Sunday, 30 April 2017

Silent, their men stand by

Dear Reader,


                                                              A group of women friends from all over the world

It is strange, isn't it, how men are baffled at women's ability to talk to other women whom they do not know at all?  Maybe they have just run into them somewhere, as at a bus stop, in the supermarket, or on the street itself.  Staying in a hotel one year I became friendly with the young girl who came to clean the room.  She was Moroccan and spoke no English except for "good morning" and I, in my turn, spoke no Arabic.  But we got on a treat, we laughed together, and when we left I think a tear could be seen on our cheeks when we said goodbye.  My husband was rather bemused by this exchange by two disparate women from different cultures and lands, who managed to become friends without a language in common.

I thought you might enjoy this entry from the diary of Francis Kilvert (1840-79) for 30th April 1874, as I did today over a cup of tea.  He was going to visit the celebrated poet, William Barnes, in Fordington, Dorset.

"Up at 6 o'clock, breakfast at 6.30, and left Chippenham by the 7.15 train.  It was a glorious morning, fresh and exhilarating, as I started on my journey and the unclouded sky shone with a splendid blue over the brilliant green elms and the rich warm golden brown of the oaks.  The elms performed a solemn dance circling each of the fine Church Towers of Somerset as we sped into Dorset by the windings of the Frome and the elms of Castle Cary.  And then the high downs began to rise and we seemed to breathe the sweet salt air as soon as we saw the bold white chalk cliffs that look to the blue sea."

This is his description of the old poet: "He wore a dark grey loose gown girt round the waist with a black cord and tassel, black knee breeches, black silk stockings and gold buckled shoes.  He had an Apostolic head, bald and venerable, and the long soft silvery hair flowed on his shoulders and a long white beard fell upon his breast.  His face was handsome and striking, keen yet benevolent, the finely pencilled eyebrows still dark and a beautiful benevolent loving look lighted up his fine dark blue eyes half hermit, half enchanter."


Silent, Their Men Stand By

as universal woman talks
with women
who are not friends,
or neighbours,
or women they know or love,
just women.

The bondage thread
is laughter, touch, glance, cry,
instant understanding.

While silent, mystified, their men stand by.


With very best wishes, Patricia

PS.   Just continuing the thread about seagulls, I see the public in Cornwall have been warned officially not to feed them.  If caught feeding them, a large fine will be issued on the spot.  So, no sandwiches for seagulls on your summer holiday this year, if you are going to Cornwall.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

The 'Right" People

Dear Reader,
                                                                           Simla, India: A small hotel

                                                                          Simla, India: A large hotel

Staying with my sister this week, I found a book in her study which was inscribed to her by my godmother, Mary, Lady Delamere.  This brought to mind Kenya, Nairobi, and the Happy Valley set of people who lived there in the 1920s to 1940s.  They were British and Anglo-Irish aristocrats who settled in the Happy Valley region of the Wanjohi valley, near the Aberdere mountain range in colonial Kenya and Uganda.  This group of people were infamous for their decadent lifestyles and exploits, according to reports of drug taking and sexual promiscuity.  Today, trying to recall what Aunty Mary said about those days, which is not much, I do remember thinking that all the people she mentioned had too much money and not enough to do.  Sleeping with someone else's wife or husband was probably one of the few excitements and pleasures they had to fill their empty, indolent days.

In the excellent biography of Rudyard Kipling I am reading at the moment, he talks of a place in the hills outside Lahore, called Simla, where it was a little cooler in the summer months.  In 1876 during hot weather Simla became the summer capital of the Regional Government of the Punjab, and these government officials were joined by the wives and daughters of the men who lived on the plains.  The presence of many bachelors and unattached men, as well as the many women passing the summer there in the hot weather, gave Simla a reputation for adultery, or at least gossip about adultery.  Rudyard Kipling said in a letter to a friend that it had a reputation for "frivolity, gossip and intrigue".  Well, he should know, since he went there himself to get away from the great heat of the summer.


The "Right" People

I nearly didn't come
to see this house
on an estate.

My cottage on Market Street was old.
Two hundred years old.
It was damp, it was cold
mice pattered about
and the east wind blew
through the small windows.

It was dark even in summer,
but it was smart
in the "right" part of town
and the "right" people
asked us for dinner.

Now we live in the suburbs
not in the "right" part of town
and not the "right" people
around us.

But I found they were my people
the "right" people for me
everyday people, kind and funny.

The house is warm,
no mice patter
no damp creeps up the wall
the car has a place of its own.

If I hadn't come to see it,
fearful of an estate,
I would never have known
where people like me lived.


With best wishes,  Patricia

Sunday, 16 April 2017


Dear Reader,

                                                                                 Peter Rabbit and the Robin

                                                                          Mr McGregor in his garden

I was so put in mind of Mr McGregor, Peter Rabbit and the Robin, all characters in a wonderful book written by Beatrix Potter, on Thursday last week.  Alan, a friend, had come to help in the garden as I am hopeless in this department.  Well, in fact I know nothing about gardening, and even less about which plant to put where, or how to dig in mulch, or anything else that needs to be known about gardens for that matter.  But mulch is, apparently, the soil that plants like and thrive in.  Alan, who was mulching the borders, loves birds, and our garden robin must have known that because he followed him about, sometimes pecking for something and sometimes just watching.  Later, when Alan was having a mug of tea at the garden table, the robin joined him, perching on the empty chair.

