Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Just for the Record

The garden is declining into hibernation mode, though the view from my window always lifts the spirits. High sky and the slopes of Wytham Woods, the great pine tree more visible as the tulip trees scatters its gold on the grass, the twin-spired holly determinedly solid, the low sun illuminating the silvery-grey bark of the soaring branches of the eucalyptus both at dawn and sunset.  Gladys, Edith and Maisie didn't know quite what to make of the first frost, but I put a thick fleecy rug over the top of the hen-coop and under the waterproof sheet that covers that half of their closed run in the hope that it would be a little less chilly of a night. Still three eggs a day, regular as clockwork. There is nothing quite like the warmth and softness of the early morning just-laid egg.
I'm at St Deiniol's again, but four days of staring at what feels unconscionably bad writing has had a dispiriting effect. Maybe the trouble is that I have been doing too much reading among the ponderous scholarly articles on aspects of the fifteenth century, and it has infected my style. I am writing good history but bad fiction. Retreat and regroup:  I read through all the excellent advice on writing fiction I'd garnered, and rearranged my now vast library of photocopies in a more logical order. Then I ordered up a couple more history mysteries from amazon and promised myself a diet of them when I get home. Although Christmas is nearing, I'm determined not to let it drop as it is so hard to gather together forward impetus. Point of view is a major problem. The book I began and have now relegated to number two in the series was far more bouncy and vivid - I was then not taking Alice's P of V. So maybe I should go back to her being seen from a distance [cf Gladys Mitchell]. More light and laughter needed. OR an total rethink: a quite different non-fiction group biography along the line of Phyllis Rose's brilliant C19 Parallel Lives: the interlaced stories of Alyce, Cecily Neville, Margaret Beaufort, Jacquetta Woodville, Duchess of Buckingham. Could be rather fun! Assembly of Ladies/City of Ladies??No, neither right . . .
Also strayed into the modern literature section - all manner of distracting treasures, including RS Thomas galore, Tolkein, Goudge, C S Lewis. Settled on Seton's Katherine as the nearest to appropriate reading
Interesting people here as ever - one put me on to a book called The Library at Night. I looked it up on the internet and found this review from the Observer 2008 and promptly orderd both it and the author Alberto Manguel's History of Reading.  So coming home should be a cornucopia of good things - to say nothing of continuing to listen to Naxos's magnificent new unabridged Kim, wisest, funniest and most haunting of books.

The grandchildren have been a great delight - it was Fox's 1st birthday on 7 Nov and I went to Tilly and Tom's house in Isleworth so that we could all go up together. Ben scooted with magnificent aplomb alond the embankment, past the Tower and to Browns, where the tea party was happening. A fortnight later they came down to ride on Cumbria, a steam train from Furness that was visiting the Wallingford and Cholsey Railway. Great fun had by all.

Granny Thursdays have been going well to - I am now much less ambitious about what I do with Sam and Olivia, and have realised that there are quite enough adventures to be had at Nutwood itself without making extra excursions. Wonderful chaos ensued from my bright idea of letting them cutting open the huge and unhandy compressed bag of wood shavings for lining the hencoop all over the kitchen floor, so that we could bag it up again. Everyone and everything was soon soused in the curiously adhesive stuff. S&O decided that they were chickens themselves and laid eggs [popped quickly under them by me] vigorously. Most days it has been fine enough to get a little gardening done - the bulbs they planted last month are already foolishly snouting through the earth, and the broad beans are over six inches high. The castle Ian found in a charity shop is also proving most popular.
Bridge thrives; Robin's and my thinking on play coinciding nicely, and we distinguished ourselves in duplicate at the Ferry the week before last apparently, winning two bottles of wine. Surely some mistake! I will miss Edward's amusing and instructive lessons on Friday morning, but now that Thursdays are lost, I can't afford another morning off. I'm aware that I'm probably losing myself too much in bridge, but for the moment, during this year of recovery, it seems no bad thing. A great gains are my new Mondays at the Taylorian with Fiona: a study buddy seems to do us both good; she battling with Salome, me with Alyce.

