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Untitled (Rosebay willow herb). Lingen, 2017

‘Something has happened to the rosebay over the last century. What had been a comparatively scarce woodland plant has turned into one of the most successful and colourful colonisers of waste places – car parks, railway embankments, roadsides, even cracks in chimneys. The records track the change, but they do not by themselves explain it.’

Richard Maybe, from Flora Britannica: the definitive new guide to wild flowers, plants and trees.

In the years after school (left without regret, and no qualifications to speak of), I became an apprentice  gardener with Coventry City Council. A proper apprenticeship: with college, and a proper wage; the faux employment of recent times a long way off, the other side of Thatcherism.

Each Monday at college we had plant ident: 20 plants to be learned by heart by Friday, latin names and all. Initially recoiling, it was the latin names (and, though I didn’t know it then, the etymology), that intrigued me. Apart form anything else, if you could deconstruct the words, you had an inbuilt crib sheet: where the plant originated from, who found it, family, etc. Even in those days, I found the wild flowers, plants, trees – and the vegetables – more interesting than the decorations that were parks dept. (and thus our) bread and butter.

Some of those plants were both beautiful; and unsure of their designation as ‘weeds’. Epliobium angustifolium, being one such. Unsure for good reason too: though called ‘fireweed’ and ‘bomb-weed’ in common parlance, they had migrated from the woods as these were being cut down for war efforts, and into the potential (for them) newly bombed out buildings.

In The Reinvention of Work, Mathew Fox draws attention to Wendel Berry’s point that people in their work look for a role:

‘What role does my work have me play in the Great Work  and in the work of my community and my species at this time in history? What role am I most equipped to play? What role most attracts me? A role is like a process; it evolves; it stretches; and reaches and alters. We play roles; we do not just fit into boxes called our work worlds. A role has a sense of play to it but also a see of seriousness: it implies destiny and provident wisdom in a greater view of things. It implies participation in a drama; as we have seen, the origin of the word role is the Old French rolle, which referred to the roll of parchment on which an actor’s part was written. Drama is the news of an unfolding creation story. Every one has a role to play in that drama, and that role is our work.’

All of which raises questions. These are three that I posed in my AoMo workshop last week:

What to you do?

What are you?

Who are you?

It is within any cracks, fissures and spaces between the answers to these questions that both crises of identity and opportunities for development occur, as Mathew Fox puts it:

‘The drama is larger than we imagine. We are not solitary actors in it. Our roles are comic roles in a cosmic drama. Our work is cosmic work.’

Over to the Rosebay willow herb, which, unwittingly or otherwise, ‘knew’ that all along.

 

Notes:

For a comprehensive guide to wild plants, refer to: Flora Britannica: the definitive new guide to wild flowers, plants and trees, by Richard Maybe.

For a more soulful, spiritual, sacred interpretation of what working life might become see: The Reinvention of Work: a new vision of livelihood for our time, by Mathew Fox; and The Great Work by Wendell Berry

For work that connects some of the above to theories of leadership and self leadership, see the works of Margaret Wheatley. Her book: Who do we choose to be? Facing reality, claiming leadership, restoring sanity is a good starting point.

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IMG_2071Untitled (Mac’s 02.32). Brighton, 2018

The being governed by a purpose or other final cause is the very essence of the psychical phenomenon […] to say that the future does not influence the present is an untenable doctrine.

Charles Peirce

September, a Saturday: Back in the day—the darker days of Thatcher, and the beginning of the end of meaningful workers rights and reasonable treatment—I worked in a scrapyard in Newhaven: Driving; mainly skip lorries—‘luggers’ as they called them thereabouts—and on occasion, ‘bulkers’, or articulated bulk tippers.

The hours were long—70 plus a week before the advent of Euro-directives—the work was hard, dirty-harsh, brown-black, greasy-wet, cold. And, many times, dangerous (the land of health and safety was around the corner, but had not permeated yet this place).

I loved it.

It was a great, belly laughs crack; the people lovely; rough at the edges lovely. Yet after seven months over a hard winter of boat-loading and running scrap, I left. For a semi-white collar job, driving a mobile library. Which, in a roundabout way, led to education (a degree, then MA in photography), and eventually, to becoming a senior lecturer in a post ’92 University: The Leviathan.

I digress, a little.

