Archive for October, 2010


I have not been able to write as usual this week due to the sad bereavement of a close member of our family. I have posted here though an article on Goa which some of you may not have read before. I hope to be back next week with more tales from Duncliffe Manor and until then thank you for your continued support and encouragement which has meant so much to me over the past year.

Goa lies on the south-western coast of India and is renowned for its idyllic beaches and cool, laid-back spirit which has been described as an enchanting blend of the Portuguese carefree ‘sassegarde’ and the dreamy influence of the psychedelic hippies who flocked to these shores in the sixties. The truth is inevitably far more complicated and social and religious tensions are never far away but one cannot help noticing that people smile a lot around here and the smiling is infectious. The sunshine, the sea-breezes, the waves breaking down upon you, even the sleepy life-guards in fetching yellow and orange outfits are smiling…

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We first came to Goa many years ago and took the time to travel around until we found a village where we felt at home and a guest-house to our liking, taking advice from fellow travellers. Many tourists choose the package holiday or the secluded five-star hotel with guards at the entrance but an increasing number prefer renting a room in guest-houses which are mostly to be found in the heart of the village. One must be prepared to be immersed in Goan life: early morning cockerels; a small boy giggling whilst washing his plate under the outside tap; a family of comical pigs grunting in the undergrowth; kites, eagles and egrets and all the dust, smoke and odour that rural India can offer. A far cry from the sanitised five-star hotel but full of charm nevertheless. Since then we have returned almost every year and found good friends within the village, but sadly change is in the air for our beloved home from home.




The Portuguese explorer Alfonso Albuquerque captured the state of Goa in 1510, using it as a doorway for an expanding trade empire. However, in 1961, after extensive negotiations had failed to get anywhere, the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharial Nehru ordered tank divisions into the state to encourage the Portuguese to relinquish their hold on this sun-drenched part of the world. Since then, the naval airport has been modernized and the red carpet literally rolled out to welcome the multitude of visitors each year who make up the increasingly valuable milk cow of the tourist industry.

A four-hundred-room apartment complex has been built to the south of the village and rumours abound that the Russian mafia have laundered their ill-gotten gains into the project. The pastel yellow apartments stand ready to be lived in and guards monitor the gated entrance. However, the locals have lodged an injunction, rightly claiming that the fragile infrastructure of the village will not support the complex and that the increased demand on electricity, water, sewerage and transport will devastate the village. Alfredo, a local hotelier, assures me though that money and corruption will make sure that the complex goes ahead.

Annie runs the local laundry with one washing machine, her husband drives a taxi and they have built two holiday apartments in the back garden. They earn a good living from the tourist trade and their prosperity has provided an education for their children and a secure future for all the family. Yet they fear the changes coming to their village and blame migrant workers used as cheap labour on building projects for the increase in crime and malaria. They remember with nostalgia when it was just a sleepy fishing hamlet.


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In the early morning the fishermen haul their boats onto the beach and dry their nets on the sand whilst the women sort the fish into baskets for the market or for drying. A group of tourists take photos and two over-weight men help with the arduous task of dragging the heavy boat above the tide-line. The fishermen are a close-knit community; always shouting, joking, and singing together but they have a hard life and competition from foreign trawlers leaves them with only meagre earnings. The treacherous seas take their toll and two lost their lives in the cyclone this winter but their fervent Catholic faith gives them great strength.


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Goa is world famous as a tourist destination and children from poverty-stricken inland villages are drawn to the coast, hoping that some of this tourist economy will rub off on them. It rarely does. The streets are never paved with gold and the children are forced into destitution, prey to all the forms of social evils.

We visited a charity school in an old Portuguese villa in the leafy suburbs of Mapusa. When we arrived it was playtime and around forty boys were running around shrieking and howling and getting up to all the mischief that boys of that age get up to. Indoors, however, there was a quiet and orderly discipline and importance was placed on regarding and caring for each other.

They proudly showed us the kitchen which was run with military precision where chapatti and dhal is made on an industrial scale. Each boy has his own locker and a space on the floor for sleeping.

