Thursday, 21 May 2009

A different sort of post.

Or one more diary-like than they've been of late. I have new poetry books on order - gushy thoughts on Carol Ann Duffy will resume shortly. And I'll probably re-visit lemonade and get summer-food excited. I'll even try and remember to take photos of it...

T and I and various assorted others went to the Cambridge Beer Festival yesterday (I drank cider). It was a wonderful evening of random drop-ins - we were the centre of a small group of wanderers from all areas of my Cambridge existence. GSM people came, a few ADC types were about (including some we hadn't planned to see), Matt the director of the the play he stitched me into producing dropped by, Carl was there, and even Linda from the college chapel set. Even a kind of vicarious family element, though that definitely doesn't count. I had to keep double-taking to keep track of it, and drifted around the circle trying to make sure that everyone had someone to talk to, because in a lot of cases they either knew me a lot better than they knew one another or often were only in the same group because of me. Linda spent a long time explaining spider reproduction to Marion (whom she'd never met), and bonding with Matt over the fact that they both have connections to the zoology department. Leave Linda in any situation and she will proceed to gross out everybody with Bugs. I love Linda.* Carl found someone he'd lived with in his second year of uni in a city 200 miles away to chat to. The attractions of a beer festival break down great disparities. It was a little confusing, and a little stressful because of it. We left before it got too late. T had been on breakfast and I had to be on top of a tower wearing a cassock at *7:15* this morning (more later).

It was a beautiful evening still when we made it home, not too hot or too cold or anything. Hopefully it promises more to come, but I don't gamble when we're talking British weather. We went to sit on the garden wall for a bit. And then there was a hedgehog.

More or less totally unconcerned that we were there, it came bumbling through the fence and snuffling through the undergrowth. It was full dark by that point, no moon, barely any light seeping around the blinds from Will's film inside. Just glimmer enough that it was possible to follow the creature's progress by means of an occasional glimpse of a waddling body on the grass, but it was quiet enough that we could hear it. Listening to it eat was hilarious - so much relish from the little animal. It was chompchompchomplipsmackpotterslurp for a good ten minutes, getting nearer and nearer to T's foot on the lawn. Both of us were still as stones, craning towards it and straining our eyes in dimness to see what it was up to, wondering if it would actually get close enough to touch Traci's shoe (it didn't). When it began to move up the garden towards a bush at the back, I crept inside to fetch Will to show him, but though we could still hear it, it didn't come back from under the bush and it left our patch via the back fence.

But a HEDGEHOG. I like hedgehogs. I like the way they move and the expressions on their faces and their attitude. I don't often see them though; in Cornwall I suspect they're either out-competed by the badgers, of which there are many, or just scared of the dogs, or both. And tiredness and tense and awkward social situations melted into our watching of a wild thing enjoying itself. No deadlines, no nothing. Not long awake from a winter sleep and enjoying a spring glut of fat worms and bugs. No concerns beyond dinner.

I like how even in a city there are still so many bits of things that are natural that hit you if you look. People say that city-dwellers have no idea about the seasons because they never see the plants. But there are hedgehogs and foxes (currently irritating a houseful of London friends of mine) and birds and the odd growing thing and all sorts, and there is the colour of the sky and the weather - it still has an impact.

I wasn't really a country kid, in that nobody in my family farms or raises food animals or manages forests or anything of that sort, but I did grow up in a village. I can milk a cow, believe it or not, though I wouldn't like to be challenged to. But city kids get taken to farms to do that, now, so they can too. I think they probably don't see much of the fields or what goes into them or comes out of them and how things grow, though. Not in a field-wide sense. Not a whole crop, just a bean at school, unless someone has an allotment or a vegetable patch. My mum did and does have a vegetable patch, and she supplements it with ducks now. The llamas still serve no useful function. But I had a childhood spent climbing on rusting tractor hulks, chasing rabbits with my dog, and picking blackberries - until I was 11 anyway, and I loved it. I then spent years living in a city, and got used to the idea of streets of houses and postage-stamp gardens and shops that weren't an event to go to. I know I'm lucky to have had that upbringing - not many kids do these days. But the thing I like most is that it has left me with the ability to have just a small handle on how things the natural world fits together, and how our and everybody's lives are affected by seasonality in a way that it must be difficult to grasp in quite the same way if you've never been that close to the countryside. And it is that slightly closer bond that makes me want to respect it enough not to eat meat that hasn't at least seen daylight and been able to stretch its legs a bit, and to try my best to make choices that have as little impact as possible. I'm not there yet, but I try, and it's got to be a start...

I felt that feeling again this morning. The adults were down to sing the Ascension Day service from the top of the GSM tower at Frightening AM today. I think the last time I got up before 6:30 it was winter - so that time actually felt like dawn, with greyness and mists and sunrise. We're edging on to summer here now, so the sun is well and truly awake at 7am, which was when I left the house. I was slightly disappointed not to be privy to that secret dawn...I like that time of day, though definitely not more than sleep. I can see the season changing, though, and that's ace. On top of the tower today it was a little hazy still from spring dampness, but you could see Ely Cathedral on the horizon 15 miles away - 'the ship of the Fens'. Cambridgeshire is SO flat...

I like that I'm not attached to academic years any more. They create artificial breaks in the progression of the year. Christmas and Easter do that, to a certain extent, too, but they're less intrusive and regimented than the three terms, three holidays arrangement that we use to order our years. I like that I can sink into something more natural, rather than trying all the time to break the year into shorter segments. That just results in feeling like a failure when you miss a deadline that was set with no regard for what the task is and your personal work speed.

And I don't have to watch the end approaching with the same finality that you do with the end of the term, the end of the year, the end of school, the end of university...and there is life beyond whatever the deadline is because the months and the years keep going and don't stop because you've reached a certain milestone. Dates are only a way of talking about time - in themselves they shouldn't be deadlines on their own account. There shouldn't be exams 'just because it's summer'. A couple of college friends have said to me that they always feel guilty if they're in Cambridge in the summer - they should be revising, that's what May means. No. All that May means is that the sun will be edging its way out a bit and that the peas have sprouted. All. Exams are not seasonal. They have nothing to do with the sun and the weather and the natural order of things. There are still deadlines, because otherwise there is no way of functioning, but they are more fluid and less metallic. They move with not against the flow of the year.

*She is actually ace. Used to date a housemate of mine, who made his own mead and shoes and spend a lot of time dressed as a Viking and talking in dead languages.


  1. Hedgehogs are lovely, but terribly ungrateful creatures. I had to stop to move one off the road on the way to work the other morning and all he did was complain when I checked to see if he was injured. They can be really mouthy when they want to be. Still, I love them and I love that they eat slugs, of which we have more than enough.

  2. I found your blog from your entry on the Pioneer Woman.

    I'm so glad I read this post. I just moved back to the States after living in Norfolk for the last three years. You've reminded me of some of my favorite things - Ely Cathedral and how you really do see it from so far away, rising up from the dark Fen soil. And dawn, which does come so early in the summer, and dusk which stays so late. And hedgehogs. We caught one crossing our back garden one night. He/she froze - I mean foot in the air balanced while my husband and I gawked at our first encounter! Later, cat food was eaten from a metal bowl on concrete, rattling in the night.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences!

  3. I'm glad you enjoyed it! Whereabouts in Norfolk were you living? It's a pretty place...I have designs on several beaches with some friends later in the summer, so if you've got recommendations that aren't Wells (went there last year) I'd love to hear them!