On Plants: Love A Bit Of Lichen. Jan 2014

I have developed an interest in lichen. They’re so neat and small, and so deliberate in their growth – delicious, ancient, self-contained little entities. They please me so much.

According to Wiki, lichen are a symbiotic relationship of algae and fungus – a mixture of both together. They grow where other plants can’t, and people once sent some lichen into space, opened up its capsule, waved it around for a while, then brought it back to Earth. The lichen hadn’t changed one bit.

Such is my interest, that today the beasties and I are walking the same route as yesterday (which normally we loathe doing), just to take a photograph of the incredible lichen we found on the stile leading to Emma’s Meadow.

Lichen in Emma's Meadow, Horley, Oxfordshire Jan 2014

It’s a raw sort of day, and I’m wearing my gloves and hat, my coat zipped up to my nose. Bits of rain keep being spat at us, as if from simmering clouds, and I’m walking quickly to keep warm. As we set out across the cricket field, a whole cloud of wood pigeon suddenly swoop down from the oaks near the road, sending Pants loopy. He so wishes he could fly.

I’m too cold to plant daffodils today, so I just launch them into the hedge, and hope for the best.

We go quick-march across Dave’s fields – all of the flood water has gone now, and the Sor is back to its amiable, quiet self. We reach the stile, and I get close up to the lichen I’ve been thinking about. I want to get a marker pen to draw its boundaries, so I can see how much it grows, but I think that might freak out other dog walkers.

We set off round the left to circle the meadow, and I’m deep in contemplation of another load of lichen – this time on a branch of something I (frustratingly) can’t identify. It has more orange and warmer yellows than the one on the stile, and I wonder if that’s a product of environment, positioning or type of lichen.

Lichen in Emma's Meadow, Oxfordshire Jan 2014

I’m just photographing a cow pat with red dots (what? What are these?!) when Pants bristles and backs into my legs. I look up to see Noel opposite, with Lily, his greyhound, and Cissy, his lurcher. Both are a beautiful soft fawn colour – like canine Palominos – and incredibly fast. Pants is terrified of Cissy.

I wave to Noel and catch Dora, so she doesn’t become a snackette, and cross the meadow to say hello. About half way across, Pants loses his nerve and legs it, Cissy and Lily in lightening pursuit. He heads for the bottom stile and hurdles it – I’m too helpless with laughter to call him back. He’s such a naughty bully to Dora (who never complains), that I can’t help but think it’s good for him to be taken down a peg or two.

Cissy and Lily come back to Noel, but Pants has decided to go home, and has made a break for it to the Lichen Stile. He’s barking now, the way he does when he wants to come in from the garden and we’ve told him to be quiet. I decide to ignore him, and regale Noel with my lichen hunt.

‘They could survive on Mars,’ I say. ‘And you can eat them – but not the more yellow ones. They’re toxic.’

He listens politely, but I don’t feel I’ve managed to ignite a shared passion.

‘Must get on,’ says Noel.

I wave and go with Dora; Pants is still caterwauling over on the stile. Cissy and Lily have gone off with Noel, and eventually, Pants crosses the stile and heads towards Dora and me. About half way, Cissy appears like a blonde bullet, and poor old Pants jumps in the air and heads for the hedge. Cissy doesn’t go near him, just executes an easy loop, looking at him with scorn. He squishes himself to the ground in supplication and Cissy goes off, laughing.

‘Come on,’I say, as he slinks towards me. ‘Heel. I’ve lichen to seek.’

Lichen by the school bus stop. I examine it every day - last year it was a lot more lacy.
Lichen by the school bus stop. I examine it every day – last year it was a lot more lacy.

On Dog Walking 6th April 2013

Decent Saturday dog walks are hard fought. Ordinarily, Saturdays to us are work days, with Stevie doing endless Go-Sees, and the daughters dancing, then off to little buddies’ houses, or little buddies coming here, and I have to feed them all, and generally present myself as A Good Mummy.

I did slide off though, today, at about five, with Dora. It feels like the first proper day of Spring, after the longest winter imaginable. Swathes of snow still lie incongruously beneath hedges, like sheets that flew off some giant’s washing line.

We walked the Bottom Meadows, Dora sending up pheasants from the stream. Their frantic Ee-full ee-full ee-full and ungainly, neck-stretched flight always make me think of fat ladies running for the loo. They also makes me think of shooting, and how I wimped out of my first game shoot.

Dora also sent up a brace of ducks, the mallard flashing green in the low sun. They both flew silently, and low, with none of the panic of the pheasants.

Along the first of Dave’s big fields, I stopped to examine the skeletons of giant cow-parsley type stuff, which I need to look the name up of. They are hollow and the children like snapping them down and using them as ineffectual weapons. They make a good swish sound when whizzed through the air.

Normally, I love walking with the children, but today I’m relishing just being with Dora. She doesn’t moan when I get fixated by an interesting piece of lichen. Nor does Dora stir up the brook so I can’t see the bottom and try to look for stickle-backs. I really want to see some stickle-backs in our stream, but I never have done.

I cross the stream into Emma’s meadow, and admire the new mole hills by the stream. Dora insists on weeing on every single one.

I’m supposed to be taking the children to Hornton for a sleep-over, so I up my pace to cross the meadow and swing round to the bottom of the village.

But then I bump into a Horley beauty, walking her gorgeous Labradoodle, Ted. We pause to speculate whether a funny little white-flowered plant by the brook is chick-weed, or something more exciting.

And then we’re catching up on gossip and eyeing up the sweet, strangely dressed Frenchman who walks briskly by.

Eventually, Dora and I wander on, totally forgetting about taking the children to Hornton, and I find a whole wall by Pete Miers’ cottage, frothing with green aubretia leaves, tiny scraps of violent and purple hinting at the show to come.

Dora decides to crap on a verge and I don’t have any bags left in my coat. Luckily, there’s a drain, so I flick it down with my welly boot.

We climb over into the cricket field, and the instant I see Jess flying down on her scooter I remember we’re horribly late. All the lovely peace of the walk is lost in the desperate scramble to pack pyjamas, and Rabbit and Lamby, and to stop everyone walking in the new puppy wee.