blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Monday, April 28, 2008

To free myself from (mental) clutter

The question at the end of my previous blog entry seems to have ruffled a few feathers. Although the gist of my question should have had nothing to do with possessions, Faith's comment suggests otherwise and my other two readers & commentators have joined in with alacrity, making the same assumption perhaps.

I've been thinking about this.

In my jumble of last week's preoccupations I mentioned films, sheet music, books and other things to read, most of which could have been accessed from a public library, I admit. However, going to the library would have entailed several more excursions, not exactly simplifying my day-to-day existence or saving me time, so it's probably just as well we had all that stuff on our own shelves. I also mentioned TV shows. We don't own a TV set; all the same I was watching those programmes because we were staying at a hotel we couldn't have reached without a vehicle, in this case an aeroplane, an extravagant possession indeed, although Chris argues a strong case for its positive uses. He gave five children a ride in it yesterday and that, so he reckons, must surely have a beneficial ripple effect! Likewise the music making that wouldn't happen if we didn't own any instruments, but if it ever comes to obeying Jesus' recommendation to

sell all you have and give to the poor

let me state here and now that those particular possessions will be the last to go, because they're tantamount to living things. The plants I'm propagating/buying/coveting are definitely living things; should I get rid of them, too? We could throw or give away our computers, thus gaining time (although that's debatable—I drafted this blog in handwriting this morning which took ages), money (certainly) and a tiny fraction of the world's electricity supply, but then our precious virtual link to our family and friends overseas would be cut, not to mention the reminders of them in .jpg format, and that would be hard for me to bear.

Am I clinging too much?

Chris' spirited defence of his own possessions has to do with their educational value, with the fact that they make him more knowledgeable or his life more efficient. Although I'm not sure whether he had a clue what I was talking about, I pointed out that this constant striving for betterment was a western aspiration:

Es irrt der Mensch solang er strebt

as Goethe put it in his Faust, whereas other cultures may see the purpose of life as simply being—being alive to the full—not struggling for self-imposed accomplishments or identities.

I keep thinking of the elderly Swiss lady we used to visit ca. 1980 with the Quakers of Bern whose possessions amounted to her very basic kitchen equipment, her narrow bed, chest of drawers, table and a few upright chairs. She did have a small bookshelf but one by one she was giving away her books (commentaries on the Bible, mostly). There was a wonderful serenity about her little sunlit apartment and about her, one of the few people I've met who had really managed both to simplify her life and de-clutter her mind. However, I ought to add that this was a single lady who could live (or die) in the way she chose, without that choice impinging upon anybody else's. Most of the rest of us don't have such freedom.

Sorry, Faith, I haven't yet begun to consider the other things to be jettisoned that were on your list, viz. my "habits" or my sense of "security". Well, I'm not going to dwell on my bad habits today as it's my Birthday and I want to remain cheerful, and "security" could cover a multitude of things both good and bad. Any further elucidation as to what you meant?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Too much on my mind!

It's all very well keeping a blog called Juxtapositions, but sometimes there are too many different thoughts and impressions to express at once.

Since this time last week, for example, I've been meaning to write about the return of our spring animals and birds and about the episode of Planet EarthDeserts—that I watched on TV at the hotel in Kingston. I also watched an interview with the Dalai Lama from the Mansbridge One on One series. I thought about the young people at the Royal Military College and Queen's University whom we saw swarming over Kingston, scantily clad because of the warm weather.

The films I've happened to see lately are worth a mention (Heimat in German, Il Postino in Italian and La Grande Séduction in French) as is the novel I can't stop thinking about, Alistair McLeod's No Great Mischief, whose characters were from Cape Breton. Apart from the Spanish story I mentioned in my last blog I've also been discussing an article from Le Monde with our French-speaking group: Voyage dans la poubelle du Pacifique, about the pollution of the Pacific Ocean by plastic litter. In our German group, by contrast, we read a Märchen by the Brothers Grimm—Hans im Glück—and then had a depressing discussion about retirement residences.

