More lockdown rambles

I won’t comment on last week’s events in Washington DC, or the subsequent craven behaviour by those who supported them. Neither shall I mention the worsening Covid crisis here in the UK. We’re now in our third lockdown as cases surge alarmingly.

All we can do, me and Mrs TD, is to go for our daily country walks, tune in to nature, and get through each day. I have managed to read most of Elizabeth Taylor’s early novel A View from the Harbour, so should be posting on that soon.

Meadows in shadow at noon

Meadows in shadow at noon

The weather finally brightened last week: cold and frosty, but this was because of the clear sky overnight. Daytime was therefore crisp, sunny and beautiful. Even though the sun barely struggled above the horizon at noon. Long shadows were cast by the trees at the edge of this local meadow.

That was at the end of the walk that day. Earlier I looked over the hedge beside the lane I walked along, Sunny scene with birdtowards the north and the wind turbines by the A30 – the main road linking Cornwall with the rest of the country, just beyond the horizon in this shot.

The turbines are barely visible in my picture – but a passing crow managed to photo-bomb it.

A little further along from this scene the lane turns sharply left and drops down into the deep Kenwyn river valley. Here are a couple of pictures of this downward-sloping lane, the first taken (and posted here) last May, the second from my walk last week:

Lane with cowparsleyCountry lane, winter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earlier this week, as we walked down another local lane, we spotted our first wild daffodils (I included a picture of some cultivated ones at Epiphany House in my post a week or so back) atop a hedgerow.  Early daffodils

 

This week has been warmer – no frost – but very murky, with a misty rain rippling across the countryside.

Here’s a glimpse of the contrast with last week’s conditions: Misty rain

 

 

 

Mrs TD went for her walk today alone as I wanted to write this post. As I was drafting it, she texted me this picture below. I’ve featured these local peacocks several times since the rural rambles became so regular during the Covid restrictions.

This is the first time they’ve been seen together as a group of three. She said there was a fourth one standing ostentatiously on top of his favourite shed roof.

We haven’t heard them screeching, though, since the summer. We’ve spotted the occasional one in recent weeks, moping about this area, all alone, but resolutely silent. Why don’t they screech in winter? Are they sulking?

 

Nunez, daffodils, holy wells again

Sigrid Nunez, Salvation City. Virago paperback, 2020. First published 2010

I thought Sigrid Nunez’ 2018 novel The Friend (link to my post HERE) was an intelligent, well-written and highly engaging read. I was disappointed by Salvation City.

Nunez, Salvation City coverMaybe it’s because it’s set in an imagined near-future flu pandemic in which many die – including some of the central characters in the narrative. Given our current dire situation here in the UK, where we’ve just entered our third lockdown in response to a scary surge in Covid cases, it wasn’t perhaps the best choice to cheer me up.

I don’t think that fully accounts for my dissatisfaction with the novel. The long central section has the 13-year-old protagonist, a sensitive lad named Cole, being more or less indoctrinated by a group of well-meaning religious zealots who live in the city of the novel’s title. They are convinced that the pandemic is God’s way of initiating the rapture, and only the chosen (ie those same fundamentalists) will achieve ‘salvation’.

I very nearly gave up on the novel after too many pages of their fanatical self-righteousness. Towards the end Cole shows signs of asserting himself and going his own way, but by then I’d almost ceased caring.

I’m afraid I can’t recommend this one – but do try The Friend. Don’t worry about the dog in it.

DaffodilsInstead here’s an image from yesterday’s local walk. In the grounds of Epiphany House (I recently wrote during first lockdown in April about this former convent and school, now a retreat and conference centre – though not much retreating or conferring is happening there at the moment – HERE). These are the first daffodils I’ve seen this winter. They lifted our spirits. Spring is on the way

It’s weird to be walking our local lanes and paths in a January lockdown, almost a year since we started doing this pretty much every day as our only permitted exercise during the first pandemic restrictions. We’ve seen spring flowers come and go, summer hedgerows burst into life, autumn and now midwinter. Soon the cycle will be back where we started. I guess the message is that life goes on (despite the efforts of our hapless leaders, who seem always to be tardily reactive, rather than proactive and firmly decisive).

