Sunday, 18 November 2012

More about canals

Frog, Dog and I took another walk along the Grand Western Canal yesterday. This time we explored the almost derelict northern end which should join up with the River Tone (as in ‘Taunton’)* but doesn’t quite.

All water has a magic to it, but canals particularly so because the water is still. We saw few people yesterday and no boats and there wasn't a sound to be heard. When we got back to the car, I felt as if I'd been in another world.

(Sorry about the quality of the pics - I think the dial on top had jiggled itself round to the wrong place.)

Leaves on the surface of the water,
looking like a Japanese (?) painting:

Disused lime kilns: 

Tunnel entrance:

This is weed growing under the water from the
bed of the canal, but because the water is so clear
it looks as if it's growing above the water:

*I’ve just looked up the derivation of ‘Tone’ and apparently it’s a Celtic word meaning ‘fire’, ie ‘sparkling’, an incentive - if we needed one - to take another walk in the area and follow the dried-up canal-bed as far as the river 

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Weretigers and other monsters

According to Asian folklore, man-eating tigers have supernatural origins. Either they are inhabited by gods or demons, or they are human shapeshifters. Patrick Newman, who has lived in Asia and been fascinated by such creatures all his life, has just had a book published on the subject.
    His book, Tracking the Weretiger, draws information from an array of sources and I am aghast at the work that must have gone into it. It is however written in an easy style, with vivid stories and telling details, such as the fact that tigers eat fleshy parts first such as buttocks so that often only the head, hands and feet of victims are found, and one belief that tigers stalking woodcutters synchronised their footsteps with the chops of the axe. Brrr.
    Equally vivid is the picture of colonial times – how the British slaughtered the wild animals, plundered the forests depriving tribespeople of their livelihoods, and drafted in locals as cheap labour.
    He examines some of the reasons why tigers – and other big cats – who usually shun humans should start to eat them. One leopard for instance who terrorised an area 500 miles square for eight years, entering through windows and barred doors to take people from their huts by night, was thought to have acquired the taste for human flesh during a flu epidemic when there was no time to burn the dead.
    This leopard is also the subject of the last chapter. Locals called in famous hunter Jim Corbett who after eight months got the better of the beast. Surveying the dead animal, he wrote, ‘Here was only an old leopard . . . whose only crime – not against the laws of nature, but against the laws of man – was that he had shed human blood, with no object of terrorizing man, but only in order that he might live.’ Corbett later turned conservationist.

With discussion of European werewolf traditions, full references, a glossary and full index, this is a comprehensive and authoritative work. And the fact that Pat is the partner of one of my sisters has not influenced my opinion in the least.
    The book is published in the States, but available through both and .

While on the subject of family and talented writers, I must also mention my sister Emma Fischel, who has just had a children’s novel published called The Gorgle. It’s for 8–11s who like a shivery bit of comic horror. (And for 50-somethings. I read it at the weekend and was gripped. It’s very clever.)

    She also writes children’s non-fiction, such as quiz and puzzle books, history made fun and girly books, under the name Lottie Stride. Recent titles include Meerkat Mischief, The Time Traveller's Handbook, Girls Only, Girls' Miscellany. (Frog was gripped at the weekend by the girly books.)
    The Gorgle is the one to buy as Em gets royalties on that. She doesn’t get royalties on the Lottie Stride books, so it’s better to borrow them from the library as then she gets PLR (Public Lending Right – fees for each borrowing).

Thank you!

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Walking and writing

Hello again after an absence of four months.


Here are some pictures from a walk Frog, Dog and I took yesterday along the Grand Western Canal.

This originally ran 24 miles from Tiverton in Devon to Taunton in Somerset but now only runs for 11 miles from Tiverton. Unfortunately this is too short for a boating holiday, but it does mean that the canal’s lovely and quiet.

I call this our ‘OAP walk’ as it’s all on the flat (and that’s hard to find in Devon).

