Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Very Satisfactory Day

Please pardon my absence. Something is eating my wireless connection, chomping savagely at it while I try to work. From time to time, I am able to stay online long enough to send a tweet, and/or maybe I can read a couple of tweets or Facebook entries, but then there's the ghostly, ghastly sound of bytes being chewed and swallowed, and then I get the message that (and here  the diffidence of my computer amazes me) I appear to be offline.

I've given up and borrowed Robin's laptop, because he has finished with it for the day. I suppose I could have borrowed it before, but it's on Vista. Need I say more?

So, here's what has been going on.  For the last two days, we've driven to Exeter. Yesterday we took a riverside walk and went for coffee. Today we took a longer walk, then split up to do our singular things.

First, the walk:  We walked from the car park to the quay, downriver to the first bridge, across the bridge, and along the canal. One of the first things we saw were seagulls playing "chicken" on Trews Weir while their audience of ducks looked on from the comfort of a perch near the shore.

There weren't just gulls and ducks out there today. There were people -- lots of them -- on foot, on bikes, walking alone and in couples, walking dogs -- Labs and border collies, border terriers, Westies, Jack Russells, dogs of indeterminate parentage, and even a Bassett Hound -- the first of those that I've seen in England.

Oh, and there were swans. I've taken about a dozen swan photos in the last couple of days, because the swans are nesting. They don't have the time  to worry about whether somebody is standing there, taking their picture, so for once they stay still. These two were across the canal from us, but yesterday I photographed a  couple setting up a nest across the footpath from the river, up against a brick wall. They ignored me, too. I'd show you their picture, but it's in my computer.
We had it in mind today to walk to the Double Locks, about half an hour's easy walk. We did want to have coffee on the way out, but the place we meant to go turned out to be closed, and we didn't feel like walking all the way back to the top of the quay to get to the cafe we knew was open -- so we just kept walking. As it turned out, there was a pub at the Double Locks (of course there was-- there's always a pub at a lock!) so instead of coffee, we had lunch. I had a goat cheese & Mediterranean vegetable wrap, which more than made up for the caffeine deprivation.

This photo shows the back garden of the Double Locks Hotel. This is a proper English pub, where you can stop for a pint or for a meal, and bring your kids along -- as well as the dog. While you drink your beer and catch up on the local gossip, the children can play on the swings or the slide -- or even, in this case, have a game of volleyball. There is also seating inside, of course, where you can watch some football or play a game of darts while the dog dozes under your table. Even as a non-drinker, I do like English pubs. They're very friendly.

I left my straw sun hat in the car, because I figured there was a much better chance of our being rained on than of my getting a sunburn, but I was wrong. The weather got better and better as we walked, and even my short-sleeved cardigan was feeling a bit too warm.

By the time we got back to the quay, it was time for me to head for the cathedral. I still hadn't had my English liturgical music fix (Buckfast Abbey didn't count!) so I wanted to attend Evensong at Exeter Cathedral. Robin  had intended to wait for me down on the quay, but he noticed that there was a river excursion boat leaving in  few minutes, so he decided to do that, instead.

Having seen Robin off, I climbed the hill to the cathedral and settled in for an hour of  pomp and ceremony (of a muted, Sunday Evensong sort) and beauty. The choir that sang the service was the Voluntary Choir (the B-team, I think), but they did a creditable job, and I was happy.

Robin and I had agreed to meet at the car at 4 p.m., and we managed to do that. I did not get lost in Exeter, and I did not get run over while crossing the street -- to my amazement. You should see me getting ready to cross a street here. I look like Noddy. My head swings back and forth, back and forth, and even when I do finally step out, I'm never quite sure I've looked in the right direction at the right time. I did nearly step out in front of a car yesterday. Robin stopped me. Thus, my making my way all the way from the cathedral to the car park today left me feeling quite smug.

We came home, watched the beginning of today's French Open tennis, then left to have dinner at the Avon Inn, Robin's local. He goes down there for a pint of an evening, but generally I stay at home and write my blog or read a book and make dinner. This time, we both went, and I got to meet Gary, Karen, and Brad, who took over the pub just a couple of months ago. Delightful people, delicious food.  Then we came home to watch the rest of the tennis match, only to find out that Paris isn't getting our weather. The people in the stands were frantically opening umbrellas, and just as I turned on the television, the match was called on account of rain.

