Thursday 31 December 2015

Jam tomorrow

New Year’s Eve, an hour or two till sunrise, the wind still howling around the house as it has for hours. It’s been a wakeful night, partly due to the wind, and partly due to us having forgotten to turn the central heating down, causing me to wake in the small hours feeling like a dehydrated prune.

I’ve used the restless hours to finish reading Roger Deakin’s Wildwood – it’s taken me an absurdly long time to get through it, savouring every page, and drifting into long daydreams of woods and trees and hedgerows, of exotic locations with towering walnuts and their heady, befuddling aroma, of wild apples in the East, and bush plums in the Australian outback, of generous, open-hearted people and comfortable old friends, and of time spent among trees, in solitude, but never alone. And throughout it all a prodigious knowledge of and respect for the skills and craftsmanship honed over centuries, and an implicit though rarely expressed concern that we might be on the cusp of throwing it all away.

And now the book is finished, I’m left with that sense of loss familiar to anyone who’s allowed themself to be immersed into a world between the covers. The best medicine for which is another book – five minutes later and two more are on their way, Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks and a secondhand hardback copy of Deakin’s Notes from Walnut Tree Farm, my delight at the convenience of Amazon tempered by a nagging thought that I’m overdue a penitential visit to my local indy bookstore.

“I’m sure I’ll take you with pleasure!” the Queen said. “Twopence a week, and jam every other day.”
Alice couldn’t help laughing, as she said, “I don’t want you to hire ME - and I don’t care for jam.’
“It’s very good jam,” said the Queen.
“Well, I don’t want any TO-DAY, at any rate.”
“You couldn’t have it if you DID want it,” the Queen said. “The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday - but never jam to-day.”
“It MUST come sometimes to ‘jam to-day,’” Alice objected.
“No, it can’t,” said the Queen. “It’s jam every OTHER day: to-day isn’t any OTHER day, you know.”
“I don’t understand you,” said Alice.
Through the Looking Glass & What Alice Found There, Lewis Carroll

Kettle. Tea. Still dark outside, and raining now, the first train trundling up to London, the sound carrying across the fields in the damp air. Everything’s louder when it rains. And now the birds are getting going – far too many birds, surely, for winter, reminding me that it’s not just gardeners who are still waiting for the cold weather to arrive. The prospect of a new year frost is held out like the promise of jam tomorrow. but in this crazy El Nino winter that has brought serious flooding to the north of the country (exacerbated, it has to be said, by the shortsighted land use policies of recent governments at both local and national levels), it’s hard to imagine that we’ll see anything other than a barely noticeable transition into a mild and wet spring. That said, the first week of January looks to be a chillier prospect than anything December had for us, though not quite sufficient to put a check either on the plants making an early appearance, or the persistence of garden pests and diseases, storing up trouble for the season to come. A friend tweeted a picture of a small aphid infestation in her garden a couple of days ago, and I don’t recall ever before having to swat away mosquitos on Christmas day.

Today, though, we’re promised clear skies and sunshine in Kent – a pleasant way to see out the year in the garden. Winter tomorrow.

The hellebores have been out for weeks