Friday, 27 April 2018

Jenny's Garden

‘How do you feel about it all?’ Jenny asked.
‘Feel?’ Tippy seemed surprised by the question. ‘I’m feeling uncertain and a tiny bit apprehensive. It is about the direction my research is going. I have a suspicion that there is something going on behind my back. It’s difficult to put my finger on what it is exactly. When I was at Applegrove Farm yesterday I was sure there was someone else there in the background watching me. I could sense eyes following my every move. I get the impression that there is more going on around there than meets the eye. I don’t think I am being told the whole story.’
‘Is there one particular occasion that springs to mind?’ Sandy looked at him expectantly.
Tippy hesitated. Could he trust Jenny? He had known her since childhood and they kept in touch by meeting up every few years. Now, sitting in her garden, with a plate of delicious homemade scones with accompanying jam and cream, a little doubt began to cross his mind. Jenny lived in a large house in Leignton about an hours drive away to the north west. He wasn’t aware of her social connections coming from anywhere near Dansford so could he risk being open and honest with her? He decided to take the risk.
‘I went to the bakers in town this morning to buy a loaf of bread when Eddie Blackthorn walked past the shop window. He was about to enter when he saw me inside, hesitated and seemed to pretend he had to go elsewhere. When I left and crossed over the road, I saw him nip out of his car which was parked just a little way up the street and sneak back into the shop. Perhaps I am just imagining things, but people are very close and friendly most of the time; and then occasionally they seem to avoid me or not tell me things.’ Tippy paused as a text message pinged onto Jenny’s phone.

‘Hmm,’ Jenny pondered as she looked down to see who had texted her. ‘Have another scone. Just got to pop inside to check something…’

Friday, 13 April 2018

Sir Kale

‘Your Majesty,’ said Sir Kale, kneeling before the large wooden throne in the castle’s great hall. All the other knights and important people of the castle were watching with great expectation.
‘Yes?’ replied the King.
‘I… I would like to go travelling.’ Sir Kale offered hesitantly.
‘What?’ exclaimed the King.
‘With your permission, Your Majesty,’ Sir Kale continued, ‘I would like to travel to the furthest edge of your kingdom to explore and discover new things.’
‘Sir Kale, you know all too well that no-one has ever gone beyond the furthest reaches of my Kingdom. Why would they do so? We have all that we need here. Food, wine, homes, jobs… We even have the best knights of armour like yourself in the whole of… well, my kingdom.’
‘I know, Your Majesty. It is just that I want to see for myself the    edge of your wonderful kingdom so that I might look back and wonder at its greatness.’
‘Very well then. I grant you leave of your duties as a King’s Knight here in the castle to undertake your quest. Is there anything I can give you to help you on your journey?’
‘Yes, Your Majesty. There is one thing I desire.’
‘Go on,’ gestured the King
‘I would like… a big ball of string.’ Sir Kale wasn’t sure how the King would respond.
‘A ball of string?’ exclaimed the King. ‘And how big a ball of string would you like?’
‘Long enough to reach the edge of your kingdom. So that I might leave a trail and be able to find my way back to the castle again.’ said Sir Kale.
The King thought for a moment, looking around him as if trying to get inspiration from the people gathered before him.
‘Very well. I will grant you your wish,’ he paused. ‘On one condition.’
‘Well, yes, Your Majesty, of course, whatever you say. What do you want me to do?’
‘I shall give you the largest ball of string this kingdom has ever  produced to enable you to journey out and find you way back here again. In return, I will expect…’ the King hesitated.
‘Yes… Your Majesty?’ Sir Kale was wondering what this was all leading up to.
‘One thing…’
‘I want you, Sir Kale, to keep my kingdom supplied, all year round, with…’ he paused as if waiting for dramatic effect, ‘cabbages.’  The King smiled and leant back in his throne.
‘Yes… Your Majesty,’ Sir Kale bowed, his mind swirling around with the implications of what the King had just said. ‘I will be honoured to undertake such a responsibility, in return for a ball of string.’
‘In that case, you may leave and I wish you well.’ The King waved Sir Kale to go, seemingly satisfied with the deal.
So Sir Kale, with his trusty horse laden with a saddle pack full of supplies and his suit of armour lying across its back, set out one morning from the castle gate to cheers and applause from well-wishers. The ball of string he could just hold in his strong arms. It weighed nearly as much as his suit of armour and he hoped it would be long enough.

For six months the trail of string led out from the castle gates across the hay meadows and into the wild forest. Here it followed cart tracks, woodman's paths and deeper into places that few people ever went, always leading away from the castle. By now the string was showing signs of weathering and those who looked out each day for the return of Sir Kale began to grow anxious for him. Eventually, the King ordered a search party to be sent out comprising six of his best knights on horseback. For five days the knights followed the string deeper into the forest. Every so often they found makeshift campsites where Sir Kale had stopped with his horse for a rest. Then, on the sixth day, in torrential rain, they emerged out of the trees to find themselves looking at nothing but a stretch of grass and a thick bank of low cloud obscuring any view ahead they might have had. Here the string ended with no sign of Sir Kale or his horse.
On the ground, tied to the end of the string was a small tin that had once held biscuits. One of the knights picked it up, opened it and found inside a small handwritten note on a piece of parchment. He read it and then looked thoughtfully into the heavy mist.
Written on the note was this: ‘Goodbye, sorry about the cabbages. Sir Kale.’