After 16 years and 86 days The Leviathan and I parted company in a manner, and for reasons, that I have written of elsewhere. I end up doing the doctoral journey; and, out of that, presenting at conferences: in 2016 at Bled; in 2018 in Brighton. Just down the road from Newhaven.

When I’d done my presentation—punch-drunk in a good way, and knackered in a nearly good way—I get on my bike and revisit that yard. It had changed, but not much. H & S was much I evidence, delineated walkways and all. The old weigh-bridge we used to set rocking with hard braking when boat loading, now disused; but sill there beside its newer, compliant, neighbour. The old mess-room was still there. Redolent of tea and the crack and shelter from harsh quayside weather fresh of the channel. Even from beyond the locked gates on a Saturday afternoon, I felt a mini pang, but not much. I trundled to Seaford, where I’d lived; felt nearly nothing.

That evening, switching lives back again, I attended the AoMo Gala dinner in The Grand Hotel; the old life left behind. One thing led to another led to a walk back to my campsite in East Brighton in the early hours. Three quarters of the way home, I happened on an old haunt: Mac’s cafe. The pangs came flooding: I was travelling in time; yesterday I’d not been mixing it up at an international management conference; I’d been hanging out as we used to at Mac’s. Always on a Saturday, sometimes other days too, we met at Mac’s; for breakfast, for the crack.

The conference hadn’t really happened.

Instead, just this morning, I’d been hanging out with a lugger full of pressed & sheared, with Tobin, and Steve, and Bulker-Billy. It was the old days; the intervening years a dream; The Leviathan years a nightmare; the Mac’s encounter, an encounter with my younger self: with Imagos as yet unexplored or expressed. I feel grief and sadness and nostalgia: wishing for, longing, for Tobin and Steve and Bulker-Billy to show up; then I could take a different, simpler, road.

Yet in this latent accidie lay questions:

To what extent are our unexpressed identities—our Imagos, our potential future selves—best unearthed?

How might these be connected to; be responded to; be perceived and respected; be recovered, in a manner makes us whole, that helps others?

Within any answers may also lay the answers surrounding my feelings of deep loss: provoked by this early hours brush with (that felt, for a while, a re-entry into) a previous life; via a liminal space: called Mac’s.

Notes:

For more on transpersonal development is worth reading Ken Wilber: Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. However, it is a big read-the notes alone being a book’s worth-from which I gleaned:

This also points up a fact that all psychological growth theorists (especially the humanistic and transpersonal ones) psychologists have known for a long time: most neurosis is not primarily due to a past conditioning per se, but to a future omega prevented from emerging. Even Freud’s fixations, when they occurred, were aborted omega points: libido cannot distribute in its normal and preferred pattern, but is instead traumatised in its growth, much like stepping on an acorn. These aborted omega drives then become conditioned and thus appear as past fixations, but that is now how they started.

Also see:

Chardin, T. The Phenomenon of Man which explores Omega points; and the ways in which these are significant in Imago development, attenuation and disruption.

 

IMG_0398-6Untitled. Lingen, 2018

May, a Friday. It had been a bit of a week: me and Yosser had gone back to The Ford to help with the clear-out; old papers were burned. We took photos of flowers at dawn again; Yosser posed for me afterwards, a rarity. On the Tuesday I’d gone by train to White Waltham to pick up the Pitts, then flown to Wellesbourne, then flown to Gloucester, then drove back to The Ford. Wednesday I returned to The Court, and slept.

Now, Friday, I’d returned to London for the first time since the day before Good Friday 2016, and S’s meeting with Direct-Debit Debbie, the toxic lawyer. Convening at City Lit for Inexpert2018, even the cast was the same as my previous trip. 

Yet I had changed, in some ways profoundly: certainties had been disrupted: by illnesses; by the ensuing separation; and not least, by the interventions of Direct-Debit Debbie in our situation. At the same time, I have to acknowledge that I have much to thank Debbie for: those 40 dawns  at The Alder Altar; The Daily flowers; my shifted relationship with Yosser; The Bled trip; my current trajectory of inquiry; my experimental writings. Oh, and losing my home; re-engaging with poetry: the quartet of poems; written to help apprehend and process events; not least, Debbie’s machinations. I had been experimenting with life.

