Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Making Charcoal At The Bulworthy Project

Just a structure, at first. A ring of metal that sits, foot-swaddled in tarred sand. 

(It has a big lid, like a witch's cook pot, and here we are in the woods…)

We learn how to stack logs inside, how the layers wheel out, how positioning of sizes is guided by pockets of future heat. It is good work, smelling cut wood, eyeing grain-whirls, hands on bark, the muffled drop of getting each piece in optimal place. 
Even the rain is fun, a challenge. 

Stacked, lidded, sealed with a slick of sand.
Into the middle of our sculpture fire is set. 
An effigy for burning, unseen - well, we may peek with mirrors through out-pipes, witness a glow - but should we crack the lid the fumes would ignite - we should all burn.
Potential annihilation has an awe, a draw, even before the smoke seeps across our feet and the squat ring takes on a life. 
Is it a portal, to a world of steam and light?
It is something new, hypnotic, pluming, turning.
We are smitten with it, the alchemy in there, the happening.

Birds warble.
Trees breathe back the carbon of their brethren.
Autumn nuts weigh and drop.

We walk, brightly over dark mud, eat hearty, swig - all the while the magic chugs - we are drawn back to observe, for hours, spellbound.
Even while we sleep (cramped in the back of our car, Mr and me) it happens.
In the morning we drink coffee, watching thin mist spin.
Spinning what, we must wait to know.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Autumn Weft

Late in August warm air sunk to the ground, cooler air dropped to our shoulders.
We had felt the thermal transfer - thought of skin softly clothed, cinnamon and blackberries bubbling under pastry. 
We felt hot work easing, the loss of hot lazing. 

Rich greens remain, and summer bright blooms.
Nasturtiums flare up, like small fires. 

We smelt tree bark, apple skin, damped wood smoke.

Peripheral autumn.

But no season just becomes. 
It is a weaving.
(Spring in every bud, summer in every petal, autumn in every seed, winter in every root, or however you wish to follow the thread.)

In the hedge two spiders tango on a web - a match, or a meal for one?
Berries drop into our cache: sloe, hip, haw, black: a heap of jewels.

Harvest secured, we snuck through tall maize, to feel the leaves grab, and drop rain down our backs.
We were racing, laughing, till we saw the bird sat: injured, by a jaw-snap.
Too injured for us to mend, and fright would kill as sure as anything.
Here it was perched in green sanctuary, calm and shocked and between worlds.

This too, a weaving.

Back in open field, for the second time I, clumsy human, arms full of fruit, disturb Dog’s befriending of a young fox. Russet-red, sun-sleepy, it delays its stir as long as it dares.
Dog wags her tail at the hole in the hedge, looks to us.
I can only shrug, promise to return.
We will be stocking up, fruit first, then acorns. 

Making our histories of these moments.

Friday, 18 August 2017

I Wrote A Novel, But Then Was Distracted

I wrote a novel, then I published it. Then Mr bought me a strimmer, just at nettle harvest time. And the tomatoes were red, grapes purple-black, runner beans rough green - our garden, a bounteous mess - I don’t mind, nor do I mind the work. Time squeezed can also be savoured. How the novel was finished is a mystery. I have started the next one, equally baffled.
This day is sewn in with summer birds, silky light, a fat twine of pigeon, edged in cloud.
Rustling green shadows, one escaped Next Door chicken pecks and is wary.
I can’t manage to publicise my own novel, chook, recapture is unlikely.
I can’t even get in the hammock, I’m lying on the ground under a broken sun umbrella, watching it rotate like a snapped flowerhead.
Dog is slunk into shade. Chook and me in sun. Mr is noises in the shed.
Birds drop flight for a noon rest.

The next days, our weather is changeable. 
Between rain and sun, machines stand in half cut fields. 
Some bales are stacked house high. Others make good seats if you don’t mind a damp backside, or the odd stab of hay. 
It’s too warm for coats. My shirt is getting slowly heavier. Through rain we see deer spring, a buzzard wheel. Crows hustle, ground level, ungainly - you all ready look fat, I tell them, as they stuff crow-craws with spilt wheat, ignoring me. Dog breaks up the Dickensian struts, they fly away with habit, not panic. In the air they have skill, and the dare to hassle a buzzard. Once, only once, did I see the buzzard drop, strike, end the crow’s game. 
Two rainbows appear.
Will there be sun?
Not yet!

Still, the washing could use an extra rinse. Yesterday evening we saw sun and our clothes are stuck with sand.
Ah, yes, and I should just mention: I wrote a novel, then I published it.


