Through an iPad, darkly


Here is another iPad photo (see Silver linings). I have been thinking of quite a different post, not yet written, hopefully will be soon. But tonight, after visit to the village Gardening Club, followed by the pub, came back home to stunning moon over the garden, with clouds and cherry tree branches. I rushed in to fetch the iPad, as the most handy thing for taking a quick picture.

I have been wishing I knew the night sky better since we have been here. The Plough is the only constellation I recognise easily. Being in the middle of the village, as we are, there are house lights and street lights-a-plenty around us, but still the sky is darker than in Manchester; we see many more stars (see the International Dark-Sky Association or news about Northumberland’s Dark Sky status for more on this sort of thing).

Weirdly, these photos of the moon remind me of the ones that are taken of the back of my eye every few months, to see how my diabetic retinopathy is getting on. There is the same bright spot at the centre, surrounded by a mysterious tracery of veins or branches; makes me feel slightly queasy, looking at them.

Now, why should the moon look like my eye? Or do I mean the other way around?

‘Now we see through a glass, darkly but then face to face…’
I always feel both excitement and terror when hearing that phrase; it conjures up for me our yearning to be seen, to be known, without pretence, evasion or defence, and, on the other side of the balance, our great fear of that possibility, that happening: a never-ending human conundrum.


After the party

St. Paul’s was striking nine o’clock as I walked down from the Millennium Bridge after taking these photos, hands too cold to hold the iPad anymore; it made me think how much I like the church bells telling the time back in Heckington.

This same weekend last year the sun was shining for my birthday walk and lunch in London; this year, in the wintry weather, only three of us were hardy enough for a short walk.

Lovely friends and family all gone home now after lunch, chat and birthday cake lasting the afternoon. We ate the Spiced Salt Beef that I got the beef for from Bassingthorpe Beef (see A lumpy thing but mine own or At the farmers’ market). The recipe is in Spices, Salts and Aromatics in the English Kitchen, perhaps my most-used Elizabeth David cookbook – and her least well-known.

Guests today aged between two and eighty-one, but in the middle a number of my exact contemporaries; people I have known since early childhood or teens or student days, back when we were busy growing into ourselves; people I did all that talking with (see Grantchester reprise).

Very sweet to have these connections still, after so many years.

Along with pictures of St Paul’s and Millennium Bridge, in the gallery above, are the tower of Tate Modern and some of the many silver birches planted in front of it. I always think these look like the Hattifatteners in Finn Family Moomintroll, a favourite childhood book recently revisited.

Tap on the pictures to see bigger versions.

Jam tomorrow

Greengage tree

Or perhaps that should read, jam in a few years time…

I planted a plum tree and a greengage yesterday. The one in the picture is the plum, a variety called Czar which is early and supposed to be good for cold climates. The gage is called Ingalls Grimoldby Greengage, named after a Lincolnshire village called Grimoldby, near Louth, and William Ingall, who had a market garden there in the nineteenth century. He raised five varieties of apples there, along with the greengage. I had ruled out having greengages before I found this one, thinking that we are too far north. The helpful man at the East of England Apples and Orchards Project, from whom I bought the trees, told me that Lincolnshire was the furthest north they were generally grown, and Cambridgeshire the furthest north that they were grown commercially in the past.

I like the idea of keeping old varieties of fruit that were developed in my newly-adopted county.

I should have waited until the autumn when we’d had time to make a proper plan about fruit trees, but I didn’t. Oh well. Other fruit likely to be grown against fences – perhaps even an apricot one day, on the back, south-facing wall of the garage (see picture in Leeks past and present post).

I have been reading about Norse and Saxon place-names in the county, and England in general (of which more some other time). Grimoldby looks like a good Norse name; Heckington is squarely Saxon. For some reason things being Saxon gives me a sense of age and continuity while Viking names conjure up something wilder, more exotic, with a sea breeze and salty tang in it; a bit irrational, I know.

A lumpy thing, but mine own

First bowl

This is here for no good reason other than to show you my first finished pot from my pottery class at The End Room, in the pretty village of Newton. It weighs a ton, as beginners’ pots tend to do; and it is rather lumpy. However, it is the first pot I have made since I left Brixton, twenty three years ago, and I am therefore ridiculously pleased to have done it and brought it home.

It is a coil pot – I never got very confident with coils in my earlier attempts at learning to make pottery – so decided I should try and get over my negative feelings about them. There is another one in the making – maybe a little less lumpy this time, but still pretty hefty.

I’m really enjoying playing with clay again – the feel of it is wonderful.

And I love the drive over to the pottery. Last week, before the class, I went to collect a piece of beef, to make Spiced Salt Beef, from a farm (Bassingthorpe Beef) over in the same direction, near Grantham. I had a wonderful adventure of a drive, through back roads and tiny villages, through a quietly beautiful landscape, so empty of people but full of human cultivation. It reminds me of drives in France on family holidays, when partner and I would sneak off to visit small wine producers, finding ourselves on rough tracks that seemed barely fit for cars, winding round mountains, finding amazing views, wild boar piglets and friendly winemakers. No wine or mountains here, no tourists, less money than in the south of France; but the same quietness, open fields, tiny settlements and people living on the land, getting on with the business of growing and making.

And though no wine, I feel drunk with the subtle beauties of this landscape.

