Sunday, 29 June 2014

We were there, now we are here!

For the past week, AGA and I have been recovering from jet lag.
We are at present in Melbourne for a few weeks, visiting the family and preparing for our migration in December.
It is a difficult time because AGA's father is still a very ill man.  It has become quite clear that he can no longer remain in the family home because he needs 24 hour care.  At present he is in a local hospital for respite care and it is unclear how long he will remain there as he is recovering from a fall he had a few day ago.  This creeping form of cancer is a terrible thing.  We go to see him every day at present but usually he is too tired to speak more than a few words at a time, and by the end of half an hour he has drifted off to sleep in his wheelchair.

* * * * * *

To counteract the jet lag that a 30 hour journey (including three stops en-route) gives one, we have tried to keep ourselves busy, especially in the garden.
Thanks to the wonders of the Internet we were able to go online in Germany and order plants for our garden in Melbourne.  They arrived the other day in two large cardboard boxes:

Inside the were treasures!

And more treasures!

And there were these:

At first I thought they were dead but they came with this sign:

Then, down to Bunnings (a local hardware/nursery chain that we LOVE) for some potting mix and some dried cow manure:

. . . because we have pots to fill!
These are known as 'citrus pots' and will one day be home to lemon trees when we build a new house.  In the meantime our small lemon tree grows in a more modest pot:

We planted a few parma violet seedlings in this pot but underneath are lots of bluebells.  We are ophinh they will put on a lovely display when they grown and flower:

Meanwhile, the camellias are in full bloom:

There is plenty of work still to do!

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

The Elements at war

It has been oppressively hot in Germany over the past week or so.  

Hot and extremely humid.

We seemed to go from cool weather in which we wondered whether the summer would ever arrive, to having it suddenly switched on and put on 'extra high'.  The high level of pollution in the skies over  the wide shallow valley in which Dusseldorf sits, combine to keep the heat in one place for long periods of time.
Combine this with hundreds of children under the age of twelve who spend lunchtime running around on the playground, and then come, sweaty and smelly, to the Library for book choice time and I think you get this picture.  With no air conditioning the classrooms and the library gradually warm up and by the time we are ready to go home we are well nigh wilting!

And then on top of all that we have had 'The Storm'.

* * * * * *

Monday was a public holiday (Pentecost Monday) and had proven to be rather a pleasant, albeit warm, day:

In the evening we had dinner on our balcony:

We admired the first of our Asiatic lilies to flower:

An hour later and we were running about battening down the hatches!

The storm came rolling across the sky before we were ready for it.  The clouds were suddenly yellowish and extremely angry looking.  
Full bellied with mischief.
The birds had all gone quiet.  The wind picked up and reading the signs, we and our neighbors began to take down the pot plants, lay the tables and chairs on the balcony floor, and take inside everything that might be considered fragile.  
Then the storm hit.
The sky was suddenly as black as night and the sound of thunder was everywhere. 

(I recall that my great-grandmother had a habit of waking up the entire household if a storm occurred at night.  She would everyone get up and go down to the cellars, no matter how fast asleep they might have been.)

As the storm vented its full fury upon us, I stood at the doorway and try to make some videos with my iPad, but it was too dark and too violent and so we abandoned the idea and retreating inside, closed the doors, the windows, and pulled down the external blinds.  
There was one truly enormous crack of thunder right above the apartment that frightened the living day lights out of us but then, after a while it all seemed to die down and we went to sleep.  At 5:30 in the morning it started up again, even more violently than previous.  I slept like a babe thoughout this second round but AGA was awakened and stayed awake for quite a while.    A parent I was talking to later at school told me that at the height of the storm she witnessed a fire ball!

In the morning all was calm once again.  Birds were singing and all was peaceful.  I looked out of the sitting room windows but could see no damage, and as we began our walk to school I said to AGA that it appeared to have been a lot of bluster but not much else.
But as we walked through the village we realized that it had been a lot more than mere bluster...

Here is the Linden Avenue that leads out of Kaiserswerth, last weekend:

And here it is yesterday, after the storm:

I do not know why some trees were spared while others fell.

