Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Cobwebby days

Some days cobwebs are everywhere. They’re probably everywhere all the time but it’s a heavy dew that's showing them up. Monday was one such day. Here is a selection of what I saw.

It was the multiple guy-ropes (if you can see them in this picture) that intrigued me about this one

This complex structure is similar to an even bigger one that a certain butterfly or moth makes for its caterpillars, so whether it's a spider's web or not I don't know

This one caught my eye because it was balanced so precariously between two dead cow-parsley stalks. (Spot the dog . . . )

The next three pictures were taken one January (2013) and included in this blog at the time. I think they're worth repeating.

I’m afraid I’ve been bombarding you with posts recently. I shall try and take a break – at least for a few days.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Notes from a prison cell

I focus on the light
that comes from the small barred window
high up in the wall.

I pretend the concrete and brick
are rock and stone, a cave.

I listen to the screams and the thuds
and I pretend they are my enemy
from whom I’m hiding in my cave.


Soon, I know, I will be free.

I will run over the damp earth
in my bare feet.

I will feel the wind in my hair
and the sun on my skin.

I will lie on a bed of dry leaves
and look up at the sky.

I will see the stars
and know I am with god.

copyright ©  Belinda Whitworth 19.9.17

Monday, 18 September 2017

Prisoners of conscience

On Friday the Society of Authors (of which I am a member) emailed me about their campaign in support of Turkish writer Ahmet Altan who has been in prison since September last year and is going to trial tomorrow (Tuesday 19 September). Through this link I was able to learn more about the campaign and send a message of support. Perhaps you can too.
    I’ve always been fascinated by prisoners of conscience, people prepared to speak out whatever the consequences. Would I have the courage in their position to do the same?

In all visible respects – character, interests, appearance, background – Frog and I could hardly be more different. But we both knew as soon as we met that deep down we were the same. We lived in the same world. I suppose you could call it a spiritual thing.
    I hoped my parents would understand, but they didn’t. All they saw was what they thought was our incompatibility on the surface. They didn’t believe in interior, spiritual worlds, especially not for women.
    I didn’t stand up for my inner self. I sat on the fence, trying to keep both them and Frog happy.
    It didn’t work. I failed as a prisoner of conscience and imprisoned myself instead.

Judith Kerr, the children’s author and illustrator, descibes in her wonderful book When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit how when she was a child her family fled Germany on the eve of the Nazis coming to power because her father, a writer, was openly critical of them and in grave danger. They went first to Paris where her mother was desperately unhappy.
    ‘You and I are OK,’ said Judith’s father to her. He tapped his head. ‘We are artists. We have this extra something inside. There is always a part of us that is observing, that nothing can touch.’*

My inside bit is still very small but I think it’s growing. And this blog is helping. Thank you for reading it.

*This is a very loose rendering of the book as I read it a long time ago. Apologies if I'm way off.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Feral 2

Frog and I like to go out one day a week – just so that we can be together and away from our responsibilities and concerns. Because I walk the dog every day in the countryside and am often on my own, I tend to want to visit cities and towns and, dare I say it, do a bit of shopping. Last week however, because the sun was shining (at last), we decided to head up to Exmoor.
    One of our long-term projects is to get to know Exmoor better. We know it a lot less than we do Dartmoor, and so does everybody else. It doesn’t suffer from the surfeit of tourism that Dartmoor does and one is sometimes lucky enough to go for a walk and not meet another soul. (Ironically, I’m much more likely to do that walking round home than on either of the moors.)
    Although the moors are very dramatic and give you the same sense of space that the sea does (but without the reflective light), I’m not a great fan. I can’t help seeing them as the semi-desert they are. They are a human-made landscape, in that once upon a time these uplands were covered with trees. Prehistoric people burnt the trees in order to encourage grasslands, in order to encourage deer (which they could eat). What with the deer eating any new tree shoots and a slight worsening of the climate the trees never grew back, and the soil – as well as the flora and fauna - became more and more impoverished.

Moorland (in this case Dartmoor): space, relative solitude and a grim beauty, but a paucity of flora and fauna

The main thing the moors have going for them to my mind are the prehistoric remains – stone circles and rows, barrows (grave mounds), even a Bronze Age village. In addition, strangely, Dartmoor is the only place in Devon where I – and others - still hear cuckoos. (No one knows why that is, apparently. The dramatic decline in cuckoo numbers in this country has not yet been explained.)

The remains of a Bronze Age village (Grimspound) on Dartmoor
I’m with George Monbiot, as laid out in his inspiring book Feral: searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding which I’ve written about before. I think we should stop allowing sheep to graze uplands and allow the tree cover finally to regenerate. With the worldwide worsening of the environment, those wild spaces we do still have need to be brought back to peak condition, for the sake of our souls as well as our physical health.

George Monbiot's inspiring book

The other problem with the moors is the weather. They are always twice as cold, twice as wet and twice as windy as anywhere else. And it was the wind Frog and I had to contend with last week. In spite of their covering of hats, scarves and hoods, our ears still hurt. Nevertheless when we got to top of Dunkery Hill, the highest point on the moor I think, we had a 360-degree view, with the sea to the north and east and Dartmoor to the south-west. We then headed west to look for some barrows.

    Wind and space are a fatal combination for Ellie. They turn her what I’ve now decided to call ‘feral’ in George Monbiot’s honour. She rediscovers her inner wolf, circling one at speed, growling and attempting to take a chunk out of one’s leg. I’ve written about this before as well and how terrifying it was to get to grips with, in that according to the trainer Leanne (who had infinite sympathy for dogs and none at all for humans) I had to have Ellie on a running lead the whole time and then when the fit came upon her clamp my foot on the lead next to her neck, bring her head to the ground and immobilise her. In other words, instead of fleeing the danger, I had to go right to the heart of it. A valuable life-lesson no doubt.
    ‘If you don’t manage to do this,’ said Leanne, ‘you’ll have a problem dog and you’ll have to give her up.’
    Of course I managed it. It wasn’t so much the prospect of losing Ellie that I minded – that was quite appealing: it was the thought of admitting defeat, especially to Leanne.
    So, as we walked back to the carpark, mercifully sheltered now from the wind, Ellie had one of her turns. These days they’re much less extreme than they were when she was younger and much easier to deal with. We just clamped an ordinary lead on her, and she immediately recovered.
    Yes, I’m all for rewilding the moors, and ourselves, but in Ellie’s case I make an exception.

The prettiest (and possibly most biodiverse) part of the walk, on the fringes of Exmoor next to the carpark: a rowan tree in full berry and a peaty stream