The Spring is Sprung

Daffodils in bud
Daffodils in bud

Dare I hazard that Spring is quietly creeping around the place, sneaking a look at what she can expect if she makes a commitment to actually arriving? Friends say I am mad, that we could still suffer a rapid drop in temperatures with attendant snow, wind and rain – let alone the dreaded BLACK ICE! I, however, favour the more optimistic version and point in the direction of the daffodils that have actually been in bud for a couple of weeks now and which are forging ahead in the otherwise naked gardens.

White japonica with spring growth
White japonica with spring growth

And yesterday I caught a glimpse of snow-drops as I walked past a house with a ‘green’ garden. That is, one planted with small buxus hedges, well-trimmed ever-green shrubs, palms and topiary. There was  a simple, winding gravel path leading eventually to the front door, each curve giving access to the plants situated further back in the beds and all enclosed in beautifully trimmed leafy hedges about 4 ft high. I love gardens that look like this – so controlled.  (or is it ‘contained’?)This garden was tiny by most standards, but it was loaded with impact, purely because of that control (containment) and because of the obvious care that had gone into its design and maintenance. Various shades of green played the part of absent colours, providing the dynamics of contrast – of light and shade, of cool and warm and of rough and smooth. The snow-drops added the final touch.

Japonica with spring growth
Japonica with spring growth

Around us, though, new buds are popping all over the place and it was fun freezing my hands off taking photos of a few of them.

The lake is also looking pretty damn good and I am adding three pics showing how different it is without the 5 shades of grey. (see my blog: Winter- The Final Frontier).This is for Lloyd.

The Canada Geese are back.
The Canada Geese are back.

The Canada Geese are starting to come back, just to upset me. I spotted a pair yesterday, grubbing around in the grass at the edge of the lake.  Noisy, dirty and aggressive  individuals they are, too. When the weather gets better and they all arrive to nest we will be greeted by bird s##t all over the paths and roads and appalling noise every morning as the sun rises. I am sorry to say, that once the fluffy stage is over, there is little to recommend these honkers except perhaps the part they played in the Saatchi and Saatchi ads persuading us all to ‘work as a team’. (Talk about social engineering!  And they do look very elegant when flying in formation as long as they keep their beaks shut!

Finally – because I was a bit of a slouch and did not post this when I wrote it, I have indeed been beaten by the snow!  It arrived this morning – light and fluffy and not too difficult to contend with.  Just as well too, as today, we picked up my new car!

And finally, finally, a few lines that I first read over 50 years ago and which I have cherished and chuckled over ever since.

The spring is sprung,

The grass is riz,

I wonder where dem boidies is?

The little boids is on the wing.

Why, dat’s absoid –

The little wings is on the boid!

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Winter – the Final Frontier…….

OMG I have just realised how long it has been since I last wrote in this blog. Not since August last year. The past months have been totally taken up with getting into our new house, doing renovations, unpacking, and just getting all the everyday bits and pieces sorted. Then we had Christmas with all the attached brou-haha and now we are half way through January. (How’s that? Three and a half months in three lines.) Soon be summer and then Christmas once more. Shudder…….

 Now, winter is well entrenched and strangely, even M and I are already suffering from a lack of ‘outside’.  There is little incentive to go for a drive and a relaxing lunch when everything is grey, the roads are icy and the temperatures are below freezing. The same goes for a walk around the lake. It is bleak and quite beautiful in a stark, almost minimalist fashion, but just not appealing enough for someone who does not consider ‘walking for walking’s sake’, a priority.

"Our Lake"
“Our Lake”

It is fascinating, though.  Winter here, because of the preponderance of deciduous trees, offers a whole new view of previously secret places. Suddenly, the stately home up the road and down a long drive can be seen in all its glory. The shape of the lake that, in summer,  is completely hidden by the lush foliage of beech and birch, can now be truly appreciated.  Everywhere is now open to prying eyes, allowing  passers-by to snoop, to re-assess the gardens up the street and to check out a neighbour’s new extension or pool. What fun!

The novelty is short-lived, however. An all-pervasive grey continues to shroud the country-side, its effect compounded  by the clouds of vapour and smoke  curling out of heating vents and chimneys on every side. The odd blue-sky day is short-lived, ephemeral, its passing barely noted except as a momentary relief from the Pantone-like colour swatch depicting shades of grey that is now our daily expectation. The sun has no warmth, unless experienced through the glass of a conservatory and even then, it is a weak imitation of the real thing.

The Seagulls Playing on the Ice.
The Seagulls Playing on the Ice.

