There is an emanation from the heart

which cannot be described,

but is immediately felt and puts

the stranger at his ease.

~Washington Irving


Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough...

.........and more.

It turns denial into acceptance,
chaos to order, confusion to clarity.

It can turn a meal into a feast,

a house into a home,

a stranger into a friend.

~Melody Beattie


Don't be satisfied with stories,

how things have gone with others.

Unfold your own myth.
~Rumi


May my life be like a great

hospitable tree, and may

weary wanderers find in

me a rest.

~John Henry Jowett


Saturday, 27 October 2012

North Winds, Winter Flowers, and a Warm Fire


Turl Street, Oxford
Today is the first clear and sunny day we've had for awhile, so I've been desperately trying to get my winter flowers planted.  Unfortunately, there's a bone-chilling wind blowing right off the North Sea, down through Scotland and the Midlands, and right through the streets of Oxford, which act like wind tunnels.  If you've ever walked down Turl Street when the wind is blowing, especially at the High Street end, you'll know exactly what I mean.

Stuart's fire and my chair.


Packing window boxes with freezing cold soil is a chilly business.  I've managed to get most of the planting done though, in between running back into the house to get warm, drink something hot, and then back out into the wind again.  Luckily Stuart lit his first fire of the season this morning, so I can sit by his fire--and maybe my toes will finally warm up.



Tonight we turn our clocks back--no more British Summer Time.  I think we're ready for the dark, English winter.  There's a bunker full of coal out back, logs that Stuart chopped from his Nan's garden, winter pansies planted, chai tea in the cupboard, boots by the back door..........and lots and lots of light bulbs.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Beyond 'Downton Abbey'



After writing about 'Downton Abbey', my mind kept wandering back to a set of four books called Parade's End by Ford Maddox Ford, and wishing as many people were aware of these books as they are of 'Downton Abbey'.  The books are similar to 'Downton' in that they're set in the same period and historical background, but Parade's End has the weight and heft of the human soul carrying it much further into the human spirit than 'Downton Abbey'.

It's been called by some, the greatest novel of the 20th century, it's been included in The Observer's '100 Greatest Novels of All Time', and in the Guardian's list of '1000 Novels Everyone Must Read'.  Ford himself served as an officer on the Western Front during WWI as a member of the Welsh Regiment, and this is woven into his novels.  If you haven't the time to sit down and read a tetralogy, the BBC recently aired the mini-series 'Parade's End', starring Benedict Cumberbatch.  If you'd like to understand 'Downton Abbey' on a deeper level, beyond the soap opera of their lives, watching this series would be one of the best ways to do it.  It's a beautiful adaptation of Ford's books, which were originally published as, Some Do Not, No More Parades, A Man Could Stand Up, and Last Post.


My very favorite book set in the period surrounding WWI is The Edwardians, by Vita Sackville-West.  In this book, Vita draws on her own life at Knole House, which just as in Downton Abbey, she could never inherit because she was a woman.  Her own life reads like a novel--she was the lover of Virginia Woolfe and greatly influenced by her and the Bloomsbury set.  The Bloomsbury Set, or Group, was an informal association of writers, artists, and philosophers and their works influenced, not only the literature of the time, but economics and the social ideas of feminism, sexuality, and pacifism during the upheaval of society after WWI.

After reading everything that Vita Sackville-West wrote, we had to visit Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, where she lived, wrote, and famously gardened.  Stuart and I have been back 3 or 4 times, seeing her garden in almost every season.  The garden surrounding Sissinghurst is actually ten different gardens, separated by walls and hedges, giving the feeling of separate rooms much like Hidcote Gardens in Gloucestershire.

If I could have one Cinderella dream come true, it would be to have been married under her rose arbour in June.



As much as I love the gardens though, it's her study that draws me back every time.   It's in the tall tower, up the winding steps which half-way up, open into her private study.  Here she wrote, read and pondered.  It's fascinating to stand in the doorway and see the desk where she wrote, see the deep chairs where she sat, and take in the array of her collections scattered around the room.  I usually just stand in the doorway, peering through the bars for a good ten minutes, soaking in the spirit and the mind of this powerful and very human woman.

I'll enjoy every minute of the rest Downton's season 3, but I try to never forget for one minute the reality behind the stories.  A reality of servants working 16-18 hours a day and allowed only one day off every few months; servants having to stand with their face to the wall if a member of the aristocratic family happened to pass by them in the hallway; and members of aristocratic families living lives of indulgence and superficiality.  Just as the Black Death changed the face of feudal England in the 14th century, WWI changed the face of British society for good and any nostalgia for that time should probably be tempered once in awhile with a dose of reality--which Parade's End and The Edwardians do very well.


Friday, 19 October 2012

No. 35 Holywell St.

Sometimes it's easy to be so busy taking in the dreaming spires, that you can miss the quiet corners.
 
Every time I walk by this door I think that, if I just had the
key, I'd be able to see if Narnia lies behind it.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

  New College gate on a chilly October evening.