Mellow Fruitfulness

Mellow fruitfulness

Yesterday I went for a couple of walks around the village. Firstly to the post box and then through an almost secret path and across a narrow bridge to the field beyond. Along the back of several gardens, past a filled in ditch that was over grown with brambles and out into the newly tilled field that lies dusty and waiting for a new crop to be sown. The brambles were reaching out with sharp thorny tentacles, searching the grass for a hand hold; something to grip onto to extend their reach. They were festooned with berries in jewel shades of ruby red, the darkest of amethyst purple and jet black. Juicy and ripe, hanging in great bunches. As I walked I looked to the far horizon – marked only by a distant line of low bushes and beyond the slightest of hints of the wind farm windmills that are on the other side of the marsh. Above a uniform grey, cloud covered sky with an autumn chill to the air. In the other direction wisps of smoke slowly and ponderously rose from a bonfire, dissipating with an exaggerated languor. Beyond the immediate field boundary sat a pillbox, hunkered down into the landscape as though it had been there for all time. A great concrete block, solid and sturdy, seemingly unmarked by the passing years. Having expired the area I had intended I turned back for home. Retracing my steps along the ditch and back across the bridge. 

Later I ventured down the lane on the route that is my usual one. The leaves are turning now and on the horse chestnut they have passed from that vibrant green of summer to a golden yellow with rusty browned edges that faintly crackle in the wind. Dried and seer they tell of an autumn fast approaching. On the twigs the unexploded, acid green conkers still safely encased in their spiky shells, wait for the ripeness that will split them open and release the shiny, leathery tanned, nut brown skinned conkers. They will fall with a dull thud onto the rough grass below and lie there waiting for a squirrel to haul them away. The elderberries hang in droplet bunches, black as night and shining like stars. 

It has been a few days since I wrote the above and in the intervening times I have been having a battle with BT. It turns out that our Broadband is nearly non existent. I only know this for a few somewhat unrelated reasons. My daughter stayed here for a while and found video calls difficult, the SMART TV that we acquired around Christmas time would no longer get catch, the landline would sometimes go sort of strange and I randomly decided to do a quick speed test. This test – from Ofcom – registered a download speed of 1.6 – apparently this is very bad! I rang the Customer Services at BT – lovely lady answered, tested the line and said it was worse than poor but the deal we have with BT guarantees a minimum speed of 4. She booked an engineer to come out and informed us of the necessary arrangements. The man never turned up. After another phone call I managed to ascertain that the engineers would not be dealing with the matter  until the middle of this week. I will believe it when I see it! In the mean time we struggle on with steam driven Broadband. 

The sun is shining here and perhaps some gardening this afternoon might be in order. 

Autumn Begins – 1st September

Autumn begins – 1st September

Most of my regular readers will have noticed that I have taken a bit of a break but I am now back although I shall not be writing every day. The Times weather watch column tells me that today, 1st September, marks the start of Autumn. As with previous pieces I am going to start with the weather. Although we have had a very mixed bag of weather over the last few weeks today is fine so far today. There is, however, a fair bit of cloud cover that comes and goes. Banks of grey fading to a silver white encrusting the horizon and lying stacked across the tops of the hills. The wind of a few days ago has completely disappeared and the land stands silent and still as if holding its breath. A solitary bumble bee has alighted on a Cosmos flower and then in slow motion almost flown to another with the faintest of buzzing. Crow are cawing across the field and from the churchyard trees, their rasping call breaking the quiet and solitude of the afternoon. When the sun breaks through it is warm and balmy but in that early autumn way. Gentler than full summer sun; less fierce and harsh. 

For the first time I have seen birds bathing in the make shift bird bath I made from  an old splay top pot filled with pebbles. A sparrow splashed and flapped in the shallow water spraying it on to the patio and into the air in an arc of sunlit diamond drops that cascaded back onto the stones. A squirrel, busily about his business, took no notice of me but scurried into the border and lithely scampered up a woody, gnarled, thorny rose stem to disappear as quickly as he came into the bay tree nearby. A lone magpie visited briefly but flew away across the yard. 

Last evening I sat in the conservatory just as dusk was falling and the sky had begun to take on a darkening blue that presaged the full darkness of the shortening day. In that twilight I suddenly saw bats flitting and twirling in whirling flight like black velvety leather patches silently dancing around each other in a frenzied pattern. I watched and watched but could see no discernible logic to their movements yet they continued unabated until I grew bored with the watching and the darkness engulfed them. 

The white butterflies are still as eager as ever, and along with the Red Admirals, make up the major part of the butterfly population in the garden. They too sometimes alight on the pebbles in the bird bath and take a sip from the water. Across the fields the butterflies are small, brown with splashes of orangy tan and they whirl up from the dried grass in a cloud as I walk the path. 

This year there have been no swans on the ditches across our stretch of the marsh. Instead the water courses are covered in reeds that cover all view of the water. They are beautiful in their own right and the sound they make in the breeze is a rustling whisper that never ceases as though the very land and water are sharing a constant conversation. In past years there has been a slimy bright green algae on the water  but the reed growth seems to have eliminated it. Field beans stand blackened and dry in the field like burnt skeletons of plants – I presume they will be harvested soon. Across the marsh, towards the Military Canal, a dust cloud rises behind a tractor and disc plough as the soil of the harvested corn field is cultivated ready for the onset of autumn.