Holywell Finally a picture taken the previous day at a north Cornwall beach we haven’t been to in ages: Holywell Bay. There are two holy wells in the area: one, a sea cave in the cliffs over the beach (the tide was too high for us to enter it), the other in what’s now a holiday park in the nearby village of Cubert. Their holy, healing qualities are said to derive from association with the northern English St Cuthbert, or a Welsh St Cubert.

The figure just visible in my picture top left is my brother-in-law, peering into the abyss. No, he was investigating a curious concrete structure in the clifftop – possibly some sort of bunker: this area adjoins Penhale, a stretch of sand dunes on which there’s a military establishment which the public can’t access. This is where Cornwall’s patron saint, Piran, is said to have landed on his miraculous stone from Ireland. I wrote about him and his oratory in the dunes HERE back in 2016.

You can read more about the wells and this area HERE. Link to my two posts on Bede’s Life of Cuthbert HERE.

 

Happy New Year to you all. As we’re all saying at the moment, surely this will be an improvement on last year.

 

 

Nikki’s swims

Nikki’s pool

I wanted to share with you today a personal story about my amazing, inspirational stepdaughter, Nikki. When she was just 19 she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood cancer, and was given a ‘target of five years – get that far without a recurrence and she’d have done well’. She underwent the trauma of radiotherapy and chemo, and was told it was unlikely she’d be able to have children. Soon after this I met her mother, who subsequently became Mrs TD; Nikki became my lovely daughter.

She’s now 48, married, with a daughter and a son, aged twelve and fifteen.

That’s not all. Four years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Back to the horrors of chemo and a mastectomy. She now has an annual mammogram, followed by the agonising wait for the results letter a few weeks afterwards. She prays for a ‘thin letter’ – it’s the fat ones that bring bad news.

Nikki’s pool, swimmers, blue sky

In the recent past she’s become fond of water-based activities – kayaking, paddle-boarding. Since the summer she’s become addicted to wild swimming. She’s been going to a seawater pool on the coast near where she lives, accompanied by an equally crazy friend or two, sometimes her firefighter husband.

Most of her working life Nikki has worked in the National Health Service, most recently in cancer services. She’s a passionate advocate of ensuring the best support and care is available for those who are having treatment, or are survivors of cancer.

A friend of hers, also an NHS worker, was so impressed with Nikki’s courage and obvious pleasure in her cold-water swims that she created a link for herself and others to make donations to the charity Cancer Research UK for every swim Nikki completed this December. At the time of writing she’s raised over £800.

I was going to write here about Nikki’s swimming, but thought she expressed it far better than I could in her own personal blog. She’s given me permission to quote from it here, and to use some of her pictures.

Extract from her Shephards Way blog, 2 Nov: link HERE

Nikki and her pool (or lake)

I’ve been asked quite a lot recently A. Am I mad? B. How do I do it? Cold water swimming that is …. we can come back to other answers for A. another time.

Mr S [Nikki’s husband] had invited me cold water swimming a while back and I had politely declined – my reasons were mainly vanity and size based. Roll on 4 months and a good number of swims tucked under my swimsuit I am HOOKED. Vanity and size-based concerns have literally been washed away: I don’t care that I may look like a plonker in my pink hat, black costume and boots – I am as happy as happy can be! It is the most liberating feeling I have ever experienced, well apart from the big purposeful flash I did the other night just after a dusk swim, but we can save that for another time too.

Christmas Eve swim!

I would say I’m a fearful and anxious person by nature but I’m think my anxiety has also developed through my life experiences. I often think of myself as a not very brave person, definitely not someone who likes to step too far out of their comfort zone, although I am known for pushing my limits a little at times. BUT when I swim in cold water I feel the bravest person I know! Bonkers eh??

