Monday, 27 October 2014

the door closes

'...that we might be able to love
what our understanding has seen
and what our memory has held.'

St. Catherine of Siena (c1347-80)

Here we are at the end of our journey together.
It has taken seven years to reach this place,
navigating the unexpected twists and turns.
I could not have described the road
or imagined the ending when I began.
I thought we would part at a crossroads
but I find myself at a cottage door.
There will be other journeys in the future
but for now I am content to rest a while.

Thank you for your company, advice and encouragement.
Thank you for the inspiration I found in your own writing.

Take care, my friends, travel safely.

Friday, 17 October 2014

tableau vivant

Nebamun hunting in the marshes
fragment from the tomb-chapel of Nebamun
Thebes, Egypt
Late 18th Dynasty, around 1350 BC
© Trustees of the British Museum

They are standing at the end of the lane as we drive past, six men and five dogs in a small pool of light. The men wear every shade of green and brown, merging with the shadows cast by the trees and the high bank beside them. They carry guns broken over their arms, the dull lustre of the long barrels reflecting some of that early morning light. The labradors and spaniels sit quietly at their feet, black, white, brown. When we have passed they will cross the road into the wood on the other side and continue shooting but for this moment they are frozen into a tableau vivant, a scene that captures the essence of the remote part of Devon that we are now a part of.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Little Boy, Realtor

The Little Boy Next Door graciously accepts my invitation to visit and explores the cottage, room by room, with me trailing behind to answer questions. We discuss what should be in each cake tin in the kitchen and peep inside the fridge to admire the yellow tomatoes. In the dining room we inspect the map on the wall and work out where his school is - he has been there for three weeks now. Upstairs in our bedroom each of the cupboards is opened and approved, the advantages of shelves and rails compared and contrasted. The 'secret bathroom' (en suite) is investigated and the taps in the basin tested. My collection of limited edition animal pictures does not have the wow factor that I hoped for but the rubber duck in the bath is much admired. He informs me that the best view is not, as I had previously thought, the Dartmoor tors on the horizon but the window through which we can see his car because we can even see his car seat. MrM puts down the weekend papers to have a man-to-man conversation about mobile phones and show off his compass app. Finally we have a detailed conversation about where the Christmas tree should go. The Little Boy says that his daddy puts it where the CD rack is but as we do not have a CD rack he would suggest the fireplace - the logic of this is indisputable but I explain that it can't go in the fireplace because MasterM will be very disappointed if the tree doesn't touch the ceiling. He shrugs his four year old shoulders, disclaiming responsibility for such irrational behaviour, and goes back Next Door with some yellow tomatoes for his tea.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

a dreich day

I am the only person out in the soft rain and the squirrels ignore me, rustling industriously through the beech leaves. I can hear the thin shriek of a kite high overhead and the muffled flap of wood pigeons as I disturb them. The creaking bellow of  a stag resonates from tall bracken close to the path. He watches me as I cautiously walk past and I am relieved when he eventually turns away.

In my head I am making a shopping list: braising steak, eschallions, smoked paprika, chorizo, passata, soured cream. Tonight we will have spicy red goulash and I can see broccoli, bright green in contrast, and creamy mashed potato on my blue plates. 

I walk on between fields to the edge of the woods, seeing the shine of limp leaves and the sodden linings of chestnut cases. The sky is a damp, pallid grey. This is autumn and there is no going back but there is so much to look forward to that I hurry onwards.


This post is for Nicola to say thank you for the very thoughtful email - it was much appreciated.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

MrsM embraces Autumn

October coincides with the start of the academic year
and in the past it has been a busy time for me
so I am very grateful for your autumnal suggestions.
I ♥ you .

I will shake out my jumpers, berets, mittens and boots
and go in search of leaves, hips, haws and fungi.
I'm thinking Nature Table - is there an age restriction?

Cycling! What a wonderful idea. I'm on it.
I can't wait for Bonfire Night (sparklers!)
and am intrigued by a community juicing day.

I have started knitting my own hot water bottle cover
but MissM says that I can borrow hers while I knit
so I have broken out the boxed set of 'Cranford'.

I wrote out a list of my favourite autumn food
and realised that I have eaten them all already:
apple cake, plum crumble and parsnip soup
so I will focus on cider (alcoholic variety).

Did I mention that there is an open fire in the cottage?
Bring on the crumpets and toasting forks...

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Positive Thinking

Quattro Stagioni: Autunno
Cy Twombly

Dear Friends and Autumnaholics,

I tried to make a list of Things to Do in Autumn
but I ground to an uninspired halt at number three.

Mr Google recommended resoling shoes and cleaning the duvet
which it didn't send me into a frenzy of anticipation.

I can't eat just apple cake and walk in the beech woods
please tell me what else I should be looking forward to in Autumn...

Yours desperately,

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Meanwhile Tarangire National Park, Tanzania...