My friend Barbara came round so that I could help her learn the alto line of some Bach chorales, now that she has joined a church choir. Chris and I have been working on the usual Schubert Lieder and Vaughan Williams songs and learning a clarinet and piano sonata by Lefèvre. Maryam is thinking about auditioning to sing in a performance of The Dream of Gerontius. Emma is preparing to give a talk about the effect of fluorescent lighting on our perception of colours. George has been to Central Australia to see the rocks, and what an adventure that was! (I was thinking of him all the time he was there.) Chris is editing exam papers for Canadian commercial pilots and while he's been busy with that, I have been proof reading his book about the Theory of Flight. Yesterday we met an Artificial Intelligence expert from Austin, Texas, proud of having home-schooled his sons, who is trying to give computers some common sense. Chris is very interested in this venture!

When I want to give myself a break from thinking I potter about (or putter about, as North Americans put it) in my garden. I'm planning to grow mint, parsley, basil, lemon verbena, oregano, savory, chives, rosemary, sage, cilantro, nasturtiums, calendulas, red peppers, onions, carrots, spinach, tomatoes and pansies this year.

Tomorrow we meet two young ladies off a flight from Saskatchewan who'll be spending a few nights at our house while participating in the Adventure in Citizenship programme for young Canadians, organised by the Rotary Club, and Chris is in charge of a Fly Day at Rockcliffe airport with twenty-five scouts likely to show up for rides with volunteer pilots.

I don't think the above mish-mash is untypical of present-day, western. middle-aged lives. Modern society is unfocussed; maybe that's why we don't give enough attention to the things that matter. We do need to simplify ourselves, but what should we give up in order to concentrate our minds? That is the question.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Soulless town planning

Here's a romantic, moonlit view from the waterfront at Kingston where we were on Saturday evening, and the following morning we enjoyed looking down from a different angle while breakfasting on the sixth floor of the Holiday Inn. In these pictures is one of the four historic Martello Towers to be found in and around the city.

Kingston is certainly an attractive place, but when you see the city from the water, it seems that the local authorities have allowed that once elegant view of the historic skyline to be ruined by insensitive planning. The ugly new residential developments by the lake now dwarf Kingston's domes and towers. What a shame!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Here lives a Peruvian poet

The lady I met this morning lives on the east bank of the Gatineau River in a hundred year old house near the Lady Aberdeen Bridge. Borka Sattler has spent the last nine years in Canada and, when not painting or writing, is the Peruvian Embassy's Cultural Attachée (agregada cultural de la embajada del Perú).

Having served us from a table of refreshments most artistically tiered in front of a wall she had used as the canvas for a huge, abstract painting, and having handed each of us a copy of her 1997 novela, Doña Tránsito Abril, she led us to her bright studio at the back of the house where she read us a story, Manuela, set in 1940s Peru, from the book she published in 2003: La Cama Verde .

In her colourful living room full of her recent oil paintings of women's faces hung a ceramic plaque on which was written:


Another pertinent message caught my eye beside the doorway to her studio, this one a quotation in English:

Artistic creativity will keep you alive.

A sample of her poetry can be found here.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Three flights over rivers

We're home after a weekend's flight to Kingston (via a meandering route) and back (in a straight line), following a variety of rivers. For the first leg we overflew the south bank of the Ottawa as far as Hawkesbury, crossing there and cutting across the fields to Lachute for yesterday's lunch, three of our friends bringing their own 'planes this far as well. The recently warmed air (as warm as 20°, at altitude!) is so smooth and hazy it suddenly seems like mid-summer, though the woods are still edged with melting snowdrifts and ice lingers in the shallow inlets of the river. Between Ottawa and Hawkesbury is the mouth of the South Nation River which I mentioned a week ago, the fields in the distance still flooded where it had burst its banks (as in the picture on the left, above).

In the afternoon we flew south (13° to the east of true south because of the magnetic variation in these parts) right over the Carillon Dam and down to the St Lawrence River, turning west towards Cornwall rather than crossing it, so that we wouldn't drift across the U.S. border by mistake. Following the line of the river all the way to its origin at Kingston we saw three international bridges, the one at Cornwall, the one crossing from Prescott to Ogdensburg and the one across the islands near Rockport and Gananoque. On our approach to Kingston airport we also crossed the Cataraqui River at which we had to "report entering the zone" of Kingston's airspace. We took another look at the Cataraqui later on, after supper. If you take a boat on the "Cat" River (as ATC called it) past the yellow tug you enter the Rideau Canal system and can eventually reach Ottawa by this route.

