Archive for the ‘Home Front’ Category

Walking the Mobile …

As is my getting-up routine I glance out of the back bedroom window en route for  a Sunday morning first cup of tea. The back bedroom, still affectionately known as Maddy’s room, although our daughter hasn’t lived in it for over a dozen years. I’m on the lookout for the lesser spotted woodpecker that has been a regular visitor since last September. A talisman. If he’s about he’ll likely be on one of the drilled out, nut-crammed logs. Or clinging in that semi-mechanical way to the trunk of the small leaved lime tree. Far harder to see that way as his small-movement body becomes at one with the tree shape.

But my view takes in the rest of the back garden, misty and damp this morning after what was (to my relief) the first real warm, bright, dry spring day of the year yesterday. Thrush-egg-blue skies and accumulated water pools and puddles reflecting catkins, cherry and gorse blossom and the hope of more days like that one to come. Pretty please.

So warm yesterday, indeed, that prompted by a social media photo posted by our daughter (the aforementioned Maddy) we dragged the fire-pit out of the shed and got it lit up. Tested out the compressed paper bricks* I have been obsessively producing since I was given the hand-powered tool as a Christmas gift.  Sitting outside until the stars were visible and, er, was that a planet? A satellite? Relaxing and the day’s dramas (planting peas and digging out the runner bean trench and the catastrophic (was it inevitable?) capitulation of my football team going from a 2 – 0 lead to a 3 – 2 defeat. At home!) eased gently but completely out of my bones.

This morning the huge still cupped blooms of the magnolia leaning over from the garden next door like one side of a stag’s antlers are shining white halos. Not yet fully opened, they’ll be magnificent in a couple of days. Camellias in another nearby garden red and sinful by a fence.

Gallery: <b>Spring</b> <b>weather</b> across the <b>UK</b> – May 1 2013 | Metro <b>UK</b>

Beyond the gardens, there’s a view between the houses to the roadway. My still waking eyes (and brain) are drawn to movement there.  Somebody I should – but don’t – recognise is standing on a paved driveway in a plaid dressing gown staring up a bungalow chimney.

And there’s a slowly strolling gentleman taking his mobile ‘phone for a walk; head down, studying the tiny screen in his hand, his course best described as slow motion erratic. From pavement edge where pot holes in the road snarl at him, to the exclamation mark of a telegraph pole. At which his large, furry faithful retriever type dog halts to look back for him. For him? At him?

This dog, too long in the tooth now for great pace or long route marches, was once – in the dim and difficult-to-remember past,  the sole reason for these perambulations. The dog that came as calendar driven time-of life, keep-up-with-the-Fortescue-Jones’ status symbol.  Job, marriage, children, grandchildren, retirement.

The dog remembers his role in the progression. The happy-giddy fetching of clumsily thrown sticks and balls, the searches for chocolate eggs, nettle stings on young knees, running on tide sucked beaches. The excitements of comings and leavings. And the peace and relationship forming walks. With an attentive partner at the other end of the lead, so much more than a physical connection. Familiar paths; the canal, fields in every season, the sunken lane, urban parks and more exotic journeys. All experienced from a dimension impossible for humans to comprehend; the combinations of sight, scent and sound; histories overlapping the present.

Has in mind the wonderful mutual devotions of those journeys. The presence of the partner now totally lacking. The partner now, instead, wholly engaged in and obsessed  by the electronic ethernet snare. Inescapable. Unfathomable, leading-nowhere bottomless. Where one random query leads to another; the unfortunate collapse of the Scots marathon runner a mile or so from the race finish at the Commonwealth Games half a world away, a glance at Roger Daltrey’s new solo album,  looking up events at RAF Cosford, The Black Country Museum, the latest steps in the Syrian fiasco: deadly serious but ultimately childish.

Roger Daltrey announces 'As Long As I Have You' | The ... Russia's Lavrov says <b>Syria</b> <b>chemical</b> weapons <b>attack</b> was ...

