Welcome to 2018 – Zero Draft

Holly leaves and berriesThis is where I should be wishing you all a very happy new year and listing all of my good intentions for 2018. Sorry – not happening.  Not today.  You see, despite reading lots of lovely inspirational posts on my social media and really believing this was going to be the start of a great year, it hasn’t started out like that.

I was determined that this year I would make more of an effort: be kinder; be positive; be supportive; be less judgmental; get fitter; write more often… you know the kind of thing.  And I really meant it when I thought it.  I still do. But, after a long night of trying to settle dogs made hysterical by fireworks, then being woken at irregular intervals by drunken revellers slur-singing their way home, I was a bit grouchy when I got up this morning.  My mood wasn’t improved by almost falling on my face when I stood up and found my knee was swollen and very painful.  Even then, I was determined to try harder and do my best.

Two small dogsIf the dogs and I had taken a different route on our walk, I may still have clung on to all my good intentions but, when we reached our destination, the footpath was blocked – by Park Runners.  Now, I know that keeping fit and socialising are great things.  Making active and regular use of public spaces helps stop them being built on.  But it’s a MONDAY.  That’s not Park Run day.  And that’s when all my good intentions went out of the window.  I watched the sea of lycra and exposed flesh jostling their way down the footpath and my chest was a seething knot of resentment.

Perhaps I should explain that, over the years, the dogs and I have had some rather unpleasant experiences with Park Runners.  The majority of them, I’m sure, are lovely people but there are some who are so intent on shaving a millionth of a second off their best time that they think nothing of barging, kicking, spitting and swearing at other park users.  For this reason, we usually avoid that particular park on a Saturday, as do many other dog walkers.

As we waited for a chance to get on the path and continue our walk, sweaty people I don’t know smiled at me and wished me a happy new year.  Did I smile back and return the greeting?  Did I heck as like.  I snarled and grunted and glared.  When I spotted a gap we leapt onto the path, walking against the tide of runners and I almost wanted someone to knock into us or shove us out the way so I could vent my spleen.  Not good.

I couldn’t shake the pent-up Grinch feelings, even when we were free of the runners and striding over the soggy grass into the public orchard – definitely not helped by spotting the remains of a firework display someone had set up on the Old Common and not bothered to remove when they had finished.  Even when we were nearly back to the safety of home, I was still seething.  You may know that I have a pathological dislike of litter.  Whenever we go for our walks I pick up as much as I can and drop it into the bins in the parks.  Today, just a few doors up from our house I spotted an empty Budweiser bottle, abandoned by the aforementioned revellers.  Did I pick it up and bring it home?  No.  I growled at it and said “Why should I?”

Some of my writing friends say the first version of a story they write isn’t the first draft – it’s the Zero Draft.  All the ideas they’ve been mulling over in their minds spewed out onto the page, just to get it out of their head.  That’s how I feel about today.  It’s the start of 2018 – Draft Zero.  So, please ignore me today.  Tomorrow I fully intend to smile as I wish total strangers a Happy New Year.  It can’t be that hard, can it?


The Ernie Tree

In the spring of 2013 a group of people started digging holes in our local park.  We didn’t see them do it.  Whenever we went back, something had changed.  More holes appeared.  On one visit we found heaps of compost and stacks of wooden stakes.  Then trees began to appear in the holes.  Eventually there were four straight rows of Row of young fruit treestrees, all carefully staked and evenly spaced.  More time passed and little wooden posts started to appear in front of each tree with plaques giving it’s location in the orchard, information about the type of tree it was and when the fruit would be ready for harvest.

Map of orchard layoutEventually an information board appeared telling anyone who was interested that this was Incredible Edible, North Hampshire.  A community orchard planted and maintained by volunteers for the benefit of the local community.  The half-dozen paragraphs of text and the colour-coded map of the orchard gave you all the information you could want and, if you felt you needed more, there was a QR code and a web address.  Brilliant!List of fruit trees

When I looked down the list of trees, I got a shiver of excitement.  One of them was called Ernie’s Russet.  I headed across the field to find tree location B3.

Identification plaque for Ernie's RussetThere was a sturdy little apple tree with another information plaque in front of it.  This told me that Ernie’s Russet was a desert apple, ready for harvest in mid September.  “So what?” I hear you ask?  Well, Ernie was the name of my father-in-law.  He was a lovely man with a very sweet tooth.  His favourite part of any meal was pudding.

