About Me

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Bristol , United Kingdom
I am co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy, which provides advice for poets on writing, editing and publishing, as well as qualified counselling support for those exploring personal issues in their work - https://theleapingword.com. My fifth poetry collection, Learning Finity, is now available from Indigo Dreams or directly from me.

Monday, 27 September 2021

A thirty-year harvest

A generation has all but passed - literally - in the thirty years since I planted some seeds from the last apples gathered from my grandmother's house when it was sold after her death.  They germinated, and for the first few years, two tiny apple trees grew in pots on the kitchen window ledge of the Victorian villa I was living in at the time.

When we moved to a larger family home, my mother planted one tree in her garden, and the other was installed in mine. My mother's tree grew and grew, and when her house was sold last year, it was a fine tall tree I said goodbye to.

My tree failed to thrive, in sympathy, perhaps, with my marriage. It did blossom the final year I lived there, but the three apples it produced that autumn were tiny and no use for anything. 

I didn't want to leave it behind, though, so Dru parcelled it up in a wheelie bin, transported it to my new home on the roof rack of her Morris Traveller, and planted it in my new back garden.

At New Year I poured cider over its roots in an act of wassail, and mulched it with a thick layer of straw to protect against the frost. A few days later a pair of jays conferred their own benediction. 

Nearly six years have passed and suddenly it's clear my grandmother's tree has turned over a new leaf - thousands of them - and is finally in the right place.  It soars above me, and this year was laden with blossom, and then apples. 

And since they're cooking apples, what could be nicer to make with the first picking than a crumble with a little ginger and blackberries gathered in the lane that leads to the field, the wood and the common?


Thursday, 23 September 2021

A Tale of Two Hedges ...

... but first a few photos of some local trips, longer journeys being confined to family visits at present.

In late August we went for a walk at Purdown. The woods were still green and leafy ... 

... there were still some flowers (fleabane) and bees ... 

... but best of all was this lovely old oak tucked away on the edge of Long Wood. 

We've also had a few wanders in the Frome Valley below Purdown, while Cwtch has been recuperating from being spayed. 

Eastville Lake ...

... and its heron

The hill still called Colston Hill

Cave at Black Rocks

Wickham Bridge, dating from the early 17th century

We also wandered a couple of the old lanes in Bishopston and Golden Hill, which were quiet and therefore perfect for a recuperating pup. Despite spending much of my childhood in Bishop Road, I'd never walked along Gaston Lane which runs along the top of the allotments, probably because my grandfather and great-grandfather, who both had allotments there, died before I was born. It was interesting to see familiar sights of north Bristol from a completely new angle.

We also walked down Bishop Road itself, passing the school where my grandmother, Cary Grant and Paul Dirac - three legends - were all pupils at the same time. 

My grandmother got into trouble one wintry day for going through the boys' entrance because their playground had an icier and therefore better slider than the girls'.

Her black and cream front door is now cerise. She wouldn't be impressed.

And Mrs Jeffries' sweet shop is long gone.

Horfield Prison

And then there were the hedges. The first is the celebrated Phoenix hedge, happily located close to Phoenix Grove which gave it its name, although it's believed the hedge predates the houses by about 725 years. 

The significant species in the hedge that help date it are ash, blackthorn, dog-rose, elm, field maple, hawthorn, holly and spindle. It's well loved, well-maintained as an important habitat for wildlife, and has its own interpretation board. 

Massive ash


It even has interestingly slanty sunbeams.

The other hedge, which is a scant one-third of a mile away on the far side of Tesco's car park, is longer and doesn't have a name or a board.  It clearly isn't laid or primped as regularly as its illustrious neighbour. In fact, it's so high and wide you can walk inside it in places ...

... and a cursory glance as I walked past suggested it had a fair few of the species found in the other hedge. But when I searched online, all I found were complaints from residents about it not being maintained properly. Which seems a shame.

Oh well. At least they're both still here, surviving against the odds. 

Sunday, 12 September 2021

Early Autumn Elsewhere

Early September is always a melancholy time for me, as the return to my school office heralds the darkening of the year and shortening of days. This year that feeling was compounded, as it was the first anniversary of the death of my dog, Ted. 

Not that I don't have a Cwtch to love and walk and get exasperated with and ... yes ... cwtch. But she's been put out of action for a couple of weeks, as a result of being spayed. You can see she isn't chuffed about it.

Anyway, as we are temporarily banished from the field and the wood and the common - far too exciting for a recuperating pup - it seems like an opportune time to catch up on some photos covering the tail end of August and early September.

August itself was pretty cloudy. It usually is, or at least seems to be, it being the school holiday. (Typically, the weather's been much sunnier and hotter since term restarted.)

Looking over to Mynydd Machen 

Nevertheless, there've been enough sunsets to show the sun's passage south and its desertion of the Welsh hills in order to set just beyond the M5. 

In the field the wild profusion of vegetation is dying back and we can now watch Cwtch's progress as she tussock-jumps from one side to the other. There are few flowers now, and fewer insects. 

the fairy ladders of Great (Hairy) Willowherb


honeybee on yarrow

four spot orb weaver maybe?

Two things there have been an absolute profusion of is thistledown and blackberries. I don't think I've ever seen so much of either.

You only have to turn your back for a moment in the edgelands and things change, not always in a good way. After several days' absence, during which I drove nearly 1000 miles to get my children up to Nottingham to see my mother and back home again, I returned to the lane to find the tall tree stumps lining the top part, which were flourishing trees when I was a child despite being run through with barbed wire, had been cut down to ground level and the accompanying growth slashed right back, leaving an unedifying view of the golf course car park and less habitat for the local wildlife. The barbed wire is still there, though.

And someone with nothing else to do has had another go at pulling rotting wood from the hollowing oak, destroying more habitat ...

 ... though this crocodile doesn't seem perturbed. 

Vandalism aside, I always find it intriguing the way oak heartwood rots into cubes. Sometimes it makes me think of my great-grandfather, who was a compositor and who gave up this skilled job to become a chimney sweep in the family trade when he married my great-grandmother; other times it makes me wish I could read what the tree's trying to tell me. 

There's also been a feeling of  wistfulness about Charlton Common, though I think that's more to do with the imminent building works.  

There, too, the flowers of summer are making way for autumn, which has its own beauty, of course. 

As melancholic as this time and this situation is, there are always new paths to follow and gifts to find. One night as we were walking home across the golf course, I noticed a track through the large pond that is little more than a muddy reed bed in summer, and carefully followed it to the other side. It was still full of loosestrife and fleabane, and I also spotted Michaelmas daisies, which always remind me of my grandmother, who loved them. I also managed to discomfit a toad - no photo of that, though, as it quickly scrambled away and anyhow, the dusk was too far advanced.

I also found this beautiful wing feather from a green woodpecker on its brink. Another gift to treasure from Elsewhere.