The Church in the Woods

 

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One of my granddaughters has inherited my love of discovering and exploring unusual places. Not surprising really, when I think of some of the places we visited when she was small.

So when she announced that she had found something that I had to see, her excitement rapidly transferred to me. Rather than wait for a better day, we set off late the other afternoon. She assured me that with a bit of luck, we should get there before the light faded.

She also said it wasn’t far, and I eyed the gathering evening clouds with suspicion. I hoped it wouldn’t turn out to be a wasted journey, becoming too dark to see anything for I wanted to take some photographs of whatever it was.

On the way to Winchester, we turned down a leafy lane and found ourselves driving through a forest. I would have to come back here one day and explore. I feel very at home in a forest. The magical closeness of all those trees does beautiful things to my soul.

We passed a massive ragged tree stump that had been hit by lightning, the eerie sight reinforcing the feeling that we were far from civilisation. What on earth had my grand-daughter found, way out here? There didn’t seem to be anything but trees for miles.

We drove into a clearing and stopped. We were here, wherever here was. It was getting darker, although the forest was so dense it probably always looked like this.

A small overgrown path wound its way through woodland plants of ferns and mosses, and still I couldn’t see anything. Surely, we hadn’t come all this way to look at a tree?

The smell of leaf mould was strong, wrapping itself around me, making me feel like some kind of wood nymph. My steps were getting lighter and I wanted to run, my heart soaking up the wild greenness of this magical timeless place.

Then, just as the light faded away, I saw something.

In a clearing, I caught the glimpse of some kind of building. It wasn’t very big and looked old. What could it be?

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As we drew nearer, it began to take the shape of something out of a fairy tale. Enclosed by a fence was what could only have been a church. Built of corrugated iron and painted green, it sat in in the middle of the clearing as though dropped there. I had expected some ruin, an old building barely standing, but the church looked to be in pristine condition. Someone must spend a lot of time here, I thought.

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It had a steeple with a bell and one window was stained glass, although it would only have been visible from inside. Through a window, I could see the window and rows of old wooden pews and an altar. I retraced my steps to the gate to read the plaque to discover the history of the place, eager to know all about this “Church in the Woods”.

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The following information and the photographs used are supplied through the courtesy of Hampshire-History.com

It took just five days to build this mission church in 1883. The great sheets of corrugated iron and timber frame would have been carted in and the whole constructed with missionary joy and zeal. We are uncertain what the base would have been constructed from but a small flight of steps brings you to the doorway. Above it, the church bell sits in its turret and an iron steeple points skywards, topped with a weather vane.

Many of these iron churches or ‘tin tabernacles’ as they are known were built around the country. Hampshire has a few more of its own, the church of St Peter’s at Beech near Alton and St Francis Gosport included.

The iron church was a Victorian solution to a number of problems

Population growth was rapid during the Victorian period and a new wave and enthusiasm for church and chapel building began. Although the Victorians wanted their church structures to be magnificently designed and beautifully decorated, for those on the margins of society, the architectural designs were sometimes an expensive step too far. Many of these churches had to be raised at the cost of the congregation and clerics themselves. The new flat pack corrugated church was the solution. This allowed missionary churches to spring up wherever there was thought to be a need. Local populations could build them for themselves. They could also be sent overseas and were ideal for those settling in frontier lands.

The corrugated building started to be mass-produced and were sold through catalogues. There were not just churches for sale, cottages, schools and even railway stations were sold. Each was illustrated with a picture and a price. The size could be altered according to what the customer wanted.

Prefabricated iron churches were relatively cheap to buy, costing anything from £150 for a chapel seating 150 to £500 for a chapel seating 350.

By 1875 hundreds of iron clad churches were being erected, many with extensive gothic style embellishments as can be seen at the church in the woods at Bramdean in Hampshire.

 

 

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The Journey…

We are all on a journey, whether we like it or not, so we had better learn to like it.

Even love it.

But a lot of people never do. They think it’s their life’s work to hate and detest every single minute of it, ruining all the possible good stuff in the process. I suddenly realised I was fast becoming one of them, the signs were all there. Increased depression, lack of committed concentration and the most important one, the inability to relax and enjoy what I did have.
I really had to do something about it.

How can you get to be seventy- three years old before you have such an epiphany?
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I remember reading (and thoroughly enjoying) Valerie Poore’s book ‘Watery Ways’ about her life on a Dutch barge, and how it made me stop and think about everything I used to love about living.
Despite how hard my life sometimes was there were some of those simple moments mixed in there. You know the ones, where you feel ‘right’.

It seems a long time since I felt like that, even for a second. However, I came close this morning.

