Reasons To Be Cheerful: Spiking the Lawn.

A.K.A: Some Good: Part Two

Another day. Another night and, out in the back garden – putting plants back into the greenhouse that have been hardening off in the warmth of the day (but need protecting from frosts overnight) – I pause to listen.

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There is a robin singing, wonderfully, from the heights of a Leylandii tree in the next garden. A woodpigeon settling noisily into the Korean pine (possibly nesting in there). A dog’s excited barking a few fences away (the house where the outside light is nearly always on. For no good reason.). And not a sound from the M6 Toll Road which runs along the old Watling Street corridor  less than a mile away from the house. Not a sound!

As usual, liking to think myself an organised person, I had the tasks for the day planned out. But, as the new reality dawns on me, on the rest of the planet, I realise I have to pace myself.

I would love to be going out. Out and about. Visiting places of interest: to a farm where lambs are being born. To see our daughters. My grandson. To football matches. To concerts. The gym. To the Cosford Airshow … none of which are options in the circumstances.

So, the world becomes even more limited than it was.

Jobs in the garden? Tick. The allotment? My permitted form of exercise, tick. Decorating? Hmmm, let’s not push it, okay?

And there is a need to pace myself. Not rush through, crazily, get all the jobs completed and then go :

“Fine, fine, fine; what’s next?”

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Now it is no secret that I don’t care for the mess of chores that make up the maintenance of a standard English lawn. Don’t even like mowing the grass regularly. But, following the earlier, though now largely forgotten about floods in January, February and early March, I do know the lawn could do with, at least aerating. Our lawn is a mess of a moss that I suspect is sphagnum, daisies, dandelions that feed early waking bumble bee queens, cowslips and – oh yes – some grass. There’s an apple tree (Beauty of Bath) that leans to one side in the space and naturalised daffodils … and, more recently wild garlic (that one of us mistook for white bluebells (even as I type it I am smiling broadly).

And so, in my head, I divide the area into patches; quite randomly. And start with the garden fork, furthest away from the house. There is no rush. No need to prove anything, nobody to prove it to. And, as with double digging, I get into a rhythm. The newish fence casts a wash of shade. As I work I notice the small things: brambles intruding, a single windflower vibrating in the ground level gusts, the remains of an allotment apple thrown out as feed for the thrushes several months ago. Small surface stones get picked up, cast onto the border, twigs brushed aside. Dark leaved celandine are new; grown from a pot bought as ornamental bedding and split up and planted.

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Then I am suddenly aware that I am surrounded by dozens of worms. Fellow garden labourers whose interminable work below the surface keeps the air and nutrients flowing constantly. The last full moon was, apparently named the Worm Moon, because this is the time of year worms become more active, more visible. In fact, they’ve never stopped their work, maybe just gone a bit deeper, slowed down. The vibrations of me stepping on the grass, pounding my size nines on the fork and the motion of the tines in the ground has, I guess, forced them to flee in that binary fashion by which they live their simple lives:

“There’s a predator below, head upwards!”

Stopping to lean on the fork and observe them for a spell I am aware of how lucky we are to have this size garden. Not massive, but big enough to spend time and effort in. As I type there are people across the world with either no garden, or very little space. Cooped up.

And I count my blessings. It was a deliberate choice to go for a property – all those years ago – with a bigger garden. Space to develop, pace to play, space to spend evenings, space for a cup of tea and a biscuit, for a barbecue.

Others decided to opt for little space or no garden. Easy or no maintenance. House builders, following the trend provided houses with postage stamp plots. And there are now housing estates packed with boxes-as-houses, very close to each other, front and back, side by side.

And, I suspect, people will be beginning to feel claustrophobic. Whether this will lead to a housing market where people actively seek bigger gardens remains to be seen.

It is also possible that people with space will begin to pay more attention to their gardens; though garden centres are currently closed. Hopefully they’ll move away from the indoor, screen-gazing, button-pressing, take more note of nature, the fresh air, natural cycles. Use it instead of thinking it a chore. Or taking it for granted.

