23/5/2018 On the radio the other day I heard cow parsley and nettles being referred to as the ‘thugs’ of the wild flowers. Apparently they thrive in the countryside and on road verges to the exclusion of other wild flowers due to added nitrogen from car fumes and agricultural fertilisers.
I was immediately indignant. On reflection, however, logic has permitted me to accept that this may be so. But it doesn’t stop me loving cow parsley. My garden, which has never been fertilised – except perhaps by goats and chickens in the last few years – has always grown into a jungle of cow parsley in May and June, reaching above my head as a child, and nothing makes me happier than seeing it everywhere in the May countryside. Without it, spring almost wouldn’t be spring.
St Margaret’s, St Margaret Ilketshall
Outdoor temperature: 22.5˚C; indoor temperature: 18.1˚C, humidity: 62%
I was starting to struggle with the Ilketshalls and the South Elmhams. I wasn’t entirely sure which I was in, as my map, road signs and the church sign simply said ‘St Margaret’. I found out eventually though, from the various documents posted on the church noticeboard. It was a round-towered church, my first since my trip to the Beccles area in February. White doves were sunbathing in the gutter.
St Michael’s, St Michael South Elmham
Outdoor temperature: 21.7˚C; Indoor temperature: 14.4˚C, humidity: 73%
I was greatly looking forward to the day’s church visits. I was spoilt for choice: within a fifteen minute drive I could have chosen any of about twenty churches, perhaps more. I had arranged to meet my cellist friend, Will, at Rumburgh for a late morning rehearsal, so I settled on St Michael South Elmham nearby. My decision involved some confusion around village and church names, as I found another church named on the map as ‘St Michael’s Priory church’. Having trouble finding out any further information about it, and feeling distrustful of its public access precisely due to the fact it was labelled, I decided to avoid it until later in the day, when I would be passing anyway and could investigate without causing myself any inconvenience.
14/5/2018 You would probably never guess that I wasn’t referring to an animal if I asked you this question. You might also legitimately reply, ‘nothing is nearly as sweet as ducklings’. You’d be nearly right. But not quite.
I’m referring to the best of all new spring leaves: beech leaves. If horse chestnut leaves are difficult to resist touching, these are impossible. I’m afraid that I might be diagnosed as insane if anyone caught me unawares in their presence; but as long as I was left to enjoy my insanity in peace, I wouldn’t mind too much.
I treat them pretty much the same way I treat my animals. As you may have deduced by now, they have a similar effect on me as ducklings. I can understand the evolutionary advantage in baby animals being sweet – assuming humans aren’t the only species capable of recognising this quality – but what possible advantage can there be for a tree to have adorable baby leaves? Surely they’d just get eaten more often.
St Mary’s, Withersdale Street
Outdoor temperature: 22.1˚C; indoor temperature 17.4˚C, humidity: 65%
Karen and Nick, at whose B&B I was staying, had told me the previous evening that there was a lovely church a mile or so down the road which was walkable via a footpath. Since then I had been tempted by the idea of my first ever cello hike. It was such beautiful weather, and I felt it was a short enough distance for a trial. So, after buying some lunch supplies at the village shop and sitting for a while in the sunshine, I emptied my bag of everything I didn’t absolutely need – including my music stand – and set off for Withersdale Street, in the knowledge that I could always abort the operation if it turned out I was being overly optimistic about the lightweight qualities of my new cello case.
St James’, St James South Elmham
Outdoor temperature: 19.3˚C; indoor temperature: 12.5˚C, humidity: 77%
I had arranged to play at Metfield church at 11am, in order to have time to warm up in another church beforehand. Consulting the map, I decided to make a start on ‘The Saints’, the 12 villages of South Elmham and Ilketshall all named after saints, of whose churches 11 are still in existence. I hadn’t realised they were all so close to Metfield.
