Sunday, 5 August 2018

Hitchin Sketch

Pen and ink sketch from my sketchbook drawn in Hitchin yesterday. Have been rather engrossed with thinking about my boook recently and have hardly done any drawing for the past month or two. It was a hot and sunny morning and I had loads of time to spare to work deeply into something.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Worcestershire Evening

I am sitting on a hillside in deepest Worcestershire hoping for a quiet evening after a busy day researching my book. The sheep in the fields around me have other thoughts and are ‘baaing’ everywhere. This hasn’t been helped by a farmer arriving to inspect his flock and, as a result, they all seem agitated. In the stillness of the air their calls are echoing around the small valley with quite an intense volume. Gradually they seem to be settling down and getting back to their grazing. Not that there is much to eat. The field that I am in was knee high with grass back in the spring and now it is a pale yellow-green; very dry with deep wide cracks in the drought affected clay soil. This particular field is too undulating to be cut for hay so the grass must have been filling sheep stomachs over the past few months. It is almost becoming hard to tell from a distance which fields are corn and which are grass as everywhere is so yellow. Potato and maize crops still look as though they are able to draw upon enough deeply buried water to maintain their foliage looking still quite healthy.
The nearby cider orchards in which I am camping for a couple of nights feel a different world. The deep pink/terracotta clay soil is still cracked dry, but the rows of trees and grass in look surprisingly luscious. I took a barefoot walk earlier between the trees and it was like walking on a soft cool carpet. The grass had not been mown for a while and wasn’t dry as elsewhere. The trees looked green and healthy too with a reasonable crop of apples forming. There must be more dampness deep down in the earth here with the trees helping to shade the soil. Nevertheless, they must still be drawing up a lot of water for fruit formation.
The two lines of poplars my father planted seem incongruous in the landscape. Two long rows of maybe fifty trees each are a deep dark green against the yellow pasture. Their job was to shelter the apple trees which were erased from the landscape long ago are now only a distant memory for certain people.


I’m back in the car now, refreshed after a cup of coffee and a few chocolate biscuits. I had to have quite a few because they had all stuck together in the heat of the sun on the car. The sun is setting over the hills directly in front of me and there is a clump of midges flying nearby. Apart from the sheep there is total quiet. Oh, there might be an occasional distant dog, pigeon cooing, tractor, bird… otherwise nothing.

Had a good walk, here are some highlights:
 * Found myself explaining why I was walking right past someone’s house not knowing that the footpath had been closed. Had friendly chat with owner
* Following a footpath sign that led right into an eight foot high impenetrable hedge.
* Discovering an enormous tree in the middle of nowhere which at first I though was a mature oak. Then I saw fruit growing on it. No idea what it was. Possibly a pear
* Walking barefoot in the apple orchards
* Walking though a field of 6ft tall thistles
* Noting down all the wild flowers, butterflies and birds I saw
* Finding several intriguing natural things that would be useful inspiration for my book
* Seeing dragonflies in the orchards
* Crossing a rather unstable wooden bridge with a 12ft drop below
* Wondering why a farmer had ploughed along the edge of a field of oats in, what seemed to me, to be an unusual way. Why go down one way, the come back the other so as to form a ridge of soil?
* Seeing what looked like two peregrine falcons
* Walking through a old unimproved pasture on the side of a hill, too steep to cultivate, and admiring the wealth of grasses, flowers, butterflies and grasshoppers.

 The sun has set, beautiful salmon coloured clouds. A breeze has got up. Will not sleep on grass tonight, will stay in shelter of car. A hare has just walked across the grass in front of me.

Monday, 25 June 2018

Garden in June

This year is the first year that I think the garden has settled down into something more stable and productive. It has taken a large amount of micro-management and subtle adjustment to get things how I want them. Starting all seeds off under cover is the only way to guarantee moderate success. So is a willingness to move things or plants that don't work in particular locations. The garden does seem a late garden and always feels a good couple of weeks behind those I see elsewhere. Perhaps because it is shaded all winter. Since our neighbours replaced their fence there are far fewer slugs and snails wandering into the garden from outside and it feels a much easier to manage the space.

Vegetables currently attempting to grow are: lettuces, radishes, kohl rabi, courgettes (yellow), cucumbers (climbing), raspberries, strawberries, celery, leeks, chard, dwarf beans, climbing beans, runner beans, spinach, romanesco cauliflowers, purple sprouting, tomatoes and carrots. Not huge amounts of each, but a healthy variety to see what works.

I managed to obtain a 6x8ft greenhouse from a neighbour. There was a slight challenge in releasing it from the undergrowth back in the spring as the photo shows. Now it is used as a garden feature and tomato/climber support. Attempting to reglaze it was not an option as much of the glass was broken and the frame bent out of shape. I am actually very pleased with it. The wooden planter inside the greenhouse is full of carrots which seem to be thriving high up away from ground pests.

After many years, the purchase of a new wheelbarrow was a welcome treat. One of my old ones is now a garden feature and home to mint and basil.

The plant growing up the right of the photo is a hop plant. It is now in its second year and seems to be doing well. It is a dwarf variety so will only grow to about 8 feet.

What I would like to do is see how much I can grow in the area I have and to gradually introduce different and creative planting techniques, not just plonking a plant in the ground. It needs to be interesting to look at, perhaps a little quirky and all executed subtly so that my wife doesn't complain!

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Writing a Book

I have started writing my novel. It is a big project and one that I am very excited about because it brings together all the things that actually interest me: creative writing, illustration, gardening, agriculture, folklore, landscape, nature, history and much more. It is basically about Worcestershire rural life 1850s to present, apples and strange goings on in the countryside. I'm not going to go into detail here at the moment because, if ever I get famous, no doubt people might read this in the future and find out things I may not want them to know. Or I could just delete this post!

