Category Archives: town and country

Hail and farewell

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When we moved to our home in Canterbury there were house martins nesting on neighbours’ houses; we did not get them because the chicks would have baked in the direct noonday sun. One house opposite had hung little balls from the eaves to warn the martins off. Super house proud, or possibly paranoid about droppings. Remember Tobit!

It’s been years since there was any excuse for excluding the birds. No martins have nested hereabouts for many years. Newcomers have never seen them nesting: what you don’t know, you don’t miss. The same goes for the martins: their memory of living on our street has gone; they will not return.

I’ve seen very few matins or swallows this year, but last week as I was walking across the field behind our house I saw two martins overhead. I guess a couple of this year’s brood, getting into fettle for the flight to Africa. God Speed them there and safely back!

 

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The Noonday Croak

frog in grass

An hour ago, Mrs T sent me on a message to Frog’s   next-door neighbour’s house. A glorious sunny September noontime, roses tumbling over the fence, bees buzzing, as well as motor mowers.

I turned to go, and distinctly heard a frog croaking from Mrs T’s friend’s bushes. Perhaps Frog’s resident frog has not wandered too far from her little pond.

Abel found two of this year’s froglets in our pond yesterday!

Will.

 

 

 

A Pilgrim.

 

terrible london

Not a view of London any of us will have seen, though the crowded streets are still there. Saint Paul’s too, but it has been overshadowed by the temples of Mammon. This picture and text are from ‘London Impressions’ by Alice Meynell, illustrated by William Hyde, pub; Archibald Constable, 1898, available on Project Gutenberg.

Now and then a firefly strays from the vineyard into the streets of an Italian city, and goes quenched in the light of the shops. The stray and waif from ‘the very country’ that comes to London is a silver-white seed with silken spokes or sails. There is no depth of the deep town that this visitant does not penetrate in August—going in, going far, going through, by virtue of its indescribable gentleness.

The firefly has only a wall to cross, but the shining seed comes a long way, a careless alien but a mighty traveller. Indestructibly fragile, the most delicate of all the visible signs of the breeze, it goes to town, makes light of the capital, sets at nought the thoroughfares and the omnibuses, especially flouts the Park, one may suppose, where it does not grow. It hovers and leaps at about the height of first-floor windows, by many a mile of dull drawing-rooms, a country creature quite unconverted to London and undismayed. This flâneur makes as little of our London as his ancestor made of Chaucer’s.

Sometimes it takes a flight on a stronger wind, and its whiteness shows dark with slight shadow against bright clouds, as the whiter snow-flake also looks dark from its shadow side. Then it comes down in a tumult of flight upon the city. It is a very strong little seed-pod, set with arms, legs, or sails—so ingeniously set that though all grow from the top of the pod their points together make a globe; on these it turns a ‘cart-wheel’ like a human boy—like many boys, in fact, it must overtake on its way through the less respectable of the suburbs—only better. Every limb, itself so fine, is feathered with little plumes that are as thin as autumn spider-webs. Nothing steps so delicately as that seed, or upon such extreme tiptoe. But it does not walk far; the air bears the charges of the wild journey.

Thistle-seeds—if thistle-seeds they be—make few and brief halts, then roll their wheel on the stones for a while, and then the wheel is a-wing again. You encounter them in the country, setting out for town on a south wind, and in London there is not a street they do not recklessly stray along. For they use our arbitrary streets; it does not seem that they make a bee-line over the top of the houses, and cross London thus. They use the streets which they treat so lightly. They conform, for the time, to human courses, and stroll down Bond Street and turn up Piccadilly, and go to the Bank on a long west wind—their strolling being done at a certain height, in moderate mid-air.”

They generally travel wildly alone, but now and then you shall see two of them, as you see butterflies go in couples, flitting at leisure at Charing Cross. The extreme ends of their tender plumes have touched and have lightly caught each other. But singly they go by all day, with long rises and long descents as the breeze may sigh, or more quickly on a high level way of theirs. Nothing wilder comes to town—not even the scent of hay on morning winds at market-time in June; for the hay is for cab-horses, and it is at home in the clattering mews, and has a London habit of its own.

White meteor, lost star, bright as a cloud, the seed has many images of its radiant flight. But there is only one thing really like it—the point of light caught by a diamond, with the regular surrounding rays.

The bee-loud glade

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There is a buzz in Canterbury these days, at least wherever there are lime trees. Even mere humans can pick up the honeyed scent of the flowers, but the bees are loving it.

I harvested plenty from around Saint Mildred’s church for my lime flower tea, now drying on the spare bedroom floor. The trees around the church are far enough from the main road to have escaped the worst of the pollution. The drink is refreshing ice cold. There’s still time to harvest yours!

After a night shift

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Mrs Turnstone came in from her night shift and went to  bed, but a few minutes later I heard the floorboards creak in the back bedroom. As ever of late, the wood pigeons and collared doves were filling the air, keeping her awake. I was reminded of Robert Frost’s Minor Bird:

I have wished a bird would fly away,
And not sing by my house all day;

Have clapped my hands at him from the door
When it seemed as if I could bear no more.

The fault must partly have been in me.
The bird was not to blame for his key.

And of course there must be something wrong
In wanting to silence any song. 

Sweet Dreams, Mrs T!

Precious greenery in the city.

venice.secret.garden1 (2)

Mrs T’s reading before going to Venice was the guidebook and Salley Vickers’ Miss Garnet’s Angel. I’m not sure which was better preparation for our visit. My book made more sense once we were in the city, and helped make sense of the city. Ellis Peters, best known for Cadfael and all things Salopian, wrote Holiday with Violence soon after the Second World War, during which Venice escaped bombing but endured great hardship. There are glimpses of that poverty, of the rundown buildings, and also of the precious green spaces:

She saw in the drowned shade of the little waterways, narrow between high palace walls, the occasional green of trees looking out from secret gardens, in a city where all the rest of the spectrum was spilt recklessly, but green was jealously hoarded.

Such a secret garden can be seen on the background to this picture. Some of these plots had walls surmounted with a hedge of Canary Ivy, home to blackbirds which had their singing posts nearby to celebrate the dawn and dusk chorus, all the more audible with the lack of motor traffic.

If we make room for nature, nature will move in!

 

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.