‘Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven’*

We’re in England.  We’ve been here nearly three weeks, and so busy catching up with Those Twins in Bolton and friends in Yorkshire that blogging has quite simply not been on my agenda.  But here we are in South Gloucestershire with daughter-in-law’s parents: there should be a name for this particularly satisfying relationship as it’s one we enjoy and appreciate.

On Friday they took us to Westonbirt Arboretum.  If you’re spending a few days round Bristol and Bath there’s no better place to recharge your batteries.  You could pass the morning in the Old Arboretum, a carefully designed landscape dating from the 1850’s.  There are something like two and a half thousand varieties of tree – 16,000 specimens in all,  from all over the world, planted according to ‘picturesque’ principles of the 18th and 19th centuries, offering beautiful vistas, enchanted glades and stately avenues.  After a light lunch in the on-site restaurant you could go on to explore the Silk Woods an ancient, semi-natural woodland, or the grassy meadows of the Downs

It was Robert Holford who designed and encouraged the planting of the Arboretum, back in the mid 19th century.  This was a period when plant-hunters were bringing new and exotic species back from their world-wide travels. Holford was able to finance some of these expeditions, and the Arboretum contains many of the specimens his scientific adventurers brought back.

Truly, it’s a magical place.   We arrived, let out a collective sigh, and simply allowed  stress and worry to fall away.  Strolling about, we gazed upwards at trees whose end-of-summer leaves seemed to be fingering the clouds, into copses where we could glimpse others already turning to the ochres and russets of Autumn, and then closely at the trees themselves.  It was the bark that caught our attention close up.  Smooth and silvery, brown and knobbly, grey and wrinkled, the variety astonished us.  Take a look at these.  And if you get a chance to visit this Arboretum, at any time of year, then take it.

*Rabindrath Tagore

Blog alert

This isn’t a post from me today.  Not here.  Not really. But there is one from me somewhere.  It’s just a question of looking for it.  You could try HERE

This is what happens when you start blogging.  You start to read other blogs.  If you’re not careful, blog-following could even take over your life, there’s so much stuff being posted: all day, every day.  Other bloggers start reading what you write.  They comment on your posts, you comment on theirs.

This doesn't need a caption - does it?
This doesn’t need a caption – does it?

And that’s where the trouble starts.

About 18 months ago, I noticed a post that struck a chord with me.  As a schoolgirl I must have been scarred for life because a post on a blog now called ‘renée a schuls-jacobson’s blog : because life doesn’t fit in a file folder’ set me thinking about that day when…. oh it doesn’t matter now, but I revealed all when I commented.  And lo, I was invited to be a guest blogger, for one day only…….

….. as one of a series called ‘So wrong’.

Renée says: ‘In 2013, I asked a few of my blogging buddies to share their most embarrassing moments from which they learned. . . something.‘  Oddly, it was quite hard to decide what to write about, but Renée never seems to have a problem choosing material.  She writes because she loves to write, loves her family and friends, loves life, and no subject is off limits: words, family life, Jewish stuff, Tingo Tuesday (Just look it up.  Follow the link).  For her, blogging is a conversation with everyone who reads what she has to say. She puts a lot of energy too into bringing together an eclectic bunch of people as guest-writers, so I’m very flattered to have the chance to join this select club.

Renée always hopes that her readers will leave comments – they often do and she always replies.  As I do. It’s  good to talk, and I enjoy the relationships I’ve made with regular commenters whom I’ve yet to meet.  If you haven’t yet done so…why not join in?

PS.  What you may not say when you read my post on Renée’s blog  is ‘I’ve read the first part of this before’.  Yes.  You have, if you’ve been here for the long haul.  But only the first part.

PPS.  Message from Renée: ‘Hey friends of Margaret! You can click on my name and be magically transported to just the right place!’  She’s right you know…..

The healer

Malcolm’s had a rotten week.  Shingles.  It sounds such a jolly complaint, doesn’t it?  But it’s not.  It began last Saturday with a sore area at the back of his neck.  A couple of hours later, he retired to bed, his whole head a boiled orange-red and covered in flattish blisters.  The caricature Englishman who fell asleep on the beach for several hours at Costa del Something never looked this bad. He ate nothing – not a morsel – for two whole days, and was prey to dismal and depressing thoughts and feelings whenever he wasn’t asleep.

