Wednesday, 29 October 2014

An eye-opening trip

My husband and I have just returned from a week's tour of Cappadocia in central Turkey, what was once called Anatolia. It was a very different experience for us in a country we have never visited before. We travelled everywhere by coach, and two of our journeys were very long: twelve hours on the road, counting stops for coffee, shopping and lunch, driven by a man perhaps not naturally gifted with charm, but safe and steady, including in some quite challenging conditions of weather and topography. By contrast our guide was a gem. His knowledge was wide and  his English very clear, though sometimes unwittingly hilarious (speaking of a questionnaire he said, 'If you haven't got enough room you can write on the backside.') His enthusiasm for his work led him to make room for trips not on the schedule so that the last drop of experience was squeezed out for us in that one short week. The majority of the party were old enough to be his parents; perhaps that accounted for his consideration and helpfulness. He also had an impish sense of humour, and he said he had fun too. We certainly did, even though the trip was very full-on and somewhat tiring with frequent early starts ('On the bus by 7.30!') We were, I think, most fortunate, not only in the usually kindly weather and the  excellence of our guide, but in the rest of the party, who seemed good-hearted and good-humoured people, not  a difficult or fault-finding one among them.
We visited a number of interesting sites, including the ancient city of Aspendos with its huge and beautifully-restored amphitheatre, near the modern city of Antalya.

We crossed the majestic (and sometimes frighteningly sheer) Taurus Mountains to Konya, familiar to me as Iconium in the Biblical narrative of St Paul's missionary journeys, and there we visited the museum and shrine of Mevlana, more often known in the west as the  C13th poet, jurist, theologian and Sufi mystic, Rumi.
We visited an underground city, hewn out of rock by the inhabitants of the town above to escape from invasion or persecution.

Finally arriving at our destination, near the central city of Nevsehir, we explored  extraordinary rock formations, cliff-face dwellings and ancient frescoed Christian chapels in valleys with rock-faces striped in sulphur yellow, iron red and copper green.

And I met a local inhabitant...

We also visited a carpet centre, where we saw an ancient treadle-type machine for drawing the threads from silkworm cocoons, women at work on looms not for weaving but for knotting, and of course glorious carpets of many sizes, patterns, colours and materials.

Yes, it was a fascinating trip, with many good memories. But it also gave me much to think about. I remain convinced that Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression of the nature of God, and in him is summed up - however mysteriously - God's purposes for our race. Nevertheless, I could not help but be aware of the devout Muslim pilgrims - all women, as far as I was able to observe - praying in Mevlana's shrine, and the social outworking of the piety of the order of dervishes, for example. Since returning home I have done a little reading and reminded myself of something with which I was already acquainted, but which this trip has brought home: the profound wisdom, knowledge and humanity of  Mevlana and others of his kind down the ages. Then I look up at our world and the things that are happening today, and the polarisation of opinion and belief. I have come to no clear insights about all these things, and maybe I never will: perhaps it's all too big. But if anything comes of these churning thoughts, I'll share them here.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

An update

'A Shed in a Cucumber Field' is now available to download to your Kindle, if you have one. It should also be possible to download it to a host of other e readers, and very soon the paperback version will appear on Amazon, I hope and trust. There's already a review, by that most perceptive reader Carol Brown. Thank you, Carol. As time goes on I hope to see other reviews posted. I also welcome your comments here on my blog. It's by hearing what people honestly think that writers can improve both their work and their readership.

Monday, 15 September 2014

A sneak preview

'A Shed in a Cucumber Field', my novel number four, is about to emerge into the daylight. I have my proof copy, and I am busy hunting howlers before any more copies are printed. So it'll be a while before it's available to buy or download. But here's what it looks like:

The cover design was done by my daughter from an original photo, taken by me on a rocky hillside in Majorca. When it's all done and dusted paper copies will be available from the usual internet outlets, and can be downloaded not only to Kindle but also to a host of other e readers. People have been asking me if it's a continuation of my trilogy, but no, it's a stand-alone story. I'll keep you posted with its progress! 

Friday, 12 September 2014

An old and faithful friend

Some of you who've been following the tales of our life in France will already have met our ancient but indomitable mower. We bought it from the previous owners of the house, and despite many mishaps it is still going, and still mowing - at 20 years old. Over the twelve years we have had it it has undergone many repairs, some at the hands of the local mower man, but most by my husband, who, until we recently acquired a mower jack, was sometimes to be found lying on the patio, partly under the mower, battling with the latest collapse. He has, so he tells me, had to rebolt the silencer and refix the engine to the chassis. We have had to buy new blades, belts, battery and tyres. Just this year the cutter-deck bearings had to be replaced. And for some considerable time the engine has had no casing, because the plastic has melted. There have been many occasions when, on our arrival, the mower had to be fixed before it could be used, when perhaps we had a bare week to get the grass down and the weather turned wet.
So far the latest repairs seem to be holding, but I have sometimes wondered what we will do when it finally dies. We look at new, shiny mowers in garden and DIY centres, and not only are they expensive but also we suspect that they wouldn't last more than two or three years in our rugged, sloping, bumpy, tussocky garden where so many banks, stumps and holes lie in wait for the unwary among the thigh-high grass. After all the times he's had to repair it, I wonder if my husband has a symbiotic relationship with the doughty machine. 'What will we do with it when it finally conks?' I asked.

