Despite a few days of frosty mornings, spring feels like it is coming. Cheerful little snowdrops are out in the verges of our lanes. The birds are getting ever more active and noisy. We can open the blinds when we come down in the morning and get the start of proper daylight and the afternoons no longer seem so truncated. There was another heavy frost this morning but another winter is passing into greater light and warmth.
I need to start getting active in the garden to clear the as yet unharvested leeks and the rotten stumps of chard and beetroot that I failed to harvest or that the deer got to before I could. Unfortunately, the very frustrating back strain I picked up while coughing (would you believe it!) last month continues to constrain activity a bit and I continue to use it as an excuse to restrict myself to extremely light, low-value gardening duties.
I have continued to use walking (plus a few elementary and, I admit, rather half-heartedly undertaken back exercises) as a way of gradually increasing my back’s mobility. In keeping with my wife’s and my joint New Year resolution to get out more when the weather is forecast to be nice, we went for a lengthy walk around Barnsley a couple of weeks ago. This is not the large market town in South Yorkshire but a nearby village in the Cotswolds that we have visited several times before, but not for a few years.
Despite having a fairly busy road running through it, this Barnsley is one of those picture book Cotswold towns and villages that are full of pretty cottages and large rich merchant and manor houses. There’s a popular pub and Barnsley House – previously home to Rosemary Verey, a famous gardener – is a popular spa and tourist attraction. We didn’t visit those but, rather, walked mainly around the village through open fields, woodland and old parkland. The frost made the ground firmer than expected after the January rain and the sky was brilliant blue. It was a lovely, refreshing walk.
In a further impromptu excursion last week, Jane and I popped south to Bath. The main element of our planned visit was to pick up a couple of loaves of sourdough bread from the rather wonderful Landrace. It’s a great establishment that worked hard to survive the Covid lockdowns and which sells the best bread I know of.
Bath is a fair old way to go for just bread so we also visited The Holburne Museum. We also had a very tasty and pleasant lunch at the recently opened Beckford Canteen which is a stylish restaurant set up in an ex-Georgian greenhouse.
At the Holburne Museum we bought tickets for an exhibition of Albrecht Dürer’s woodcuts depicting The Great Passion of Christ and the woodcut publications of a number of Durer’s mentors, contemporaries and followers. The links with the development of the printing press and Lutheranism were of interest but we both found an adjoining exhibition of very different, modern art rather more compelling.
The core of this exhibition by Alberta Whittle was a collection of elaborately decorated figures representing African slaves in various poses related to limbo dancing. What was enlightening for both Jane and I was the fact that slaves on slave ships crossing the Atlantic in the 18th century were offered precious time on deck (away from the stinking and confined quarters below) in return for entertaining the sailors with limbo dancing. The figures were alongside decorated cartons which, after inquisition of the Museum guide, we understood to representations of the containers that were used for water and cologne used to douse the slave performers so as to reduce their pungent smell while on deck.
Whittle’s work here was powerful and informative. In the subject matter and use of brilliant colour, it was reminiscent of the exhibition of a huge procession constructed by Hew Locke that I saw at Tate Britain last September. It was the highlight of our day (if only because we didn’t eat the Landrace bakery bread until the following day).
We have a further life highlight planned later this week: our first visit of the year to Edinburgh to see First Grandchild and his parents! I’m not sure what to expect from my dodgy back after being in car for 8-9 hours, but I am so looking forward to being in Edinburgh again.
Then, to hurry along time until Spring is really here, we have booked a few days in Paris. It’s been years since we travelled abroad so I’m looking forward to getting my passport stamped according to the new Brexity rules and being part of Europe again. There’s nice bread there (and in Edinburgh) too!