Sunday, 24 May 2009


Radio Four's Today programme has been focussing this week on the subject of how well people know their immediate neighbours, and I've been astonished how many people have said they don't really know them very well at all. One of the best things, I think, about living in a small community several miles from your nearest Tesco or Asda, is the countless opportunities for getting to know the people next door. I'm not sure what I'd have done without Adam and Cheryl...

Things I've borrowed from Adam and Cheryl over the past year:

Four tomatoes
A two-ring electric hotplate
A Feng Shui book
A lawn-edging tool
A book about pickling and preserving
Some Borlotti beans
A tin of coconut milk
A small jar of cumin
A chainsaw
A small area of their allotment to house some potatoes
A pruning saw
Our spare keys (several times...)
A pair of tweezers to get the bit of my key that broke off out of the front door lock
Spare keys (again)
Car (plus driver) to get to Malmesbury when mine suddenly started to spout smoke
A pouch of cat food
Two cans of Stella (strictly speaking, these were for my husband, although I have to confess to taking the odd sip...)
Babysitting services
Car (plus driver) to get to sister's house in Wales and back
Cat-sitting services
Dog-walking services (when ill)
Child's shepherd outfit for school nativity play
A dongle (memory stick)
Sloe gin recipe
Small child's hat
Strong painkillers
Small bag of potatoes (no, that was Janice, and I have been meaning to return them...)

Things they've borrowed from us:


I imagine you're probably thanking your lucky stars you don't live next door to me. Funnily enough, the house immediately next door to us has been on the market rather a long time...

Thursday, 21 May 2009

ASBO animals

Men at work? No, it’s tunnelling badgers who are responsible for this unsightly heap of sand in a field just off West Street. Futher inspection shows a deep hole that’s just the right size for tripping up an unsuspecting rambler, swallowing a curious terrier or dispatching a horse to the vet’s with a broken leg. And there’s more – 27 molehills in a nearby garden at the last count.
Just this week I’ve witnessed jaywalking deer – two chunky bucks cantered out in front of me as I hurtled along the Swindon Road – well, not exactly hurtled – my car is almost 20 years old, and as Richard at Somerford Motors will tell you, its hurtling days are long past. Thank goodness. If I’d have been going a few miles an hour faster, or the deer had chosen a second or two earlier to dash out, it would have been a different story.

“I hope you’d have had the presence of mind to sling it in the back of the car and take it off to Michael Thomas for butchering,” suggested my husband, with typical concern for my health and safety. But I digress…

In the last few days we’ve had burrowing badgers, menancing moles, jaywalking deer, kamikaze pheasants – and even the odd baby rabbit dashing out from the hedgerows in a dangerous game of chicken.

I’m all for encouraging wildlife, but it has to be the right sort of wildlife…

Thursday, 14 May 2009

It's official - Great Somerford's long-awaited cuckoo is back. As far as I know, it hasn't been spotted yet, but I'm reliably informed by two villagers that they've both heard its unmistakable call whilst out walking towards the Red Hatches over by Peter's Wood yesterday. Perhaps summer really is on it's way... Although not if the weatherman on the lunchtime news is to be believed. He tells us we're in for gales and deluges over the next 24 hours...

Mind you, we do need some rain. I don't think it's rained properly for about six or seven weeks and the river's the lowest I've ever seen it. Sid Jevons got a call last night to say that the best part of a herd of cows had waded across and were now in his meadow. Apparently it often happens when the water's low. The fishing club have done their best to take out most of the branches that fell into the river during last week's high winds, but it's still not very much more than a trickle coming down over the wier.

"I've heard they're taking water out at Malmesbury," someone whispered to me, conspiratorially while I was out on a dog walk the other day (unfortunately, like the river, I cannot reveal my source). I nodded sagely, giving my nose a knowing tap for good measure thinking it probably best to humour such eccentricity - but apparently it's true. Malmesbury is allowed to extract a certain amount of water upstream from us. They obviously don't have the same problems with cows.

There's still enough water for a dog to take a dip - just.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Great Scott!

If you happened to miss yesterday's broadcast of Gardeners' Question Time, featuring Peter Tytherleigh's famous creeper and Bob Flowerdew's disappointing prognosis for my horse chestnut tree, you can still catch it tomorrow (Sunday May 10) at 2pm. Failing that, it'll be available on BBC iPlayer until next Friday. Unfortunately, I missed it, as I was in Bath with Janice and Sarah B, although my friend Jane texted me to tell me it wasn't too embarrasing. There's a piece in today's Telegraph (gardening section) about the allotments, too, with a lovely picture of the Jones family and Arthur - thankfully with his name spelled correctly. (Phew!)

Just back from the school plant sale in Crudwell, where I scooped some begonias, pelargoniums and the last tray of whispy lavetera. Interestingly, Bob Flowerdew stayed in Crudwell when he was up here for the recording, however he called it Crunchwell. Which I think sounds much nicer.

The Red Arrows were practising over the village yesterday - well, at least three of them. Looping the loop in tight formation, sending Brown Dog into a top spin. Thankfully peaceful today after yesterday's excitment - the only air activity going on here today is a kestrel hovering noislessly over an imagined shrew or a fieldmouse up on the Show Field.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Learning to swim

Two kingfishers down at the hatches today. A fleeting flash of brilliant turquoise down by the creaking willows, then another, and they're gone. Blink and you've missed 'em. There was a mother duck, too, on an outing with her brood of downy brown and yellow chicks. Tiny little things, and probably only a few days old, they know how to swim almost as soon as they're hatched and within 24 hours they're usually foraging for themselves. It's a couple of months before they'll be able to fly, though.

