Thursday, 27 June 2013

An Old Rectory Wedding: Setting the Scene

We've been planning this event since February when we decided to get married.  If you remember, we had a legal ceremony in the local Registry Office in April.  But we really wanted to have the wedding in the garden.  So we booked a British Humanist celebrant to run a quasi service and hired a marquee in which to hold it.  The front garden is not massive but the lawn is big enough to accommodate a fifty person tent.  We also booked a local caterer, leaving us 'only' to sort out the guests.  Anyone who has organised a wedding knows that this is no mean feat: who to invite, who to leave out, who to invite later, who should sit where...and so on.

Before we knew it, it was Thursday 13th June and three chaps in a large lorry (out of shot in these photos - that's the stonemason's van that you can see!) arrived to erect the marquee.  It took all morning but looked wonderful with its lime washed chairs, round tables, Georgian windows that faced the Georgian house (all very balanced and in proportion!) with ivory drapes covering the walls and coir matting underfoot.

Then our first guests began to arrive: H & C, Auntie J and Uncle J.  We ate late in the dining room overlooking the marquee.  It gazed blankly back.

The next day, we moved tables and chairs to the front of the house.  We'd inherited two pub-like benches, which I'd painted a colour prosaically named 'thyme', a subtle blue-green.

I'd also re-varnished our garden table and chairs (well, with two chairs hastily being completed by C1 on the Friday morning!) and J and V at No.6 loaned us another set, unasked - lovely, lovely neighbours.  (They came over that evening with the gang at No.5 and a wheelbarrow containing a rose called 'Wedding Day').  We'd planted up the tubs at the front of the house with more roses, the theme of the wedding, but 'Princess Anne' this time.

The clematis was blooming in a pot by the back door whilst awaiting a permanent home.  We moved it to the newly cleaned front porch.  To everyone else's eyes, the front porch probably still looked like a dilapidated wreck but to my eyes it was transformed.

Bunting was then hung around the porch and the house filled with flowers, including roses, stocks, sweet peas, snapdragons, iris, gypsophila, freesias and carnations.  Signs were made directing people to the loos, gents by the kitchen, ladies to my mum's loo and any overspill, so to speak, to the bathroom upstairs.

The caterers arrived and laid the tables with stiff white cloths, silver cutlery and white crockery.  No floral centrepieces but upturned white pots, shaped like flower pots, on which would sit the food, tiered and beautiful.  In each napkin, I slotted a tube of bubbles with a heart shaped blower, hoping that people would guess what they were and not take them to be a vodka shot or a phial of cyanide!

Inside, the dining table was moved to the back wall and seats placed strategically.  This was where the coffee would be served along with my mum's homemade cakes, which would be displayed on the Irish dresser at the side of the room.  A garland of fabric roses threaded its way through the white cups and plates on the table with jars of sugared almonds at either end.

In my head, it looked perfect, even with the building site in the background.  Sorry about the lack of photos.  There was just too much to do!

More guests arrived that evening: H and T, C and D.  Dinner was a picnic on the floor in mum's sitting room as all the other tables around the house had been commissioned for wedding use.

Just one more thing.  I got up at the crack of dawn on my wedding day and Sprocket, the dog, and I headed off to Pentylands, the fields at the bottom of town, to gather cow parsley and May blossom.  I arranged this in jugs and placed one on each table in the garden.  The scene was set.  Only the weather was letting us down.  It had already rained over night and now grey clouds were overhead and rain was threatening to disrupt my plan of beautiful blue skies and warm sunlight.

The Place To Be

Sitting in the garden on a cushioned deck chair, eyes closed, sun on my face and warming my body as if under a soft duvet.  I can blot out the sound of the passing traffic to hear small birds 'chimping' in the hedge to my left, the shrill call of the swallows as they sweep to their nests under the gable, the robin holding forth from the ornamental cherry tree and a blackbird responding from further afield, probably down by the lime trees.  A soft breeze ruffles the air and a dove coos.  Work seems miles and miles away.  The house is crumbling and the ivy and bramble winds through the garden threatening to choke back the areas that we have cleared and reclaimed.

But today is a day for ignoring it all and just sitting in the sun listening to the cawing, squeaking, chirruping, trilling, cooing and fluting of our garden birds.

