Archive for December, 2013

Flash Mobbed Again!

A fine start to the day. Good enough to pile walking boots into the car and head up onto Cannock Chase. Avoiding, where possible the new-Bike-for Christmas riders (bless ‘em), the dog walkers and a couple of nervous horse riders and trying to stay in the warm sunlight. Low sun, of course: this is December and the light seems to come along parallel to the ground, gilding the topmost branches of randomly wind-planted silver birches. Pretty trees, for all their promiscuous fertility, in all seasons. Some redwings are settled into the purple twigs in a couple of them.

A kestrel quarters the heathland but appears to find little to hunt. This is a rare and disappearing habitat, easily invaded by silver-birch, but is being managed by the Forestry Commission here.

We just go where our feet take us, some kind of slow wild-goose chase. A track opens up, we decide whether or not to take it. There’s no rush. The wind, however is sharp on unprotected cheeks and in some of the dips and shallow valleys there is shelter. Magpies squabble in the breaks where fire has accidentally or deliberately helped the glossy leaved bilberries and made slow motion old-gold fountain fireworks out of tussocks of grass.

I was up at the allotment yesterday after a ‘phone call. The larch lap fence that borders one side of our plot had blown out, and two panels were resting against some of our fruit trees. Yep, I shoved and pulled the offending piece, quite undamaged back onto the house yard: it’s their fence. Nobody in: out for the Christmas season perhaps. They are good neighbours and, I am sure will replace the fence as soon as they see what has happened. Elsewhere, Milko has someone else’s shed roof on his plot, but is not sure which plot it blew in from. He moved his poly-tunnel a couple of weeks ago on a windy day and wrecked the doorway. He was up there to check there was no further damage to it. There’s been a lot of rain but, compared to other areas of the U.K. – where homes are flooded and without power since Christmas Day -we have got off lightly.

Back on the Chase we find ourselves on a “wheelchair friendly trail”. It leads to a viewing point. We rest there for five minutes or so. The winter solstice is past and I am tempted to think I can feel the daylight stretching out on days like this where I cannot imagine the forecast rains and storms arriving before the end of the day. But then I am very often wrong when guessing the coming weather.

Breath regained – it was an engine-testing climb* up the gritty slope – we set off again, heading towards the car and the café-or-home  decision. The path skirts a Scots pine plantation and we are suddenly in the middle of a small flurry of birds. Blue tits I recognise first. Great tits too. And as they helicopter busily around us in the bright air I notice a pair, no three goldcrests. It seems they are unaware of our presence, or not concerned by us as they sweep in and out of the wood margins. They are glamorous. And this is the second time I have been Flash-Mobbed by birds (see ). Then as I look more closely I am truly not sure whether these birds are not firecrests. That would be s first! They are not usually found in this part of the U.K. but then, winds have been strong. One bird that I do recognise is a nuthatch; part of the flock that still swirls around us: feathered Brownian motion. It is delightful, a tiny time of magic. If we had walked faster, gone a different route, spent less time at the panorama platform we would have missed this experience.

There is a long, well-behaved queue for coffee and cake in the café, so we head out after a quick look around the visitor’s centre, adding the safer “goldcrest” to the sightings board.

A fine accident of time and feet.

Happy New Year!

*Not part of the wheelchair walk.


Images: Cannock Chase



Politics ?

“…quite possible these days for a small farmer on the hypothetical outskirts of all that could be called Ankh-Morpork to lean over his own hedge and chat with a Quirmian farmer who was most definitely in Quirm at the time, without in any way considering that this was a political matter. the conversation would generally be about the weather, the abundance or otherwise of water and the uselessness of the government, never mind which kind, and then, happily they would shake hands, or give a little nod and one would go home to drink a pint of home-made beer after such a busy day, while the other would do likewise with a decent home-made wine.

Occasionally, the son of one farmer would go to the hedge and see the daughter of the other one, and vice versa and, that was why, in a few – but very interesting – places along the boundary, there were people who spoke in both tongues. This sort of thing is something that governments really hate, which is a very good thing.”

Something rather cheeky inside me (can you imagine that ?) had me share this short quote from a book I had for Christmas. Written in characteristic style by Terry Pratchett*, Raising Steam is both humorous and serious – at the same damned time. It is possible to recognise trends, people, even countries and current issues which engage us  all throughout the book. Or to treat it as a story set on a separate world, far, far away. Hence it appears in the “Borrowed section of the blog. It is possible to enjoy the quote above and stop reading now, because what follows, for the first time (!) is a little bit of context.

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Mad rush yesterday. The sudden delivery of twelve pallets of compost to off-load into the container we use as an on-site warehouse. Muscle-work. Intense in the cold drizzle that stopped fingers working after the first nine hundred bags.

Woke up this morning, no surprise with aching shoulders. The TV full of images of high winds last night (which took the roof of a railway station in Cork) and a hailstorm which interrupted a Football game at Stoke; but outside wide blue skies and only a fresh wind. Hard indeed, low sun aside, that this is in fact December!

Needed gentle exercise. So, walking boots on – the paths still holding water from yesterday’s rain – and heading towards the brook. A hundred yards down the pavement, then into the park and the sunken path between the double hedgerow. One of my favourite walks from the front door. I read in a book once that sunken pathways are rare and becoming more so. But this one and one I have always known as Watery Lane are part of my history.

