Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Owl post

“What you need there is an owl box,” suggests Gerald, looking at our poor paint-peeling excuse for a garage door. He’s right – up by the roof pitch just under the bit where the ivy hasn’t quite reached there’s a space that’s just the right size for small-ish owl.

What Gerald didn’t know at that point is that we actually have an owl. I heard him to-whit to-woohing in the small hours the other night when I couldn’t get to sleep. (I know it’s a him, because he just does the “to-whooh” bit. The object of his to-woohing, however, seems to elude him, since there is no hint of an answering to-whit. Perhaps if he had a des res, perfectly placed in the pitch of our garage roof, he might find himself more popular with owls of the opposite persuasion, gender-wise).

I saw him, too. The other night when Paul rang me to say his bike had broken down and would I drive over to Chippenham to pick him up, he flew out of the hedgerow just in front of the car and I found myself following him for a few yards. It was one of those perfect moments just as dusk was settling in for the night, in the silent hour when everything on the radio is rubbish (it’s either a totally unfunny Radio 4 “comedy” show, The Archers or some football phone-in programme featuring a lot of northern men who clearly should have all been football club managers, but for the fact that they woz robbed) so for once in the car, it’s silent. A milky white form, silent wings carving the still night air, claws poised, eyes peeled...

I must find out what you need to do to make an owl box.

* * *

I haven’t posted for a while because – as well as being away for a few days (Belgium. On Eurostar. Very nice, thank you, although not nearly enough chips or chocolate for my taste) – I’ve been suffering from writers’ block. Which is rather inconvenient when you’re a writer.

Although I can’t say I’ve actually found my mojo yet, I think I know where it is. I’ve just got find a good time to pull out the sofa and have a proper rummage under all the cushions…

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The plot thickens...

It’s perfect autumn weather here – cold, misty mornings gently giving way to clear blue skies and strong, low rays of golden sunshine that warm the soul. And as the afternoon sun spreads out across the landscape like clear Little Somerford honey on a thickly buttered English muffin I’m beginning to regret insisting Alex wore a vest for school this morning – he’ll be baking.

I’ve finally managed to get down to the allotment for a spot of digging. The digging John D kindly offered to do seems to have consisted of rolling up the damp bits of carpet that have been covering up the plot for several months, then sitting on a bench, taking a large handkerchief out of his pocket to dab his forehead and say, “By gum it’s ‘ot!”

But that’s fine. Digging is good for the soul, and in a Spartan sort of way I think that many of the world’s problems would be solved if we all started doing a bit more of our own digging. Metaphorically speaking, I mean. Every time I put my wellies on over the last few days it's started to rain, but I can now see the value of rain, and the time all that water has had to soak into the unyeilding, sandy loam breaking it down into soft, crumbly chunks. I think I’m finally starting to become a gardener.

I hadn’t realized, though, how political life on the allotment is. They all seem so nice and smiley down in the pub, but out on the allotments of an October afternoon it’s a different matter. I’m between Dick and John D – two of the most experienced allotmenteers on the plot. Dick is huffing and puffing about a large pile of damp weeds that have suddenly appeared on his bonfire. It suddenly occurs to me that they’re probably my weeds, which John D has put there because he doesn’t hold with having bonfires on his part of the allotment. I think my best bet is probably to keep quiet.

Henry strolls by and offers me some beetroot. He asks me how I’m getting on.

“Well, it’s quite hard work,” I tell him. He looks up at the tall hedge of ash trees which plunge nearly half my plot into deep shade.

“John told me it would be nice to have a bit of shade in the summer, “ I explained. “He said the other part of the allotment gets really parched when it’s hot.”

“Oh, he did, did he?” says Henry. Not looking entirely convinced.

Phillip comes over to join the conversation and tells me the trouble he’s having getting anything to grow under the shade of the ash trees and points out a mole hole and a little pile of slugs eggs I’ve missed.

“Oh, well,” I say. “I can ask the Parish Council to get them pollarded at the next meeting.”

I have a feeling this is all going to be a bit more involved than I’d imagined.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Sales shopping

It’s been a busy weekend here in Great Somerford. I counted seventeen horseboxes on my walk down to the shop this morning – there may have been more, but Brown Dog was distracted by one that seemed to be whinnying rather loudly, and I found myself wondering what villagers of past centuries might have made of horses being shipped around the village in motorised metal boxes on wheels. Of course they were all bound for the Dauntsey Park Horse Trials, which are held here, at Brook Farm, and down the road in Dauntsey.

In addition to all the horse boxes, the roads were also lined with tractors and pick-ups with trailers bound for one of Graham Singer’s famous sales in the show field at Great Somerford. And as if that wasn’t enough, someone had decided this would be a good weekend to cut the maize. Heaven help anyone who might be trying to get anywhere in a hurry.

Graham Singer’s sales are fantastic – but be prepared for disappointment if you were hoping for a pair of killer heels or this season’s latest handbag. Whenever I see the sign go up, or hear the familiar trundle of ancient tractors and clanking trailers trundling down the road, I perk up and find some excuse to go down there and have a quick shufti.

There are tractors, trailers, mowers, sprayers, discers, spreaders, mixers, feeders… Contraptions for weighing pigs, charming little henhouses, horseboxes, toolboxes full of tools, rusty old milk churns, bits of cattle grid, wheelbarrows, girt big stone water troughs that could only have got there by magic or the brute force of about 30 neanderthal henge-builders; an ancient plough, a once-loved painted pony trap (without the pony)… There are several things that look like – well, I can’t seem to work out exactly what they look like…

“What do you suppose that could be?” I ask Julian, who seems to be examining something that looks worrying like some kind of medieval instrument of torture. Julian looks as stumped as I am, but just then a burly looking farmer who looks as though he might know comes striding over.
“Is there a catalogue?” I enquire, trying to look as though I could well be in the market for a 1950s tractor or a few lengths of fencing.
“Catalogue?” he asks, looking slightly perplexed.
“Yes,” I’m trying to sound like a serious salegoer. Someone who knows the difference between one end of a combine harvester and the other. Which I don’t.
“We were wondering what this – er – thing was…”
Julian looks at me as though I’m trying to rope him into some kind of transaction he had no intention of getting involved with.

The farmer sucked his teeth for a minute or two.
“If you don’t know what it is, chances are you don’t need it.”

I suppose he had a point.

Other little bits of local news

 I popped over to see Jane and Guy the other week in Draycott Cerne. They’re in a lovely cottage in a most picturesque spot, and I must say I can’t remember either of them looking so relaxed and happy.

 Charlotte the spider’s babies finally hatched – what looked like about 50 of them. I must say, I let Charlotte disappear beforehand. I read in Alex’s spider book that the baby spiders often eat the mother if she’s not quick enough off the mark, and poor old Charlotte only had five legs, so I didn’t altogether fancy her chances.

 John tells me they were his bees. I thought they were…