England’s Poppies

Driving along the grey motorway for an afternoon’s work on the edge of a city, ironically in a dull silver car; the sky is covered in pasty grey blisters of cloud. It’s leaking rain which may be transparent but appears edge-of-silver grey, like dull damp ash in teardrop form. The world is reduced to monochrome photo effects, nothing as definite as black; walls of bridges, central reservation, even the GPS screen switches to grey shades as the female voice, the only cheer in my world for a few miles, insists “keep right.”

I am concentrating on driving: no radio, preparing to switch lanes in heavy traffic if the lady in the box gives me enough warning – traffic is unexpectedly heavy given that this is lunch time. But behind the concentration I realise that this is motorway/city driving unrelieved by grass verges or roadside trees and in a split decimal point of a second I realise what a focus the rain has brought to this part of the world. In some fast-backward scan some part of my brain rewinds film of journeys – and the predominant image is of poppies.

They have been reaching up and blooming for many weeks now, much earlier than I can ever remember them before. Of course I always associate poppies with November 11th as a symbol of remembrance and in ripening cornfields in late July and early August. The original species have been joined and augmented by big, multi-petalled garden hybrids and spectacular large petalled varieties are flooding into verges, running up hillsides, crowding crop fields and hedgerows and starring –intentionally or not in gardens. Big Hollywood lipstick reds with black centres rising up towards the sky (if not the visible sun!). Tall poppy syndrome indeed!

The thought makes me smile. And in this rain soaked summer they are everywhere, on the road down to my mom’s house, in the allotment plot, in the large cereal fields we drive past on the way to visit both of our daughters, painting the waste grounds before the builders bulldozers move inexorably in and over, like prehistoric Harryhausen models. The long, long rains have been extremely good for the grass which is responding to the lengthening hours of diffuse daylight (even though it lacks the bite of summer warmth that is holding growth of other plants back) and this super- green background, a green I have truly only ever seen in England, is showing the poppy blooms off to super effect. The poppies may have to be the only “silver lining” in the clouds this year as weather forecasts have the wet weather with us for some time.

By the time I leave the motorway queues and turn onto the car-park I am once again relaxed.

 

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