Last year's hanging basket has kindly come to life again with no effort from me other than irregular watering. Despite it being April, which you'll remember in the rhyme is the month associated with showers, and we're not talking personal hygiene here, this April rain in any form has been notably absent. Which makes me nervous for May, associated with flowers and my birthday. I am wondering if some new intern at heaven's weather station has seen the flow part of flowers and mistaken it for a month of gross inundation. The forecast is for frost next week, maybe even snow. I may have a stay at home birthday, and the mice will get a temporary reprieve on das Boot.
So make the most of these pix of the season while you can.
Twilight falling and I am on a fast train back to London. We pass fields of flowering rapeseed, the acidic yellow of the blooms a sharp contrast with the deep greens and mid browns of the neighbouring fields. There are well-tended allotments with scarecrows, strips of coloured plastic, and old CDs twirling in the wind; rows of terraced houses, semi-detached houses, large villas with surround sound gardens. There are sheep in the fields, some with lambs, some without. The flat landscape is occasionally interrupted by a slight rise, topped with a small copse of trees. The sky is blue with soft looking clouds the colour of the cherry blossom so prevalent just now. There’s a farmhouse, with collie dog lying at the door, then a man circling a field on a tractor. A benign version of England spreads out as far as my eyes can see.
I have been at das Boot with Older Nephew. He met me outside the station at Cambridge, and dropped me back there in time for this train. We spent the day afloat de winterising, cleaning, checking the bilges and running the engine. There had been visitors over the winter: mice, evidenced by numerous droppings. They had nibbled my J cloths, shredded newspaper left ready to line the litter tray, chewed through plastic bin liners and attacked the foil around the neck of a bottle of cava. Before we could eat I had to boil water and wash plates, knives, forks and saucepans. There was poo in the cutlery drawer, in an empty vase, in the sink, in one cupboard under the sink, but not the other.
Westie Puppy is back in her Belfast home and thriving. MasterB has not been outside for two days. The birds are emptying one of the four feeders in the garden and ignoring the others.
Half past five tonight and it was still light. It is spring. The evidence is all around us in the shape of daffodils, snowdrops, crocuses. New shoots pierce the earth. Trees are in blossom. Neighbours are turning the earth in their gardens and planting small purchases made at flower nurseries. I went out without my gloves.
Today is St David’s Day, 1st March, just over two weeks to go before Ersatz Paddies take to the streets wearing dubious hats and swearing allegiance to Guinness. When I was a child being Irish was unfashionable. Actually, it was more than unfashionable, it was social leprosy. I remained largely ignorant of this due to Mother’s relentless programming. My sister and I were brought up to believe our half-Irishness was a miraculous bonus, something of pride and joy. Similarly being the daughters of a working mother when girls we knew at school had mothers who mainly stayed at home. How I looked down on them. I’m sure the feeling was mutual.
I was around twelve when the penny finally dropped that I was doubly socially inferior as far as many of my classmates and their parents were concerned. At Mother’s funeral one of my cousins, the one who the rest of us see as being fantastically and unaccountably right wing, queried my description of Mother as Irish. It’s how she described herself, I replied. Another cousin said Mother would have called Derry Londonderry. No she didn’t, I said, hearing Mother’s voice in my head saying she came from Co Derry.
A few years ago Cousin and I deposited our grandmother’s autograph book at the Linenhall Library in Belfast. Much as we valued it, it seemed to have a significance beyond our family. It’s clear that my grandmother and her friends all considered themselves uncomplicatedly and proudly Irish. There are many patriotic entries for St Patrick’s Day; verses, pressed shamrocks, pen and ink drawings of harps. My grandmother signed the Ulster Covenant. Look online and you can find her name. I am guessing that post Partition she may have called herself British, but I don’t know. By then she was married and trapped in a cycle of pregnancy and increasing hardship, leading to her premature death in 1927. Continue reading
In the short time I have been away winter has begun to recede and make way for spring. Walking Westie Boy the past couple of days my heart has lifted to see the snowdrops and crocuses in gardens and by the roadside, fat lambs in the fields and yellow gorse in the lanes. The days are noticeably longer, dwindling to soft greys and blues as the sun streaks the clouds with pink.
While I looked, Westie Boy sniffed. He may have missed the rabbit that hopped ahead of us, but his nose twitched at burrows, his head disappeared down the entrances to larger animals' abodes, and we had a difference of opinion about the wisdom of rolling in cow dung and fox poo.
Ewes lifted their faces as we passed, keeping a watchful eye. Their lambs, less wary, bounced about them, or nuzzled at their bellies. Farmers were making the most of the extra daylight, working in the fields. Once the elderly golden retriever at the bottom of the hill rushed out barking, but when we passed on later walks, he slept on on the porch step.
