Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Burnished berries - the summer gently turns

Rowan Berries

The berries of the Rowan have been called the "Food of the Gods" (according to Robert Graves in The White Goddess). It is a native tree to Britain and has many country names which include: the quicken, quickbeam, quickerberry, picken, whitten, whitty tree, witchen. The wood is strong and flexible - it was sometimes used for making long-bows but more commonly for tool handles, poles, barrel hoops, tethering pegs etc. Ripe Rowan berries can be used to make the preserve Rowan jelly which is apparently delicious with cold game and is an excellent source of vitamin C.
(Ref: Ogham - Wisdom of the Trees by Jon Dathen)
Cuckoo-pint (Arum maculatum)

Usually found in woods and along hedge banks - I found these growing by the old wall of a village churchyard. Also known as Lords-and-Ladies, Cuckoo-pintle and Wake-robin. The berries, although eaten by birds, are extremely poisonous to children (and adults).

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Queen's Wood, Ancient Woodland

The mighty oak, near the entrance of Queen's Wood on Muswell Hill Road in North London, still standing, I was very happy to see today when I took refuge from the heat of the mid-day sunshine.

A nostalgic walk around an old haunt from my London Life - today. I was in Muswell Hill with my son and his little family. Great joy at the birth of my new little grand-daughter yesterday.

Queen's Wood ancient woodland - situated across the road from Highgate Wood on the other side of Muswell Hill Road in north London. I used to think it was a spooky little wood as had read somewhere that it was burial site for people who had died in Great Plague. Today in the sunshine it was enchanting and cool.

Queen's Wood Organic Cafe

Highgate Wood

One of the ornamental gates at Highgate Wood

Highgate Wood, North London
This place is a dear old friend - I was there for a while this morning with the Muswell Hill dog-walkers and joggers. I lived very close by for two decades; my children played here, I walked here often with my dear friend Chris, who opened so many doors (of knowledge and perception) but sadly wasn't able to see me walk through them later down the line. This place is in my heart and in my soul - an ancient woodland tucked away in our capital city.

I dedicate this post to Hope - my little grand-daughter who came into the world at 3.15pm on July 26th 2008. May she love these woods as she grows, the future is hers.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

The Well

Today I spent some time in the beautiful walled garden at Lydiard Park (see Hidden Swindon).
A garden of great tranquility and peace, planted with all the traditional English garden flowers. Butterflies (seemingly scarce this year) and bees were in profusion. An the very heart of the garden was an open well, just covered by a metal grid.
On this day, the anniversary of my father's death, I reflected awhile on other lost friends - Chris, who taught me the meaning of unconditional love; and Michael who showed me the true meaning of integrity - both dear, much missed friends. I found myself thinking of these words from a song by Beth Nielson Chapman.

Deeper Still
To give my life beyond each death
From a deeper well of trust
To know that when
There is nothing left
You will always have
What you gave to love.
In this life the love you give
Comes back around
To be your treasure
What you lose will be what you win
A well that echoes down
Too deep to measure.
A silver coin rings down that well
You can never spend too much
A diamond echoes deeper still
You will always have
What you gave to love.
(Beth Nielson Chapman/David Wilcox - 2000)

The Sunflower

The Sunflower
Eagle of flowers! I see thee stand,
And on the sun's noon-glory gaze:
With eye like his, thy lids expand
And fringe their disk with golden rays:
Though fix'd on earth, in darkness rooted there,
Light is thine element, thy dwelling air,
Thy prospect heaven.
So would mine eagle-soul descry,
Beyond the path where planets run,
The light of immortality,
The splendour of creation's sun:
Though sprung from earth, and hastening to the tomb,
I hope a flower of paradise to bloom,
I look to heaven.
James Montgomery (1771 - 1854)
14 September 1918 - 24th August 2000
Still loved and missed by all his family

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Chalkland wildflowers

Centaura nigra - Common Knapweed
In classical legend the centaur Chiron healed wounds with this plant, hence the generic name. The plant has many country names including knopweed, knobweed, horse-knot, horse-nobs, bottle-weed, bull-weed, hardheads, Harry head, iron knobs, shaving-brush and topknot. Botanical books refer to it as a 'bad weed among grass' and it should be avoided by cattle.
Centaury is an obvious weather oracle, closing in damp weather, or when the sky is overcast. It symbolizes felicity and delicacy and astrologically it is under the sign of the sun. (taken from The Illustrated Plant Lore by Josephine Addison)
Centaurea cyranus - Cornflower
(I think the lighter flowers in this picture are cornflowers)
Cyranus refers to the beautiful blue colour of the cornflower. In Greek mythology Cyranus was a young devotee of the goddess Flora, who passed his days weaving garlands of flowers in cornfields for the various floral festivals. On his death, as a reward for his devotion, Flora transformed his body into a cornflower, the flower he believed to be the most beautiful of all and which lay scattered about him when he died. In the language of flowers it means delicacy, and a dweller in heavenly places. (taken from The Illustrated Plant Lore by Josephine Addison)
I took these pictures while walking up to Windmill Hill out at Avebury today. The fields on each side of the narrow chalk track were full of ripening wheat and barley. On a warm, peaceful Sunday morning it did indeed feel like a 'heavenly place'.

Thursday, 17 July 2008


Samuel Clifford Jackson (14 Sept 1918 - 24 July 2000)

It is the time of year that my family spend some time thinking about Samuel, my mother's beloved partner though life; father to my sister, brother and myself, much loved grandfather to his six grandchildren, especially to Helen who looked on him as her father. He protected us all and always had time to listen. I think it would be true to say the family fell apart for a while when he left us.

