15 September 2010

An extraordinary high

Today is my first day "back in the world".
I got myself up, got dressed, dried my eyes and went into work this morning.

I'm so glad I did. Everyone here at Charlecote has been amazingly supportive through my crises with Lucy, and today was no exception. I arrived to hugs, cups of tea and tons of sweeties!

The place has been transformed in my absence, all things in preparation for our visit from the Antiques Roadshow. Yes, my dream has finally come true, the Antiques Roadshow is coming to my neighbourhood.

My despondency eased as I got caught up in the Roadshow atmosphere. Everyone's whizzing round, and there a buzz in the air. I've been helping out in any way that's needed, which has entailed shifting bits and pieces, answering phones, and even fetching a spare water boiler from St. Peter's Church in Barford.

At one point, I was summoned to the Great Hall by the Antiques Roadshow director to proof and approve the text of Fiona Bruce's Intro script. That was quite an honour and a treat. I proudly pulled out my iPhone, and with the complete works of Shakespeare at my fingertips, provided the exact textual references the script needed.


I could have died a happy woman just for doing that, but things actually got even better. When I returned after lunch with the water boiler, Julie 2 met me at the door. "You're being called on the radio!" she said rushing past, with arms full of god only knows what.

My radio has been switched on the wrong channel all morning, so I had no idea. I answered the call, it was Julie 1: "Could you come to Library, we could really use your help?"

I dropped the boiler on my desk (not literally) and ran to the Library.
"What's up, Jules?" I said, slightly out of breath, when I arrived.
"Fiona Bruce wants to ask you a few questions about Shakespeare." Julie 1 said with a smile.

I stepped into Charlecote Park's beautiful, old Library, that now resembles a movie set with lights and camera hung all around it. Fiona Bruce, THE Fiona Bruce was standing in the centre of the room, flanked by make-up artists and camera crew members.

Before her, on a lovely mahogany table, a copy of the Second Folio, a rare second edition of the plays of Shakespeare, was propped open on book cushions.

Emma, the director, turned round and introduced me to Fiona Bruce as "the Shakespeare scholar", and explained: "Fiona has a few questions for you."

There is a legend about Shakespeare poaching deer from Charlecote Park as young man. There are a few allusions to this incident and the people involved in it, e.g., Sir Thomas Lucy, in the plays (particularly Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV, part 2).

Fiona Bruce wanted to talk about this, and asked me to describe the characters of Falstaff and Justice Shallow.

...Shakespeare scholars live and die for moments such as this....

Afterwards, I became a groupie and asked to take a photo with Fiona Bruce. She was very gracious, and said, "Of course, I'd be delighted to have a photo with our Shakespeare scholar."

She's very tall, and kindly compensated by bending her knees so that she wouldn't tower over me like a giant.

Fiona Bruce in the Library with the Second Folio

14 September 2010


A sweet message from dear friends, for our Lucy...

"We keep thinking of the Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds".

Perhaps we should change that to: "Lucy in the sky with parsnips? Cellophane fountains and broccoli skies..."


Good night, Sweet Princess

"You think there shall be no dogs in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us!"

- Robert Louis Stevenson

Dear Reader, my Heart is broken.

The past Friday, I had to say good-bye to one of the dearest friends I have ever had. Lucy, my beloved border collie, has been my constant companion for the past 14 years. And now, she is gone.

I did the math(s) yesterday, and realized that apart from my family, many of whom with which I am not very close, Lucy has held the place as the most consistent, long-term, loving presence in my life.

The fact is a bit staggering, but far from sad or pathetic. Clearly, I choose wisely and well when I invited her into my life, the same cannot be said of a few of the choices I’ve made in the past of the human variety.

Writer George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) wrote of the great loyalty and unconditional love she felt from her canine companions. Another writer extolled their virtues by declaring: “I pray to God that one day I may truly become the person my dog believes I am.”

Perhaps one day I’ll write a book called “Lessons from Lucy”. It would be a volume full of inspiring tales of grace and gentleness; of taking risks and having adventures (have passport, will travel!); a diet section extolling the virtues of fresh veg (carrots, celery, and broccoli - top favourites), popcorn and chicken, and a firm warning against the over-consumption of miso soup; an activities section recommending sea breezes, three walks a day and rides in the car with the windows down.

There would be advice on etiquette and social interactions, with candid tidbit, such as: “Respect yourself girls! Bottom sniffing on the first date is utterly out of the question”; and, “Try a little tolerance. Cats are okay, once you get to know them. One of my best friends is a feline...”

And of course, all important relationship advice - summing up the measure of a man in one sniff – a skill every modern girl should have! Lucy was a great social barometer and judge of character.

I remember once in New York, a chap who lived in our building, who used to happen upon us during our walks in Washington Square Park. Nice looking, friendly, all smiles. However, at his approach, Lucy would become very quiet and still, ears down, tail tucked, shy. Not herself at all. He often asked me out for coffee – and I always refused.

Lucy fell in love with the DEB as swiftly as I did, and accepted him as pack leader without hesitation.

“There are seasons in every life, and this chapter of your life, Lucy’s life, and your lives together, has ended,” my friend, a serene Methodist minister, spoke softly down the phone, calling from America.

She and her family had loved and cared for Lucy, and had allowed Lucy to recuperate from her first leg surgery in the comfort and fresh air of their big, Southern farm. The task of Lucy’s rehabilitation would have been a virtual impossibility in the rutted landscape of New York City.

I wept as she recalled the time Lucy had spent with them: “Lucy was a such blessing, and in so many ways, a touch of the divine in our lives.” During that time, an elderly relative of hers had suffered a stroke, and was in need of physiotherapy. The relative had refused the treatment, and sunk into a depression.