MasterM has seen his first cheetah.
An ambition realised.

Also, he forgot to put the rubbish bag in the car.
So it became jackal pick'n'mix outside the tent.
Not much sleep that night.

Monday, 6 October 2014

all change

We put the garden furniture away in the summer house before the rain came. Afterwards, in an effort to look forward, I went out and bought bulbs: fragrant narcissi, miniature blue iris, snowdrops, white crocus, flame orange tulips. They are all tucked up now waiting for spring sunshine. Later, we went to the steam fair which visits every year at the end of summer. I watched MissM chase MrM on the dodgems and realised that all that money on driving lessons was not wasted. It was time to close the curtains when we got home and we ate roast chicken and plum crumble by candlelight, surprised that the hot sugary fairground doughnut had not spoiled our appetites. I don't dislike autumn or winter, it is the period of change that is unsettling.

Friday, 3 October 2014

the days slip by

These are single motifs from a huge antique Iranian cloth, part of the extraordinary textile collection of Waddesdon Manor. The fabric is layered, appliquéd and densely embroidered. At this level you can appreciate the individual stitiches, the astonishing intricacy. In one place the colours are cream, blue and black on red and another part of the cloth is quite different: red, green and cream on black. It is only when you step back that the abstract design makes sense, individual motifs become part of a harmonious whole and the pattern reveals itself.


Thursday, 2 October 2014

Turn the paper over ...

I still have bad dreams about taking exams. Sometimes I am too late, or it is the wrong day or the wrong hall. Occasionally I have forgotten to revise at all but mainly I have revised the wrong subject. Last night the exam paper was made of chocolate and I ate it before I read the questions. I was surprised all over again when I woke up and remembered that I had graduated.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Friday afternoon

MissM said we must go to Fingle Bridge
so we go. It is late afternoon.

After climbing all the way through the woods
we reach the Hunters' path. We are quite alone.

As soon as we are out of the trees
the landscape unfolds: woods, moor, sky.

The path takes us down to the bottom of the gorge
to cross the brook by a tiny hanging bridge

and then we follow a long granite wall
through the densely wooded valley,

past the wheels and walls of the old mill,
across the narrow stone packhorse bridge.

It is a fine evening as we drive back to our cottage
and stroll down to the village pub for a pint of cider.

This is how I imagined it would be
and I am so very grateful.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Friday morning

The dining room faces east, morning light
washing over the plates and glasses.
We eat our breakfast slowly, listening
to the chirruping of Little Boys next door.

There isn't a straight wall in the cottage,
it is all curves, dips and unexpected angles.
The vintage map of Dartmoor balances precariously,
at odds with ceiling and floor.

We arrive at the Macmillan coffee morning,
when powder-blue cups are being washed up
but in time to buy homemade chutney and say hello.
They all know who we are, of course.

Sunflowers are thrust into my hand as we leave,
grown in a garden on the edge of the village.
They glow on the kitchen windowsill,
rich yellow and ochre against terracotta tiles

I bring them home at the end of the weekend,
carefully wrapped in newspaper,
slices of sunlight from my other life.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Look Away Now

So I hurt my finger and now I can't move it.

It got tangled up with a tea towel.
When I was doing the drying up.

If you want to laugh please leave the room first.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

black and white

Paul Newman, 1964

The Dennis Hopper exhibition is on at the Royal Academy until 19 October. Go and see it if you can. The rooms are spacious and well lit but the small size of the prints creates a sense of intimacy because you have to stand close and concentrate to see all the details.The images are displayed in the sequence chosen by Hopper for an exhibition in 1970 but there are a few missing, marked by place holders, which is a reminder that these are the original prints produced by Hopper himself. 

Martin Luther King, Jr., 1965

Hopper was taking photographs at the end of the Sixties and his eye was voracious. Family, friends, movie stars, political demonstrations, street life, landscapes, architectural details, Hells Angels - all provided unforgettable images. I was particularly moved by the images at the end of the sequence which are shots of a blurry TV screen one showing the moon landing and another the profile of JFK.

Untitled (Blue Chip Stamps), 1961-67

Hopper is quoted as saying that he never carried a camera again after he started work on Easy Rider, his need for photography as a creative outlet had passed. I recognise that, the urge to move on to new projects, but nevertheless I look at these exceptional photographs and regret the loss.

Monday, 22 September 2014

family history

"[He] was the first boy who ever kissed me, I was about eleven and he was two years younger than me, quite short and thin, so it was a bit of a shock. And then he sent me a letter at school! My dear it wasn't very well written, all splodgy and terrible spelling mistakes! The teachers were furious, I can remember Miss Millington shouting at me while we ran around the games pitch because it was very shocking to get a letter from a boy even if he was the brother of my school friend. There were very strict rules about letters: on Sunday you wrote to your parents and on Thursday you could write to your parents and someone else from an approved list of ten addresses and the envelopes had to be left unsealed so that the teachers could check what you had written. I was mortified, absolutely mortified, to get such a splodgy letter. Of course, he is a millionaire now."

