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Conkers

Maybe I am imagining it, but did conkers used to be bigger? Perhaps it is just that I have grown, but even in my daughter’s small hands there are no Goliaths in our selection of shiny brown nuts from our local horse chestnut tree.

Conkers are the very essence of autumn. They signal that blackberry picking is over and it’s time to embrace burnished amber leaves, pumpkins, colder nights and warming fires. They ignite memories of childhood and conker games. They are often our first forged connection with nature, they are instantly recognisable and have a special place in our collective consciousness.

Yet …

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In Outside

No Gooseberry Fool

I take little pleasure in gathering gooseberries; they are a devil to pick. The low green bush is full of fierce thorns that protrude at every angle. The gooseberries themselves are a bit icky themselves, slightly softly hairy, dangling in pairs like bollocks,  swollen almost taut but with some softness so that you can’t help but give each one a little squeeze as you pick. Hold them up to the sun and they are almost translucent, you can see their insides, their veins and their small seeds which is both magical and disturbing. The bitter sourness of an uncooked gooseberry should therefore be of little …

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In Outside

M.I.A

And all of a sudden May is here. The trees are unfurling their fresh foliage, the veg patch needs tending, the bluebells are nearly over and the evenings are long. April felt like it was missing in action. Disappearing before my eyes like the early morning mist. I hope this isn’t an indication of how quickly the rest of the year is going to vanish.

April was a month of surprises. As the first month of spring we are used to expecting the showers, but the glorious sunshine of Easter seduced us into thinking it might even be summer already. Deer bounded in and out …

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In Outside

Things I see on the school run: March

Big, gawky and angular, I am not sure what it is I am seeing. A matte mottled brown and tan back, with hints of grey, copper and blonde. More colour with richness and depth than one would think, and a pinch of dark fur accentuating a white tip underneath. Both of us taken by surprise, I slow and it quickens. I assume it is a small dog and quickly scan the fields and laneside for its human companion. It follows the verge, preferring to lollop on the tarmac than on the grass and celandines. Then it reaches a break in the hedgerow and an open …

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In Outside

Why did the pheasant cross the road?

I have developed a rather morbid fascination lately. I count the number of carcasses I can spot littering the road side during my twice daily school run.  Specifically, pheasant carcasses, because they are the ones I see most often. My record was 8 in a 5m stretch of country lane. I find their limp rag doll bodies so sad; feathers frayed, buffeted by vehicles. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I wonder if any other animal ended up dead by the road as often, there wouldn’t be some sort of outcry? To me, they are a disturbing symbol of our disposable lifestyles.

A …

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In Outside

12 years

This post is a little different from my usual – but it’s something I feel passionate about. I always have ever since I was little. And now the clock is ticking….

I worry about my children’s future – as any mum does. But when it’s October and the temperature gauge in the car says its 23 degrees and its warm until their bed time alarm bells start ringing. This, just a day after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that we have 12 years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen …

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In Outside

A seasonal tilt

International Coffee Day, Chocolate Week, Halloween, my mum’s birthday, the extra hour in bed: some of the reasons I love October. But here’s my confession; I don’t like ‘spiced’ things – lattes or biscuits, I can’t stand pumpkins (except carving them), I’m no fan of trick or treating (American import) and I don’t like dark afternoons. I do like getting cosy though and starting the move towards winter hibernation and everything hygge. To the Anglo-Saxons this time of year was known as ‘Winter Fylleth’ because at the full moon winter was supposed to begin.

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In Outside

Blessed be…

…the fruit.

I used to think blackberries were only for picking in September; a truly autumnal fruit, so I thought. Every year I was disappointed to have missed the best of the crop. Amateur. Because the secret to blackberry picking is to go earlier than you think. The last couple of weeks of August is probably the best time, before the birds have pecked at them, before the weather rots them and before others pickers have been out. This year they seem to have ripened even earlier.

I have always gone foraging for blackberries – even in London on Putney Heath. Blackberry picking offers rewards …

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In Outside

August August

August, the height of summer, some may think. Or perhaps its depth.Either way this year has been the kind of summer that children store up as memory of all summers. Sunshine and barbecues, icecreams, open windows on hot nights and paddling pools.

In one of those neat word plays, August is named after Emperor Augustus, (after the latin for venerable or consecrated)  and originally had only 30 days. It was thought necessary to add another day in order that Augustus might not be in any respect inferior to Julius. Thus Augustus was exceptionally august in altering August. The only Augustus I can think of is …

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In Outside

Dog days and birthdays

Seamlessly we sweltered from June into July with a prolonged warm dry spell that children will remember in their adult years and adults will remember in their dotage. The dog days are truly here,  sultry days and still nights of heat, drought, fires, thunderstorms, lethargy, mad dogs and Englishmen out in the sun. Even the birds seem to languish idly in the suspended in the humid air, barely moving their wings for flight, as if it’s too much effort. The buzzard is more present and seems to follow me; flying over the garden, perched atop his telegraph pole on the school run. Hot and hungry …

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