Bread and butter(milk)

Well, lots of people seemed to read my last post [on online porn] but very few commented  … I suppose it was a bit of shock, after all that nature and beauty and introspection.

Well, it’s a respite post, this time.

Before I move on to all the flotsam and jetsam riding in on the wave of gender fluidity that’s washing up on the shores of our being – [gasp, pauses for breath] – how about a recipe?

Yes, a recipe.

For bread.

This kind of bread:

The pan is there for a reason – read on down…

I’ve occasionally toyed with bread making, over the years, in a dilettante-ish way.

I first made bread at school in domestic science lessons (those were the days, learning why not just how) with real yeast – awed by the magic that happens when you cream it with a soupçon of sugar. But I have never, ever recaptured that springy, delicious, yeasty, crusty – mmmmmm – bread.

And I like wholemeal, granary – that kind of bread – now.

A few Sundays ago, the prof saw a recipe – tore it out of the Observer (yes, a real paper newspaper). It was for bread made with buttermilk.

Sounded good – in fact, I was eagerly awaiting his first attempt.

But, the man has a demanding day job so… the recipe sat. And sat.

Then, one cold day last week, at lunchtime, I thought – I’ll make that.

A bread with no yeast, that takes just a few minutes – no, really – to weigh and mix. Doesn’t need kneading (ha). For 25 minutes it bakes in a lidded pan in the oven and after ten minutes spent resting it’s ready to be scoffed with anything you choose – or nothing at all.

Delicious bread ready to eat within – let’s say – 45 minutes, max?

It is DELICIOUS and SO EASY!

I had to share it.

I am not a big fan of its creator, Nigel Slater. To me he’s one of those cooks who’s a bit style (writing) over substance (food that actually feeds human beings on a normal basis). But he does have three recipes I love. One of them is this, so without further ado.

No, hang on – a little further ado.

I used pumpkin seeds, not hemp and ground flax not whole golden linseeds.

The tubs of buttermilk from my local supermarket are 300 ml so I topped it up with plain natural yoghurt.

That’s it.

Please, try it. It’s fab! I won’t be buying shop made very often from now on…

And yes, I’ve taken the lazy way out. To spare my still-complaining wrist.

Here you go:

Oh – I do spray a little oil in the pan to make sure the flour adheres… It seems to work, but make sure you have good oven gloves!

Feeling hungry now…


 

Posted in Simple Food for Simple Folk (like me) | 26 Comments

Gagged and bound. It’s no way to treat a dog

England, it is said, is a nation of dog lovers.

Imagine, then, the furore that greeted publication of an image which – well, I’ll try and describe it as I don’t have access to it.

A dog is tied to a post in a cage, but not by its neck. Its front paws have been pulled up backwards behind its head, tied together and then tied to the post so it has to stand on its back paws.

Bad enough, eh?

But there’s more.

The dog’s mouth has been taped shut. It can’t bark, can only breathe through its nose. And around that cage, a load of people stand, laughing and taking pictures as it writhes around.

Shameful, isn’t it?

And I imagine it would create a furore if it were published. But as far as I know it doesn’t exist.

The real image features a young, attractive woman, in a very short skirt, legs akimbo, buttocks resting on – divided by – the ‘post’ which is actually a pole.

If someone had described this image to me I would have assumed it was taken from a soft porn magazine, a lap dancing club, or similar.

It’s not.

If/when you get to the end of this post you’ll see it. It’s a Getty Images/Evan Agostini photograph, taken in Amsterdam at a trade exhibition. As in, a place where ‘things are ‘exhibited’ in order to make sales.

It was an ‘adult’ trade exhibition and thus aimed mostly (and please don’t do that ‘not all men’ or ‘but some women’ to this post, you can take that as read) at a male audience.

For a while now I’ve been reading, watching – deploring – what’s going on in the world women inhabit and it’s way too complicated for a short post, but it’s time to start getting it out of my head.

I’d like to talk about gender fluidity, too, because it’s become a serious concern, not just for women, but for anyone who cares about freedom of speech. But that will have to wait.

First, I need to talk about porn.

So, to you all, women and men, I address these questions:

1 Do you have:

  • children
  • grandchildren
  • nephews, nieces, cousins, younger siblings?

