A few photos from Baddesley Clinton, one of my favourite National Trust properties, a short drive from my home in Warwick.
In England we do love talking about the weather and so during the last few weeks we have had several heavensent opportunities to express a wide range of thoughts and feelings about it.
But beauty is everywhere, and there are few things more poignant and touching than signs of fresh new life juxtaposed with a blanket of virgin snow.
In the last few weeks we have enjoyed bright sunshine and beautiful fresh blossom, interspersed with treacherous ice and white-outs!
So here I share some images of these contrasts in the natural world.
A few images from Dunham Massey, a National Trust property in Cheshire. These were taken on 19th February – just at that time of the year for us in England where the spring flowers are arriving, heralds of joy and new hope.
It was the moment she heard me take the basket out of the cupboard.
I had under-estimated the acuteness of her hearing skills, and also her memory of past abductions.
But having removed the cat carrier from the hall cupboard, unfastened the straps, and set it out in the hallway, I was undone.
She was on the alert, hiding behind the sofa.
My plan had been to pick her up first when she was relaxed and unsuspecting.
But too late. the chase was on.
We raced from one end of the room to the other, now dragging the sofa out, then pulling the table forward, reaching to grab her, as she streaked past us, sinewy, slippery and high speed.
Now she was crouched in the small space behind the television amongst the jumble of cables.
I said to my husband “You stand there to cut off her exit, and I’ll grab her from this end.” We both moved into place.
I grabbed, and she shot out the other side past my husband’s flailing fingers.
I snapped, “Stop being so kind and gentle! You have to be tough! You have to grab her by the scruff of the neck.”
Eventually I caught her in the study. She cringed back from me against the wall, I seized her by the neck, held her tight in my arms, carried her to the hall, and stuffed her in the basket.
It was done. Cat Zero. Human beings – one.
For other posts about cats on SC Skillman Author, click here:
I have long loved wildflower meadows, and thought how lovely it would be to have one instead of a garden. But creating a wildflower meadow isn’t just a matter of buying a few packets of seeds and scattering them over a piece of unwanted lawn. Several years ago I did just that and waited, hoping for a glorious profusion of wildflowers several months later and the result was – nil.
In May 2016 we attended a Plantlife talk at Highgrove, the Prince of Wales’ beautiful garden near Tetbury, Gloucestershire, and came away with two packets of wildflower seeds.These seeds were a special Highgrove mix – enough for a small patch of wildflower meadow in the garden.
Inspired by the Prince of Wales’ Head Gardener Debs Goodenough we planned to plant just a small area with the seeds.
We now knew that to plant a wildflower meadow in your garden you need poor soil, perhaps an area of “old lawn”, and certainly not lawn or soil which has been fertilised and carefully tended in the past. So we chose a wild area.
Last August my son Jamie (a budding horticulturalist) sowed the seeds in a a patch measuring 4 square metres in our back garden.
We didn’t expect much in the first year; a wildflower meadow may take a few years to become fully established. In fact I must admit I expected that during the first year we’d have just a small jungle of weeds, and would need to wait and trust that the beauty would emerge in a few years.
But this July we’re delighted to see the wild grasses tall and shining in the sun, and among them, a few of the first wildflowers to appear.
It gives us great pleasure to look out beyond the more “domesticated” beds of rose and lavender, past the newly-sown area of lawn, to our little area of Highgrove wildflower meadow.
It will be mown for the first time in September, and then after that four times a year.
Next year we hope to see a profusion of colours and perhaps a small version of the lovely wildflower meadow at Highgrove!
I’d love to know what you think about wildflower meadows! Have you ever tried to create your own meadow in your garden? And how successful have you been?
“Ashes are much hotter than flames”.This is an observation I heard online a few months ago, and you’d think, OK, what does that have to do with creative writers? Well, let me take you to the Australian Outback to explain.
The ‘swagman’ of Waltzing Matilda fame traditionally goes walkabout through the Outback of Australia with only 3 basic foodstuffs in his tucker bag: onions, flour and golden syrup. That’s so he can bake the essential carbs portion of his diet, damper, in the ashes of his fire, (to eat later with syrup) and also the onion, an indispensable companion to the ‘jumbuck’ that he’s poached from whichever sheep-station he happens to be passing through.
