Monthly Archives: November 2016

Changing Seasons

Over the last few months I have been visiting the National Trust property of Hidcote Manor Garden. I thought it was time to look back at how the garden and the surrounding area has changed since the summer, as it beds down for winter.Coloured Leaves Once plants have finished flowering, they retreat into the soft, soggy state of winter regeneration, and sometimes do this with a final show of colour. I’m not sure what this was earlier, but it attracted my eye in an otherwise dark, earthy environment.

Hidcote Bathing Pool 2I found the bubble wrap on the Fountain quite amusing, especially as the water was still squirting out. Here’s what’s under wraps:

Hidcote Bathing Pool 1The field has seen many changes over the last few months. During the summer it was high with wheat. Track across the field 1Now it’s ploughed over ready for next year’s crop.Track across the field 2And here’s the view looking up the Old Track that leads from the carpark. This is a far more subdued picture than the my entry ftwo months ago.

Hidcote Track© 2016 Peter Young

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Hygge

Dental InstrumentsI’m the one at the upper left-hand end, and that gives me a good view of the rest of the team. I heard on the grapevine that I’m lucky to still be here. Having arrived a bit later than the others – the team was already established – I’ve always felt a bit of an outsider.

We’ve lost track of how long we’ve been together. Ages. Since … I don’t know… well over half a century. Here, at the cutting edge, you might say, it’s not all been smooth sailing. There have been rough times, and not everyone has made it through. There have been disappearances and  … adjustments. Blame it on outside interventions. We felt the loss. But it was more the way they went that upset the rest of us. It seemed wrong; we felt abused. And it took us time to return to our usual lifestyle. But we did; needs must.

Look, um, er, we don’t really like to talk about those things – I shouldn’t really be telling you this, but hey, live dangerously. So a little bit about us. We’re family. We’re always together, and we’ve developed what the Danish people call hygge. Which is not easy to say, nor easy to translate. Some say cosy, but it’s more nuanced than that. The German people have a word, gemütlichkeit, which sounds awful, and yet doesn’t capture it either. Let’s see. If it wasn’t so moist in here, we’d be lighting candles. We’d cosy up to each other in the dark, slowly working our way through a packet of chocolate digestives … But if we do need to talk then most likely it’ll be in hushed tones about the old times, about when we’ve had to bite the bullet or chew the fat. Yeah, we have tender feelings for each other because we’ve shared so many meals together. Bonding? We’ve bonded all right; we’re all in this together.

But age takes its toll. I hope the others aren’t listening, because this is a taboo subject, and we know when to keep our mouth shut. But things happen. Painful things, aching things, sharp things … Sometimes it’s a dull ache, that won’t go away, and then everyone goes quiet, thinking their own thoughts and that leaves us in a vulnerable position. Action is taken and then it’s the bright lights, the high pitched whine, the pink water, the chemical taste. It’s so intrusive – all this pricking and prodding – where’s the hygge in that? We just want to be left alone, but we’re forced to suffer these invasions into our private space. These outsiders never respect or understand the social customs and the resulting hygge of our oral world. No way. We don’t need to spell it out to each other. We grin and bear it; it’s the boat that mustn’t be rocked, the elephant in the room. So in our hyggelig gloom, we swallow those memories, ignore the inevitable decay that takes place – is taking place …. Who knows what’s coming next. When we first arrived, we thought we were as sharp as diamonds. But now we have come to see ourselves more like well-weathered rocks, flaking and breaking on a whim. Deep down at our roots we know what’s happening, but we’re not going to bring it up.

And that’s how we’ve lost our comrades. It’s just horrible to think about it. Ground to dust, washed away in a stream of water, never seen again. And then replaced with cold, inert lumps of metal, pretending to be like us. But how could they be that? There’s no empathy, no conversation. They just do not and cannot get it. But we’re tolerant, we put up with them. Because we work as a team we have to accept these substitutes … Though we never talk about that either.

So we keep cheerful, look forward to special occasions, when there are treats to be enjoyed: the crunch of celery, the succulence of the sirloin, the subtle severance of a slice of smoked salmon. I bet that got you salivating! And what could be more delightful than having this all washed down with a glass of champagne. Cheers. Skål. Ah, these good old hygge times …

© 2016 Peter Young

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A Flash of Blue

This short story was written as an exercise for my Creative Writing group with the topic: All good things come to those who wait. Unlike Jack in the story, I’ve never managed to photograph a kingfisher. But I do have a picture of a heron …

marcilhac-river-120624-5

I saw Jack again today. He was in his usual place, which kind of surprised me – for some stupid reason I thought he would have moved on. And this time, when I waved, he smiled and gave me a thumbs up. Which was a great advance on the usual slight nod of the head.

