Birthday

 

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What a gift for my birthday: sunshine and light among water, glass, and flowers. It’s hard to believe sometimes that light and angle make such a difference. Who would believe, for example, that these are the same flowers taken from a different angle in a later light?

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What is it about birthdays? They are the same length as any other day, 24 hours. And yet, like milestones along the roadside, they mark our passage down the long journey of life. Miles, kilometers: my father could never make up his mind. When driving from Wales to Spain, he loved the miles, because they were fewer in number, yet he also loved the kilometers because, although there were more of them, they passed by more quickly.

Long journeys those: crossing the channel by ferry, then down the various routes nationales from the channel down to the Spanish border where we entered into Franco’s Spain, a very different world. Tricornios, the Guardia Civil, checking everything and everybody. We soon learned to carry an extra packet of cigarettes, some chocolate bars, something small that could be handed over or ‘confiscated’.

So what is it about birthdays, those milestones that mark our ways and our days? And where am I now on my life’s journey? Two years older than my mother, when she passed. Two years younger than my father. I look over my shoulder and see behind me the shadow of a bearded man, with a scythe, walking after me. He stoops at Lords cricket ground and, at six thirty, on the dot, he removes the bails from the stumps to signal the end of the day’s play.

Shadows are lengthening. I check my watch. The days are closing in. The umpires pass the stones they carry from hand to hand. One more over of seam, two or three more overs of spin? I adjust my stance at the crease, back away from the wicket and, like Sir Donald Bradman, I ask the umpire to give me a new guard …

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… I take it, scratch my marks in the crease, and look around me … shadows and the fielders are closing in.

Light

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Light

We are so lucky, those of us blessed with sight, doubly lucky if we have the time to stop and stare and look around us to see light falling on objects or filtering through plants and flowers. Last fall we placed two unused mint cuttings in water glasses in the kitchen window and the clippings rooted and grew. Almost by chance, I caught their beauty, leaves translucent, the window filled with sunshine, as I was walking by. A macrocosm, this picture province in which I live; a microcosm, my house where light falls on objects and transforms them.

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Here are our mini carnation pinks. We were given them on December 21, 2018, by Gwn and Victor, and still they thrive. We lost some, just a few, and to the rest we added a new bunch. Here are the smaller heads, nipped off and placed on the table in single rose glasses. The light from the window flows through flowers, water, and glasses to create a flow of warmth and joy. Sometimes, we travel the world in search of beauty, only to return, disappointed, and discover it at home.

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Last, but by no means least, I looked up from my journal and saw the light catching the leaves of this houseplant, given to me in 2010 by Barry and Susan. Plants and flowers survive in our house, thanks to the magical skills of my beloved. I try to preserve their beauty in image and word. The ephemeral, caught for a moment in the camera’s eye, and preserved, if not for eternity, at least for a little while longer.

I sometimes wonder if the souls that thrive and perish in these plants think like the indigenous in the Oaxaca Valley that life should be lived and not petrified in pictures. Maybe they don’t want me to trap the consummate  beauty of light falling on their leaves since their capture on film in still life and inanimate form prevents their migration from one plane of existence to another. Who knows? I don’t. Maybe one day I will find out. But in the meantime I will continue to celebrate the innate glories of light on leaf and to share them with you.

Reinforcements

 

 

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My grandfather used to tell me how, in WWI, when communications in the trenches were at their most primitive, information would be passed by word of mouth down a long line of soldiers who whispered the message into the ear of the man standing next to him. He would in turn pass the message on to the next soldier.  We also played this game in school where it was sometimes used as a language teaching method. To preserve the message without distortion was never easy and there were some spectacularly garbled mix- ups.

This is one of the most famous ones, though whether it was apochryphal or not, I cannot say.  However, I can say that, as schoolboys, the story was related to us as if it were true. I guess it was an object lesson in don’t believe everything you hear and double check your facts. Anyway, the message starts out as “Send reinforcements, we’re going to advance” and ends up as “Send three and four pence, we’re going to a dance.” True or not, it serves three purposes: (1) it is quite funny in itself,  (2) it introduces us to the now vanished English monetary system of pounds, shillings, and pence, and (3) it initiates the theme of reinforcements.

So happy have I been with my mini carnation pinks that when I saw some on sale yesterday, I immediately bought them. “Saw some equals awesome”. Well, it as awesome for me because I was not sure what these flowers were. I am not a flowery person, in that sense. I don’t know if these new flowers will last 23 days, like the old lot, but whether they do or don’t, I have put some together in one jar on the kitchen table and mixed in the rest with the best of the survivors from the earlier bunch. I placed those on the cabinet in the room where I surf the net. I guess I’ll follow their progress and we’ll see how they do. They are a much deeper shade of pink than the originals and it is easy to spot the old and the new in the photo. Also, the sun has gone, turned the corner, and walked to the other end of the house. Tomorrow, I’ll see them in full sunshine. That will also be fun.