Friday, 4 August 2017

View From The Tunnel

I see there are too many ants. 
In themselves of no harm, but a propensity to farm aphids which leach sap. I worry for my basil harvest.
I see hedge sparrows hop in, peck up ants. 
They bend a tomato branch, knock a lime fruit to the ground - but they are organic pest control. Homegrown too, born in our own hedges.

Ants don’t like peppermint or bay leaves, so there’s some of that scattered also.
They pull back in haste - I picture their faces contorted in revulsion.
If you could see the big picture, ants, I say… but then - I’m sat looking down the polytunnel.
Maybe it’s a microcosm, maybe it’s just artificial.
Either way, I cut back the rocket and nasturtiums, uncrowd cucumbers.
(I made a raw ketchup from this: Mr not keen: me, green teeth.)

Grapes are pouring from the vine this year. A bee skirts them, busy in a thick coat, in this heat!
He ignores the bee drink station, too busy. I fear he will spark fur with kinetic frenzy, burn up, sparkly at first, fizzle out, reduced to crunch.
Will he?
The trick is, bee, I say, to stop at sparkle. I will be saying this to the grapes too no doubt.

Up push pepper plants, may they flower with equal vigour. We are late in season but the bees are keen to help. Tomatoes darken: if I darkened green it would not make red.
Everyday, rainbow miraculous!
One pink radish has one bite from it - whatever was here got a mouthful of radish fire and retreated.

Bee does his nasturtium round. 
White buds on lime branches. 

Bold yellow on melon vines.
Up comes basil, ant-free, purple and green.

The weeding never stops, why would it?
Sit for a coffee dear, I say, before you exceed the sparkle.
I sit.
I look.
I note.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017


All the legal requirements were signed off in a minimal office. 
A stationery cupboard, Daughter 2 reported, laughing.
Next order of business was a wedding breakfast: except for the groom, he had to fit a medical into his day (work related, not for marital purposes, in spite of our teasing).
People who asked what the plan was were given times and places - more guideline than fact, and even the invites had a wrong postcode but only a few guests were lost. Eventually most of us were there, contented and emotional in the field by the pub, with a wedding arch and an aisle of tin-potted flowers.
With a traditionally nervous groom (who is all ready just married to the bride, this is How Much Will I Cry nervi-ness).
(Passed the medical too, in case you were worried.)
With a traditionally blooming bride (rocking the satin, sweetie) a proud father, a cornflower bouquet, a gaggle of girls dropping petals.
And no one to officiate.
Which was part of the plan (fans of Friends might remember - The One Where Joey Marries Chandler - other guests surmised surrealist theatre, perhaps). 
In ran the Landlord, and, by the powers invested in him by the Duchy of Cornwall and those internet guys, Man and Wife were declared. 
The children, of course, disapproved of the kissing. 
But it did mean now they were loosed to play (photographic duties aside) - on both bouncy castles (one a slide, one a tug-o-war) and in the dressing up box and pulling hay bales to bits and finger painting. They decorated buns and we piled them up and called it a wedding cake, and then they devoured them all like terrifying ants.
Star moment for Grandchild 5, who took her first steps!
Star moment for Grandchild 4, making a nest in the hay pile. He is so cute, his Auntie takes a picture. ‘Flap your wings,’ says Granma: gets the reply: ‘I can’t Granma, I’m hatching!’
Grandchildren 1, 2 and 3 are blurs - smiling, swooping - quick drink, slap of sun lotion - gone!
Clouds hover but the sugar-feral tinies most likely scared them off. 
So we were left in the sun to drink and dance and bounce until even the children were tired and crawled into tents. So the grown ups, who should have known better, got the brandy out, even stole a bottle of rum, and lost bits of skin being bombastic idiots on the bouncy slide.
So, the next day I am lying in my hammock, no other jobs will get done.
I hear hedge birds sneak into the polytunnel to eat ants and remember that birds can get drunk on too many ants. They might be the lazy ones tomorrow.
I am missing skin from a piece of knee.
Daughters 1, 3, then 2, all married now.
(Only Son 2 is unhitched, ohmygosh.)
The family grows and grows, and I have decided to number our children as I do with the grandchildren, partly because it is tidy but most of all to be literally always counting our blessings.


Saturday, 24 June 2017

Second Half Of The Year Begins

We were waiting for a storm, it was so hot. 
No one had patience for waiting. 
We knew the correct way to break a heatwave - one needs a storm, preferably heavy.

We were luring the cloud, the wind, the rain, like this:
Stand, hold the heat in your baked head, feel it drum.
Feel it slide into your eyes, down each limb till you are slick with it.
Till you are salt-squinty, agitated, percussional storm bait.
The storm will sense you.
It is drawn to heat, to throb, to windows open, to sighs and brow wiping and dogs flopped in shade.

