Holiday!

I’ve just been on holiday. In our caravan.  In the part of Hampshire where the South Downs is just beginning to roll.  In a week of crazy totally unseasonal September heat (30° on some of the days). Under glorious blue skies and strong sun.

We saw the majestic pines on Lepe beach, the arboretum and herbaceous borders at Exbury,  strolled round the property-lust-inducing village of Chawton and visited the museum in Jane Austen’s house.  We went on a steam train on the Watercress line from Alton to Alresford, had fish and chips in a pub, watched ducks float serenely on the beautifully clear chalk stream.

I wore a long-sleeved jacket and a below-the-knee skirt and a large-brimmed hat and put my UV-protective but nonetheless excitingly lace-trimmed parasol up when the sun was strong and direct.  But I had sandals on my feet, and no additional layers.

2010 was the last year I went on holiday.  During one of my better periods, we visited the same caravan site, a small square field bordered by tall trees.  I knew the sunrise and sunset times by heart; we had a run of early starts and evening strolls, and for the rest of the time I stayed in the van and Pete went off on his own.

This time we dozed luxuriously through the dawn, watched dusk from the caravan windows and went on day trips like normal people.

At last I’m seeing the world in its true colours.  Someone has taken away my box of subtle pastels and given me a primary school paint set.
Red orange yellow green blue purple
Rowan dahlia sunflower grass sky blackberry
Wham!  Kapow!  I’m still reeling.
Hooray for low-histamine diets, histamine-reducing probiotics, and dna-test-targeted supplements.
Hooray for my wonderful J, who gave me back every last leaf.

The Difference that Day Makes

20160618-_09_poppyIn a corner of our garden, just where the conservatory joins the brick wall of the house, a mysterious plant has taken root. It has elongated, slightly furry leaves that lie flat close to the ground, and tall slender stems, about 12 inches high, producing multiple branching flower heads.  Despite its elegant, aspirational appearance, it is probably a weed.  But nothing else seems to want to grow in that corner, even the lawn, so we let the plant take over.  It pops up every summer, in greater and greater profusion.

For many years, if I was in one of my better periods, I saw the garden only at dusk.  I would look at the mysterious plant and think vaguely, “Those flowers will be interesting to see, when they finally come out.”  But they never seemed to, or I never noticed, and they turned into fluffy spherical seed heads without revealing any more.

This year, my first proper summer, the mystery has been solved.  I went out into the garden on a morning in June, and there were the flowers – bright orange and hairy, like multiple miniature dandelions.  And, like dandelions, of course, they close up, neatly and efficiently, as the sun begins to set.  As do the daisies that speckle the grass.  And the big silky poppies Pete planted in the border for photographic purposes.  And the small wild yellow poppies that have seeded themselves about the place.  And the gazanias.  Suddenly, going out in the daytime, I’m seeing all these discreet and bashful blooms splayed out shamelessly in the sun, being visited by pinstriped hoverflies and big fat bees.

Then, in July and August, at the high point of summer, I start seeing butterflies.  I’m utterly entranced, trying to follow with my eyes their crazy, non-rigorous, scatterbrained flight, picking out their colours and details as they tantalise among the flowers.

I’ve come across moths, of course, during my crepuscular phases, half seen and mysterious movements in the dim half-light.  But butterflies, supremely, are creatures of sunshine and the warmth of the day; I haven’t laid eyes on one for ten years.

They become my private symbol for this summer of renewal, for lightness and freedom after close and dark confinement, for the recovery of those thousands of pointless and trivial everyday choices which are none the less such a joy.