One of the pleasures of the garden is that it changes – every single day. Walk there daily, and you hardly notice as one plant quietly ends its moment in the sun, while another comes into vigorous life.
Visiting a garden less often, you notice those changes. Back in June at Harlow Carr, we walked among banks and beds crowded like this…..
A month later, they were gone. Instead, we meandered among beds thronged with these……
But I escaped the sights of the garden for a few moments in the Victorian potting shed. Looks at how these tools have changed over the years! Once sparkling and sturdy, now they’re dulled by rust and years of use. And yet ….. if I set out to buy a set of garden tools today, I’d be choosing ones that look very much like these. You can’t beat a functional design that’s stood the test of time. My plant labels might not look half so elegant though, nor my pots so characterful.
Coming back on the overnight ferry from Rotterdam to Hull last week, I had a lot of fun playing with my camera. Most shots celebrated the sea, the shipping, the grungy industrial shore side, and I’ll share some of those soon.
But as the sun was setting, my eye was caught by these passengers on the decks above. They didn’t know it, but I thought they made quite fine silhouettes set against the angled railings of the deck.
I love wind turbines. I love to see them set against the skyline, and marching across the crest of a distant line of hills. And this week, I loved to see them near the coast, their legs in the sea, a gritty port-side industrial landscape behind them.
These are wind turbines near Zeebrugge, near Rotterdam, and near Hull.
It was my last day in India. I woke up to driving rain – the first I’d seen – a raging temperature and a sore throat. But there was shopping to be done, packing to be done, general busyness. I forced myself through the day, feeling worse all the time.
I eventually made it to the station where I planned to catch a train to the airport: a local service with a quick journey time. How was I to know that the train would fill and fill and fill until people were hanging from the doorways in true Indian Travel Documentary style? With me crushed in the very middle of it all, feeling iller by the second. Actually, ‘crushed’ doesn’t even begin to cover it: the only reason I didn’t fall to the floor was that it was physically impossible.
At a certain point, I couldn’t stand it any more, and somehow forced myself and my luggage off the train, with everyone shouting behind me ‘No! No! Airport is two more stations!’ By then though, I was sprawled across the platform, vomiting and vomiting as the train departed without me. A lovely man tried to help. He brought me water which he poured over me, washing my face and making me drink. A concerned crowd gathered, but by then I had lost all pride as I lay there, being repeatedly sick.
Two policewomen turned up, at as much at a loss as anyone else. Finally, they made a decision. They hauled me quite roughly, as if I were a dangerous demonstrator rather than a rather sick and weak woman onto a train – a fairly empty train, now the rush period was over – and chucked me on the floor.
At the airport station, we were joined by a rather handsome male officer who carried me, ‘Gone with the Wind’ style up the airport steps (a shame I was way too ill to appreciate it), and heaved me into a rickshaw, together with my luggage. Our destination was the airport medical centre. I was examined and at last a decision was made. Hospital. An ambulance appeared and I was dumped on a stretcher. Bang! The ambulance driver revelled in using his siren – who wouldn’t if it meant actually moving in the streets of Chennai? I was at the Sri Balaji Hospital .
I remember little of the rest of the day. But the British Consulate must have been told, and someone there must have dealt with the fact that I was no longer travelling back to the UK that night.
This is the last of my ‘Indian Journey’ posts. I’ll write more about my trip later though. You haven’t heard about the Rainforest Retreat, Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, French Colonial India, Couchsurfing in Thanjavur, Mamallapuram … or life in an Indian hospital….
I arrived at Bangalore airport at about 6.00 in the morning. There were several hours of baggage handling, airport confusion and a taxi-ride through town, with auto-rickshaw drivers weaving and buzzing round us like angry wasps, before I reached my small family run hotel in a quiet residential quarter of town.
I stepped out of the car to the calls of loud birds yelling and whooping, and shortly after, found myself escorted to a roof terrace, where I gazed at distant huge birds with enormous wingspans (eagles? vultures?) coasting lazily on the thermals. Attentive staff served me with unending supplies of small soft spongy pancakes – idli – with thin aromatic and spicy dipping sauces and much-needed coffee. It was 9.00, but my body knew that back in England it was 3.30 a.m.
