Sunday, 31 August 2014

Summer Finale

This day starts smoky from our bonfire. The heat is blown through by a pleasing wind as ash scatters over the washing, over the cut grass. We had cooked potatoes in the flames, got them just right, blazed up inside a pile of ivy root. We watched the woody stems twist. In agonies, Mr said, making mock-horror. They are just born, I contradicted; fire snakes, they wriggle into being. Overhead were stars and dark and one aeroplane flying and the shadowy tall pines. Nearby, blackberry wine, two glasses.
In the polytunnel this morning mould is found, it blights the tomato stems. A procession of tainted foliage trails to the hedge and back. Two pots of crisis cropped fruits pause on the picnic table while the fridge is reorganised. To have one's head in the fridge is coolly angelic. The phone rings, it is one of my Dear Readers with some hot tips for Chapter One. She is halfway through the novel so far, in spite of her computer troubles. I agree with her assessments, though the hedge-birds are loud like chattery monkeys and make it difficult to hear. I am sitting with my bare feet pressed in damp grass, drinking cold espresso.
A second washing load is pegged. Dog hangs around hopefully. She makes eyes that seem to be reflecting the river and a wide cut field so we take an empty two gallon tub and walk exactly there. I talk to myself about how I should sort out what aspect of which project to focus on and at what point but there are so many berries that is what fills my mind, effortless, peaceful, disorderly in the best way. Every branch bunched has characteristics not unique except when combined with this spray of seeded grass or that sapling oak, how the leaves are egg-dotted, my shadow is made of small pieces placed on twigs and leaves, how the breeze bobs a leaf, a lone bird's call, this confident spider, legs akimbo across her web.
The full tub is hefty. I carry it on my shoulder all the way to my garden, put it down on the picnic table. There is no more room in the fridge, I remember, it will have to be the freezer. It will be heavenly to feel ice temperatures on a hat-hot head. In the kitchen brewing buckets blip. A blue fedora rests on a cheap toaster. Home grown food lingers in the crockpot. 
Nights have been creeping in, we say, later, as the blinds are dropped. We hear the sighs of rain on windowpanes. The last day of this summer, we say; and how brilliant the berries are.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Ice Bucket Crystals

Ruminations on the 'ice bucket challenge.'
We didn't have any ice, the freezer being packed with garden and hedgerow bounty (without which winter will be lean in this house.) It was cold enough, being from the outside tap, we figured. Misgivings were not about the temperature of water. There are sides to things, of course. An ice crystal is an appropriate image.
Clean water is a luxury of living and a staple; this is what makes it treacherously easy to overlook how lucky we are: we who have this undemanding access. My tomatoes, my cat, my dog, myself, all have this effortless level of supply. I may be frugal with bath water but there it is: I am bathing in drinkable water. 
Of course, here, we are aiming to live more naturally, there are plans for a filtered rain tank: I would have an outdoor bathroom, a dry toilet (some people aspire to gold taps, for me the dry toilet is a sign of success) and the permaculture sensibility is a living growing phenomenon, I can't work out quite if this is off-topic, but it seems wrapped up in it, vaguely.
First I must ask and answer this question:
Why did I tip four gallons of clean cold water over my head?
My students get to ask me to do a lot of silly things and I would indulge them: I ask a lot of them, in training, blood, sweat, tears: they give. So I give.
Water fights: they happen here: we love them. They are no less wasteful. We could claim it nourishes the fruit trees but they don't really require it.
Charity: in an ideal world, everything needed is provided. Meanwhile, I don't mind to help. It doesn't have to stop me thinking of bigger ways to change (hence the thoughts about the rain filter, perhaps.) 
Our donations are for The Children's Hospice, because there is a personal link. There is (our student) Ellen's little brother Arthur, born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy: there is no cure, no saving him: there is only this quiet refuge to go to, in which one submits with much needed support to the inevitable death of an infant. 
Not all the tears we share with our students are because of training. 
We share our stories- that's what is not always apparent from the multitude of clips of wet gluggy faces proliferating this week's social media. 
We can bond, there's a thought worth pursuing, and if we can bond we can make change happen. It is not such a simple bandwagon when you lift the hood, perhaps; in there are some intricate cogs of grief and hope, even under some of the hammiest showmanship. And yes of course some people have done it without donating or having a clue who to give help to or why possibly because they don't care and some people have ignored it with a similar thoughtlessness. Stupidity is part of the human experience. But that is off-topic. There is fun to be had in helping each other, and doing it for our selves is sensible. We should keep trying to help each other, because of or in spite of, whatever cogs are turning. Difference need not hurt. There is no one accurate point of view, only this beautifully edged composite.
[Additional extras: We have added a donation to Water Aid for our challenge. I do not oppose the work to find a cure for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is a devastating condition. I do oppose experimentation on animals in laboratories, not because I don't value human life but because I think it is too horrible a price to pay, and in itself devalues our worth. Also worth recording: thanks to Mr Grandad's response to dousing himself in liquid cold, our eldest grandson learnt his first swear. Bad Grandad!]