Generations …

The rain, soft and steady, the need to go for a pee and his easily-made decision to crash-out at eight oh five p.m. the previous evening wake him up. He lies still – an unusual feat for him at any time, night or day – and sense scans his surroundings. The bedroom walls, shining gently with what he half-jokingly refers to as Russian-nuclear-submarine-grey (actually a sheeny mix of lilac and pale grey); the lack of any noise from either the adjoining room (until last night occupied – once again – by his daughter) and the lack of noise from the third bedroom (where for a couple of nights his nineteen month old grandson slept – if fitfully) roaring in his ears.

No need to creep ever-so-quietly (as if …) across the landing this time. To try and do the toilet business silently (again: as if …). Smiling to himself; happy that the parent/grandpa radars are still, at least reasonably, effective. Missing the need to be quite so responsible again. Missing the need to be responsive in quite the same way again.

Snuggled back in the familiar bed, he is soon asleep again. the predicted rain continues; the wind, so unfamiliar to his guests,  background to his deeper rest.

When he wakes again, he is feeling refreshed. Refreshed and replenished.  And he can … take … his … time.

There is no Lil’ Henry to see to, with his endless enthusiasm and sponge-like ability to soak up entertainment and skills. That joyous little face lighting up with a gazillion-candlepower beaming smile. And gurgles of welcome. And love.

Not that the tiny proto-human needed seeing to. Not in any serious way. His parents were more than capable of that.

He thinks of the past year as he consumes his soggy cereals, drinks his tea, watches the latest sensationalist news (pandemic, sports, charity, knife crime, HS2): the marvellous, inexorable development of his grandson. To the reasoning, thinking, character-filled creature he has happily spent time with for a couple of glorious days. His morning routines; standing on a step to clean his own teeth, feeding his own face at mealtimes, bottle, bath and story at bedtimes.

And the magical serendipitous scramble of activities in between.

Those moments in the back garden which had been seeded some months ago. When Lil’un had been carried outside while he added sunflower seed, fat pellets and peanuts to the bird tables outside. And Hen had dipped his hand (such a learner-by-mimicry) into the bucket.  And had done so for the next few visits: tha feeding-the –birds being a part of autumn-through-winter life.

But this time damned if Henry hadn’t gone one stage further. Knowing (yes, knowing!) where the buckets were kept. And dragging one of them (weighing some four kilos or so) to the kitchen step, opening the door, stepping up (solo effort) lifting the cumbersome bucket into the kitchen (clear of the door) and pushing the door closed. Then, with that oh-so-charming smile, looking up into his grandmother’s eyes.

He didn’t speak (he will, don’t worry) but was clearly thinking

“So, where’s grandy then?”

And grandy, not so far away, was both surprised by the feats (such joined-up, purposeful thinking) and pleased to be involved, was happy to play the role.

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Once outside the tables were replenished, little hands keen to have extra time to experience the tactile nature of the seed mixture; grandfather happy to have the time with him.

Then those truly joyous few minutes where Henry just became autonomous and explored the slightly deluged garden.

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Leaving him to simple stand and watch. Those wonderful moments of play and learning. Waterproof snow boots eating up the metres, tracking puddles, paths, log store, borders, wildlife pond (“it’s okay, grandy is here,”), apple trees and beyond; though what processes were clicking inside the young brain he couldn’t guess. He became just absorbed in observing; sure, there for supervision, for safety … but happy not to be involved. Play which developed into a round and round the apple tree, through a puddle on the lawn (indignation about the two stray crocus flowers poking brave purple heads through the inch-or-so of water lost and irrelevant). A kind of new-tradition tribal dance. Left hand on the tree, circle, lift hand, duck and pause beneath the one-time oak gatepost now supporting the lean-down trunk, jig on the spot in the water, continue round (five paces), hand back on the trunk. Repeat.

So joyous. Crystallised down from a thousand billion branches of the evolutionary tree; from the Big Bang, via Lucy to Voyager’s ongoing mission, Leonardo (da Vinci or da Quirm doesn’t matter) and beyond to the reaches of infinity. Just moving. Just inspiring. A young Turk, learning the ropes for himself. In every way. Confident. Quick to learn, but enjoying every bouncing moment of his play…

… colliding and fusing so instant-well with all of the firework experiences and memories of times with his own children growing up, the unthinking investment of time, energy, love and giving that was showing the dividends that never need paying.

