Last Autumn I wrote about a walk along the Thames near Richmond, with Belted Galloway cattle near the end of it. Today I walked from Waterloo to Lambeth beside a river confined by embankments, with light shipping passing by the Palace of Westminster and cyclists, joggers, dog-walkers and tourists in both directions along the path, not all looking where they were going.
One thing I was hoping to see, but only saw when I wasn’t looking for it – a cormorant. Picture this, if you will, flying past the Houses of Parliament; I was on the opposite bank.
In my youth anyone falling in the River might have died from poisoning. They even kept my little brother in hospital for observation after he fell into the Serpentine Lake in the park (and I had to go home on the bus in wet clothes after dragging him out).
There must be enough fish in the river to satisfy those greedy cormorants.
When my mother and I visited my brother in hospital on the following Friday he was happy to say goodbye. Dinner had arrived – fish and chips and it looked really tasty! He’s still very fond of fish and there are even herons along the Serpentine these days.
Between 7.30 and 9.00 in the morning must be the noisiest time of day but most people have to filter out the noise, just to do what we have to. Young Abel often draws our attention to sirens, trains and loud machinery, but I did not need his advice this morning.
The Builder’s dog is with us and needed his morning walk. Today he was sniffling round a shrub when I heard a woodpecker drumming somewhere nearby. Not that I saw him, but it’s a pleasure to hear him. Trying to place him – somewhere in the treetops – without binoculars was futile, but it made me aware of the din around me, even though I was some yards from the nearest road. The school playing field was being mown with a tractor and a mower; the main roads and inner ring road were still very busy, but a motorbike and ambulance stood out. There were trains and planes, and children winding down to go indoors for the morning.
But I could still hear the woodpecker. And the chaffinch and the blackcap … and the herring gulls and rooks overhead.
Sometimes we must dive into whatever silence is around, even if no-one else can hear it, even if only for a moment.
A walk in the woods with Abel, now 16 months old, is another story. I’d greet all the dogs as a matter of course, but he enjoys them to the point of bubbling with laughter; there is disappointment that the brambles are now bare of blackberries, but even so he (and I) appreciate the seasons; puddles are for throwing stones into and exclaiming ‘splash’, or as near as we can get, while a big pine tree is for hide and seek. Happy Days.
Autumn,and time to start tidying the vegetable patch at Mrs O’s garden, harvesting beans in the process.
The goldfinches were active and noisy in nearby gardens, but hidden in the conifer next door there was a blackbird, singing under his breath a long, complex song; not, to my uneducated ears, the song of a novice. I look forward to hearing more from him as winter progresses.
I was reminded of another blackbird who lived maybe 25 years ago in a garden I maintained in town, behind a lawyers’ office. His subsong included a ‘warbler’ phone ringing tone, but he never, in my hearing, used this in his full song. A starling would not have been so conservative; we had a very accurate phone mimic a couple of years ago. More than once Mrs T or I have got up from tea in the garden – and realised it was the starling.
Tidying the planting troughs in our own garden showed why our canine visitor Melba was interested in the corner where they stand. When the bedding petunias were removed there were small heaps of grain husks, suggesting that Mrs Turnstone’s woodmouse friend had been raiding pet food supplies and bringing grain there to enjoy under cover. Melba clearly knew about this well before we did.
The coastal path was full of dog walkers till almost halfway between the two towns. Cyclist, slow down! Turnstones out looking spruce, waiting on the breakwaters for the tide to turn. Are these ones too far down the pecking order to haunt the harbour for easy pickings from the boats and fishmongers?
A quarrelsome synod of Jackdaws at sunset at St Martin’s church. I stopped counting at fifty.
A snowdrop and violet in bloom beside our front door; Mrs O’s Daffodils nose up above the ground, active buds on her elder and flowering currant.
And the flood was there again across the road at Bekesbourne. Rain and hail showers lashing cyclists this morning. At least one survived!
HI MAY. YR MOMS PHONE BUST. DAZ TOOK SCRUF 2 WALES. ALL OK.
Text message sent by May Hogben,
DARREN HAV U GOT SCRUFFY? I’LL KILL U. LUV U. MUM.
