21 June 2013

Off the grid and into the garden

I have no access to internet in the summer months. When June and July arrive I retreat to my cottage, safely ensconced in my garden, weeding or fussing with seedlings—"all bums and elbows" as a British friend would say—or simply sitting in a garden chair with a book, a half-knit sock, or a magazine.

On rainy days I putter about indoors, seeing to the chores that I never seem to have time for in the winter months. (Or the light to see them by.)  Painting things, sorting things, discarding things, writing or reading things.

There is a serenity in being in tune with the cottage and garden, without the interruption of the electronic ether that so easily draws us into its grasp when available. Some say the lack of internet access makes one 'dis'connected; and I am the first to admit that it is a remarkable tool and an astounding way to learn, share and visit with people one would otherwise never meet. But there are other things with which to connect during these silent weeks: the flowers, the squirrels (what a side show!), the birds, the neighborly cats, myself, and those few visiting friends and loved ones who know the way.

I do miss knowing what blogging acquaintance might be doing with their time, or seeing how their gardens grow, or reading about what might be delighting them (or worrying them) in any given moment.  I always take pleasure in the words, feelings, advice and caring that are so generously shared in this miraculous way, and I hope my summer silence won't be mistook for disinterest in their musings and evocative entries.

But I will play catch up when I return. Until then, I hope every one of you will be well, healthy, happy, and will find the time to enjoy all the lovely things that surround you every day in the World Wide World.

Oxford in June

Episodes of Inspector Lewis have resumed. It is easily my favorite series on Masterpiece MYSTERY!, second only to its predecessor, Inspector Morse. Both take place in Oxford and I usually have to watch each episode at least twice: once to see how much of the landscape I can recognize, and again to actually listen to the dialogue and follow the mystery they're trying to solve. And with each viewing, I am always reminded that there are few things I've enjoyed more than my journeys to Oxford over the years, and never moreso than during Trinity Term in June.

Oxford has many faces... town, gown, and everything in between.  But for me, visiting friends during the month of June in the colleges where they teach or study has always been a halcyon time of outdoor receptions and sunny afternoon garden parties on picture-book college greens, with men in their summer whites and enough hats and gloves to open a milliner's shop. 

Long linen-draped tables are spread prettily with plates of lemon cakes and cress sandwiches and bottomless bowls of strawberries, while college 'scouts' stand at the ready to pour out cups of strong tea or glass after glass of sparkling wine.

When I look back over my photograph albums or thumb through my journals, myriad images come to mind, each one populated with interesting people, unique experiences, evocative scents, and comforting sounds.

Cherwell and St. Hilda's
Lazy picnics on the grassy banks of the River Cherwell with a distant view of Merton tower and St Hilda's cricket hut, watching the occasional punt slip past, or fishing errant cricket balls out of the river. Learning a valuable lesson about British "fair play" and dutifully calling out a restrained "Well done" when either team scored... 

New College Gardens
Early morning walks through manicured college gardens boasting endless beds of lavender, lilies, peonies, and some of the most heart-breaking roses I have ever seen. And I thought I knew what a flower looked like...

Manchester Old Door
Rainy days investigating the gracious architecture of some of the University's forty colleges, stooping to enter crumbling archways, roaming down graveled cloisters, feeling as though the centuries were melting away around me as I made my way... 

Port Meadow
Quiet afternoons lying amid the "cow parsley" (Queen Anne's Lace) and "kingcups" (buttercups) at Port Meadow, leafing through a 50p copy of Hardy's Under the Greenwood Tree as huge bumbles buzzed dreamily overhead and tiny birds filled the nearby foliage with song...
Longwall Street
Cycling about the city (in a skirt, of course) to Lady Margaret's Hall or the University Parks, doing my best to master the fine art of British traffic patterns, round-abouts, and cobbled alleyways with minimal confrontations... 
St. Mary Magdalen
Walking down St Giles street on Tuesday evenings to sit by the low stone wall of St. Mary's churchyard and listen as the change-ringers toil in her bell tower...

Eagle and Child *
Cheerful evenings in low-ceilinged, timeless pubs with names like The Lamb & Flag, The Turf or The Eagle & Child—a favorite haunt of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. And oh, the discussions we'd have over our pints of bitter and cider. Like taking one's mind for a walk...   
Ch. Ch. cathedral *
Kneeling during Sunday services, enveloping my senses in the monastic intimacy of Pusey House, the ritual of Magdalen Chapel, or the pageantry of Christ Church Cathedral where anthems and incense soared heavenward...

