A Good Match

A Good Match

I was looking through my photos for this week’s photo challenge on the theme of a ‘good match’ when I came across some that I took last summer in Gloucester. I was there to enjoy the spectacular celebrations to commemorate the 800th Anniversary of the coronation of the 9-year-old King Henry 111.

In the Cathedral, there is a stained-glass window depicting the original event, which took place in St Peter’s Abbey on 28th October 1216.  It must have been overwhelming for the young Henry to go through this ceremony just 10 days after his father, King John, had died.

The celebrations started with a splendid procession through the streets led by Knights on horseback. This was followed by a spectacular performance of the anointing, enthronement and crowning of the boy King in what is now the Cathedral.

The Cathedral was decorated beautifully with pungent herbs, grasses and flowers which would have grown locally in medieval times. Walking on the herb-strewn stone floor created a heady aroma from the crushed rosemary and lavender.

A local schoolboy, Fraser Martin, played the part of the boy king. He was very majestic in the role and yet vulnerable looking.  In fact, everyone was dressed so beautifully and took the occasion so seriously, that the atmosphere was literally awe-inspiring and very moving.

There was entertainment in the cloisters after the ceremony and a medieval tournament in the grounds. The very authentic looking ‘Barons’ and ‘Knights’ put on a wonderful show of fighting with medieval weapons.  They really were a good match.

Henry 111 went on to rule for 56 years and 29 days until 1272.

 

 

Toffee the Terror

Toffee the Terror

Toffee is Trained

Toffee with her rosette for passing her obedience training

If you read my last post you will know that I have a new puppy. She was named Toffee by my grandchildren as her ears are rather toffee coloured on the underside.  Toffee is nearing 6 months old and is still as uncontrolled and crazy as only a puppy can be.

She is supposedly a Pembroke Corgi crossed with a Dachsund but I am convinced there is a bit of Beagle in her.  She will hunt anything and seems to live with her nose permanently pressed to the ground.  She digs up borders,  gravel and pots as if her life depends on it and I can certainly say goodbye to any hope of a daffodil display this spring.

Indoors she seems to have taken a dislike to my soft furnishing style.  She has bitten holes in my towels, pulled threads in my throws, chewed the corners of the cushions, and my rugs are ragged.  My slippers are shredded and my socks all have holes in them.  But somehow she manages to still be appealing.

On the plus side she is clean, preferring to do her toileting under my much loved maple tree.

I have been taking her to ‘obedience’ training classes for the last 6 weeks and against all the odds she passed!

She has a certificate and a rosette to prove it!

I am still amazed that she managed to fool the trainer but I am oddly proud of her.

What brought me to Adlestrop?

What brought me to Adlestrop?

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I recently started my second free course with the Open University at futurelearn.com

The first course was “Start Writing Fiction“, which was a hands-on course focused on the central skill of creating characters.   My current course is “Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing.”  The course aims to explore how poems, plays and novels can help us understand and cope with deep emotional strain.

Readers who were used to following my blog weekly will have noticed that I have written nothing since I lost my little Dachsund, Dayna, who was the subject of my last post.  Maybe other pet owners, especially dog owners, will understand the depths of my despair at losing Dayna.

I am blessed to have a husband, adult children (albeit three of them live abroad), supportive friends and adorable grandchildren.  But, although I love them all dearly, after losing Dayna I was inconsolable.   I gradually slipped into a downward spiral of despair and lost interest in going out, seeing friends,  talking to people, cooking or even eating.  All I wanted to do was stay at home and curl up under a blanket wallowing in my misery and solitude.  I felt bereft and ridiculously lonely.  Hence my interest in finding ways to cope with ‘deep emotional strain’.

All of my children are dog lovers and my eldest daughter volunteers at a rescue centre in California.  They recommended that I get another dog – not as a replacement because my precious Dayna is irreplaceable, but as a companion.  So I started to search.   How I found my new dog is a long story which I will save for another day but suffice it to say she is NOT Dayna

My new puppy was 10 weeks old when I got her, and supposedly a Corgi crossed with a Dachsund.  However everyone including the local vet is convinced she is a Beagle cross.  I personally think there is a bit of shark in her too.  She is very cute and slightly crazy most of the time but totally adorable of course.  My grandson, Stanley, christened her Toffee and instantly fell in love with her.  Well who wouldn’t?