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Housework Shirked

Each day a quota holds, a minimum punnet. Fingernails clipped short, cuticles sundried, dyed in berry shades: criss cross thorn scars, inked in. The weather blows cold, blooms hot; it seems visible, a haze of temperatures, spiralling. They rotate over crop fields. They echo the blades of harvest. The hedges will be cut too: every day a quota holds, to fetch the berries in.
At home, there are two kinds of thing: that which is left, stacked unheeded, undusted, untended, until after picking: that which is paraphernalia for picking (vats for brewing, jam pans, ice cream tubs, bottles, recipes, air locks, siphon pipes, vinegar, sugar, spice and such and such.)
This morning plucked meadowsweet bubbles with honey, flavours our fermented tea. 
Variations on our harvesting vocation:
Friday: Acquaintance made with a tiny kitten. Little Granddaughter has named him, or rather announced a string of names and her parents have picked their least unpopular offering. So he is not called Baby Princess Kitten, for example. She shows kitten how to wrap a poorly teddy, but he is not an attentive student.
Saturday: One hour spent bending green ash twig, winding a solar light string, binding in twine: the polytunnel has a chandelier. It holds maximum love and admiration for minimum purpose.
Sunday: A few moments spent, or more, no one counted. Four Roe deer stare and we stare back.
Monday: No pictures were taken we were preoccupied: arms full of one grand child or another, and talking, and eating pizza. Little Grandson and Little Granddaughter both must sit in makeshift clothing after forgetting that they shouldn't play in the water outside: both subdued, briefly, by the reminding, but they soon make finger puppets from jigsaw pieces and thus happy nonsense is restored. The Chap unbuttons his collar, lays it with his tie on top of his new blazer, sits with a fat beagle warming his legs. On the journey home, later than planned, the car windows are wound down to unfog the windscreen. Night air whistles. Rain plays percussion. Beautiful ideas flow. There is one smeary handprint on my shirt, tomato and mozzarella. 
Beautiful ideas flow, are stacked: after the fruit harvests, back to words. The house may be messy a good while yet.

Thursday, 21 August 2014


Several fruits the squash plant started, lately: each of them had putrefied, no bigger than a fat thumb, grey furred. The stems leaked as they were cut, as all the wide and finely spined leaves were sliced out and a green overflow drifted up against the fence next to the compost bin. Several more fruits were seen, hard greenish fruits that seemed impervious to mould, too late: the stems all cut, the roots dug up. Too late! But here, in the opened space, is room for potted melon plants to unconfine roots. Melons are summer fruit: pumpkins are for autumn? But the pale outgrowths swell healthy, hang content from trellis in the topsy-turvy polytunnel. Outside more blackberries are picked and picked. The hedges bloom butterflies and sometimes one will sit on a dark-bright berry, slurping juice: carefully watched, though as yet none have changed colour. The air is hot or cold without intermediate: summer and autumn awkwardly spliced.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Blackberry Anecdotes

