Pretty pretty flowery stuff

Well my dears, Spring has certainly sprung. It was positively balmy here is deepest Yorkshire today and so Sigoth and I ventured out in the afternoon to Castle Howard Arboretum. The Arboretum is linked to Kew and comprises 120 acres of tree-filled landscape including guest trees from around the world. We last visited in the autumn and I wrote about it at the time because the berries were in full, well, berriness, and I was slightly in love with them.

blossom and daffs

Well, today was about sunshine and birdsong and bunnies and blossom. It was so warm we wandered the hillsides for over two hours without coats! Given that over the weekend we had the central heating on all day it was quite a shock to the system. Even the drive over was filled with sparkling light, fields of lambs, and views freckled with flowers and blue, misty hillsides punctuated by blazes of brilliant hawthorn hedges and golden oilseed rape searing the eyeballs as we bowled along the lanes.

Even though it’s school holidays at present the Arboretum was not over-run with people. We strolled in and started with a wander around the lake before heading up to the woods and sandy hillside where the rabbits live. We sat for a while soaking up the sun and listening to the birds before making our way back to the boggier, clay area. Somewhere in the midst of all this arboreal loveliness there is also a newly constructed cruck house.


It’s a useful shelter if it is raining, with a wooden bench around the wall, carefully sculpted to caress the weary buttocks. The hollowed out depressions are generously proportioned for the more substantial posterior; at least I can only assume so because I had plenty of space and am hardly wispy. It wasn’t the place to linger today though, with free vitamin D being distributed outside. However the plaque giving further information was worth a quick scan, informing us that cruck houses came about in the medieval period because they rain out of large trees. In Shakespeare’s day it was a hanging offence to cut down the largest trees, which meant that poor people were stumped (geddit) for building materials until they swiftly realised they could use the trees by rivers, which tended to grow on an angle. They cut them down, split them in half along their length and had a pair of matched wooden frames. Because these were so valuable, people would dig them up and take them with them if they moved, and allegedly this is the source of the saying “to up sticks” meaning to move home.

After that, all the sun and plant life went to our heads and we were drunk on the gorgeousness of the universe and the moistness of the home-made fruit cake in the cafe. So we went to the plant centre and bought some aquilegia for the garden. Well, it would have been rude not to.

How are the seasons treating you these days?


Spring thoughts

199504 Rillington daffodilsDon’t you love Spring? Well, perhaps you don’t but I quite like it, although Autumn is my season of choice. I like the in-between seasons, which are full of possibility. Summer and winter seem so fixed in their ways and I enjoy the bracing winds of change and blue horizons. They offer potential.

Anyway, Spring. Time for some more positive reflections on life, the universe and everything after recent dark and ponderous posts. Spring, the season of cute little baa-lambs, poetic daffodils and inexplicable urges to wash the windows and vacuum the loft. There are lots of birds flapping about with tree trunks in their beaks as they prepare nests for their hard-wrapped offspring. I imagine finding an endless source of nourishment for hungry beaks after the bairns have hatched is a glide in the park after all the construction activity.

The miserable side of my soul mutters in a corner about hay fever and sunburn in my imminent future, but I have her under control. No sunburn for me as I go out very little due to working, and I live in England which doesn’t get enough sun to be dangerous. Plus my hay fever seems to have lessened over recent years so I appear to have grown out of it. Take that, roasting rays and pesky pollen! Who knew working long hours and getting old could be so good?

Another thing to look forward to is the Chocolate Festival. The family are all due home for the weekend, so I am planning menus. The rhubarb is growing nicely in the garden so crumble is on the list. We like our rhubarb crumble in EBL Towers, with thick, sweet custard, the kind you eat with a knife and fork.

The final Spring activity at EBL Towers is Birthday Overload. Four birthdays in 24 days, my dears, put a bit of a strain on the celebratory muscles. With ChocoFest inevitably added into the mix we are the very definition of Party Animals; at least, the kind of Party Animals who might participate in the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and end up sleeping in the tea pot.

My father’s birthday was in June, near solstice. He used to say he liked having his birthday then because it was half-way to Christmas so spread the presents out nicely. I, on the other hand, like my April birthday because it was half-way through the school year and didn’t get spoiled by exams or people being away on holiday with Granny in Wales. In those days a week with Granny in Wales was as good as a fortnight in Turkey for today’s young people, and we were grateful for it. My granny lived with us, so a week in her sitting room was the best I got, or a day trip to granddad’s in Croydon.