 

Anyway, I started the course and I am finding it very  stimulating.  It is brilliantly put together with input from poets, authors, doctors, psychiatrists and research scientists, as well as the wonderful actor Sir Ian McKellen, and the amazing Stephen Fry who defies categorisation!

There are countless opportunities for online discussion with other course participants and it was a discussion about the poet Edward Thomas that led me to drive to Adlestrop today.

Edward Thomas was primarily a nature poet and he wrote his famous poem Adlestrop when the train he was travelling on stopped there unexpectedly on 24 June 1914, just before the outbreak of WW!.  Instead of getting irritated, he used all of his senses to take in his surroundings and wallow in the details.

Edward Thomas joined the Artist’s Rifles in 1915 and sadly was killed in action in France in 1917.  Interestingly, his widow, Helen Thomas wrote two books after his death reportedly to help her recover from her deep depression.

Yes, I remember Adlestrop —
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop — only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Edward Thomas 1878 – 1917
Of course Adlestrop Station is no more although the railway line still passes through nearby fields.  Today the fields and the railway line were underwater, flooded after the week of heavy rain we have had in Gloucestershire.  But there is a wonderful bus shelter at the entrance to the village where the old station bench and sign is preserved and a brass copy of the poem displayed.
I went there today as I live just 20 miles away.  It was a cold, cloudy day, and the rain was drizzling down.  But the journey was worth it.  There were swathes of snowdrops by the roadside and in the churchyard.  There is a Yew tree shaped like a cross by the gate to the church.  The writer, Jane Austen was known to worship here when she visited her uncle, the Reverend Thomas Leigh.   There is a beautiful Cotswold stone manor house and a thatched village shop housing the ‘new’ post office. There were young riders in red jackets exercising the racehorses from the beautiful Adlestrop stables.
Here are the photos from Adlestrop

Dayna

 

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I’m posting a photo of my much-loved dog Dayna today sitting in our porch.  This is where I like to sit and write, colour or do puzzles in my very rare free moments.  I am proud to say that until Sunday 16th October, wherever I was you would find Dayna very close by.  In the porch, her favourite spot was the windowsill.  She would sit there guarding me from the world and watching the people go by.  Being south facing our porch is warm and cosy and a great suntrap.  Dayna’s beautiful silver dapple coat of fur would shine in the sunlight as she sat, so proud of herself in her little domain.

Just four momentous years ago I wrote about the little Dachsund, Dayna, that I rehomed.  She settled in quite well after a few minor hiccups!  As soon as I picked her up from her previous home, I popped into the Pets at Home Store.  There I rashly bought 3 very large bags of a good quality dog food, one chicken, one beef and one vegetable variety, which she flatly refused to eat.  I also bought a canvas cage for her to sleep in ~ which she absolutely refused to get into.  I bought a lovely red extending lead to match her very sparkly red collar, which she chewed through during her first walk.

Feeling desperate I appealed to my wonderful dog-loving daughter in Vermont who sent me 3 books packed full of guidance on training your dog:

How to Raise the Perfect Dog by Cesar Millan

How to be your dogs Best Friend by The Monks of New Skete

Dog Stories ~ Everyman Pocket Classics.

I found these books insightful and very helpful, but obviously Dayna has previously read one called How to Get your Owner to Do Whatever You Want, so she wins hands down.  One week and three leads later we got the measure of each other and Dayna had got me trained.

Dayna would eat fresh meat or fish, any kind of cheese, pouches of lamb and rice with vegetables, or tins of expensive dog food.  On no account would she eat dry food however expensive ~ 3 large bags of which were donated to the local animal rescue centre.

Dayna would walk for miles very happily with a short chain metal lead.  She had no interest in being on a long extension, preferring to be within a couple of inches of my feet, preferably between them so I am in danger of tripping.

Dayna had no intention of ever sleeping in a cage, however softly padded or comfortably den-like whatever the Monks of New Skete say!  She prefers to sleep within licking distance of my foot in a soft bed with a fluffy cushion.

