The Joy of Spring

We’ve had a good week. The weather’s been good, we’ve got lots of jobs done, and I’ve given our grass the first cut of the season.

Today, we had the chance to meet friends at Stewart Park in Middlesbrough. It was great to get out in the fresh air and enjoy life’s simple pleasures, things we’re all learning to appreciate more since the start of the coronavirus lockdown.

You can see all the photos I took by clicking here.

Halifax Piece Hall

Our half-term day trip to Halifax this time last year (February 2020) was a wonderful family day out, although little did we know how coronavirus would soon become a world-wide pandemic (March 2020) and change all of our lives. It was a wet day (as you can see from the above panorama), but we look back with an increasing fondness engendered through an enforced lockdown.

Halifax is a historic market, mill and minster town in West Yorkshire, England. In the fifteenth century the town became an economic hub of the old West Riding of Yorkshire, primarily in woollen manufacture. From New Year’s Day 1779 manufacturers and mercers dealt internationally through its grandiose square, the Piece Hall. Today it houses many small shops and independent businesses, along cafés, restaurants and venues.

Both Naomi and I have lived near Halifax (before we knew each other) and have friends there. It was lovely to visit with our family, and hopefully we can visit again soon when the lockdown restrictions ease.

A Mummy’s Lockdown

Lockdown 3 is a totally different beast in comparison to the first one. As much as I love and adore my three, I was able to give Pollyanna proper time when Freddy and Matilda were at school. Now she just has to join in Matilda’s activities. I fully planned on looking for a little job when John retired, but my hip problem limits me, and then coronavirus thrown into the mix has postponed that idea.

We literally have three, four and five year old children non stop from 7.00 am until sometimes 11.00 pm by the time Matilda has stopped coming down for cuddles. It wasn’t quite so pressured in the first lockdown as I did ‘school’ myself. Due to the government not being as proactive and planned with regards to home schooling, we did well with the fun activities I produced. The weather was nicer and we managed daily walks.

Now schools are so pressured to set ridiculous amounts of work, our children are suffering terribly and Freddy in particular hates home school, resulting in every day being a battle. We hate it too, and can’t wait until it’s over so we can start work repairing all the emotional damage.

We don’t get out for walks much because Matilda’s scheduled Zoom class falls right in the middle of the afternoon, and by the time it’s finished and we’re all ready it’s getting dark and cold. Plus, there’s too much school work to get through during the day and if we kept activities for the evening the children are too tired to concentrate. We often have to stay up until gone 2.00 am to catch up with washing (and other jobs). Household jobs that are normally done during the day are now done at night when my exhausted is exhausted.

This lockdown is killing our family equilibrium!

The Passionate Shepherd (Marlowe)

The full title of this poem by Christopher Marlowe is The Passionate Shepherd to His Love. The poem was the subject of a well-known ‘reply’ by Walter Raleigh, called The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd.

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove,
That Valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the Rocks,
Seeing the Shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow Rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing Madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of Roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of Myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty Lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and Ivy buds,
With Coral clasps and Amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The Shepherds’ Swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May-morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me, and be my love.

Christopher Marlowe (baptised 1564, died 1593)

Norton Duck Pond

Following my retirement we’ve been privileged to live in the beautiful village of NortonStockton-on-Tees. It’s a delightful village and we live in easy walking distance of the Parish Church, the Village Green and the Duck Pond, with the latter being the obvious destination when out with our young children.

The Duck Pond is part of the Village Green and is surrounded by mostly Georgian houses and cottages. It’s beautiful at anytime of day or night, season or weather.

I found this interesting story while researching the history of the village: The village was once the site of a market at a spot called Cross Dike, near the pond. The market was established in Norman times but this ceased operating around the time of the Civil War in the 1640s. One story is that the market established by Henry II and Bishop Flambard of Durham was to operate on the sabbath and this offended God who caused the markets to collapse by swallowing them up with the sudden opening up of the ground by some kind of earthquake that then allegedly formed the village pond. You can read more here.

Thankfully, we can visit the Duck Pond in the current coronavirus lockdown, reminding us of the need to appreciate what we have around us.

See also: Norton High Street and Norton Parish Church

Stargazing with Matilda

Home schooling is a very real and present challenge (understatement) for millions of parents and families in the coronavirus lockdown, but Matilda and I had an enjoyable adventure at the end of what has been a tough day. There was a homework task in her school app inbox from before Christmas, to explore the night sky. So off we went in the car (including Chippy the Elf, don’t ask) to a quiet country lane a few miles from home.

Winter is the best time to explore the night sky in the northern hemisphere, because it’s darker than the summer (obviously) and because there are more distinctive constellations, with Orion dominating.

It was muddy and windy (my flat cap blew off) and a little scary for Matilda, but we had a great time and saw some wonderful objects in the night sky once our eyes had adjusted.

The most obvious object in the sky was the Moon with Mars and Uranus appearing close in the sky, although the latter is too faint to see with the naked eye unless the location is exceptionally dark. We saw the dramatic constellation of Orion and used his belt (three stars in a line) to point down to Sirius (the brightest star in the night sky) and upwards to the constellation of Taurus and the Pleiades star cluster. We spotted the distinctive W (or M) shape of the constellation Cassiopeia, and the plough shape of Ursa Major.