No longer the dog field…

Disaster; there are sheep in the dog field. No good for letting lurchers off the lead; the sheep would certainly be worried. Tried the sports ground in the village, where we’re told many people walk their dogs, but Naughty Doris nipped through a gap in the hedgerow and did one of her disappearing acts over huge field (see Spot the Dog post of a while ago). A long wait for partner and much kindly concern from fellow dog-walkers until Doris turned her back on exciting scents of muntjac and fox and came trotting back, ready for the more solid pleasures of breakfast.

Nice woman with collie dog has mentioned walking at Haverholme Park, a little way beyond the village of Ewerby, a couple of miles from Heckington. So off I go on my bike to scout it out.

As I head for home there is heavy cloud above. In the south is a fat stripe of light, a wash of blue, white, pink between the dark land and the dark cloud. I love this landscape for just being itself, unassuming and unromantic, and I love it for being like a piece of abstract art: all blocks and stripes, light and colour, saying so little, containing so much.

And with each turn in the road, I see a church spire against the sky: Asgarby, Ewerby, Heckington. Tiny Howell’s church is ancient and beautiful, but small, so you come upon it almost without warning.


Some things about using this blog

This is a post giving a bit of information about finding your way around this blog. I know that many of my friends were not readers of blogs before I started this one; and so have taken a while to get used to it.

1) Tags
Each post has a list of tags, in orange text, at the bottom of the post. If you tap (or click with a mouse) on one of these, you will get all the other posts with the same tag – I.e. if you tap ‘trains’ you will get all the posts that include some mention of trains.

2) Tag Cloud
If you scroll down to the bottom of the whole page, you find a collection of all the tags I have used, called the Tag Cloud. You can tap on any of these, as above, to get all the posts with that tag.

3) Recent Posts and Blog Archive
Also at the bottom of the page, alongside the Tag Cloud, are a list of recent posts which you can tap/click on, plus a list of each month since I started writing, with the number of posts written in that month.

If you don’t want to scroll through lots of posts, you can just tap/click on the title of the post you are looking at – you will then get a page with only that post on, plus all the bits mentioned above at the end of the page.

4) External links
When something in the text of the post is highlighted in orange, it means it is a link either to one of my previous posts, or to an external website.

Thus, tapping/clicking on This blogging business takes you to an earlier post I wrote about finding your way around the blog.

And these are some examples of external links I have included in previous posts:

Heckington Windmill – website for the mill
Woodlands Organic Farm – the people we get our veg box from
Saltfleetby-Theddlethorpe Dunes – beautiful marshy nature reserve
Jill Fanshawe Kato – a potter I like
Savin Hill Farm and Winter Tarn Organic Farm – two farms we used to buy meat and cheese from, with stalls at Chorlton Green and Piccadilly farmers’ markets.

Watch out for more external links and go visit the websites, if you have time to spare!

Ho hum, the sun was shining when I started writing this. Now there is a blizzard outside and I have yet to walk round to the shops. And my mum is coming to see me for the night and it looks as she will be having a horrible drive from Cambridge. Oh, I have had enough of this winter! Lovely spring bulbs coming up all over the garden; just need a bit of spring weather to go with them.

Grantchester reprise

Grantchester meadows

Here’s a little more of Grantchester, where I grew up. These are from Tuesday’s walk with my friend and her dog. We started in Grantchester meadows where, in the summer, you see tourists and students in punts on the river.

We ended on a footpath past more workaday farm fields. Picture below is a stretch of farm road that I know like a piece of myself, that was a short cut from my house to another friend’s, when we were all still children together at the village primary school (wonderful but long since closed).

The river and the meadows are lovely; but it’s the farm road picture that tugs at my heartstrings. These paths remind me of the hours I spent walking and talking with friends as a child and teenager. I think of how we used to walk one another home, then turn back to walk the other way because we were still talking. Tammy Wynette’s Half the Way Home takes me straight back there (and makes me cry, as a good country song should). The sky, the field and track, my friend beside me; all so vivid. But what on earth were we talking about?

Farm road, Grantchester

One more bit of railway…

Just a few more railway photos – with a promise my next post will be on something else! These are all of Heckington station, where I start my journeys, taken this Monday morning as I was setting off for Cambridge. I like the old buildings and character of the station, and that it is well-used and ordinary; bring on fewer cars and more (affordable) trains, I say.

Railway through the flatlands


Heckington, Sleaford,  Peterborough, Ely, Cambridge: these were the stations I visited on my journey to see my mum earlier this week.

The ‘little train’ I talk about (the Poacher Line) has two carriages, runs from Skegness to Nottingham and stops in Heckington once an hour. But the train from Sleaford station (in photo above) to Peterborough was littler still, with only one carriage!

This journey took me through the flattest of the flatlands; with many references to those other Low Countries across the North Sea. One district is called South Holland and the train stops in Spalding where they used to grow acres of tulips and other bulbs.

On the approach to Ely station I catch a glimpse of river, boats and cathedral; and the sense of space and water stays with me. I always like changing trains here, like the openness and green fields nearby.

Between Ely and Waterbeach I see fields of the soot-black, crow-black soil that I think of as typical of the fens. A friend of my mum’s tells me it is not so black as it used to be, because our farming practices are taking all the goodness out of it.

River at Ely

View at Ely

Childhood landscape

I’ve written early on in this blog about how the Lincolnshire countryside, though unknown to me before I moved, seemed completely and instantly familiar.

Here are pictures I took yesterday, on a walk from Barton to Grantchester, a few miles to the south of Cambridge. I’m visiting my mum, who still lives in the village where I grew up – and I have walked this way often over the years since childhood. You can see from these why arriving in a flat, agricultural landscape would seem like coming home to me!

As with other galleries, tap/click on a picture to see them in bigger versions.