Now, back in London, we’re in a theatre: a hundred of us. The vibe is good. The trumpeter who heralded each break had started playing in January; largely tutored via uTube videos. The art  exhibited were failures; curated by a non-curator; the experiments were random, lovely. I made photos and tweets, having been appointed social media correspondent, largely due to having no experience of such.

On a whim I entered the lottery for a 10 minute spot, and ‘won’. As Wild Card speaker I had a stage. Completely unprepared, save for a poem, hastily retrieved form the messages on my phone . For the first time since Bled, I was back in the realm of performative art practice. I told the story, in brief; of the Altar and Yosser and The Flowers and Bled. And Direct-Debit Debbie and the four poems of the quartet; then I read one—the first in the series: Direct-Debit Debbie: a love song.

It felt weird and great, and, oddly, slightly nauseating. All at the same time: the shift from non-permission, no power; to permission was a daunting, disorientating. I’d found, and felt, agency and communion all in one hit.

Afterwards, many people came to congratulate and thank me. Suddenly those far of days: making photos in the stream, and the walks with Yosser; and the writings and pictures of flowers, and the Bled trip; they all seemed to come together. There had been a shift—in connecting with that audience via the articulation of my experiences, on this random trip that was Inexpert2018—towards integration. Without permission.

Me and Yosser may not have been wasting our time, after all.

 

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Yosser. Lingen, 2018

 

Resources:

Bachelard, G. The poetics of space. New York. Penguin, 2014

McAdam, D. The stories we live by: personal myths and the making of the self. New York: The Guildford Press, 1993.

McNiff S. Earth angels: engaging the sacred in everyday things. Boston. Shambala, 1995

Sewell L. Sight and sensiblity: the ecopsychology of perception. New York: Putnam, 1999.

Van der Kolk B. The body keeps the score: Mind, brain and body in the healing of trauma. London: Penguin, 2015.

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Untitled . Nr Shelsley, 2017

Mistletoe: In July I fell through a hole in time and re-became a truck driver after a 36 year layoff. This put paid to me and Yosser listening to the cricket, and to pretty much anything else for the next four months. I did almost no gardening. Not much biking; not much flying; not much photography; few magical journeys; little interaction with Direct-Debit Debbie; very few walks. Drifting backwards and forwards through time; no writing: returning each day to Yosser and The Ford: More than a haven; more than a quest: my (our) staying there started to feel like a crusade. My peregrinations in the trucks had become a part of the scenery, as had my long absences—firstly during the day, then at nights. Yosser became—more than ever—guardian of The Realm.

I found another ritual, photographing an Alder tree 2 miles downstream from our realm; more pointlessness. Then S came for the weekend. We lit fires. I showed S the walk to the Alder tree. It was late afternoon, the riverbank was in shade. We moved to a Blackthorn in the sun. It had Mistletoe. S made pictures of the Mistletoe. I sat in the sun. We ate our picnic. In the late afternoon November sunshine, underneath the Blackthorn and Mistletoe, a scintilla of normality returned. We walked back along Lime brook to The Ford, where we lit a fire: not with the newly split logs, but those from the Alder, felled in Good Friday, 18 months before. [From The Trees #13 Mistletoe: doctoral writings 2017]

During my relapse into truck driving, The Gaze kept recurring, unbidden. As did elements of my experimental writings; The Trees #13 Mistletoe, being one example; the poems of the Direct-Debit Debbie Quartet another.

Driving trucks became healing: In the same way as the 40 day dawn ritual of The Alder Altar project; Yosser’s Tale; The Daily Flowers; The Bled Travelogue; The Trees writings.

The connection being the hologic and holographic qualities of what I’ve come to term The Imaginal Gaze: the gaze of the Imagos, or Imagines, unearthed.

The gaze that heals, recovers, reconnects, unearths identity; especially following identity derailments of trauma and illness.

The quality of that gaze is, that—like Imagos—it is layered, complex, imaginal. Musing on the photo above one of my friends declared it as ‘ectoplasm’, which resonated: one unexpected, if welcome, outcome from falling thorough a hole in time.*

Resources:

See the writings of Twitter chums and mentors @JohnBlakemore36 and @DrSteveMarshall

Also:

Ken Wilbur’s writings, especially: Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: the spirit of evolution. Boston: Shambala, 2000.