Today, after a free ride as foot passengers on the Wolfe Island ferry across the stretch of water where the Cataraqui meets Lake Ontario and Lake Ontario merges into the St. Lawrence, we left Kingston behind and took to the air again, following the line of Rideau lakes across the rocky country to Smiths Falls, where the Rideau River squeezes itself through some locks.

Then into the Rockcliffe circuit for Runway 09, with a view of the foam floating down the Ottawa River (past the mouth of the Gatineau River) from the Rideau Falls.

Friday, April 18, 2008

How leaky is my house?

The City of Ottawa's Enviro Centre sent a "certified ecoEnergy advisor" round to our house this morning to do an evaluation of its air-tightness and other environmental qualities; the inspection took two hours. This young man has a degree in mechanical engineering and commerce from McMaster University; he had also had a couple of years' experience doing kitchen renovations. With his nuclear energy scientist girlfriend he is about to take a fortnight's holiday hiking the Offa's Dyke trail through Wales, but that's another story.

In order to test the draughts, he opened our front door and erected a Blower Door in its place, letting the fan run for ten minutes or so while he walked around the building (with all the windows closed) searching for air leaks. I am now going to get a written report on the alterations we could make to our property to reduce its environmental unfriendliness and to save us money on our gas, electricity and water bills. I've also been given pages and pages of thought-provoking information in the form of brochures. The audit cost $367.50 and there'll have to be a follow-up audit costing another $150+, but if we modify our house between now and 2011 according to the recommendations, we should be able to claim over a thousand dollars in incentive grants and rebates from the government.

Emma, I hope this meets with your approval!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

All the King's Horses

If you visit the Rockcliffe stables where the Royal Canadian Mounted Police keep their horses, you can watch them being put through their paces. Our CFUW Diplomatic Hospitality group met there today, where after a tour of the museum and stables we climbed up to the gallery to see an indoor rehearsal of the famous Musical Ride. All this for free. No red jackets today as it wasn't an actual performance; in any case it was too hot for jackets: 23°C, the highest temperature yet this year.

My group was shown round the stables, tack room and farrier station (where each horse is reshod every seven weeks or so) by an enthusiastic young tour guide called Angela, whose gentle mount, Tess, over 17 hands high, we also met. The Mounties may appear very masculine from a distance but this year, 17 out of the 35 riders in the Ride are women. Each officer concerned spends two years of his or her career in the Musical Ride team and the individual horses, Hanoverians / Thoroughbreds, are selected from the breeding farm at Pakenham where at present there are about a hundred of them. Their foals must have black coats to be considered for the Ride; if not they are auctioned off.

We examined the rack of pennoned lances that the riders carry throughout their performance, the shafts made from bamboo but heavy to hold because of their stainless steel tips which are very sharp. You could kill someone with one. In order to steady her lance—while manipulating the horse's reins with her one free hand—the rider steadies it in a leather holder attached to her stirrup, or if need be, by stuffing it incorrectly down her riding boot.

This year's riders all looked pretty competent to me and the horses knew their movements, whether at a trot or at a canter to the rhythm of the piped music which I'm sure they recognise. We saw them practise The Dome formation, The Bridal Arch, Threading the Needle, The Wagon Wheel, etc. When it came to the last figure, The Charge, the horses were led through it at a walking pace, but the older animals who knew what they were doing, were raring to take it at a gallop, you could tell, and had to be restrained. They finished by practising a March Past, eyes right, then in the other direction, eyes left. There are mirrors on the walls of the arena so that they can see how well they're doing.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sicán gold

I thought I'd better catch the Richesses du Pérou exhibition in Gatineau before it finishes at the end of this month; that's where I spent the morning.

The treasures unearthed near Ferreñafe, dating from what we call the Middle Ages, have nothing to do with the Inca civilisation; the Incas came later. Let's get this straight: the Sicán were descendants of the Moche whose God (Ai Apaec) was feline and had fangs. After the disappearance of the Sicán, their contemporaries, the Chimú people, came to prominence, then the Incas, their Emperor captured in 1532 by the Spanish. (Spanish Peru didn't become a republic until 1824.)

Archeologists are still busy finding out about the Sicán people; there is doubtless more to be found. Izumi Shimada, the man in charge of the excavations at Huaca Loro, who originally assumed it would take fifteen years to explore the site, now believes it will be a lifetime's project.

