Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Autumn or Fall

Fall, Leaves, Fall

Fall, leaves, fall. die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day,
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the Autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night's decay
Ushers in a drearier day

Emily Bronte(1818-1848)

This lovely verse by Emily Bronte captures the essence of this beautiful time of year. In Britain it is called Autumn and in The States  Fall. Anyone fortunate enough to have journeyed through New England at this time knows how magnificent the colours of the woods and forests are. Coming from Europe nothing prepares you for the magnificence of the New England Fall. The coach loads of tourists driving around marvelling at the spectacle of the rich colours of foliage are known as Leaf peepers. Often the beautiful jewel like colours of gold, ruby and amber are reflected perfectly in the waters of the many stunning lakes. 
On a smaller scale these beautiful colours can be seen in Britain too, from the Beech woods in the South to the Lake District and Scotland in the North. Spring is the Princess of the seasons and Autumn is surely the Queen.
By the way of course you know that Emily Bronte wrote Wuthering Heights, a tale of intense passion between Cathy and Heathcliff set on the Yorkshire moors, with a miserable end.
So happy Autumn to you all and enjoy the beautiful colours around you.

Monday, 29 September 2014

A walk through the woods, an ode to a childhood friend

A tree that is perfect for climbing

Home again

Deeper into the woods

Hopping over styles

Through the gate and down the Lane
Walking with my friend Elaine
Up the track, across the Green
'Derek's the best I've ever seen'.
Past the farm we stop awhile
Taking turns to jump the style
'Brendan's cool though not too bright'
'Did you watch the film last night?'
Our little dogs then start to fret.
'Have you done your homework yet?'
Happy Valley comes into view
'My mum's taught me to make stew.'
'Have you ever tried to make
Banana bread or chocolate cake?'
Along the path between the corn.
'When was Henry VIII born?'
Down the slope into the wood
'Oh my goodness this is good.'
The trees so tall the ferns so thick
My little dog brings me a stick.
I throw it far away from him
In no time he's back again.
I throw and throw
He runs and runs
This really is a lot of fun.
'Come this way let's kick the leaves
Gather conkers from horsechestnut trees.'
It's Autumn time
Term's just begun
We really should be getting home.
Dusk is falling
It starts to rain
Along the lane
And home again.
Off down the lane

Sunday, 28 September 2014

An old fashioned moral tale

Evil squeezed a few drops of venom onto the assembled company and then lay back with his hands behind his head and a contented smile on his face.It was one of his favourite situations. People sitting round a table and trying to pretend they were alright. He sighed with satisfaction. All his best friends were there, Envy and Jealousy, Pride and Vanity, Resentment and Bitterness, Hate and Indifference.Greed hadn't come this evening. He'd gone to a  land dispute meeting with Anger and Sloth. .Evil squeezed a few more drops over Hate. He'd had a bit of trouble with him lately. He'd been getting close to that idiot Passion and Evil knew that when that happened his feared enemy, Love, was never far away. He looked fondly at Pride and Vanity. They were looking so young these days with all the plastic surgery and the boom in the obsession for beauty. Envy was giving them a hand, He looked proudly at Indifference, who was going from strength to strength and sometimes overtaking Hate. Evil was amazed by the renewed power of Indifference.
 A gust of warmth and sweet air caused Evil to sit up abruptly. He relaxed immediately when he saw it was only Compassion trying to pull up a chair next to Bitterness. He wasn't afraid of Compassion, Pride always managed to sort him out. He listened idly to the conversation. Resentment was telling Jealousy all about his miserable childhood. Compassion tried to join in but then Bitterness caught his attention. Evil always enjoyed listening to conversations about miserable childhoods, cruel parents and jealous siblings. He often felt his finest work was done there. All those people dragging their childhood grievances through their lives like a ball and chain. He also got great satisfaction from all the marriage break ups around. Love went to all that hard work to get a couple together and they'd go off down the aisle looking at each other in a soppy way and making ridiculous promises. Evil only had to wait until Love was busy doing something else and then let Jealousy sidle in .He would then open the door for Bitterness and Resentment, before long they were joined by Hate who took over completely. Evil nearly lost his balance as Kindness came in and moved round the table trying to get some attention. Evil was pleased to see that no- one was taking any notice of her. Weak ineffectual creature with all her silly ways, offering lifts and dropping coins in boxes, making cakes and listening to long boring complaints and being nice. Hope and Faith came in together as always. They were useless too. All it needed was a little earthquake or a flood and off they'd scuttle. Evil looked at his friends with pride, pleased with himself. Then there was a blinding flash that threw him right off balance. He was dazzled by the brilliance and the light that sparkled around him. He glimpsed a white cloak covered in thousands of bright diamonds, a rich velvet trim and a softness that even tempted him to wrap himself in their folds. He hadn't been expecting this. It was his arch enemy Love. She started to envelop the creatures one by one, soothing their brows, holding their hands. There was a burst of nervous laughter from Envy. Hate was looking at her in awe and what looked suspiciously like adoration. Evil desperately tried to sprinkle more drops of venom but it was no use. There was nothing left. Bitterness and Resentment rushed away together looking ashamed and rather ridiculous. Pride and Vanity looked old and tired. The others followed and Evil faded away. Love looked at Kindness and Compassion, Hope and Faith.   'I'm sorry I took so long,I've been very busy this evening. Thank  you for holding on.'
Compassion looked down, shame-faced,' I'm  no good on my own. I can't do anything without you.'
Love put his arm round him 'No- one can. We all need each other. '


