large, fat, speckled infant blackbird, claws curved against the cool air, eyes filmed, life over. It must have flown into the glass of the summerhouse window and broken its neck.
Such a little life.

All over the garden there are miniature dramas and tragedies as young creatures learn to live independently.
My neighbour's adolescent cat, whose name is Frank, spends a lot of time hanging out here.
A few months ago, in very cold weather he learned that no one can walk on thin ice, and more recently he decided to  have a little look in the nearby badgers' sett. He exploded from the tunnel, looking twice his  normal size and barely made it over the fence in his frantic rush for home.
But he is back, and in his wake are the tiny corpses of two baby field-mice. They have ventured away from home and been tortured, played with and killed by a giant with scimitar claws. Or perhaps they died of fright on meeting Frank, as Frank could well have died meeting the badgers.
It's all learning by experience. We all have to do it, and sometimes the cost is very high.

In the pond a few tiny newts are dicing with death as they may or may not evade the one surviving goldfish, who in turn is the sole survivor of a very harsh winter and repeated heron attacks.
Baby birds flutter everywhere, and I know the sparrow hawk is visiting daily, but he/she too has infants to raise.
Yesterday a friend and I watched a newly emerged dragonfly dry its crumpled cling-film wings in the sun, and I wonder who has eaten it for lunch today.

This really sudden heat has galvanised life in the garden into a frantic action, or perhaps the warmth has made me sit out there, just looking. Every time I spend more than a few minutes out here I see something remarkable, something unexpected, something sad, something beautiful. So much of  my own admittedly little life is being lived out here.

I  am sometimes made to think that I should get out more. I should be doing more sociable things with 'U3A' as so many of my friends do. They are always off somewhere, doing Tai Chi, visiting Provence, learning a language, being taught to use Photoshop.
But I am here, in my garden, marvelling at growth and life and death.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Walnut Cottage

A quarter of a century ago two small boys used this play-house in all sorts of ways, but mainly, being boys, they used it as a weapons store. They had interesting sticks and stones, and jars containing mixtures of sand, water and food colouring. There were plastic spacemen, tractors and dented Dinky cars. They had books and drawing paper and a big box of felt-tipped pens with all the tops left off.
They had the table you can see here, and little chairs, plastic crockery and a teapot that really poured.
They entertained friends here, with sandwiches and biscuits and cakes, and the teapot filled with orange juice to pour all over themselves and each other.
People got shut in and shut out, fingers were pinched in the door and there were howls of rage and indignation. Small girls visiting tried to instil a sense of order, wanting to clean the windows and make people sit down and eat nicely.
It was a good hiding place. I even hid in it once or twice myself with the sherry bottle when things got really tough.

Then, inevitably, the play-house became more useful for bikes and toboggans, and sadly and much later, as a wheelchair store. More recently it housed all that stuff that is waiting to be taken to the tip. A sad little dumping ground. But not for much longer.

A few weeks ago I went out to the little house with a thick black pen, and I wrote the name Walnut Cottage on the door. The little house is due for a shake-up, a clean-up, a thorough revitalisation in the spring sunshine, because a new occupant is coming.

During the cold dark winter I have been thinking seriously about downsizing. Perhaps it is foolish, or even selfish to maintain a family-sized home and a complicated labour-intensive garden now that I am alone. Perhaps I should be sensible and make the move to a smaller place while I am still capable of it, the dread always being of leaving a mess for others to sort out.
So I was looking.
I was thinking.
I was planning to be sensible.

But on Mothers' Day I was told that I am going to be a grandmother, and everything changed.
At that stage my grandchild was the size of a walnut, hence the name Walnut Cottage.
How can it be that a walnut-sized person has the ability to change everything?
And yet it is so.

Of course, the play-house will be needed, as will the family-sized house and the complicated garden. The long top landing is needed for the Brio railway, safely stored in the attic for exactly this purpose, the paths around the rockery are perfect for a tricycle, a pedal car.
I will need to fence off the pond....but not just yet.

Walnut Cottage, Ollie Gark the big bear and I wait in the sunshine, which suddenly feels full of joy.