It had seemed to be working: a tongue of mist sneaked out from the sea.
It took the salt, the desperation.
Night came and the windows stayed open for the bliss of cooling down.
As the curtains bellied out, we dropped to sleep.

The storm had broken elsewhere.
We watched the sky anyway, in the morning, holding cold brewed coffee, feeling rested.

And I found myself thinking about the deer again; sad, profound. Too sad, perhaps, yet it happens. I wasn’t going to write of it but it won’t leave my mind. Then I wasn’t going to share it: same persistence.

So, here it is-

At the side of the lane, as I’m driving, I see a red setter dog lying, head alert, seemingly taking a rest. It’s large for a dog. Too large - it is not a dog at all.
A smallish deer, a young one.
It has antlers no bigger than my hands.
I slow the car. The animal holds still, angled out from the edge; the car won’t fit around it, so I stop and open the door and then the deer panics.
Its back legs slip useless under it. A wound on its lower back bleeds profuse: postbox red, thick as paint.
From the car, I call for help. Put the phone down, step out of the car, walk soft, keep a distance.
I don’t wish for it to bolt again.
Little deer, I say; infused with calm; I am not come to hurt you.
The road is hot and dry.
Splayed against the opposite edge now, the creature turns and stares at my face.
The sun strikes right into its eyes, they are coloured glass, cloudy rainbows.
Can it see me? I feel seen.
I am not sure I can help, I say, but I am not come to hurt.
I hold out my dress to make shade. It lies its head in the shadow, looking at me. I want to sit down, put its head on my lap: one should not do that to a wild thing. It is stilled by fright. By a lack of choice. By some cruel accident here it is, half perfect, half destroyed.
Birds sing. No cloud in the sky.
This has happened, I say, this is all I can think to do for you. All we can do is stay calm, I think. Not add to the fear.
Blood, thick as wax, rolls away.
It is quiet.
I hold out shade.
I am seen.
I will dream of you, I think; I will see your eyes shining. I will hear your hooves run; for I never locked souls with a wild thing like this, it will have an effect.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Tidings From A Summer's Day

Dear Friends,

Today I tidied the unfathomable shed. Under rusting shelves a bag was malingering, clinking, but in a way that seems more like muttering, as I dragged it out. Contents: six forgotten bottles of six year old homemade cider. It would be vinegar by now, useful for a weed suppressant or wood preserver.  Taking the precaution of being outside - having summoned Mr also, should I be in need of first aid - grimacing for glass splinters, the first bottle catch was flipped - and out burst foam that smelled of cider, good dry cider. I dipped a finger, then a tongue - good dry cider it was! So we took a glass each. Shortly after this I fell asleep in my hammock, later to be woken by a heavy bee resting on my cheek. I went to look at the shed, and the bottles, now lined in the fridge to tame down the fizz, and none of it was a dream. There were many more jobs to do, of course, and many of them done. On hanging up the washing I found a slug in a trouser pocket (they come out clean enough at 40 degrees, if a little dead) but really the cider find was the talk of the day. 

I hope this story finds you well.

With love, and a raised glass,
Lisa xx

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Night Storm

This day someone had turned the technicolour on. 
We lift our sunglasses to check, and quickly put them down again. It is hard to tell colour from fire, flower from lava. 
Grandchild 2 is home with us, too poorly for school, and I too am feverish, though it is hard to measure when everywhere is hot. 
We need a sea breeze.
At the beach Grandad has good sandals for walking on low tide rocks; we do not, us Wild Girls, we put bare feet down on every surface, retract some, retry; then know the fullest joy in wet sand, in sea water swirling to our knees, all skirts tucked up. 
(Although on the roughest terrain, to get here, Grandad’s was the best hand to hold.)
The sea breeze is exactly as we had needed it. 
We paddle back, drink droves of fresh water; we drive home, windows downwardly wound, the little one sleeps and sleeps.
Later we go to work. The heat has seemed to dissipate. We come home, sit under stars to eat supper. 
Mr says there are not as many stars as he’d expected, maybe there’s cloud incoming.
So we open a bottle of wine, wander indoors, begin to feel sleepy.
A twitch in the electrics, a hiccup of light, a small clue only - Mr is shouting - ‘You have to come outside!’
Everything is lit.
It’s past midnight, the sky is flashing white - we can count leaves on trees, but their colour is drained; all the heat, all the colour has been drawn up to the sky!
We stand under the thunder, under the lightening, feeling each drop of rain, until the deluge comes - we can’t even open our eyes, we squint to the door. 
Blinds drawn up, we lie on our bed, rain dotted, exhilarated - the sky illuminate, the sky resounding; till we are dreaming gods and hammers, dreaming sea and sky.
In the morning all is washed green, and Mr has swallowed some thunder, it rumbles in his throat.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Cold Kitchen

First day, last month of Spring: 
Even the rain seems pretty, falling to fresh leaves, caught on bright petals; a water veil draping us. Dog has been hose-piped and rain-rinsed and still a trace of spilt wine sits on her shoulders. She cares not. 