The drive outside the church was busy: the noise of chainsaws and a wood chipper accompanied the sight of tree surgeons in their customary orange hats, and a truck full of gravel was parked by the churchyard gate. Two men were laying it on the church path, and the chancel was missing its roof. It appeared to be raining, but it wasn’t water coming from the sky. I couldn’t tell what it was; I thought perhaps it might be ash from a nearby bonfire.
7/5/2018 This highlight should really have appeared two weeks ago, but due to the arrival of ducklings and swallows it had to be postponed. There was no question of leaving it out, however: new horse chestnut leaves are my second favourite spring leaf behind the one I hope will be featured next week, if nothing unexpected happens to delay it once more.
In contrast to the weeping willow, whose early spring glow I enjoy best from a distance, I have to get up close to appreciate the horse chestnut’s new leaves. I love seeing the sticky buds burst open and the leaves slowly break free of their spider’s-web-like covering; but my favourite stage is when the leaves are larger and have become more recognisably those of the horse chestnut. They point downwards like drooping hands. They are light green, almost translucent and oh-so-soft: touching and stroking them is impossible to resist. I can feel my heart leap when I do so.
I had missed a weekend over Easter, and I was also in desperate need of some serious cello practice for a concert in less than two weeks’ time, so I decided to treat myself to two nights away visiting churches. A friend’s parents who had recently moved from Felixstowe to Metfield – about an hour’s drive from my house, near Harleston on the Norfolk border – had asked me to let them know when I was planning to visit Metfield church as they wanted to come along to listen. I didn’t realise until later that they had moved to, and were going to run, a B&B in the village. What could be better than combining a stay there with church visits, I thought; so after lunch on a Tuesday, I set off, intending to visit Athelington on the way. It was a church which I had planned but failed to visit after Redlingfield the previous week.
St Mary’s, Horham
Outdoor temperature: 18.1˚C; indoor temperature: 12.8˚C, humidity: 62%
4/5/2018 Ducks seem to have an uncanny ability to combine sense with silliness.
I had made up my mind that the first urgent garden job to be undertaken when the weather became more clement was to weed the rhubarb bed. I could barely distinguish rhubarb from weed, but I knew it must be nearly ready for picking by now. So, as soon as the sun appeared, I made my way through the fencing designed to keep out goats but almost as effective in keeping out humans.
But before I had done more than cut out a couple of brambles, I bumped into a duck. Almost literally: I didn’t see her until I was standing right next to her, and she barely moved even then, except to lift up her head and look at me in slight alarm.
So much for that, I thought, after I had recovered from the surprise. But then I realised, as long as I kept my distance and left her plenty of cover, I could probably start weeding from the other end without disturbing her. As I started on my task, I reflected on her choice of nesting location. Sensible duck, I thought: she has chosen a well-hidden spot with extra fencing protection against predators. I’d never have found out she was there if I hadn’t tried to weed the rhubarb bed. Silly duck, I thought: how on earth is she going to get her ducklings out?
The second year of my church project began as I hope it will continue: with cello, churches, chickens and a quite a few laughs.
While I was practising the cello at home, I suddenly had a flash of inspiration.
‘I’ve just come up with the most inspired excuse yet to get more chickens’, I texted my friend Jo.
You may be wondering what chickens have to do with cellos, or churches for that matter. The answer is quite a lot, if I have anything to do with it. But before I continue, a few pieces of background information may be required. The first is that my ‘creature maths’ is notorious for roughly observing the pattern of the Fibonacci sequence: if one chicken dies, no fewer than two new ones are needed to compensate for the loss. The second is that my friend Jo is the reason I started keeping chickens; third, she is a bishop; and fourth, she christened my three trousered and ridiculously fluffy-bottomed Brahma chickens Knicker, Bocker and Glory. (Photo right: foreground, a Glorious bottom; background left, white chicken with black tail: Bocker; background far right, grey chicken: Knicker)
My explanation to Jo continued: ‘I use the coins from my egg sales to leave donations in the churches I visit, and I keep running out of coins. I need a more constant supply of coins = I need a more constant supply of surplus eggs to sell = I need more chickens. How about that for good maths!’