2 Do you:

  • teach young people
  • coach them
  • hope for a better world for them?

If so – and if you haven’t yet noticed, or have avoided noticing, the pernicious influence of online pornography, please, read on.

I’m of the generation which saw bunny girls in Playboy as porn.

I have vivid memories of seeing the magazine for the first time. I was off school, revising in my dad’s study. Being nosy – a lifelong trait – I opened a cupboard door, started poking around.

I was shocked. And fascinated. Semi-naked women with big boobs in provocative poses.

If that kind of thing, but more explicit, with a bit more exposure, is still your image of porn – you’re in for a shock.

I reached the point of ‘this must stop, something must be done,’ when I saw – and nearly ignored – yet another online petition.

It was protesting a deal whereby ‘Ann Summers,’ a chain of ‘adult’ shops supposedly aimed at women and which I assume sells merchandise like vibrators and crotchless knickers – linked up with Pornhub.

Pornhub?

You may have seen it. Your husband, father, brother, uncle may have seen it.

Your teenage son/nephew/cousin/brother/grandson, or someone male you know, is very likely to have seen it.

Because in 2016 there were 23 BILLION visits to Pornhub.

Read the introduction to this petition and you’ll see why this deal – in many people’s opinion – is a very bad idea (warning, it tells it bluntly):

https://www.change.org/p/ann-summers-dump-pornhub

On Pornhub, ‘5246 centuries worth of footage was viewed. In just one year,’ according to  Tom Farr, who wrote this piece for the Medium.* Worth reading if you care about the young in today’s world.

[*NB: There’s a video embedded in the article which I haven’t watched. My system warns me the site owner doesn’t comply with my blanket request for commercial sites not to track me.]

The article may shock you – it shocked me. I’m linking to it because I don’t want to cover the details myself for fear of attracting hate mail, or weirdo bots recording my online whereabouts and thinking I’m into violent, painful, degrading porn.

If you veered away from that one, perhaps you might read what Jo Bartosch, in mainstream (if lefty) news magazine New Statesman, has to say.

The content of these articles should concern us all.

What is porn doing to the behaviour of youngsters?

In particular to girls who feel they MUST do things they don’t want to do, but who don’t know any better. Things which may hurt them, or injure them for life?

What is it doing to young men who feel obliged to prove their virility by force, pushing unwilling girls to submit to sexual acts in the belief it’s what men do?

“Porn is now a multi-billion dollar global industry, with revenue anywhere from the $2 billion mark to upwards of $90 billion per year depending on your source” according to Tom Farr.

A powerful global force, unpoliced to a large extent simply because it’s online and international, is adversely affecting lives.

It demeans and exploits women and girls.

It affects men, whether young or older. It can damage families, spoil relationships and affect people’s working lives as men become ‘addicted’ to its extreme stimulations.

“As porn consumers become desensitized from repeated overloads of dopamine, they often find they can’t feel normal without a dopamine high. … They experience strong cravings and often find themselves giving more of their time and attention to porn, sometimes to the detriment of relationships, school, or work…”

Fight the New Drug (link below)

So far so calm.

Now it’s time to get angry!

When some people in this world get turned on by watching men forcibly damaging unwilling female orifices, or watching a father molest his daughter – and this criminal filth is overtly available online – isn’t something seriously WRONG!?

Think of the abused participants: exploited, trafficked girls. Drug addicts. The vulnerable, poor, dependent on aid.

Whatever your politics, think about the people you care about who may already be, or may become exposed to this degrading, inhumane stuff.

We must protest, speak out about this in whatever ways we can. Write to the people who represent us in governments, if nothing else.

I mean, if you wouldn’t treat a dog this way …

 


Links

I make no claims for these sites, they are just ones I have come across when trying to find anti-porn research or campaigning organisations. There are, it seems, many groups – and Twitter is a good place to find campaigners.