Saturday, Dog & Me
We venture out around the middle point of day, when the tractor boys have slumped for lunch; I guess at cab-warm sandwiches and an energy drink. I have a pot for blackberries and barely stop, just wander and pluck and the layers add up; globules, purple-black, heavy in the heat; I have an eye too for where rosehips are rounding out, for dark dots of elderberry, blue sloes with their whitish bloom, amiable red on the hawthorn stems. We wade the thick grass to the maize field's far edge where a leafy tunnel whispers, irresistible. We had better not tread too far, maize being the kind of crop that will grow behind your back and not tell the way out. I hold my berry tub close, to remind me: these I picked to take home. Jam, wine, cordial, crumble, pie: the recipe is not decided: something, always, is being made. 
Sunday, Girl, Little Granddaughter, Dog & Me
Two gallons, the big tub holds. At the hedgerow, thirty finger digits drip purple. One delirious Dog runs, runs, rolls in stink. Two thirds full, the big tub is heavy. Little Granddaughter has her own half litre pot, being young and metric, she wanders ahead picking blackberries; mostly fatly-black, some tight green, some shining red; singing of sheep, calling back, 'Look, look how I can reach!' Nettle stings are tiny dramas, acts of three or four tears, forgotten in the sight of a dragonfly, a bee, a bouncing spider wrapping lunch. 'Bees make honey,' she tells, 'and crocodiles make jam.'
Granma is wondering how they make do for a spoon, or how else does one know that the sugar is dissolved, when the sun remembers that it isn't autumn yet. Too hot, they head through the shade of balsam to a wide brown river, to sit on stones and weeds, kick off clothes, step knee deep in the water that's clear closer up, spot the wiggle of juvenile fish. Dog swims till the stink is washed off. 'I'm tired,' Little Granddaughter says, lying under Granma's scarf on her mother's lap. She pushes her fingers into mud; idly draws brown stripes on a white cotton sleeve.

Thursday, 14 August 2014


It was as though the essence of festival had been tube packed then blown up. Our vantage point was excellent, we clearly saw: it was fire fragments of candied fruit, fairy lights, tinsel sheen; glitter flowers, gaudy wrap; they burst into the night, blitzed out, dropped jaws: such brief and glorious pauses. We drove home, down lanes, tiny, roofed in hedge: labyrinthine: the moon was three quarters fat, shining. Our bellies ruminated burger and chips. I should like to be a spark, of sorts, I think, while the road opens out to streetlamps and there are silhouettes behind curtains. Just one spark, and we should have a camper van, and drink more coffee on more beaches and just one grain of sand on the beach of brilliance, that's my ambition, one amongst the throng that calls to you and says this is it, is it not enough? Look closely, it is all this beautiful, it is all delicious, and you don't need much and how lovely were those fireworks, one is all agog.

A late night: and a nervous morning: The Chap has exam results to collect. At Launceston College he has the door open before the car is fully parked. We catch him up and he is smiling, an automatic surface smile, holding his envelope, opened, and the page of plain type says yes, and he nods: he got what he needed.
We went to the shops, we bought bacon and rum.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Sea Salt And Socks

Water rises, slowly, in the balanced dish, in the thin china flaked with corn that went unrinsed after last night's supper, the tap squeaks. Other dishes too are stacked, the edges ripple overflow: water pours, with intermittent squeak, stirs up the stagnant strip of flat in the washing up bowl; tiny reflections tremble. Grey light sighs over crumbed worktops. A towel on the floor in front of the washing machine, striped in shadow, dotted in sand. Where are the wetsuits? Unrinsed, one suspects; smiles, raises up the window blinds to bulked cloud; thinks of yesterday. How warm it was: how we sat with the sun-bloom on our faces, on the way to work, straight from Perranporth beach, in the car drinking cold coffee and how the rain came down! The air chilled. It even had that smell, that faint spice of autumn. At work we were pale with sea salt and dusty sand. At home, warm socks waiting.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Lunch On South Hess