Huaca Loro is one of the strange 35m high stone bumps that decorate the plain between the La Leche and Lambayeque Rivers that flow from the Andes to the Pacific coast. Looking at the photos before reading about them, I assumed that these outcrops were natural, like Ayers Rock in the Australian outback, but no, they are the weather-beaten remains of pyramids, and buried within them were the remains of the Sicán nobility and their treasures. Perhaps there are still more to be discovered, but because huaqueros or grave robbers have also been on the lookout for these riches, digging a hundred-thousand pits over the centuries, much has gone missing.

In the East Tomb at Huaca Loro, 11m below the surface, the legitimate archeologists found the skeleton and decapitated skull of a gold-masked "lord" (as they called him) buried in a sitting position, upside down. His mask—with its ear spools, dangling nose-pendant and amber eyes—is the right way up, which makes it all the weirder. Above the mask is the snout of a golden bat whose protruding tongue could move from side to side. The eyes, with their emerald pupils (the emeralds transported from the distant land that is now Columbia) could rotate in their sockets. The arched headdress worn above the bat, which would have added 40cm to the height of the man who wore it, was made from a single thin strip of gold nearly two metres long, edged with gold feathers that would quiver in the air like real feathers as the wearer moved, as would the twenty-nine gold disks suspended in the centre of the headdress. Other finds were strings of bell-like ornaments and rattles that could be shaken, so presumably the Sicán people liked that sound.

Apart from the man's bones in the tomb were the remains of two children and two women, one of them lying on her back with legs open as if to give birth (rebirth?), the other sitting at her feet like a midwife. Perhaps they were the bones of sacrificial victims; who knows? They were almost certainly meant to be symbolic as was the red cinnabar dust brought from 900 km away that coated these bodies, representing the mother's blood, perhaps. The Sicán people had not invented writing, although they could draw (geometric patterns, birds, fish, ocean waves, the moon—Sicán means "Temple of the Moon", apparently, although how the archeologists worked that out I have no idea) and their craftsmanship was superb. The East Tomb is crammed with metal artifacts: cones, discs and the polished gold spools each as heavy as an apple, decorated with delicate whorls and retroussé markings, which they stuffed into their pierced ear lobes. Literally tons of beads and precious stones lay around the bodies in heaps as well as the pair of golden gloves shown in the picture above. Beneath the man's body lay the remains of a cloth onto which small squares of gold foil had been sewn like a mosaic of sequins. In order to make them the Sicán metallurgists must have pounded annealed ingots of gold with their hammers in a very determined manner, for the gold leaf was in places less than a millimetre thick.

Thin necked, decorated pots were found as well, the potters having left them to dry in the sun and burnished them with smooth pebbles before they were fired, the furnace de-oxygenated at a certain stage in the process so that the clay turned black. And golden crowns. Also heaps of red shells, identified as thorny oyster shells from far away Ecuador. They made necklaces out of that material, too.

Around the mysterious pyramids, their treasures hidden from sight or permanently removed,

... Nothing beside remains.

Makes one think, doesn't it?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Fields full of water

This afternoon we flew in PTN to the east of Ottawa heading south when we reached the mouth of the South Nation River. I wish I'd brought the camera along because, from the sky south of Plantagenet, our view of the floods was phenomenal! The straight roads between the settlements disappeared into acres of water: run-off from the melting snow and ice pack combined with river water and rain. Motorboats were crossing the fields.

Chris and I have never seen such an extensive flood before but it seems that the local people are quite used to this; they must have deliberately built their farms on slightly higher ground than the surrounding land because we could pick out the farm buildings, still dry, with vehicles parked in their yards, as if on islands in a lake. I suppose they must be used to waiting at home for a week or so in early spring until the water evaporates or seeps away, enough to let them out.

Even more remarkable is that I cannot find any mention of this flood in the local news and all I can find on the Internet is a flood advisory for the South Nation issued last Friday morning by Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Bill's background

An interesting time at the Carscallens' house today where Bill was surprised into a celebration of his Birthday: coming home late for lunch (his lateness contrived by means of a cunning plot), he opened the door to find forty or fifty of his friends and relations secreted in his living room: "Surprise, surprise!" we shouted, blowing our kazoos and waving our little plastic clappers.