Unable to rest, I set off to explore the quiet back streets near the hotel. Dozens of women were out in the back streets, crouching over their handle-less brooms, sweeping and re-sweeping the pavements. Stallholders on street corners sold bananas, brown and well past their sell-by dates, or coconut juice straight from the shell. A few bored monkeys sat about on air-conditioning extractor pipes. At a building site, a bullock stood patiently while two men shovelled rubble into the cart it drew.
Then I reached the main hub of Bangalore, MG Road (Mahatma Gandhi Road) with the pavements, such as there were, thronged with pedestrians. In the road itself, cars, vans, trucks, auto-rickshaws, all constantly blaring their horns raced along, over-taking, under-taking. However would I find the courage to cross? Answer. By finding a group of others also wanting to get to the other side and introducing myself into their midst. There’s safety in numbers.
I hadn’t wandered too far when I was picked up by an auto-rickshaw driver. He could probably see ‘Arrived from Europe this morning’ tattooed across my forehead. He offered to show me round for 10 rupees. I wasn’t green enough to believe that, but I was exhausted, and it wasn’t an unattractive proposition. It was memorable – and fun.
He proved an amiable guide whose English, while obviously hugely better than my Kannada, often led to mutual incomprehension. Still, he hared round a variety of sites introducing me to the city he loved. ‘This is my Parliament building. This is my national bird. This is my Rajah’s Palace.’ And he waited while I ‘did’ Bengalaru Palace, one of the homes of the Raja Wodeyar. As the Lonely Planet says, you are personally shown round by an aged retainer, who is rather keener to show you fly-blown pictures of the Royal Family than the quirky furniture and fittings. Seedy but fun. It’s not often you see cattle grazing in royal gardens.
He was in the pay of various shops. Of course he was. And he took me to some. I was quite clear that I was not going to buy anything. Not on my first day. This proved to be an effective bargaining tool to bring prices tumbling to the level the shopkeeper planned to sell at in the first place. Reader, I bought a couple of things, and nor did I regret it.
My new friend urged me to ring him whenever I needed transport in his fifteen year old rickshaw. I didn’t. But later that day I wished I had. A different driver saw me puzzling over my map, and offered to help. But his help turned out to mean trying to persuade me into shop after shop to buy. When he realised I really wasn’t going to buy anything, he dumped me.
I was in a poor part of town (where? where?) and with a 500 rupee note as my lowest form of currency. When the average meal costs seven, I knew that offering this note in shops simply wasn’t an option. I trailed round back streets busy with rickshaw drivers repairing their trucks, vendors splicing huge melons and squash to sell, garland makers fashioning powerfully scented jasmine garlands for Diwali, sheep drinking at doorways, solitary cows chewing at a pile of rubbish, tent villages…. until I finally found a travel agent, where they changed down my note.
A mosque near the market in Bangalore
Street buffalo .
And then I took a third rickshaw, asking for an address near ‘home’. He took me directly there. Food, an internet cafe, and home to bed, long after dark. Night falls in a matter of minutes, at 6 o’clock. My exhausted body knew quite well that the day was over.
When I stay with my children in London, in Barcelona and in Bolton, come bedtime the streets are as silent as a monastery. Though to be fair, in London we can sometimes hear the foxes in their lairs near the railway line yelping like very cross babies.
I live at the edge of a village some distance from Ripon. That’s usually a pretty silent place to sleep too. But for the last few nights I’ve been woken at about 3.00 o’clock by this…..
It’s a Little Owl. He (she?) is extremely persistent. He sits on the roof, I think, and keeps up a constant calling: sometimes measured, sometimes more agitated. The other night, after an hour or more I fell asleep again. Little Owl didn’t.
I’ve never seen him. It’s not surprising. He’s probably only about 22cm. long, and weighs in at perhaps 180 grams. The farmland which surrounds us will suit him very well, supplying insects and small mammals. He’s probably breeding now. I wonder if he’s found a place in the old barn which is currently home to a young family of rather messy blackbirds?
This species was only introduced here at the end of the 19th century, though his kind are widespread throughout Europe Asia and North Africa. Despite his being a noisy blighter, he’s very welcome here.
I have no photos of my own. Enjoy these images from contributors to the Unsplash collection.
