Were you happiest at 16 or 70?

Were you happiest at 16 or 70?

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There has been a lot in the UK press recently about the newly published results of a study into happiness.  Called the ‘Happy now report’, it suggests that the happiest ages are 16 and 70. 

I’ve written before about when I was 16, “Back in ‘63” and it certainly was a good year for me.

And, now that I’m just over 70, I have to say that I am happy more often than not.  Like everyone, I’ve had my share of ‘ups and downs’ over the years.  I have grieved for family members and close friends who have passed away.  I live with chronic illness and pain.  I worked hard for most of my life and I have a very simple home.  But my happiness is not based on anything physical, financial or material.  It is based entirely on spending time with friends, family, or my dog, and as often as possible, being surrounded by nature.  I think being over 70 brings a certain acceptance and resilience that enables me to set aside any niggling fears, anxieties and disappointments, and just ~ be happy!

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote,

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared with what lies within us.”

This weekend for example has been wonderful.  I met 2 dear friends for a walk amongst the snowdrops in Painswick Rococo gardens.  We do this every year around this time and it is always a joy whatever the weather.  Friday was perfect, cold but sunny with no wind. You can enjoy our photos below.

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Then, on Friday evening I met another dear friend to celebrate her birthday, with a simple fish and chip supper.  The company and conversation were more important than the food, although the fish and chips were divine too!

Lastly, on Saturday I had an impromptu ride on a big wheel in Cheltenham with 2 of my wonderful grandchildren and their mum and dad to see the town lit up.

Simple pleasures but honestly, they made me extremely happy.

 

 

 

A Floral Dance

 

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St Lawrence Church at Sandhurst

One of the lovely things about the UK is the number of old churches that still exist at the heart of many communities.  And, now that we are experiencing the longest heatwave since 1976, they are literally and metaphorically the coolest places to visit.

Of course, congregations are shrinking and ageing.  Many people, today either don’t go to church at all, or, they go to the more vibrant ‘evangelical’ churches, of which there are many.

However, there is something quintessentially English about a country village church.  I have written previously about the Ivy Church at Ampney St Mary.

Congregations have an uphill struggle to maintain and repair these old buildings and are constantly putting on events to raise the necessary funds.  It is really hard work for small communities.  And, Sandhurst is a small village; but it has some rare treasures and a wealth of history within the grounds of its beautiful church.  So, this week it was a pleasure to support them by visiting St Lawrence Church For their flower festival. 

The festival was entitled, “Strictly Music and Dance”.  All the floral displays were based on the theme.  There was an amazing variety of music and dance styles represented from the old playground song, ‘Oranges and Lemons’ to Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird’.

There has been a church on this site since the time of Henry 1st (1100-1135), when it belonged to St Oswald’s Priory in Gloucester.  The present church is partly 14th century but was mainly rebuilt in 1858.  It has some impressive features.

Outside there is a lychgate which was decorated with flowers, then at the entrance to the church the porch was surrounded by them.  Inside the porch was a magnificent display of sunflowers.  Once inside the door there is a truly remarkable baptismal font made of lead.  It is thought to have been made around 1135 near Bristol, out of lead mined in the Mendip hills.  It is beautifully engraved with scrolls and figures.  My favourite was the figure of Jesus.  Apparently, there are 6 fonts of this type in Gloucestershire so I must find the other 5.  It is exquisite.  This font was surrounded by flowers ‘A La Ronde’ to remind us of country dancing round the maypole on a village green.

There is also an antique carved oak pulpit from the time of King James 1st (1603-1625) which was surrounded by a sparkling floral display showing the glitz and glamour of Ballroom dancing.

One of the features of any old church is the stained glass and this little church has some beautiful examples.  But for me the most moving were a fairly recent one to commemorate the local men who died in WW1, and one to honour a young man from the village, Frederick Watts, who died in WW2.  I was very moved to meet an elderly lady at the church who knew this young man.  She told me that he was her brother’s playmate from childhood and she remembered him well.

It was quite difficult taking photos because of the backlight from the stained-glass windows but I hope you enjoy those I managed to take:

 

Bluebells with the Brontes

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While taking my little dog, Toffee, for her walks this week, I have been thinking about WPC’s cue for my blog ~ ‘Earth’.

It struck me as I wandered across the park and through the woods near my home, just how marvellous the earth is at recovering from what nature, and we humans, subject it to.

We had a short cold spell when the grass was covered in frost and the earth in the woods was as hard as rock underfoot and twisted ankles were a real danger.  Then as the long and wet winter dragged on, the grass became waterlogged and sodden, and the woods were a quagmire with mud.  But through it all, the snowdrop, crocus and daffodil bulbs survived, and bloomed.  When the weather turned milder a few weeks ago, the blackthorn hedgerows were covered in blossom and the daisies started to appear.  Then, just in time for Easter, the sun came out and transformed everything.

