Those of you who come here often will know that the Linden Walk is Much Wenlock’s best loved path; mine too as it is only a couple of minutes from the house. It is always beautiful – whether in storm, snow, rain, sunshine, with or without leaves. It is also the enduring gift of the town’s physician, Dr. William Penny Brookes, who with his friends planted it in the 1860s. Thank you. Dr. Brookes. I should remember to say this more often.
This sheep popped over the cattle grid so fast, I didn’t actually see it in action (one second it was on the far side, the next it was among the pink geraniums), but all its friends and relations in the next-door field saw. Goodness, what a commotion they kicked up. How did you do that! Wait for us! BAAAAAAA!
We’d just had lunch in the Apple Store Cafe on the Brockhampton Estate (see previous posts), and were about to head home. But at the last minute I thought I’d like a photo of the parkland with its grazing sheep, although the light wasn’t promising. And that’s when it happened – the great escape – ovine-style.
A couple of other sheep who had been paying attention to how it was done, soon followed their leader. The rest stood at the fence and whinged. BAAAAAAAA!
In the Pink #8 Today Becky is truly ‘in the pink’.
Six Word Saturday While over in St. Albans, Debbie’s climbing high – a three towers challenge. Go for it, Debbie!
After three solid months of wall-to-wall summer with broiling temperatures and barely a spot of rain, we have skipped a good month or two and landed in autumn. It’s all very disconcerting. Fields are shorn of their grain crops, the stubble cut, bailed, stacked and now being hauled past the house in juggernaut consignments. The muck-spreaders are in action too, top-dressing the hard-baked land for the next crop. Dubious odours waft about the place – some of them human.
Our Midlands water and sewage company do a good trade in what they euphemistically call bio-solids. It has a low-grade, lingering pungency, but having recently watched a BBC documentary on the Secret Life of Landfill (a brief horror clip HERE on YouTube), I’m glad something useful is being done with the stuff. Animal waste also has to be recycled and one morning this week we had four tractors, grisly muck-spreading tanks in tow, thundering in convoy up and down Sheinton Street – to and from somewhere for and with some very potent slurry.
More scenically, early on Saturday evening as we were driving over to friends in neighbouring Staffordshire, we saw two tractors ploughing the red sandstone soil in tandem, a flock of seagulls swirling after them.
I keep wanting to yell, hang on! It’s still summer. Except the sudden 10 degree drop in temperature has me scurrying to the winter vest drawer. But still, out in the back garden it at least looks like summer, so to make up for talk of weird weather and bad smells, here is my August garden gallery. Somewhat perversely, the Morning Glory that has been twining up our small apple tree all summer, has waited for the cool weather to arrive before deciding to flower. A welcome sight, if surprising in the gloomier light. Likewise the Mediterranean-loving zinnias, which have stepped up a gear to full throttle blooming, and continue to be a favourite bee haunt.
The Changing Seasons Please visit host Su for some fine NZ vistas
Lens-Artists #8 Colourful And please visit Tina and the other Lens-Artists. for some ‘colourful’ photography. I hope Tina won’t mind my doubling up here.
Humans love to see the patterns in things. This habit can nurture an aesthetic sensibility and inspire much creativity on the one hand, and it can lead to all manner of misunderstandings and fallacies on the other. Which of us hasn’t at least pondered on the ‘meaning’ of a series of pure coincidences, or passingly ‘seen’ a pattern of events that ‘proves’ a conspiracy theory is not a conspiracy theory.
Given the negative propensities of patterning, and the power these may exert on the human mind, it might be as well to take note that this is currently being practised upon us by much of what is reported by the mass media, and the manner in which important issues are presented to us.
There is, to my mind, a constant drip-feeding in relation to particular topics (to name a few: Middle East, Russia, nuclear weapons, climate change, Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, Brexit); a seemingly endless repeating pattern of half-truths, proclamations of absolute guilt without evidence, scape-goating, focusing continuously on the irrelevant, divisive reporting, unproven circumstances presented as fact, and, in the name of that weasel word ‘balance’, equal weight given to the opinions of people who know what they are talking about, and the notions of those who do not believe in evidence/have their own minority axe to grind/are (verging on the) delusional. And the whole lot mashed up into an ‘entertaining’ package of easily digested sound and picture bites, whose patterning then is constantly rehashed/given oxygen by mass spoutings on social media.
