In the past week it seems like someone clicked a switch and turned on Autumn – there's a chill in the air and damp, dewy, mistiness hangs over the garden reminding us that we live in a valley where cool air nestles until midday.
I haven't blogged much about the garden this year, mainly it's because we've been busy with life and family stuff that has to dealt with come what may – consequently the garden has had to fend for itself. I have had a little time in the past month to do this . . .
. . . a new long narrow border planted with bearded iris, red-hot pokers and alliums.
Elsewhere the garden had descended into a wild chaos – this is the Dragonfly Pond, the shallow pond dried up completely in the nine week drought but it is now full and has joined up with the deep pond through the narrow dividing channel.
For hedgehogs that come into the garden for a drink (yes I know they do because they leave black droppings shiny with beetle wing cases on the lawn) I have renovated the Hedgehog Cave in the corner behind the pond. I wonder if they've checked it out yet?
At last the little plants in the big blue pot are flowering and make a pretty miniature garden.
Through the green door in the wall the vegetable garden looks as ramshackle as the wildlife corner! Despite the obvious crop failures . . . the three-sisters mound and the runner bean arch . . . . there have been and still are plenty of crops to harvest.
I have masses of herbs! I think it's one of my favourite things – to walk out to the garden and pick herbs to use fresh in the kitchen. Clockwise from top left, here is my (self-sown!) Italian flat-leaved parsley patch; a second flush of gorgeous Moroccan mint; sage which is perfect with winter veg and pork dishes; and Old English thyme – I think thyme is my new favourite herb, it's such a deep complex flavour.
The Rondo grape vine is looking very autumnal. We need to pick those grapes – they taste lovely but are full of big pips! We're not into wine making so we'll probably just drink the fresh grape juice. The hens love them (and the pips too) so if we don't eat them they get recycled into eggs!
This a first for our garden . . . Achocha.
The leaves look a bit like a herbal substance we could get arrested for growing, in fact it's one of the traditional food crops of the Incas from South America, a 'slipper gourd' . . . the little green fruits develop in the leaf axils. We tried a few chopped and added to cous-cous to accompany a tagine, they have a pleasant crunch and taste a bit like raw green sweet peppers.
The old Cox's apple tree has surprised us this year by producing some beautiful apples, the flavour is wonderful!
Bird's Egg climbing beans, from the Heritage Seed library, have been the one successful bean this year. I've left a few pods to ripen on the plant – worth it for that wonderful colour!
More splashes of colour from the rainbow chard leaves. I wouldn't be without chard in the vegetable garden, it survives whatever and eventually rewards you with a good crop! And it's so useful – I add the leaves and stalks to curries, casseroles, risottos, frittatas . . .
A stray self-sown leek seed-head – as attractive as those border alliums – it's sometimes worth leaving the garden to do it's own thing.
So, that's the end of the autumn garden tour, I'll sign off with this photo of Tarragon the Lavender Araucana cockerel. He's lived with us for nine months now and I'm getting used to the fact that the hens are 'his ladies' and not 'my girls'. Tarragon is moulting, he's covered with new quills just unfurling and he's growing a beard and moustache! His designer-stubble looks quite rakish!
I've a diary packed with exciting things to do and places to go to, so I think I need to take a short 'blogging break', I'll be back sometime in October and I'll tell you more about my plans for these ******mas events.
Well here we are at Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers, this their new auction house – it's built from straw bales, yes – it really is!
And, no, that's not my red jag!
Apologies for the fuzzy photos - I took them furtively with my phone.
I had been told that the auction proceeds at a pace of 120 to 150 lots per hour, so doing some maths I was aiming for 3pm-ish to see the oil painting come under the hammer. Something made me set out early, I had to put petrol in the car and there might be hold up on route; I arrived at about 2.10pm and lingered in the car to listen to the heated row at the end of The Archers on Radio 4.
When wandered in to the auction room the bidding had already reached Lot 1575! So I settled down on a chair in the corner and waited as the hammer went down over and over again.
I tried to record a little movie of the moment the bidding got to Lot 1618, but the camera in my phone cut out too early, so this is roughly what happened . . .