('Chimping' is, of course, a made up word.  Which brings to mind this email exchange between my friend K's son, S, and one of his university lecturers.

Hi Sir,
I've been working through the lecture notes for Intro to Macro and they are very useful but in the Keynesian Co-ordination Failure section it says that "fiscal policy action 'uniquitises' equilibrium in output market". The word 'uniquitise' confused me and I haven't been able to find a definition online or in a dictionary - could you please explain what you mean by this?
Hi S

I made it up. It means ‘to make unique’. I like it.



Vegetable Plotting

The garden is evolving at a faster rate than the house.  What with the rebuilding of the wall and the removal of the ivy bed by the gin terrace.  We have also started to create the vegetable plot.  With the house an island in a sea of gravel, I have been trying to work out ways of utilising the gravelled areas in order to save us from having to dig them up and then having to think what to do with the piles of unwanted, tiny stones.  Therefore, the easiest thing of all seemed to be to create a vegetable garden made up of raised beds.  These could be placed on the gravel.  But, double result, this would also make it easier for my mum to plant and tend those plants.

We ordered our first raised bed.  Naturally, it arrived flat packed.  Which meant that it sat in the back garden awaiting the return of our resident Mr Fix-It.  It took a morning to assemble, a solid structure with heavy planking, hefty bolts and thick caps for the strutts at each corner.  

Never Read the Instructions...

We bought the 6'x4' version.  And then we had to fill it.  It would take bags and bags of compost so we started with the twenty bin liners full of leaves that we had gathered in the autumn.  Then two bags of manure followed by four of compost.  It still isn't full to the brim and we will have to add more compost as the leaves decompose and the level falls still further.

Veggies Waiting to be Planted

Then we planted the vegetables that we had bought: beetroot, brussels, cabbage, onions, swiss chard and artichokes.  Far too much for a 6'x4' raised bed but the plan is to buy at least three more, laying them in a square, criss crossed with gravel paths.

Within a couple of days, the pigeons had stripped the brassicas to sorry stalks but had thankfully rejected the other morsels on display.  We have replaced them and covered the bed with mesh.  It's obviously a good excuse to buy the lovely domed protective netting that Harrod's Horticultural (any discount gratefully received!) sell to go with their raised beds.

Tending the Veg
We have now surrounded the bed with tomato plants and herbs: lavender, rosemary, basil, thyme, sage, oregano, mint, fennel, parsley and chives.

The bed sits beside the 'orchard', in reality a small triangle of weedy grass.  The only fruit tree that it hosted previously was an aged damson that was covered with ivy, needless to say.  This has now removed.  The damson hangs over the garden wall, its purple droppings deposited on the pavement as the damsons ripen and fall.  We are hoping that now it is free from its dark smothering of life-quenching ivy it will bloom towards the garden and that in future years we will enjoy sharp damsons sitting in their deep purple juice, topped with buttery sweet crumble and perhaps a splash of cream to lighten the purple in patches.   But our friend, C1, thinks the tree might have had its day.  So we may have to fell yet another tree and replace it with a younger, fresher and more fecund version.  (However, hidden by the fir tree and almost submerged by the elder and lilac is a small tree that I am watching closely.  It may be son of damson.)

The damson has now been joined by another tree that may or may not be a cherry or a plum - my mum is a bit vague.  There is also a plum donated by a lovely lady at mum's choir, called the Warwickshire Drooper, which was delivered to us on 5th May.  The original tree was bought by the choir lady's great grandmother in 1809 and has been grown true to type from suckers.

Recently and courtesy of some tokens given by B and C2 for our first wedding day in April, we have planted three apple trees: a Bramley, a Herefordshire Russet and a Court Pendu Plat.  The last is an old dessert variety, introduced by the Romans pre-1600 (according to the details on the plant - but then the Romans would be pre-1600, wouldn't they?) with a rich pineapple flavour, we are promised.  Its blossom was copious and we hope its fruit will follow suit.

The 'Orchard'

From Back to Front: Plum/Cherry, Warks Drooper and Russet

Court Pendu Plat - and Dock Leaves!