I am beginning to see the shape of next summer - a trip to the Channel Islands in June to look at gardens, and a camping punt adventure on the Thames - to see how far beyond Lechlade I can get. Good web contact with John Eade, whose magnificent Thames guide site Where Smooth Waters Glide I have already been enjoying. His book list, under Resources, is dangerously seductive. The punt is now in the I hope gentle care of Oxford Cruisers - though getting it there was not without incident. It was so contrarily-windy and fast-flowing in the wrong direction that the boss decided to help me with a tow, but thrashed past at such a lick in a narrow boat as he tossed the rope [I standing on the foredeck]shouting 'hang on tight!' that a wiser bird wouldn't have attempted to catch it. I did, then saved my skin by dropping flat on my face on the deck. Luckily my feet hooked around the edge of the deck, otherwsie nothing would have stopped me plunging into the fast-flowing and icy water. The sensation was not unlike water-skiing. I managed to get a better purchase on the tow rope by belaying it rhough the ring on the foredeck, but didn't dare attempt much more. At last we were in the calmer waters of the marina and I thankfully let go and poled Dulcibella onto the slip. Note to self: don't be quite so foolhardy. I should have let go a] straight away or b] as soon as I realised that I was in dire straits. On the plus side, I did it!
Very enjoyable time recording introduction and links for Pleasures of the Garden, the 4 CD anthology of gardening writing from Genesis to Jekyll at a little studio in Stonesfield on 30 November. It'll be out in April. And a Woman's Hour Christmas special to look forward to pre-recording on 18 December. So life is full of good little things, even if my dreams are a little bedraggled.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Flintshire Idyll

Even the prospect of going to stay at St Deiniols residential library, ten minutes beyond Chester as so just in Flintshire, focuses my mind and makes work more exciting. I'm coming to the end of five days here; I drove up before dawn even cracked on Monday morning, and leave around five this afternoon. It is a unique place: dedicated to devout learning, but happy to accept those who are devoted to learning - or writing - or simply shepherding their thoughts and spinning dreams. Much as I love - am addicted to - domesticity, it is wonderful to be looked after: a fresh, simply furnished room, meals at regular intervals, home-made rolls for breakfast and homemade cookies for elevenses and tea, early nights, early morning walks among the ancient trees of Gladstone's Park. Everyone respects each other's endeavours, gently encourages. We talk as warmly together at meal-times as strangers on trains once used to do, then leave each other to our own devices and desires. The galleried library, endowed by Gladstone because he had so many thousands of books that deserved readers, and knew his country was full of would-be readers who deserved access to books, is its especial treasure. Delving as I am into the minds of fifteenth century people, I find it endlessly useful, and you can go and get the books yourself within minutes. Peace is what it is renowned for, but to that I would add its capacity to inspire. Unhurried, we sit at our desks, flanked on all sides by books, entranced. Its red sandstone Victorian Gothic grandeur  is specially suited to Alice because after a few days I am so in character that I prowl around its passages peering out of the medieval-style casements imagining possible developments in Ewelme Palace.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Grandmaternal Cogitations and a Persian Feast

Well, I've done it. All grannies of my acquaintance advised against being in the Front Line of childcare, but it is only for one day a week and Sam and Olivia live only ten minutes walk away from me. They are also adorable, and adore me, and will soon morph into schoolchildren with preoccupations of their own and a slightly patronising attitude to doddery oldfolk. Moreover, my justification for this substantial establishment is that it will give the grands room to romp. And romp they did yesterday, day 1 of the new pattern.

Making Chocolate Mousse
It will in the end be a regular Thursday commitment - 8.30 to 5.30. am planning pattern to the day: first hour or two gardening [with the hens in interested attendance] or housework [am sure they will love learning to polish silver photo frames and brass furniture knobs] depending on the weather. then elevenses, then an excursion to shops or a friend. Lunch; hour's rest [ie me nodding off as they glue themselves to Rupert Bear or similar DVD]. Then a trip - probably on the S1 bus into the city to Explore things - dinosaurs at the university Museum; clocks and azimuths at the Museum of Science; Gamelan at the Bate collection of musical instruments. Then tea in a cafe; then bus home, supper, bath and bed. Will it work? Watch this space.
Work on Alice actually going the better for having a more circumscribed timetable - as when my four were small, I fill two hours very productively when I know that is all I have got, but can spend all morning padding round in circles if I have all day (as I am at the minute!). Also much helped by the serene autumnal weather - Dulcibella is a great place to work; if I pole upstream for a while, progress is utterly uninterruptable. OR so I thought. Out yesterday with Harriet, who is the best of companions as she gets deeply immersed in her books, when we were cheerily hailed by Peter Ledwith, of MSC.