Every child has the right to play, says UNICEF … and here was the spirit of that, the timeless essence of that and every reason that it should continue to be so. Before his very eyes.

Birds tables would be stocked up this morning, but it would be a lonely task.

Plough Monday Plus One?

Watched an engaging TV programme over the Christmas/New year time-bubble. About how the Tudors celebrated the Christmas holy days. It included mention of a certain “Plough Monday”; the first Monday following January 6th (Christian Epiphany: the date I was told at primary school when the three wise men/kings reached the Bethlehem stable). the day when the carousing and merriment officially stopped and feudal farm workers pulled up their socks, fetched out their timber ploughs and began to till the soil. A date in the almanacs and church calendars, when the Lord of Misrule (a purely temporary title) was put away for another three hundred and sixty odd days and bodies, if not minds, were bent back to physical work and hum-drummery.

Image result for image Tudor ChristmasHow jolly different Christmases were in those days – and how Christmases have evolved and changed over the years (when, indeed, not being banned – or, more correctly regulated, by governments) and how correct so many people are when they say  “Christmas isn’t Christmas like it used to be.” Correct in that the Christmas they remember, most likely from their own childhood is not like the “traditional” Christmas their own parents had. In some cases remarkably different.

My own childhood Christmases were hung about with Black Peter, the companion to Father Christmas/Santa who -perhaps because this is as close as dammit to the Black Country – would leave a lump of coal in the stockings of children who had not behaved well during the year. And, in some cases, was likely to take the recalcitrant child away!

Our tree was always a branch of holly from a farm hedgerow (no problem if the farm is yours!) and a Rupert annual was de rigeur as a prized present. No electronic gadgetry of course. Simple toys, sometimes home made. Our children’s Christmases were, as an English teacher I had in secondary school liked to say “the same but different”. There were Christmas customs from my family and from my wife’s family to commingle after all.

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This year, on cue, the piece of holly I always take from a local hedgerow – this year loaded with luscious red berries – is taken out of the house on Twelfth Night and the decorations all taken down and packed away. In the roof.

The tree, a cut Nordmann pine is sacrificially dismembered and stuffed into the “green bin” (which in our case, is literally green in colour as well as purpose).

To explain, our district council runs a three-bin collection system: the aforementioned green bin for garden waste, a blue-in-colour bin for recyclable waste and a grey bin for “household waste”. There is a rota system and the bins are effectively and efficiently collected in turn every two weeks. The bins and collection service are paid for from the taxes we pay to the council; though this may – or may not – be supplemented by money from central government (a sore point in our cutback-rich, blame-the-other-side society).

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“They’re gonna start chargin’ us for the green bins you know?” my wife is told by one of her former colleagues; they go out for a meal once a month: a great way to keep in touch.

When I hear this, thoughts begin the chug and whir. Firstly, this is the first I have heard of such a move, though rumours of it have been dusting the air for two or more years. Secondly, given that it is true, what responses are possible? can we say “no thanks” and the green bin is taken away? How much will it cost? In the first (what I guess will be a pilot) year, maybe the charges will be nominal. And, if we choose to try and manage without, what do we do with the stuff we currently put in there?

Most garden waste from our house plus uncooked kitchen waste goes into a caddy (actually a re-purposed plastic bucket with a sealed lid) and up on to the allotment compost heap. In return we ferry pernicious weeds from the allotment and ram them in the household bin when we are unable to dry and burn them on site (N.B. burning is only allowed on Fridays and then only under strict conditions, wind direction, smoke, nuisance and neighbouring houses).

And, by the way, what do the council actually do with the waste they collect? There was a trial about twenty years ago where they attempted large scale composting themselves: piling up the waste so that it generated the necessary heat, aerating it and using it on parks and plantings, selling some back to the residents. What happened to that scheme. A half mile from the allotment site is a garden centre at the rear of which is a separate – quite massive – composting area. I had believed that the collected garden waste was sent there. Are the council selling the waste (and why not? the contractor definitely sells it on and uses it for his landscape gardening business).