UK’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children advice to parents – PDF with some useful links:

https://www.nspcc.org.uk/globalassets/documents/advice-and-info/online-pornography-keep-child-safe.pdf

Actively campaigning against the selling of sex including porn:

http://www.notbuyingit.org.uk/

Scottish-based women’s organisation with a useful website:

http://www.womenssupportproject.co.uk/content/home/1/

American site ‘Fight the New Drug’ which claims to be research based:

https://fightthenewdrug.org/overstatement-to-label-porn-a-public-health-concern/

Mumsnet always good for an honest opinion:

https://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/_chat/3164750-Ann-Summers-teams-up-with-Pornhub-not-OK

https://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/in_the_news/a1467052-Why-you-shouldnt-support-legislation-blocking-internet-porn

Posted in Thinking, or ranting, or both | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Slacks, golf – and George

When, in 2004, we moved up north to Liverpool, we bought a house in complete ignorance of the district’s main attraction: ten minutes’ walk from our front door was a long, sandy beach.

I knew the land came to an end not terribly far from our road, but in my imagination the shoreline was merely a muddy – possibly smelly – estuary.

It wasn’t. It was sand. Golden, glorious sand.

Which , soon after we moved in, was invaded by a load of naked men. Iron Men. An installation called ‘Another Place’ by sculptor Anthony Gormley (a favourite subject of  photographer Ron Davies who blogs as Traveller’s Light ).

And they were soon followed by wind turbines – which I happen to like.

Ron had a series of postcards made of some of his stunning pictures

We loved the Iron Men – and the views to North Wales. On really clear days we could see Snowdonia and another distant wind farm off Great Orme.

And the beach was ideal for spotting passing tall ships whenever they visited for Liverpool’s maritime festivals.

And then we moved. Ten miles up the coast.

This time there were no misconceptions about the beaches. This is our nearest, taken just after the tide had gone out on a windy, wintry day last month:

We knew our house nestled snug as a bug in the ‘rough,’ between two greens of a golf course. And we knew the course was one of three in the immediate area, the most famous being Royal Birkdale, where the British Open was held in 2017.

Less than a mile up the road, we knew there was a hillock called the Round Hill and a patch of green where local dogs walked their humans.

And we knew the whole coast was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, being home to a few rare plants, such as Dune Helleborine, and rare creatures like Natterjack Toads.

So, we also knew the land was safe from predatory developer. For now, at least.

But.

In the four years since we’ve been here we had no idea that, within walking distance up the road,  to one side of  the ‘Round Hill,’ is a hidden gem. A new ‘charm’ to add to my metaphorical bracelet of places treasured for solitary walking and pondering, for observing nature in all its mysterious ways.

For this gift of a new place to walk, we have Olly, the dog next door – and Carole and John, the humans he walks – to thank.

We set out for our first trip, bundled in cold weather gear, on Sunday, not long before noon.

The morning was frosty and calm. Outrageously sunny – and impossibly-deep-blue-skied.

For an hour and a quarter we tromped, amazed. Returned mentally revivified, the world and its woes back in their context.

I hope you’ll enjoy our sunny Sunday stroll on England’s north west coast. The sand dunes and stunning, sun-wakened trees. The beautiful ponds (called slacks) which lie between some of the dunes. And dogs. Like George. A transient friend.

I’m not writing the walk, but posting the pictures.

And if you read my last post, I should warn you, the rant’s still pending, you haven’t escaped. It’s written. Lurking…

But for now – have some sun and blue skies.

This one was completely frozen even at midday

Odd effect – the ripples kept rippling but stopped where all around they met ice

There’s an offshore platform at the very left of the sea on the horizon …

Such clear water – and the prof reading the information board while I drink in the views

Budding amid the thorns

Seaside = gorse of course

Looks like a stream but a drainage ditch I presume? Not what I expected to find amid sand dunes

Titania and her fairies might like his bower of ferns and mosses between the several trunks of a sprawling tree. At midsummer, of course.

George the dog and his human in front of Royal Birkdale club house. George, once introduced, adopted us as extended family for the rest of our walk. Had to crop the pic hard so not great quality but I thought he deserved to put in an appearance

Despite my instinctive aversion to all things golf, I love the simple ‘1930s aerodrome’ style, like something out of Agatha Christie, of famed Royal Birkdale, which, along with Hillside, frames this treasure trove of nature. This is, I must add its plain back side 😉

 

 

 

 

Posted in Britain now & then, Lancashire & the golf coast, Nature notes, Socks, spoons, stones and sunsets | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Tangled up. Sometimes in blue

‘You’re keeping busy’, someone said to me to me this week, as if I were a retired person going on serial coach trips.

