Friday, 27 September 2013

Mist and Mellow Fruitfulness...

Autumn by Giuseppe Arcimboldo 1527 - 1593 - renown for painting portraits with elements consisting entirely of fruit - courtesy of Wikipedia

The last few days of September are drifting away - our autumn firmly upon us, "seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness..." as pointed out by John Keats Esq. He's so right, the berries once more this year in masses in our hedgerows and gardens, fruit being dropped on the ground there's so much and the first mists arrived last week.

The pictures below represent just seven of the different types of berries found in my back garden an hour ago.
Yew tree fruit (which turns into an aril)

I was minded to a conversation I had a week or so ago with a colleague at work about summer and when it starts and finishes.

Rowan berries - the leaves turn a gorgeous fiery orange in late autumn
Where we are on the northern hemisphere of this planet, the meteorological autumn starts on the 1st of September, whilst those on the 'bottom half' of the world, it's their start of spring and it goes right through until the end of November. Gaelic traditions often consider autumn as August through to October.

Honeysuckle berries
But back to autumn or 'fall' if you are in America or Canada, we're a third through it already.  Before the 16th century, this time of the year was known as 'harvest' until people started to learn to read and write and then we started to use the old French word autumpne which became autumn in due course.

Pyracantha (orange coloured pomes) - the birds favourite, also found in red and yellows
I always thought 'fall' was a quaint word for autumn and my logic thought that it simply meant that it's when things started to fall off the trees, fruit and leaves etc., and in truth, it looks like that may be right with old Norse and German phrases being the likeliest candidates. We used to use it in Britain too apparently, but it gradually went out of use here.
Hypericum (St John's Wort)  fruit, this bush developed from seed dropped by a bird!
I guess my memories of my youth, sights, smells, occasions define what autumn means to me. I've already stated that berries and mists contribute, as does going to church with loads of food to donate to the old and needy in the community, home baked ornately decorated breads gracing the altar. In this part of the world, Hull Fair, Europe's second largest travelling fair arrives in the second week of October, as nights draw in, the first frosty mists arrive and the leaves are on the ground. Horse-chestnuts, baked potatoes, warm stews.

Cotoneaster, another bird seeded bush - related to the Pyracantha but without thorns!
The freshness of the air, the oranges and browns of the few leaves left on the trees, the occasional sunny day, warm enough for just a jumper during the middle of the day and the steam of your breath on the fresh cool evenings.

Varigated Holly (Ilex) berries
Some of the sunsets are a highlight for me, but getting wrapped up is a must - perhaps that's an age thing. And again we used the phrase - in the 'autumn of your life' and the parallels are obvious.

As a colleague and friend is keen on reminding me, only 88 days to Christmas!

Chat soon


Saturday, 21 September 2013

Silence is... Overwhelming

A lovely door - the entrance to the complex
Taking into account the four geographical areas within Yorkshire (east, north, south and west), it's a huge county and there is always somewhere new to visit. I took the opportunity of accompanying my friend Linda recently to Ampleforth Abbey in high rural North Yorkshire, the first visit by either of us. The Abbey belongs to the Roman Catholic Church.
Ampleforth Abbey, this latest version of the church was consecrated in 1961

This beautiful location encompasses both a Benedictine Monastery and a college. In 1802, the original house that stood on the site was given by the Honourable Anne Fairfax from which the Monastery was founded and which subsequently became an Abbey in 1890. Over the years it has developed and grown and had three churches upon the site.

The high altar

The church that remains today is a magnificent edifice, not overly huge, but warm, plain and inviting. Its is a working church, used several times a day, 365 days a year. We managed to sit in silence in the Lady Chapel next to the nave, lit  candle of respect and spent 20 minutes in meditation there. What was amazing, truly amazing was the silence. I have heard quiet before, many times, but the silence was in fact overwhelming. Not a peep - no background noise - nothing. Bearing in mind this is in rural North Yorkshire, there are no main roads nearby and the college is not currently attended by students. A lady was preparing flower presentations at the other end of the church at the high altar for a wedding taking place shortly and apart for the occasional distant 'snip' of her secateurs, I couldn't hear anything. I'm not sure I could have stood it for too much longer, but I think I could get used to it!

A 14th century German carving of the Virgin and Child watches over the small Lady Chapel.

We lit a candle out of respect
We had a pleasant tea and a bun in the tea shop and a wander round the very pleasant gift shop which had, amongst other publications a couple of Dan Brown books!

The view out across the manicured grounds
The grounds were extensive and beautifully maintained and on good days I bet it is gorgeous to wander round. The college has six hundred students including boarders and the establishment of monks is currently around 70 although many are working in the community.

