Thursday, 14 April 2016

Feathered hygge - birds of prey in Oxfordshire

April already!
It's been an unusual winter, mild and dry and, alas, the only snow that fell did so early in the morning and had melted before I was up and out of bed. Which lesson I did not fail to take on board even as I also try to relax, rest and let the world slowly spin without my stressing over things.

Because that's the rub.
The stress.
I've been under too much stress for too long and, as my health-care practitioners persist in telling me, stress impacts upon the immune system and a compromised immune system cannot be expected to protect a body against cancer.

It's a tough one. Especially for one who cares deeply, is loyal and dedicated and who works harder than really is good for her.

But this one is learning the lesson and letting go of the stress and a feeling of responsibility for everything that is wrong today. I cannot protect the planet, I cannot save every one of the starving, I cannot heal, mend, comfort all who are suffering. And so I do that which I can in my own little world and I try not to let the rest destroy my spirit.

Meanwhile, I enjoy small moments, quiet times and the occasional adventure.
Because, as this blog is all about, life is an adventure.  
N'est-ce pas?

Which brings me to the feathered friends that The Ragazza and I met one day last week.

Meet Leo, the little owl.

He was my favourite, I decided, as he stood on my gloved arm and totally ignored me.
Because that's what they do, birds of prey, raptors, owls et al. They focus on danger, on sex and on food, and if you represent neither of those three things then you are simply, a perch..

A pretty perch, granted. but still just a perch.

And sometimes your owl will be distracted and decide to take off and when that happens you must not join him in the flapping. You must be calm and firm and keep your head, lest you be towed away by your owl. Which is another lesson worth learning - that there are times in your life when you have to stand your ground.

It's daunting at first.
Having a killing machine on your arm. Even though the glove is thick and the falconer is nearby, especially when the falconer is nearby and recounting tales of the time when he was out hunting with a large bird of prey, felt a pain and glanced down to see its talons piercing his hand, right through, skewering him. The only action one can take is to stand still and to wait until the hunter releases his grip and withdraws his talons.

Respect the wild ones.
And, adorable as you may find them and much as you may wish to stroke their beautiful feathers and to bury your face in their downy chests, you really have to refrain from touching them because you damage their natural oils and preened plumage and, besides, much as you may find them adorable they care not a jot for you. You are just the perch.

Still, it's lovely to be able to stand and perform the perch-function while someone with a wealth of experience and passion for the birds teaches you about them.
And explains that sometimes appearances can be deceptive and that owls do not have ears.

And a buzzard on the hand is actually more amazing than a whole sky full of red kites.

And the raven is quite intimidating. Perhaps because of its darkness, its black wings and beak and feet and eyes and even its tongue. But probably because the falconer warned you before he emerged from its aviary with it sitting on his arm, that you should hold your hand as far from your face as possible and not tempt it with your pretty little nose.

But when it flaps its wings it really is hard to remain still.
Best to close your eyes, just in case.
Edgar Allan Poe has a lot to answer for!


Patience rewarded.
In truth the raven was more interested in its leg-wear than in the tasty flesh at the end of the perch.

And then to fly some birds.
And then you really are just a perch, one on each side of the arena, facing front, arm held out high so that your bird will elect to land on your arm rather than your head. You hope.

And a piece of chick on your glove that the owl knows is there

And flies to fetch.
Low, along the ground, conserving energy...
Before swooping up and onto the food.

The wingspan of this owl is almost five feet. Which means that if he and I both stretch out our limbs we will both be pretty much the same width,

It's difficult to stand still, to keep your left arm extended, high and still, and at the same time to take a photograph of an approaching owl with your mother's old camera. But The Ragazza did it.

And we proved that an owl in flight is silent.
We closed our eyes and waited while Ginger the barn owl flew to us and no, we could not hear her coming.  And that was an amazing conclusion to our morning with the birds of prey.

(Picture plucked from wikipedia)

The Ragazza and I spent the morning with Hawkwalk in Oxfordshire.
Conveniently close to Drayton, should we decide to return.
Which we definitely will.