Weedy (green) water because few boats come through, and muddy (brown) water after rain and flood

Swan family (two parents and two cygnets, but one parent thoughtlessly swam out of shot and then it began to pour so I had to put the camera away)

Ayshleigh Chapel

Since July I’ve been madly revising my children’s novel, which I first started about eleven years ago, and finally put down about five years ago. It was great coming back to it after such a long interval as its faults were so much easier to spot and, I hope, to put right. I’ve entered it for a competition run by Mslexia (a magazine ‘for women who write’). It was great too to have a purpose and a deadline, instead of writing in a vacuum.

Sadly, I now have to return to my adult novel which is at a much earlier and therefore (to my mind) more tricky stage. (Hence the blogging!)

Thursday, 14 June 2012


I’m stuck on The Novel again, so here I am, back after an absence of over a month, for which I feel bad (as if you were hanging on my every word). Thank you for still being there.

The reason I’m stuck on the novel is that, when I wrote the first draft, I plonked chunks of my autobiography in it in what I thought were the appropriate places. Now, when I come to go through the book again, I find that the chunks are completely unusable. Because they’re ‘true’, they don’t expand and blossom like fiction does. They’re fixed and I can’t do anything with them. I’m going to have to completely rewrite them, using my Imagination. I feel daunted.

Reading Nina’s lovely blog ( this morning I was honoured to find a mention of one of my posts. It was about sewing, so here is another snippet.

A few weeks ago when we saw the sun, I was inspired to go through my bin bag of summer clothes. As I tried the clothes on, I realised that I am now too old to wear above-the-knee skirts, so I let down the hem of one dress, sewed a matching band on to another (it was a dress I’d made and I had some material left over) and adapted the two items in the picture.

The band round the bottom of the dress comes from a skirt I shortened a few years ago (talk about ‘make do and mend’). The skirt I lengthened by extending the underskirt with a band of similar material – which is fine until the wind blows.

They look all right, don’t you think?

Another preoccupation at the moment is a course I’m thinking of doing. It’s training in something called the Lightning Process, which cured my niece’s ME. I’m wondering if it will help my migraines. Any comments?

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Storm damage

Frog tells me this particular form of storm debris is called 'witches' knickers':

Here's our road, washed into the field:

And here's a ladybird which caught my eye this morning from a good ten feet away and which I couldn't resist photographing:

Back to the novel (I hope).

Friday, 13 April 2012

Sun, tree, water, solitude

Here is one of my favourite spots. It's not open to the public so I shouldn't be there but I like it because I'm the only person around. This is what it looked like this morning.

Ellie likes it too.

I like to sit under this tree and do my 'meditation' (daydreaming). The sound of the river is enormously soothing as is the feel of  the treetrunk against my back.

On the far side of the river in the above picture you can just see the embankment along which the Penzance-Paddington railway runs. Ellie loves racing the high-speed trains. Sometimes she almost wins. Luckily she's not a swimmer so she stays this side of the bank and doesn't endanger either herself or the train. I probably shouldn't let her race the trains but I love to see her run. If I call her she wheels round in a huge arc like a proper sheepdog.

Just after I'd taken the above picture a swan took off and flew towards me, its wings making a tremendous creaking. I tried to take a picture of it but wasn't quick enough. I hope I wasn't disturbing a nest.

Cuckoo-flower in the water meadow next to the river. Normally the meadow is too boggy to walk on at this time of year but today it was dry and hard so I pleased to see the cuckoo-flowers - which only grow in damp places. They are named of course after the bird which should arrive in this country around now. However I haven't heard one in Devon for about five years. I'm just crossing my fingers that the swallows will return.

Back to The Novel.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Time she was gone

I realised this morning that there’s another spectre lurking in the shadows of my consciousness. This one looks like my mother. (Sorry Mum. I hope you don’t read this.) This one tells me my duty ‘as a woman’. As follows.

Women’s first duty is to be decorative. This means being thin, wearing nice clothes, removing hair on some parts of the body and titivating it in others, wearing makeup. Disguising one’s true self in all ways possible.

Women’s second duty is to run the household. This means cleaning, tidying, cooking, shopping – at least organising, even if others help.

Women’s third duty is to put the needs of everyone and everything above their own, whether children, dogs, relatives, friends, the community, house, garden.

I’m engaged with a furious struggle with the spectre at the moment because I wrote a major scene for the novel on Wednesday and ever since ideas have been pouring out. By the time I’ve fulfilled my duty as a woman however, I have no time and energy left for writing.

