Monday Meditation: Reliant Robins*

On a bitterly cold Saturday in February, we decided that some very old, ugly shrubs had to come out. They grew along the garden wall in front of our lounge and for half of the year they were bare, uninteresting twigs and for the other half, they grew uncontrollably and needed constant pruning. They didn’t even flower! They did however screen us from passing foot traffic. But they also screened us from what little light there was, since that side of the house had no sun. They were so unattractive, I always carefully excluded them when taking photos of the garden.

The weather hadn’t been conducive to gardening, constantly wet, windy and close to freezing temperatures. This Saturday was fine, if still icy cold, but at least the wind had dropped. My husband decided this was the day. As I could not be of any practical support, and I was somewhat apprehensive, I left him to it and went for a cup of tea and a chat with my neighbour!

The left photo is how things were, and when I came home, this was what I found, quite some transformation and not a little devastation!

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It was quite a shock. The wall is old, cracked and missing a couple of stones on the top. It had been covered in ivy. What had we done? I thought with horror about the birds: the sparrows, blue tits, great tits, blackbirds and wrens loved those shrubs. I felt terrible.

And then, this happened:

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There are two robins in the bottom photo. I had to take it quickly through the window before they split up, so it’s not very clear. One is in front of the stumpy shrub.

We have had a pair nesting behind the shed or in the ivy that covers its roof for many years; I don’t know if they are always the same ones, but it is early to see them together like this; it’s usually late spring, early summer when they are so busy. They are almost part of the family, they are so tame.

They sing so beautifully from the trees in the back garden, I often stand below the apple or hawthorn trees watching and listening to their melodious conversations. The two of them fly about collecting nesting materials or food, not caring about us sitting and chatting with cups of tea or when my husband is repairing bikes. one will often come and sit on bike or on his shoulder as he works. This day, they were following him around the garden, and to the compost heap at the back, helping themselves to insects and worms or just simply observing.

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Frustratingly I missed the perfect photo opportunity, one I’ve been waiting for a long time to catch: I was talking to my mum on the phone whilst standing in front of the window looking at the bare stumps. Both robins appeared and sat on the wall facing each other. One sat with his head back and, opening his beak wide, started trilling with all his might to his partner. It was a beautiful, wonderful sight and I was frantically gesturing to my husband to fetch my camera, whilst trying to remove my iPhone from my back pocket and diplomatically end the landline call with Mum. None of those things happened in time!

They have been busy ever since. They seem to appreciate our efforts and there are many more shrubs along the other wall and in the back garden for the rest of the bird population. A friend is helping us choose new bird-friendly evergreen shrubs that flower to replace the old ones, so it won’t be long before we have a more attractive perimeter. And it is so much lighter in the lounge, even if we do feel a bit like we’re in a zoo when all the schoolchildren file past!

Meanwhile, we have the robins, my favourite birds, to entertain us: they always make me smile when they appear, so friendly, so sociable amd unafraid, and I am carrying my camera everywhere in case that photo opportunity ever arises again.

*Some of you will recognise this title as a pun on the old three-wheeler Reliant Robin cars, my brother-in-law had one as his first car, it used to give me the heebee-jeebies going round corners!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Monday Meditation: A January Day in the English Countryside Part II

Last year at this time, I posted photographs of a walk along the local lanes on a clear, warm January day in what turned out to be another mild winter.* This year, the weather couldn’t be more different. We had 7” of snow before Christmas, sub-zero temperatures and cowered under numerous storms as we shivered by the woodburner and gradually desiccated in the central heating. This past week has again been freezing and wet, and we’ve just had another two days of sleet and snow.

This particular afternoon, however, the wind abated, the rain stopped and the sun peeped out for a look-see, so we took the chance for some fresh air and exercise and decided to retrace our steps from the previous year.

There was so much mud, debris (squashed plastic water bottles and other litter blown hither and thither by the gales) – and horse manure – on the lanes and verges! But I spared you all that detritus and picked out as much green as I could. We didn’t see the animals on the smallholding, which seemed abandoned, but we did see some sheep. Here are the photos I took this time around:

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This proud wood pigeon wasn’t at all camera-shy, he posed for a very long time, allowing me to get the perfect picture, making sure I only caught his good side, though!

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If you zoom right in on the next photo, you should be able to see a flash of orange just a little left of the tree trunk in the middle. This robin flitted about the whole length of the lane but was always in too much of a hurry to get a decent shot.

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This squirrel on the other hand sat motionless for so long he could have been an ornament. He was so well camouflaged, much darker than all the other grey squirrels, it was a while before I realised he was there. We had met a friend of my husband’s and they stood chatting under this tree. I had my eyes skyward, looking for birds when I spotted him.

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Do you remember the odd long pods that looked like suspended grey broad beans from last year’s post? This year, there were hardly any, those that were in evidence were shrivelled and black and much smaller, but there were many more of these pink, blossom-like flowers on the twigs. I still don’t know what it is.

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From the colour of this sky, you wouldn’t believe we have had endless days of heavy dark cloud, rainstorms and winds strong enough to blow you along the street. My mum’s fence was blown down last week! It was so calm this afternoon, but cold enough to freeze your breath.

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I think this is my favourite photograph from today. 