Our end of the village was blocked by falling trees

...while the other end was flooded because the drains had backed up under the huge volume of water.  The roads were bumper to bumper with traffic as cars navigated fallen trees on the main roads in order to get to work.
For our part, we walk to school and so we had to navigate our way around (or over) various fallen trees on the way…

The massive trunks had to be climbed over and I soon realised that I am not as nimble as I was when in my twenties…

We passed parents walking their children in the opposite direction, to get to the local village kindergarten:

No cars could get through.

No one was going to be able to move their cars until the trees were cleared.  I think that a lot of branches came down because they were laden with flowers.

Imagine the force that broke and twisted this tree:

The branch of this tree (together with the top part) was snapped off and blown into the nearby allotments.  It crushed the little allotment houses and took a day to saw up and clear away.

These few photographs show the damage in our small village.  It was duplicated all over the city and the general area on a much grander scale.  On the weekend I am going to walk by the river to see what has happened as I am  told that most of the trees lining the Rhine have been blown down. 

Trees had fallen on the tram lines, upon countless cars, on houses.  Lightning strikes caused fires despite the driving rain.  Sadly six people were killed - cyclists and gardeners caught unaware - but considering how swiftly the storm blew up, and its ferocity, it is surprising there were not more.

We are going to have a lot of disruptions as gangs slowly clear the debris.  

On a lighter note, a student told AGA that their trampoline was blown clear away and they have no idea where it went.  I was telling a colleague who told me that she counted four floating in the Rhine - carried there by the force of the storm.  Others were blown in to fields. Our lily lost one petal and  another one bravely opened, as if to defy the elements!

There were many other areas in Germany that were hit harder than we were and the storm seemed to make the heat and humidity even worse.  As I write this we are experiencing a little relief although it is still 22c at 8:12 in the evening.

. . . and because we live in the 21st Century where iPods and iPads and mobile phones are our means of instant communication, everyone - young and old - have been out and about taking photos and movies and whatnot.  And so I joined them to provide you with a small window on what we have experienced here in the last forty-eight hours.  

If you are interested you can read more about the storm here.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Strange happenings in the Long Gallery

Last February, whilst on holiday in London, we decided to pop down to Richmond and visit Ham House:

The front:

The very handsome rear view:

As with most old country houses, Ham House has a very interesting history.
Having been built at the beginning of the early seventeenth century (about 1610), the house was leased by King Charles I to his good friend, William Murray.
I should point out here that William Murray had been Charles' whipping boy when CHarles was a young prince.  In the 15th and 16th Century, only the King was allowed to punish or whip his sons because they had the potential to become kings themselves, and in the Stuart era, when the Divine Right of Kings was rampant, no one would dare to strike a king (or a king-in-waiting) and yet sometimes, even princes needed punishment.  This is where the whipping boy came in - taking the punishment meant for the prince.  Luckily, it would appear that Charles was a relatively well-behaved child and so William Murray rarely suffered punishment.
Of course there were benefits to being the whipping boy.  Living with the prince's household, sharing his schooling and, as in the case of William and Charles, forming a close friendship: A very profitable situation to be in!
When they were grown up and Charles was King, William not only received Ham House but an earldom as well...

* * * * * *

These days Ham House is run by the National Trust and is closed for much of the Winter.  On the day we attended, they had opened a few rooms as a preliminary to 'The Season'.  As these times, entry is only permissible for those who choose to go on a guided tour.  We were okay with that and duly joined the group waiting at the front door.

The 'thing' about Ham House is that it is said to be haunted.  The star among the ghosts is Elizabeth, daughter of William, and Duchess of Lauderdale.  

Here she is with her second husband, John Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale:,_1st_duke_of_Lauderdale,_and_his_wife_Elizabeth_Murry,_Duchess_of_Lauderdale_(3977704407).jpg

Surviving both of her husbands, Elizabeth stayed on at Ham House, and died there.  Her ghost is said to often be heard and sometimes seen on the stairs . . .

. . . and in various other parts of the house as well.  Her dog is said to do the rounds with her; and the Duke of Lauderdale haunts one of the main rooms, so it is very much a family affair!


We went in through the front door with the others on the tour:

We walked through the various rooms and looked at the treasures they contained:

Soon we were up in the Long Gallery, where various wonderful paintings are to be seen:

One in particular is this:
'Self Portrait with Sunflower' by Antony van Dyk - I do like this painting.

