“O Word of Fear”

It’s been a very long time. Not since the mid-1990s in fact. And that was at a small, rural sewage treatment works in Wiltshire.

Rural sewage treatment works tend to be havens for wildlife – and also quiet, hard to find (no sat navs then) and occasionally it’s only possible to depart by reversing down winding, hedge-blinkered, narrow lanes.

In days of yore, figs and tomatoes often grew at rural works, thanks to processes of nature we can all imagine. And before the days when time was money, some of the men who worked the works grew fruit and vegetables with duly aged ‘manure.’

But what I experienced in Wiltshire that memorable day was not the sight of a rare flower (as there are at some sites), nor of a small, rare four-legged animal (ditto) but a sound. The sound of an elusive creature I could not see.

A cuckoo.

Yesterday, somewhat depressed, as seems to be my fate these last few weeks (don’t mention the kitchen) I took myself out to the local sand dunes, adjoining Royal Birkdale Golf Club.

We’re lucky here, the entire coastal fringe of Sefton is protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest – an SSSI.  For which we partly have our famous links golf courses  to thank, for keeping them unbuilt-upon.

The afternoon was moving on to evening, but still the spring sun poured warm libations onto my head as I strode past windswept trees and into the warm, grass covered mounds.

The fence is there because sometimes cattle or sheep are brought in to graze

The sand was soft and golden underfoot. Walking was hard work. But the world was beautiful.

A mile or so down the coast by the beach at Ainsdale this is how the dunes look

Bluebells danced their tethered dance, dappled through trees with leaves unfurling fresh and lush with sap.

Tawny tassels swung from birches. Pink-and-white blossom itched to break free.

Birds sang, dogs ran. People said ‘hi’ or ‘hello’ – or even, ‘good afternoon’.

Then I reached a place where no-one was. No dogs. No people. Just trilling birds, stands of gorse emitting waves of sharp, coconut-like scent. And me.

And then came a sound.

A word of fear, “unpleasing to a married ear.”

A cuckoo.

I thought it would be a fleeting call – that it would stop the instant I heard it, But no.

Cuck-oo, cuck-oo.

And I was back in the parquet-floored assembly hall of St Cuthbert’s Junior School, Bradford. Singing:

“When daisies pied and violets blue

And ladies smocks all silver white

And cuckoo buds of yellow hue

Do paint the meadows with delight,

The cuckoo then, on every tree,

Mocks married men;

For thus sings he,

Cuckoo,

Cuckoo, cuckoo: O word of fear

Unpleasing to a married ear.”

[Shakespeare, Love’s Labours Lost, Act V Scene ii]

And I was happy.

But even better, the invisible singer cuckooed on.

I lifted the little red picture machine clasped in my hand, pressed ‘record’ – and hoped for the best.

Which is why, today I can share my burst of joy with you all.

Relish the moment.

I still do.

Happy May day, one and all.

Cuckoo!

 

Posted in Lancashire & the golf coast, Nature notes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Over on my nerdy site…

I’ve published a post on my other site, the one where I express my nerd-like interest in things being made or done in Britain, about a printing company in Lancashire that has the last Intertype line-casting machine ever made. A machine which was in use with the Guardian newspaper till 1987. It’s not only a rare beast, but rarer still to find anyone who can operate it. Plus, it’s being used to typeset my Little Match Girl story. Which will then be letterpress printed.

Here’s the link if you’re interested:

https://wp.me/p7mTXH-df

That’s all!

 

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Teamwork, followers? A ‘doing good things’ idea

Hello everyone.

A very short post today with one question about this charitable scheme which helps entrepreneurs in ‘developing’ countries and only requires small, returnable donations to work:

https://www.lendwithcare.org/info/how_it_works

would you be interested in joining a team if I set one up?

Thanks to Jill Dennison, of Filosofa’s Word, for stimulating me into action with her ‘Good People Doing Good Things posts.

I bet this Zambian woman selling their famous metre wide mushrooms would have an entrepreneurial idea

Posted in Thinking, or ranting, or both, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

Bush fires, long spoons and lightning

The old Coca Cola chiller was a solid red beast of a thing. No see-through door on the side –  no door at all – just a lid on the top.

It hadn’t worked for years, what with it being paraffin-fuelled and no-one knowing how to start it. But it kept our nets of fat avocados and glossy ripe tomatoes safe.

Safe from rodents, mongooses, baboons – anything wild with an interest in nibbling human-destined food.

The fridge stood under a canvas awning attached to a caravan. Which the Americans among our volunteers called a trailer.