Not that there’s anything wrong with coach trips. Especially if they involve drinking illicit alcohol on the back seat. And singing silly songs like ‘One man went to mow,’ with custom lines:

‘… three men, two men, one man and his dog, a sausage roll and a bottle of pop, went to mow a meadow.’

Yes, it’s been a while since my school trips to the seaside.

Work.

It keeps changing, but I will never retire. In fact I’m about to set up a new [groan, why do I do this?] small business. Very small. So small it barely exists.

I can’t imagine a day spent without thinking, planning, plotting, hoping – occasionally despairing, then moving on – and writing.

This year, so far, has been busy, busy, busy. Not always happily so.

Too many thoughts. Too many experiences. Too much to see, to do, to live.

Better that way, I suppose, than feeling empty. Bored. Or depressed. Though the black dog can still sneak through busy-ness, hiding amid the assault on the senses that is the Western world. Well, the assault that is the Western world if you keep your mind and eyes open. AKA engaging with Twitter 😦

I’ve been in limbo, awaiting a response to writing sent out. Writing requested, not foisted on an unwilling agent hemmed in by Alpine-scale slush-piles.

I dread hearing the verdict: ‘Your baby is ugly! Take her away!’

But I carry on as usual. Except for the blogging which is my release. So …

I’m shedding some tangled thoughts. And pictures.

Please, bear with this bitty post. It reflects my state of mind.

Worlds in miniature

One day I noticed rain drops clinging to tiny green fingers, growing up from the wall between us and next door.

If you’ve ever seen the film Men in Black II you may understand where I’m coming from if I say I instantly heard:

‘All hail, Jay!’

If not, do watch this. In fact, just watch it:

I’m fascinated by the tiny.

I’d like to create imaginary worlds where wee creatures mingle with mosses, live in lichen, frolic under ferns, not knowing another gigantic order of life rumbles around above them. But right now, I don’t have time.

 

In praise of cossetting

 ‘Wonderful, relaxing break in an old fashioned, comfortable hotel. They’d better not bare-floorboard and boutique the place or I’ll cry.’

Husk,  February 2018

On the staircase Top left is the white Yorkshire rose, the red Lancashire rose is on a window to the right side, impossible to get both into view with my camera

Chaucer looking thoughtful (possibly trying to understand what he’s written)

 

The imp is a copy of the Lincoln Imp from Lincoln Cathedral. I wrote about that long ago but to be honest can’t be bothered finding the link….

William Morris windows, ornate plaster ceilings, a carved stone fireplace with an imp to keep out the devil, what more could you want?

Well, how about a proper four poster bed (not a flimsy modern one) and carpet. Carpet, carpet everywhere.

Stripped floorboards and mismatching old school furniture have their place. But they can’t do what this does. Wrap us around in a hug of comfort.

A dining room. Solid, old furniture, white tablecloths laid for dinner with knives and forks in place settings and plates and glasses and flowers. Real flowers.

Large linen napkins, unfolded on our laps by the waitress.

A fabulous meal. Even though only two other tables were occupied. A proper chef, a proper hotel, a proper restaurant.

Those are baked apples with the ham hock terrine (mmm). Described on the menu as small apples. I have never had such things. But then I don’t live in London where no doubt they are already passe

We had an ample gables suite in the old wool merchant’s mansion.

In the misty moisty morning, a view over the valley to the last remaining industrial chimneys and the mill owned by famous thermal underwear brand, Damart.

Zoomed view – it was actually way down the hill. So quiet and peaceful. Can’t wait to go back.

Aah!

Wide open Brontë-world spaces, hanging onto winter

Walking on the Pennine moors? No. Hasty ventures out to snap wintry panoramas.

Quick stop at the hill’s top for oval-framed views through the Panopticon. Then back to the comfort of heated seats in our pearly white automobile.