The house is cold, a little in mourning - our way of life having shifted lately, with the demise of the Rayburn. One morning at 3am the carbon monoxide alarm sent its shrill noise upstairs; at a more civilised hour the chimney man came, and it couldn’t be fixed.
I thought Rayburns lived forever.

So now we wait for the landlord to do sums and calculate an acceptable replacement. Most likely a wood burner will arrive, fingers crossed it will have a back boiler and heat our water too.

Meanwhile we have pulled the pillow draught-catcher out of the front room flue, lit the tiny open grate each evening.
Meanwhile we are using an electric oven, which ought to seem more convenient - but the Rayburn was always lit, there was none of this waiting for warmth. 
Things ferment half paced in an unheated house.

Meanwhile, in the polytunnel, a jungle of sprouting shoots wriggle under the weighty scent of flowering lime, a fat frog patrols for slugs. Down in the garden, raised beds are fixed with new walls, onion leaves spike, wild strawberries climb everywhere.

Monday, 17 April 2017

A Slice Of Wedding

In the way that a wedding cake, or cheese if you prefer, is a whole, of which one has a slice, this is my version, my slice of wedding. It starts well before the day, with making syrups and painting signs, but this writing will begin the night before, with Mr and me and three little granddaughters.

The littlest, Grandchild 5, is teething. Grandad is sent to the sofa, so one of us will be alert enough to drive to the venue. In-between her gnashing of bumpy gums comes adorable cuddles, like she is saying thank you, and admirable wind. At 3:30am magic exhaustion kicks in. 
At 6:27am Grandchildren 2 and 3 appear, complaining that they cannot sleep.
Granma says: ‘Go jump on Grandad.’
6:35am Grandchild 2 returns to complain that Grandchild 3 has snotted on the carpet, closely followed by Grandchild 3: ‘But I’ve cleaned it up, Granma!’
Granma says: ‘Go jump on Grandad.’
Grandchild 5 opens her sparkly fresh eyes.
Granma says: ‘Coffee.’
Bless her, she can’t remember where she’s put anything, but somehow coffee, breakfast, clothes, a packed car, it all happens. (Grandad did help.)

En route, the girls want to play car games. Granma daydreams of a nap. The sky is blue-grey, soft, almost sunny. The venue is an old mill turned hostelry, white and wood and calm, perfect for napping. Only by now it’s all too exciting. Grandsons and their cousins tricked out in bow ties, waistcoats, looking like a barbershop quartet. Grandchild 2 explains her dress as ‘purple and like this’ (hands make parallel vertical lines) ‘then it goes POUF!’ 
They’ve heard there’s an egg hunt and can’t wait to get started - what’s all this nonsense about sitting through a ceremony first?
Granma says: ‘You will be awake, and smiling, if you want eggs. It’s called a bribe.’
The deal is accepted. Flower-fairy girls handed to bridesmaids, Granma scurries to her seat, skimming linen past lit candles.

Here comes Mr, walking his youngest daughter through the bright room, and it is no surprise that she is beautiful and glowing, but it makes us cry. We don’t mean to, the tears are suddenly there, warmly overflowing. It is a ritual, yet not too formal - a naturalness to it, a sort of relaxed perfection.

Vows and rings exchanged, we follow the newly wedded out - children disappear and pop back, and disappear, each time a little more smudged in grass and chocolate, shirts untucked, shoes abandoned - they run up and down the path yelling ‘SUGAR!!!!’
Grown-ups reply: ‘Alcohol!!!’

Everyone happy. Even during the speeches, which are not always a highlight, but here are done without glibness, they make us smile. It’s the hijacking of the speech that is my icing on this slice, however - when the Best Man’s son, the youngest nephew of the Groom, is loitering, and given the microphone, an opportunity to say whatever it is that’s making him hover so.
He says: ‘I love ponies.’

For the record, the young man is a keen horse rider.

That wasn’t the end of the day, of course, but that’s the bit I wanted to share. And that on the way home, bamboozled by satnav decisions, we saw a jaybird, a rare specimen, then two ponies with glittery hooves. 

L-R: Grandchild 1, Grandchild 2, Cousin 1, Cousin 2, Grandchild 3, Grandchild 4

L-R, Groom, Best Man

Amused Bride

Bride with her brother, niece (aka Grandchild 5) and sister