Wednesday, 26 December 2012

I always wanted a treehouse

One of my friends, when I was about 11, had a lovely treehouse. We used to climb the 20 feet or so up the ladder into the hatch and a different world suddenly presented itself. It was in a lovely straight apple tree with an unusually long trunk. Apple trees are usually stumpy little things, especially these days when mechanical picking seems to be selected for. But this was a majestic specimen and rarely, as I remember, produced many apples. But as a site for a treehouse, it was perfect.

But then he had a garden that was an acre. In our diminutive (though large by modern standards) garden, there were only a couple of spindly silver birches and they rapidly outgrew the space and had to be cut down.
No chance fora treehouse there. I was envious.

My friend used to sleep out occasionally in his treehouse during the summer months. It was a six by four space with a felted roof which easily accommodated an eleven year old boy in a sleeping bag. This, we considered, was very cool.
A dark Boxing day landscape and some rain on the lens.
Today, we went for our Boxing day walk somewhere I wouldn't usually go. Our traditional walk was deemed unwise on account of the route skimming the edge of the Somerset Levels where at the moment, some villages are still cut off by floodwater after several weeks of watery isolation. Best not go there, we thought.

So we headed up towards the Cotswolds to the area I grew up in around Wotton Under Edge. It rained a lot, of course it did:  It hasn't stopped raining since April. But it was nevertheless very beautiful and I revisited some boyhood memories of fossil hunting and string spear-throwers. It's all a bit overgrown there now but when we were kids, the trampling of many pairs of juvenile feet kept the undergrowth down. All manner of games were played here and what finer playground could a ten year old lad and his friends hope for?

How could you NOT imagine hunting dinosaurs here?

It was, until that unreasonable tyrant puberty changed my motivations and made me feel acutely isolated and miserable, a great place to be a kid

And though I didn't really find myself experiencing any nostalgia for the place or the time, I did occasionally view it through the eyes of my ten-year-old self. It's strange revisiting somewhere from your distant past, but as I mentioned once before, memories are best viewed as just that and to attempt to recapture their atmosphere is usually a mistake. But I did stumble over some of that and I did get the urge to make a bow and arrow. But I didn't have any string and it was raining too hard anyway.

Looking at the small settlements, Wortley, Aderley, Nind, it struck me that the old ramshackle farms and crumbly buildings which used to house farm labourers are all now pristine, renovated and very des-res. Many of the old tumbledown cottages must now be worth half a million or so, with their limestone facades and in one case, thatched roof (we never had thatched roofs round there. What are they thinking?). One place even has a pair of stone stags on plinths. I know taste varies, but that is a bit tacky, surely? No, no, I shouldn't judge and perhaps they come to life at night and are joined in the garden by satyrs and centaurs. I like to think so.

There is, it seems, money about, if you look in the right places. And I do not begrudge this development: The places would surely have fallen down and been lost had they not been bought and done up. And it means there are plenty of people with sufficient disposable income to finance the local farmers' markets and enough pushy determination to keep the local schools open and to a high standard.
I always wanted one of these!
But in one garden, I saw this, and though I do not harbour any envy for the big, remote, beautiful farmhouses, I do envy these kids their tree house. I hope they use it and don't spend all their time on the PS3.

Monday, 24 December 2012

How Little and How Often?

I wonder who invented whisky. I just bought a bottle. It's a Birthday present for someone and it will be a few days before I give it to him. But it's ok. He won't read this so I won't spoil the surprise.
I don't like whisky. I had no idea which one to buy. Is Johnny Walker Red Label good? When I taste it, it makes me feel immediately nauseous. It's a taste I never developed and probably just as well. There are things such as skiing, motorbikes and whisky which I have avoided because I just know I will love them and if I get a taste for them, it will be my undoing. So, whisky will remain for me an unacquired taste.

The shops were as one would expect on Christmas eve: Lots of couples wandering along the aisles of Tesco's, Yate, desperately trying to remember what they came out for and how all this previously undesired stuff had found it's way into their trolley.

Very little here by way of inspiration. Everyone was surprisingly pretty much silent as they goggled at the shelves. Perhaps they had used up all their words for the year and had got to December with none of their allocation remaining. So maybe they could only point speechlessly at the pyramid of kitchen towels, half-price mince pies and bottles of Baileys and shrug. I know how they feel.
Words do seem to have a life of their own. These days I find them rather reticent. Whereas they used to flood into my head at the merest opportunity and overflow here, now, I have to squeeze them from my uncooperative brain and on to the page. I don't know why this is. It could be due to a lot of reasons, some neurological, some circumstantial, perhaps even some behavioural. Perhaps I don't need them any more?
Whatever: At some point in the last nine months I seem to have lost my Way With Words. And I miss it.