The second youngest of fourteen children, my father did what a lot of young men did in the 1930s, he joined the army and became a Royal Engineer. He was already a serving soldier when World War II broke out and spent the last three years of the war as a PoW. Thankfully he came home to my mother who had married him after a whirlwind romance in 1942 and who waited faithfully for his return.

My father was a self-taught man, an avid reader who passed his love of books and poetry onto me. He used to walk around the house quoting lines from his favourite poems out loud "I wandered lonely as a cloud" was one he was fond of reciting.

This is one of his favourites.

Abou Ben Adhem
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
'What writest thou?' The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, 'The names of those who love the Lord'.
'And is mine one?' said Abou. 'Nay not so',
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still; and said, 'I pray thee, then,
Write me as one who loves his fellow men,'
The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names who love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem's name led of all the the rest.
(Leigh Hunt: 1784 - 1859)

I am very happy that my eldest son chose to name his first child Samuel.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Creatures great and small

Illustration by Arthur Rackham

Snail's progress

Yesterday, while out with a walking group in Oxfordshire I saw, for the first time, red kites gliding overhead. They are astonishingly beautiful birds in flight with their fan-like wing span and forked tail feathers (see http://redkites.co.uk/) yet this blog is named after two of the smallest of the bird population. A recent discussion about how to eradicate slugs and snails from gardens led me to reflect awhile on some of the small creatures that are usually considered as pests.

Whilst tidying up my garden today, I spotted this quite small snail in the honeysuckle. Instead of recoiling into its shell when I touched it, its head and antenna came out and it seemed almost to be aware of me. I lifted it gently onto a flat surface and stooped to watch its progress. Quite fascinating - my little walled garden is full snails and, somewhat less absorbing, slugs. I have long since given up trying to remove them (a futile task unless you are prepared to use a chemical deterrent) and now just try to avoid stepping on them.

The Snail
To grass, or leaf, or fruit, or wall
The snail sticks close, nor fears to fall,
As if he grew there, house and all
Within that house secure he hides
When danger imminent betides
Of storm, or other harm besides
Of weather
Give but his his horns the slightest touch
His self-collecting power is such
He shrinks into his house with much
Wherein he dwells, he dwells alone
Except himself has chattels none,
Well satisfied to be his own
Whole treasure
Thus hermit-like, his life he leads
Nor partner of his banquet needs
And if he meets one only feeds
The faster
Who seeks him must be worse than blind
(He and his house are so combined)
If, finding it, he fails to find
Its master.
William Cowper (1731 - 1800)

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Villages of the White Horse

A map of the Vale of White Horse (circa 1913) - no motorway and the Wilts & Berks Canal still a working means of transport. [Click on map to enlarge]

This lovely little book, written by Alfred Williams in 1913, recently inspired me to walk around Wanborough, Bishopstone and Little Hinton (Hinton Parva).
How had I managed to overlook this magnificent and historic landscape for so long?
Alfred Williams was a true working class hero - he was brought up in poverty and died in poverty. Born 1877, fifth of eight children, he went to work in Swindon's Railway Factory in 1892 at the age of 15. He loved the Wiltshire countryside, however, and spent his spare walking and writing. Here is an extract from his poem about Liddington Hill in Songs of Wiltshire (published 1909).
The friendship of a hill I know
Above the rising down
Where balmy southern breezes blow
But a mile or two from town;
The budded broom and heather
Are wedded on its breast
And I love to wander tither
When the sun is in the west.
Alfred was self taught, he loved languages teaching himself Greek and French. Whilst still working for GWR in the Railway Factory, he undertook a 4 year English Literature course with Ruskin Hall, Oxford, learning Latin to help his studies.
He was unwilling to publish his seminal work Life in the Railway Factory while still employed there and only after poor health caused him to leave in 1914 was the book published (1915). In spite of his poor health, however, he volunteered as a soldier in World War I and spent some time in India which he loved and where he learnt Sanskrit. Although he would have liked to have settled in India after the war, he returned home to his beloved wife Mary and a life of enduring poverty. He continued to write up until his death in 1930 when he and he wife died within weeks of each other.
Inspired by Villages of the White Horse I have restarted my Hidden Swindon blog at http://www.swindonia.blogspot.com/ where I have written about the three villages mentioned above.

Friday, 4 July 2008

The Service of the Grail

In this illustration, Lancelot sleeps under an apple tree - always symbolic as the Tree of Knowledge.

"Long, long ago, so long ago, that it was almost in fairy-tale times, there lived in England a great magician named Merlin. He was wise and powerful and did many wonderful deeds of magic so that everyone looked on him with awe and reverence ........"
[Illustrations by Mackenzie, taken from ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS by Christine Chaundler.]
The Service of the Grail
Go, heart, unto the lamp of light,
Go, heart, do service and honour.

The Grail is a lamp of light, life, and love that brings solace only when someone is willing to serve. When we align our heart with need and honour, the heart becomes itself becomes lamp at which light is kindled. When the heart is alight with service, the flame can pass freely from heart to heart. [Taken from Celtic Spirit by Caitlin Matthews]

This post is for the people of of the Avebury Forum.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Stained Glass in Bishopstone Church

This beautiful, fairly modern stained glass window can be seen in the little church of St Mary the Virgin at Bishopstone. It depicts scenes from the Wiltshire countryside; sheep, a badger, wheat and poppies in the first panel. In the middle panel the village of Bishopstone and the purple orchids which can be found on the downs are depicted. The third panel shows more wild flowers, a pheasant and I think Silbury Hill is there too.