But it’s writing, I’ve only just realised, that makes me happy.

It was the alchemy of this blog that unstuck the novel on Wednesday (after I’d written on Tuesday about making changes and my glorious future). May it do so again.

Begone, foul spectre.


Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Oh glorious future

Yesterday I had my hair cut. This may not sound like much but it took two and a half hours, mostly because Michelle does love to talk. She works from a converted barn on the coast, a gorgeous spot, and Frog came with me. Afterwards we took the dog for a walk – inland along a river to a watermill where we had lunch. Then we detoured to have a look at the sea and came back through some woods.
    The sun shone, blackbirds sang, enormous celandines gleamed in the grass. Everything was perfect – except for the relationship between me and Frog. And the source of the problem was – surprise, surprise – Dog. I think Frog’s too strict with her and he thinks I’m too lenient. He shouts at her and then I shout at him. Oh dear. We need more practice, says Frog. I’m taking the dog out on my own from now on, thinks I.
    On the drive home Frog put the radio on and I heard my horoscope. You don’t like change, it said (not true, I love change) but now is the time to make changes and think about your glorious future.
    What glorious future? I’m 58. I’m not interested in a career. I’ve done that. I’m not after fame. In fact, I think I’d hate it. (Or would I?) And I try not to think about money. (It makes me panic; it’s secondary, not primary.)
    What I really want, I think, is to unravel the mess inside, to feel that all of me is present all the time, to have a tap into my subconscious that I can open and close at will, to spend what remains of my life being whole and happy and purposeful.
    It has seemed to me for the last decade or so that writing is one way to enable all that, but this morning I got stuck again on The Novel. 
    Today is the Spring Equinox. A good time to turn one’s life around. A good time to face up to conflict and uncomfortable emotions. To take the dog out with Frog, even if it leads to disaster. To work out whether it's fear that stops me getting on with the novel or whether I'm just rubbish at writing.
    Which way, oh glorious future? Change, I embrace you.

Sunday, 18 March 2012


The weeping willow by the ford,
bursting into leaf and gladdening the hearts
of those of us lucky enough to live nearby.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Same place, different season

Inspired by David Hockney, I took a picture this morning of a track I've photographed before. The earlier picture I published in October last year (see 'Spot the dog'). Here is today's (dog invisible, deep in the undergrowth).

Writing less

Writing less is so much more difficult than writing more, as I found when I produced my New Age Encyclopaedia and had to describe subjects like Hinduism in half a page. You have to know just as much about the subject, if not more.
    Signs ( and I were discussing blogging every day and she suggested encapsulating each day in just one or two sentences. I wasn’t sure I could do that so I decided to practise in secret and then maybe publish a week in one go.
    I couldn’t do it! Since Friday, I’ve been writing reams about my days. I was going to publish the reams but then, when I looked at them this morning, I felt weary. Who wants to read all that rubbish?
    Instead, I’ve picked out one or two sentences. It was easy at a distance to see what was important.
    Maybe, with practice, I shall be able to go straight to the short version.

Walking the dog in a new wood today as she disgraced herself in our usual place by chasing sheep. The noise from the motorway thunders through my head like a migraine. Spring sunshine pours through the trees. It is so white after the yellow and grey of winter. By the carpark a row of wild cherry trees is in blossom.

I wake sad. In the afternoon I read Fire Bird’s blog post ( about the suicide of her father. I think of my father who seemed to retire from life when he retired from work in his mid-fifties. As far as I could gather on my brief visits home, he spent the next twenty-five years waiting by the whisky cupboard for the magic hours when he could start drinking again. Sometimes I’m like that myself.

Frog gets out his chainsaw and helps me prune some shrubs. He loves destructive gardening. This time last year the dog would have been lunging at us, growling and attacking our legs. Today she plays with the cuttings and then trots beside me as I drag branches to the bonfire pile. She can be adorable.

Some signs of spring. Frogspawn in the ditch up the road. A rook flying up to a nest with a twig in its mouth. The reappearance of the roadsign warning of toads crossing. An orange-bottomed bumble bee in the garden. The weeping willow by the ford changing from yellow to green as the tips of its leaves emerge.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Time he was gone

There is a demon who lurks in the dark dusty corners of my consciousness. He looks and sounds like my father. This is what he says.

