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Monthly Archives: July 2012

Setting Out with Hoover

Hoover scouts ahead

My mind was full of turmoil as we set out this morning. Like many others working in the creative arts, I have times when confidence drops and I am my own harshest critic. Why am I doing this? Is it good enough? Who is listening, reading or even vaguely interested? Family are encouraging and wonderfully supportive, but I know their bias – love doesn’t always give the clearest vision, or the most honest opinion, no matter how much it intends to. I do not want to produce mediocrity. Just now I am battling with myself.

 

White Campion

The clarity of the white shimmers against the shadowed hedge

 
I think it was my grandmother who once described someone as standing out ‘like a good deed in a naughty world’. This morning it was this white campion. Its purity was stunning, stopping me in my tracks and somehow emphasising my dilemma. I want my writing to be that good; something to stop a reader in their tracks, to bring an idea, a feeling, vibrantly to life. I work at it each day, choosing my words, building my sentences, polishing and pruning carefully; constantly asking myself – Is this good enough? How can I make it better?

There are plenty of people who can tell you things. Your book should be such and such a length… Why? Is this the only length? I have read children’s books that are longer. Your vocabulary should be simple. But as a child I loved complexity, strange words and new ideas. It should be set in a known, real world… Really? They all seem to say follow this path and success will be yours; we know. Passion is not enough, you must follow the rules.

Woody Nightshade

Natural Brilliance

 
I paused to allow Hoover time to investigate an interesting smell and was brought face to face with Woody Nightshade. By all conventional ideas of co-ordination these colours together are wrong. Yellow, purple and green are not what many would put together, but here they are beautiful. They are not following any rules and yet they work. These vines will soon be decked with berries, the result of insects being drawn to the flowers despite not following a recognised pattern of conventional attraction as seen by many. I try to take courage from it. Stick with what you feel is right and it will bear fruit.

Hoover finds shade

Even the narrow margin of shadow at the edge of a wheat field is enough to provide some welcome shade.

 
Hoover scooted ahead of me, flinging herself down in the shade as she waited, panting lightly, for me to catch up. I revelled in the warmth, but I am not coated in curly black fur, so I gave her time. Another lesson for me on this walk – take time and breathe deeply. Standing there I noticed places where others had gone before us, making forays into the wheat, breaking away from the path. Hoover checked them out and I suspect they are deer trails, slipping into the wheat and disappearing, fading into nothing . Although mostly unseen, there is a vast herd of deer grazing these fields, keeping out of sight and wandering freely. Occasionally you see the odd entry point where they have beaten down a new path.

 

Hoover investigates

Hoover investigates a patch of beaten down wheat

 
By the edge of the path there is an area of wheat that has been beaten flat. Initially I thought it was something to do with a truck or some other vehicle that slipped from the track and flattened it, but from Hoover’s response I now think it must be connected to deer. Or maybe she is hoping for truely giant rabbits. It is not until we have walked a whole lot further and look back across the fields that we see a whole network of tracks. Those entry points do not disappear into nothing, they make a statement of their own.

 

Deer trails in corn

Sometimes it is only when you stand back that you can see what is clearly there

So there was another lesson – stand back and see the bigger picture and then you will understand things better.

And there is always that other teacher at my side. As I stood admiring the view, the greater horizon, Hoover found another cool spot from which to laugh up at me.

Hoover laughing

An unexpectedly wise teacher

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Overgrown path

The hod weed that we so dislike in the garden we love in the hedgerow

It is extraordinary how much the spirit is lifted by sun after rain. From the moment I woke this morning I was aware of a change in the light. Sure enough, blue skies washed across the heavens, and sunshine lit the tops of the trees. Abandoning any pretence of coats Hover and I took to the hills.
“You’ll be cold!” called my mother from her bedroom window as we set off, but walking is warm business and I wasn’t worried.

Scudding clouds built up, but the sun was doing it’s best and pools of light raced across the fields chasing away dark thoughts and reminding me that Jay is returning after an absence of several days.

Are those deer I smell?

Hoover feels honour bound to check for deer

Larks competed to either side of us; sparrows, buffeted by the breeze that tugged at Hoover’s ears, dive bombed the hedgerows. Far above us an early aviator spun circles in his biplane as we headed along the old tracks. Over on the lip of Lyscome Bowl an early morning bonfire blew smoke into the sky, smudging the woods and hedges on the horizon. Given the opportunity to turn for home, we took the longer track launching further afield, postponing breakfast.

Scabious with bugs

Insects made the most of fresh nectar, happy to share dining facilities

Fresh flowers have pushed their way through regrowth in the hedgerows, sudden splashes of purple, pink, yellow and white. Nature is no respecter of man made ideas about colour combinations, but the design works fine. Hoover was still minded to chase deer. I remained adamant in my determination to thwart her plans. Biscuits are a great persuader. As we walked I ponder my writing. It is good thinking time and I often return with problems solved and plots twists resolved.