Then AGA saw this portrait of the Duchess of Lauderdale and asked me to take a photo because given the subject matter, he intended to use it as in example of slavery, in a unit of inquiry he was teaching.  For some reason I felt a little uneasy as I took the photo:

Everyone else left the room, including AGA but I (and another chap) lingered to take a few more photos while the guide stood at the doorway.  I particularly wanted to take this one of King Charles I.
The portrait faces that of the Duchess, and as I took the photo, I had the strangest feeling come over me.

It is hard to explain accurately but I felt as if I had been passed through by something. My energy was completely drained and I thought I was going to pass out.  I remember closing my eyes and saying silently to myself: 'pull yourself together!'  
The sensation was brief and I soon felt absolutely fine.  The others seemed unaware that anything had happened and so I left with them, went back through the gallery with AGA and the rest, then down the stairs.  our tour concluded soon afterwards.
When we were well out of earshot of anyone else I told AGA what had happened.  He is a very no-nonsense, scientific sort of chap.  He told me in all seriousness that he had had exactly the same feeling on the stairs as we were leaving:

When I checked the guide book it said that the gallery and the stairs were supposedly the most haunted parts of the house. . .

So there you have it.
Perhaps the Duchess was saying 'hello'.
Then again, perhaps she heard the somewhat uncharitable remarks we had made about her possible personality while viewing her portrait and decided to give us a fright . . .
Whatever it was, it was certainly most unusual and in time to come when we are very old, we will entertain the younger generations with talks of our visit to one of the most haunted houses in England.

By the way, even in winter, the gardens of Ham look nice:

And I think that this might appeal to David Cowell over at the Willowbrook Park blog:

I hope you enjoyed this post!

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Staggering about.

A few months ago, I experienced a blog 'implosion' of sorts.  

So many things started happening at the same time.  

I didn't know if I was coming or going. . .  

Thankfully, it hasn't been anything too serious but our lives have certainly been busy, and action-packed: work; family; and the preparations for our big move.  All have filled up so much of my time and thoughts.

Have you ever experienced a time like that?  At the end of the day one gets into bed and feels like pulling the bed covers over ones head and sleeping for ever!

Having said that, though, and before I make things sound too dramatic, I should add that it has not all been work and no play...

There has been eating:

A lot of eating:

And sightseeing:

And shopping:

And more sightseeing:

So what with one thing and another my blog has had the shutters closed and the curtains drawn.


Things are gradually returning to normal and I am slowly starting to sit back and take it easy.  I expect to return 'full time' to my blog in the next week or so, but until then 'adieu', and in the meantime, please help yourself to a 'tarte framboise' (raspberry tart)...

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Shrove Tuesday

This weekend saw the first clumps of violets appearing in our area.

The sight of violets (and snowdrops) gladdens my heart because for me, this means that Spring is on the march.

A lovely vase of daffodils now resides in our sittingroom, courtesy of the flower shop near the tram station, which is suddenly filled with all sorts of flowers:

Even the dandelions on the avenue are in full bloom and enjoying the sun!

And to add to the general gaiety - it being the final day of Carnival - today is Shrove Tuesday: The one day in the year that my family eat pancakes…

The word 'Shrove' comes from the old word 'to shrive' or to confess.  Today is the day to think over the things one is sorry for, that occurred during the year past.   One will have the next six weeks of Lent that will follow, in which to think about them, say sorry for them, and prepare to try and be a better person.  
Old customs and old traditions accompany this day, and what better way to prepare for tomorrow's Ash Wednesday fast - with which to begin the Lenten Season - than with a lovely plate of freshly made pancakes? After all, isn't Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) the other term for Shrove Tuesday?

Here is a fat delicious pancake being made ready in the pan:

Now it sits on the plate, having had its first sprinkling of sugar and lemon juice:

Then it is rolled up, covered with more lemon juice and more sugar.

Eat them while they are hot!!

Do you eat pancakes on this day?
(Or any other day?)

How do you like them?

I am a lemon and sugar person myself whereas AGA likes his drizzled over with honey.  I had a great aunt who ate them with sour cream and caviar…
Some people like their pancakes with Nutella and a friend of mine eats vegan pancakes - no eggs but a couple of teaspoons of baking powder is mixed into the batter.

What about you?