I didn’t have birthday parties. We tried once and it was a terrible failure because my mother had absolutely no idea how to run one. We had a cake for tea but she didn’t know any games apart from gin rummy and sent us into the garden where it rained on us. After that, I moved on to getting infected with diseases at the local cinema: three birthdays in a row produced measles (Snow White), mumps (Pinocchio) and chicken pox (Dumbo). I am not a Disney fan and now you know why. He ruined my birthdays. Later birthdays were day trips with a best friend, usually to London or Kew Gardens. Even today I associate my birthday with hiding in a den under rhododendrons and pretending we were fighting pirates or cowboys or bank robbers, I forget which. It hardly matters: we were the goodies and we couldn’t lose because of the narrative imperative.

Nowadays I like the end of short, dark days and appreciate the onset of lighter evenings. I don’t mind dark nights. In many ways I quite enjoy them. Again they are more mysterious and secretive, and being out in them or at home feels quite secure and comforting. It’s just that going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark wears thin after a few months. When the first good days in Spring roll in, there’s a sense of desperation in the air as the population surges outside and exposes their pasty, goose-pimpled, northern flesh to the vitamin D enriched goodness of our local star. Even I, encased in layers of crumpled clothing, turn my face up to the sky and soak up the beams of life-enhancing light. Then I sneeze and hide indoors.

We know Spring is really here now because Sigoth is cutting the grass between showers and we are thinking about whether to risk hanging the laundry out. The bluebells are massing to put in an appearance, annoyed that the grape hyacinths have beaten them to it. There is forsythia ablaze in half the gardens along the street, and our lilac tree is shuddering under the weight of orgies of sparrows, getting jiggy in the twiggy.

I still prefer Autumn but rumbustious old Spring is pretty nice. Feel like sharing some seasonal thoughts? Get on, then, I’m looking forward to hearing from you.




The Great British Bank Holiday

Well, my dears, what an exceptional weekend we have just experienced. Someone must have mentioned to Spring that it was a Bank Holiday in the UK and she got her vibe on. Most of the population was too stunned to cope, I am sure, but in EBL Towers we did manage tea on the lawn with home-made scones.

Admittedly, there were some challenges.

The first challenge was how to present tea to my mother, who has a very restricted diet thanks to various medical issues. She has age-related diabetes, so is not allowed treats. Naturally, I ignore this when it suits me but I didn’t want her to stuff down too many scones in case of complications. I decided to compromise by pre-buttering an assortment and regulating her intake.

The big debate in Cream Tea circles (these are not the same thing as Crop Circles, I can assure you), for those unfamiliar with the English Cream tea, is about where the cream goes. Firstly, to be clear, it goes on the scone and not in the sacred brew itself. That is understood by all civilised people, I think. However, there are the two schools of thought: Devonian or Kernowian. The main issue at hand is whether the jam goes on top of the cream or vice versa.

The next challenge, however, was the fact we had no cream. I know! How very unprepared we were. The weather has been a total surprise, what with it being a Bank Holiday and all. We expected monsoons, as usual, despite the Met Office alleging warm weather. I had hot chocolate ready at hand.

Well, we had no cream, and due to the diabetes issue already mentioned, I was against the concept of jam. However, I was also faced with the immutable opposition of Sigoth to scones with sultanas embedded. I need not tell you, I am sure, that what is left after that is a sorry lack of taste. Faced with another challenge I decided to improvise.

As fortune would have it the garden had yielded almost 4 lbs of rhubarb to Sigoth’s knife, and it was freshly stewed in the kitchen. Naturally it made sense to pop some into the scones along with some ginger, and voila – flavour!

Time for a quick stock take: tea in pot, scones (pre-buttered), chairs and table arranged, tray laid out with cups and milk, kettle boiled. Something was missing…

Oh yes, the mother.

I escorted her out across the uneven lawn to a chair in the shade, and she wolfed down a scone before Sigoth had properly taken his seat. Luckily I had counted them and we both grabbed out allotted portions before she lunged for more. She can still strike with the speed of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi on amphetamine when there is cake or cake-related product involved.

Regular readers will know my mother is demented. Conversations are on 30 second loops, but can be enlivened by a judicious drip feed of comments which then get lodged into the cycle of topics and add a little variety. After we had confirmed about a dozen times that yes, it is a nice garden, and yes, it is lovely for a Bank Holiday, and that it does take about half an hour to get all the grass cut, and yes, the sky is a lovely bright blue, and yes, the birds are lovely to listen to, I dripped a new idea.

“It must have been busy at the seaside,” I said.