The garden needs work but for the moment I have been catching up on laundry, had my hair cut again and am endlessly making sure grocer orders keep us in food. Since I have been away I have discovered the click and collect service at supermarkets. Yes I know that most people knew about this a fair while ago but it has come as a revelation to me! Tomorrow I shall collect some items from Tesco. 

I am reading Adrian Bell’s “Men and the Fields”. A most enjoyable and nostalgic read it is too. My thanks to Richard Hawkins, author of “The Fields Edge” that documents and discusses Bell’s work for pointing me to Bell’s work.  For those who care about our farming, countryside and food production in this country I would recommend both books. Bell was writing “Men and the Fields” just before the outbreak of the Second World War and much of what he has to say about the agriculture of the time, and its direction of travel seems to be pertinent in today’s climate of a greater awareness of the countryside and a greater desire for people to know how and where their food is produced. Bell saw the dying of the old ways and foretold the factory type farming that was instrumental in seeing this working with nature superseded by mass production of food. Somewhat frighteningly I feel, Hawkins highlights that in today’s world we spend, on average, only about 10% of our income on food whereas our parents and grandparents would have spent far more. Their food came from the local area, was seasonal and involved far less additives and preservatives as well as much less artificial fertiliser and pesticide in its production. In some ways, perhaps, we pay a high price for or ready meals and wide variety of food stuffs that we take for granted. We certainly live in a very different world to those who were farming in the late 1930s but it is interesting that rural writing such as that of Bell was of great interest as the population faced war, just as now in the present situation many are looking to the countryside for solace and escape perhaps. 

Enough of my “going on” – I was reminded of this however when I popped out to get the washing in and a giant monolith of a tractor roared past the garden gate to the field spreading fertiliser in an arcing shower across a great swath of the roughly harrowed field. Round and round he went loud and close and then across the field in a dull rumble until he came around again. He has left now and no doubt it won’t be long before a new crop is sown. No longer the all pervasive smell of manure being ploughed in, rather a lingering, slightly acrid aroma of chemical that fades fast on the breeze. Not that I particularly want to re live that smell of my youth but I imagine it conditioned the soil and made it productive in away that manmade fertilisers can never do. My mother always complained to my father each year when it came to ‘muck spreading’ time. The yard that he cleared out was over the wall at the top of our garden and each year, always in summer, the muck would be cleared out and spread on the fields or heaped up into a ‘dung maxim’. Flies would invade the house and my mother fought a losing battle with them for several days. Once the job was done the flies disappeared as quickly as they had come. An added irritation for my mother was the manure smelling clothing that had to be washed. Not pleasant in any way but part of the farming year and ‘normal’. 

 

August 12th/13th

August 12th/13th 

It is sweltering today again. The night was humid and sultry and sleeping was difficult. Today the humidity levels are high and at first it was slightly overcast but now – early afternoon – the sun is out and blazing down. The land lies parched, dusty, cracked and thirsty. Bushes and trees are beginning to show slightly browning leaves while lesser robust plants stand wilting and faded in the glaring light. 

This morning there were odd rumbles, far distant and barely discernible, but someone, somewhere was getting thunder and perhaps rain. The birds were still active and a small one that I could not identify, hidden in the growth, was making a soft tinkling bell like call. The jackdaws or crows from the churchyard were agitated and noisy as they wheeled around in tighter and tighter circles until they came to rest again in the tall trees that shelter the church. Distant seagulls squeaked and shrieked and eventually faded from ear shot. An odd magpie strutted around on the desert dry, browned off, grass of the lawn and then flew into the trees chattering and laughing. There are still clouds of butterflies, and down the lane the small sky blue groups flit from plant to plant as though they are mirroring my steps. A squirrel playing in the lane spots me approaching and is covered in confusion. Should he run to the field or the verge and the hedge? Indecisive and increasingly concerned at my approach he runs one way, then the other, and then around in a circle, until finally he disappears into the long grass, nettles and brambles that form the verge and the hedge beyond, leaving no sign of his ever having been. 

On an expedition out yesterday I noted that the field beans in the more distant fields have dried to a skeletal form, dark brown and desiccated they stand upright and sparse waiting to be harvested. Beyond the bean fields sheep grazing or more often curled up and gathered together in the shade of the few trees and bushes that offer some dappled shelter from the blazing furnace of the sun drenched field.They remind me of Samuel Palmer paintings.  In one field pale coloured cattle stroll slowly and ponderously along the far edge, beside the ditch. Picturesque, like one of those paintings of a bucolic scene much favoured by rural artists of a century ago. I remember that there was one such picture on my grandparents wall. Not all the harvest has been gathered in here. I spotted a field of oats that is a shimmering gold in the heat. Each stem topped by an array of bell like grains that hang head down and shy; a silent army waiting to be cut down in its prime. 

Today in the garden I managed to pull up the bolting lettuces and cut back a number of roses that had been blocking a path. It now looks neater but there is much left to do. The top corner of the garden is still a jungle and desperately needs a lot of chopping down and clearing. Although plants that I would wish to thrive look less than happy I notice that weeds I would hope would wither and die in this heat are growing ever more luxuriant and healthy looking. 

