Family Histories: LOSS OF A PATRIARCH

Family Histories! Initially when asked by Adrienne Morris to write a guest post on the topic of family history I was honoured whilst also daunted. The scope seemed tremendous and ideas whirled in my head. However, a few days later I remembered a piece I wrote soon after my grandfather’s death and funeral in Sweden. A rough, heartfelt essay of 3,500 words had been neglected in my computer. I approached it with trepidation.

In all its roughness, I found a potential in the essay that could be included as a part Adrienne’s wonderful series. My editing and rewrite reduced it to a more manageable size and I hope you enjoy reading ‘Loss of a Patriarch’ – not just the story of a funeral rather of a life that touched us all, of a life lived to the full over 92 years, of the life and changes of the island.

Nothing Gilded, Nothing Gained-Period Drama on Paper at Middlemay Farm

 Welcome to Family Histories, a series of guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers in which they explore family . . . and history. The families and the histories are sometimes the writers’ own and sometimes not.

Today ANNIKA PERRY shares poignant memories of her strong but kind fisherman grandfather.

LOSS OF A PATRIARCH

The humid heat radiates around the room as the bright summer sun glares through the wispy cotton curtains. Sleeping bodies are sprawled on the beds, sheets cast aside or crumpled in a heap. The day has arrived. I lay wide-awake. Just thinking; thinking of the day and trying to feel. Trying to feel anything but hot. How pathetic on this day of all days to concentrate on my own selfish needs. I am alive and can enjoy the beauty of sensation, thought, sight. Yes, I am alive. And where is Morfar?

I remember…

View original post 2,667 more words

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COURAGE

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‘It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.


It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.


I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.’

Oriah Mountain Dreamer

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This is the last of three posts during my break this summer which combines the profound words from the beginning of ‘The Invitation’ by Oriah Mountain Dreamer with pictures from a beautiful calendar which our company gave out many years ago. It features watercolours of lives during the Viking Age. Never having the heart to throw away the calendar I welcome the opportunity to show these images here accompanied by the inspiring words of Oriah, who I recently came across here on WP. Since I am just back from my long visit abroad, I am at last connected to wifi and look forward to your comments about this series of posts, words and pictures. Wishing you all a very Happy Sunday!

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TRUE TO YOURSELF

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‘It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see beauty even when it’s not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”’

Oriah Mountain Dreamer

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This is the second of three posts during my break this summer which combines  the profound words from the beginning of ‘The Invitation’ by Oriah Mountain Dreamer with pictures from a beautiful calendar which our company gave out many years ago. It features watercolours of lives during the Viking Age. Never having the heart to throw away the calendar I welcome the opportunity to show these images here accompanied by the inspiring words of Oriah, who I recently came across here on WP.  I’ve turned off comments for this post.

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FOOL FOR YOUR DREAM

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‘It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain!I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.’

Oriah Mountain Dreamer

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This is the first of three posts during my break this summer which combines the profound words from the beginning of ‘The Invitation’ by Oriah Mountain Dreamer with pictures from a beautiful calendar which our company gave out many years ago. It features watercolours of lives during the Viking Age. Never having the heart to throw away the calendar I welcome the opportunity to show these images here accompanied by the inspiring words of Oriah, who I recently came across here on WP.  I’ve turned off comments for this post.

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SUMMER SPOTLIGHT: ANNIKA PERRY

Earlier this Spring I was thrilled to be invited to feature as part of Jill Weatherholt’s wonderful ‘Summer Spotlight’ series. It’s with delight and excitement that today I appear as her guest and I hope you will enjoy reading my responses to her three searching questions which she put to me.

My warmest thanks to Jill for this opportunity! Happy Reading!

Please head over to Jill’s blog to read on by pressing this : SUMMER SPOTLIGHT: ANNIKA PERRY

31 DAYS OF WONDER: A BOOK REVIEW

A brief lunchtime encounter at Grosvenor Park, London proves a pivotal moment in the lives of two young adults. Ben barely has a chance to introduce himself to Alice when she is whisked away by her domineering colleague to Glasgow. Not Glasgow, Scotland as Ben assumes, rather to see her irate boss, nicknamed after the city.

