Gardens in the City

A meditation on hospitals, allotments and the National Health Service.

While I’m writing this I’m listening to the ‘NHS Symphony’. A new choral work commissioned by BBC Radio 3 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of our health service. It contains a collage of sounds from two Birmingham NHS hospitals, routine sounds and major life event sounds. From the cradle to the grave. From birth to death with the NHS. Humanity’s greatest creation.

All day until coming home and listening to this I’ve been at Sarah’s allotment. Together with Sarah this time though so often on my own these past weeks of her sea kayaking journeys to the Western Isles and Anglesey.

Quiet evenings walking over to Sarah’s garden in the city. To water it, weed it, care for it, notice what is happening there. Continue reading “Gardens in the City”

Happiness

It’s the greatest thing that we possess, you know? But what does it look like and feel like? Well here goes.

For my screen saver at the moment I’m using all the photographs of Granby that Nick Hedges took for Shelter around 1969. Because they’re some of the best photographs I’ve ever seen and because day in day out, at quiet moments, they remind me of how bad life can get and also how good. Like the day the people of Jermyn Street got Ken Dodd to come and visit.

A perfect picture of happiness from a long ago Granby to get us going then.

Now if you’ve been around this blog for a while you’ll know that I have a tendency to be depressed from time to time. Continue reading “Happiness”

In Praise of Patience & Democracy

I first published this ‘Patience’ post early in March this year. Now, here in mid-April, I’m publishing this revised edition for two good reasons: To update you on how the garden is going, and because, while gardening, I’ve been thinking about democracy.

I’ve never been a particularly patient person, quite the opposite in fact. Often acting as if there is a virtue in getting things finished over and done with as soon as possible, if not sooner. Other people will often irritate me with such half hearted promises that they’ll try and do such and such a thing by some time soon that I’ll be driven into doing whatever it might be, in a storm of impatience, before they’ve even had the chance to start. Driven, that’s been me for a lot of my life.

Recently though I’ve been learning some patience in a place that simply refuses to be driven, on Sarah’s allotment.

I’ve been helping her to restructure her place for a few months now. Clearing, demolishing, burning, building and, particularly, digging up long overgrown grasses she’d decided to be rid of. I’ve written about some of this on here before and most of them are gone now. Except for the cordyline. Continue reading “In Praise of Patience & Democracy”

A Glimpse of Sky

‘There are times I think I would gladly die for a glimpse of sky’

Or at least that how the song goes in my memory. I also think it was written by Judy Collins. And though neither of these memories turns out to be true it’s Judy Collins who’s singing the song in my head, having added the word ‘glimpse’ to Stephen Sondheim’s original lyrics, while I work on Sarah’s allotment in Liverpool this afternoon.

The sky is the great gift we get for spending a lot of our time outdoors. You get on with whatever it is you’re doing, and on this afternoon that has meant a lot of digging and looking at the soil, then when you look up there’s the sky, different every time. Continue reading “A Glimpse of Sky”

A Quiet New Year

The day before Christmas Eve I wrote and photographed a poem called “Letting Go: A Quiet Breath” and the quiet days have continued here from then through to this new year of 2018.

In The Mystery, watching the sun set on 2017. Photograph by Clare Melhuish.

These beloved souls are my three grandchildren: Finn, 3; Theo, 8, and Eleanor, 11. In the park with their parents, Simon, with Finn on his shoulders and my daughter Clare, who took the beautiful photograph.

A little later I’m on the other side of The Mystery, gazing up at the Moon.

As night falls on 2017.

The evening passes in quiet thoughts of what was good in 2017, what didn’t really work out and what might change as the year gets called 2018. We call these new year changes resolutions, but of course some of them are nothing of the sort. While we can all change stuff like what we eat, how much we run and, maybe, the work we do, much else that we’d like to happen is in the realm of wishes and dreams, like always.

Still, we can all change some of what’s immediately around us, so this morning finds us back at Sarah’s allotment, where we’ve spent several of these quiet days.

Two against nature, January 1st, 2018.