Tomorrow we'll probably head out to the Avon Dam for one last walk there, because we leave here on Tuesday morning.

Sighing a little.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Down the Rabbit Hole

When life gets a bit too complicated, there's nothing for it but to dive down the nearest rabbit hole, so that's what we did today. We drove to Plymouth again, across the river by chain ferry (again), but this time we only drove two miles farther, to Antony House, an 18th century mansion that (and this was a surprise to us) is where the latest "Alice in Wonderland" movie was filmed. The house and grounds are beautiful, and we spent a delightful day there. Children from a local primary school were running all over the grounds, being children, and that just added to the fun.

Once we'd had our cuppa in the tea room, we wandered out into the formal gardens, where we met Alice right away. I must say, she had rather a stern look about her. She was also alarmingly large. Larger still was this fellow who guarded the entrance.

We weren't allowed to take photographs inside the house. Suffice it to say that it was very grand and full of dark paneling, except in some of the bedrooms. The room where Prince Charles used to sleep when he visited is still dark-paneled, but a lot of the other rooms have been painted in brighter colours, apparently by Wrens who were billeted there during World War II.

The present lady of the house is a lady-in-waiting to Princess Anne, who still stays at Antony House on occasion. I gather she sleeps in one of the brighter rooms.

We saw Alice's room, too. It's one of the small bedrooms at the end of the hallway -- quite a pretty little room.

My favourite place was the saloon. There was a contemporary painting on the east wall. It was inspired by a Rupert Brooke poem entitled Oh: Death Will Find Me.  I've been unable to find the painting online. The artist's name is Christopher Le Brun.  I sat in a window seat and painstakingly copied the poem out, only to find it at Here it is, in the body of the post -- because I have other plans for the sidebar poem.

Oh! Death Will Find Me
by Rupert Brooke

Oh! Death will find me, long before I tire
Of watching you; and swing me suddenly
Into the shade and loneliness and mire
Of the last land! There, waiting patiently,

One day, I think, I'll feel a cool wind blowing,
See a slow light across the Stygian tide,
And hear the Dead about me stir, unknowing,
And tremble. And I shall know that you have died,

And watch you, a broad-browed and smiling dream,
Pass, light as ever, through the lightless host,
Quietly ponder, start, and sway, and gleam --
Most individual and bewildering ghost! --

And turn, and toss your brown delightful head
Amusedly, among the ancient Dead. 

I found the poem moving - and startling in places. The final stanza is wonderful, don't you think?

Most of the time, though, we were out in the garden. My "Flower of the Moment" spot on the sidebar will be filled for some time to come. Besides the flowers, though, there were the most magnificent trees - like this 200-year-old black walnut and a magical avenue of trees, down which I could imagine a white rabbit running, checking his pocket watch.
Oh, and speaking of white rabbits, there's a grandfather clock on the back lawn, out of which a clockwork rabbit pops once an hour. He scurries around the clock, fretting about how late he is -- to the delight of the crowd that gathers to await his appearance.

It was a great day -- and a much-needed distraction from our travel worries -- which have now been at least somewhat resolved. Our wonderful travel agent managed to contact British Airways, who have put us on an Air Canada flight leaving London on June 4 - only five days late. It's an inconvenience, but it's not a disaster.
On Holiday in Limbo

Fortunately, I do enjoy being in England. Unfortunately, I have no income while I'm here - so I really do need to go home. Again unfortunately, it seems I'm not to be allowed to do that. When I made my daily check of the British Airways flight schedule this morning, I saw that our flight had been cancelled. The website advised that I might be able to change my flight by using the "Manage My Booking" page, so I went there, entered my secret password, and got an Error message. Sorry. All the flights have flown. What? So I called BA, got a recorded message advising that they were terribly sorry, but there was nothing they could do for me, no more information they could give me, and if I had booked my flight through a travel agent, I should call the agent. That's fine, except that it's now just before 1:00 a.m. in British Columbia, and my travel agent, I must assume, is asleep. I did call to leave a message on her answering machine, but it seems she doesn't have one. So now we wait until suppertime to call B.C. to try to get on one of the 50% of next week's planes that still appear to be flying to Vancouver. Or. Maybe we can get a refund on our tickets and fly with Air Canada instead.

Ah, well. If we're stuck here, we might as well have some mood music.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Got Towel?

