Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Willoughby Lord Cowell 2004-2014

It is with much sadness and heavy hearts that today Peter and I said good bye to our little hound, Willoughby. He had been battling lung cancer for the past few months and finally breathed his last this afternoon, passing away peacefully in Peter's arms at home.

W.L.C. 22 March 2004 - 19 November 2014

We first knew he had cancer of the right lower lung a few months ago when he started to have coughing fits. Peter took him to the hospital where they did some imaging to confirm the diagnosis. We were told that he wouldn't see another Christmas. 


The Story of Willoughby

Willoughby, born Timbavati Krugerrand , was whelped on the 22nd of March 2004.

The runt of the litter, he was the only one left when we picked him up aged 5 months old. He was a neurotic little puppy, being scared of going up and down steps he could see through, hot air balloons, chandeliers, almost anything which floated. But we soon found that the answer to almost everything was ham. Yes, his motivation was his stomach and there was almost nothing he wouldn't do for a slice of ham. That is how we taught him to swim, and that is how we coaxed him out from under the house every year during the annual Hamilton International Hot Air Balloon Festival.

Above: Willoughby the day we brought him home. 

He used to howl for hours when I left the house, and always be waiting by the front door for me when I got home. I didn't believe Peter when he told me that Willoughby made such a racket upon my departure, until Peter took a video to prove it. But this runt slowly became rehabilitated in the lifestyle to which all hounds aspire to become accustomed.

Below: His first hike into the mountains.

Eventually he grew into a confident, handsome teenaged hound, not scared to cross even a wobbly hanging bridge...


 Above and Below: Willoughby sunning himself in the garden.

Being a beagle, he wouldn't always stay in the garden. Oh no, he discovered how to climb trees and jump fences. At least he used to follow my scent, and come to the hospital (a 15 minute walk away). Everyone there got to know him, and one kindly matron used to hide him in her office until I had finished my shift (let's not contemplate the infection control issues, just the smiles he brought to the children bed-bound in the paediatric orthopaedic ward).

Such handsome profiles!

When he was about '30' we got him a brother, Spencer...
You can tell which brother was the laid back one and which was trouble!


The two were inseparable most of the time, although Willoughby, being older, had grown out of exploring. He was happy to stay in the yard if Spencer escaped. Spencer's escapades were to be his ultimate downfall, and so it became just the three of us again.


 Willoughby was an inquisitive hound...


 always eager to make new friends...

Not high maintenance, just happy to relax under dads' hats...

Always around, a faithful friend, whether you were covering the citrus in frost cloth...

 ... or trimming the hedges... 

 or reading in the study... 

We were so looking forward to Willoughby padding around the manor, it seems cruel that he will never lie in his basket by the hearth in the new study, or bound down the stairs when the door bell rings. We won't know if the pasta's al dente without our chief pasta tester, and we will have to vacuum the floor if we drop cake on it. Life will just not be the same for our little family, now there are just two of us for the first time in over a decade. But you will never be far from our memory, our faithful companion...


I think that this is how I shall remember you. Happy and warm, waiting for your tummy to be rubbed...

 Goodbye my friend.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

We'll gather lilacs...

I was listening recently to Kirsty Young interview Sir Roy Strong (previous director of the National Portrait Gallery and V&A Museum) on Desert Island Discs, and was interested in one of his choices being an excerpt from Ivor Novello's King's Rhapsody. He said he loved the smaltzy romantic style of the Novello operetta.

Above: Mr Ivor Novello

I can remember first discovering and being captivated by Ivor Novello's music when Gosford Park was released in 2002. I was in London and spending Christmas with Peter, having met him less than a month before. He suggested that we watch a recently released movie while dinner was cooking. We watched Gosford Park, and along with the amazing set, costumes, and outstanding cast, was Jeremy Northam's portrayal of the young Ivor Novello.

The sweeping melodies of "Land of might have been", "Waltz of my heart", "I can give you the starlight", and the more comical "And her mother came too" were my foray into this nostalgic world of my grandparent's time.

There was clearly more Novello out there to be had, I decided after Sir Roy's interview, so I went in search of it and I came across a BBC Proms concert from 2012 celebrating the life and works of Novello. The 90 minute affair was narrated by Simon Callow, who led One on a journey of Mr Novello's life - I was not aware (although hardly surprised) that the Welsh songsmith (originally David Ivor Davies) was gay and had a partner of some 35 years, the actor Bobbie Andrews. The orchestra, along with soprano Sophie Bevan and tenor Toby Spence, performed many opuses unknown to me, but very popular in their day. One I had heard of was "We'll gather lilacs (in the Spring)".

Having enjoyed the song I reflected - why haven't We lilacs to gather this Spring? So I decided to do something about it…



Lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) are a fragrant flowering member of the Olive family, which although a native of the Bulkan mountains, are thought of as being very English. They were introduced to the British Isles sometime in the 16th century. 

They come in an array of colours, from white and cream to pink, purple and blue...

We have decided to plant a thicket of them in Little Hollows, the name we have given to the southwest corner of the garden. We've chosen the cultivar Katherine Havemeyer, a lavender flower fading to pink:


When I pick them I shall think of the Ivor Novello song, We'll gather lilacs...

We'll gather lilacs in the Spring again,
And walk together down an English lane,
Until our hearts have learnt to sing again,
When you come home once more.

And in the evening by the firelight's glow
You'll hold me close and never let me go,
Your eyes will tell me all I long to know,
When you come home once more.

from Perchance to dream, by Ivor Novello.