At Princetown we set out. (There should be a Princesstown, I decide. The Little Granddaughters would love that.) Overhead clouds are passing, grandiose, pausing to monologue, wandering, yet intently, stage left. We start with a hill, The Chap advises, then the rest of the walk will seem easier. North Hessary Tor suffices to warm us up: me, The Chap, Houseguest Ben and effervescent Dog. She spins in dry dung, chases birds she'll never catch. How many people die here, Ben asks, after the instructions on bogland and hyperthermia. He observes the cloud drama and pulls up his hood. Thousands, says The Chap, kindly smiling, but less now there is good mobile coverage. He has full kit. We have water and dried fruit. Dog chews some grass. We can stick to the path, I say, let Chap go wandering. He has highlighted our map for a rendezvous lunch. The path we drop down to was a railway, once upon a time, when the quarry was a grand business. 
My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Granite cut and fallen marks workplace and homesteads. The quarry is a clear lake, otherworldly. People in tiny packs sit gazing. I envy Dog her swim. It was frozen, Chap remembers: he had stood on the ice just there. Prettiness and starkness overlay.
The Chap leaves the path, from here, attending to compass and bearing, leaving those of us who would easily forget to add two degrees for the curvature of the earth to follow a pre-beaten track. It's unfamiliar track, open, bleak, weather worn, ancient. It cuts pale into dark foliage, past clutters of granite, past lumps of iron age settlements, past sinkholes of former tinworks, stoic faces of livestock. Rain shakes from a cloud that stalks northwards, muttering. We walk behind it; behind us a bluster of cold air grapples with the sun's warmth. We walk: it's been hours. A shape ahead reminds us of The Chap; he's early, but it is him: or a convincing replica. In the shelter of South Hessary Tor hot lunch is prepared. (Quinoa for me, Supernoodles for both lads. Dog has a sachet of peanut butter.) 
A daydream I have, of living in a remote cottage, almost unreachable. An end of life dream, of lying out under stars, willingly renouncing consciousness. The word 'end' is wrong. A transmutation, perhaps. Meanwhile, this life is exactly as it should be, laden with appreciated moments. Not some advert-perfect reflection: entirely flawed, hilarious: mine. I love it.
On the drive home we stop for ice cream.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Straw Music

Down the river lane and at the wide corner strawberry patches carry leaf, not flower, not fruit: but elsewhere; Barton, Carzantic, Treniffle; blackberries fatten. Four pots of jam have been made; blackberry with banana; one is opened for breakfast; another picking pot is full in the fridge, will be pudding later. The hedge is tentacled, prickled with mild perils, thorn, wasp, horsefly, nettle. Young green berries, hard as carapace, have their small heads nodding. Dog is grateful for the breeze; she sits to wait and listen; the recycling truck is late this week, has all its windows down and the radio loud.
Clouds draw and a gate is open; we explore, we make the cut straw music, a late summer plink. Here the berries are not abundant, nor ripe, but the field is gold-red striped, puffed with stray seed. In the corner where the stream drips thorough Dog frolics in its hollowed bed, roofed in oak leaf; and out comes the sun. 

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

100 Years

05/08/14: Last night we lit one candle, turned out the electric lights, let the house stand quieted, in memoriam. It was late when war was announced, a summer's late evening in 1914: some other family may have sat, then, freckled by sun, with a dog snoring and their grown boys playing cards, the radio on. Perhaps they made tea, as is still the custom, not knowing what else to be busy with. Keep calm and put the kettle on. Speculate that it should all be over soon, let other worries fuzz a cover: bombs will scare the dog, who will clear the guttering if the boys enlist? If…
06/08/14: Morning rain is musical; percussion on leaf; in the twist of a sluice like faraway bells. 

