On Walking: Tuesday 8th July

I’ve got twenty six minutes before the school bus, and we’re marching down the Banbury Road at a cracking pace. I’m soon distracted though, by the large green keys on a sycamore. Some of the lowest have a pink blush, as if they’ve been dipped in a strawberry daiquiri.Sycamore key

Down near the bridge, I pull the dogs to a stop again to stare at a lacy saucer of  ground elder. On a three inch radius, there are no less than seven pairs of bonking Cardinal Beetles. Between some couples there is less than a quarter of an inch, and I can’t help wondering about etiquette – what if a bonking beetle bumps another bonking beetle and there’s bonkus interruptus?  What if one beetle fancies another beetle’s beetle, or if a lone handsome beetle flies in, would the other beetles chat it up, or would there be a brawl on the saucer?

These thoughts occupy me all the way down to the bottom fields, and I walk out from beneath the oak to a field of ripening, fat-eared wheat. The stalks are still green and the nubbles of corn are still soft. I trip over a mole hill, then notice that a mole has dug its way in a perfect line along the footpath. Near the bridge into Emma’s Meadow, there’s a monster hill, as if the mole went berserk and dug an underground palace. Pants wees on it.

I’m too scared of the cows to go into Emma’s Meadow, so I sit on the bridge and look back over the wheat. There’re great swathes of rye grass waving through the crop, shimmering in the sun. There’s Blackgrass too, with its bristly close-grown seeds. I wonder how farmers get it out of the harvest, or whether we end up eating it. The dogs have disappeared into the margins, where we walk in the winter. Pants is singing, which means he’s found a mouse or vole; thank God he never catches them.

Bus-o’clock is drawing near, and I call the dogs. I can’t go in after them: the margin is impenetrable with hog weed and grasses way taller than me. Even the heads of clover around my ankles are as big as golf balls.

I give up waiting and start walking home, knowing they’ll come when they realise I’ve gone. I can hear the dink-dink-dink of a hammer from the Drying Barn at the end of the village.  I’ve heard the domestic sound of a Hoover practically non-stop all day, making me feel guilty for being such a slattern in our house. The din’s being made by Dave and Chris, gearing up for harvest; anticipating the toil, sweat, dust, then the pay-off of a barn full of grain.

It’s the time of year that I feel the most jealous of farmers, their sense of purpose, focus, of gambles against fate. The knife-edge tension of the weather reports, the whipping out of moisture gauges then the best bit: go-go-go. As a child, I’d watch our neighbours’ barns with binoculars, trying to guess if today was the day the combines would roll.

The dogs catch me up as I stop to observe a two-spotted ladybird, and Pants jumps up my white Capri’s to tell me what a clever boy he is. ‘Gerroff,’ I tell him, walking on. ‘Silly silky pair.’ Dora speeds ahead, as if she’d looked at my wrist-watch. She waits by the oak, impatient, panting. Bus o’clock, her eyes tell me, Hurry up. Bus o’clock!

 

 

On Walking: Sunday 6th July

It is late Sunday afternoon, and I’m sitting on the stile above Bramshill ponds. I’ve come here to think; my thoughts have been boiled and mashed and  I am reeling from too many people, parties, Darling-could-we’s, Mum-can-I’s, Carlie-have-you’s. Yes we could, you can, I have. But now enough.

The meadow below reminds me of fields I knew as a child. The grass is hazed reddish-purple with fronds and sprays of seed; there are random islands of stingers and docks, the jaunty bobbles of ribwort plantain.   The spinney begins on my right, and cuts down into the valley, across the medieval ponds, before running onwards, meeting the corner of the Scout Woods. It’s an ancient boundary, a right-of-way for foxes, rabbits, deer; there long before the lanes were put beneath tarmac, or the railway put down and peeled up.

From the stile, with Horley behind me, I can’t see a single house. I can hear the irregular piping of some unseen bird, the testy-hornet buzz of off-road bikes from over near Hornton. The breeze is warm, and smells of deep green hawthorn, summer grass, horses. Every knot in my shoulders is starting to loosen, every rattling thought beginning to still.

On the opposite hill, the wheat is green-gold, ruffled to caplets by the wind. The sun is hot on my bare thighs and the wind lifts my ponytail, cooling my neck. I tip back my head, view such richness through half-closed eyes. To my right is a regal spear thistle, with two tufty, purple flowers. As a child, I once spent an entire afternoon chopping up thistle-heads with an old nail, convinced there must be a nut in the bulge beneath the flower. Despite knowing now that there’s not, I still look at them and wonder if perhaps I had the right sort of thistle, or if the thistles I tried were too young.

Two Red Admirals are in a lovers’ dog-fight, and flash in front of my nose. Pants and Dora shoot from the blackberry briar and up the hill towards me. They practically roll their eyes when they see I’m still perched on the stile.

‘Go away,’ I tell them.

The hawthorn berries are starting to turn red on their blunted tips; the fox gloves are sending out their secondary arms from their bases, their main one exhausted.

I push myself off the stile, walk down the hill amongst the red and white clover, the grass feather-stroking my calves and making me itch. I shout the dogs, climb into the spinney.

My shoulders are free; the fearful rattle-rattle-crash in my brain is more distant, as if the noisy, raucous thoughts had all been bundled up, carted off, leaving just echoes to be ignored.

I use a wand of ash leaves to hold aside lofty chin-high nettles, wriggle my way through the cool green gloom. Even the echoes are fading now. I walk, just walk, through the trees.

Dora sunbathing on Bramshill
Dora sunbathing on Bramshill

Thank you to all those lovely people who’ve emailed, Tweeted and accosted me over the garden wall, wanting to know why I hadn’t published a blog lately, and was I all right? Yes, is the answer, completely fine. I had to finish a book in a very short deadline, and have been working tremendously hard. The book’s in now though, and the summer hols are nearly here, so there’ll be lots of walking, and lots of blogs.

Thank you especially to Paul Rodgers, who writes beautifully (and hilariously) himself.