Undoubtedly there is great happiness here but behind every smiling face there is a tragic story to tell. One lad came from a farming family, stricken by grinding poverty. When his father died, his mother committed suicide by swallowing liquid fertilizer. His uncle, unable to support the lad himself, took him to Goa and left him on the streets to fend for himself. Mercifully he was rescued by the charity before he could come to any harm. He now has a roof over his head; good food in his belly; an education and a future; and most importantly, love and affection.


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We are enjoying a lazy breakfast and I’m reading a local newspaper report of a yoga school, its building powered by solar panels that offers free breakfast and yoga classes to tourist volunteers who collect rubbish strewn on wasteland. A photo shows a Swedish volunteer, armed with rubber gloves, and she is smiling happily. I order another round of coffee and toast. A battered Royal Enfield Bullet motorbike growls past, the equally battered rider with long hair streaming behind him, a bandana round his neck and a Jimi Hendrix soundtrack seemingly playing in the background. He’s heading for the hills in search of goodness knows what.

Sangita is tweaking my toes! She roams the beach selling cheap Guajarati cloth and Rajasthani jewellery. Just nineteen years old, she is already the mother of two children whom she is trying to educate at the local school. She spends the winter months in her home village in Karnataka, earning some fifty pence a day picking peanuts. She comes to Goa during the tourist months, tempted by the chance of making money. It’s not an easy job. The police constantly hassle her and demand a daily tax or else they confiscate her wares. Whilst holiday-makers snooze under the shade of their beach parasols, Sangita trudges the sand under the heat of the day looking for custom. She could grace any European cat-walk but her beauty is transient, the rough sun tears at her face and soon she will be haggard. I’ve told her a million times that I never buy anything but she gently persists. Eventually I buy another lungi. I’ll never ever wear it and I’ve paid well over the odds but we can all afford to be foolish sometimes.


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We spend our last evening at one of the restaurant shacks that are temporarily constructed on the beach every year. Armando the waiter brings us sea-bass, perfectly cooked, and we finish off with a honeybees brandy. With the waves lapping at the shore just a few feet away, the moon rising above the palm trees, just for the moment this could be paradise itself.


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Come autumn our thoughts (and writings) inevitably turn to the colouring of the leaves of our trees and none-more-so than the flamboyant extroverts that are the liquidambars and maples. But as I drive to work this morning, through the leafy tunnels formed by the trees overhanging the road on both sides, my favoured tree is the beech. With its myriad of copper hues, provocatively casting a few leaves in the breeze, filtering the morning light through its canopy to dance shadows on its smooth grey bark, the beech tree is the queen of autumn delicacy.

On Sunday my wife and I walk around the lake of Stourhead Gardens. The colours are beautiful, but in truth a cold snap is needed to set the autumn display ablaze. Nevertheless, the garden is full of earnest photographers with cameras the size of houses and two young boys who are going in search of ‘the biggest leaf ever!’


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The water of the lake is crystal clear. Two mallards fight over some matter or other. We pass over the arched bridge where folk throw coins in for luck. A dark pike waits in the shallows, perfectly poised, waiting with the patience of an assassin for a shoal of red-finned roach to come day-dreamingly by…

On the estate the plant of the week is the aconitum or monkshood. The leaf in spring is fresh and admirable and then they seem to disappear from the radar until now when one appreciates their late-in-the-season flowers. They can be found in pale shades and white and grown in the open but they seem at their best when deep blue or purple and grown in the light shade of a cotinus coggygria or physocarpus ‘diablo’. Then they take on a moody sinister feel that brings an edge to the garden in contrast to the ‘pastel nice’ of so many of our flowerbeds. In the fading light of the day they resemble a sect of hooded monks conspiring secret ceremonies of initiation. Gosh, our autumnal minds are running amok!


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In contrast is the nerine, the pinkness of which reminds me of fair-ground candyfloss. In this season of russet-browns the shocking pink of the nerine seems incongruous, a brash invasion, appropriate for a pot on the patio perhaps but surely not for the borders. I know though that many will disagree with me and gardening tastes have always been a matter of subjectivity.