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Black Hill, Clun

I wonder for how much longer this carpet of moss will last before the logging machines move in to remove timber and churn up the soil. I have known this particular patch of wood for possibly 10 to 15 years or more, tucked away amongst the many blocks of conifers on a high Shropshire hillside. Here, nothing but the moss can survive in the perpetual dim light that the spruces produce under their high canopy. Already, where the winds have blown down a swathe of trees at one edge - an area exposed to strong winds when another nearby area was clear felled a few years ago - grasses, ferns, spruce saplings and bilberry plants have taken advantage of the additional light and the carpet has lost its sphagnum softness. 
With an underlay of many years’ accumulations of pine needles, many different species of moss have covered the bumps and hollows that mark out the original planting lines and the stumps of where trees have previously been thinned. From this soft deep bed the last remaining trees tower up, bright pale green close to, fading to almost black in the deep, lightless inner forest. Their trunks are covered with algae like a green camouflage material covering the mottled bark with many variations of colour. In the subtle light of a cloudy afternoon they are seem to reflect so much light that their colours are quite vivid. Old cones, twigs, bark flakes and needles litter the floor beneath the dense dark green canopy about 20 metres above.
Walking along deer paths and wandering between the trees is easy; the space is quite open and spacious with several metres between each trees. Younger plantations are usually a dense impenetrable mass of branches, brambles and bracken until timber is extracted at various stages. 

For those in search of a wonderful, almost unnatural selection of greens this is a wonderful place to be.

Stone Barn

Rain encroaches along the valley. The stones from which the barn has been built turn darker as the clouds lower and the fine mist heavies itself with ever increasing raindrops. An hour ago, the steep hillsides of woodland and pasture seemed to be almost painfully quiet to those unused to rural remoteness. Now the rain drums subtly on tree, roof and road. The warmth of a sunny spring evening still seems a distant hope even at the end of March. 
The only indication that this building might hold many memories is a pre-restoration photograph on the wall and the name: The Granary.  The walls and beams, now home to central heating, a dishwasher, microwave and flat screen tv have become a holiday home. Tasteful to the modern eye but it has lost most of its agricultural identity. I must take a closer look tomorrow and see what secrets might remain to a more dedicated observer. Just what is original I wonder?

How easy it is for the memories of this place to be forgotten. Who was the farmer or farmers that have lived here, trying to make a living on these steep rock strewn hillsides? Who were their families, their way of life, customs and culture. Time erodes such things as it draws us continually to the future and memories are rarely held in the place of their formation.


‘We have been here for 40 years,’ says the owner of the pottery shop. ‘Your father probably helped us move into here, he may even have laid the floor’.
I pick up a few of the items and run sensing fingers over the glazes. They are too refined for my liking, a little too ornate. I like more earthy pottery, something with more character. They don’t speak to me.
I forget Minter-Kemp is a woman. The new gallery was pleasant and her large oil landscape paintings caught my eye; more so than the quirky humours cards I had known her for. Large bold brush strokes of bright colours on large canvases stood out. They were eye catching and if I had the space or the money I would get one.
Twenty Twenty now resides in place of the Silk Top Hat Gallery where Dan used to exhibit. A rather limited number of exhibits hung from the walls, I would like to have seen more, like there used to be. Perhaps it will evolve. There were some interesting linoprints which I liked but nothing I really fell in love with.
All shop keepers seem friendly and chatty, that is what I like about Ludlow. I feel as though I could know them all. 

It is a cold and wet Saturday at Easter. Heavy clouds cover the hill tops with a light drizzle dampening the cold air. I wonder if the market stall holders spend more on coffees and snacks to keep themselves warm than they make in sales. I could have bought a tin bath or a box of old teapots. I buy a tasty looking sausage roll and homemade pork pie for tea. Can’t easily get things like this at home and they usually taste good in this part of the world.


Waiting to order a sandwich. What shall I have today? 
‘Oh, hello. I’d like a ham and salad sandwich please. On white, please. To take away. Can I have a cappuccino as well? Thank you.’
Cough, cough. Oh dear, I need a drink.
‘Yes, a little please.’
I like this slim egg blue dress and matching cardigan. I know it is a slightly darker shade but it is soft, warm and it does go well with the dress. I think I was right to wear my heels, they are quite comfortable.
‘Regular, with sprinkles please.’
Keeping my hair long and straight was a good idea, I think my outfit looks quite good today. I seem to be appreciated and liked amongst the other course attendees. 
‘Oh, sorry, yes, sprinkles.’
Wonder if I’ve had any emails from the office?
‘Thank you. How much is that? Ok, here’s five.’
That looks a reasonably good sandwich, I’m feeling hungry.
‘Thank you.’
As business meetings go, this one is proceeding well. A new place, pleasant people, how have I come across to them I wonder? Just the afternoon to go and then the long Easter weekend will start. The dog will need a good walk in the morning. I’ll take her up onto the downs where she can run over the grassland with freedom. We could both do with some exercise.

Right where are we going to eat? Back in the conference room it seems. Must email the office with the edited text before I forget. Hopefully I will then have a few minutes to read through my presentation.