Let me tell you the story. I used to see Jack as I went to work down the road past the bend in the river. That’s where he always was. I go early, but he must get up at the crack of dawn. But not every day. Bad weather, he doesn’t turn up, and I can’t blame him. Well, there wouldn’t be much point really.

I knew he was called Jack, because other people talked about him. They thought he was … a bit peculiar. But I gradually came to respect him. It’s good to have a hobby, though it’s not one I particularly fancy. Too much hanging about; not enough control. You’ve only to turn briefly, or scratch your nose, and … you’ve missed it.

I wanted to say Hello to Jack, but the first time I tried, he anticipated my greeting and immediately put his finger up to the lips. An economy of communication. I did think about saying “Hi Jack” but then considered that it was too old a joke, and unworthy, so I just thought it instead. But it made me smile, and a smile is what matters, and Jack responded with a slight muscle movement around the mouth. So for a long time, that was how we interacted. You might say that we had a relationship, but you wouldn’t say it was deep.

Then one day, I bumped into him in town. He was dressed more conventionally – not the camouflage jacket he usually wore. He was observing the pigeons in the square through his viewfinder. He recognised me straight away. And for the first time we spoke. “How are you getting on?” “Oh, got a few good ones.” “Really?” “Oh yes, I’m thinking of entering one in the competition.” “Which one …?” “Oh, the Kingfisher, naturally.” “Well, good luck.” And with that we parted.

Now, people talked about seeing kingfishers along the river, but I’d never seen one. They mention the flash of blue – most times that’s all you see. But this simple piece of information changed my early morning walk, because now I kept my eyes peeled, looking sideways towards the river, in the hope – the distant hope – of seeing a kingfisher. The fact that Jack had seen one, indeed, had taken a photograph of one, encouraged me. It certainly made my otherwise boring trip to the station more interesting; I had a purpose – even though it was not of earth-shattering importance.

And I understand the fascination and the dedication that this could bring to someone like Jack. Although I’m not prepared to spend thousands on equipment – like he obviously does – nor willing to hang around in the damp early-morning air, with a chill mist rising from the river, and waiting – just watching and waiting – on the off-chance of some small bird has decided to go looking for breakfast. No. I’ll keep a look out for the flash of blue, but I’ll not deviate far from my usual ritual. I suppose that Jack’s the same – only his is a very different kind of ritual – what I would call an obsession. But whenever I see him, he always looks happy? Is that the right word? I know we’re all supposed to seeking happiness these days – but does standing by the river bank with a thousand pound lens pointing into the reeds make you happy? It’s the anticipation. Having something to look forward to.

So over the weeks, months we developed a respect for each other. I kept quiet in case I disturbed some avian chancer, and Jack twitched a muscle or two. A subtle acknowledgment – I was ok with that. And I went on hoping and wishing that one day… and would you believe it, it happened. Three seconds of dazzling blue brilliance. My spirits were lifted. I spent the rest of the day in some sort of trance. My colleagues in the office thought I was on something. I was, but I didn’t tell them what it was. Then, at lunch-time, while I was walking through the arcade I noticed a display in one of the windows. Exhibits from the Photographic Club. And right in the middle, there was a picture of a kingfisher – with a note saying that Jack had one first prize in the wild-life section.

And now Jack was back in his old spot on the river-bank. Why, I wonder. Perhaps that’s something I’ll never understand. But I’ll keep on trying.

© 2016 Peter Young

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Sheffield Park

On a visit to Sussex, I came across more stunning autumn colours at the National Trust property of Sheffield Park.

Sheffield Park Middle LakeThe view from the Cascade looking along Middle Lake.

Sheffield Park Swamp CyprusRAA group of three Swamp Cypresses contrast with the reds and oranges of the Acers and Nyssas.

Sheffield Park Nyssa A magnificent Nyssa.

Sheffield Park Montezuma PineA close-up of one of the Montezuma Pines which are grown at Sheffield Park.

Sheffield Park Red Acers Pampas GrassPampas Grass seen between the dark red leaves of an Acer at the edge of the Middle Lake.

© 2016 Peter Young

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