And…..the up-side? Well, we have a crash-hot  heating system. The fact that I need it set at a sky-rocket temperature compared with everyone else is a minor glitch, and I don’t care.  Lack of out-door excursions means LACK OF CALORIES. I have decided there is no finer way to conduct a diet than to avoid all restaurant and cafe eating.  I have time and a greater inclination to blog – not a bad thing at all as I am a great believer in ‘doing’ as a means of doing, if you see what I mean. A case of ‘don’t want to do’ – ‘improve’ – ‘love to do’.  I would love to take this opportunity to do heaps of cooking, too, baking in particular, but after the Christmas fiasco of food, food and yet more food, I am quite easily resisting the temptation.  I still have a pack of fresh cranberries in the freezer  though, that I bought before the holidays  to try a new  cake recipe I found on Pinterest. Can they still be called fresh, though?  Oh well, never mind. Maybe after I have lost a couple more kilos……

Finally, there are books, thanks to various second hand shops that support charities around the neighbourhood and the excellent Waterstones. Books on composting of course,  and – just published, the final book in the Robert Jordan (RIP)series “The Wheel of Time”.  Bliss – I cannot wait to start it, but of course, starting means finishing and that is not a happy thought and then, I realize that I have taken pleasure from these books for over 20 years now. A big chunk of my life.

A Wintry Blue Sky
Wintry blue sky.

Public Conveniences!!

The village square, Chilham.

Public lavatories, toilets, loos, or whatever you like to call them, figure largely in the lives of people who get around a lot. This was brought home to me recently when we were doing a bit of exploring in the Kent countryside.  As usual, there was no shortage of places to go  (I don’t mean the loo)- it was more a matter of deciding what direction to take – but since we had not been  previously, we chose a village that is has quite a reputation,  Chilham, in Kent.

Chilham Castle

Chilham is draped over the top of a range of gentle hills and can be accessed from the A252. The village square, once grassed,  is now paved.  At one end is the gateway to Chilham Castle, a fabulous home which dates back to at least 1086 when it was classed as a manor. It is open to the public on any day that we are not there.  Yes, we missed out again. (Must check these things more thoroughly!)

The road in Chilham
A beautiful walk. Shame about the signs!

There is a school, a church with a graveyard, pubs and encircling the square, beautiful medieval buildings, both houses and businesses.  These buildings straggle down the five roads radiating out, back down the hill and gradually peter out as flat ground is reached. Some parking is allowed in the square, but it seemed rather rude  to leave the car in what was really a communal front yard, so we opted to use the car-park at the bottom of the hill and to walk up.

And so to the loo issue. Sitting in front of a tent, surrounded by racks of brochures  and with a table covered with papers, was a very friendly local resident.  Behind her were the local public loos. A welcome sight, I may say for slightly older than middle-age travellers. But – not for long, it seems.  The local council want to pull them down because they cost too much to keep clean. The local population are totally dismayed and have organised a PETITION demanding that they be retained.  We were asked to sign it and did so, readily.

The Petition
A lady who cares!

Public toilets, as supplied for casual visitors, for the most part are the most revolting, filthy arm-pits of the world and if you can find one that is half-way decent, you should cherish it and commend those responsible.  I visited one in the North, not long ago and it was foul. All metal furnishings and floors and walls of scarred concrete painted in a tasteful shade of British Racing Green .  No paper except that strewn on the floor.  No locks on the doors.  Built-up dirt decorating the corners. The sort of place where you just know that you will pick up more ‘nasties’ if you wash your hands than if you don’t! But – guess what?  There was piped music surging through each cubicle and it was classical organ music – Bach, I do believe.  Very surreal.  There was a queue in this toilet.  It was situated at a popular picnic spot.  Why, why ,why do they not make some effort to make it clean and pleasant to use?

You know – there are some things on earth that will never make a profit.  Clean loos is one of them, luv and you just have to suck it up!

House in Chilham
The Elephant house in Chilham.

Back to Chilham. There were suggestions for over-coming the problem.  Perhaps a villager could hold the key and lock and unlock the building and ‘keep an eye on things?’ Unfortunately, the population is either rather elderly, or not always available. Older folk are wary of hoons and confrontation.  Perhaps visitors could use the loos in the local pubs and tea-rooms?  These buildings are TINY. Can you imagine a coach-load of tourists swarming through a tea-shop that can barely fit two tables and a couple of chairs?  And why should local businesses be expected to provide facilities when they can barely meet the needs of their own customers?

Who knows what the final decision will be?  I just hope that the loos stay right where they are and open for business, so to speak.  For God’s sake, this is England where millions of pounds are spent on winning gold medals and building stadia. Surely we can run to providing a decent place to have a pee!

Another view of the village square.
Another view of the square.

Oh – by the way. Chilham is famous for being the place where Miss Marple, Poirot and Jane Austen’s Emma were filmed!

For more on the Elephant House, see my future blog on Chilham.