We had some great days out. In Pershore for the Plum Festival we sat outside a cafe in the sun where every passer-by fell in love with her.  At the seaside she gloried in the freedom of the beach.  In Wick at the Confetti Fields, she climbed on a trailer and surveyed the scene.  She had such a big personality for such a small dog.

When my two adorable grandchildren came on the scene she was gentleness personified.  As babies they soon realised she was a real-live fluffy toy who loved to play with them.  As Thea grew into a toddler she would dress Dayna up in hats and cover her in jewellery.  Stanley would include her in all his games too. For him she was a dinosaur or an obstacle in the way of his bike or on his train track.

How could something so small have so much control?  I don’t know but she was everything I could want from a dog:

Loyalty, trust, companionship, healthy walks, fun, and bucket-loads of love.  She was worth her weight in gold.

Then on Sunday, the anniversary of my mum’s death, Dayna was tragically killed on a busy road near our home.  She was being taken for a walk on a new lead which somehow came loose as she excitedly pulled to cross the road in a hurry to get back to where she was happiest ~ in our little bungalow, with her little pack ~ her domain, her world.

My heart is broken by her loss.  She is irreplaceable.  But her memory will shine on in our hearts forever.

 

 

Burford Wildlife Park

 

We are truly spoilt for choice in our local area for interesting places to go.  I am so lucky to have grandchildren who I can use as an excuse for going to all the farm parks, forests, steam railways and adventure playgrounds.

There certainly wasn’t anything like that where I grew up in the North of England.  My playground was the shipyards on the River Tyne, abandoned coal mines, or the sand dunes and castle ruins on the North Sea Coast.

The child in me can never get enough of our local Wildlife Park at Burford.  It is so well run and the animals are the first priority.  It is such a joy to see the beautifully maintained grounds and healthy happy animals living as naturally as it is possible and safe for them to be.  I have a season ticket there and go as often as I can with the grandchildren.

 

 

Cotswold Water Features

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Autumn is one of my favourite times to go out and about in the Cotswolds.  When the children are back at school and most of the tourists have gone home, the villages and parks are reasonably quiet.  It is a pleasure then to stroll around them and enjoy the peace and quiet and natural beauty.

I live in a Spa town which was founded on the health giving properties of the natural spring water so water is a common feature around here.  Indeed just off the old Roman Road to Cirencester is an area called Seven Springs.

One of the most unusual Springs is  where the water gushes out of a stone crocodile head. I love the fact that a respected cotswold stone builder from the nearby village of Hazleton built this feature in the 19th Century.  Presumably some local landowner paid for it.  The spring water has been gushing out of the crocodile’s mouth ever since.  Some days, like yesterday, after lots of heavy rain, it is a truly spectacular sight.

Many Cotswold villages have delightful streams or rivers running through them and none is more beautiful than Bourton on the Water.  This delightful town is a favourite of mine when the sun is setting and the only activity is the ducks settling down for the night.

 

Happy Times Past

Rest not! Life is sweeping by; go and dare before you die. Something mighty and sublime, leave behind to conquer time. — Goethe

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The prompt in the Weekly Photo Challenge this week is the word ‘Nostalgia’ and my friends and I are certainly feeling nostalgic today.  We had some truly upsetting news about our old school. The huge tile frieze that we created in 1999 to mark the new millennium, was destroyed in a fire.

It is hard to imagine today just what a big deal it was being on the threshold of a new millennium.  There were all sorts of apocalyptic warnings about power failures, planes falling out of the sky, computer systems not being able to cope etc. No-one really knew what would happen at midnight on 31st December 1999 or what the new millennium would mean for civilisation.  So, as St Thomas More School was such a huge part of my life, I wanted to mark the occasion with something very special and permanent.

In the early 1970’s I watched the new school building rise in the middle of an open field that had once been farmland and an orchard. There was an ancient hedgerow all around the site and just one magnificent old oak tree in what would be the playing field. When it was opened in 1975, I was having my third child so was not available for teaching. But, as I drove past the school every day, I vowed that one day I would work there.

I got my wish in 1984 when my youngest child was ready to start school. I was offered a job and jumped at the chance. The next decade was a time of great blessing as I worked in virtually every class, teaching all age groups, then became deputy Head.