When I am driving to the lake, I get a little knot of anxiety in my tummy – I think it’s also mixed in with a little excitement. I get out of my warm gear and pop on my swimming hat and boots. As I walk to the steps into the lake the excitement builds a little. The first few steps are cold (obviously) but I take a big deep breath and as I exhale I swim off into the lake. With certain friends at this point there is a loud woo hoo. Initially there is some tingling pain mainly in my arms then as I swim I start to get used to the feeling and strangely my body sort of warms up! My mind during this point is doing what I think is most clever, it is overriding all my natural fears, it’s forcing me to think of the water, the feel of the fresh air on my face, to be aware of my oh so clever body. I look around at the sights, people watch, gaze over the sea to Wales, to the gorgeous iconic pier. I can hear the water lapping around me as I push on through, the sound of silence or the hum and chatter of friends or others. For a brief moment in time I am fearless, I am free and I am happy.

The return to shore is exciting too, the sense of having just done something mad makes me dizzy with excitement, wanting to take pictures and to share my euphoric state with everyone!! Then there is the getting dressed, the woolly hat, plenty of layers and the hot chocolate, before setting off back to life again!

My perfect moment in time, where for a short space in time I am brave, strong, invincible and cancer doesn’t exist.

An evening swim with head torch

In a recent Guardian article: ‘Nature has healing powers: Britain’s Covid heroes share their favourite outdoor spaces’, several people talk of the beaches, woods and other places in which they’ve felt connected with nature and its restorative, calming influences (link HERE).

Nikki is more of a heroine, to my mind, than any of these worthy individuals!

Camellias, pheasants and Tess of the D’Urbervilles

This was going to be a post about Salvation City, the second Sigrid Nunez novel I’ve read recently (I posted on The Friend in September, HERE). I find that my Covid-era lethargy persists, however, and its setting in a near-future flu pandemic also puts me off for now. I’ll return to it another time.

As I returned from my daily walk yesterday I was passing the house and garden at the bottom of my road. There’s a large camellia that forms part of the garden border, hanging over the footpath next to it. This camellia produces beautiful pink flowers every December, and this year is no exception.

As I paused to admire them, one of them dropped off and fell with a soft thud onto the damp pavement at my feet. It looked perfectly healthy: it hadn’t blown or turned brown. I suppose it just gave up on blooming.

What happened next quite disturbed me. I recalled vividly the troublesome scene with the dying pheasants in Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

It takes place when Tess has fled from the sinister, unwanted sexual attentions of Alec, found love with Angel, and then disaster strikes again when, soon after marrying him, he learns about her…dalliance with Alec. In a fit of moral outrage he rejects her and takes off to sulk in Brazil, leaving her penniless and vulnerable to the renewed sexual predation of Alec.

As she wanders the country, trying to figure out how to subsist, she turns aside to spend the night in a tree plantation. She sleeps fitfully in her ‘nest’ of leaves, under the branches, and is often disturbed by ‘strange noises’. She feels ‘wretched’ and that she’s wasted her life: ‘All was, alas, worse than vanity–injustice, punishment, exaction, death.’ She wishes she were dead. (It’s not the most cheerful of novels…) Here’s what follows  – extract from Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays, ch. 41 (available at The Literature Page website – this is described there as the 1891 text):

In the midst of these whimsical fancies she heard a new strange sound among the leaves. It might be the wind; yet there was scarcely any wind. Sometimes it was a palpitation, sometimes a flutter; sometimes it was a sort of gasp or gurgle. Soon she was certain that the noises came from wild creatures of some kind, the more so when, originating in the boughs overhead, they were followed by the fall of a heavy body upon the ground. Had she been ensconced here under other and more pleasant conditions she would have become alarmed; but, outside humanity, she had at present no fear.

Day at length broke in the sky. When it had been day aloft for some little while it became day in the wood.

Directly the assuring and prosaic light of the world’s active hours had grown strong she crept from under her hillock of leaves, and looked around boldly. Then she perceived what had been going on to disturb her. The plantation wherein she had taken shelter ran down at this spot into a peak, which ended it hitherward, outside the hedge being arable ground. Under the trees several pheasants lay about, their rich plumage dabbled with blood; some were dead, some feebly twitching a wing, some staring up at the sky, some pulsating quickly, some contorted, some stretched out–all of them writhing in agony, except the fortunate ones whose tortures had ended during the night by the inability of nature to bear more.