Suddenly the grass over the park is green and dry and covered in bright yellow dandelions alongside the daisies.  In the woods the mud has dried up and carpets of bluebells have miraculously appeared in vast swathes of violet among the weeds, ferns and tree roots.  The smell is wonderful and indescribable.

I can see why they are called the fairy flower, they are just so delicate and beautiful and seemingly appear from nowhere.  They seem to speak of childhood and innocence.

As I wandered with my puppy, a poem started to form in my mind.  Then it struck me that many poets, including Shakespeare, have crafted lovely verse about Bluebells, which I could never match.

So, I will include a couple of my favourites here from the Bronte sisters.

Firstly, a really poignant poem by Anne Bronte who suffered so much sadness in her adult life and died far too young.

A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power.

There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.

Yet I recall not long ago
A bright and sunny day,
‘Twas when I led a toilsome life
So many leagues away;

That day along a sunny road
All carelessly I strayed,
Between two banks where smiling flowers
Their varied hues displayed.

Before me rose a lofty hill,
Behind me lay the sea,
My heart was not so heavy then
As it was wont to be.

Less harassed than at other times
I saw the scene was fair,
And spoke and laughed to those around,
As if I knew no care.

But when I looked upon the bank
My wandering glances fell
Upon a little trembling flower,
A single sweet bluebell.

Whence came that rising in my throat,
That dimness in my eye?
Why did those burning drops distil —
Those bitter feelings rise?

O, that lone flower recalled to me
My happy childhood’s hours
When bluebells seemed like fairy gifts
A prize among the flowers,

Those sunny days of merriment
When heart and soul were free,
And when I dwelt with kindred hearts
That loved and cared for me.

I had not then mid heartless crowds
To spend a thankless life
In seeking after others’ weal
With anxious toil and strife.

‘Sad wanderer, weep those blissful times
That never may return!’
The lovely floweret seemed to say,
And thus it made me mourn.

And one by her sister Emily, who also died tragically young:

The Bluebell is the sweetest flower
That waves in summer air:
Its blossoms have the mightiest power
To soothe my spirit’s care.

I was going to write a learned post about Shakespeare and Bluebells but then I thought I could just add this link about the bard’s garden.

Then I thought I could write about the beauty of bluebells but then I realised that I could never match this one by bookishnature

So I think I will just post photos of bluebells from my walks with Toffee instead!

 

snowdrop time

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One of the best things about this time of year in the UK is the abundance of spring flowers that battle their way through the cold wet earth. In my garden the hellebores have been flowering since Christmas, the snowdrops all through February, and the daffodils popped out as March poured in.  This is something of a miracle as I was sure my little puppy had destroyed them all with her frantic digging.  But thankfully they survived her and Storm Doris.

In the park opposite my little bungalow there are banks of snowdrops growing beside a stream, clumps of crocuses among the trees, and a touching display of daffodils that appeared in 2010 spelling out, “Will You Marry Me?”  I walk my dog there every day.

But for a really impressive display I have to go a little further into the Cotswold countryside and take a walk around the Rococo Gardens at Painswick  or Colesbourne Park.

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This year the road taken had to be meticulously planned and carefully executed as my husband came with me to both places. He has been using a wheelchair for the last 18 months due to his medical conditions and the debilitating effects of his treatment.  But over the last two months he has made great progress and started walking indoors with some mobility aids.  He has done so well that I was determined to take him to see the snowdrops.  This would be his first walk in the great outdoors.  It was a bit difficult in some places due to uneven ground or slopes, but together we did it.  Fortunately there were lots of places to rest on the road taken.  It was a lovely afternoon out for us both.

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Leaving my husband to rest on a seat in the Rococo Gardens, I wandered down a gravel path and came across a most unusual sight.  A fairy castle inspired by Schloss Neuschwanstein in Bavaria was carved on top of a fallen birch tree.  According to the label it was created by chainsaw sculptor, Denius Parson.  It really was impressive.

I was joined on my walk, as I often am, by a friendly robin.  I enjoyed the sights as he hopped about bending his head to watch me.  There were banks of snowdrops in every direction, with little clumps of cyclamen and hellebore dotted about, and daffodils just beginning to show.

Enjoy my spring photos from the Rococo Garden.  It was dull and drizzly and the sun was setting by the time we left but the photos show the abundance of snowdrops …

 

 

 

 

Curve

This week I am just posting some photos that I love for WPC on the theme of curve

The first batch are from Stratford on Avon taken this April at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and along the curve of the River Avon looking towardfs Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare and Anne are buried.

Next are some exquisite photos of Calla Lilies taken by a friend, Anne Bate-Wiliams, in her garden.  The curves are delicate and totally unmatched in the manufactured world for beauty I feel.