He is doing for pleasure what I did for charity a couple of years ago [see Adventures link on my home page] and sailing down the Thames. But his mast is low enough to get through all the bridges except Godstow and Osney.  After he'd had a coffee and a slice of cake (we live well on Dulcie), Harriet chuckled. She was reading  The Shipping News and had just come to this chapter head quotation:

'The common eider is called "gammy" bird in Newfoundland for its habit of gathering in flocks for sociable quacking sessions. The name is related to the days of sail, when two ships falling in with each other at sea would back their yards and shout the news. The ship to windward would back her main yards and the one to leeward her foreyards for close maneuvering. This was gamming.'

As well as inventing a layout for Ewelme Palace, I was reading the wonderful Fred Thacker's The Stripling Thames, a guide to the Thames above Oxford which he published himself in 1909. The frontispiece is a picture of his camping skiff moored at Shiplake. He has high praise for my little poling ground:
'Two miles of winding water lie between Swinford Bridge and Pinkhill Lock, Pinkhill it is, officially, but Pinkle to all the workaday world. This little lock mound is the happy isle of the River country; a haven of dreams; the inner gate of a far off land whose elusive charm quickens the memory more frequently and tenderly than all the more obvious beauties of the middle River. The great Wytham and Beacon Hills exclude for ever the whole outer world. Beyond them lies - Oxford? even London, perhaps; all unlovely hustling and crowds. But the loud and brawling voices never surmount those sheltering heights; and on their hitherward side the deep meadows, emerald green beneath the purple woods, are broken only by the willowed banks of the immemorial stream.'

This is the sunset from my mooring at Oxford Cruisers Pinkhill boatyard.
But what of the Persian Feast? Adam, who I think I have said is my American nephew by marriage and is staying for two years while he does a PhD in Arabic at Balliol, cooked a wonderful saffron chicken dish for Susie, Joe and two friends of mine.  His mother is Iranian, so he knows about these things. It reminded me of the one that Farhang cooked long ago in Chalfont Road. Sharp deep red barberriestopping the saffron rice, and subtly spiced chicken thighs; delicious. Much better than  anything I ate during our Iran trip in 2007.  Finished off with the grands' chocolate mousse, it was a most congenial evening; warm feeling of family all around.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Camblidge, chickens and a birthday

Running rather late in recording what I've been up to, not least because my Dongle ran out of juice and so I can't put in things as they arise. It won't work again until Wednesday. Very good discipline, and much more progress on work.
I went to the Arthur Ransome Society's biennial Literary Weekend in Missee Lee's own Alma Mater Cambridge on  12-14 September. Extremely interesting talks, notably by Jim Ring and Own Dudley Edwards. But all were good, and it would be invidious to rank them as the approaches were so diverse. Nostalgia reigned as I tramped Sidgwick avenue and recalled being batwoman racing home for 11 o.clock in the statutory gown. I'm so glad I now live in Oxford away from all the alluring Cambridge ghosts. A free afternoon was well-spent punting

Then a good quiet session in the gardens of Newnham. I had the Sidgwick seat to myself.
I've now finished the gardening anthology's contents and sent them off to Naxos. A great incentive to get gardening in my own little paradise. - I had Sam and Olivia for the afternoon, and with Adam's help we had a humungeous bonfire before giving them supper on the lawn.

The chickens are tame enough to follow me around. I can easily get them back as they now respond to me tinkly-winkling a small brass bell, racing back to their run for mealworms. I planted a wallflower and muscari border with sumptuously enriched earth [manure, topsoil and compost], so I look to impressive results in the spring.

It was Sam's fourth birthday on Sunday; Phil, Ros, Steff and I all scratched out heads putting together the ride-on tractor with trailor I'd got him - it seemed to be a hit judging by enthusiasm of the guests at this party in teh afternoon.
Now back to Napier on Swynbrook and Ewelme and a lovely book called The Stripling Thames, written by Fred Thacker in 1900 or so. He is an effortlessly interesting writer, like a good friend chatting. Perfect to read aboard Dulcibella, and the weather for the week looks set fair for such an escape - but first I must earn it by making progress on Alice 1. Plotting is the thing. I'm finding John Goodall's God's House very inspiring. Which of the 13 almsmen will be found in the well??? Maybe I should reread Agatha Christie . . .

