Sunday, 28 October 2007

A Year…already!

On the 24th,we marked our first year here. It seems like yesterday when tired and weary, our little convoy pulled into the driveway to be welcomed by the most spectacular sunset we’d seen since leaving Africa. We were in for a new experience; for the first time since arriving in the UK, we could truly breathe again…open skies, light and wind and always the loch, smooth as glass, rough as a stormy sea…

Back at the homestead all my frustrated farming instincts kicked in! I mean we had LAND (ok, a garden then). Well…it was bigger than a handkerchief! Part overgrown tangles, part bog, partly gravel, partly sand, the most eye-catching feature was the large pile of ash and rubbish that dominated the back garden. Oh, and lets not forget the concrete slab where a shed had once stood. And this had already been cleaned up a lot with people clearing, burning and hacking before we arrived!

Ever so sensibly, we decided to leave the garden and get ourselves organised inside, after all winter was on the way! But by February, I had talked myself into starting seeds on the office windowsill. Not a lot, just some that needed a long growth period like Gem Squash (small, sweet, hard-shelled summer squash) and a few chilli plants. By the end of March, the kitchen window was almost obliterated by tiny pots of parsley and thyme; cuttings of rosemary and the first of the many sage plants that I have managed to kill this season.

Before we needed to install more lights in the kitchen, the weather began to warm up and M came up with a brilliant idea for the herbs. It served the double purpose of disguising the concrete slab and giving us a temporary home for the little plants while gathering together some of the double building blocks scattered around the place. Unfortunately, not all the transplantees (?) survived and I never was able to get all the spaces filled at the same time but no problem, I was happy with what we managed to do anyway.

So for a round up: Moroccan Mint and Apple Mint have done really well. Not so the un-identified, variegated, smooth leaved mint we bought on Bastille Day. It died right back and is currently on the kitchen windowsill (sending out new growth from it’s roots). Then there were the Sages, one by one they turned brown, withered and died (or withered then turned brown); whatever, they all died (all five of them). Thyme (variegated, lemon and plain) was a great success, along with the parsley. One Rosemary cutting died but the others have just grown and grown along with nasturtiums, green onions, chard (perpetual spinach), Golden Marjoram and Poached Egg flowers, Lavender and Geraniums. The Greek Oregano was looking good for a while and then suddenly started dying from the bottom up until all that was left was a tall grey stick. Lobelias, roses, fuchsias, have rewarded us with masses of colour and ongoing blooms. OK, I know almost all of the list can grow themselves but hey, this is a new and unknown climate. By the way, those Gem Squash grew into green midgets with heaps of flowers that just opened and dropped…then the plants died. The Chillies actually grew backwards…transplanted out in May; they were tiny, green and gorgeous until the sometime in August. Only problem is they just became smaller and smaller until, one day, they just weren’t there anymore!

M removed all of the rubbish and ash left behind..a slow and laborious effort, done bit by bit over the summer and the garden has been roughly divided up. Holes on the lawn have been filled in and the beds defined. There is a rough outline where the rockery will be and gravel has been spread around the areas outside the kitchen and laundry room. It's not as far along as we had hoped but given all the other things going on in our lives, we've made a good start. The wildlife seems to appreciate our slow pace; we have a red squirrel that scampers around in the mornings, a hedgehog eats the insects attracted to the back door light, the pheasants like the grassy areas and birds are busy at the feeders all day long. Ahhh! Progress...

So now autumn is here and I rounded up some of the last of the flowers lurking around the garden. They looked so cheerful; I took their picture on the mantle.

The mauve/pink at the back is a very pretty gladiolus that just popped out of the gravel garden, with white daisies, yellow and orange nasturtiums, blue lobelia and a sprig of Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas).

We've had a great year...

I hope all of you have a great week!

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Highs and lows! Rugby World Cup...

Well I don’t normally watch rugby! I have enough trouble keeping up with the blog world without adding other pursuits to my already stretched schedule! But I couldn’t resist watching this week’s World Cup Final and decided I could keep an ‘eye’ on the English – South African match while writing my weekend post! Ha!

The TV is located directly to my right and is angled toward me a bit so that if I turn to the right, I have a clear view of the screen. I started writing just before the match began and managed the title and two lines. At half time, I had the same title and only one line, having deleted one accidentally while swinging round to view a penalty! I also had a stiff neck and the beginnings of a headache! Things got a bit better during half time. I started from the beginning and managed a whole paragraph before the “try that wasn’t”; from then on it was all about the game.
Wonderful stuff and fabulous to watch knowing how South Africans love their sport and knowing how much a win would unite the people – the whole country was behind the team!

