Sunday 16 April 2017

Of Holm Oak and White Barked Birch

Would-be musician, Brian, tries to impress his Dad with his
latest 'number' in the Dress Rehearsal of Cupid Wore Skirts
When I last posted we were still awaiting the arrival of our latest group of guests, I was on the verge of a significant birthday and our most recent 'project' (The Village Play) was about to hit the Dress Rehearsal milestone. It has been a busy few days. We are now relaxing, recovering and sorting the house out between that and the next visitor's arrival. It is all going really well and we have been enjoying ourselves immensely.

Miss Stanfield puts her "purity" at risk by getting "flootered".
It is an old Roscommon expression which means "you fainted"
The guests, whom friends of the blog will have met (some of) before were Dan and Dan(ielle) plus Danielle's brother Jake. We tend to refer to them as "the children" because Danielle and Jake are the children of Liz's closest cousin when they were growing up (Cathy) but what ever way it is they were, as always, pure joy to 'host'. They love this place and the way they can relax here and they adore Liz's cooking. Liz, of course, gets a lift out of this and always goes the extra mile to lay on special, spectacular menus which we know the guests will enjoy - Dan loves his pies and his desserts for example, Danielle her 'dippy' goose egg breakfasts and Jake anything which isn't the 'student food' he gets back at his shared flat.

A 10" diameter Jaffa Cake
I will not bore you with a full menu list but I will note some high points which definitely hit the spot. There was a haggis and sausage pie. There was a meltingly tender lamb roast. There was a superb, 10" diameter 'Jaffa Cake', Madeira sponge on the bottom, the obligatory layer of double-strength orange jelly and a covering of chocolate mousse. There was a superb fish pie.

Left to right, Dan, Dan and Jake.
There was a top-rate trifle which included REAL custard made with eggs, dried fruit soaked in brandy and 'proper' trifle sponges. There were dippy goose eggs and Liz's unbeatable scrambled (duck) eggs. Drinking was restrained and sensible but included some Irish craft-beers and tasters of my birthday present 'Teelings' whiskey. There was, inevitably plenty of sleeping it off after meals.

Breakfast for the sheep. Danielle serves. 
Danielle's main reason for coming though, I suspect, is the chance to wrangle some livestock which she loves and dreams of owning herself one day. She is now at the stage where she can do morning rounds and lock up unsupervised but we like to lay on something new each time and for this one she was determined that 'baby brother' also get involved.

Shepherding the 5 ducks from night-quarters
to day-time pen.  Morning rounds.
Between us we rounded up the sheep into a hurdle-pen in the cattle race, I gave the three 'grown-ups' their annual (Clostridium) jabs and we trimmed feet and dagged the worst of the 'lady garden' bits while copping a quick feel of some udders to see if there was any bagging up happening. There isn't. We are beginning to be convinced that we will have no lambs this year; we may have to go out and buy some like the old days.

At one stage we were out admiring the night sky (as we do) and we discovered that this star-gazing thing is also a passion of Jake's. He was as excited at the clear, pollution-free and LIGHT-pollution free clear sky as we were and still are. I showed him the book (2017 Guide to the Night Sky) to which I have referred in previous posts and he showed us the modern electronic equivalent. This is an 'app' on his smart phone which detects where you are 'pointing' the phone in 3 dimensions, re-creates the stars and planets you are therefore looking at, draws in the constellations with more fancy graphics and names all the significant bits. Very clever. It even "sees" down through the earth to show you what celestial bodies are about to clear the horizon or have just fallen below it.

A good time was definitely had by all.

The perfect gift - new trees!
The Birthday was also a highlight and thank you very much to all those blog-readers, Facebook and Twitter friends and 'real people' who contributed to that. At risk of upsetting everyone else I will just select one present which was a real highlight to the day, a gift of such genius and appropriateness that we are both (giver Liz and Birthday boy) still amazed and delighted at it. This was, quite simply, 2 trees, a holm oak and a white-barked birch. If you know me, you will have some idea why this was such a good choice, but I suspect that Liz would be the only person in my entire orbit who would have known that and known why.

Trees do it for me anyway - I love the gardening side of them, lending your plot some vertical element, all that digging holes and then staking them safely against the wind-rock. I love the sustainability of them - the idea that you are planting something which you are unlikely to see mature in your life time, in the hope that anyone owning or using the garden way after you're dead will appreciate them.

An allowable mistake. I never could write
14-4 on a cheque without making it 14-4-57
instead of the real year. 
The choice of species was also spot on. We had a lovely white-bark birch in our Faversham garden which was 20' tall and just starting to look the part as we left. When I go back now to visit the former neighbours and peer over the fence I am delighted that the new owners may have "bulldozed" most of our garden but they have kept the birch and it looks splendid. A birch, then, is part of Liz's and my joint story and harks back to the Kentish chapters.

So too (even more so?) does the holm oak. There is a fine example growing near the main church in Faversham but we also know this species from our trip to USA and the Deep South. In Mississippi, the holm oak or evergreen oak is known as the 'Live' Oak (say it Lahhhhve Oak) presumably because it keeps its leaves. They were everywhere in New Orleans, growing like the Plane Trees of London. There. The perfect gift. Thank you so, so much, the Lady of the House.

Finally, that Dress Rehearsal. It went very well. Not perfect; there were a few gaps where the prompter had to chip in, but these theatrical types have a saying "Good Dress (rehearsal), bad First Night" (and v.v.). Nobody is panicking, all are still confident that it will be alright on the night. If there's any justice then just by the sheer force of the amount of man hours and work that has gone into it, it should go well. First night is this coming Wednesday so more on this subject in a post after that.

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