Nature’s salve in lockdown days

The sights, sounds and smells of Spring lift my spirits at the best of times but in these lockdown days, as I’ve grown used to the blissfully deafening silence and reduced levels of pollution, the growth of the new season seems all the more thrilling.

A sharp acidic scent of new-mown grass and blooming daffodils is flowing through my windows from the garden next door and a light breeze has caused a shower of white blossom to float over the fence. As for the chorus of birdsong that constantly ebbs and flows according to the time of day, it is a soundtrack that makes my beloved radio virtually redundant during my working hours.

This, surely, is the kind of closeness to Nature that stirred the poet William Wordsworth (whose birthday it is today) to write of ‘Pansies, lilies, kingcups, daisies,’ ‘little Butterfly!’ and ‘the birds are singing in the distant woods;’.

His ‘Lines Written in Early Spring’ seem closest to our current situation, however:

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:—
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

Source: The Longman Anthology of Poetry (Pearson, 2006)/www.poetryfoundation.org


+ Photo by Tom Swinnen on Pexels.com

Coffee beans and a grinding machine

The horrifying and unedifying pictures of people stripping our supermarkets unnecessarily bare throughout the course of the past week makes me despair. There is now, apparently, some £1bn-worth of food sitting in the storage cupboards of our homes and you have to wonder what is the likelihood that most of it will never be eaten by the hoarders.

A different kind of panic-buying came to light last week when, in the course of doing my usual weekly foodshop, I accidentally picked up a bag of coffee beans instead of some ground coffee. Instead of taking them back, to exchange for the grounds, I decided to use some birthday money to buy the Kilner coffee-grinder I’ve had my eye on for some months now.

Imagine my surprise when the young shop assistant I approached to help me find said coffee-grinder smiled ruefully and told me that they had none left in stock. ‘There’s been a huge rush on coffee machines and grinders in the last couple of days,’ he said. ‘Apparently, now everyone is working from home, people have found they can’t live without a coffee made from the freshest grounds, or the range of coffee-treatments that they’re used to when they go to work.’

Fortunately for me, my local roasterie trades out of a warehouse and at the moment, is able to open up a side door so they can serve customers without them having to enter the premises. Reader, I took my beans up there yesterday and this morning, I’ve enjoyed the floral, pink lady and blueberry notes of my freshly ground washed Gikirima AB beans. My search for a metal and glass coffee-grinder made in Britain will continue but there’s no need to rush.


‘The time of the singing of birds is come…’


Watching the still-winter-slim pigeons and ever-bold magpies swooping down to pick up twigs at the bottom of the garden, and then up again into the various tangles of bare branches they have decided to call home for this nesting season, it’s hard to believe we are living amidst a terrible pandemic.

Thanks to the COVID-19 virus, the news pages report today that more than 6,400 people across more than 145 countries have died thus far and things are due to get worse. All around the world, people are panic-buying loo roll, hand sanitiser, pasta and rice, and slowly the towns and cities, villages and hamlets as we know them are being shut down and we are being urged into our own little worlds of splendid isolation.

Yet, the sun is out, the skies above me are a pale shade of blue streaked with soft-edged clouds of white and after days, no, weeks of wind and rain, the air is so blissful and calm it almost hurts my ears. Could it be that Spring is, at last, on the rise?

A splendidly bearded man in a knitted cap is mowing the grass in the churchyard opposite–the lawnmower’s motor makes a gentle purr and the sharp, acid tang of cut grass wafts through my open window. A lady, warmly wrapped against the spring chill and holding an umbrella almost half her size, perches on the corner of the low wall and turns her face up to feel the heat of the spring sun that also warms my arms as I type.

There are no leaves on the nearby silver birches, beech or ash yet but there’s a tell-tale green fuzz developing on a Horse chestnut, downy buds on the apple tree next door and the cherry and almond blossoms are a sight for winter-tired eyes.

Very dark times are around the corner for we humans and there is no doubt, we will have to find and learn a new way to live, not just for a few weeks but perhaps forever. It has been a long time coming. Meanwhile, Nature is getting ready to burst into flower and ‘the time of the singing of birds is come’ again.

Night walks 1

After several years of proud ownership but infrequent use, I have finally decided to buckle down and learn how to use my camera properly.