Or – being a public body, maybe the council pays him to take the waste. A win-win situation for him then. My great grandfather, farmer of this parish, was paid by the local coal mining company to collect pit pony manure from the colliery. he used this then to fertilise his land. A similar situation: win and – er – win again. Every time. My great grandfather also hired out his heavy horses to pull ice-breaker logs along the local spur of the canal that carried coal from said colliery to Birmingham and beyond (no fool, my great gramps, this was a time when the horses had little farm work to do – and needed the exercise to stay in condition).

And – back to the pay-for-recycling rumour – if it helps the environment – God knows it needs all the help it can get – why not pay and crack on. We have to do something with the waste.

Doubtless others will smuggle it and fly tip it somewhere. Giving the powers-that-be another headache. Or, as one of our neighbours – for some reason, hopefully best-known to herself – was wont to do, creep and put her family’s rubbish into someone else’s bin. she didn’t necessarily wait, by the way, until collection day, when all of the bins are out on the footpaths. There’s nowt as queer as folk eh?

The grey bin, should you be interested is reserved for household waste that is not compostable and not recyclable (paper, card, glass, aluminium cans and certain (you have to look it up on the council web-site) plastics. Those should be washed, dried and put into the blue bin. They go to what used to be called an incinerator. Since this word has, allegedly, negative connotations, they now go to the local county councils/ Veolia partnership Waste To Energy (W2E) facility. Here they are burned (incinerator by any other name) and the heat is used to generate electricity. The air is kept clean, we are told, by computer-monitored emissions controls that would close down the operation is safe levels were exceeded.

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I am heartily in favour of this method of getting rid of waste by converting it to energy. It may be way to the future. fossil fuels have, surely, had their day. Veolia, a pan-European conglomerate have their eyes on this lucrative market; by which, who can blame them, they will make a small fortune.

 

 

 

 

 

The First Sign?

I wake up and have to decide which of my resolutions to attempt today: gym or allotment. Doing both, while tempting,  is, frankly, beyond my energy levels and spare time allowances at the moment.

It’s an unseasonably warm day (temperature in double figures and it is January), I think, it’s likely to be raining tomorrow, so … let’s do the allotment, the gym can wait. Both resolutions are designed to keep me (?) hale and hearty. And to get me off a potentially lazy backside. Unless that’s just a different way of saying the same thing.

Then I have to wait. so I can boil a kettle and make a flask of tea. My wife is in the shower and, as things go around here, turning on a tap sharply increases the water temperature of the shower.  While I’m waiting I get stuff together.the bucket of tools, the combi-drill, the kitchen waste, working boots.

Half an hour later I’m on site; the only one there.  A quiet day; on such a day I tell myself, time can be taken. There’s nothing to prove and – er – nobody to prove it to. Gulls wheel about in the fresh pale blue skies and I begin to set to work. There’s a lot to be done. The shed, now clad in scrounged galvanised corrugated metal (which, I hope, will make the wooden shed I got when my sister moved house twenty-plus years ago – that was only going to last a maximum of six years! – go on for another six), needs tidying out inside. I moved everything around to get the cladding on and have not -yet – got around to putting it back!

Crammed and rammed inside the six foot by eight foot shed are the pieces of fibre board I rescued from the family bonfire (and intend to clad the inside of the shed with), guttering and downpipes that harvested rainfall pre-cladding and need putting back. Not least because the committee decided to – for once – become pro-active and support a “green revolution” by making it an expectation that sheds collect rainwater. Putting up the guttering it is then; a place to start: a small bit bit of tidying up and a bit of restoration. Double whammy!

And of course a chance to play with my new-ish toy: bring out the combi-drill! I reckon to use two of the bits during the work, a metal drill bit and a screwdriver bit, switching between them and the requisite power settings reasonably smoothly. There’s no faffing about with a chuck key and – although one or the other of the bits rolls out of sight – just to frustrate me – I’m not rising to the bait. A dab of adhesive to add some bite and, slowly but surely the clips get fastened in. It needs some adjustment to the roofing felt,but I take that in my stride too.

