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.

A breath of fresh air in Dorset

There’s a break in the humidity and a communal sigh of relief. It was getting pretty hot out there. And in here.

The morning dew saturates the grass now, with summer days, wedding days and salad days preparing to bow out to make way for wood smoke, muddy puddles and autumn evenings.

Down in the town, this year’s Melplash Show is old news.  A busy, beautiful day, with plenty to do and see and lots of old friends to meet.

And as the Bank Holiday weekend enters its final day, villagers take their produce and exhibits up to the hall for the annual flower show. A time to mingle, a time to gaze in amazement at the things people create behind closed doors and garden gates.

It’s a time to be thankful that we live in such a lovely part of the world. Dorset: beauty on earth.

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As I walked out one summer’s morning

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It’s August now, and that classic, autumnal feel to the fields before breakfast  – what I call a Melplash Show Morning – is already with us.

The fields this year have been glorious in all their states of undress, with wheat standing to attention and barley blowing in the wind.  The morning sun rests for a while in the branches of a pine tree before the long day ahead. In the evening, the sun rewards us with wonderful skies above the rooftops.

Up on the football field, moles are having a field day. The molehills look like mountains when you get down on the ground and see them from eye level. One miscreant scurries past me, blind and baffled, in a shallow ravine it made earlier. Luckily, the dog doesn’t see it. The mole looks more like a wind-up, fluffy toy than a real, live animal.

I start to sing in rather too deep a voice ‘I am a Mole and I Live in a Hole’ and then realise a stranger has just come up the path.

‘Morning,’ I say, putting on rather more of a Wescountry accent than I should. With any luck, they will think I am a local ‘character’. They just nod at me, with a knowing look on their face.

I look round to make sure there is no-one about when I snigger after finally seeing the joke in a long-standing road sign outside my neighbour’s house.

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I bet he wishes he could.

Down on the coast, there are sprats and mackerel a-plenty. The sea is alive with fish. First the sprats come in and, where they go, the mackerel closely follow. A sprat to catch a mackerel.

Back in the village in the early evening, the Jehovah’s Witnesses wander round en masse trying to preach to the unconverted. They tend to arrive mob-handed in this village. I have no idea why. It’s as if we are some outpost in the Wild West, the clock chiming thirteen as the tumbleweed moves in slow motion up the street, past the attractive recycling bins that have no place to call home.

As I see their smiling faces, golden locks and clutched copies of The Watchtower in their hands, I wonder to myself about their success rate. Probably not as high as the mackerel fishermen.

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A Dorset village after Brexit

Three weeks after Brexit and the village is burning with heat.

There is little sign of the hatred reported in other parts of the country, but there is anecdotal evidence that the whole shebang has caused rifts in families and between friends and also among Little Englanders sniping at foreigners just trying to earn a living .

At least two people in the village have suffered extreme stress attacks, including me. After three months that no family should ever have to endure, the referendum result tipped me over the edge. I ended up in hospital, hence the lack of new material on A Dorset Year’s home page for the last four weeks.

Today, the village lanes smell of summer holidays as the children break up from school. In a world in which lorries can be used as weapons to such devastating effect, a caring politician can be snuffed out just for being caring and Turkey teeters on the brink of yet another disaster in that part of the world, it is a joy to be living in the back of beyond, far from the madding crowd in Dorset’s green and beautiful hinterland, where the only things to complain about are potholes in the road and lamp posts that are out of keeping.

Back on Referendum Day, the village bunting was still damp and in situ, strewn across golden sandstone cottage and house fronts, after celebrations for the Queen’s 90th.

‘Let’s keep it up for the football,’ said someone, as England battled it out with other European nations on the soccer pitches of France.

‘No, let’s keep it up for the Referendum,’ said another.

And then the first poster appeared, rather shyly, in a window on the high street.

‘REMAIN!’

Not long after, it was met with a triple reposte across the road.

‘LEAVE, LEAVE, LEAVE.’

Among the good natured banter on the street, in the village shop and in the pub, there has been discord on social media. And now none of us can quite believe that we’re actually out of Europe, even those who voted for it.

But there’s no turning back. It is what it is.

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A Dorset village celebrates the Queen’s birthday

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The bunting’s gone soggy and there is silence in the streets.

Just a few days ago, the village was alive with energy, as the Queen of England’s 90th birthday proved the perfect excuse for a communal party.

It didn’t matter that it rained on the parade. The show just went on.

A village hall bursting like a fat sausage as residents descended for a big breakfast; afternoon teas in the graveyard; decorated carts for the ‘pram’ race tearing around the one-way system; a packed church for a service giving thanks for such a wonderful community; a street party where all the food was donated and three bands performed on a stage provided for free by a local contractor.

At times like these, this village rocks.

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June is busting out all over

After the heatwave came the rain. But it won’t be here long, the weather forecasters say. We could be in for a flaming June.

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Flaming June by Sir Frederic Leighton 1895.

The farmers are busy in the fields, silaging. Great big tractors, their trailers laden high with cut grass, have been rumbling through the lanes, swaying like great beasts advancing across the countryside.

Hills echo with the distant humming of farm machinery. Headlamps light up the darkness as farm labourers work through the night.

The bluebells and wild garlic are almost over now, their place taken by towering nettles and cow parsley, which was always called gypsy lace in my Somerset family. There are solitary violets peeking up through verges, making a brave but useless attempt to be seen by passers-by.

Crisp packets, a single gardening glove and a child’s hot water bottle are among the detritus littering the edges of the roadside.

I’ve been out and about with my mobile phone over the past few weeks, playing with the camera and experimenting with Instagram. The results are nowhere near as good as Nathalie’s pictures, but they do tell a story.

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