The months are passing. I think that all the regular readers of the blog have grown a little accustomed to the fact that I don’t, or can’t, write quite as regularly as in days of old, and luckily no-one seems to mind. Life has it’s business, for certain, but it’s not only that – there’s the need, sometimes, to say, the laptop is staying shut – I’ doing something else this evening, and tomorrow evening – the blog will wait. I will miss looking back at the week-by-week process of my thoughts, in years to come, I think, but for now, think of this of a diary that has gone from being written weekly to less frequently. The narrative is the same, but the pace is different. And as the terrible, sad news emerges day by day from Eastern Europe, never have I felt happier than to look back, as I just did, over 10 weeks of seasonal shift. January and February are behind; half of March – that fickle month that gives you spring one day, harshest winter the next – is gone.
And we need the inherent optimism of spring just now – lengthening days, warming sunshine, spring bulbs everywhere.
J A N U A R Y
January started dark and gloomy in Dorset; we were swathed in mist and winds and storms.
No colours except green, grey, brown and black.
But even then, the optimism of the months ahead – snowdrop leaves pushing up.
Some days the skies cleared, and the sun shone through, and we could pretend we were in warmer times – even as we were still coming out of the lingering sense of ‘almost-lockdown’, the darkness of December.
One morning in January I found myself taking an early train from Paddington Station, and getting there way too early, had this moment of sunrise in Kensington Gardens – astonishingly peaceful and calm.
That day ended with a small tour of the garden at Iford Manor, the astonishing garden near Bradford-on-Avon created, for himself, by the great Edwardian garden designer – architect, Harold Peto. We walked the terraces and steps as the sun was settling over this magical valley.
An astonishing view, and day.
A different sense of peace the following day, with our office visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Charlie and I walked over as the sun was rising.
A brilliant 3 hour tour was led by the Cathedral historian and conservator, Jonathan Hellyer, and the architectural historian Jeremy Musson. We went through every corner of the magnificent building, learning all her secrets along the way.
A morning that left us all wanting to see more. I could not recommend a visit more highly – guided tours are available to book on the Cathedral website. It’s a building we all know so well in one sense, but forget, in another. The drama of Wren’s towering achievement was profound.
F E B R U A R Y
We had days of sunshine in London,
And back in Dorset….
And even in a few weeks you can feel the sense of change in the quality of light, and air, between early January and mid February:
Suddenly the evenings feel longer….
Charlie’s astonishing greenhouse filled with bulbs in flower, and seedlings germinating.
We had a weekend exploring the Piddle Valley, one of Dorset’s hidden treasures… Athelhampton, with its fine Edwardian garden…
Affpuddle, with a beautiful church, and churchyard filled with snowdrops drifting between the gravestones.
Our destination was the Square & Compass, Worth Matravers, with its beautiful gloss yellow walls and ceilings, simple beer and food…
And brilliant museum.
Home via the Winterborne Valley, and dreamy, serene Came House. Mornings are brighter now. You can feel a spring in the air, just as the news from Eastern Europe gets darker and more oppressive. I had a strange week in bed with Coronavirus, where, in a sense, I strangely caught up with things and found a sense of balance – so long as I was lying down. I really lost my sense of balance when I was up and about…. And thankfully, Charlie didn’t succumb.
M A R C H
And then, with friends, we had a long-planned, three days in the Swiss mountains; light of sparkling intensity as the international situation hurtled into terrible destruction and chaos. The irony was profound. It felt like we were escaping. Escapism is all very well, but you couldn’t help feel the contrasts deeply inherent. The crystal clear air was like a form of rest-cure, but we knew that reality was never far away.
We were staying at the Hotel Bellevue des Alpes, a place of amazing, old fashioned, happy charm; our little group couldn’t have been better looked after. I’m very much a morning only skier, I’ll be honest. Afternoon sleeps in the clear mountain air – a time to disconnect, and catch breath.
The sky turning pink, then deep purple. Complete, total silence at night.
Home, back to work, back the grim news, the relentless ‘permacrisis’ as I have seen it being described. How do we get a sense of perspective? We are all doing all we can to help, in our own ways, I think; everyone’s hearts reaches out with prayer and hope to people who were going about their lives and find the civilised world torn upside down. Amidst the sense of horror, we must hold on to hope.
Yesterday, we had a walk on the beach with a friend. The air was clear and bracing. It was three years ago almost to the week that my brothers and I were spending many days on this beach with Dad, who’d just lost Mum, heartbroken after fifty six years together. The consolation of the sea.
Yesterday afternoon, in the village, we had a deep spring clean of the church – after two years of its effectively ‘winterised’ state thanks to the pandemic. Now, it was safe to put the kneelers back, and the hymn books and bibles. We cleaned the windows and pews, polished and dusted, and turned a slightly forlorn, dusty building back into its usual self: gleaming and full of life. We are even now making great progress with the window restoration programme, after all this time – we are hoping works will start either later this year or in the winter. The church suddenly feels alive again.
As does the garden outside…. filled with bulbs everywhere now.
During the dark early days of the pandemic, I found myself thinking about the consolations of nature a lot; now, even more so. Bad times will always pass, and I have always been a passionate believer in the fact that there are far more good people in the world than we sometimes remember.