This misunderstanding sets in motion a course of actions that changes Ben’s life irrevocably as he becomes intent to find Alice once again…by getting to Glasgow whatever means possible! His loyal friend and flat mate, Dave, is on hand to help, even lending his folding bike to Ben. Before he knows it, he has been encouraged with his grandfather’s unexpected and unusual approval and involvement, to enrol on a charity bike race…one which is cut short by a tragedy within the family.

After the meeting with Alice in the park, he soon sees her again…but the reader (and Ben) is aware that this is a hallucination…one that seems very real and with whom he converses. Gradually her appearances drift further apart until the end when Ben’s childhood trauma is fully revealed and the reason for his supposed mental problems are explained.

Meanwhile, Alice continues to face a gauntlet of verbal abuse about her size at both work and from her parents when she visits them…and inevitably a downward spiral of eating ensues to escape her misery. Her daily humiliation saps her confidence and strength until she is weak, meek and at everyone’s mercy. The ray of hope in her days are Ben’s kind words in the park, a memory that supports her and she even makes up a relationship with him to her family and colleagues…one that to her surprise helps her ultimately and dramatically find her voice.

The daily battles in life take a turn for the positive as the memory of their meeting is the catalyst to changes in both their lives. 

31 Days of Wonder’ is a whimsical novel, often amusing – even laugh out funny at times – whilst also deeply profound and moving. It’s delightfully surprising in failing to conform to convention and become a straight forward romantic story and instead the lives of the two main character circle each other, their separate narratives mirroring but always kept apart.

It is told from a third person viewpoint of Alice and Ben, each entry by them punctuated by either her location, train times or Ben’s location and distance from Alice. Each chapter is a new day, counting up to the titled ‘31’ and with all such counting devices the book easily becomes a compulsive read, which is abetted by the short segments and chapters as well as being written in the present tense.

The theme of self-acceptance is all-pervasive in the book and reflects the author’s own journey to self-acceptance whilst battling with depression during the writing of this novel. After many re-writes over a long time, the author finally achieved the perfect ending…with light, positivity and hope reigning strong. 

This is a charming, beautifully written novel of self-discovery which is engaging and memorable. Definitely not to one miss and I am now keen to read Tom Winter’s other books.

I received a free copy of this book from the Netgalley in exchange for an honest and impartial review. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Publication Date: 10t August 2017

Publisher: Little Brown Book Group UK

** This is the first of many books I hope to read whilst away on my summer break amidst the serene beauty of the Swedish natural world.

THE MUSEUM OF YOU: A BOOK REVIEW

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‘When you grow up in the saddest chapter of someone else’s story, you’re forever skating on the thin ice of their memories.’

Grief. It’s all pervasive and its repercussions are felt throughout the generations, even to those newly born as tragedy strikes.

This is only too true for Clover, almost twelve, who has lived under the cloud of her mother’s death when she was only six weeks old. A ‘surprise’ to both her parents, her well-meaning father, Darren, has tried to protect his daughter from any further unhappiness.

His reluctance to talk about his wife, Becky, is clear to sharp-minded Clover as she sees her father’s deep sorrow and fear when she raises the topic with him and he replies with the oft repeated sound-bites, sharing only minimal information about her mother.

On the cusp of teenage years, Clover becomes desperate to break through the palpable dark shadow of her life and learn more about her elusive mother. However ‘she has recently become attuned to the way Dad takes the temperature of her mood and attempts to chart it. He’ll stop once she smiles – a small smile isn’t enough, it takes all her teeth to convince, and even then he sometimes inspects her expression like a worried dentist.’ In her attempt to get to know her mother Clover recreates Becky’s life from her belongings, which have long since been stored with other junk in the seldom entered second bedroom.

‘This was her mother’s room. This was her mother’s view. These are her mother’s shoes. She teeters over to the crowded space at the end of the bed, back and forth she treads, back and forth and back and forth as if eventually, she might step into her mother’s life.’

As the poignant and moving story unfolds, the reader gradually learns the reasons for Darren’s reticence and the patchwork of sorrow and guilt permeates the book.