‘You will never amount to anything.’

‘You have no right to think that you can write a novel.’

‘Art is a waste of time unless it earns money.’

‘Be secure. Don’t take risks. Worry about the future.’

‘It is your duty to be unhappy.’

It’s time he was gone.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Anniversary cogitations

Tomorrow is the anniversary of this blog.
    I’ve slackened off from it recently because it does, I think, take over the same space in my brain as the novel. In other words, I can’t think about both at once. However, after last Tuesday’s post, I wrote a scene that I was pleased with it. It felt real. It moved me. Scenes like that are rare, much too rare.
    The state of mind that I achieved last Tuesday was, I think, emptiness and it was from that emptiness that a scene swam into my consciousness. That is my current theory anyway. I thought I felt empty today but I haven’t been able to write anything for the novel. Perhaps I have to be empty and desperate.
    And writing the blog post last Tuesday put me in touch with how desperate I felt and helped to empty me out. Ironic.   
    Another factor could be confidence. For some reason, I was always confident about my editing and non-fiction writing. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t do it or wouldn’t get the work. So of course it all went fairly smoothly. In my memory anyway. Would that I could approach novel-writing in the same way. But I don’t.  
    Frog (who is my main confidant in this peculiar process apart from my sister and you) compares my novel-writing to native ceremonies. The participants don’t know what works, what it is that achieves whatever result they’re after – making some foodstuff or drink, healing, changing the weather and so on – so they stick everything in – dancing, singing, touching rabbits’ ears, imbibing, decorating themselves and their houses etc etc.
     He also says that my creative writing muscle is one I have used little up till now, so it needs strengthening and toning. I just need to keep practising.
    It’s great that he’s so encouraging because I don’t encourage myself. I refuse to believe in this inexplicable urge I have towards doing something I find so difficult, whose rewards – at present – are few and far between, and which can be so painful.
    The trouble is, I don’t know what else to do. It’s the only shape I can see the future taking.
    Which brings me back to the blog.
    I’ve toyed with the idea of joining Facebook, ‘putting myself out there’ and maybe getting lots of new readers, but I’m not sure that I’m ready for that yet. I like the blog’s current intimacy. I don’t want to get addicted to feedback and numbers of friends.
    Maybe when I have something to sell . . . like a finished novel . . . I will think differently.
    In the meantime, thank you loyal reader. I love knowing you’re there.

Wild daffodils in our gateway (planted by me)

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

In Redslinch wood

I am sitting on dead leaves and stones
[Where is Dog?]

I hear birds
I hear the stream
The sun shines on my face
The wind blows through the tops of the trees
and on the back of my neck

I watch the water
always the same
always different
like flame

I want to write
but I can't
All my pains cluster around that point

[Dog is barking]

A strip of rusty iron
like a piece of chastity belt
lies on the edge of the stream
one spike up

I will go home
to an empty house
an empty page
That is what I have created for myself

[Dog arrives
and puts her paw on my foot
She radiates heat
Her underside and legs
are dripping grey mud
She is panting]