The Panopticon above Wycoller has stunning views. If you are five years old or quite small for other reasons you don’t have to crouch down to see them

Trees shaped by the winds and territory edged by stones that look like gravestones.

My beloved Pendle snow-capped in the distance

After a weekend of free floating thought, a decision

To print up the Little Match Girl story I blogged two years ago.

The People’s History Museum in Manchester said long ago they would stock it, but it’s still an ethereal thing – and they can’t stock ethereal.

Seven months ago I approached an illustrator to help make it real.

She has done nothing.

So, I found a letterpress printer, fairly local – and discovered a wonderful story, a wonderful place, a wonderful … source of more work!

Brian of Rufford Printing Co, Mawdesley, Lancashire, sits by the same kind of Linotype hot-metal typesetting machine you can see being used in that ace film, The Post

And here is the hot metal – lead and tin

So, as the tangles become further entwined. I take a walk on a sunny day

… to the kitchen designer who will wreck the old, install the new

It’s a nuisance, an expense we could do without and it’s not done lightly. But the kitchen is close on 30 years old and so much needed replacing it was cheaper to rip it out and start again (I know, Dale, but honestly, it was the most practical option).

The sky was such a dense blue I could hardly believe it. Skeleton trees were clumping with life, waiting to burst into leaf.

Yes, we’ve gone past the point where my heart still pines for midwinter. I’m OK with the end of darkness now.

And so, to spring

When a young man’s fancy, old men’s fancies, many men’s fancies – turn to…

Can we be serious, now?

Actually, no, I don’t think I’ll tackle that stuff, yet.

I’ll leave dogs, cages, women, porn, prostitution, freedom of speech and gender self-identification (Reader: ‘say what?’ Me: ‘Do keep up, are you a cis-woman, LGBTQA or maybe RSTUVWXYZ?’) for another time.

Watch this space for the next exciting rant from one whom some might call a terf… It may be some time.

Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with yesterday’s view from the back of the house.

Posted in Art, jaunts & going out, Britain now & then, Lancashire & the golf coast, Nature notes, Thinking, or ranting, or both, Yorkshire | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

People who need people

‘Wait a second, love,’ said the woman in front of me at the Co-op to the man who’d just paid for his shopping. ‘Let me put my shopping through on your loyalty card. I’ve lost mine, someone may as well get the points.’

The man thought a moment, then handed over his loyalty card and minutes later the woman’s food purchases had added to his cash-equivalent points.

But when the card-less shopper left, the man still hung back.

The woman behind the till was slight, grey-haired and quiet. She looked as if, whatever your troubles, she’d lived through worse.

As I emptied my basket and took out my own loyalty card, the man asked, in a quiet voice, ‘How are you, love? How’s he?’

‘Oh, not too bad,’ her hand went to her neck, ‘waiting for more biopsy results.’

I pretended to be occupied with my purse.

The man left, with a look that said much more than his heartfelt, ‘look after yourself, take care now.’

Yesterday I watched two women shoppers deal patiently with an over-friendly, slightly inebriated older man – ‘he was hard work’ one muttered – before exchanging news of funerals.

Not yet elderly, though well beyond young, each bought one packet of cigarettes.

It takes a while, buying cigarettes. All the brands are now in uniform ghastly packaging, behind a closed door. But it doesn’t stop the smokers. As one of the women said, ‘We all know the risks by now, don’t we?’

At this till, there are often long queues. The electronic tills can’t help with the ‘leccy’ or other prepayment-meter cards.

Or sell tobacco or spirits.

Or do the lottery.

Elderly couples, reduced-stickered items stacked in their basket, check to see if they’ve won this week. With a feeble, ‘Put it through the winning machine, love,’ or some such, they’re doing their best to suggest, ‘I don’t really care.’

For one cheery member of staff we’re all of us called, ‘my lovely’. You’d think every day was the best of her life. It’s infectious, whatever our luck or lack of it.

Down the road a couple of miles, at a bigger, mainstream supermarket, a maze of electronic tills occupies the most convenient section of the long checkout area.

Despite the extra walk and inconvenience, the tills run by humans attract long queues.

Plenty of people – especially the elderly, or those with learning and other difficulties – are known regulars.