The subject of conversation at coffee time is the new object attached to the grape vine pergola: a weather station that the Duke has put up. Apparently it measures the temperature, rain fall, wind and speed direction and has a wind chill chart. Charlie observes, in a rather gruff voice, that he always knows when the rain comes because his hat gets wet and Bones always knows when it gets cold because his nose turns red. But nevertheless, the Duke has been seen running out through the patio door with a notebook and pencil to record the measurements. He’s already had a telling-off in no uncertain terms by the Duchess for leaving the patio door open and letting in the cold but there is no stopping the Duke when he gets a bee in his bonnet…



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someone is watching…

Half a year ago we looked eagerly for the first signs of spring and now in turn we welcome the first cobwebs, mists and melancholy thoughts of autumn. In the orchards the curiously pleasing sweet aroma of rotting apples begins to work its magic.

Monday is spent tackling the weeds that have invaded the kitchen garden. The courgette plants are over for the year and are hauled out unceremoniously. We have not had a huge harvest this year but enough to meet everybody’s courgette needs and then some. The soil is now ready for the garlic, shallots and broad beans which will be sown soon. Ideally the soil is never left barren: when one crop is finished then another takes its place and so the cycle revolves.

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On the kitchen wall is a sepia photograph of an erstwhile head-gardener looking suitably stern with his four assistants. They are standing outside the potting shed that still stands today. Previous gardeners have toiled to leave their mark on the garden and although many changes to the design have taken place over the years it is the stonework and trees that link the past with the future. The garden is our inheritance handed down through the generations. Sometimes on an autumn day you can be digging the borders under the majestic beech tree and know that you are not alone, that someone is watching you, hopefully with approving eyes.

In large clay pots we grow sweet peas on bamboo tee-pees but these are now finished for the year and are cut down. The very last of the flowers are given to the kitchen and the foliage is chopped up and added to the compost heap. The bamboo poles are cleaned and dried and tied up with twine and stored in the sheds. We have a good stock of bamboo but are using more and more native hazel sticks these days. Once again we are cutting back and putting away but there is no time for melancholy sadness for already we must consider sowing the sweet peas for next year. There is no rest for the wicked and not much for the righteous either!


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The sweet chestnut is throwing its heavy leaves in earnest but the beech, oak and hazel have cast just a few. It is an untidy mid-way sort of time: there are not enough leaves on the ground to bother gathering them up and so they remain and make the place look uncared for.

Time is spent pruning back hard the roses growing on the walls and tying them in well. The wires are also checked to make sure they are secure. The autumn will bring its gales which will test the strength of any plant growing in such an exposed position.


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A well-tended garden is ephemeral at the best of times, no more than a collection of fragmented memories. Perhaps the dizzy romance of May or, surprisingly, during the heavy frosts of winter, one can glance over the shoulder and turn and snap a photograph, knowing that one has caught the garden in perfection. Oh, no doubt the glossy magazines will hoodwink us into believing that the ideal garden is constantly on tap, sealed and packaged, available at a moment’s notice. But in truth the well-tended garden is as permanent as a sand-castle built below the tide-line. The weeds I pull today will return grinning tomorrow and in the garden I am no more the master of my destiny than a leaf falling, fluttering, from a tree.

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In the southwest we are enjoying a mini Indian summer. One of the joys of gardening is that one gets to listen to the radio from time to time and gather all sorts of useful bits of information. I always thought that the expression ‘Indian summer’ referred to the state of India in the east. I am reliably informed by a radio commentator – although I gather there are various alternative theories going the rounds – that the expression comes from the west rather than the east. In the midst of the terrible conflicts between the Native American Indians and the pioneers and settlers, there would be a lull in hostilities whilst the crops were harvested. This moment of peace came to represent a quiet time of weather before the storms of winter.