We’ll visit the Hospital de Sant Pau every time we go to Barcelona. Well, we will while it remains the city’s secret treasure: uncrowded, simply beautiful and offering balm to the soul just as it did to the patients who were – and are – cared for there. I wrote a little about its history last year.
I won’t repeat myself. Instead, I’ll try to convey something of the peace of this city site: something of its space, its lush greenness which was such an important part of its design. Doctors heal the body: gardens heal the mind.
I call it a city site, and these days, so it is, situated on busy main roads surrounded by buses, taxis, cars, shops, city workers, tourists. When it was built, it was outside Barcelona and rather hard to reach, along rutted tracks and surrounded by fields. The area looked like this:
We made another discovery on our visit this time. Nobody seems to mention the church on the site. We stumbled across it by accident, and I’ve had real difficulty finding out anything about it. But the modernista Esglesia de l’hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau is definitely worth a detour. Pillars soar heavenwards. Austerely plain walls are broken up by horizontal bands of blue tiles. Stained glass is in earth-and-sky colours. Most astonishing of all are the two – yes two – pulpits. One is borne aloft by the bull who is the symbol of Saint Luke; and the other by the lion who symbolises Saint Mark. Do visit it. You’ll have the place to yourself.
I could take a walk on the beach every morning of my life.
We’ve just come back from four days in Northumberland, staying in the coastal town of Alnmouth. Each morning before breakfast, I’d walk down to the sands to be both stimulated and calmed by the dragging, pulsing action of the sea.
There was the patterning of the sands to enjoy. Those banks of undulations extending as far as I could see. The designs etched in different coloured sands upon the newly-flattened beach. Shadows and reflections in shallow pools. The changing colours of the sea and sky towards the horizon.
Other beach lovers walked in contemplative silence too. Their dogs preferred to celebrate the long, wide space, and simply ran and ran.
There are sheep at the bottom of the garden. Jacob sheep, three of them. And not so long ago, they gave birth to lambs – five between them. We didn’t see this domestic drama. They visit a neighbouring farm for ante-natal and delivery services. But a fortnight ago, they all returned home, and relished the fresh grass, newly lush after the winter.
Last week, the large and spectacular copper beech at one end of their field virtually overnight burst into leaf. Naked twigs produced swelling leaf buds, and then…. almost instantly, delicate pinky-crimson leaves, practically translucent. The Jacob sheep eyed them with interest. Grass is all very well, but …. young beech leaves? Oh yes! Well worth craning your neck for!
Yesterday afternoon, one of the ewes and her two lambs popped over to inspect me as I walked down the drive. They thought I might be John with a bucket of food (I had neither a beard nor a bucket, and it wasn’t the right time of day, but well, it was still worth a try). I was, as ever, a big disappointment. But it did remind the ewe that the copper beech was there beside me, its lowest branches just about reachable. She reached up. She selected bunches of young leaves, chewed them, ate them. Moved on a few yards and repeated the process. Again and again.
In a few days, those leaves will toughen up. Got to take your pleasures while you can. I hope her gourmandising didn’t give her a tummy ache.
May is blue and white. May is the month when bluebells thrust their heads above the leaf mould of an English woodland and carpet it with a hazy sea of blue. It’s when forget-me-nots flower in every vacant spot of earth, and wriggle through the cracks in paving stones. It’s when bluish-purple wisteria scrambles across old brickwork, gently waving its blooms in the light spring breeze. It’s when the sky is often reliably and cloudlessly blue on a sunny afternoon.
Ponds at Harlow Carr Gardens, Harrogate.
The River Ure at West Tanfield.
Bluebells at the bottom of the garden.
Wisteria on the wall.
A mallard at Patelety Bridge. Blue head. White tail.
May is hawthorn time. May is lilac time. May sees late-flowering wild garlic give place to bluebells . Daisies take over. White petals from pear, apple and cherry trees swirl gently to the ground. And white woolly lambs play king-of-the-castle and run races in the fields. Round here, sheep-identification markings are blue.
Dead nettles near the river.
Cherry blossom near the pond at North Stainley.
Lilac about to burst into flower.
Daisies. Of course.
There’s plenty of space for yellow too. Anyone spotted any dandelions?