One day I saw an elderly man sitting, eyes closed, with his shopping by his side. I thought he might have died, since I couldn’t see him breathing, but a passing member of staff assured me he was fine. He regularly cycles in several miles, chats at the till, then naps on a bench by the children’s coin-in-the-slot car ride.

In queues here I’ve chatted to people about many things: politics, religion, recipes, foodbanks – and, of course, the weather.

I’ve watched, surreptitiously I hope, as people count coins to see if they can afford a treat, only to discover they can’t.

I’ve been behind people who plainly struggle with personal hygiene – and much more too, I’d guess.

But it’s a fairly affluent area. Lots of people who queue are plainly far from poor – but still, possibly, disadvantaged on a very basic level. As in, chronically lonely.

Whoever we are, though – lonely or not, rich or poor, struggling or absolutely fine – we don’t just get polite, even kind words from the human beings who tot up our bills. We get time.

Given half a chance, they’ll talk about our shopping. Is that good? What’s that? Have you tried purple sweet potatoes?

But.

Time is money.

People are costly ‘resources’.

And supermarkets exist to make profits.

Electronic tills are cheaper. And, yes, some people like their anonymity and potential for speed. But some people really don’t want to use the soulless machines.

Some people shop in dribs and drabs, most days, so they can see a human being. Have a conversation, however small.

These are customers, but far from being always right, the world of big business doesn’t just think they’re wrong, it doesn’t care.

Amazon, for example, wants us to shop without human intervention.

The firm’s running a trial in the UK delivering parcels with drones. It already delivers to lockers in a range of public places. Cheaper all round, no need for pesky human interaction. And now it’s testing a shop without any tills at all.

Amazon isn’t a people business, doesn’t like such expensive commodities.

Yet how many ‘customers’ use Amazon without thinking about such things? Because it’s cheaper, easier. Because they don’t have local shops (and won’t for long if this keeps up). Because they can’t get out.

Well, for all the lonely people for whom personal shopping’s a mental-health lifeline, I have a warning.

You’re expensive.

Your money’s all they want. Take your goods and go away.

And have a nice day.

Have a nice day?

The full impact of those words, carelessly uttered, came home to me yesterday as I left the hospital after a routine check on my wrist.

I was in the overspill car park, way beyond the usual pinball-experience-corridors of trolleys, cleaners and walking wounded.

On my return I had to follow the signs for ‘mortuary.’ And I thought of all those who’d followed that sign in earnest, before leaving for their cars.

As I put my ticket in the barrier at the exit, a message came up on the machine.

‘Have a nice day.’

If it were a human being, I think it might rephrase that.

‘Look after yourself, take care, now.’

Posted in Thinking, or ranting, or both | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Of birds and ponds, of war and peace

Walking round one of my intangible charms, in the first week of the new year, I was struck by a sound. Loud, persistent – and arguably cheerful.

‘Tea-too, tea-too, tea-too,’ sang a bird in full voice. As plangent a sound as a great, fat ball bearing falling onto a xylophone.

And no, I don’t know how that sounds, but imagine it comes somewhere close.

The birdsong – they’ve been silent for so long – should have made me smile, but, no, it made me sigh. Ah well, I thought. The days are lengthening, nights waning, soon it will be spring.

Reality can’t be avoided. Well, not entirely. And I’ll enjoy spring when it comes, despite my moaning.

Which is more than could be said for the reality of that walk.

Because vying for prominence with the ‘tea-too’ bird came the dreaded whine of chainsaws.

Tree felling. Log sawing. Nasty noise!

In a nature reserve.

Well, at least I’d missed the grass mowing. And parts of the ponds were still fringed with rushes, swaying whenever a breath of breeze snuck by.

Still the ivy paraded its glossy leaves, flaunted its ripening berries.

Still the moss grew neon green on gnarled trunks.

And still the skeleton trees revealed the underside of their world. The wriggling, squiggling tangle, or upright-poker-thrusting cage of twigs and branches.

I walked quickly, shrugged, told myself the grass would grow again, the tree stumps would weather.

Birds and beasts would enjoy the decaying timber, fungi colonise damp stumps. Dung beetles, earthworms and centipedes would do their vital recycling.