It was sad to see what poor losers England have become! Once upon a time, England taught the rest of the world about sportsmanship! Where has that gone, never mind good manners? Some members of the English team (including “golden boy – Johnny Wilkinson) were so churlish, they didn’t even shake the proffered hand of the South African President, Thabo Mbeki, (who had travelled 11,000 kilometres to support his team), choosing instead to brush past him as if he wasn’t even there! Too bad they couldn’t follow the example set by their Prime Minister, Gordon Brown and behave with grace and dignity. Instead they embarrassed themselves and their country as they shuffled off, to have a pity party and whine to all who’d listen about their “lost try”, totally negating what a great game was played!

It was William of Wykeham (1320 – 1404), Bishop of Winchester, Chancellor of England and founder of Winchester College and New College, Oxford whose motto was “Manners maketh man”. He was just so old fashioned! George Bernard Shaw obviously had a good grasp of modern UK society when he said in 1898 “We don’t bother much about dress and manners in England, because as a nation we don’t dress well and we’ve no manners. Is this the result of the creation of a classless society? I would have thought in the politically correct minefield of 21st century life, manners would be more important that ever. Oh well…

Well fought – well won!
Congratulations Springboks!

Thursday, 18 October 2007

More Local (wild) Life…

Over the last few months our yard has become a regular morning stop for this neighbourhood family.

Dad started visiting first and he was very nervous in the beginning, only venturing out a short distance from the cover provided by the hedge. But the lure of the tasty insects (residing in our “bog”) and the seeds scattered from the bird feeders proved irresistible and he gradually became bold, even bringing the family round to share the feast. Now we often surprise mom and the boys as they pass by on their way to the beach!

Once on the beach, they scratch and peck like so many colourful chickens, leisurely working their way along the shoreline in a loose group, digging up the tasty morsels under the seaweed. They usually show up late, after we’ve had breakfast, missing the early crowd; a group of older guys who arrive just after daybreak and wander all over the quay and parking area, playing hide-'n-seek with the Eider Ducks.

This early group is comprised of unwitting comics; one lone bird always ventures to the very end of the quay and spends some minutes gazing out over the loch and staring down into the water. Eventually, one or two others will creep out, either to talk some sense into the errant fowl or find out what he found so fascinating in the first place. With the renegade brought back to safety, the group eventually retrace their steps and disappear back into the fields…this little scene has played itself out several mornings while I’ve watched from our windows. I wonder if the same actors fill the same roles every morning or do they take it in turns and what are they thinking in those little birdbrains as the small drama unfolds?

Sunday, 14 October 2007

We Interrupt Regular Scheduling….

Yaaaay Bokke!

In World Cup rugby, the South African Springboks defeated Argentina tonight!

Congratulations Guys!

It’s an England – South Africa final!

Saturday, 6 October 2007

October... Already!

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.

Well here we are, well into October … the end of the first week to be exact! Already! What can I say? Is it just me or has this year gone by at the speed of light? The biggest problem here is that we are now only seventy-nine days away from Christmas and then only a week ‘til 2008! Any other time of the year seventy-nine days would be a sizable chunk of time but now, with all the pending holidays, it will be gone before you know it.

Autumn is the loveliest (and shortest) season but then I seem to say that about spring, summer and winter as well. How boring life would be without seasons! The trees surrounding us are changing their dresses for the next party, gold and red and amber appearing on the hills seemingly overnight. Pink patches, where the heather bloomed only a few short weeks ago, are being replaced with purples and russets. Brilliant golden autumn sunshine and ultramarine skies giving way to soft, misty greys as gentle as a dove’s wing, quite different from the brooding greys of summer rains. I stood on the road today and watched a yacht, in full sail, gliding silently up the loch, moving through layers of mist … ethereal, beautiful.

Last week, we had our first frost, followed by some glorious sunshine and warmth. This was real Indian summer stuff; the surrounding hills were bathed in that special golden light favoured by Renaissance painters and typified in this example by Bellini, St Francis in the Desert. These bright, warm days rarely occur into November, this final bonus signals the coming of winter.

Christmas in winter is such a treat for us! African (and Australian) Christmases occur in the hottest part of the year and our adaptations of the traditional celebrations take the corresponding temperatures into account. Imagine having the Noel feast at 90 degrees in the shade! This whole northern hemisphere thing is so exotic … like waking up in a lovely Christmas card. Autumn is just the prelude to all this seasonal magic!


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