Mother agreed. We went round the cycle again, and then as if by magic, the seaside cropped up.

“It must be busy at the seaside,” she said. We said, yes, it must, wouldn’t want to get caught in all that traffic.

Reassured she was taking on new suggestions, I dripped in the fact that the daffodils were still out.

“I like daffodils,” she agreed. “They’re a lovely, bright yellow.”

Sadly they did not reappear, although the seaside traffic did make it into the mix again.

Finally, in our wimpy, blonde, English way we decided that was quite enough sunshine thank you, and all staggered back indoors. No point in giving the poor old girl sunstroke on her first dose of Vitamin D since last year.

Anyway, Sigoth had promised me rhubarb crumble for the evening, and I didn’t want to jeopardise that.

I hope your holiday (if you were lucky enough to have one) was warm, and happy, and delicious. I hope you were not caught in the seaside traffic, and that you too enjoyed the bright, blue skies and birdsong or whatever your equivalent pleasures might be.



Today I had a day off and Sigoth and I went into York to buy each other birthday presents. It’s that time of year.

On the way into town, sitting on the Park and Ride bus (the one that was late because the previous one broke down), I stared out of the window at Monk Stray, enjoying the daffodils that lined the roadside. They clustered thickly, bobbing in the draft from passing traffic and gleaming in the Spring sunshine. What a beautiful day.

Hold on!



It’s 2nd of May!

Crazy Springtime seems to have hit various corners of the globe (and by corners I mean curved edges) this year. Pretty much every Northern Hemisphere blog I read is talking about the wrong kind of weather, even when it isn’t British.

God knows we Brits like to talk about the weather. We have so much of it, in such a short space of time, that it seems rude not to. It’s not epic, like some countries; just a continuous, ever-shifting pattern of change and confusion. The other day the weather forecast predicted overnight frost, sunshine, showers, snow flurries, winds and general cloud all on the same day. In the same place. Temperatures between Aberdeen and London can easily and regularly vary by more than 10 degrees Celsius.

Back to those daffs, though. It’s not right. I have checked the historic record, by which I mean family photos of trips to Farndale to see the daffodils, or pictures taken of spring flowers.

For evidence:

199504 Farndale running down path1995 April

Farndale. Wild daffodils cover the area and attract visitors every year. They bloom later in Yorkshire than down south.







R199504 Rillington daffodilsillington, also North Yorkshire. These were planted by the local schoolchildren to brighten up the beck in the village.







1199903 Helmsley 001999 March – Helmsley, North Yorkshire. Just a nice place to be.








OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA2005 March – we planted some trees at the end of the garden…also in North Yorkshire. We had to fit them around the daffodils.





Just to reiterate, today is 2nd May. I should be seeing gorse, rhododendrons, hawthorn, bluebells…even in North Yorkshire.

Then I noticed that the trees were getting this fuzzy, green stuff on their twigs, which it turned out were “leaves”. There were gorse and hawthorn flowering elsewhere on our journey, on Strensall Common and even opposite the Stray, above the daffodils on the banks.

It’s like the weather has become fractured, doing March and May simultaneously.

Either 2013 will be over in double quick time or we’ll be having June in November and it will be always Autumn and never Christmas.

At least we can have fun finding out!


Just like buses…

Everything comes along at once.

The world, my dears, can be a barrier to writing, almost as if it were shy and didn’t want EBL picking over its weary bones in public. How inconvenient.

I never promised to write every day, or even planned to do so, and I never promised you no rose garden. Still, it would have been nice to post a little more over the last few days, and to feel I had the luxury of time to do so. That’s what really bothers me – the lack of time, or lack of ability to do all the things I want to do. Priorities.

I am pleased to report that good things have been happening: visits by Offspringses,  getting to Quaker meetings on Sunday after an absence, managing meditations daily and ducks appearing in the garden.

Duck and DrakeThe universe has a real sense of humour. A duck and a drake have recently taken up residence in the village, wild ducks (“Wild? I was positively livid!” as the old joke goes) which spent the morning at EBL Towers and swam on our little washing-up-bowl-sized pond without sniggering too loudly.

Three ducksWe live in a very bird-couples-oriented village. Visiting avians tend to come in pairs. This year it’s the duck and drake; a couple of years back it was the peacock and peahen, regularly seen waiting at the bus stop. One elderly resident claims to have seen a pair of dodos when she was little, but we think she may be grousing. The solitary bird visitor best known to us all was Dyson, the pheasant, so called because he was brightly coloured and cleaned up anything left lying around.

