Spring is here

After a muddy start, with moody, grey skies in a Devon seaside resort for a weekend break, spring is here.

My neighbour’s just fired up the lawnmower. Spring is here.

There’s a jackdaw nesting in the ash tree on the other side of the wall. Ravens are croaking, cawing a love call. Spring is here.

In the gardens and in Lidls, there are daffodils a-plenty, polyanthus in yellow, red, cerise and bright pink. Very gaudy. But it’s okay. Spring is here.

My wallflowers are out and the hellebore looks a picture. A picture of spring. Spring is here.

I can’t believe it. Blue sky in Somerset. A vivid colour in stark contrast to a yellow wall. Spring is here. Horses are racing, although the going is heavy. Isn’t it always? Not when spring is here.

There are bees and even butterflies. A few gnats buzzing above a farm gate.

Open-topped sports cars, small children without coats (their teenage siblings and cousins discarded them long ago. That’s kids for you) and fresh badger’s droppings for the dog to roll in. Spring is here.

It’s definitely here.

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A walk through Wordsworths’ Dorset

img_0555No sooner had February slushed its way in to West Dorset, the skies brightened to a glorious blue, the birds began to sing, and snowdrops, primula and daffodils woke up to say hello.

Even my wallflowers have started to spring open.

In the village, trees are being topped before birds have their wicked way with one another and decide to nest in the branches. There are sheep a-plenty in the fields and it won’t be long now before little lambs are skipping around, full of the joys of spring.

Up on Lewesdon Hill, Dorset’s highest point, the weekend brings out walkers with children and dogs and flasks of tea, or something stronger.

Mud clogs the gateways and there’s a strip of treacherous greensand that you mustn’t go near, unless you want to end up knee to waist-deep and lose your wellies in the process.

From Lewesdon you can see Pilsdon Pen, the cow to Lewesdon’s calf, despite Ordnance Survey insisting the former is the tallest at 279m compared with the latter’s 277m. Locals still don’t believe it. Why would you doubt what your parents had told you all those years ago? And who are those faceless people at Ordnance Survey with their new-fangled machinery anyway?

From from 1795 to 1797, William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy lived in Pilsdon Pen’s shadow at Racedown. She loved it here.

“We have hills, which, seen from a distance, almost take on the character of mountains, some cultivated almost to their summits, others in their wild state, covered with furze and broom. These delight me the most, as they remind me of our native wilds.”

Of Broadwindsor, she wrote: “The place dearest to my recollection in the whole surface of the island.”

I’m with you there, Dorothy.

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February – what is it good for?

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February swished in with rain and slushy mud, closely followed by a cold snap which even included a light dusting of snow.

But, sadly, it didn’t last long. No opportunities for tobogganing down the field. Shame, that.

Rain on the plain in Spain has meant iceberg lettuces being rationed and small loans being taken out to pay for courgettes. What is Europe coming to?

In the faraway worlds of Tinseltown and La La Land (aren’t they the same place?), award winners and nominees are slagging off Trump as if he were the country’s worst-ever president. I couldn’t possibly comment.

The countryside of Dorset, meanwhile, remains constant, with the sheep safely grazing in the cold, old fields and the church bells pealing rather joyfully on Sundays and practice nights.

Planning for a big breakfast to raise money for the village hall is well underway and the search is on for a replacement for the village shop manager, who has been head-hunted to run the shop of a garage near Dorchester.

Agas puff away, chimneys belch out an aromatic smoke which reminds us of our primeval past and the streams and rivers ebb and flow with the tug-of-war rains, which are on one minute and off the next. Piles of cow dung steam in turnip field and a tree stump rises like a countryside totem pole in the hedge.

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The sun also rises.

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Roll on spring. But for Valentine’s Day, what on earth is February for?

The sun still rises in the east

Trump’s been sworn in and the reverberations are being felt all over the world. It’s as if Alderaan has just been obliterated. God help us. Although if the speech is anything to go by, He might be exclusively on America’s side. So we might as well invoke the Force for all the good it will do us.

Here in Dorset, the sun rises and then sets, as it does everywhere else in the world. For now at least.

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There is a real beauty in these crisp, winter mornings. Glorious skies, aeroplane vapour trails like firework rockets trailing through blue and grey skies and my shadow walking through the trees.

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There is drama in nature and drama in the village. Thieves target parked cars in the dead of night, stealing loose change along with more valuable items from garages. They return a few days later for another go.

A yellow helicopter circles overhead. It’s not the Air Ambulance or the coastguard or the police. It’s the electricity board. No wonder bills are so high.

A pair of jackdaws chase a third, which has a chunk of bread in its mouth from our bird table. They fly one behind the other, swooping and spinning, until they are joined by a seagull, far from its shoreline home. The orderly line falls into chaos, the first bird drops the bread and the jackdaws retire to the branches next door’s ash tree to regroup. The seagull yells its melancholy call and heads for the ocean.

The chip van chugs by to the next village and then returns an hour or so later as the people come out of their homes, pied piper-like, into the cold, pulled by the invisible string that is the smell of salt and vinegar, freshly-cooked batter and sausages.

Tonight it’s Spice and Rice night at the local pub. Time to drown our Inauguration Day sorrows with a pint of cider and a plate of curry.

Snow, the moon, the hunt meet and fly-tipping

As we enter the third week of the new year, the snow we were promised (or threatened, depending on your view of the white stuff) barely materialised.