Ivor's ashes are interred beneath a lilac bush at Golders Green Crematorium.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bluebell Walk Progress...


One of my pleasing observations of the garden during my trip home last week was the progress of the bluebell walk over the past 5 years. Spring has sprung, the rain has come, the bulbs are out and all the deciduous trees are starting to sprout!

When we first planted up the walk 5 years ago it looked like this:
There were a couple of winters of transplanting the lines of trees, widening the walk, doubling the number of rows of birches, raising some mulched bulb beds and sowing hundreds of bulbs...

Above: Year 2

Below: Year 3



Below: Year 4, End of Winter

Below: Year 4, Summer

Below: Year 5, Early spring

Below: Year 5, Mid Spring (Last Week)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

NZ Song Thrush

Peter found a nest with a clutch of little blue eggs in a nest in our potting shed. We knew they were Song Thrushes by the type of nest, the little blue eggs with the distinctive spots at the broader end of the shell.


Song thrushes are territorial and nest as solitary, monogamous pairs, breeding from August to February, peaking in September – November in most localities. They nest in the forks of shrubs or trees several metres above the ground and usually well concealed by foliage. The nest is a tightly woven bowl of grass, small twigs, lichen, wool, dead leaves and lightly lined with mud.  Two, three or more clutches of 3-4 (sometimes 5-6) eggs may be laid during a season especially if an earlier clutch is lost. The eggs are light blue-green or pale blue with tiny dark spots at the larger end. Incubation is mostly by the female and takes 12-13 days. Young are blind and naked when hatched and open their eyes after 5-6 days. They are well-feathered 12 days after hatching, and fledge at 12-14 days. Both sexes share feeding, including of fledglings.
- extract from NZ Birds Online

You can hear their lovely song here.

So we decided to take little clips every couple of days of their progress. This is day 1 (after all the eggs had hatched)...


We were amazed at how fast they grew. By day 3 or 4 their feather quills were quite developed and their body tone was strong...


By day 6 or 7 they still had their eyes closed, but had got used to keeping their mouths open for feeding...


By day 9 or 10 they were used to opening their mouths to be fed every time you ventured close to them...


and by day 14 they we know that they had already ventured out of the nest as we found it empty in the morning and full again in the evening...


Soon they will have flown the nest, growing up to look like this...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Dubbo Chronicles No 12: A Day Trip to Mudgee...


Last Friday I took a much needed day off and decided to visit a town called Mudgee, about an hour's drive east of Dubbo. Mudgee is a small town known for its vineyards, cafes and more recently a small distillery. It is about 5 hours drive northwest of Sydney, which makes it a popular weekend destination with some of the city dwellers.


I drove through a few small 'blink and you'll miss them' towns on my way there. Everywhere the scenery was very rural NSW. Just outside a town called Ballimore I came across a small herd of cattle huddling under a tree for some shade. It was only 8 in the morning and already the sun was scorching...


Just beyond the cattle was a natural soda water spring...


I stopped to take a photo and a small video of the horrid sulphur-crested cockatoos, which swarm through the sky with shrieks that curdle your blood....


By 9am I had reached the sleepy town of Mudgee, which was quite a bit smaller than Dubbo. Here is a picture of the main street...

 

After a quick bite of breakfast at a local cafe and a walk around the town centre I headed off to the first of several vineyards, di Lusso, where I had an early lunch. I had a lovely antipasto pizza followed by a creamy chicken and tarragon pot pie, served with a glass of very nice white made from the Picolit grape. The Picolit is an extremely rare varietal from Colli Orientali in Friuli (north east Italy). There are said to be less than 100 producers of this wine varietal in the world. This is because the grape suffers from a condition known as 'floral abortion', which means that it is prone to loosing all its flowers in Spring and thus does not produce any grapes. This makes it an incredibly nonviable grape in a commercial world, especially when growers can go a couple of years at a time before getting a harvest. But, I can tell you that if you like a sweeter wine there is none more pleasant than this little drop.

Above and Below: The setting at di Lusso, where they serve lunch alfresco overlooking the pond. They also grow olives and figs.
Below: My pizza being cooked in a wood-fired oven on the terrace.

One of my next stops was a vineyard called Pieter van Gent. They had a very atmospheric cellar set up for visitors, and were very friendly, although none of their wines was to my taste.

Below: The unassuming exterior...

Which gives way to their dramatic cellar...

After a couple more wineries there was only time to squeeze one more in before dinner. I chose to do something different, I visited a distillery. The Baker Williams Distillery was set up two years ago and makes a variety of spirits and liqueurs. One of the owners, Nathan, gave us a guided tour and explained the distilling process to us. I learnt about 'heads' and 'tails' and triple distilling and temperature control and valves etc.

We got to try most of their spirits. I was especially interested in their whiskey, and the process of aging it. We got to try some of the 'new make' which is the new spirit that has been distilled from malted barley. It was clear and colourless, but already had a burgeoning taste of whiskey. It was quite odd sipping something that looked like vodka but tasted like scotch. We then got to try some that had been aged in American oak barrels for various times, so that we could appreciate the aging process. I must say that even though the process made much more sense to me, the demystification paradoxically made it more intriguing to me. Perhaps I will have a go at trying to make whiskey once we get our still up and running at WBP.

Above: The still head with 6 different valves and a distillate collection pipe.
Below: The still itself.

Below: The process being explained with wine and a bunsen burner.

I then had a lovely meal at The Wineglass bar and grill, at Cobb & Co Court in town before heading back late to Dubbo. So, that was my day.

Below: Sunset over the vineyard.
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