In my Green Garden…

…Life has pushed its hands through the roots of a tousled sleep, and teased out flower, feather, dandelion dreams, the scream of swifts combing through the blue.

Snake's head fritillary, daisies and dandelions in our garden mini-meadow

Snake’s head fritillary, daisies and dandelions in our garden mini-meadow, April 2015

Words have been trying to keep up with this new, wide-awake pace – but have trembled. They have needed a little longer in the sun to unfurl. They have followed a slower track of light than the leaves greening all around me.

This spring, sorely-needed Time has sat down beside me in the drowse of bees and the breeze on the page, turning the hours to look up and see a great spotted woodpecker, black, white and startle-red, amongst a snow-fall of blossom.

Folding into its pocket the soul-weary close of last summer, Time has worn the concern of  a healer. It has come forward, hesitantly at first, with small gifts: an autumn-gold leaf, loose on the air; spinning loss like a coin – and landing future-side up. A robin, its ages-old gaze – beadily wise – pinning my feet back into a steady place; singing me to rights, and moving me on with a bold push through the winter cold.

Then came the greening – the riotous blurting of voices in shades of yellow and purple; bucket-throws of blue, pillow-bursts of white. Time for sitting back on my heels, and just watching, absorbing; coming back to life. Time for blackbirds to slow-stitch the rents where heart’s ease has fallen through; their song glossy-black and morning-yellow – like sunlight on warm molasses.

And time for the Chiffchaff! Who could ignore the Chiffchaff? Shouting out the spring, like a space-hoppered child who wants to play – hitting you with a football-thump of joy.

It’s been a difficult, sad, sad year; fraught with many anxieties and emptied out by the loss of my dear, beautiful mum. But, each day brings new layers – a folding in – and opening out – reasserting the onward cycle which is a part of all endings. Old days, old times fold into the new; alive side by side – and above and beneath – building fertile soil. Butterfly wings open a hair’s breadth of spring into summer – and the Bookish Nature word-leaves are gradually, gradually unfurling…

This beautiful song, Green Garden, by Eivor Palsdottir has accompanied me through the winter and spring. It says so much:

It’s been a gift-filled – and, for me, more keenly felt than ever – life-affirming, green, green, healing spring. Time, I think, for this blog to catch up with the Earth’s orbit, and to ‘rise again, from the shadows…’

Thank you so much to all Bookish Nature’s followers and readers, old friends and new, for keeping faith with the blog.

Ox-eye daisies in our garden mini-meadow

Ox-eye daisies in our garden mini-meadow, May 2015

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My Christmas card to you…

A carousel blurs lights and time. Imagination, woven into barley-sugar twists of gold, rides into adventure…

Carousel, Bath Christmas Market, 2013

Step aboard a portal – to an enchanted forest? To Green Knowe? A visit to the Midnight Folk?

Carousel in centre of Bath

Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths huddle close to a Christmas tree; its branches draped in stars dropped by a forgetful sky…

Christmas Tree outside Bath Abbey, 2013

A yew berry bides its time. An ancient in the making?

Yew berry - photo taken by my daughter at Westonbirt Arboretum, 2013

Yew berry – photo taken by my daughter at Westonbirt Arboretum, 2013

Cakes of Christmas Past, stirred through with memories. Decorated by my daughter…

Christmas cake 2011

Christmas cake 2012

The Cake of Christmas Present, waiting for dreams in sugar icing…

Christmas Cake 2013, awaiting decoration

Journeys by the fireside… Dazzling tales of the yuletide spirit, courtesy of the man they called “Mr. Christmas”…

Folio Society Dickens

However you mark this time of year, have a happy, magical time…

Season’s Greetings to all Bookish Nature readers. Thank you so much for all your support over the past year…

Merry Christmas!

Photo taken by my daughter at Westonbirt Arboretum, 2013

Photo taken by my daughter at Westonbirt Arboretum, 2013

Winter Solstice – Sol invictus; Unconquered sun…

It’s that tipping point of the year again here in the northern hemisphere. The winter solstice. The shortest day – or longest night – whichever way you want to look at it…

From today, as our planet tilts and turns, we travel back towards the light…

Here are two wonderful midwinter songs. They seem the perfect way to bring a celebration of this magical time to Bookish Nature. Both are written and performed by Thea Gilmore, and are from her album Strange Communion. I love how these YouTube videos blend Thea’s sublimely beautiful voice with glorious winter scenes; immersing us in the stunning beauty of the season – and in that special quality of returning light…

First, the spine-tingling magic of Sol Invictus:

‘Come the dawn, come the call
Come, the beating air
Chill the night, soldier light
We’ll be dancing there
And rise up, rise up
Day stretching weary wings…..