It was a very short lesson as Matilda soon wanted to get back into the car, but we could still see quite a lot inside the car and on the way home. A positive experience of home schooling at the end of the day.

Preludes (T. S. Eliot)

The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o’clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.

And then the lighting of the lamps.

The morning comes to consciousness
Of faint stale smells of beer
From the sawdust-trampled street
With all its muddy feet that press
To early coffee-stands.
With the other masquerades
That time resumes,
One thinks of all the hands
That are raising dingy shades
In a thousand furnished rooms.

You tossed a blanket from the bed,
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed’s edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.

His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o’clock;
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspapers, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties,
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.

I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.

Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.

Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965)

Wind on the Hill (Milne)

dandelion nature sunlight
Photo by Nita on Pexels.com

No one can tell me,
Nobody knows,
Where the wind comes from,
Where the wind goes.

It’s flying from somewhere
As fast as it can,
I couldn’t keep up with it,
Not if I ran.

But if I stopped holding
The string of my kite,
It would blow with the wind
For a day and a night.

And then when I found it,
Wherever it blew,
I should know that the wind
Had been going there too.

So then I could tell them
Where the wind goes…
But where the wind comes from
Nobody knows.

Alan Alexander Milne (1882-1956)

A Very British Eclipse

Eclipse 11 Aug 99 Llangollen Canal

As parts of South America witness a total solar eclipse, I’m reminded of the day in August 1999 when I fulfilled a boyhood ambition of witnessing one.

As I travelled down to Devon from South Wales (the eclipse was only going to be total in parts of Cornwall and Devon) I really started to capture the excitement when I stopped at a Service Area on the M5, as there was something of a party atmosphere.

I eventually parked on the waterfront at Kingsbridge, near some good public conveniences that were open 24 hours, and attempted to get some sleep in the car. Waking soon after 4.00 am I decided to make my way the coast, heading for Slapton Sands. I arrived at about 5.00 am and was totally unprepared for the level of traffic and activity going on.

There were some quite large car parks, and I managed to get one of the last spaces. It was right next to the beach, people were sleeping in cars and vans, in tents, and in sleeping bags on the beach itself. As it started to get light, there was no way I was going to get any more sleep, so I decided to get the bike out and go for an early morning cycle ride. There was a great buzz in the air; it was one of those occasions when people were drawn together by a shared experience, strangers found it easy to talk to each other. Telescopes, cameras and the like were being set up on the vantage points, and the smell of cooking was hanging in the air. By this time the authorities had closed off the car park entrances, and the refreshment vans were doing brisk business.

By about 8.00 am the traffic had become even busier, but there was nowhere to go, no sooner had people parked half on the road, half on the grass verges, they were moved on. Fields were opened up for the cars, but these eventually filled up, and still the cars were coming, causing chaos in the narrow country lanes.

I managed to see the eclipse at various stages, up to about 70% covered, but then the threatening darker clouds came and obscured the view, but nothing can prepare you for the experience of totality, and it’s impossible to adequately describe in words.

the approach of darkness
the drop in temperature
the quietness that descended on the crowds
the expectation
the moment of totality
the darkness during the day
the birds flying off
the applause of the crowd

Because of the cloud cover, I saw nothing more of the eclipse as the Moon finished travelling across the Sun, although the Sun did break through later on.

And that’s my experience of the eclipse, something I will never forget. I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t actually see the full eclipse, but I experienced something equally unique; it was moody, eerie, and atmospheric, to be under cloudy skies when the shadow of the Moon travelled overhead at nearly 2000 mph, a very British eclipse.

End of Summer Feelings

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How do you feel at the end of summer? Spring is my favourite time of the year; there’s new life emerging in nature and I can enjoy the (hopefully) better weather without hay fever and asthma (July and August are worst for me), the days are getting longer, and my birthday falls in May. Also, as a Christian, the significant events of Easter and Pentecost come within this period in the Northern Hemisphere.

By August Bank Holiday Monday (at the end of August in the UK) I start to feel reflective and sometimes a little down with the nights closing in, the onset of autumn, and (although I enjoy my vocation as a Salvation Army Officer) the thought of returning to the busyness of work.

I occasionally get depressed and take a mild anti-depressant* for it, more recently I’ve experienced bouts of anxiety as well. Although the depression is well-managed, I find that autumn and winter are the most difficult seasons for me. I’m open and honest about this because I believe there shouldn’t be any stigma about mental health issues within society; many will suffer from mental health issues during their lifetime (or know someone who does) and so education and openness can only be for the good, so that no one suffers in silence.

There are various strategies I’ve learnt through the years to help including eating healthily, getting out in the fresh air, exercise, running and making sure I get a good night’s sleep (not always easy). I also consciously focus on living in the present, grounding exercises and the like.

How does the end of summer affect you? I’d love to hear from you, whether you love it or loathe it; and if you find it difficult, how do you cope?

Photo Credit: Howard Webber (check out his books here).

* Note: I stopped taking a mild anti-depressant in 2020.