With apologies to The Eagles, “Life in the slow stream, Surely gonna ease your soul” seems a suitable line to begin a post typically full of the observations that always happen down here when the weather is wonderful. And DRY!
For most of my life I’ve been a very cautious fellow. Speed has never done anything for me – I did have a brief fling with a Honda 90 as a student, simply as a cheaper and quicker way of getting from A to B than a car and much easier to keep off the street. But mainly relied on my trusty Puch Free Spirit pedal cycle, bought from Rody Rees in Lampeter, before he got into quad bikes in the late seventies, and Honda Big Reds became the big money spinner. Later Rody was swallowed up by Daltons ATVs of Talsarn, now an enormous venture serving much of Wales.
This trusty Austrian built snazzy silver liveried road bike (click here for an image) saw me through my days in Cambridge and indeed a sponsored Land’s End to John O’Groats bike ride at the end of my second year. However riding in a group long distance, I never remember any real thrill element to cycling, and let’s face it, the only hills around Cambridge were the molehill sized Gog Magogs to the South of the city. There was an unnamed very short but steep minor climb South East of the city which featured in a regular training run and was known affectionately by us all as hernia hill. Although we only ever rode up this, and never down.
All my time as a self employed vet I avoided the lure of skiing as being far too risky, and never really had the time to get back into the competitive dinghy sailing of my youth. There certainly was a thrill element to being hung on the wire of a Fireball trapeze, skimming over the choppy water with a ballooned orange spinnaker feeding power through your two glove held sheets, as you creamed off on a broad reach, hoping the wind and boat speed were fast enough for the chiseled bow to plane and the hull begin to throb .
And then the ebikes arrived, and given our local terrain, after the slog and thigh teasing efforts of climbing the hills that stretch around us in all directions, come the inevitable sharp descents. And so, in a way I never quite understand, from somewhere very distant, my brain decided to drag up a very specific image from childhood memories, and I found myself thinking of the opening scene from the film Lawrence of Arabia, (or so I recall it with evident clarity).
On several occasions as I headed down various hills at speeds in the mid thirties (and Fiona topped 40mph, such is the incriminating data one gets from a modern bike), with the cold wind making my eyes stream, I had a very clear vision of this scene return to me. I suddenly “got” the adrenaline rush, and relished the thrill that Lawrence found and comes from travelling at speed in fresh air.
And then, and those who can see where a plot is headed will be expecting this, came the day when after a longish trek on forestry tracks, I took the lead downhill towards the redundant picnic area at Abernant. We’d had a little overnight rain a couple of days previously, and the gravel at that point was quite fine and compacted, but I still don’t know what happened. Other than to say that one moment I was speeding along at probably 30 plus, mid track, the next the bike was going over, heading for the road edge before twisting and, horizontal now with me clinging on, sliding down the central gravel before coming to a halt courtesy of the friction between, mainly, my body and the gravelly surface. Not a pretty sight for Fiona to see, and certainly a new experience for me.
Dreading trying to get up, and with an initial concern for the bike’s well being, I was amazed to find that apart from a flipped off front light cover which quickly snapped back on, and handlebars and front fork rotated through nearly 360 degrees – how did that happen – the bike was completely unscathed. My granny style basic Dora phone was written off in my short’s pocket, taking a maximum impact hit and possibly explaining the gap in bruising below. I’d clearly picked the wrong leg pocket to put that in, but amazingly and most importantly, I was able to stand up, and very quickly decided I was up to getting back on the bike to ride the couple of miles home. (Good job I’d kept on my old practice sweatshirt, too, which got pushed way up my arm by the gravel.)
The bruising down one thigh for the last 10 days made it look as though Fiona had taken a baseball bat to me, but I was indeed very fortunate not to have needed medical attention in these NHS stretched times.
A retained tube of wonderful Dermisol cream “For animal treatment only” and well past its out of date stamp, but my often used antibiotic-free therapy for such severe graze/abrasions in pets, is working wonders on my knee and elbow lesions and a lesson has been well and truly learned.
Forget the challenge of lowering trip times, pedal harder up the hills which is where the real worth of these trips is, and take time to savour scenes coming down the other side. And keep those elbows and knees tucked in – it seems the handlebars and pedal are designed to be the major contact points should you capsize…
And most of all aim to return intact and in one piece.
