Hairy House

Hairy House

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Sand, Sea....and Rain

“Look, the sun's shining, let's go to the beach.”
“But there are thick black clouds, they're coming this way – it's pouring with rain!”
“Well it's cleared now, let's go to the beach while the sun's out....oh, it's raining again.”
“Look, there's some clear blue sky, let's go to the beach.”
“But it's just about to pour!”
“Oh sod it, let's just go to the beach!”
So we did, driving to Newgale, ten minutes away, through a landscape of undulating GREENESS. Pembrokeshire is not the Wales of jagged mountains, deep valleys and male voice choirs that some of us might identify with. It is a gentler scene, of wide GREEN pastures, speckled with black and white and red cows and the odd square farmhouse, threaded with roads so narrow that, in the unlikely event of meeting another car, one might have to reverse two miles, before being able to pass it. On either side of the roads, are high banks, feathery with ferns and the odd foxglove, or wild geranium, hedges grumbling along the top so that, for the most part, you can't see where you are going and it is a surprise to come out at the top of a cliff and see the great expanse of the sea in front of you, the road winding down to a long brown-gold beach.
We parked, picked our way over the broad band of painful pebbles to the sand and did the normal Bignall thing of walking for ages along the sand, laden with bags (crisps, apples, water, towel for dog, ball for dog, more balls for dog) for no apparent reason until we felt that we had arrived at “our spot”. Put down the bags and it poured with rain.
“Come on, let's go.”
"But we've only just got here!"
"Yes, but it's raining!"
"The rain's just stopping!” 
"But just look at those clouds heading this way!"
"There's a tiny bit of blue sky following on...."
"With more black sky behind it...."
"Oh sod, it let's just stay!"
Lydia was the only one brave enough to bring swimmers and she headed off into the sea while Sam mooched off to sit and brood on the rocks and the rest of us tried to distract Bonnie from stealing other dogs ball's. (as in tennis and football, before anyone gets too smart)
The sun even came out enough so that were able to strip down to thermals and jumpers and I pondered again on the fact that the weather must be the only thing that saves this corner of the world. Here in the last week of August, there was only a scattering of people and dogs, brave surfers, children in wetsuits, on this long stretch of beach. And yet, the sand was sandy, the view of the surrounding cliffs stunning, the water itself no colder than the Pacific ocean in Queensland's mid-winter.
When Lydia was satisfied that she had paid enough homage to the Gods of Pneumonia and Hypothermia, we left the beach to walk along the cliff tops. The footpath wound amongst the purple spread of heather, spotted every so often with gold wildflowers, with glimpses of GREEN fields beyond, shining brilliant in the beams of sunshine that poured from gaps in the lowering black clouds overhead. On our right was the vast sheet of creased, tinfoil sea, washed with silver and gold and black, and below us, jagged rocks plunged into foaming white spray. The air was full of the smell of heather and wet earth and salt and I was just thinking how incredibly lucky we were to be here at this time, witness to this beauty, when a certain sixteen year old, who shall remain nameless, turned to me, hunched into his raincoat, frowning against the wind and said: “Now you've got to admit that this is horrible, haven't you?”
As the mysterious “they” say, I guess you can't please everyone all the time.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Wales, Wales, Wales!