Tess guessed at once the meaning of this. The birds had been driven down into this corner the day before by some shooting-party; and while those that had dropped dead under the shot, or had died before nightfall, had been searched for and carried off, many badly wounded birds had escaped and hidden themselves away, or risen among the thick boughs, where they had maintained their position till they grew weaker with loss of blood in the night-time, when they had fallen one by one as she had heard them.

Tess in the plantation

Tess in the plantation

Her response to this gruesome experience is interesting. She pities the maimed and dying birds that survived being shot, and ‘tenderly’ wrings their necks to end their suffering, tears running down her cheeks. The plight of these unfortunate pheasants causes her to snap out of her self-pity: their misery was far more severe than her own:

‘”I be not mangled, and I be not bleeding, and I have two hands to feed and clothe me.”‘ She was ashamed of herself for her gloom of the night, based on nothing more tangible than a sense of condemnation under an arbitrary law of society which had no foundation in Nature.

You can see, I hope, why the fall of the camellia and the flashing into my mind of this melodramatic scene in a novel not noted for its emotional restraint caused me such disturbance.

The camellia tree

I stopped to take these pictures of the lovely blooms that still flourish on the tree: maybe I should emulate Tess and refrain from gloomy thoughts.

Although Christmas for most of us this year will be different from what we might have hoped, Tess’s response reminds us that nature always has the capacity to restore and renew.

[Illustration of Tess in the plantation is by Joseph Syddall – plate 22 from the monthly serialisation of Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Originally published in monthly parts (with censored text) in the London Graphic magazine, 1891, in three volumes in book form the same year, and in one volume in 1892. Image from The Victorian Web site HERE]Camellia flower

Lockdown diary

I’m still finding it difficult to summon the energy to read much, let alone post, so today I thought I’d do another account of recent events.

My first cake

My first cake

Before lockdown ended last Wednesday I thought it was time I baked my first ever cake. With some supervision from Mrs TD – an excellent cook and baker – I produced this beauty: a Victoria sponge, with raspberry jam in the middle. It was delicious.

Next day the weather finally improved, so we went for a walk on the north Cornwall coast. The beach at Crantock was our dog’s favourite place, and is still one of ours.

Polly Joke

Polly Joke

We love the walk along the coastal path to the next bay: Polly Joke. I’ve posted here earlier this year with pictures of the beautiful display of poppies there in the summer. My picture shows the aftermath of the stormy weather during the preceding week.

When lockdown ended we found ourselves in Tier 1 – one of only a few areas in the country not to face tighter restrictions because of the recent surge in Covid cases here in the UK. On another fine sunny day we went to the south coast.

St Austell Bay

St Austell Bay

We took a picnic: Mrs TD’s home-made roast tomato and red pepper soup and a sandwich, which we ate on a bench overlooking St Austell Bay. My picture shows the sea as flat as a lake, gleaming like polished metal in the low winter sunshine.

On Monday I walked alone locally while Mrs TD had her Zoom yoga class at home. There were angry-looking dark clouds being buffeted across the sky by a blustery wind, but in between the sun was bright and the sky blue.

Pig lane view

This is the view from a lane that runs along the valley cut by the river Allen. There used to be a huge pig that wallowed in the mud beside the river below the farm, so we call this the Pig Lane – even though she’s long since gone for bacon.

Yesterday for another walk around Feock and the creekside paths (very muddy after all the recent rain) to Penpol and back.

I’ve posted before about the lovely little church in Feock, and the saint after whom the village is named. I finally traced the location of the holy well named after him: websites gave conflicting information.

Steps leading to St Feock's Well

Steps leading to St Feock’s Well

It’s a fairly modern-looking brick structure at the bottom of a slope, reached by a set of rough steps. Iron bars – like a prison cell’s – are the only way of seeing inside, so it’s very dark. Murky water the colour of milky tea looks uninviting. I can’t imagine this water having very curative powers – rather the contrary.St Feock's well

 

 

 

 

 

Since the lockdown ended the town has become very busy again. Everyone seems intent on making up for lost time, doing their Christmas shopping. I prefer to avoid the crowds and stick to my rural walks. As always we feel so fortunate to live in such a lovely place. The scenery always lifts our spirits.

