On Walking: Thursday 18th September

Today, walking down the Banbury Road, I notice the leaves on the limes are curling and starting to drop. The heavy green boskiness of late summer is beginning to lighten; the trees are beginning to draw into themselves. The banked lushness of comfrey has withered, the plants collapsing inwards, and the nettles have never been more beautiful. The smaller, higher leaves are a splotched bright green; the larger leaves are a peachy-pink, their veins and edges black, as if  inked in by a child.

Nettles

I can see through the verge now, to the secrets held in the wide, sandy-earthed ditch behind. The orange pixie-posts of Lords and Ladies stand beside the re-emerging crowns of primulas. Puff ball fungi swells in the dampest hollows beneath the trees.

It’s hot; the Indian summer warmth has amplified the smells of Autumn; leaf-litter, sheep-shit, elderberries, tarmac. I practically skip down the Banbury Road, it makes me so happy.

By the road bridge, I turn right, into the fields below the dryer. The margins have been cut, and the fields look at once bigger and smaller. They are roughly brown, stubble poking through at odd angles, and I wonder what’s been planted, what will soon start to grow. Pants circles off in search of deer, and Dora inspects and pees upon every single black mound of fox poo.

I reach the bridge to Emma’s meadow and eye the cows. They eye me back, barely ten yards from where I’m standing. I whistle the dogs, and turn left, down to Bra Corner. The closely-cut margins make for blissfully easy walking.

I haven’t walked here since the start of summer, but it’s like rediscovering something precious; the heap of stricken alder, covered in thick moss (must remember, for Christmas and the mistletoe ball), the rioting cricket willow. Pants still growls at the upturned roots of a tree, its bark rotted and its wood bleached dirty white, like giant bones.

The Sor Brook is quiet, unhurried. It’s loud for most of the Winter and Spring, foam trembles in its rushing tea-brown eddies. Now though, it’s palest amber in the sun-dampled shallows, darkly green in its depths. It slides slowly past, almost silent; serene.

Oak gall
An oak gall

Dead dry thistles and hogweed straws rustle beneath my boots. I walk on beneath old friends; the sweet chestnut with its glossy, scissor-cut leaves, the alder with its golden grace. Then to one of my favourites, an oak beneath which narcissus grow in the Spring.  It has hardly any acorns this year, the gall wasp has turned them all to odd round, dry, marble-type things.

I go on, and the secret passage is in front of me, strapped with brambles, prickling with blackthorn. I look at the defences consideringly, and eat a blackberry.
The dogs go through but I turn and walk up beside the hedge. Autumn needs to do its work here, then the deer will return. I pinch another blackberry, walking with my face to the sun. Some secrets, I decide, can be saved for another day.

On Walking: Tuesday 11th February

Horley, taken from Spring Field
Horley, taken from Spring Field

This morning there was rain and sleet, and this afternoon, there is bright sunshine and blue skies. I’m slogging my way up Spring Field, and I’m wearing far too many layers. Spring Field is on the opposite valley to Horley, and has been left as stubble over the winter, which means it’s now covered in early flowers. Everywhere I look, there’s something unfurling into tentative colour: scraps of blue speedwell (Veronica), tiny finger-gloves of pink Hemp nettle. There are also clumps of what I think might be heartsease, like a wild viola, although its gorgeous brave yellow and purple faces are yet to appear.

Pants shares my love for this field, and loons around in huge circles, silly ears flapping. Dora is not so keen. Tiny streams are pouring through the heavy orange soil, and she stops every few seconds to shake out her feet. By the time I reach the muck-heap in the top corner, Dora is nowhere to be seen. I stop trying to photograph a plant with tiny white flowers (what are you, dammit?) and stand and shout. Pants leaps around, as if to say, ‘I’m here! Pick me!’ but there’s no sign of Dora.

‘Rat!’ I shout, against the wind. ‘Bloody dog!’ I whistle too, but still nothing. And then I lose my breath, and fear closes my throat. I can see her, in her yellow fluorescent coat, trotting steadily through the mud of the neighbouring field, back the way we came, heading straight for the Banbury Road.