Bill is proud both of his living family and of his pedigree. His father was a Wing Commander of the Canadian Royal Air Force in the second World War and his great uncle fought with the Canadian artillery at Vimy Ridge bringing home the casing of some of the shells fired there, a polished one of which hangs in Bill's house in the guise of a dinner gong. Among Bill's earlier ancestors was the judge who in 1692 condemned the witches at Salem, Samuel Sewall (1652 — 1730); the family has a painting of him on the wall along with the other framed, family portraits.

Friday, April 11, 2008

"Mommy, what's an orchestra?"

Of course the sleety rain is easing off now that I've come home again. I've just been down town to stand under a cluster of colourful umbrellas, joining a nationwide rally to protest against the proposed cuts of CBC Radio 2's classical music programmes. We gathered on Sparks Street outside the CBC building at noon when today's weather was at its worst, everyone as cheerful as could be nonetheless, the more extrovert of the demonstrators banging a drum or twirling a rattle or singing the O Canada tune, but to different words:

... O Radio Two, we stand on guard for thee!

Apparently those in charge of CBC radio seem to think that the long-established classical music programmes on Radio 2 don't appeal to a broad enough spectrum of the present day Canadian population. As one of the banners proclaimed, though:

Classical Music IS World Music!

It seems that the political correctness issue is just an excuse to save money by disbanding the CBC Orchestra that's based in Vancouver and to dumb down the programming, ostensibly to attract younger listeners. What younger listeners, though? I'm afraid the mass of rebellious youth in Ottawa is hooked on The Bear, not CBC Radio 2, and the planned alterations are unlikely to make any difference there any time soon despite the fact that the programmers expect

New listeners [to] be blown away by the shows we’re adding to the schedule.

In the meantime, with police in attendance (keeping dry in the police car parked beside our demo), demonstrators brandished their posters, exclaiming:

SHAME! "Easy"-listening is a cop-out. SHAME!
The CBC should challenge & educate Canadians, not slavishly ape popular culture!
Mommy, what's an orchestra?
Keep Radio 2 smart!
HO HO HEY HEY, Tom Allen has got to stay!

Several high profile NACO players were present including Karen Donnelly and the flamboyant Amanda Forsyth, banging on the glass windows of Studio Sparks to attract the attention of someone she knows in there.

A small girl was among the protesters, her own little banner reading:

I'm 2 and I like Radio 2 too.

Radio 2 before the cuts, that is!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Buckets on the bark

The geese are back, the sap is rising, the belated sugar harvest is in full swing. Yesterday we walked to our local Sugar Bush in Richelieu Park, Vanier, at the end of the Avenue des Pères Blancs to see the sap dripping into the traditional pails attached to the tree trunks for that purpose. Maple syrup results, though you have to reduce it by evaporation to about forty times its original consistency before it acquires its distinctive taste and can be bottled.

Today Sue and I drove to Perth where at Riverguild on Gore Street we came across an exhibition of black and white pictures by Franc von Oort, a Dutch immigrant from Soest who has lived near Perth since 1987. He is an artist who appreciates the inticracies of trees. (We have one of his etchings at home.)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Canals and rivers

Last week, I went to look at the collection of prints, watercolours and drawings once kept by the Earl of Dalhousie, whom King George III appointed Governor-in-Chief of Canada (or, as it was known then, British North America) in 1819. George Dalhousie seems to have been an adventurous sort of chap; first serving as Lieutenant- Governor of Nova Scotia he actually spent twelve years of his life in Canada and found it

bold & wild & beautiful beyond language to describe.

In order to keep track of what he experienced he kept a journal and took draftsmen or "military artists" (such as the meticulous Charles Ramus Forrest) with him on his several expeditions up and down the great rivers of Upper Canada. They camped on the sandy shore of the Ottawa River where it converges with the "Little" River (now called the Mattawa River) and ventured with the voyageurs down the French River to Lake Huron. Awestruck, Dalhousie's companions sketched the Niagara Falls by moonlight and the Chaudière Falls at Ottawa, "a full mile broad", or tried to record in colour the "Exact Resemblance of the Foliage of the Wood in Canada in October-November" (1823).

George Dalhousie was still Governor when Lieutenant-Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers was put in charge of building the famous Rideau Canal:

On September 28, 1826 the two men stood on at the foot of Entrance Valley, selecting it as the spot for the start of the Rideau Canal. In doing so, they founded what was to become Canada's national capital, Ottawa (originally named "Bytown").