…..Come the day, thief of the night
Lifts its voice to sing

Now rise up, rise up
Ever victorious
Know the time, know the light
Comes the sun again.’

(From the lyrics to Sol Invictus, written by Thea Gilmore)

(Video: Jez Horrox)

And, secondly, as we follow roads back to hearth and home, a song that acknowledges both the darkness and light of our days – and raises a toast to midwinter; to the lessons we keep in the folding of the old year; and the chances we can unwrap to make things better in the new. A time to thank our lucky stars for the people and places that sustain us…

Midwinter Toast: (film by terigower)

Another day… (Liebster Award, Part 2)

…And so, following on from my previous post, it’s time (at last!) to answer Aubrey’s questions:

Why did you start blogging?

It all began when Himadri started his excellent blog, The Argumentative Old Git, and invited me to drop by to continue our old habit of bookish discussion on the interweb. As chance would have it, I’d been tentatively mulling over the idea of starting my own blog (as a place to gather my loose, floating thoughts about literature and nature, rather than letting them drift into festering or forgetting) – and Himadri encouraged me to give it a go (thank you, Himadri!)

At that time, lots of vague motivations were swirling around in my head – and I don’t think they really started to cohere until I’d actually been writing Bookish Nature for a while. But I know that, from the beginning, what pushed me most to begin wittering away on the internet, was my firm belief in the vital importance (in Life, living and flourishing) of great literature, story and the imagination; and of deeper connection to the rest of nature.

These things, it seems to me, are keys to a central and crucial doorway – and, in my own small way, I wanted to do my bit to help keep that door open in a world which, so often, seems turned away from its threshold. I’m passionate about this stuff – and I guess I hoped that I could give back to what inspires me.

Starting a blog was also a chance to get back to writing again – and to hold on to something in me that circumstances threatened to overwhelm. My notebooks and pens had been gathering dust for far too long. I’m a very bad blogger – constantly struggling to catch up with the posts teeming in my head, and with all the comments I’d love to leave on the blogs I read and admire. Time and energy often runs out too soon. But it’s been brilliant to discover so many other bloggers who share my passions – and to learn from, and be inspired by, what they write.

Do you find that you usually prefer the book or movie version?

The book – it’s like someone once said about the radio: ‘the pictures are better!’

With the book there is more time, more depth, greater immersion in perspective, more of a journey into the characters’ minds; a closer seeing through their eyes.

And the characters always look how you think they should!

There are times though, when a film has added a priceless cultural layer to the experience of the book (e.g. David Lean’s Great Expectations). And, because a film is a world and a creation in its own right – when it is done well, it stands on its own reputation, and doesn’t need to balance on the shoulders of the book. Then, it becomes possible to forgive it any deviations from the novel, if it goes its own filmic way from time to time…

Are you wearing jewellery now? Bonus points if a parure is involved.

Alas, I cannot claim the bonus points – and must display my ignorance (I had to look up what a parure is!) But, Yes! I love jewellery. I don’t have masses of it, but what I do have I treasure because each piece holds its own story and significance; myriad associations bound up in the twists and turns of its patterns, and in the lustre of its colours. I’m wearing a necklace that is my most treasured favourite, because my daughter chose it as a birthday gift for me when she was just six years old. It’s very, very lovely; a Celtic design in silver (interlacing Celtic knots) set with pieces of amber.

She bought it in her favourite shop at the time – a fossil shop that also sold jewellery. She was mad on collecting fossils at that age (we were convinced she was going to become a palaeontologist!) She would spend every last bit of her pocket money on fossils (ammonites, arthropods, shark’s teeth, you name it) and that year, we booked a holiday cottage near Lyme Regis in Dorset, so that she could scour the beach, pretending to be Mary Anning!

Remarkable Creatures (published by Harper Collins) - Tracy Chevalier's novel about Mary Anning - a remarkable woman and pioneering 19th century palaeontologist from Lyme Regis in Dorset.

Remarkable Creatures (published by Harper Collins) – Tracy Chevalier’s novel about Mary Anning – a remarkable woman and pioneering 19th century palaeontologist from Lyme Regis in Dorset.

Name five places you would never want to visit again.

If I’ve had a bad experience of a place, it’s usually been due to the time or events, rather than a fundamental fault with the location. A case of bad associations! I can’t really think of anywhere that, intrinsically in itself, has been so hideous I’d never return… But I can think of a few places, at specific times, which I would never want to experience again:

1) The secondary modern school I attended in the 1970s/early 1980s. It had some highlights – but I’m glad it’s over!

2) Blackpool, June 1985. I felt so ill after that nightmarish ride on the giant, gyrating spider machine (torture chamber). Pleasure Beach it wasn’t!