Then, in walked Lucy.

Her daily visits brightened and cheered his spirits. They bonded in their recovery, and Lucy’s presence encouraged him to become more active, and he regained the use of his hands so that he could pet and stroke her.

This dear old man is no longer with us, and I’m sure, he was there, waiting for Lucy, and welcomed her on the other side.

Death, they say, is worse for those of us left behind, and that is true because the act of letting go is so very hard for us to do. And so, we are left feeling torn asunder, our home, our hearts and lives feeling very empty, indeed.

Lucy had two extraordinary years living here in England. And, I think she enjoyed every minute of it. I'm just thankful that we had this time together.

06 September 2010

My (non) Award-winning Rose

I'm very proud of my first English roses, not least that I managed not to kill them!

Had I been more prepared, this is the rose I would have submitted to the Village Show Flower competition.

...oh well, there's always 2014...

01 September 2010

Simple pleasures, or, the 'Barford Century'

“What century are you living in?” – a blog observer jested recently.

To be sure, there are times when I am uncertain myself, and find myself pondering, rather delightfully and blissfully, this self-same question. Perhaps, the best and most accurate answer is: “A kinder and gentler one than the present.”

In so many ways, my life in Barford does seem to be caught within a time warp. My experiences here are light years from the life I led not so long ago in New York City. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

“Visit the sunny village of Barford where you can experience a little taste of the country.”

So read the advertisement for the Barford Village Show. And the advert did not lie! The Village Show is a massive undertaking that occurs here on the August Bank Holiday weekend, but only happens every four years - such is the magnitude of its scale and scope.

This year was our first experience of the Village Show. And, the DEB and I were both staggered and amazed by the level of commitment, drive, energy, enthusiasm and creativity displayed and required by everyone involved.

The village truly came together and pulled off quite a remarkable show. “This is just one of those things that we do very, very well.” So said my fellow WI-er, June. And, by golly she was right!

Visitors to our tiny corner of Warwickshire were treated to an array of funny scarecrows; home-made cakes and pies; skits and sketches; performances on the village green; strolling musicians; characters in costume; allotment tours; competitions for Best Vegetables, Flowers & Painted Stones; “Guess the weight of the Piglet” contest; a series of indoor and outdoor entertainments; pony rides; Hog Roasts; BBQs; art exhibits; antique stalls; local produce sales; and two historical exhibitions of wedding dresses and drama group costumes. There were also special church services, and prize-winning, guest bell-ringers from across the County ringing the church bells over the course of two full days.

The DEB and I contributed – exhausted though we were, having just returned the day before, from our two-week holiday – to the Village Show efforts of the Drama Group, Church and WI.

On Sunday, I served on the altar at the 8:00 am service – in my new alb, which FINALLY arrived!! This meant being up, awake, alert and at the church by half 7. (Oy vey.) Thank goodness, it’s just across the road.

In the afternoon, we both performed at a matinee of “Songs and Verses” the proceeds of which (over £200, I think) went to the Warwickshire and Northamptonshire Air Ambulance. The DEB sang and played two numbers on his guitar (he has such a beautiful voice *SIGH*).

I panicked for 24 hours, and fretted about what to do and in the end, realised it’s always best to stick with what you know. So – I donned one of the Drama Group’s Elizabethan costumes (with a gorgeous hat, of course!) and performed a selection of Shakespeare sonnets. After that, a stroll about the Village as a “costumed character.”

The highlight of the Village Show for me was the “Wedding Dress” exhibition sponsored by Barford WI. I mean, who doesn’t love wedding dresses? But, more importantly, our display of wedding dresses also provided a very unique illustration of social and cultural history in the live of the Village.

It was also just really fascinating to see how each dress expressed the style, persona and personality of the owner. Sue Tompkins’ early 1990s ensemble – complete with a cotton dress in dark green floral pattern ; and a pair of large, black, leather Dr. Martens boots – was the real show stopper of the exhibition!

This was one of those truly lovely WI moments, as we all gathered on Saturday, armed with our boxes, treasures, pictures and memories. Talk of how times and styles have changed – or not. And how society has changed.

For example, I recall one woman musing as she regarded another’s elaborate gown: “How lovely. Yes, I couldn’t wear a dress like that, ours was a second marriage in the 1970s.” Times have changed for the better, in some ways at least. And of course, it was just nice to be able to give the dress a second outing!

The organiser of the “Scarecrows” had asked us if we might participate in that event, but we decided that we rather wait, and see what it was all about first. I’m glad we did.

The Scarecrow displays were very serious business! The art and skill that went into them was incredible. There was one scarecrow modeled on our wonderful, wonderful postman, Steve.

The “Postie Steve” scarecrow was amazing! It had been masterfully painted, and looked just like him. When you walked passed the scarecrow, the motion was detected, and activated a sound system that began to play that old hit: “Wait a minute, Mr. Postman.”

Very clever.

My one disappointment from the Village Show experience was that I did not have my act together enough to submit an arrangement to the Floral Competitions. For some reason, when I had previously read through the Village Show materials I had failed to spot the “Best in Show” for Flowers.

I knew lots of people who were submitting veggies to the competition, but didn’t notice anything about flowers! Which is a shame, really, as my white, antique rose has done so well this year. I have no doubt I would have garnered a place!

Oh, well, there’s always 2014…

I think the greatest thing about the Village Show was, and is, well, the village itself and the people in it. People really came together, went all out and gave ceaselessly of their time, talents and resources to make the Village Show a success. That comes down to pride, I think, and a real love of this timeless place we call home.

(And here's mine!)