My church trips seem to bring luck. On several occasions I have found, heard or seen new things before leaving home, or on the journey. Today it was newts: I caught sight of one in the front pond as I was opening the driveway gate, the first since I had found two in the flowerbed wall more than eighteen months ago. A Sainsbury’s delivery driver had spotted another one crossing the same driveway after dark last autumn. He thought it was a lizard, but I knew it was a newt.
This excitement of course delayed my departure: I had to make sure I wasn’t mistaken, and watch for a while to see if there was more than one, and whether I could tell which kind of newts they were. After half an hour or so, I had spotted four newts in one little sunny patch near the edge of the pond. At least one of them was a great crested newt. I am hopeful this small sample area indicates a healthy breeding population.
30/5/2017 Spring started early this year, and then thought better of it. The first ducklings in the garden hatched in the first week of April, the day after I spotted the first swallows of the season, at least two weeks earlier than usual. Bluebells in south Suffolk were already putting on an impressive show by Good Friday, with a cuckoo joining in the celebrations; and the cow parsley was in flower well before the end of April. But the weather reverted back to winter around Easter and everything was put on hold. Even the ducklings disappeared after a week and I’ve seen no more since.
Strangely, I didn’t mind in the slightest. I am always wishing that spring would hang on just a little bit longer… and this year my wish came true. If the price to pay is cold weather, I think I’m happy with the trade-off. Though perhaps my guests weren’t. By the time the hawthorn blossom appeared in the hedge, bang on time on the 1st of May, there were still daffodils out by the front pond.
7/4/2017 I put off going to my parents’ grave. I still rebel against the reminder that they are in the ground while spring is in the trees. And although I feel I should look after the flowers and shrubs on their tiny patch of ground with as much diligence and attentiveness as the larger version not two miles away, it is too painful and I cannot. A green slate headstone and small patch of ground honouring their deaths; a green slate worktop and large patch of ground honouring their lives.
16/11/2016 After last year’s wondering about whether autumn was hopeful, this year I decided to anticipate my reluctance at the change of seasons and try to embrace the autumn spirit in advance of its arrival. Towards the end of August I bought a newly published book, Autumn: An anthology for the changing seasons (edited by Melissa Harrison). Even admitting to myself before the end of summer that it would arrive was a big step forward for me, but I had been encouraged by a little surprise not long before: I had caught in myself a moment of rising excitement when I noticed just a hint of autumn on its way – I don’t remember whether it was a sight, smell, sound or feeling, but the reaction was instinctive and unexpected.
26/8/2016 It has been a busy few months since welcoming my first ‘guinea pig’ guests at the end of April. A fair amount of frantic DIY and administration went into getting the finishing touches in place before and during the trial period (I hope no one looked too closely at the blackout lining!), which is now over, and ‘official’ bookings are starting off well. It has been a delight and not at all nerve-racking, thanks to all the willing guinea pigs who helped me get into practice before there was too much at stake!
20/7/2016 Thirty degrees, tropical downpour. Thunder and lightning with a 45-degree battering by ice bullets.
Taking shelter behind a bush not tree in case of lightning. The storm passes; swimming in steaming bath water surrounded by disappearing white peas. The geese stare. Slate grey horizon one side, blue sunshine the other. A swallow chasing a sparrowhawk chasing a barn owl.
Walking home – roe deer on the path ahead – are they magical spirits? A pheasant sitting on the ‘Free range eggs’ sign as though he is part of the advertisement. Attempt at a dance for joy, goat style. (More practice and legs needed.)
9/7/2016 The other evening while driving to a concert I was playing in, the gleeful thought appeared in my head, as it does on a regular basis still: ‘… and I get to live here ALL the time!’.
The memories from my childhood and later times spent in Suffolk are tinged with the wrench of having to go back to London after a few days or weeks. My father’s moods – steadily increasing depression at the prospect of having to leave his beloved house and garden as the end of the holiday approached – are also engraved on my memory. There were things that, as a child, I looked forward to in going back to the city – principally going back to school, which I enjoyed up to the age of 14, and seeing friends there – but these gradually became fewer as I got older.
Particularly in later years I felt the crucial necessity of catching at least a little part of each season in Suffolk, especially May and June, which have always been my favourite months. I had a keen sense of what I was missing out on when I wasn’t here. But it surprises me, having lived here full time now for nearly five years, that I am still struck by this ecstatic thought, if it could be called a thought. It is more like a revelation that strikes me at random moments.
21/5/2016 Today I was reminded that it pays to hang out in places I usually only walk past. I was planting pots at the front of the house near the driveway when after a while I heard surprisingly loud cheeping coming from about 10 or 15 metres away. I immediately suspected it was coming from the willow tree by the front pond, and went over to take a look. I discovered that one of the holes in the tree trunk, so studiously dug out by a Great Spotted Woodpecker for its own nest two years ago, was once again in use, but this time by a Great Tit family…
7/5/2016 It’s all action here in the dead willow tree by the pond this morning. First, one of my chickens alerted me to a stoat running across the lawn: I could see it had something light coloured in its mouth, which suggested it was an egg. I went to look to see if it had been raiding a moorhen’s or duck’s nest, and found in the hollow of the trunk another egg (a duck’s I believe; I think it unlikely to have been a chicken’s white or green egg, as I have never known a stoat to venture so close to the house where the chickens – currently! – lay) that had also been broken open. However, it was not in a nest, and looked as though it, and presumably at least one other that the stoat had just taken away, had been temporarily stashed there to come back for later.
1/5/2016 It has been a first of May full of spring celebrations. In a way it feels like a second start of spring: right on cue for the arrival of my first ‘test’ visitors this weekend, the hail and snow stopped falling, the air warmed up, the sun came out and the ducklings from the nest in the flowerbed hatched today and spent the afternoon whizzing about on the pond.