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.

 

June – July in Cornwall and procrastination

I’ve been quite busy with a longstanding work project lately, hence the lack of posts for a while. The other reason for the hiatus has been procrastination: I finished Anthony Trollope’s Phineas Finn a couple of weeks ago, but haven’t summoned the energy to post about it yet.

Meanwhile I’ve almost finished Elizabeth Bowen’s novel Eva Trout. I chose it as a contrast with the Trollope, but it turned out to be something I’ve not enjoyed much, so I’m not sure I have a post in me about that one, either. Maybe next week I’ll feel more energetic or inspired.

So today some updates on recent walks. Now that the UK lockdown has been relaxed a little we’ve continued, Mrs TD and I, to take walks a short drive away (but the local ones have continued too).

Poppies at PentireLast week the sun shone for two whole days in a row – this hasn’t happened much since May. We took advantage of an afternoon at one of our favourite beaches: Polly Joke. The poppies on the headland above are just coming out; soon the fields there will be a blaze of scarlet and gold (the meadow marigolds). It’s a spiritually uplifting sight.

The surf in this north coast cove was fairly wild after the unsettled weather earlier in the week – and month. It wasn’t exactly a glorious June for weather. The water was very cold.

Surf

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spaniel swimming

Spaniel about to emerge after his marathon swim

Yesterday we went to the Roseland peninsula on the south coast. There the sea is always more sedate – not so good for surfing. Also not quite so cold. After a cloudy start, the day turned beautifully sunny about four o’clock. We sat and had a picnic lunch on Porthcurnick beach (near the famous Hidden Hut café). A young man in a wetsuit walked into the water near us followed by his black-and-white spaniel. We thought the dog would turn round and swim back once the guy had swum so far, but he didn’t. We watched in amazement as the pair swam further and further. Right across the bay – and back. A distance of about a mile each way. The owner told us they do this a few times a week. The dog loves it, he said, but not when he was a pup.

PortscathoWe walked back along the coastal path to the nearby village of Portscatho. By this time the cloud was starting to disperse and the water was crystal clear.

We drove on to Carne beach. Like Porthcurnick, it was almost deserted. Two children played in the shallows, watched by their grandmother and parents. No doubt this will all change after Saturday, which our media insists on calling Super Saturday. Hospital EDs are bracing themselves for carnage similar to what they experience usually on New Year’s Eve, as the pubs officially reopen that day. Our doughty prime minister has helped to calm the situation by exhorting us all to go out and enjoy ourselves. Hibernation is over, he crowed. Yaroo.

We no longer need to keep two metres apart: the virus is beaten, defeated. Even though we still have over a thousand new cases a day. The ring of steel around our care homes has done the trick – maybe the virus is just running out of people to infect in them. Pubs and restaurants are safe to open, but not schools, yet. Makes sense, in the minds of our PM, and his Rasputin chief aide, the rule-breaker.

I won’t indulge in another rant. Here’s a picture of Carne instead.

Carne

 

 

Georges Perec, I Remember: a personal memory

I just read a fascinating review by Karen at Shiny New Books, via her own blog, Kaggsysbookishramblings (link to her review there) of the French Oulipan writer Georges Perec’s idiosyncratic autobiographical I Remember. It was published in 1978, and consists of 480 short sentences, each beginning with the phrase ‘I remember’. In this way a sort of fragmentary picture of his life emerges.

There’s a link to her post HERE.

She says that Perec’s text ends with blank pages, with an invitation for the reader to fill in some sentences, structured the same way, of their own. My immediate thought was a conversation I had with my brother on Sunday.

He lives in Cyprus, so we converse on Skype. As I read Karen’s review, I was thinking, I wonder if Perec really is recounting memories, or are they something else. My recollections of my past, especially of my childhood – which is becoming further back in time than I like to acknowledge – are often hazy and dreamlike. In fact, I can’t distinguish between distant memories, that I’m not sure actually happened, and may in fact be dreams – or what might be called ‘real’ memories of events that did happen.

The ones that came up in conversation with my brother were about Cyprus. We both lived there as children (our father was in the army, and had been posted there around the time of the Greek EOKA ‘uprising’). I had memories (or dream recollections) of several mishaps that befell me while there (I was about five).

In the first, I fell into a lime pit. That’s it. I don’t know how I came to fall in, or how I got out – or even if I was injured.

The next involved my wandering away from our house and ending up with a group of (I think) Turkish guys, sitting on the floor of a cottage and drinking coffee. At least, they were drinking coffee; I don’t know if or what I drank. I also recall a flustered British MP rushing in and scooping me up and away. Potential terrorists, perhaps. So maybe they were Greek. If this happened.

Finally, there was a huge pig. Probably a sow. I either fell into her pen, or something else untoward happened with this pig and me.

My brother confirmed the lime pit incident, but had no more detail to add to my own partial memory. He didn’t remember the coffee-drinking episode. But there was a memory of his own about the huge pig:

He said he and a group of his young friends (he’s six years older than me) were hanging around near this pig’s pen, when the owner, an elderly Greek man, said he was going to slaughter it, if they wanted to watch. Of course, they did.