It is all very disturbing, and when I think about it, I feel like a pawn in someone else’s nasty game, and that makes me angry. And so I distract myself with things in my little world, though I must say I did have Mark Rothko’s Dark Brown, Grey and Orange vaguely in mind when I took that second photo of the rape seed field beneath a stormy sky – his drive to express the human condition; to move beyond apparent abstraction – while I was visualizing an abstraction of the actual, but also brooding somewhat on the human condition.
But now for some lightish relief from gloomy ruminations: more earth patterns from around Much Wenlock, including some of the abnormally early, done-and-dusted grain harvest. Another kind of pattern?
Lens Artists This week Ann-Christine asks for patterns.
…marches Graham with his morning mug of coffee. A touch eccentric perhaps. But then if you have a handy field you can walk into from the house, and the sun is shining, why not?
Actually we always get excited when the farmer harvests Townsend Meadow. We watch over the crop, usually wheat, but this year oil seed rape, for the whole year. And then comes a brief interlude before the ploughing and re-sowing when we feel we can rush out there and romp. In Graham’s case the romping is a purely cerebral activity as you may judge from this contemplative pose.
We could, however, have done without Wednesday night’s momentous dust storm that followed the combine harvester. The crop looked totally desiccated before it was cut, and the seed pods wizened, and now we are left with a desert of chaff that lies in deep drifts between the stalks. Please, weather gods, keep your stock of gales, winds, and even light zephyr breezes well contained otherwise we might have to hoover the garden. And ourselves too.
Please visit Debbie and her v. stylish ATM
I said in an earlier post that plant life was galloping away to flower and set seed all before being fried. Now with the end of July approaching, we have definitely reached the fried stage. I took the header view of Townsend Meadow as I was coming home from the evening’s allotment watering. I thought it captured the day’s residual heat in a ‘baked-to-a-turn’ kind of way, a muted version if you like of Vincent Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with crows, a work that always seems to exude its own hotness. It’s a shame the local rooks did not put in an appearance to complete the scene, but sensibly they seem to be keeping a low profile – no doubt roasting quietly in their treetop roosts on the Sytch where the brook no longer flows.
Rain keeps appearing on the weather forecast, and then disappearing. Today’s promised thunderstorms have blown away. I think we’ve only had one significant watering in two months, and the heatwave looks like continuing.
Up at the allotment the harvest has been hit and miss – much bolting of lettuce and wilting of peas; puny potatoes, though wonderfully free of slug spit. The sweet corn continues to flourish and is starting to form cobs, and there have been loads of raspberries. The courgettes keep coming, and even the squashes are producing. In the polytunnel the Black Russian tomatoes are fat and delicious, and the peppers and aubergines beginning to fruit. All of which means much hauling of watering cans every evening.
Here then, are more scenes of simmering Wenlock in and around Townsend Meadow.
Please visit Su to see her changing season in New Zealand
Put it down to too much sun, or too much time spent thrashing through the head-high overgrowth along the field path, but I seem to have a case of wild oats fixation. Their seeds have been shed and the remaining sheaths are paper thin and tinder dry and the light dances through them. And I am entranced.
Last night as I was watering at the allotment, dark clouds were building up in every quarter. I was sure it was going to rain. But no. By 8 pm they had moved off, leaving a strange red mist effect over Wenlock Edge. Beneath it the rapeseed crop is tinder dry and a deepening shade of copper. The wild oats on the path edge are ripening too – their cuneiform seed heads turned from green to pale ochre. I’m becoming a bit obsessed with trying to photograph them. They seem to reflect light that lends itself to a touch of abstraction.
The Wild Oat Avena fatua is of course the parent plant of our cultivated oat and fully edible. It possesses the same valuable B vitamins and minerals: manganese, magnesium, potassium, iron, and chromium. Oats are very soothing to the system, apparently reducing inflammation. They also contain powerful antioxidants and are rich in fibre.
Wild oats, however, are considered a crop pest, especially in wheat, reducing the crop by up to 40%. They are also becoming resistant to herbicides, which fact certainly seems to be supported by their continued presence in Townsend Meadow, where they receive lots of herbicide doses every year. This is rather making me think that we should all be eating oats instead of wheat – without added glyphosate that is. Some of us might start feeling a lot better than we do after eating wheat products.
My Derbyshire farming ancestors seemed to have lived on oats, turned into tasty pancake-like oat cakes and made from a slightly fermented batter. Eaten with farm-made cheese and butter of course, and doubtless washed down with homebrewed ale. A good number of them lived into their late eighties and early nineties. Some of them were known to go in for a little prize fighting and were quite famed for their prowess in the ring – and that was only the women.