The grebes are nesting, but not next to das Boot. This year they have chosen a spot on the river. I watched them busy collecting material. It seems much noisier spot than in the marina, but I suppose most grebes don’t have the luxury of off river facilities. I took some pictures, but it don’t know they show more than vague outlines.
I forgot MasterB’s harness so he can’t have shoreleave, and this time he seems rather keen. I’ve been playing with him, but it can’t be as interesting as the smells he’d have found out on a walk. Indoor cats must miss out on a lot.
The forecast has been so dire I nearly didn’t come. But in my heart of hearts I knew I wanted to be here and if there was a chance the weather might be kind, I would come. So there I was this morning, still vacillating, but at the back of my mind choosing the things I would pack. Pity I forgot the harness. Maybe if it’s quiet tomorrow morning I’ll risk taking him ashore and letting him run free. Not if it’s windy though. I don’t want any accidents when he gets back in board.
The journey east was varied. We left in sunshine, drove through hail with winds that swept the rain sideways across the roads. Pedestrians in Stratford outlined by garments wrapped round them. Then more sunshine; winds that chased clouds across impossibly blue skies; scatters of raindrops.
There were roadworks. There are always roadworks in spring. One lot had us crawling several miles until we were clear. I stopped at a petrol station and filled the tank.
Near the start of the undulating road across the fens that leads to the marina I nabbed half a dozen eggs from the nice egg lady. The road seems even more undulating than a week ago. Mary and her two uncontrolled but beautiful Labradors was here. They ignored her commands and jumped up at me. MasterB, so had been quiet and accepting most of the journey began to cry plaintively as I emptied the car. I wanted to get the bed made before he came aboard. When I let him out of his box, he made big eyes and sniffed everywhere before taking refuge under a pillow.
It’s pelting down. There has been lightning and almost simultaneous thunder. MasterB is hiding under a chair. We are experiencing all the seasons at the moment.
Spring is unsprung.
Yesterday it snowed.
It wasn’t for long and it didn’t settle, but still it made me remember 1979 when Margaret Thatcher was elected. I came home from Italy via France to vote against her. The first time I was able to vote in a national election. My vote was symbolic. She got in. But I have always felt the snow was an omen. It’s going to take a long time for this country to recover from Thatcherism, and the road is not linear.
Two thirds of the way through April, and I have turned the bathroom heated towel rail on again. I’m back in my winter pyjamas, and another W, wooly jumpers are helping to keep me warm. The rough winds that shake the darling buds of May are making themselves felt now too, but the sun has not yet got its strength up, so those winds feel pretty chilly.
Maybe it was warmer back in 1616 when William Shakespeare breathed his last. This summer promises to be even more of a Bill Fest than usual, with the Blessèd Bard getting enormous amounts of exposure. Will Power, as the RSC used to say its advertisements. I haven’t yet looked at the Globe’s programme, but if I don’t get my skates on soon, there’ll be no tickets left. Continue reading
I am aboard das Boot on a spring evening. I came here this afternoon, after a later start than planned, but I had been weeping over the tributes to Victoria Wood, then my nice neighbour Lawrence was helping connect my television to the internet.
I have a strong suspicion that Victoria Wood’s fame never crossed the Atlantic. In my adult life her writing and performances have been a continued pleasure. I believe sometime in the past I posted a link to her singing one of her many compositions, Let’s Do It. Check it on YouTube and you may understand what you have missed if her name is new to you.
Although I came up to das Boot a couple of weeks ago, I came by train, and met Brian who has been doing some work on my neglected vessel at the station before coming here in his car. Today was the first time I have driven East since Aunt’s funeral, and the first time I think I have ever stayed here without calling her. I want to tell her that the Great Crested Grebes are around and I am crossing my fingers they will again nest near das Boot; that there are new born lambs in the field next door, and pairs of ducks swimming about the marina; that I saw bluebells in the roadside woods, and stray tulips posing as wild flowers on the verge.
My visit is brief. I shall go home tomorrow. Last time I was here I realised the while. Brian has making the necessary improvements the boat’s interior has filled with dust. Like every man who has ever worked on das Boot, Brian does not share my philosophy regarding dust sheets. Whenever I leave, I cover the soft furnishings and the mattress, put bedding into zipped bags, with the aim of reducing the amount of spider poo and other unwelcome additions to them. Brian has removed the dust covers, folded them neatly, and not replaced them. What is it about dust covers that men don’t understand? Continue reading
April already, where does the time go?
The garden tulips are almost in flower, but I have cheated with some shop bought cut ones.
Vase of tulips