It was one of those volunteers, Fred, over seventy and fully recovered – we hoped – from a bypass operation, who got the old metal cabinet chilled out again.

For what seemed like hours Fred lay on his stomach, after carefully pouring in paraffin. The paraffin itself had come from the nearest petrol station, an hour-or-so’s drive from our wildlife-reserve base, below the mountains bordering Mozambique.

It was a tricky business, lighting the flame, getting the refrigerant moving, but he did it.

We kept it up for a while after he left – the volunteers only stayed for two week stints – but then it lapsed and went back to being a food store. Which was fine by me.

Being fine by me was important. Because I was in charge of the food. Of cooking. Of catering.

At one stage, that summer, I had 24 people to feed.

I say ‘I’ – but I was lucky to have the help of Dudu. A ‘maid’ in the parlance of the time and place, she was a trained primary school teacher.

Thanks to Dudu I learned how to use the stove – an open fire. A large open fire.

No control knobs. Just a shovel, a cast-iron witch’s cauldron, a long spoon – and a red face.

There was also a ‘braai’ area – for men will always be men and want to flip meat. But banish images of sleek steel and aluminium. This was a stolid concrete block, with a recess in the top, over which a grate could be laid.

Embers from the main fire would be shovelled onto it and beastburgers – made from minced, culled wildebeest or, at a pinch, impala – grilled almost to extinction.

They tasted great with those glossy ripe tomatoes, sliced. On bread rolls brought from Mbabane, several hours’ drive away, stored in plastic bags.

We also used the braai to boil kettles in the morning – and hard-boil eggs for lunch.

The cold, scraped-out ashes formed a heap near a place we all liked to sit at the edge of the escarpment on which our camp was perched. It had tremendous views.

At breakfast, as the steam from tin mugs of tea or Ricoffy rose to wet our noses, we could watch impala or zebra roaming.

Breakfast

I offer this only so you can see the view from the campsite, looking down to what we called ‘cocktail rock. The man on the right is the one I arrived with and the woman to his left was a friend of mine from Boston who later married him – so, all’s well that ends well, eh?

Under the massed stars of chilly nights, it was close to the fire.

It was after dinner and after dark, as I watched the living fairy lights – my first fireflies – that the rodents came.

They weren’t as scary under milky-way skies as in suburban world. But still, they were large, furry creatures and we slept on sun loungers, close to the ground.

I tried not to think about them as I snuggled into my sleeping bag, under the plastic sheet which kept off the heavy dew, on top of the sleeping pad which insulated the lounger against the chill night air.

Each morning, my pillow wet around the dry imprint of my head, I was up before everyone else. Except Dudu.

Our first task was to resurrect the fire to boil kettles. Water was piped up in great long hoses from a railway siding on the other side of the escarpment. There steam trains stopped for refills on their way to and from Mozambique.

For hot water, there was a separate pipe going to this oil drum which was then heated over a fire. We bathed in tin baths on a ledge overlooking the bush below. Baboons stole our soap if we left it out

The water was treated, safe to drink – or so we were told. I’m still here, so perhaps it was.

While Dudu tended the fires, I’d decide on breakfast.

Everyone made their own toast. Peanut butter was popular. There were eggs – but since we had them hard-boiled with our packed lunches, the day often began with a liberal serving of hot baked beans.

We made sandwiches for lunch. Packed cheese triangles and flasks of hot water – yes, hot – for drinks.

My kitchen

When the others left, I often went with them, to dig, or explore.

Flames, smoke – not good inside a Land Rover we jumped out pretty damn quickly & the prof used tape to isolate the offending wires so we could drive on…

There’s a cave behind all that dark stuff

The prof & I centre,inside the cave, ‘digging’ (can’t remember names of the other 2, sadly) & getting on famously – no idea where the guy I arrived in Swaziland was at this point! Ahem.

Me, taking a break and reading Brideshead Revisited, loaned me (I still have it) by William

The prof, lounging (yes he does have shorts on)

William. Who wore espadrilles, Where are you now, I wonder?

But sometimes I stayed back. Watched in awful fascination as huge, seething hornets made great mud nests.

I helped Dudu with the dishes. Read, sunbathed, slept.

Shredded hard white cabbage and carrots for the evening salad, served in a washing-up bowl.

Chopped tomatoes for the guacamole a certain young American (now prof) would make as our evening snack. Alternating days with sardines and Tabasco on crunchy Provita biscuits.

I learned a little Siswati from Dudu, who laughed like a drain at my pronunciation.

And then it all changed.