I didn’t get round to posting this on the blog and have decided to continue it today. It rained over night – serious rain by the looks of the garden. It didn’t wake me and there wasn’t any thunder etc. However, those living near the sea saw lightening playing across the Channel. It is misty in the distance and the hills are a faded grey/blue as though viewed through gauze. It is hot and sunny again and any hope of a change has not really materialised. The plants look fresher and the water butts have filled but nothing else has changed. 

I shall attempt a little more gardening but can only stay out there for a limited time before the heat becomes too much. I mistakenly left the wheelbarrow piled high with cuttings and weeds yesterday and I am sure they will be floating today. That will have to be my first job. Followed by a bit more work on the corner and some light weeding now that the soil is rather more workable. Waitrose deliver this evening – I can’t remember what I have ordered so that will be a surprise!

Harvest, Heat and Swans

Harvest, Heat and Swans

It’s been awhile since I wrote anything on here. Like everyone else here in the south I am suffering with the heat a bit. Last night was hot and sticky and today is somewhat overcast but hot and sultry. Those living near the sea have reported lightening across the Channel and maybe there is a promise of the same for us in the days to come. When I went out to the bins it was most uncomfortable, sticky and oppressive. The wheat field has been harvested with the combine whirring its way round and round the field in an enormous cloud of dust. Once the corn was gone a tractor and disc harrow of gigantic proportions moved in and again criss crossed the field tearing up the stubble and the surface of the soil. Once the field out the back was done the tractor moved on to the next field. The land looks barren and dusty across to the hills now. Fields edged by brambles weighed down with jet jewel like blackberries, hawthorn trees with the first signs of reddening berries hanging in clusters, and at their feet grasses, coltsfoot and dandelions droop and fade in the unrelenting dryness and heat. As we walk the lane and across the fields the same dry parched earth, dusty and cracked for want of moisture. It is the best of weather for harvesting and the farmers are working hell for leather to get the harvest in before the weather breaks.

Since the lockdown, way back in March – it seems a life time ago – I have not been right across the fields to what we have dubbed the “concrete bridge”. The walk takes me down the lane, across three fields, alongside marsh ditches and, with much crossing and re crossing, eventually to a substantial, not to say huge, slab of concrete that forms a bridge across a wide dyke. This bridge marks the turning place on my and our walks if we think we can’t manage the final stretch to the road beyond. This bridge has seen many a stop and chat; a talking over of things, a mulling over of problems, a moment of reflection as the sun begins to set. Once I could easily get down and sit on the edge looking along the length of the ditch as it meanders its way into the distance, between the never ending fields. Now I can get down to sit but getting up is a whole different thing! Most years there are swans on the ditches and evidence of nests among the reeds but this year they seem to have forsaken this area. No majestic creatures spreading their wings as we approach as they stand on the bank, no signs of a nest, and no swans gliding majestically on the murky water, silent and graceful. There used to be a particular pair that we named Darby and Joan. They are no longer around but on more than one occasion we have seen them with a string of cygnets paddling along behind them.

The fields too have crops that I have never seen in there before. Standing green still, the field beans are knee high and covered in pods. Far from ready for harvest but promising a good yield. I am sorry I didn’t go down there when they were all in flower, perhaps on a late spring evening when they had had time to soak up the sun and would have been scented and fragrant with a peppery sweet smell that is like no other. But I have missed it and it is a sadness that so special a chance has passed me by. They have only been planted because they are saleable and will grow in ground that has been saturated by the spring rains that befell us in February and March. If the weather had been different I have no doubt it would have been a corn crop or similar.

The sweetpeas are nearly finished but despite the drought the dahlias continue to bloom. The vegetables are droopy, dusty and doing very little. Lettuces have “bolted”, beetroot are tiny but surprisingly sweet and tasty, what little there is of them, the carrots are hanging on and if we get some rain should be fine, the leeks are small but ready for transplanting when it is wet. They promise a good crop for the autumn and winter if I can get them sorted out soon. The tomatoes in pots and those in the garden have provided a fine crop of fruit so far and the one courgette plant is providing a stead supply that is not to overwhelming for us. The runner beans however are not keen on the dry and although there are some beans they are sparse and small. The rest of the garden sits quietly sweltering in the heat. Those plants and bushes with deeper roots show little sign of distress and some are pushing forth flowers with great alacrity. Those that bloomed a while ago are now running to seed and I shall leave them to drop where they will in the hope of a good crop of self seeded plants next year. Easy gardening if it works.
Great excitement a couple of days ago when a fire engine rushed down the lane with sirens and blue lights at full blast. Later, in the late evening, the electricity went off. It seems that the wires had, in some way, ignited a fir tree at the farm end of the lane and now it stands chopped off at the knees, low and truncated beside its fellows, that form a wind break hedge. When I first saw the fire engine I assumed, quite wrongly as it turns out, that the stubble or combine had caught fire in the extreme sunshine and heat.

Blackberry Summer

2nd August – Blackberry Summer

It seems so long ago that I began this diary and yet it, simultaneously, seems to be only a short time ago. When I started out it was March and chilly with typical early spring weather. Today it is another warm sunny day and is, perhaps, the best of summer days. Not too hot, a slight but gentle breeze and cornflower blue sky dappled with occasional snowy, downy soft, candy floss clouds on the far horizon. It is calm and quiet in the garden with only the cooing of pigeons and twittering of small birds in the bushes, the buzzing of bees in the lavender, the whispering of the reeds and the rustling of the leaves on the trees. 

