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Suffolk – Writer-insighter

A bit of a shock

I saved three lives today. Very small lives, and saved two bigger hearts from breaking too. Not a bad day to be able to say that. I wasn’t teaching so I went for a walk before I settled down to learning a computer language I don’t particularly want to learn but need to if I’m ever going to get back into research, which pays rather better. And it’s ages since I learned something new anyway, and I miss the process. I could have picked-up learning German again, but given that a German part of my life no longer talks to me, probably no immediate need for that.

I walked up the hill and turned left at the top, next to the cottage on the pond, next to the wood where I walked a friend’s dog while she slept, unknowing, so she didn’t have to when she woke. Along the lane into the dip and up the other side, past the houses, past the place which looks like a scrapyard, with its steel gantry and dangling chains, thankful I don’t live next door but in part of the Big House, or to be fair, one of the three Big Houses almost within sight of each other, hidden as they are only by folds in the hill.

Left down the little footpath bordered by a hedge on the left and an electric fence on the other side, in the field where someone built a huge treehouse for some lucky and invisible and therefore possibly long ago child. A friend told me she tested electric fences with a blade of grass. She quite often got electric shocks too, on her farm, so I don’t know if that’s a good test or not.

Across the field only just passable now the ground’s dried out a bit after the farmer deliberately and illegally ploughed straight over the footpath, then across the lane and through another field overploughed and seeded. I don’t like walking through crops but I don’t like selfish, lazy, illegal theft of public property and rights either.

Along the bridleway, left at the junction of three tracks on a windswept hill and skirt along the side of the wood following its curve down the hill, past the footpath to go the longer route and already there’s a car parked at the bottom, someone fishing alone at the lake. From here, now, writing this, I wonder if he accidentally played a part in this story.

Turning left to go up the hill I could see movement next to the fence dividing the fishing lake from the field. Three gold and black goslings, tiny, and two adult geese separated by a mesh fence. The goslings and the geese moved quickly away when they saw me, up the hill, but they were still separated by the fence, the mesh too small for anything except the goslings’ heads to poke through. Becauae it had been done properly the fence was bedded into the earth to stop foxes or more likely people getting in, but it was also stopping these little birds reuniting with their parents. I guessed we were about 100 yards from the gate I presumed they’d crawled under. I thought about shooing them back, but 100 yards is a long way to herd goslings and in any case, they were panicing enough already. So were the parents.

I picked one gosling up. It was so small that it didn’t even move when I held it. I put it over the fence and dropped it as gently as I could. It fell over but wriggled to its feet. The big goose nearby was going nuts, hissing and waving its wings at me. It stopped when it saw the gosling trot down to the lake and the other adult bird. I got the second one and dropped it over too. It made more of a thump, which worried me. I thought about throwing it into the long grass the other side of the fence, but I couldn’t see if there were sticks or broken fence posts or anything else there it could impale itself on. It wriggled about a bit, its feet ludicrously big, then remembered where they went and it too waddled quickly down to the lake. The last gosling had pushed its head as far as it could go through the mesh. I thought it would cut its own head off before long so I grabbed that one too and held it over the fence. I thought if I leaned forward as far as I could then it wouldn’t have so far to fall.

There was an odd, soft thumping in my chest as I leaned over. Not my heart. The top strand of the fence turned out to be electric. The gosling wasn’t affected. It landed the same as the other ones, full length, upside down, huge feet stretched out, then trying to use its tiny wings it somehow managed to get itself upright and straight down to the water. The adult goose joined its mate once they were all in and they paddled away. Straight towards another goose which pecked at one of the goslings and got a full scale charging attack from the parent.

They kept watching me as they edged deliberately but not quickly out into the lake. I didn’t feel 100%. Not hurt, but literally shocked.

A few minutes later an old couple came along. If I saw a loose black lab it was theirs. I left them to it. About a minute later an old black labrador pondered along the path on its own, taking it down to where the little goslings would have been squeekily trying to get the rest of their bodies through the mesh fence. We’d all live another sunny day, barring more accidents.

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Someone won’t be home tomorrow

I didn’t particularly want to see this when I looked out of the window. I live miles out in the countryside, 5 miles from any town, a short walk to a haunted airfield. We’ve got a letterbox, but no pub, shop or anything else up here on the hill. They’ve got all that fancy stuff down on the main road, such as it is. Except the pub.

Because I do several different jobs, this week I chose the wrong one. The film I was working with had finished shooting and although I’m with three agencies there’s nothing around this week, so I was committed to teaching nearly fifty miles away.

On a decent day it takes just under an hour. It was obviously going to take more this morning. My old Saab was built in a snowy place, so I wasn’t worried about the car. Chiefly what bothered me was other people. When I was a stupid kid every time it snowed I went out for a drive. I can’t have been that stupid, because every time I did by the end of the drive I’d survived situations that would have resulted in me not typing any of this if I hadn’t had the practice.  I remember coming back from one jaunt like that and finding a snow plough lorry across the road I’d been planning to use. I put the car sideways into a snowbank and no harm done to anyone.