I stand up
and shoulder my backpack

I am lost
but I step forward
That is all I can do

Saturday, 4 February 2012

A frosty afternoon's walk

Iced puddle

                                                          Ice on the tracks

Fishbone ice

Tuesday, 24 January 2012


On Friday I had a tantrum. I didn’t feel too bad about it as Frog used to have tantrums all the time. I’m not blaming Frog. It takes two to make a situation and, if Frog’s sins were of commission, then mine were of omission.
    Yes, I know, I’m talking in riddles, but that’s all I’m going to say for the moment.
    I wasn’t brought up to be angry. I do remember however losing my temper occasionally with my four younger brothers and sisters. I had taken it upon myself to look after them all and sometimes it all just got too much. I have a vivid memory of one of my sisters barricading herself in her bedroom and me trying to kick the door down. So I do have a temper - and quite a good one at that.
    So, having not been brought up with anger – not with much emotion at all in fact – I didn’t know how to deal with Frog’s anger. I shut myself off. The angrier he got, the more I retreated, until eventually I would go and hide in another part of the house while Frog would rampage around looking for me.
    One day, I’d had enough. I emerged, squared up to Frog and said, ‘Just stop it.’ Amazingly, he did.
    Now, it’s mostly the dog that Frog gets angry with and, for my part, the fact that it’s a dog rather than a person who’s now bullying me must mean that I’m nearly there. (And I will get to grips with that canine monster, I promise.)
   Anyway, Frog and I – with all our practice – retrieved the situation on Friday and on Saturday I woke up feeling good.
    We used to have a friend (she doesn’t like me any more) who had a theory. It wasn’t good to be too healthy all the time. Sometimes your body needed a wake-up call to get it working – too much alcohol, too much chocolate, not enough sleep. A bit like jumping into cold water, I suppose. Maybe anger, or strong emotions in general, are rather like that too – although there are I know far better ways than tantrums of letting them out.
    Part of the problem was that I’d got myself confused. I’d become stuck on the novel and so I’d thought I wasn’t a novel-writer. I’d started exploring other ways of justifying my existence – a job, a non-fiction project. The non-fiction project didn’t work out and I was stranded.
    Recently I was re-reading Roald Dahl’s brilliant autobiography Boy in which there’s a wonderful section about being a writer. Unfortunately I’ve taken the book back to library so I can’t quote it to you, but it begins something like, ‘In comparison with the life of a businessman, the life of a writer is hell’ – and he’d been both. Every day, you have to come up with new ideas, and every day before you sat down to write you didn’t know if you could do it. ‘No wonder we all drink too much whisky,’ he said.
    I would agree. Maybe hell is going a bit far, but trying to write and not being able to is just about the worst feeling I know. Whether it’s worse than not even trying I’m not sure – and certainly the effect on me of not trying (viz tantrums) is pretty unpleasant. On the other hand, when writing works the feeling is amazing – like love.
    So one of the things we resolved on Friday night was that I was actually a writer after all. I couldn’t escape it. I had to keep trying with the novel.
    And, as were driving to Glastonbury on Saturday morning, I had an idea. The main character of my novel was going to have a tantrum too.
    Yesterday, I manoeuvred her into position. Today I have to send her into the attack.
    Wish me luck.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Nature in the almost-raw

Twenty-four years ago Frog and I were on a train from Exeter to London. As I looked out of the window I saw a mysterious waterway snaking its way alongside and underneath the railway track. It meandered like a river and yet it didn’t sparkle and ripple like a river. It stared back at me, a flat grey mirror almost hidden by an unruly fringe of trees and bushes.
    ‘That looks interesting,’ I said, pointing it out to Frog. ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful to explore.’
    I was remembering my favourite childhood holiday, when we’d visited the Norfolk Broads and my brother and I had been allowed to go out on our own in canoes and explore the vast deserted network of pools and creeks.
    ‘It’s a canal,’ said Frog excitedly. ‘I’ve always wanted to have a canal boat holiday.’
    We’d been married ten years and yet here was something I didn’t know about him.
    A few months later Frog, Dog (Brindle) and I were ensconced on Eliza Jane, a private boat we’d hired for the week on the Kennet and Avon Canal, which runs from Bristol to London.
    The canal had only just been restored and we were the only boat around. We forged a track through weed-green water like an icebreaker, frequently going aground, partly through our lack of experience and partly because the canal was imperfectly dredged. Leaping ashore was a major operation, involving calculating just where the reeds ended and dry land began, more than often than not ending in soaking wet feet. Once that was accomplished, there was four foot or so of slippery wobbly gangplank to negotiate, something Brindle never really got the hang of. Luckily she enjoyed swimming. At night we could moor up in the middle of nowhere in bulrushes taller than the boat and listen to the calls of the wild.

The canal towpath in wilder times. (Frog and Brindle, 1988.)

