Cheerio

(www.metrolyrics.com)

Having a Tull day. Just reached my favourite album, with some of my all-time favourite songs.

One Year On

As I type this, 52 weeks and about 90 minutes ago my father passed away after a relatively short and futile battle with lung cancer. Although it wasn't really much of a battle, to be honest: by the time he got a diagnosis, it was terminal and he was given weeks or months. He stuck around for about eight months, and, luckily, was only really ill for about the last month. Even more luckily he was in virtually no pain. I was there when he died; my phone had just beeped with a text from my cousin, however, I decided a trip to the bathroom seemed more urgent than responding. I walked past my Dad's hospital bed, in the lounge of the bungalow he had shared with my mother up until her death, just under three years before his. I paused to hold his hand and say some things to him that I needed to say. As I held his hand and kissed it, he didn't take the next breath. I have never been with anyone at the moment of their death; my mother died unexpectedly, in hospital, early in the morning, so all we knew about that was the Phone Call. It seemed very odd that someone breathes and then stops. Why not one more breath? And maybe another? What changed (I don't wish to know).

Of course, despite knowing this was coming, and suspecting it would be that day (my brother had returned home to his family that morning and I had said to him I didn't think he would see his father alive again), it was still such a shock. I rang my cousin and she knew, simply from the fact I had rung and not texted. She helped talk me through the things I had to do - which I knew, as Dad's nurses had taken me through everything, but your mind just goes blank. So blank. You have your breath taken away, it feels like a physical punch in the gut. I used to wonder why people would collapse in the floor with grief. Now I know. Although, I didn't do that when I heard about Mum - I think I was too busy organising everyone to do so. Sure, I spent a long time on the phone to my best friend later that day, and for several days after, not talking, just sobbing. I didn't exactly collapse to the floor this time, but I felt very weak and unsteady.

So here I am a year later, feeling pretty rubbish, if I'm honest. But not in quite the same way as I was this time last year. A good friend said to me, not long after my Mum had died that you don't get over it, you just live differently and adapt. Sadly, that same friend died 364 days after my Mum, but I'll never forget her words to me. I dread August, I hated the end of it, with the anniversary of losing my Mum (who was probably also my best friend) and now I hate the start of it, as it's the anniversary of my Dad's death. Also, after trying to get in touch with my Mum's cousin to let her know about Dad, I had a call from her daughter just a week after Dad's death saying that her Mum had died - exactly a week after Dad. Did I say I hate August? I know these things are what we rationally expect; that our parents will die before we do and, hopefully, when we ourselves are adults. That isn't always the case. My mother was fourteen when her father died. My father was nine days old when his mother died. Despite all the tears, the visceral pain and black moods, I know that I am lucky to have had such lovely parents to miss so much.

Some days I will tell you it doesn't seem to get easier and that I could do without having to get out of bed. I have been on medication for depression since not long after my Mum died and I know that helped me cope with the last couple of years. I am lucky to work from home, which meant I was able to stay at Dad's and let him die at home, as he wished - although staying alive would have been his preference. Other days I occasionally forget. That's the way of things, along with the ensuing guilt at having forgotten. As Edna St Vincent Millay says in her oft-quoted poem "Time Does Not Bring Relief":-

There are a hundred places where I fear
To go,—so with his memory they brim.
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, “There is no memory of him here!”
And so stand stricken, so remembering him."

And so, I find myself writing this, trying to make sense of the last few years, feeling glum, but maybe a little bit less so than I did.

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Day Trip to Bath

Admittedly, I'm a little late with this post, as I went to Bath at the end of June.

With three friends I had booked on a coach day trip through a local firm. We had a pretty civilised departure at 9am (unlike a trip we have booked to go to a craft show in London, when our departure time is around 7am). It was at the start of our recent very hot spell and I was concerned about that, but the coach had very good air-conditioning, so spending time on there was preferable to sweltering elsewhere.

