Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hillier Gardens

After a morning of jobs and a wee bit of writing I had to escape into the fresh air and I went to the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens. I have been a member here for several years and it is well worth the money. There is something new to see each time you go, so much variety and so many different plants and trees.
One of my favourite parts of the garden is The Winter Garden. Despite the profusion of Spring blooms I find myself drawn again and again to the textures colours and shapes that I find here in bark and stems and leaves. It is all so architectural. Above is a montage of some of the photos I took.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Space to Write

My desk in the Thomas Gunn room

This was my writing space, at The Clocktower, a simple wooden desk, nothing fancy, yet even this felt like luxury as I don't have a space just for me at home. The kids have taken over the office and all available bedrooms. I get very cold sat still with my laptop and I am most often to be found in my bed under the duvet, laptop on my legs and a half drunk cup of tea on the bedside table. Occasionally I sit at the kitchen table as this is the sunniest room in the house although the kitchen cupboards and fridge can be a big distraction here. How I long for a pretty inspirational writing space like that of fellow blogger the English Muse :

or a garden shed like Roald Dahl:

but my dream would be to have an attic at the top of the house just like Jo in 'Little Women' by Louisa M Alcott, one of my favourite childhood books. In fact I desperately wanted to be Jo.

A page from my notebook: a 10 min writing exercise where I imagined my attic.

Gorgeous notebooks, pens (Paperchase style), Moleskins, all may help the creative act, the 'getting down to it' but I actually prefer my cheap Asda notebooks - I don't want to worry that what I write has to be beautiful and perfect because it is in an expensive book.

But in fact the biggest barriers in getting down to it, writing that is, are emotional and mental. You have to be motivated, disciplined, you have to be confident and believe in yourself, that you have something to say and that others will listen. Like any art you have to train to get better and you can only get better by sitting down and DOING IT! Here's to doing it in 2009.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Poetry in Shropshire

The Clocktower at The Hurst

Well I've been extremely quiet for a week and that's because I've been staying here, in the Clocktower on a week long poetry course run by The Arvon Foundation. This house used to be owned by the playwright John Osborne renowned for the play 'Look Back in Anger'. Surrounded by Housman's 'blue remembered hills', and featuring three 18th century buildings thirty acres of sprawling woodland and a spring-fed lake. It is close to the village of Clun which has its own ruined castle. Half of the group (there were 16 of us) stayed here and the rest in the main house.

The Main House

Each morning after breakfast we had workshops and writing exercises till 1pm run by our two tutors Jean Sprackland and Andy Brown, both published poets (more about them later).

Jean Sprackland and Andy Brown

Lunch was followed by some time for ourselves, to write or to explore the beautiful grounds. All the woodland flowers were flowering, the Clun sheep all had lambs and there were the most amazing Redwoods.

The Lake

Each student also had an afternoon tutorial with one of the tutors to discuss work in progress. Each day at 4:30 a group of us took it in turns to cook the evening meal for the whole group. We assembled for wine and nibbles on the patio at 6:30, and dinner was at 7. Each evening we had a recital or workshop from 8:30 till 10. Jean and Andy shared their poetry on Tues, we had a guest poet on Wed, Anthony Wilson, to read from his book 'Full Stretch' and we had to read out our own work on Friday (eek!).

Our Group

I met a fantastic group of people from varied backgrounds, worked hard and learnt a lot. We were so lucky with the weather, it was dry and bright all week. Can't wait to sign up next year.
If you want to know more about Arvon and the courses they run go to:

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Illusion of Spring

Daffodils at Hampton Court

The Illusion of Spring

Too long deprived of light, and life, and sound,
but now young Spring begins to cast her spell;
she breathes, the warm air melts the icy ground.

As if by magic soil begins to swell
with tender, fresh, green shoots drawn to the sun.
The earth soaks up the soft rain like a well,

now Winter’s harshest trials are undone.
Unfurling leaves, lean stems and tiny buds,
stand proud and speak of promises to come.

Nature’s treasures, presents from the Gods -
their beauty, scent, and colour unsurpassed -
fill England’s meadows, lawns and shady woods.

Perfume pales, blooms fade, leaves fall - too fast.
So sad to say, illusions do not last.


This was one of my first attempts at a poem after starting my creative writing class and my first attempt at a Terza Rima, an interlocking three line rhyme scheme. It was difficult! It has quite an old fashioned feel to it probably because I had not read a ton of modern poetry at this stage. I have to say I do like the old fashioned poets though, particularly Gerard Manley Hopkins. I have yet to attempt another Terza Rima, maybe that's a challenge for me this year.

It tries to convey the magic of this time of year when everything comes alive again. Spring is personified and seen as the illusionist who creates beauty and wonder with her colours, shapes and smells. It also speaks of the transient nature of these wonders which seem to fade as suddenly as they appear. That's perhaps why we appreciate them all the more, because they are temporary and will not last.

Swathes of daffodils on banks and in fields are one of my favourite sights, as are carpeted bluebell woods and bursting, blossoming trees of all colours. Valley Park Woods, where I live are listed as one of the best places to see bluebells in Hampshire by the Woodland Trust.