And what goes around would come around. Even if never to be the same again.

Sanguine, I went on my way.

Fast forward to Monday, when I go back.

A human is my first encounter.

A tall man, with hands full of seed, is feeding web-footed ones. Mud and a very deep puddle bring us unavoidably face to face, but it’s always a friendly walk.

‘What beautiful black ducks,’ I say, meaning it. All black, with the petrol sheen that feathers sometimes have, iridescent green and blue. But black.

‘I’m looking for the robin,’ says the man. ‘Been looking all the way round. Haven’t seen the robin at all today.’

I wish him luck – he has a lovely smile – and walk on.

A dog on a lead chases a squirrel round a tree trunk. Its owner untangles herself by walking the other way, as if slow-dancing round a maypole.

‘He wants to catch the squirrels,’ she says.

That much is obvious. She has a nice face, we exchange a few words. And I march on, to the other pond.

Past bright green fences, ferns and stagnant water. Past more felled trees. My mood decaying.

I suspect there has been some wind damage in our storms, but it’s still a sad sight

Then I see a shower of gold. A cascade of skinny catkins shining despite the subdued light.

And on I go till I reach the spot in the pond where the stump sticks up.

And there it is.

The cormorant.

It sits on its perch, way out in the pond. Patient. So still it looks like a sculpture from the perspective of the path.

The cormorant is out there, look closely

A few strides more and the path comes to an end. I turn. The woman with the dog is approaching.

‘Has he caught any squirrels yet?’ I ask.

She doesn’t remember me.

‘Have you tried feeding t’robin?’ she says.

‘No,’ I smile.

‘Oh you should, down by t’gate, just hold out your hand with some seeds. It’ll come, in time.’

On I stride, towards the other pond, diverting to look at the bulrushes.

Then I hear the tell-tale ‘beep-beep-beep’ of something big reversing.  I stand to one side, but it stops to let me by. Then a tractor appears. Stops to let me by.

By the time I cross the path to the other pond I can hear a reverberating bang, bang, bang. The sound of logs being thrown into a trailer.

Brisk, now, I hurry on.

But there’s a low growl in the air that I recognise.

Then a roar.

The air throbs, pulsates, howls.

It’s like being under a massive furnace, invisible flames roaring and pounding, compressing the air.

The hellish noise recedes, then returns.

British Aerospace’s Warton plant is not far way – by warplane standards. There the Eurofighter Typhoon jets are flight-tested.

Seen and heard at close quarters – as we do at annual airshows here – the Typhoon booms and roars, spewing fire from its rear end as it makes a vertical climb into the sky. Earth-shaking, deafening, it terrifies dogs – and me. All sensitive things.

You can hear the noise the engines make, then see a vertical climb, from about 40 seconds into this video:

Today, unseen amid the low-lying thick grey cloud, the Typhoon is soon gone.

Ducks and moorhens, coots and geese that flew for cover under the demonic storm, paddle back out as if nothing has happened.

And relative calm returns.

A tractor, now, seems pretty small beer.

Nature – and humans. Are we compatible?

I wonder. Perhaps one day Mother Nature will say, enough. You had your turn.

And peace will descend on the Earth, for a while. Till some other species fails to learn that fighting is far from fun. That kindness is better than fear. That trust is not always misplaced.

But winter exists for a reason. And with each spring we are given another chance.

I hope.

A metaphor for winter. As I stood staring into this little pond, a woman came over, with dog in tow, of course. ‘Is there anything in there?’ she asked. ‘That dark stuff is growing,’ I said. It wasn’t the kind of thing she wanted to hear. No frog spawn, no newts, not even any water boatmen. She left bemused. But that growth is magical, I think

 

 

 

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Posted in Art, jaunts & going out, Britain now & then, Lancashire & the golf coast, Nature notes, Thinking, or ranting, or both | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Charms

I’ve been collecting charms for the last few years. Metaphorical ones, not silver. I’ve plenty of those– and I rarely wear the bracelet.

It was a present from my parents when I was little. A special request when no doubt it was a newly fashionable thing. Again. What goes around (the wrist) comes around, right?

It made life easy for gift-givers for a while, witness some of the oddities on the links.