Traffic was light and we arrived in Bath a little early, which was great. I was armed with sunscreen, hat and layers of linen clothing. We located the tourist information centre, after a slight detour into the Radley shop, as there was a sale on. The Radley fans bought nothing, whereas I bought a canvas tote and a purse.

We bought a ticket for the tourist open-top bus tours. They aren't cheap, but when time is limited and it's very hot, the top deck of a bus has a breeze and it's a great way to see the city. We did the city tour first, followed by one which went round the outskirts. Plenty of opportunity for photographs, although that wasn't always easy when the bus was moving. I took my Panasonic TZ70 small camera, but it took some decent pics.

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There was an exhibition in Bath, called Minerva Owls, wherein various owl sculptures were dotted around the city. We saw a few of them, but, again, time was limited.

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Between the bus tours, we found time for the somewhat obligatory shots of Poultney Bridge, although a boat that seemed to have got stuck below the weir would not get out of shot. I'm sure it wasn't deliberate…

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We found a lovely little café, the Courtyard Café, near Sally Lunn's, where we stopped for some lunch. As none of us were driving, we were all able to have a couple of glasses of wine, whih was most pleasant.

I didn't get time to go into the abbey, but walked round the outside. Next time…

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All too soon it was time to return to the coach and make our way home. For £22 it was a bargain, compared with being faced with driving, parking, driving home again - and no wine!

Bath has some lovely buildings - and superb chimneys.

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July books

Flesh and Blood

by Bill Kitson

Started 28 June 2018
Finished 10 July 2018

Possibly the best of the Eden House Mysteries, but that may simply be because I like the subject matter. An excellent tale and a very pleasant read. I find the main characters credible and good company. Again set in Yorkshire, this sees Adam and his fiancée, Eve, get caught up in another murder mystery which has plenty of twists.

The Time Traveller's Guide to Mediaeval England

by Ian Mortimer
Narrated by Jonathan Keeble

Started 5 July 2018
Finished 9 July 2018

These books go into some detail about the minutiae of daily life in the relevant period. Sometimes a little dry, but generally interesting and they give a good picture of "real life" - as best the historians can reconstruct. And yes, the title uses "medieval", but I prefer the other spelling.

The Ship of Brides

by Jojo Moyes
Narrated by Nicolette McKenzie

Started 9 July 2018
Finished 13 July 2018

I thoroughly enjoyed this audiobook, absolutely loved it. It tells the tale of some Australian war brides who were taken to England, and their husbands, on an elderly aircraft carrier. By the end of the story I had forgotten how it started, so engaged with the lives of the "brides" I had become. This is the first book by Jojo Moyes that I have read/listened to and now she's on my list. The characters were very well drawn, with their faults and foibles, and the narration was superb, really bringing the characters to life and drawing the listener in to the story. I am already missing the people I got to know.

The Venetian Game

by Philip Gwynne Jones

Started 10 July 2018
Finished 15 July 2018

I enjoyed this, although it felt a little inconsequential. I wasn't that engaged with the thriller plot, but I enjoyed the main characters. I will look at the next in the series, I expect. Venice played a starring role in the book, and, although I have only visited it once, it was interesting to see it through the eyes of a resident.

A Tangled Mercy

by Joy Jordan-Lake

Started 15 July 2018
Finished 27 July 2018.

This novel is amazing. I really wasn't sure what to expect and had no idea that it was based on real events. It covers two periods of history: 1822, when, in Charleston there was a slave revolt; and 2015, when a doctoral student relocates to Charleston to investigate the history of the revolt. The investigation was also prompted by some documents her late mother had left. During the course of the novel the two stories come together and develop. I have to say I didn't anticipate the final explanation almost until it arrived. Looking back there were clues but the mystery was perfectly paced and satisfyingly resolved. Not an easy subject and some fairly harrowing chapters, but overall I enjoyed reading it and I learnt a lot. Ten days later, I'm still thinking about some of the issues raised.