The novel is written through two narrative strands, that of Clover and Darren. Both are in the close third person perspective and the author’s deftness and skill ensure that each voice is distinctive and it is easy to relate to each character. The sense of immediacy is achieved by the use of present tense for current day events which slides into the past tense for the story of Darren and Becky’s earlier life.

Clover’s courage, keen observation and emotional intelligence is strongly portrayed throughout the novel, not only through her relationship with her father but also with her kindly, loud and older neighbour Mrs Mackerel who has often helped care for her. As Clover experiences the first independent summer holiday she is inspired by the school visit to Merseyside Maritime Museum exhibition about the Titanic to create her own museum about her mother, with a special exhibition in the second bedroom entitled ‘Becky Brookfield – The Untold Story’. The descriptions of the various items recovered from the boxes and suitcases in the second bedroom punctuate the two viewpoints of the story, with each exhibit clearly named, logged and its history guessed at (often wrongly).

Darren is a brilliantly crafted character, flawed, slightly rough. He’s an academic at heart whose passionate interest and intent to study geography at university was cut short by his own mother’s illness and death in his teens. As Darren’s father effectively withdrew from life, silence filled the gap of his mother’s former presence. After losing Becky, Darren once again experiences intense grief as he is ‘poleaxed by the old ache of missing her (Becky)’.

The themes of love and relationship between parents and children is explored throughout the book, including that of Becky and her damaged younger brother, Jim, who grew up in a traumatic household. Despite her Uncle Jim’s chaotic life, Clover accepts him with the same unreserved love as her mother had. Meanwhile, further characters become as family and these include Colin, the odd but stalwart friend from school who is a constant presence in Darren’s life. There is also the outsider Dagmar who becomes an unexpected friend to Clover and finally her father’s female friend, Kelly and her two young sons. Ultimately they all become closely linked, caring for each and showing that ordinary people are extraordinary.

Locations feature heavily in the book, particularly as Darren has never left the area he grew up in. As a bus driver he drives back and forth between Liverpool and Manchester, recalling the street names, homes, allotment, sights and sounds and these quickly become familiar to the reader as the events of his past unravels in a veritable stream of consciousness.

‘The Museum of You’ is written with a unique form of whimsical realism, the grittiness of life interlaced with the magical recreation of Becky’s life in the form a one room museum. In places the novel can seem to be meandering and some might consider the pace too slow. Personally I was captivated by the unfurling of the story, the shifting perspectives, the varying tenses, the excellent dialogue and museum details providing an engrossing, thought-provoking, memorable read. At no stage did the book become mawkish or morbid, rather it’s a seductive tale, tenderly told and overall enchanting with a perfect feel-good factor for the summer holidays!

netgalleyI received a free copy of this book from the NetGalley in exchange for an honest and impartial review.

Rating:                          4 out of 5 stars.

Publisher:                    Random House UK

Available from          Amazon UK   or   Amazon US

Note:

The next few weeks I’ll be on holiday, relaxing in the wonderfully peaceful retreat in the forest, visiting family, friends, connecting with nature, swimming in the lakes and sea. Oh, not to mention, trying to make a dent in my burgeoning reading list – I’m so behind on reviews and feel mortified! Hopefully there will be lots of new ones for you to read in the Autumn. I’ll be popping in only a little on WP (when the weak signal allows) although my blog will be not dormant.

For the first time since I started blogging, I’m honoured to have written guest posts for two fellow bloggers this summer so I hope to see you there (I’ll be reblogging!). Furthermore, I’ll be posting three picture / inspiring quote posts during the next few weeks. 

I am looking at this photo again and can smell the heather, the rocks and the sea. I am sure I can hear the seagulls too.😊 Beckoning me…so off I go and to do something useful…….whatever that is! Meanwhile, I wish you all a lovely summer, may it be full of laughter, smiles and joy – the sun shining neither too hot or too little! 

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AN ENCHANTED HAVEN

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Last weekend I fell a little bit more in love with life.

Every journey I set off on, I feel a flutter of excitement, a bundle of palpable nervous energy, never quite knowing what to expect.  A short weekend break booked on the spur of the moment a few days ago was no exception! For our first trip away on our own in fourteen years, my husband and I decided our anniversary was a perfect opportunity for some time-out; June had been, for various reasons, a hectic stressful month with little opportunity to just stop and be together.