3) My Theatre Studies ‘A’ Level audition at the local further education college. Excruciating! I mangled Lady Anne’s speech in Richard III: ‘Set down, set down your honourable load…’ Miraculously, I was accepted on the course (the head of the drama department was a kind soul – he mumbled something about potential, and let me in!) After that, the college became associated with tons of happy memories – so, in real time, I’d actually love to go back there again.

4) Dover in the early 1990s. The tops of the famous white cliffs are lovely (lots of butterflies and wildflowers) – and the castle is forbidding and impressive. But the job that took me to Dover turned out to be an unhappy experience… and the town, at that time, generally wore a gloomy and depressing air.

5) The village donkey derby, around 1980 (when I was a very easily embarrassed teenager, and it seemed that everyone who lived within a five mile radius was present). Let’s just say, I started the race seated on the donkey…!

Ocean or lake?

Ocean – mermaids, tall ships, pirates, the salty spray; the wind caught in the roll of the waves, sand between my toes, whales, dolphins – and white horses chasing the dreams of Poseidon… I love to stand looking out to that wide and wild horizon… and to gaze into sun-warmed rock pools, where beadlet anemones and hermit crabs play out the dramas of a whole other world…

(But… lakes have a big attraction too – mysterious, mirror-still, sometimes the keepers of tantalising treasure islands, or a hidden lady waiting to reveal a magic sword. Swans nesting close to the reeds, kingfishers glinting sapphire, dragonflies clicking their wings on a drowsy summer’s day…)

What can I say? I’m a Piscean… I love the water…

What is the first book you couldn’t live without?

Night of the Red Horse by Patricia Leitch.

Night of the Red Horse by Patricia Leitch

It spoke to me as if it already knew me, and became a kind of talisman in my reading life; a touchstone from which I travelled into ever widening horizons of the written word. I read it when I was about ten or eleven years old – and the ‘Jinny at Finmory’ series of books, by the wonderful Patricia Leitch, was an absolute embodiment of my fantasy at that time. (Jinny Manders – an imaginative, misfit girl who, like me, goes to an ordinary school, has an ordinary life – is a stranger to the world and psyche of Pony Club and gymkhanas – but who draws horses all day, and dreams of her own horse – is handed a fate that takes her to live in the wilds of Scotland – saving, along the way, a beautiful and spirited Arab mare cruelly trapped in a life at the circus, who becomes both the challenge of Jinny’s life – and the soul-friend of her growing up years).

Jinny at Finmory

Night of the Red Horse was my favourite in the series. It had mystery, archaeology, a hint of myth and magic, Epona and the ancient Celts, worlds of time in overlap and collide, a fiery horse of legend painted on the attic wall at Finmory House (a painting which seemed to come to life – urgent with some disturbing and mysterious message) – and it had the stunning west coast of Scotland, eagles in the sky, white-sand beaches, mountains and purple heather moors; a whole story and landscape of deeply resonating and enthralling ingredients – the perfect, kindred recipe to most inspire the mix that was me.

Are you one of those bloggers that believe that people resemble their icons? Do you, for instance, think that I am wearing a periwig and holding a star?

Aubrey – that’s exactly how I imagine you (now with added parure!) So, I guess the answer has to be yes. Though, it does depend… Often, there is something about an icon that suggests an aspect of the blogger’s personality – and which sparks a vague mental picture of what they may look like. Other times, it might hold no clue at all. Alas, I look nothing like a beautiful blue butterfly!

If you were alive in 1902 would you be tempted to ride in one of those new car-things, or would you prefer to continue driving your four-in-hand?

It would have to be total loyalty to the four-in-hand! No doubt, I would have been one of those types deeply resistant to (and very indignant about) the usurpation of the Horse. I would have gathered my lovely quartet of carriage horses (all greys, resplendent in scarlet nosebands), harnessed them to the ageing barouche – and held up the traffic along the lanes for decades into the new century!

Though, secretly, I would probably have accepted the odd Sunday afternoon jaunt in a daffodil-yellow motor car, driven by some bright-young-thing nephew up from Town (just to see for myself what all that dizzying nonsense was about…)

Which actor has provided you with your favourite rendition of Sherlock Holmes?

Well, until recently, the answer would have been, without hesitation, Jeremy Brett. But I think Benedict Cumberbatch may have stolen the crown… or, at least, now wears it on a time-share basis with Jeremy, whilst I waver between the two.

You’re getting dressed for work. You open your closet and find your clothes are not of this decade. Are you happy about this? What decade do you hope is represented?

I would be happy about that! Very exciting!