The dog pauses, waiting expectantly at another lamp post. His over-the-shoulder patient look goes un-noticed. His motives misinterpreted. He is not stopping to pick up scents, messages, threats, promises as he would have done when so much younger. When each would have sent impulses coursing through electrical and chemical channels, muscles and nervous systems responding faster than thought. No, this stop is the forlorn hope for a renewed connection, for something long lost and sorely missed. For some recognition, a spark if not warmth. But the man is taking his mobile ‘phone for a walk. As he usually does now, the dog, if anything, an encumbrance. And every stop is an opportunity to dash off and emoji-charged text to some “friend” in Poland.

 The dog, once loved is – truly – distressed, neglected and lonely.


*… and they burned exceedingly well too. Phew, all that effort might have been so wasted.


Good Friday Fires? Not This Time!


Good Friday and I wake up imagining it is Saturday, that there’ll be a football match. But I’m wrong. Saturday is burning day at the allotments and I set out with seriously big plans. How difficult can it be to set fire to the pile of runner bean stems, blackcurrant prunings and associated weeds that have been there since, say, late September?

The answer, eco-friendly Flamefast firelighters included, is very. Very Difficult indeed. I am in too much of a hurry to begin with. Throw in a firelighter, lob on a match and expect conflagration. Neighbour Mike wanders over and leaves some newspaper that might assist (thanks mate.) It smoulders, but doesn’t get going. I try again, a little more scientifically this time. Still not the conflagration I was expecting. Eventually, dragging in some dry kindling and the scrapped boxes from the shed and piling it into the brazier it crackles and flames. But, unexpectedly the prunings are still green, supple and full of sap.

While the fire does it’s inevitable business I crack on with a bit of digging. Slow and steady, getting something accomplished.

Snow is predicted this weekend (perhaps on bank Holiday Monday).

When the real Saturday dawns I have time to pay a trip to the gym; first time for a long time, then rustle up a full English breakfast (for lunch) and get to the Walsall v Portsmouth game. Talk before the game is rather serious; the effects of age and the need – maybe – to give up driving. We agree that none of us is happy with the prospect of having to do so, consider a programme on TV (“The Hundred Year Old Driving School) and remark that some of the poorer drivers on display (not all of them, apparently by a long chalk) may have been poor drivers all of their lives. We discuss the pros and cons of sat-navs and talk about holidays planned. The game itself sees an improved performance, impressing – or not – the professional scouts from at least five major clubs in attendance in the desirable seats around us. But we end up losing. Seven games to go … and none of us is thinking of going to Bradford on Monday.

Easter Sunday falls on April Fools’ day, which, by coincidence, is the day accepted as the birthday of the Royal Air Force. There is a special day on at RAF Cosford, our local Aerospace Museum and we go. Sun is shining and, though we arrive early, the overflow parking is already in use. We’re directed to park beneath the wings of the C-31 Hercules.

This is one of my favourite local places to visit; costing just the car parking charges (£4 for the day) and we wander around, taking in familiar aircraft, enjoying the well- behaved crowds and catching interesting talks on the Messerschmitt 109 (“Black Six”), the preparations for a Vulcan Quick Reaction Scramble and the Malayan Emergency. There are also a number of vintage vehicles on display. Our eyes are taken by a beautiful Morgan (“Just Lily”) and the gracious lady who tells us a little of the family history and that of the car without distinguishing between the two.

