Friday, 18 November 2016

Woodland Walk


There is a perfect moment each Autumn, when the trees are hanging onto the last of their leaves before the storms strip them bare for the winter...




... a secret place for two lively dogs to explore




This wet little dog has never seen Autumn before but he had no trouble finding the stream at the bottom of the valley



We are so lucky to have this ancient woodland just a few minutes walk from our home and usually have it all to ourselves, apart from bluebell time when it is full of families enjoying picnics and making dens.  We tend to avoid the woods then as the dogs don't take kindly to being walked on a leash and are strangely unwelcome, storming through someone's idyllic picnic!

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Half The World

"The candles burned, the moon went down
the polished hill, the milky town
transparent, weightless, luminous,
uncovering the two of us
on that fundamental ground,
where love's unwilled, unleashed, unbound
and half the perfect world is found"

Leonard Cohen
Book of Longing


Friday, 11 November 2016

Leonard Cohen and the Story of 'So Long Marianne'


So very sad to hear of the death of the brilliant Leonard Cohen,  writer, poet, singer, performer, philosopher, lover and all round amazing human being. Someone who spoke to so many hearts and minds. 

This is a piece I wrote last year and I wanted it to be my own personal tribute to Leonard and Marianne.  See you on the other side.
'Deep in the Green Lilac Park'
'We met when we were almost young
Deep in the green lilac park
You held onto me like I was a crucifix
As we went kneeling through the dark'
So long, Marianne
Leonard Cohen

Marianne is my blogging name.  I borrowed it from the beautiful Leonard Cohen Song 'So Long Marianne' when I started writing this blog quite a few years ago now when I was putting my life back together again following the devastating breakdown of my marriage, which left me a single mother of three young boys. Not an easy time.  It seemed appropriate.

I had never really considered that the song might be based on a real Marianne until my new husband, who is inured to my lifelong love affair with Leonard Cohen and his music, bought me a copy of  Kari Hesthamar's eponymous book recently.  The book is based on interviews with Marianne about her life and particularly about her long relationship with Leonard with whom she lived off and on for the best part of a decade and which took place mostly on the beautiful Greek island of Hydra, and which I found quite fascinating.  A more contemporary version of the Bloomsbury Group as it turns out! 

Marianne was only 23 years old when she left her native Oslo to live on Hydra with her then boyfriend, the Norwegian writer Axel Jensen, and they joined an artists' and writers' community there. She married Axel and gave birth to his son back in Norway but on her return to Hydra she was abandoned by him and left to raise her son alone.  Leonard introduced himself to her at the local cafe and she became his muse and the inspiration for some of his earlier poems and songs.  

My musical tastes were formed in the late 60's and early 70's when North American and Canadian Folk/Rock were part of the sound track of my life.  Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan were constantly being played in my student house in Leeds and I was lucky enough to see some of these talented artists, including Leonard Cohen, live in the early 70s.   

Leonard Cohen wrote some stunningly beautiful and thoughtful contemporary poetry and prose but did not achieve recognition until he turned his poetry into songs and developed his talents as a singer/songwriter and became the voice of a generation.  He has continued to write and record music and to perform his music live all around the world until well into his seventies.  His style has matured and somehow both lightened and deepened, and some of his lines are exquisite.  As a performer, he is mesmerising.  I still enjoy listening to his music which I find timeless and evocative.  His is the voice that has stayed with me through the decades.

I found this unusual version of 'So Long Marianne' on YouTube recently and wanted to share it. 

Monday, 17 October 2016

A 'Hygge' Moment


I love the changing of the seasons, and after an unusually long-drawn-out and busy summer both here in Suffolk and in Scandinavia, the change of pace in Autumn is more than welcome!  

It's time to be cosy, hibernate and get into the hygge (hoo-gah) vibe, light the stove and the candles, invite friends and family round for kitchen supper, snuggle down under a warm throw and watch box sets or put on the layers for bracing dog walks in the ever-changing countryside, before dropping into a welcoming country pub.  

Of course we have all been doing this for ever but the Danish definition of hygge is the ritual of enjoying life's simple pleasures. Friends, family, graciousness and cosiness.  What could be better?

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Stockholm to Helsinki, Part III - Finland

Island hopping in the Baltic, sunset
Having a deadline is never a good idea on a sailing holiday, but despite extending my trip to compensate for the delayed launch of the boat, my pet sitters were getting restless (as well as increasingly expensive) and I had commitments, so a flight home had to be booked.  We decided on Helsinki for my return flight as my husband, who was planning to stay on for a couple more weeks, was keen to carry on to Tallinn in Estonia, so Helsinki was en route for him.  However this involved the serious business of 'making passage' rather than the idyllic island hopping we had been enjoying. 