Continue reading “A Quiet New Year”

A Christmas Clearing

Three days of quiet Christmastime on Sarah’s plot of Liverpool land.

This has been a clearing kind of year for Sarah and I. Our sequence of Clearing posts back in October and November recorded a time when we were clearing things and activities from our lives to focus better on what really matters to each of us in our different ways. And the news from here in Sarah’s shed on her allotment at Greenbank Lane Allotments this Christmas Day is that we’re still clearing.

Happy Christmas from both of us.

Sarah’s been gardening this plot of earth now since 2001. Over these sixteen years it’s been her passion, her joy, her refuge and her sanctuary. Others have helped over the years, hi Bren, hi Gemma and even me. But this is Sarah’s place and over the last few months, along with so much else, she’s been clearing it. Continue reading “A Christmas Clearing”

A Weekend in Early December

I’ve loved using this space I have to write more deeply these past few months. To change the balance between words and pictures on here and have more to say. I’ve particularly had more to say during this time for the reasons many of us will have more to say during times in our lives when we are ill or things generally are not going so well. From late July onwards things did not go well for me and I found myself, to my own relief and slight surprise, trying to write my way through my own doubts, illness, depression and unhappiness. It’s turned out I had a lot to say.

Now, come this weekend in early December, things are much better. Through the love and help of friends, the passing of time and perhaps the writing, my life is in a better place. So I’ve decided to write from this better place. For myself as much as for you who might read this. So I will remember, the next time depression darkens my door, that happiness, sometime soon, can always be a tangible possibility. Continue reading “A Weekend in Early December”

Clearing with Sarah: Less not more

Some of the most popular posts I’ve written on here lately are the three linked ones called “The Clearing.” I’ve cleared books, activities and, since I wrote the posts, even a car over the past couple of months. And feel much better for it, thanks.

Well, there are two of us live here and Sarah’s been doing some deep and enthusiastic clearing herself. So here’s her take on the whys, wherefores and hows of living with less and how you get there.

Fair warning, fire is involved.

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If you’re a regular blog reader then you’ll know that we’ve been busy here – busy ‘clearing’. Clearing is the term we use for ‘getting rid of stuff that we don’t use anymore’.

And that ‘stuff’ can be literally ‘things’ like books and possessions (as in The Clearing). It can also be people and activities, yes that’s a bit trickier (as in The Clearing 2). And it can be about time too, a sort of extension of people and activities (as in The Clearing 3). But the end result of all of this clearing is less ‘stuff’, less clutter, and more space and time for you.

For me that’s involved clearing knitting projects, giving me more time to concentrate on the ones that matter – fingerless gloves. It’s also meant that I’ve had time to (finally) re-cover some chairs in a fabric bought much earlier this year.

And I’ve cleared out my recipe folder – amazing the amount of recipes I’ve printed or kept from a magazine and will never make, or have tried and didn’t like. So this clearing has given me the space to concentrate on a couple of recipes that I have improved – like cheesecake and (finally) apple tart.

And just because we are ‘good’ at clearing it doesn’t mean that we don’t own ‘stuff’. I do have stuff – although when it comes to clothes I will almost certainly never match the effortless minimalism displayed by Ronnie in his wardrobe – but anyway this is not a competition. But the point of clearing for me is that the ‘stuff’ that I have is stuff that I want in my life. Continue reading “Clearing with Sarah: Less not more”

The Meaning of Life: Change and Decay

I know I keep talking about the meaning of life on this blog. The preciousness of all of our times here on earth, including my own as I enter my autumnal days.

Today has been more of this, particularly reflective for me as I’ve spent much of it on Sarah’s autumnal allotment, itself changing and gently decaying now, long past the summer’s end as the year’s light declines.

In through the Secret Gate.

The light this afternoon being that particularly sharp, low in the sky light, that comes on sunny days just before we turn the clocks back.

Dogwood in the autumn light.
Bonfires of the summer’s growth all around us.

All the colours sharp like they’ve been turned up to maximum on some celestial control. Continue reading “The Meaning of Life: Change and Decay”