Me in the bluebells when I was a student.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pooh Sticks and Sticky Bobs

One of my favourite things is getting out into the fresh air and going for a walk. It's exercise, it's cheap, it gives you a real boost if you are feeling down, it's really good for creativity, particularly if you write- I always come back inspired.
Last week I walked along the Itchen way with my children. The boys in particular,always drag their feet in protest the first 5 mins(I don't think it's cool to be seen to want to go for a walk) but they always end up having great fun. I love how they can suddenly forget the sophistication of X box and dvd's and enjoy such simple pleasures as 'Pooh sticks' from the bridge or feeding grass to the horses, throwing sticky bobs on each others backs and lying down in a carpet of celandines.
What pleasure they had playing by the bridge, finding the 'best stick' in order to compete. 'Pooh Sticks' derives from the Winnie-the-Pooh books. Basically you throw a stick in upstream of the bridge, then race to the other side to see whose emerges first. Eeyore tells us the technique is to throw it in a 'twitchy' sort of way. The boys, not enamoured with the name'Pooh' call them 'Evil Sticks' and add an extra dimension to the game in running alongside the river and then splashing in to retrieve their sticks in their wellies.

Wellies! If you must get your kids one thing get them a good pair of wellies for wading and splashing. Endless fun and amusement. Another simple pleasure was throwing 'Sticky Bobs' at each other, the dry sticky seed heads of .....? I'm afraid I don't know the real name, if anyone can enlighten me I would be really grateful. Here's a picture of them.

Go on then, go for a walk!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Love Me Birds

"All was silent in the wood. Suddenly, out of the green, 'Love-me! Love-me! Love-me!' called the Love-Me Bird. There was no answer to her call."

From the Love-Me Bird by Joyce Dunbar.

This story of the Love-Me Bird by Joyce Dunbar was one of my favourite bedtime stories to read to my daughter. Desperate to be loved, the Love-Me bird flies around the forest singing the same old song 'Love-Me!' She fluffs and preens her feathers, acts helpless, plays hard to get and acts cool. She even builds a fantastic love nest but still no-one answers her call. Finally Shut-Eye the owl suggests she sing a different tune, 'Love-yoo-ooo!'
'But I'm a Love-Me bird not a Love-You bird' complains the Love-Me bird. 'Perhaps you can be both at once,' suggests Shut-Eye.

Television is full of examples of Love-Me Birds all desperate for love, fame, to be understood and accepted. Think Big Brother, think Apprentice.Like the Love-Me Bird they all fluff their feathers in different ways: Look at my body! Look at how cool or good looking I am! Look at how misunderstood I am! They jostle each other for the best position in the nest, damaging each other's feathers in the process and all the time singing the same old song at the tops of their voices, unable to truly hear anybody elses song. The morning talk shows are full of 'misunderstood' people desperately shouting out to let us know how badly they've been treated. These shows do contain extreme characters but I would suggest that their behaviour does mirror, in some ways society at large. We are all part of this "it's all about me generation". Obsessed with having the perfect body and looks and will undertake extreme surgery to achieve it. wanting the best house, more money, most successful career and will work all hours to achieve it. Yet despite all this attention grabbing behaviour there still exists a lot of unhappiness, loneliness and dissatisfaction.

Two of the greatest commandments in the Bible are about giving out love, not receiving it. We are told to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbours as ourselves(being able to love yourself-hmmmm, that's a whole other topic, not as easy as it sounds for some). For that reason one of the programmes I like to watch is 'The Secret Millionaire' for the sole reason that it tells you about people who are selflessly giving their lives to help others, often people who have been shunned or forgotten by society at large and often for no monetary gain but purely out of love for others.

If we could all follow Shut-eye the owls advice and sing a different tune, the 'Love-You' tune, might our world not be a much better and happier place?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Wild Primrose

Spring Haiku

Acacia tree buds
Primrose wreathed its woody trunk
Hope glowing in shade

On searching for inspiration for my blog title I walked into the garden, my place of retreat, and my eyes alighted on the dense carpet of Primula Vulgaris ringing the Acacia tree. I love the pale lemon coloured flowers set on slender pink stems against the dark green cabbage-like leaves. I love the heart shaped petals and lovely scent. I love that they are a woodland flower and grow wild and will thrive even in dappled shady spots. They coincide with the arrival of the daffodils and are a real signal to the start of spring, longer days, warmer weather and are a cheery sight for the heart.

They have long been associated with faeries and it is said that eating a primrose can open your eyes to the invisible.

(Photo credit: Woodland Trust Picture Library).

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Start of The Journey

The Journey
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.
by Mary Oliver
I first came across this poem about a year and a half ago. My mum had given me a book of poems from a second hand book sale. This was the first poem in a collection of poems by Roger Housden entitled 'Ten Poems to Change Your Life'. I remember not being able to move off that first page and reading that poem again and again. It was like there was a voice in the room speaking to me, taking me by the shoulders and shaking me, willing me to move on from I was in my life ,which was stuck, frozen, not knowing which way to turn next. I have since read more about Roger and his wife and their life story and found it so inspiring, but more about that another time. I have started on my journey since that first reading, reluctantly and with trepidation. Change is scary. It can be difficult as the poem suggests and there can be many times when you want to revert to what is comfortable and safe and familiar.
I know now that only I can be reponsible for my own happiness and I can not sit around waiting for the changes to happen to me, I have to take control and reponsibility. My journey is beginning, it is not going to be easy but it is exciting. Starting this blog is part of that journey, an acknowledgement of how I must change and what I need to do to live my life openly and honestly. I like to write but have so far lacked the discipline and confidence to take it seriously. This is my first step in attempting to deal with that attitude. I hope to be able to share the reading,writing and poetry that I like and admire as well as posting my own creative offerings and musings on my life and life in general. Looking forward to the journey.
"The purpose of a book is to serve as an axe for the frozen sea within us." - Annie Dillard