Monday, 24 February 2014

Retaining a sense of freedom

Our local garden centre, Growing Concerns, that looks, from
the outside a bit like a prison
I haven't been very well during the last few days so have felt too languid to do anything very much. I have though managed to pick up, and begin to read, a small volume called Life at Grasmere, by Dorothy and William Wordsworth. It's part of a series called English Journeys and is published by Penguin.

It is a combination of journal entries by Dorothy and her brother, William's poetry written while they lived at Dove Cottage in the Lake District. The book opens 14 May 1800. Dorothy would have been 29 years old and William 30. George III was on the throne and England was embroiled in the Napoleonic Wars with the French which led to hard times for many people. Dorothy and William were very attached to each other but it would seem that Dorothy spent much of her time in her own company.

Dorothy occupied herself with household tasks, mending, working in the garden, reading and attending church. She would very often go for walks, helping herself to plants that took her fancy, take them home and plant them in her own garden! You can just imagine how that would go down in our culture – she would be charged with vandalism. For example on 28 May she tells us: "In the morning walked up to the rocks above Jenny Dockeray's, sate a long time upon the grass, the prospect divinely beautiful. ··· I went into her garden and got white and yellow lillies, periwinkle, etc., which I planted."

On 3 June: "Tuesday. I sent off my letter by the Butcher. A boisterous drying day. I worked in the garden before dinner. Read R[ichar]d Second – was not well after dinner and lay down. Mrs Simpson's grandson brought me some gooseberries. I got up and walked with him part of the way home, afterwards went down rambling by the lake side – got Lockety Goldings, strawberries etc., and planted."

Winding rapidly forward to 2014. I recently acquired two new plants. One of them is called Heartsease and the other is Horseradish. I bought them at a garden centre not unlike the one shown above. I am an inexpert gardener but I do enjoy a visit to a garden centre because they are treasure troves of things I do not need, but enjoy looking at, like outdoor furniture that needs more space to show it off than our small garden has. Since these businesses are chock full of valuable commodities they clearly need protecting so it can feel a bit like entering a bank vault. This made me think of other areas in our lives which are also quite constrained.

Of course our population is enormous compared with 200 years ago. It was estimated in 1801 that the population of England and Wales was about 8.9 million while the population of London in 2011 was about 8.1 million. With so many people competing for scarce resources it's no wonder we've ended up keeping to footpaths instead of roaming free, living our lives to strict timetables and conforming socially. It's just easier to do that but once in a while I like to remember that I do have a degree of freedom that I like to express in the art that I make.


Marta said...

Dear Heather, rich thoughts... I am impressed at your reading. I find it hard to have patience with language that is more than about 120 years old most of the time! My mother used to stop the car, get out, dig up something she had noticed, and bring it back for planting. I think about it but have not done it. Partially b/c so much stealth would need to be involved. I hope you feel better soon. It always makes me feel better to see your drawings. Marta

Heather James said...

Marta, you are braver than me.

Heather James said...

I've just remembered that we did help ourselves to some fennel once. There was tons of the stuff growing wild along the banks of the Thames estuary. We had this idea that we'd plant it in the garden but it had perished by the time we got home.