If not, DON'T PANIC! Just find one, or borrow one from an obliging friend, and head out to enjoy Towel Day. That's what I've done. At the end of our day's outing to Cornwall, I carried my towel into The Pantry in South Brent to do a bit of shopping (Shropshire Brie, Yeo Valley Organic Butter, organic salad greens, etc. I love this shop!)and was delighted to discover that the shopkeeper understood why I had a towel draped over my shoulder. He said he had a Tom & Jerry towel that he was planning on carrying when he left the shop.

I didn't write yesterday because yesterday was rather same old same old. We went to Kingsbridge for coffee, then to Bigbury-on-Sea for a sunburn -- I mean, we went there to enjoy the beach, but we got a bit of a sunburn.
Not too much, but enough that we left rather sooner than we had intended. Robin actually wanted to walk over to the other side of Burgh Island, but we had misjudged the tide and knew that we would get stranded over there for longer than we wanted (or pay the cost of a tractor ride back)  -- so we contented ourselves with sitting on the rocks and watching the tide come in. That meant also watching the beach get smaller and smaller and smaller, so that it became more and more and more crowded as the people on the beach retreated from the oncoming tide.

From our rocky vantage point, we were able to watch the tractor lumber over from the island, bearing  its complement of passengers who didn't want to brave the cold sea and wade back (I couldn't blame them. I stuck my foot in the water at one point, and it was COLD.) Hmmm. I just realized there's a UFO in this photograph. It appears to be a flying hat.

In any event, that was yesterday. I did a bit of writing while we had our coffee in Kingsbridge -- I'm finding that I'm much more of a people watcher here than I am at home, and my writing exercises tend to be attempts to describe the people I see. Maybe England has more memorable people than Canada does - or maybe it's just that it's here I've developed the habit of sitting at a little outdoor table, writing, drinking cappuccinos, enjoying the sunshine, and watching the people go by.

So today we went to Cornwall -- to a part of the county that neither of us had visited before. We crossed over from Devon to Cornwall via the chain ferry (we have done that before, but it's been a long time) and headed for Whitsand Bay. At first we turned left up the coast road, but the operative word there was definitely "up". Higher and higher we went, while the gorgeous, seemingly endless beach receded below us. The view was spectacular. Most notably, there was no horizon. The mist over the water obscured it so that water simply gave way seamlessly to sky.
It was enchanting, but we really wanted to get to the beach, so we turned around and headed back the other way, past Portwhistle and Downderry, all the way to Seaton, where we found the beach. We ended up taking a walk along the sea wall, where I saw this heartening sight -- a young woman perched (rather precariously, I thought) on a rock, nearly surrounded by the sea, reading a book. I tried to enlarge the photo enough to see what she was reading, but to no avail. I've decided she must be reading Kathryn's Secret Graces and that's why she hasn't noticed the encroaching tide.

Happy Towel Day, everybody, and remember: DON'T PANIC!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Veni Creator Spiritus

I suspect that I had something like this in mind:

You know what I mean -- candles flickering, a community of monks singing in unison, their voices bell-like in the cool, frankincensed air. Unfortunately, that wasn't to be. Tonight I walked into Buckfast Abbey church, which was empty except for one monk who sat up in the chancel, reading.  I took one each of the service books that were stacked on a table near the entrance -- Vespers, Ferial Vespers for Sundays and Weekdays, and something else that escapes my memory.  I walked to the front of the church and sat down. Shortly thereafter, the organist arrived. Eventually, a priest came in a side door, followed by his acolyte, another seven monks, and one nun.  They all filed into the chancel and the service began.

It really had been a long time, and I wasn't sure what the order of service was, but after a few minutes, I heard "Veni Creator Spiritus" start, and I thought Okay now. I know that. I can find my place. No. Not really. I scrambled through the books, hunting for that hymn, but didn't find it until it was history. I did finally find my place, at about the third psalm along, and from then on I sang quietly along with the monks, but the service was not a highlight of my visit, musically speaking. It was an interesting experience, without a doubt, but I felt superfluous to whatever was happening on the other side of the velvet ropes, and I wanted to tell the monks to put a little life into their chanting, please. Instead I reminded myself that this wasn't a performance, that these men sang vespers every day, it was their job, and most of them were even older than I. (I never heard the nun's voice even once). But did they have to sound so bored?

