Farming today

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Blissfully quiet it’s been for weeks. Hardly any passing traffic, no huge machinery going from farmyard to field. Only an occasional whirrzzz as a bicycle flies down the hill, a bit of banging from the convertors of Winter’s Barn into New Holiday Let over the road, and the rustle of leaves in the hedge as the twice-daily milk tanker hauls itself between parlour and dairy.

Glancing out of the window in the early morning, though, I saw not grass waving in the breeze but grass cut and lying in the sun to be gathered in. Now, late in the day, every other field round about lies combed into rows, neat and green, pale and dark. And vast machines dance a well-rehearsed display of shoo, vacuum and spray into the evening.

Days of noise and dust are due, then, as all this must pass our door before the silage clamps are full.

At least the forecast must be dry.

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Having not blogged properly about Spring Cottage for a while, I thought we might take a tour of the back garden.

It’s mostly grass, or rather, moss that’s slowly smothering the grass because we don’t mow frequently enough. On the other hand, not mowing allows the wild flowers to have more of a life cycle.

On the right, there’s the end of a bit of concrete covering the septic tank — a feature of all properties that aren’t attached to sewers. I’d forgotten it was there. I recently exhumed this from a large patch of comfrey that was threatening to overwhelm the rest of the garden. The bare earth I also uncovered has already been colonised by small seedlings. Time will tell what they are. I’ve scattered various things here over the last few months and we’ll see what survives into next year. Or maybe the comfrey will win, again. It’s the yellow sort. I don’t think it’s really very pretty but the bees love it and this part of the garden is usually loudly abuzz with their activity.

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The ‘lawn’ lies beyond the area in the picture below, which is a mixture of paving and gravel laid by my predecessor here. In the middle of the gravel an old wagon wheel is set into the ground and I replanted this with herbs a few years ago. They’ve come on a lot since.

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Below is one of the cut flower beds full of Higgledy Garden flowers for the second year running. These have been more hit and miss this time following some, er, rearrangement by Nora the dog, who had a digging frenzy in late autumn. It was an autumn seeding of hardy annuals this time. Last time was a spring sowing. I’m not sure which I prefer. Both would be ideal obviously. I’ll have to have a think about where and how to do that.

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The beds were disused cold frames that I filled with earth for the glorious summer that yielded six carrots. So I gave up and decided to grow flowers instead.

The bed on the other side of the railings is planted with, amongst other things, alliums, marjoram, some fennel and a half-hearted rhubarb. I think it was intended as a kitchen garden by the previous inhabitants. You can see the ornamental vine too. It had great grapes last year although the jelly I made has only been added to gravy so far, as it’s more like syrup. I cut it back rather cruelly, having seen how hard vineyards are pruned, so we’ll see what happens this time around.

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I was given this poppy which I manage to miss flowering almost every year. At least I caught one of them this year. It’s in the wrong spot at the front edge of a bed but I didn’t plant it – the giver did and I have left it alone.

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Here is a really old rose with a beautiful scent. It was rather weak and straggly so I cut it back far more than in previous years and it’s really benefited. Much less mildewy, stronger stems and more flowers. I think it’s probably been here for a very long time and will probably outlast my tenure here.

Finally, some of the most ordinary things, these geraniums which are everywhere and are so lovely up close.

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The other new place that we’ve been walking recently is Wormwood Scrubs, which is ridiculous as I’ve had Nora almost two years and this is very local. But the Scrubs is big and if you approach it from the wrong side — the side with the prison and Hammersmith Hospital — you can be forgiven for thinking that it only has football and rugby pitches which are not really that enticing. However, if you come at it from the west then there are acres of wildflowers, birdsong, trees and rough paths cut through the meadowland, for that’s what this is. There’s even a spot designated for flying model aeroplanes if that’s your bent.

Wormwood Scrubs view

There’s also this amazing view across London. From the obsolete gas holder in Kensal Rise (make the most of it, they’re fast disappearing and I’m kind of fond of them) to Trellick Tower in Portobello (social housing designed by Ernö Goldfinger), the Post Office Tower in the West End (formerly the headquarters of what is now British Telecom), the London Eye in Westminster and the Shard in… well, wherever the Shard is… somewhere south of the river towards what used to be the docks, I think. Typical Londoner, I have no idea about half of it. And, typical Londoner, I don’t really care that I don’t either. Shameful.

Wormwood Scrubs

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Anyway, Wormwood Scrubs is marvellous to have nearby if you crave outside space as I do when I’m not in Somerset. It’s full of wildflowers and different types of grasses, masses of cow parsley rimmed by elder, hawthorn and blackthorn bushes, as well as a ton of trees (that’s the technical term) and some magnificent teasels with which I’m a bit obsessed at the moment.