Holywell Music Room *
Enjoying Sunday musicales in the Handelian Holywell Music Room, Mozart and Brahms in the rotund Sheldonian Theatre, or tea-dances at the Oxford Town Hall with its ceiling like an overturned Wedgewood bowl. And then strolling to The Kings Arms for coffee and biscuits... 
Covered Market Bookstall *
Poking about in little bookshops and coming away with 19th c. leather-bound volumes of Browning, Scott, Shelley and Tennyson, curious about the owners whose fingers once leafed through the gilt-edged pages before surrendering them to second-hand stalls... 
New College Cloister *
Sitting on long garden benches in the twilight for an open-air production of Measure for Measure as the medieval cloister of New College casts deep shadows across the makeshift stage and steam rises from the players' mouths in the chilly air...
Worcester College Woodland *
Watching A Midsummer Night's Dream come to life in the woodland of Worcester College, as faëries romp from tree to tree, skirting the lake in their diaphanous finery...
Covered Market *
Buying flowers, sweets or the occasional "take-away" lunch at the Covered Market with its quaint stalls and stone floor, marvelling at the choice of game and produce, and feeling a certain kinship with the local housewives as we form our polite "queues".... 
Punt Landing

Dreamy Sunday afternoon punting expeditions, our tiny craft gliding lazily downriver, filled to overflowing with wine and cheese and biscuits, the view of the riverbank like a child's faëry story, as tiny eyes peered at us from tree-root hideaways, shyly marking our progress...  
Holywell Street - Tuck Shop

"Afternoon tea" in a variety of colorful shops: some a flowery page from a seed catalogue; others a sunlit haven of mahogany and antique doilies; and sometimes simply grabbing a packaged sweet from the local take-away... 
Arlosh Hall*
Formal college suppers that begin with sherry in the commons room and ended with port and Madeira in the library. Shuffling in procession to polished tables whilst faculty and students robed in academic regalia filled the cavernous Hall with happy chatter. Settling down to innumerable courses accompanied by a parade of crystal, silver, and damask, our elaborate supper consumed under the watchful gaze of previous Chancellors whose portraits range the walls...     
Skyline from St. Mary's Tower walkway

Aimless Sunday morning strolls surrounded by the sweet cacophony of tower bells that never seem to stop ringing until every last soul has been saved...  
Ch. Ch. meadows

Lazy rambles down Longwall Street to Rose's Lane, and then following the river around Christ Church meadows, where cows gently graze, college towers and steeples rise over the trees like sentinels. Easy to imagine a shy math tutor sitting by the river with the Dean's little daughter, regaling her with tales of dormice, harried rabbits, Mad Hatters and unreasonable Queens...  
Oxford Canal

Making my way down the Oxford canal towpath, exchanging cheery greetings with houseboat owners and admiring the plants that line the elfin rooftops of their brightly colored homes...  

Most flock to London on their maiden journey to England. By choice, and luck, my first glimpse of Great Britain was Oxford. (London came much later, and only in small doses.) Admittedly there are no Jewels in Oxford, Crown or otherwise, unless you count the Alfred Jewel in the Ashmoleon.  There are no bloody infamous Towers, although there are dreamy college spires rising above the River Cherwell in the mist. There are no well-known Bridges, with the possible exception of the hectic span that brings you past Magdalen College or the exquisitely sad-looking walkway built to connect two ancient Hertford College buildings. (It is aptly called The Bridge of Sighs by locals.)  
Bridge of Sighs*
But what there is in Oxford is history, beauty, refinement, youth, nature, elegance, intellect, and all manner of wonderful things to do and see.  She is an ephemeral town peopled by an array of interesting characters, and so very reminiscent of one of my favorite Tennyson quotes:   

'The city is built to music', says Merlin,
'therefore never built at all,
and therefore built for ever'.

(* BTA photos - all others by Haworth)

07 June 2013

Gardening Rule No. 13

Lady in the Garden by Emile Claus

Gardening can have a detrimental effect on a person's clothing sense.

Yesterday afternoon I found myself walking down to the coffee shop after having spent the morning tidying the gardens. It wasn't until I was walking home that I caught a glimpse of myself in a store window:

  • bright turquoise mid-calf t-shirt dress
  • man's blue denim work shirt
  • variegated yellow ankle socks
  • red clogs
  • linen hat with a large maroon silk flower drooping off the front brim
On the best of days my style could be considered slightly eccentric.  But put me anywhere near a garden and apparently I have a complete fashion meltdown.

Is there a "Queer Eye for the Straight Gardener"?