It was such a refreshing break to be outside amongst the nature we are so privileged to have all around us. It is threatened, sadly, by endless new housing developments which have taken up all the open fields around the schools here. These views are on opposite sides of the lane we walked. The view on the right used to be the same as that on the left.

 

 

We make the most of it and appreciate it while we can.

*Monday Meditation: A January Day in the English Countryside

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Typical Holiday Weekend: Planting Flowers Between the Showers

We had beautiful scorching weather recently, into the high 20s Celsius. After hb had forced his creaking knees to comply with a tidy up of the garden, revealing lots of spaces where the forgetmenots and bulbs had died off, we bought some plants. This is typical Bank Holiday behaviour in the UK, oh and decorating and DIY, all of which we planned for the weekend. Then -also typically – the weather forecast was weekend storms. The plants took refuge under the garden table. We waited for the downpour and the winds. All we got, however, was a freshening breeze, drop in temperature and a few light showers!

Not complaining, we needed some rain and it certainly made it more comfortable at night.

So here are some photos of the gardens after hb’s hard work and also of the irises in the front garden which are in full bloom now, they make me smile every year – oh and some avian visitors and the feline neighbour who not only scares them off but also usurps my place!

We had our first dinner of the year outside, too. For those of you of a curious nature, I had spiralised carrot, cucumber and courgette tossed in a lemon, avocado and pine nut dressing on a bed of watercress, rocket and babyleaf spinach with baby plum tomatoes. All vegan and organic. The photo looks sharper on Instagram, in fact all of them do, not sure why.

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The green smoothie in the photo of the irises I’m afraid I didn’t record, but from memory I think it was banana, blueberries, moringa powder, coconut water, chia seeds, live plain soya yogurt. There might have been some romaine in there too.

Now, a question for all you green-fingers out there: we foolishly allowed one wild aqualegia to take root at the back of the garden under the acer 2 years ago and now they are everywhere! They are growing in amongst the rocks, all over the patch to the left of the acer, in the cracks between the crazy paving up there at the back of the garden and under the forsythia near the house. They have made a lovely display at the top of the drive where nothing else will grow because the it’s choked by ground elder coming from our neighbour’s garden, but we don’t want our entire garden full of it. The roots are too hard to pull up from the stone once established and we don’t like using chemicals. Any ideas?

Here’s a better photo of the robin, this time paying an evening visit. I took it through the window with my iPhone after I’d written this post, but it’s sharper than the earlier one:

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

A Rare Family Get-Together

img_1537We had my 86 year old mum staying with us for a few days last week and my brother and sister-in-law were able to make the trip up north from the south coast to spend the day with us on Friday. They had only recently returned from a family visit to the US, and Paul was suffering a creaky back from the plane journeys and playing with babies and toddlers, so I was extremely grateful that they made this special trip.

Mum only gets to see them about once a year as they live so far
apart and they spend a lot of time in the States visiting their son and daughter’s families.
She is very restricted in her mobility now and extremely deaf, we don’t know how much longer she will be able to travel here as it is a real struggle for her to get in and out of our car and up the single step into the house, so these get-togethers take on greater significance as the months go by.

We had a lovely day, swapping photos of our grandchildren and funny stories from our childhood. Mum learned about a few things my brothers used to get up to! She is always amazed at my powers of recall but she later told me a story I didn’t remember at all, of when we were very young and she looked up out of the front window to see cows in the garden, and in her neighbours’ gardens. They were trampling the borders and churning up lawns. Some roadworkers had left the gate open to the field they were in further up the street and they had escaped. This was a brand new urban council estate, so although we lived on the edge near surrounding fields, this was an unusual sight to say the least. We were the only ones in the street with a phone and someone suggested she call the police. She said she lived to regret it as she was called as a witness in the prosecution of the elderly farmer, whom she felt very sorry for.

Before Paul and Jila had to leave, we managed to perch on our new very firm sofa for a rare family photo:

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The Three Not-So-Wise Monkeys!

The following day was really warm and sunny and Mum and I were able to have lunch outside in the garden. She’s not able to sit out in her own garden and loves the peace and quiet here. We are very fortunate to have a back garden that is an oasis of sun and tranquillity, despite living on a very busy road. Often, there is just a distant hum of an airplane and the thwack of willow on leather from the nearby cricket club or a cheer from the bowling green around the corner. Mum loves the birds, but unfortunately can never hear them singing (she refuses to wear hearing aids!), which is a shame because the robin was trilling his heart out in the hawthorn tree for her. She is developing cataracts too, so she couldn’t see him, either.

She did however have some afternoon entertainment watching her son-in-law ‘scrumping’ or picking apples from the tree for her to take home. He was bumped on the head more than once from falling produce. He hade made an apple crumble the previous day which she enjoyed and she was going to take some apples back for herself and her neighbour.

I am always on pins when Mum is here in case she has a fall, but the visit passed without incident. She enjoyed speaking to our daughter on the phone on her last evening here and we sat up relating more stories from the past. I am always conscious of soaking up all the details when she speaks and I jot down dates and places. Her memory is starting to go in and out now, so I make the most of these moments.

My husband drove her home on Sunday, checked all her lightbulbs, plugged in lamps, checked the timer and clock on the heating and fixed the timer for her security lights. She is always happy to be home and is much more confident in her own surroundings. I am grateful that he does all this for her and makes the long and difficult journeys to bring her here and take her back, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to see each other.

Some October garden photos (copyright: me)