I have always liked the following verse by Hilaire Belloc, (1870-1953). He was an Anglo- French writer and lived in Britain. My mum liked this verse so much she had it embroidered and put in a frame to hang beside her bed. It inspired me to write this rather old-fashioned 'moral' tale.

Of courtesy it is much less
Than courage of heart or holiness
Yet in my walks it seems to me
That the grace of God is in courtesy.

I hope you like it and it inspires you today.


Saturday, 27 September 2014

Alice in Oxford

Walking round Oxford on a beautiful September day the warm creamy gold of the Oxford stone buildings bathed in the mellow early Autumn sunshine you can't help but think of all the hopes and dreams that take place among those dreaming spires. A whole new set of students are about to embark on an intense and important adventure. Posters advertising Freshers' parties abound.
Nearing Christchurch college there is soon a reminder that Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland in Oxford. He was a lecturer at Christchurch college and would have wandered around the beautiful gardens and meadows leading down to the river. Even today you can easily see
 a young girl or two propped against a tree lost in a reverie or a gnarled tree trunk with entrances below ground perfect for a rabbit to run down calling out'I'll be late!'near its base. Lewis Carroll's story of Alice has delighted many generations of children the world over and still enthralls. Now Christchurch college is also famous for having a dining hall that was used in the Harry Potter films. If you ask the porter if you can see Harry Potter's dining hall he may gravely inform you that they refer to it as simply The dining hall.
On this lovely September afternoon my poem for the day is from Alice in Wonderland and is dedicated to all those hopeful students past and present and their dreams.

A boat, beneath a sunny sky
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July -

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear -

Long has paled that sunny day:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willinv ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming  as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream-
Lingering in the golden gleam -
Life, what is it but a dream?

More about Alice

'The time has come,' the Walrus said,
To talk of many things:
Of shoes- and ships- and sealing wax-
Of cabbages-and kings-
And why the sea is boiling hot-
And whether pigs have wings!'

This delightful verse is typical of the wonderful story of Alice in Wonderland. While reading her story we enter a country where nothing is as it should be, and where all sorts of unexpected and improbable things happen. Lewis Carroll's real name was Charles Luteidge Dodgson and he was a university professor of mathematics and logic at Christchurch, Oxford. When he was about thirty- three he took his friend Dean Liddell's children,Alice Liddell and her two sisters for a river trip near Oxford . They stopped for a picnic in the meadows and they asked him to tell them a story. So that is how Alice began her immortal adventures by going down a rabbit hole. It was an immediate success and is still enchanting young children.
John Masefield tells us inhis Everlasting Mercy that

He who gives a child a treat
Puts golden stones in heaven's street,
And he who gives a child a home,
Builds palaces in Kingdom Come.

So if you haven't already read Alice in Wonderland you have a treat in store  - playing croquet with live flamingoes and hedgehogs,sitting in a train with a dressed-up goat,the Mad Hatters tea party just to mention a few.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Sorting out problems

My home spun adolescent philosophy and approach to life largely came from my family but also my favourite magazine Jackie. I loved reading the problem page by Cathy and Claire. The advice they gave seemed to be always kind and caring and sensible.They dealt with questions that  might have seemed embarassing to be spoken aloud. The people that are in charge of a Problem Page are known as Agony aunts and apart from Cathy and Claire there are others that became household names in Britain- Among others I remember Marjorie Proops and Virginia Ironside. When I could understand enough Italian to read magazines in Italy I went straight to the Problem Page. Interestingly the advice given did not often correspond to that in Britain. One thing they did have in common was that most of the problems concerned relationships. Oh there is so much heartache in the world. How people hurt each other and cause pain must surely still amaze these Agony Aunts. How difficult it is for everybody to have good relationships yet it is so important. Dear old Shakespeare had this advice to give heartbroken girls.

Song from Much Ado About Nothing

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever;
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so,
But let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into Hey nonny, nonny.

Sing no more ditties, sing no more
Of dumps so dull and heavy;
The fraud of men was ever so,
Since summer first was leavy
Then sigh not so,
But let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into Hey nonny, nonny!