But part way along the path the muddy puddles sucking at my boots meant I had to pause  to refasten my bootlaces. Suddenly aware of the quiet. A buzzard launching itself from a low branch across the pastureland. Then it seemed I heard my mobile phone, inside a pocket of my coat (and there are many pockets in my coat). But before I could reach it I was surrounded by small birds moving in and around the hawthorns, oaks, hazels and hollies on both sides of me.

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Bright December …

Bright December day.  Warm work building the community area. But satisfying. Sailor Dee manages to get some tea on the go. Resourceful because the site water is turned off in case the pipes freeze and burst.

Sitting in his shed, which resembles an out-sized Airfix railway guards van. He cheerfully tells us that the shelves we have been admiring have fallen off twice already.

“Overloaded,” he explains.

The shelves are still crammed with paraphernalia. Heavy paraphernalia. It doesn’t look like he’s taken anything off A pause while we adjust our seating positions while trying not to make it obvious.

Somehow the talk meanders around to a hotel in Torquay that (funny how talk can wander about like that) was once a resort for the Russian Czar and his entourage. Before the First World War, that is. The Great War that was responsible for so much change: suffrage, weapons, the political alliances, new political parties. When the seeds were sown that made the Second World War almost inevitable.

[It’ll be a hundred years since the First World War next year. All manner of events are being set up to commemorate it, the media seems pleased to tell  us.]

We talk about how different the world was a hundred years ago. The plight of black Americans. The rigid class structure in Britain: how everyone knew their place: factory fodder or aristocracy; the aspiring middle classes striving to be good and get recognised. The political certainties, national alliances. How physically hard the work would have been. Education. The lack of technologies that seem to be threatening the fabric of societies at the moment (are they really?)

The Victorian-standards of Christmas carrying on.

It was not a nostalgic conversation; far from it. We considered advances in medicine, life-style, life-expectancy.  The economy and the part Great Britain played in world affairs (if we weren’t playing apart, it seems, it wasn’t worth knowing about).The roles of, particularly, great Quaker families (the Cadbury’s turning – Bournebrook into model village Bourneville on a whim). Without alcoholic premises of course.

We wondered whether Elizabeth Fry would approve of the current prison system.

… and realised how much the world has changed, recognising that it must.

But the sobering thought we had, before we emptied the dregs onto a compost heap, was that a hundred years ago there were allotments where we sat discussing the changes. That, maybe then the plot holders sat and talked about change.

A proud realisation and satisfying too, to be sitting where they sat (perhaps). To think that we are simply part of a line of plotholders. Hoping that we leave the site a better place and play some positive role in the community.

And curious to know a little bit more about the history of the land.



“Do You Have A Licence for That ?”



The Jethro Tull Christmas Album

The Jethro Tull Christmas Album (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Been studying. Quietly determined, on-line course. It’s demanding, intensive stuff, even though it may be knowledge I think I should already have. Frame of mind kind-of-thing; needing focus. Needing a longer concentration span too. An hour and a half (the length of a football match) and my brain is dried out, vulnerable to wandering thoughts.

… and the sky this morning is the colour of solid fog, of the salt-wetted hull of a de-commissioned submarine. It spits little gobs of rain as if reluctantly. Seems lacking in vitality. It is winter after all, despite the warm temperatures of recent days that have allowed digging on the plot and pleasant week-end walks.

But a tune comes into my head. I would like to say unprompted but that’s not quite true. And I allow it* to distract me. It’s Jethro Tull. Characteristically enigmatic and I delight in that. Seasonal too. The kind of traditional tune, flute and backing that work so well at this time of year (why, exactly is that?) and typify the band.

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The Quiet Magic …


This is low-fog. Somehow alive, it rests it’s slow-roiling belly on roof tiles. Is held off the damp ground beneath by winter-naked trees and the sodium-flower headed lamp post. It’s streamers festoon the dark, glistening branches of the copse canopy, the double hedge that brackets the sunken path that heads down to the brook and back.


The air between the new-ploughed field and the base of the shifting fog sparkles with a gentle magic. It is suddenly a pool of air made thicker liquid by the lid of clinging vapour above it. Light has a different quality. Visibility is restricted and hampered. Sound is dulled and distorted. Distances confusing. The Dexter cattle, dark against it are different without the oaks behind them. The barbed wire fence they scratch against looks more severe. I am looking at, walking in a different world. I have to check realities, adjust my view. What I see is not what I am expecting. Indeed I know what is hidden, but just cannot see it: the tree-lined slope, the horse pastures (where the fallow deer sometimes graze), the disused barn, with collapsing roof. The familiar and usual is neither in these moments.

In the back garden our season’s first (and late for the year) redwing dips and shimmies, taking water from the garden pond. There’s another dozen or so migrants, perhaps a fieldfare or two, busy burgling bright berries from the holly tree next-door.

 Then, just the right side of shrill the confident tune of a robin, concealed nearby but still invisible to me, floats and echoes across this trapped world. Fills it. The sun-dawn light pinks new edges of gaps in the fog bank above, beginning to break through. The sky, so far away suddenly is pale blue.

Just starting to feel the chill, I will remain a little longer. This peace will not last forever. I will take what I can, while I can.

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