A long time ago – certainly years before the 2011 BBC series about the restoration – I saw a picture Avebury Manor somewhere. That side view of the top photo, framed to the oldest, original part of the building. In the picture, the lavender lining the path was still blooming, and it was beautiful. The sort of house I suddenly realised I have wanted to live in always. Alas, the National Trust got their hands into it first, and it’s gone forever (also, I’m still waiting for that Eurolotto win). What I didn’t realise until this summer is that Avebury is actually only about 35 miles from Oxford – a short train ride and a short bus ride – away, and so few days ago I went to visit it for the first time. The restoration of the house didn’t entirely convince me, but I was slightly spooked by how well the mental image of the place I had matched the real place. The walled kitchen garden, the church, the meadow left from the side door, they were all there. This place felt hugely personal and strangely bittersweet; a peculiar expression of what life would have been had I taken some arbitrary turn somewhere and ended up in a place completely different from where I’m now.
In the fantasy version of my life I live in a Jacobean farmhouse somewhere, with a lavender and pink rose border lining the path to the front foor, and herbaceous borders the lawns. And somewhere there’s a perfect kitchen garden, full of pretty vegetables and herbs and edible flowers. I’m not much of a gardener, truth to be told tho, so I will probably always keep indulging in this fantasy merely by visiting other people’s gardens…
It’s been a long, dry and warm summer, and the both nature and garden seem tired somehow, the autumn decay setting in. The horse chestnut leaves are turning, since mid-July, weeks earlier than usually; whatever ails them is getting worse. In the botanic garden, the fruit are ripe and flowers past their peak. And everywhere there are insects of every kind; greedy and desperate bees getting drunk on the last of the summer’s nectar, while the soldier beetles are greedy for something else. Late summer, like late winter, has never been my favourite time of the year; certainly not late summer like this, when the air is still warm and sticky but the lushness of the midsummer is gone. I find myself missing the moment when the wind turns – that inexplicable moment when the autumn is suddenly in the air, when the air is still warm but not quite warm enough for short sleeves and the evening light has a white glow about it.
All photos were taken with my old 50mm MF lens, with all but the bottom one with f/2.0. I love the dreamy textures the extremely shallow field of depth creates (demonstrated beautifully by the photo third from the bottom). Being manual focus, it’s somewhat stiff to use, and occasionally it’s difficult to see how well in focus the pictures are, but the end result almost invariably is worth the effort.
Cold autumn, wan with wrath of wind and rain,
Saw pass a soul sweet as the sovereign tune
That death smote silent when he smote again.
First went my friend, in life’s mid light of noon,
Who loved the lord of music: then the strain
Whence earth was kindled like as heaven in June
Three months bade wane.
A herald soul before its master’s flying
Touched by some few moons first the darkling goal
Where shades rose up to greet the shade, espying
A herald soul;
Shades of dead lords of music, who control
Men living by the might of men undying,
With strength of strains that make delight of dole.
The deep dense dust on death’s dim threshold lying
Trembled with sense of kindling sound that stole
Through darkness, and the night gave ear, descrying
A herald soul.
One went before, one after, but so fast
They seem gone hence together, from the shore
Whence we now gaze: yet ere the mightier passed
One went before;
One whose whole heart of love, being set of yore
On that high joy which music lends us, cast
Light round him forth of music’s radiant store.
Then went, while earth on winter glared aghast,
The mortal god he worshipped, through the door
Wherethrough so late, his lover to the last,
One went before.
A star had set an hour before the sun
Sank from the skies wherethrough his heart’s pulse yet
Thrills audibly: but few took heed, or none,
A star had set.
All heaven rings back, sonorous with regret,
The deep dirge of the sunset: how should one
Soft star be missed in all the concourse met?
But, O sweet single heart whose work is done,
Whose songs are silent, how should I forget
That ere the sunset’s fiery goal was won
A star had set?
Autumn and Winter, by Algernon Charles Swinburne
As a city dweller (first floor, with a view of traffic lights and a cemetery), I dream of the time when I can have my own garden – berries and apples, rhubarbs under bells, neat rows of vegetables and beets and herbs, sweet peas (which smell like heaven and don’t photograph at all well) and autumn dahlias. One day.