 

Lastly, some beautiful curves both natural and man-made that I spotted in Dorset.  The Ammonite-like decorative lampposts are in Lyme Regis and reflect the fact that many fossils are found on the Jurassic Coast.

The other photos are from Abbotsbury and Bennets Water garden

http://abbotsbury-tourism.co.uk/gardens/http://www.bennettswatergardens.com/

 

Abstract

Abstract

400 celebration face of stars4

For All Time

“When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”

from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

What an enjoyable weekend I just spent in Stratford on Avon.  I was there to join in the celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday and to commemorate his death 400 years ago on 23 April 1616.

The town, where I lived during my teens, was festooned with flags and shields from almost every nation in the world.  There were banners with Shakespeare’s likeness waving high across the streets or pinned to railings.  There was blue and yellow bunting in side streets and blue and yellow market stalls along the waterside leading to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.  Shakespeare’s colours of blue and yellow amuse me as in theatre superstition wearing blue and yellow means you will forget your lines! My school uniform at Shottery Manor in Stratford was mainly purple but with blue shirts and blue and yellow striped ties. We wore straw boaters in the summer months with a purple blue and yellow band round them.  In the winter we wore purple felt hats with the same coloured band round them. Wearing the hats at the wrong angle on the head was considered a very serious misdemeanour and a detention would surely follow if spotted.

The RSC put on a special celebration, Shakespeare Live!, in honour of the occasion.  It included Opera, Comedy, Ballet, Hip-hop, Poetry, and of course extracts from the plays.  I thought the whole evening was a resounding success.  It appealed to almost everyone whatever their age or tastes in entertainment.

The well-known, justifiably renowned and much-loved, stars who took part included Judi Dench who took the part of Titania falling in love with Bottom played by comedian Al Murray.  The costumes were brilliant, the set was great, and the acting was superb.  The overall effect was slick, professional and absolutely hilarious.  I loved it.  There is a wicker sculpture of Titania and Bottom outside the theatre in the new Stratford Garden.  The flowers in it are all mentioned in the plays and the effect should be quite impressive when they grow.

Among lots of memorable performances in Shakespeare Live!, the most moving I thought was Sir Ian McKellan’s rendition of a speech handwritten by Shakespeare for the character of Sir Thomas More.  I, like most people listening I imagine, had visions of the horrific ‘Jungle’ at Calais and the wretched scenes of migrants behind the barriers and fences, which have been erected along European borders to keep them out.  Sir Ian McKellen brought tears to my eyes with this speech.  You can hear an earlier rendition of it here

The whole speech is written at the end of this post and here is a link to the very relevant and learned Shakespeare Blog.

On Sunday and Monday I indulged myself by taking a walk along the river Avon and revisiting many of the houses and museums connected with Shakespeare.  The weather was changeable but I managed to get some reasonable photos, especially at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage where the garden is a riot of spring colour with flowers including daffodils, bluebells and tulips.  I also spent some time in the newly restored Swan Theatre with its amazing abstract sculpture, ‘For All Time’ created by Steven Follen.  This representation of a head, shown in photo at the top, is made of 2000 stainless steel stars suspended from the ceiling by fine wires to make the shape of a 3 metre tall human face.  It is surrounded by other stars which closely represent the position of the constellations on the day of Shakespeare’s birth.

There are two additional places to visit in Stratford now, which in previous years were not open to the public.  One is King Edward the Sixth School for Boys, which Shakespeare attended.  His actual schoolroom is open to the public with professional actors dressed in costume teaching Latin and chatting to visitors in character.  It was a surreal experience being inside the actual classroom.  I have been to the school before in the days when Mr Pratt was Headmaster, but it was a joy to visit the most ancient parts of the building, which have been beautifully restored.

The second is Harvard House where John Harvard was born in 1607.  This is a three story Elizabethan house almost opposite New Place, the house which Shakespeare bought in 1607.  It is remarkably authentic in its preservation and restoration, with lots of oak beams and areas of ancient wall paintings.  John Harvard eventually married and emigrated to Massachusetts in America where he was a preacher and teaching elder.  When he died of TB he left 230 books and a very generous legacy to a fund for the founding of a new college.  This was to become Harvard College, the oldest institution of higher education in America.  The house is owned by the American University but looked after by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.  It is worth a visit just to see the Bible Box.  This is a beautifully carved oak box for storing the treasured Bible.  After Henry V111 declared that all bibles should be written in English (not Latin) so that they were accessible to ordinary folk who could read, it became fashionable for families to keep a Bible at home.  Wealthier families would store their bible in such a box.

Of course I visited Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare, his wife Anne, and other members of his family are buried.  It is traditional for all the dignitaries and important visitors who attend the bard’s birthday celebrations, to bring flowers to the grave.  At this time of year, when daffodils are still abundant, the sight and smell in the church is quite literally breathtaking.  There was a rather unusual floral tribute with Shakespeare’s dates on it.  It was standing on trestles with a huge candle at each corner.  It had been processed through the town earlier in the day looking rather coffin-like.