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

A Quintessential English village

There are so many pretty villages in England from the Yorkshire Dales to the Cornish coast I have seen so many over the years. Little havens of tranquillity nestled in spectacular surroundings, hills, dales, cliff tops, wild moors. Now quintessential means - according to the dictionary - most essential part of any substance,refined extract, purest and most perfect form of some quality or class. So a quintessential English village should have all the necessary characteristics to make it perfect. It must be pretty and set in beautiful countryside. There must be a church, a pub, a post office which also sells newspapers, magazines, chocolate, ice creams, pretty cottages,a village green or playing field, a manor house. Welcome extras could be a stream, a village hall, a cricket pavilion, a village school and hall. In my quintessential village there would be a friendly community feel like in Postman Par, there would be lots of fêtes and festivals, concerts and  sport for the youngsters. Maybe a pump or a pond and a local butcher, anything else ?

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Stepping over styles

The public footpaths that let you wander so easily over the English countryside sometimes take you through a farmer's land. To make sure that his land is protected and any animals that might be grazing there are kept in, the entrance will be across a style. This is not like a gate that could inadvertently be left open but a wooden structure with a step to climb over. Nowadays there are also kissing gates which allow you to enter a field by passing through a swing gate and also to kiss your partner as you each go through. 
Today hopping over a style I thought of a nursery rhyme. 

There was a crooked man
Who walked a crooked mile
He found a crooked sixpence
Upon a crooked style
He brought a crooked cat
Who caught a crooked mouse
And they all lived together
In a crooked little house.

The Quince Tree

The English countryside is dotted with numerous pubs. They often have names that suit the countryside- The Fox and Hounds, The Stag and Huntsman, The Goose, The Bull and Butcher, The Ploughman's Arms. Traditionally they are cosy and warm and a welcome haven on a dark windy night or will have a shady garden for sunny days. Today I went to one of these old country pubs only to find it had been transformed into a bright, light spacious modern café and restaurant. There was also a shop with exotic food and an impressive display of wine bottles. The owner was charming and introduced us to his young family and showed us round. There were olive trees in pots, ornamental pumpkins and proper Parma ham. Lots of women drinking cappuccinos or lattes and amazing Scotch eggs. There were daily newspapers to read and cookery books to buy. It was all bright and modern and cheerful, quite different from the old country pub that was there before, but still with a charm of its own. 

Enchanted places

There are places that you know as a child that can remain forever enchanted and magical. Places can  capture a child's imagination and become a magical kingdom where all the senses are employed and magnified. One of mine was Turville Heath. To the casual passer by it could seem like just another stretch of fern- filled woodland that is part of the stunning countryside that stretches from the Chiltern Hills to the Oxford plain. It was one of my favourite childhood outings. A natural adventure park full of attractions to fill you with delight and fear. We would make fires and cook sausages- not allowed today- lay picnic rugs on the rough grass and sit drinking tea on the fallen logs. Then we would be off to run wild and to explore. There was a hollow tree which we could hide in, hidden ponds to fall in and nettles that could sting you. Then after all the bracken, ferns and brambles you could come across a clearing that seemed like a secret kingdom. Maybe there were fairies there, or little people or ogres. Then we would be running back to the picnic rug, to safety and sit around listening to stories. The sun that dappled the woods when we arrived would start to go down and we would gladly go home as dusk fell to our bright and welcoming home leaving the countryside to the rabbits and the night time creatures,thinking of the mysterious life that went on there. Here is one of my mum's favourite campfire stories.

One dark night a gang of robbers sat round a campfire and the leader said'Simon, stand up and tell us a story.' So Simon stood up and said' One dark night a gang of robbers sat round a campfire and the leader said'Simon, stand up and tell us a story'. ......

Yes well... It made us laugh !!

Under the greenwood tree

William Shakespeare has been giving pleasure through his plays and sonnets for five hundred years- it's amazing.Little is known about him and I have covered that in earlier posts.We do know that he lived in England and although lots of things have changed since he wrote such inspiring words, some things haven't. The pleasure to be found when falling in love, being near the one you love, the feeling of the sun on your face and the wind in your hair. The joy to be found in the English countryside .He accompanied us through our school years like generations before us and those to come. Here was someone that understood us, all those teenage yearnings. Who couldn't relate to the anguish Romeo and Juliet felt when they had to part ?Of course we made fun of him too, men leaping about in tights and singing 'hey nonni no' and saying things like forsooth.  So in these first days of Autumn when the sun is still warm enough to lie down in a leafy wood before the winter comes I really like these verses by William Shakespeare.

Under the Greenwood Tree

Under the greenwood tree
Who loves to lie with me,
And turn his merry note
Unto the sweet bird's throat -

Come hither, come hither, come hither!
Here shall he see
No enemy
But winter and rough weather.

Who doth ambition shun
And loves to live i' the sun
Seeking the food he eats
And pleased with what he gets-
Come hither, come hither, come hither!
Here shall he see
No enemy
But winter and rough weather.