I always used to read for a while in the mornings those days, (gives my old brain a chance to get going – before I insist that the body follows suit.  These days I write, but the effect is the same.
For a blissful hour, I walked with Val in Rotterdam as she looked for a suitable barge to make her home and it was wonderful. I love water of any kind, rivers, canals and the sea, and I always wanted to live on a houseboat. The closest I ever came was a holiday on the Norfolk Broads.  This story, Lazy Days is currently with our beta readers!
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Two glorious weeks with the family on a large uncooperative boat that never seemed to want to go where you wanted it to, but I loved every minute.

I have discovered that when most of us look back at our lives, you only remember the good stuff in small bits and pieces. That’s what brought on my epiphany this morning.

I suddenly realised that I was guilty of trying much too hard, figuring that ‘more effort – better results. But trying to force something to happen just will not work, not even with the best will in the world. (and mine is getting pretty worn out nowadays!)

So, and I have said most of this before I know, I will stop frantically searching and studying for that one magic ingredient that will bring some measure of success  – and more importantly, I will stop worrying about it.

I vow to concentrate on what I know I can do (and enjoy), reading, writing, walking when the knees allow, and some craftwork, for the sake of my soul. And if I can get on a boat now and then, that would be my idea of heaven…

Best wishes and see you next week…

 

Paper Paradise…

I was a lonely child, and London was a lonely place to be when I was growing up there after the war. All around me, people were busily trying to put their lives and homes back into some kind of order.
I remember walking around the streets, confused by all the chaos that still had to be dealt with. All the piles of dusty bricks and rubble, all that remained of so many people’s lives might be what made me such a melancholic child, and the reason I retreated into the world of books.
My favourite book was a copy of Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte and I would love to have that particular copy back in my possession. I remember it as being illustrated, full of hauntingly beautiful but tortured imagery that managed to scare the living daylights out of me (I was only eight years old)

I often wonder if my memory is at fault. Was this book really illustrated, or did the words simply conjure up what I thought I saw?
I do love a good book and I must have read thousands of them in my lifetime. One of my favourite authors of all time is Stephen King.  He wrote about everything, from a crazy car to a tormented child and just about every scary subject in between. I have spent so much time in his company.
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Which brings me to one of my favourite authors, Anita Dawes. You meet her here most weeks as she shares this site with me,  and she is not yet getting the recognition I think she deserves. I can see a similarity with Stephen King in everything she writes, for horrible things happen to her characters too, but you can’t help but love them anyway.
What follows is an excerpt from Bad Moon, my all time favourite…

“Watching the truck coming towards us seemed to take forever, like Pa was going deliberately slow. We waited for Pa to get out of the truck and I could see from his dirt streaked face that it weren’t good. Nathan’s face looked worse.
Ma tried to stop me from running to the truck, but couldn’t hold me. I climbed on the back and didn’t see Nathan getting out. Suddenly he was there beside me. I remember kneeling and touching the blue check shirt that covered Josh’s face. I remember the touch of Nathan’s hand on mine and the gentle way he said, ‘Don’t look, Annie please. Just let Pa bury him.’
 But I had to see for myself, had to know if it was the tree falling on him that had killed him. My eyes were wet, but the tears wouldn’t fall. I pulled the shirt back and a scream tore at my throat, trying to find a way out.

No sound came as I looked at what was left of his face, dark gaping holes looked back at me. Gone were his blue grey eyes, the very thing I had like most about him had been gouged away.
His face was torn and bloody. Dried blood matted his hair and dead leaves were sticking to him.
Nathan tried to take me away, saying I had seen enough. I felt myself being lifted slowly from my knees and as Nathan carried me away, that’s when my mind registered what it had seen.
The torn flesh on his face hadn’t been caused by the fall. The skin standing away from the bone and all the dried blood made it hard to read, that was why my mind didn’t see it right off.
They had cut Pa’s name down one side of his face, as if taking his eyes weren’t enough.
The scream that wouldn’t come before finally broke through and shut down my brain like an axe blow…”

See what I mean? See you next week…

Universal Amazon Link:  http://myBook.to/badmoon

Help Needed!

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I have long suspected that some, if not all of the work we produce could be better, for despite polishing each book until our arms drop off, and employing beta readers along the way, sales are not improving.

Another reason that prompted this post is that I am struggling with a memoir/travelogue of a holiday we took over 40 years ago.

It is called Lazy Days, a light-hearted and often funny account of our first family holiday on the Norfolk Broads. We were two adults, four kids and two dogs, a young family who had never done anything like this before. We didn’t get to do it again, which was a shame, but none of us will ever forget that exciting time.

Lazy Days is very like the very popular ‘Narrow’ books by Marie Browne of life on a narrow boat.

We all remember this holiday as one very special time, so I have finally transcribed the skipper’s logbook that we kept back then. Having never written a memoir before, I need some help to make sure it is good enough to publish.