I have celebrated Shakespeare’s birthday in Stratford many times, most notably the 400th anniversary  one in 1964, but I have never before attended a commemoration of his death. It was odd as both events occurred on the same date.  But I have to say it was all very tasteful ~ well except for the countless people wearing Shakespeare masks?!

Do enjoy some of my photos below.

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre

The Seven Ages of Man on Stained Glass in the Swan Theatre

Holy Trinity Church

King Edward Sixth School

Around The Town

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in Shottery ~ very close to my old school!

http://theshakespeareblog.com/2015/09/shakespeare-sir-thomas-more-and-the-immigrants/

Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another….
Say now the king
Should so much come too short of your great trespass
As but to banish you, whether would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbour? go you to France or Flanders,
To any German province, to Spain or Portugal,
Nay, any where that not adheres to England,
Why, you must needs be strangers: would you be pleased
To find a nation of such barbarous temper,
That, breaking out in hideous violence,
Would not afford you an abode on earth,
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, nor that the claimants
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But chartered unto them, what would you think
To be thus used? this is the strangers case;
And this your mountainish inhumanity. 

Kew dinnertime

Kew dinnertime

My photos for the weekly photo challenge come from my visit to Kew Gardens.  The weather was so glorious that visitors and school groups chose to eat outside in the beautiful surroundings.

Kew Gardens are in Richmond, London and we went there yesterday for a Spring time coach trip with Carers Gloucestershire.  This is a wonderful charity that can be a real lifeline for both carers and the cared-for.  For myself it provided a very rare opportunity to go somewhere beautiful with my husband and enjoy a stress free day.  The volunteers and staff of Carer’s Gloucestershire did everything they could to make the day as relaxing as possible.  I am deeply grateful to them for their organisation, their practical support and the funding that subsidised the trip.

The weather was glorious with blue skies and warm sunshine ~ just perfect for seeing the abundant cherry blossom, exotic magnolia and camellia, fabulous fritillaries, drifts of daffodils in the gardens, and woodlands blanketed in bluebells in this glorious and historic park.

Apart from the beautiful plants and impressive landscapes at Kew, we saw some lovely lakes with swans nesting, ducks flying or ambling about, and grumpy geese arguing with each other.  We also saw Jays, peacocks, and lots of noisy green parakeets, which have taken up residence in the trees and are the cause of lots of damage to fruits and buds we were told.

We loved the historic buildings and mock roman ruins situated near the gateways, which also sport beautiful sculptures.  My favourite was the Unicorn near the Victoria Gate.

There are some truly enormous glass buildings, including the world’s largest Victorian greenhouse, which was closed for restoration while we were there.  I can’t wait to see it when it opens.  But the Palm House, Orangery, and various conservatories were open to view.

Sadly, it was impossible to see everything in just one afternoon.  I walked miles as it was and only managed to see about a quarter of the gardens.  There is a road train which does a tour taking an hour and a half which would have been a good idea, but there is nothing better than just walking around soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of this beautiful park.

I really hope to be going back!

I have posted just some of my photos below, but if you want to read the fascinating history of Kew Gardens and how Henry V111 was involved in it click on

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/8301243/A-history-of-Kew-Gardens.html

or http://www.kew.org/visit-kew-gardens

ROY-G-BIV ~ Rambles and rainbows

Indigo denim jeans on  Jungle playmat

Jungle playmat

The differences between being a child in postwar Britain, a parent in the 1970’s, and a grandparent today are amazing to me.  When I was a child there were still shortages of food which meant essential supplies were rationed while luxuries were just none existent for the ordinary family.  This made for a simpler diet with few choices and little chance of overindulging.  However, undernourishment was such a big issue for children at the time that the government provided orange juice, cod liver oil, malt extract and often a tonic like Minadex for every school age child.  Babies and schoolchildren were given free milk.

Food was basic, grown, fished or farmed, and home cooked.  There was very little processed food and no such thing as ready meals!  Packaging was practical and simple too.  Butter and cheese was cut off a large block and wrapped in greaseproof paper then put in a brown paper bag.  Sugar, flour and dry goods were scooped out from large sacks, weighed and poured into paper bags.  Fresh fish was bought straight from the quayside or from a man who brought it round the houses in a horse and cart.  Bread and pastries were usually baked at home or bought from the local baker, while meat was from the local butcher and chickens were often still alive!  Every town had a High Street which had a selection of specialist shops and there were ‘corner shops’ in most residential areas.  In fact when my grandfather left the army in 1952, he bought a corner shop right next to the hospital off the West Road in Newcastle.  Some shops, like Woolworth’s, were quite large, but nothing like the huge supermarkets of today.