The Despatcher

by John Scalzi
Narrated by Zachary Quinto

Started 16 July 2018
Finished 18 July 2018

Only a short audiobook - a couple of hours. Thoroughly enjoyed it though. Narration was excellent, but then Zachary Quinto has a very pleasant speaking voice. Thought-provoking storyline and I hope there are more stories around this subject to come. I have some Scalzi in my Kindle queue, so this was a nice introduction to his writing.

Dracula

by Bram Stoker
Narrated by Alan Cumming, Tim Curry and others

I have read Dracula before and I was surprised to find I enjoyed it. It made a change to read the original, having watched a load of Dracula films over the years (and my favourite is still "The Fearless Vampire Killers", although it was called "Dance of the Vampires" when I first saw it!). It's been a while since I read it, so I thought an audiobook version with a cast would be fun. It was, I enjoyed listening to it as much as I did reading it. I had hoped for a bit more of Tim Curry, but Alan Cumming and Simon Vance did a grand job. Yes, it's stylised, but that's just how the book is. This version is definitely worth a listen though.

Started 19 July 2018
Finished 22 July 2018

The Singularity Trap.

by Dennis E Taylor
Narrated by Ray Porter.

Started 29 July 2018
Finished 31 July 2018

I loved the Bobiverse Trilogy from this author, so was more than happy to give this one a go. It wasn't as entertaining as the Bob books, but still had some laugh out loud moments. To start with, I was unsure where the story would be going; it starts with the tale of a guy who signs on to an asteroid mining ship, and somehow gets infected when a strange artefact is discovered. Gradually he is turned into metal. I did wonder if this was the whole story, and what else could possibly fill the rest of the book. I needn't have worried, as I pretty soon became engrossed. The concept isn't as out-there as in the Bob books, although it certainly is thought-provoking, revealing some of the less laudable aspects of human-kind. Dennis E Taylor is definitely on my must-read list and Ray Porter is firmly on my listen-to list. He brings these books to life really well.

In between audiobooks and text books, I have been listening to some of the Audible free series: this month it has been "Pitch" and "Real Crime". The former is about music and its influence on people, the latter is a British podcast series about some of the most notable crimes in recent times. I remembered most of them, but they were still interesting and well presented.

I have also been working my way through my digital copy of the sci-fi magazine "Analog".

June Books

The Outcasts of Time

By Ian Mortimer
Narrated by Barnaby Edwards

Started 1 June 2018.
Finished 5 June 2018

I picked up this audiobook on offer, so figured it wasn't exactly expensive! I'd seen the book elsewhere and had been tempted to read it - I think it may have been one of the Kindle First selections one month, when I went for a different one. A definite change of pace and subject from Earthcore, which was quite welcome!
I enjoyed the book and liked the narration very much. That said, it wasn't quite what I was expecting. Interesting to see descriptions of the centuries as though through the eyes of someone from the past, and the supporting characters were often entertaining, but really it was a catalogue of social and domestic changes that had taken place. Not exactly a thrilling plot-line, rather gently interesting.

The Dark Web

By Geoff White & Bernard Achampong
Narrated by Geoff White

Started 5 June 2018
Finished 6 June 2018

Not so much an audiobook, this is an Audible presentation/documentary in 10 short chapters. Also, it's free to subscribers. I found it sufficiently interesting to finish the episodes, although it probably didn't impart much in the way of new information. It did, however, flesh out some of the things I already knew, so definitely worth listening to.

West Cork

Started 7 June 2018
Finished 9 June 2018

This is another Audible freebie, about a murder that took place in 1996 in western Ireland. As it happens, the day I started it, I had a call from my brother and I happened to mention that I was listening to this, knowing that he and his family were regular visitors to the area, as his wife's family come from round there. Turns out he was aware of the story and is very familiar with a lot of the places. He's seen the house where the victim lived. I'm only a few episodes in, but the pace is lovely, the story-telling is gently understated - as much as telling the tale of a murder can be. I don't believe the murder has been solved, so I'm interested to see the journey this takes me on. Intruiging - and an unfinished tale, as the main (only) suspect has been formally accused of murder in France, although he is unlikely to be extradited. Do I believe he is guilty? No, but I'm not convinced of his innocence, either. Worth listening to.