The visitors centre was very interesting and the lady guide was very informative, committed and helpful and a mine of information. This dispelled many myths about the life of a monk and the purpose of their work and what they achieve.  I scored 7 out of 10 in a quiz about life as a monk - Linda scored 8 - she'd make a better monk than I.

The history displayed wasn't just about the Abbey, but how the monks arrived and the persecution suffered by the Catholic faith over the centuries. This was presented factually and in a none judgemental way. We were given a free visitors pack full of information.

If I have a criticism at all and it's nothing to do with the Abbey or the college or the people there, it's more about the faith, I found the religious iconography a bit too graphic. Everywhere were carvings of Christ nailed to the cross - I understand its significance, perhaps I just question the need to have it displayed so widely and in such graphic detail. This is not meant to offensive at all, simply an observation.

The Abbey is free to visitors and donations are welcome, the disabled are well catered for, there are plenty of facilities and weekend retreats are available (and not just for men.) The roads are a bit rural and narrow at times and with several road closures in the area, even the sat nav struggled to get us there and back through the rural environment. But that aside, a great day out.

Chat soon


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Writer's Cramp

Moss on a dry stone wall in North Yorkshire
I love writing, but I'm hopeless at it and have little motivation most of the time. I guess life gets in the way. I've often wondered what makes a good writer; is it the 'can't put it down' factor, is it the riveting argument, the quaint prose, the subject matter, the satisfying beginning, middle and end?

I also suppose it's what you write too. Novels are hard for me, firstly because time is not easy to come by to sit down for a couple of hours a day and get my teeth into one. I read books at school age of course, Captain WE Johns Biggles books mostly, for pleasure and I read books for professional reasons, for education and advancement, but apart from the odd autobiography of my favourite stars, there it stopped for many years. 

I was working away from home in 1984 for two weeks and I was bored to tears and I asked a colleague in desperation if he had anything to read and he loaned me a Stephen King novel 'Christine.' Not only had I never heard of Stephen King, but a horror/thriller too? 

I was hooked, I couldn't put it down, a scrap car restoring itself and its odometer going backwards and taking revenge on people? What a load of rubbish, but it was in fact an extraordinary read full of emotion and atmosphere and I went on from there. 

Do novels inspire me to write, no not really, but along with writing press releases for a few years, penning strategic level reports at work now, I like to make my writing clear and easy to understand without being patronising. I used to tell colleagues that you should write to the audience or recipient as if they were an intelligent 14 year old and leave no ambiguities and you should be okay. It seemed to work.

Writing a blog is no less difficult and yet it caters for a wide audience, many of whom just click in randomly and it has to be interesting, varied and often writ. That is my downfall, my life is sufficiently unexciting that I can only find things to write about every now and then when something happens or I do something different or exciting.

My writing in my personal life is on esoteric subjects relating to my interests in spirituality and psychic study, so my development group get papers from me regularly on a wide variety of subject matter. This is itself difficult to write because it's researched based. How much do I put it, more importantly, what do I leave out? I can't write a novel, just a couple of pages maximum on each subject to whet the appetite, to encourage further research on the part of the reader. I think this is one of the keys. How do I make this sufficiently interesting to inspire further reading?

A lonely barge at low tide rests in the River Hull

The internet is an interesting subject in itself, but how much of this influences how we write? I can recall the days when the internet gurus said that every novel would only be read on the screen via the internet, the book is dead, long live the book. The truth is that writing for the book and magazine is as popular as ever and my local bookshop is always packed full of people browsing through the tens of thousands of book available on every conceivable subject. Much of what is written on the internet is interesting but some of it badly put and after a minute reading, it's easy just to switch to another site, or in some cases, better to go and make a cuppa.

There is a novel in everyone, but perhaps wisely, author, the late Christopher Hitchens also said, “Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that's where it should stay.”

So I am not minded to write a book - just yet. I do have an ambition to write a book, but it's not fiction, it's about life, my life and its journey. Who is it for? Anyone, no-one. So what is the point - it's a lot of effort for a cathartic exercise, but there will be men out there and perhaps a few women who might relate to a life story of an ordinary person who has faced some difficulties, still faces difficulties but where the light at the end of the tunnel has been finally spotted.

So I follow a couple of blogs of writers, Diane Parkin and Paula RC Readman, not necessarily just because they are writers, more for their personality and interesting blogs, but writing something substantial does hold that fascination and who knows - one day.

I hope you are thinking about keeping warm as the autumnal weather starts to take hold.

Chat soon