I’m far too far away to run to get her – I can’t run anyway, the mud sucks at my boots like some living thing, desperate to consume me. I shout again, uselessly, starting to slip and slide down the hill. I fumble my mobile from my pocket, ring Stevie.

‘Get in the car,’ I say. ‘Dora’s on the road-‘

Pants is barking, thinking this is all some brilliant new game. She must’ve reached the double gates by now, just before the Sor Brook bridge.  There’s a green truck with a horsebox rattling down the hill from Horley. I freeze, terrified I won’t see it come out the other side of the bridge. But I do,  it accelerates up towards the Warwick road. I start to run, clumsily, my boots sliding out from under me.

‘Dora! Dor!’ I think about the time she ran out in front of Dr Nicely-Tightly, or when she ran up the Wroxton Road, a queue of five cars behind her. Thank God for the fluorescent jacket – worth all the piss-taking as long as it keep the silly animal alive.

I skid down to the gate, and see her, just as she slips under the first of the double gates. She’s at least two hundred yards away.

‘Stop!’ I bellow, raw-voiced. ‘Just bloody stop!’ She does, just as a skip lorry thunders past.

I call again, forcing my tone to jolly-fun ‘come-on-then-darling-isn’t-this-a-lark!’ and thank God she responds. She starts coming towards me, just as my phone rings.

‘I can see you both,’ says Stevie.

‘Sorry,’ I tell him. ‘Sorry darling. I thought it was curtains-‘

And I can’t shout at her now, because she came to me, and she’s wagging her stump of a tail as if expecting a pat. I clip on her lead and ruffle her head, before turning her round and marching back into the Spring Field. I’ve bulbs to inspect, and views to record.

We march through the mud, lickety-split. Passive-aggressive dog-walking with a rictus grin. But then a clump of dark-edged green leaves catch my attention, with one single tiny purple and yellow flower. Heartsease, flowering after all.

Hemp nettle in the Spring Field
Hemp nettle in the Spring Field

Speedwell, with the smallest scraps of blue flowers

On Writing: On not.

I walk through Horley, on the Hornton Road. I walk beneath the dark belly of a ley lundai, smelling foreign woods in the Oxfordshire air: hot dust, pine resin. A woodpigeon coo-coo,cichoos above my head. It’s almost dark, goose-bumps rise like velcro teeth on my arms. A car pulls out from Sor Brook Farm, the driver flicking on its lights, not seeing me beneath the trees.

I walk on, watching my feet, my brown toes with dark-red nail polish, slow-moving in the heavy dusk. My once-sparkled silver flipflops are desultory in their sound: slip-slap. Slip…slap.

Then I feel his footsteps, sliding through mine.

‘Where’ve you been?’ he asks, and I hear his tone. Aggrieved. As if I’ve no right. ‘Why don’t you write any more?’

‘I do,’ I tell him. My voice is mild.

‘You don’t,’ he says. ‘Not what anyone can read, anyway. So what’s the point?’

I watch my feet. Slip-slap.

‘So’s that it?’ he says. ‘You’ve finished?’

I stop, pushing my hands down, past my denim shorts, them clumsily back, searching for the too-tight pockets. My hands. Usually so busy: dog leads, children’s plaits; zips, stuck dolly-clothes, un-stuck lego. Shopping bags, wooden spoons, fistfuls of flowers. The keyboard of my laptop.

I pull them free, and look at them. Feel the need in my fingers, the buzz of a strength that was gone, and is now returning.

‘I’ll write,’ I say.

He steps towards me. ‘You did it again,’ he says. He lifts a hand as if to touch my arm, but we both know he never will. ‘You got lost, didn’t you?’

‘No,’ I say. ‘Not so bad. I got tired, this time. Just tired.’

‘So you’ll write?’

I nod. ‘I’m back,’ I want to say, but my words stick fast to my teeth, like too many toffees. By the time my tongue works them free, he’s gone.

I turn for home, and I feel it again, through my bones. The beat of something joyous. The re-starting of an energy that I don’t control but depend upon utterly. The energy without which my world is miserable and beige, everything I love beyond a curtain I cannot draw.

