Monday, 23 February 2009

Seasonal shift

Today felt as if there had been a tangible shift in the garden, the seasonal clock had turned forward not only in calender time, but visually the monotone landscapes and dark silhouettes that are so typical of a British winter have been replaced by a flush of blossom. Bulbs and corms, such as Crocus, Anemone, Cyclamen, Snowdrops, Winter Aconites and the first Daffodils of the year are abounding.

Even the green grass that probably is no greener than a few weeks ago seems to have taken on a richer hue. It comes as a huge relief, this display of early Spring blossom. A close look at the bare shrubs and trees will reveal primed and breaking buds of juicy new growth, and if you listened really hard you could probably tune in to the ambient sounds of growth all around you in an unstoppable wave of regeneration.

Fat furry Bumble Bees were hard at work today collecting pollen from the strongly scented Winter Honeysuckle, more birds were adding their voices to a growing morning chorus and pedestrians and cyclists alike were taking advantage of this mild spell, ditching their unflattering layers of Winter garb. March can feel like a long month, fading out of Winter, but thanks to some hard work planting thousands of Bulbs, emptying the cold frames of propagated material or having lifted, split and replanted existing plant stock, we can now enjoy the colours, sights and smells of the growing season ahead of us. Just don't blink because you might just miss it!

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Sun in my wheels

This afternoon I took advantage of what has been, so far, the most spring-like day this year. Cycling into a sky scratched over with contrails and high goose feather clouds, so high in fact that they made me lift my head periodically throughout the ride. I took my trusty steed down to the river to chase the rowers down the Cam, to watch the students limbering up on the river bank, or the crews in their oily shades and House 'colours' washing down the slick white hulls of rested boats, messing about, Cambridge was messing about, and most certainly smiling from without.

I was headed for the small village of Coton, via the winding lanes that sucked me away from the crowds of Saturday shoppers, and as the white chalk graffiti on the college wall said, 'Down to the River'. I followed the fading arrow to the stone bridge at the back of Jesus college. The narrow approach was slowed by pedestrian traffic, so I let my bell sing out, whilst inside I mouthed empty thoughts in double Dutch and Niel Young sang 'Down by the River'.

Crossing the 'Backs' I slid along a wonderful path that snakes down past the University Library and on towards the open fields at the edge of Cambridge. Here in the hedgerows I stared up into the soft stripy plumage of a female Reed Bunting (see photo above, not mine), buttered up in the falling sun, and further on towards Coton I watched a Yellowhammer calling by the cycle track.

Following the same route back I returned to the river again, just in time to catch the sun's embers, bright contrails and bruised soap clouds wrapping around a clutch of boats chuffing down stream. The students were already clinking glasses on the boat house balconies, their boystress laughter rattling off across the sunset.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Mind walks and river views

My daughter has taken a graphic novel that I ordered from Dave's Comics in Brighton. Pictured above right in the 'currently reading' corner of my blog, it's by an American Comic illustrator and writer, Theo Ellsworth. I have only had a brief look, but my daughter has already read it twice! Inspired by Theo's rich and dreamy imagination, she has been drawing away at her desk and is even planning her own stories.

Last night she sent him an e mail, and attached one of her drawings (see above). I love the bird in his brain that's pecking at his eye. This morning there was a reply from Theo, freshly delivered from the clouds above and gently taxiing along the runway of my in box. You could almost smell the grounds spooling out from a host of Portland coffee bars.

I took these river photos the weekend before last. A breeding ground of future Olympic rowers, during term time the boat houses and waterways of the river Cam are a hive of activity. Skirting the waters edge are some beautiful old willows, which at this time of year spill a rain of golden branches into the feathered wake of passing boats. As I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog I love cycling the towpath on this stretch of the river, it's a colourful mix of rowers, joggers, cyclists, dog walkers, ramblers and house boats.

On this occasion, scattered across one of the slipways, were 42 chaotically abandoned training shoes, I actually stopped and counted them. The owners may have been in one of the boats pictured here.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Gardening on the edge of space

Soft cloud mittens are pulled over flat English skies, and the damp pavements rub their shoulders against a loose conspiracy of winter shrubs. Tight buds on bare branches wait, the compost heap sinks back into it's warm heart, where a cloud of steam brings rare colour to cold faces gathered round music and song. In the lee of a square faced building, the gardeners are at work, digging on the dark side of a wind tunnel.

Cold, nasty, it will be a few hours before the sun makes it round to this side of the building, and this is the first time this winter that my wool socks have failed to keep my feet warm. We are forking through the soil, removing the pale straw-like roots of Bindweed, it's capillary growth wriggling out of site, we have no choice but to follow them. Down past the clay pipes and the broken pieces of Ming Dynasty china, past the bleached bones of long forgotten gardeners.

Time traveling back to a world of giant ferns, lumbering dinosaurs and volcanoes spewing ash clouds and molten magma. A cartwheel of stars pierces this moment on a dull February day, as the gathering gloom releases rain, cold rain. The shuffle on the i pod flips to the next track as the sun spills through a crack on the tip of the weather vanes arrow, shining through a curtain of water that eventually moves South.

