Long time readers of this blog may have been wondering what has happened to the swan family since May. Since the family hatched and left the nest they've been very difficult to track down. My brother saw them while fishing on the river but they don't appear to have returned to the millpond at all during this period. It is normal for them to retreat to quieter stretches of water till the young increase in size but you can usually find them if you try. A couple of weeks ago I walked five miles up and down the river without seeing them. There are some inaccessible reaches and I guess that's where they were. But today my luck changed....
As I walked by the mill I saw the whole family. I was only just in time though; the pen (female) was leading them under the mill bridge and out of sight. I was pleased to see six cygnets have been raised (one more than last year). And don't you just love the orderly way in which they are proceeding with father at the back to guard their progress! This section of river has become rather weedy as the low water-levels have meant that the mill sluice has not been running and consequently the river is hardly flowing.
The family will stay together till at least the autumn and sometimes into the winter. But then the cob (male bird) will start to think about next year's brood and will chase the youngsters off. Well, there are some times when you just don't want the kids around!
Busy times at work at the moment but I did manage to catch the wonderful sound of Fernando's Kitchen busking in the streets of Cambridge on Sunday. Their fiery blend of flamenco, Arabic and Latin music was just right for the sunny Sunday afternoon.
There are a number of links to allow you to join in the fun:
Roger Deakin's "Notes From Walnut Tree Farm" has taken up residence on my bedside table for most of the time since I first read it a year or so ago. It's the ideal volume for dipping into at odd moments - I still keep finding new things in there! Roger Deakin also wrote two other books, "Waterlog" and "Wildwood", both of which are also excellent, but somehow "Walnut Tree Farm" is the one which I find myself re-reading.
For the last six years of his life Mr Deakin kept journals mostly centred on the farm which he bought in a fairly derelict state many years previously. Extracts from these diaries have been arranged to give a picture of a typical year. In many ways it reads like a rather superior blog, as one keeps learning new things about the author and his views.
It soon becomes apparent that he has a rather idiosyncratic lifestyle - newts make their way across his study floor; he goes swimming in an old moat; he makes sculptures using a chainsaw; he often sleeps in an old shepherds' hut. His journals are similarly undisciplined, erratic and colourful; full of reminiscences, ideas, reflections, art, history, ecology, poetry.....
But each anecdote and observation, like individual brushstrokes, builds a picture of who Roger Deakin is and, to paraphrase Loudon Wainwright's song, tells you "what he stands for and what he just can't stand". It also reveals his vision of the English landscape which has been formed, not by academic study, but by getting close to the land by working on it. It's no accident that we meet him, at the start of the book, laying on the cold ground blowing into a fire to get it started. And his story is soon crackling and flaring up, fanned by his restless imagination and gentle humour.
His landscape is a welcome antidote to what I call the National Trustification of the British countryside. That over-fussy, manicured type of scenery which has no real purpose other than to look nice to the casual passer-by. Roger Deakin lives in his landscape and everything has a real function, however whimsical and unpredictable that may be.
This book will certainly entertain and maybe give you new ways to look at and appreciate the world around you. For another review and a woderful photo of Roger at his farmhouse door click on this
These snippets of conversation have all been heard by me over the years or told to me by friends. No phone-hacking was involved!
While descending in the lift at Addenbrooks Hospital in Cambridge I overheard this conversation from two ladies who'd been visiting their sick husbands: "How's your husband today?" "Oh, much better today, how's yours?" "He's lookin' a lot better too. They're goin' to move 'im out of the Insensitive Care Ward tomorrow" Everyone in the lift stared at their shoes and tried to stifle their giggles as their minds conjured up images of jack-booted nurses turfing patients out of their beds with cries of "Come on, there's nothing wrong with you!"
For many years I was a walks leader for HF Holidays. After dinner it was customary for the leaders to describe the walks they would be leading the next day. One time I was due to lead the easy walk, it was very short as it allowed time to look around a castle in the afternoon. I described the walk in some detail and was surprised when a Scottish lady asked, "Whereaboots?" I started to explain again...."Och, no no no," she cried, "I meant 'Shall we wear...our...boots?"
On another evening at HF I was due to lead the longer walk. I explained that the coach would drop us off in the morning at a mountain pass so that we had a relatively short uphill walk to the summit but that people should be aware that there then followed a long, long descent back to the house. I summed up at the end by saying "...so there's just over one thousand feet of ascent but more than two thousand feet of descent." "I say!" said an elderly gentleman, "We're going underground!"
The first time my grandmother visited a supermarket we asked her what she thought of the experience. She answered, "I'm sure more people would go if it wasn't so crowded."
My Grandpa went blind in one eye in his later years. He came back from the hospital to tell us that the doctor had told him that nothing could be done as it was just the result of old age. "I knew that was wrong", he told my father, "the other eye's the same age and there's nothing wrong with that one!"
New teacher: "Can everybody hear me OK?"
Boy near the front of class: "Yes, Sir, but I don't mind swapping places with someone who can't".
Old Bert used to do odd jobs around the farm and often went out shooting rabbits or pigeons. One day I pointed out a rather distant rabbit to him, "Too far away", explained Bert, "'Twould strain the gun!"
On another occasion Bert took off his boots to reveal one blue sock and one brown one. "Nice pair of socks!" we quipped. Bert looked thoughtfully at his feet, "Arr, I got another pair like that somewhere."
One day in the special school where I worked we had a new teacher. Admittedly it's always difficult to find age-appropriate material for teenagers with learning difficulties but we all cringed when she proceeded to tell them the story of the Pied Piper. When she finished she asked one of the boys if he thought it was a happy story or a sad story. "Oh, I should think it's a happy story" he replied mischievously. "But how did those parents feel when their children disappeared into the mountain?" she prompted. "Rich!" came the reply.