As their website promises:
Hawkwalk  – Falconry Oxfordshire – British birds of prey up close and personal

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Hygge - with a lavender twist

Last year, during chemotherapy, I lost of the habit of baking, which was a shame and a source of sadness. But when anything baked has the consistency of a mouthful of sawdust and a lack of saliva makes one struggle to chew it, then the pleasure simply is not there, is it?

No excuses now, spring has arrived, the pond on the green is filled with frantically fornicating frogs, rooks fly overhead with beaks crammed with twigs and pieces of straw, buds are bursting and my daily walks are punctuated by frequent pauses as I admire the carpet of cowslips and bluebell...

Back to baking, I decided.  

Lavender shortbread is ridiculously easy to make, especially using the recipe from a cookbook that I received when I purchased my first new-fangled, shiny-as-silver, fan oven some, goodness, twenty-five years ago. It's the one cookbook amongst dozens, probably over a hundred, that I possess to which I return when I wish to be reminded how to cook simple basics like rice pudding and pancakes and shortbread.

And it's nice to have a recipe that involves a rolling pin and a papered chopping board because I'm always reminded of my mother's Sunday baking sessions when she would fill tins with a fruit cake for my father, a Victoria sponge, jam-filled and coated with icing sugar for her and jam tarts, fairy cakes and something that never was named and whose flavour varied but that was always delicious. Sometimes she would experiment with her version of fancy French milles feuilles and flapjacks, but mostly she made the regulars and always with the warning, "When they're gone, they're gone" which philosophy was never lost on me.  

And the cutting out. Sometimes too thin so that the resulting shortbread is too crispy.
Sometimes too fat so that the baking biscuits spread alarmingly in the oven and merge to form a large mass that is still delicious but not what was planned, which may be how baking should be, unexpected, unusual, at the mercy of unseen forces, to remind us that we are not always in control and that things do not always go according to plan...

But that most often they do...

The result ...

A cup of herbal tea in a bone china mug that really should be a cup and saucer decorated with lavender flowers....

And lavender shortbread biscuits

Hygge for a sunny spring afternoon when the baker is dreaming of the lavender fields of France.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Hygge - with a pink twist

Modern medicine saves lives, there can be no argument about that. I am acutely aware that it is the research of the last decade that is prolonging mine at this time, and I am constantly appreciative of the work of Cancer Research UK.

But when we have submitted to the surgery, survived the chemotherapy and radiotherapy and are coping with the side-effects of the latest medical treatments, well, then it is up to us to find the inner reserves, and the will, to continue the fight, n'est-ce pas?

Recently I've become interested in the Danish concept of hygge.
The Danes are, it is said, the happiest nation on the planet and this happiness is attributed, allegedly, to hygge which can be translated/described as creating a warm, cosy world in which to exist and enjoying the simple pleasures of life in the company of good friends.

I've been doing that a great deal during the last year although I am aware that I've probably been living that way for much of my life, sometimes successfully, when I remember to focus on the small things and let go of the irritants, often not when I succumb to stress.

On Good Friday I was in Brittany.
I'd gone for a friend's 70th birthday party and because I'd volunteered to take her sister with me and to accommodate her friend from Cornwall and, well, because I felt in need of my French Tribe and their loving care.

And while there a couple of friends made a date with me, "Friday, Pink Granite, lunch?"
Who could decline such a suggestion?
Pas moi!

I think I've taken you there before, several times.
It is one of my favourite places to spend a sunny day.

The aquarium was closed until the afternoon, which was fine with us because, lunch, sitting outside, at a table overlooking the beach, and with an interesting party of French school children to watch and wave to ...

An aperitif of Kir and a starter of fish soup that was so delicious I almost purred...  

With this view ...

and then back to this place ...

and these guys and their friends...

and then a walk on the beach to collect a small handful of fine pink granite gravel, some shells and a tiny pink granite rock so that I could make my own beach in a bottle

and then home again.

Via Lannion which brought back so many memories of the two years that I spent in France and made me so nostalgic and so homesick that now I am planning...

But that's for another story.

Excellent medicine, a day at Trégastal.
N'est-ce pas?

Julia xxx