Modern art in a medieval world


Had a fun afternoon at the church today. Artist Emily Tracy is making an installation for St Andrews, as part of the Altered project (new art in rural churches). She and her art historian father, Charles Tracy put on a tour of the church and talked about her work, Screen, being shown on 11th/12th May

St Andrews was built in the early fourteenth century and has amazing carvings both inside and out (see earlier post). Gargoyles outside are weathered, intriguing and appealing. But my favourites are the indoor carvings: the intricate decoration, the tiny cameos, sometimes comic, beautifully portrayed. The little mermaid above is one and the man eating fruit below is another.

The mermaid is on the Easter Sepulchre, where in the past the host was put to rest on Good Friday before, as was described to us, being brought out on Easter Sunday and placed on the altar in a triumphant ceremony.

Along with mermaids, the Easter Sepulchre is decorated with carvings of abundant, cheerful foliage, making me think of the triumph, the victory that is Spring when life and warmth and growth return. There is little triumph in this spring of 2013, when all over the country farmers are looking at brown fields where there should be fresh green grass for animals to eat. It was bitterly cold again, still, as we walked round the churchyard today.

But the stone carvings, with their leaves and flowers and human faces from almost seven hundred years ago, are irrepressibly cheerful, even, to me, the grimacing gargoyles pointing the way to hell. I hope some of them find their way onto Emily’s Screen.

Man and fruit

A different piece of sky

Chorlton sky

I’ve been in Chorlton again for a short stay, seeing grandbabies and friends. I was struck by this view through a skylight when I arrived at the friend’s house where I was staying. Contrails from airplanes criss-crossed the sky, which was lit up with gold by the sun going down. It seemed an urban skyscape, fixing me in Manchester.

I’m on the way home as I write this, missing daughter and babies already but glad to be heading out of the city. I find the centre of Manchester exhausting – unused to it so quickly!

Last night was good, eating with friends at Arian, our favourite restaurant in Chorlton, where we had our leaving meal in December. Manchester friends or followers reading this, if you don’t already know Arian, go and try it. The Persian cooking is good, ingredients are fresh, tastes are interesting & genuine.

Lovely to see everyone, but Heckington, here I come!

Rooks at bedtime

Rooks at bedtime

The estate agent’s details for the house we have moved to showed a picture of the garden looking lovely with a rainbow over the garage (an older and more picturesque building than the house itself). This prompted many quips by friends along the lines of did the rainbow come with the house.

Tonight I was just sitting down to eat my supper when I saw a perfect rainbow over the garden and the garage roof, just like in the agent’s photo. I rushed out with my iPad in camera mode to take a picture for the blog.

Then I stood outside for a few more moments as the sky darkened (and my soup cooled sadly in the conservatory). There is a rookery not far from us, a noisy place during the daytime. As I stood watching the lovely sky, a group of rooks flew over from their main hangout to roost in a tall tree in the garden next to us.

The rainbow came out a bit faint in the photos. And I like this picture better, even though I know it’s a fairly rubbish portrayal of rooks in a tree. I hope you can use your imagination and share a little of the magic of my garden at twilight tonight, with the rooks, silent for once, falling through a violet sky on their way to bed

Dances with daffodils

single daffodil

And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils

After writing my host of golden daffodils’ post, I looked up Wordsworth’s poem, I wandered lonely as a cloud, where the daffodil reference comes from. Click on the link above to see the poem – on the Poetry Foundation’s website – if you don’t know it.

I’m not sure if I have ever read the whole poem before. It is so familiar that it’s hard to read it without being tripped up by famous phrases. But I was struck by the last two lines (see above) and the image of the poet remembering the beauty of the mass of flowers after the event.

It has left me thinking about how, when so many of us lead such indoor lives, we hold on to that lift of the spirits that being outside in nature can give us.

There are two parts of this for me. The first is remembering how good the outdoors, open space and nature are for me, so I remember to spend more time there and not let myself get trapped in the house. And the second, perhaps more challenging, is how to bring the daffodils, the trees and waves back inside with us, keeping the dance and the freedom in our hearts even when we cannot see the light.

Star Fen, with birds

Star Fen Road

I like birds, but I’m very short-sighted and so miss a lot. Herons and owls are excellent – I can see them – along with other water birds, pheasants and indeed chickens (of which more in another post).