Yesterday I went blackberry picking again in the back field. Along the overgrown edge of the field, closest to the garden gate, the brambles have flourished undisturbed by man or machinery. There the growth arches over thistles and nettles laden with the juiciest large berries all shining black in the afternoon sun like a myriad of jewels strewn among the weeds. I took a large plastic box out with me and within a short time it was full to overflowing. Whereas in previous years I have had to walk quite a distance along the perimeter of the field, yesterday I barely covered fifty yards. There are still plenty left and I shall go back for more in a day or so. Somebody had been there before me and trampled down some of the undergrowth for which I was truly thankful. A couple of handfuls I cooked up with some apple and had for my pudding last night and the rest are safely stored in the freezer. Himself doesn’t like them and therefore misses out on blackberry and apple crumble! 

I am appalled by the number of those tiny thin legged spiders that have appeared in every corner and cranny of the house. I know they catch moths and other undesirable insects but I really do not want to find webs across the walls, doors and in the corners of every room. No matter how often I hoover them up and try and reduce their number the more they seem to appear – on the stairs, attached to the ceiling beams, along the skirting boards, festooned across the bare brick was of the porch, and hidden under the radiators. Nowhere is exempt from their incursions. I am not on top of the problem and never likely to be I suspect. Should I get in some professional cleaners to do over the whole house? Perhaps, but it feels oddly extravagant and self indulgent. Surely I should be able to sort the problem out myself.

The list of things to do around the house and garden grows ever longer. Possibly we just have too much time on our hands and so dream up new projects. The kitchen planner has been contacted and should send through a new priced plan next week, the outside of the house needs painting and I must contact a local chap to give me an estimate, the new shower is now up and running and very nice it is too, now we think the shower in the family bathroom must be replaced with a larger one and there are plans afoot to put a third shower in the downstairs utility room cum cloakroom. Why do we need three showers? A very good question as there are only two of us living here and under the present circumstances visitors are non existent. However, I can see some merit in a shower on the ground floor – when I come in from the garden hot, sweaty and dirty it would be so convenient to just get into the shower. However, it will require a fair amount of jiggery pokery in terms of making room for shower cubicle whilst still having room for a basin and radiator. The old cupboard, used for all manner of storage, loo rolls and the like, will have to be moved to the conservatory (rapidly becoming the home of all homeless pieces of furniture I can’t bear to part with). Himself thinks it might be a good idea to take up all the carpets on the ground floor and replace them with rugs and wooden flooring. In theory probably a good idea but there certain reservations in my mind. What seems good for the summer might prove to be quite cold and noisy in the winter. We have too much furniture. We have accommodated, for well over ten years now, pieces of furniture that came from my parents home along with odd bits and pieces that we “replaced” but never actually got rid of. Two giant old armchairs that are, if I am brutally honest, cluttering up the house have to go. There are still plenty of comfortable chairs around. More than enough for the two of us! 

In the garden I have a grand scheme for replacing the majority of the lawn with gravel paths edged with brick and rectangular beds full of perennial and self sewing flowering plants. In the centre a gravelled area that would have at its centre a beautiful enormous turquoise pot planted up with agapanthus. Beyond this a small area of lawn, a bench and apple trees and an edging border that is full of roses. There is just one problem – would it look right and what a lot of work it would be. I couldn’t possibly do it especially as the back is not gong to really get better and won’t put up with my doing heavy work any longer. It is, of course, the reason why I have a bad back and I have only myself to blame. I believe I can do such jobs, refuse to believe I can’t, and as a consequence damage myself – I am not good at recognising my limitations or perhaps just won’t accept that I am not as young as I was and with age comes a lessening of physical strength.

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31st July – Hottest Day so Far?

31st July – Hottest Day so Far?

It is the last day of July and here we have the bluest of blue skies, a gentle breeze and it is getting hotter by the minute. Temperatures are forecast to get into the 30s today – it will be too hot to be in the garden I suspect by midday. Nevertheless it is lovely in the garden. I have spent a little time making a sort of photographic record of how it looks – something I have been doing all through the months of the pandemic. When I look at the garden as a whole I can see the weeds and blank patches where plants have finished blooming or those are the areas that await more work on them but in the pictures it is relatively easy to make the garden look full of colour and interest. I wonder if that is why Monty Don’s garden always looks wonderful? We just never see those tatty bits that need a good weed or have gone a bit wrong.

The man is here to finish fitting the new shower enclosure for our shower. It will be so good to use it and so much easier than cramming oneself into the tiny one. I managed to dump all the rubbish at the tip yesterday. A great relief and when I arrived there was nobody else there. What was not so helpful was the fact that the men would not and could not help me unload the stuff. Not a problem with the smaller items – small electrical items etc – but when it came to the old bike I struggled a bit. Himself had helped me load it in once I had taken the front wheel off but having off loaded the front wheel into the tip container I had to tackle the rest of the bike. I managed to heave it out of the car and manhandle it across to the container for scrap metal but then I needed to lift it up and throw it in. I struggled a bit, dropping it a couple of times before I managed to balance it precariously in the top rim of the giant skip. There it balanced while I summoned up the strength and upper body muscle power to heave it in. I didn’t notice that a bit of the handle bar was hooked under the bottom of my shirt and when I pushed it in the shirt nearly went with it! Not only would this have ruined a perfectly decent shirt it would have presented the world – and the tip men – with a sight that I am sure nobody, including me, was ready for! Just in time I managed to disentangle the offending piece of metal but not before it had torn a small hole in the fabric. The shirt can be mended and my blushes were saved and more especially the bike was disposed of.