It took a long day's sail in the Finnish Archipelago to bring us to the island of Juomo, and we arrived, tired, around 5pm to find a full harbour with no available moorings and a strong wind making moving on difficult.  This was a situation which required ingenuity, so we did something we hadn't tried before which involved literally poking the boat's nose (bow) between the sterns of two boats already moored up, and tying onto the middle cleats of their boats.  This meant that to actually get off the boat onto the island we had to clamber across the German host boat, placating them later with a glass of Single Malt Scotch whisky, which went down well!  

The next morning started badly, with the Germans knocking us awake at 7am on the dot (5am English time), followed by a trip to the heavily overused compost loos with no hand washing facilities - no running water on this island - then another long, windy day at sea, with the sails up, mostly stuck on a port tack (heeling over to the left, the sea washing our deck) which makes doing anything at all hazardous and tricky. Even the kettle was on the floor, and I had a splitting headache! A toxic combination as I really dislike any sailing that involves needing to strap onto the boat but sometimes it just is like that.  Definitely a 'Should have gone on a Mark Warner holiday' melt down moment. 

Our next stop at Rosala was pretty much the equivalent of a motorway service station but it was relief that, with very little wind the next day, we were motoring, not sailing and more or less upright.  Five hours later we arrived on the Finish mainland at the charming seaside town of Hanko, where we decided to stay for a couple of days.  I could get the train from there to Helsinki and I was pretty much at the end of my boat tolerance. Time now to relax and enjoy a final weekend in Scandinavia.


Mind the gap!
This is how we get on and off the boat - in England small boats are usually moored alongside a pontoon, but the rule is 'bows to' in the Baltic and Scandinavian boats have an opening at the front, like the next door boat, but not ours.  You literally have to take a deep breath, step onto the small space between the ropes holding the plank before you can grab hold of the stay.  I don't know what Health and Safety would have to say...

Hanko is a former spa town and has been heavily fought over with Russia, but it has been left with a legacy of beautiful villas and almost deserted beaches.  The light there is magical and it is an attractive venue for artists and musicians.  We loved exploring this unexpected and unusual town with its almost empty beaches, boutiques, bars, restaurants, hotels and delis and I quickly decided that package holidays can wait.  This was so special.  The weather was overcast when we arrived, but we still found the evening light created a haunting atmosphere on the beach.


Rocks, Hanko, Finland
English woman abroad!
View from the Water Tower - Villa Park
View of Hanko, Finland
On our second evening in Hanko we went for a walk around the town after a boat supper and heard the most stunning live music coming from the hotel on the beach and had to investigate. Playing in the courtyard was a professional Finish guitarist and his Belgian wife, who had the most beautiful voice.  They were performing a cover of Chris Isaak's Wicked Game to a small and very appreciative audience. Sadly, they were just about to finish when we arrived, but we discovered they were playing again the next evening (my last) in another small venue on the harbourside. It was a superb evening and despite knowing we had an early start the next day, and I had two long days travelling in front of me, we stayed right to the end, falling into our berths at 2am.  After all, you only live once.

Helsinki Station
The next day, it took two trains to Helsinki, another to the airport, a four hour flight back to Gatwick, a train and taxi to my son and daughter-in-law's home in South London for the night, more trains the next day, wishing I hadn't got so much luggage to trail behind me, and finally home to Suffolk.

Addendum.  We were sailing in Scandinavia in July and early August.  Although the summer days are long it quickly becomes cold after mid August and most boats are tucked away by then.  It was already cold at night when I left at the end of July and we were glad of hot water bottles and duvets!

Monday, 5 September 2016

Stockholm to Helsinki, Part II - The Aland Islands

West Harbour, Mariehamn
Sailing in a small yacht is always an adventure, full of unpredictable highs and lows, often both in the same day.  Every day is different and as we release the mooring lines in the morning we never know quite what to expect.  

Although there is always a moment when the combination of fear and sheer discomfort becomes quite overwhelming, and I resolve 'never again', still I go back for more because there will equally be moments of the sublime and the magical that cannot be found in any other experience.  I understand what my husband means when he says that sailing makes you feel fully alive and I often feel we live more intensely in the relatively short time we spend on the boat each year than at any other time when life is more humdrum and predictable.