On the outskirts of Devizes - only a swan to make a trail through the weed

    Since then we’ve had at least a dozen more holidays on the K & A. We all loved canal-boating. Frog loved the human-sized technology – the steam-powered pumping stations, the hand-cranked locks, the swing-bridges you pushed with your bottom, the boat’s diesel engine that you could fiddle with through a hatch in the deck. I loved being close to nature and being able to walk all day along the towpath more than keeping pace with a boat that only went at two miles an hour. Brindle had a particular penchant for eating anglers’ bait and chasing ducks. Penny loved being with us twenty-four hours a day.
    Year by year however the canal has become busier and more civilised. The shrubs and trees have been tamed. ‘Live-aboards’ (permanently occupied boats) line the banks, with designated concreted or decked stretches for ‘temporary moorings’ (holiday boats). The towpath has become full of litter, and crowds of ‘gongoozlers’ hang around watching the boaters work. Our holiday last year with Ellie was anything but relaxing. Perhaps we needed a new canal.
    On Saturday, we decided to explore the recently re-opened Taunton and Bridgwater. After an excellent lunch at our favourite vegetarian restaurant in Glastonbury (Rainbows End – go through a yellow doorway and up a passage) and a quick dart into Sainsbury’s at Street to check for some emerald green trousers I’d seen in Exeter but not in my size (they didn’t have them), we parked next to a lock and set off up the towpath.
    We had a good walk – Frog only lost his temper with Ellie once – and although the countryside was a little dreary and we could hear the drone of the M5 the canal itself was suitably empty. When we got home I checked the internet for boat hire. Google directed me to a company at King’s Bromley in Staffordshire. Not much good, but I started thinking about the place-name ‘Bromley’, partly because of the suffix ‘ley’ (for more on the intriguing subject of ‘leys’, see my post of 3 July last year) and partly because there was another Bromley near where I was brought up in Kent.
    I looked the name up in my Oxford Dictionary of British Place Names and discovered that it meant ‘the clearing in the wood where broom (gorse) or brambles grow’. Bromley-near-where-I-was-brought-up is now part of Greater London. I don’t remember it as containing even a flash of green. What a lovely name but what a hideous place. I felt a familiar pang. How much we have lost.
     I try not to get on my soapbox in this blog. With a few exceptions, I find it boring when other people do so. I’ve had my fill of protestation (as also explained in a previous post – ‘New age genesis’, 12 April last year) and these days think that positive examples are so much more effective. But I do agree with the speaker on last Wednesday’s ‘’ on Channel 4 that population growth is what we really need to be tackling. Worrying about global warming and biodiversity are luxury-liner-deckchair-rearranging exercises. Governments should be taxing people for having children, not paying them.
    I realise however that this is dangerous ground and that, as someone who never really wanted children, who finds the company of other humans (with the exception of Frog) almost unbearably tiring, and who likes nature in the raw, I could be biased.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Pragmatism and optimism

I feel thoroughly ashamed of yesterday’s post but Frog says keep it in and I trust his judgement. In mitigation, here are some happier stories.

Last Friday I took the day off, thinking it might forestall the migraine I could feel coming on. It didn’t, but I had a lovely time. Ellie and I set off for our usual walk at the nearby National Trust park and then deviated. Why not, I thought. I have no time limits today. We found a tiny family chapel and in the corner of the churchyard was a splash of pink. I went to investigate. A rash of cyclamen all around the ancient gravestones. So unexpected. So delightful.

On my way through the back roads by car into Exeter or down to the farm shop I pass a house on a right-angled bend. The bend is actually created as the road goes round the corner of the house. About thirty years ago (yes, we’ve been living here for a long time), I nearly collided with a car on the corner. I was driving a Mini (as usual) and my foot got stuck between the pedals, as it can do with Minis, the pedals being rather close together.
     I hurtled down the hill towards the corner trying to extricate my foot. Just in time I managed and slewed to a halt, rather shaken, about two inches from the front bumper of a car coming in the opposite direction.
     A woman flew out of the house.
    ‘It was all your fault,' she shouted at me. 'You were driving much too fast.’
    I tried to explain but I could see she didn’t believe me. I could see what she was thinking. ‘Just another young person who doesn’t know how to drive properly.’
    I’ve never forgiven her. (I was born in a Chinese snake year, and Chinese snakes can apparently bear grudges for a long long time. Too true.) What’s more, next to the house are two vast battery-chicken sheds. And so ever since then every time I go past I blast the horn loud and long, hoping that I wake her up from whatever nap she’s trying to have.
    As I drove past last week however I saw that the battery-chicken sheds were coming down. In response to the EU directive against keeping chickens in cages, I suppose. Thank goodness.
    Do I still beep my horn? You bet.