Five years previously, in July 1819, work had begun on another canal, down part of which we walked a couple of weeks ago, as its towpath is now a footpath. In its day (1825-1901), the Bude Canal was the first in Britain to include water-powered tub-boat inclines, of which there were as many as six. The Inclined Plane up from the canal at Helebridge to the higher ground near Marhamchurch is presently being cleared for restoration after years of neglect: wheeled tub boats used to be hauled up this 836ft long slope, lifting their cargo 120ft.

The other remarkable waterway we encountered recently was the little river Valency that flows through Boscastle and between the steep, slate cliffs to the sea. In August 2004 this was the scene of a terrible flash flood:

The continuous raging wall of water, debris and mud, some nine foot high, carried all with it at speeds estimated to be between 30 and 40 miles per hour, vehicles were hurled over the road bridge and down the sides of the harbour towards the sea. The devastation was quick, ruthless and unbelievable as water, debris and vehicles flooded and battered the many old buildings that line the river banks out to the harbour.

hard to imagine when we were in Boscastle, but we did notice the tide insidiously creeping upstream when we looked down on the curved pier.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Further flowers

Alexander, 16 months old, learned to say the word "flower" during our week in Cornwall. Apart from the garden flowers in the village—aubretia, wallflowers, a clump of marigolds even (it obviously doesn't get very cold in that part of the country)—we found wild flowers everywhere: daisies in the grass, red campions under the hedges, wild garlic blooming on the banks of the canal at Helebridge, masses of primroses (click on the picture above!) together with violets on the banks of the River Neet, and on the path near the whitewashed Salthouse almost falling over the lip of the cliffs at Widemouth Bay—an 18th century fish cellar where the locals used to preserve their pilchards—my mother and I noticed a patch of cochlearia, otherwise known as scurvy grass, because of its high Vitamin C content. In the hedgerows of Pinch Lane grew masses of a greenish umbillifer which I think must have been a kind of angelica.

I appreciated seeing the lambs in the fields as well, the robins, the blackbirds and the wagtails, one of which was a grey wagtail. A pair of swans was nesting by the canal at Bude and at St Ann's Chapel near Tavistock we visited paddocks full of animals, first and foremost the donkeys that had been given sanctuary there.

For some, such details may seem to be mere trivia. Not for me.

Flight of the Robin

The Robin 2160 is a sports aircraft, available for hire at the Cornwall Flying Club on Bodmin Airfield near Cardinham, and that's where we went on the Tuesday and Thursday of our holiday week.

Our first visit was to give Chris a check-out with the instructor, Phil, but first we had to find the place, hedgerows brushing the sides of our car along the steep and twisting back roads between the A39 and the A30, via the little village of Blisland, driving over narrow bridges and a couple of cattle grids to cross a corner of Bodmin Moor on the way and having to stop and ask the way at St Breward, so that we arrived fifteen minutes late. Nobody complained; it was a lovely ride.

For our second visit we allowed more time en route and then had time for some lunch in the club's Windsock Bar and Café. My mother sat here worrying about us while we flew, but after our flight it was our turn to worry about her because she had given us the slip by taking herself off for a walk in our absence and was nowhere to be seen. I found her later on the airport road, wearing her hearing aids so that she could hear the larks singing, she said.

The weather conditions for our flight were ideal, Chris flying us up the coast as far as Bude, with a view of the GCHQ satellite dishes at Cleave Camp, then in a lazy circle around "our" village of Marhamchurch and so back down the coast, following the line of cliffs past the places we had been visiting at ground level, back over the Camelford windfarm to the fields near Bodmin, the views through the Robin's domed windows magnificent in every direction. England being reduced to a thin strip of land in Cornwall we could see south to Plymouth harbour and the Channel coast as well, as we homed in towards the field.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


I have just been for a walk by the park without my winter coat (not through the park because the snow's still too deep to make walking possible), saw a chipmunk and half a dozen Canada geese, one of them landing on the Rideau with a splash, and heard the raucous call of a red-winged blackbird. Everywhere there's a dripping and a trickling sound. It's the Canadian SPRING.