I am reading the latest crime novel by William Shaw. I have read a few others in the series set on Romney Marsh and this one seems to be one of the best so far. The atmosphere of the area is well captured and particularly when he is describing the land around Lydd and at Dungeness. It is a compulsive read but whilst I want to read on and see what happens I also want to take my time so that it doesn’t end too soon. To those of you who love a good crime story and who also love Romney Marsh I would recommend “Salt Lane”, “Deadland” and this one “Grave’s End”.

I mentioned in man of my pieces written throughout the full lockdown that the skies were much quieter and that has continued. There are a very few planes from time to time, but most of them are solitary small aircraft droning their way across from Lydd I suspect and taking a pleasure flight across the marsh. The coastguard helicopter is the only regular flight that we hear or see. There are no contra trails etched across the skies and no manmade sounds to disturb the peace. As is normal now the sounds of nature predominate still. Occasionally the distant sound of traffic on the seaside road, the wail of a siren, or the hum of a tractor are the only indications of humanity going about their business. Last night I glanced out of the window and saw the bright silvered moon among the sharp bright stars in the crystal clear inky skies that stretched above the darkened fields. The pub lights were back on again but there were few customers as far as I could see. All was quiet and still as though the landscape was holding its breath.

The fields of wheat are still waiting for the harvest to begin and when it does the air will be full of dust and noise. Until then the birds feast on the corn – settling amongst the stalks and ears and then ascending in a flock to move on to another feeding ground. I shall pick more blackberries later today. There is a fine crop ripening along the field edges if only I can manage to trample down the thistles and nettles that protect them from human predators. There is already one large bag of blackberries in the freezer and I must make room for more.

 

A Walk in the Country!

A Walk in the Country!

Today is beautifully sunny and warm. An almost clear sky has the daintiest of snow flake white clouds, wispy and downy soft, suspended above the distant fields. A perfect day. Well it would have been – and still might be now that the task for this morning has been completed. The excitement is palpable here because I have managed to book a slot at the local tip. Tomorrow I shall be able to get rid of a mass of detritus that has been gathering in the garage. I had forgotten some of the items that had been stowed away there for disposal. The old iron that one day refused to work, a foot pump that had lost its nozzle that attaches to the tyre, the pump that was supposed to pump water out of the well in times of drought that has given up the ghost, the shelf that spontaneously fell out of a kitchen cupboard, a couple of notice boards, and an old tatty bicycle that has seen better days. I expect if anyone knew how to they might be able to renovate it but that person is not me. The bike caused me the most aggravation. I lowered the back seats of the car, took out the bar that goes across the back and then tried to lift it in. My expectations of my own strength were soon deflated. Besides which it wouldn’t go in until I removed the front wheel. The nuts were glued on, it seemed, by dirt and rust. With oil applied and eventually the right size spanner found I set to work. The search for the correct spanner had been one of frustration until I remembered my father’s tool box secreted in the back of the garage, on the floor, behind the hose reel. Bless you Dad for having every size of spanner known to man. Then, with the aid of a hammer to move the spanner around and encourage it to move I finally got some “purchase” and the nut began to move. It is probably a good thing that I live some distance from the rest of humanity because at one point the language uttered was less than suitable for others to hear! The wheel was off and stowed in the boot but I still couldn’t lift the bike in. Himself was called upon for assistance – grudgingly he helped me put it in, muttering all the while about the filth and disgustingness of it all. Then the other items and some old china and glassware that I would normally have taken to a charity shop but they are not open locally. An old trug – with a hole in the bottom – has been kept – I might be able to use bits of it to mend another one. Himself thinks this is very unlikely but is resigned to my trying and then failing! 

The new shower screen has arrived and is safely propped up against the wall in the garage awaiting the arrival of the fitters. Maybe tomorrow. I have a set of exercises to do to sort out my back. I am supposed to do them twice a day. The garden is looking quite good but deadheading etc is a daily task if we are to continue to get flowers. Nature red in tooth and claw has made itself felt on the lawn. The remains of a dead bird is lying on the grass. I suspect a cat this time. The bird does not show any signs of being eaten. 