This time of year is blessed by birds. The sparrows having noisy quarrels in the lilac tree – really you would not believe the language! – and crows flapping ponderously by with whole tree branches in their beaks, hoping to build a nest one-up on her next door, who’s no better than she ought to be. The coal tits seem to be heading back to the hole in the outbuilding wall again, despite their unfortunate experience last year when most of their fledglings ended up terminally acquainted with the innards of one of the neighbourhood cats. Our garden hosts woodpeckers and goldfinches and wood pigeons, with the needle stuck on “who? who?”, and chaffinches and tree sparrows and blue tits and jackdaws and starlings and swallows and house martins and even sometimes swifts zipping through like feathered lightning and screaming with excitement at how fast they are going. The show offs. There’s a sparrowhawk too, who dines on some of the above, and who can blame him?

I’m not really very interested in bird watching, but you can’t help it here, unless you close your eyes. Even so, your ears are then still assaulted by nature’s feathered frenzy, especially In spring, when the dawn chorus is warming up earlier and earlier, and the low sun throws shadows of giant birds on the curtains.

There’s a children’s story called “Peace at last” which I can still remember more or less word for word, having read it to Offspringses so frequently. At one point, when Mr Bear is trying to sleep in the garden he is disturbed by the sun coming up and the birds singing.

“SHINE! SHINE!” went the sun. “TWEET! TWEET!” went the birds.

“Oh no!” said Mr Bear. “I can’t stand this!”

I know just how he feels. And yet it’s wonderful too. Because the world is turning, the world is waking, in spite of the cold and snow and wind from the steppes, and sparrows are having wild, noisy and uncontrolled sex in the lilac tree at five in the morning. Honestly, country life is a riot. Literally.



I went to catch the bus yesterday morning, in the small, wee hours, stumbling down the village with suitcase and laptop and handbag, fiddling in my pockets for my gloves, checking my train ticket for the umpteenth time, checking my purse for change for the bus fare. You know the general confusion and fumbling of early morning starts.

I reached the road and got ready to cross over, and suddenly became aware that I could see the bus stop.

I know, my dears, that this might not sound like such a surprising thing. Bus stops are usually fairly noticeable, by their nature being designed to draw attention to themselves for the sake of bus drivers and bus travellers alike. A bus stop you couldn’t see would be a sorry excuse for a bus stop. It would fail to fulfil its basic purpose, which is to designate a place where buses, well, stop.

That is not of course quite what I meant. EBL is not entirely senile yet. What I meant was that I could see the bus stop from a distance without the aid of artificial light. This was not because I had consumed an unusual quantity of carrots, but rather because the sky was less inky black and more pearly grey than has been its habit over the winter months. In other words, and with great fanfare, EBL is proud to announce Signs of Spring.

I know you will be enthralled to hear that Sigoth has been painting the guest bedroom. We are very excited to have a guest bedroom, having only now, after several hundreds of years, sufficiently ejected Offspingses to enable us to call the bedroom in question “guest”. Youngest Offspring will return at the end of March to claim it again for a few weeks, but for now it is a lovely shade of guesty blue. We are even getting new carpet to match.

The point of this apparent diversion in the narrative is that while paint was drying Sigoth opened the window to let in fresh air. We did not expire in an icy blast, like Shackleton and company huddled at the Pole. In fact we were pleasantly surprised by the almost balmy quality of the air wafting inside. More importantly we heard birds.

There is that moment, after a long, dark winter, eagerly awaited following the Solstice, when the Earth awakes and suddenly one day it is lighter and brighter and the trees have buds on their branches and the sparrows do their feathery fandango at full volume under the roof tiles, the dirty little buggers. You see them hopping about with a glint in their eye and chirping the sparrow equivalent of “D’you want to come up and see my etchings?” at any passing Sparrow Lady. There is something slightly scandalous about sparrows, especially in the spring,

As we looked out of the window and breathed in the mild, fresh air, and listened to the avian porn, we also noticed the carpet of snowdrops in the garden.

It’s somehow always the way of it, for me at least, that one day it is dark and cold and winter, and the next the snowdrops have appeared and the birds are at it like bunnies and the world is made anew. Then we have a cold snap and it seems winter is fighting back, reluctant to relinquish its supremacy just quite yet, desperately and futilely hanging on to power like a Caesar caught in the forum on the Ides of March.

Winter can protest, and send us freezing sleet and howling gales still, but it can’t argue with the dawn. So it was that I knew in my bones at last, at 6.45 in the morning, that Spring was really on its way, because the sky was grey and I could see the bus stop from the other side of the road.