On Sunday Frog was going through the Christmas tree lights checking that they all worked before putting them away. For some reason that I don’t quite understand (and I daren’t ask why as Frog’s technical explanations usually end up confusing me even more), he combined two sets of lights into one, so that we had half the amount of lights that we did before.
    ‘Perhaps we should get another set in the sales,’ I said.
    And then I had a thought.
    ‘But of course, if the world’s going to end on the 21st of December there’s not much point is there.’*
    ‘If the world’s going to end on the 21st of December,’ said Frog, ‘we’ll put the Christmas tree up early.’
    Which perfectly illustrates his unique blend of pragmatism and optimism.

*According the ancient Mayan calendar, New Agers and a large proportion of Americans.

Monday, 16 January 2012


What I love about blogs is people’s honesty. They make me realise that, however cheerful we all pretend to be most of the time, we all have monsters lurking somewhere.
    I’ve been blogging for nearly a year now and I’ve introduced you to most of the peripherals of my life. Perhaps it’s time now to go deeper and admit to some of my monsters.

The day after a migraine. As nearly always, after a day in bed concentrating on nothing but pain, I feel clear-headed and released from burdens. Even the dog behaves – more or less. She keeps quite close as we walk up the lane and then at the top of the hill when we stop under one of the three beech trees she sits beside me.

The three beech trees on the hill
I love these trees. I think they are the remnant of a hedge as part of their roots are visible. I always feel happy when I sit under them. Perhaps it’s the view – all the way down to the sea and over to Dartmoor. Perhaps it’s because they remind me of a tree my brother and I loved to sit in when we were very young. We called it the ‘goblin tree’.

One of my beloved beech trees (in December 2010)

It doesn’t take long though before Ellie is fidgeting. First she crunches on a beech nut. Then she tears a stick to pieces. Finally, she starts digging a hole under my bottom, showering me with earth. I get the message.
    On the way down the path she spies a lone walker behind us and, ignoring my calls, races up to him and puts muddy footprints all over his trousers. Not surprisingly, he is peeved.
    All afternoon, as Frog does something mysterious in his semi-underground music room/den and I do some work towards a possible new writing project up in my loft room, she whines in the kitchen.
    The kitchen is like a medieval great hall. It is in the centre of the house and every room opens off it. Both Frog and I have our doors open. My room is a gallery over the kitchen. Ellie is not separated from us. In any case, even if I do allow her to come upstairs with me, she still whines.   

On Monday mornings Jo comes round and spends two hours scouring the house for us. (I know, I should do it myself, shouldn’t I. I’m disgustingly privileged. My excuse is Frog’s clutter. It’s a full-time job keeping space clear for me.)
    Anyway, Jo is a dog person too and she understands only too well about me and Ellie. We discuss the collars that give dogs a small electric shock. They have a remarkable effect apparently on dogs’ obedience and you only have to use the shock bit once. After that you just use the ‘vibrate’ button.
    ‘Look,’ said Jo. ‘I know you are the sort of person who bends over backwards not to hurt anybody or anything, but at the moment it’s a battle between you and Ellie, and Ellie is winning. She’s a diva. She’s taken over your life.’
    I can’t speak.
    Ellie goes to the dogminder and I sit on the hill and cry. I want my life back.   

Monday, 2 January 2012

Winter strips us naked

Winter strips us naked.
We have no leaves to protect us from the sky.
Our roots struggle to hold on to the sodden earth.
And when storms come
some of us fall.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Winter, what winter?

Here is a list of the wild plants I saw in flower when out walking yesterday, some admittedly rather bedraggled and difficult to identify, but even so.

herb Robert
red campion
greater stitchwort
wild strawberry
dog rose
field madder
wild pansy
cow parsley
black nightshade
herb Bennett?
goat’s beard?
red deadnettle?

This, I couldn't identify.