29/9/2018 Blackberry picking became a fixture in my calendar when I moved to Suffolk. To begin with, only simple enjoyment was involved. I revelled in the knowledge that this was my new life. Instead of crossing a city on the underground for the purposes of recreation, I could step out of the house and go for a walk in the countryside. I was finally ‘in place’.
There was no need to grow blackberries myself, as I could find them without even looking, and the hedgerow variety taste infinitely better. The individuality of each blackberry is startling: one soft, one slightly crunchy, one huge, one tiny, one too sweet, one so tart it makes me flinch, one tasting of autumn so much more strongly than the next…
5/9/2018 The approach of the end of summer is a sure way to bring into focus the things that you haven’t made the most of and don’t want to miss. This year I have noticed more of these things than usual. Luckily, though the much needed rain arrived in August, we have been blessed with a some idyllic days of warmth and sunshine at the beginning of September. After the summer rush I have also been blessed with a couple of quieter weeks in which I have the leisure to prioritise different activities: cello practice, writing, blackberry picking, jam-making and catching up with house and garden jobs that have been waiting for me most of the summer.
One of these jobs was mending bikes: one puncture, two malfunctioning brakes, and various rusted bolts that needed oiling and loosening for the adjustment of saddles and other moving parts. I am not much of a mechanic, but – aside from gears, which I do not understand at all and never seem to work properly, even after a visit to a bike repair shop – I am thankful that the mechanisms of bikes are generally simple, on view, and with observation and a bit of trial and error, most of their troubles can be fixed at home. And the satisfaction gained from such home repairs cannot be underestimated…
St Botolph’s, North Cove
Outdoor temperature: 16.9˚C; indoor temperature 19.9˚C, humidity: 67%
I had noted down the keyholder’s contact details for Barnby church the previous day so I thought I would try my luck there first. She lived in North Cove, down the road, and once I arrived at her house I thought to ask if she knew who had the key to that church. ‘Well, actually, I do’, she said, and kindly lent me both keys to drop back when I had finished. It felt like a great luxury to be in possession of not one, but two, church keys.
St Mary’s, Ashby
Indoor temperature: 18.1˚C, humidity: 56%
I reached the keyholder of Ashby church on my first attempt, and arranged a visit for 11am the following morning. I turned off the road down a dusty farm track, which – if it weren’t for the car I was travelling in – might have looked exactly the same when the church was first built. I saw the octagonal tower of the church hiding behind a bed of nettles and a hedge just beyond a crossroads in the tracks, which I later read was a medieval road junction1.
I headed east from Heckingham, planning to visit the first churches I came to across the county border. This was where my confusion began: according to my OS map, Fritton church was in Norfolk. But it was on the list for Lothingland on my church map. I decided to believe Ordnance Survey for now, and continued on to Herringfleet, which, to my disappointment, I found hidden beneath scaffolding and filled with builders. I didn’t have far to go, however, to reach the next church, Somerleyton.
St Mary’s, Somerleyton
Outdoor temperature: 22.4˚C; indoor temperature: 19.4˚C, humidity: 61%
I had planned to fit in a week’s walking in Cornwall in June. But while I was dithering, a B&B booking came in for mid-June, and soon after I realised that a cello-free holiday any later in the month was impossible, as I had two concerts on 30th June and a large pile of music to learn. So three days in a far corner of Suffolk with a large amount of cello practice on the agenda was the best I could manage. I found a lovely place to stay, at Heckingham on the Norfolk Broads, for added holiday feel.
There have been one or two of those inexplicable gremlins at work. Almost simultaneously, I discovered that my photos of Hartest church were nowhere to be found on my camera, and that my phone had suddenly decided to delete all the photos on it. Dalham and Great Finborough churches were the only two churches I took photos of on my phone instead of camera. I have only one photo remaining, of the view from Dalham church, which I sent to a friend. I haven’t yet had time to revisit these three churches, but photos will be added here as soon as I do.
All Saint’s, Hartest
A concert in Hartest church had been on the books since last summer, and I was looking forward to it. I had resisted going inside before, even though I had driven through the lovely village of Hartest several times. Perhaps Cavendish is the ‘postcard’ Suffolk village, but to my mind, Hartest village green is far lovelier: smaller and therefore more intimate, and lined with mismatched, leaning old houses of many different colours. The church is on one corner of the green, next to the pub, where I enjoyed a good lunch during one of my previous outings to west Suffolk churches.
19/7/2018 The swifts arrive shortly after the swallows in spring. But for some reason, I associate swifts with hot, sunny days; weather such as we have been having for the last two months.
Perhaps this is partly because of an experience I had in the south of France in 2011. My father was performing a Mozart opera, La Clemenza di Tito, at the Aix-en-Provence music festival. It was the first opera I properly got to know, at the age of 11, and it has been my favourite ever since. The venue was the Archbishop’s Theatre, an outdoor theatre in the courtyard of the former archbishop’s palace that was converted into a theatre in 1948.
I had just arrived from the airport, sweaty and out of breath, having run all the way from the bus stop with a few unintentional detours. I sat down with great relief in time for the beginning of the overture of this deeply serious and emotional opera. There was a unique addition to the music, however, and one I would never have anticipated: screaming swifts circling high overhead in the dusk sky. It was an experience I will never forget.
16/7/2018 Until recently, I had almost forgotten the delights of blackcurrants. They are not a fruit I would ever think of buying in a shop (if indeed they are sold in shops – I have never looked for them), and many years passed between visiting ‘pick-your-own’ farms during childhood and tasting them again about five years ago, when a friend generously gave me a few of his small and precious crop. Putting one in my mouth instantly transported me back to childhood summers. Their flavour was uniquely wonderful; their sharpness sweat-inducing. In that moment I decided to grow my own.
10/7/2018 The only times I remember getting up in the morning and taking for granted that I would open the curtains to sunshine and warmth have been in Spain or the south of France. But during the last two months I have noticed myself doing just that. I get out of bed with a spring in my step, and I feel as though I am on holiday even if I have so much to do that I barely stop all day.
The grass is parched for the first time in a decade or more, and the words that I could never understand hearing my friends say, ‘it’s too hot for me’, have definitely passed through my head, if not my lips, on more than one occasion. I have been finding it preferable to embrace the sweat by undertaking some active job in the garden than to engage in futile efforts to stay cool by sitting still in the shade. And – unbelievably – I have found myself taking respite in the house during the hottest parts of the day. Which, admittedly, has proved of benefit to the decorating jobs required in my recently renovated bedroom, and my desire not to miss all of Wimbledon.