When Vespers was over, I turned to leave the church. It was then that I found out I had not been the only member of the congregation. There were three other people there -- two men, one woman. I hadn't heard a peep out of them during the service, so apparently I was the only lay person actually singing. Heh. Maybe I wasn't supposed to sing.  ;>)

I think I'll stick to the C of E services, preferably at the cathedrals, where they take their music very seriously indeed.

In all, my morning walk

and the walk Robin and I took this afternoon around Blackdown Rings were rather more uplifting. I put slide shows on YouTube because I couldn't decide which photos to use - except this one, which I simply love.
When we first got to the Rings (which, by the way, are the remains of a hill fort dating to about 400 BCE) it was around one o'clock in the afternoon, and the sun had warmed the hillside. It smelled wonderful up there, and I sat down in the grass to try to figure out just what was producing that exhilarating fragrance. I don't think it was the bluebells -- all I can assume is that one of the grasses was very sweet -- but it didn't really matter. Once I was down there, inhaling the sun-warmed perfume, I didn't want to stand up again. I took several pictures from a sitting position, then lay down and pointed the camera up into the meadow. It was only when I realized I was getting a bit sunburned, sprawled there on the south slope, that I tore myself away. (I was also beginning to remember that scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy falls asleep in the field of poppies...)

Yesterday, there were Things to Be Done. 

First of all, we found ourselves driving around in a car with a permanently open sun roof -- or so we feared. Also, Robin needed a new pair of trousers. So we drove to Exeter. All along the way, we made elaborate plans for dealing with the sun roof problem (We had put a piece of carpeting over the roof for the night, to keep the dew out). We were already on the outskirts of Exeter, going through an area full of car dealers -- all sorts of car dealers, including Mercedes-Benz -- when the penny dropped.  A five-minute stop at the Mercedes-Benz dealer, and we were on our way with a new fuse and a solid roof. Unfortunately, going there left us entering Exeter by a very congested route, and we arrived in town feeling worn out and ready to leave. Never mind. There were Things to Be Done. We went to Marks & Spencer first, but didn't find anything suitable.  There ensued another of those peculiar Marks & Spencer conversations. Robin said to a saleslady "I'm looking for a pair of pants, but you don't seem to have anything that suits me. Can you recommend a shop?"

"Underpants?" said the saleslady, looking puzzled and slightly uncomfortable. After all, Marks & Spencer carries every conceivable kind of underwear.

"No -- trousers," I said, translating on behalf of my English husband. Sheesh. Yes, there was a shop just down the High Street. The saleslady told us how to find it, though she got the name of the shop wrong.

So we found the shop after a good deal of wandering up and down the High Street. I had decided to dress for town -- a skirt and girly shoes -- so it may well have seemed like a longer hike than it really was. Robin bought his trousers and we hightailed it out of Exeter.

We  stopped at the supermarket on our way home, because by now it was late enough that we were afraid the village shops would be closed -- as turned out to be the case. Once home, we settled in for the evening. After supper, I watched QI (Quite Interesting), Stephen Fry's panel show, which left me laughing so hard, I was in tears. On the whole, I don't like English television, but there are a few shows that I truly wish we could get in Canada. QI is one of those. There are a few more -- and come to think of it, nearly all the shows I like feature Stephen Fry!

Today is something entirely different. I decided last night that I would walk to the village this morning. It had occurred to me that in spite of having stayed in this park three times now, for weeks at a stretch , I still had very little sense of where I was. I had the awful feeling that if I were left out on the road somewhere near South Brent, I wouldn't have any idea how to get home. (This is in part because of my refusal to drive here. As a passenger, I tend to drift along and have little sense of my route.) So after a quick breakfast, I headed to the village. Robin agreed to drive down and pick me up in just over an hour. It is only two miles from the caravan park to the roundabout at the entrance to South Brent, so I had lots of time. I stopped often to take photos, and I still made it in just over forty minutes. Along the way, I discovered just how much I miss when I'm hurtling down the road in a car.

Even the long hill I had been secretly dreading turned out to be easier than I feared -- it was only the last third of it that was steep, so although I arrived puffing at the top, I didn't regret having made the climb. As I approached the village, I paused to photograph a laburnum tree. Just then, an elderly lady came along. She waited while I finished taking the photo, and then she walked on into the village with me. It turned out that she volunteers at the library (which I saw for the first time this morning, by the way). We had a lovely Sunday morning chat, and then we parted ways.