*Ectoplasm: a supernatural viscous substance that supposedly exudes from the body of a medium during a spiritualistic trance and forms the material for the manifestation of spirits.

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Untitled. Lingen, 2017

A tree is a perfect presence. It is somehow able to engage and integrate its own dissolution. The tree is wise in knowing how to foster its own loss. It does not become haunted by the loss, or addicted to it. The tree shelters and minds the loss. Out of this comes the quiet dignity and poise of a tree’s presence.

O’Donohue, J. 2000; 212

In my writing of the trees my fingers seem to discover what it is that this work is about in ways that my conscious mind is unable to directly access. Which should come as no surprise, but it does, continually: Why?

Perhaps this is to do with an expected linearity of narration; a ‘scientific’ or quasi-scientific expectation of form: that in some way I will report on, and thus ‘prove’ (or disprove) the existence of a cogent coherent pattern or body or practice or theosophy that will be of use to others: I will become a tool-maker and a pattern-maker. Just like my father was in British Leyland in the 70’s.

The differences being: I don’t make tools or patterns; the process is non-linear; if you look to closely, or directly, the patterns disappear; if you try the scientific (or quasi-scientific) reportage approach, the patters die then too. (The closest that I’ve come to obviating this is in The Trees series, which does uphold a linear, sense-making, narrative through what is non-linear work in essence.)

Now I am given to wonder whether trees can operate in a helpful ways: as both pattern and metaphor, even as a tool for inquiry and meta-inquiry? Trees are deeply aesthetic sensuous and wise. And patterned. Trees may have just become the imago for the inquiry: Which is way beyond being a metaphor. It maybe that the inquiry is about the aesthetics of Imago, and their emergence.

If patterns therefore become neither linear, or non-linear, but manifest more as Imago—as eco-blueprints for the full development—especially in the face of ego-interruptions, then the questions clarify:

How are the imago discerned, or apprehended?

What role does the sacred play in the divination of imago?

Can the sacred be organised to occur, by say ritual; or creative acts; or the presence of love?

What qualities are required to be present at the divination of the sacred?

What are the relationships between our imago, and self-authorship?

What happens when the Imago is disrupted in its expression?

Can we find the Imago of the magical journey in any context; including, especially, the toxic?

What happens when the imago is disrupted by [mental] illness?

And for me:

Am I a pattern creator, or disrupter, of player with, or all of these?

I start by looking for patterns in my writings:

Are there sacred intimations of latent or emergent Imago there?

Traces of my own self-authorship?

Evocations of he ecology of intimacy?

Of disruptions to these qualities too? 

Of altered narratives?

Is my inquiry: Imago-logic: an inquiry into the aesthetics of Self-authorship?

An inquiry of becoming: I have silent dialogues with Yosser about this. He is keeping his counsel, for the time being…

[From Doctoral writings 2017]

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Readngs:

O’Donohue J. Eternal echoes: exploring the hunger to belong. London: Bantam Press, 2003.

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Aquilegia. Lingen, 2017


The Ford:
On the second bank holiday in May, Yosser had woken me from a deep sleep, by wailing beneath my bedroom window. That morning we resolved to clear the hard track to the stream that comprised the exit to the ford, the old way into our home, prior to circa 1972. This way had been clear and useable, when we first moved in 10 years ago. Now, with the passing of time, a part filled ambition to turn it into a large log store (which didn’t get past the first layer of logs), the way had become cluttered; with litter from the overhanging trees; some part-felled shrubs; an inter-weave of bramble; and now the odd nascent tree. Hazels will be among the first to reclaim brown-field sites post apocalypse, it seems.

I tugged at old logs and brambles and shovelled and forked the decomposing litter. Yosser sat, like a sphinx, part-observing, but with feigned disinterest. Occasionally we would get up and do one of his lolloping growly runs that we call his ‘fly-bys’. I have no idea why he does them: Perhaps he sensed the need of deeper involvement than his sphinx mode was managing to convey. Whatever, it was good to have him along.

At one point my senses became overwhelmed with anger at the involvement of Direct-Debit Debbie. That without knowing us, or our side of the story, she was trying to gets to leave, when there was no need. It did not make sense. Me and Yosser took time out, and wrote two poems, on two consecutive days. We also sent out a Daily Flower email and wrote a blog post. All of these were crossing the boundary —into the land of toxicity. It was like I imagine re-entry to Chernobyl to be. Another post-apocalyptic zone; a similar set of feelings. 