I didn’t practice any handbrake turns today, not even a little one. But I saw a few people who ought to have done, or at least, their vehicles. The first one was a van half on its side in the ditch that had been trying to go up a hill and hadn’t. The last one that blocked the entire A14 was sad. A small car, not new, on the verge. To be accurate, half-way up the verge, in the trees surrounded by smashed branches. And upside down, with the roof crushed to the top of the doors. There was a police car there. I’m assuming the road had been blocked by ambulances and police crews and the fire brigade getting the people out. They weren’t there. It was hard to see how they were ever going to be again, unless they ducked down under the dashboard, the way people manage to in films. I doubt it, somehow.

It took nearly double the time it normally takes me to get to work, and the same coming home. I’m shattered from concentrating and remembering how to drive in the snow, and from remembering to pack a broom, a wooly hat, gloves, wellies, a camp stove, water, a lighter, a blanket, teabags and two packets of quick-cook porridge, along with a wind-up torch in the car. If you don’t need this stuff, you’ve won. If you do need it it’s no use in the cupboard at home.

I’d like to give special thanks to the two 4×4 owners who decided that ten feet off the back of my boot was an excellent place to drive, except I’d be lying. Total arses though they both were, are and obviously will continue to be, I hope even they get home safe tonight. That little wrecked car in the trees will stay with me.

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First storm of winter

The first storm of the winter came in today as I was driving back along the A14. I could feel the car shaking as the wind took it, saw the trees waving through the windscreen. By the time I got close to the village where I live the road that always floods was under six inches of water, but the high road was flooded too, the water lying where I’ve never seen water on the road in the six years of being here.


It’s been a raw wind all day, a damp chill that cuts through summer clothes and let’s you know you’re in for the long haul now. The radio was saying there’s a good chance the lights will go out this winter, because government after government has decided that having wars is much more fun than building power stations. Let’s face it, nobody is going to move out of your way at the G8 Summit just because everyone in your own country thinks things are going quite nicely for a change. That’s not what being a global statesman is about at all.

Someone had left my gate open and a dog fox was calling as I stepped out of the car into the dark and moved my  bags indoors. There was a spicy bean stew in the freezer and a bottle of wine in the rack. Put  the washing into the machine and unpack the bags, make the list of Stuff To Do and read three really, really nice emails from people who didn’t owe me a nice email but sent one anyway.

There’s food on the table and a bed waiting for me. And some days you count your blessings for those things alone, because there are plenty of people without and more to come. Tomorrow if the weather is ok I’ll cycle down to Caroline Wiseman’s Suffolk Arts Club at lunchtime. There’s always someone interesting to talk to there as well as a glass of wine.

None of us know what’s going to happen next, not anybody at all. I think the secret is wanting to find out.



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On the radio



Well, that was the second Lifeboat Party show at I did on Monday. The general consensus is still camp, but slicker.

You can listen to it again wherever you are in the world by just clicking here and judge for yourselves. I got my very most favourite fan laughing even though I didn’t get the thing in about the Suffolk Space Programme.

That aluminium silo on that farm outside Wickham Market? Oh come on!! You didn’t think that was farm stuff did you? It’s for an ICBM the Americans left when they abandoned Bentwaters airbase in 1992. We’ve used it to put farmers into space out here for the last 15 years, after we worked out how to turn the methane in battery chicken poo into rocket fuel. Townies. They don’t know nuffin…


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Mists and mellow

Early September, the fruiting time, with plum juice and warmth and wasps in the air, when you know the summer is fading and the cold is coming. You can smell it in the air in the evening, in the morning now too. And think of times colder. Cold is different wherever you go. I remember the white cold of Norway that March I went there, rivers still hidden under feet of snow that lay on the ice., all the contours of the earth smooth and flowing. The other cold I found there too, when I went out without a hat and got caught in the rain, so cold it made me think  I might die.

And the cold of the West Country, those mornings when I was young and we had no heat in the house until the fire was lit, apart from the choking paraffin heater at the bottom of the stairs that sent fumes into my room while I was asleep; a sort throat from November to March. Ice ferns on the windows inside, astonishing skies orange and yellow and pale blue with no clouds, as if all of Wiltshire was flying through space, so high above the earth in my council house bedroom, the concrete tiled rooftops, the sodium streetlights. My crystal radio with its wire loop of aerial strung around the front door porch. I haven’t felt that cold since then, since I left the place where I came from.

A different kind of cold out here in the East. A sadder one as the year spins into its last part, towards the long night. And one where now the summer is over the people have gone back to their real lives, leaving this pretend holiday place still bathing in the cooling waters of the retirees mantra: ‘it’s always been like this,’ as if a place was ever built where six out of ten houses are lived in only now and then.

I dreamed a mouse was trapped in the bin where I keep the chicken’s corn. In my dream I tip the bin slowly so the little mouse can escape. Yellow and orange mist as I leave the house this morning. Figs from the tree I planted half a decade ago this sweet Autumn. There are much worse times than these.

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