Auctioneer: "Lot 1618 an oil painting by Elena Gaussen Marks of two standing nudes . . . I'm starting at £200 . . . Any bids in the room? . . . Sold for £200 (bang!) Lot 1619 . . ."
So that was that, the auctioneer didn't say he had a commission bid and I'd put a reserve on of £200 . . . had it really sold or not?
I queued up and asked at the kiosk (I was beginning to assume it hadn't and was ready to carry the painting to my car and bring it home) – but it had! Hurrah!
So I've just about got my money back and have a framed Sheila Robinson linocut for free! Result!
Now I have to get down to work – after I've made a cup of tea of course!
I've just noticed a little scribbled note in my work diary . . . "blog about the postcard" . . . I almost forgot. So here's the story of a postcard that was passed on to my Mum from her cousin; earlier this year he'd found the card among some old papers belonging to his grandmother.
The post mark reads DOVER 11am 18 Sep 1918, the one penny stamp is stuck on upside down and written in pencil is the recipient's name, Mrs. A. J. Few "Grocer Etc."
Do you think the writer was in a hurry? Maybe young and not used to writing postcards? Or perhaps tired and nervous?
Here's the message . . .
Dear Mother Arrived here about 5 o'clock this morning am alright don't worry. Will write again as soon as possiable. Ern xxxx
This is Ern . . .
And 'here' was the Admiralty Pier at Dover, where thousands of young men boarded troop ships to take them to war.
Before they went, this group of young soldiers from the Northamptonshire Regiment posed for a group photo, there's Ern standing at the back – he's very tall and probably a bit shy. They'd spent the summer on the Isle of Sheppey learning how to dig trenches, now it was their turn to cross the English Channel to join the battle in Belgium.
Ern and his friend Harold (front right in the photo) were two of the lucky ones, they survived uninjured and came home.
I've written about Ern before in this post, he's my Grandad, here's his kit bag lock and cap badges – a standard one and special shiny brass one for parades, I'll keep the postcard and photo with them.
Postscript: Cliff thought the upside down stamp could be a coded message, and with a little research we've found that it could mean "I love you" and is a convention often used by soldiers during wartime.
This is where we were walking late yesterday afternoon . . . any guesses?
You could easily mistake it for a shingle beach, in fact it's a ploughed and harrowed field on the chalk ridge a few miles east of Cambridge. I was walking with Cliff, who is devising a new 15 mile walk for the local walking group, and we were testing out the first (or last) section of the route which leads up to The Roman Road, now part of a brand new long distance footpath: The Fleam Dyke and Roman Road Walk. There it is – the Roman Road is between the double hedge line on the horizon . . .
Once on the Roman Road we headed west towards Cambridge, at first the road went steadily uphill . . .
And then at the crest of the ridge we got this wonderful view, in the dip is the A11 which actually follows the route of the ancient braided tracks of the Icknield Way; then the Roman Road snakes around to Wandlebury, the site of an Iron Age hill fort on the Gog Magog hills just outside Cambridge – you can see the dark mound of trees which now cover Wandlebury.
The fact that the trackway heads straight to Wandlebury is a clue that the Romans probably upgraded a existing and, even then, ancient way.
At this time of year the hedges along this section of the Roman Road are laden with fruit . . .
Blackberries and Sloes
Late summer flowers still studded the grass with colour . . .
Yarrow and the dry seed-heads of Knapweed
We returned to the starting point just as the sun was setting and we thought of all the people who had walked that track . . . Iron Age, Roman, Saxon, medieval wool traders . . . layers of footprints striding the landscape.
I was back in Cambridge this morning to pop into a few shops (Lakeland, Bravissimo and the Apple store – temptation, temptation, temptation!) on the way back to my car I took this photo from Garret Hostel Lane footbridge – look! no punts! no students! no tourists!
On my way out of town I called in to see Robert Good's art installations 'shelved' at Plurabelle Books – and I hope you'll be patient while I get excited about some more vintage treasures . . .
Robert writes about his fascination with Pelican Books: "From an age of modernism and mass-education, their authors stare back at us, abandoned, their subject-matter outmoded, superseded."
It's an intriguing exhibition set among the maze of book stacks in the Plurabelle warehouse. Of course I had to browse the bookshelves too and found these two Pelican academics in need of a new home . . .
