Tuesday, 30 July 2013


Until your heart melts, how can you blend with the Universe?

Wednesday, 24 July 2013


I was awoken by the rhythmic burping of a line of ducks crossing the wet lawns. The runt caught my attention. It was lagging behind, and unlike the others who moved in a smooth focused line, its waddle was stop and go, comic, and accompanied by loud calls for - could it be - attention. Younger siblings are often comic. Their more earnest elder brothers and sisters are taking a more straightforward route to parental approval. Could it be so even with ducks?

Sunday, 21 July 2013


I bought the falcon decoy to protect the cherries.

Unfortunately there are now none to protect.

Hey ho.

Given that stone fruits tend to be year on, year off, it'll probably be two years before I get to use it.

I also bought a car.

Frustrated that the range rover is in the garage with an expensive electrical repair, I bought a run around, for less than the cost of the range rover repair. I took it for a test drive, moaned about the brakes (my friend Bobski commented "f*ck me, these brakes are spongier than an old woman's brain...."), haggled a bit, shook hands 20% lower than the asking price, and the lady vendor burst into tears. She was evidently attached. I'm not surprised. In a very few days my pulse is quickened by the little go kart, and a permanent smile is on my face at the filling station.

Saturday, 20 July 2013


Last night I watched my son die of AIDS.

Not easy for a father to bear.

Held in the arms of his lover, his beautiful life passed away.

I must be getting old. I was going to post the previous sentences as my facebook status and allow an outpouring of sympathy before explaining them. But old age and common sense have got the better of my instinctive mischief.

It was emotional, though, watching Jed, my youngest son, in his death scene in Rent. And to an old fashioned hetero, it was also tough watching him as a blonde bewigged transvestite snogging another bloke. All intellectualizing aside, it tested my broadmindedness.

Jed was, of course, brilliant, as was everyone else in the fantastic Nue Music Theatre cast - a stageful of young talent.

Anyway, here they are, at a recent music festival, performing one of the numbers from the show. Jed is in the centre, and a soloist.

Alive, fortunately.

Friday, 19 July 2013


Today I am pinstriped.

It is only a two hour train ride to London. Our little local station has no staff. It is two platforms only, one on either side of the rails. No shop. A tiny shelter. A barrier at the level crossing. And a pub, which is obviously not really part of the station, but is a convenient waiting room if you needed it.

London is such a contrast to Laytham.

There are the stress factors, for a start. In a big city, there are lots and lots of people. And they are all moving. And there are lots and lots of cars and lorries and buses and other vehicles. And each of these has its artificial colours and shapes. There are lights, often flashing and strobing. There are a million advertising messages and images, all vying for your attention. There is the constant traffic noise. There are sirens, every few seconds it seems. With so many people, there are a lot of emergencies. The traffic makes not only noise but dirt. Blow your nose after a day in London and see what comes out – filth caught in your nose hairs (at Laytham my snot is almost clear). People in London are going somewhere, focused on their task, looking ahead, getting on with it. Collisions are frequent. People are in close proximity. And you don’t know them. They are strangers to you. It requires concentration to maintain anonymous equanimity. It is, I think, quite natural to feel wary. The buildings are high. It is difficult to see the sky. When you do see it, it is a narrow view. And the built environment goes on and on and on. It is miles and miles in any direction before you can escape it.  The colours you see are not the natural palette, but garish inks and dyes, often designed to shout at you so you see them. The noises you hear are also not natural, and are often also designed to scream at you to get your attention.

It is easy to underestimate the stress of just being in that huge city. Returning after my day of business meetings, I step off the train into an evening filled with woodsmoke and the wide purpling sky. In two steps on the tiny rural platform, my whole body relaxes.

Thursday, 18 July 2013


I grow, perhaps, unsociable.

Walking with others is a fine thing. But walking on your own ices the cake. It has the meditative benefit of quiet self-alignment. You see more. Nature runs away from you less. You hear more, with only your own breath (oh, and the entire Universe, of course) to listen to. Your walk can become focused on the walk, rather than on the conversation of the walk. Your pace does not have to be adjusted to another. More importantly, it can be adjusted self- indulgently to the interest in a thistle, the pattern of shade under an oak, the curiosity aroused by a fungus on the oak, which, when you press it, is almost as hard as the oak itself. You can stop to marvel at the ostentatious aggression of a bramble. You can listen to the curlew’s music. You can tune in to the humming and chirring of the summer land. You can stop at a sudden perfume, and wonder at its source, astonished that, attuned to it, attending to it, the humble clover flower becomes sense – filling sweet.

Thus are my constitutionals. Just as their pace is voluntary, so it varies. At times they are route march, sweat forming on my back. At times they are stroll. And at times they are lolling, lounging and stopping stock still.