Yesterday afternoon I decided to go for a walk down across the wheat field and then back up the lane. A relatively short amble but I wanted to try and film a video of my walk. The first observation I would make about this is that videoing anything, let alone my own walk across a field, is much much harder than I first thought. I managed to do the film – there is a lot of footage of wheat ears, the path, bushes and trees along the side of the field. I have no idea how to edit it and the filming I tried to do of butterflies and bees etc features in such a way that ephemera is truly the right description of such insects. I think it is unlikely that I will be able to upload any video to this blog but I did think I could try and describe the walk. I didn’t start filming – sounds so grand for what I was doing – until I had got onto the path along the side of the field. There I strolled along the dusty, dry walk way past trees and bushes on my left and to my right the wide expanse of the wheat field. Beyond, the marsh stretched across to the hills topped by Lympne Castle, across the distant pasture and meadows that make up the marsh proper and in the other direction, eventually, to the sea. My path was occasionally impeded by brambles that stretched out and made a grab at my legs with fierce barbs, making every effort to pierce my trousers and possibly the legs beneath. The odd branch crossed the path and beneath the hedgerow, on the verge of the field, butterflies in great clouds, flitted and danced from plant to plant. A myriad of colours from the dullest brown to jewelled blues, reds and pearly whites they lived up to the folklore myth that they are the souls of the saints. Ragwort proved to be a particular favourite. About half way down the field, beside the path,  there was a pile of branches that must have come down in a winter storm. Bleached by wind, sun and rain they now lay stark and skeletal in among the grass and undergrowth. The parts that encroached on the path had small patches of the golden yellow lichen, encrusted like amber, on the twiggy ends of the branches. Farther on, and the gate on to the road was now visible, the prospect widened. The castle majestic and dominant, the trees that cloak the hills and the fields where the giraffes and antelope from the zoo roam, all became part of my view. Out through the gate and into the lane heading back home. I had stopped the first attempt at filming as I left the field but resumed as I walked the lane. It is fair to say that this was even less successful as it turns out. 

When I played back the films on my computer I was not too disappointed, although I had forgotten that I had recorded sound as well as pictures. The overwhelming sound was of my walking – I had no idea that footsteps in a wheat field could be so loud. Added to that sound I had made no allowance for the fact that there was a brisk wind. A continual roaring whoosh noise along with a crunching, crackling formed the soundtrack. More pleasing was the occasional sound of sheep bleating – a much more appropriate soundtrack to a video taken on Romney Marsh if I could only get rid of the other sounds! I shall try and up load it to the blog but am not at all sure I shall succeed.

And I haven’t. To upload it I have to “upgrade” my blog site. This involves paying money and goodness knows what other technological shenanigans. My purse and my IT skills are not up to it, and so I am afraid you will not have the dubious pleasure of seeing my walk in glorious technicolour or hearing the less than pleasing sounds of my walking the margins of a wheat field on a July day. Likewise I am unable to send the clips to the film company who are compiling a film calendar of the marsh. My email refuses to send the clip and I can’t understand the tech stuff that might help me. I guess I shall have to delete the attempts at filming – there goes another promising career as a film making rural pensioner!!! By way of compensation, I hope you enjoy the picture of the wheat field and the view beyond it.

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Apples and Showers

Apples and Showers

I have really missed writing the daily diary and am conscious that it has been quite a while since I wrote a piece for the diary. Today is blustery and quite chilly with the odd shower. The cloud cover is a dirty grey that has enveloped the whole sky – not a tiny piece of blue to be seen. Very occasionally the sun pierces through and lights up the garden or fields for a moment but then is gone. 

The weekend was really rather special because my daughter came for a quick visit. Unfortunately it was on Saturday and the weather was less than pleasant and therefore we couldn’t go for the walk we had planned. Nevertheless it was wonderful to see her and to chat and laugh together for a few hours before she set off home. I managed to furnish her with a few plants for her garden and it was a real novelty to sit and eat lunch and take a stroll round the garden even if it was drizzling and it all had to done socially distanced. 

Late last week I took time to stand and watch the birds in the garden. Recently there has been a positive explosion of bird and insect life visiting the garden. Flocks of sparrows have descended on the lawn and peck away at what I presume to be seed heads of grass etc. In among them there are chaffinches and goldfinches all criss crossing the lawn and occasionally rising into the air en masse to settle in the trees and bushes where they are no longer visible but can very definitely be heard. A cacophony of twittering and cheeping competes with the constant buzzing of the bees in among the lavender. Butterflies and bees compete with each other for the nectar of so many of the flowers. Great clouds of butterflies swirl around the verbena, buddleia, and lavender alighting for a moment and then fluttering off to another flower. The variety of them is better than ever this year with the more common being joined by ones I have rarely see before in the garden. The magpies are back! Attracted no doubt by the fallen apples. The blackbirds likewise can’t resist the fruit that lies red and rosy on the grass. I picked a rug full of apples yesterday – I am not at all certain they are ripe but they can be cooked up for the freezer and will come in useful in the winter. I picked the first few blackberries over the weekend too. One lot that is growing in from the field edge seems to ripen really early and the fruit is big and juicy too. There is still plenty of fruit on the apple tree but it requires a ladder to pick and that will have to wait for another day. My make shift bird bath, made out of a slightly damaged pot, has attracted some of the sparrows who seemed to enjoy sitting on the rim, or the large pebbles provided for the purpose, and either having a drink or a quick wash. When I tried to photograph them through the conservatory window they must have detected m movement for they all rose as a body and disappeared into the trees. 

The wheat in the back field looks ripe- the ears are bent over and golden. Some birds, most notably pigeons and sparrows, are taking advantage of this to gorge themselves on the grain. They swoop down in numbers, disappear into the corn and then rise up as a body, fly around in an arc and then descend again. Some birds, I know not which ones, have been pecking the ears from the stalk and flying away with them, to later deposit them in various parts of the garden. Wheat ears have been found balanced on top of the lavender, festooned across the drive and lying in solitary splendour in the vegetable patch. The sweetpeas are still going strong and need to be cut every other day to keep them blooming. The dahlias are doing well and although much admired by the few visitors we have had I am in two minds about them. Yes they do provide colour etc in the garden but they are also, perhaps, a little vulgar and blousey. Big and brash even when pastel coloured they have no subtly or finesse. Nevertheless I shall now them next year. 

