Sitting in the Spinney

Riding due East into Aylesham my expectations were somewhat confounded. I had expected the gale to be on my back, but it was on my left shoulder, pushing me towards the middle of the road. There was noticeable relief when there was a hedge on the North side of the road, so it was encouraging to see new hawthorn slips bursting green from their rabbit-proof planting tubes. Relief for cyclists and protection for the land. The soil up here is quite thin over the chalk.

More relief when I branched off on the Southern road into the village. The Spinney shields most of this stretch, a woodland with beech, hazel and sweet chestnut. I stopped to sit on a branch and eat lunch. The bluebells are in fine leaf, as are wild arum and anemones, but what of wild garlic? I hadn’t long to search, I had an appointment in the village and I wasted time watching a brimstone butterfly, happy enough to be out of the wind, under the trees, enjoying the sunshine beaming through the bare branches. I found just one leaf, which I nobly left to grow. And I was happy too.

Let’s change that ‘I wasted time’ to ‘I spent time’, while I was watching the butterfly. Time well-spent!

Vandalism takes many forms

We can feel beset by vandals. Walls get tagged with graffiti that has no artistic merit. Later in the year I hope to see good results from guerilla gardening on a wall near my place.

There was a bitter-sweet story locally last week. The preservation society for the long-lost railway behind our house, which would be doing good business today, decided to open up this subway under the trackbed – one of the oldest railway bridges

bevfarmtunnelext in the world, dating back to the early 1830s. It had been filled with rubble some 50 years ago.

Indeed they did open it up but it is less than 2m high inside, and deemed unsafe by the city council, so it is already sealed off with steel gates. However there was another reason for closing it off – to prevent its being tagged.

When the subway was built there was farmland at either end and the footpath led across fields to the farbevfarmtunnextmhouse and on to the next village. There is the remains of an old hedge alongside the footpath which had an undergrowth of celandines at this time of year. Now it is barren, thanks to over-enthusiastic spraying of weedkiller by the city council’s contractors. There was meadowsweet in summertime too, for this path ran by a ditch, now covered over.

Celandines look like this, reflecting the sun. I won’t share the barren hedge-bcelandinesottom with you. Maybe the contractors found it easier to kill everything rather than scythe or strim the nettles once or twice a year. Maybe I’m the only one who’s noticed, or cares. Maybe the wild flowers were too scruffy.

For the last two summers a bed of ‘wild flowers’ has appeared on the playing field that now occupies the bottom of the old farm. But they don’t look wild, just scruffy.

One good thing about student landlords’ laziness is that many wild plants stand a chance in their gardens, as these celandines do next-door but one. I hope you can see ladybird biedronka in there!

Celandines are dear to me as when I was little a kind teacher introduced them to me. I was away from my family, allowed just one parental visit per week, only able to wave from the window to my siblings, even having my Easter egg confiscated to be pooled with all the other children’s. Our crime was to have been ill. We were in a convalescent home. The fresh air was good, but there was no thought for our spiritual or mental well-being, except among the staff caring for us day to day. They did not make the rules.

The celandines were a promise of new life, outside the gates. Now they remind me of a greater promise of new life. Shame on the city council!

Through Another’s Eyes

The “Independent” newspaper interviewed an old lady in Tobago who had visited England after winning a competition (I’m glad someone wins them).

One of her abiding memories was of seeing an apple tree. We have eyes but we do not see. There are still a good many orchards around here, even if many have been destroyed; taken for granted, by me at least, till they are lost.

This spring I intend to look at them anew.

Here’s a story from a few years ago. Riding away from Ezra’s grounds I had to pass the orchard of russets at the top of the hill. The week before the workers had been winter pruning, leaving long twigs on the ground to be picked up later. The snow had fallen before that could happen and the rabbits that swarm thereabouts had discovered the feast of sweet bark. As I rode by there was a golden glow above the white of the snow: with all the bark stripped the twigs were bright shining as the sun.

Another day to remember.

Mr Noah

it has, from time to time, been suggested that Mr Turnstone could pass for a patriarch from Genesis. Today it was the Noah side that came to the fore.

Despite Mrs T’s worries, our pond had plenty of spawn by last weekend, when Ms Turnstone II came to call. She was begging some for her class of 4-5 year-olds. Mr Noah was recruited to bring the spawn, with a few hatchling tadpoles, over to School. Great fun was had by the children as well as Mr Noah, and I think the children will enjoy observing the little creatures as they grow.

One lad was guessing what sort of animal I’d brought along – is it a tiger?

No, said Noah, he might eat you for breakfast, then you for break, and you over there for lunch, and so on. The conversation moved on … We discussed Ms Turnstone’s pet hen she had as a child, which had all 60 children – there were two classes – performing a chicken routine that had to be seen. And Ms T blushed!

Finally, Mr Noah put his foot in it at lunch time when he said he might bring the tiger in to get some lunch. One poor boy took it literally, when all the rest enjoyed the shiver of shock. Sorry Lad! I think we parted as friends.

And that was a good day.

GREEN RAIN by Mary Webb

Into the scented woods we’ll go,
And see the blackthorn swim in snow.
High above, in the budding leaves,
A brooding dove awakes and grieves;
The glades with mingled music stir,
And wildly laughs the woodpecker.
When blackthorn petals pearl the breeze,
There are the twisted hawthorn trees
Thick-set with buds, as clear and pale
As golden water or green hail —
As if a storm of rain had stood
Enchanted in the thorny wood,
And, hearing fairy voices call,
Hung poised, forgetting how to fall.

It was local patriotism for the Marches that first had me open a book by Mary Webb; later I found the poems, a literary treasure Mrs Turnstone shares. Though we are well away from Shropshire we have the Blackthorn in bloom and the buds of the hawthorn are as Mary Webb describes them, green raindrops, poised on the tips of the twigs. Don’t analyse the poem, enjoy it!

WT

PS – This links to the MS of the poem at Stanford University.

http://marywebb.stanford.edu/contacts/18561/

Squirrel Alert!

It was a beautiful afternoon, unexpectedly given to me when two appointments were cancelled. Off to Mrs O’s garden!

The first of the grass seed was an inch high, so time to remove the plastic and let it breathe. Meanwhile the ground was ready for planting out a few perennials. Some had been standing out in pots all winter, so they too were ready.

As I tipped one pot over I was surprised to see a swollen root – but no, it was a peanut in its shell! This pot had been raised off the ground to get a little more winter sun; clearly a favoured cache. Sorry, squirrel, you’ve lost that nut!

Last summer the squirrel living in next door’s roof was often seen with peanuts in her mouth, shimmying up the drainpipe to feed the family. Mrs Turnstone had hung them on the washing line for the blue tits, but all disappeared overnight, string and all. But where had Mrs Squirrel hidden them? When I cut the ivy down on the wall and trellis  after nesting time I found the remains of her store, dry and safe from magpies.

The new owner has sealed next door’s loft, so let’s hope we are squirrel-free for the coming summer. I also found a blackbird’s next with the eggs eaten …