28 September 2017

I Spy

Leaf Litter

Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus )

I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with A......

Yes, Autumn is gently slipping in the back door, sneaking up on the last days of summer.  Greens are fading into yellows,

English Oak (Quercus robur)

And into the vibrant colours of shorter, cooler days. As Andrew Smith (Forestry Commission Director at Westonbirt Arboretum) explains: once the tree shuts down as it prepares for winter, the chlorophyll breaks down and other coloured chemicals take over. Carotene (which give carrots their colour), anthocyanin’s and tannins give the instantly recognisable colours of autumn, making leaves appear yellow, red, and gold....

Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus)


'Shrooms appear, tempting omelettes in spacious kitchens......

Parasol (Macrolepiota procera)

And families of birds cluster the hedges by farms, the young about to go their own ways, the parents about to face another winter....

Female House Sparrow (Passer domesticus )

And by the roadside, on this particularly fine day, when walking back from Lemsford to Piggotshill, enjoying the gentle Chiltern scenery, the quiet lanes and byways....  by the roadside, within sight of John Bunyan's chimney, between Brocket Hall and Symondshyde Great Wood, I come across this....

At first I wonder whether it isn't a late arising homeless one, snuggled on the verge.  But clearly this is not a living thing, it's the debris of some lazy, anti-social materialist who cares nothing for the environment or for the consequences of their actions (will it just stay there, or will the public purse take money from our pockets to find someone to clear it up?)  

It could be worse.  At least this doesn't block the entire lane, as some fly tippers are wont to do round here.  At least it is wrapped!  Not just a vile agglomeration of shit from some bathroom refurb or garage clearance.

But now my sensibility is awakened, and instead of admiring the beauties around me, I am drawn to the detritus of my fellows.  Here some students have pitched camp and burned their practice papers, leaving forensic evidence of their crime....  though no one will hunt them down.

And here the supermarket alkies have crushed their waste as if it will then just melt into the natural surroundings, devoured by microbes and fungi as leaf litter.....

And, as I near my own untidy destination, I note this little message in the undergrowth.  Why, oh why, do people think that having bagged up their pooch's crap it then becomes acceptable to fling it, or hang it, or leave it somewhere for the delectation of every other passer-by?  What is the point?  Even if the bag is bio-degradable, surely even if you are a bone-idle thoughtless dick-head it would be better just to nudge your doggie's excreta into the long grass without first wrapping it in plastic to draw attention to it?

The world is too much with us.  But dull is he of soul who can pass by a thing of beauty (which probably could be a joy forever) without preferring it in its natural state to that of one desecrated by our collective foulness?

It's not a simple thing.  When I was a child (and I spake as a child) I knew there was a £5 fine for littering, and £5 was a huge amount back then (and you were told not to spit on the lower deck of buses.... if I remember rightly?)  But now, most likely, it won't be cost-efficient to administer a £5 fine (see below).  In the last century (is it that long ago?) a dog needed a licence to shit.  Now it just needs a plastic bag and everything is OK.  

'Nuff said.

It was a lovely day.

A lovely walk.


By the way: Leaving litter is an offence under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. This was extended by the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 under section 18. It carries a maximum penalty of £2500 upon conviction. However, many local authorities issue fixed penalty notices under section 88 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.....  

Yeah, well.....

Incidentally, for intense Autumn colour, see:

10 September 2017

Memory walking for dementia awareness

Down where the spirit meets the bone....

Lucinda Williams is a much lauded star of Americana, though her recent tour of the UK only improved on Elvis Presley by three dates (one of which was Bexhill-on-Sea). Despite that I found myself at the front barrier of the Shepherds Bush Empire stalls on Sunday September 3rd armed with my iPhone and an enthusiasm for her songs, eagerly recognising tracks which are now embedded in a certain American psyche – though not, perhaps, that of the current presidency….

