Archive for November, 2013

The Director’s Cut ?

Had to happen. Always does. The last – I hope – cut of the back lawn for the year. Fair to say I have been putting it off: too wet, too dark, too soon …

Not my favourite occupation, cutting grass

But, finally a reasonable day, warm for the time of year, and it won’t get any drier now until we get longer  days. The mower struggled, getting clogged up and needing clearing out several times. The stew of fallen leaves, mashed rowan berries and grass cuttings; honestly no reasonable person would abuse a mower the way I do.

But in the warm sunshine I decided to do a little more tidying up: some terracotta pots: into the greenhouse.  Some timber: sawn and added to the woodpile … the fire-pit and wooden bench  away into the shed.

Various plastic bags – we use them to ferry “stuff” about – collected together and, folded up into the garage. Beneath one:


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Overnight Frosts?

The weather forecaster was talking about overnight frosts. Not a problem. I have been busy today double digging ground, incorporating compost in the plot that we plan to put the potatoes in next year. Warm work in warm, low November sun. High, blue skies, the soil turning well, but pretty saturated. So frost will be a double bonus. First, freezing the water content throughout the exposed soil and second (and, come to think of it third) freezing the life out of weed roots and seeds (and slugs!).

“Hope springs,” someone wiser than me once said, “ eternal.”

Picking very late raspberries: very tasty too.

Clearing away the suddenly-limp and obviously dead rhubarb leaves. Soggy, decaying elephant-ear sized remnants. There’s an image for you!

Home-made pumpkin soup dinner and a walk to stretch out the digging muscles.

There is a marvellous quality of light when conditions are like this. Sun going down earlier each day, but skies, on days like toady pale blue and forgiving. Little warmth from the sun, but rewarding to be out, breathing damp autumn air. The hedgerow field maples are a riot of translucent honey colour, guelder rose berries, dog-rose hips and haws decorate the walls of the sunken footway in the centre of a double hedge: a long-time traditional pathway for generations leading to a brook and fishing lakes.DSC01933

DSC01937 DSC01934

There’s a wonderful atmosphere in the tunnel like pathway, the floor strewn with autumn’s great foliage giveaway. like Tolkienesque goblin-promised treasure the leaves of sweet chestnut, silver birch, hawthorn and ash carpet the floor, turned into flashing gems where the sun slants through gaps in

the tall hedge walls and sparkles of drops of moisture. The soil is water-logged too.

A big well marked grey heron flaps overhead, twists aerobatically and lands next to the deep ruts left by a tractor in the stubble field. I am not sure but I am guessing the heron is looking for earthworms. He (or she) has the characteristic flight that reminds me two parts of pterodactyl-type ancients and one part Heath-Robinson flying machine.

By the lake there is a second heron, balanced on a near submerged tree: the reason the first one chose to land in the field? Sorry, flown away before I got the camera out of the bag that was in my waxed jacket pocket.


Mallard, tufted ducks and coot swarm away from my approach on the surface of the lake. No sign of the mute swans that raised five cygnets here.

My boots try to trip me up in the mud on the way back; it’s uphill walking and I notice for the first time that the sole is coming away from the top of the boot at the toe-end of both boots. The last work boots lasted longer and were worn by the bonfire Guy a couple of weeks ago.
Something for the Christmas wish-list maybe?



Parts of this allotment shed, the frame, the roof trusses, the oil-saturated railway sleepers that it sits on, if they could talk:

… would recall the miner who grew food for his family and neighbours in the years of the Great War. The war, they said that would end all wars. The miner, and his pals who kept producing the coal that kept the factories going, with women taking up the tools, that fed the effort that changed the world. The miner whose brother, giddy to fight the common enemy, so full of life he lied about his age when he joined up, left … left but did not return.

… would tell of the night that strange shapes filled the sky;  A zeppelin soaring across dark heavens, heading for the industrial heartlands, efficiently spreading fear and terror ahead of it, leaving destruction and horror behind it.

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Autumn and Wistful …

A couple of days after our moreorless traditional bonfires, the weather is mild.

But, yesterday, at three thirty in the afternoon the sky was a wet, grey slab; huge spots of driven rain falling from it to batter the lawn. But the grey ness drew full attention to the amazing crop of shining orange berries on the two rowan trees at the back of our house: one in our garden, one over the wall. The branches are literally bending under the weight of the brightly-coloured masses of berries. I try and imagine the maths needed to approximate the number of berries (average number in a bunch X bunches on a branch X number of branches) but, never enjoying maths am happy to quantify it as “a lot more than last year.”

This year trees have fruited exceptionally. We have the edible fruit, apples, pears, plums and damsons and the wilder fruit: acorns, conkers, ash keys and the berries.

Blackbirds, seemingly forsaking all territorial claims have been hopping into and around the branches and I have been trying, in a cod-science fashion, been trying to estimate the capacity of their bellies. The most I have seen one take – and swallow wholesale as they must do – is six. Thrushes, magpies, starlings, collared doves and woodpigeons have also helped themselves.

I am waiting to catch sight of incoming redwings and fieldfares in the branches; though usually these pay more attention to the holly berries. Autumn is in full swing now, the clocks have been turned back and night falls quickly. On the way to the allotment this morning I wondered whether the time in all the glorious carnival of natural fall colours of New England had autumnised me too soon.