I’ve since ordered a copy of “Lawrence of Arabia”, which apparently still ranks as one of the best 5 British made films of the twentieth century and it won 7 Oscars when released in 1962, including best picture and best director, for David Lean, and didn’t he oversee some classics!
For those unfamiliar with the film’s story, what I’ve omitted from my earlier description is that Lawrence crested a hill at speed, missed seeing a couple of boy cyclists in his path in a dip in the road, swerved late, went over the handlebars, and died in hospital 6 days later. One of the neurosurgeons treating him went on to study the loss of motorcycle dispatch riders through head injuries, and eventually pushed for compulsory helmets for motor bike riders, both military and civilian… Click here for more on the film, and here for more on T.E. Lawrence.
The photos in this piece aren’t from the exact route we took for that fateful trip, but do show more of the sort of wonderful terrain we can cycle into from our door. And why e-bikes are such a boon for fogies like us. I was also so impressed by the bike’s resilience, that I’ve now bought some shares in the holding company Accell, a Dutch firm that makes both Haibikes and Raleighs, amongst a range of well known brands and is apparently the major player in European e-bike manufacture. I just have this feeling that though battered right now as a company, one of the fall outs (sorry) from the current crisis might be a greater desire for slower forms of travel.
In addition after excellent advice from our at-the-end-of- a-phone family physio (thanks Rinka), though a little sore I was back on the bike in 48 hours, though as yet have stuck to safer tarmac.
In similar vein, I was fortunate to witness for only the second time a few days ago, the wonderful sight of an abseiling slug. Frankly I couldn’t miss it, since it was at eye level over the central path of the greenhouse one morning when I opened up at 7.00 am to shift the frost tender plants back outside. For any who’ve never witnessed this marvel of nature, I’m including a short video of it below – not much to see, but that’s the point really for this post! The last time I saw one doing this was way back in 2012, when I know very few current blog readers were reading my musings, so forgive me for repeating some of what I found out about slug slime then! (Click here for more photos)I wondered about what tensile strength the slime cord must have to be to support a large slug like this? Is slime tensile strength a limiting factor in eventual slug size? And since it will have a non fatal terminal velocity like many small mammals, then why not simply drop off the leaf to the ground? Since that way you would save yourself a whole lot of time and slime. And although slug slime is over 90% water, the rest is a modified glycoprotein, and so, I suppose, physiologically quite costly to produce.
A bit later I found on-line that slug slime has some fascinating properties, sometimes behaving like a liquid (e.g. as a lubricant when gliding over a surface), and sometimes when the molecules of glycoprotein are arranged in a different fashion, behaving more like a solid, as I guess here in the slime cord. Click here for a bit more information on this…
I’d already thought I’d call this abseiling (which derives from the German for Ab – down, and Seil – rope), when I’d returned inside and made a cup of tea. But an hour later, having given up with the photography owing to midge attacks, I wondered what had happened to the slime cord once the slug reached the ground. Could it be re-ingested, or was it just left behind as a dangling sticky cord? Or did it, or the water in it, evaporate into thin air?
Over the last few weeks I’ve pondered that one of the (few?) benefits of the current crisis might be getting everyone to have to slow down and think about what’s really important, myself included.
So here’s a new fable in pictures for these troubled times from our garden –
The Tale of Sally the Slug and Harry the Hare….
And ended up exhausted and turned to rusting iron.
(Many thanks to locally based Martin Duffy and Angela for this wonderful prop! Click here for their website for any distant readers)
Meanwhile in the greenhouse, Sally, the slimy slug, who spent all night very slowly slithering to the very apex to graze on algae and leaves, decided as light began to tinge the Eastern sky, to take the scenic route down. So abseiled down her own strong and sticky, slimy thread. And enjoyed a wonderful view as the sun rose and warmed her slowly spiralling body as she inched towards the floor. With plenty of time to think about what she was going to do for the rest of the day, and hardly a care in the world.
( Apologies for gender inaccuracies – slugs are hermaphrodites, but it doesn’t work as well with “it”).
