Solstice Plus One

 

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I’m working locally on Friday. So very locally that I drive home in five minutes. Listening, as is my wont, to BBC Radio 4*. All kinds of weird and wonderful information on there sometimes. I hear a weather report. Apparently after low temperatures overnight we’re in for a couple of weeks of warm (if not hot), dry weather.

Three things leap into my mind: watering: the allotment will need, at least,  some water. That, in turn, will mean, filling water butts (a long job involving linking three differently coloured hoses together and man handling the resulting snake across paths and around crops. But the plants in the back garden are showing signs of flagging, so I was thinking of putting the hose sprinkler on. England play panama in Russia in the FIFA World Cup finals on Sunday. Around dinner time. I want to be in good shape to watch that.

So far, so sensible, but I also have a crazy desire to sleep in that very same back garden in a tent. Not wholly sure why but something to do with an idea I abandoned last year, to do with spending time in the environment and “knowing it” at a time I am not usually there. What’ll it feel like? Sound like/ Can I even still manage to put a tent up, never mind actually sleep in one?

I have a tent. It was one a friend needed a home for as he moved house. And a sleeping bag.

Plantation Owner’s Wife asked at the time (imagine I got home with a bag of golf clubs, the self-assembly tent folded down into the shape and space a rock drummer’s gong might take up, thirteen cans of 16 mm film, a wooden wine box and other “interesting” odds an’ sods. And I didn’t have an answer. Partly to do with the inspiring talk given by naturalist Simon King at the Garrick Theatre, Lichfield on Thursday night. Not directly, but he was talking about photographic hides, being “in nature” and it hooked me.

Oh –and, of course – why not?

So my plan, by the time I get home, is to brave the predicted cold tonight, sleep in the tent, put the sprinkler on the garden tomorrow (I don’t fancy sleeping on a dampened lawn), then sleep soundly over Saturday night so I am properly refreshed for the game. It sounded logical at the time, trust me.

So we pull out the fire-pit. I set it up on a piece of unused kitchen work surface to protect the grass from the heat and sit outside in the lovely evening sunlight. A procession of common wasps visit the table, slow motion creatures intent on taking wasp paper back to build a nest somewhere I guess (though isn’t it  a bit late for nest building?).

 The tent, literally pitches itself. I unzip the circular bag and, tension released, metal rods spring and flex and, voila, there is the tent. Bigger than I had expected. It’s only been used once, I was told, for some music festival. A good looking, well-constructed Norwegian tunnel. Plenty big enough. The sleeping bag disappears in there, some cushions, a torch, book, camera, mobile phone …

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Just a few pegs for belt and braces safety (but not really needed).

.  Half a dozen swifts are high in the sky. Still in the sun, it seems, as every now and then they turn and catch the light, feathers suddenly becoming fish scales and reflecting light. The pair of bats that we watched a couple of nights ago are not to be seen.

Ten o’clock and this is what the Scots would call “the loaming”.

“When night fully owns the lower ground, but the skies are still bright.” At 10.30 there are few stars visible, but those that are shine fiercely along with the half-moon blazing down.  No streetlights are visible from the back garden.

“there is no dark side of the moon,” pops into my head, “matter of fact it’s all dark.”

I install myself in the canvas cocoon at eleven – ish. Now I can see only the walls of the tent. Close to me. The roof quite low. The soundscape beyond  is a siren, diminishing, a dog barking in a back garden, traffic in the distance. Last night was Mid Summer’s Night and it would have added a certain something-or –other to have done this last night. But, getting home from the theatre it was cold … and got colder. And, anyway, will twenty four hours really make that much difference? How many seconds less of daylight can there be? What would Will The Shaking Spear say?

I am not sure what I am expecting (other than not getting much sleep): cats, dogs, snails creeping their slimy way up the tent sides, ear wigs, hedgehogs, a fox?

I do expect not to fall immediately asleep. What would be the point of that? But I have a quiet moment of thinking when I realise that the leather hat I treated with some aerosol concoction a couple of days ago is in the enclosed tent with me and I recall the instruction not to breathe in the fumes when spraying as they are toxic. Could the hat be giving off poisonous fumes even as I fall asleep? Murdering me?Rubbish – of course. If that were the case it would mean many a person being deaded by leather clothes in all kinds of surroundings. And I’ve never heard of a single one! I smile, in the dark, at myself.

What I get is constant noise. Usually defended (is that the right word?) by efficient double glazing, I hadn’t realized just how very noisy the night is I am given the impression of  a game show conveyor belt, sounds being wheeled past: a constant machine hum, low. The ear becomes accustomed to that. But what sounds like someone stacking scaffold planks, the wind chime, a crane loading cargo containers, wind chime,  the emergency take off flaps of a startled wood pigeon (cat nearby perhaps?) yet another motorbike, the high revving of the engine at a corner, a roundabout. Wind chime. A cat landing on the wood store, scuffles, sniffles, a train hooter, small apples falling on the tent. A wagon reversing, car horns, Wind chime!!!

That wind chime is annoying! I fall asleep, but at around what my phone screen tells me is 3.10 I am awake. The wind chime? It is still ringing. I had promised myself I would just observe, just experience whatever was out there, but I need some sleep. I gradually unwrap, unzip, disentangle myself from this unaccustomed prone, horizontal floor position, pull on trainers and, fetch the thing from its branch. But once I have done that, and look around, the garden is certainly a different place. Robbed of colour; monochrome: tones, textures not colours. Black, white, grey. Shadows. Gaura, foxglove, a galaxy of ox eye daisies,  scent of honeysuckle scrawling in conference pear tree feverfew, astrantia, Damp grass, the feel of the wind. The sky light and sunrise is not due for another thirty or so minutes.

It takes some time to get back inside, zip up the two doors, re arrange the sleeping bag and bits and pieces, get warm again, the handy thermometer I found swinging on the tent was reading something like four Celsius! – I lie down – and can hear the first of the birds. A robin, close by. The pre-dawn chorus?  An avian orchestra warming up? In fact it is late in the year for the full dawn chorus: usually heard in spring time, a preamble to nesting, territory staking behaviour. A song thrush further away. Then the staccato chatter of a magpie, and perhaps a wren.

I sink away and back to sleep (which, later, will  surprise me). I wake later (about seven o’clock. Shadows of the apple tree are across the tent walls, that of the shed too. I pitched the tent here deliberately so that I would not get disturbed too soon this morning by the early sunrise. I open up the doors. There’s a house sparrow just going into the nest box on our  house. It looks surprised by my appearance.

It wasn’t part of the original plan but, as my wife is still asleep upstairs I steal around the kitchen, get toast, orange juice and a cup of tea, light up the fire pit and sit outside for a little longer. The first bumble bee of the day buzzes past, into the flower of a fox-glove. It’s part of a spell that bleeds warmth and colour back into the surroundings.

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The garden is wearing it’s everyday  clothes now: no longer the space for Titania, Oberon and a common man with and ass for a head (or something of that nature); the sun has gone around again, the clocks have moved along. This is June twenty third, two thousand and eighteen: the world of ordinary mortals again.

I am pleased with the experience. I managed a longer sleep than I was expecting, saw a different aspect of the garden and, as I quietly smile to myself I make a list of jobs to do:

Thin out the apples on the tree (there should be no more than two to a cluster, this will ensure good-sized apples).

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Get the grass clippings up to the compost heap.

Put the tent away and get the sprinkler on the lawn (but, hey, those tasks can all wait while I drink this cuppa, right?)

Oh, and … put the wind chime back.

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