North Norfolk proved the perfect haven; a blissful retreat from our busy schedules and our brief sojourn there seemed to last a week as the peace and tranquility washed over us, tension headaches easing, laughter and lightness returning.

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How could this vast empty beach fail to soothe? Trudging through the slip-sliding shingle, the bracing wind playing havoc with my hair, my brain cells vibrating under the onslaught  – I felt alive!

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Hints of fishing were evident from the odd boat pulled up far on the beach, however, it is hard to believe that this was busy port until it silted up in the 19th Century.

20170701_111833Nowadays tourism is the biggest industry in the area – although Cley proved to be quiet, with visitors dotted around the town, coast and visitor’s centre.

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Isn’t nature our greatest artist, I wonder, standing for the longest of time looking at the waves crashing on the shore, hypnotised by the wondrous displays with each roll.  I’m mesmerised.

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Cley-next-the-Sea is protected from the vast and powerful waves of the North Sea by a steep shingle bank, behind which there is saltwater marshland separated by the narrow New Cut; on the south side of this is a huge expanse of freshwater marsh.

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Both areas are alive with the flurry of unusual bird life and it was a joy to celebrate the natural environment; a bird-hide providing helpful reminders of the names and characteristics of the avian visitors.

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Here though we were the outsiders, the intruders. We stepped with ease, avoiding the fenced off nesting area and viewed in awe the terns and skuas as they majestically claimed the skies; the egrets reminding me of my trip to Florida, the geese almost hidden in a patch of distant marshland.

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Pausing by the reed beds I close my eyes and just listen…the music of the wind drifting into my soul, the rustle of the leaves creating their own rhythmic sound, soothing, in harmony with the bird calls.

20170702_103741Whilst others muttered at the lack of mobile signal I celebrated the return to ‘olden’ days and scouring my purse for coins I headed to the red phone box to call home. Memories of university days flooded my thoughts, my whirlwind of emotions as I recall hours spent calling from these tardis-style contraptions!

The village has a lovely quaint feel to it; many buildings are reminiscent of its former Flemish trading partner with gabled roof lines and many built using the local Norfolk flint. The main road, although narrow, winds its way through the centre of the town with lots of mysterious alleyways leading around the back of the village, often into people’s gardens!

Gourmet meals punctuated the end of our days and at one restaurant we were welcomed on our special day with complimentary champagne, a strawberry slice resting at the bottom of each flute. The food was sublime, an ecstasy of tastes and occasions that will long live with me!

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As always I admire the strength and vitality of the flora as even in these somewhat inauspicious conditions flowers flourish; particularly striking is the yellow horned-poppy, native to the area.

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It’s been a long while since it’s been this hard to leave a place – one of those times when all elements of a trip conspired to offer us an exquisite time filled with joy every moment. On the car drive home, I sit in silence, savouring the sense of contentment and resolve to carry this harmony forward into the everyday, letting the lightness shine brightly into the days and months ahead.

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Finally, many thanks to Klausbernd and Dina (Hanne) at The World According to Dina for inspiring me to visit Cley-next-the-Sea – their photos and description of the village and surrounding area caught my imagination a while ago. Alas, we didn’t have time to arrange to meet up…next time hopefully!

A GREEN CAGE

Bad Prison Cell Alcatraz

I pace the floor. Not for the first time. One, two, three, four and a half. The metal green door is cold to my touch. My head swivels round and captures the photo on the wall. Holding its gaze I walk methodically back. One, two, three, four and a half. The edges of the photo are frayed and its colours dulled; the past ten years have not only taken their toll on me. The photo was taken with my camera, one that used actual film. I hear those don’t exist anymore. Everything is digital they say.

Joe’s tiny face smiles back at me. He was only six months at the time and how he loved bouncing in that blue baby rocker. His red romper suit covered in white yogurt after he’d knocked my hand feeding. We’d laughed so.

Those days all my photos were of Joe. Joe smiling, sleeping, playing with his cuddly lion, eating, swimming, on holiday at Centreparcs. We were inseparable. Until his death. Three months later.

“Turner! Turner!”

The prison officer fills the door, her hair pulled tight into a functional bun, the khaki-coloured uniform bulging at her waist and arms. Hard to believe that had been me; squeezing into clothes. Now a size 10 hangs like a sack on my tall frame.