Monday, September 14, 2009

Arts and Crafts Gardens in Gwent

Had a wonderful weekend in Gwent with the Garden History Society, an inpulse when I found a link to their excellent website which answered a horticultural query I had googled. A fine drive early on the A40, leaving Oxford by moonset: a huge pale orb descending in front of me as I drove west. Fine views over Birdlip, then I wound through the Forest of Dean to Monmouth, then checked in to a Old Hendre farm, a B&B high in the hills above the town, then navigated – oldstyle using real maps, I can’t be doing with those mental-nurse-voiced Tomtoms – to Clytha Park. Not much in the way of flowers, but a lovely lake and high on the hill ‘Clytha Castle’, a splendid folly (NT/Landmark Trust] looking over the hills and far away – a magnificent [if necessarily best-selling] writer’s retreat.
Next we visited Raglan Castle, which had once sported a magnificent terraced pleasure grounds complete with huge lake; Liz Whittle mapped its invisible shadows with the enthusiasm of the aficionado – she dreams of a restoration.
Then to High Gwynau, where Helena Gerrish gave us a beautifully constructed talk on Avray Tipping, who’d lived there and designed its garden; she also showed the transformation they’d effected on the gardens since they came 7 years ago. We wandered around its borders and greenhouses [succulent grapes] and down to the deep heart beat of the ancient ram pump at the bottom of the valley in front of the house – Tipping and his architect Eric Francia had a genius for making the most of a place. We had supper there, and much good talk, and I found a fine passage for my anthology in Helena’s collection of Tipping’s books: ‘We have become a nation of gardeners’.

The next day we moved to the environs of Chepstow and the extraordinary gardens and Pulhamite stone grottoes of Dewstow – created by Henry Oakley in the 1890s, cemented over into a farmyard by the tenants of his successor and lovingly recreated by those tenants' descendants – who have made a decent profit from their two golf courses - today. Much faithful restoration, but also many sparks of independent spirit.

So to the most atmospheric of all – Wingfield [check] court – another Avray Tipping house, with a distant view of the Severn estuary.
 Its owner died a few years ago, and it is being restored by the relation who intherited it, with a view to his 12 year old son living there one day. The boy has apparently got decided views on it already. A very friendly and welcoming chatelaine showed us round – she kenw her plants wonderfully well. Amazing that one gardener now keeps it going.

Next to perhaps the msot inspiring – because so many inexpensive and doable ideas – garden of all – The Feddrw, also very close to Chepstow. Established 25 years or so ago by squatters rights, and now a wonderfully rambling place of exciting plantings, maze like hedges and a black-dyed pool. Website see thinkinggarden

So home on a lovely road along the west side of the Severn, admiring Newnham, namesake of my alma mater – wonder if there is any connection – I ought to know – and stretching my legs at the unexpected little port of Lynmouth; steepest and deepest lock into the Severn that I have ever seen; surreally quiet yacht basin high above the then very low river. And a William Sugg gaslight on its lamp-post – happy memoires of writing Mangle to Microwave and discovering the chatty and informative catalogues of William Sugg and his daughter.

I can recommend the Garden History Society – deeply knowledgeable and very friendly people.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Delights of Dulcibella

This is a useful corrective to the picture on my home page, much more true to character. It is also to record the new upstream location of my camping punt, Dulcibella. She is now 18 years old, and I'm planning a refit for her at Oxford Cruisers; meanwhile, I'm exploring the Thames upstream of Eynsham in her. She glides into tiny backwaters, through fallen willows to such oases of calm as this; christened Port Naumann as it was discovered with my good friend Diana, daughter of the poet Anthony.

I'm reading the first print-out of the audiobook Garden Anthology I'm doing for Naxos, a wonderfully distracting piece of work which has taken me into all sorts of new and fertiles pastures. Most notable the C9 Walafred Strabo, author of Hortulus. 'No joy is so great in a life of seclusion as that of gardening . . . The gardener must not be slothful but full of zeal consinuously, nor must he despise hardening his hands with toil or pushing a full dung barrow out onto the parched earth and there spreading its contents about'

 I wonder if Helen Waddell knew of it. Have just finished Corrigan's excellent biography - not without tears.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Blanket of the Dark

I can see this online diary is going to be very useful. It is like writing for the papers; as I have no idea who is reading it [in all likelihood no-one] so write very unselfconsciously.
I've just finished Blanket of the Dark by John Buchan. He does write superbly. this one is set in his own home country - the woods and moors north of Oxford, going as far as brother John's country near Birdlip, but centring on Wychwood Forest. How's this for an ambush:
'They were in the deep brake at the wood's edge when a low thin whistle cleft the air, clear as a bird's call and no louder. Sir Miles did not hear it, and was conscious of no danger till a long arm plucked him from his horse.//Out of the bracken under their feet, men rose, as stealthily as fog oozes from wet soil.'