The idea of a ‘desert’ apple tree with his name was brilliant.  His children were born at the end of August and the beginning of September – the tree was even close to his own personal ‘harvest’ time.  Since then I’ve been watching the orchard with interest.  At irregular intervals I’ve taken photos for my partner so she can see how Ernie Tree is coming on.  It has been a heartwarming experience.Young apple tree in orchard

I have built up a small collection of photographs of the tree, taken over a period of several months.  It now feels like a project.  I plan to shall share the photos I have taken this spring so you can see the progress the tree has made.  I will keep taking photos so that , hopefully, you will eventually see a harvested russet apple.  In the meantime, here is the first photo I took of Ernie Tree.Head shot of Ernie

This week would have been my father-in-law’s birthday.  It would also have been his & Mamie’s wedding anniversary.  Sunday will be Father’s Day.  So, to mark these occasions, here is a picture of the man I called ‘Super-Ern’.  Fancy an apple crumble, Ernie?  More custard?

Why EVERYONE should have a pair of welly boots.

Dog and wellie boot in puddle It’s definitely been wellie boot weather just recently. There’s something very satisfying about splashing through puddles, feet safely encased in their rubber shields.

Scout loves puddles, too. She sticks her snout into them, up to the eyebrows for preference, and roots out interesting things from the bottom. They get unceremoniously dragged to the surface and killed, terrier style, by a jolly good shaking.  If I kick at something floating on the surface or flick water at her she pounces and bounces, yipping and growling with happy excitement.  I feel sorry for the children being walked through the park by adults who carefully steer them around the puddles.  What fun they are missing!

Book coverI’ve been thinking about the story I’m going to write for my dissertation and reading other people’s stories on similar themes. As part of my story takes place on a river, I read Minnow on the Say by Philippa Pearce.  It was written in 1955 – 4 years before I was born – and feels like a different world.  Eleven year old children earning money from a paper round; travelling the countryside by bicycle and canoe without adult supervision, but not until after they’ve finished their household chores.  Taking packed lunches wrapped in sheets of paper and bringing home treasures in their handkerchiefs.

I’m not saying that was necessarily a better way of life, but sometimes I feel like modern children are missing something special.  I understand that parents feel protective, but are the pictures on television as thrilling as those we see for ourselves?  Can finding out about flora and fauna on the internet ever compare to finding a bird’s nest or watching a newt slip into a pond at first hand?  What about climbing trees, padding in streams, building dens. They miss so much … and then I saw this.

Temporary shelter made from roughly assembled sticksAfter the dogs had finished investigating the den, we left the park and headed home.  I had a huge grin on my face.  For all those parents steering their offspring around the ‘dangerous, dirty’ puddles, there are still children who are out exploring and creating their own adventures.  Am I foolish to find hope in this this small thing?

Once Upon a Time

… I thought I would try blogging.  There was no real reason why I should, it just seemed like the thing to do.  My heart wasn’t in it and I produced the grand total of ONE blog post.  Now I am working through my MA, it seemed appropriate to have another go.  To mark this momentous occasion I thought I would include the text of my original first blog.  It has nothing to do with writing, but it is a true tale that gives me happy memories.

The 32 Crew in the Garden

Three of my gardening supervisorsToday we decided to spend a bit of time working in the garden. None of us are keen gardeners – we subscribe to the ‘let nature find it’s own way’ school – but we have a free-standing pond and a big wooden planter arriving next week, so we needed to do some tidying up. This included breaking up an old planter and spreading the tired compost over the garden. Nothing very exciting about any of that, except we had some unexpected company.

I was bent over the planter, scooping the old soil into a bucket, when I felt something in the gap between the top of my jeans and the bottom of my t-shirt. I squawked and jumped and disturbed a robin who had perched on my behind to watch the proceedings. It was a juvenile who spent the next couple of hours supervising our work, darting down to collect the odd worm or wood louse, then bouncing back to the fence to sing out encouragement.

As if that wasn’t exciting enough, when I lifted a piece of tarpaulin to put in the rubbish I noticed a movement and spotted three frogs – one adult, one youth and one babe. We don’t have a pond yet, but the wildlife seems to be gathering in preparation.

We stopped work just before the heavens opened and we’re both pretty sore from our exertions, but neither of us could stop grinning.