So do the plants and wildlife. My bird feeder is regularly visited by a handsome nuthatch. The bullfinches that were regular visitors earlier in the year are also starting to return after the summer hiatus. Mrs TD insists that the birds fend for themselves during the summer. She says naturally foraged food is bountiful at that time, and they’ll become lazy and probably delinquent if we carry on feeding them through those months.

She’s not usually so tough.

Autumn days

The work project started in the late summer has kept me from posting for a while. I intended catching up today with recent reading, but first I wanted to share some autumn thoughts, images and colours. All the pictures were taken on walks over the last couple of days.

Red ivy leaves

I hadn’t realised how lovely ivy leaves can become in the autumn

The word ‘autumn’ is one of those strange spellings, with that silent ‘n’ that either delights or annoys, depending on your view of orthographical vagaries in the English language. Here’s what the OED online has to say about its etymology, which partly explains how it came about:

Etymology: < (i) Anglo-Norman and Middle French autompne, Middle French automne (French automne) season between summer and winter (1231 in Old French), middle age (1405).

Citations begin with:

?c1400  (▸c1380)     G. Chaucer tr. Boethius De Consol. Philos. (BL Add. 10340) (1868) iv. met. vi. l. 4142   Autumpne [L. autumnus] comeþ aȝeyne heuy of apples.

Pink hydrangea

A late-flowering hydrangea

So there also used to be a ‘p’ as well as an ‘n’ in there! Nothing to do with the usual culprits, those 18C “grammarians” who thought it was a good idea to insert a bit of Latin conformity into the totally different structures of English, hence ‘no split infinitives’, a ‘b’ in the middle of ‘debt’ (to align it spuriously with its Latin source, ‘debitum’), and so on.

I suppose the literary text we most associate with this season is the ode by Keats, with its famous image of personified Autumn:

And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
  Steady thy laden head across a brook…

I remember at an undergraduate lecture hearing Prof. Ricks using this as a marvellous example of using the movement of the reader’s eye and imagination over the line to its break and resumption on the next line as a sort of visual metaphor to enrich the verbal/pictorial image. This personification is one of a list of them in the second stanza: the young woman (= Autumn) steps over the brook (perhaps on stepping-stones?) and balances her burden of fruit on her head as she does so. The lines reenact the ‘steadying’ motion of her stepping over.

When I checked the poem I realised I’d forgotten that the image begins with ‘like a gleaner’. So it’s a simile: the image of an image.

Here’s another hydrangea, bronzed and burnished by the cool air of autumn so that it looks almost metallic:

Purple hydrangea

In some of my lockdown posts about rural ramblings I mentioned the good work done by our city’s ‘countryside ranger’. He’s created some lovely woodland walks locally, and these have become very popular with the community.

Some members of this community have started decorating the walks with artworks and ‘fairy houses’. These charming constructions by a local man called John Rowe can be seen on the Facebook group called ‘Fairy doors of Malabar and Coosebean’ (the names of local areas). They’re a huge hit with local children – and adults. I’ve mentioned them (and posted pictures of other artworks) here before.

Here to finish this post are some images of my walk through one of these woods yesterday, and one of a local artist’s pictures, aptly framed in rustic, salvaged wood. According to one of the ranger’s posts in this group, the print is one taken from a sketchbook by Jean McNaughton:

artwork mushrooms

Bird box

This nesting box high in a tree has an unusually large entrance: maybe for owls? Or very large bats??

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Woodland path

The sun was dappling through the leaves not yet fallen when I took this; half an hour later it poured with rain!

Virginia creeper red

This virginia creeper grows on a garden wall at the end of our road. This was taken this morning.

 

The restorative powers of the sea

Life in Britain, as in the rest of the world, has been depressing and weird this year. After our first holiday break with family since Christmas – in a rented cottage in Devon in the hottest week of the year to date (I posted about it HERE)  – we returned to Cornwall and grey skies most days, and continued social restrictions to mitigate the worst effects of the virus.

