Archives for the month of: November, 2012

When the temperature plummeted the moon was fat and bright and we watched it rise cold over the greenhouse. My footsteps rang clear on the track the sky was hard black and the clouds barely moved, shot through with silver.

FrostBy morning our world was ice. The soil just hoed was fissured and risen to pinnacles and cities, berries I hadn’t noticed were crimson daubs. I thought all the leaves had fallen but now I could see them, each one separate and fringed in frost swaying a little ghostly. A jay crashed in the ash tree and stayed a while. I’ve seen jays before but it was so pink.

The rainwater was an ingot of ice, metallic like the bucket so I went to the stream for more – it was a different scene down there, a wet brown green world with colour for eyes to drink.

Our footsteps were loud, shattering tiny crystals and creaking thick and cloud sworled puddles. It’s hard to control the heat when the ice comes, the stove gets so hot so we sat on the floor in the coolth and had a better view of the moon. Listen to the stream I said. That’s not the stream said Rob, it’s the frost growing.

But today there’s a thaw. The twigs are wet and brown and shining, the leaves limp and soggy. I see a pip of yellow in the hazel coppice – it is a goldcrest flurrying.

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I wonder why onions are so cheap when they need such space to grow.

There is a Breton custom which began two hundred years ago. I heard about it first from a merry old man who ran a guest house in Brittany and gave us croissants to eat in the buttery sun. He used to be a ‘johnny’ and travelled with his bike to Wales every year to sell pink onions.

Till I met Maxim grinning on the street behind the traffic, I thought it was a story of old. But Yes I am a Johnny! he said, with ropes of onions, garlic and shallots garlanding his bicycle too loaded to pedal. The bike is just for ornamentation he confessed.

He strings up the onions in a summer dust barn and comes to Wales on the boat for the autumn operation, which is run from a warehouse in Cardiff.

Johnnies, onions and bicycles are despatched at rainy high streets and markets, and collected again in a van. Maxim used to be a solar engineer, but he prefers the onion life.

I have been thinking about onions these last two days as I peeled my way through a pickling sack.

I once had a jumper knitted from multi-coloured wool that people thought they could see 3-D pictures in. I washed some knitwear last week and hung it by the stove – we couldn’t get to the kettle without pushing through the damp green sleeves, Rob said it was a knitted forest.

I’m still walking round the edge of Wales little by little, and each time I go back the seasons have shifted just a bit.

The trees were waiting like cathedrals on Offa’s Dyke, but not all of them were naked. Valleys to the west were cross hatched with bobbles that threaded the green with old gold, and some of them had trembling yellow crowns.

Up on the cinnamon moors an owl surveyed the tussocks from a rock. Most of the heather flowers are husks now but there are still a few pink buds where the black grouse are hiding.

The fields are peanut butter, the lanes and canals are copper beech, and the red Clwydian hills are knitted with ochres and smokes.

Before I lived in the caravan I once sat on Paul and Rebecca’s carpet in a dark oil painting night among music stands and paper score while the Gypsy Band rehearsed. Hats and pipes and fiddle bows flicked in firelight and shadow, and feet beat out old fast rhythms spinning time and music and spirit.

There are many musicians round here, they play in secret rooms and fiddledy pubs or loud crashing ones.

I met Christine in August when we were both on a course learning Welsh. On the last day she played the violin and sang with a clear voice that crossed centuries and stayed with me for hours. This week she came by the oil lamp caravan with Ceri, for tea and flapjack on their way to the gig where later we watched them perform on a red shabby stage. They wove Welsh with English, fiddle with pipes and told tales of bards and wolves. Music and poetry whirled and pulsed, feet beat old rhythms on wood, a tweed jacket was slung on a chair.

We went home on the bus with music in our heads and listened to the rhythm of the stream.

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Tom has a magic pumpkin forest. He plants them with care then lets them race riotous across the plot and over the allotment wall, hauling them back in from the Garsiwn. They swell secretly under the leaf canopy and he doesn’t know what’s happening in there till he goes in for the harvest at the first whisper of frost. This year there’s only half the usual quantity due to the bad summer – eighteen fat Marina di Choggias.

 My plants sulked through the summer and didn’t get lusty till September when it was all far too late. We had a few the size of apples, and a dozen small enough to stir fry whole. Mark thinks we’re on to something – he says we should market them to the modern man in a rush. But we also had two to be proud of, a pair big enough for Jack O’Lanterns.

Yoyo came for a Halloween sleepover. We strung up chocolate apples, ate witches’ fingers, hunted ghostly treasure in the rain, and applauded Rob bob-snorkelling. It was Yoyo’s idea to save the lantern faces to bake on the pumpkin pie.

Thursday night we chopped up the pumpkin heads and tossed them in a pot with raisins, ginger and old shelf bananas making five jars of bubbling sticky chutney. We’re calling it ‘Pump and Circumstance’.