My almost-but-not-quite-brother-in-law (the engagement fell through) bought the most memorable. He had a sense of humour and liked beer. So no surprise it was he who bought me a pub that opened – by its floor – to show a drunk inside.

That drunk is now locked in the pub forever, eternally merry, belligerent – or dead. The floor kept falling open, snagging on things, so it had to be soldered shut.

Memories of many hues dangle from the chain. Poignant, sharp or fuzzy (why a lawnmower? Whoever bought a little girl that? My father, wishfully thinking?).

My mother contributed the statue from Pompeii.

She went with my not-a-real-aunty Maureen, because my father wouldn’t fly. But that – and a ban, following a disastrous ear operation – didn’t stop my mum.

Nefertiti I bought myself, in Cairo. A stressful, chilly, working week. But I sneaked a quick trip to the pyramids, the requisite inelegant camel ride and a son et lumière on the Giza Plateau.

I was helping to run a conference about electricity. And I fell sick, of course. Did I brush my teeth in tap water, asked seasoned travellers? Whatever. It’s the only time I’ve ever had an injection in my bum because I was vomiting.

St Christopher came in the post with a Christmas card and flimsy chain, not long after I finished university. Sent by a devout, Anglican, would-be beau who wanted to take care of me. He said.

And, most recently, an unearned, stylised shell from Santiago. Bought by my lovely Prof.

We neither of us walked the Camino, but the memory shines bright. Perhaps all the brighter for want of blisters.

So the heart-shaped lock is appropriate, for it symbolises the locking-up with love of all these trinkets and their memories.

The reasons.

Or lack of reason.

 

My new charms are not possessions. Yet, I can ‘own’ them if I choose.

I recently added a new one to the collection. I’d only just realised I was collecting, or I’d have added it before.

We’d spent a wintry night at a nature reserve, in a wood. Stargazing.

There I saw a galaxy – a galaxy! – called Andromeda, through a small telescope. I saw blue-hot stars shining from light years away. I saw mountains on the moon, the dusty ring of a nebula and the celestial hoops around Saturn.

I saw lights that may have long-since ceased to shine. How can this be?

No, don’t explain, I know there are answers, but that doesn’t mean I want to understand. I like the unsolved mystery, the wonder, the unfathomableness of it all.

It was awesome. And I was in awe.

But wait, that’s not the charm. The stars are not for owning, not even metaphorically.

Two days later, a drear Sunday, out we set. The heavens had spoken. We had to go.

I’ve written about it before, Jodrell Bank. There’s something humbling yet inspiring about the place.

One man’s vision come to fruition. A classic British back-of-a-fag-packet project that, in the 1950s, led the world.

Sir Bernard Lovell. A pioneer.

It was from here that the Russian Sputnik – and the first dog to travel into space – were tracked.

The metal tag says Venus – to be honest I’ve forgotten what this was designed to show…. I will just have to go back again

The debt-ridden early radio telescope became viable when the USA began sprinting into space to keep up with the Russians. They needed its then-unique expertise and camped out in the grounds. Read the fascinating stories here.

And it’s goosebump-inducing to think you can listen to the sound of the big bang. At the push of a button. No really, here:

Anyway, that dreary Sunday we took out a year’s membership. Despite the unusually unpalatable lunch in the cafe. Despite the fact that scaffolding was up around the telescope itself and the hoped-for magical movement was not going to happen. It will, one day.

 

And these things happen to charms. Even those stored in my head, not my jewellery drawer.

They’re tarnished. By humans.

We have a penchant for managing things.

We manage gardens and woodlands, coasts and lakes, rivers and streams, museums and galleries.

Which means sometimes, they lose their shine. For me, anyway.

Museums turn hyperactive. Long grasses are shorn and graceful trees lopped.

Ground is churned by tractors, spoiling the …

But I’m learning to leave well alone. To push such temporary tarnishings to the back of the mental drawer till their time comes round again.

For even intangible charms have their season.

And sometimes, a reason.

But then again, sometimes, not.

Oh dear, I think this had something to do with the sun, but hey, what the heck, I like the image through the hole! I do need to go back…

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Art, jaunts & going out, Britain now & then | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments