Wild Life

I finished the first draft of The Novel last weekend. It’s a strangely anticlimactic feeling. Eighty thousand words in a document … and? A vast number of notes (things to add, adjust and work out in the rewrite) and a sudden emptiness. I was tempted to dive straight in to editing but I’ve made myself take at least a week off. We did have a bottle of fizz (it was on offer at £6.99) to celebrate.

One sunny day I wasn’t at the day job so I drove over to Dymock and Kempley (near Ledbury) to see the wild daffodils.

This coming weekend (14 – 15 March) is their local Daffodil Weekend with guided walks, cream teas and lots of information. There’s a 10 mile marked walk (with map) available that includes the best sites. Inevitably the area is right on a join between OS maps.

I began at Kempley’s St Mary’s church and was delighted – it’s a gem dating from the 12th Century and with the remains of ancient wall paintings still visible. Outside, the porch, with it’s pegged stone tile roof, is simply a later addition to the building.

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Next I ambled through Dymock Woods listening to birdsong. Lots of evidence of deer (tracks and barked saplings). The daffs there were not out as yet (in the shade) and one of the smaller paths is almost impassably muddy. Even on a logging track gouged by heavy machinery, the daffodils were hanging on and budding.

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Dymock church is not so engaging as Kempley’s St Mary’s but someone was on duty supplying tea or coffee and a choice of rather gorgeous cake and there’s a lovely display about the Dymock poets.

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In the lanes around the Poets’ Paths north of Dymock the daffs were in full bloom, brightening sunny hedge banks and field edges.

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Just outside Dymock itself I caught a glimpse of one of our rarely seen big cats. As I came through a stile something raced across the narrowest open grass of the field below me. “Cat” my brain told me automatically, then, a split second later, “No – too big – must be a black Labrador,” then, “WOW! it moves and is shaped like a cat but is the size of a Labrador” by which time it had zoomed – far too fast to grab my camera. So, yes, it might have been a silent, stray, short-legged, long-slim-tailed, short-muzzled, feline-running dog but the biologist (and natural history nerd) in me says “big cat”.

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Whale of a sign

Orca adjustment to a grazing stock warning sign near Guarlford, approaching Malvern from the Rhydd (on the B4211):

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Muddy meandering

My archery fanatics (daughter and husband) took me along for a weekend away when they shot at the Brighton Open Archery Tournament. Brighton Open was in Horsham (quite a way from Brighton but it was run by Brighton Bowmen archery club). While my sport-enthused kin used bits of high tech to hurl pointy things at teensy target faces in a chilly sports hall, end after end, I ambled around a couple of nature reserves and then, as sleet struck, holed up in Holbrook sports centre’s cosy club (with peppermint tea and excellent fruit loaf) to write a bit more of The Novel. The actual ending was written a couple of weeks ago but I was struggling with a pre-ending scene which I couldn’t quite choreograph until this morning when – Eureka! – it has clicked.

Southwater has a leisure park with a lake. Like everywhere in February the paths were brown-grey and muddy, except where they were closed to build a dinosaur-themed play area (knee deep in even more mud).

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Meanwhile, real dinosaurs (modern morphology: cormorants) dried wings on nearby trees or dive-bombed walkers who might drop a few crumbs (assorted gulls).

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Warnham Nature Reserve is a gem even if it is all about mud – it’s a wetland (and wet path in February) reserve. I wished I’d taken binoculars in case a bittern was lurking in the reed beds.

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As it was I had a lovely peaceful walk right to the far end (via boardwalk – I love boardwalks) and up the (muddy) hill to see where they will be awash with butterflies come summer but now is bare silver birch trees and hazel catkins.

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They have a captive breeding programme for harvest mice – wonderful to watch.

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Sunday morning we all walked up Juniper Hill (near Box Hill). It’s not changed much since I worked a season at Juniper Hall Field Studies Centre in the late ’80s while I was deciding what to do after my Biology degree. My husband proposed while I was based there. No fox cubs playing in dead leaves this time: too wet and too many people crashing about. The Belted Galloway bullocks were new, though, and very handsome.

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Back home to chuck muddy trainers and clothing in the wash.

I’ll be bashing away at The Novel till I manage to get from where my characters are now (one has surprised me; this may or may not be allowed in the big scheme but, at the moment, his dialogue has me hooked) to where they damn well will be for the very end.

Meanwhile poetry is on hold because I only have one mind and it also has to manage family and day job and it’s not entirely capable of reality at the best of times. But I was wandering (and wondering) around the Sussex lakes taking in our February: mud (so much mud – and how mud varies in its glorious gloopiness); twigs flushing with sap ready to burgeon; so many colours of green (early fine grass; seedlings; moss; lichen; ivy and holly; brambles’ wine-tones; pond weeds); textures (leaves, twigs, path, mud, sky); bird songs, scutterings; wood smoke, car fumes and so on. Close observation. One day these will drop into a poem. If not, they’re in my head and heart and that’s maybe even better – for me, at least.

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Painswick Rococo Garden

Painswick Rococo Garden has a grand show of snowdrops.

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Though, having knelt on the path to take the next late-afternoon shot, I missed noticing the photographer who had gone off the path to take his own shots.

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The garden is full of strange features, ancient and modern.

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The Upsetting Truth…Part Two!

Myfanwy Fox:

Read this (and Part 1). Food for thought.

Originally posted on kathleen kerridge:

Everything I do seems to have a sequel.  It’s funny how life can be like that.  I really felt that some points needed to be addressed, however.  There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the Unseen Poor.  Let’s kick back with a cuppa and have a chat about a few of them, shall we?  Make yourself comfortable and come sit with me.  Keep your coat on, it’s not cold enough for heating, but you’re probably going to feel the chill in my house if you’re not used to it.  My family and I are used to it.  Our old house never had heating for three years, thanks to an indifferent and incompetent landlord.  While being evicted when he sold the house was distressing and has left me terrified it will happen again, this house is better.  Even with penetrating damp, crumbling walls and mould.  We had white fluffy mould and…

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Keeping abreast

I’m still thinking about freedom of speech / freedom of expression and the tangles we make.

I gather that Murdoch’s Sun “newspaper” has at long last bowed to pressure and its page three bare-breasted spread will cease. I can’t help wondering how many of the people who gleefully celebrate page 3’s demise were recently defending breast-feeding mums right to feed anywhere. And, last week, were they claiming “Je suis Charlie” on Twitter or on the streets of London? “If it offends you, don’t look at it!” was on repeat to Muslims upset by Charlie Hebdo’s front pages. Could we say the same of our national press? (Works for me; I’ve boycotted Murdoch’s media empire since the ‘80s.)

I know: context is everything. Breast feeding is natural, vital and life-affirming; page 3 is sexist and demeaning. But where are the lines crossed? And what has replaced the page 3 models? Less “sexy” model poses? Actual (god forbid) news? No. It seems that the paparazzi are in demand again, zooming in on celeb ladies for any inch of unfortunate flab. So it’s a wink to prudery and a raspberry to women – not least because it’s us women who are keen critics of our sisters, it seems.

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Free Speech

I caught flu three weeks ago. Not bad flu; not two-weeks-in-bed-with-a-temperature flu (it was just four days); not pneumonia-as-a-fun-extra flu (been there, done that). Just a mercifully brief bout of yuk.

Woozy-headed I surfaced just in time for the Charlie Hebdo and Jewish supermarket attacks in Paris. Woozy-headed I’ve been following the fall-out from my cosy English home. It’s none of my business you might say. But it is my business because no man is an island, in Donne’s words: “Any man’s death diminishes me, / Because I am involved in mankind, / And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; / It tolls for thee.”

“Je suis Charlie”, “Je suis Ahmed”. Streets packed with support for freedom of speech. World leaders not actually leading a march but looking as if they were (while lined-up in a cordoned-off street behind massive security for their photo-op). That same photo in an ultra-orthodox Jewish paper but with the (few enough anyway) women photo-shopped out. Right wing terrorism against mosques. A Muslim hero who saved Jewish shoppers by hiding them in a cold room. MI6 demanding more powers. Cameron demanding control of all online interactions. Arms and armour companies’ and security firms’ share prices soaring. Murdoch’s Fox News exerting it’s freedom to spout utter bollox by telling the world that Birmingham UK is “totally Muslim” with Sharia Law. Murdoch himself tweeting that all “Moslems” should decry extremists. (Perhaps all Christians should apologise for the KKK, which claims to be a Christian organisation?) Boko Haram (which apparently translates as “Western education is forbidden”) meanwhile rampages through northern Nigeria with barely a mention on mainstream media while IS continues its savagery in Syria and Iraq but Western media are bored by that, now. Comedy character Al Murray (actor as a common man) will stand against Nigel Farage (public school educated banker, pretending to be common man) in Thanet. It’s a bit like dreaming a very badly synched episode of The Comic Strip while over-dosed on cough meds.

There’s a difference between healthy scepticism of what’s in the media and buying in to conspiracy theories but our politicians and media are blurring the lines. If I said that was a deliberate blurring I’d be teetering on the edge of my own conspiracy theory. But the blurring is much to the advantage of vested interests. Keep the majority of us anxious, confused, uncertain and we’re too bemused or scared to do anything. It’s that Orwellian 1984 scenario of who are we at war with today? Who will we target in response? Those they offer us on a plate: “scroungers”, illegal immigrants, potential terrorists. The latter will not be far right British groups but far more easily visible “Islamists”. That mistrust and hatred will alienate enough Muslim youth to keep up a supply of “potential terrorists”. It’s a circular effect. How do we break it?

Saudi Arabia is Britain’s ally. This is clear from the way our government bend over backwards to keep on good terms with the authoritarian absolute monarchy. Vast sums of oil and money pour between it and The City. Yet Saudi Arabia has incubated al-Qaeda and IS. It’s a country where women cannot vote, drive or go out alone. Saudi blogger Raif Badawi is currently in prison and due 950 lashes (he received 50 already last week). What was his crime? Blogging about free speech.

Je suis Raif Badawi.

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Raif Badawi, picture from Amnesty International

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