 

 

Last Legs

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Last Legs

A wooden carving of Don Quixote stands guard over the mini-carnation pinks that have now lasted for 23 days. Alas, they are now suffering and several are ready to bow their heads and take their leave. They have done marvelous service. Arriving on December 21, a present from Gwen and Victor, these flowers have graced our house and table for over three weeks: a singular service in this age of rapid floral turnovers. We have looked after them, talked to them, cared for them, tended them, given them fresh water and sweet music. They have responded by filling our days with color and charm.

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Here they are in the early morning sunshine casting a shadow onto the wall behind them. So beautiful, the play of the early morning sun, through glass and water. Even the shadows are filled with tiny bursts of light. They were never heavily scented, these pinks, and their beauty lay more in their color and their longevity.

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” Well that’s one way of putting it. But the roses, regal as they are, break down so quickly, while these little fellows have hung on and on. What a pleasure to count the days and watch them flourish. “Gather ye mini carnation pinks,” I say, for they last longer and their love is more constant.

What joy, to rise in the morning and to know they will still be there. But now their days are numbered. My birthday draws near, and our Christmas flowers oh so rarely last through into mid-January. Perhaps I should crowd source and get a host of flowers, tossing their heads in sprightly dance, sent to me through e-mail. Now that would really be fun.

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“Forget us not,” they whisper to me through their leaves. “You’ll never be forgotten,” I murmur back. A sense of light and warmth wraps itself round me and now I can face whatever the future brings with joy in my heart.

 

 

Mums

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Mum’s the word: in this case baby mums. Here they are, just starting their third week. Incredible how they have lasted. Wedding anniversary > Christmas Eve > Christmas Day >  New Year’s Eve > New Year’s Day > heading for Reyes (on January 6). Who knows how long they will go.

Some friendships are like that. They appear out of nowhere and go on, seemingly for ever, in spite of so many changes. I guess a few good friends are worth a great deal more than many casual acquaintances who flicker in and out of our lives, or those fine weather friends, who are there when all is merry and well, and gone at the first sign of a dark cloud gathering on the horizon.

Think too of the caring, giving friends, who are there when you need them. They are a pleasure to be with. Then there are the friends who always borrow, and take, and never return … nice to be around, while they are receiving. Gone when they realize they can take and receive no more.

So, here’s to those faithful friends who stand by and with us. Like well-watered flowers, they hang on and are loved and respected. Carpe diem: seize the day, and hold both friends and flowers tight while you still have them, for one day, like it or not, much sooner than you think, we will all be gone.

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Friends

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Friends

This is the time of year to think about family and friends. We all need friends, especially friends who bring flowers, who stop awhile and talk, who bring comfort to us when we doubt ourselves, and help forethought, and insight when we are troubled and need knowledge. And flowers are best. Here are some from Gwen and Victor. The picture was taken the evening of their arrival. They sat on the table and spread their color over our wedding anniversary, our Christmas dinner, and now, with any luck, will last into the new year, bridging, as good friendship does, the gap between the old and the new.

Plants

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The plants in this photo were given to Clare and I by Barry and Susan in 2010, the day I was made a Professor Emeritus. It’s hard to believe that happened over eight years ago. The memories of that day have faded. The certificate has gathered dust and sits somewhere in a frame, hidden from sight, at the bottom of some cupboard or other. But the flowers of friendship planted that day by our two friends have last and lasted. I showed these plants to David, their son, when he visited the other day. Eight and a half years … some bonds and friendships are never forgotten. Others wither and are taken by the frost of loss and the ice storms of neglect.

Flowers

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Those same flowers, snapped 8 days later in the morning sunshine. Carpe diem: gather ye rosebuds, and baby carnations, while ye may. And celebrate the joys of the season: plants, flowers and so many friends, too many to be mentioned here, and I apologize to all I haven’t mentioned by name, you are never forgotten, even though your names don’t appear in this tiny snippet from the indoor winter garden where you are always welcome and friendship still blossoms and blooms.

 

 

 

Nativity

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Nativity

We keep this beautiful, hand-carved nativity scene on the sideboard all year round. It is tiny, approximately 2″ x 2″ and came from Central Europe, possibly Hungary, where a friend was travelling in the mid-seventies. He brought it back for us as a gift and we revisit it every Christmas, moving it into a more central place of honor and beauty by the Advent calendars and the Christmas scenes.

It will soon be time to remove most of these Christmas adornments. Some will stay up longer though and this is one of the pieces that will remain in sight to delight us all year round.

 

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This is another piece that will stay with us. It shows our photo of Tigger being visited by Kiki the Cat and several little puppies. Tigger gazes at them from his Royal Portrait, making them all feel welcome and protected as he endows them with the seasonal spirits that will extend well into the New Year.