A week or so ago Mrs TD said she was fed up with being cooped up, and said we should go for a swim again. In the ocean. I wasn’t too keen – the week before the sea was very cold – but went along with the scheme.

Portscatho bay looking west

Portscatho bay looking west

She was right, as she usually is. I should know that by now. We had a lovely walk on the coast of the Roseland peninsula, after a coffee at the Hidden Hut café on the clifftop overlooking the bay. The beach was much less busy than it had been during the high season. A couple had a large dog with a disturbingly deep bark – a Spanish mastiff/labrador cross, they told me when I asked. He looked disappointed as we set off to explore the next bay and beach.

Portscatho bay east view

Portscatho bay looking east

What a good decision. The early cloud lifted and was replaced by summery blue sky and bright sunshine. There was a beautiful beach round the next headland. There were too many rocks on the shoreline for comfortable swimming, so we walked on until we found a delightful little pool – a mini-cove – between two rocky outcrops. The water was wonderful: calm as a lake, and beautifully clear and cool – just enough to be bracing and rejuvenating.

Our swimming pool.

That’s our swimming pool, and those are our footsteps

The beach was deserted, apart from a couple who paused in their walk to perch on the rock overlooking our pool (like the reverse of the folk myth: cormorants turned into humans) and watch us with envy.

It’s probably the best swim we’d ever had. One of the best experiences, too. After the dismay and chaos of this distressing year, it reinvigorated us and restored our sense of harmony with nature, of human equilibrium. It was good, for example, to watch the amazing diving skill of those miniature cormorants, shags. Unfortunate name, but excellent fishers.

Crantock beach

Crantock beach, north Cornwall coast

Earlier this week we went to the north coast and one of our default beaches near Newquay. It’s a huge sandy bay with just one coffee truck on the beach during the summer – an old army truck, strangely. None of the frantic seaside kitsch of the more popular spots nearby. Our much-missed dog Bronte loved it there, too, and we scattered her ashes there after she died. We still still her white phantom, racing down the dunes and leaping ecstatically into the waves. She didn’t like swimming, though.

As always on the north coast the surf was pretty fierce – not really good for human or canine swimming. But it was perfect for diving over, into and under the crashing waves – exhilarating. The water was slightly warmer here, too. This day probably topped the previous swimming experience in our private cove.

Back this week to test results from the hospital – pretty good news, considering – and more depressing incompetence and bluster from our out-of-their depth, bragging but useless government.

Log tortoise

This driftwood log on the beach near our swimming cove looked like the head of a tortoise, I thought

I shan’t linger on that. I prefer to think of the clear sea water and the beauties and delights of this part of the southwest of England.

Moths and Devon

I’ve been on holiday in south Devon with family, so there’s been a hiatus in my posting and commenting activity. We were having so much fun learning to paddle-board on the lake-flat sea, and kayaking, walking, and enjoying the Mediterranean weather, I didn’t manage much reading, either.

Just before we left for Devon I contacted ERCCIS – the Wildlife Trust & Environmental Records Centre for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly – to ask for help identifying two winged insects that I’d seen around my house.

Spotted magpie mothThe first was by the window of a bedroom. I wasn’t sure if it was a moth or a butterfly, but it was a handsome creature. After I took its picture I gently ushered it out of the window to freedom. Here’s what the helpful Wildlife Information Officer said about it in her prompt reply:

Your first sighting was of a Magpie moth Abraxas grossulariata. The magpie is a medium-sized moth which is quite butterfly-like with its striking appearance. These bold colours of the magpie warn predators that it is distasteful.

 

Ruby tiger mothThe second was sitting on the path outside the back door, looking rather dishevelled and sluggish:

The second sighting was a Ruby Tiger moth Phragmatobia fuliginosa although I think you are right, it looks as if its upper wing has been damaged. It is both a day and night flying moth, particularly in warm sunshine. Fairly widespread throughout Britain. It shows a gradual variation in colour, with the brightest individuals in the south, and much duller specimens in Scotland.

I’m very grateful to ERCCIS, and their officer’s suggestion to post these details and pictures on their online recording platform: ‘Information on even what may be perceived as relatively common species is vital in order to determine their distribution patterns and population densities.  By submitting records, you assist your local records centre keep biological records up to date.’

