Days of warm sun last week have made way for a colder snap , with snow on the fells for a Cumbrian visit last weekend and now a punishing hailstorm, the hail falling vertically with such force that it bounces up immediately again before returning to earth and coating beds and table tops with a frosting of snow. The gardens are spectacular just now, though, magnolias creamy white or a sultry crimson, and Housman's ‘loveliest of trees’ the cherry: don't miss the Yoshino cherry on the lawn in front of the glasshouses, a froth of blossom fizzing with bumble bees. The deft blue of Pulmonaria is popping up here and there, too. The scientific name is derived from the Latin pulmo, lung. The spotted oval leaves of Pulmonaria officinalis were thought to symbolize diseased, ulcerated lungs, and so were used to treat pulmonary infections. The common name in many languages also refers to lungs, as in the English "lungwort". Colloquial names include soldiers and sailors, spotted dog, Joseph and Mary, Jerusalem cowslip and Bethlehem sage.
I spent much of last week preparing a poster to take to the Barker Research Lab/Brain Repair Centre Parkinson’s Open Day on Saturday. Although we had collected the data years ago, it proved a laborious and time-consuming job, and not without its collateral damage – cross purposes, strained relationships, enthusiasms which generated yet more information to absorb and respond to. Worth it, I think, though: the rather beautiful finished object generated some interest amongst the scientists and more amongst the audience of people-with-Parkinson’s and their carers, and it seemed a good opportunity to revisit the topic. It didn’t create the stir I’d fantasised about – no researcher from the Wellcome Trust with time on her hands and a pot of money to spend – but a reminder of what we’d achieved – what, two years ago? – and an opportunity to rally the troops, perhaps, or at least poke at the thing with a stick to see if it (the project, the book) is dead in the water, or not. I do hope not. Is it time perhaps to reconsider the self-publishing options? Meanwhile a ‘first person’ article on tango and Parkinson’s for a magazine in Newcastle (Australia) is ready to send, along with a selection of photos.
From the Open Day, a bus to the station and a series of trains north for a 60th birthday party in the Dacre Hall at Lanercost – how many years since I first celebrated there? The Cambridge countryside blurred by; a biting wet wind greeted us in Peterborough. The next leg passed peacefully and then we were in Newcastle (UK) & its Central Station, the Centurion bar a high-volume crush of post-match celebrants and pre-evening roisterers. I was mistaken in thinking the slow train towards Carlisle would provide a bit of calm before the hubbub that was bound to be Nicky’s birthday bash: I arrived on Platform 6 to find the train already packed – seats full and the aisles jammed with passengers – and tickets being checked as we boarded. Turned out this was the ‘curry train’, also known as the ‘Passage to India’, transporting getting on for 100 very smart diners I should think to the Valley Indian Restaurant on Corbridge Station platform. The waiter (formal dress, broad Geordie accent) squeezed through the crowd taking orders (no aperitifs sadly since the train company recently banned alcohol on Saturday evenings on that route.)
Sunday morning: the snow gone from Milton village where I am staying with my good friend Debbie, thankfully on the mend after a sub-arachnoid haemorrhage just before Christmas, but we can see the snow-topped cliffs of Steel Rigg in the distance along Hadrian's Wall as we head out for a stroll round the block. For once the skies are blue, the sun is up and there are new lambs: a delight to be in Cumbria on such a morning (especially when we hear it's a grey day in Cambridge).
I've also had a few outings recently which remind me that I’m supposed to be writing full time: an enjoyable evening with Meldreth Writers’ Group yesterday and today’s ‘Writing the Wild’ workshop at the Cambridge Art Salon; also a lovely afternoon with Juliet Day from the Botanic Garden and hosted by Words in Walden, where a welcoming audience listened to us talk gardens and stories and I had an opportunity to share some of what I’ve written as writer in residence. The image I used there to describe the feeling of being overwhelmed by a plethora of inspirations – a mass of wires leading out from my head in a million different directions, each begging to have its story pursued and caught –has stayed with me. I’m wondering if I’ll ever be done. I’m currently being pestered by Semele (the subject of Jupiter’s lovely aria ‘Where’er you walk’ in Handel’s opera, remember?) which has become tangled in my mind with the remarkable story of a wedding which came to grief over a pork pie. In fact, I’m stuck. But I’m hoping that Alex, the glasshouses main man, will help me by pointing out Semele androgyna, reputedly flourishing in the glasshouse corridor somewhere, and that this might unlock something.