Now, Robin and I are headed out for a proper walk. Later (at 6:30 this evening) I'm going to go to Vespers at Buckfast Abbey. That promises to be a trip down memory lane. According to the website, it will be in Latin!

Friday, May 21, 2010

...and speaking of Benedictines,

This is Buckfast Abbey, which we visited on our way home from Sharp Tor today. Robin sat in the car and took a nap (he's still waiting for the antibiotics to kick in) while I strolled through the grounds and the abbey church. The original abbey was built in 1018,  (ten years before the pub at Rattery!) and destroyed in 1539 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. For over three hundred years, there were no monks at Buckfast, until a group of six French Benedictines rented the property in 1882.

The present abbey church was built between 1907 and 1937 by a small group of monks (usually four, but sometimes as many as six working together).  Only one of the monks was a trained stonemason. The others learned as they went along.

I quite enjoyed my tour and the quiet beauty of the abbey. I was tempted to suggest we stay for Vespers, but that was still two hours away when I wandered back to the car. Robin was up and about, so we headed home for supper.

But...even before we went to the abbey, we went back to Sharp Tor. Do you remember Sharp Tor? I do. That's where I nearly froze solid in my winter coat two weeks ago. Today, I considered wearing capri pants, but Robin repeated his warning that I might encounter vipers on our walk, so I changed my mind and wore lightweight slacks and a cotton blouse. No coat. No sweater. We stopped in at a charity shop in South Brent, where I bought a (very fetching) straw hat to keep the sunburn to a minimum. Then we stopped at The Pantry, where we bought Cheddar and Stilton, baguettes, apples, and tomatoes for a picnic lunch.

Thus provisioned, we proceeded to Sharp Tor, which was looking a whole lot better today than it did a couple of weeks ago. There was still a haze, but there was no rain, the sun was shining, there were brand-new babies all over the place -- oh, it was splendid. I couldn't stop taking photographs. I had a strange moment of deja vu until I realized that the day I was here, freezing, was the day that my memory card broke -- so I had taken a lot of these photos before!

The babies were, of course, completely irresistible.
This little fellow (the parti-coloured foal) got  himself into trouble later on. Stay tuned.
We climbed to the top of the tor, which is a mile from the car park, and there we got our breath back, ate our lunch, and soaked up the glorious day.

When we came down from the tor, we saw the little foal that I had photographed earlier. He had followed his mother onto the moor, where he fell afoul of a stick that stuck out of the ground. It was a forked stick (picture a dowsing rod, or maybe a barbecue fork) fork-side up. The poor baby had walked right into the fork, and he couldn't figure out how to get loose. There was another stick involved somehow, complicating the problem, and as I got closer I realized that the foal was panicking -- so I walked over to give him a hand. Fortunately, the thought of being approached by a human who actually intended to touch him was enough to throw him into reverse, and he managed to get out of his trap before I quite got to him. Happy ending.

Oh, but wait. There was one more thing. We drove home via the A38. When we got to Dean Prior, the last landmark before our exit, we saw a parade going across the bridge, apparently coming from the church.

Running to Catch Up, and a Benedictine moment

Before we head out to take advantage of this glorious, sunny day, I should say that yesterday was a very good day - much less stressful than the one before. We went to Exeter, where I went shopping, as I always seem to do when I find myself in Exeter. Not that I made any serious purchases -- they were pretty mundane, apart from the lovely but inexpensive earrings that I bought down on the Quay.

We started out with coffee and a sandwich at Nero on the High Street. From my seat, I could drink my coffee and watch bubbles billowing out of the Early Learning Centre across the street.

After lunch, we wandered the High Street, leaking money at various shops. I did have a funny conversation with a saleslady at Marks & Spencer. When I finally found the lingerie department and set about looking for a few extra pairs of undies, I found myself faced with a bewildering variety of types and sizes. I wandered the aisles for a few minutes, then accosted said saleslady. "Excuse me," I said, "but I'm not altogether familiar with your sizing system. Would this be my size?"

"Yes, that looks just right. Now what style would you like?"

"Um, I'm not quite sure."

"Well, all these have a thong at the back. I don't suppose you want that."

"Duh."  (Not really. I was more polite, if just as firm.)