Image Gallery Me 109 Black 6   

The countryside is inundated, there are, literally, pools on our back lawn that reflect the low grey skies. But there is still, somehow, a magical intangible something in the air. It is still getting cold once the sun has set, and I go for a walk. Walking boots needed, there’ll be puddles. I follow my feet. Nearby a pair of high-sitting blackbirds are duelling; something about territories maybe? Down the old “sunken path” towards the A5. Garrett’s Brook, the pool – almost certainly a borrow pit – that must, once have performed some part of a coal washing task at the Sink Inn colliery, now just a straggle of collapsing pit head buildings. The spoil heaps were, ironically, taken down to fill underground limestone tunnels beneath Dudley (famous as part of the Black Country; coal, limestone and iron ore mining). The pools were havens for wildlife when I was a child (the pit and the linked by continuous wire railway Grove Colliery) and remain so to this day. There are twenty plus red deer in the efficiently fenced off and gated (with Arable Crops, Please Keep Out” signs). Some lying down, others, typically alert. A pair of buzzard circle overhead, keening and a heron flaps away from the pool. Mallard, coot, a single tufted duck and three moorhens are adrift on the surface. I am reminded of a comment from a colleague about an illustration by the great C.F. Tunnicliffe when looking at one of his Ladybird book illustrations:


“Of course,” DPK smirked, “It’s a made up picture. You don’t get so many different birds together in the same place at the same time.” Some people, like the guy at Cosford, standing by the gorgeous, once-seen-never-forgotten grace of the exhibition Spitfire saying to his family that there wasn’t a Spitfire at this place, know everything.

Then there’s me, seeing a bird on a tree trunk and identifying it as a nuthatch. Only to find it was a great tit.

Weapons of Moss Destruction: Not!

Note from author: it’s happened again; I’ve been distracted by the plot, by real life and by apathy. I wrote this thirteen days ago, but it never got posted. Hope it still makes sense. Thanks for putting up with my tardiness.


It’s well into spring time now, blossom on the plum and damson trees up at the plot, the dessert pear tree that had all of the pears stolen on that point of perfect ripeness is also smothered with creamy white flowers, regularly visited by bumble bees. The last thing we need right now is a punishing frost … so, of course, that is what is being predicted by the Met. Office.

And, on BBC TV that old chestnut Gardener’s World is back to lighten up/disturb our Friday evenings (should we have pruned the apple back so harshly?). Always a harbinger of summer.

Sunny days, it seems, now stretch endlessly before us, although the air loses its warmth once the sun dips below the horizon. We have already had two fire pit evenings, down in the Dell at the bottom of the garden. Time, perhaps to dare to empty the crowded, disorganised shed, all furniture to be returned to its allotted place: on the lawn, on the patio… ?

“Hold those horses,” (a favourite phrase of my maternal grandfather). Why not, before we get all of the stuff strewn across the lawn give it a good going over, y’know: give it a first, high mow, scarify it, spike it, put some fertiliser down?

As an idea it sounded brilliant (as brilliant as any idea concerning a lawn can, but convincing enough: I hate lawns, you understand, and the fuss that is needed to maintain them; hence our part grass, mostly moss, clover and daisy expanse) but really?

Now I know that the perfect, flat, lined lawn with perfectly edged borders is the stereotypical image of an English garden, but not for me. I am not so formal, which may be why I can be mistaken for being idle.

So, out with the spring tined lawn rake, the made-for-children garden fork that we keep at home and a box of After Cut fertiliser (nothing in it to kill moss or weeds (a.k.a. wildflower species)). It’s a fairly big lawn, includes a patch that began life as a No-To-The-Mow concept, then became a wildflower patch and is now partly bark-chipped with ornamental grasses), a Beauty of Bath apple tree, the Woodland Edge with cowslips, Pasque flowers, blue bells and self-heal and is bordered by ill-defined edges. And, with that touch of laziness I can never be bothered to do more than simply follow the lawn mower over it every now and then, I believe that it is the burgeoning moss that gives it the carpet-of-green appearance. Get rid of the moss, end up with a straggly, untidy piece of ground: surely?


So I began scraping. Honestly though I have waved the rake at the lawn several times since we moved here, over thirty years ago, this is the first time the lawn has been seriously scarified. It isn’t easy work, raises a sweat and so I split the whole into three days work. Do the job properly rather than just – er – scratch the surface.