I’ve written before about my hasty, ignominious departure.

I was exiled here at Jenny’s place, a farm, and occasionally a visitor like the prof-in-the-making would pop by – it wasn’t all bad!

But what about Dudu’s departure?

She had worked and lived with us privileged western folk for a few months. But we had houses – bricks and mortar, stone and wood – waiting for us when we ended our dalliance with ‘wild’ bush life.

She lived in a straw hut. And straw huts are vulnerable to lightning. Which is how Dudu died.

Much later, when I returned to that campsite, memories of my earlier banishment conveniently brushed into the ash pile, I missed her.

I missed her giggle, hidden behind her hand. Her slow and steady pace. Her amusement at my ineptitude.

I see her face still. And it makes me smile.

She was one like so many women, working so hard, living in huts, carrying water for miles, with no electricity. Cooking with lung-clogging smoke over open fires.

But that’s not a thirty-year-old memory. It’s still reality in large parts of many African countries.

And the picture I bought in a friend’s shop – Tishweshwe – in Malkerns, all those years ago, has a powerful, seemingly eternal message.

Its title:

Why do women carry such heavy burdens?

The title, Why do women carry such heavy burdens?, in pencil, has faded, unlike the reality of such backbreaking chores for women all over Africa

 

 

 

Posted in Socks, spoons, stones and sunsets, Swaziland, Travelling | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Dogs, logs – and more important things

It was a two walk weekend, after a week of only one. And that one was to the shops. With a brief diversion into the cemetery. Those angels. They need watching over.

Angels and crosses

Something about having strangers working in the house makes me want to stay in – not because I don’t trust them, I do. But it’s as if I’m in a real office with people who aren’t home from work, but people who are at work. Like me.

As a result I’ve done more work than usual and even – the prof will never believe it (he’s in Ghana) – done some filing. I can see the floor. Most of it.

But back to the walks.

The sun shone both days. I felt grateful to Nature for smiling on me. And it was good to be free.

It took a while to break the invisible chains. My metaphorical apron strings? There’s certainly lots of cleaning to do 😦

I left the house as Saturday afternoon threatened to turn to evening and returned to the local sand dunes.

Despite all the foot-and pawfall, it feels remote and quiet

It was more perfunctory this time, exercise with a little observation thrown in, rather than the other way round.

As I set out, after several cheery hellos, I thought, ‘this has to be the friendliest place to walk.’

Little did I know the extremes that friendliness would reach …

It wasn’t every dog (the Labradors abstained).

Most of them were small and their enthusiasm reached no further than my knees or thighs. And as it hadn’t rained, the paw marks – being sandy – rubbed off.

But the biggest one was big. Very big. And VERY friendly. So friendly it came close to knocking me over – just before it licked my face.

I had to laugh. I’m not a dog person, but they do have a special something. Well, some of them.

A survivor

Which creatures are so tall they can play netball with this hoop?

Look at the curl in that trunk!

The wind section of the coastal orchestra – where’s the conductor?

Gorgeous!

That was Saturday’s walk, then, with added dogs.

Yesterday the dogs were at loggerheads. The humans were at Loggerheads too, but not at loggerheads with each other. Although they were with each other – the humans – at Loggerheads. Just not at loggerheads.

It was only the dogs who were really at loggerheads at Loggerheads. Snarling and barking and fighting

I was at Loggerheads, but not with anyone, I was alone. So I was at Loggerheads but not at loggerheads.

You’ve probably guessed by now, Loggerheads is a place. In Wales. People go there on sunny Sundays, even when the clocks have gone forward, to walk. Some with angry dogs.

The walk was a tad more strenuous than anticipated. I knew there’d be a climb, but wasn’t quite prepared for the steepness.

Cliffs!

But I made it to the top.

The Clwydian hills

Then spent the next mile recovering as I walked through the woods and back down along the river.

A family of lost limbs in a tree caress, as the fungi begin their work

Snowdrops gone, I suspect wild garlic will be pungent soon

A reminder we’re in Wales

There are many logs at Loggerheads.

I could have been a log lady if I’d picked one up.

I was fascinated by the Log Lady in Twin Peaks.  RIP, bless her. She made such a poignant appearance in the latest series.

But I left the logs behind.

They line the paths by the river

Make interesting patterns (well I think so)

Mourn their lost body parts

 

We’d have been at loggerheads if I’d seen the human who left this log adornment

Drove on to Ruthin intending to eat, buy someone a birthday present. But the crafts were expensive and the café … I just thought, I’d rather go home. So I did.

