It’s the last day of January. A high pitched, instantly recognisable call comes from down in the vale amongst the trees. Possibly it's one of those new Samsung Galaxy phones, though I doubt it. It can’t be a cuckoo, can it? Surely it's too early by about four months. It's a sound that brings back memories of long early summers of childhood, of greenery and big skies. I consult one of my many gardening books and it looks like it might be a wood pigeon pretending to be a cuckoo. Why would a wood pigeon do that?
A work in progress - video based on one fo the entries in A London Country Diary.
A few years ago I read a book about medieval herbalism and, as I am wont to do, afterwards decided to make it a part of my life. I could be a herbalist! So I sent off for a load of seeds from a specialist shop and when they came, rather than sticking them in a drawer like I usually do, I scattered them all over the garden. All kinds of different seeds. Over the years various plants have come and gone but one seems to thrive but I don’t know what it is. It’s either Crimson Parsley, Herb Robert or Feverfew. Or a mixture of all three. The problem I have now is that, whereas Parsley is good for cooking, and Herb Robert is OK, Feverfew is, I think, poisonous. This is complicated further by the fact that there is no such thing as Crimson Parsley.
Urban Country Diary - Seagulls are extrovert birds. In fact they are very annoying.Read More
A walk down to thefairy fields at the end of the Cahermacrusheen boreen where we have a grand
picnic of cheese sandwiches and Tayto crisps and a flask of tea. The sea is
still and the Aran Isles look very close. Most of the land around North Doolin is
parched and the grass dry and brownish as if this was August rather than early
April. But here, on the way to the rocks at the edge of the Burren, the turf is
thick and wet like black gold and little patches of intense green burst out
from beneath the stones.
The kids do a cow attracting dance that achieves its objective, expect these are bullocks not cows. On the way back we see a thorn tree decorated with ribbons, materials, toys, holy water and candles. Next to this is the dry stone wall part of which is made up of massive horizontal stones, which I have a feeling had once been the lost Cahermacrusheen dolmen.
Between two smallish trees in Clissold Park there is a long length of red twine that somebody (conceptual nature artist or mischievous kitten with a ball of wool) has wrapped round and round many times. It's saying "we are connected in ways that we don't fully understand". It's also saying "imagine a world where red licorice grows from the trees. Yum!" It might also be an advert for the wool shop on Blackstock Road. Or perhaps it's saying "look how fragile is mortality" or "look how fragile is the Arsenal back four when a ball is played over the top".
Walking home along Riversdale Road I see the tall Irish bloke who's always cleaning and painting his front yard. He's standing in the road looking forlorn. As I get closer I can see rubbish - papers, bags, crap, clothers - strewn all over the place.
"How are you?" I say.
"Foxes." he replies. "They can smell the dogshit. What a mess."
I decide to help him clear up the rubbish. It's in front of his house and he's very proud of his place, I know. As if reading my mind he says "I like tidiness. I hate mess like this."
I find a brown shoe. "It was a stylish one legged fox," I say. He laughs. I find a copy of Marie Claire. "It was a stylish one legged fox who is into fashion and make up tips." He laughs again.
I see him later in the day and he waves. He is once more cleaning his front yard.
A while ago (I can't remember - was it three years or six months?) a wicker sculpture was placed on top of the remains of one of the old trees that had died after the 2003 drought. It seemed to be saying that the tree could continue to have a life after it had died.
Every day my two year old son and I walk through Clissold Park and go up to touch the Football Tree.
"Football Tree!" my son will say. We'll then both have a quiet think about how great football and trees are, and walk on.
But the Football Tree is no more. The other morning as we approached it as part of our daily pilgrimage, we saw the wicker sphere lying smashed on the ground. Next to it was an iron pole, part of a nearby fairground display. Still fresh in the air was the sense that someone had decided that good stuff was rubbish and had to be ruined. Was this part of the artist's planned trajectory for the sculpture - to hire a gang of bored and drunk idiots to destroy it?
My son said he wanted to fix the football tree. I told him that it couldn't be fixed because it was a metaphor for the world's problems. Or the problems of bored and drunk idiots hanging around in parks at night. Or the England football team's problems. Or the problems of sentimentalising outdoor installation sculpture
The cherry blossom of Kingsbridge House, on Lordship Road, has gone, blown in the wind towards Seven Sisters Road. Up there amid the concrete they would have been greedily awaiting the annual visit of the pale pink swarms. The wind also trapped a red plastic kite in the branches of a Clissold Park plane tree, like a sliver of raw flesh hanging on thin ribs.
My kids find more blossom at the side of the road on Grazebrook. I explain that it's probably 40% dog urine but they don't care, and run down the path with it, letting it fly out of their hands behind them.
The daffodils are out in Clissold Park. Squat dogs round and through them.