Great excitement also because I have managed to book a slot at the local tip – or should I cal it the recycling centre. We have amassed a number of items that need to be disposed of. An old bicycle that my daughter rode when she was eleven, an iron that no longer works, a selection of china and glassware that has seen better days, the shelf that fell out of the kitchen cupboard and several other items that are only fit for dumping some of which that have been languishing in the attic for more than twenty years. I can’t wait to get rid of them. The garage will be so much neater and tidier. 

Talking of the garage – at the moment it is home to the new shower enclosure. The men came to fit it and the new shower last week and much to my mortification and horror I had bought the wrong height shower enclosure. They managed to package it back up and I rang the supplier to see if they did the shorter version and more importantly if they would take this one back and exchange it. The gentleman I had spoken to at the plumbers merchant had told me his name was Lance and so when I rang I asked if it was Lance speaking. His response was “could be”. He couldn’t have been more helpful – they will exchange it and the new one arrives this week. Lance is now referred to as Could Be in this house. For now we have a spanking new shower that could deliver warm water but with no shower enclosure it can’t be used. Possibly this should teach me that I need to check all details and measurements more than once to be sure I am getting exactly what I want! 

Physio visit tomorrow – here is hoping she can perform miracles. The back is still a bit painful at times but I am sure when they said you can do gardening they didn’t mean cutting down bushes and trees, laying paths and digging. With this in mind I rather suspect I have got only myself to blame for the aches and pains. Speaking of the garden – new plans have been laid although himself is not at all sure they make sense or are in any way practical or viable. Nevertheless I am adamant that the plum trees will have to go – they look quite sick, have produced next to no fruit for a number of years and have generally not deserving of their place in the garden. I want to replace them with a “fancy” apple tree. I have always wanted a “step-over” cordon apple tree. I didn’t know you could buy them until the other day – but you can. Quite expensive and himself may never know the true price if I get one! What he doesn’t know won’t worry him. I want to se it to divide the garden – lawn on one side and paths and beds on the other. A bit of a grand plan that will probably get watered down and turn into something more practical and much less expensive or labour intensive but could look very good I think. 

Sometime this week I am going to embark on a new venture. In conjunction with Fifth Continent an organisation called Screen South are presenting a video calendar of the Marsh and have invited residents and organisations to film short videos and submit them for inclusion. The project has been running for a while but I only heard about it last week. They say I can join in and so this week I shall try and do a short film of my walk down the lane. I suspect it may be much harder to do than I think but I shall give it a go and if it is reasonable and I can find out how to do it I might put it on this blog. Of course there are a fair number of of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ in there!

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22nd July – A Village Ride

22nd July – A Village Ride.

As with all of my diary entries this one will begin with a mention of the weather – today is beautifully sunny and warm, a light breeze that gently rustles the leaves and a sky that is a mixture of cornflower blue and fluffy, banked, snowy fleece clouds on the hilly horizon. In the garden so many butterflies are dancing and fluttering from flower to flower in a frenzy of nectar feeding. The Buddleia is awash with Red Admirals, Peacocks and Cabbage Whites all flitting from one tiny flower to another as they work their way along the pointed purple panicles. The lavender is alive with bees and butterflies – the buzzing breaks into the silence with its busyness and urgency. A blackbird has found one of the dropped apples on the lawn and is feasting on the juicy flesh, throwing the remains of the fruit across the grass in his eagerness to get the most he can. Peeking and peeking he is oblivious to me watching him. Eventually he has had his fill and flies low across the lawn to the bushes beside the field. The pigeons continue cooing incessantly in the trees and only yesterday I realised that they have subtly different calls – some gentler and more delicate while others are somewhat raucous and harsh. The magpies have been conspicuous in their absence – perhaps the magpie feathers I found on the lawn have taught them a lesson and they are now more circumspect in their visits to the garden. The corn in the field is now a truly golden colour in the sunshine and the ears are bowed down as though in prayer. Like an immense field of worshippers the stalks stand erect and still in a silent gathering that stretches across the marsh to the distant trees that mark the ditch and field boundary. When I was in the garden earlier this morning there was a strange sighing sound that came from the field. Like a giant, fast asleep, breathing slowly and gently but with a plaintive sigh as he dreamed. It was nothing so fanciful or fairy tale like however. This was not a sound that would inspire a children’s story. The sigh was followed by a whooshing noise as a flock of sparrows rose from the wheat field and flew en masse into the garden bushes. There they twittered and cheeped until they again descended into the wheat. This tarantella of a formation dance was repeated over and over again to some pattern and purpose that only the sparrows knew. 

