Thursday, 23 May 2019

A Big Clear Out

One of the hardest things to do after my parents' deaths has been to decide what to do with their house and its contents. The house was bought by my great grandfather, and inherited by my granddad. It's where my mum lived since she was a child, where my parents lived from just after the war, and where I grew up. There are so many memories woven into its bricks and garden paths that it seems almost wrong to not move back there - but I don't think I will. Regardless of what I decide, the first thing to do is empty it of contents - and over so many generations, those contents have been accumulating. Sorting through it all has been an emotional experience.

There's all the stuff that I suppose you'd expect - the everyday crockery and cutlery, the Sunday-best china - but my family seem to have been hoarders of anything and everything, and I've unearthed an astounding mix of trivial and poignant items. When I moved out, and later when my grandmother died, my parents seem to have just spread out into every room, every wardrobe, cupboard and set of drawers.

I was amazed by the quantity of old clothing, handbags and shoes that had been kept, often long after there was any use left in them, at finding rusty cake tins, tupperware containers with a coating of whatever was once stored in them, and the used batteries and blown fuses that my dad refused to throw out. I even found bottles of champagne which had gone 'off'!

But I found it best to not just discard things. Every purse had been left with at least a ha'penny in it, and I was brought to tears on checking an old wallet, and discovering, carefully preserved for 76 years, the receipt from the hotel my parents stayed in for their honeymoon.

Tucked away in an ancient handbag (possibly my grandmother's) was a tiny prayer book, about 2 inches by 1 1/2, dated to 1873 which belonged to my great great grandfather Coote; elsewhere I stumbled across a diary my dad kept while in India during WW2,

Almost every birthday card sent from my dad to my mum seems to have been kept, congratulatory cards for my birth, handmade cards with stuck on pictures and childish handwriting sent from my children to their grandparents.

There's a lot of social history crammed into old boxes - an itinerary provided by the RAC, a precursor to satnav; cookery books, knitting and sewing patterns dating back to the 1930s; the tablecloths embroidered by my mum and grandmother (not one or two, but dozens), driving licences from the 50s; a dreadful fox-fur stole that was no doubt highly fashionable once but which always horrified me.

From WW2 there are ration books, letters, the buttons from granddad's ARP uniform, Royal Engineers cap badges belonging to my dad, and even his 'de-mob' suitcase. (I'm half expecting to find his old army tent somewhere in an outhouse, though probably eaten away by mice now).

It's been a long emotional task sorting through everything, but in the end I think it's helped me through these last few months. It's almost impossible to know where to begin with deciding what should be kept, what let go. I can't keep everything, and I'm not really sure I'd want to. My grandmother frequently used a phrase (often about people she disliked) of something being 'neither use nor ornament', and it seems a good test to apply here.

So, alongside the personal memorabilia, I'm keeping some of the fine china and cut glassware but it won't spend its time in a cupboard, coming out for best. I'll use it. Have one of those posh teas, with tiny sandwiches, dainty cakes, and prosecco in bone china cups. I have a pile of embroidered tablecloths to serve it on, and silver-plated sugar tongs and pastry forks. I'll be right posh.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Mapperley Reservoir, Shipley Country Park

It's my belief that sunny evenings shouldn't be spent indoors, so off we went to Shipley Country Park one warm day earlier this week.

We didn't want a long walk, so parked by Mapperley reservoir and ambled round it. Along the northern bank there's a footpath which stays close to the water, leading to designated fishing spots, but it's been re-surfaced recently and is a bit stony and uncomfortable to walk on for now, so we followed the bridal path which is set further away from the reservoir.

There were lots of wild flowers to be seen - red campion, cow parsley and dandelion clocks on this stretch with bluebells under the trees on the southern side, and even a couple of rhododendrons with their huge showy flowers.

And lots of things for a dog to investigate.

As we arrived back at the dam end of the reservoir, the sun was just setting - so good timing on our part for once

There were coots and mallards swimming around but walking back across the dam to the car park we spotted this exotic guy - a mandarin duck.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Swans a-swimming at Swan Lake

The warm weather has returned, and with it my determination to get out and about, even if only for a shortish walk.

So late on Sunday afternoon we headed to Swan Lake/Straw's Bridge nature reserve.

Spring has definitely advanced since we were last there, roughly a month ago. The trees are now green, the hawthorns full of blossom, and at least one family of ducks had youngsters swimming along with them.

Our intention had been to only walk round the main lake, and sit awhile on one of the benches overlooking it, but Dylan the dog seemed inclined to walk further, so we did - picking up the old railway track, part of the Nutbrook Trail, where it runs alongside a disused canal behind the reserve, and following it a little way, then returning past two smaller lakes to Swan Lake.

Above and below, the two smaller lakes, looking tranquil in the late afternoon sun

I attempt to count the swans each time we visit, but they were rather scattered around the perimeter of the lake this time, and a couple were perhaps sitting on nests, but my best estimate would be 20 on the main lake, with one other spotted elsewhere.

Most walks have a highlight of some kind - an unusual bird, or unexpected view - and for me on this visit it was catching this grassy bank with the sun shining through dandelion clocks. In part I wish I'd had a better camera along, but I've grown lazy and prefer to rely on my phone's camera, even if the shot doesn't come out perfect.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Sunshine and Wisteria at Calke Abbey

Continuing our Bank Holiday jaunts, on Monday we went to Calke Abbey for an amble round the gardens. The weather, again, wasn't great, but the sun did eventually come out ... and, while we were waiting for it, we found wisteria rambling over the old walls of the former kitchen gardens.

Calke Abbey itself always seems rather stern and severe to my mind, but the former kitchen gardens make up for that with an abundance flowers and vegetables. We've even visited in winter and found them fascinating then.

By luck more than judgement, this weekend the wisteria looked at its best, smothering the old walls in scented blossom.

There's something dream-like and magical about a cascade of  wisteria flowers

This long wall flanking the path to the sheds and boilerhouses looked wonderful 
(the opposite side faces north so the wisteria hasn't flowered yet, so there's time to visit again)

I loved this stunning, but oh so simple, planting of bright red tulips and blue forget-me-nots.

Other walls were covered by clematis in shades of purple and lilac - perhaps deliberately chosen to match the wisteria

Elsewhere, the auriculas were looking perfect in their theatre which keeps the worst of the weather off. They look stunning en masse, and I don't think any two plants were alike

The beds under the palms trees were filled with wallflowers in almost every colour from bright yellow to deep reds and purple.

In the heated greenhouses and orangery apricots and nectarines already had small fruit, and against a south-facing wall figs were growing

The scarecrows were keeping watch over the vegetable patch, making sure small seedlings were safe.

Apple trees blossoming in the orchard, looking so pretty against the blue sky