It’s that time of year again, cards have gone out and others have arrived on our doormat. I’d really like to include my blog readers. So, whoever you are, wherever you live, here’s the image that was on this year’s card:
And what I’d like to pray for everyone reading this is that you would find fresh grace and peace in your life every day and be blessed throughout the coming year. May 2019 be the year you meet Jesus as your friend and guide. And for those who already know him, may your journey find you going deeper and further with him than ever before, in increasing faith and obedience.
Happy New Year 2019 everyone!
The photo shows Cotoneaster berries covered with hoar frost, the photo was taken in 2012 in our old front garden before we moved to Cirencester.
Friends are important, we humans are fundamentally social beings
At my sister’s recent book launch, I was delighted to meet an old friend from school days, Nick Henderson. Although he looks older – as, of course, I do too – his personality is entirely as I remember from the mid 1960s. We agreed to meet again this morning at the Golden Cross in Cirencester, and it was a delight.
Nick and I last met when we were both living at home and very probably still at school. For a year or two we used to hang out quite a bit. I remember going with Nick to see a local band called The Corals during a record-breaking attempt at playing non-stop without repeating any songs; the drummer, one Colin Flooks, another lad from our school year, later became famous as Cozy Powell. And yes, they did break that record – in fact they smashed it by playing for 11½ hours.
Nick and I talked about many things, catching up on our personal journeys over the last half century, recalling the cross-country runs that were compulsory on Wednesday afternoons at school, and thinking about Daglingworth Brook, the River Churn and how the water is channelled in and around the town. The drainage courses have changed over the years, altered for many reasons, beginning in Roman times when the town was young, and continuing right down to the present.
Friends are important, we humans are fundamentally social beings; renewing a connection after such a long gap has been a very special thing for me. More so than I had expected or imagined.
We were constantly surprised by the next unexpected vista
Every summer we go away somewhere different for a week – Donna and me along with two daughters, their husbands, and our four grandchildren. This year we stayed in a ski chalet in Haute-Nendaz in western Switzerland, just over the border from France.
Although prices are high in Switzerland, there are many wonderful compensations in terms of mountain scenery, clean streets and clean air, friendly people, and the walks. I had expected walks with big and tiring changes in elevation – and we certainly did our share of walks of that sort. But the bisses: what a wonderful experience!
I must admit, I had no idea what a bisse was when we drove from Geneva Airport, around Lake Geneva, and then south-west to Nendaz. I hadn’t even come across the word ‘bisse’. But we soon found a leaflet of local walks and discovered that several of them followed the local bisses. A bisse is an irrigation stream running gently downhill, almost following the contours of the mountains and hills. As a result the bisse paths are gentle and easy walking for the most part, and they wind around the slopes through woodland and meadow. The views of the mountains and valleys are spectacular; following the path through woodland and then coming out into the open again we were constantly surprised by the next unexpected vista.
All the way, the path is accompanied by the sparkling water hurrying down its channel, sometimes shallow, sometimes deep, and sometimes disappearing into a large pipe and reappearing beside the path again a little further on. Some of these paths follow one bisse gently uphill and then pick up a different one for the return, making a lovely, circular tour through the countryside.
The centre of Cirencester has buildings of a variety of ages, from the Roman City Wall (a small part of which is visible in the Abbey Park) to Victorian and more recent constructions. Walking in the town with my camera today, I took some shots of a 19th century development.
These are the upper floors of a three-storey terrace, a planned development that replaced older properties. The section at the right hand end was used as a florist’s shop for many decades (now Vodafone). I remember it as a child because my father was one of four brothers who owned and ran the shop as part of a larger business with several plant nurseries in the country areas around the town.
The shop had a wonderful cellar, always full of mysterious packages of garden chemicals and other shop stock, and before Christmas there were sometimes hyacinth bulbs being forced for early flowering. There was a marvellous fusty, moist, florist’s aroma in the cellar, but the most exciting thing was the knowledge that the cellar was bigger than the shop floor above. Castle Street was widened when the new development was built, but the cellars of the old buildings were retained. There are stone pillars in the cellar that support the heavy masonry above.
Here’s another view of the same shop from a different angle, the photo was taken by my father in the 1960s. I love the fact that this image includes the shop window displays as these always fascinated me as a young child. I also remember that my grandfather’s office window was above the main door on the corner, and the landscape design office was on the top floor with the small bay window.
And finally, for comparison, here’s another view of the same shop today.
