Category Archives: town and country

First thing in the morning.

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No, I was not best pleased to be woken, well before dawn, by a loud conversation under my bedroom window. But when the two men had moved on there came a burst of song from the bushes next door – not a robin,  but a  wren  Follow the link to the RSPB website to hear the song I heard and see a portrait of the little bird. Was I reconciled to my rude awakening?

The previous day we had watched one foraging along the river bank, in and out of crevices, decimating, we hoped, the number of insect pests ready to attack the garden come Spring.

And come spring, as she certainly looks like coming, will there be a wren’s nest here, in a crevice in the brick wall, hidden by the weeds and ferns, all but inaccessible to any predator? Let’s hope so: there was last year! This is Solley’s Orchard, a little open space in the centre of Canterbury. There was a flour mill nearby, hence the foaming water from the old sluices.

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February 6: and then comes what shall come— Brownings I.

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Robert Browning is writing to Elizabeth Barrett, his secret fiancée. She has told him of her dependence on morphine, as prescribed by her doctor, who is reluctant to take her off it, but agrees to do so, ‘slowly and gradually’. Robert is keen for her to get out and about, for she has been housebound for a long time, and offers her some encouragement. He writes this day, February 6, 1846. His home at Camberwell was still in Kent then, while Elizabeth was in Central London, under the jealous eye of her father.

‘Slowly and gradually’ what may not be done? Then see the bright weather while I write—lilacs, hawthorn, plum-trees all in bud; elders in leaf, rose-bushes with great red shoots; thrushes, whitethroats, hedge sparrows in full song—there can, let us hope, be nothing worse in store than a sharp wind, a week of it perhaps—and then comes what shall come—”

Elizabeth (‘Ba’) had written of when the drug was prescribed:

I have had restlessness till it made me almost mad: at one time I lost the power of sleeping quite—and even in the day, the continual aching sense of weakness has been intolerable—besides palpitation—as if one’s life, instead of giving movement to the body, were imprisoned undiminished within it, and beating and fluttering impotently to get out, at all the doors and windows. So the medical people gave me morphine, and ever since I have been calling it my amreeta* draught, my elixir,—because the tranquillizing power has been wonderful. Such a nervous system I have—so irritable naturally, and so shattered by various causes, that the need has continued in a degree until now, and it would be dangerous to leave off the calming remedy, Mr. Jago says, except very slowly and gradually.

  • The drink of the Hindu gods, conferring immortality.
 from “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846”, available on Kindle or online. 
The Apricot is also in bud now, and will soon flower, leaving us to fret about late frosts killing off the developing fruit. Comes what shall come …

Midday Busker

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The great bell of the Cathedral was chiming the hour, but that was not the sound that caught Abel’s attention. It was a blackcap perched on a fence about eye-level to both of us – Abel was lifted up on the bike seat so could see clearly. And hear and ask, what’s that bird?

When the little bird had ceased warbling, we looked up in the trees around the theatre and Dominican and spotted a pair of wood pigeons. We had been talking about them a few minutes before, when we saw a few town pigeons foraging outside a café.

There’s no need to be 3½ years old to marvel at the blackcap or the robin, blackbird or thrush’s song. Listen out, and be grateful!

Ron Knight via Wiki Commons

Talking of Trees

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It was the ash trees that set us talking: we were looking for signs of die-back disease, which is in Kent, and cannot be kept from the trees at the Glebe. So far, so good, but V reckoned on a further ten years before we know whether any of ours will be the ones to preserve the species into the twenty-second century.

Naturally we slipped into talking of the elms, still around in our boyhoods. ‘You’ll have to go to Brighton to see a good specimen now’, said V, ‘and they are pumped full of fungicide’. He told me they grow from suckers in hedgerows elsewhere, but once they approach maturity, the beetles find them, bringing the Dutch Elm Disease fungus with them.

A useful tree, we agreed, as well as beautiful. I recalled seeing pipes made from elm, even in the iron-founding Taff valley in South Wales. Perhaps the wood was more flexible, less likely to crack, than cast iron.

Then, what should I see beside the level crossing in Canterbury, but these carved elm gutters, fallen, I guess, from the back of a lorry. How old are they, I wonder? From the smooth channels and the splintered ends, they look as though they would have been good for a few more years’ service when they were hacked up.

Traveller’s Joy: Postscript

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Travellers come to Canterbury by rail, not just to the East Station but in greater numbers to the West.

Looking across to the station from Roper Road, across the old oil siding, the old man’s beard was whiter than white with the sun shining through it. One for the black and white treatment!

 

Butterflies in Winter.

15th-december

The village school’s reception class is called the Butterflies, and they brought a hint of Spring to a winter’s day at the L’Arche garden. The four and five year olds came to learn and exercise a few gardening skills, to meet some of the community and enjoy the winter sunshine.

Of course, the sun shines as brightly in the village as in the city. And it’s generally quieter there, unless a tractor or chain saw is on the go. The inner ring road runs roaring past the garden so it’s never really quiet. But we, sometimes grudgingly, ignore it and so did the children, though one boy noticed the trains accelerating from the station, something he would not hear at school.

Everyone noticed the sirens as the two fire engines raced past. Drama that does not happen in the village! I looked up from my planting to see three of the girls, arms linked, dancing in a circle, chanting nee-naw, nee-naw, taking pleasure from the sounds, taking pleasure from being alive on a sunny winter’s day in the youth of the world.

And my mind’s ear remembered the blackbird who lifted a telephone warble into his song, and the thrushes and starlings who also make music of our human racket, even getting me halfway down the garden path to answer a starling’s phone call, and I thought, why not? Why not dance when the world is young, and your friends are around you, and you have a day off from routine, and so much to be grateful for? Words are not always enough.

Picture from FMSL

6 January: Traveller’s Joy

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It’s the feast of the Epiphany, the visit of the wise men who travelled from the East to Baby Jesus, so why not celebrate with Traveller’s Joy!

This is a wild clematis that is happy climbing around hedgerows and wasteland, with pale green-tinged flowers in late summer, and in winter seed heads that look white or grey according to the light. Old Man’s Beard it gets called at this stage.

Alongside the railway towards Dover it has spread itself. I arrived at just the right moment this week to catch the few minutes’ sunshine through the beard. Right beside it is the Victorian footbridge, recently decorated by community artists with – Traveller’s Joy!