After the first day’s efforts I noticed a robin, hopping around, picking up scraps of material: moss, bits of thatch, the odd creepy crawly. It was taking the bits into a hole in the wood pile against the wall in the Dell. The place we store fuel for our fire pit … and surely enough, building a concealed nest. Robins are very imaginative when it comes to nesting. As a child I can remember one nesting in a discarded kettle, another in a paint tin without a lid at a factory where I was labouring. But this one, this year, is a bonus for me. We, hopefully have enough fuel elsewhere so can avoid disturbing this bit of the pile. And, equally hopefully the robins will not be disturbed by our using the Dell in summer evenings. There is, of course the problem of the patrolling neighbourhood cats, but who knows …?

Over the next three days my work is completed, some areas of the lawn re-seeded, with a little flower bed soil scattered on top. Most of the moss goes into the garden waste bin, to be collected by the council; but some is reserved to go into our hanging baskets. The work of the robin goes on parallel to mine: quietly, unobtrusively.

It does look satisfyingly rough – I can certainly tell where I have been – when I have completed it. So much so that I take a certain pride in it and the hard work that went into it: strange that hard work can make something look so, frankly, scruffy. But should settle down and thicken up, becoming a tidier lawn again in the next seven days or so, though it may need some additional raking. Here’s hoping.



Long Days, Spring Days

Thursday was a long day: The end of an enjoyable contract that just kept, wonderfully, extending itself.

Driving home I felt relieved at feeling I have achieved a lot. But also noticing how the world is turning to spring.

Thrush-egg blue skies, still a little fragile, but lighter until much later. It happened – almost – without me noticing. The earth is doing that season-turning thing: as it must and we are now past the equinox (when like some Druidic charm-spell, both light and darkness are, like it says on the can, equal. Half in the shadow, half not.

Now, having read the latest truth in Mark Thompson’s A Spacer Traveller’s Guide to the Universe I realise that what I had believed about the earth taking twenty four hours to spin once on its axis was incorrect. One rotation, I now, rather smugly know, actually takes 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.1 seconds. This has, essentially been “fudged” by those-in-the-know and the calendar adjusted to accommodate the facts.

(I remind myself gently that change is always going on; that what I believe is fact today may actually change tomorrow … but also remind myself that this is exactly what a fool would be telling himself, and that in this direction lies madness.)

But the hedgerows, most of them cut correctly with regard to providing advantage for nesting birds are battered and tight cut, also have long bright patches of sparkling fresh-leaf hawthorn green: the buds breaking and the tight curled treasures breaking out to begin harvesting all of that extra sunlight. That near-magical mechanism that goes on within deciduous plants is little less than marvellous: biological programming at it most basic and most effective.

In one familiar, often passed by field a fresh cut hedge today looks for all the world like a submarine in one of those Cold War films making an emergency surfacing manoeuvre, to charge batteries, rescue the admiral or release death and destruction – but frozen in mid frame. I had never seen the hedge in this way before though I have walked past it, driven past it, even cut it myself. Strange that new things can occur to us when we least expect them – or don’t expect them at all!

Image result for submarine emergency surface

Beyond the hedges are the latest generation of lambs, or pregnant ewes.. And other fields have been turned over. On this journey, heading north from Tamworth the soil is a characteristic reddish orange, sand based and flat. Nearer to home a field has the whole array of machinery: tractors, plough, harrow, drill and Land Rover. They are processing across the field in a regimented fashion. Agriculture is, and always has been, industry though, usually, this fact is over-looked. In this field it is more than obvious. Big machines, big fields … big business.

Image result for agricultural spring planting


Back at home, when I sit in the back garden with a cup of tea, snacking on leaving present Maltesers (other chocolate snacks are, believe me, available, but will have to wait) I notice the crocuses, wood anemones and timely as ever the snake headed pasque flowers.

Tonight the clocks will – artificially – spring forward.

Then the intensive allotment toil is all to be enjoyed: bean trenches, watering seedlings, planting out chitted potatoes, weeding …

Looking forward to each and every bit of it!

Accurate Diversions?

This is an article that calls out for fly-on-the-wall- photos; unfortunately and as per usual – I got so wrapped up  in the task I , I er … well, I just never got round to taking any. maybe you’ll still enjoy the writing. Hope so.