Each day I am trying to add a little more here and there. Much of the work at the moment is in planning, reseach and trying to keep track of everything; and even remembering what I wrote a few days ago. I will write more soon.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Jenny's Garden

‘How do you feel about it all?’ Jenny asked.
‘Feel?’ Tippy seemed surprised by the question. ‘I’m feeling uncertain and a tiny bit apprehensive. It is about the direction my research is going. I have a suspicion that there is something going on behind my back. It’s difficult to put my finger on what it is exactly. When I was at Applegrove Farm yesterday I was sure there was someone else there in the background watching me. I could sense eyes following my every move. I get the impression that there is more going on around there than meets the eye. I don’t think I am being told the whole story.’
‘Is there one particular occasion that springs to mind?’ Sandy looked at him expectantly.
Tippy hesitated. Could he trust Jenny? He had known her since childhood and they kept in touch by meeting up every few years. Now, sitting in her garden, with a plate of delicious homemade scones with accompanying jam and cream, a little doubt began to cross his mind. Jenny lived in a large house in Leignton about an hours drive away to the north west. He wasn’t aware of her social connections coming from anywhere near Dansford so could he risk being open and honest with her? He decided to take the risk.
‘I went to the bakers in town this morning to buy a loaf of bread when Eddie Blackthorn walked past the shop window. He was about to enter when he saw me inside, hesitated and seemed to pretend he had to go elsewhere. When I left and crossed over the road, I saw him nip out of his car which was parked just a little way up the street and sneak back into the shop. Perhaps I am just imagining things, but people are very close and friendly most of the time; and then occasionally they seem to avoid me or not tell me things.’ Tippy paused as a text message pinged onto Jenny’s phone.

‘Hmm,’ Jenny pondered as she looked down to see who had texted her. ‘Have another scone. Just got to pop inside to check something…’

Friday, 13 April 2018

Sir Kale

‘Your Majesty,’ said Sir Kale, kneeling before the large wooden throne in the castle’s great hall. All the other knights and important people of the castle were watching with great expectation.
‘Yes?’ replied the King.
‘I… I would like to go travelling.’ Sir Kale offered hesitantly.
‘What?’ exclaimed the King.
‘With your permission, Your Majesty,’ Sir Kale continued, ‘I would like to travel to the furthest edge of your kingdom to explore and discover new things.’
‘Sir Kale, you know all too well that no-one has ever gone beyond the furthest reaches of my Kingdom. Why would they do so? We have all that we need here. Food, wine, homes, jobs… We even have the best knights of armour like yourself in the whole of… well, my kingdom.’
‘I know, Your Majesty. It is just that I want to see for myself the    edge of your wonderful kingdom so that I might look back and wonder at its greatness.’
‘Very well then. I grant you leave of your duties as a King’s Knight here in the castle to undertake your quest. Is there anything I can give you to help you on your journey?’
‘Yes, Your Majesty. There is one thing I desire.’
‘Go on,’ gestured the King
‘I would like… a big ball of string.’ Sir Kale wasn’t sure how the King would respond.
‘A ball of string?’ exclaimed the King. ‘And how big a ball of string would you like?’
‘Long enough to reach the edge of your kingdom. So that I might leave a trail and be able to find my way back to the castle again.’ said Sir Kale.
The King thought for a moment, looking around him as if trying to get inspiration from the people gathered before him.
‘Very well. I will grant you your wish,’ he paused. ‘On one condition.’
‘Well, yes, Your Majesty, of course, whatever you say. What do you want me to do?’
‘I shall give you the largest ball of string this kingdom has ever  produced to enable you to journey out and find you way back here again. In return, I will expect…’ the King hesitated.
‘Yes… Your Majesty?’ Sir Kale was wondering what this was all leading up to.
‘One thing…’
‘I want you, Sir Kale, to keep my kingdom supplied, all year round, with…’ he paused as if waiting for dramatic effect, ‘cabbages.’  The King smiled and leant back in his throne.
‘Yes… Your Majesty,’ Sir Kale bowed, his mind swirling around with the implications of what the King had just said. ‘I will be honoured to undertake such a responsibility, in return for a ball of string.’
‘In that case, you may leave and I wish you well.’ The King waved Sir Kale to go, seemingly satisfied with the deal.
So Sir Kale, with his trusty horse laden with a saddle pack full of supplies and his suit of armour lying across its back, set out one morning from the castle gate to cheers and applause from well-wishers. The ball of string he could just hold in his strong arms. It weighed nearly as much as his suit of armour and he hoped it would be long enough.

For six months the trail of string led out from the castle gates across the hay meadows and into the wild forest. Here it followed cart tracks, woodman's paths and deeper into places that few people ever went, always leading away from the castle. By now the string was showing signs of weathering and those who looked out each day for the return of Sir Kale began to grow anxious for him. Eventually, the King ordered a search party to be sent out comprising six of his best knights on horseback. For five days the knights followed the string deeper into the forest. Every so often they found makeshift campsites where Sir Kale had stopped with his horse for a rest. Then, on the sixth day, in torrential rain, they emerged out of the trees to find themselves looking at nothing but a stretch of grass and a thick bank of low cloud obscuring any view ahead they might have had. Here the string ended with no sign of Sir Kale or his horse.
On the ground, tied to the end of the string was a small tin that had once held biscuits. One of the knights picked it up, opened it and found inside a small handwritten note on a piece of parchment. He read it and then looked thoughtfully into the heavy mist.
Written on the note was this: ‘Goodbye, sorry about the cabbages. Sir Kale.’