A friend who is a published author said that it is like any "muscle" by which I assume she means that it gets stronger with use (in which case, the iris, the tongue and those smooth muscles that produce peristalsis ought to be exempt from the catchall "any" as they don't get stronger with use.)
But I take her point.

And so, in an attempt to rediscover what it means to be articulate and to preserve what vocabulary as remains to me, I shall be jotting down the occasional thought here.

It seems to me that a wholesome home life is good for the soul. Yesterday I spent almost a whole day cutting, drilling and tapping M8 threads in steel plate for my van and I found it immensely rewarding. But when this kind of thing becomes your main passtime, spare waking moments tend to be spent on staring into space and thinking how to make a stool for the van which can be sat on but which will slide into the bed the rest of the time and contain all the frying pans etc. Mechanically, its inventive, but it does not inspire. Rather, it kind of calms. Which is ok if that is what you are after. But not all the time.

But I think the whole point of this blogging malarkey is for us all to find our way to a Vibrant Life of The Mind. Well, perhaps I shouldn't generalise for everyone, but that is a large part of it for me. That and the connection it feels it gives to Wider Humanity. At the moment, it is all a bit quiet in here and not vibrant enough. And nobody likes feeling lacklustre, out of touch and un-shiny, do they?

So, Little and Often is how it needs to be.

And as an afterthought, in no way connected: Does anyone ever get a word that decides to inhabit their brain for a day or so and pops up all the time in their mind's ear? For me, today, it is the word "Helminth". Such a fresh sounding word I feel (given what it denotes). Sorry. Complete non-sequiter there. I am hoping for more of that as the sudden changes of direction make life more interesting.

And that is enough rambling nonsense for today, I think.

Monday, 10 December 2012

A Very Mellow Weekend

This last weekend, after my five days in bed with flu and a 41C temperature, some friends, chancing catching my bug, came to stay. We had planned to go off in vans to Cornwall, but it was cold and we were all still hacking and coughing. So we thought we would have a quiet weekend.
I find it lovely if a little odd to be able to say that as an adult, I have known someone for thirty years. I am surely not old enough to have had effectively a thirty year friendship with someone I didn't meet as a child. But it is so and regularly, we meet up and spend lovely weekends together. Much beer and wine is drunk and some excellent food consumed, all the while enjoying the company and conversation of like-minded people. It's what life is all about, I think. 
This weekend, we went to Bath to the Christmas market, but it was far too busy and I confess I struggled a bit with the cognitive load of managing to avoid the trajectories of hundreds of people milling about. 
So, yesterday, we went for a quiet walk around Woodchester Mansion which I have written about here before. I snapped this picture of the quaint boathouse in which I am troubled now to see that the window is open. Who opened the window and why? In Summer, this is an idyllic spot, but on a Winter's day, there is a strange air about the place and one could almost imagine some troubled spirit standing looking out of the window. I am not usually given to such thoughts but it did feel mildly spooky, especially considering the unfinished mansion just up the valley. The Romans were here thousands of years ago and at the top of the valley, long barrows still exist where bronze age burials took place. It is a place of atmosphere.
So, on we went around the lakes, whilst buzzards wheeled above us in the still cold air and ducks quacked in the water with derisory laughs of ridicule at the muddy feet and hubris of we passers-by.
It was a lovely crisp day and the walk was just so wonderfully English - something I rarely consider since I was born here, live here and spend most of my time here. 
So, we walked and talked and there was a bonfire where some National trust volunteers were clearing dead wood, and the woodsmoke just smelt so right.
We returned to the van and drank tea, ate cake and talked some more. Gradually a Winter's day elided into a cold evening as the sun went down. Home called to us, with dinner already in the oven.

At home, I made mulled cider with an otherwise rather undistinguished apple wine from last year, some cider and assorted spices with brown sugar. In fact, I made about a gallon. 
Sitting round the table with friends and family, with a big joint of roast pork, home-grown roast potatoes, mulled cider and Jethro Tull "Solstice Bells" playing, the World was perfect for a moment. Outside, the dark Gloucestershire countryside was now asleep but still very present in the feeling of surrounding the room, the house, the town.
Banana & Ginger wine. A dessert wine of about 18% ABV. Small glasses only...
And now, my friends have gone home and I look at the gaps in my wine rack with a feeling of deep satisfaction. And it occurred to me that my banana and ginger wine needed bottling. And so having drunk the excess that wouldn't fit in the bottles, a feeling of general mellowness comes over me.
A very good long-weekend. And it's not even Christmas yet!