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Beginner's Mind

I daresay enthusiasm for these notes will abate, but at the minute, I feel like recording everything that strikes me deep. I'm reading Felicitas Corrigan's biography of Helen Waddell, whose books I have long loved. It overflows with memorable moments and HW's infectious enthusiasm. We share an irrational passion for the medieval, and I think I will reread both Wandering Scholars and Abelard alongside getting on with Alice. I've ordered her first book, Lyrics from the Chinese, on Amazon, delighted to find a hardback at a very reasonable price. I do prefer reading editions that are of an age with their author. Also FC's anthology of HW's writings, discovered deep in the bowels of the Stanbrook Abbey website . Sadly FC died in 2003, so it is too late to meet her. But the idea of a few days in retreat at the Abbey does appeal.
Research for the gardening anthology keeps throwing up new delights. Everything has to be out of copyright [which is rather a relief, as there is so much post-1931 stuff] - some of which i will preserve here. Like this nice quote from Anne Morrow Lindbergh, another of my benchmark authors:
'Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day - like writing a poem or saying a prayer'.
This, and the next, are from Eileen Campbell's The joy of Gardening
Mary Sarton, Plant Dreaming Deep: 'Gardening is one of the late joys, for youth is too impatient, too self-absorbed, and usually not rooted deeply enough to create a garden. Gardening is one of the rewards of middle age, when one is ready for an impersonal passion, a passion that demands patience, acute awareness of the world outside oneself, and the power to keep on growing through all the times of drought, through the cold snows, towards those moments of pure joy when all failures are forgotten and the plum tree flowers.'
Have just ordered this and a 1907 hardback of Helena Rutherford Ely's A Woman's Hardy Garden
Sunshine, and it's gone midday - I can't resist getting out into my own blessed plot.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Looking Backwards