And apart from all this, a handful of rolled oats tied up in some muslin, soaked in warm water and applied to the skin with some very gentle rubbing, makes the best exfoliant scrub ever.
I’ve watched this crop of rapeseed developing behind our house since the autumn when it was sown – back to back with the wheat harvest. All through the winter it clung to the ground and was much eaten by pigeons. In April, after a good dosing with agrichemicals, it sprang into life like Jack’s beanstalk, and was soon taller than me. By May is was a sea of acid yellow, that mellowed to gold. This morning at 5.30 am it was turned to copper. As I’m writing this, the field, under the full-on midday sun, is being visited by hosts of cabbage white butterflies.
So it is that the plants have survived deluge, bird predation, gale, blizzard, frost, three lots of snow, and now weeks of ground-baking drought. The plants look almost ready to harvest, although when I inspected a couple of pods last night, there seemed to be precious little seed inside. Which made me think that only the farmers who are harvesting sun with their fields of solar panels will be having a good crop this year.
Here’s a retrospective of Townsend Meadow during 2018.
Who’d have thought it? Here in the UK we’ve been having summer and all before it was officially summer; week after week of sunshine, and hardly a drop of rain. May was the warmest May in over a hundred years, and June has continued in like vein. The roses have been flowering their socks off and, along with the pinks and honeysuckle, filling the garden with delicious scents. In fact everything is blooming at high speed, intent on pollinating and seed-setting before being fried. This evening I saw fully formed, if not yet ripe hazel nuts at the allotment. The biological imperative in action then. Already the countryside has the dry and dusty look of late August.
Of course all this sunshine means there’s lots of watering to be done at the allotment, though I’m very conscious that water is precious and I should not waste it. I’ve been trying to mulch things where I can, and otherwise shelter crops with netting, mesh or fleece. I have not managed to get to grips with the strawberry bed though. Did not put straw down when I should have done, and although the plants have been producing lots of fruit, they looked flat out and flabbergasted yesterday evening – beyond being watered now. On the plus side – more heat = fewer molluscs.
All around the town the hay fields have been cut and cleared. And when we drove over Wenlock Edge to Church Stretton this morning all of Shropshire lay sweltering under the sun, and set to bake for another fortnight too.
This raises serious issues – the water supply in particular, and climate change in general. We need to start taking both seriously, and we especially need the water supply and its management back under public control. And if we’re now going to have largely rainless springs and summers, followed by very wet winters with the increased likelihood of serious floods too, then we need more water storage facilities. Many conurbations are still relying on reservoirs built by the Victorians. Birmingham water comes from Elan Valley reservoirs in Wales, built in 1893.
This week in our part of the West Midlands we’ve been having very strange goings on with the taps courtesy of Severn Trent Water whose CEO earns £2.45 million a year. (She is one of the 9 water company executives who between them have received £58 million pounds in pay and benefits over the last 5 years.) In the evening the pressure drops until water is either absent or only a dribble. Severn Trent say this is happening because increased usage due to the hot weather is causing air pockets in the pipes, and they’re having to pump the air out.
This is an entirely new phenomenon to us, although having lived in Africa we are well used to the absence of water and the notion that we should not take its provision for granted. Anyway the STW explanation rather reminds me of old British Rail’s excuse of ‘leaves on the line’ whenever services went awry. In early March there were similar happenings in the pipes due, Severn Trent said, to an unprecedented number of leaks because of the cold weather.
However you look at it, a delinquent water supply that is so susceptible to changes in the weather, and for which most households pay £400 a year, is not fit for purpose. ‘Take back the taps’ say the GMB Trades Union.
Changes in rainfall patterns, and failure to properly manage rain-fed water supplies is going to seriously affect the nation’s food production. We’ll need to eat different things, learn to grow them in new ways, opt for drought-resistant plants. When we leave Europe, we will have to grow our own vegetables, since most of them seem to come from there. Is anyone taking some action on this, I wonder.
But for now we can go on enjoying the unprecedented warmth, making hay etc. It has many very good points. Earlier this month the town held its two-week arts festival without a drop of rain on its outdoor performances, and on Sunday we had the town picnic on the Church Green, and the whole afternoon was blissful – at least it was if you had a good tree to sit under. Here are some views around Wenlock during flaming June:
And last Sunday’s town picnic: