Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Where are the songs of spring?

"Ay, where are they?"  You might recognise the questions of the title and the previous line as coming from Keats' 'Ode to Autumn'.  Since I'm going to be poetic with my nearly-annual Matthew Arnold post, I might as well start that way.  And with the weather we've had all through May and June it's as if we're searching for spring, with a troubling fear that we're already turning towards autumn.  We are still putting the heating on in the evenings, I'm still wearing what I grandly call 'my winter wardrobe' to work (winter-weight trousers, long sleeved tops and cardigans, with a scarf round my neck for extra warmth, and wondering if I can climb back into my winter duvet coat), and several times recently I've set off for the allotment wearing three fleeces.

Some of the ingredients of Matthew Arnold's 'tempestuous morn' are here: volleying rain and tossing breeze, but the primal burst of bloom struggled onto the scene, and generally everything has been late and slow.  The May blossom was still coming out in early June.  My personal marker of the passing of the seasons, the cow parsley, arrived late and is still flowering up on Speyside.

 "So, some tempestuous morn in early June,
When the year's primal burst of bloom is o'er,
Before the roses and the longest day -
When garden-walks and all the grassy floor
With blossoms red and white of fallen May
And chestnut-flowers are strewn -
So have I heard the cuckoo's parting cry,
From the wet field, through the vext garden-trees,
Come with the volleying rain and tossing breeze;
The bloom is gone, and with the bloom go I!"

Matthew Arnold, Thrysis

We travelled north on Friday through the central highlands, and saw snow lingering on all the hills.

It was a weekend of darkness at the lightest time of the year.  Below is the view from my father's garden, as another heavy cloud settled over the village.  We feel cheated of the lovely long evenings as we sit indoors or go out for quick, brisk walks.  Despite that, the span of daylight at this time of year is a wonderful thing.  On Saturday night I went to bed at 10.30 pm and it was still light.  During the night we had to get a medical visit for my dad, and so we were up at 3 a.m.  It was daylight again.

There are still blooms of course.  The white lilac in the photo above is beautiful, and this clematis in my dad's garden holds all the blue of the skies we can't see just now.  This is the first time for many years that we've visited at this moment when this clematis is out. I felt a bit like Monty Don, banished to boarding school and missing all the unfolding and blossoming going on in the garden at home.

The next verse of Matthew Arnold's poem goes on to describe the 'high midsummer pomps' of the garden.  I'll settle for mid-level pomps and a bit of warmth and sun.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Inside looking out...and back

Blogs recently have been full of celebrations of May, that most perfect of months.  I have lived vicariously through them, as most of my May was spent inside looking out, typically from my office or a meeting room.  June is going the same way, hence my absence from blogging.  The view above gives a tantalising view I had recently.  If you have to spend a morning in a meeting room it's not a bad view, perched among the tree branches and looking out over Edinburgh's Meadows.  Whenever I'm at a meeting here I make an  unseemly dash to claim a seat that gives me trees rather than wall.

And there are distant horizons to dream over (once the meeting has finished, of course).  This is the view south, over the rooftops of Marchmont to the Pentland Hills.

I have been captivated by the Pentlands as Edinburgh's southern horizon since I was four years old.  We used to visit a cousin of my father's in the genteel Edinburgh suburb of Colinton every summer, driving down the resolutely single-lane-each-way road on an all-day marathon.  At one particularly twisty, hilly stretch (Glenfarg, for anyone who remembers what it used to be like) we always seemed to get behind a fish lorry toiling uphill, fishy liquor spilling from its crates.  I remember lots of 'are we there yets', lots of singing to keep me amused, stops for lunch in cold, white-tableclothed hotel dining rooms and a lunch menu which always started with tiny glasses of tinned tomato juice. 

Below is the house we stayed in.  I took this photo a few years ago when my daughter was at the Edinburgh International Harp Festival nearby and I had escaped for a nostalgic wander around Colinton.  Of course it seems smaller to me now, and the new owners have unforgivably changed some things.  The front lawn used to be sunk, surrounded by a low mossy wall.  The driveway used to be lined with yellow Welsh poppies and wild strawberries.  The garage is still the same on the outside at least, and I could almost imagine our cousin, cloche hat on her head, setting off for the village shops in her little Morris Minor.

In the photo below I see that 'they' have built an extension at the back - on the drying green where Mae, our cousin's daily help, hung out the washing.  Behind the house the garden stretched away back at both sides.  Where the tall birch tree is there used to be a tennis court, gradually becoming overgrown by birch saplings around the margins even then, but with the net still saggingly in place, and a little wooden pavillion to one side for Pimms and chat after the match.  Orange hawkweed was gradually colonising the red clay surface of the courts.  Until I was nearly five we lived in my grandmother's large house in the country, and I spent a lot of time outside in the huge garden.  As an only child I was more familiar with the plants in that garden than with other children, and so I remember the shock of seeing hawkweed for the first time.  It was as if I'd met an exotic new person.

But back to the Pentlands.  The whole interior of the house retained its original 1930s decor.  Black carpets and white sofas and chairs in the living room - fantastic.  The bathroom in particular was glorious - all black and white tiles and a massive chrome heated towel rail. My parents had the bow-windowed bedroom at the front of the house, decorated in a primrose yellow, including the luxury of a primrose yellow wash-hand basin.  Not a colour scheme used in north east Scotland at that time! What fascinated me more than the decor - actually transfixed me - were the hills that rose steeply in a gap between two copper beech trees in the opposite garden.  I was well used to hills, growing up on Speyside, and I still can't pin down what it was that fascinated me.  I'm not sure I want to, because then the mystery, the longing I felt and still feel would escape.  When I stood outside the house taking photos I wanted more than anything to ring the doorbell and ask to stand at that bedroom window again.

So my recent meeting room did have the consolation of bringing me back my Pentlands view.  And I did concentrate on the task at hand - most of the time...


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