Apparently, the old village schoolmistress, Portia Hobbs, used to take the village schoolchildren down to the river for swimming lessons. She'd stand on the bank in her knitted woollen costume – so I'm reliably told – and woe betide anyone who was unlucky enough to get an attack of the giggles.

“We’re all as God made us,” she’d tell them in no uncertain terms. And it would be straight into the chilly river water, pike or no pike.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

A lot of hot air and a bevy of bluebells

Never let it be said that nothing ever happens here. Sid and Doreen Jevons came home from a recent holiday to discover a tree missing from their lovely riverside garden. Well, not so much missing as chopped down. A few phone calls established that the cause had been a freak ballooning accident – it seems a well known celebrity balloon enthusiast had run into problems and tried to make an emergency landing,however he slightly misjudged the angle of his descent, somehow ending up in Sid’s tree. While Doreen’s penchant for Milk Tray chocolates is well known (they do sell them at the shop, Sid), unfortunately she was away at the time. Sid has always been a man to set a trend, but whether tree-surgery by balloon catches on, however, remains to be seen.

* * *

A walk in the woods and tea with 'T'...

Despite the compulsory Monday bank holiday grey skies and drizzle, over 70 people joined the annual Bluebell Walk to Seagry Woods earlier this week, raising a record £350 towards the new Seagry, Startley and Great Somerford (now have I got that in the right order? I’m sure someone will tell me if I haven’t) Village Hall. Tea was served in the old village hall afterwards – in spite of the unprecedented numbers, luckily there was just enough to go round – and Terence ‘T’ and Chrissie Hutchins provided the entertainment by way of a quiz. T also read one of his poems, aptly entitled Seagry Woods.

Seagry Woods are looking good now,
Spring bursts buds and wakes the frogs,
See the bluebells, wood anemones,
Pheasants, rabbits, winter logs.

April showers set the season,
Bursts of sunshine, blackbirds sing,
In their hides the summer creatures
Slowly stir, as here comes spring.

Last year’s leaves are rotting nicely,
Giving back their health and wealth,
Now the bright new shoots of summer
Twinkling green, prepare for growth.

Nests are building, deer are running,
Tadpoles soon will fill the ponds,
Graceful willow’s hanging branches
Breath of spring caress their fronds

Easter’s gone and out come children,
Mums and Dads in boots and macs,
Through the woods, a fun-day ramble,
Walk the walk and follow tracks.

At the hall they fill the kettles,
Scones with jam, and steaming cups,
All is calm, serene and peaceful –
Seagry Woods are waking up.

© Terence 'T' Hutchins, 2009

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

The permissive society...

No, no – the Naked Rambler hasn’t yet reached these parts – at least, if he has, he hasn’t been spotted by me – I’m talking about permissive footpaths and the excellent news that we now have a new permissive footpath leading from the entrance to the Show Ground to the Red Hatches footbridge along the banks of the River Avon.

One of the very best things about living here is the impressive number of footpaths that wander lazily through some of the area’s loveliest scenery. There may not be many hills, or dramatic cliffs or prehistoric monuments as in other parts of the county, but there’s something very English about the tussocky rolling meadows that flank the meandering Bristol Avon as it wends its gentle way through the Somerfords, and the abundance of wildlife – both flora and fauna – to be found here. This time of year, the countryside is at its best: the Old Rectory's mighty candle-bedecked horse chestnuts dipping into the shallow river; hedgerows lined with frothy blackthorn, may and cow parsley, and if you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of a young deer or two darting back into the cover by the old railway line, the turquoise flash of a kingfisher or a little owl flitting from a gnarled old hawthorn to the safety of the trees of Peter’s Wood.

* * *

View from the allotments
Well, strictly speaking, this isn’t exactly a view FROM the allotments, so much as from the footpath THROUGH the allotments. Peering enviously over the serried ranks of runner bean poles, usually in the direction of Bernard’s asparagus, which is coming along nicely, and – thanks to Bernard’s generosity (well either that, or his uncanny ability to recognise a heavily dropped hint when he sees one) – I can also personally vouch for its exceptional deliciousness.

There I was thinking a seat on the Parish Council would be a passport directly to allotment heaven, but No Siree. No nepotism in this village (well, if there is, I haven’t managed to sniff it out yet. although be warned – no stone will be left unturned, no gatepost left unsniffed, appropriate measures taken and legs cocked accordingly). The trouble is, I’m being a bit fussy. I’ve asked for a plot up by the shop – well, you never know when you might feel the need for a packet of Bombay Mix or a Farmer’s Weekly, and when the urge strikes, it has to be addressed quickly – and the only free one seems to be smothered in weeds, which will need dousing thoroughly with John’s weedkilling apparatus (come on, John – chop chop, I haven’t got all year…)

But thanks to the kindness of strangers (well, not exactly strangers – I have to confess to a passing acquaintance with Adam and Cheryl over the occasional half of Moonlight in the Volly, not to mention many episodes of cat-sitting and the generous loan of a chainsaw and several hundred culinary items. Ok, ok - I know them quite well...) I’ve managed to find a temporary home for a couple of rows of early potatoes and a very small tomato plant. No takers for the rambling squash plants yet, which are currently bursting out of their seedling containers in our wood store, but I’m sure it’ll only be a matter of time… They are organic, you know…