From the boatyard, we slipped downstream to the West Harbour in Mariehamn and celebrated the successful launch of our boat with a supper of delicious fresh fish and a glass of cold white wine, setting off for the island of Rodhamn the next morning in good spirits, the sails up as the wind freshened.  Things got rather sticky as we approached the island though, as our new head sail refused to furl in frisky seas - too much sail for the weather conditions is always a bad idea and it took ingenuity and quite a battle to get it to collapse in a heap on deck so we could enter the harbour and squeeze ourselves into the tiny space which was all we could find, offering entertainment to the safely moored up boats.  One or two other boats also arrived with collapsed sails, so at least we didn't need to be too embarrassed, although we both seemed to have forgotten everything we know about a well prepared mooring, sails and ropes in all the wrong places!  


Cafe at Rodhamn
Rodhamn was delightful and the weather the next morning was positively Mediterranean, so we enjoyed exploring this small island, sitting outside the tiny cafe drinking coffee and eating the best homemade Kanelbular (traditional Swedish cinnamon buns) we have found in Scandinavia. 

Unfortunately, despite adjustments before we left, the new sail still refused to furl as we approached the island of Degerby a few hours later, so lots more undignified flapping, but lunch at the harbour restaurant soon compensated for the problems and as the weather was about to turn with heavy rain forecast, we settled in for a rest day, exploring the island in between rain showers and chatting to the friendly locals and wrestling with our overfull bilges.


View from the harbour restaurant, Degerby
The next day was my husband's birthday and things started well, motor sailing through the Aland archipelago in bright sunshine, but as often happened, the wind picked up later and we had to divert from our intended destination of Kokar to the not particularly prepossessing island of Sottunga which is vying for the accolade of having the worst facilities in Aland, including a shower that had to be prepaid but, despite my best efforts, still ran out halfway through my hair wash with no more 2 euro coins to buy more warmish water...  Not the best place for a birthday celebration, but the next island more than made up for it! 


Sottunga harbour
The wind was having none of our plans to visit the island of Kokar in the south and blew us North to the Island of Baro, which just happened to have an excellent restaurant overlooking the harbour, the Glada Laxen, which was compensation for a rather disappointing birthday.  The rest of the day was spent exploring the island and watching the children playing in and on the water - Scandinavians have a much more relaxed approach to water sports than the English as water is so much a part of their culture and the children grow up learning to manage their environment safely.  


Baro Island - view of the harbour
At last the wind was blowing where we wanted to be, and we set off for the popular holiday island of Kokar in limpid conditions, blue skies and impressive clouds.  




Coming into harbour, Sandvig, Kokar
View from the beach, Sandvig, Kokar
Half of Helsinki seemed to have the same idea and the island was teeming with families, camping, sailing and playing in the cold Baltic sea, but it was a good place to spend a couple of days, catching up with laundry, hot showers and time to explore before leaving the Aland Islands behind and heading towards the coast of Finland.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Stockholm to Helsinki - Part I, Mariehamn



The strong, bright Scandinavian sunshine bouncing off the water when we arrive in Stockholm is always shocking after our cool, washed out English summer light.

This time, we were just passing through on our way to join the boat in Mariehamn in the Aland Islands between Sweden and Finland, but as our hotel was just around the corner, there was enough time for a browse around my favourite design shop, Svenskt Tenn full of gorgeous, covetable soft furnishings.

The Viking Ferry took the scenic route, through the Stockholm Archipelago and we sat on deck with a refreshing gin and tonic, watching the glorious sunset, for once far above the waves and with nothing to do but enjoy the view.


Although my husband had gone out a week earlier, the boat was still in bits when I arrived, but luckily the couple who own the boatyard also rent out several holiday cottages and we were lucky enough to be given the ground floor of the old family home, known as Mormor's (Grandmother's) House. Light, sunny, full of family mementoes and set in an orchard overlooking the bay, staying here for a few days was no hardship as I had often longed to spend some time in one of these charming, traditional, red-painted summer houses.


In Sweden, the idyllic and the industrial are often found in close proximity, so although the view from the front of the house was of the gardens and the orchard, the view from the kitchen window was of a working boatyard, but I found this equally charming as the evening light slowly faded away.


At last our small sailing boat was ready to leave its winter quarters, towed by the local apple farmer, who also runs the boatyard, and was launched into the water ready for our next adventure. 





Home for the next few weeks!

