Holiday reading

I love having time to reading, but only when the world is cold and wet, do I really get properly down to it.

At the moment I am reading “The Garden Jungle or Gardening to Save the Planet“ which was a Christmas present that was spot on. Dave Goulson is passionate about his garden and evangelical about how much wildlife we can all cram into our on private gardens, if only we eschew pesticides, herbicides  and all the other things we are encouraged to buy to make our potential slice of paradise, tidy and dead. I was horrified to read how many suburbs of the USA are regularly drenched in pesticides from the air to “control pests”  and that gardeners have no choice at all in this annual destruction of all the micro fauna on their own land.

I am also reading “Crime au Pressoir “ by Jean-Marie Stoerkel, where bodies are found lying  on the grapes about to be crushed in a wine press in nearby Ingersheim. Somehow it is all linked to the German annexation of the Alsace some 80 years and hopefully reading it will improve my French!

I have just finished “A Portrait of Elmbury “ by John Moore which is a memoir of Tewkesbury in England before the second World War. This is a part of the world I know well, but set in a time I didn’t know. Some of his observations seem crass in our more enlightened times, but some are timeless such as his admiration for the men who only work as much as they had to …”they were not conditioned to believe in the popular fallacy, that work itself is a virtue. They worked when they wanted to and their work was fun. They were in fact a sort of privileged class and their privilege was one which nowadays only a few great artists have.”  I also learnt that farm workers were given great slabs of apple pie to eat first, before the roast beef, to ensure that they didnt just fill up on meat and avoid the abundant produce of the local orchards.

The book  that I just unwrapped this morning, is however the  one I think I am about to enjoy most. “Emperors, Admirals and Chimney Sweepers” by Peter Marren is the book I have been waiting for to explain the wonderfully poetical names of moths, both English and Latin. My first dipping proved Marren knows his European languages too and he gives German and French derivations of the marvellous names that always seem so redolent of 18th century country vicarages.

The moth book definitely wins the best cover award. I normally take off dust jackets as they are fiddly and irksome, but this is staying on to remind me of the colourful wonder of the delights still to be found in my moth trap in 2020..

Oh, and I had to include a “Just William ” collection by the incomparable Richmal Compton as I read a story nearly every night to send me to sleep with chuckle!

Happy New Year to all!

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House of Plants.

I need green.

The garden is mud and rain, so I appreciate my house plants hugely at this time of year.

The sitting room is dominated by three large fig trees that live on the veranda in summer, but come indoors in the cold. They block off the book cases, drop yellowing leaves on the tiles and splash dark water everywhere from their saucers when pushed out of the way. Every available surface is covered in lemon and peppermint scented geraniums, devils claw vines, spider plants and exhausted amyrilis plants that are here at home while school is closed.

In the office an old shop shelf unit is groaning under Christmas cactus and the window is almost obliterated by lumpy, leggy geraniums waiting for the summer to explode again. Most of the geraniums are cutting from a single enormous deep red flowering plant, which is far too valuable ( to me! ) to be discarded in the autumn.

The  bedroom is dominated by a gigantic spider plant that is hauled into a hanging basket each summer and has been the mother to hundreds of spider babies .  The spider babies have grown roots in innumerable jam jars and been given away to children, who have grown them into their first house plant in many homes.   When we rented out our home in Brecon I could not find homes for all of plants and I had to leave a spider plant behind, in the hope that the tenant would adopt it. Two years later, when we visited the house I was delighted to see the only changes that the tenant had made, was to add a large tiered book case to the sitting room to display the dozens and dozens of new spider plants he had potted up from the dangling spider babies!

The kitchen widow sill has jade plants and pink leaved collis jostling for light with a hibiscus and the last pink bedding begonia from the garden.  There is just enough room for a seed sprouter currently growing green lentils and a very important space for Pixie the cat to escape from her bully brother Winston when a fight is on between them.

Occasionally  I think I am mad to give up so much of my house to plants and then there is another grey day of rain and fog that keep us all indoors and I know exactly why  I need  them. Green is the colour of life and sharing my space with them is essential to all our survival until the spring!

Winter solstice.

In winter the whole world seems older.

The houses are lit up, but the gardens are empty, only rain and wet birds buffet over the sodden ground. Youthful  pretention is swept away; no awnings and patio furniture; no bbqs; no tofu: just wind and dead leaves.

A kite quarters in the dark clouds; a bull finch calls with its monotonous single note; the wind chimes clash in a sudden squall and the wood smoke blows the years away between today and Bruegel and every long, waiting winter day, still raging at the dying of the light.

 

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Friday 13th election.

Chaff scuds before the wind

low and twisting, it lifts and turns like laughter.

The harvest has long since been gathered

and only the paper that curled around the husks remains behind.

Chaffinches, dun brown and rose chested chatter from rose hipped hedge to empty field,

And when they turn in the late winter light,

no one can tell them apart.

 

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Borders.

UK Border Agency staff at the ferry port in Calais, France.

From View With a Grain of Sand, Selected Poems, Faber, 1996, translated by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh

Psalm by Wisława Szymborska

Oh, the leaky boundaries of man-made states!
How many clouds float past them with impunity;
how much desert sand shifts from one land to another;
how many mountain pebbles tumble onto foreign soil
in provocative hops!

Need I mention every single bird that flies in the face of frontiers
or alights on the roadblock at the border?
A humble robin—still, its tail resides abroad
while its beak stays home. If that weren’t enough, it won’t stop bobbing!

Among innumerable insects, I’ll single out only the ant
between the border guard’s left and right boots,
blithely ignoring the questions “Where from?” and “Where to?”

Oh, to register in detail, at a glance, the chaos
prevailing on every continent!
Isn’t that a privet on the far bank
smuggling its hundred-thousandth leaf across the river?
And who but the octopus, with impudent long arms,
would disrupt the sacred bounds of territorial waters?

And how can we talk of order overall
when the very placement of the stars
leaves us doubting just what shines for whom?

Not to speak of the fog’s reprehensible drifting!
And dust blowing all over the steppes
as if they hadn’t been partitioned!
Or voices coasting on obliging airwaves,
that conspiratorial squeaking, those indecipherable mutters!

Only what is human can truly be foreign.
The rest is mixed vegetation, subversive moles, and wind.

From View With a Grain of Sand, Selected Poems, Faber, 1996, translated by Stansliaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.

Living roofs.

If it is the fate of the world to keep making people and to shove them into smaller and taller living spaces, then we have to make use of every millimetre of roof and wall to grow green things and make an aerial world, to make up for the terrestrial one that we have so comprehensively scabbed over.

I have written before about green walls and they are becoming more popular, but they are difficult to water and maintain. In Ikea; that shop front of the tiny urban world; so many have to inhabit, the cafe has a huge striking green wall and all the plants are made of plastic.

Most people find even a pocket garden too much work and choose to cover the soil in concrete or decking or even an old bike. When life is a race for time and enough money to keep the wolf from the door, then gardening is a luxury few have the space or energy to indulge in.  That is why I love green roofs.

If the builder has put the right surface on the roof and it collects some moisture, then a carpet of drought tolerant, shallow rooted plants can flourish with no need of   “gardening” at all. Such low input surfaces are never going to support trees or bushes, but they are green, do make oxygen, do clean the air and make a home for tiny creatures and the occasional foraging bird. We are surrounds by surfaces that  could be green. Such roofs on office blocks, schools, bike sheds and shops are just crying out for a little cool green life.

The photo is of a bike shed roof, where even in winter a little line of seed heads adds life and beauty to the concrete apartments beyond. We need to make the best of what we’ve got!

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