There is a marvellous almost-therapy to being out in the air, under no pressure but with something to achieve. and,as I’m working I am adding jobs-to-do to along list: hoe out the perennial weeds, dig over the plot, add lime but not home made compost, burn some scrap timber and dried weeds on Friday, empty the middle compost bin.

In fact, after a cup of tea, I actually manage to do a bit of digging. The ground is too wet, some of the “old boys” here tell me. I listen of course, I have learned a lot by listening to people who know more than I do. But, on this one, I’m not sure. wet ground makes for heavy digging, that’s for sure. My back will remind me of this fact later. But if I don’t turn the ground over now, when will I get it done? During the madcap season where I’m chasing my tail trying to find spaces and places to plant out seedlings germinated in the home greenhouse?

And the exercise surely will do me good won’t it? And, standing back and leaning on my spade I note how tidy the new-dug ground looks. It’s higgledy-piggledy, full of clods and lumpy but winter’s remaining weathers will break it up. And there’s a clear, not necessarily straight – you can’t have everything – between the pathways and the beds.

I begin to put the tools away: those that “live” in the shed, those that are going home. I’ve done enough and am ready for a tasty banana sandwich. But, like some kind of addict, I stay a little longer. I can’t help it:  just adding a few battens inside the shed, catching the bare ends of screws that pin the cladding to the timber shell.

I’m on my way back along the path to the car when I am aware of two things. The first is that someone is watching me. The second, only important because of the first, is that I may have been talking out loud to myself. I was certainly having a conversation, but – until that point – had believed it was going on – only – inside my head.

But, er … what if ..?

And he’s obviously watching me, because he waves. I wave back, not easy when you’re wheeling a poorly packed barrow  full of bits and pieces. But I manage, at the same time thinking to myself (certain, now,  that this is non-verbal communication with myself):

“He must think you’re a nutter. wandering along the path, chuntering to yourself. about balancing the barrow, about what you’ll do next time you’re up here, about the state of so-and-so’s plot, about nipping home before going out to buy bird food …”

How embarrassing. But, clearly, he’s not put off. He meets me close to the car.

“Somebody’s been busy,” he says. Is he being patronising? I glance – shiftily, I presume – at his face. Doesn’t seem like it.

I decide to make light of it.

“Sorry,” I begin, “in  a bit of a world of my own there (a massive under-statement!). Was I talking to myself? My nan always said talking to yourself was the first sign of madness.”

“If you were,” he replies, “I didn’t hear you.”

I like him immediately.

 

 

 

 

Stung!

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I dreamed of a wall, by the well,

Constructed of discarded chessmen

And damaged harps, the

Strings of which were plucked, at times,

By atoms moved by winds birthed

History’s high Oriental snow fields.

My crazy world is broken again.

The sharp jagged edges of debris

Cut my feet, scar my very soul.

I am stung out of lethargy,

Brought to words and thoughts

I believed were lost to me:

We must all live in the moment –

That much is obvious –

But this act, this logic

Is fair in no language

Used by the civilised.

 

 

 

 

None of Them

Picture me –

Amid this turn-taking

Game of random leaders:

Faithless ivory-faced kings,

Holy-roller board extremists,

Sword-wielders in minute-man keeps –

Balancing , desperately on the edge

Of a dangerously spinning wheel,

Waiting for somebody, anybody –

Even the one-eyed queen of reds –

To draw the sanity-humanity card.

But once again, and everywhere I look,

There are only jokers, brokers,

Trapped, frustrated pawns and

 Grim-black suits that hunt in packs. 

Luck may wear six faces:

But none of them is mine.

If You Will

 

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Fly the flag,

If you will,

Raise it gently,

But not too high –

Not yet.

Fly the flag,

If you will,

With respect,

Not anger;

Fly it low;

Let the winds

Carry the message.

For there is,

At least a tiny fragment

Of each of us –

A today, a

Yesterday, a tomorrow –

In those three colours

(Or else, in truth, why

Are we in this special place?)

Fly the flag,

If you will,

Without fear,

With no provocation;

In memory of events,

Moreso especially of

Innocents

Who suffered,

Those who are

Suffering still.

Fly the flag if you will:

Know that you fly it for me,

For yourself and

For the futures

Being reckoned.

Even now.