Documenting the seasons of coastal Dorset. I'm a complete amateur so don't trust I'm always right. If ever you see I'm wrong - whether with identifications or in anything else - do say!

Wednesday, 26 October 2016


Sow thistle on wall after flowering.
A sow thistle growing on a wall may flower and thrive.
A human with no-where to go will be less successful.
As you know - can't fail to have missed - I am impressed by street plants. They live in shop doorways and gutters and flourish there. People don't.

You may also have gathered from previous posts that I visit Oxford from time to time. What I haven't said in these posts is that while photographing street plants, I've been taken aback by how many people live on pavements there too. I mean, in almost every town people sleep rough - but in Oxford, to an outsider like me, the visible numbers are shocking - so many doorways are every night turned into cramped, temporary bedrooms.

Sycamore tree growing in rain drain.
The sycamore tree in a drain we have followed for the last few years
still lives but is getting a bit cramped.
Drains are not meant for trees - nor shop doorways for humans.
June 2016
I don't understand. Oxford is a place with one of the best universities in the world. It's a place stodgy with outstanding brains. You'd have thought they could have set aside some time to put their intellectual heads together and work out what can be done.

Meanwhile, council funding for charities working with and for homeless people in Oxford has been cut by £1.5 million this year.

I don't want to go on about Oxford over much. It's just happens to be where I get most shocked. It's the place where I think about homelessness more than I do anywhere else - even more than where I live. It's the place where I think, over and over "what are minds for if not for addressing these kinds of basic needs?" And it's where (I expect you were waiting for this . . . ) where I know someone who is taking part in an event to raise a little of the money charities need to help those who are homeless, or newly homeless, or newly with a roof over their heads. Having somewhere to stay - though important - is not the end of the matter. It means a life-style change and that doesn't necessarily come easy to everyone.

Two plants in a dry kerb
Weymouth, June 2016
It's always hard to think of an event that will draw people to raise money, to raise consciousness, to 'make something happen' without it being naff or offensive. Selling jam to raise money for famine victims it's . . . well, there's something uncomfortable about it. So it may be that the group of students and local citizens who will be 'sleeping-out' for one night may find it a bit awkward . . . Being in the open for one night is not the same as curling up under a cardboard box every night in November. However . . . however . . . however awkward it feels . . . sometimes if money is needed you have to go with the ideas you come up with; ideas that are within your reach to fulfil

By clicking the link you'll go to the Just Giving page of a first-time fundraiser. She won't be the only one coming at this from scratch but she happens to be the one I know . . . And while each participant has been asked to raise £100 by being cold for a few hours . . . it would be good if every one of them were to raise more, for it's not for themselves they are doing it.

If any of you do feel moved to give - perhaps you will think of those street plants
And how people are rarely as resilient as they are.

Money raised will be shared between

Photos in this post were taken in Dorset, not in Oxford. But these kinds of plants live in both places.

P.S. I suddenly realise it looks a bit odd, exhorting you to give when it seems (from the list) as if I haven't done so myself! But due to the nature of my card I had to use the 'anonymous' option.

Sunday, 23 October 2016


The sea at dusk; West Bexington, Dorset
West Bexington, Dorset
I was recently in Halifax. I'd not been before. And I was eating out. Something I rarely do.

The front of house staff seemed all to be university students and I wondered how far they'd had to travel to get to work. But the young man assigned to our table was still (surprisingly) at school - and assiduous in making sure we were happy with our food and happily chatty. We asked him what it's like to live in Halifax. It didn't sound wildly exciting - simply a pleasant place to live. We asked about town centre violence. He didn't seem to think there was any; though it sometimes gets a bit crowded, he said, outside the only late-opening chip shop.

Looking down on Chideock, Dorset
Looking down on Chideock, Dorset
He asked about Dorset.

Well, we had to admit, you need to be careful when you go into Weymouth. There are fights. There are knives. There are drugs. It's a great seaside town; a popular holiday destination. But people get drunk when it's dark. (And earlier.) They can be noisy and querulous.

Conical hill, ploughed field and sea taken from the path up to Golden Cap, Dorset
Looking across ploughed fields in shadow on the way up to Golden Cap, Dorset
But apart from that . . . Well, it's stereotypical English countryside only more dramatic: huge hills with soft grass; green valleys, sheep, cows, thatched roofs, cottages, cliffs and the sea.

Rural England has other stereotypes; calendar images of Essex, Sussex and Kent: village ponds and windmills and interesting Churches. They are all accurate. As are half timbered walls, bricks and flint. Then there's Stone Henge in Wiltshire. (But the plains of England are largely ignored.)

And there's London. Hm. London. London is London. It's not exactly 'England'.

South coast cliffs, the sea and an autumn hedgerow on the way up to Golden Cap, Dorset
Path and Cliffs from Golden Cap, Dorset
Talking with our waiter, I was a little embarrassed. Yorkshire covers a huge huge area of England. It's a strapping great band going from almost-the-sea in the West to the North Sea in the East. In the North and West there are tremendous hills, almost un-scalable. And plains which seem to go on for ever in the East. But for all that, I don't think these are the areas people in other parts of the world will first think of when they hear the word 'England'. It's odd. Because when we sing 'Jerusalem' (oh so very 'English'!) it's the hills and mills of places like Yorkshire we have in mind.

Cliffs and sea. Looking East from the top of Golden Cap, Dorset.
View East from the top of Golden Cap - the tallest cliff  on the South Coast of England. Dorset
In Halifax there are the skeletons of massive mills, a tangle of motorway style bridges and roundabouts, but no thatched cottages.  I'm used to looking out over great expanses of water. Halifax has reservoirs dotted around its outskirts but it doesn't have the sea. It doesn't even have a river.