Here is the process of making damper, demonstrated by a honorary ‘bushman’ / exponent of bush-craft (alias a friend of my sister’s then living in a caravan in Stanthorpe, Queensland), a process which my daughter Abigail photographed while we were in Australia in 2007:
So what does this have to say to creative writers?
Simply this: writing a novel can be like making damper from scratch in the Australian bush. You gather together your basic requirements; wood for a fire, pot to make your damper in, flour and water, and off you go. Your fire must be just right; no more flames, but nice hot ashes, ready for the cooking. The pan is placed on the ashes and heated up ready to take the mixture, and for the lid to go on. Then the pan is covered with hot ashes and left to cook. the hot ashes are later swept away with a sprig of greenery. Every stage of the process requires careful attendance and skill. And finally you have your delicious result, ready to be devoured. But first you make it more palatable by putting golden syrup on it.
Just so do you gather your raw material for a novel in your mind, your life experiences and observations, your characters, their life-histories, your plot, your skill with words, and then you go about mixing them all together, through several drafts, each stage carefully attended to, so that your end result is just golden brown, and not burnt nor soggy. And then even when it’s perfect, it may be it needs that extra touch, with the syrup on top ie. the final polish.
During my visit to The Holy Island of Lindisfarne last year, I sat on the shore by the Lindisfarne Causeway and watched the tide come in and cover the road.
Here are my insights – and a few images – from that experience.
Sitting at the end of the causeway and watching the tide come in is one of the activities suggested for you here Give Yourself a Retreat on Holy Island by Ray Simpson. It has many benefits and can be quite amusing as you watch cars driving along the road well outside the safe crossing time, and wonder whether they’ll soon be floating away. This too can be a good prompt to reflect upon the quality of patience.
It’s also a challenge to your ability to sit quietly for an extended length of time and meditate; to some it can become boring. We sat with several other people, some of who left early, but we stayed till the water was surging across the road.
I found myself thinking of the High Tide of God; sometimes it comes flooding in over the road and then you may not pass. At other times, it is out, and your way along the road is free.
Of course, you can interpret the tide differently, reversing the meaning.It all depends upon the viewpoint you take; whether you see yourself sitting on the shore, or whether you see yourself as a boat, or as a bird skimming the waves. Instead of equating the tide with a signal that you must patiently wait, you can equate it with a time for fruitful action. That is how Shakespeare interpreted it when he wrote: There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads on to fortune.
So even non religious people can sit here at the end of the causeway and take from this their own reflections on life.
Whichever way you view it, the whole experience is full of symbolic meaning, which you can also explore in this book: Sacred Spaces by Margaret Silf.
My personal reflections for my own life, work equally well when applied to the current world scene.
I believe, with Tolstoy (see my previous blog post here) that “the times produce the man”; and currently, those who voted Trump in as President hold the moral responsibility for elevating him into a major role in their society. The tide in the affairs of men, that Shakespeare referred to, has thrown up this situation… and though many hold different views, perhaps we must just wait for the tide to recede, taking with it all the flotsam and jetsam.
Curiously, you can apply this principle to the writing of novels too. Sometimes you find you have a major character in a minor role, and vice versa. This can underlie problems with story-writing when you get stuck, and perhaps you can’t initially work out what you’re doing wrong.
And also you can equate creativity with the tide; the high tide of ideas. As the tide surges in, so can our ideas – but only if we get to work.
And lastly we, as writers, can see the tide as Shakespeare did: a tide of fortune. Are we boats, or birds, or perhaps merely foam on the crest of the waves? We may be a beautiful beached fish, just waiting for the tide to sweep us up again. However we see it, we can learn many things from sitting patiently at the end of the causeway, and waiting and gazing.
Nothing much, you may think – because Eadfrith was a seventh century monk in a monastery on an island, and we live in the fast, materialistic, time-pressured world of 2016.
I’ve just spent three days on Lindisfarne (otherwise known as Holy Island), just off the Northumberland coast, where Eadfrith sat in the monastery scriptorium and scribed and decorated the Lindisfarne Gospels every day for two years between 696 and 698 AD, in order to commemorate the elevation of St Cuthbert’s relics.
So why is it that the book he created is so revered and has such a hold on our imagination now? – apart from its age and the wonderful fact of its survival?