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Don't Forget Your Torch Batteries

(A report from the TAGB Southwest Summer Camp aka Our Family Holiday)
Eight nights under canvas, six days of Tae Kwon-Do training, weather most obliging. 
Saturday: arrive, sign in, pitch up your tent.
In summer Cornish roads are squished. Caravans bounce off hedges. Even motorcyclists get wedged, with steam squeaking out of leathers. Bored children cry, throw up brightly coloured sweets. Tracks over moor lands pulse with headaches of lost families and Satnavs advising turn around, turn around, in every direction. Even with the advantage of local knowledge it is such relief to reach the open field, kick off shoes, pace out under the pine tree edging. We raise our tent easy: those less practised are spotted and offered help. Boy and I are training this year: Mr is injured. He will be cooking and playing in the sea (not simultaneously.) Forays for supplies are made. There's a fish and chip van in the village and decent coffee available from the Post Office. At eight pm the camp meets. This year's t-shirts are azure, a popular choice.
Curfew for the week is 11pm: sleep is needed for training!
Sunday morning: meet on the field for team selection and beach training, 7am
[What to wear: running gear, sun protection. What to take: water. Some people bring a towel or extra layer.]
Teams are chosen to be a mix of grades, genders, geographies and abilities. Through the week teams will compete for points. This first morning we all run to the beach together. At home my running is consistently difficult: here I am chatting the whole way… We unlace our shoes, peel off hot socks, store water bottles in shady grass, line our teams up on the sand, facing a sparkling sea. Beach training commences: fabulously physical: anything to make our arms and legs and core feel pushed: if adrenalise could be a verb, it could describe how this affects. Cartoon words: pee-yow, ka-boom: they also offer insight here. Frequent sea dips and clever stretches keep our muscles fine. 
To round off this first session the game is for each team to carry between them, back to the campsite, a bucket of seawater. The fullest bucket wins. We mistakenly believe that time is a factor and rush. Spillage occurs. But this is shortly followed by breakfast so nobody is disappointed. Mr is poaching eggs for Boy and I: other people take advantage of the menu options at the clubhouse. Please note, your eggs will be fried or scrambled, not poached.
Sunday afternoon: 5pm training on the field
[What to wear: traditional white training suit and belt, bare feet. Water bottle may be left at the edge of the cricket pitch.]
Here we filter out into grade groups, all the better to perfect our patterns. The sun shines, bounces off the white cotton. Clouds drift, also white, as though our reflected brightness has taken form.
After training, socialising occurs, although lounging around reading, stretching, or getting ridiculous amounts of sleep are all good options. A nightcap is a good thing but eleven pints is a mistake and has been known to cause some queasiness the following day.
Monday morning: teams to meet on the beach at 7.30am
In previous years this journey has been a race. This year a new format is trialled: we may run, walk, roll, as long as no one is late. Camping out on the beach is considered cheating and will from this point be banned. 
For the way back each team picks a fastest runner: they race, we can walk or run or skip behind. Boy is a runner. I choose walk up run down (flat is rare land in Cornwall) with a flashy sprint finish. Boy reports he also sprint finished and vomited into one of yesterdays buckets. (Not lager related.) I'm proud that he found a receptacle. His ability to scoff breakfast is unaffected.
Monday afternoon: training on the field, 5pm.
Unexpected change to schedule caused by the arrival of Master Dew, Eighth Degree Black Belt, who just happens to be passing by and we all put our azure t-shirts on and have a big photo taken and then even the Instructors get Instructed out on the short cut grass with the sun ablaze. The word Epic is almost worn out but it is a perfect fit.
Tuesday morning: on the beach for 7.30am
This morning's beach training keeps the tradition known as 'Abs Tuesday' which is why I can currently ping a cannonball off my stomach. If you are going to make an effort it's good to know it will have an effect. On the way back Boy once again is a runner and he takes a longer route and he is not sick. Barely a sweat after the sprint finish! We are proud and guilty of calling him a git.
Tuesday afternoon: training on the field, 5pm
No special guest today. We are still spoilt though, with so much excellent tuition and clear sky. It's peculiar that being absorbed in the details of landscape; this line of dark pine tops, graduations of shade in a backlit cloud, how the light wind lilts; one can yet be mindful of one's own actions. And if you don't know what you're doing, simply ask.