I planned to start a website diary over a year ago, but my slow lane life, although extremely productive of daughters' weddings (three since I moved to Nutwood in January 2005) and grandchildren (five under four), has been pathetic on that front, with only three instalments, all tucked away on my own laptop. But here I am at last, given a fresh look by Joe and Susie's website company 'number fifty-six', and I've taken the plunge. To make it work better as a personal record of my new life at Nutwood, in the Eynsham Road I moved into in January 2005, I'm going to put those instalments, written in  May last year, into this post - later ones will be much much briefer. 
Life in the Slow Lane 10 May 2008
There are two roads: the road we must take of necessity and the magic road of our dreams. Sometimes by some strange alchemy of the mind . . . the two roads collide (Donald Maxwell, Enchanted Road)
From 2002 to 2004 I wrote a weekly column for The Times called Hearth Goddess, one of a set of five written by people with different life-styles. Mine was that of a writer rising sixty living in North Oxford, whose marriage had ended ten years earlier and whose children had left the home that was to me central to life. There was lots of fun to be had: twenty-three years in  a place gives you lots of warm history and good neighbours. But my column was, looking back on it, a tale of endings: my 91-year-old mother Diana died in 2003, my 14-year-old golden retriever Angus in 2004. And I’d finished my magnum opus: a biography that put lustre back in the name of the much-maligned author of Le Morte Darthur, Sir Thomas Malory.
What was also ending was the rightness of the house. Homes need to fit like gloves; they also need to be able to change when you do. The tall Victorian semi in Chalfont Road had been perfect for our four daughters to walk to Oxford High three blocks away and for me to bike into the Bodleian and to the shops, but now it was getting ragged round the edges. There was too much wrong, I realised, as I flailed around trying to change the characters of the children’s former bedrooms and grappling with damp in the basement and terminal rot in my writing hut at the end of the garden. Clearing the mortgage also seemed attractive. I’ve been lucky enough to make a respectable living from writing, but not enough to invest or save, and the rock-solid pension I’d been building up with Equitable Life had just shrunk to a waterworn pebble of a premature annuity.
It didn’t take long to find a buyer, and I quickly made a bid for what then seemed the prettiest of little houses at the other end of the street. But 2004 was the year that property values escalated eye-wateringly fast, and for wealthy retired folk a little house in North Oxford was just as desirable as a crumbling family home. The price rose by ten thousand a day until I realised that, given the cost of moving and improving, the differential was becoming non-existent. I might even need a new mortgage. I gave up that particular dream, but decided to stick with my own buyer, store my furniture, and camp in the house of friends who were going abroad for three months until I found a new one.
            Fortune favoured the bold. Days later, the half timbered façade of an Edwardian house peeped hopeful but a little forlorn out of a postage stamp-sized ad under the name of a West Oxford estate agent. It was familiar: I remembered enquiring after it six months earlier and being told it was sold. I phoned and was told that the developer who’d agreed to buy it had pulled out. I drove over with a friend: down the Botley Road, past a little row of real shops, and right at the foot of Cumnor Hill. The Eynsham Road had always interested me: generously scaled houses set back behind big front gardens. The house that was then called Shuttlingsöe (after a Derbyshire Hill, my solicitor later informed me) was just a hundred yards along it, shrouded by a huge shaggy hedge.
It had evidently been empty for a while, and felt shabby and unloved, but its bones were good. Behind the hideous pimpled glass of the inner porch was a minton-tiled floor and a staircase that rose with generosity and divided into two at the top. Upstairs were five bedrooms, a huge attic with sub-attics off it, one bathroom, a landing and an airing cupboard. It was much bigger than I had expected. Downstairs were a small sitting rooms to the left of the front door, a large one to its right and a long thin cloakroom contrived from what must have been outbuildings, with a lou and a shower room at the very end. The last door opened into a quarter of roomes that opened into each other rooms: a double sitting room with a fireplace at one end, a kitchen with three arches opening into the final room: slightly sunken so that you stepped down into it, with plate glass doors onto onto the garden. We went into it and looked out at a huge and romantic wilderness dominated by a frame of trees: holly, yews, firs, a scots pine, a huge sycamore cruelly dominating a tulip tree, and most magnificent of all a quadruple-trunked gum that soared 70ft high, its branches tossing gracefully in the wind like a tireless dancer. It was four o’ clock. I offered the asking price: two-thirds of what I was selling Chalfont Road for in exchange for a house with 3000 square feet instead of 2000. Threequarters of an hour later, it was a done deal. Intead of downsizing at a cost, I had upsized at a profit. It was not a rational decision, but an instinctive one. The house felt absolutely right. Four daughters rising thirty would, I hoped, soon mean grandchildren. And if we were all to be able to get together at once, what could be better than this rambling comfortable house?
Just as we exchanged contracts, The Times turned tabloid, and our weekly lifestyle reports were jettisoned. I wrote a final feature on the finding of the house a friend neatly summed up as Rupert’s Nutwood, and Hearth Goddess ended. I found I missed the weekly discipline of shaping the worth of my week in words, and now, three years later, I’ve decided to start recording my everyday life again in what may be the total privacy of my website. There will be flashbacks on what has happened – how the house was brought back to life, two weddings, and a third in September, three grandchildren, and one a-growing – but for the main part it will be about seeing the world differently now it takes me longer to think about it, and getting to grips with the unexpected pleasures and occasional frustrations of life in the slow lane.
