Friday, 24 June 2011

Themed gardens

My garden is a small walled and fenced rectangle of multicoloured profusion. I have counted over 70 separate plant types in this very tiny area. But you would have to be its owners to know some of the stories behind its planning.
Each part of the garden is a somewhat tongue in cheek nod to a style of garden or in one case to a man we met on holiday. This is one part of my life where things have to be – sadly – on a small scale.
We started playing with these ideas after joining the National Trust and visiting Hidcote Manor with its themed garden rooms once popular in garden programmes. First of all we picked up on the plethora of gardens with box hedges. I also wanted to remember my Aunt’s garden that we used to visit as children especially the smell of Box and to recall the excitement of looking for nests. I planted what I wanted to become a very low box hedge edging a wedge shaped border – and so far it works. Then we had a few Mediterranean holidays and decided to have a Mediterranean garden four feet by three! We created a gravelled area with pots, a low slow growing pine and an olive tree. Next to it a small decked  area was, of course, a must - just enough for a table and two chairs and on one side a bed with rose, lavender and mint to tantalise the nose. Had we done? Our inspiration next came from a gentleman on holiday in Andalucia. He was in our group as we went round the Generalife Gardens. He had already explained to me that he was the black sheep of his family as he was an architect – you get the drift – and then he turned to his wife and said “Oh that would look good in our woodland garden!” He won’t know what a profound impression he made! A few weeks after we got back we created a new central bed in the grass and planted a pine and some junipers -  our very own "woodland" garden had been born!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Little or large

My sons spent the first five years of their lives dressing up in the clothes of their super heroes. Cloaks in particular were a larger than life, instant item of clothing to don and the order of the day, pretty well every day. They mostly shunned the mini worlds that children are encouraged to explore in favour of a more close up, living it experience.

Looking back I can see an element of this in me. Oh I liked creating miniature moss gardens in trays [such innocent days in suburban England of the 1960s and 70s] but I wasn't much for model villages and miniaturised anything. Bonsai leaves me cold. Those tiny pictures created with a magnifying glass giving every detail of a scene do too. I walk past all of them and focus on the giants. Are there two types of people - those who enjoy reducing things down and those who like enlarging them? How much is influenced from school? In art we were exhorted to "fill the page", tiny pictures were a sign of being unconfident, a weakness almost. Obsessive even. Big was seen as better.  It might be why the sculptures of Mitoraj resonate with me. Here I am at the British Museum with my favourite Mitoraj head.
It is lucky too that I am not in relationship where this is a clash. The powerful oil painting by Leicester artist Paul Wright below is a painting we both agreed on and it takes up most of a wall in one of our rooms and it still manages to enthrall us changing as it does in every light and from different perspectives. It looks smooth and detailed from a distance and close up made of of thousands of colourful brush strokes. Of course there is room for everyone and we all have a unique perspective of the world - that is what makes it so interesting.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Putting disabled children In The Picture

Not many of us are involved in work that is innovative, positively exciting and rewarding but also has a long term impact in a much needed area. I was privileged to have four years working on Scope's In The Picture project - working on getting images of disabled children into picture books. Three years on the work of that period is still in evidence and the group of people who supported the project are still as committed as ever.

Yesterday a new member of staff at a publishers who took over from an In the Picture steering group member and one of the stars of In The Picture contacted us to find out more about how she could continue the critical work of her predecessor. I felt a thrill knowing that for this publisher the waters would not be closing up in our wake and  this was another sign that our work was not wasted. Books will continue to be produced that include disabled children - they won't be left out!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

World War 1 grandfather

My grandfather was an important person in my life. He was a larger than life character who completely overshadowed his wife. His life was really shaped by his experiences of being in the last year of the first world war. Born in 1898 he signed up in 1917 to the Lancashire Fusiliers and found himself very quickly in the thick of it. In an interview for his local paper in 1990 he is pictured with his row of medals - he lived to 94 - where he described the hell of Ypres. He talked about having skin like soaked bread from sitting in mud for three days at a time. He said you could push your finger in the flesh of your leg and it would leave a dent which would not fill up. He had many near misses with his uniform ripped by shrapnel but emerged  unscathed. The diet they survived on had life long impact. Plum jam for instance - never would he touch it. It was   blackcurrant jam for the next 75 years!

Grandad met people in the trenches he would probably never rub shoulders with again as an administrator in the civil service. One, a sweep called Smithy, probably provided him a lesson in managing his finances. Grandad was a very careful man. This man used to gamble away all his earnings within 30 minutes of being paid.  
Very late in his life Grandad found a brief outlet for his stories when, with the help of his daughter, he got involved with a Great War Society. His family had long ago grown weary of the subject - mud and rain featured in them particularly - but here were people keen to hear everything. He loved it!

Of course no recreations of trenches like they have in places like the Imperial War Museum, or visits to the "original trenches" at Ypres itself or films of the battles - I have done them all - can quite convey his experiences can it?