Friday, 11 December 2015

Advent Candles and hope

I love that quiet moment in the day when darkness falls too early and I light the advent candle and pause for a while, take time out from the busyness of all the preparations for Christmas, reflect on the day that flew by in a whirlwind of activity.

I know we are lucky to enjoy peace and plenty, and it's something that is brought home to us daily as we hope and pray for peace and security in an increasingly uncertain and troubled world, but a little light shining in the darkness is a potent symbol of hope.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Inspiration fails ... so let's go to Newcastle!

Inspiration fails to strike, so I thought I would share some photos I took on my recent trip to Newcastle, to visit my youngest son.  He left home for university 6 years ago and has stayed in the city since graduating.  I wrote about leaving him there and my subsequent struggles to adjust to my now empty nest at the time.

Grey Street

Quayside from the Baltic Centre

Newcastle must be one of the friendliest and most vibrant cities in the UK, a complete contrast to our sleepy Suffolk village, and I always enjoy dipping in, despite the 500 miles distance we have to cover and the complexity of the Newcastle one-way system which never fails to tie us up in knots, particularly at the end of a long days driving, in the dark and wind and rain.  Luckily, the policeman who stopped us as we were driving completely the wrong way up a road designated only for buses and taxis, despite trying to follow the signs, took pity on us and waved us on!

Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art
Tyne Bridge

The Millenium Bridge by Day

The Millenium Bridge at night
Whenever we visit Newcastle, I head straight for the Quayside area, with its fast flowing river, stunning bridges, bars and restaurants.  The Baltic Gallery is housed in a former flour mill and is famous for its contemporary art collections and exhibitions and I love walking across the Millenium Bridge to visit. 

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

'You stood out like a ruby in a black man's ear...'

"I met you on the Midway at a fair last year
And you stood out like a ruby in a black man's ear"

That Song about the Midway
Joni Mitchell

I love this vivid evocation of Joni Mitchell's meeting with Leonard Cohen from 'That Song About the Midway'.  As hugely talented fellow Canadian singer/songwriters, they were destined to meet and fall in love - they actually met at the Newport Folk Festival in 1967.  Leonard became the inspiration for several of Joni's songs although, intriguingly, her inspiration for these particular lines probably came from Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet'

'It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear'

Music holds our memories.  I only have to hear Joni Mitchell singing to be transported to another time and place.  When I listen to 'The Gallery' or 'Rainy Night House', both attributed to her relationship with Leonard, I am 20 years old again and back in my room perched high above a ravine in my student house in Leeds, sharing with four girlfriends and learning to negotiate the complexities of life, love and relationships in between studying and voraciously reading everything I could get my hands on.  Literature, along with music, has always been a passion and this was the music that formed the sound track of those years. 

Listening to Joni's 'A Case of You', also thought to be about Leonard Cohen, instantly transports me to the overnight train from Madrid to London, travelling alone after a disastrous holiday with a college boyfriend who was studying there (but at least I got to see the Velazquez's at The Prado, so it was worth the trip in the end!), but the face I drew on a map of Canada during that endless, uncomfortable night, was that of my first love, lost to the charms of Montreal, never to return to the UK. 

Sunday, 23 August 2015

'Deep in the Green Lilac Park' (Leonard Cohen, Marianne Ihlen and the story of So Long, Marianne)

"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 was originally 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 '70s 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 at the time.   

Leonard Cohen wrote some stunningly beautiful and thoughtful contemporary poetry and prose but did not achieve recognition until he turned to song writing 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.  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 voice has stayed with me through the decades.

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

Sunday, 16 August 2015

A Taste of Sweden - Churches & Chandeliers

 When we are not sailing in the Archipelago, we enjoy the usual tourist occupations of exploring new places, sampling the local food (and drink) and visiting the beautiful Lutheran churches that are found in every town in Sweden.  

The interiors are gorgeous with elaborate decorations and vivid religious paintings.  I was particularly drawn to the exquisite chandeliers.  My favourite is the one with the deep blue crystal at its centre.  The atmosphere is very different to English churches and they are a very useful source of Swedish history.

