Archive for December, 2012

The Darkling Thrush

Autumn's route to winter.

Autumn’s route to winter.

I re-visited this classic poem today and it seemd far less cliched. Hardy was, perhaps, at a stage where he was (upset by criticism about his latest novel Jude the Obscure) turning to poetry.
Also, feeling the need for the indefinable something at the end of a year, the end indeed of the century.
Enjoy, ignore or reflect.

Happy New Year to one and all.

I leant upon a coppice gate,
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to me
The Century’s corpse outleant,
Its crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind its death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervorless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead,
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited.
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small,
With blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew,
And I was unaware.

Thomas Hardy


Turning Manure into Human Flesh

Forced to stay, mostly indoors; that or go to the gym (!) it’s time to rave about a book I was given as a Christmas present.
“One Man and His Dig” is written by valentine Low and covers, supposedly, his (and his family’s first year as plot holders.
It actually does much more than that. There is something of a very readable history of the movement which became allotments illustrated by well-chosen examples;
talk about techniques, the dilemmas and social etiquette of sites (not the same on every site of course), the small p politics andthe agonising that goes with having an allotment.

Here I reproduce a couple of delightfully non pedagogic paragraphs on composting:

“When we first started composting, it was a casual kind of thing. we needed somewhere to put all the green rubbish you generate on an allotment – the weeds, the old cabbage leaves, the lettuces that have bolted – and it is only sensible to put them on a compost heap so that when they rot down you can use them to improve the soil. It is a rather wonderful arrangement, in fact, this idea that you are constantly recycling the things that grow on your allotment, and that no sooner are you taking the goodness out of your soil than you are putting it back in again. But you cannot just stop at composting your garden waste – there’s all that kitchen waste to consider too: onion skins, potato peelings, carrot tops, less than perfect lettuce leaves that didn’t make it into the salad. There are other kitchen candidates,too, such as tea bags and coffee grounds and even eggshells, as long as you crunch them up a bit. All sorts of things can go into a compost heap, and every time you put something in the compost bucket that would once have gone staright into the bin, on its way to some landfill site or other, you feel a little tingle of staisfaction that, not only are you saving the planet, but you are also fattening up the cabbages for the year after n
My favourite compost ingredient, though, is human hair … we consulted the books, and apparently hair is perfectly alright for the compost heap …. reminds me of a remark Michael made one day, when someone saw him pushing a wheelbarrow full of manure.
“What are you doing with that?” he was asked
“Turning it into human flesh,” he replied.
which, when you think about it for a second, is a pretty succinct summary of the process. If anyone asks, we’rer turning human hair into, well, human hair.”

Thanks to those who gave me this book amongst all the others (about variuosly rock stars, wrestling, Petra). I love reading and the rain (don’t get me thinking that way again please!) has made me concentrate. My reading list for next year is now being opened. Any suggestions?ext.



Noah, I imagine, knew days like this one. Had his faith and sanity tested.

Almost superfluously the BBC announced yesterday that 2012 has been the wettest year since records began (which, according to the Guardian: “The England and Wales Precipitation series, which measures rainfall and snow, goes back to 1766…”). This non-surprising set-up followed by the knockout uppercut prediction from the Met Office “ … land unlikely to dry out within the next two months…”.

Now, it’s only a guess but I believe you can sense the frustration in these simple opening lines. Am I right?

Taking rooted-in-water cuttings of what we call a climbing fuchsia (OK it doesn’t actually climb, but it grows at a tremendous rate, looks superb tied to trellis and roots in a glass of water on the kitchen windowsill without any fuss) down to the greenhouse I squelched across the lawn. The ground below the grass-and-sphagnum cocktail is so waterlogged there are pools where the swing used to sit and beneath the apple tree, where scrounged turf is taking root.

I haven’t been to the allotment for over two weeks. Don’t see the point. Seeds ordered through the communal shop ( )have arrived, but will have to remain undistributed for now. The compost buckets kept in the garage are bulging, but kneeling on the lids makes enough space for the next load of (mostly) tea bags.

Strong overnight winds; low, scudding battleship grey cloud base this morning throwing large raindrops at all and sundry – again. I have good Facebook friends in Sicily who have been posting romantic photos of snow-covered Devon cottages since the middle of December – but, sorry kids, not this year. Earlier I sat, motivation levels low after re-stocking the bird feeders – watching a B movie creature-feature about a Yeti terrorising some region in winter-stricken North America. I could only yearn for the beautifully crisp knee-deep snow and birch scenes (feeling neither sympathy for the formula characters nor the beast itself), remembering Bev Doolittle paintings (Evening Encounter perhaps?).

Then, coming out of the gym –creeping up on a New year’s resolution, I hope to make – there was a dramatic strip of burning sky, resting on the roofline horizon. Lime green, light blue, swirls of rose pink, lilac, maroon and violet like the rosettes on a busy painter’s palette.

We are many years and potential climate changes from the Biblical flood, but for a moment I feel for Noah. Judgement promised, the ark being built, but then the sky promises sunlight and a future.


Guest Poet

Delighted to be able to host a poem from a “guest” poet here.

Really would be happy to hear what you think of it:

I don’t recognise this landscape anymore,
It feels like Genesis perhaps.
So much water wearing away the fabric of our life,
With no real place to go.
I can’t see this countryside at the moment,
Hidden under mirrored layers.
Rivers like roads,
Leading up to back doors.
Two by two we go?
The world is created anew.
Collect up mothers bones, stones to start it all again.
We should take care how we go from here,
In case this recent outpouring is a Revelation instead…

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost

It Couldn’t Be Done

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it”;
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you, one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

Edgar Guest


I was driving home, after attending what, let’s say was a successful sortie for work for next year (well some small part of next year anyway) when I heard some snatches – on local BBC Radio about a shooting in the USA.
Worse: involving children in a school!
I neglected to say that, while I am close to my own neighbourhood, I did not recognise any of the roads or landscape features for some miles, probably taking wrong turns while, hopefully still obeying, like an automaton, the road rules.
Once home the full senseless fullness of horrible facts became astonishingly clear.
I can think of no reason, whatever the provocation, for violence towards children … but violence to this degree?
For what it is worth (probably less than half of nothing, of course) my heart goes out to the people connected to this insane tragedy, in any way.
In a school … for God’s sake!
I have no solutions to offer, find myself …

… lost – all roads up!


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