Until those doors are in place neither the kitchen/diner extension nor the bedroom extension can receive their floor screeds…
Our builders have done much of the work that remains, but we’re waiting for our bi-fold and sliding doors to be fitted by the supplier. Until those doors are in place neither the kitchen/diner extension nor the bedroom extension can receive their floor screeds, and those will need a long time to dry out before floor tiles and wood flooring can be laid. For the same reason our new kitchen can’t be fitted – it’s stacked in boxes in the lounge.
We feel badly let down – not by our builder, Jack, and his team – they have done a grand job, but by the door suppliers. Those doors were ordered before Christmas! And the knock-on effects don’t stop there; because the lounge is full of kitchen units, we can’t unload the bulk of our furniture from the steel container parked on our drive. And the boxes containing summer clothes, paperwork, crockery, cutlery etc are blocked in by the furniture we can’t yet unload. Argghhh!
Ah well, it’s summer time. Now, where did I put those summer clothes? Oh… Wait a mo…
Meanwhile, here’s a view of the kitchen/dining extension. You’re looking in through bi-folds that are not yet there, and the opening on the right is also filled with bi-folds that are not yet there. Ho-hum.
Work is well under way now and we are close to moving back in.
I thought it was time to share something about our house project. In April 2018 we moved from St Neots to Cirencester, selling our 4-bedroom 1950 home where we’d lived since 1998, and buying a little 1960s home as a replacement.
We already had some ideas about the changes we might make, so soon after moving in we searched for an architect. We found Rural Workshop online and invited Tim Francis to visit us and talk about some possibilities. We were impressed by his ideas, flair for design and clear explanations so we asked him to go ahead and draw up plans for us. Tim made it easy for us by arranging the planning permissions for us; we have ended up with planning consent for an en suite bedroom as a side extension with a sympathetically designed pitched roof, and a flat-roofed rear extension to contain our new kitchen and dining space. Both new rooms will open onto a patio connecting the house with the main part of the back garden.
Plans in hand, we started looking for a builder who would be able to turn the design into a well-finished structure and renovate the old part of the house at the same time. It needs rewiring, replumbing, and generally updating, repairing and refinishing. We found Jack Rzasa in the nearby town of Cheltenham and decided that his team management skills and ‘get it done’ attitude were exactly what we needed. Work is well under way now and we are close to moving back in after four weeks out while the dusty and messy tasks of rewiring, knocking through and plastering are completed. We’re delighted with progress so far.
One of the plants she wants to encourage is meadow cranesbill, a wild geranium
I was walking through the countryside near our home today, and had a conversation with a man walking his dog. He mentioned that, like us, he and his wife moved into the area earlier this year. His wife is cultivating an area of wild flowers and hoping to attract bumblebees, butterflies and other pollinating insects; one of the plants she wants to encourage is meadow cranesbill, a wild geranium. It’s at its best this time of year, and very pretty.
On my way home after our conversation I spotted a bee working some cranesbill flowers, and stopped to take the photo above (click for a larger version).
There is such beauty in the natural world; living amongst it is a great privilege, one that we often overlook. This world deserves to be cared for; what can you do to look after your local area? There’s always some positive action you might take, whether you live in a rural area or in the heart of a city.
Setting up a new home becomes a bit much eventually, so Donna and I decided to take a break and go for a walk. We chose part of the Cotswold scarp near Leckhampton, and a gentle stroll brought us to this stunning view north over Cheltenham with the Malvern Hills in the distance (about 30 miles away). The ‘flying saucer’ in the upper-left is GCHQ.
There was a heavy fragrance wafting from a nearby field of oilseed rape, the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and all seemed right with the world. What a place! Standing here on the steep north-western edge of the Cotswolds, about 300 m above the Severn Vale below, we had this amazing vista. But turning round and looking the other way revealed rolling farmland and the field of fragrant, vivid yellow rape.
Then we drove on to Crickley Hill Country Park for coffees, and amongst the grass on the hilltop were cowslips in abundance, another yellow flower that grows wild in most of England, wild and pretty but so much less showy than the farmed rape.
We love the Cotswolds! Glad to be living here, but back to unpacking boxes…
Well, we did it. We moved from our old home in St Neots, to a small house in Stratton. The old village of Stratton is on the northern edge of Cirencester, mostly between the roads to Gloucester and Cheltenham.
The 18th of April was the big day. We drove down to Cirencester, collected the keys to our new home, and our furniture and boxes of possessions arrived the following day. And I do mean boxes – and boxes – and more boxes – and yet more boxes! The garage is packed to bursting, the house is full of clutter, but we’re sorting through it all and making progress. The lounge is tidy now, the kitchen is functional, and we should have a little more time from now on to explore the area and begin to live our lives again.
I’ll be writing again soon to tell you more about the house, the town and the countryside all around.