Friday, 7 August 2015

A Taste of Sweden - Simple Swedish Style

A simple vase of flowers at Grassagarden

There is much to enjoy and explore in Sweden.  On a sunny day, the water sparkles in the strong, clear, clean light, the days are endless, the sunsets memorable.  

But what I also love is the Swedish sense of style which perfectly suits the Swedish climate and the strong light.  So simple but so beautiful.  

We arrived on the small island of Rastaholm on Lake Malaren to find that it was barbecue night at the Rastaholm Inn.  The freshly-caught barbecued sea bream was quite simply one of the most delicious meals I have ever eaten, served with a selection of freshly prepared salads, a cold glass of white wine and finished off with a delicious coffee served with a glass of warmed rum and chocolate truffles and fresh berries.  There was live music and later we took to the dance floor...

Table Decorations, Rastaholm Inn, Lake Malaren
The morning after the storm that brought us to the town of Strangnas on the shores of Lake Malaren was my husband's birthday and luckily the day was fine and clear, so we spent the morning exploring the town.  We came across the pretty Cafe Grassagarden which dates from the 17th century and used to be an inn. 

 The interior was just as charming and I loved the windows.  I have a big love affair with Swedish windows.

Another favourite spot on the mainland is the KutterKonfect, a lovely shop and cafe in the town of Trosa not far from Stockholm.  The speciality is chocolate-covered marzipan, the presentation is amazing and the temptation is huge!

Thursday, 30 July 2015

A Taste of Sweden - Views from the Cockpit

Sailing is a frustrating business!  Conditions are rarely favourable and it is frequently impossible to actually go anywhere in the boat at all, even in Summer, as the sea is too rough for any but the most intrepid (not me then!) or foolhardy.  Either the wind is in the wrong direction, or there is too much of it, or too little, or the tide is against us - although this doesn't apply in the Baltic - or it is tipping down with rain, but every now and then (a bit like Goldilocks) everything is just right and you have a perfect moment, actually lots of perfect moments out on the water, seeing the world from a very different perspective and often almost completely alone.  Compensation for dawn starts, unpleasant, crowded airports, snaking queues and tortuous journeys to be here! 

Boatyard at Oxelosund where we began our holiday 
However, the last two gorgeous Baltic summers of cockpit living, the sun shining almost every day, the weather lovely and hot and firmly stuck in the 'Baltic High' had not prepared us for this difficult and extreme summer.  It started well enough and the first few days were hot and sunny but the weather quickly deteriorated.  Every day could be both hot and sunny and cold and very wet indeed at any one time and weather forecasts proved to be extremely unreliable.

Our holiday home - moored at Rastaholm, Lake Malaren
Living in a very confined space when torrential rain is drumming down (and trickling down the mast which runs through the cabin) despite our best efforts to seal it, and dripping gently through the window onto my berth where I sleep with a towel and a bowl beside me to catch the drips) and with nowhere to dry our wet clothes, unable to go anywhere until conditions improve, is not the best fun. We are after all camping on the water.  Then there is the loo situation! On-shore facilities are often pretty basic and can be downright unpleasant and inadequate and forget privacy!  In Scandinavia, I quickly learned to strip off in the open showers and just get on with it.  Everyone else does!  Shower curtains more or less disappeared as soon as we reached Sweden.

We arrived on one island in the Archipelago, successfully moored onto the rocks and were directed to the facilities which turned out to be a compost toilet, a 10 minute walk away through a swamp.  What they didn't tell us was that no-one actually walks there, they all dinghy there, but we naively set off along a very overgrown path, slipping on wet rocks, sinking into bogs and under attack from ecstatic midges.  I was badly bitten on my face and hands, the only exposed parts of me, and pretty traumatised.  We left shortly afterwards to find a more civilised spot with an easy walk to the facilities and no midges.  Mosquitoes though are a perennial problem on the water, particularly the lakes.

Another low was the day we motored across Lake Malaren to Strangnas - a charming  lakeside town -starting out in glorious sunshine, anchoring in a quiet bay for my speciality boat lunch of feta cheese and couscous salad only for the skies to turn ominously black by 4pm leaving us motoring through torrential rain, thunder and lightning for two hours before arriving soaked in harbour to find it was full on a wet Wednesday!  Luckily they managed to squeeze us in eventually  - we are quite small and that can be an advantage - and we had a memorable outdoor supper with new friends Eva and Pieter under canvas at the crowded open-sided harbour restaurant, the rain still tipping down in sheets and running through the streets like a river, still dressed for warmth in our foul weather gear.  The glamour of it all!