Having said in my previous post that I’m not that bothered about foot wear – I remember that, when I was at primary school, I begged my mum to let me have a pair of bright yellow, patent leather, knee-length platform boots. I’d seen them pictured in a clothes catalogue. She told me in no uncertain terms (and quite rightly at the time) that they were totally unsuitable; the platform soles were far too high…

So, I would be delighted if the clothes in the closet were from the 1970s – provided they included that pair of yellow platforms. I’d put up with a return to the huge flares, cheesecloth blouses, home-knitted ponchos and floppy hats for a chance – at last – to wear those boots!

However, if elegance and style were essentials that day, I’d be very happy to find an array of outfits from the 1920s in my wardrobe. I’ve always wanted to wear a cloche hat and a handkerchief skirt!

Have you ever mixed a cocktail – for either yourself or others? And if you have, can you mix a tall Bloody Mary – now? All this writing and thinking has made Aubrey thirsty.

Never mixed a cocktail in my life. Does a Cinzano and lemonade count? With a glace cherry on a stick? (Yes, yes, I know… I have such class…!)

And now for the bloggers to whom I would like to give the Liebster Award:

The Argumentative Old Git

Whistles in the Wind

Amanda Banks

simplyradicalfemale

Daniel Greenwood

The Cheapskate Intellectual

Somewhere Boy

The Mucky Root

Diana J Hale

From Bad to Verse

(Please see my previous post for details of what the Liebster Award entails)

I understand that the award should go to up-and-coming blogs that have fewer than 300 followers. To me, that number seems more like “well-established” than “up-and-coming” – an amazing number of followers to have achieved! But, then, I remember the days when I was happy just talking to myself (and Himadri – bless him!) here on Bookish Nature – and 10 followers seemed like an impossibly high aspiration! Some of you on the list may have more than 300 followers (I wasn’t always sure as to the numbers) – in which case, I hope you don’t mind this award winging its way up there towards the stratosphere!

I think that some of the bloggers I’ve nominated may already have received this award in the past – (Himadri? Diana? Gareth?) and so may not wish to participate again. Also, I’m aware that some folk don’t like to take part in blog awards due to time constraints etc. (I would have nominated Sonya Chasey’s blog, but I know for sure that time is a precluding factor for her) – so, I just want everyone on the list to know that I’ve included your blogs in acknowledgement of how much I admire and enjoy them – and am taking it as a chance to flag up what great corners of the internet there are out there to visit and to discover… There is absolutely no obligation to accept or participate. Please take these nominations as a sign of my appreciation (a kind of honorary Liebster Award, if you’d prefer).

However, should you wish to throw yourself completely into the Liebster pond, my eleven questions to you are:

1) Why did you start blogging?

2) You’re going on an once-in-a-lifetime expedition to a far flung part of the planet. Where would you go? And what would be the one luxury item you would pack in your rucksack?

3) If you lived in the same parallel universe as Lyra in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, what animal would your daemon be? Or, put another way, what settled form would you hope it would adopt, and why?

(For those of you who are unfamiliar with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, a daemon can be very loosely described as a physical manifestation of an individual’s inner self/ character/ soul. During childhood, its form is not fixed, and goes through a fluidity of changes every day, according to the fluctuating possibilities of the young mind – e.g. from moth, to kestrel, to dolphin, to leopard etc. Eventually, as a person reaches adulthood, the daemon takes on a settled form; the animal form which most closely suggests the essence of that person’s character…)

4) If you had the chance to step into a painting, and to spend a magical hour wandering its world, which painting would you choose? Maybe it would be Constable’s Hay Wain? Van Gogh’s Starry Night? Or, perhaps you’d like to join in with Edvard Munch’s Scream?? Or – much more light-heartedly – maybe you’d prefer to go trip-trapping over Monet’s bridge? The possibilities are endless. It’s your choice…

5) The Doctor has invited you to time travel with him on board the Tardis. Which period in history would you most like to visit and why?

6) If Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Will Shakespeare were alive today and were regular tweeters, I’d definitely be persuaded to join Twitter! Is there anyone from pre-internet days who, if they were alive today, you would love to see dazzle us daily with tweets of sheer brilliance and delight? Or are you glad they never had to suffer the tyranny of 140 characters?

7) Which three books and three pieces of music would you take with you to a desert island?

8) Out of all the species of wild animals or birds you have yet to see, which one would you most like to encounter?

