GOLD BLOCK

In one of my infrequent episodes of tidying-up, a small round tin emerged, resisting any immediate attempt to reveal the contents within. A pipe tobacco tin from the 1950s, a remaining link to my father who for a few years after his return from War service smoked a pipe. Despite the censure in later years there was something welcoming to be greeted on returning home to the scent of pipe smoke.

In later years my father gave up smoking, as he also gave up his pre-war twice weekly fox hunting having been captured by the German army, made his escape, found his way to the Dunkirk beaches, only for his rescuing paddle steamer to be bombed mid channel and to be rescued again by the French navy as he swam, naked and determined, toward the English shore. He understood the terror of the hunted pursued by the many.

Despite regular endeavours over the next twenty-four hours, the tobacco tin was reluctant to reveal its contents. It was certain something was inside. Shaking the tin gave a sound intriguing enough to resist throwing the unopened tin away. I was sure this pipe tobacco tin was not the one my father had sent back from Italy when Mt.Vesuvius erupted in 1944, a massive and its most recent eruption. That other tin contained lava dust from the volcano; we still have it on a shelf somewhere.

It was obvious the Gold Block – 2 oz, net of Fine Virginia Cut Plug – tin opened by twisting the lid from its base. Hand pressure was resisted, hot water on the lid made no difference, tapping all round the tin was to no avail, rubber and leather gloves brought no success. The final resort on D+1 was WD40 in the knowledge the oil might contaminate the contents.

Five minutes later the tin was open and the contents unharmed. Inside was a supply of decades old small stationery labels, each with its string attached ready to identify keys and other like objects.

It struck me then how apt the legend on the tin was. I have been distracted of late from my work-in-progress, flitting, and hesitating, between one part-written novel and another, between – The Register of Joe’s Trees – set in the 1940s and ensuing decades, to another, with the working title – Exmoor Puffball – set in the twenty-tens here on Exmoor; yes, Puffball has been on the stocks for months, if not years.

In front of me was this wake-up call: GOLD BLOCK, to bring me back to measured and directed work. Further it was a tin full of labels as if each one was crying out to be a prompt to measure and inspire the pace of my writing.

 

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PLOUGH SHEARS, PRUNING HOOKS AND NOTEBOOKS

Amongst the many joys of living in a house that was once the heart of an Exmoor hill farm, isolated and self-sufficient, are the unexpected things from a bygone age that turn up on occasion.

Over a long period, for many months the ground was too wet to get the big digger onto the site, we have re-worked our ‘top pond’. Over the years it had silted up with the run-off from the road blocking incoming field drains. IMG_1982Once the digger had done its work, I have been preparing the surrounding ground using the Quad to pull my small harrow, clocking up five miles round and round the pond, to work the bare, IMG_1968and dusty, earth for wildflower seeding. As a consequence a huge number of stones have been brought to the surface. I have collected a trailer load – where are those stone-picking Victorian school children when you need them?

One of the ‘stones’ I collected was triangular in shape. On closer examination after chipping away the dense earth attached, it turned out to be a long-lost, surely Victorian, iron plough shear. On another occasion, we found the closing hook from an old broken-down gate lying half buried, a prime example of the local blacksmith’s work, beaten out from a single length of metal. IMG_1969Also, still fitted on a larder door, there was a metal latch hand made on an anvil, as were the many horseshoes we’ve unearthed. The ‘pruning hook’, perhaps more a sickle, IMG_1976was my father’s and dates from the 1930s bearing his initials, PGT, burned onto the handle as he did with many of his working tools.

All these things tell a story, each is their own notebook, the equivalent of the notebooks all writers must have with them as they go about their day, noting down maybe only a word, a single sentence or more, that one day can be worked into a piece of writing. IMG_1973Over the years the notebooks accumulate, their jottings within being a seedbed of ideas for writing, maybe only a paragraph of fiction, or memorabilia, perhaps a verse of poetry. And some of those notebook seedlings will later prosper as the trigger of a short story, a novel or a script.

 

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WORLD POETRY DAY

Today is World Poetry Day; while many established poets will be honoured and celebrating, I thought there would be no harm in joining in, but I make no claim to have skill as a poet.

A SWALLOW IN MY HAND

Today I had a swallow in my hand,

its silky sheen of blue and black

within my grasp. Just one from out the band

of fledgling chicks, gape-fed, still hanging back

to crouch beside their nest across the beam.

A day went past before they launched and flew

save one small bird, dropped from their team,

to press against the window pane, not through

to sky, but tangled in the spider’s den.

I heard the noise and took it to the light

a while it sat upon my hand and then

was gone, at first uncertain shaky flight,

but next in wheeling arcs it soared away

its sweeping flight my huge reward today.