He said the guy then took a metal wrench, like the ones car mechanics use, and proceeded to beat the pig to death with it. ‘It was pretty brutal,’ my brother said.

He didn’t recall my falling into the pig’s pen.

So: to go back to Perec. I remember the lime pit. I remember the coffee-drinking rescue. I remember the pig and my peril. I don’t remember what happened.

Whether they really happened or never did doesn’t matter. Memories distort over time, refract or bleed into other memories – or dreams. It’s the place, perhaps, where memory intersects with fiction or fantasy. It’s such stuff we’re made on, to paraphrase another magician of memories, Prospero.

Fingle, hirundines, navelwort and squirrels

Our government relaxed the lockdown regulations a little last week. We took advantage and met with our daughter, son-in-law and their two children yesterday.

Fingle Bridge

Fingle Bridge

We met at a place roughly equidistant: Fingle Bridge, just outside Exeter. The River Teign runs through a beautiful wooded valley. The bridge arches over the tea-brown waters of a River Teign from the bridgeriver stained by the peaty soil of Dartmoor. The building in the background of my picture is a picturesque pub, closed during the pandemic, but serving takeaway drinks and food from a stall outside.

It was lovely to see the family: February was the last time we saw each other face-to-face. We walked through the woods, socially distancing, and watched an exuberant black labrador leaping gleefully into the water after sticks thrown by his owner.

After a month of almost daily sunshine in May, June has been wet, grey and blustery. We drove up the A30 through squally showers, but fortunately the sun came out during our reunion, and we had a picnic beside the river.

CalfToday the exiled routine returned to normal. A long walk in the country this morning. Saw this serene little calf, wearing what looked like yellow earrings.

The foxgloves are nearly finished, but the pale yellow spires of navelwort are springing up. It’s another wild plant that’s said to have medicinal properties. The 17C book by Culpeper on such matters claimed navelwort (or it might have been something similar) was good for curing St Anthony’s fire or ergotism, a common ailment in the middle ages. Also known as ergotism, it was caused by a fungus that grows on rye grass, and was ingested in the bread made with infected flour. Its sufferers went mad, hallucinating and writhing in agony.

Like comfrey, mentioned in a recent post, it is also a vulnerary.Navelwort

Hirundines have arrived: swallows, martins and swifts. I remember when I was much younger there was a brand of cheap French wine that tried hard to appear sophisticated by sporting the  gallic name ‘Hirondelle’. The wine was disgusting.

Another summer without hearing a cuckoo. I still haven’t spotted a kingfisher on riverside walks this year, but have seen several dippers, with their weird bobbing curtsey and darting flight. Grey wagtails, too, busily exploring the shallow water and tapping their tails (surely ‘wagging’ would be side to side, like a dog’s tail, not up and down?) Taptail would be an apter name.

My squirrel skirmishes continue. I remonstrated with one the other day for sitting on top of the pole from which my bird feeders are suspended, and trying to unhook one of the feeders. It ran off half-heartedly, turned as it perched on the fence and flounced its tail, like an English bowman taunting the French at Agincourt, chattering its squirrel insults at me.

 

Kingfishers, halcyon days, and walks

Last time I mentioned the painted kingfishers on a branch above the river just below my house. In Greek mythology, the bird is known as halcyon. Our expression ‘halcyon days’ derives from the legend that Alkyone or Alcyone and her husband Ceyx angered Zeus by setting themselves up as his equal. Zeus wrecked Ceyx’s ship while he was at sea and he drowned. When she heard the news his wife drowned herself. The gods took pity on them and transformed the couple into kingfishers.

According to other legends, the halcyon laid her eggs on sea rocks or the beach during the winter solstice. Alcyone called upon her father Aeolus, god of the winds (hence Aeolian harp) to produce this period of calm to enable her to care for her brood safely. The expression therefore referred originally to any period of calm weather, then, by extension, to any period of calm and tranquillity.

It’s the feeling we get when we witness a scene like the river in those pictures in my previous post.

A few days ago, when our government in its wisdom relaxed lockdown constraints to allow us to drive to remote places for our walks, I went with Mrs TD to Goss Moor, some ten miles away. It’s a nature reserve on the edge of the area where china clay was once extracted, leaving the landscape scarred with quarries and spoil heaps. This moor is a huge, Fluffy seed headsswampy, pool-filled area of wilderness: lichen-draped trees, reeds and wildlife abound.

It’s a popular cycle and walking trail, being so flat. We saw plenty of these strange fluffy bundles like cotton wool balls. They seem to be the seed heads of certain kinds of reed.

My trusty plant identifier app confidently informs me that the pretty purple-violet flower here is a marsh orchid.marsh orchid

Another day we drove a shorter distance for a walk to one of the tidal creeks on the coast. Not quite the sea, but almost. Many of the neighbourhood houses were guarded by these peculiar plants that resemble miniature Thai temples. They’re called echium pininana, aka giant viper’s bugloss. This popular name apparently derives from the alleged Echiumresemblance of parts of the flowering stem (a favourite haunt of bees) to the head of this snake.