9) Which of the following would most closely correspond to your natural habitat?

a) Out on the moors with Heathcliff.

b) In the Forest with Robin Hood.

c) Out at sea with Long John Silver.

d) Cosy by the fireside with a Pickwickian gathering of genial folk, sharing a bottle of your favourite tipple.

e) The bookish calm of a country house study – in mutual retreat with Mr Bennet.

f) Striding across the meadows with Elizabeth Bennet, a healthy glow in your cheeks and mud caking your boots.

g) In the Attic with Jo from Little Women, scribbling stories and dreaming of adventure.

h) Absorbed in the life of the city streets – in the company of a fictional detective of your choice.

i) Roaming Manderley – and the windswept Cornish cliffs – with the second Mrs de Winter.

j) Wandering alongside William and Dorothy Wordsworth, pacing out poetical rhythms on the Cumbrian fells, and waxing lyrical about wild daffodils.

k) In a cave with Gollum.

l) Hey, Mel – I’m an incredibly complicated human being – a mix of all the above holds true. It depends on my mood…

m) I wouldn’t be seen dead with any of them – Bah! Humbug!

10) Where would you rather live and why:

Toad Hall

Bag End

Green Knowe

Little House on the Prairie

Green Gables

Kirrin Island

221B Baker Street

11) If you had to go on a long journey with a fictional character, who would you choose? And what form of transport would you take – ship, hot air balloon, train, canal boat, motorbike, bicycle, gondola, skateboard, horse drawn gypsy caravan? Space ship?

(Just out of interest, I asked my daughter that last question. Her answer: Legolas on a gondola!)

Happy blogging, all!

One day… (Liebster Award, Part 1)

One day – (a very long time ago now!) – Aubrey, of the utterly captivating Café Royal blog, very kindly bestowed the Liebster Award upon Bookish Nature.

Liebster Award

It arrived at a time when I was bleary-eyed and stressed, spending all my days and alternate nights on a hospital ward, taking it in turns with my husband to “sleep” on a fold-out bed alongside our son’s, whilst he underwent lengthy and arduous medical treatment. It was a wonderful boost to receive the award, and my thanks go to Aubrey for sending a spark from her shining star my way. Aubrey’s blog is a place of riches. Of stories and seeing, of intriguing glimpses into worlds of sparkling vision and imagination – a place to step into nature, history, art and into the inspiration of extraordinary lives and adventurous spirits through Time. It is a place of beautiful words.

And now it is midsummer – and unlike Puck, who can ‘put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes,’ I have taken the far more wandering route of a Scheherazade and her 1,001 nights…

Arabian Nights Stories - an old edition from the family bookshelves...

Arabian Nights Stories – an old edition from the family bookshelves…

Arabian Nights Stories - Detail from the "Come to Life Panorama"

Arabian Nights Stories – Detail from the “Come to Life Panorama”

….negotiating my way around physiotherapy duties, bouts of illness, huge backlogs of stuff-to-catch-up-on, teenage daughter’s GCSE exams and general family happenings – in order to gather time and stories, and fulfil the criteria of accepting the award, which are:

Give thanks.

Tell 11 things about yourself.

Answer to the best of your ability the 11 questions that are asked of you.

Nominate 11 other bloggers for this award – and let them know.

Ask the above nominees 11 questions of your own, or use the questions you were asked.

And so, we begin – at last! (My apologies for taking so long to finally release the Genie from the lamp):

Arabian Nights Stories - Illustration by H.G. Theaker

Arabian Nights Stories – Illustration by H.G. Theaker

Eleven things about me

One.

I hail from a family of storytellers. Word-weaving folk, who love to share the events of their days. Never in a simple transmission-of-fact-way, as in: “We did this, or saw that today.”

No; everything has to be told from its beginning.

"One January day..." Opening of 'Little Grey Rabbit Goes to the North Pole' by Alison Uttley. Illustration by Katherine Wigglesworth - 1970 edition (one of the earliest books I owned)

“One January day…” Opening of ‘Little Grey Rabbit Goes to the North Pole’ by Alison Uttley. Illustration by Katherine Wigglesworth – 1970 edition (one of the earliest books I owned)

“One day, I was walking by the old wood yard,” my grandad might begin. “And the wind wasn’t half blowing a gale – enough to whip my hat clean off my head! Whoosh,” (cue a brief mime to indicate the trilby’s astonishing trajectory) “away it flew! All the way down to that corner shop where old Smithy used to sell those wonky-handled brooms! Yes, you know the place I mean; next-door to where Mrs. Know-it-All… (her whose son danced the Highland fling after one too many beers)…made toffee so hard, your teeth would threaten mutiny just at the thought of it.” Here, Grandad would pause to whistle his sense of awe through his (false) teeth. “Yep, that wind was a big ‘un. Never thought I’d get my hat back – but, as I grabbed it from the gutter – who do you think I met…?”

That sort of thing.

Sometimes, the ‘one day’ of my grandparents’ tales would be just the previous week – sometimes it would be 1913 or 1930 or 1969…

Snippets of our personal and family histories have always been relayed in this way. Over the years, my mum has often unpacked, detail by detail, a ‘one day’ from when I was four years old, and about to leave nursery school. Mum relates how, on the cusp of that momentous step towards “Big School,” my nursery school teacher fell into a reverie of prediction:

“You know,” Mrs. M said, nodding towards me, “I’m sure, one day, that child’s going to be an actress or a writer.”