Granny's memories of boarding school 1948 - 1956

Friday, 19 September 2014

September Sunshine

The great autumn borders at the Savill Gardens,
a spectacular explosion of red, yellow and orange.
I fear these photos have not done justice
to the skill and artistry of the gardeners.

We have soaked up the sunshine this week
every last moment in the garden precious.
It's been a glorious Indian summer.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Waiting for the Instagram Muse

I'm a late adopter of Instagram because the app was designed for iPhones and I have always used an HTC so that by the time the android version of Instagram was launched I was using twitter for landscape photography. I didn't think very much more about Instagram until MasterM suggested that I create an account so that I could see his pictures.

Each form of social media has strengths and weaknesses and it has been interesting to explore Instagram this week. I am surprised how small the pool of users appears to be with everyone following everyone else so that the images are quite homogenous. When I look for different accounts it is not obvious how to find them - Pinterest offers trails to follow and twitter has the retweet which introduces unlikely topics and innovative users to a wider community. When I took landscape shots for twitter I posted them at the time they were taken and I assumed that Instagram would be similar but it seems that it is used as a version of Facebook with images selected and edited and not necessarily contemporaneous and this surprised me. I can see how friends who used to blog regularly have used Instagram as a microblogging site and this ties in with the move from laptops to tablets. Instagram has a feeling of intimacy and it is very soothing to scroll though the images especially if you are escaping from the rancour of the #indyref debate on twitter but too much can become overwhelming.

I think it will be a while before I find a theme for my Instagram photos, something which separates them from my blog and my twitter feed because I don't see the point in duplicating everything but until the I will potter on taking pictures of roses and trying to think of something interesting to say about them. Oh, and I can confirm that it was a couple of days before I realised that Instagram photos are square. I'm @alice.christie if you want to peek at my early failures.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The China Aesthetic

What is your first concern is
when you daydream about a new home?
I worry a lot about the china aesthetic:
what sort of china will suit the house?
Plain or coloured, vintage or contemporary.
Who will be using it, what sort of food,
how will it look in the dining room?

I have chosen black and white,
contemporary designs for everyday use
and this vintage Woods tea set for cream teas.
Just look at those rural views!
A church, a cottage and a river bank...
how could you not love them!

I thought my heart would burst
when I stepped back from the dresser
and admired the display for the first time.

I know, I know, be patient with me,
I am still in the early stages of this love affair.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Meet the Neighbours

The Little Boy next door has an even smaller brother who is all curls and toothy smiles but it will be a while before he emerges from the shadows so for now it is the Little Boy, aged four, who is our hero with his tractor boots, woolly hat and extensive knowledge of cars. He presses his nose against the window while we eat breakfast and I lean out to discuss life and other matters. Today there is an important assignment for him because we have won a basket of fruit in an auction and there is more than we can eat. Could he help us with our dilemma? He thinks he can and comes inside to assess the problem. The plums are set aside because they already have 'too many' at home, the apples are ignored and we all agree that the melon should be reserved for MissM. He carefully selects the most succulent nectarines and the best kiwi fruit and then announces that he will take the coconut. We are surprised and ask if he is planning to hang it up for the birds but he is appalled by our wastefulness. He tells us that he will hit it with a hammer or a rock and then cut it with a big knife so that he can eat the coconut. MrsM shudders at the thought of the damage to her reputation and proposes that he asks Mummy first. The Little Boy next door marches off with his arms full of fruit, mission accomplished.

Monday, 15 September 2014

A little cottage in Devon

This is my new kitchen in a little cottage
in a village on the edge of Dartmoor.

It is long and thin like my kitchen at home.
and as Sheila, the estate agent lady said
"It's small but it has everything in it".

When I wash up at the sink
I look out over the churchyard
to the massive copper beech tree
and the clock on the church tower.

It is the fulfilment of a childhood dream.

Friday, 12 September 2014

My mother said...

What sort of tea would you like? Darjeeling or bog standard? The scones have got raspberry jam or damson jam on - it's not shop bought you know - we had a very good year for raspberries this year. Here are some scones with honey on for MrM. I hope that you like the sandwiches - I grew the cucumber myself in my polytunnel. Would you like a cucumber? Or some eggs? We have just got some new hens and they are laying like mad. Have another scone, they are only a mouthful each. Shall I put the kettle on again?

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Beside the Seaside

Let's have a day off from blogging.

Walk with me to the very end of the pier.

Some sea air will blow away the cobwebs.

Are you tempted by the dodgems?

Or a ride on the helter-skelter?

If you want to go on the Turbo you are on your own.

It's a magical mix of old and new,

and nobody is taking life seriously.

Stop for hot sugary doughnuts straight from the frier

but don't feed the birds.

Thanking you.