Friday, 25 February 2011


According to the BBC weather website,
we've had 30-40% less sunshine
than usual
in January and February.
I would say that it has felt 40% grayer;
yes, at least that.

Cheers for a day of "sunny intervals."

Cheers for snowdrops
and purple crocuses.

Is it purple prose to say
that English spring is paved with flowers?

Here comes the first wave.

the snowdrops are nearly as dense
as the drifts of snow
for which they are named.

I've been coming here every February
for years.  
And never, never has the sun shone.
It's usually quite a shivery experience,
cold hands and chapped cheeks,
but today we took tea outside.

The many visitors,
mostly old and young,
did mostly obey the dictates
to keep off the grass.

But there were a few rule-breakers.
Keen photographers will do anything
to capture their prey.

Wellies are an absolute must,
as the mud to grass ratio
(not to mention the temperature)
does not favor bare feet just yet.
I did hear this, though:
Mom, can I take off my coat?

It's still February, of course
and the sun is a big tease
because rain will be back tomorrow.
But just for today, it is Just-spring
and the world is not just muddy,
but mudluscious

For those who could not resist
fresh spring green
and the year's first warmth
there was one grassy verge.

I wonder which child
first had the notion
to roll down it?

I was almost tempted, too,
to try my forwards roll.
Long forgotten skills:
Let's dust them off
and bring them out
for spring.

In two more weeks
there will be an explosion of daffodils --
always a more reliable source of yellow
than the sun, in spring.

Thursday, 17 February 2011


from the Architects Build Small Spaces exhibition
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Last summer, I took a picture of this small treehouse: 
 described, by its Japanese creator, as Beetle's House.

 The charred pine exterior of this elevated teahouse
 resembles the tough, blackened shell of a beetle.

Tomorrow, we sign the papers that will put The Barn on the market.  After five blissfully settled years, we will somehow gather our things and move them . . . again.  I immediately have a visual image as I write those words:  Just how large would a two-arm's span need to be in order to gather up all of our multitudinous belongings?  The size of a small English county, surely.

Last night I had the first (of what will probably be many) "moving" nightmares.

Eleven years ago we bought The Barn.  My husband likes to say I cried, (because it was so ugly and needed so much work); I don't remember actually crying, but I'm sure that I wanted to.  What hideous rows we used to have in front of the architect.  And even before, before the decision had been made:  when I said, "but it's so ugly" and Sigmund said, "yes, but it's a lot of house for the money."

After a year of work, the house became a place that I wanted to live in -- but even as we moved into it, there was rumbling about a new job, another move. 
And so we moved, back to Texas -- but we kept the house, for five long years, and never really expecting to live in it again.

Five years again, (and six houses in the meantime), we moved back to The Barn . . . and the refiguring and refashioning began again.  This time, I concentrated on creating a garden.  We moved the garage around, and so many square feet of gravel became herbaceous borders.  Grass was dug up to make herb beds.  Roses were planted.  You know that Joni Mitchell song about paving Paradise and putting in a parking lot?  Well, we did it the other way around.

In June, (although certainly not in February), it looks something like this:

Best to sell a house in June, but better to leave it in January.

We have created this little paradise, and the house encases us and our things nearly perfectly, but it is not in the right place . . . and it never has been.  I've never really liked where we lived; it's never felt quite right to me.  I've never felt quite right in it.

In almost twenty years, we've never moved just because we wanted to; such decisions have always been a job-driven and imperative.  I guess that's true of most people.
But now we live in a place where we have no jobs, and soon we will have absolutely no reason to be tethered to it anymore.  Familiarity, yes; and after five years, some friends; and a garden that still hasn't matured.  But we've decided that what basically amounts to inertia (a comfortable inertia, true) is not quite enough reason to stay.

Everyone asks me why we are moving to Oxford -- a place of notoriously high house prices.
Because my daughter is going to school there (the most obvious reason).
Because our teenagers need a town, and more scope for independence -- and we are tired of driving them everywhere.  And speaking of cars, we don't want to be so dependent on them anymore.
Because I want to ride a bicycle.
Because I want cinemas, and museums, and bookstores, and parks and cafes and concerts and something to do on rainy days.  Because there are so very many rainy days in England.

I've been looking at houses in Oxford for more than a year.  I know the offerings by heart; I can tell you which houses have been on the market since last summer and why.  (Any really nice house will hardly surface on a property website; and if it does, it will disappear in a week.)  I realise that we may have to rent for a year, so we (too) can pounce as cash-in-hand buyers.  I realise that, no matter what, I won't have a house as capacious as this one.  (The dining room furniture will definitely have to go.  And where will we put all of the wedding china, and the crystal glasses that my husband loves?)  Compromises will have to be made.  But still, I want a bicycle -- with a wicker basket in front to put the shopping in.  I want to know bookish people, because I've never really fit in with the horsey/shooting types who vote Conservative no matter what.

I want this move, but I'm a veteran when it comes to moving and I don't underestimate the cost of upheaval.

It would all be so much easier if we could just fit into a little treehouse . . . or like the beetle, take our house with us. 

Sunday, 6 February 2011

This is not a snow story

Definite signs of life in the February garden:
poppy leaves, dwarf iris, grape hyacinth
witchhazel, viburnum, primrose
azalea buds, tulip shoots, snowdrops
(click on them twice to enlarge)

It's one of those bleakish, windy days despised by people with fine (ie, "difficult") hair.
Wintry and dull, still, but there are definitely signs of burgeoning green life in the garden.  This is the compensation for English winter, with its long string of gray days.  The damp earth, hardly ever frozen, is so fertile -- even in February.

For the past couple of weeks, I feel like I have been making all sorts of preparations for what is to come:
New passports and endless forms have been filled out for my oldest daughter's trip to Africa.
The house is being touched up for its launch on the spring housing market.
My youngest daughter has been prepped, for countless hours, for her scholarship exams this month.
And every day, sending out feelers about new jobs and work studies and a new house.

We're laying the groundwork, but time still has that suspended "waiting" quality to it.

I've been asking advice (from all and sundry) about how to keep the muntjac deer away from my tulips.
Our gardener suggested putting a radio set on a low volume into the beds.
Apparently the deer have keen hearing and shy away from human noise.

Do you think this will work?
(Sigmund is highly doubtful,
but that is his reflexive position on many questions.)