Apparently, Mrs. M would often hand over the last tale of Story-Time to me. We would sit on the floor, forming our magic circle around a chosen book – our portal into many worlds.

Illustration by Beatrix Potter

Illustration by Beatrix Potter

To hold that treasure in my hands, to be right at the hub of where the story’s spell was sparking, was like being a curator of a party of dreams. I loved to “read” to the other kids – to share the book’s jumping off places from where all our imaginations could soar, together.

Illustration by Katherine Wigglesworth, from 'Little Grey Rabbit Goes to the North Pole' by Alison Uttley (edition published by Collins, 1970)

Illustration by Katherine Wigglesworth, from ‘Little Grey Rabbit Goes to the North Pole’ by Alison Uttley (edition published by Collins, 1970)

I couldn’t actually decipher more than a few of the words on the page, but I had memorised the stories. And the illustrations were alive; filled with spellbinding detail, movement, texture, colour, light, shade and suggestion. As I “read,” I would add in all sorts of invention, theatrical effects and character voices. I’m told I used to entertain the other children enormously. Personally, I think I must have been a right royal pain! But this anecdote, as well as making me laugh, also fills me with a lovely sense of being found out. Someone else saw an inner something I held dear; noticed that it was there. Witnessed it when it was in the very act of seeking those moments of ‘best living,’ when the very self settles most comfortably, and is happy. But this story also makes me feel a little sad too – because, after I went to “Big School,” I became very, very shy; really quite withdrawn (when at school anyway – at home I was still that same girl).

But, Mrs. M must have been a very astute teacher – because, despite my later shyness, I continued to seek outlets for my inner performer in every school production and play, and went on to do Theatre Studies ‘A’ level.

And, ever since I first realised that books didn’t just appear by magic direct from Fairyland, but were created by someone known as an Author, I’ve always wanted to be a children’s story creator… Mrs M. saw my dream forming before I even knew what name to give it.

Remembering how all that felt has been a good lesson to carry with me. It’s been a constant fuel. A motivator to keep honouring that core wish to reach out through stories; to promote the richness that books hold in keeping us connected to who we really are, to other people – and to our moments of ‘best living.’

And, who knows… though, at this time, I don’t feel I can own that magician’s title of ‘Writer,’ (lots more learning to acquire yet) maybe Mrs. M will be proved right – one day…

…There you are, see what I mean? I couldn’t just tell you that I have a deep-rooted urge to connect to storytelling at almost every level of my life. I had to make a story out of it!

I must make my other answers less epic – or we’ll be here all day!

Two.

I love horses. (There; that was nice and brief) For those of you who also love horses, this will need no explanation. Here’s a beautiful clip that will make you heart sing. And, if you’re not already an admirer of all creatures equine – surely, after witnessing such enchantment, resistance to a conversion will be futile!

Three

Making bread pudding is one of my culinary specialities! It’s a family tradition, handed down the generations. I still use the same oven-proof dish my mum baked her bread puddings in when I was a child. It must be over fifty years old now – it’s certainly older than me.

Four

I’m a bit of a metalhead! Heavy rock music took root very early in my consciousness, due to an older brother who, during our growing up in the 1970s, filled the house with the glorious sounds of Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, Jimi Hendrix etc. By the age of six, my musical tastes embraced an eclectic mix – from Purple Haze to Pinky and Perky! When I met my husband, the already powerful appeal of bands such as Metallica, Iron Maiden, Rush, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd et al – in all their big musical realness – became even more firmly embedded in the soundtracks of my life. And, from time to time, over-driven guitars play out for real in our house (whenever my Beloved can get the chance to recapture his youth via his Les Paul and Fender Strat!) Now, it’s our son whose favourite songs range wildly from Metallica’s The Unforgiven to CBeebies’ Postman Pat!

I know that heavy metal/ hard rock is not everybody’s cup of tea, but here’s a great video, courtesy of the sublime Bill Bailey, which I think has the power to connect anyone to the largeness of a genre which, on the whole, tends not to take itself too seriously. Everyone can rock out to this:

Enter Sandman (via Bill’s own inimitable style!) ‘…take my hand; we’re off to Never-Never Land!’

Five

As some regular readers at Bookish Nature know, I’m a huge Kate Bush fan – and, when I was a young teenager, I once stood just a few feet away from her (we both happened to be shopping in our local branch of Boots). When she saw my expression of astonishment, she smiled and said hello. She lived a few miles away from us at the time (late ’70s/early ’80s). I remember a dance I made up back then in the privacy of our living room – a wild, whirling set of moves to accompany my frequent listens to Kate’s song Babooshka (luckily, I didn’t feel the urge to unleash my inner performer in Boots that ‘one day’!)