What we need, I have discovered, is to be part of a critique group or Team. Sacha Black calls it a ‘street team’, a small army of readers dedicated to making a book the best it can be.  This group once formed would benefit everyone in the group, sharing the editing, beta reading or whatever is needed.

If anyone would be interested in being a part of such a team or has any better suggestions, please get in touch, either in the comments or via the contact page.

 

Lazy Days…

This travelogue is the true story of our family’s first proper holiday back in the Seventies. Looking back, I wonder what made us think it was a good idea, but despite all the things that could have gone wrong, we had a fantastic time. I was the Skipper most of the time, and for some reason decided to record our adventures in a small notebook. We were young and without husbands, Anita was a widow, and I was glad to be rid of mine. (and that is another story) Money was precious and scarce back then, but all the saving and sacrifice turned out to be worth every single memory we all cherish.

 This notebook has been kept safe, despite numerous house moves and family disasters, as a symbol of our courage and determination. It could so easily have been one of the stupidest things we had ever done, but even after 40 years, we have such good memories of that time.

Over the years, I often thought of making it into a proper book, but along with everything else in our often-complicated family life, it was something I never got around to. Until just recently, when I was looking for some old photographs, found the now fragile notebook and knew it was time.

It wasn’t as easy as I imagined it would be either, for my logbook writing skills leave a lot to be desired, but there was just enough information entered on those pages to get me started.

 

 

One Beautiful Moment…

This has been a very odd week, full of vastly differing experiences. For a start, I haven’t been feeling great, and that fact alone seems to affect my workload.

But… and this was a big one for me… I have been thinking of making another beaded bonsai tree. I need to find some much-needed peace, away from machines, noise and worrying about everything. And although I never seem to have enough time as it is, I know this is something I have to do, if only for a while.

 

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I first got interested in making these trees when I came across a lady in Covent Garden market who made similar trees, using tiny seashells instead of beads. All of her trees were beautiful and have remained my constant inspiration ever since. I especially like the notion that they cannot die from lack of attention or daylight. They don’t lose their leaves in the winter, and they always look just right! That’s an awful lot going for them, right there!
 

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“This is the one I want to make”  image from Pinterest

 

When the weather finally decided to behave,  I took a walk to our local pond (it’s a huge lake really, no idea why they call it a pond!)
It’s a beautiful place, and I usually find bucket loads of peace and quiet, and sometimes inspiration. But I wasn’t feeling great, so I just sat and watched the ducks.

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As I sat there, I remembered watching a pair of swans ealier this year. They built this huge nest and seemed to be sitting on it forever. But someone reported seeing newly hatched cygnets, so I waited for them to appear. Just when it seemed they would not, I saw a flash of white among the reeds. Then another, and then they sailed into view. They did have some cygnets but for the life of me, I couldn’t count them, couldn’t even see them properly as they were very small and the same grey colour as the water they were swimming on.
Slowly they came closer, and I couldn’t believe my luck. I tried to count the cygnets again, there seemed to be six or seven. Round about then I started cursing that I had not had the foresight to bring my camera. I usually did, but as I said, I wasn’t feeling up to much, so I hadn’t bothered.
Just as I sat there, contemplating what an idiot I was, the male swan suddenly lumbered out of the water, and I froze. I knew how protective and dangerous swans could be, and I was barely three feet from him and his beautiful family!
Luckily, he ignored me. When his mate lumbered on to dry land, followed with some difficulty by all seven of the cygnets, I could hardly breathe. They pottered about for several minutes, inspecting blades of grass and then all the babies sat down. They looked a bit tired, very small and so close I could have touched them.

All too soon they left me sitting there with tears in my eyes.
It was the most magical moment, and to say that I needed one right then would be an understatement.

I will be eternally grateful, but will remember my camera next time!

Work in Progress…

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Today, I finished uploading our holiday journal to the PC. While I had been doing this, it was interesting to discover just how little information I had managed to write down all those years ago. For instance, we visited Norwich, one of the largest and oldest cities in Norfolk, and all I wrote down that evening was one and a half sentences, and they were cryptically short sentences too.

Now, I do remember being far too busy enjoying ourselves to worry about the content of a journal, but a little more detail would have been nice. I shouldn’t really complain, for my writing habits haven’t changed much over the years. Because of my appalling memory, I scribble copious amounts of cursive notes on anything within reach, only to look at them a few days later and wonder what the hell I was trying to say. And that’s when I can actually read them!

Editing this WIP will be difficult, to say the least, as I am fishing through parts of my brain that haven’t seen daylight in years, so I am enlisting the help of everyone who was there with me to add their memory to mine. But after several cries of “Bloody hell, Jaye, that was 40 years ago!” it looks as though I am on my own with a memory that has always resembled Emmental cheese.

Which brings me to a question. If this book turns out to be 40% fact (remembering) and 60% fiction (imagination) which category do I put it in?

All answers seriously considered…