If you are keen on water . . . In Todmorden (only a few miles west of Halifax) a woman told me it's not so much that you need to like rain to live there but that you have to enjoy swimming through air. And as last winter's floods showed - sometimes you'll find yourself wading up streets.

Pools of sunlight on the sea between Abbotsbury and Bridport, Dorset
Pools of light on the sea.
Taken from the road between Abbotsbury and Bridport in Dorset.
This is daytime and the photo is in colour.
Sometimes the sun is so bright neither your eyes nor your camera can accommodate
the Mediterranean blue of the English Channel here.

I like Halifax. Though I took no photos. (Another time!) Halifax has masses that our part of Dorset lacks. But being asked what Dorset is like . . .  I thought of the sea and the rivers and the cliffs and the hills . . . and for all that there's no-where like Yorkshire . . . there's no-where like Dorset either. And the thing about Dorset, as I've said before, hardly anyone knows it's here.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016


Cover of book - Happy Home Outside by Charlotte Hedeman Guéniau
I've only ever kept one book beside my bed before and that was a prayer book. When life got tough I would read the psalms. They are rare, those places and books one can go to knowing someone else understands the trauma life can bring, the despair, the loneliness . . . and can express is so well one can experience solidarity down the millennia.

So . . . that I keep one of the books sent for review beside my bed may seem horribly trivial in comparison. But I do now keep this book beside my bed - because it makes me laugh. And being made to laugh, to be truly happy, is as important as to be 'understood' or to appreciate poetry. (And the psalms are mega-poetry.)

It's . . . oh, this is so embarrassing given the build-up . . . the book is  'Happy Home Outside - Everyday Magic for Outdoor Life' by Charlotte Hedeman Guéniau - but it's so desperately funny that if ever I feel a little 'down' I pick it up and laugh. And it's even more astonishing than that. When worries seem overwhelming (and, sometimes, they do) - I pick it up then too - and laugh. It hasn't failed me yet. I go to favourite pages - and laugh. And I drive friends up the wall by opening it randomly and reading out whatever is there so they can laugh too.

It's a kind of Blue Peter for the wealthy. It's for people who have family, friends or servants (?!) who will carry furniture and carpets from the house, place them in the garden and bring them back in again later. It's for people who just happen to have brightly coloured poles lying around the place so they can make wigwams - upon which they can hang cheerful little rucksacks (pp158-9). Or easy access to pallets to turn into swings (p.102). And big gardens where summer houses can be knocked up and filled with cushions. And houses big enough to project films on . . . and friends who just happen to be expert enough to set up sound systems for your outside cinema (p.155).

Photo of chair and cushion from the book  'Happy Home Outside by Charlotte Hedeman Guéniau'
And cushions. Cushions everywhere! Which is the nub of it really. For what this boils down to is, in effect, an extended advert for 'Rice' - a chain of shops which sells cushions. So cushions abound. Great piles of them . . . 

It's a dream world. The colours are fantastic - as are the ideas . . . Decorate your trees with shopping bags or lampshades . . . Fix spoons into your fly screens (p.23). Tape slogans like 'Yess!' to boxes and consider them to be uplifting thoughts (p.71). Have a pink hose (p31).

It's a world where everything is approached sideways. We are shown how to make curtains for camper-vans by hanging tea-towels on string. Fine. Charlotte's husband gave her a camping van for a wedding present. Well, that's the real issue isn't it? How to find someone who will fall into your arms and give you a camper-van.

And there's a spiritual side . . . Here's one of my favourite quotes.

"To be creative together is almost like meditating. When you focus on crafting you are together in a different way - Sometimes you chat and talk, other moments you enjoy silently."

So what does she suggest you do to reach this measure of companionable stillness? . . . Draw faces on conkers! My own face is breaking into the biggest grin possible while I tell you this. It's brilliant. Unfailing hilarity.

I am not mocking. Most certainly I am not. And I'm not joking about this book being beside my bed. I'm speaking the complete truth when I say it cheers me up and makes me smile. Indeed I'm sure this will have been the intention behind the book - simple and unadulterated fun. (Fun, that is, and buying cushions!) I expect some who buy it will recreate some of the ideas. Even I may be inspired to make tea in a pot on occasions, and carry it into the garden on a tray instead of bunging mugs in the general direction of friends and getting them to carry them out for themselves. Or I might risk pegging plastic mugs on wires to see what they make of it (p.148). But I doubt I'll 'make my heart sing' by putting on boxing gloves (p170) or waste much time painting croquet mallets pastel colours.

Somewhere around the house I have Kaffe Fasset's book 'Glorious Colour - Sources of Inspiration for Knitting and Needlepoint'; a book of wonderfully colourful objects all crammed in and arranged to take one's breath away. I don't know how many people have been inspired to churn out cushions and garments because of it - but I bet there are masses who've carried it home, gazed at its glories and treasured it regardless of their domestic or creative abilities.

I've looked through some other reviews of this one. Some take it as a serious selection of ideas to be followed through. Some think it a bit weak and rushed out - or a coffee table book or . . . But I think it's a right ole laugh and having a right ole laugh is so important to all of our health I say - go and buy it. I don't know how successful it's been as a publication. It's been out for several months and hasn't one review on the UK Amazon. But I like it.

* * *

Happy Home Outside - Everyday Magic for Outdoor Life - published by Jaqui Small and sent me to review by Quarto Books.
The photo credits are to Skovdal&Skovdal. With books like this . .  (they are picture books really, aren't they?) those who take the pictures should be right up there on the front cover in BIG letters.