“Turner!”

Standing still, I gaze ahead. Carol, that’s my name. They took that from me in here; my self. Sometimes I repeat it to myself, just to make sure I don’t forget. “Carol. Carol.”  Daughter, wife, mother. Then child-murderer. Or so they claimed.

“The warden wants to see you. Now!”

I nod curtly and glance at the space above my table. The light green cement wall is covered with study notes, magazine photos and a calendar. A big red circle pulsates around tomorrow, marking my appeal hearing. My final hope.

The daily clamour of prison life continues around me unabated. After the silence all those years ago the constant barrage of noise is a balm for me. The silence of Joe and the day he stopped breathing.

The relentless rain had whipped around the car on the journey home from the nursery that day. Joe had cried non-stop. This in itself was unusual as was the pitch of his scream; twenty minutes of fractured tortured crying. Not that of hunger or exhaustion. Slowly it dwindled to a whimper and I hate myself even now for being relieved at the peace.

I stopped by the front door and rushed Joe, who was in his car seat, inside along with the shopping, before driving to park around the corner. On entering the house his stillness struck me immediately. Then I spotted his lips, tinged light blue. Panicked, I released the seat belt, opened his jacket and held him. I tried to get him to breathe. Those minutes turned into a lifetime. I must have called an ambulance. They took him away, lights flashing and sirens blasting. I sat in the corner of the ambulance, helpless. Watching the paramedics fighting to save my son’s life. In vain.

The hail had hammered upon my face as the police arrested me soon after Joe’s death. I wasn’t even allowed to see him again. Nor was I permitted to attend his funeral.

At least Liam had been able to go. Liam, Joe’s father, my husband, who knew me better than anyone. We’d been close friends since our teens and he always trusted me, when many doubted. Many times since we’d sat across the visitor table, surreptitiously clasping each other’s hands for comfort.

“It will sort, love,” he’d promised. With his dark hair straggling across his face he insisted, “It’s all a big mistake”. He’d been right, only we never guessed it would take ten years to prove it.

Salt, such a small innocuous condiment. The police and doctors said I had been feeding Joe teaspoons of this over time to kill him. My beloved Joe. My incredulity at the accusation turned to total disbelief, then resignation as expert after expert testified to the high sodium levels in Joe. The only possible reason given for its presence was poisoning.

I could never have harmed him but nobody listened. He’d been tired, lethargic even. Joe’s low weight had always concerned me. I’d asked for help but was told not to worry.

My raw anger and desperation at the trial hadn’t helped. I realise that now. Neither had my appearance with unruly frizzy hair which had long since been tamed into a short smart bob. Exercise, an anathema to me previously, became my new religion and I trained at the prison gym like a fanatic. Its bright green walls especially gaudy under the fluorescent lighting.

Once my body was in shape, I turned to my mind. Unused since school where I gained a couple of qualifications, I studied like one possessed and only last year achieved a degree in law. I’d almost laughed as I held the certificate. A degree! Me?! A care home child, no known parents and already convictions for petty theft. I’d had no chance at the trial. No chance afterward either. Until five years ago and the death of a baby girl. Then two more babies. All from salt poisoning.

“Expect the best, prepare for the worst.”

The warden’s words reverberated in my head.

The worst had already happened. Couldn’t he see that? I knew what he meant though, losing the appeal, being trapped a lifetime within the green cage.

For the best I reread Liam’s letter, which I’d received the day before. He’d prepared the house for my possible home-coming and redecorated Joe’s nursery as a study for me. I swear I could smell the fragrances from the flowers in the garden through his description and closing my eyes I glimpsed the bright sunflowers against the back wall.

“I found him in Joe’s nursery at the weekend,” Liam’s mum said to me on a visit early on. “Asleep on the fur rug, clutching Joe’s clothes, teddies strewn around him. The charity bag lay empty in the corner of the room.”

I’d covered my eyes.

“Carol, dear. Liam can’t sort it all out. Shall I help?”

Her offer was the first of many that Liam and I came to rely upon. Now she too was gone and we only had each other.