I smile, suddenly, and fling out my arms as I walk. My feet hit the ground with a different rhythm, the old one, with purpose and direction. Slippety-slap, slippety-slap, echoing, repeating: vital and alive.

On Dog Walking, 12th July

It is cooler today, and the dogs and I walk at lunch time, beneath a muffled white sky. Stevie walks with us, and Arfa Pants is on his best behaviour, without the ketchup-red harness he hates so much.

Despite the sun, it’s still hot – 23 degrees – and we don’t speak much. The air down Wroxton Lane tastes thick with pollen, and the tarmac creates heat shimmers from its softening surface. We pass Phlox Cottage, with its Alpine strawberry patch. The fruit glows like shiny red treasure, benefiting hugely from dog wee. The thick swathe of dying nettles and dock down by the stream look sadder than ever. I mutter dark words about the fluorescent-vested Council Workers and their obsession with poisons.

On our right is Brook Cottage, Liz’s little white house, almost disappeared in its hay-field of a garden. A sign advises us of the upcoming auction, and I tell Stevie I wish we could buy it.

‘It floods, you idiot.’

I tell him I don’t care, we could fix it. He grunts and turns left, into Emma’s Bottom Meadow. The grasses in here are spectacular – too many types to name. It’s tangled with clover and the last shreds of yellow vetchling. Sheep’s sorrell tucks itself in my shoes as we walk, cool with its rubbery red balls of pollen. The dogs charge through grass as tall as me,  Arfa’s big mouth open, as if he’s laughing with the joy of it all.

I spot tall, creamy-white flowers frothing through the newly-laid blackthorn hedge, and tell Stevie I think they’re meadowsweet. He hums and raises his eyebrows, and I laugh. I know he’s bored silly by my rhapsodising. Mid-way down the meadow, we turn right, into the meadow with the random springs. It’s been cut, and the grasses lie drying in rough lines. It smells of childhood summers and makes me think of French cricket. We decide to walk around the perimeter and follow a line, rather than march up the middle as the path dictates.

‘I’ve never walked along this hedge,’ I say, and Stevie turns around so I can appreciate his eye-roll.

I notice what I think is a row of huge blackthorns, but as I grow nearer, I notice their fruit – already the size of a walnut. Plums. Must be. I’m so excited.

‘But why?’ says Stevie.

‘Puddings! Crumbles! Pies! For free!’

‘I suppose I’ll have to pick them.’

I grin. We walk on, and I look back every couple of minutes to memorise their secret spot.

Back out on the lane, we meander along then turn left, heading back to the Banbury Road. Ewes bellow at us indignantly, and we notice the lambs are gone. Poor sheep. We slap at the horseflies landing on our shoulders, and then wait as the dogs slide down the steep banks of the stream for a drink.

Dora emerges with four black socks.

We cross Dave’s fields, catching silky-cased oats between our fingers and being leg-barged by Pants.

‘Bloody dog,’ says Stevie, as Arfa cannons into him again.

I suddenly realise he’s been talking to me, but I’ve no idea what about.

‘Sorry?’ I say.

‘God,’ says Stevie. ‘You never listen.’

‘I do,’ I protest, but I’m lying.

‘You’re thinking about bloody plums,’ says Stevie. ‘Aren’t you?’

‘Um,’ I say. ‘Yes. Yes I am. In jam.’

My first ever post! Really silly to be quite so excited…

I’m totally rubbish at diaries, so someone suggested I write a blog instead.

This blog therefore, will be about the things I like and do, which will be HUGELY boring, I expect, to other people.

The good thing is, though, the characters in my books will admire flowers at the right time of year, and wear the right clothes and do the right things at the right time.

So, my blog will contain the following:

Children

Dogs

Chickens

Writing

Dog walking

Horse

Pony

Husband

Wine/gin/Bacardi and lemonade

Skiing

Cricket

Shooting

House-building

Gardening

Cooking

Parties

Weather

Ribbons

Because they’re all the things I like.