On Monday I called the doctor.  But as the news of his illness got out, the emails and phone calls started to tumble in. ’He must see a healer’, our French friends insisted.  When ill themselves, some of these friends choose the kind of alternative therapies that make homeopathy seem mainstream, while other scurry down to the surgery demanding packs of pills at the first hint of a sneeze.  Whatever their usual preference, they were united in believing that only a healer could help.  And the doctor had admitted he could do little for Malcolm.

One friend came up with a specific suggestion.  The mother of her childhood friend is a healer of shingles sufferers, and so successful that doctors often send their patients to her.  Malcolm had nothing to lose, so he got in touch.  Every evening for 3 days he’s been at her house at 6.00 for a short session.  She’s rubbed hard at his troubled skin with one hand, while making sweeping movements with her other.  Sessions last 10 minutes or less, but even after the first time, the improvement was noticeable and swift.  Now, after the third, his skin is almost normal and he feels fine,  but she’s expecting him to treat himself for a few days with poultices of olive oil, or olive oil, egg yolk and lemon juice.

Healers turn out to be very common indeed here.  They have the gift of treating a single complaint, and they receive this gift of healing from another practitioner. They often work in very different ways .  The mother of a friend worked in a way Malcolm wouldn’t have recognised. At sundown, she would briefly carry the sufferer on her back, back-to-back, whilst saying prayers in her Béarnaise dialect.  She had received her gift when she herself was suffering from shingles, and having treated her, the healer passed on his skills.

What unites all these people – men, women, young, old, garage hands, housewives, teachers, highly educated or largely untaught –  is their sincerity, and their real ability to effect change for the better in the sufferer.  A true healer will not ask for payment, but most grateful sufferers offer a gift, which could well be money. It’s not necessary for the sufferer to have faith that the treatment will work, merely a willingness to be open-minded and give it a go.

We’ve both been astonished by the huge fan-base for healing in a country where patients routinely expect doctors to prescribe medication for any complaint, however trivial.  At choir last night, discussing Malcolm’s experience with everyone there, they all nodded sagely and encouragingly.   ‘Il n’y a rien que ça’.  And it’s true.  Doctors seem to have little joy treating shingles, which seems to persist for weeks in the unfortunate sufferer’s body despite antibiotics and other potions.  Healers seem to deliver on their promise to have the thing sorted in under a week

I receive my annual report……

Just over 5 years ago, I first started writing a blog.  I was going on the trip of a lifetime, to India, and I wanted to record it.  For my family, who’d made it possible.  For my friends, who wanted  the story.  And most of all, for me, as a record of a special month.  It wasn’t this blog, but one hosted by The Travel Blog.

I found I enjoyed writing, recording, sharing my new experiences, so I continued when I got back to France.  All the same, France was my new home, so a travel blog didn’t seem quite right.  After a few false starts ( I’m really no kind of geek), I made the move to WordPress, and here I still am.

My interest always was, and still is, in keeping in touch with friends, and as a sort of diary for me.  I never expected anyone else to read it.  But gradually, other regular readers came along: people I’ve never met, and in most cases probably never shall.  From Germany, from America, from France and of course from the UK.  They comment, they encourage.  In many cases they write blogs too, and I enjoy glimpses into very different lives from mine.

Compared with many of the other blogs I read, mine has a small readership.  But it still astonishes me that something I started so I could keep in touch with maybe 30 people has resulted in several cyber-friendships, and regular or occasional readers in every continent.

I find it interesting that no one blogger’s ‘reading list’ in any way resembles anybody else’s. There are thousands, I suppose millions of blogs on offer these days, covering every possible area of life.  I read those that touch my life in some way, and comment too, just as many readers comment on my posts.  I enjoy this interaction  and so I guess that for the time being, I’ll keep writing.  The day I run out of things to write about, or it becomes a chore, I’ll stop.