 'Buy a new one,' was the answer. Then he smiled. 'And keep the old one to haul logs and so on.' So it seems he won't  be parted from his rackety old friend after all.  

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Summer in Normandy

Perhaps this is what we have been waiting for all year: the opportunity to enjoy our French pied a terre in good weather. In fact I love this landscape in all seasons, and it's often winter when we can relax by the fire because the garden is dormant and the weather keeps us indoors. Now there is much outside work to do. There is some colour in the garden: roses, phlox, crocosmia, hydrangeas; but a lot of rampant growth to tame as well. This is also the time of year when we are most likely to have visitors, which is always a pleasure.

One of the joys of rural living in any season is the appearance of wildlife we wouldn't normally see. Over the years we've seen deer and hares, buzzards and slow-worms, and even on one occasion a solitary wild boar! On our arrival here last week I found something in our water meter pit I've never seen before - a fire salamander. I discover that they are found all over Europe, but but not in the UK.
Here's our striped visitor:
Then this morning, a further beautiful sight.At about 8 o'clock I had taken a bag of recycling to the top of the garden for collection, accompanied by Rosie my dog, and when we came back down there was a swoop and a flurry and a barn owl flew from behind the house and perched on the edge of what was once a window into our ruined bakehouse. It had its back to me, but as I watched it turned and looked at me full-face before disappearing inside the building. At this point Rosie cottoned on and raced over. She didn't bark, but clearly the owl was alarmed. It flew out, dived low across the garden, circled the roof and vanished behind the chimney. A couple of summers ago we had a new chimney lining put in, but it couldn't be properly sealed because there was an owl's nest inside. The same owl, I wonder? 
All our visitors were asleep at the time, so maybe seeing the owl was my reward for getting up!

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Spring in Normandy  ((Part 2)

Here for another all-too-brief visit, we thought the weather might be friendlier to garden-quelling activities. And for the last couple of days, so it has been. The sun has shone, the wind has blown, and once again all round the house the grass has been mown. Then we attempted the orchard, which has not been cut for many months, and has taken full advantage of the sun and rain to run wild. It's no longer an apology for a garden - it's a field. I like meadows, if they are someone else's.
As soon as my intrepid husband started to creep along the edges of this wilderness, the mower broke. It is, after all, twenty years old and has had a tough life.Over the years he has kept it going with hours of maintenance and lengths of wire, but this time it was beyond his abilities and the tools at hand, so he removed the mower deck and into town we went to visit a man with a 'Motoculture' business - everything to do with garden machinery. He is someone we have come to know quite well, having ordered from him many a mower part. Little did I imagine, in my ignorance, that I would have to learn the French for such things as belts, pulleys and blades.
He looked at the deck, smiled, and said he could  fix it. We discussed our problem. He said he would need to look at our land. So we drove him to our place, and he looked, and smiled, and said, 'You can't cut this with your mower.' He told us he could bring a bigger machine on Thursday evening. 
Today he came with the machine and parked it half under cover among our outbuildings, trees and junk. We watch the weather anxiously. The forecasting website says it won't rain, and he said the same. I felt a few drops just now. Will we get our jungle down before we go home?

Here's the problem:

And here, I hope, is the solution:

Not all is horticultural gloom, however. While we have been away the second wave of lime-haters has burst into glorious bloom. Here are just a few.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Spring in Normandy

The online forecast predicted 'averses orageuses', and unfortunately for us, thundery showers was what we got. For a while the sun shone, the wind blew, and we hoped the long, coarse, sodden grass would dry out enough to mow. But as soon as there was fuel in the strimmer, ready for me to release my smaller shrubs from the entangling grass, the dark clouds gathered, the thunder rumbled, and down came the rain. It lasted only ten minutes before moving off to soak someone else, but of course now all that drying is lost. Such are the delights of typical Norman weather. We should be used to it by now. When we drove to the supermarket this lunchtime - after a long drive down from Calais last night mostly in the dark, arriving at 1.30 in the morning - the views over the fields and across the valleys were seductive, everything greening and budding, fresh and luxuriant. Behind all that sumptuous growth is, of course, the quantities of rain. I mustn't complain; rain makes grass, grass feeds sleek brown-and-white cows, and cows make the cheese for which this region is justly celebrated. But when you have a tiny window of opportunity, rain, frankly, is a pain.
We haven't been here since mid-February,which is far too long to be away, but till now other things have prevented us, and we are paying the price in the form of rampant wet growth. I swear I could win prizes for the size, succulence and sheer virility of my dandelions.
There are compensations: the lilac, purple and white, is in flower, there is still  apple blossom on the trees, and even a few late tulips and irises showing their colours. There are wild orchids - all mauve - on the roadside banks and we have half a dozen in the garden again. And my rhododendrons and azaleas, which love the acid-rich soil here, have begun their annual flaunting which lasts for about two months. The pink rhododendron, now at a peak of brilliance, was bought for my birthday in our first year here, twelve years ago. Such beauty is balm to the soul, produced from much toil. Is there a metaphor lurking somewhere?