The other day I needed to post a letter and I had missed the early morning post from the box in the village, and so I decided to ride my trusty old bike around the village to take my July photographs and combine this with a ride along the lanes to another post box where the collection is much later in the day. The village is gradually, as with many other places, returning to something that resembles normal. Down the lane that leads to a farm the sheep were quietly grazing the seeding grass, the occasional bleat echoed across the marsh lands; a sound that has echoed through the ages to past generations long gone who walked these lanes and worked this land. Those who lambed the sheep in spring, saw that the sheep were shorn in summer, “lookered” them to make sure they were safe in autumn, and sheltered and fed them in snow and ice, and bitter north eastern winds in winter. This summer’s day no human sounds, apart from the occasional clank from my bike, broke into the natural rhythms of birds and sheep. Across the wheat field the line of the canal was marked by trees, dark and foliage covered. The castle topped escarpment rose above the platter flat marsh like the rim of a bowl extending in a mighty arc around the landward side of this  ancient land. As far as the eye could see the grass lands and wheat fields, in a patchwork of golds and greens, extended to the horizon of those blue distant hills of another county. I peddled away to the western edge of the village, past the houses in front of the church, stopping to have a quick chat with an elderly couple weeding their front garden in a kind of unison that only comes with that familiarity that marks a long relationship in which words are not needed. They chatted to me about the ivy that they were determined to dig out and their life of seclusion that had become a norm and that they were truly enjoying – they had no desire to return to a more hustled and bustled life. The fields opposite their home are wide and expansive, dotted with sheep and to one side a willow had fallen in some long ago storm and lay, somewhat picturesquely, across the grass gently losing its few leaves and no doubt providing a home to birds and insects. Nobody will remove it, nobody will “tidy it up”,  it will stay there, gradually decaying in a natural way, and in the mean time it provides a pleasing focus and framing for one of my photographs. 

Back on the bike, pictures taken, I head this time out of the village towards the sea. The lane out of the village is edged by deep marsh ditches, hereabouts called dykes. In these the reeds have grown tall and blue/green with the darkest chocolate plumes of feathery flowers that are just unfurling like flags that hang, ragged and droopy, waiting for a stiff breeze to fly free. In amongst them, standing tall, the red campion is topped with swathes of small cerise pink flowers. Soldiers buttons is the name my mother gave to these but it was, and still is, a mystery to me why they should be called this when the buttons on a soldier’s tunic were always metal coloured, not pinky red. Convolvuous, or Greater Bind Weed, and the bane of my life in the garden, is twining around the stems of the reeds, its arrow head shaped leaves an acid green and along the stems the purest of white trumpet flowers stand proud among the greenery of the ditch growth. Brambles stretch their sharp, spiked, trailing stems across from the field edges as though they are clutching and groping for a hand hold to bridge the ditch and chance to anchor themselves in  the verge grass. Along their length the palest of mauve flowers in clusters, constantly visited by bees, promise a good crop of blackberries if only I can reach them. Around the corner and into the lane that leads me to the post box. Called Donkey Street – it has no Donkeys and it is far from being a ‘street’ in any modern sense of the word – it winds its way around right angled corners, between deep ditches and past fields of wheat, meadow and pasture, and most prevalently this year, field beans.  I am annoyed with myself that all through ‘lockdown’ I didn’t take time to ride the bike this way for if I had I would have smelt the distinctive and fabulous aroma of the field beans in bloom. In the early evening, on a warm sunny day, the smell is heady and glorious, peppery but sweet and above all one of the most nostalgic of smells that can transport me back to my much younger days. But I have missed it and the beans stand drying in the sun. The verge, where it is lined by hedgerow, is a awash with potentially fruiting bramble. In other places the ditches are a mirror image of those that meander through the village; reed thick. Here too, the sounds of humanity are not invading the natural silence. Only the whispering rustle of the reeds, the cheeping and twittering of tiny birds hidden in the undergrowth, and the occasional croak of a frog are my companions. I am tempted to follow the lane for a while and see if I can take some pictures of the cattle that have appeared in one of the fields. Cows and calves, a striking white, and I suspect only there for a while, but that is a trip for another day. Once the post box has been reached and the letter duly posted I head for home. A slow progress because now I am stopping to take pictures of the distant views of the village and across, seawards, to the lone tree that stands sentinel in a mown meadow. Along this side of the road the verge is festooned with hogweed, docks, cow parsley and dandelions that have all gone to seed. The colours and structures of each and every one contrasts and blends in a pleasing whole. The rounded black/brown many seeded heads of hogweed stands tall and almost menacing above the more delicate umbelliferous cow parsley heads. The docks are a vibrant rusty red, spiky, and beaded with tiny shiny strings of seeds  attached to minutely corrugated stems. A pernicious weed in the garden, here a beautiful highlight in a sea of green. Meanwhile the dandelion clocks are gossamer fine, ephemeral and short lived but magic in their delicate splendour. I have to stop beside the field that has been mown for hay. Firstly to take the last of my scheduled pictures to make up the last of the four views I photograph each month, but more especially because I want to take a little time to drink in the smell of the drying grass. That sweet, slightly dusty, grassy scent that is summer. That scent that brings back childhood memories of picnics in the hay field when we and my mother would take sandwiches and tea to my father and then sit among the grass and eat the food that tasted so much better than if we were eating it indoors at home. 

Now I am homeward bound. A few more pictures – a view of my home and the church that I have never seen before and is only viewable now because the cottage on the corner has had its hedges removed. I can’t resist, it is so picturesque but not in a chocolate boxy way, rather it is quintessentially the Marsh and a typical Marsh village. Riding back into the village I know that things are getting back to a normal I am not sure I like in all of its manifestations. Motorbikes roar past me, a four track heads into the village taking up much of the road, and the constant sound of mowers, a distant airplane, and the noise of builders destroys the natural peace and calm that I have come to enjoy.