Women, and it was almost always women, had large sensible shopping bags, which were used over and over again.  Plastic bags had not been invented.   Often the shopping was delivered to the housewife in a cardboard box by a lad on a bicycle or a man in a van.  This was essential as working class women, or indeed men, would not have had a car.  We have gone full circle here as so many supermarkets deliver shopping now, but not for the same reason!

But to get back to childhood, babies as far as I remember were dressed and treated as babies until they were about 3 years old. They would be put in a big pram and stuck outside in the garden or yard, or often, on the street outside the front door.  Here the child would sleep or watch the world go by for hours between feeds with a few toys.  My soft toys would have been knitted by my mum while my dad would occasionally make wooden toys.  Toys, being few,  were treasured.  I still have the doll I had when I was 1 and the golly (sorry) my mum knitted when I was 4.  Boys would often have tin cars or lead soldiers, both of which would be considered dangerous now.

Today things are so different.  Babies are socialised and stimulated from the earliest age.  My grandchildren are taken to ‘bounce and rhyme’,  baby gym, play barns, swimming classes, baby massage  etc. etc.  It amazes me to see the speed of their development.  And at home the range of toys is breathtaking.  Everything seems to have movement, music, colour and lights built in.  Even books have appropriate sounds alongside the story.  And, before babies can even crawl they have play mats like the one in my photo.  This 3D mat has all the colours of the rainbow in it.  It is based on a jungle theme so there are animals adorning it.  It is soft, safe, supportive and stimulating.  It plays a variety of music, animal noises, and even waterfall sounds.  It has given my grandchildren hours of pleasure.  I chose this photo for a couple of reasons.  It shows  my two and a half year old grandson teaching his 8 month old sister how to roll over.  It is so cute and the clothes just tickle me.  Denim jeans on a baby I find hilarious and absolutely adorable.

So this week’s photo challenge was to illustrate the colours of the rainbow and I think this photo does that.  The denim jeans qualify as Indigo while all the other colours of the rainbow are in the playmat.  but just in case you want more I have added a little group of colourful shots below.

 

Cotswold Gold

Oilseed Rape Story

Oilseed Rape Story

As soon as we arrived at Church Farm for Open Farm Sunday I was captivated.  At the entrance there were Shetland ponies and goats to pet, as well as a great display of crops and posters giving information about oats, barley and oilseed rape.  It was like the best nature table you could possibly arrange!  As a primary school teacher many years ago, I would have loved to put on a display like this for my pupils.  But even as an adult I found it fascinating.  What appealed to me most was the opportunity to learn about the oilseed rape.

I love to see the fields of gold that stretch across the Cotswold in late Spring each year.  I go out and take photographs and take the grandchildren to admire them.  I usually say something simple like, “It’s used for cooking oil”, but I honestly hadn’t a clue what really happened to those gorgeous yellow plants.

Well, having chatted to the farmer and a seed merchant, I now know a great deal more.  Rapeseed belongs to the Brassica family of plants like turnips, cabbages, Brussel sprouts and cauliflower among others.  In fact the word Rape comes from the Latin, Rapum which means turnip!  Who knew?  Natural rapeseed has been grown, and used to produce fuel, for centuries.  In fact Brassica are some of the oldest plants around.  There are records of Brassica oilseed varieties being grown in India 4000 years ago, and China and Japan 2000 years ago.   It is likely that the Romans introduced it to Britain.  It was found to be a useful ‘break crop’, which means that it keeps down weeds and helps enrich the soil in between growing other crops.  By the middle-ages rapeseed oil was being used as fuel for lamps.  But it was not until the Industrial Revolution, when steam power came to the fore, that machinists discovered its suitability as a lubricant.

During the Second World War huge quantities of oil were needed to keep the engines of naval and merchant vessels seaworthy, but because of blockades it was difficult to source from Europe and the East.  So Canada greatly increased its rapeseed cultivation.

The original, natural strains of rapeseed had been used for centuries to feed animals, but not people.  It had a bitter taste and was high in erucic acid, which is toxic to young children.  However, following research and development in Canada, a strain was developed that had low levels of erucic acid and a pleasant nutty taste, making it suitable for human consumption.  The Canadian climate was good for growing it, so in 1978 a company was set up to produce Canadian Oil, Low in Acid, hence the name Canola!  Although this was a brand name it is now accepted as a generic term for oilseed rape.

I have used Rapeseed Oil for years at home for frying and roasting food, as well as baking carrot cakes and biscuits.  It is also suitable for bread and pastries, and of course, it makes delicious dressings, marinades and mayonnaises.   A knowledgeable doctor told me years ago that Rapeseed oil is high in Vitamin E and contains less than half the saturated fat of olive oil, which helps to keeps cholesterol down.  Rapeseed oil is also rich in omega 3, 6 and 9 and contains no preservatives or additives, making it a healthy alternative to butter or other vegetable oils..   I buy the locally produced ‘Cotswold Gold’ rapeseed oil as it is made in small batches by methods which preserve the goodness of the oil and it is not genetically modified as some mass produced or foreign oils are.

