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.
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
The Natural History Museum’s glass ceiling. This is one of my favourite places in Oxford to for inspiration, even if it is really crowded all the time. I go and see the dodo and the butterfly displays, and visit the ground floor of the Pitt Rivers Museum. It is pretty much the coolest place there is – dark, Gothic, full of terrifying things, from shrunken heads to trophy skulls to Japanese Noh theatre masks. I like to imagine that more than one of these artifacts is imbued with Warehouse 13 -style powers, just waiting for someone to break the glass and activate them, unleashing some exciting horrors.
I managed to find a view of Oxford I have never photographed before. Few ancient trees have been ordered to be knocked down lately around Oxford, and I fear for this horse chestnut by the Lamb and Flag. Dorothy Sayers mentions it in Gaudy Night, and writing in the mid-1930s she already calls it “giant”.
It finally snowed in Oxfordshire. It was brief, but glorious, a light coat of snow fallen at night, gone by afternoon. This winter has been gentle, almost boring, in its ordinariness, after the past two winters that brought blizzards and floods and freezing winds.
My pretty, pretty socks. I learnt how to make socks about three years ago when all my old woolen socks were falling apart (my father, back when he was still working in the church, got loads of socks as gifts from the old ladies in the parish, and often passed them on to me). I gave the first pair I made to my goddaughter, and every consecutive pair to someone else. But these, finally are mine. Warm feet at last!
Spring visited us on Sunday week ago – the day was warm and sunny and glorious, the snowdrops all out, the crocuses starting to make their way, fresh cowparsley pushing little shoots through the mass of dead leaves, and the first brave bees buzzing the blossoms. At the end of the half term, the sky will still be light when I leave work, and oh the difference to me!
I went back to London yesterday, to see Taken at Midnight again. I wanted to see not just the play again, but Penelope Wilton too – I waited at the stage door, and she proved to be interesting rather than lovely, though she was very nice and polite. The play packs a punch emotionally, and must exhausting to do – day in, day out – 9 times a week, for months, both physically and mentally.
Also in the picture; fabrics from Liberty. My standard outfit is a grey merino/cashmere jumper, and lately I have become bored with them – not the least because I’ve binged on Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, and love the richness of the period clothes. So, I’ll be adding some tops with frills to my standards. And shawls. And red shoes. Red shoes should make everything better.