 

DARK BRENDON NIGHT 

Dark Brendon night, see lights shine out from sheds

where panting ewes and standing cows bide time

and through the night, tired souls get up from beds

and go again to watch their stock. Hours chime,

they wish themselves asleep some more and yet

seek out first signs of life to come; they wait

to ease the way with skill or call the vet

if trouble shows and problem signs dictate,

till bleating lambs and rasping licks relieve

concern and nursing dams bring young to suck.

The dawning sky creeps in the day to weave

as skipping legs and wagging tails will buck

about their pen.   The school bus comes uphill

to take the kids to class against their will.

 

I live on Brendon Hill, the eastern edge of Exmoor, UK.

 

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SILENCE

Erling Kagge is a Norwegian Philosopher, Lawyer and Explorer who has trekked to the North and South Poles, also climbing Everest to complete the ‘Three Poles’ challenge. His book Silence is being read on BBC4 at 09.45 in the mornings this week. The book expounds the concept that Silence is fundamental to our existence.

In the book he is quoted as saying getting to the South Pole is a matter of putting one foot in front of the other until you get there.

That seems to me to be akin to writing a novel – the technique of putting one word in front of another until you get ‘there’.

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POEMS

There has been much said of late of a renewed interest in new published poetry. I live in West Somerset on Brendon Hill, the East flank of Exmoor. This is farming country, in the main beef and sheep lands.  In the next few, late winter early spring, months there will be round the clock activity in calving and lambing sheds.

After a few nights in the sheds years back I wrote a piece, which after many edits emerged in Sonnet form as Dark Brendon Night.

 

DARK BRENDON NIGHT

 

Dark Brendon night, see lights shine out from sheds

where panting ewes and standing cows bide time

and through the night, tired souls get up from beds

and go again to watch their stock. Hours chime,

they wish themselves asleep some more and yet

seek out first signs of life to come; they wait

to ease the way with skill or call the vet

if trouble shows and problem signs dictate,

till bleating lambs and rasping licks relieve

concern and nursing dams bring young to suck.

The dawning sky creeps in the day to weave

as skipping legs and wagging tails will buck

about their pen.   The school bus comes uphill

to take the kids to class against their will.

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A SOMERSET TIPPING PUTT

The GTX of its day, this farm cart, a one horse Somerset Tipping Putt, worked on a single farm, Horsey Farm, Bridgwater for some seventy-five years. It was sold in the Farm Sale in the early 1990s and has rested in an Exmoor barn for over two decades.

The day I bought it I was told by its farmer owner Percy Adams, then in his nineties, that as a seventeen year old he had walked his horse from his farm to the village of Thurloxton to take delivery of the Putt from its maker, the wheelwright Jim Porter. As his horse settled into the shafts St Giles Church bells rang out to celebrate the Armistice, Monday the eleventh of November in 1918.

This week the Putt has returned to Thurloxton, the place where it was built, to be held in Village Ownership and to be part of the village’s Armistice Centenary Exhibition in November.

The Putt shows some scars from its years of farm work, but the inherent strength of its design and its fitness for purpose, still in its original, now somewhat faded, paintwork, is witness to the skill of yesterday’s craftsmen – Jim Porter, the wheelwright and Walter Winslade, the blacksmith who made all the ironwork fittings.

 

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TREE DOWN

We have seen all weathers since the Autumn Equinox last weekend, First the storm brought down a Rowan Tree, 20180926_082842not the biggest, but one we planted some twenty-one years ago as a six-foot sapling. We hope to reset the root and a foot or so of its trunk so that we have a coppiced tree and there are already two four foot growths from the last two summers looking set to prosper. Slices of the trunk will make good wooden painting boards.

 

 

Last December we had to coppice a sweet chestnut tree growing in our woodland, too tall under the power lines. Ten months on its summer growth is spectacular. It will have to be a regular coppice!

20180926_08404620171205_121724

The woodland, planted in 2009, is making good progress. Mowing the paths is ever more difficult, further trimming of side shoots will be on the agenda this winter.20180815_115334Then during the week we have had cold nights and hot cloudless days, a temperature range of some twenty degrees C, from 1C to 21C on still days. During the week the nights have lengthened by about half an hour as a full moon from a cloudless sky has ‘lit’ the scene.

The swallows have gone on their journey South and in the early morning we heard the first ‘roar’ of a rutting red deer stag down the valley. Every day we have been treated to large squadrons of  geese overflying us. Their base is at Wimblball Lake, but where they go, back and forth, we don’t know, is it to graze local fields or do they go down to the coastal plain either the North Somerset shore or the South Welsh shore?

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