Naturally, it’s also full of wildlife (the closest meadow pipit nesting site to central London apparently) and the birdsong along the railway embankment is the best (perhaps I mean the most concentrated or loudest) I’ve heard in a long time. Also, a big bonus is there are usually very few people unless you come on a day where there’s some kind of sponsored run going on.

acres of cow parsley

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teazels

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Before anyone thinks this is some kind of country park it’s worth noting that on the side of the Scrubs along the road to Harlesden, there are two of these weird bench-and-table set-ups in a kind of abandoned concrete picnic area. The shape of the structures reminds me of the signs that used to adorn the horrible underpasses under Shepherd’s Bush roundabout and each end of Shepherd’s Bush Market about 25 years ago. They probably stem from the same mistaken initiative to jolly up the borough a bit with some childish art and bright colours. They will probably vanish in the locally controversial plan to revamp Old Oak Common, a mostly defunct light industrial area and railway depot north of the Scrubs that doesn’t live up to its name.

I’ll find something other than walking the dog to write about next time, I promise, but I guess the point I’m making — as I usually do when I write about London — is that urban life is not all about housing, shops and roads. Of course, these less urban bits are tinged with being in the city and that’s what makes them rather special to London, which is why I always take pictures of the grunge along with the pretty things.

Thames Path signpostWe’ve been in London for a couple of weeks. The Boy has been to stay on his way back to Europe from Australia and it has been lovely having him here even if it was rather brief (for now). There’ll be another instalment in a couple of months.

Always on the look out for new places to walk Nora, we were going to Richmond Park when I thought I’d stop in Barnes on the way and see if I could find a way down to the river. By ‘the river’ Londoners mean the Thames, although the walk actually begins at an old cemetery, alongside a tributary of the Thames called Beverley Brook which flows through Barnes both above and below ground. Most of London’s rivers were diverted into the sewers in Victorian times and their names, for example, Stamford Brook or the River Fleet, mainly exist as place or street names today.

Overgrown graves

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Nora really loves this walk as there are good woodland smells, open grass and water to splash in.

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For me, as well as the obligatory grungy bit to photograph and some wildlife, the walk’s a lot less challenging than trying to stop Nora from constantly diving into overflowing park bins, which is one of the less pleasant aspects of summer in the city. I am training her to stop scavenging but I wish people would take their rubbish home with them if they’re going to leave a lot of food waste for Nora and the foxes to play with.

Thames Path at Barnes

There’s always something though. This morning we were shouted at by a fat-arsed French lady who said she wasn’t cycling ‘orl zat forst’ when I complained that she almost ran Nora over. But if you have to do an emergency stop on a path where pedestrians have priority, you’re going too fast!

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Dog on the banks of the Thames

The pictures are experimental as I was testing the Boy’s Nikon and I haven’t really got the hang of it. It has a bit of a wonky lens but I think I like it. It seems to have a good depth of colour and works well in low light on its point-and-shoot setting, which is basically all I have time for with all the other distractions…

Beverley Brook outflow

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Thames Embankment at Putney

Midsummer

This morning Nora took a very me on an almost-midsummer walk up Broomfield Hill, our local walking spot. We can walk there straight from the cottage when I have the energy. Other times, if I’ve been gardening all day or when the weather’s foul, we drive.

We hardly ever meet anyone and when we do, Nora growls as if to say: “what are you doing here on my hill?” So different from the town dog she is at other times, who sees probably about 20 dogs and more than 50 people a day. Today she growled at some loud people who had climbed over a decrepit gate into a field they shouldn’t have been in, taking engagement photos (they were very shouty which is why I know). So silly of them when there’s literally acres of open access and National Trust land right here on the hill. People, eh?

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Nora’s favourite thing is finding some fox poo and rolling in it. Today there was a good harvest and she got lots of it under her collar. If it’s still early enough for dew or if it has been raining, I’ll get her to roll over in some long grass so that a little of it comes off her before we get home. Other times, I have to shampoo her with a special potion that more or less works but has its own curious aroma.

We walked past some highland cows and their calves who live on the hill. The calves all came running to their mothers when they heard us. They’re just a bit bigger than Nora. Their mothers are the size of a car and have long, pointy horns. I was glad they were on the other side of the fence because of the young. Sometimes they (and their poo) are all over the path, which can feel a little daunting, but on the whole they’re pretty timid and stay out of your way as you go by. I swear there was a bull one time though.