And so we continue in our exploration of this country of ours that I hardly know.
At the weekend, we drove the four and a half hours (according to google maps, six hours in real time, including wee and lunch breaks) to stay in Rupert's parents house in Wales. Waking up at home on the Saturday - to the first day of glorious sunshine we'd had in weeks, we began to have our doubts. We have actually been to the house in Wales before - September 1999, when for the entire week, waterfalls of rain were thrown from the sky by a vengeful god, turning the house grey, damp and cold, the country lanes to muddy quagmires so that it was impossible to take our seven month, teething baby anywhere. We were stuck in the house for seven days, Sam screaming the whole time, Rupert and I taking it in turns to sleep whenever we could. So when we woke up to see that our first hollyhock was flowering, the sky overhead a deep blue, it was with some trepidation that we loaded the car and set off.
The first half of the journey was idyllic, driving along winding, sun dappled lanes through golden Cotswold villages, full of roses and hollyhocks, village greens glowing emerald in the afternoon light. (Yes, it took us all morning to drag the kids out of bed and into the car. "Where's my deodorant?" "who's stolen my phone charger?" "Are you sure we won't be able to fit five big suitcases and a dog into the back of a Prius?" "Should I bring my bathers?")  To give them their due, the kids have now got to the age where they can play on iPods and sing and even talk to each other in the car without it turning into bloodshed and mayhem, so Rupert and I were able to talk and exclaim at the beautiful countryside we were passing through, like normal people.
Until we hit the Severn Bridge. The moment we passed onto the bridge the clouds rolled over and as soon as we hit Wales on the other side the rain started to pour down in solid sheets.
It has rained on and off ever since, showers and drizzle and pouring, thunderous rain, but, in between there have been wonderful moments of sunshine.
Of course the weather is probably what has saved this corner of Wales. People talk so much about the overcrowding of Britain, how the beaches here are nothing but people and pebbles. But Fishguard, one of the closest towns, turns out to be a disgustingly pretty little town, with a harbour lined with jaunty  houses painted in fresh pinks and blues and yellows, window boxes bursting with flowers, and all clustered along the foot of rearing green hills. We went when the tide was out and the boats were all aground, a forest of slanting masts and green-haired hulls, the seagulls circling overhead. The air was fresh and biting, full of the scent of salt and seaweed and freezing, freezing, cold, but there were still children playing in the water  - albeit clothed in wet suits. (though apparently there was a girl in a bikini as well, thank you Lydia.)
The next day we went to the Cathedral and Bishop's palace in St David's - a famous tourist attraction at the height of the tourist season and yes, there were a fair amount of people, but we had no trouble finding parking. Nor did we have to queue to get into the Palace itself and, but for the odd couple or family, we almost had the place to ourselves - and such is the sense of peace in this place, I think there could have been a crowd of hundreds and it wouldn't have made a difference. The ruins of the palace, grey-purple stone walls rising out of thick green turf, of Great Halls, of churches and chapels, dungeons and wine cellars, were serene and filled with an ancient calm. The palace dates from the 6th century, when it started life as a monastery, was ransacked innumerable times by the Normans and, of course, the reformation, the destruction of the Catholic church etc. But, though it has seen its fair share of bloody deaths, the gore of battle violence and spewing hatred, one can now escape, for a moment, all thoughts of 21st century religious intolerance, whilst walking its paths on a sunny summer's day.
I was going to write much more, but Lydia is reading over my shoulder and correcting my grammar, which I find REALLY irritating, and I have dinner to cook. So will sign off now, and hopefully get to talk heather and beaches tomorrow. 

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

The Three Seasons.

Now I realise that this makes me sound particularly cretinous, but the changing of the seasons, here in England, so far, have been a complete revelation to me.

Of course, that doesn't mean to say that I don't miss the Brisbane spring with its glorious jacaranda and poinciana blossom, the warm evenings filled with the scent of jasmine. And one of my favourite things in the world was sitting out in our sun room, watching the summer storms rolling, in all their black, thunderous, roiling violence, up the hill. But there weren't quite the stark differences in old Brisvegas - maybe not in Ealing and Uxbridge, my previous homes in England either – as there are here.

When we arrived in December, the fields were crusty and brown, the hedges grey and dry, the leafless branches of the trees like cracks against the eggshell sky. Walking in Ashridge forest we kicked our way through drifts of crunching brown leaves, or sank into soggy wet paths of freezing water. It was hard to imagine that the earth was still alive, that it could blossom and thrive again, through the deadness of winter.
But so it did – first with a peppermint flush over the fields and then, quite suddenly, the sides of all the roads were alight with drifts of daffodils and snowdrops, tulips, brilliant bursts of sunshine celandines. The hedgerows frothed with pink and white hawthorn blossom, foamed with lacy cow-parsley and of course the air was full of the sound of mewling lambs, lowing cows calling to their offspring, birds a twittering.
Then came the early summer, a fountaining of thick green leaves and thicker green grass and the roses – all the houses in the village dripping with white, pale pink, hot pink, coral pink, scarlet, crimson, purple blooms. Briar roses took the place of hawthorn blossom in the hedges, blowsy pink and white flowers, tiny blackberry blossoms starring the leaves beside them. Ashridge Forest exploded with a lushness of leaves and brilliant green grass, triffid foxgloves marching across every glade. The wheat in the fields grew two feet over night and turned from green to gold.
Now the roses in the village are thinning, the briar roses have gone, but in their place are fat red rose hips and the hedges gleam with blackberries, wild apples are swelling amongst the leaves.
I had a week off walking my poor little girl, who has just been spayed (Bonnie/Snoop, not Juliette or Lydia, don't worry) and I took her into the fields for the first time today. But it was something of a shock to climb over the stile and into the wheat fields to find a wasteland of scorched earth, scattered over with straw and sprinkled with sea gulls, the hawks circling above. But there was a beauty in the turned earth as well, even under the grey sky, an Armageddon bleakness.

Though I dread the return of cold days, I am already looking forward to Autumn, to see the leaves turn once more. And, courtesy of the Tax Office, we may be able to have a fire this year!!!