Tuesday evening: Quiz Night 8pm
I rarely know anything that can win a quiz. Luckily this evening it seems I am in the majority. We had an accountant in our team who got the maths question more correct than the quiz master. Also the Cornish Rex is our national cat, so I scored a whole point there.
Wednesday morning: meet at 6am on the field
[What to wear: walking gear. What to bring: water and energising snacks.]
Today we start with a coastal walk. We start early, so it's not too hot. The coastal route is arduous and gorgeous; so gorgeous the arduous is barely registered. Everyone is delighted, once they've crawled from their tents, into the early orange gold, watched the sky pale and the sea, luminous, rise and fall like breathing.
Wednesday afternoon: training on the field, 5pm
Made comical as most of us have napped and not stretched sufficiently. The warm up is noisy with creaks and clicks but it does make for rapid improvement. We can start training as humans not zombies.
Thursday morning: meet on the beach for 7.30am
Thursday is Sports Day. This year our teams compete in sprint races, discus, leap frog, long jump and the fastest to fill up a bin with sea water (without being allowed to drag the bin to the sea.) We are watched by a bleary family who had camped out last night on a beautiful quiet beach… 
Thursday afternoon: 2pm on the field for more sports
Games continue: this year we have volleyball, blanket volleyball and rounders. My team don't make any finals so we sit around cheering indiscriminately. We were in third place on the leader board yesterday so we have had a touch of glory.
Thursday evening: optional training at 5pm
Most chose to train. Boy learned some weaponry but I preferred the more traditional stuff. Patterns are puzzle boxes, I can't imagine being tired of discovering. And still sunny!
Friday morning: meet on the beach for 7.30am
All teams meet, unofficially on the green, in fancy dress. This year's theme is convicts: much black and white stripes and arrows, some penitentiary orange, one train robber style Hawaiian shirt, one military guard (aka Boy.) Locals that are used to us, wave. Holidaymakers are less certain. Striking hide poses behind foliage confuses them further. On the beach some costumes prove less robust than others. After some splendid exercise and singing we round off our beach work by each team building a sandcastle that relates to their team name. Every year this is the point where we remember we should have picked a team name that was easy to explain in the medium of sand. We are the 50p team, in memory of the village's now closed charity shop. Our attempt is a sand table laden with beach junk, priced 50p, and a 50 pence piece featuring a fabulous shell profile of the Queen. After being judged Fifth (apt number) we all jump in the sea.
Friday afternoon: training on the field, 5pm
Or it would have been, if the rain had only waited a few more hours. We have to use the clubhouse instead, and while it's not the same as outdoors, we still have a concentration of awesome Instructors and focussed training partners.
Friday evening: the last meet: 7pm
In which we gather and find out which team amassed the most points, which male and which female students have been considered the very best (an award of no small prestige) and we say thank you to our Instructors, to the breakfast ladies, to the barkeep, to the weather; we're all tired and sad it's over. Outside the clouds seem to have burst. Curfew for today is midnight: sleep will be required for tomorrow's packing up and journeying.
Sensibly eschewed the beer pong but there was also brandy. Fell over a bin on my way back to our tent. Because it was dark, you understand: because of forgetting the torch batteries.
Saturday morning from 7am onwards: breaking camp.
The sun comes back, dries out the tents. One gazebo has drowned. The least favourite bit of this week, folding and wondering how all this nonsense ever fitted in the car, is alleviated by a full English breakfast in the clubhouse. 
Boy relates his evening tales of moderate rum consumption. The bar staff named him Captain, leading us to reflect that he is old enough to pay his own bar tab, he has trained like the clich├ęd trouper; is perhaps not so much a boy anymore. We take the decision to award him a new title. Henceforth he is to be known as The Chap.
Once packed the protocol is to circle the site, hugging everyone who has shared in our glorious week. Only one thing we should like to change: so next year we will ask for better recycling facilities. Colour coded bins, perhaps, and tucked out of the way so people travelling by night with deficient torch batteries don't trip over them.
And then we drive away, head full of hilarities, new resolutions, scenic moments, up the A38; the A30 is still a seasonal squash.
See you next year, Summer Camp!