Lucinda was born in 1953, two years after her parents married.  Afflicted, but not destroyed, by her father’s spina bifida, she rose gradually through the ranks of would-be singer/songwriters to become award winning and celebrated, with the continuing support, on stage and off, of her father, the poet and academic, Miller Williams

Miller Williams was a poet who championed the power of everyday language and who delivered a poem (Of History and Hope from Some Jazz A While) at the Capitol for President Bill Clinton’s second inauguration

We have memorized America,
how it was born and who we have been and where.
In ceremonies and silence we say the words,
telling the stories, singing the old songs.
We like the places they take us. Mostly we do……

If we can truly remember, they will not forget.

Tall and thin, Mr. Williams was also economical of speech, but he loved to tell stories. He was admired in literary circles for his direct, plain-spoken style.

According to his obituary in the New York Times, he was a workhorse, publishing 37 books of poetry and prose, both of his own and of others in translation.  He taught at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville for more than three decades and was the founding director of the University of Arkansas Press. His home there was a salon for writers and others, with a guest bedroom that hosted both the hard-bitten poet Charles Bukowski and Jimmy Carter.

He died on Thursday January 1st 2015 in Fayetteville, Ark. He was 84.

The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease.

Which led to Lucinda’s poignant song, If My Love Could Kill which she performs at Shepherds Bush, noting that it was for her father.

Not everyone realises that Alzheimer’s disease is a death sentence.  And, quite understandably, many people are unaware of the various other forms of dementia, all of which lead the same way, even though, as a representative of the Alzheimer’s Society said to me the other day: we have a saying; if you meet one person with dementia, you have met one person with dementia….

Today, one week later, my daughter Hannah and I help marshal 4,000 people walk 9.5 kilometres through London raising money for research into and awareness of Dementia. 

This Memory Walk is a moving event, as almost everyone is walking in memory of a loved one who has suffered and died from Alzheimer’s disease, or another variety of dementia, such as my wife Amanda’s Frontotemporal  Semantic Dementia.

Memory Walk is a sponsored walk for all ages and abilities to unite together to raise money to defeat dementia. The walks are spread across England, Wales and Northern Ireland and each walk will take on a different route through either a city, woodlands or a park; as of today there are still 26 walks to take place this year.  In Scotland there 13 organised walks still to happen.

This year over 110,000 people will walk united, against dementia. The aim is to raise over £9 million. 

We meet in early morning sunshine at the Honourable Artillery Company, just off Finsbury Pavement near Moorgate station in east London.  The volunteers are briefed and we set off for our Marshal Points as the first walkers arrive wearing blue tee shirts, or, in some cases, custom-printed tops.  

Despite the awfulness of this stealthy, miserable condition, the mood here is upbeat, and families, friends, and individuals mill around exchanging stories, writing cards for the Memory Tree, or just enjoying the event.

Hannah and I are stationed just near the approach to Tower Bridge, close by the Tower of London, around the half way mark.  Over the best part of a couple of hours thousands of people pass by: people of all ages; people of different ethnic or religious backgrounds; people with red hats.....

people with children in pushchairs; people with friends or relatives in wheelchairs; people who struggle up the steps, and people who are fit and healthy, who offer sweets to marshals.....  

Almost everyone displays a card, showing a message or a name: walking for Nanny Bobby; Grandad H; Daddy – Donovan Benjamin..... 

This gentleman is walking for Gwendoline Joyce.  She was his wife of 59 years.  She died in June.  Towards the end she weighed 40 kilograms, and couldn’t eat, as she couldn’t open her teeth.

However, despite.....  it is a marvellous day.  There is so much love about.  The fund-raising is brilliant, but the real power is in the togetherness of people who have suffered loss and pain, but who survive and share.  

The walkers all pass by, and the clouds gather.  A light rain starts to fall.  Hannah and I return to her new (just moving in....) flat in Kentish Town, where Amanda sits by the bricked up fireplace.

The title of Lucinda Williams’s most recent album, Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, is a slightly altered line from one of her father’s poems, which reads in its entirety:

Have compassion for everyone you meet,
even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit,
bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign
of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on
down there where the spirit meets the bone.