The Memory of Trees

by F G Cottam
Narrated by David Rintoul

Started 10 June 2018
Finished 11 June 2018

I don't think this was as scary as I had expected it to be, although it was nicely atmospheric. A very rich bloke hires a tree expert to reforest his land. All good, until strange things start happening. It had its tense moments and overall I enjoyed it. David Rintoul as the narrator helped; always good and a voice I love.

A Little History of Philosophy

by Nigel Warburton
Narrated by Kris Dyer

Started 11 June 2018
Finished 13 June 2018

This was interesting and I know more about philosophy than I did before starting it. It still doesn't exactly excite me, although some of the concepts and arguments were interesting. The book was well read and clearly written, but about as much philosophy as I ever want to deal with.

Churchill

by Roy Jenkins
Narrated by Robert Whitfield (Simon Vance)

Started 14 June 2018
Finished 25 June 2018

Fascinating, although rather peppered with high-brow language, which, for me, detracted from the story. I have the paperback copy of this book, but the print is a bit small and I found it easier to listen to than to read.

The Haunted Lady (Eden House 5)

by Bill Kitson

Started 6 June 2018
Finished 18 June 2018

I like this series of books; they are well written and have entertaining main characters. Somehow I managed to read the fifth book before the fourth, but it doesn't really matter.

The Thinnest Air

By Minka Kent

Started 18 June 2018
Finished 28 June 2018

This was a Kindle First freebie and I enjoyed it. A woman goes missing and her sister starts to dig into her life. Of course, all is not what it appeared to be. No masterpiece, but an entertaining read which did keep me guessing for a while.

Sleeper's Castle

By Barbara Erskine
Narrated by Charlotte Strevens

Started 26 June 2018
Finished 30 June 2018

I usually enjoy Barbara Erskine books and this was no exception. Not my favourite (which is "Lady of Hay"), but it was well read and an enjoyable audiobook.

It's the weekend!

It seems to have been a very long and arduous week, which is par for the course of late. I made a visit to one of our offices midweek, which I enjoyed. It was worth my time, although the journey there and back, plus being unaccustomed to the office setting, has left me really rather tired. I used to travel longer than this every weekday - at a time when I was quite unwell. I couldn't do it now - clearly I am "getting older" as my team like to remind me. I have had two rehearsals this week, which have added to my fatigue, particularly when I've had to dash out of the door having only just closed the laptop for the night.

Tomorrow is the choral society's summer concert and I'm a little apprehensive. I feel under-prepared and not confident in some of the pieces. Certainly in the major work we are doing; excerpts from Vivaldi's Gloria. Such is the lot of an accompanist. This is a piano reduction of the orchestral score and, as is the way with Baroque music, there's a lot of twiddly bits and no little amount of contrapuntal writing. I love it, but my fingers don't. I can play it, but I have struggled to become familiar enough with my part to be able to forget about it and concentrate on the choir and the conductor. On occasion I've almost suffered from note-blindness, where I've looked at the music and it's meant nothing to me. Slightly disconcerting, but I reckon it's a result of tiredness rather than anything else. Forgetting how to read music could be a tad awkward for someone who relies heavily on her sight-reading skills! I'm sure we'll get through it; the adrenaline will kick in and we'll rise to the occasion. As a reward, the concert ends with one of my absolute favourite pieces: Bridge over Troubled Water. It's a very moving way to end and has been well-received before.