It was a shame really, because a big old moon lit the morning sky, like a 1960s lampshade in the bedroom of a cool teenager. A dusting of thick snow would have really completed the scene. At one point during my morning walk, the moon was caught in the telephone wires.

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It tried to hide in the trees as the sky in the east turned pink.

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It wasn’t the only strange thing I saw in the sky. Two flights of seagulls flew high overhead in separate V-formations. I know my chiffchaff from my chaffinch, but I didn’t know seagulls ever flew like this.

In days gone by, I’m told the the field here used to be full of lapwings. Now it’s a common haunt of croaking ravens.

Just a few fields away, the hedge became the temporary resting place of a whole pile of junk. Fly-tippers. Don’t you just hate them?15826632_10154026190460974_4107117204907996619_n

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A local farmer discovered among the rubbish an invoice made out to man from Wiltshire. So our rural detective rang the man, whose car was being resprayed in a garage in Weymouth. The garage owner claimed scrap men had taken the rubbish the previous night but he didn’t have any contact details for them.

Then the rubbish disappeared as mysteriously as it had arrived. When the farmer rang the garage again, the owner said he’d offered his mechanics £10 to find and collect the rubbish. They did well in discovering it, bearing in mind the farmer hadn’t said where in the village it was.

Still, the maximum fine for fly-tipping is £50,000 or 12 months imprisonment, so a £10 incentive was money well spent by the garage owner.

Meanwhile, down in the village, the local hunt was welcomed with the stirrup cup and sausage rolls. But not before the horses had to make way for the bus to Yeovil doing its usual U-turn in the Square.

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And so the year begins

On the first day of the New Year, brave souls in fancy dress head for the sea at Lyme Regis in the now traditional ‘Lyme Lunge’, organised by the local Rotary Club, in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support.

‘Dip into the balmy waters of Lyme Bay,’ the promotional material states. You can almost hear the Cadbury’s Caramel bunny doing the voiceover. But it’s cold in that there ocean. My brother swims about six strokes and then he’s out, like a flying fish.

Rather him than me.

The crowds watching are wetter than the swimmers. On the first day of 2017, it rains and it rains and it rains. Tonight, the Mummers will be soaked at Symondsbury as they perform their ancient play to welcome the New Year.

On the second day of January, shots ring around the Dorset countryside as the wealthy and bloodthirsty get their post-Christmas fix in fields several miles away. A grey wagtail, which is more colourful than its drab name suggests, is oblivious to the noise. It’s poised on a pile of cow dung, doing what it does best: wagging that distinctive lemon-yellow undertail and generally being cheerful.

On the third day, the ground is firm underfoot and footsteps crackle in the thick hoar frost, which makes everything sparkle like the diamonds in the seven dwarfs’ mine. Blades of glass glisten like star-encrusted scabbards.

I’m up before the sunrise, heading for Dorset’s highest point. The planets, Jupiter, Saturn and Mercury, do a little show to light up the sky and then take a bow. The sun begins to rise slowly above a graceful beech tree and the triangular roof of a farm building, which become arty silhouettes in the sun’s path. Actually, I think the building is a pyramid. Why else would it be built on this spot, where the rising sun starts its journey each day above our village?

The next night, I’m in the field with the dog and see what I think is a horse, rather like the sinister one used by the Symondsbury Mummers as part of their act. It’s got spindly, ungainly front legs and it’s moving in a very strange way.

As I get closer and my eyes become accustomed to the gloom, I realise it’s a person. I don’t have my glasses on and it looks like they’re doing tai chi in the dark. Before you dismiss me as being fanciful, stranger things have happened in these parts. I once saw a man fly fishing in a field and another sitting in the lotus position on a rock in the middle of a stream, meditating.

Closer still to the tai chi man and I see it’s my neighbour, with camera and tripod, all set to capture in a photograph the slivery crescent moon and Venus and Mars, which are along for the ride.

And then it’s time to take the Christmas decorations down, before Twelfth Night when the Beaminster Gallery Quire sings in the pub. They bring us the kind of music performed by Thomas Hardy’s family and his fictional characters. Strong tunes and powerful harmonies.

We leave the pub to It Came Upon A Midnight Clear. The church tower is illuminated, the air is crisp and clean.

The village is full of coughs and colds. And soon it will be full of horses and hounds as the local hunt gathers in the square for the annual meet.

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September, October and now November

September and October went with a buzz of farm machinery, a whiff of cow dung and autumnal hues. The flowers on the grass verges shouted a last hoorah. Woe betide anyone who missed their united cry.

The children went back to school and the nights grew darker. The annual exchange for lighter mornings quickly evaporated as November caught up with us. It’s now dark before five o’clock.

Trump was elected President of the United States. But the world kept on turning. Gorgeous sunrises and sunsets made me happy to be alive, despite all the going-on in the big, bad world. There is still order and beauty in nature, while hatred and chaos take it in turns to be in the front saddle on the tandem of life, in between punctures.

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The fields have been ripe with crops, the church laden with produce for Harvest Festival and tins upon tins were donated by village schoolchildren to the local Foodbank. There is a kind of Dickensian irony to it all.

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The autumn months brought us the most wonderful light, with shadows creeping along the fields, quicksilver shapes moving and floating in time with the clouds overhead.

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Even fields of turnips looked glossy and inviting, posing for pictures with style and grace. A stray branch in a hedgerow tree arched, obliging the photographer by creating a frame for the village in the morning light.lush-places And now it’s November and things are damp as ditchwater. Depressing, desolate and dull.