My favourite trees

Sudden illumination on two of my favourite trees

The colours are changing, but some keep coming back. As we finally headed back towards home we came across friends heading homewards too. Hoover and Maisie chased each other up and down the track, circling round us, pausing to inspect interesting smells. A sudden flash of red caught my eye. Poppies that earlier skirted the field are now marching into the wheat. Even under the looming sky they lift the heart and the clouds disappear leaving memories of blue.

Poppies making a take over bid

I returned home completely uplifted, ready to start a day of work, refreshed and renewed.

And Jay will be home tonight.

With my mother about to arrive to stay with us for a week, we had our work cut out with preparations. She is a great help, always ready to head out into the garden, dead heading, collecting weeds and making things look good, but there was some heavy digging that I wanted to do before she arrived and we had a clear day with dry skies predicted. Ox eye daisies has spread themselves into a flower bed where they were not supposed to be, buttercups were rambling in to join them and cranes bills were poking their noses into the fray. Jay still had terminal plans on the hod weed.

A prong goes missing

Hard work has led to a large collection of similar gap-toothed garden implements


He did battle until tree roots foiled him, creating a huge heap of mop headed weeds that had yet to cast their seeds, but loosing a prong. I, meanwhile, minced my way between smaller plants, rooting out the daisies, remnants of forget-me-nots and putative bindweed, guarding the day lilies and roses and throwing balls for Hoover to chase behind me.
Small garden fork

The rattle of the collar on this fork provides a ringing back ground music to my thoughts as I dig


I am not the best thrower of things, despite Jay and Hoover’s regular training sessions. Balls do not always go where I intend, even when my mind is on the task. But my mind was fragmented, darting between weeds, lingering on my Mossy’s dilemma and the construction of water wheels; anything but ball throwing. Hoover and I spent some time dredging the pond looking for the cause of the splash. Alarmed goldfish lurked under the lily pads, popping their mouths at us to remind us that they needed feeding. No balls was forth coming, though we did find an old frisbee that had been lost in there several months before. Hoover isn’t interested in catching frisbees, as far as she’s concerned they are for chewing. Despite months underwater this one still had a frilly edge. Hoover settled down to work on its further decoration.
Stacked wood

Felled wood is stored to dry before Jay brings out the chain saw to log it


Essential gardening completed we decided that chopping wood was our next crucial task. A summer that has spent its days in fancy dress, disguised as a chill wet monsoon, means that we have used every single bit of prepared wood, instead of having the odd remnant of the stack to see us through a slight summer nip. This summer we haven’t simply been nipped by summer chills; we have been thoroughly chewed and then spat out. So, following our policy that preparation usually means that we have no further need of what we have prepared, we decided that a bit of summer chopping was in order.
Chopping wood

Getting going with the axe


Whilst Jay wielded the chainsaw I got cracking with the axe. I have always particularly enjoyed chopping wood. Even as a child I loved chopping kindling, sneaking out to the woodpile and having a go with the hatchet. These days I like to go for it with the biggest logs I can manage. Not having the strength of men I have developed an odd chopping style – hanging the axe down my back and then swinging it in a great arcing circle over my head. The logs bounce apart, chips flying in all directions. It is so satisfying. And as the log pile grows I am warmed as well. We weren’t making a winter stack, just something to keep us warm in emergencies, but it was hard to stop once we had got into the swing of it.
Hoover with wood

Hoover likes to help


Hoover kept well out of the way, lurking in the peripheries, darting in when I went to collect more wood to select small pieces upon which she could devote her attention, until the yard was covered in small shards of splinted wood.

And then we made a bonfire, cremating all the hog weed, the hedge clippings and providing potash for the vegetable garden. As smoke crept up and the first crackles made themselves heard, Jay and I reflected on a day of rest. Teamwork is good.

Yesterday it rained buckets.  From mid-morning through to darkness, it rained constantly; drumming on the roof so that it hummed, fading to a soft pattering – a weather song for the day, a background to fingers on a keyboard.  This morning it had stopped, and Hoover was eager to stretch her legs.

She danced about my feet and fished my socks out of my wellies, urging me to put them where they properly belonged, the sooner to get us under way.  It wasn’t cold.  Who needs a hat? I thought.  Who needs a coat?  We set off up the track.

Sheep sheltered in a huddle of wool.  Kara whickered as we passed. Poppies danced over the spiky heads of the short stemmed wheat.  At the top of the hill the Dorset downs spread out before us.

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Down into the next valley and up the other side. Up past the barley field and onto the top.  Hoover ran ahead to check for deer.  I called her back and she turned, her ears flapping in the breeeze.  Could she pretend she hadn’t heard me?

“Wazzis?” I called, holding up a piece of biscuit.  Deer or biscuit?  I could see Hoover wavering.  Looking over towards the Dorset Gap I spotted weather heading our way.

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“Come on, Hooves!” I called. “No time to waste!”  The wind swung round, Hoover chased past me, I strode on.  The weather pursued us.  The hills disappeared. 