They flourish here in Cornwall, but are more striking than handsome, in my view.

Today we ventured further down the county and had our first walk by the sea since lockdown. This area of dunes is called the Towans. The lighthouse is Godrevy, across the bay from St Ives. This is the one that Virginia Woolf and her family would see from their holiday home Godrevythere. In her novel To the Lighthouse she transposed it to Scotland.

The beautiful weather of the last weeks (halcyon days during the pandemic?) has gone, and it was grey, blustery and much cooler. Still lovely to see the surf and breathe the ozone. A handsome stonechat sat on a gorse bush a few feet from us and sang us a song.

I’m still making glacial progress through Phineas Finn. Just reached one of those tedious foxhunting scenes that Trollope is so fond of. Wish he’d stick to the more interesting parliamentary shenanigans.

Which takes me seamlessly to our illustrious leader of the house of commons, the unctuous Rees-Mogg. He insists on returning to physical co-presence during parliamentary debates, risking the lives of the MPs, and disenfranchising those who have to isolate or who can’t attend for other reasons (carers, etc.). It’s his way of trying to cover up the haplessness of the PM, which has been badly exposed while the chamber is nearly empty for sessions to ensure social distancing, and when the usual braying claque of sycophantic Tory toadies can’t drown out opposition while cheering on the inane blustering of their leader.

With solipsistic narcissists in charge, who will care for the people?

 

 

River run

I’ve mentioned in previous posts about my rural walks with Mrs TD during lockdown that we’ve noticed little art objects left where walkers will see them. It turned out that the maker of these fairy houses, painted pebbles and so on was John Rowe. He told me in a comment that it was his way of commemorating a loved one, and of brightening the world in his memory. It seems to me as well that he’s celebrating humanity and the natural world.

From the back of our house we look over the river Kenwyn, which runs through a wooded valley into the city and the sea beyond. We often walked our dog along the banks, but haven’t done this walk much since she died. But we have noticed new wooden handpainted signs indicating this woodland, riverside walk. Locals have posted pictures on social media of little artworks that are obviously John’s work.

Not so long ago we passed a walker and got chatting about these lovely natural artefacts. He was John’s brother. He told us a little more about the project. He and his brother are keen birdwatchers. This would explain the delightful, brightly coloured images of kingfishers, perched on a branch above the rippling current of the river, dappled by bright sunlight under the canopy of trees.

When Mrs TD and I were walking home yesterday we noticed a city parks truck parked by the roadside. A young couple were walking back to it; he was wearing a city parks teeshirt. Mrs TD asked him if he was responsible for the recent arrivals in this little parkland area: a bug hotel, a walkway fringed by twigs and branches, bordered by wild and garden flowers; a bench beneath a bower of arched, living willow (I think); piles of logs that serve as havens for wildlife.

Yes, he said, this was all his work. He told us he’d also worked on developing the riverside woodland trails. His girlfriend had helped him with the design. They were a charming pair, and his delight and satisfaction in his job were palpable. He’d moved to Cornwall to be with his girlfriend, and was looking for any work he could find, but managed to get this one in his own field: forestry and parks. He couldn’t have been happier. What a lucky pair. And what a great job they’re doing.

So we took the riverside path for the first time in maybe a year. He’s done a fine job, and it was a perfect day to admire what he’d done. The sunlight was bright, and the river gleamed like a jewel. It’s shallow, because we’ve had so little rain this month.

The images of kingfishers are John Rowe’s work. The young man we spoke to said he’d chosen that spot because it’s near where kingfishers nest each year. I’ve yet to see a living kingfisher along this stretch of river, but Mrs TD has. I was going to say a little more about the legends around kingfishers, but maybe more about that next time.

On a sadder note, we decided for the first time in over two months not to join in the ‘clap for carers’ at 8 pm on Thursday. Not because we no longer value the contribution of key workers like delivery people, postal workers, shop workers, and all those who’ve continued while the rest of us are isolated, furloughed and socially distancing. We simply feel that it’s become a way of distracting attention from the need to reward and value such workers properly, with decent pay and safe working conditions.

I won’t start another rant about the despicable Cummings, but that affair, and the shameless, immoral rush to protect him by the PM and his senior ministers, has put us off any public display of solidarity with an initiative they endorse. I prefer to thank my postman, people who deliver parcels, checkout staff at the shops, and so on, in person.

Our daughter works in the NHS (they’re not heroes; they’re committed, caring and dedicated – qualities our leaders would do well to discover). Many staff at her hospital, as in the rest of the country, have become infected with the virus. She was tested earlier this week. We all spent a couple of worrying days waiting for the result. Fortunately it was negative.

It shouldn’t have taken nearly three months for her to get a test.

People like her need much more than our applause: they need proper protective equipment and less exhausting patterns of work. Paying them a decent wage and giving them better working conditions would also help. The public sector in this country has been starved of funds for a decade, which is partly why we have the second highest death rate from C-19 in the world, and one of the worst rates of mortality per capita. Bragging about ‘world-beating’ test and trace systems (which have still to materialise) doesn’t make it happen.

OK, kingfishers next time, and no politics or viruses.