For 50p each I have now given the erudite works of Dr John Hutchinson and David Lack ScD, FRS a comfortable home in my studio.
On dark chilly evenings I can curl up on the sofa and read David Lack's wonderfully wide-ranging book 'The Life of the Robin'.
As well as thoroughly exploring every aspect of a Robin's life, there are also some beautifully observed illustrations.
And when I'm out walking and find a wildflower that is nearly like, but not quite like, one I think I know the name of . . . I have John Hutchinson's "Uncommon Wild Flowers" to help me identify it.
This little book is crammed with the author's meticulous botanical line drawings – and I'll certainly brush up my knowledge of botanical terms!
. . . back to work now, but I'm looking forward to having a tea break with my adopted academic authors and their books.
It's been over a week since my last blog post, so I thought tonight I'd tell you about some lovely vintage books and the adventure into my memories that they took me on . . .
Do you remember my walk with the Chalkhill Blue butterflies in July? Among the many comments was one from acornmoon, she told me "... of a little book I have here on my bookshelf called "Wild Flowers of the Chalk" by John Gilmour date 1947. It has the prettiest cover, you would love it." Well, do you know what? I spotted the very book on ebay and successfully bid £3.50 for it!
Here's that cover – and yes, acornmoon was correct, I do love it.
There's a charming little vignette on the back cover too, the illustrator is William Grimmond.
The colour illustrations at the back of the book are by Irene Hawkins, they are beautifully observed little botanical portraits.
I also love this map that shows the areas of chalk outcrop in England, this map is initialed WG so it's also by William Grimmond.
"Wild Flowers of the Chalk" is number 37 in the King Penguin series, I found a list of all 76 titles – wouldn't it be fun to find some more! And I knew just the place to go hunting . . .
This is Plurabelle Books in Cambridge, I'd heard about it but I'd never actually been there. Then, when I was talking to Robert Good at his open studio, he told me about his forthcoming art installation 'Shelved' at Plurabelle books and what an amazing place the warehouse is – so along I went, and sure enough there were lots of King Penguins!
As none were in 'collector' condition, the price was 50p each! I selected three . . .
"Poisonous Fungi" and "Edible Fungi" both by John Ramsbottom published in 1945 and 1943, aren't the covers wonderful! They are by Joy Jarvis and Rose Ellenby.
Rose Ellenby illustrated the mushrooms and toadstools in both books, you can see she has a wonderful sense of shape, pattern and texture . . .
. . . especially here in her illustration of the sponge-like fungi sparassis crispa.
The third book I selected is "Garden Birds" by Phyllis Barclay-Smith published in 1945, the colour illustrations are reproduced from John Gould's "The Birds of Britain" which he worked on from 1862 to 1873 – they are superb examples of Victorian watercolours of birds.
The book is very battered and well-used but I had to buy it for the illustration on the cover – it's by Sylvia Varley . . .
She also drew this charming vignette for the title page . . .
While I was at Plurabelle Books I strolled over to a small garden behind the car park – there was an iron archway that was very familiar to me. And on the other side of the garden a large brick workshop with faded lettering painted on the bricks . . . my Dad worked for Rattee & Kett for 25 years, he worked in that very building.
Look closely at the brickwork below the word 'KETT' . . .
. . . here's my Dad sitting on a carpenter's stool leaning against that brickwork in the early 1960s.
And here he is on the right, with his work-mates and their apprentices inside the joinery shop where they made staircases, doors, cathedral choir stalls and roof beams, screens, thrones and archways for great buildings all over England . . . all made with skill and pride and like medieval craftsmen – they didn't sign their work, it's left to speak for itself.
My Dad died 10 years ago tonight, I think he'd like the little garden that's now outside his old workshop.
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I've been looking for more information about the illustrators of the King Penguins: Rose Ellenby 19?? - 2007 - while she was an art student she won a prize for her depiction of the blitz; she went on to become a successful illustrator. William Grimmond - one of Penguin Books regular illustrators, creator of the Start-rite twins. Irene Hawkins - illustrated many children's books by Walter de la Mare. Joy Jarvis - (more info please?) Sylvia Varley - (more info please?)
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