The warden gave me a box and with trepidation I began to pack. Law books, spiritual books even, such as my well-thumbed copy of “Stillness Speaks”.  I would never have believed it. Then reams upon reams of notes and finally the file of newspaper cuttings.

On top was the story of the two now discredited expert witnesses who had testified against me. Their omission to mention a possible medical cause for the sodium poisoning had sentenced not only me but also three other women to jail for child murder.

Finally I placed the photo album Liam had made for me into the box. Its blue spine long since broken and the silver heart frame on the front no longer shone. I opened it carefully.

There we were on our wedding at the local registry office, then at the pub meal afterward. So simple but perfect.

There I was pregnant, looking blooming and blooming huge as well. For that big bump Joe was born tiny, a light bundle with black hair streaked across his head.

Then the last photo ever taken of Joe.

Liam gently bouncing him on his knee, Joe’s face half-hidden behind the hood of the yellow giraffe dressing gown, his hands tucked inside the long sleeves, Joe’s sweet giggles audible from the photo.

In shock I dropped the album and started shaking.

Not for the first time, I cried; sobbed until my body heaved with grief. Angry clanging on the doors followed as my cacophony of tears refused to be silenced. Before long darkness enveloped the cell and by the light of a torch the green forest of night closed around me.

“You’re free to go,” my lawyer said the next day in court. “You’re free.”

The appeal had passed in a blur, too shaken, too frightened of the outcome to absorb much detail.

“Free?” I questioned and looked around for permission to leave.

“Carol!” Liam was suddenly in front of me and unrestricted we moved towards each other. Then stopped. An invisible barrier. Liam took the final strides towards me and he reached out and pulled me in. Saving me. I rocked back and forth in his arms before we headed out into the blinding sunshine. To face the press together.

Two hours later I was home. The butterflies fluttered erratically around the flowering buddleia; more calmly the bees buzzed over the red roses. Our garden was a firework display of colours. Golds, reds, pinks, purples. I gingerly stepped over the petunias which had spread over the path, wanting to preserve their beauty.

Inside, the house gleamed and his mother’s redecoration years earlier was evident in the modern minimalist style. So tidy. No toys on the floor, stairs, furniture.

Liam took my arm and gently guided me towards Joe’s nursery. Apprehensively I opened the door.

It was stunning. The sun beamed upon the large pine desk in front the window and light dazzled me, reflecting from the crystal framed mirror. A bookcase stood empty. In the corner was a white armchair and Joe’s cuddly lion rested on the soft seat. The whole room teemed with sweet peas, the multicolours a feast for the eyes as I spotted them on the desk, windowsill and coffee table. Their scent a crashing reminder of that first and only spring with Joe.

“”I love it, Liam. It’s just perfect. Thank you,” I whispered quietly in awe.

“The colour?” he questioned cautiously. “Do you like it?”

I hadn’t spotted the light green walls at first, now I moaned to myself.

“They say green is calming and restful. Creates harmony,” Liam reassured me. “I thought it would help you settle back home.”

“That’s kind of you. Very thoughtful,” I replied. However, deep inside my emotions swirled. Liam meant so well.

I still didn’t think it was the right colour.

The End

©Annika Perry

Captivating Beth Chatto Gardens

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Imagine a boggy gravel pit. Where most of us would only see the grey dusty desolation of the former scene of frenzied excavation at the quarry, a visionary in the form of Beth Chatto saw past the starkness, the stones and rubble and over the past 55 years she and her team has worked tirelessly to create the serene, lush and heavenly gardens now named after her.

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The gardens are loosely split into various areas including the Gravel Garden, the Water Garden which leads through to the Woodland Garden and the recent addition of the Scree Garden.

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From the very beginning, Beth Chatto decided to work with the environment and this was particularly pertinent since the gardens are located in the county with the lowest rainfall in the UK (famously less than in the Sahara desert!)

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She longed to learn how to garden in these conditions and in the process help other gardeners of the future. The Gravel Garden was an inauspicious stone parking space for many years and I recall a visit here many years ago when a few cars were dotted around this rather glum piece of land and the ‘cafe’ was located in one corner. A tent ‘cafe’ barely held in place as the wind relentlessly tried to lift it to the sky! Nowadays a modern designed restaurant sits at the edge of the gravel garden with tables outdoors open to its views and wildlife – robins and blue tits were frequent visitors to our table.