The we went back to our shambles and the brambles and forest litter that was spawning new life—and left to its own devices a new forest—we and started to feel: our way back into soul space; connected to each other; connected to our home more deeply, and seeing the tree-creepers and coal-tits and the yawning possibilities ahead, we found blessing. We found opening up of this boundary to be a healing one: crossing a stream of awareness. We even think we may have found a new way forward, when all had seemed helpless, in our starting to open this gateway to the stream, and the old ford. We had found a different way to enter, to leave, to keep our home. 

We had unburied  older, deeper connections: to rootedness; to the sacred.

Whenever I come to start writing, to re-commence work on my doctoral thesis, I find I’m usually blocked, not knowing where to start. The same was true of this—who’s ambition is to be an account of emerging practice, patterns and theosophy.

So I started, as is becoming my habit, with an experimental writing piece: The Trees #9: The Ford

This is after all an inquiry into aesthetics.

[From Doctoral writings 2017]

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Readings:

McNiff, S. Art as Medicine: Creating a therapy of the imagination. Boston. Shambala. 1992

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Rhododendron. Lingen, 2017

A bank holiday Monday, in late May. Me and Yosser had been out in the garden, drawn at dusk by the perfume of the Honeysuckle for a perambulation around the garden.

We photographed the Honeysuckle again, and this white Rhododendron, that was on the wane. Yosser paused for some fuss on the stump of the Spruce that we had felled at Easter, as is his habit.

Upon our return indoors I checked my email—which I rarely do in the evening—for responses to the Daily Flower sent out earlier. I was surprised, and a bit winded, to find this response to a Daily Flower:

Unsubscribe me you fucks

[Email from Dr X 29.5.17]

Curious,  I looked up Dr X: Who from his email I could tell works at an academic institution in the UK; and that he checks his emails on bank holidays. It seems that Dr X is a Senior Lecturer in Leadership Work and Organisation, which aroused my curiosity further.

The next day I received another email in response to the same Daily Flower:

Hi Paul,

Powerful writing, thanks for stopping me with it.

Best

[Email from Professor A 30.5.17]

Looking up Professor A, it seems that he is a Professor of Drama Education and Co-Director of the Centre for Research in to Creativity, Education and the Arts through Practice.

This had me wondering, what is it about the arts— and maybe the no-boundary condition attendant to the arts—that militates against toxicity; whereas in other arenas of academe such anti-venoms are less prevalent?

Perhaps the territory, and the trajectory, are anticipated by Shaun McNiff in Art as Medicine. This path had been walked by others:

Mental health and therapeutic services have attracted artists who desire to commit their lives to the care of soul. In our era of suffering soul finds itself in the clinic, and from history we find that revolutionary and spiritual transformations occur when soul exists in extremis. Pathology and wounds open us to the life of the soul.

and, tellingly:

The conventional mind does not know how to see expressions of the chthonic and irrational soul as natural. “Health” is considered to be a faithful representation of “reality” that also happens to fit the perceptual bias of the viewer. As a result of these conditions I immediately took on the role of protector of the images that emerged from outside that reality. I provided a safe and affirming place for their emergence and preservation. It was a tremenos, a sacred precinct, where soul paintings covered the walls and welcomed those yet to come.

McNiff, S. 1992; 11-12

A sacred project. This describes my Daily Flowers perfectly. They were conceived in he field toxicity, dysfunction and [mental] health. They emerge as healing.

Indications of the sacred, maybe?

This tremenos – this sacred precinct of healing – is not without its dangers: It attracts the toxic and dysfunctional, as well as the the healing; the wounded;  the healers; the healed.

Beware.