In 1994 the original Headteacher was due to retire and, to my surprise, I was offered his job. He had been such an inspirational Head that the school was a joy to work in. Taking on his role, I tried to emulate him while making my own mark and bringing my own vision for the school into being.

Due mainly to the quality of the staff and their outstanding teamwork, the school became a strong and successful community, ‘an oasis of excellence’, appreciated by staff, pupils and parents alike.

In 1999, as the new millennium approached, the staff wanted to mark the year 2000 with a special feature. We wanted the whole school community to be involved in creating something totally unique and meaningful. We came up with the idea of making a large tile frieze. Each year group was asked to brainstorm their favourite lessons, subjects, or topics, and represent their ideas on paper.

Reception class, the youngest children were just 4 or 5 years old and had only just started school. They had their photographs taken in their shiny new uniforms, so that was their contribution.

The Year 1 class had helped to build a pond and were raising ducklings which they had hatched from eggs in an incubator, so they drew pictures of that. I have a wonderful memory of the day the ducklings hatched out ~ the local policeman had called up to the school on a social visit and he watched as the first duckling struggled to crack open the shell. When it finally succeeded and out popped this beautiful and perfect little bundle of yellow feathers, he was overwhelmed by emotion and had tears in his eyes.

In Year 2 the 7 year olds made their first Holy Communion as it was a Catholic school so they drew a chalice and host. Being the most significant event in the year ~ yes honestly, not SATs! That was their contribution.

Year 3 was the first year of juniors and the children enjoyed learning about Vikings and the Human Body, so they drew lovely longboats and skeletons.

In Year 4 things got much more subject focused so Maths was represented by a calculator and mathematical symbols.

In Year 5, Creative Arts such as Music, Dance, Drama and painting were the main features, so a pot of paint and a brush was drawn. Science too was represented by the planets.

By Year 6 the children were getting ready to move on to secondary school. In order to give them a taste of independence and adventure, it was our tradition to take the class away to Shropshire for a week to stay in a Youth Hostel. Here, in the Ironbridge Gorge, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, we had a wonderful time. We visited the Iron Museum, The Jackfield Tile Museum, Blist’s Hill Reconstructed Village, River Severn Museum and of course the first Iron Bridge ever built. We also had amazing night hikes, midnight feasts and parties. Altogether it was an incredible opportunity for fun and learning. So naturally the Ironbridge at Coalbrookdale was the emblem of Year 6.  Yes, again it wasn’t SATs that featured large in their lives.  How times changed!

For our frieze the staff gathered all these pictures and images together and chose the ones that would be painted on to the tiles. The Year 5 teacher, Anne Bate Williams, a wonderfully creative artist and teacher, took on the challenge of putting all the ideas together and creating a design on tracing paper which could be transferred onto numbered ‘green’ tiles. It was agreed that we would go to Jackfield Tile Museum to create the finished work.

A representative group of staff, parents and children spent a weekend at the Youth Hostel and were each given a small area of the tile frieze to paint. Anne had done a magnificent job scaling all the children’s artwork up or down so that the frieze would truly reflect the life of our school.

It was agreed that the year 2000 would go at the top, as well as the 4 trees, oak, ash, poplar and beech, which were the school emblem.  In the top corners would be tiles depicting the Ironbridge itself.  The children’s artwork would go around the edge, and at the centre would be the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove surrounded by flames.

We painted the tiles in coloured glaze.  I will never forget the atmosphere in that studio at Jackfield as we worked on the frieze.  There was a stillness and peace in the room which was truly sacramental.  While we worked, the Spirit moved in that place and heaven happened.

When we finished, the tiles were left at the Jackfield tile Museum to be fired.  A couple of weeks later they were collected and set into a frame made by Tony O’Shea, the reception class teacher’s husband.

Bishop Mervyn Alexander of Clifton RIP came in the year 2000 to celebrate the school’s 25th anniversary and he blessed the tile frieze.

Although most of the staff who worked at the school have retired or moved on now, the frieze stayed proudly in the school hall for the last 16 years and with it, a little piece of all of us who made it.  And now it is no more.

Nostalgia  in my dictionary is defined as ‘a feeling of sadness mixed with pleasure and affection when you think of happy times in the past.’  I think this sums up our feelings today perfectly.

So here I go down Memory Lane…