So, the building blocks of our life - just to be cliched - are fitting together nicely, right now - and the latest, of course, has been the introduction of Snoop/Bonnie/Can't-Think-of-a-Name-Yet, a six year old black lab collie cross. We were given her by a family whose daughter is allergic to her and she has slipped into our family life as if she has always been here. And now to a lecture on why everybody should have a dog. I blogged about this before a few years ago, but hey ho, I'm going to do it again.
From our little cottage, we can step straight out into the country and go for long walks through the fields but in the three and a half months that we had been here, prior to getting Snoop/Bonnie/etc we'd taken the opportunity about five or six times. There always seemed to be more important things to do - cleaning, writing, shopping, emailing, practise, God forbid. But when you have a dog, you don't have the option. Since Bonnie/Snoop/etc came into my life, I have been walking her 2-3 times a day, rambling through meadows starred with bright yellow celandine and dandelion and daisies, walking through fields of glowing rape, down country lanes mottled with tree shadows and fringed with cow parsley. In the mornings - in spite of the fact that it is late April, there is still frost on the ground at 6 am, each blade of grass, each leaf, outlined with sparkling crystals of ice. Some mornings it is misty as well, the sheep and cows no more than lowing bundles as we pass, hawthorn blossom emerging, dewey from the mist, pink and white clusters of perfect flowers, whilst all around us the hedges are alive with twitterings and wings.
Having a dog is like having a little child again - everything must be investigated, the world is new and fresh and a wonder every day. Bonnie/Snoop/etc has not learned to be bored with life - as a teenager can be - and every part of her body, from her twitching nose, to her wiggling bottom and wagging fringed tail, delights in the joys of Spring. She feeds my fragile and battered ego with frantic tail wagging every time we meet after an enforced absence (a trip to the loo, for instance) and lies sleeping by my feet as I write.
I am awaiting clearance to be allowed to teach (DBS check - equivalent of an Australian Blue Card) and then I will not have so much time to walk and write, but for now I am loving it, though my over-active guilt gland kicks in big time, every time I think how lucky I am compared to so many others. I could go on, but I won't. I will just wallow in smugness this little while longer.
Wednesday, 15 April 2015
Last week, we went to Oxford - The City of Dreaming Spires - for the first time. Sam was doing some work experience at the research labs there, where my sister works, so rather than do a four hour round trip every day, we decided to take the girls for a day out – and so very glad we did.
We had heard rumours that there is a certain, perhaps rather second rate, university there, which apparently has been running for almost as long as that great centre of learning - Cambridge. (Just in case you were wondering, Rupert and my father are both Cambridge men, and no, of course there is no competition between the Universities at all! Especially not around Boat Race time!)
Turns out the the rumours are true. One is not encouraged to park in Oxford itself, unless one wants to pay lots of money for the privilege, so we parked outside and got a bus in from the outskirts. It was a double decker, so we had a beautiful view and were able to watch the city transform from a snarl of roadworks and grumpy, morning traffic, hooting its way past Subways and Sainsbury's and charity shops, to the tranquillity of ancient city streets and parks, lined with such buildings as:
Balliol College, which dates back to 1263 and educated some of my favourite authors – Graham Greene, Nevil Shute, Hillaire Belloc – as well as some other great names – Richard Dawkins, Peter Snow etc
Then there is Brasenose College – William Golding and Michael Palin (though, interestingly enough, the latter does not appear on their list of “famous alumni”)
And: Oriel College, Trinity College, Jesus College, Blackfriars, Nuffield College, Wycliffe Hall – yes, even the names are redolent with history and mystery, calling to mind the shuffling feet of cowled monks, Knights in tarnished and bloody armour, rich Merchants and Noblemen in kid shoes, trailing cloaks encrusted with pearls and gold embroidery, young scholars in top hats, getting up to High Jinks, climbing over walls or up the guttering to their rooms in the middle of the night.
Each college seems to have its own style, Regency, Medieval, Baroque, Georgian, Modern but what I loved most about the buildings was the ornamentation – you see a pattern of heraldic shields, carved from stone, lining the walls, but then, looking closer, you see that some are held by men – each with a different face. Were these old professors? Old students? Old sponsors of the colleges? Some are so worn and crumbling the features are hard to discern, whereas, on some, the features are so clearly defined you feel you would recognise the person if you met them on the street. On one of the colleges, there are a series of large heads sculpted in Grecian style – Gods and nymphs and then, an undeniably African face. Who was this person, who, in a time, when black people were few and far between and not necessarily well respected in England, was important enough to have their face carved onto a college wall?