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highland cow and calves

I got very excited today because I found some wild orchids growing on the hillside amongst the other wild flowers and grasses. Only about 20 centimetres (eight inches) tall, I wouldn’t have noticed them if I hadn’t decided to sit down in the sun. I think they were Common Spotted Orchids, not fully in flower here yet.

common spotted orchid

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And here’s Cothelstone Hill with the Seven Sisters group of trees—a local landmark—on its summit, seen from Broomfield Hill. It’s such a lovely day that I’m going to get right out there again into the sunshine now.

Happy midsummer!

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In Jerusalem’s old city the flagstones have been polished by probably millions of footsteps. The pale, mellow stone brightens the narrow alleys, reflecting the sunshine that manages to penetrate between the overhanging awnings and radiates the warmth of the day after dark. In the souk, ancient stone ramps between the risers allow traders to push trolleys laden with wares up steep steps to their shops and stalls as they have for centuries.

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On the shores of the Sea of Galilee ficus, eucalyptus and olive trees grow and tourists visit. Among the visitors are those who inscribe their names in their bark as everywhere in the world. Groups of pilgrims from all over the world paddle here in the shallow waters near the Church of the Multiplication, which celebrates the feeding of the five thousand, taking pictures on their iPads, while others sing hymns and speak in tongues.

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In Bethlehem I snapped a fragment of Byzantine mosaic in the Milk Grotto, a Christian shrine. At the time, it seemed to be just a jumble of pale coloured stones. Now I see it is a Star of David. Like the swastika, this symbol originates from the Indian subcontinent.

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Bethlehem is under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority and there’s a massive concrete and turnstile procedure you have to go through to pass from the Israeli side and back again. This particular bit of rusty barbed wire has nothing to do with the separation of the West Bank from the rest of Israel but its inclusion here is symbolic. The buildings in the background are in Jerusalem on the other side of the tall concrete wall that has been built around Israeli territory. The picture was taken from the Palestinian side.

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These ancient and, I hope, disused letterboxes were the first thing that caught my eye on arriving in Jerusalem’s old city. I could have spent all day finding such delights but sometimes I had to listen to the guide and follow the rest of the group.

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Impoverished as some of the neighbourhoods in Tel Aviv are, their inhabitants find ways of decorating their balconies. Sometimes cracked old pots full of vibrant flowers, sometimes just bits of fishing line threaded with beads. I wonder who did this: a grandparent entertaining bored grandchildren or someone who just wanted to brighten the view out over the bustling street market? I suspect that, while I find this picturesque, whoever lives here would love to sweep it away in exchange for something more stylish and glamorous.

I have a confession. I am that person who is always lagging behind taking a photograph in a smelly street corner because there’s an interesting looking bit of peeling plaster that I just must capture. There’s something about worn layers of paint and plaster, and other decrepitude, that I find fascinating. I suppose they tell a story of previous lives and I love the muted colours that result simply from the passage of time.

Last week I was in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which gave me a lot of opportunity to indulge my obsession. As in most hot countries, buildings in the region fall into disrepair quite quickly. Add to that a degree of poverty, an abundance of graffiti and about a million tourists, and you’ve got an extraordinary degree of wear and tear on which to focus.

I usually use detail images like this to remind me of the feel of places I visit or to add a bit of context to a blogpost. But rather than waffle on generally about my trip I’ve decided to let some of these pictures speak for themselves. Except, of course, I’m waffling as well. Can’t be helped…

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This bit of peeling pink paint on the outside wall of an old house in a Tel Aviv lane overshadowed by swanky, new, high-rise blocks reminds me a little of a printed furnishing fabric. I love the combination of colours: the pink and the grey with just enough cream to emphasise what could almost be a floral pattern if you squint.

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I had to smile at this jaunty heart that cheered up a cottage in the same road. Tel Aviv seemed to be covered with graffiti’ed hearts. It will always remind me of a long walk in the blazing hot sun on our way to see the Bauhaus architecture of Boulevard Rothschild. We passed through this much older area when we weren’t quite sure where we were heading and started wandering around. Most of the old streets had been torn down to become temporary car parks or wasteland awaiting development but this little row of worn-looking but cared-for houses remained.

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Number 29 was around the back of our hotel in the flea market area of Jaffa. It must have been in the process of being demolished when the work to ground to a halt, leaving a whole corner of the house behind.

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I’ve no idea what these posters in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s old city say but I like the way that they have seem to have become part of the metal utility box cover they were stuck to. The grey, ochre and yellow complement each other and I can see both the colours and shapes being the inspiration for a geometric design of some kind. Perhaps something with a 1950s influence?

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Here paint and rust have fused on the windowsill of an old warehouse in Jaffa that now houses a cool restaurant with a vibrant music scene called Container. The different shades of blue make me think of a piece of china, or perhaps of clouds and sea. Really quite appropriate for its portside location.

Maybe I’ll do an occasional series of Detail Freak posts. I’ve certainly got enough material…

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