After the rain and wind that my grandmother often said was the result of fireworks and rockets exploding in the skies, I was on my way to pull up the two rows of runner beans, empty one of the compost bays (to dig in to the ground where we will plant potatoes next season, and to turn the other pile over. And, in the air, the unmistakable tang of what I imagine is spent gunpowder an, just maybe the residues of any other chemicals used in the pyrotechnics (would love to understand how they get those marvellous effects in one way, but in another am happy to consider it some kind of arcane magickery)… and every now and then the carcasses and bones of dead fireworks around the paths and gardens. I am intrigued to find that some of the thick cardboard tubes (which must be able to resist extremely high temperatures!) have some kind of cement/clay  base.

The basket of leaves is added to regularly now. A couple of years ago I started to separate the leaves out, when before I had been in the habit of adding them to the compost heaps.

Overhead the high sky was wide and pale blue. Late raspberries to gather and a few apples to pick. Otherwise, there is ground enough dug for a second row of broad beans ( were using Aquedulce this year) and the overwintering onions.

Managed to have a word with The Jag Driver, who was awarded one of the two  “Recycling Champion” certificates at the October A.G.M. First time this one has been awarded, being different to the routine First, Second, Third and Novice Plot we have had to date. The idea was to highlight the role plot holders can play in the Re-Use, Recycle, Re-Purpose world. To me allotments have always been places where things have been given another life: our current compost bays (three side-by-side) were once a shed, which was no longer sturdy enough to stand, but, cut-down and turned around has been serving this purpose for four years so far. On site we have “greenhouses made from double glazed units, water butts made from industrial carriage containers, bird-scarers made from pop bottles and rainwater collection systems made from re-used lengths of cast-out guttering and down-pipes, not to mention the hundred and one ways to hold netting off crops such as cabbages and onions.

Oh, the second went to an ingenious plot holder who has an aero-generator and solar panels on his shed roof.

Others up on the site are digging furiously now, hoping to get ground cleared and, in some cases, green manures planted, before the real cold gets here; Weather forecasters are already starting to get their alarm-signals flying – and, somewhere on the internet, there’s an announcement of snow in Durham.

Watch this space …

“That Was Nice … “

Never been able to get used to the way it used to be, before the holiday. Never. But this time it’s taking longer, it seems. OK, he knows: it is the way it was, the way it’s meant to be … but telling himself that – time after ridiculous time – does not help.

And, – it happens every time – post-holiday comedown blues. Its not that he doesn’t like the familiarity of home. But after the turnover, turn-around merry go round (and it has been merry, by the gods it has!) of the sixteen hundred something miles he’s just done. In new lands. New England.

No lifts, no lobbies, no wake up calls. No need for new maps and recces and discussions and the making of plans to use the short bursts of magic-time effectively. The wonderful coffee-fuelled times, times so short yet so filled with intensities: dashes to art galleries (Audubon’s birds), the Boston Liberty Trail, P-Town,  Schooner Head Point, Paul Revere’s house, new details of the past uncovered, new sights glimpsed, photographed – on camera and with the mind, lighthouses, cherubs with railway spikes reclining on veiled train engines …

The tumbling, cavorting impressions of travel.

The links with memories. Associations with stories. With facts and songs, personal history.

Redcoats in the village and there’s fighting in the streets
The Indians and the mountain men are talking when they meet
The king has said he’s gonna put a tax on tea
And that’s the reason young Americans drink coffee

Shores and maple syrup and flames reflected so beautifully in canalised city rivers. Stories of revolution, of tea tipped into harbours, native peoples making fist sized feeding bowls, leaders that made the world what it is and vast houses called cottages that have platinum wallpaper because silver tarnishes and that was not acceptable.

Massive out-of-imagination locomotives with huge cow catchers and associated rolling stock that took his mind off the constant autumn rain – and forty five minutes had gone without him noticing.  Gaelic music and breakfasts that stretch the eyes and the belly.

Dollars, tips and trips. A government shutdown that nobody could explain, and fewer people  prepared to do something about; that closes national treasures but he walks the paths anyway while the rangers and wardens pretend not to see.

The enchanting coast where waves roll across the world and across time. The cloud ceilinged race to find whales. Sadly fated to end in refunded return. The enchanted, guaranteed access by right coast that carried the weight of money from century to century, folly to folly.

Big cities, big buildings, big characters. Big smiles, big slopes that tumble down gentle mountains  through friendly swirls of gently moving clouds  and spreads of autumn colour as dying-for-the-winter leaves bid farewell like slow motion fireworks. Beautifully reflected in waters, still, falling or running between beaver lodge and dam.

Big wide traffic free roads, seven states, stars, stripes, accents and long drawn-out friendly pauses … curiosity, stimulus, satisfaction and more boats than he could shake a good sized stick at. Boats due to be coming out of the water soon for the rough-weather season. But working boats too and magical reminders of the days of sail, exploration and dreams of better; settlements where pilgrims came for freedom of religion that meant they would be free to worship in one way only .. settlements of the aboriginal people plagued by new diseases.

That slow time and sparkle deep into the soul with healing grace. Settlement of the soul; recharging of the spirit. Until …

That phrase from the children’s book, The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark*, must always be on the lips of true travellers I guess:

“That was nice,” said Plop, “what’s next?”

*by Jill Tomlinson

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