I believe it’s because of the dedication, the patient concentration and the painstaking artistry that breathes out from the pages, and because of what inspired its creation: love and devotion.
Eadfrith created it “for the glory of God and St Cuthbert”.
St Cuthbert himself inspired so much reverence because he was a holy man, at one time bishop of Lindisfarne, who died as a hermit in 687 on Inner Farne (which I recently visited), and around whose body many miracles occurred.
The astonishing story of his body, which failed to decay for many years, records how he was carried for several decades by faithful monks around Northumberland, to escape Viking attack, before finally it was laid to rest in the spot over which Durham Cathedral was built. You can visit St Cuthbert’s Tomb in Durham Cathedral, a place which has a strong spiritual resonance and atmosphere of holiness.
The glorious book which is the Lindisfarne Gospels is a testament to patience, concentration, love and devotion.
For us now, to gaze at, or to work with, the patterns Eadfrith painted is a pathway to peace and joy – hence the popularity of Celtic colouring-in books for adults, partly because the act of colouring-in forces you to pay close attention and eliminate all distractions. Celtic designs based on the Lindisfarne gospels pop up everywhere – here’s an image of my lovely metal bookmark displaying Eadfrith’s designs – notice particularly his ornamental birds (Lindisfarne has long been a paradise for birds, so Eadfrith had plenty of them to model his designs on).
In creating the ornamental designs, Eadfrith needed to pay minute attention to the geometrical foundations and symmetry of the overall design – very little was left to chance or the “inspiration of the moment.”
The book he created is now revered not just for the beauty and skill within its pages, I believe, but because that beauty is a physical representation on this earth of a spiritual reality – goodness, peace, patience, holiness and love.
Eadfrith had to source, prepare, or make from scratch everything he used – the parchments of vellum; the pen from a thick reed or quill feather; the ink, from animal, vegetable and mineral raw materials, ground to a fine powder and then mixed with egg white. I have personal experience of something of this latter part of the process at least, because I did an icon-painting course a few years ago and we mixed artists’ pigment with egg-white to paint our own icons on pieces of wood we had ourselves prepared – see the photo here of my own icon of the Archangel Gabriel.
After Eadfrith had created the Gospels, he left the scriptorium and as far as we know he never painted or wrote anything else – not that I’m suggesting this is a model for creative writers of today!
I find his story awe-inspiring and uplifting because it gives me an image of a patient, devoted person sitting alone in a quiet place concentrating absolutely on a work of art, to the exclusion of all else. It makes me think of many others who have created great works in similar circumstances – those who have been perhaps in prison, like St Paul, or Cervantes who wrote Don Quixote, two amongst several examples: or those who have deliberately chosen to go apart into an isolated place like Eadfrith in the scriptorium, free of distractions.
To be free of distractions and able to fully concentrate and devote yourself to the task in hand is such a luxury now, such an ideal for writers and artists to aspire to.
What do you do in a heatwave? We headed for the Cotwolds and one of our favourite places, Broadway Tower.
The last time I was there a cold gusty wind and a heavy damp mist greeted us.
But on this visit, the sun blazed out of an azure sky,
and it was an ideal day to climb the Tower and view the 16 counties from the top.
I’ve written about Broadway Tower before on this blog as it’s a place of inspiration, not least because of its association with the preRaphaelites and in particular William Morris, whose philosophy I admire and whose designs I love.
As I wrote in my previous post about Broadway Tower, among all things most romantic to me is a high place.
I go to high places for calmness and peace, and also to reconnect with that sense of perspective we all need so dearly in the world today.
There are a number of high places I love to visit, from where I live in Warwickshire. the nearest are the Burton Dasset Hills; Broadway Tower is about half an hour away; and the Malverns a little further. But all are sources of inspiration.
What are your favourite places to visit, for inspiration and upliftment of spirits? I’d love to hear about them, wherever you live… unless of course they are secret locations that you don’t want to be swamped by visitors! Do share in the comments below.
To experience the beauty and vastness of the sea is a magical thing in childhood. I have continued to love the sea all my life.
And I couldn’t resist taking photos – especially of one of my own personal images of paradise, an image that has the power to haunt your dreams and inspire the imagination – a silver sea, radiant in sunlight.