In a six or seven mile round, I am disappointed if I do not see deer. I see few other mammals, scarcely ever other humans. Small rodents – shrews, field mice – they’re too scared of me to be seen. I sometimes see them when I am mowing the orchard. But only when the grass is long. Then they cower and scurry away from the blades and I am always reminded of Burns and his “wee sleekit, cowering,  timorous beastie”. Then I also see toads, occasionally murdering them for the hell of it. Once, turning over an old woodpile, I found a colony of orange bellied newts. Walking, I see stoats and weasels – like watching a thick nibbed orange pen, putting a dash across a road. Then they are gone. They don’t hang around for us. And you definitely don’t want to get too close to one. They could bite you through to the bone. I have a feeling that this year their numbers may be down. I have seen few, and, more telling still, there are hundreds of rabbits. Weasel v rabbit? Weasel, every single time. Put money on it.

On yesterday’s walk I went all the way to the penultimate stretch – a road section encouraging of speed walking - until I saw the deer. There were a few vehicles on the road and to get out of their way I stepped through a break in the hedge and into a baked field rather sparsely planted for an oilseed rape patch. I had a pee, and while the thin stream was coming out of me, noticed about eighty yards off a young doe, just at the field’s edge, just into the field, near enough to the shelter of the hedge and woodland beyond it to be able to bolt. Her head was tiny. I remember thinking momentarily “if I had a rifle I could get off a shot and take her, but not a head shot.” I’ll avoid saying “I put my weapon away” but I very soon abandoned all thoughts of violence. I stood for about twenty minutes, silent and watching her, peacefully grazing. It adds to my own peace immensely to know, that, within a mile of my home, and often much nearer, she and her kind are doing what nature intended: feeding, sleeping, excreting, mating, nurturing young – the great cycle in which we all live, to which, regardless of all human aspiration, we all contribute, into which we all return, and by which I am constantly inspired.

Monday, 15 July 2013


Men, it is commonly jibed, are incapable of multi tasking.
It's rubbish.
Whenever I have a practical job to do it is an almost impossible task to do one thing at a time. Yet this is the secret of all successful DIY / carpentry / almost anything.
Quieting the jabbering mind and hands seems inordinately difficult, even though failure results in pinning on the name badge of Captain Calamity,
Thus I broke the antique fluted stone birdbath now filled with beautiful and edible nasturtiums at the centre of the vegetable garden.
I was fixing the bird frames I made  a couple of years ago and, hands full of hammers, nails, a pencil  behind the ear, a saw between my knees and carpentry accoutrements bulging from all pockets of my overall, I thought I'd use it as a sawing trestle.
It's broken into three pieces which I'll now have to cement up.
And you can bet, when I'm doing so, I'll be trying to do three or four more things at the same time.

Sunday, 14 July 2013


  • The day starts with mizzle as though to underline the micro season of Mistlemas.
  • Dew dampens the gooseberries as I pick them. They are undersized, but I am determined the birds are not going to have this little lot. One bush yields fruit almost the colour of red wine. The other, a unique gooseberry green. Both bushes have thorns and I wonder why. What predation are they designed to halt?
  • When made into a syrupy puree, the gooseberries are delicious. I pour the still hot puree over Greek yoghurt. Smashing. I may have overdone the sugar. It is very lush. My tummy feels swollen after eating it. I may have been greedy.
  • About 1030 the mizzle burns off. Steam rises from the lawns.
  • Norfolk people evaded the birds and bees questions of kids by explaining that babies come from under the gooseberry bush. Why? Why that especial bush?
  • Expanding on the theme of more than four seasons
    the season of easterly winds
    the season of yellowhammers
    the season of buttercups
    the season of dandelions
    the season of earth warming
    the season of first buds
    the season of blossom (different seasons for hawthorn and blackthorn)
    the season of first fruiting
    the season of first grass growth
    the visit of swallows
    the coming of bramblings
  • Everything has its season. Turn, turn, turn.
  •  Why don't savoury things grow on trees? If its from a tree, its sweet. I suppose nuts are exceptions - debatable. Avocados, too, maybe?
  • I have bought a falcon, to try and keep the birds off the cherries. Today, I am going to put some planks into the tree, so that every three or four days I can move the decoy, and maybe dissuade the thrushes. I feel almost mean doing it. I've heard mixed reports on the effectiveness of these things. From good, to "useless - I swear the pigeons were laughing at it." We'll see.
  • Last night, leaning on a gate looking across a buttercup filled field, towards an utterly rural horizon, I finally named the place I live. Paradise.
  • Digging up potatoes in the vegetable garden, one feels like an old time prospector - little nuggets of gold in the soil. I am brought back from daydreams of the Yukon by the fact that each time I bend to retrieve the gold, the aroma of the onions growing as neighbours to the potatoes fills the senses.
  • The last smell I would like to smell on earth is the Missus. Failing that, wild honeysuckle, such as that in the hedge just at the gate to the vegetable garden. Heavenly.
  • Blackcurrant leaves smell of mint.
  • At one point this afternoon the Missus says to me "watch out - you'll get stung by that nettle". I laugh loud and long, as for the last three hours I'd been battling nettles brambles, the lot and my body looks like its gone three rounds with a mad knife man.