In recent years, celebrity chefs have made rapeseed oil very popular, which is one reason why there is so much grown in this country now.  Another reason is its use in the biodiesel industry.  In fact over 60% of the rapeseed grown in Europe now is used for fuel.  This would be a worry if it was taking up land which could be used for food production.  But apparently it can be grown on ‘set-aside’ land, which would otherwise not be used.

I was very pleased to learn that not a single bit of the rapeseed plant is wasted.  Once the oil has been pressed out of the ripe black seeds, the left over pulp provides a rich feed for the animals on the farm and the rest of the plant goes into the forage which provides food for the animals in winter.

If you would like more information or facts and figures, the website ukagriculture.com  produces a wonderful poster called The Story of Oilseed Rape.  And, you can watch a short video on the oil extraction process in Ireland here on youtube.

Oats and beans and barley grow,

Oats and beans and barley grow,

Not you, nor I, nor anyone know,

How oats and beans and barley grow.

First the farmer sows the seed,

Then he stands and takes his ease,

Stamps his feet and claps his hand,

And turns around to view the land.

Oats and beans and barley grow,

Oats and beans and barley grow,

Not you, nor I, nor anyone know,

How oats and beans and barley grow.

First the farmer sows the seed,

Then he stands and takes his ease,

Stamps his feet and claps his hand,

And turns around to view the land.

Early Bird

Reward 10

This early bird got more than one worm!

 

Goodness this weeks photo challenge was a nightmare for me.  I’m often awake early but the thought of getting out before dawn with a camera or anything else for that matter is anathema to me.

There have been times of course when travelling, that early starts have been enforced.  You can read about my trips to Lourdes or America by clicking the links.  But I am really an evening person.  I would happily do housework at midnight or write poetry and my journal at 2am.  But I don’t really come back to life before 8.30 in the morning.

However, I did make a special effort just for the challenge and was rewarded, not by a visual revelation as it was quite dull, but by the dawn chorus of birds.  There was an owl hooting plaintively in the woods over the road and countless little birds singing their hearts out in the bushes in my garden.  I know their song is just a warning to competitors to stay away but it does sound delightful.  I wish you could hear it!

5.20am from my front window

5.20am from my front window

I did however want to make my day worthwhile by taking more photographs so I am posting photographs of the early apple and cherry blossom in my garden.  A bit of a cheat I know but I hope you enjoy them.  We are having a wonderful spring, warm, sunny and dry so the blossom is perfect.

Travel; Dymock Woods, Gloucestershire and the wild Daffodils

I finally managed to get to the ‘Golden Triangle’ I mentioned in a previous post to see the wild daffodils, also known as Lent Lilies. I got some lovely photos and had a wonderful time but because of heavy mud I couldn’t get deep into the woods and fields. However I can recommend Eddie Oliffe’s blog for his beautiful photos. My much less dramatic ones from the weekend are above!

Eddie Olliffe's Blogspot

Dymock Woodsare made up of 17 separate woodlands on the UK’s Gloucestershire and Herefordshire county border, close to the Forest of Dean. Probably the best known of these woodlands is Shaw Common, registered also as a special ‘seed-stand’ (where acorns are collected in the autumn for use as seedlings) for the Sessile Oak, one of two species of oak tree native to Britain.

Around Eastertide each year, these woodlands are the scene of intense visitor activity as people come to view surely one of the most beautiful – and increasingly rare – sights in Britain; the diminutive and lovely wild daffodil. These were once relatively common in damp woodlands and undisturbed grassland. The countryside around Newent, Ledbury and Dymock constitutes such an area, known locally as the ‘Golden Triangle’ containing as it does large numbers of these exquisite little daffodils. Nowadays loss of habitat and cross…

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Fresh Lead

As always I found this week’s photo challenge fascinating in where it leads me.  If you manage to read to the end I think you will be as amazed as I was!

The word ‘Fresh’ immediately led me to photographs I had taken of my adorable granddaughter picking fresh fruit and vegetable from my garden.  I love to do this in season and then cook with the children, soups, pies and crumbles.

But then yesterday was rather special in many ways, not least for a solar eclipse!

It was also officially the first day of Spring yesterday here in the UK; a fresh season with fresh delights.  This is when I switch from sauntering through the Gloucestershire countryside seeking out snowdrops, to heading for the Herefordshire borders hunting out wild daffodils.  The best place to see these beautiful fresh flowers is in what is known locally as the ‘Golden Triangle’, namely the villages of Dymock, Kempley and Oxenhall.

wild daffodils native to the golden triangle

I have mentioned before that snowdrops were picked commercially by the local women and children of Sherborne to be whisked off by train to London and sold for 6d a bunch in flower markets like Covent Garden.  Similarly, daffodils were picked commercially in the golden triangle.  You can read about the daffodils and see some beautiful photographs on the Glos Oracle website if you would like to know more.