Back to Devon.

It was the first time Mrs TD and I had spent a night (let alone a week) away from our own home for over six months. It was so good to be in a different environment after this prolonged, enforced confinement. Also great to see family again, and get to re-establish contact with the grandchildren, who’ve changed so much in this short time. Lovely to see the fourteen-year-old enjoying playing uninhibitedly on the SUP, forgetting for once to look cool and detached. The family were all very impressed with the first semi-successful efforts of me and Mrs TD to stand up on the SUP (not at the same time, of course).

Cows keeping coolThe weather was beautifully sunny and very hot for most of the week. We went for a walk by the local river and saw these cows, sensibly keeping cool by standing in the water, in the shade.

On the edge of the village where we stayed was a wetlands nature reserve. We visited it a couple of times, looking at the waders, gulls and other water birds from the carefully positioned hides and viewing points around the site.

A colony of mallards was snoozing in the reeds by the path beside a pond. They were clearly accustomed to the proximity of passing visitors, for they made little attempt to move away, allowing us to view them at close quarters.

Duck family on pondOne female had a brood of very new fluffy ducklings – they only looked a few days old. She was more wary, and bustled them off into the water. Some local passers-by told us that badgers had eaten several of these families of ducklings in the recent past, so this mother was prudent to be elusive.

Later we saw her leading them up a grassy path to another safe spot. My picture shows them near one of the many wood carvings of wildlife that are placed around the reserve – this one a serene dragonfly.

Ducks dragonfly

The weather changed on our final day, so we walked around the nearest beach resort. The bathing beach end is a bit tacky, and visitors weren’t being good at social distancing, despite the signs everywhere, so we headed for the more picturesque river estuary and harbour under the Jurassic cliffs. We sat in an alcove designed to look like the prow of a boat, and admired the view. Even on an overcast, humid day, it was good to look out over the boats, the placid river and bay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flowers, etc.

I’m still mustering the energy and lucidity of thought to post about Zweig, so while waiting for enlightenment here’s a piece about recent walks and finds.

Igor Phoebe cats

Igor and Phoebe showing their beautiful blue eyes. The black dots are just a blemish in the reproduction of the original picture

In my previous post I wrote about our local friends’ handsome grey-point Siamese cats. In all of my pictures they had their eyes closed. On reading the post, the friends kindly sent me a picture of their own of the feline siblings soon after they arrived at the water-mill as youngsters, eight years ago. Here they are, eyes wide open.

Earlier in the summer, Mrs TD planted some seeds from a pack said to contain ‘meadow flowers’. The only ones to flower were these familiar yellow ones – I’ve often seen them in local fields.

Mustard

It’s not the most attractive of garden plants, but maybe it’ll produce enough seeds to use in cooking

My plant identifier says they’re mustard. Maybe they’ll set some seeds… Strange thing to see growing in our front garden wall.

Wheat field

Usually there are dozens of martins swooping acrobatically above these fields, but there were none this day

On yesterday’s long rural walk we took one of our regular routes, part of which is a footpath across two fields of crops – I think it’s barley. We’ve watched these fields develop from grassy green shoots a few months ago to bright green seed-heads; now they’re beautifully frondy, wavy golden-brown. As the breeze blows over them they wave like an animal’s fur, or a golden sea. I’m reminded of Melville’s description in Moby-Dick of a land-locked seaman, pining for the distant ocean, gazing at such a field as presenting the next best thing to billowing sea-waves.Wheat closeup

As we admired this sight, Mrs TD pointed out the ladybird pictured below, snoozing on a leaf. Or maybe meditating on the need to fly home to its imperilled home.

LadybirdAt our reduced anniversary celebration last weekend we were given a bunch of flowers by a friend. We liked this one, with long tapering spikes covered in delicate, tiny white petals. My plant identifier says it’s the splendidly named gooseneck loosestrife. Sounds like a minor comic character in a lost Shakespeare play. According to Wikipedia it’s a member of the primrose family.