The 'Fleet Foxes' herald the elements with a chorus of harmonies, summoned up through the soil and leaves to drift away like my breath on the cold air. Resting one muddy boot on the edge of a spade, I watch it dissipate, leaving me here to garden on the edge of space.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

You've got milk!

I don't know whether it was just coincidence that Mrs K. was given a lovely vintage milk bottle for her birthday, just as the kids have taken to guzzling milk by the gallon. There seems to be no known reason for this, is it cool now to drink milk? We can't seem to keep up with this newly acquired habit, so Mrs. K, rather amusingly, has turned to the Internet in a desperate search for a milkman, her brief online activities led her to this site, which made me laugh out loud when I saw what it was called.

When I were a lad, my mum gave me milk and gingerbread for a bedtime snack, or was that hot chocolate? At school we were force fed milk at break time, it came in a crate of jingling little glass milk bottles. Puncturing the silver foil top with a straw, to access the drink which was usually warm, had an inch thick head of cream and nearly always tasted like it was on the turn. I think this daily dose of dairy abuse was part of some Government initiative to improve the health of the Nation's kids. "Good for the bones", we were told.

As a result of this I treated milk with a great deal of suspicion, rather like it was some kind of ghastly tasting medicine. In an unrelated memory I can remember my mum giving me vitamin B12 tablets to take while on a family holiday in Austria. We were staying in one of those traditional mountain chalets that you often find pictured on chocolate bar wrappers or biscuit tin lids. Below the hotel window was an impossibly green field, with a herd of cows that would gather expectantly every morning for their daily supply of vitamin B12.

From the ridiculous to the utmost sublime. It was on a trip up to Vermont in New England that I rediscovered the joy of milk. Just outside the college town of Burlington, not long after seeing an Indigo Bunting, a cartoon bird propped against a cloudless sky, I ordered a large glass of milk in a roadside cafe. A stones throw away is the birth place and world headquarters of
Ben & Jerry's ice cream, so it would have been rude not to. Condensation ran down the outside of an ice cold, brilliant white glass of Vermont's finest. Brain freeze! Juicy green grass, black and white cows, crystal clear mountain streams, bell jar air, bird song....

Finally, on our journey through milk, we end up with a little musical interlude. My father in- law told me a story about a guy who was killed by a runaway milkfloat, which is a tragic yet comical story that might just be the same incident that inspired a group of guys from Hull to name their band 'Death by Milkfloat'. And let's not forget Billy Bragg's
'Milkman of Human Kindness', from his ' Life's a Riot with Spy vs Spy' album, released in 1983. So, our first doorstep delivery is this Friday, hopefully 6 pints a week will slake the the thirst of my progeny and not break the bank. It would probably have been cheaper to buy a cow, tether it up in the back garden and get the kids to squeeze their own. I am looking forward to the sound of a battery operated milkfloat and the clinking of empty milk bottles, oooh!, I've come over all nostalgic.

P.S The word milk was used 16 times in this post.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Echo-I'm hooked!

She thought she'd take a few flower photos in the desert, chill out, maybe make some money selling them, and then it happened...

A huge explosion in the sky, a rapier jet peeling off, and a strange rain falling, covering her in some kind of molten metal. If it was going to happen to anyone it was going to happen to Julie Martin. The fridge is empty, the dog's sharing what little there is, the bank is chasing up her debts, her husband is filing for divorce and her sister is in a psychiatric hospital following a terrible car accident, and now this.

Because the lady loves.... 'Milktray'
Ivy Raven, 'the woman in black', drops in for a dose of 'X Files' style investigations.

I missed the first few issues of this one, so I picked it up in trade. Terry Moore's 'Echo' series is an addictive read. The black ink on white, applied with a deceptively simple drawing style takes me right back to when I was nine or ten years old. I had a bunch of 'Rotring' Isograph technical drawing pens with which I would draw boats, statues, bridges and houses. I love Terry Moore's planes, helicopters and cars in this book, in fact everything he draws. The story grabbed me from the first page, and I read the first volume in a single sitting. I have issues 6 through to 9 resting in my comic box, waiting to be read, I know it's silly, but I have been saving them because I can't face finishing them.

If you haven't read comics in a while, and you want to try something different from the regular Superhero titles, then try out 'Echo' for it's great comic to screen script and beautiful artwork. For more on Terry Moore's work, check out his website.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Snow stops comics

Okay the novelty has now officially worn off. After a slip sliding bike ride to work this morning, riding alongside a continuous breaking wave of slush thrown up by each passing car, it was time to prime my back at coal face angle, shovel in hand, sweating profusely and stripped down to my t shirt as I cleared the college paths of yet more snow!

No I haven't had much chance to get cold, and yes despite the roads running clear by late morning, the comics delivery didn't make it through to Forbidden Planet, and more snow is forecast tomorrow. Dean Martin has a great voice, but if I hear him sing 'Let it Snow' one more time I'll shove a snow shovel down his throat! For those of you who are still enjoying the white stuff, you can click the link above.