That night Darren slept soundly in the boys’ dormitory, with its polished floor boards and thick red curtains, matching the covers on the well-sprung, comfortable beds. Scruffy bedded down happily with Shep in his kennel next to Mrs Kipling’s hen house. I, Will Turnstone, gave careful consideration to my pupils’ welfare before saying my prayers and switching off the electric light.
Sunday: higher things.
I go to church on Sundays, so at Saturday supper I had offered to take any volunteers to Brecon Cathedral with me next morning, after a quick bowl of cereal. We would meet the rest of the group back at the centre, then go on to climb Pen-y-fan, the highest mountain in South Wales. The idea was what Bob Kipling called a pleasant Sunday stroll to get into the swing of things. I didn’t know if anyone would join me, but Darren and Dean were not a total surprise, though they usually spend their Sundays playing football or fishing. Stacey came too. Scruffy as well, of course; no-one had said he couldn’t go to Brecon, though I insisted he stayed in the minibus during the service. We parked under the trees to keep him cool.
“Sing aloud, loud, loud,” warbled Stacey, as we walked Scruffy down to the river, “why is it you don’t mind singing it here, but no-one can open their mouths in assembly?”
“Who wants to be in assembly,” I answered, “with Mrs Hooke and her fiddlers three? Did you bring your violin? You might pick up a penny or two busking in Hay.” Stacey did not know how to answer that. She certainly would never be seen busking in Cossington, and I don’t think her Dad would stand for it either.
But we were in Wales. Thankfully, Welsh Sundays are not what they used to be, so we managed to find a second breakfast in town. By the time we’d finished, Bob Kipling was fussing at me down the mobile phone.
Text message sent by Bob Kipling,
WILL, WHERE R U? 2 L8 2 COM BAC HERE. MAKE 4 RENDEZVOUS
@ MNTN CAR PARK. DONT B L8 THERE.
Text message sent by Stacey Oxenden
for Will Turnstone (who was driving)
WE’RE COMING, WE’RE COMING.
DON’T 4GET ROPES & SANDWICHES. WT
To the Mountain
The four of us were singing when we reached the car park at the foot of the mountain, but, Charlie Cockle was cross, Celia Cockle was cross, Sergeant Major (I don’t think) Kipling was cross. They’d counted on Scruffy being left behind with Shep. Darren, as ever, was riding his luck or maybe mine. I think they blamed me for Scruffy being there, but no-one had said Scruffy couldn’t go to Brecon, and Turnstone is an honourable man. Charlie wanted to leave Scruffy in the minibus, but Darren and Stacey both said that that would be cruel. The inside of the bus could get overheated which would be bad for Scruffy. Darren went very quiet when Charlie said he should have thought of the dog’s health yesterday, before giving him the sleeping pill, but Scruffy was allowed to walk up the mountain with us.
“First sign of him running off to chase sheep, he goes on the lead, boy,” barked Mr. Kipling, “and you get on the next train home, even if you have to sleep on your Gran’s floor.”
Charlie and the Sergeant Major were soon too busy to pay much attention to Scruffy. Here at the bottom of the mountain they could take turns showing off their muscle power pushing Ollie up the track in what they called the ATW. Was Stacey being totally serious when she said, “Sir, you must be strong?” Charlie thought she was: “You’ll see Stacey, it’ll take more than one of those unfit youths to push him.”
All this meant that Scruffy could peacefully walk to heel, not on his lead, right past hundreds of sheep & lambs. He seemed quite at his ease, nose and ears up, tail held high. Bob Kipling, taking a break from pushing, was a reluctant admirer.
It’s an occupational hazard for those of us blessed with a grey-to-white beard! ‘Hey Santa!’ from teenagers, or a rather more awed approach from younger children. I once had a long conversation with a little lad in Gap, France, with his mother in the background, encouraging me to keep going; great fun for me as well as him.
Today was surprisingly different.
Cycling along the shared path by the river, I rang my bell to warn a lady with her two dogs that I was approaching; they were occupying the whole path. Smiling, she got out of the way, saying to the dogs, ‘There boys, it’s Father Christmas come to say hello.’