Mrs Blackbird East Red Berries In The Drizzle

 “As the freezing shitdrizzle comes down I sit at the back door and watch Mrs Blackbird pick off all the remaining red berries. The wood pigeons left them alone for some reason. There used to be a Mr Blackbird. But that was years ago. That stupid fucking cat next door has probably killed him and bitten his head off. I like cats… sometimes, but on the whole they are like Hannibel Lecter in the Slience of the Lambs… psychpathic killers who can be hugely charming, if they’re in the mood. I am still sick and have had a cough for months. I have a referral to go to hospital for a chest X-ray, mainly to rule out the possibility of terminal lung cancer (it’s the time of year for taking the worst case scenario of everything). If it was normal rain I would walk, but this rain with the consistency of the bottom of one of those slushpuppy ice drinks the kids like, so I sit on the top deck of the No. 4 bus and try to enjoy the scenery through the dirt and drizzle coated windows, while trying to cough all over the seat. It is most likely asthma reappearing due to pollution. But it could be I am allergic to the dog. However, me being sick has coincided with a massive burst of creative energy. When I get home I get the urge to write a folk song about my old stomping ground of North Lincolnshire. When my wife gets home from work and asks how was my day – bird, cats, bus, folksongs – I feel I’m not quite at the cutting edge of fast paced 21st Century life.





Humidity Brings Procrastination

Yellow poppy

This optimistic flower appears in late spring in one of my favourite gardens, a mystical semi-wild farm- house plot in Borrowdale, the most beautiful valley in the whole Lake District. When we arrive there are huge clear blue skies – in fact remark- able weather, which is coaxing the old garden into life. The day is humid and although I am intrigued to look up at Base Brown and think of climb- ing it, hanging out in the overgrown back garden is what my heart is cling- ing to, then a swim in the river with the boys. I lean up against the wall and touch the soft yellow flowers. The fell will still be there tomorrow.

My memories of past Lake District holidays are all about rain and intensely green and tangled cottage gardens that suggest a
thin layer between this world and other, more magical ones. But on this night we make a fire and sit drinking beer and looking up at the giant, now murky, fell, and our faces glow brightly as the boys run through the field in some kind of fantasy adventure game with sticks. The poppies open up to the warmth of the Spring but are also somewhat bedraggled by the cold winds moving through the valley. I sense the presence of a powerful local nature goddess. I feel like these flowers when I’m with her – buffetted and a bit bedgraggled by the gusts of what life cannot be, but still glowing and optimistic at the warmth of what life is.

Map of the New River

20 years ago I was in the middle of my obsessive walking project – journeying along the routes of now buried rivers in London – that became The Groundwater Diaries. Here’s the map of The New River that appeared in the book. “London is a city of invisible boundaries. Areas alter in atmosphere or architecture in the space of a few yards, and a reason for this might be that the rivers which once flowed were often the borderlines between ancient parishes and settlements. You might walk down a street now and suddenly notice a change in the air. Chances are you have walked across the course of an underground river. The New River would have been no different. Although a recent addition to the waterways of London (about 400 years old), when it was built it would have run through mostly open countryside and settlements would have grown around it.

Some portions of the New River are visible to the naked eye. Yet these sections (for instance, Turnpike Lane to Finsbury Park), which flow silently behind housing estates and terraced streets, seem somehow not as alive as those which have disappeared. It’s the ghost parts of the river, now covered by houses, gardens, shops, parks and roads, that get me going more than the algae scum cuts I can see filled with bikes, shopping trolleys and empty plastic Coke bottles.

Searching for lost rivers is, in a way, a spiritual journey, searching for things that I once valued but have lost…”