Meanwhile, I’m showing you my Annual Report not because I expect you to show the remotest interest in the detail, but because you might be astonished, as I am,  at all the information that WordPress has been able to collect.  They know who you are……

‘The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.  (You might like to know that the people on their Help Desk are called ‘Happiness Engineers’)

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 14,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 3 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Our day out with John Rylands

Before we came back to France at the weekend, I wanted a day in Manchester, where I was at University more than 40 years ago.  It was a city people at that time seemed to love or hate.  I loved it then, and I still do.  It’s buzzy and busy, with galleries, music, shops, and a bravura display of civic Victorian architecture down every city centre street.

Outside John Rylands library

I had a particular memory I wanted to share with Malcolm.  The John Rylands Library.  I used to go there to write an essay or prepare for a seminar on those days when I wanted to pretend to some kind of scholarship that in truth was never part of my make-up.  The building was a celebration of Victorian Gothic architecture at its finest, with wonderful plaster tracery on the walls, splendid fan-vaulted ceilings, and shelf after shelf of ancient leather-bound books.  Seated in some darkened alcove, surrounded by the particular smell of the place – beeswax polish mixed with dusty books, I would work away for an hour or two, convincing myself, if nobody else, that I was getting down to the serious matter of studying in an industrious and creative manner.  Few other people would be there: there were no distractions other than the quiet beauty of the building itself.  The place was built for scholarship.

The reading room where I pretended to write essays.

It was built in the 1890’s by Enriqueta Rylands in memory of her husband John.  Although his origins were humble, he became Manchester’s first multi-millionaire, making his fortune in the textile industry as a cotton manufacturer.  At first, the library collection was modest, but over the years, has come to hold works of world-class importance: everything from the earliest known New Testament text, on papyrus, to medieval illustrated manuscripts, a Gutenberg bible, and the personal papers of the likes of Elizabeth Gaskell.

One of dozens of different fantastical creatures forming the roof bosses

I’m not qualified to comment on the early air conditioning systems, or the electricity originally generated on site.  I simply enjoy the richly patterned stained glass, the sumptuous woodwork, the dragons encircling ceiling bosses, and the sandstones in which the building is constructed, which range from soft pink to a rich dull red.

An upward glance whilst on a staircase

Back in the ‘60’s, I’d work till I got hungry, thirsty, or both.  Last week, we discovered that these days I’d have no excuse to leave, because there’s a modern extension sensitively joined to the side of the building.  This houses Café Rylands, where we had our lunch, made from locally sourced produce; a bookshop which, though small, presented us with fascinating choices, from architecture and design books to children’s stories; and an almost irresistible gift-shop.  It has an energetic and exciting programme of educational events, and I wished we could have signed up for some of them.

Café Rylands and the book shop

When I was a student in Manchester, the library was little known outside academic circles.  Now it’s a different story.  John Rylands Library has been made  Manchester’s ‘Large Visitor Attraction of the Year’ at the city’s annual tourism awards.  You could spend happy hours here, exploring the building itself, the exhibits, and making frequent sorties to the coffee shop for a relaxing break and browse through the papers.  And apart from your spending money, it’s all free.

Drop a coin or two into the donation box, and the automaton will go through its paces

One Lovely Blog Award

Surprise!  Today I opened my in-box to discover I’ve been nominated, with several others, for The One Lovely Blog Award.  This is as flattering as it is interesting, because we’re 7 nominees in total, and we’re a mixed bag, including a female soldier serving in Afghanistan, several photographers, a woman sharing her grandmother’s fascinating diary entries from 100 years ago, a couple running  a Bed & Breakfast in the States, and a dog lover.

And this is surely what makes the world of blogging such an interesting one?  We who read a variety of blogs get views and insights into other worlds, other lives, other ways of thinking,  and forge cyber-relationships with people we’d never otherwise come into contact with.

The blogger who nominated me, who writes Thoughts from an American Woman, is very different indeed from me.  She calls herself as ‘an American housewife and Army mom’, and writes about her experience of being the mother of a serving soldier, and shares with her readers her curiosity, her busy life, her love of dogs, her poetry and her Christian faith.  Despite her active days, she finds time to follow very many blogs.  Thank you, Patty, for nominating me and for sending me frequent words of encouragement.