Walk down a tiny side street and you could easily miss the fawns, curled 'neath a door frame, pointy beards and hoofs, devilish faces screwed up in mischief – and then you remember that of course, this was where Cs. Lewis lived and taught. Were these what inspired Mr Tumnus? Of course you can probably find all the answers to these questions if you paid for a guided tour, but for one thing, we are on a very strict “food and heating” only budget at the moment and, for another, it was lovely just to wander – down winding alleyways between high stone walls, leading to more spires, past gated gardens and graveyards, past blue plaques to show which famous scientists and writers had lived behind these walls.
And then there is the Pitt Rivers museum – which one reaches by walking through the Natural History museum – a wonder in itself but am running out of time. The Pitt Rivers is basically a great basement, into which all the Victorian explorers emptied their trunks, so that there are cases of instruments from the Andes, Africa, China and India; wooden masks from Somalia, feathered headdresses from Papua New Guinea, furred boots and embroidered coats from Greenland; papyrus rolls from Egypt, canoes from the Amazon, skins from Native American tribes. If it hadn't been for the fact that Rupert had a bad back, Lydia and I were sick and Juliette was exhausted, we could have spent the whole day in there – and hopefully will, one day.
Oxford, it turns out, in spite of not being a patch on Cambridge, of course, is a beautiful city and we saw it in all its Spring Splendour, pink and white apple and hawthorn blossom tumbling over ancient stone walls, clumps of golden daffodils littering the parks, gardens bursting with hyacinth and tulips, the ghost flames of the magnolias, all against a clear blue sky. We ended the day, by walking through the park by Corpus Christi College, past Christ Church Meadow – a huge flood plain of tussocky grass by the River Thames, where geese and swans glide, where lovers lie and children fight and squeal. (At least in the Easter holidays.)
Can't wait to go back, but there is so much more to see as well...
Tuesday, 7 April 2015
Yesterday was the most perfect Spring day – warm(ish) sunshine, clear skies, no wind – and so we, along with the rest of England, decided to check out Salcey Forest, near Milton Keynes. Fortunately, Sam and Rupert were having a loud argument in the car, so rather than follow the clear but boring (and obviously too quiet) directions of the sat nav, we ended up taking the scenic route which was unbelievably scenic. So scenic, in fact, that we couldn't help wondering whether this area of Buckinghamshire has been taken over by some hobbit-loving film crew and turned into some sort of “Olde Englishe Rustic Idyll.” Village after village of old stone houses, thatched or tiled with higgeldy-piggeldy, mossy tiles, stone-walled gardens bright with the nodding heads of daffodils and be-jewelled with primroses, crumbling bridges arching over chattering brooks, crooked pubs – The White Hart, The Swan, The Kings Head (yes, without an apostrophe, all ye grammar nerds.) The fields are all full of new-born lambs, long eared and gangly legs, their mothers standing over them, glaring at anyone who comes too close.
On arrival at Salcey Forest, our hearts sank rather, as the car-park was full and the grass verges (“Please Do NOT Park on the Grass Verges”) were lined with cars. But having come all this way, we were not to be deterred, so we parked on the grass verge and joined the chattering throng; big dogs, small dogs, dogs leashed and dogs unleashed, children of every shape and size and Disney costume, swerving around on their bikes, or whining and mud-covered, adults young and old, chavs and wellingtoned booted “Country People” - all come to enjoy the wilderness on this beautiful Spring day.
And within minutes, we had found ourselves on a lonely forest path, the only people in sight, the only sound the twittering and calling of a myriad birds, the suck of our boots in the mud, the crunching of twigs and rustling leaves. The air was full of the sharp green smell of fresh growth, the still-bare trees just beginning to bud and unfold tiny sprays of young leaves. How can one walk in a forest in England and not wonder if there is some truth to stories of fairies?
Well, quite easily as it turns out, but one can certainly see how such stories came about. The forest floor, carpeted in thick green moss and sprinkled with pale yellow primroses, beams of sunshine which filter through the branches, turning leaf litter to gold and deepening the shadows to mystery. There is nothing of the brutal, grab-you-in-the-guts beauty of the Australian Bush here – here there is a delicate beauty that makes your eyes sparkle and your imagination turn to the fluttering of wings and magic.
Next week, Rupert starts work in London and the children go back to school for the summer term. There is the possibility of a dog, work for me, a whole new phase of life starting all over again. I am apprehensive, but glad that we are finally able to get to the point where we can feel like we live here. Long may the glorious spring continue!