Six

They say you either love or hate Marmite – and I’m a definite love it person. I could eat it by the spoonful! My husband shudders at my foolhardiness.

Seven

I remember reading in Marian Keyes’ warm and uplifting collection of articles, Under the Duvet, her tongue-in-cheek claim that women generally fall into one of two categories: those who love shoes – and those who love bath products. In her experience, the two groups tend not to overlap. It’s an either/ or thing. Whether this bears out as true or not, I have no idea – however I do own very few shoes (and find shoe shopping a tedious experience) – but I’m an absolute sucker for the scented delights of a bottle of mandarin and papaya bubble bath, or a strawberry and vanilla body wash – and other similar concoctions and little luxuries (all environmentally friendly and not tested on animals, of course!)

I trace it back to my mum being such a good Avon customer, and so spawning a childhood fascination with weird and wonderful perfume and bubble bath bottles of light-glinting richness of colour – some shaped like telephones or snowmen or turtles or bells, or pianos, peaches, doves, harps – all manner of surprising things. And then there were the soaps shaped like the seven dwarves, a bath brush shaped like a giraffe, a comb shaped like a caterpillar. And soap-on-a rope! Who could forget soap-on-a-rope? I still own bits and pieces from Avon’s “Small World” childhood range from the 1970s:

A small sample of various hoarded keepsakes from childhood - Avon children's range products, and one shoe I definitely treasure (an inherited ornament - from my grandma's dressing table!)

A small sample of various hoarded keepsakes from childhood – Avon children’s range products, and one shoe I definitely treasure (an inherited ornament – from my grandma’s dressing table!)

Every few weeks, an impossibly glamorous Avon lady would visit, carrying an intriguing blue check-pattern suitcase laden with such temptations. When its lid was unzipped – voila! – a stunning rainbow of tiny nail-polish bottles was revealed – like an array of magic potions. My mum’s dressing table was a place of wonder!

Eight.

Despite the influences of the Avon lady and my mum’s dressing table, I don’t like wearing make-up. I only ever wear it (grudgingly) on special occasions. I don’t feel comfortable not looking like – well… me. And applying and removing it takes too much precious time when I could be reading!

Nine

I hand reared one of my (late) dogs and her brother. They were brought into the veterinary surgery where I was working at the time, when they were just three days old. Their mother had been unable to feed them, and most of the litter had died or were dying. The owner didn’t want the surviving pups. So, I took on the job of round-the-clock feeding. Their lives hung by a thread at first, but we soon established three hourly feeds, using special canine formula milk. Weeks later, when it was time to find them both a home, I’d formed such a bond with the (utterly scatty) female puppy, I just couldn’t part with her.

My dog's early puppyhood...

My dog’s early puppyhood…

She stayed with us all her life, and lived to a good old age. She never quite lost her scatty ways (a friend of ours from Devon affectionately dubbed her “The Maze Hound”) – but her impeccable behaviour was a marvel to behold after my daughter was born (she transformed into an absolute model of canine calm and instinctive good sense in Bookish Nature Junior’s company, reverting to puppyhood when she wasn’t required to be the Wise Old Pooch of the West). We all miss her.

Ten

My hair is a kind of chestnut brown – but, when the sun shines on it, streaks of fiery russet come out from hiding (along with an increasing number of silvery strands nowadays!) There’s a history of red hair on both sides of the family. I like to think of my fiery highlights as a link to my hidden Boudica (complete with pony-drawn chariot… Did I mention that I love horses?) A whole section of my ancestors came from East Anglia, so maybe some kind of link to the Queen of the Iceni isn’t stretching the fantasy way beyond all plausibility!

Eleven

During my family history research online, I was astonished to discover the existence of a portrait of some of my ancestors! The portrait is unsigned and dates from circa 1830. Looking at various records, I found out that one of my several-times-great aunts married a portrait painter at about that time. So, immediately, my romantic storyteller mode kicked in – casting said aunt as the young woman in the family portrait, and the commissioned artist as the young man she eventually married. Maybe, when I look at that painting, I am witnessing a very significant meeting of eyes across the easel; love blossoming amidst the Kentish meadows… The portrait also revealed one of the sources of the red hair inheritance (there are several auburn mops amongst the children in the posed family group).

My sister-in-law did some investigating and found out that the portrait is kept in the archives of a museum in Kent – and that it is printed on notelets available to buy from the museum’s shop! A whole section of family history, which was never passed on via the inherited storytelling-habit, began to reveal itself. My grandad’s own stories were of growing up in a working class family, his father a jobbing gardener, his mother’s father an itinerant farm labourer. But I discovered a history I don’t think he knew about – that his dad’s father was the son of a gentleman farmer who owned 200 acres of land and lived in a moated farmhouse (originally the site of a medieval manor!) How that story unfolded is yet to be revealed – one day!