Bramley in the Shade
In a corner of the orchard is a small flower bed filled with marguerites.  They were just coming into bloom when Agent Orange bought his new strimmer from eBay and decided to try it out by cutting the grass in the orchard.  He has trouble discerning flowers from weeds.  Well, they say the Chelsea chop is a good thing and this was around the time of the Chelsea Flower Show so we wait to see if the daisies will replenish.

Chelsea Chopped!

And, finally, some other pictures of the garden.

Parrot Tulips on the Table
Hot Dog!
Tulip Tubs by Cuffer's Lobby

Monday, 24 June 2013

Breathing Space

The new dog needs walking.  Which means that we are beginning to explore beyond our usual haunts. At the bottom of the town is an area of five fields, known as Pentylands.  It is open grassland bordered by a belt of broadleaved trees, accessed from the housing estate or via a narrow lane, known as Pentylands Lane.   It is, therefore, part of the town and yet very rural, known as H_______'s breathing space.

I like to get there in the early morning.  At least I do in these wonderful late spring months.  (I think it's technically summer but we're at least a month behind and it's hard to know what is happening to the weather.)  The air is still sharp with night but the sun has risen and the birds are singing.  The cuckoo was still pronouncing correctly in early June, even though it should have changed its tune by then*.  The light is hazy still and the dew means that my trainers end up wet and smelling; I have taken to wearing my wellies for morning walks.  

We have to start early to miss the dog walkers.  (Sprocket loves humans but hates other dogs.)  However, it seems that whatever time we start out, there is always someone there before us.  Are all dog walkers insomniacs?   

These pictures are taken in the evening.  The buttercups were in bloom but the hawthorn was only just blossoming.  It was past the end of May and I don't think we had yet cast our clouts.  I certainly hadn't because the house is freezing and I live in my trusty old paint smeared British Army (Be the Best) fleece that someone from their marketing department once gave me.  What is a 'clout' anyway?  And does 'May' really refer to the hawthorn bush?  

I am, of course, talking about the saying 'Ne'er cast a clout 'til May is out.  This is an English proverb, supposedly first cited by Dr Thomas Fuller in his finest work Gnomologia in 1732: Leave not off a clout till May be out.  Since at least the early 15th century, 'clout' has meant "a blow to the head", " a clod of earth or clotted cream" or a "fragment of cloth or clothing".  In this instance, clout means clothing.  In other words, keep your thermals on until May is out.  

But what is 'May'?  The month?  An alternative explanation is that it is hawthorn, an extremely common tree in the English countryside, filling our hedgerows.  As many as 200,000 miles of the stuff were planted during enclosure, between 1750 and 1850.  The name 'Haw' is from 'hage', Old English for hedge.  It flowers in late April or early May.  Or late May/early June, this year.  It is known as the May Tree and the blossom is called May.  Therefore, the May in the rhyme might well mean the hawthorn blossom, the "darling buds of May" (Shakespeare, Sonnet 18).  And it smells of cat's pee.  Be warned if, like me, you decide to pick it and put it in vases.  

So, back to the fields.  We have to take diversionary activity due to Sprocket's dog phobia.  This means that walking the dog is like an SAS operation, avoiding enemy aircraft and going underground to avoid detection.  It's very wearing and we are off to the dog whisperer on Wednesday to find a solution.

But, between dogs, the fields are beautiful and do, indeed, provide a breathing space from the worries of the house and garden.  The fields are full of grass.  But it's not just grass.  As we move towards July, the colours of the seed heads range from straw to pink to grey to purple.  They are different shapes and sizes and they wave in the wind like a sea surrounding and protecting the homelands of H_______.  The dog often dives in, jumping like a deranged dolphin as he bounds over the tops of the seed heads.  With the cuckoo still singing in tune, where can be better than England in the spring?

The Lesser Spotted Sprocket: Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe

One Man and His Dog

Ne'er Cast a Clout 'Til May is Out

Hawthorn Buds

Artistic Tree

Evening Light


More Buttercups

Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley, Buttercups and Evening Sun

Last Light

Spring Blossom

*In April, I open my bill
In May, I sing night and day
In June, I change my tune
In July, away I fly
In August, away I must.

(Learnt at Infants' School, c. 1965)