The camera is, I’ve been told by various professional photographer friends, a perfectly reasonable piece of starter pro-level kit but instead of telling me to do a photography course, they all agree. ‘Read the handbook and then get out there and experiment.’

So, spurred on by the news that Oxford’s Festival of Light was due to open last Friday evening, I launched myself in at the deep end and tried a spot of night-time picture-taking. It was also raining but hey ho, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Here is a selection of some of my evening’s efforts, including shots of Thingumajic Theatre’s Ghost Caribou. I have a long way to go but as I progress, I’ll retrace my footsteps in the hope that as my skills develop, my pictures will finally match the images in my mind’s eye!


The green is rising

The world would be a dull place without colour. Very dull, and almost incomprehensible as, thanks to nature and nurture, colour guides us sub-consciously through almost everything we see and do. 

Red tells us to watch out and it also makes us feel warm and loving while yellow cheers us up, it lifts the spirit and highlights details without shouting. Black keeps us on the straight and narrow, it is the pure, luxury standard that makes us feel smart and safe while, last but not least, there is green. My favourite.

Green tells us to go and it is usually used as a way of telling us all is well (on a form, ticks are green and crosses are red). But it is the colour green’s evident connection with nature and its ability to calm the senses, slow the heart rate and quieten a busy brain, that appeals most to me. 

And it is that connection to nature that led an expert panel of colour designers, trend forecasters, architects and design specialists to choose a green tone as the Dulux Colour of the Year for 2020.

Tranquil Dawn™ (above) is one of a series of colours in four new palettes – Meaning (‘below), Creativity, Care and Play – that have been inspired by nature and the changing seasons’ sunrises in particular.

“A new decade heralds a new dawn and the hazy pale green tones of Tranquil Dawn™ are calming and comforting just when we need it most in our lives. When paired with neutral pastels and rich jewels [the colour] becomes incredibly powerful at creating spaces that encourage making better human connections,’ says panel member Marianne Shillingford, Creative Director of Dulux UK.

For my part, the launch of this chalky pale green hue has reminded me that it is a rich vein of colour running throughout the history of decorative arts and interior design. Consider the ancient Chinese Celadon or greenware pottery, prized for its jade colour which was the result of the iron in the slip used to coat the stoneware reacting with the top coat – a glaze – during the firing process.

Shades of duck egg blue were a key feature of Neo-Classical designer and architect Robert Adam’s colour palette – I was standing beneath his famous Adelphi drawing room ceiling in the Victoria and Albert Museum only the other day – and the colour strayed into muddier, darker shades as well as paler, creamier ones in the hands of designers such as William Burges (in his design for the drawing room ceiling at Sir John Heathcoat-Amory’s Gothic Revival manor house, Knightshayes, for instance) and William Morris, whose textile designs such as Acanthus, Lotus Leaf and Strawberry Thief continue to furnish our homes, classic and contemporary, today.

30 Days Wild

The Wildlife Trusts’ fifth annual 30 Days Wild challenge is in full swing, with Random Acts of Wildness being committed daily. From cuddling a tree and counting the stars, to building dens, making daisy chains and floral cocktails, or sailing in a bark boat and looking for animal tracks, the challenges are simple enough for everyone to try. But why do it?

Because interacting with Nature makes you feel happier and healthier. At the same time, learning about our natural world – what it is, how it works and why – is vital to our understanding of how important it is that we take care of it.

Dr Amir Khan from Channel 5’s GPs behind closed doors says: “Spending time outdoors, enjoying wildlife on our doorstep and in our communities, is free and can benefit our mental and physical health in so many ways. Spend a few moments every day in June taking part in random acts of wildness – notice something new in nature, climb a tree or create space for nature in your neighbourhood. The Wildlife Trusts has lots of ideas and inspiration to help you make the most of the 30 Days Wild challenge. Go Wild.”

“At a time when poor mental health is on the rise and the decline of our wildlife shows no sign of slowing down, 30 Days Wild demonstrates what a much-needed new relationship with Nature might look like, for everyone, throughout the year,” says Miles Richardson, of the Human Resources Research Centre, University of Derby, and co-author of a series of reports evaluating the Wildlife Trusts’ challenge.

Take part in this year’s challenge and Go Wild.

Images, copyright Matthew Roberts, AStJP