Wednesday, April 24, 2013


This post is brought to you courtesy of the colour yellow.  We have plenty of yellow at present - daffodils in variety, marsh marigolds, tulips, primroses and early cowslips...... 

It's just as well. There's not much else - our landscape remains resolutely drab. Buds are loathe to burst and the grass won't grow (much to the chagrin of our farming friends who have cattle still in their winter quarters and diminishing reserves of feed). No blossom either; our fruit trees are bare. It's hard to remain upbeat in the face of this dreariness and I find myself repeating the mantra 'Spring will come. Spring will come' and at the same time regretting reading John Christopher's post-apocalyptic 'The World in Winter'.

So today I focused on the colour we have got - yellow in all its hot, cold, acid, lemon, golden or creamy glory. 

There are strident yellows - Caltha palustris has formed bright clumps around the edge of the pond. I notice there is plenty of frog spawn too.
Plenty of daffodils - these two are rather brash and not really what we had in mind for down the dingle.

Strange because we originally planted only natives - Narcissus obvalaris, pretty and delicate little things.  These 'garden' varieties appeared and now seem to be increasing. The result of mutation perhaps or hybridisation? The good news is that the little natives are increasing too and I hope they will hold their own against their thuggish relatives.

This little flower on the right isn't a primrose and neither is it a cowslip - a bit of a mongrel. It's very pretty and I wish there were more.

Primroses in abundance too - the Glam Ass's planting programme can be deemed a success. What's there not to like about these creamy little flowers? I think as children we used to suck the nectar from the flower heads...though they may have been cowslips. Tomorrow I will go and do a taste test....

A splash of colour's very welcome isn't it?

...and Swallows!

I think it is safe to say that our swallows have returned. I saw them first on Saturday 20th - I guess the ones that I spotted earlier in the week were just passing though, resting on the last leg of their long journey.

At least a pair are swooping in and out of the field shelter - checking if last year's nests are still OK perhaps.

Welcome home. How good it is to have them back.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Naivety. My own and more painterly stuff.

There's nothing I like better than exploring unknown territory - unless that is it's exploring unknown territory when someone else is driving.

So today was my lucky day - I hopped on Chirbury Art Club's bus to Compton Verney where the group were going to see, amongst other things, the exhibition '500 years of Italian Art'. The venue ticked a lot of boxes; attractive surroundings, non-scary Art in bite-sized pieces, coffee, cake and the company of friends.

I must admit that Compton Verney was not exactly unknown to me - having grown up nearby in mid-Warwickshire's bucolic landscape. However, I never visited as a child - it was not then a gallery or a destination and my parents were more than dismissive about the elegant but shabby stately home we passed occasionally en route to buy groceries or on one of those dreary Sunday afternoon drives which passed for entertainment in the early sixties.

My first thoughts as the little bus and its chattering cargo pulled into the car park, was regret that I hadn't appreciated previously that such a lovely place was on my doorstep. A finely-proportioned building of creamy Cotswold stone set in grounds landscaped by Capability Brown for heaven's sake! But then, would an 8 year old really have been bothered and later I suppose ... let's just say other stuff seemed more important. I feel vaguely foolish that as an adult in charge of my own life. I've never been this way before. Sigh. (One day I will make as list of things my parents said which would have been better left unheeded.)  Still, I'm here now and anticipating great delights....

The collections are fine, of high quality and not overwhelming - Neapolitan Art, Northern European paintings, British Portraiture, a Chinese collection and joy of joys - British Folk Art.

The visiting exhibition '500 years of Italian Art', on loan from Glasgow had us admiring a Boticelli, Titian and Belinni amongst other worthy pieces. At the end of our visit when D and I closed the door on the final gallery we'd succumbed to 'Art Fatigue'.

 'It's all a bit of a blur' admitted D 'I seem to have been looking at one fat baby after another....'

And yes, I know exactly what she meant - in the many religious works there were plenty of chubby children - not just the infant Christ but 'putti' too.

The Folk Art Collection came as quite a relief after rooms of more serious Art, having a guileless charm of its own. Here are depictions of everyday-life by self-taught painters; the prize ram or heifer, pugilists, street scenes, landscapes with carriage accidents and wild bulls; the largest or smallest; the drama of the day. The Fine Art of the chattering classes might be the art of galleries and high places but this is art by the people, for the people. This wonderful collection was amassed by the late art dealer Andras Kalman and exhibited here at Compton Verney courtesy of the Peter Moores Foundation.

Perspective and scale are frequently awry, anatomy suspect and distorted. It doesn't matter - these are confident pieces and great social statements.

It seemed that having a dog in your picture was almost a prerequisite. Once a couple had caught my eye I couldn't help spotting more. So instead of a plethora of putti, I give you plenty of pups:

......and for cat lovers this gorgeous tortoiseshell:

Isn't she just the loveliest thing?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The cruelest month.

April. Cruel? Damned right it is. 