Strangnas, the morning after the storm
But there were some very special moments too, some beautiful remote bays to anchor in, some stunning skies and sunsets, delicious meals sometimes with live music, chance encounters with charming and friendly Swedes and some very pretty towns to moor up in and visit too.  I could easily fill the boat with gorgeous Swedish design and love browsing around the antique and interiors shops, stopping for a cup of invariably excellent coffee or ice cream and a delicious lunch of fresh fish and salad before admiring the lovely Lutheran churches found in every town.

Anchored at Sackholmen, Stockholm Archipelago

Sunset at Sackholmen - Archipelago

Rastaholm in a rare sunny moment...

Slandokalve, Lake Malaren

Gripsholm Castle, Mariefred, Lake Malaren

Nacka Strand, Stockholm at Sunset

Monday, 27 July 2015

A Taste of Sweden. Trosa - Windows

 Sweden is not having a good summer this year!  For us, living for three weeks there on a small boat when the sun plays hide and seek, the rain comes down in torrents and it is frequently cold and windy, is far from ideal.  

However, I have amused myself during the gaps between storms, wandering around Trosa, a very pretty town in the Archipelago, taking photos of pretty Swedish windows.  The Swedes certainly know how to dress a window beautifully!

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

It's been a long time coming (but worth the wait...)

When my partner and I moved to Suffolk to start our new life together nearly six years ago, we didn't intend to leave it so long before we tied the knot!  

 Despite setting the date twice before in the last three years, life had other plans for us, but finally we found the perfect time to gather our children, their partners and the little granddaughter around us to say 'I will' in the lovely Norman church just at the bottom of the hill.

And it was a perfectly magical and very special day!

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Orange blossom

The orange blossom are out in the garden now

Just in time for our May wedding!

Friday, 1 May 2015

The Manor at Hemingford Grey and Lucy Boston

I knew we would go back to Hemingford Grey.  The name itself has snagged on my imagination for so long now, and the associations it has with the wonderfully evocative children's books about the Children of Green Knowe, written by Lucy Boston and set in this lovely ancient Manor House, were always going to call me back.  It's a place that haunts me.  Once called The Poltergeist House and much feared by the locals, it was brought back to life by Lucy Boston and is now lived in and loved by her daughter-in-law Diana, its spirit at peace.

The story goes that, many years ago, Lucy heard there was an old house for sale in one of the Hemingfords in Cambridgeshire and remembering the neglected old Manor House by the River Ouse she had noticed years earlier, was sure it must be that one, so she turned up on the doorstep one Sunday and announced she would like to buy it. The owners were very surprised as they had only that morning decided to put the house on the market and had not yet told anyone.  She did buy the house and never did find out which house it was that was actually for sale.  It is that kind of house and exercises a strong pull on the imagination.

This time, we were more organised and joined a tour of the house which is still lived in as Diana Boston's home and it is very much a time warp.  Built around 1130 it has thick Norman walls and gorgeous quilts in place of curtains in some of the rooms and is full of colourful paintings some of which were painted by Lucy.  She was also a keen quilter and spent the winters writing her books and making a wonderful and varied array of quilts, and the summers creating and working in her garden. The quilts are well worth the visit, as is the bedroom described in the Children of Green Knowe and the 900 year old Music Room where Lucy gave musical evenings for RAF servicemen during the war and which is sometimes used for reading ghost stories in the winter.

But today, the sun was shining and the garden in all its Spring glory drew me out of the house.  I can't wait to go back again to see the old roses when they are in flower.

It is well worth the detour so do try and visit if you are ever in the area and I promise you won't come away empty handed as Diana sells an assortment of colourful cards featuring the house, garden and Lucy's quilts as well as scarves, handmade jewellery and plants from the garden.  She has copies of all the Green Knowe children's books for sale and a fascinating book she wrote herself about Lucy Boston's amazing quilts and she would love you to visit.

But do contact her first if you would like a tour of the house as this is by appointment only.