And once home (delayed by horrendous traffic jams in my home town) I put my ready meal in the tiny, counter-top oven and set to thinking of more important things.

Two people in particular brought me back to reality from my self-indulgent introspection this weekend.

Blogging friend Ardysez wrote a post – do read it – about the #MarchForOurLives.  The song she posted had me in tears.

Then my sister-in-law sent these, from recently terrorised Austin, Texas – where she’d been on a #MarchForOurLives march.

It says: I call B.S.

I’m so humbled by the young people who have created this great movement.

They’ve plainly said to their government, don’t tell us you can’t, you CAN do something.

We DON’T have to allow people to buy these weapons of mass destruction.

That’s what they are – aren’t they?

Watch this, if you haven’t already. Be patient, watch it right through – you can spare six minutes, can’t you? –  and see what I mean.

This young woman stunned me. The bravery, at her age, to stand before a massive crowd and speak – but even more bravely, stand silent. And how powerful, that silence.

All of which reminded me that I – we – should pay attention to our world. Not because we can do things, always – which is what sometimes makes me turn from the news, feeling I can’t do anything.

But by supporting those who do take action – with praise, funds, our voices whenever we can use them – that’s better than doing nothing. If we all shout, the people who can do something will eventually hear – and recognise a voter’s anger.

Though there are those, like Old Jules, who take a more cycnical view.*

*[Edit: in my haste to add his interesting views, I did misrepresent Old Jules – see his comment below. ]

But I’m eschewing cynical. And writing in Britain, where guns – and death by gun – are rare, I’ve always been appalled by the USA’s NRA.

No citizen needs an assault weapon.

It’s time to call time on the casual acceptance of mass murdering wepaons by adults who should know better. It’s as simple as that.

OK.

I’ll get back to coherent, thought-through posts one day.

Meanwhile. Welcome to summer time.

 

 

 

Posted in Art, jaunts & going out, Britain now & then, Texas, Thinking, or ranting, or both | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

That little girl in red sandals

OK, so my last post was:

heavy/silly/vain/weird/interesting/other

(no need to delete as appropriate).

On the plus side, in one comment, the seer said he could see the little girl I portrayed, running around in her pretty dress, red sandals and white ankle socks.

🙂

Exploiting the positive, then, and by way of counteracting the Dark Triad, I thought I’d post two pictures of little-me in a pretty dress (no sandals or white ankle socks visible, sorry). Plus one of several little people, including little-me, eating lunch with a big person.

After which, normal service (trees and walks and rants and things) (and relative anonymity) will be resumed.

The pictures were taken at nursery school. Probably the last time I posed for a picture and enjoyed it (going by the look on my face – I have no memory of it being taken).

I hate having my photo taken so you won’t find many of me online and where you do you will find it hard to see what I look like.

In these pictures  I was three, or thereabouts. My mum had been taken into hospital for an operation, which went wrong and rendered her deaf in one ear.

For little-me it meant that one day I was sitting on the breakfast table enjoying ‘listen with mother,’ as she drank milky coffee, next day I was all alone in the company of a load of other little human beings. And one big one. It was all rather unexpected and frightening.

Some days were good, some days were bad. I never slept during afternoon nap time, when Miss Tickell would sometimes put her stockinged feet under my little blanket as she knitted.

I was often rather scared, used to hide in the lavatory when the nit nurse came.

And I think the introspection may have started here, judging by photo two.

I have since stopped licking my plate, which was occasionally permitted. Which sounds unlikely, I know. Perhaps it wasn’t and I was just being treated with extra tolerance.

Miss Tickell is the tall one. I am beside her on the right of the picture and not yet at plate-licking stage. Bill Bull (you can tell which one he is, can’t you?) is wearing red sandals. Like we all did. (You’re welcome, seer)

I have also stopped playing the triangle. And the bang-them-together-in-time-with-the-music sticks. Things it is hard to do wrong. But odd to do alone.

One’s creative world does not always change for the better, does it?

And I still yearn for red sandals. But not white ankle socks.

 

Posted in Britain now & then, Thinking, or ranting, or both | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

The Ides of March

Beware, cried the soothsayer. Or was it the East wind?

As I sit down to write this post – amid boxes of tiles, plaster dust and paint – I calculate that it’s XIII days before the Kalends of April.

I learned the old Roman (pre-Julian) calendar system of Kalends, Nones and Ides when I studied Latin at school – which I did from the age of ten to eighteen.

One of the few things I still remember is the rhyme:

In March July October May

The Nones fall on the seventh day

And the Ides on the fifteenth.

