Tuesday, August 30, 2011

'A' is for Autumn.

...and 'B' is for Brrr....but for heaven's sake it's still only August.

That's what the calendar says but it does seem chilly and autumnal here...something about the tiredness of foliage and the cool dankness of the morning air. Leaves are changing colour  - horsechestnut and hazel in particular are already tinged with russet and gold.

So here I am anticipating an evening in front of a roaring log burner with a snoring bull terrier at my feet. We've noticed that the light levels have dropped. Last evening it was dark at 8.30. Sigh. Where has my summer gone?

There are compensations; our trees are laden with fruit; apples and pears and plums in variety. The local hedgerows (at least those which haven't been 'brushed' to within an inch of their lives) promise a rich harvest of blackberry and sloe. This bounty is due to a frost-free spring of course - anyone remember those balmy and unnatural April days which gave way to a cool damp May?

We've noticed large groups of swallows gathering and hope they are not on their way back to Africa already - the second brood from the nest in the field shelter has only fledged in the last day or so. I hope they get strong enough to make that remarkable journey south.

I find myself wondering as we had December's snow in November, May's weather in April and now this early autumn, have the seasons become so distorted that we'll find ourselves knee-deep in snow in October.  That isn't a thought I'm going to dwell on.

I shall go and pick blackberries instead.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Behind the Scenes at the Museum*

'Tickets? £1.00 for adults, children 50p. Come on in - please do. ' I announce at the sniff of a visitor...

...and worth every penny I add, sotto voce, to myself.

My inability to say 'no' or my hyper-inclination to volunteer for all and sundry finds me on Saturday afternoon as Custodian at the Old Bell Museum in Montgomery. This is like putting a child in charge of a sweetshop.

The Old Bell is the loveliest little museum you can imagine, focussed on the past of this county town and its immediate environs. I've been as a visitor a couple of times previously and each time found more of interest. How tantalising it will be to remain behind my desk knowing what treasures lie in the rooms beyond.

Fortunately I am taking over from an experienced hand who has successfully unlocked, un-alarmed and remembered to slide the little slidey thing which announces to the world that the museum is OPEN. I gather that as this is not the busiest visitor attraction in the county I can probably look forward to an untroubled afternoon.

I settle into my Custodian's chair and survey my domain. I have two rolls of tickets. (Proper museum-y jobs don't you think?)

There is a desk with a CCTV screen, a file of instructions, a record book and an important piece of paper on which I must note with 'five barred gates' the number of adult and child visitors and publications sold....all to be added up at the end of the date. My greatest fear is not outbreak of fire, rowdy or light-fingered visitors. No, it is making the books balance at 5.00pm. I see a column of figures and begin to tremble.

I read the file of instructions for custodians and welcome my first visitors - the first of many as it turns out - enough to make the afternoon pass at a reasonable and interesting pace. I have little time to twiddle my fingers. I'm a bit restricted to the reception area but while it's quiet I open a few drawers; the Custodian's perogative perhaps. I am reminded of visiting No.10 Downing Street to find that tucked behind that famous front door were dusters and polishes. So much for the panoply of state.

This multi-drawed chest must have come from a seed merchant but now seems to hold a stash of light bulbs.

Feel a bit off colour? Can I recommend a course of Dayus's celebrated alternative 'General Condition Balls'?

Visitors were all most complimentary - and nobody asked really difficult questions. A couple were clearly moved by the room which exhibits artefacts from the Workhouse at Forden (a.k.a. The House of Industry) - none more so than the mother who was accompanied by her husband and teenaged son. He was deaf and perhaps autistic. He would have been she reflected, in years gone by, incarcerated somewhere like that. This room has in it the story of Blind May - Hannah Thomas - who, blind, deaf and dumb was sent to live at the workhouse at Caersws at 4 years old - and transferred to Forden where she lived until her death at the age of 89. It is the most poignant story. We must count our blessings.

The clock on the Town Hall just up the street eventually rang 5 and as the last 'dong' died away the long case clock in the the museum's reception chimed the hour too. Time to slide the slidey thing to its CLOSED position and bolt the doors. The museum's curator arrived and kindly volunteered to close up for me....but left me to  'balance the books'.

What a relief it was to find everything tallied. Phew.

*With apologies to Kate Atkinson.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Tumbleweed and cobwebs....

Just why is it so difficult to difficult to get down to work again after a holiday - albeit a blogging one? It's been a month and a week six weeks since I last shuffled down the echoing corridors of my blog world. There has been the usual round of summer things here - same old, same old - and perhaps my reluctance to post has been a fear of going, boringly, over old ground. There is though a 'ruck' of stuff cluttering up the desktop of my lovely Mac; pictures for posts that never were.....

Where to start then? Where was I? I'll be brief.

Ah yes. Wasps. Well we haven't seen once since. And this is a good thing.

Sweet peas? Actually they've come good at least 3 weeks later than in previous years. Gorgeous of course; bowls, vases, jugs and glasses of them fill the house. They have a short life but a heavenly scented one.

My seeds are from Thompson and Morgan and probably 'Fragrantissima'. These however are not like any 'Fragrantissima' I've grown before; the petals are speckled and blotched. Remember what it was like, back in the day, when all the lovely coloured bits of Plasticine got mixed together?  A muddy amalgam which still moulded but looked bleugh. These sweet peas are like that. A friend down the road tells me that hers are much the same. Perhaps it is a local blight.

However, the brashness of the 'hot' border does not disappoint. This picture is at least 10 days out of date and Helleniums in red and orange now provide extra fire.

In the vegetable garden we've harvested peas by the bushel - those we can't eat as young and succulent petit pois we've frozen or converted into pea and ham soup. (I get huge satisfaction in stocking freezer and larder in preparation for the the winter months ahead.) Red and white currants have been jellied and raspberries savoured with cream.

As usual we look for things to do with courgettes. So far we have managed to eat/or give away our crop but we are fighting a losing battle. The blasted things grow at such a prodigious rate. Common sense tells me that probably 2 plants would suffice. I will have forgotten that bit of wisdom by spring of next year when sturdy little seedlings look too good to be consigned to the plant sale or compost heap.

I notice this morning that the vegetable garden, though still productive, begins to look tired and old; its freshness gone. As fruit swells and ripens - in abundance thanks to the frost-free spring I detect a slide into autumn. Sigh.

This little cherub caught my eye.
I should remember which Shropshire church it came out of but will hazard a guess at St John the Baptist in Mainstone; a building sweet and humble, sheltered from the elements by surrounding hills and at the end of a seemingly endless narrow lane. My feelings on religion - particularly the organised variety - I shall keep to myself lest I offend. (Shall we put some of my feelings down to childhood experience?) I seem to have been in a number of similar churches this summer - mostly as a curious onlooker wearing my 'nosy' hat. Almost without exception I found simplicity and serenity, both loved and neglected in equal measure; the scent of artlessy arranged garden flowers vying with dust and mould. I've no desire to worship (though if poked with a sharp enough stick I will go and sing hymns) but would fight till my end to keep them as places of stillness in our landscape. 'Nuff said.

Some hymn singing yielded these words from 'How Great Thou Art':
I ponder the small mountain kingdom in late summer; the land ripe and fruitful, a patchwork of greens and gold - a cornucopia of things 'bright and beautiful'.

Then sings my soul.