Saturday, 13 July 2013


When Vivaldi wrote the Four Seasons, how come he left so many out?
Any countryman knows there are many more than four. How many is a good question. Awareness of the tiny changes in nature which mark out the real, micro changing almost infinite true seasons demands a regularity of contact and a slow pace for full attention. Leaning on gates is good. Standing beneath Stella, my largest fruiting cherry tree - also good.
Paying attention to Stella makes me realise it is Mistlemas. That is, the season of thrushes. In our garden there is a dominant coupling - two mistle thrushes who guard their prime territory with a fierce jealousy. Stella is the reason - the prize. Right now, Mr and Mrs Mistle are colonising it, ensuring that the very second a cherry is ripe, it disappears down their greedy gullets. They laugh at my attempts to protect the tree. At evening they sing a brief song of gratitude. Hearing this, I was accused by the Missus of madness, when I shouted at the birdS.

"Is that it? Is that it? Is that what you call a thank you? You've eaten all the cherries, you bastards."

"Thought of netting it?" said one smart arsed friend.

Great idea. Missus and I spent a happy hour trying to do so with a huge piece of netting I bought for the purpose. In the end, as our breaches of all sensible health and safety principles became more and more flagrant and frenzied, we gave up. Without a crane its impossible, and even with it, I'm unconvinced the mistle thrushes wouldn't get through anyway. For next year I am going to buy one of the plastic owls I have seen on yachts, designed to stop seagulls shitting on decks, by frightening away all bird life.

I love cherries.

I have eaten none.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

When I light a fire I start with newspaper, taking the sheets, rolling them up and then tying them into a croissant shape.
I call this tying the Guardian Knot.

Monday, 8 July 2013


It triggers a visceral response in me.
Like stretching a rubber band and letting it go, so my rebellious response gets going.
It doesn't have to be me getting the blame. When I witness someone else dishing it out, it is repulsive to me. Literally. Beautiful women become sad and ugly in my eyes, once they start it. Fine men look pathetic.
I encounter someone blaming their life on someone else and it troubles me for a long time. Not hours, but days. It reminds me of the old joke about the man who works in a sewerage plant.
"Not much of a job," he says, "but it does have one benefit."
"What's that?" asks his mate.
"I've stopped biting my nails."
So the stink of blame stays with me.
So I'm blaming the blamers. What an idiot! And the hypocrisy is not lost on me.
I go on a constitutional -  a meditative walk, to see if I can fix things.
The first thing I  notice is that I am not filled with my usual ecstasy with the teeming universe present in every hedgerow, copse and field. I feel distracted, both by the thoughts which I am trying to resolve, and by the thought of journeying from A to B rather then being exactly where I am. Hey ho. Walk on.
As usual, Mother Nature does her healing, in very few paces. I get to think about rabbits. They eat their own shit. It doesn't appeal to me, and I wouldn't encourage it in my offspring, but it isn't wrong for them. Pelicans, and maybe even other bird species (owls and hawks I have a feeling) commit fratricide, throwing their unfortunate sibling from the nest, to perish from the fall. Just so they get more of their parent sicking up into their beak. Something else less than appealing to me.
I wouldn't think any of these things wrong. Why, then, do I have such a problem with blame?
Explaining the childhood roots of my allergy seems to provide less than satisfaction. But the natural world's oddities are emphatically calming. I realise that if I were the exact species, the exact individuals doing the blaming, I would too. I suddenly see them like rabbits (yes, caught in life's headlights) and perfectly acceptable as they are. That does not mean it's a game I want to start. Indeed, I realise, it's a game I want to stop, more than I admit playing it. It is a game, a way of avoiding the regular fact: that the very thing you are blaming someone else for, you are guilty of yourself.
I enter a copse of young trees. The ground is entirely covered with cow parsley, so that the light between the foliage and the lacy white has a strange, turquoise quality. It feels like a reward. For getting the answers to blame right? Perhaps. For deciding to seek all my answers in closer conversation with the natural world. Certainly.

Thursday, 4 July 2013


137 mph
faster than my walk
during which
I did not see Mallard
but saw instead how
pigeons landed as a squad
wingbeats synchronised
suggesting animal heuristics
we do not understand
and the purple lane shimmered in the hot afternoon
blackberry blossom competing with dog rose
in a pink haze
a field away a deer made off startled
perhaps by me
and I saw a yellow wagtail
whose sweet simple call summoned my attention
and was answered from somewhere beneath the wild honeysuckle
by his invisible mate
attracted to the morsel he was bringing
and we looked at each other
wagtail and I
five feet apart
and I thought how like his life is mine
a morsel here
a morsel there
just doing the best we can
going along
one foot in front of the other
and I did not think of validation
or at least, did not think I thought of validation
nor of striking deals with tie flicking egos
but thought instead of doing what I say
of standing tall in the mirror of my life
bringing the promised morsel
without cringing away in embarrassment
good enough
to have walked, one foot in front of the other,
good enough
to have brought that morsel
good enough
a kind of validation.