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Over the years the arid land has been transformed into its current beautiful Gravel Garden. Vibrant colours abound through the inventive and inspiring planting where also the textures of the plants and flowers are taken into consideration. As the sun comes out there is a real Mediterranean feel to this sun trap and I’m transported to the South of France! 

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A novice to gardening, Beth Chatto is self-taught although both her parents were enthusiastic gardeners and her husband, Andrew, had a life-long interest in the natural environment of plants. During her decades of work at Beth Chatto, she became close friends with some of the eminent gardeners at the time and in due course became an award-winning gardener. For ten consecutive years, she has won gold at the RHS Chelsea Flower show; she was awarded an OBE by the Queen in 2002, received the RHS Victoria Medal of Honour as well as accepting an Honorary Doctorate Degree from the University of Essex. Furthermore, she’s lectured worldwide and written numerous books on gardening. Even to this day at 96 she often comes out to the gardens!

The gardens have constantly evolved as her expertise has grown and in my opinion, the Water Garden is the jewel of all the areas.

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Four ponds straddle the garden, linked by a gurgling stream which was dammed up specifically to fill the ponds. There is a powerful lush tropical feel throughout and there is a dominant celebration of the colour green – from the immaculate emerald green of the grass to the hundreds of shade of green of the rich foliage of the trees, plants and flowers. Colour is used sparingly and when in evidence has a transforming impact on the garden and on the flower, they stand out like never before. 

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The sense of harmony and tranquility is almost overwhelming, the effect immediate and real. As I enter a seeming state of transcendental bliss I let my senses absorb the delights as I nurdle* (wander aimlessly) around the Water Garden. 

Nothing has been left to chance. Soft fragrances float on the gentle breeze, never overpowering, rather a warm hint of promise. 

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The stream provides a constant rhythmic backdrop to the walk, changing in pitch as I meander around, then in the hushed reverential near silence I notice the birdsong; what a jubilant chorus as they seem to compete for attention, their delight in life infectious. Only later looking over the videos I took on the day do I hear the distant roar of planes high overhead, at the time they were effectively tuned out!

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It was not only my eyes which took in the varying textural forms, from the razor sharp, sword-like leaves, to the whimsical frilly grasses, to the variegated leaves of the ferns. My hands swish between some leaves here, some grasses there. My fingertips enchanted my the soft tender sensations, some tickling, some spiky.

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Giant parasol leaves loom over me at one stage and proof again that Beth Chatto has achieved something remarkable here – these moisture-loving plants never associated with East Anglia are thriving. I bend to inhale the scent of the roses, I stretch up to spy the colours closer, I stand stock-still following the dragonflies darting over the lake and its irises, so fast in their dance, impossible to capture on camera. 

20170529_120412Benches are logistically, romantically, placed around the gardens, often in the soothing shade to sit and contemplate nature and her amazing art. The play of shade and light is spectacular, the dark grasses a sharp contrast to the soft mellow sunlight stems taking on their own structural sculptural artistic form. Gazing, absorbing and reflecting I sit in silence…before I feel the eyes of others eager to enjoy the peace, to rest up and reluctantly I move on.

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Peeling myself away from the sumptuous Water Gardens I wander through the Reservoir Garden, its large borders a miracle of colour and flowers and it’s hard to imagine this is the site of a former wasteland filled with scrubby bushes. 

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The woodland came to its own after the infamous hurricane of 1987 when trees across the UK, and especially in the South, were decimated with about 15 million trees felled by 115 mph winds. At Beth Chatto many new trees were self-seeded and those remaining include many oak trees over one hundred years old. The dappled light shines playfully between the tall canopies and below flowers adorn the ground, the damp earthy forest fragrance is reminiscent of many childhood bluebell wood walks. 

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Many thanks for accompanying me on this epic walk through Beth Chatto Gardens’ seven acres…however, it’s not quite over! A visit is never complete without looking at its renowned nursery with over 2,000 different species of herbaceous plants and bulbs and we came away with armfuls of plants including Cosmos and Veronicas.

*Please see the previous post.

NB. All photos ©Annika Perry, 2017