It's the society's 30th anniversary this year, so this concert is going to be fairly light-hearted and very much a celebration of 30 years of singing and raising money for charity. Since I've been a member, the concerts we give have raised over £1000 a year for local charities. It feels good to be able to give back to the community. I spent a long time studying music and, as I didn't become a professional, it's very rewarding to be using my (somewhat diminished) skills at last. I love accompanying people, so I've found my niche. Some members have been with the choir for the full 30 years, which is impressive. I am lucky enough to have moved to a small rural town which has a very strong community and a flourishing music scene. Our concerts are well supported by the community. I was astounded a couple of years ago when we received a standing ovation for an excerpt we did from Handel's Messiah. Granted, I think we did a good job with it, but that was most unexpected and very gratifying. Here's hoping tomorrow night comes close!

Blooming lovely

I have been busy today: mowed my lawns and also one at the parents' bungalow. I was pleased to see my Dad's favourite poppies in bloom again, although the feelings were tinged with sadness that he's no longer here to see them and also that the bungalow sale is progressing, so I won't be able to see them for much longer. I did pick off a seed pod, so maybe I'll be able to get some growing in my garden. I love poppies, which is just as well, given I have one tattooed on my shoulder.

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My garden is doing remarkably well considering how neglected it was last year. The roses are in bloom, bless them: always reliable.

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The Cotinus (smoke bush) has grown a lot, despite being fairly savagely trimmed back, as were the penstemons, but then they are usually pretty resilient.

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Whilst it's now too hot and I'm too tired for any more gardening, today has encouraged me to believe that I can get the garden back on track. Still got a lot of work to do on the front garden border, but I'm making progress.

May books

The Speed of Sound

by Eric Bernt

Started 1 May 2018
Finished 9 May 2018

Thoroughly enjoyed this book, although the ending seemed a little sudden. Interesting central topic; that buildings might retain a record of all sounds ever created within their walls. I enjoyed the relationship between the doctor and her autistic patient, as well as the overall plot.

The Forgotten Ones

by Steena Holmes

Started 9 May 2018
Finished 14 May 2018

Rather to my surprise I enjoyed this book. I was deterred as soon as I realised a main character was an elderly man with terminal cancer. A bit too close to home and it did upset me at times. Aside from that, the book was interesting, although I wasn't quite sure the secret was as terrible as it was made out to be. I was also a little unsure of the ending, but overall I enjoyed it.

The Kaiser's Gold

by Bill Kitson

Started 18 May 2018.
Finished 25 May 2018

I had forgotten about these books, written by a friend of a friend. This is the second in the Eden House series and it was most enjoyable. Not too demanding, but no less entertaining for that - and well-written. Kept me guessing about whodunnit.

Earthcore

by Scott Sigler
Narrated by Ray Porter

Started 21 May 2018
Finished 1 June

Thoroughly enjoyed this, if enjoy is the right word. Scary, gruesome and exhausting, with rather more foul language than I'd like, it was quite a roller coaster ride. It starts with a discovery of a vein of platinum, with a company who wants to mine that find. However, it's very deep underground and as they dig down, well, they meet something unexpected. I have to say I didn't always know the direction this book was taking, which makes a change. As a result I found it fascinating and very enjoyable. I have read some reviews which suggested it would make a good film and I tend to agree.
As ever, Ray Porter is a great narrator. I'm always happy to see his name against an audiobook.

I should also confess to having abandoned "As Good as True" by Cheryl Reid. It started out with unrelenting misery and I guess I simply wasn't in the mood for it. At the moment I'm looking for escapism, but I may go back to it one day.

Rievaulx Terrace and Abbey

On my last visit to Yorkshire I promised myself a trip out to Rievaulx. I have been there before, but I don't recall actually going round the Abbey itself, so decided this was something I should do. As it happens, my friend received information on a wildflower walk which was taking place during this week, so booked us on to that.