Now, apparently I need to share 7 things about myself:

  • I’m fine with spiders, and snakes, and mice, and bats, and birds, and creepy-crawlies.  But I don’t much care for the scrabbling and rustling noises that are beginning to emerge from behind our kitchen cupboards.
  • I sometimes fear my life is defined by my total inability to get a good night’s sleep.
  • I think I’ve got quite a mixed blood-line.  On my mother’s side, Suffolk and Yorkshire blood, with great grandparents called ‘Pickard’.  Originally from Picardy in France surely?  My father, long dead, took any stories of his Polish family to his grave.
  • For years I’ve been banging on about doing a long stretch of the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella.  I even have half-baked plans half-talked about with several different friends.  Perhaps going public here will force me to do something about it at last.
  • I can’t begin the day without my fix of coffee. Please don’t expect me to.
  • I can’t end the day without reading myself to sleep.  I normally get an hour or more in during the night as well.  A good way to be fairly well-read.
  • The best stress-buster is to get in the kitchen and cook.  Then relax over the results with easy company and a glass of wine.

And then I need to tell you which blogs I would like to nominate.  Here they are, in alphabetical order.

As a Linguist:  An American teacher comments perceptively and engagingly on language in its many forms.

El Bueno El Malo Y El Feo: Exciting, atmospheric, often gritty photos, mainly taken whilst travelling round Spain.

Mama Clark’s Kitchen and Back Porch Emporium: Leann was our friend and neighbour when we all lived in Harrogate.  Once back in the States she began this blog.  Beautifully and atmospherically written

My Spanish Steps: One of my daughter’s blogs, highlighting things that interest her during her early months teaching in Spain.

Slow Living in the French Pyrenees: Kalba moved to France at much the same time as we did, and we met very early on, so I enjoy her take on France and the French.

The Nelson House Diaries: A bit incestuous this! Sharon is a Francophile and found Kalba’s and my blog – so we found hers.  Hers is the story, among other things, of the challenge of renovating her home to an exacting – and exciting – standard.

The View from the Potting Shed: Gilly gardens with great knowledge and enthusiasm here in the Ariege.  She’s not posted recently, so I hope this may encourage her to resume her useful and inspirational blog.

Welcome Visitor: Another incestuous one.  This American expat, living in Germany, discovered my blog – so I discovered his.  It is, as he says, about his life in Germany – and life in general.

So…. Just eight among thousands and thousands of blogs you could spend 200 hours a day reading.  And to Patty, and all the bloggers who give me such pleasure: thank you.

 The rules for One Lovely Blog are:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and link back to them.
  2. Share 7 things about yourself.
  3. Nominate  other bloggers for this award.


I like BookCrossing.  I love the idea of ‘releasing books into the wild’ for some lucky reader to find, and I love finding books in the same way.  It brings me face to face with choices I wouldn’t normally consider when I’m browsing the shelves of my local bookshop, library or charity shop.  Unfortunately, I’m not very good at releasing books.  If I leave one in a café, an anxious waitress will scurry after me waving my latest offering.  Leave them on a park bench, and the heavens open.  And so on.

But I do have 3 outlets.  The first was McQueen’s coffee shop in Knaresborough. For the first and only time in my history of BookCrossing, I heard from someone who’d found and enjoyed a book I’d left.  She was writing to me from France.  Result.

The next place is Le Rendezvous in Léran, a village near our house in Laroque. The bar is not an official BookCrossing site, but owners Marek and Shirley encourage people to browse the shelves of the overflowing bookcase and choose a book or two, leave a book or two.  It’s a great resource of both English and French reading matter.

My third place is new to me. It’s in the adjacent block of flats to ours in Ripon. Calling on a friend there, I discovered a bookcase in the entrance hall to the block. Unofficial BookCrossing again: the great idea of one of my friend’s neighbours.  I met her at his party on Friday and she told me her ideas of encouraging neighbours to share books has become popular, with paperbacks changing on an almost daily basis.

So now I’m deep in a gritty ‘policier’, set in Portsmouth, a town I thought until this weekend that I knew quite well. I’d never heard of Graham Hurley, or of  ‘Angels passing’.   Glad I have now.