Life in the Slow Lane 2 25 May 2008
You stretch out the heavens like a tent.
Above the rains you build your dwelling.
You make the clouds your chariot,
You walk on the wings of the wind [103rd Psalm]
Sudden death stops us in our tracks. On 8 May, on a glorious, very hot afternoon, Dave Sewart, friend and companion in enterprise for twenty years and more, suffered a heart attack while mowing his extensive grass. 64. Another ten years would have been good, another twenty even better, for a man who lived to the full, the kindliest, most generous, gleefully eccentric person I have ever met. Snuff out a life like that and those left shiver in darkness. Yesterday I went over to Cambridgeshire to his funeral. He was the life and soul of Therfield Chapel, and it was full to bursting. In the row beside Ian and me, his god-daughter wept, inconsolable. All his adult life, he attracted children like the pied piper of Hamlin, and many of them, now striking young adults, were there to mourn him. Hannah and Theo Hawksley, twice the size I’d last seen them, gave one of the tributes: revealing perilous escapades on islands, up mountains and down caves. Friends from university days described his love of engines and ancient Rover with klaxon horn; friends from Therfield days his caravan in a field by a pond – instantly made cosy by a dash of liquid calor gas ignited on the floor. I talked of his energy and enthusiasm in the early days of the Arthur Ransome Society: the welcome he gave to new members, the originality of his beloved Despatches, the scholarly editions of Ransome’s illustrations and original manuscript. ‘There’s a huge Dave-sized hole in all our lives’ said one speaker: there was a low moan of agreement from two hundred hearts.
While we sipped tea, guzzled a feast Dave would have loved and talked about our memories, a slideshow of huge photographs dissolved from memorable moment to memorable moment on the wall. Photographs only get taken when we see the moment is a good one, and these were good indeed: a grinning eight-year-old (Roger to the life), arriving at his wedding beaming on a bicycle, walking in the lakes, sailing on the Broads, waving goodbye to friends at Ty Gwyn.
We can mourn, we can commemorate. But can we learn? ‘Let’s finish it tonight. Get tomorrow off to a flying start’, I remember him saying as he battled to defeat my recalcitrant AppleMac’s sulks, did the final pages of a scan of an old edition of one of my books, perfected my amateur scans of pictures. I’ve resolved to do things now, not in some never-reached tomorrow. That, in truth, is why I’ve at last begun writing these website pieces,hard to do with only the discipline of determination. It’s easy to slow up in your sixties. There is something about  getting a state pension and a buspass that makes you see yourself as a done-to, not a doer. On the 9 o’clock bus, all the grey-haired ladies sit huddled in rows like hens in a henhouse, going somewhere with feigned busyness just to be among the hustle and bustle of life. Why am I there too? Do I need to be? Have I invented the things I want to look up in the Bodleian? Being a grandmother is in my up moments a grand state: sign of distinction, a pass to Olympia that authorises one to comment, advise, pontificate. But in my down ones it makes me feel old, washed up at the tideline.
Let Dave’s death change all that. He was older than me, but he didn’t feel or think old. How he would have relished the opportunity of being a thoroughly dangerous grandfather. I like life in the slow lane, but let me make it life, not decline, laziness and defeat
Life in the Slow 3 Lane 21 May 2008
I find myself playing with notions and metaphors of time this morning. Pressed for time . . . Playing for time . . . Saving time . . . Wasting time . . .Out of time . . . I am in truth time rich now, but it is easy to fritter it away. Mooning at the window, allowing inspiration to surface, then not capturing it in click of key or scratch of pen. Round and round the garden,scattering tools in obscure places, constantly distracted by another dock rearing its tall green and now threatening to flower head. I need to focus, dig deep, not skim the surface. Going down to make tea and pottering for half an hour as the kettle boils and the tea draws. I remember the tidy timetable of schooldays: two periods before break, three before lunch, two before going home. Sometimes a late lesson, always homework. Watching Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull [oh, dear, back to the Russians as enemies], one line stuck in my mind: ‘We’ve been given things all her life: now they’re beginning to be taken away’.
            Grandchildren treat time differently. They have endless amounts of it but see every second of it freshly – which is why, of course, time feels so endless when you are young. You are not thinking about time past or time to come, but concentrating intensely on the moment. Their pace suits mine in many ways, because when I see them I too want to live in the moment. A morning, or an afternoon, is mentally labelled grandchildren, so what I do in it is only for their delight. Well, not quite. I like to have some little ambition in mind, so that when they go I’m ahead, not behind. Finishing the ironing while Ben ate his breakfast, weeding in the garden with Sam, showing Olivia how the sewing machine mends a torn nightie, tidying the kitchen with Fox in the sink wielding a washing up brush. They drink in experience with happy ease, parrotting what I say, then trying it out for themselves, creating endless variations on my activities with garden tools, exploring with twinkling legs, tumbling headlong, wailing, recovering and off again.
But though I love grandparenting, I need to be wary of allowing it to invading writing time. Keep mornings sacred will be the mantra for next autumn. But then I also think that these are the golden years for grands – soon school will overwhelm, and friends come first. Establishing a loving basis of familiarity and trust means as much to me as I hope it does to them.