But smaller garden and farmland birds are a bit more challenging; so it’s always a treat, a different kind of walk, when I go out with my friend who is into birds and bird-watching. She has been visiting for a couple of days and yesterday we walked, in sun and a very strong wind, on Star Fen (see A Walk on Star Fen and Waiting for Spring). My friend spotted all the birds and then I got to see them through the binoculars (when the wind didn’t blow tears and eyelashes in the way).

We saw: a Reed Bunting, Swallows, a Skylark, Yellow Wagtails, a Yellowhammer and a Wren or two, plus lots of crows and pigeons and the odd gull. I’ve heard Yellowhammers before (the ones that are supposed to sing little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese) but not knowingly seen one, so that was the most exciting, along with a weasel running over a field very near us.

A few years ago, in one of the very, very cold winters, an escaped ferret or polecat lived at our allotments in Manchester for a while. It killed one of our chickens and several others belonging to friends of ours. I saw it close up more than once in the course of our battle to keep it out of the chicken run (people complain about foxes – huh!) and became briefly fascinated by this family (Mustelidae: including weasels, stoats, ferrets, otters) of small, carnivorous mammals. They have pretty little furry faces and their ability to kill things much bigger than themselves is impressive – though to be discouraged!

In the course of my research I found out how you tell the difference between a stoat and a weasel, so here it is:

A weasel is weasily wecognised, while a stoat is stoatally different – of course.

I hear my readers groan! Time to go.

[Really the stoat is bigger and has a black tip to its tail]

On people and places, reprise

So I ponder this paradox: that I don’t love this city, find little beauty or joy in its many faces, and yet so many places in it remind me of love.

I wrote this four months ago to the day, in my fourth post on this blog, just two days before we left Manchester and came here to Heckington.

I was thinking about the years spent living in a place to which I felt little connection, but where I came to have so many dear friends and family ties. And now I am in a place I love but where I have as yet no ties to people.

On Saturday we went with some new friends to see a local band playing in the nearby village of Helpringham. The music and musicians were good and the beer was nice to boot. But strangely, after weeks and weeks of not feeling lonely, despite knowing nobody, I found myself missing Manchester friends like crazy.

Being out watching a band took me straight back to happy evenings at Chorlton Irish Club, dancing to the Lonesome and Penniless Cowboys; I thought of much-loved friends who shared those times but who have since died and longed for that comfortable feeling of being with people one has known for a long time.

At moments like these it seems surreal, quite crazy, that I have chosen to come (and dragged my partner) so far from all our good friends, have volunteered to go through the business of having to get to know people all over again. It takes my breath away when I stop to think about it.

But watching open fields under a darkening sky from the car window, on our way to the pub and the band, my heart was full of contentment and joy and I wouldn’t have been in any other place on earth.

Love is a strange business. Having it, losing it, stepping into it of your own free will; it takes your breath away, so many ways.

A host of golden daffodils; and other things


They are everywhere I look in the garden, the daffodils; gold, primrose and white, tossing their heads in the wind, as they do.

I’ve written more about the leylandii hedge than about the rest of the garden, which is lovely. It is a great treat to have inherited so many flowers: there have been snowdrops, hellebores and primroses, then the daffodils, and tulips on the way. And with the warmer weather, at last, there are all sorts of perennials starting to emerge from patches of dead stalks and bare earth; aquilegia and foxgloves, among my favourite flowers, are appearing in all sorts of unexpected places.

I have a few cut-and-come-again seedlings in the conservatory. They look so fresh and green that I want to eat them now, but they are still only babies. Meanwhile I try not to check the length of the rhubarb coming up outside more than every couple of days. Soon, soon it will be big enough to cut.

Yesterday I potted on all the soft fruit cuttings I took from the bushes at our Manchester allotment (a small act of faith, made long ago, before our move was really on the cards). I am pleased to have something here from that patch of ground that my partner put so much into over seven or eight years.

Today I am going to sow beetroot and carrots. And partner is thinking of putting early potatoes in some messy ground where the polytunnel will go later. Feels very daring to be doing such normal things for the time of year. More acts of faith and commitment to this, our new piece of earth.

Is spring sprung at last?