"Well, then, there are the full length panties -- and these are the high leg. Do you like a high leg?"


"Or there are bikinis."

I interrupted at this point to say "You take your underwear very seriously here, don't you?" which caused the saleslady to giggle just a bit. "Yes, we do."

We settled on something called a midi. Via Media. Very Benedictine.

After that, it was an afternoon of rediscovering the things we love about Exeter - like the Quay, with its funny little ferry. Robin enjoyed a shandy at one of the Quay's pubs while I wandered from shop to shop. I'm not a city person, but there are a few cities that I find very compelling, and Exeter is one of them.

Later in the afternoon, we drove to a village called Bickleigh, where we had tea on the terrace of a roadhouse called The Fisherman's Cot.

In all, it was a lovely day. Today, we're going to go back to Sharp Tor -- you know, the place where I nearly froze to death a couple of weeks ago. Today, I'm wearing capri pants and no coat at all. Things change so quickly around here!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Making Lemonade in Devonshire

This is what happened yesterday: We drove to North Devon -- a completely interminable trip, as far as I was concerned. Robin still wasn't feeling well, so I was worried about him, and the roads were narrow, badly signed in some cases, and full of people bent on killing us. I spent most of the day clinging, white-knuckled, to the seat and the armrest, producing stifled screams from time to time.

The day didn't start out badly, though, and it did have its high points:(all while we were stopped, now that I think about it) . Early on, we stopped in a cafe called Cornucopia, in a village named Hatherleigh. I just went looking for a link, and found that the cafe is for sale. I borrowed this photo from the ad, which you can find here.  I don't suppose the vendors will mind my using the photo, since I've expanded the reach of their ad, even if only a little. If you're in the market for a charming, well-appointed  little cafe in a beautiful part of England, this is the place for you!

We had our cappuccinos and shared a bun (I thought it was a scone, or perhaps a tea biscuit, but the proprietor kindly corrected me. It was a nubby - basically a tea biscuit studded with currants and flavoured with saffron. It came with  a tasty Devon butter. I am becoming quite the connoisseur of butters here. I bought half a pound of the Devon butter to bring home. While we ate, we eavesdropped on a conversation among the proprietor, another bewhiskered gentleman, and a lady who called herself the Town Crier. The Town Crier had a little dog with her. It may have been a long-haired Jack Russell, but it's hard to say. The Town Crier is a woman of substance, and her dog is a very small dog. They were a pleasure to watch, and very friendly. I would have taken their picture, but as we were walking down the street to the cafe, I tried to photograph a building, and my camera refused to co-operate. It turned out that I had left the memory card plugged into the side of my laptop, so poor camera had nowhere to put a picture.

Thus I also have no photographs of the beautiful, seemingly endless beach at Saunton Sands near Croyde. We went for a stroll there, and I used Robin's walking stick to carve Amazing Voyages of the Turtle in the sand.

We were able to walk southeast along the beach pretty well forever, or until we had had enough. To the north we could just barely see the Isle of Lundy. We walked for twenty minutes or so, then stopped to sit on a log and contemplate the view. There were surfers back near where we parked (in a lot that charged a flat, all-day rate of £4 -- eek!) There was a surf shop right there, as well as a cafe. The surfers were all wearing full wetsuits, and I had no interest in checking out the temperature of the water, but the sea breeze was very pleasant. The tide was low. Judging by the colour of the sand -- mocha, I'd say -- it appears that at high tide the water would come right up to the base of the dunes, traversing about 400 yards of beach. The dunes are part of the South West Coast Path, a hiking trail that runs about 1,000 kilometres along the coast -- a little more ambitious a hike than we were ready to tackle.

It was while we were on the beach, and I was bemoaning my lack of camera (I did a lot of bemoaning yesterday) that I figured out a way to make lemonade out of this lemon of a day. Since I had no camera, this would be the day to introduce the newest member of my team of furry companions -- so here he is. I would like to introduce Paignton.   In this photograph, Paignton is the fellow waving at you -- the one wearing the Steam Railway sweater.

l to r: Fred (aka Sleepy); Lil, Paignton, Howard.

As you can see, Paignton isn't pining. My sister-in-law, it transpires, has a fondess for small stuffed animals that rivals my own, so I'm relying on her buddies to keep Paignton occupied and happy while he waits to go home to Canada and  meet his new family - Duffy, Steinbeck, and Wilson. (My SIL will be lucky if I don't kidnap Howard while I'm about it. He's quite a charmer, and he and Paignton have become very close.)

