Under the scruffy hawthorn – Dog-eared and tatty, Dog-sniffed yet brooding – The ditch runs; Only a whip of thorns Protecting it from wandering eyes. The ditch; A man-made beck That beckons to nothing But flash-flood over-spill And tsunami waves From lorry tyres Smashing and thrashing Their pyrrhic victories Against road-edge puddles.
Yet they are there.
These ditches. These long lines of art Where man and nature Worked together; A partnership, For once, That worked for both.
Were they made for the roads? Steel armed navvies, Armies of shovels Digging in unison. The last spike in Finishing the turnpike?
Were they made for the fields? Farmhands and hired hands, Sludge-trudging; Stopping root rot Or building a floss To turn the stone of the mill?
Each was made With salt-soaked brow, And blistering toil; With nicked-fingers, And aching backs With rough handled hoes And hand-me-down trenching spades Under warm July skies Zipping with insects, Skies now painted in sepia – But were bright and true.
Who dug the ditches? Their faces, lost to us; But their work, Their art – of These unsung rivers – Is their story, living still.
Reclaimed from the plough
The soil, still cloddy, cratered
By last night’s heavy squall;
Cobbles, palm-sized, glossy
As the promised talons
Of the high street nail shops
Turned over, dredged from the deep
By hundreds of years of harrow and furrow,
Climbing, through the brambled hooks
Of thistles and leggy hawthorn
Up to the kissing gate –
There the world transformed:
Like those you imagine
In your sweetest dreams;
Old trees, broken, suggestive,
Illuminated by shafts of forest light
Here a cackling witch,
Huddled, bent, cloaked in mystery
There a shepherd, braced to the wind
His sheep, the undercover,
Wizened hollies, starved of light,
Fumbling for opportunity.
Beyond, like mystic isles,
Floating in a forgotten sea –
Fragments of the Needwood
The ancient wood that
Grew hereabouts; pioneering
As the ice withdrew
But slain by man and his piteous greed.
Fragments, though, remain,
Living memories, old, misshapen
Beacons of aged hope
A hope for those, like me
Who stare down on them
Like Atlantis, re-emerging.
Mesmerised, my eye barely focuses on the pane
The other side
Rain falling on a puddle, overlapping, racing, the venn
Each with a bow wave, pushing, intercepting one another
A 1970s wall print, bold circles
Insects caught in a force 10, blowing to south westerly
They are, clearly, the epitome of biscuity indulgence. Two sweetly crunchy – but not too crunchy – layers; pale yet tasty, like a Swedish beach volleyballer at the start of the season, they dreamily sandwich the cream, that moreishly off-yellow, enticingly soft yet strangely brittle, layer of vanillary squishy goodness. And I had eaten the last one.
This wouldn’t have been too bad, but all that was left were digestives, some broken and the odd rich tea. I had, unwittingly committed a cardinal biscuit sin. Oh! If only I had been more observant; less hawkish about spotting and gobbling down my prey, the embarrassment could have been saved!
Diversionary tactics. That was my only option.
“I’m not sure why everyone is so upset. They’re not the best biscuits anyway”, I ventured combatively, tentatively prodding the conversation for weak points. “Hob Nobs beat custard creams hands down. Chocolate ideally, but they don’t have to be”.
“No! No!”, a cacophony of disagreement washed my way. Success, I imagined, was mine.
But no. “You can’t change the subject. You’ve taken the last custard cream. We probably won’t invite you again”, said John. “Mind you..” he paused. “…at least you didn’t take my all time favourite. I do like a … Lemon Puff”.
Waves of biscuity nostalgia rippled out. The Lemon Puff. Flaky and crumbly on the outside, with a wash of transparent, crunchy icing sugar to bite through and between the layers, a tart, sharp lemon middle. “Yes! They are amazing! I haven’t had them for years!”.
“Marks and Spencer” chimed in Mrs P. “That’s where you get them from”.
“But they’re no good for dunking”.
Silence. Then revolt!
“Urrrgh! No! How can you dunk? It’s a crime to biscuitness!” Mrs W just pulled a face. Her position was clear.
“Only as long as you don’t dunk all the way in” added John, with a furtive twitch of his eyebrow. “And anyway, you can dunk anything creamy. Custard creams, Bourbon Creams.. they’re all fine”
“Yes…” I added. “But only if they have the jam and cream”, I added. “I’m never sure if it is the real Jammy Dodger that I like. It has to have that cream”
“They’re from M&S” added Mrs P, who I now realised was secretly popping down to Mark’s for her regular confectionery supply, such was her intricate knowledge of their baked goods range. “Jammy Dodgers just have jam. That’s why they’re, well, jammy”
“Are you sure you’re not thinking of Happy Faces?”, added John. They’re jammy and creamy. Good for dunking and eating alone” he added with a conciliatory wink.
“My all time favourite biscuit? Well it’s a polariser”, I said. “Fig Rolls. But not the ones that have been cut off. They have to have the folded ends, almost like they’re fully enclosed.” The response made it clear that Fig Rolls could not vie for biscuit leadership. Too many nay sayers. Too many heretics yet to see the Light.
A change of tack. “Sometimes, I just want a simple biscuit. A Ginger Nut. Or even a Nice.”
“Which Nice though?” quizzed John instantly. “The standard one, or the one with a layer of granulated sugar on top? It has to be that one. The other reminds me of my Nan. Or….” he paused, “..it could be the thin one with a layer of cream in the middle”.
“What?” I asked. “You mean a Custard Cream?”
It all ended with a Custard Cream. It always does.
This is a journal of things. A celebration of the beauty of the ordinary and less ordinary; of day-to-day magic that goes unnoticed. It celebrates the present, the now, the moment, without looking too far forward. How, through grand design, serendipity or luckless emergence we have ended up with the fascinating, intriguing world that is all around us, yet passes us by.
It’s deliberately glass half full; noticing, celebrating and laughing with life’s little pleasures, life’s events; the bounty of here. By my reckoning, ordinary can be extraordinary, and our lives richer if we pause, however momentarily, to notice it. To see the sparkling miscellany of life that surrounds us.