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Blue Bedroom

One blue-grey and white bedroom finished, apart from re-carpeting.  Another time.  I love the colour, which changes with the light and the time of day and works well with the curtains we put up a few years ago, after a sailing holiday in Holland.  They remind me of washed-out Dutch skies, and the walls needed to fit that theme too.  It's a very soft and restful colour and I am enjoying adding the finishing touches.  

The old french chair was re-upholstered using an antique french sheet, and the cushion was made from french fabrics found in flea markets by Jenny at Rosehip in Long Melford.  One of my favourite Suffolk shops.  The flower painting is by a local artist and I crocheted the shawl myself over 40 years ago while on holiday in Ibiza with my then husband, when our love was new.  A few years later our newborn babies were wrapped up in it, to keep them warm.  


I found this botanical painting in the Voewood book and art shop closing down sale in the North Norfolk town of Holt, where we spent our short honeymoon last May.  The picture is painted on vellum, as was the fashion in the 18th century when these paintings were so popular.  It looks very comfortable in its new frame above what used to be my children's bookshelf.  Everything has a history and carries memories.

Perhaps the next project is to paint some of the rather dated pine furniture a soft off-white. Something to keep me busy in the Autumn when the garden is less demanding.


Clothes, shoes, cushions, handbags and scarves, all magically disappeared into the spacious wardrobe in the corner of the room!

Monday, 8 August 2016

Stuff

Most of yesterday was spent clearing out my bedroom for the decorator who arrived this morning at an ungodly hour. The room is going to be transformed by the pretty pale blue-grey colour I have chosen, having bought far too many sample pots of various shades of blue - everything from barely there to the darkest possible Georgian blue which I love in magazines but am not quite brave enough to use.  

And this is the problem.  So much choice, so many sample pots.  Why?  I knew after the third colour I tried out that my search was over; this colour was perfect.  What to do now with all the other little pots? Projects I suppose.  Repaint the kitchen chairs and small items of furniture or paint plant pots, perhaps.  A pity not to use them but more jobs to add to the endless and ever growing to-do list.  


But the stuff that came out of my bedroom! Especially out of my wardrobe.  Where did it all come from? How did it get there and why did I want/need it?  So many pairs of shoes?  So many scarves? And the earrings, necklaces, handbags and clutch bags, jackets, dresses ...  all no doubt bought for a reason at some point.  The clothes I needed for a job I no longer have, special occasion clothes for a party or wedding, too nice to let go but probably not to be worn again, unless I take to going to the village shop or walking the dogs in them! Not entirely practical. 





The spare bedroom now looks like a branch of an Oxfam shop.  In my head I would love to be someone who buys only one or two carefully chosen pieces but this has never happened and probably never will. Instead, I am a magpie!  




The sooner it all disappears back into the various nooks and crannies of my bedroom, the better.  I shall no doubt do a bit of desultory pruning, a few books to the charity shop, a few pairs of the high heeled shoes I can no longer wear put on ebay, perhaps, and a big note to self. For goodness sake, stop buying scarves!

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Chagall Stained Glass at All Saints Church, Tudeley






















As I opened the door of the small, unassuming, 12th century Kent country church and stepped out of the bright June sunshine into the quiet peace of the interior, I gasped with pleasure at the sight that met my eyes! It was like stepping into a box of jewels.

Although I had been aware for many years that there was a stained glass window painted by Marc Chagall at All Saints Church in Tudeley, Kent and had meant to visit one day, bizarrely it took a move to Suffolk and a random diversion on our way home after a family wedding, which brought us here. Knowing the lie of the land, we had diverted into the network of country lanes, trying to avoid the traffic jams on the A21, and it was pure serendipity that I spotted the signpost to Tudeley as we flashed past.  

What I hadn't realised was that there was not only one Chagall stained glass window here but 12! The entire church has been re-glazed with his painting and the effect is simply stunning.  The only other building in the world which is completely glazed with Chagall's work is a synagogue in Jerusalem.  

Chagall was commissioned by the parents of Sarah d'Avigdor Goldsmid who sadly drowned off the coast of Sussex when she was only 21 years old.  Her grieving parents, a local family, knowing she loved his work, asked Chagall initially to paint the window above the altar, which symbolises death and resurrection, in 1967.  He was so pleased with this work (the first photo) that he asked if he could paint all the other stained glass windows in the church.  Despite local opposition to replacing the existing Victorian stained glass, permission was eventually granted and he completed the work in 1985.  All the paintings are biblical and follow the theme of creation, the fall and redemption, and the promise that God gives us of restoration and recreation.  

I find some comfort in that thought today in the midst of the turmoil we are currently experiencing here in the UK.