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Cardiff to Marhamchurch

On Maundy Thursday, lunching with my sister at the Pen and Wig pub near Cardiff University we caught a glimpse of the Queen distributing Maundy money (on TV). We'd met my sister at the University bookshop where we couldn't resist buying two little books in Spanish, one in Italian and (Chris' choice) Procopius' Secret History of the reign of Justinian (the Roman Emperor of Constantinople in the 6th century.

We left Cardiff the next morning driving down the M4 and the M5 towards the cathedral city of Exeter. The wind was blowing strongly so that the car we'd hired was hard to steer at times. South of Bristol we were held up in a traffic jam for a while, eventually passing the scene of a motorbike accident, the rider lying on the road; perhaps a gust of wind had caught him too. It being Good Friday, I noticed three crosses on the summit of a hill we passed, Brent Knoll, an outcrop of the Mendips. We were to meet Emma, Peter and Alexander when their train reached Exeter St David's station, after stopping at a motorway "services" for lunch, where several men and boys were dressed as pirates for a charity stunt, enjoying themselves.

Our plan for six of us to meet John and Gill at the station worked perfectly, so then we could drive on in two cars, skirting Dartmoor, our last few miles into Marhamchurch down narrow, cow-manured country lanes. In this aerial shot taken later in the week you should be able to make out the tennis courts that were part of Court Farm's facilities. (While we were there it was too cold for tennis but we did make use of the swimming pool).

The village of Marhamchurch, a mile or two inland from Bude, with its pub, village shop, village hall, bus stop, village conveniences, village school and so on, is built around the St Marwenne's church. Marwenne may either have been one of the twenty-four children of the celtic King Broccan or Brychan (from Talgarth in Wales) or an abbess from Romsey; at any rate she established a hermitage at the spot where the Marhamchurch war memorial (see my picture above) now stands. The church dates back to the fourteenth century and the Cornish flag flies from its tower. At the weekend Mum and I took a look inside the church, its porch colourfully decorated for Easter by the Marhamchurch Primary School Gardening Club who'd left a row of globe flowers in pots on the stone bench. Inside and in the peaceful graveyard were carved tributes to young men of the village who'd joined the Navy and had perished in wartime, one in the Battle of Jutland, for example.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

London and Cardiff

Of course the main reason that we travelled to England was to visit our grandson and my mother: over eighty-seven years between their ages, but when I see them together I see no barrier between them. I took this picture at the farmhouse where we spent a week in the company of Emma, Peter, Gill, John, Rob, Sally, Jenny, Briony, Alan, Fiona, Richard and Sarah. Our party comprised every age group except the forty-somethings and the seventy-somethings, a happy juxtaposition indeed.

At 37000ft over Northern Ireland on March 19th we saw the red sun rise very early. We landed early too and were on the Heathrow Express to Paddington well before 8 o'clock. Another passenger sitting in our carriage, having made a mistake as to which platform, was obliged to travel to Terminal 4 via Paddington, poor fellow. At least he didn't have to pay the ridiculously expensive £17.50 for his fifteen minute ride.

Paddington concourse was bustling with rush hour commuters, but we found a breakfast bar from which we had a relatively peaceful vantage point. No sign of the statue of Isambard Kingdom Brunel that used to be down there but a text message from our daughter told us that pilgrims could now find him on the leftmost platform. No luggage lockers to be found either because of threats to security so we wheeled our suitcases up and down Praed Street for the sake of some fresh air and exercise, past St Mary's hospital where Sir Alexander Fleming first discovered penicillin. A plaque on the pub opposite claims that the famous mould probably floated in through his window from their premises.

On the train to Cardiff I slept a while—it was a bright morning with fluffy white cumulus in a blue sky and everywhere flowering trees and celandines—but was awake in time to see the familiar views around Newport: the unmistakable Twmbarlwm and the River Usk.

At Cardiff we took a taxi, driven by a Somali gentleman taking an interest in the Welsh Rugby team, to my mother's house. Before we did anything else, she wanted to take us to see the nearby magnolias (see my previous blog post) blooming in a disused graveyard on the next street. On one of the grey, moss stained tombstones, dated 1877, we read this epitaph:

Remember, man, as you pass by
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so you shall be.
Remember Death is awaiting thee.

but the magnolias were a sort of contradiction to those grim sentiments. Later in the day we also witnessed a funeral taking place at the parish church, the priest carrying a veiled crucifix.