Walking home from a hospital appointment yesterday, I was struck by these trees in a local neighbourhood park. Almost leaning into the wintery blue skies as if reaching for the hazy sunlight, it’s just possible to see a hint of new growth on their bare branches.
Maybe spring is on its way in London…
After my recent post about all things autumnal, I felt some more seasonal colour was needed round here. I thought I might go to the local park and see what was on offer for my camera there, but while I was pondering that I noticed this tree, which happens to be almost literally on my doorstep. This lovely, still part-green tree is not in the sylvan surroundings of said park – it’s in the more prosaic location of the carpark attached to the block of flats I live in (not visible in the photo: one of my neighbours sitting in his car giving me a strange look while I repeatedly pointed my camera at the tree…!)
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
The last few days may have been a bit overcast and cloudy, but Friday was a beautiful early autumn day in my little corner of west London. As I went about my business, the morning skies were that fading, mist-tinged blue that I associate with such early October days; the sun a little lower in the sky and the trees just on the turn. Give it a week or so, and the full colourful impact of the season will be revealed right across London – and there are plenty of green spaces in the city where you can see the most glorious displays of colour as the trees prepare for the changing seasons.
I often talk about the fact that there are places where history exists in layers, where you can physically feel the weight of the past on the present. Battle Abbey in East Sussex is one such place. The importance of what happened here in October 1066 is still palpable nearly one thousand years later, for this is the site of what we now know as the Battle of Hastings – one of the most crucial moments in all of English history.
It all began (and ended) with the death of a king, as these things so often do. And, as is also so often the case with medieval history, that’s where it all gets a bit complicated. On 4th January 1066, King Edward (‘the Confessor’) died. He had no children and thus no direct heir. As a result, his death was likely to leave something of a power vacuum in England.
This was a problem in the making, since the English throne was among the most desirable in all of Europe due to its significant economic and military strength at the time. Unsurprisingly, amongst all the interested parties there were a number of claimants sniffing round the throne (although who claimed or promised what to whom will never be known with any accuracy now), with three in particular having perhaps the most legitimate claims to the English crown at the time.
I realised recently that we haven’t had any ducks round here for absolutely ages. So, when I spotted a few relatively friendly mallards on a family trip to Bodiam Castle in East Sussex not so long ago, I decided that a new duck post was definitely in the offing. And when I say I spotted a few mallards, I actually mean there were loads of them. They were absolutely everywhere. They didn’t seem that bothered by humans either (their collective look of disdain when a small boy came hurtling up the path towards them, enthusiastically yelling “OOOOH, HELLO DUCKS!” kinda said it all).
Oh, I love this!
Like many, many people, I was genuinely upset when the novelist Terry Pratchett died last month. His books have been a part of my cultural existance almost as long as I can remember, and the joy they have brought into my life cannot be underestimated. So when I heard that a clever street art type had painted a tribute to him in east London, I had to go and find out what it was all about and report back to you all with photos.
And it’s wonderful.
Packed with many of Terry’s most beloved characters (and a great portrait of the man himself), this mural really is a fitting tribute to him. If you want to see it for yourself, you can find it right by the park in Code Street, off Brick Lane. I recommend you do go and have a look if you’re a fan, it’s an amazing piece of work!
This is Bodiam Castle in East Sussex. From the photographs, you can clearly see that it’s a pretty spectacular construction. Indeed, it looks like the kind of castle immortalised in books and films as the type of defensive military stronghold we all associate with knights and soldiers, sieges and battles – “everyone’s idea of what a medieval stronghold should look like”, as the guidebook puts it.
It certainly has all the outward trappings of a classic medieval defensive building, although now ruined inside: thick stone walls and tall towers with battlements, a wide surrounding moat, a rare 14th century wooden portcullis, arrow slit windows, murder holes in the ceiling of the gatehouse (and even a much later piece of defensive kit in the shape of a World War Two-era pill-box) – all the things you’d expect to see in such a castle. Ostensibly, it is such a castle, and it has the kind of history you might expect from that too.
Oxford Street in the run-up to Christmas (or at any time, really) can be hell on earth. Indeed, I remember getting uncomfortably stuck in a human traffic jam at Oxford Circus the day before Christmas Eve some years ago, after being unwillingly dragged up there for some last-minute shopping by a friend – I vowed ‘never again’ after that!
But while walking down towards Marble Arch and the bus home one evening a few weeks ago, I was struck by how pretty a lot of this year’s Christmas lights are, especially the delicate silvery-white sparkling globes strung across the length of Oxford Street. This makes a change, as anyone who witnessed the horribly tacky and disappointing ‘sponsored’ lights of the last few years will agree.
Walking to the doctor’s surgery this afternoon, I came upon this small, half-bare tree, spindley branches reaching up towards a near-perfect blue sky. Still partly dressed in its vivid Autumn colours, the contrasts of colour, shape and texture were immediately striking.
As the days get shorter, and the nights longer and colder, such flashes of colour become fewer and further between – so be sure to enjoy it while it lasts, Winter is definitely on its way…
The common cormorant or shag
Lays eggs inside a paper bag
The reason you will see no doubt
It is to keep the lightning out
But what these unobservant birds
Have never noticed is that herds
Of wandering bears may come with buns
And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.
Yes, this silly little ditty (one of the first poems I learned by heart as a child) is apparently* by the very same Christopher Isherwood who wrote Mr Norris Changes Trains (1935) and Goodbye To Berlin (1938) – the novels that were later adapted into the play I Am A Camera (1951) and the 1966 stage musical and cult 1972 film Cabaret. I was irresistably reminded of Isherwood’s nonsense poem when I encountered this beautiful cormorant stretching out his wings in the July sunshine as I walked by the Thames in Richmond last week. Incidentally, you might like to know that cormorants and shags (no sniggering at the back there!) are, although of the same avian family, two totally different types of bird – and there were no bears (with or without buns) to be seen anywhere, rather disappointingly…
*There is some debate over whether the poem is actually by Isherwood at all, but it is certainly widely attributed to him on most poetry websites and in pre-internet poetry collections (of the physical book kind) dating back over a number of decades that I have either personally seen or own.