So if I hadn't been too tired to post last night, what with all the screaming and screwing my eyes shut, my plan would have worked out perfectly. As it is, I'm now a day behind. Preview:  Today was much better.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Trip Through Time

Not far from here, in the village of Rattery, stands the Church of St. Mary the Virgin. We strolled around the churchyard tonight, looking at the gravestones. That was after we had a beer at the Church House Inn, which is adjacent to St. Mary's - ("within the traditional forty paces of the church gate", says the website). We were drawn to the place by  modest road signs pointing the way. "Church House Inn- 11C",  they read. Surely not. Well, actually, yes. The inn was founded in 1028 -- not as a village pub, but as a lodging house for priests. Apparently there are still remnants of the original building in existence, but the one in which we sat tonight is virtually new - having been built between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries.

I'm not sure I'll ever cease to marvel at the antiquity of the buildings, gardens -- so many of the things I see here. One has to wonder why we build such flimsy dwellings -- and even flimsy public buildings -- now, when we could be building homes to last for centuries. Oh, I know. It's too expensive to build in the old way -- but I think we do ourselves and our descendants a disservice.

Off the soapbox now - our visit to the Church House Inn was the last of our adventures today -- but I couldn't wait to talk about it. So now I'll go back to the beginning. That was when we drove to Totnes this morning and caught the 8:46 to  Penzance.  The trip took about two and a half hours -- through Plymouth, across the Tamar River -- this time via the Royal Albert Bridge, which was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and opened in 1859.

 After a stop for coffee near the Penzance station, we set out on a walk. Robin used to work out of Newlyn (once a separate village, I gather, but now a suburb of Penzance), so we walked along the waterfront to the end of the fishing pier in Newlyn and back to the railway station -- four miles altogether, plus whatever I put on when I detoured up the high street to find the Oxfam bookstore. Most of the walk was on pavement -- except for the part where I walked down to the beach to pick up a pebble. Accordingly, my legs have turned to stone. Just so you know.

I had forgotten how close we would be to St. Michael's Mount. Robin and I were there a few years ago, but somehow we didn't get over to Penzance on that trip.  As we walked along the seashore today, I could see St. Michael's Mount in the distance
-- not well, mind you, because there was a haze. The sky stayed grey most of the day, and it even sprinkled on us once, but not for long -- and we were delighted to find Cornwall considerably warmer than Devon. We kept shedding coats and sweaters as we walked. It was wonderful.

The pier at Newlyn is active -- we had to dodge cars and trucks, even chains being dragged and pounded to remove rust. We made it all the way to the end, though, and sat to have a rest and enjoy the view.

Part of our plan was to take a bus from Penzance to Land's End (the railway doesn't go that far) but if we were to get home at a reasonable hour, we simply didn't have time to do that -- so Land's End stays on my bucket list for now. Meanwhile, I've had a wonderful day in Penzance, with that surprising bit of time travel at the end, so I have no complaint.

Monday, May 17, 2010

 The Floor

(This started out as a contribution to this week's Poetry Bus, but something happened along the way. It just didn't want to be a poem. It wanted to be the beginning of a story, so I let it have its head. I hope Barbara will forgive me for playing fast and loose with her prompt.)

I got down on my knees and smelled the new linoleum, not sure why I had insisted, against all sense, on using this flooring. There are newer, fancier, shinier floors to be had - plastics that don't require waxing, that shine like mirrors for years, asking nothing but a quick sponge mopping now and then -- but here I was, smelling the motor oil smell, feeling the porous surface, staring at a background the colour of Jersey cream --

(Why start with white, when after a few waxings, you'll have yellow anyway?)

I found this roll of flooring. It was here when I moved in. I suppose economy had something to do with my decision, but there was more to it than that.

Gazing at lines of intertwined deep green stems and leaves, floral medallions set at intervals, roses the colour of candy floss, I realize why I have done this foolish thing, moved back into this old house, chosen to use this floor, summoned ghosts long quiet.

The man who installed the floor wanted to take up the old linoleum, but I wouldn't let him. "Just lay the new stuff on top," I said.