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Readings:

McNiff, S. Art as Medicine: Creating a therapy of the imagination. Boston. Shambala. 1992

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Honeysuckle. Lingen, 2017

Over the weekend of the second bank holiday in May, me and Yosser have been working on the northern boundary of the garden to our home. There is a way to the old ford that had become blocked by neglect: by brambles and hazel growing in the litter from the trees above; from some partially felled but not cleared undergrowth; by nettles another herbaceous plants. The stream on the Northern boundary had become invisible due to this blockage—though was still audible.  We were enveloped by the smell of Honeysuckle as we worked, which helped reflection; on boundaries; the edges of being, and the ways in which [mental] illness, toxicity and trauma are transmitted…

To the burbling of the stream as I wheelbarrowed, and chopped, and tugged and pulled away the detritus, I reflected on a supervision call, and on the concept of boundary, and no-boundary; the ego-centric and the soul-centric; the ego-logical and the eco-logical. In an earlier doctoral writing I raise questions:

Does part of the solution—to the healing of trauma, [mental] illness; to becoming whole—lay within the re-drawing or even dissolution of boundary? In No Boundary, Ken Wilbur expresses this crisis of identity thus:

‘All answers to that question, “Who am I?,” stem precisely from this basic procedure of drawing a boundary line between self and not-self. Once the general boundary lines have been drawn up, the answers to that question may become very complex—scientific, theological, economic—or they may remain simple and unarticulated. But any possible answer depends on first drawing the boundary line.

The most interesting thing about this line is that it can and frequently does shift. It can be redrawn. In  sense, the person can re-map her soul and find in it territories she had never thought possible, attainable, or even desirable. As we have seen, the most radical re-mapping or shifting of the boundary line occurs in the experiences of the supreme identity, for here the person expands her self-identity boundary to include the entire universe. We might even say that she loses the boundary line altogether, for when we identified with the “one harmonious whole” there is no longer any outside or inside, so nowhere to draw the line.’

Wilber, K. 2001; 4-5

The modus operandi of narcissists and bullies seems to be to insinuate themselves into ones life, then, maybe subtly at first, to undermine. The thesis of ‘no boundary’ thus renders one potentially vulnerable: identity with the entire universe has its downside.

Trauma and illness caused by exposure to organisational, and familial, bullying and narcissism would seem to have an easy cure: create boundaries; move out. Yet this is not always possible, or one may move, or be pushed, too late.

Depending upon the state of play the question becomes threefold:

How to become inured to further oppression and manipulation; 

How to help with this; 

How to preserve health and sanity, to heal, or help to heal?

Other questions occur too:

Could any healing method also be used prophylactically?

Is self-protection and self-healing transferable to others?

What is the role of any No Boundary dynamic?

In caring for one who is being bullied, what are the conditions for healing; what will help both the carer and the cared for?

In short how does one help to heal boundary transgression, in a No-Boundary universe?

Yosser, as usual, was more of a moral, than a practical support throughout. Though we did manage to grab forty winks together by the bit of the stream where the fruit trees now thrive; overlooking the site of the now defunct Alder Altar.

Oppressed, we weren’t.

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Readings:

Wilber, K. No Boundary: Eastern and Western approaches to personal growth. Boston. Shambala; 2001

 

 

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Bluebells. Lingen, 2017

Excellent; the Daily Flowers are back…

[Tweet from Dr Steve Marshall 18.5.17]

Last year in response to life situations and illnesses, I started photographing flowers on my iPhone; this became part of my doctoral inquiry and practice of healing: into what are commonly termed trauma and [mental] health.

The series started on a makeshift altar over a stream, where I photographed flowers at sunrise for 40 days between Eostre and Beltane; two Pagan festivals. It then morphed into a series of that I called Daily Flowers. These were sent out towards the end of the Alder Altar project, and lasted until I went to Bled, in Slovenia, on my bike to the Arts of Management and Organisation Conference: Empowering the Intangible.

Though intending to present and work with the flowers whilst in Bled, I was drawn towards more toxic areas: specifically mental health and toxicity in the workplace. I read my poem Performance Review, a couple of times, and the flowers receded.

Now, after winter of writing and further inquiry into these arenas: trauma; [mental health]; toxicity; healing; the sacred wound; blessing – I come again, appositely, to a spring time of further inquiry into healing.

Thus I will be sending out Daily Flowers (they don’t come out daily!) via FB, Twitter, Instagram and in these posts; the only place the underlaying personal narratives are presented.

I am ably assisted by Yosser, a black cat with some extra-ordinary powers. I will be reporting on his contributions too as these are a very popular (often the most popular) part of my ramblings.

Enough for now: I finish with a picture of my trusty companion, whose idea it was that we re-commence the Daily Flower posts…

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