Charlie and Bones came up trumps by delivering three tons of dark black horse manure from the local stables that now sits triumphantly in the corner of one of the fields. This lovely stuff will be added to the compost heap to speed up the process and add bulk and bucket-loads will be put at the bottom of the hedges. I am rather proud of my acquisition and drag anyone passing to come and have a look!


I wrote last week of how many of our roses are flowering again. One in particular, Rosa ‘Penelope’ actually looks better now than she did in May when the strong sun caused her petals to fade too quickly. In these cooler temperatures the blooms are more vibrant and last longer.

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This rose belongs to the ‘hybrid musk’ group of roses bred by Reverend Joseph H Pemberton (1854 – 1926). He was an Anglican curate and lived in Havering-atte-Bower in Essex with his sister Florence Pemberton. Together they began to breed and show roses, searching for a robust and healthy plant with a long-flowering season and a good scent. They remain popular to this day.

I must mention www.tulipsinthewoods.com/?s=pemberton+roses (scroll down) by Pomona Belvedere who gives an excellent description of these roses that she prefers to call ‘Pemberton’ roses.

rosa penelope

A fellow writer www.elephantseyegarden.blogspot.com asked me who the eponymous Penelope was. Reverend J.H. Pemberton would have been well-trained in the Classics and the names of his roses such as Danae and Cornelia would have come from this source. Penelope was the faithful wife of Odysseus in Homers classic tale. She kept her suitors at bay for twenty-one years whilst her husband was away on his travels. The story is more developed than this but she is generally famed for her faithfulness.

And so the lovely weather continues and we are all working in shirtsleeves. No-one is fooled though and winter will come soon enough. For the weather gods are no more than gangsters dining at a family restaurant…full of smiles and sunny charm…but their fine suits betray the bulge of cold steel and deadly bullets.

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Five lanes lead into the village. Each one winds uphill and down, flanked by steep banks, scrubland and over-hanging trees. Their narrowness comes from a by-gone era when horse and ox carts would wend their way to the weekly market. These days it is the fleet of wives and their children heading for the local schools that battle against the counter-flow of tradesmen drafted in to repair broken boilers and leaky taps.

These lanes were not built to accommodate people carriers and work-vans and so passing points have been carved out of the banks. A well-choreographed juggling of vehicles takes place during this rush-hour with general goodwill and just the occasional exasperated raising of eyebrows and muttering of oaths under the breath at the inability or disinclination of some to reverse or make way.

Fortunately I arrive at the estate early before the congestion begins and the only other souls on the road are a dozen pheasant hens who bustle around in the middle of the road, going one way then the other, before deciding that jumping up the bank out of harms way is the best option.

The autumn equinox has been and gone, the time when day and night are of equal length and from now onwards the nights draw in. The harvest moon is the full moon closest to this time. By then the farmers of old would have finished their harvesting and slaughtered any animals needed for preserving for the winter months.

Michaelmas Day is the third of the quarter days and falls on the twenty-ninth of September. St Michael is an angelic warrior who fights against the darkness of the night and defends us against the hardships of the winter to come. The Michaelmas daisy brings a certain light to the autumn garden and the promise of protection afforded by our guardian angels.

Many of the roses are blooming again in defiance of any coming winter. Reverend Pemberton’s hybrid musk rose ‘Penelope’ is one of the best and throws forth some gorgeous flowers.

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Not forgetting the Rosa ‘Ghislaine de Feligonde…

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And the verbena bonariensis is graced by a small copper which is one of my favourite butterflies.

butterfly small copper

I am working by the house and a red van roars up the drive and screeches to a halt with its music system blasting out pop music at mega-decibels. The post man leaps out and runs to the door to deliver the mail and runs back to his van. ‘Blimey, your music is loud’ I shout. ‘You what?’ he shouts back. ‘Your music is very loud’ I shout, even louder. ‘Can’t hear you mate, I’m a bit deaf’ he says, pointing to his ears and then leaps back into his van and roars off again down the drive.

The weather remains warm and clement despite the rain showers. Nobody is fooled though and soon enough we will be grappling with frost and gales. But tomorrow will bring what tomorrow will bring!

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