It comforts me somehow to know that under my "new" floor is the one that my mother scrubbed, the one with garish golden stars on a marbled background -- no doubt a stylish pattern when it was installed, but ugly to my modern eyes. When I move across the floor, scrub brush in hand, I see my mother's hand moving there, burnishing the stars. I hear her humming along with the radio while she works -- Edith Piaf is singing "Milord". From time to time my mother raises her scrub brush to shoo one of us out of the room, lest we undo all her work. What, I wonder, did she see when she stared at the floor? Her own mother's floor, perhaps,  the bare wood floor that my grandmother scrubbed, hidden beneath her own floor and underneath a torn layer of tar paper?

I can see my grandmother's hand even now -- careworn, red-knuckled, tired. I hear her muttering under her breath that she'll never see the end of this work, not with seven kids tracking mud through the kitchen, not with a husband who won't learn to take his boots off at the door -- a husband who comes home from work whistling, for God's sake. If he had to clean up after this brood, he'd soon stop whistling.

No wonder she always looked so sour in those old photographs.

I leave my grandmother to her grumbling and go back to following the line of green leaves across my own new floor. I look with tenderness at the rose medallions that speak of a gentler time, a time before vacuum cleaners and suffrage, before the Pill and careers for women. They lie, those medallions, but I think they mean well. Perhaps that is why my mother bought this pattern. Perhaps she bought into the notion of an idyllic past just out of reach.

I get down on my knees again and smell the new linoleum. I inhale the acrid smell of dreams deferred. I draw my hand along the nearest line of leaves, and I wish my grandmother, even my mother, had had a life not quite so circumscribed -- a life like mine. I've wanted for years to find a way back, to learn what life was really like for them, but I needed a key, a way to open the door into the past. And all the time it waited for me, rolled up tight, leaning against the far kitchen wall, tied with a piece of hemp.
And the voice of the cuckoo was heard across the land *--

or at least here, in Devon.

Robin rousted me out of the house at about eleven o'clock this morning so that he and I could take a walk to Avon Dam. Neither of us felt like walking, but by the time we got back to the car park after our walk, we were both feeling much livelier. While we were strolling beside the stream, a cuckoo cried from a nearby grove of trees. I tried to record the sound with my camera, but as soon as I took the camera out and set it to "video", the cuckoo closed his mouth and only opened it again long enough to stick his tongue out at me. Never mind. I found a site where you can hear the sound. (Click here) I feel much better now. I was afraid I had missed the cuckoo altogether, but this area has had quite a long winter, so perhaps the cuckoo waited until the weather took a turn for the better before he flew in.**

Okay, I confess that I didn't actually see the cuckoo stick his tongue out -- in fact, I didn't see the cuckoo at all. I only heard him. I did see other moorland inhabitants, though -- sheep, mostly, still wearing their winter woolies. And hikers -- a great gaggle of them, all wearing huge backpacks.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
My first comment on seeing the entrance to the Avon Dam walk today was that it looked very scruffy. I'm used to seeing it in the full flush of Spring. This time, the rhododendrons weren't in bloom yet -- although I've seen plenty of them in bloom in other places -- and everything seemed to be covered with moss.

Once we were out on the moor, though, things dried out nicely. We took our time, stopping every fifteen minutes for a five-minute break, and at the end of the fourth walk, we arrived at the dam. Some of us (ahem) were feeling a little tired out by then, so we sat for a few minutes, absorbing sunlight, feeling proud of our achievement, getting our breath back.

The walk back, being mostly downhill, was easier. We felt quite cheerful when we got back to the car, and Robin suggested that we go home for lunch, then head to Plymouth, where we would sit on a bench by the harbour to watch ships come and go. That was fine by me, because I knew there would be a cappuccino in it for me. So that is what we did -- except that there wasn't much in the way of ship movement to see. Fortunately, I had my knitting along, so I was entertained, and Robin just loves to be beside the seaside, so he was happy.

Tomorrow, we plan to take the train from Totnes to Penzance and back -- an all-day excursion. If you don't hear from me again, it means I've been taken by pirates.

* Can anybody tell me the origin of this quotation (or misquotation, as the case may be)? I'm at a loss. Google has failed me, or I have failed to google correctly.

**And speaking of flying, the government has declared the BA cabin crew's strike plans to be illegal, so we just might be able to fly home on time after all, volcanoes permitting. Stay tuned.

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