It was a great pleasure that the first bird I heard this year was a song thrush from a bush in a neighbour’s garden, closely followed by blackbird, starlings, pigeons, jackdaws … suburban Canterbury on wings.
I gave greater pleasure to Mrs Turnstone when she heard that in the course of tidying the woodstore, separating the kindling from the logs that had been hastily laid on top of them, I had seen a woodmouse scurrying to safety. She had not liked laying down poison for the rats that had infested the other end of the garden, fearing for the colony of mice that has been here longer than the family Turnstone. This year’s Mrs Tittlemouse is made of stern stuff.
A grace note to the story: the kindling was 18 month old apricot. Clattering the sticks together released the scent of the fruit, just as the leaves did. See ‘Two unexpected autumn gifts’, November 24th 2018.
I came out of the dentist to a beautiful sky, so I walked round to Whitstable beach. We are looking NW here, London is to our left, Margate and Belgium to the right. The shadow is one of many breakwaters that form part of the defences of the town which was badly flooded in the 1950s.
But there’s no defence from the sky unless you ignore it! It can only bring blessings to the town, and to those who stop and stare.
Our Victorian forebears were rather taken with the language of flowers and could semaphore their feelings through a careful choice of blooms in a posy. Hence the pansy, or pensée in French, signalled, ‘you are in my thoughts.’
Mrs T and I visited Chartham village with Abel. After he had played on the roundabouts at the village green, we wandered into the churchyard for lunch under the trees.
Our Victorian forebears, if they could afford it, erected finely carved stones over their loved-one’s graves. Without much effort at all we found these three carved with passionflowers which represent the saving death of Jesus. There are ten petals for the ten apostles who did not deny him – leaving out Peter and Judas. There are five stamens representing the five wounds; three stigma for the nails, and the fringe of filaments around the flower stands for the crown of thorns.
All this suffering somehow mirrored in a beautiful flower. And by carving this flower over their dear ones’ graves, the three families were proclaiming belief that the dead would rise again with Christ. A good thought and prayer for November and All Souls.
Driving along Britain’s motorways, often you could be forgiven for having little idea where you are. There are places like Mill Hill on the M1 or Bury on the M66 where you find yourself rushing obscenely close to people’s homes but often the road runs through cuttings with no view of the surroundings.
Somewhere in Yorkshire on the M62 I spotted a sign ‘River Calder’. There was no other sign of the river; its bridge was barely discernible (to me at least). Although the car is king, for the present at least, there was a nod to the original power of this landscape: the water that formed it and powered the first factories along its banks.
Downstream at Castleford the Calder joins the Aire:
The Castleford lasses are bonny and fair,
For they wash in the Calder and rinse in the Aire.
When I first heard that rhyme, no sensible lass or lad would put a toe into the rivers, heavily polluted as they were by all those factories. Today the water is cleaner, the fish and wildlife are returning, but bathing might be a colder experience than many lasses would go for!
There is another River Calder across the hills in Lancashire; this one spends its whole life in Yorkshire.
As I was walking home, the Sun was finding it difficult to break through at a quarter to nine this morning, but there was autumn colour nonetheless. We are in the city centre, at the site of a corn mill that burned to the ground eighty years ago. Top picture is looking upstream; the cathedral is behind the houses on the left; the building on the right, obscured by trees, was once the Dominican Priory.
Looking downstream, the steps, right foreground, take you across the main river over the sluice gates that control the flow – still vital when there is too much or too little rain. The old bridge is called after St Radigund, a princess-abbess from the so-called dark ages when so many noblewomen found openings for themselves and others to be something other than wives, mothers and domestics. There is a pub with rooms called the Miller’s Arms just visible behind the trees to the right. They fed us well the last time we visited.