I started work on it yesterday. Fair to say I have been putting it off, this re-cladding of the double door, one-time garage sized timber shed (for want of a better word) that almost certainly found its way here from use as a storage building on a building site; courtesy of the house’s previous owner (I suspect).

I don’t mind work (I do have an allotment after all!) but to do this justice would always require a degree of accuracy and skill that I like to avoid. Making nest boxes and bee-hotels is one thing, there can be gaps and spaces) but this is an entirely different kettle of roses.

Indeed I left it so long that the work just (stitch in time wise) compounded itself. Where once the ship lad planks just needed painting, next some – and then more – needed replacing, then the frame itself needed attention.

So I investigated, measured, calculated and purchased timber, cleared out one side of the shed (wouldn’t like to be accused of overdoing it) and set to. This, given the random hoarding effect of my nature (a sled, a child’s bike, plastic nuts and bolts from a junior construction kit, a box of Matchbox toys and a five lire can of cam shaft grease and empty wine bottles garnered from a shed load on the Roman road, was a task in itself. But work proper commenced with the left hand door. Seemed sensible: the lengths are shorter, so more manageable, the effect immediate and it gave me practice. Much needed practice.

That was yesterday, when coincidentally we were supposed to be subject to heavy and lengthy showers. They somehow went elsewhere as we had a gloriously warm, sunny September day.

This morning, filed with yesterday’s successes I began on the side wall. It is only a shoulder’s width away from the ten foot brick wall between our garden and G—-‘s garden. Ivy and brambles with spiky stems now as thick as a bricklayer’s fingers had clambered over it, his apple tree branches hanging fruit down into the space – and these, a couple of weeks ago, took some effort to clear. We had a compost heap behind the shed in the days before we had an allotment, the remains of the frame are still there now, with a broken plastic bucket. When I move it a sodden frog emerges from the slime that oozes around inside it. (We lawned over the small vegetable patch we were cultivating and planted apple trees when the allotment was offered.)

I take the task leisurely. Sawing with the sharp recently purchased saw is a pleasure in the autumn-morning chilled air. The skies are high and blue; tomatoes , stripped of leaves ripening in the greenhouse; peppers and aubergines carried into the double glazed, warmer porch, front of house, hopefully to continue swelling. A bee, braving the low temperature swings up inside one of the climbing fuchsia flowers that hang like airborne jellyfish. A wasp crowds the single windfall apple. A blue tit forages in the honeysuckle. Sawdust and wood shavings fall to the lawn like snow.

At different times I mislay the tape measure, the screwdriver, tip over a box of nails and empty the scavenged screws into the recycling bin. Spiders of all shapes and size scurry past or tarry to watch the labour and my work sets hosts of woodlice into frenzied activity as I move stones and timber. Small caterpillars starting to abseil down to the ground from the small leaved lime tree are welcome diversion (what kind of moth/butterfly will they become?)

Although I have an aversion to exact measurements I find the work pleasant; at times all I am doing is loitering with a purpose as Lady Autumn sets out her stall around me. I take a break, eat cheese and home-grown tomato sandwiches (outside of course) and by six o’clock I am satisfied and, it appears successful. Oh, the task is far from completed, but I am in Tamworth tomorrow, and there are more complex pieces to puzzle my way around, but with the nailed up cladding suitably primer/undercoated I have a sense of achievement.

The Winds Have Changed …

If I were human (great lumbering brutes that they are) …

If I had human language, calculated time like a human –

Took it for granted like a human –

Then this would be



End of summer,

Autumn creeping in …

If I were human,

Thought as one of them,

Named things in the

Ridiculous, disinterested way they do

(Then having catalogued it, so casual dismissive

Let it go) …

I would be


Image result for butterfly u.k.