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 We were caught. 

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The funny things is that once you are sodden, and you’ve given up being annoyed at the foolishness that made you decide to abandon coats and hats, it’s quite nice being wet.  Rain that drops off hair and trickles down the back of your neck just tickles, the walking keeps you warm and there’s a rhythm to the squelch and sploosh of footsteps that brings on a song.

And it’s so good to arrive home.

Rain diamonds

Tiny drops of rain magnify the light


Right at the beginning of this blog I promised instances of weather. Jay pointed out that so far I only seem to indulge in instances of fine weather and as we are experiencing some of the longest wet weather on record it is probably time to admit that it exists. The wettest June has led us towards what I suspect will be a contender for wettest July. Twice the normal monthly amount of rain for July fell over the weekend, washing pebbles out from the tracks and scattering them across the road through the village.
The main road

Cars have swept the gravel into tracks in the past few days.

Even as we pushed our way through the soaking grass, and felt water seep into our clothes, it was easy to be distracted by the beauty of the rain on vegetation. Hog weed umbrellas stand tall by the edges of the fields, still flowering even as the seed heads prepare to scatter next years offerings of new plants.

Rain spangled Hogweed

Rain clings, even to the smallest hairs.


Pausing by the gate I noticed that even dull aluminium can be charmed by the wet decoration. Rain drops quivered in the slightest of breezes and I was loath to open the gate and send them all cascading into oblivion.
Gate rail

Even the poor light of a rain-heavy sky shimmers against the grey.

Hoover and I constantly stopped to admire tiny details; rain on grass, which Hoover tried to eat.

Rain on Grass

Even the grass is speckled with magnifiers

When I was little one of my favourite songs at school contained the line – ‘Rain drops are our diamonds’. It was one of my favourite hymns and has remained in my mind over the years, hummed as I walk the hills with Hoover. It also talked of shining sapphire speedwell, buttercup gold, silver daisies and the emerald grass in terms of treasure to value. This morning I certainly felt that, even as the damp crept through my waterproofs and Hoover rattled her ears to prevent water trickling into them.

I know that this rain has brought flooding and misery to many. The lack of light has given me the worst vegetable crop I have ever had, seed failing to germinate, seedlings that cannot thrive, stunted beans that cannot bring themselves to flower. On Saturday the hearty rain brought down a transformer, cutting off all power to our village for most of a day and we had to resort to lighting the wood burner to boil a saucepans of water for tea and to heat food. Unable to use any power we could do no useful jobs, and had to resort to snuggling up on the sofa with books and being idle. We cannot really complain. And today in the sog we have had visual treats.
Wet Rose

And what about the writing? Being stuck indoors has kept my nose to the grindstone. And I have a funny feeling that there’s a thunderstorm brewing, about to fall on the heads of my poor hapless family. But they’ll be OK, they’ll find a way to cope.

Heavy skies and fulsome rain have been our lot for many days. The stream gushes by outside our front door; weeds have grown at an alarming speed and we look out and sigh. So when the clouds parted briefly yesterday evening, I colllared Jay at the end of work and hauled him up onto the hills.

Hoover was feisty, fed up with being indoors, darting about the place, convinced that rabbits needed attention, searching out anyone who might be about the place. We may not be that keen on the rain, and many crops are delayed by lack of sunshine, but wild flowers are doing their bit to lighten our vision.

Poppies

There seems to be an abundance of poppies this year

Hoover disappeared into the rape, now browning and beaten low by the heavy rain. We caught strangled yips of delight as she found invisible friends with whom to play tag, and we tracked her progress from the occasional quiver in the seed heads. I enticed her out with loud offers of biscuits and she returned, panting at our sides, as we descended into the next valley. Scudding clouds chased light and shadow across the fields turning the old tin roof of a decrepit barn to brilliant terracotta.

The old tin barn

Colours are constantly changing as the crops begin to ripen.

Dodging puddles, we followed the track up the hill heading towards the blue. Sudden warmth lifted our hearts and the birds burst into song around us. Hoover’s eyes darted about the place, looking for any opportunity for her feet to follow suit. We headed on towards the blue ahead conversation flowing languidly as we stopped to admire things pointing them out to each other.

The path ahead

Puddles catch the blue of the sky above

Hog weed rearing out of the hedgerow, towered over us, Despite our constant battle with it in our wild garden I cannot help but admire it. Jay is less sure. He is the one who fights the main battle with it.

Hogweed

We are not the only ones who are reaching for the sky

And then we spot a tiny seed head, too.

Seed head

Tiny in reality, I have shown this big because it is so lovely.

By the time we headed back towards home the sun was setting, making the most of an opportunity to remind us what we have been missing.
“It is good to be out in this,” mused Jay.

Check out the new page – Illustrated Stories Can Be Found Here.  It is just what it says on the page – a place for illustrated stories.  Although most of my writing is for longer books for older children, sometimes I succumb to the urge to make a short illustrated story.  I hope you enjoy it.