This post has been – literally – long time coming. The first photo in this set is from January, and somehow I feel like nothing much has happened in the interim, even if in reality the past couple of months have been busy in many ways.
I went to London when the waters (and winds) were at their highest. My two back-to-back trips were to see two marvellous women, both times at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse; first Dame Felicity Lott and then Dame Eileen Atkins. That the South Bank was putting up its finest (and that Penelope Wilton was there too) was simply a bonus.At the Blenheim Palace great park, on a fine January’s day, with an old friend. That’s her in the picture.
At the Malvern Hills. How fine, how very English, is this view?
In February, I turned 40, and the children of a friend sent me this little posy of snowdrops from their garden. I still don’t quite know how I feel about this age – or how I should feel about it. Have I done everything I would have wanted to do by now, achieved what I should have achieved? Probably not. My novel still only lives in hand-scribbled notes and few chapters on the computer. I don’t live in the Suffolk-almost-seaside-cottage I have always dreamed about. The choices I made in my thirties confirmed what I sort of knew all along – I probably will never have children, and I’m fine with that.
When I turned 30, I had no idea what in ten years’ time I’d be living in another country, or have a degree from Oxford, or that my mother would have Alzheimer’s disease, or even that I’d celebrate my 40th birthday with a completely new, different set of people from those I celebrated my 30th with. My life has changed, and I have probably changed, and who knows where I will be when I turn 50 – and that makes life interesting, right?
When in doubt, Shakespeare.
The spring is coming. I’m sure of it.
I have been struck down by a writer’s block lately. More things than just this blog have been consequently neglected – letters have gone unanswered, and evenings have been spent watching TV and feeling slightly guilty. It’s the hardest stretch of spring. The evenings are longer, but not so much that it would make a difference yet, and so I havent’ quite come out of hibernation yet.
I’m also not entirely sure about what to write about these photos – even if I do look at some of them and think, “you know what, that’s not a bad photo”. In January and February, I went walking. Quite a lot, actually. January was mild (and sometimes sunny), February brought winter flowers. There was no snow, but the air was often crisp and the light beautiful. Just being outdoors has been a delight in itself. The glories of the English landscape is just a bonus.
The first stop: Blenheim Great Park (a photo set of my summertime visit to Blenheim is here). The house was closed for the winter, but there were still plenty of delights to have in the park, and we headed over the lake towards the Great Avenue and the Column of Victory. Sheep aplenty. Magnificent trees.
I feel like I too rarely venture outside the Oxford/London axis these days so that this day trip to Great Malvern felt like a treat. The town isn’t perhaps as its best in February, nor is it consciously tourist-friendly, but it had its interesting corners. And the glorious backdrop of this range of hills! – I climbed the North Hill, saving the Worcestershire Beacon for the next visit; I am told that on a clear day one can see 13 counties, three cathedrals, Welsh mountains and the Bristol Channel from the Beacon, and the views from the North Hill are not too shabby either…
The third field trip was to Welford Park in Berkshire, famous for the Great British Bake-Off and snowdrops. It’s a private house, very pretty, owned by a rather nice lady whom we talked to briefly at the gift shop, a bit far from everything, and the weather was not great, but the snowdrops! I have been to a bluebell forest, and have always wanted to see snowdrops like this, so this was really a dream come true.
The little white clouds are racing over the sky,
And the fields are strewn with the gold of the flower of March,
The daffodil breaks under foot, and the tasselled larch
Sways and swings as the thrush goes hurrying by.
A delicate odour is borne on the wings of the morning breeze,
The odour of deep wet grass, and of brown new-furrowed earth,
The birds are singing for joy of the Spring’s glad birth,
Hopping from branch to branch on the rocking trees.
And all the woods are alive with the murmur and sound of Spring,
And the rose-bud breaks into pink on the climbing briar,
And the crocus-bed is a quivering moon of fire
Girdled round with the belt of an amethyst ring.
And the plane to the pine-tree is whispering some tale of love
Till it rustles with laughter and tosses its mantle of green,
And the gloom of the wych-elm’s hollow is lit with the iris sheen
Of the burnished rainbow throat and the silver breast of a dove.
See! the lark starts up from his bed in the meadow there,
Breaking the gossamer threads and the nets of dew,
And flashing adown the river, a flame of blue!
The kingfisher flies like an arrow, and wounds the air.
Today I went looking for snowdrops. It’s actually too early in the year, and the day was freezing, the sky full of clouds and the light terrible. But, if you know where to look, the first signs of spring are already there – snowdrops, aconites, hellebores and primroses are starting to bloom, first tentative buds already open. By the end of January, they will be everywhere, and that is really the only good thing about this month.
Winter in England has been rough too, but in entirely different ways. It has rained. And rained. And then rained some more. In hard, sudden bursts, water hammering the already saturated ground. This is a photo of the Wolvercote/Godstow end of the Port Meadow, early December – when things were still mostly normal. Most of the photos below are from the same general area, few hundred feet up and down the river.
The Port Meadow has pretty much turned into a lake. I have never thought much of this “beauty spot”, so I actually prefer this vast, shining stretch of water it is now, and feel a bit sad knowing that it probably won’t be there much longer.
A slightly different angle of Oxford.
The weather was full of surprises. I was standing under a tree, cursing the sheeting rain, when suddenly the clouds scattered, a brilliant, breathtaking sunshine coloured the landscape, and the brightest, most glorious rainbow I have ever seen arched across the sky. I felt like I could touch it. It almost felt – if I was one to use such words – like a blessing. The beauty of it was overwhelming.
So many rainbows. So much dirt on my sensor.
After a slightly dull morning, the afternoon was glorious.
The Godstow Lock. This is the closest I got yesterday – the path was flooded, and my bootlegs were not high enough to wade through the waters.
Louisiana in Oxford?
So much wildlife! My reflexes – or my lens – are not quick enough for the rabbits, but I managed to snap some birds, all looking rather spring-like.
I never knew there are pikes in the Isis.
A Port Meadow horse. One of these guys followed me as I crossed the meadow, his nose pressed against my back. I love horses, and feel quite comfortable around them, but that was still a tiny bit unnerving. This fella, on the other hand, paid no attention whatsoever on me.
Almost missed the snowdrops this year. My secret bluebell place is also my secret snowdrop place, it turns out. And my crocus place. It’s a small cemetery somewhere in Jericho – not a particularly photogenic place, but a true secret garden – so few people know it’s there. I won’t give you directions, but look for it, when you are in the neighbourhood.