I have known vast expanses of colour,

Winged, gloriously anonymously over them,

Drinking in perfumes and nectar

Gorged myself

On treasures offered

Thinking not of the past day

Never mind past lives

(Though the sugars I digest

Drive me forward, impetuous, impatient

And make fairy grasshoppers of my memories

I believe I may be dimly aware

That I existed before:

But that is so, so unimportant

And I have neither need

Nor call to follow those distraction trails)

The winds have changed,

That much I can chart,

The colours I need are fewer and further between

And splendid sun-energy is horribly drained

By the routes I make ‘tween stops,

Powder bright and dull scales topple from my

Banner wings, nights are darker, bite with challenge.

But I will fly with purpose while I can;

Flutter in giddy-clown circles when that option is gone and

Stagger on too fragile limbs to

An eventual ending of sorts.

Bee Rustling? Really?

Liberating a newspaper* from the reception in the Luton hotel I am kind of surprised – because I had never stopped to think about it – by an article on beekeeping – and bee rustling!

We have a couple of beekeepers – and, I think two, hives on the allotments. And try to do what we know we can (there will always be those things we do not yet know about of course) to help honey bees, other types of bee and wildlife in general.

Image result for honeycomb DSC_0027

But this? From the Independent ( a fine newspaper with condensed news, contrasting views and fewer than most advertising)

“The crisis in bee numbers may be a threat to the world’s food supply, but it is also leading to a different kind of problem for apiarists – the return of the old-fashioned crime of rustling.

Fewer bees means hives, and queens, are worth more. North Wales Police are currently investigating the theft of 30,000 bees and three queens from a honey farm in Anglesey – a crime which follows a spate of similar thefts in the nearby Conwy Valley.

Witnesses report seeing a man in a protective bee-keeping suit, leading to concerns that the bee-keeping community may have been infiltrated by rogue members happy to exploit higher demand…

Bee populations fluctuate yearly and the price of swarms change accordingly. With populations being decimated by disease and environmental factors, a guide price for a starter ‘nucleus’ swarm – consisting of a queen and her entourage – has risen to the upper limit of its £150-£250 price bracket. The hive itself costs a similar price.

And as the pointedly old-fashioned crime of ‘hive rustling’ – also known as hive raiding and swarm theft – rears its head, beekeepers are turning to high-tech measures to protect their swarms.

“A hive full of bees is worth up to £500,” says Huw Evans, 46, managing director of Arnia, which monitors hives remotely. “That’s the same price as a laptop, and you wouldn’t leave one of them in a field – let alone lined up one next to the other.

“In the past five years the cost of bees has rocketed. It’s a simple matter of supply and demand: the fewer bees there are, the more they cost. The more valuable, the more likely they are to be stolen.”

We have been in central London: big beautiful London Plane trees making landscapes of the wide, tourist packed streets and warm sunshine. The high windowed walls of historic avenues cast the sunlight down onto the people: the good, the bad, the innocent and the ugly.

Image result for london plane tree  Image result for london plane tree

But there are balconies and some are festooned and harboured with plants. But not so many. I guess that the occupants are just not interested in gardening – or else why would they live two floors above the ground with no attached land to care for. But if one of the regular media crusades could just succeed and planting these up became a fashion serious fortunes would be made.

There are unexpected silent spaces in the capital: Victoria park literally next door to the Houses of parliament overlooking the usually-brown River Thames. Dean’s Court, behind Westminster Abbey.


And after a superb audio guided tour  (and strawberries and cream – why ever not?)of Buckingham Palace : opulent yet human and dripping with artwork and marvellously decorated; each room in coordinated style (The White Drawing Room, The Picture Gallery, The Ball Supper Room), the reaches of the gardens: mostly lawn and lake. So close to business, to packed roads and masses of sight-hungry tourists and commuters, but little sound and no frantic pace intrudes the spaces where coot burrow beneath the layers of white covering laid out to allow the grass to recover from the last garden party.

I wonder if here are bee hives at Buckingham Palace?

*Shameless and I know it, almost as bad as leaving with a book that I was fascinated by: Unbroken, the true life story of Louie Zamperini a U.S. 1936 Olympic athlete, liberator crewman and Japanese Prisoner of war camp survivor. Not finished yet, but it is gripping reading.

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