The latest curiosities to make me throw the bike down on the roadside and snap away happily, the back wheel spinning, are as follows:
The Old Postbox
I see lots of these as I travel around and I have it on good authority that this is one of the oldest. It bears the cipher VR so it dates from the reign of Queen Victoria. As it stands outside The Old Vicarage in Grantchester it's probably where the poet Rupert Brooke posted letters when he lodged there. You can become quite addicted to checking out the royal ciphers to date the boxes.
The Village Pump
Before the advent of piped water in our homes people (usually the womenfolk) had to collect the family's water from a communal village pump. It was where they exchanged information about the goings-on in the village. Somewhere "village gossip" picked up a bad name but it is really what glues society together. When there was illness in my own family we made no effort to tell people about it, but word spread throughout the community and all sorts of folk arrived at our door to ask if they could help. And very glad we were to see them. Without gossip we are doomed to a very lonely and soulless existence.
A Good Year For The Daisies
I couldn't resist another photo of the Ox-Eye Daisies which have been blooming so magnificently on every roadside and field margin this summer.
The Threshing Barn
Up until the middle of the nineteenth century grain was threshed (that is the grain was separated from the straw and chaff) by hand. A team of two men would open up the sheaves of wheat or barley on the threshing floor and beat it with flails. It was slow and arduous work but provided employment during the winter months. The large doors, which at harvest time had been used by the carts bringing in the sheaves, would be closed, but a gap below the doors allowed a draught to blow through to aid the winnowing process. A board was placed across the bottom of the doorway to hold the threshed grain, this was known as the "thresh-hold". (Just in case you ever wondered about the origin of that word.)
My fascination with English traditional music and song began, oddly enough, when I was a student in London; the only time when I didn't live in the countryside. The folk revival was in full swing but even then not many people were interested in hearing the original source material. For some reason, probably just cussedness, I had to be different and I tried to find recordings of the old men who sang unaccompanied. Luckily for me I found an LP of the singing of Sam Larner. Born in 1878, a former fisherman and a real character, Sam's humour, enthusiasm and love of life shone through every song. Among his historical ballads, broadsides and music hall songs was a fisherman's song with a rousing chorus. Unfortunately it only had two verses - a serious fault in a chorus song; but the sleeve notes told some of Sam's life story. So I took the chorus and one of his verses and somehow the rest of the song sort of wrote itself....
Coil Away The Trawl Warp
Once I was a schoolboy and I lived a life of ease,
Then I was a smacksman who sailed the raging seas,
I thought I'd like sea-faring life but very soon I found
It wasn't all plain-sailing, boys, out on the fishing ground
Coil away the trawl warp, boys, lets heave on the trawl
When we get our fish on board we'll have another haul
Straightway to the capstan and merrily heave we all
That's the cry in the middle of the night
Haul on the trawl, boys, haul!
I've stood and watched the boats come in on each and every tide, Seen the harbour so choc-full you could walk from side to side All the lads of Winterton would run to lend a hand And when we'd got them fish on shore there was nowhere left to stand! (chorus)
Like my old Dad before me I worked beneath the sail 'Cos lads who never went to sea they mostly went to jail, But then in Nineteen-twenty-nine the fishing grew so poor That many an honest fisherman was cast up on the shore. (chorus)
We did a bit of this and that to earn a couple of bob, Planting trees and mending roads but not a proper job, In the evenings we'd go down to have a couple of beers To sing the old sea-faring songs and talk of former years. (chorus)
The fishing days have gone away, there's no more to be said, We might as well drink up our beer and all go home to bed, But when I'm dead and in my grave I know you're going to see A great big ghost that'll haunt this coast - singing just like me! (chorus)
Just some Petunias which greet me every night as I get home from work. I raised these beauties from seed so I'm particularly proud of them. Not much else to say, I just thought you might like to see them too.
When Dad retired from work through ill-health he was told by the doctor that the best thing he could do to help his emphysema was to walk. Dad walked a little further each day till he could walk to Cambridge and back, a round trip of about five miles. He became a familiar sight walking through Grantchester Meadows carrying his backpack to bring home whatever bargains he could find in town. A week ago he would have had his 87th birthday and I found myself on Dad's route and, naturally enough, thinking about him.
As described in an earlier post, during a former lifetime, when I was "Rucksack Man" (see left) and wandered blamelessly and somewhat aimlessly along the more scenic footpaths of Britain, I carried a little notebook of quotations which I'd collected. I called this booklet "The Open Road" after a poem by Walt Whitman. In the absence of anything more pressing to report on I'd like to share a few more of these quotes with you.
"The power most important to cultivate, and, at the same time the hardest to acquire, is that of seeing what is before you" - George Perkins Marsh
"You don't run down the present, pursue it with baited hooks and nets. You wait for it, empty-handed and you are filled." - Annie Dillard
"The question is not what you look at but what you see" - Thoreau
"There isno salvation in becoming adapted to a world which is crazy" - Henry Miller
"The peasants are the great sanctuary of sanity, the country the last stronghold of happiness. When they disappear there is no hope for the race." - Virginia Woolf
"Cold mountain water Heals the body's ills But only grouse and mountain birds can reach it Beasts of the valley have no chance to drink it" - Song of Milarepa
"It takes more endurance to work in a city than it does to climb a mountain" - Pete Boardman
"In such an ugly time as this the only true protest is beauty" - Phil Ochs
"Nature is the most beautiful thing in the world. You can show the beauty, illustrate it, but it is never the real beauty - very far from it. We don't know how beautiful nature really is. We can only guess." - Andre Kertesz