 Long Mountain. Friday 12th April.

This year at least, Eliot's opening lines to 'The Waste Land' seem hugely optimistic:
'April is the cruellest month, breeding 
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing 
Memory and desire, stirring 
Dull roots with spring rain. 
Winter kept us warm, covering 
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding 
A little life with dried tubers.'
Lilacs stirring? No way. Nothing. Dream on. True, a few of those 'dried tubers' have come to life, daffodils and crocii, somehow forcing themselves through frost and snow. How powerful those shoots must be to break through the iron-hard soil and into the light. Such is the urge to grow.

There are very few other signs of spring up here on the top of our low mountain.  I estimate we are perhaps a month behind previous years, even taking into account that more than once in previous years a late fall of snow or frost has shaken us out of our complacency and literally 'nipped things in the bud.'  Robert Frost observed April's ways in 'Two Tramps in Mud Time:
'The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March'
If I look carefully - very carefully - I do believe I can see buds on the big trees in the dingle. There's a new denseness about their branches, a fullness that I swear was not there a couple of days ago.  Then I swivel my head and see drifts of snow, lying in the hedge-bottoms, if not in the garden then near enough to remind me that we've a way to go yet. Sigh.

It would be too easy to sink into gloom and pessimism on seeing winter's dull days stretch into a long-awaited spring so I'll snatch any small joys while I can.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Blog on a G String

Come February and our thoughts turn the YFC Drama Competition at Whitchurch.

It's always a stressful time, especially the build-up to the performance when the cast's lack of urgency,  inability to learn their lines or turn up in any numbers to rehearsals leads to much wailing and many sleepless nights on behalf of the directors. The likelihood of the performance being a disaster is more than a possibility - it's a probablity.

However, miraculously it never is. The Club pulls out all the stops and while 'triumph' would be an exaggeration, once again, they do well. We breathe again.

Come March it's time to put the show on at home in the Village Hall - except this year due to the way that Easter has fallen we're a little late and they will be on stage this Saturday. By now of course, any urgency the cast mustered for the County Competition has evaporated and lines have been forgotten and there isn't even the spur of The Dance Afterwards as encouragement. We feel the stress levels begin to rise once again....

Chirbury and Marton entered the One+ Competiton - rather than produce a full-blown drama they have a 6 minute spot on stage in which no more than 10 of them can perform anything of their choosing. They chose to do a take on the popular 'Mrs Brown's Boys'. What else could they call it but 'Farmer Brown's Boys'?

Well, a cast of 10 with a witty one-liner each made for about 5 minutes of script. Blink and you've missed it. For Whitchurch that met the criteria but on home ground we needed to put more to it - which is where we, the 'Advisory', got together, sharpened our pencils and got creative.

Where to start? Well 'knickers' always gets a laugh. Or a smirk. Or a snigger. So 'knickers it was. Our production could start with Mrs Farmer Brown going through the laundry.

And so it came to pass that props were needed. 

Big Knickers were no problem and three pairs in most fetching pink, lilac and cream (size 6OS) were bought from Tuffin's Pound Store. Bargain. But the thong - the G String - was another matter. Thongs are seemingly unavailable in rural south Shropshire. I was beginning to think that I'd have to get the sewing machine and a few scraps of ribbon out when as a last resort I tried an outfitters in Bishop's Castle.

I call it an outfitters because it's a store stacked with items of clothing and footwear of every description for every sort of person and purpose - and if you don't fancy ready made there is wool so you can knit-your-own. There's a veritable mountain of shoes and boots and a cobbler's workshop - complete with hoary old cobbler - at the back.

I made a bee-line for the underwear department. It was fairly comprehensive, again most tastes apart from the truly outrageous were catered for - but sadly there were no thongs or G Strings on view. I'd have to ask. At this point I rather hoped that there was someone else apart from the old cobbler working there.

Indeed there was. "Do you have any thongs...G strings?" I asked.

She looked at me blankly.

"Erm, those uncomfortable knickers that know, erm, string up the back."  I continued, hoping to avoid the words 'crack of bum'  "They're not for me - they're for the Young Farmers Drama."

The penny dropped. "Cheese-cutters!" she exclaimed and led me to the last 3 pairs in Shropshire, adding that somewhere in the store there were more. Plenty in fact because they weren't a good seller. (Well, no I can see that they wouldn't go well in this temple of comfort-based clothing.) 1 pair was sufficient. I could have them for a £1. Bargain...though obviously not as much a bargain as the 3 giant size pairs bought previously.

Cheese-cutters then. Ah! The importance of language. If only I'd known the local terminology I could have saved myself a lot of searching.

P.S. If you're passing they'll be on stage in Marton Village Hall on Saturday evening around 8.30pm.
There will also be cheese, wine and puddings. While I can't promise a slick and polished performance (although there are still 3 days to go and I live in hope) I feel fairly certain that it will be, as ever, a good night out. All welcome.