Interestingly in the same slug abseiling post from 2012, I was doing battle with rabbits, and this year they’re once again proving to be a big issue, having decided that my deep beds for veg and fruit are the perfect location for some quick overnight tunneling.
Not even my usual trick of dribbled pee is deterring them, so Fiona has got to work and is rabbit proof fencing the whole area – this is one year when we really do want to try to grow as much of our own produce, and not lose it to insurgents.
They’re also making their dastardly bid to decapitate all the Snakeshead Fritilary flowers in the upper hay meadow, but here a combination of much dry weather and walks round the mown path at dusk with the watering can every few days has seemed to help. Increasing numbers of flowers in this, the second year since planting, has seen many more flowers overall surviving so I’m hopeful for lots more seed. Eventually as with slug damage to plants, sufficient numbers should mean that even a modest rabbit burden is unlikely to take a big proportion.
This Most Glorious Spring
In this most glorious spring, our cruel Gods with cunning irony,
And perfect twenty twenty vision, hung out the sun,
In cloudless skies, Bithynian blue, to dry.
Far down below, on mortal Earth,
These early, oft calm April weeks were isolated, fraught.
Whilst grown men weep, and women cry
Before the laggard Cuckoo calls.
In this, our special spring, my mind’s been rinsed with special scents,
Exquisitely refined. The heady Turkish Woodstock, exotically seeps
From purpled clustered bells. Magnolia stars, whose oriental charms,
Were very first to tempt with potent perfumed nectar,
And spared this spring, the night time thief’s sharp harms –
The frosty, burning killer kiss.
And later still, in palest lemon, Jonquils,
Flamboyantly Iberian, tall and slim, yet
Filled with memories of Cornish Saints,
Magicians, Antelopes and Stately Piles.
Breathe deep, inhale and savour, while you can,
This redolence of other worlds, so fragrant,
So, smell again
Before the laggard Cuckoo comes.
The meadow’s turf is studded now, with sunny Astered Aslan manes,
Rich feasts for plunder by those tiny goat horned bees. Barely scattered since
The clocks have stopped, the soft seed strewn and windless,
Parachutes redundant on those lion toothed leaves.
The lightest shower from nowhere, and the highest clouds have closed, for now,
The Swallows’ herald blooms, their upright bronzed enamel smart deceit,
Distracting, hidden inner shiny plates of cheap gold leaf,
Bowls which shimmer once the sun returns.
And focal for the shiny suited Ashy Miner, in Sunday best of black and white,
Which leaves this airy vernal space and tunnels down, no day of rest,
For deeper, darker seams and safety. Dig deeper dear, dig deeper
Lest the roving furry dark-edged foe who sips just now
Benignly with her narwhaled tongue
Probed deep inside the short spurred throat of pretty violet smiling faces,
Finds your lair, exposed and open, and flicks her Easter gifts, maliciously,
To wreck your best laid plans, for future generations
Before the laggard Cuckoo flies.
The warming sun has stirred, and blown the primrose clouds atop
The goaty willows, billowing, rippling up the valley.
These flushed promiscuous pollen pussy pin cushions.
No more those silky silvered buds,
They’ve spilled their egg yolk richness to the light, tempting.
Are found, are raided, ravaged as intended, soon stripped bare.
Debased once more to argent shells, the stolen gold
Is stashed elsewhere, and sagely, but too late, the breaking leaves
Their pussy modesty restore
Before the laggard Cuckoo sees.
The falling, drying stream, recovered from the spates of winter past
Is warm, alive once more this bright Good Friday, ancient planeri Pilgrims,
Who’ve made the long and tiring trip, and in this last adventure
Lithe and serpentine, they roll their stones, or grab them in beguiling mouths,
Covering their tracks, their secret stash, their booty hidden Easter eggs,
Laid just beyond, beneath the gravel glare of super pink, enormous moon.
And sated, spent, are gone and lost
Before the laggard Cuckoo knows.
Inside the ragged holly bush beneath the Dragon rose,
A personal sotto voce serenade, the robin has no need
To raise his voice to make me pause, a mere six feet,
From weeding hand. Calls down the sky, pleads long and slow,
And answered then, in soft and subtle hue, with dusted gems transformed,
Spread, underwings apart, suns himself and fluttering round to thrill
An eye more compound than complex, the Holly Blue
Dares me to touch and feel, impossibly within my reach
Before the laggard Cuckoo courts.
This Holy afternoon, the bliss of solitude and silence is, briefly, gone.
As grass is mown way down the valley;
The twice repeated guinea’s tuneless sawing snaps
The tethered collie’s calm. And trio’d yaps
Call back across the furlonged space
That is what counts as neighbourly association here.
The foreign pheasant, caged, then coughs.
Explosive, two timed, dry projectile
In this vacant valley’s peace and quiet
Before the laggard Cuckoo sighs.
Then suddenly past four, cacophony departs, the mowing stops,
Imposter birds fall quiet, a last car tracks from North to South,
The merest zephyr tempts the skirted Snakeshead ballerinas’ sway.
Blackbirds fill the void with softer curdled melodies,
Beside the stream the warblers chirr
Fake late summer’s sex starved stridulations,
Maybe get lucky, before they leave,
Before the laggard Cuckoo flees.
And just before it’s time for tea and slow worked dough,
Handmade Crossed Buns, a chattering crowd,
This unallowed near touching threesome, have such fun,
Cavort in air so clean and skim, three Easter swallows
Sun kissed harbingers of hope, a different
Continental rhythm riffed,
Before the laggard Cuckoo chants.
And after, when the books are written, grand history’s been told,
Where were you when, that special Easter Sunday,
In that glorious ironic spring,
The world locked down, in fear and dread?
Will life have changed, the shallow and superfluous, long shed?
The marvel of the vicious blackthorn’s bridal veil,
The hedgerow banks’ embroidered stitchwort stars,
The King Cup’s golden goblet, the palest lilac rising hue
Those Lady’s Smocks still shield the clue,
So dream and strain to catch
Or maybe now,
That distant sign.
And sense regret, the sudden pang
For glorious times,
When first that laggard Cuckoo sang.
Then Hallelujah, Joy, at dusk on sixteenth day,
Caught faintest two toned deep and soft sweet resonance,
Before the fleeting pinking cloud blocked next day shepherd’s morn.
The cuckoo’s back! And now relaxed, will cheer us,
With his random intermittent roving tune,
Through manic May, and rattled June,
Until, perhaps, the sheep are shorn.
With the lock down extended for at least another 3 weeks, the National Garden Scheme have decided to offer virtual tours of some of the great private gardens that visitors would normally be flocking to in this fabulous weather but which all remain closed and inaccessible. The loss of revenue for the charity and in turn the impact on its giving will be severe, so the suggestion is that virtual visitors to these gardens might like to donate to the scheme through the link on their page. Click here for more.
Or more locally there’s a Justgiving page which has been set up for gardeners who open in our local area. If after taking our own humble garden tour below, you feel like making a small donation to this very worthy cause, it would be very gratefully received.
For visitors to this page, here’s a medley of images taken following our now routine one way tour of the garden, walked this April 14 th, just after dawn.
Our visitors will never see the garden from 5.30 to 7.30 am. Not even Fiona does! This is what it might look like, if the sun smiles for me… Here’s the link to the local Justgiving page for the NGS. Click here.
This blog has always been a free to view venture, for the 9 years I’ve kept it going.
It would be wonderful if a few readers were now able to help the NGS charities at this challenging time.
Finally a musical discovery, which if you didn’t catch it on the radio, then do click below and listen. I can’t find a recording of this available anywhere, just this You Tube of it being performed by the young Icelandic pianist, Vikingur Olaffson who also transcribed this arrangement. The original piece titled Ave Maria was composed by an Icelandic composer, Sigvaldi Kaldalons (13 January 1881 – 28 July 1946) who also happened to be a doctor. Click here for more on a composer I’d never heard of before, but who wrote in a traditional romantic style and composed many of Iceland’s most famous and widely performed songs.
Olaffson has been recently installed on BBC Radio Four’s Front Row as artist in residence for the duration of the lock down, performing a piece each week, live from the empty Harpur concert hall in Reykyavik. This was his first sublime offering. Click here for more.