OED online (thanks again, Cornwall Library service, for providing free access to this wonderful resource) supplies its interesting etymology:

Gooseneck loosestrifeThe form *λυσιμαχία (found only in Pliny’s Latin transliteration) would be correct Greek for ‘the action of loosing strife’. The misinterpretation of the word is ancient; Pliny, though stating that the plant was discovered by one Lysimachus, also says that oxen that are made to eat it are rendered more willing to draw together..

I wonder how you ‘make’ oxen eat something…

Last week as I sat on the patio in my back garden I saw in the trees across the lane behind our house a green woodpecker, the first I’ve ever seen here in Cornwall. It was behaving in typical woodpecker fashion, clinging to a tree trunk sideways on, shifting behind it to ensure it couldn’t be seen. They’re such shy birds. Now I hear its raucous screech quite often: it must have moved in locally. So it’s not all bad news at the moment.

Coffee in a Cornish secret garden

Mrs TD and I had planned a party last weekend to celebrate our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Friends and family were coming to us from as far away as Spain. It had to be cancelled, of course, because of the current restrictions – a big disappointment. We were able to see a couple of friends for a socially distanced mini-celebration, but it wasn’t what we’d been preparing for months.

This week I finished reading Stefan Zweig’s novel The Post Office Girl, but have yet to summon the energy to post about it. So today, the last day of July, scheduled to be the hottest day of the year in England, an aside about coffee with friends.

These old friends live in a lovely converted water mill just a few hundred metres along the country lane behind our house. They came for socially distanced coffee with us in our back garden a couple of weeks ago, on one of the rare days this month when the sun has shone in Cornwall, and it was our turn today to visit them.

Igor the Siamese cat

Igor the Siamese cat

We were greeted at their door by their imperious Siamese cat, Igor (named after Stravinsksy). In all the pictures I took of him he has his eyes tight shut – perhaps because of the bright sun, or maybe just out of feline disdain.

Our friends’ garden is a delight – a secret haven tucked out of sight down a private driveway, bordered on one side by a trilling river, and fringed on two sides by tall trees. There were butterflies – orange fritillaries and peacocks in particular –   attracted by the lilac and other flowering plants. A petrol blue-green dragonfly also perched briefly on a leaf near us, before zooming off like a psychedelic helicopter.

The old watermill wheel at the side of the house

The old watermill wheel at the side of the house

Over our coffees and biscuits we talked about the mill and lovely garden, the pandemic, inept politicians, local people, and books. When our friends  last visited us they recommended a book by a Cornish vicar of the pre-WWII era, Bernard Walke. I was able to pick up yesterday in our newly reopened city library (click and collect reservation service) a paperback reprint – post will follow when I finish it.

Igor sat contentedly on his own cushion beside the garden table, eyes still inscrutably closed. After a while he was joined by his dainty sister Phoebe, named after the Scots artist Phoebe Traquair (1852-1936).

Igor and Phoebe

Igor and Phoebe

 

 

Self portrait of Anna Traquair

Self portrait of Anna Traquair (By Stephencdickson – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40949859)

I came away with a borrowed copy of Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes, a work I’ve always intended reading, and a sumptuous book about the painted churches of Cyprus. We’d discussed my postgrad research into St Mary of Egypt, and there are a number of frescoes depicting her and the monk Zosimas, who disseminated her story, in Cypriot churches.

I’d lent our friends a copy of Barbara Pym’s novel

Phoebe Traquair's murals at the Catholic Apostolic Church, Edinburgh

Phoebe Traquair’s murals at the Catholic Apostolic Church, Edinburgh

Some Tame Gazelle (not a huge hit, sadly – though I understand why she might not be to everyone’s taste); in return I’ve been lent a copy of her autobiography. So: a fruitful literary exchange.

Around noon, in typical Cornish fashion, the scorching sun was lost behind a bank of thick, sea-misty cloud. The thickening air encouraged flying insects out, followed by swooping flocks of twittering martins, gleefully picking them out of the sky. Back home I witnessed the annual emergence of hordes of flying ants from the cracks in our driveway.

As I write this, it’s started raining. The Cornish heatwave was short-lived.