Part 2 to follow…

“Heffalump Traps” and a Blog Hiatus…

At the moment, I feel a bit like Winnie-the-Pooh when he ‘stepped on a piece of the Forest that had been left out by mistake’:

Winnie-the-Pooh falls into a Heffalump Trap. Illustration by Ernest H. Shepard

Winnie-the-Pooh falls into a Heffalump Trap. Illustration by Ernest H. Shepard

– or like Lyra, in His Dark Materials, on the brink of slipping into a parallel universe…

Soon, my son will be having surgery, after which he’ll be in hospital for several weeks. So, we’re about to be launched into days swallowed up by hospital corridors, and many challenges that will need all our energies…

But, I will return to blogging again when circumstances allow – before the spring is very far advanced. Hopefully, we won’t miss too much of it! I’ve been told that, after the first couple of weeks, we’ll be able to take our son out in his wheelchair for little “escapes” – so we’ll go looking for the spring in the city’s parks and wild spaces; spending healing time watching the squirrels and birds – looking out for frog spawn and the local peregrines – and just generally keeping our sense that the outside world does still exist!

Playing Poohsticks. Illustration by Ernest H Shepard

Playing Poohsticks. Illustration by Ernest H Shepard

In the meantime, thank you to everyone who follows/ comments on/ reads this blog. Your support is much appreciated. I’ll be keeping an eye on the blog, so please continue to leave comments here if you’d like to – I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. You might see me about from time to time, if I get the chance to visit your blogs (which I’m sure will provide some much needed distraction from frazzled nerves!) I might even end up adding one or two very brief posts here – for the same reason! If not, Bookish Nature will return to full flow as soon as we’ve got ourselves back on an even keel…

Eeyore - Illustration by Ernest H Shepard

Eeyore – Illustration by Ernest H Shepard

“See” you then! Take care…

Melanie

The Tree House

Signs of spring are already burgeoning…

Lords and Ladies (Cuckoo Pint) - January 2013

Lords and Ladies (Cuckoo Pint) – January 2013

…and it’s quite a while now since this “dragon-tree” filtered the fire of the sun through branch and shadow, to melt the snowman….

"Dragon Tree" Jan. 2013

…which had become its companion, very briefly, during this most recent and unfolding phase of its long life:

"Dragon-Tree" dates

Nearby, new buds are reaching out to the light…

Buds - Jan 2013

And over the past few weeks, I’ve been so inspired by a fantastic new venture which, very appropriately for this time of year, has also been coming into bud…

The Tree House is a proposed new community bookshop which, as I write this, is unfurling ever more towards bursting into leaf. Victoria (aka Evie) – the inspiring force behind the project – is an online friend (and fellow bookish tree hugger) from the earliest days of my first venturing onto the internet.

To explain the project a bit before you head over there to take a look for yourself, I can do no better than quote Victoria’s own impassioned words:

‘Books are not just a means of passing the time, they are lifechanging experiences – the good ones, anyway! They tell us more about what it is to be human, they feed our inner lives and our imaginations (another aspect of humanity that often seems a little underrated!), and make us more creative in our engagement with the world.

The tree is therefore a wonderful image for me of the heart of a reading community – deeply rooted, creating a sheltering and nurturing space, pushing us out into a richer existence as individuals and as a community. Reading can do this! And coming together around books and literary adventures is like planting a forest.

The government wants to sell off our forests. Our libraries are under threat. I see these two things as related – the very things that give life to our planet and our community are seen as superfluous when what is needed, supposedly, is to generate more wealth and get rid of spaces that do not do this. We need trees; we need a sense of community. We can all sit in our homes ordering books over the internet, or downloading them to our Kindles and Kobos and iPads, or we can protect our libraries and bookshops and share this fabulous experience of enjoying books and learning from each other.’

– From The Tree House blog

Please do take a visit over to The Tree House site; there are inspiring posts about the project and about books and reading; fabulous links to some amazing bibliophile-heaven bookshops – all of which sprang from the same soil of passionate motivation that Victoria is now cultivating – and there are also trees!

The Domesday Oak (thought to be 700 years old) Ashton Court Estate, Bristol

The Domesday Oak (thought to be 700 years old) Ashton Court Estate, Bristol

It’s a fabulous project, growing in all the right directions – and with a vision that is exactly the sort of seed our society needs to plant and nurture. It’s like the old saying goes… ‘mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow…’ – a cliche phrase maybe… but, like most cliches, loaded with truth!