Robins are the British people's favourite bird, with its bright red breast, and it is familiar throughout the year, especially at Christmas.  Males and females look identical, but the younger bird has not got  a red breast and is spotted with golden brown.  Robins sing nearly all the year round, and despite their lovely appearance they are aggressively territorial and quick to get into a fight.  In the 15th century, when it was popular to give human names to familiar species, the bird became known as 'robin redbreast', which was eventually shortened to robin.

An old British folktale seeks to explain the robin's distinctive breast.  Legend has it that when Jesus was dying on the cross, the robin, then brown in colour, flew to his side comforting Him with his song.  The blood from His wounds stained the robin's breast, and thereafter all robins had the mark of Christ's blood on them. 


As dawn breaks Afia and Tamika
place their pitcher pots
on their heads,
start walking to Potura
many desert miles from home.
The sun scorches, the heat intense,
the girls silent.
Many hours later
at the waterhole
they carefully fill their pots
each drop of water precious.
Wearily they walk home
under a sky full of stars.

I brush my teeth
watch the clear water
stream  into the basin,
turn on the dishwater,
the washing machine,
see rain pouring down drains.


With best wishes, and A Happy Easter to you all,

Sunday, 9 April 2017


Dear Reader,

                                                                                 The Emerald Isle

I read a ghost story this week which brought to mind my Irish grandmother.  She was very interested in "spooks" as she called them, had seen a few in Ireland, then when she came to London to live in the Ritz Hotel, Piccadilly, she apparently saw several there.  She told other guests of these apparitions and as a consequence, scared perhaps, they complained to the manager.  She was then asked to leave the hotel after living there for eighteen years.  But I never heard her speak of leprechauns which you would have thought she would have known about.

Leprechauns are a type of fairy, although the fairies of Irish folklore are not benevolent, as I think of fairies, but could be lustful, nasty, capricious creatures whose magic might delight you one day and kill you the next if you displeased them.  Leprechauns are often described as wizened bearded old men dressed in green, wearing buckled shoes and a leather apron, and sometimes they wear a pointed cap or hat and could be smoking a pipe.  Although leprechauns are often associated with riches and gold, in folklore their main vocation is anything but glamorous: they are humble shoemakers or cobblers.  Shoemaking is apparently a lucrative business in the fairy world, since each leprechaun is said to have his own pot of gold, which can often be seen at the end of a rainbow.

Belief in leprechauns and other fairies was once widespread on the Emerald Isle, and real or not I like to think they scamper about watching us from their magic lands, plotting some new adventures to amuse and delight us.



In a cottage built for a trusty groom
in the Merry Monarch's reign,
lying in a wooded valley
where the river Bure runs its course,
a woman climbs the twisting stairs,
a tilley lamp  in hand
to light her dark ascent,
the flame flickering in the glass.

In the attic bedroom
she opens the small window,
sees the ghostly watermill
in the winter moonlight,
hears the spectral cry of an owl.

She lies on her bed,
pulls up the patchwork quilt,
breathes deeply, hoping for sleep,
but, on the gravel outside
she hears the tread of footsteps.


With best wishes, Patricia

Sunday, 2 April 2017

My Tenant

Dear Reader,


I have heard and read quite a bit about ladybirds this week.  They seem to have come out of their winter hiding places, and appear all over windows and window sills, cupboards and wherever else they feel like going.  And this has not, by and large, pleased the house owners.

There are 27 different species of ladybird in Britain, but not all are recognized as ladybirds; indeed, some are quite dull-looking and not brightly coloured or spotty.  The most common species is the seven-spot ladybird.  This bright red ladybird is thought to have inspired the name ladybird, "Lady"referring to the Virgin Mary (our Lady) who in early paintings is seen wearing a red cloak, and the seven spots are symbolic of the seven joys and seven sorrows of Mary.  Ladybirds spend the winter months in a dormant state, but when the weather warms up in March the adults begin to get active and search for early aphids to eat.  The adults mate in the spring and the females lay eggs during the spring and early summer.

A new type of ladybird has arrived in Britain called the Harlequin ladybird, and it is the most invasive one on earth.  It threatens our native ladybirds and other species, has a tendency to overwinter indoors and leave an unpleasant stain from its bodily fluid when frightened or squashed - and it bites!

Looking at the photographs above of these two types of ladybird, I can't really see the difference between them.  But obviously there is - it must be the number of spots to be counted.


My Tenant

Aunty Anne
lives in my head
sits in a comfortable
velvet armchair
and listens to me

she is a wise woman
plump with a pretty face
wears a white lacy blouse
a long patchwork skirt
has her hair in a bun

she smells of rose petals
rose water and barley sugars
and she gives me
good advice

away with miserable
thoughts at night,
she says, think
of the sunshine,
the sea, characters you love in books

then she puts
her arms around me
kisses my cheek
murmurs she loves me
and all will be well

and it is
I sleep

With best wishes, Patricia