And enjoy this poem by A. A. (Alan Alexander) Milne (1882-1956), famous for his stories about Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin, Tigger, Piglet and the rest, who wrote that, ‘winter is dead’ in his poem Daffodowndilly

Daffodils in my garden

She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,

She wore her greenest gown;

She turned to the south wind
And curtsied up and down.

She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbour:
“Winter is dead.”

As is often the way on my days out I got totally sidetracked and ended up in a fascinating little place called Upleadon.  Named after the river Leadon, this is a small village with a fascinating history and some superb buildings.  But what struck me as I drove over the hill in glorious sunshine was what looked like snow covered fields in the distance.  As I got closer I realised it was actually a vast expanse of farmland covered in polytunnels.

Having explored, investigated then googled I discovered that Upleadon has been a fruit growing area for hundreds of years.

Cider orchards were cultivated next to many of the farmsteads including Middletown before 1700. In 1627 a garden was known as the cherry hay and in 1678 an arable close was called perry grove field.In 1739 it was reported that Thomas Hammond’s estate included several thousand fruit trees from which one tenant had made 100 hogshead of cider in a year and in the late 1770s it was said that the fruit from orchards in Upleadon made excellent cider. Among orchards planted in the corn fields by the early 19th century were several of squash pears and in leasing Lower House farm in 1817 the landowner James de Visme reserved pear but not apple windfalls. Both apple and pear trees were also cultivated at Middletown which was one of the farmsteads with its own cider mill.

(Victoria History of Gloucestershire XIII, draft text by John Juřica: © University of London 2011)

I was really struck by the juxtaposition of the ancient church of St Mary the Virgin which has a thousand years of history, and the really modern cultivation methods.  It appears that polytunnels have caused some controversy as they can be rather unsightly when they cover large areas of farmland.  However, as a consumer I have to say I am delighted that I can buy (or pick) fresh local strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, Victoria plums and blackcurrants from mid-June to August and different varieties of apples and pears from September to Christmas.  An added bonus is that growers use much less herbicides and insecticides on fruit grown in polytunnels as they are not as prone to rot or disease.

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Upleadon

Now here is the bit that just took my breath away literally and gave me a fresh lead in my family history search.

As I was searching online for the history of Upleadon I came across a fascinating document held by the Gloucestershire Archives.  It was the file of documents re: Thackwell Roche estate.  The former Roche estate at Aghada (in county Cork, Ireland) came into the possessionof the Thackwell family in the second half of the 19th century.  The Thackwells were related to the Roche family of Trabolgan.  Another document describes how the Thackwell Roche estate comprised Norman’s Land estate near Old Rock, Dymock, (here on the Gloucestershire/Herefordshire border in the Golden Triangle) as well as lands in Ireland.  Believe it or not my great grandfather William Roche was the son of James Roche and he comes from that very area.  I have searched for years for information on his family.  I know his mother died when he was young so his father remarried and took his new wife and the other children to America in the second half of the 19th century.  William, being 15 was old enough to join the Royal Navy as a boy sailor so he was left behind.  he joined a training ship, HMS Conwy in 1855 and spent the next few years rising through the ranks.  By 1861 he was sailing on the Victor Emmanuel, and thereafter he sailed the China seas on tea clippers as First Mate.  He never saw any of his family again and I have searched for clues as to their home and their destination.

Who would have thought that a trip to take photographs of daffodils in Gloucestershire would throw up a fresh lead for me to follow in the archives.  It is just amazing and I am thrilled.  You can see Normanstown just near Kempley on the map of the Poets’ Walks by clicking on this link Poets Paths

Wet and Windy in Wiltshire

Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Rule of Thirds

Ben and Rosie set out on a treetop adventure

Ben and Rosie set out on a treetop adventure

 

This week was half term for the local schoolchildren.  As often happens, the weather, which had been mild for February, decided to turn nasty, wet, windy, and very cold.  Now I know from my daughter who is snowed up in Vermont that we have nothing to moan about in the Cotswolds, but I did feel sorry for the families who had planned to have days out during the holiday.  As I take my grandmother duties very ‘seriously’, I had planned all sorts of exciting things to do with my own adorable grandchildren.  There are lambs being born at the farm park, there is a baby rhino at the wildlife park, and the woods are full of snowdrops.  Oh what fun we could have ~ if it would only stop raining!  Undeterred we opted to go to Lydiard Park early to see if we could have some fun.