Not exactly a work of literary genius, but it stuck.

Last night, lying awake as the East wind screeched through our window – before I closed it – I could not, for the life of me, remember when the Nones fell in the other months.

I looked it up this morning. It’s the 5th.  You might not care – fair enough – but it was bugging me.

This calendar without weeks is based on the moon’s cycle and not exactly the easiest thing for twenty-first-century-types to grasp. It’s possible some nerdy classicist has designed an app for it – but I doubt it will make a fortune.

Anyway.

Why was I thinking about the Ides? Well, mulling over the last few days, I thought how strange they’d been. And for some reason I heard, ‘Beware the Ides of March,’ in my head. Then realised. It had just passed.

Thursday the 15th (Ides) of March was my day for meeting other lone-workers. We gather fortnightly above a cosily crowded café in a spacious room of our own (Virginia Woolf would approve). There we work and network (gossip) for a few hours, in the luxury of company.

The café’s ten miles down the road from here, in Crosby, north of Liverpool. I usually take my backpack and walk to the station – about three quarters of a mile. Watch the golf courses and pine woods speed by for twenty minutes before the next ten minute walk.

But last Thursday I felt wretched. Drained. And not wanting to stray too far from a room with a loo.

So I drove.

My usual lunch – the café’s nourishing soup – sounded more like punishment than reward. Instead I struggled – such a penance – through a cinnamon bun, to a slice of banana bread, washed down with loose-leaf rooibos.

By two o’clock I was cold, tired, had done no work and wanted to go home. Yes, even to the sound of drilling as the joiner worked in the echoing kitchen shell.

As I strolled towards the car, I looked up, through a spattering of fine almost-rain, and gawped.

A giant rainbow bestrode the view. From below it looked like a double rainbow, two joined together. But my pictures – taken on my phone – say it was two.

If you look closely there is a faint rainbow above the brighter one

 

I fled for the car and home, feeling privileged to have seen such a sight.

But as I drove, the rainbow grew bolder and bigger and brighter and, seven miles later, as the dual carriageway petered out, a lazy arch spanned the entire sky.

It was an inverted smile, from the extreme left by the coast to the far right, where views of hills appear at the edge of the saturated moss.

And as I drove under it, the rainbow faded, like the Cheshire cat’s grin.

It felt as if I’d gained access to a magical kingdom – not just the nearest village and the main road to our house.

That was Thursday.

As the XV day before the Kalends of April dawned, I dragged myself into the day, ready for the joiner’s arrival.

Showered, dressed, make-up and jewellery applied (trying to make myself feel efficient and work-friendly by dressing up) I sat at the computer.

And sank my brain into London, 1977. The book, needing tweaks.

Two hours later, the phone rang.

The printer of my Little Match Girl story. His elusive typesetter had emerged from an inexplicable absence and – could I get over there soonish?

I drove the eighteen miles across the squelching moss. (On the roads not the grass. It’s very wet out there, looks more like a lake than fields)

After two joyous hours spent watching and learning, marvelling at the intricate mechanical processes, I left – with my name, cast in lead, in hand.

Here’s where the brass matrices are waiting to be freed by being ‘typed’ into…

… this beautiful waterfall of a chute then …

… into here where they meet the hot metal

Dave, who’s holding these, tells me there’s a difference between the two sets of matrices (I hope that’s right, one of the brass things is a matrix – a mould for the letter that is to be cast in lead, tin and antimony). I was wrong when I said I could see it …

I couldn’t resist – have a green stamp pad and had to try it

But driving the high road over the sunken fields, I had to rein in my eyes, which were desperate to scan the unfolding skyscape. The ditches beside the narrow moss roads are unfenced and precipitous – concentration is essential.

A strip of sullen, sulphurous light lay over the trees, meeting the grim grey of the lowering sky. The bare branches, crackled and gnarled, festered in frustration at the slow advance of spring.

The light changed, the sun lifted the veil of grey and a smudge of starlings formed a small murmuration – and was gone.

A chance observation on an unexpected drive.

And then the sky cleared, the sun shone, the birds sang and danced their naughty spring dances.

And now. Today. XIV days before the Kalends of April.

After a sleepless night, haunted by the howling, shrieking, wailing wind, (and thoughts of my partial namesake, Cathy in Wuthering Heights) the East wind blows.

And we have snow.

And, like the soothsayer, I say, ‘beware the Ides of March.’

Who knows what they may bring.

Posted in Britain now & then, Lancashire & the golf coast, Liverpool, Nature notes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments