September 2017

A note to the new reader: to understand where I am coming from, in both senses, first read the static information pages in the sidebar to the left: Introduction – The Common – The Garden.

No golden Indian summer, but equinoctial gales, and a chill mid month.

Where last month the lanes were lined with straw, now they are caked in muck. By muck I mean the straw on which animals (mostly pigs) have been bedded. It has the look and consistency – though not the smell – of rich fruit cake. My neighbour Joe’s ancient and rickety tractor and trailer sway and bump along the road, depositing gobbets and clumps of the stuff all the way.

Our morning walks now start in near darkness, and I stumble – and the young dog gallops, chasing hares – across ploughed land. By law farmers are required to reinstate a footpath (public right of way) within 48 hours of ploughing, and then again after drilling. Of course they don’t – why should they? They don’t want people on their land. But plough is almost impossible to walk on, so I take long deviations round the headlands. Few farmers leave enough uncultivated land round the edge of a field either for wildlife – or for a walker.

My harvest continues, but I am up against tough opposition. I returned from a week away to find that rats had eaten all my sweetcorn cobs. Now they are busy climbing up onto the bird feeders for the peanuts and the fatballs.

The holiday! The dog and I went to Northumberland, and I was blown away, not just by the gales, but by the beauty and vastness of the beaches. She and I walked for miles along coastal paths, across dunes and shining sand. Our walks were sometimes solitary, but to her joy there were often dog walkers. She met more dogs on the beach on our first walk than she had seen in her entire nine months, and frolicked and cavorted and raced and chased, splashed and rolled. We had fun.

Another month another funeral. They are frequent. This time it was a 90-year-old Canon of St Albans Cathedral who had retired to nearby Fressingfield.

I had a particular interest in this event. The Canon’s son had placed my portrait of him in the village hall to preside over the funeral meats. Some years ago, before my friend who inspired this blog died, I painted her portrait (see below, right). She and her family were pleased with it, and it hung in their sitting room. It was seen by many and several commissions resulted. One by the wife of the Canon (I am tempted to call her Mrs Proudie, which will define her for those who have read Trollope). By this time the Canon must have been in his early 80s, and his once fine mind was deserting him.

My friend Pat, the inspiration of this blog

A portrait should, I believe, say something about the subject and his world both interior and exterior, not just reproduce a likeness. I asked that the Canon should wear his clerical suit. He – and his world – had shrunk, and the suit hung about him, symbolising the decline and the drawing in of what had been a rich intellectual and ecclesial life. Before the reveal to Mrs Proudie I showed it to friends who knew them well. Yes, they said, that is exactly him. So I took it to her, apprehensively. A great silence fell. Her mouth turned down. No comment was made. A cheque was signed and handed over, with some reluctance.

I later found out that she had not understood, living with him as she did, how much he had aged, and was shocked. I also believe she grasped intuitively how the portrait represented the shrinking of his world and of his mind. I was vindicated, however, these nine years on, by the compliments the painting elicited at the funeral.

At the end of the month I went to fetch ten “adopted” hens, rescue chickens. They come from chicken factory farms all over Suffolk, and would otherwise be culled at 18 months when it is considered their most productive egg-laying days are done. The British Hen Welfare Trust arranges re-homing. My chicken run has been repaired (I trust fox-proof now) and waiting for some time.

A sad sight they are, and one which should prevent anyone buying eggs from caged hens ever again. They have few feathers, and have to be taught how to peck, scratch, and roost.

This month’s entry into this online diary is being done in a hurry. For two weeks now I have locked horns with British Telecom over their inability to restore my broadband. I have driven miles round Suffolk to scrounge connection and office space from friends, and still my broadband does not function. I wait, in a queue, the second visit of an engineer. I do not wait with much confidence. So here I am in a neighbouring village. It is 2017 and they cannot provide reliable internet connection. Maybe by the time I come to write next month’s it will be back….