We headed off to Rievaulx Terrace, which is a National Trust property (both members, so free entry) and had a look round before the walk started. Along the terrace there are around 12 viewpoints, where a gap has been created in the trees to provide a view across the valley and down onto Rievaulx Abbey.
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We joined the walk at 1.30pm and it took around 90 minutes. We were taken down a central path through the woodland, not the usual tourist path. As a result we were sandwiched between modern planting and woodland planting created when the terrace was developed, in the 18th century. The chaps running the walk were very interesting, pointing out a variety of wildflowers. Among the ones we saw were ramsons, English bluebells, Helleborus viridis, a rather rare, green hellebore, an early-flowering orchid, forget-me-nots, the delightful adoxa moschatellina (town hall clock flower), cowslips, primroses and many more.

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Orchis mascula - early purple orchid.

What was particularly interesting was the discussion around native planting and using non-native plants to restore the gardens, because they were plants either used in the 18th century, or by the Victorians at a later date. We learnt about various conservation techniques and decisions that were being made regarding viewpoints over the valley - not least the fact that they don't believe the trees were originally there; that the terrace was probably originally designed as a kind of infinity terrace, sloping away out of sight to provide uninterrupted views of Rievaulx. It was also likely designed not as a promenade, but to be seen from a carriage. Unfortunately, the trees have to stay, as they cannot now be removed.

At either end of the terrace is a temple: one Ionic, which is open at times, the other Doric, which is closed. We later learned that some of the decorative tiling from the Abbey had been used on the floor of the Doric temple.

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Ionic Temple

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Doric Temple

After the walk finished, we decided to head down to Rievaulx Abbey itself. This is owned by English Heritage, but I am a member, so free entry there as well. After a stop for some tea and cake we headed off to walk round the Abbey ruins. The weather was superb, almost too bright, as it made photography tricky, trying to expose the stonework correctly without bleaching out the sky. My camera has built-in HDR, but it's not fantastic. My iPhone, however, made pretty good work of applying HDR to the scenery, so my best photos are a mix of phone and DSLR.

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In this photo you can clearly see the older, 12th century stonework in the foreground contrasting with the later 13th century stonework of the presbytery in the background.

The Abbey was both added to and reduced over time, as lay brothers left the monastery, leaving only the Cistercian monks in residence. It was sacked by the Scots in the 1320s and, of course, Henry VIII later put an end to a vast number of churches and monasteries in England, of which Rievaulx was one.

However, the ruins here are extensive and quite, quite beautiful.

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I'll leave you with a shot of some of the beautiful foliage on the path away from the Abbey.

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Bempton Cliffs RSPB reserve

Bempton is a favourite day out of mine when I'm up in Yorkshire. I'm not an obsessive birder, but I do like to see them, particularly sea or wetland birds. I also enjoy the challenge of photographing them. Of course, I failed even to see the peregrine falcon during my visit, although I witnessed the impact it had on the other birds, as they all flew up into the air when it skimmed close to the cliffs.

Occasionally when I have been, the sky has been black with flying insects, effectively ruining most photos, but luckily that wasn't the case this time.

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If anything, the conditions were just a bit too good. My sunburnt arms will attest to that, as will some of the less than ideal exposures on my photos. At times I could neither see the viewfinder lights, nor check my shots on the screen afterwards. I do quite miss the swing-needle light meter on my old film camera!

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There is quite a length of coastline at the reserve, with plenty of boardwalk viewing points for people to see the birds. On such a beautiful day the sea makes a stunning blue backdrop, setting off the birds in flight very well. Exposing correctly can be tricky, between sea, sky, white birds, dark birds, green grasses and dark grey cliffs.

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I tend to under-expose for the ground and leave my camera set there. I did try a few in an automatic mode, but that didn't work at all. I'm also lucky in that my zoom lens has a manual focus option, so I can set it and wait for a bird to fly past at the right distance. Otherwise the auto focus just hunts around and is not fast enough to catch flying birds.

I saw a number of birds I had never seen before, too: a whitethroat, a reed bunting and a skylark. The highlight is always the appearance of any puffins. I saw some in a cleft in the rock, but at a considerable distance and only just visible. Luckily I also spotted a couple who were very close to one of the viewing platforms, so was able to join the queue for the prime spot!

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