A Year in Review 2013: the Second Half

July to the end of  December already is a memory and rapidly becoming a distant one at that.  Just five days into January and Christmas seems further back in the mind than it is in reality.  2014 has arrived and I am optimistically looking forward to all that it may bring.  Not that the last one was disappointing or sad in any way; just that with time flying by it is essential to make the most of every moment.  Of course, I’m very fortunate: I have my health, I have a great job, friends and family I can always rely upon and I live in a superb part of the English countryside.  Long may all those things last!

July:  The highlight of my year occurred this month.  An exciting and memorable launch of my first book to be published – a gardening book – Why Can’t My Garden Look Like That? took place in Chipping Norton’s award winning bookshop, Jaffe & Neale.  Would anyone turn up?  As it happened, very many did with people overflowing onto the street, the warm, sunny evening and the wine contributing to a street party feel to the occasion.  If you wish to find out more of the book or would like a signed copy you can find details here.

Many people are attracted to the magnificent looking but dangerous Giant Hogweed, also the subject of a post this month.  I was delighted when photographs from it were used in an educational video by the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District (New York State).  Take heed of the messages if you come across the plant!

August: Travelling around the Cotswold Hills as I do every day in the course of my work you would think I would know most of what goes on there.  Nevertheless, I was surprised when I saw Tibetan flags fluttering in the breeze.  Further investigation found Alain Rouveure’s galleries and tea room.  Of course, I couldn’t leave until I’d tried out their lunch…

September:  Street fairs have been held for hundreds of years throughout England and Chipping Norton has an annual one that dates back to medieval charters.  Originally the time when livestock was sold and labour sought, these days they are purely held for pleasure.  Traffic has to be diverted around the town as the centre is blocked off by the rides and stalls.  Noisy, crowded and well lit they are great fun but I found  myself completely alone in darkness walking around it late one night.  It was an eerie experience, described here.

October:  The appearance of the secret valley was changed dramatically when the willow trees that line the banks of our little winding river were pollarded.  This dramatic ‘haircut’ is carried out only when necessary, the last time about fifteen years ago.  Suddenly, the view in the header of this blog has become wide open as every branch was removed leaving just the trunks standing.  The secret valley looks naked now but ‘new clothes’ will grow rapidly this coming spring.

November:  History isn’t just about learning dates of battles, the most interesting aspects are those that we can so easily relate to.  Yet so much of this is forgotten over time and it takes teams of dedicated people, often volunteers, to literally unearth it.  A now deserted and seemingly empty part of the Exmoor National Park was, one hundred and fifty years ago, teeming with people and was at the very forefront of Victorian technology.  It was quite extraordinary what these engineers achieved and their story featured in two posts which created much interest and comment.  They can be found by clicking here and here.

December:  The blogging year ended on a cuddly note – looking after two adorable but naughty beagle puppies.  If you are a dog lover there is nothing better than to be mauled by puppies.  If you’re not over-keen on dogs then you won’t understand the attraction!  You could try to find out, however, by clicking here.

So what’s going on in 2014?  Lots, hopefully. There is a new racehorse, more gardening, more travel, a lot more writing; it will be a busy year and how it pans out time – and this blog – will tell.

Thank you all so much for following my blog. Over one hundred thousand of you have looked at it since its inception which I find quite extraordinary and very humbling.  Please continue to do so and to tell all your blogging friends to come and pay me a visit, either on here or at my full website www.johnshortlandwriter.com .  I am also on Facebook and Twitter where daily updates can be found.  You are always very welcome to contact me with your comments or queries and I will do my best to answer them all.

Wishing you all a very happy and healthy New Year.

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Tibet in the Cotswolds

The Cotswolds are full of surprises; they are around every corner. Often it is a beautiful, old stone building, a dramatic view or a colourful cloudscape.  Occasionally it is something else and at the tiny village of Todenham near Moreton-in-Marsh it is the sight of tall, Tibetan flags fluttering in the breeze.

After exploring the Himalayas and Nepal in particular, Alain Rouveure, a Frenchman living in the Cotswolds, felt a real need to help the less privileged families he met there.  Am admiration of their craftsmanship and tribal art led to the creation of the Alain Rouveure Galleries some twenty-five years ago.  Today it is a thriving business whose profits are returned to the country which supplies the clothing, jewellery, gifts and rugs that make the galleries a treasure trove of colour, texture and scents.

More recently, he has set up the Alain Rouveure Nepal Relief Fund which is funding the building of schools as well as caring for the health of poor children and their families.  A relatively small amount of money goes a very long way: repainting a classroom £45, desks and benches for four students £55.  However, it isn’t just these practical issues that funding assists for, as Alain says, just knowing that there are people from far away taking an interest in their remote communities makes a huge difference not just to individuals but also to the whole village.

Surrounding the galleries are small but very lovely and tranquil gardens.  The calendula in the photographs were grown from seed given to Alain by Nepalese gardeners at Lumbini, the Buddha’s birthplace, and it is interesting to see such a disparity of size and colour all of which help to create a splendid show.

On my visit, I spent a long time trying out the numerous Tibetan singing bowls deciding which sound I liked the best.  It was something I’d always wanted to own but I hadn’t realised before then just how much they vary both in their size and their ‘ring’.  In the end I realised that it was going to be a bowl choosing me rather than the other way around.  Traditionally, the bowls are used in meditation and prayer and the sound – and the vibration from them – is mesmeric. The YouTube clip is of Tibetan bowls being played alongside Native American flutes.  The method of generating the pulsating ‘singing’ is shown at about 10:30 into the video. The combination of sounds from two cultures is fascinating and memorable especially when wild birds start to sing in the background.



The visit ended with lunch at the Himalayan coffee house where a very good home grown salad – followed by a ‘to die for’ cake – was had at very modest cost.  Recently treatment rooms have been added and there are also fund raising concerts – the next to be held is Songs and Arias with the mezzo-soprano, Cerys Jones accompanied by harpist, Tanya Houghton on Saturday 14th September, 7.30pm.

For more information about the galleries have a look at their extensive website.

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