Having never been there before I decided to let the SatNav direct me.  This caused great hilarity as I had set it to stay off the motorways and we ended up on some of the tiniest country lanes with the weirdest names.  We made up a game of seeing who could find the funniest or strangest name.  I kid you not we found a house called Tadpole cottage, at the end of Tadpole Mews, in Tadpole Lane in a place called Tadpole Garden Village!  It is a new village built on the site of… you guessed it…. Tadpole Farm!

At last, and in a very cheerful mood, we reached our destination.  Lydiard Park is a beautiful historic estate in Wiltshire.  Back in medieval times, there was a deer park and manor house on the land as well as St Mary’s Church.  The estate as we see it today dates back to Elizabethan times and was owned by the same family for over 500 years until 1943.  There is a beautiful Palladian House, the medieval church and a restored walled garden, set in 260 acres of parkland.  In the grounds there is a lake, woods, sweeping avenues which are great for walkers and cyclists, and a superb ice house.

Despite the rain we had a great time.  The children braved the treetop adventure course which has over 50 hair-raising activities including zip wires, cargo nets, Tarzan swings, see-saws, rocket slides, wobbly logs, and tree trekking.  We warmed up and drip-dried in the café drinking hot chocolate before setting off to take photos of the snowdrops and the ice house.

 

I wanted to use my photos for the Weekly Photo Challenge but I really am not sure that I have the skills.  I could blame the weather, or my iphone camera but really I just haven’t understood the Rule of Thirds.  I took some photos of my garden hellebores and tried to crop them to the rule of thirds. Did it work?  Do let me know how I could improve.

 

All of a Flutter with Real Confetti

confetti fields 17

We took a drive out on Friday to a lovely part of the Cotswolds, the village of Wick near Pershore. I was keen to see the fields of Delphiniums at Wick while the weather was good.
Acres of delphiniums are grown by Charles Hudson on the Wyke manor Estate, which are dried and sold as natural confetti for the Real Confetti Company. Apparently delphiniums, apart from growing in a range of vibrant colours, keep their colour indefinitely once they are dried, while rose petals go brown, carnations go black and marigolds shrivel up. This makes delphiniums perfect for confetti. Being totally natural, they biodegrade and don’t litter up churchyards and wedding venues, many of which have banned paper confetti for this reason.  I was told that when Prince Charles and Camilla came out from their wedding the young royals, William, Harry, Zara and others threw real confetti from Wick over the happy couple.
The village of Wick is a delight to behold. It is really ancient and retains every bit of its character. It must be the quintessential English village with its old church, thatched cottages and beautiful manor house.
The original manor was called Wyke Manor, using the ancient spelling, and it had a very long and illustrious history. It was owned by John Nevill, 3rd Lord Latimer, involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1538. Upon his death in 1543, he willed the manor to his widow Catherine Parr. Catherine later married King Henry VIII (28 June 1491 – 28 January 1547) as his sixth and last wife in July of 1543. She was 31 years old and he was 52. The marriage didn’t last long as Henry died in 1547 so Catherine outlived him. A small piece of Catherine has returned to the Manor recently as a lock of her hair came up for auction. The hair is mounted in an oval frame on ink-inscribed paper which states “Hair of Queen Catherine Parr, Last Consort of Henry, the night she died September 5th 1548 was in the Chapel of Sudeley Castle”. The current owner of the manor, Charles Hudson, paid £2,160 for the hair, in order to return it to the manor.
Catherine Parr's Hair
After Catherine died, the estate passed to Anthony Babington, who was later executed for treason after plotting to kill Queen Elizabeth I! It then passed to Sir Walter Raleigh, who was also executed.
The Hudson family have owned the Wyke manor Estate since the 1760s and the current owner is Charles Hudson and his wife, the writer Cressida Connolly. I was fascinated to learn that Cressida is an authority on Ladybird Books, which I have always rated highly.

I have recently been told that the house which is now on the Wyke Manor Estate was partially rebuilt in the 1920s in the Elizabethan style.  I am grateful to Paul, a resident of Wick, for this update.

The people of Wick that I met were absolutely lovely and pointed me in the direction of the shop at the back of the manor house. This is not like any shop I have ever seen before. It is literally a part of the stable block and there are children’s bikes scattered all over the yard. Inside the ‘shop’ a lovely young lady, who must have the best job and workplace in the world, was boxing up exquisite dried petals into pretty boxes. Along one wall is a vast array of open boxes each containing different coloured dried petals. The smell and colour and atmosphere is hypnotic. I felt as if I had walked into a fairytale. Honestly, if you get the chance you just have to go along and experience it.
Well I spent so long soaking up the atmosphere that it was getting decidedly overcast by the time I headed off to the actual confetti fields. But I rushed to get as many photos as I could before the light failed, the heavens opened and I got soaked! It was definitely worth it though. Enjoy my photos.