"Kaiser! Butch! Over here!" shouts an angry looking man with little hair. The sky over Lower Holloway is golden but greyness is descending as the wind picks up. A blue plastic bag joins us on our walk and keeps pace for a while before blowing up into the branches of a tree.
I was working late the other night when I heard a commotion outside - it sounded like someone trying to kick over a compost bin. Expecting to see some alco-popped adolescents expressing theire distaste for conformist society instead I just caught sight of three foxes sprinting away. They then had a sniff around the bins of number 55 across the road before one of them made that strange foxy yelp-bark and off they ran towards Clissold Park.
I wanted to shout out to them "You're wasting your time. They're all vegetarians in Stoke Newington." But it was very late. And I don't speak foxy yelp-bark.
This morning I saw a magpie and, without thinking, saluted it. "Good morning Mr Magpie!"
Then another magpie appeared from behind a tree trunk and I realised they were a pair. And I attempted to de-salute the first magpie. But it's tricky. How does one do this? It's obviously some kind of uninstall procedure. But do you say the words backwards? Or do you explain in depth to the magpie that you are taking back your greeting? Or do you let the greeting stand?
Trouble was, I wasn't wearing my glasses. As I got closer I realised they weren't magpies but rooks.
Action points: Attempt to access rational brain. Get eyes tested.
This afternoon I spotted a can of Kestrel Super K on the route of the lost Hackney Brook. I've noticed over the last few months that Super K has been making inroads into the Clissold Park scene (formerly a Tennants Super hotspot). I would have done some compass readings from where the can lay, but I was in character - I was King of the Dragon Pirates and we were escaping to Narnia via the track on the north side of Clissold Park, being chased by Giant Pirates. Giant Pirates are bad and Dragon Pirates are, generally, thought to be good - at least in the world of 6 and 3 year olds.)
You had to be there.
As I was flicking through the Stoke Newington OS map from 1868 (it's a gripping read) I noticed that, north of the avenue and embankment that was once the New River, was a stone. No other explanation. Just "stone". Was it a milestone, like the one on the bend of the New River near St Mary's church? Maybe this is the same stone and it was moved into an enclosed area for safe keeping. Or was the "stone" something else, something older still? Like a neolithic marker which, though long gone, still gives off a strange magnetic pull that attracts summertime frisbee throwers and the Turkish football team (it's near the spot where they do their windsprints).
A Hackney Brook walk around to the new Arsenal stadium to gawp at some concrete and cranes then a quick sketching session (still can't draw blackberries) in Gillespie Park with my dad. Actually, I didn't know blackberries lasted so long into the Autumn.
The wetlands are dry, due to a leak caused no doubt by scuba diving vandals with harpoon guns, and part of the parkland is closed up for renovations. If only London could have more strange wild areas like this. Perhaps the mayor could pull down a couple of glass and concrete monsters in the city and create a new London International Centre for Blackberry Studies.
Another of the ancient horse chestnuts in the south western sector of Clissold Park, probable remnants of the old Newington Common, has been cut down. I asked one of the rangers why so many of the trees in this area were dying - was it something to do with the fair, which visits two or three times a year and always in the same spot. Perhaps some of the chemicals used in the candy floss making process have been leeching into the soil? Or is it connected to the groundwater problems in this bit of the park? The ranger said that he had wondered about the fair (though not the candy floss connection).
More old trees in Clissold Park are being cut down. Some of the gnarled horse chestnut trees in the south west corner have seemingy died in the last year and spent the summer without leaves. Now they wear an X and wait for the chainsaw. Two came down last week and another three will soon follow. One of them has purple rangs tied around various branches in some kind of North London tribute the the 70s song 'Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree'. But everyone fears that the oldest and most beautiful tree, on a little mound in the middle of the park, will soon be firewood.
"Hello Mr Magpie!" I whispered, as I reached the north eastern sector of Clissold Park. Why do I do this? I used to think it was kind of commercial TV brainwashing from the 1970s kids show (Magpie was presented by ex-hippies). But apparently it goes back even further than the 70s, to our fear of the devil or some celtic deity.
Some interpretations of the myth
However, I'm convinced that it's something to do with leprechauns.
Yet another of the old horse chestnut trees in Clissold Park is starting to peg out. On the south side, near the route of the buried New River, this tree always dominated that section of the park. Now, though, while the sides of the tree are still verdant and healthy, the whole middle part appears to be dying - the leaves are thin or non-extistent. It looks like it's had a monk's haircut. It's a Ralph Coates tree - actually, a Terry Mancini tree would be a more accurate description. Other old trees in that part of the park - I think the former Newington Common - seem to be on their last legs as well. Is this anything to do with the work to reduce the groundwater in the area? Maybe the trees liked it when it was boggy round there.