Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Hobbit, a review that is much, much shorter than movie...

The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey (12A)

Directed by Peter Jackson

The Hobbit website

If you loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy, go see this. Martin Freeman (Bilbo) and Richard Armitage (Thorin) put in great performances and, although the story ambles along via hill, dale and horse eating trolls, it is three hours spent in fantastic company. Four out of five stars! (One knocked off for not putting in an interval and so making me wear DVT socks...)


Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Cold Case Fiction stories over at Storylane

 I'm going to use Storylane to write and share the completely fictional stories of a cold case team based at the Forensic Science Service. I have based the characters and plot in Dorset, England. Hope you enjoy the stories as much as I enjoy writing them.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Skyfall movie review

Skyfall (12A rating)

Director : Sam Mendes


Skyfall website

This 50th anniversary Bond movie is a long, loving glance backwards. Set mainly in the UK, its plot revolves around M (Judi Dench) as her past catches up with her. I hope I am not going too far into spoiler territory by saying that this movie does not involve some of the mad, bad, globally mobile underworld villains that Bond has had to deal with in the past, more a sad madman (Javier Bardem with a bad hair day) hellbent on revenge.
There are great chases and stunts, stunning scenery and cinematography, long loving, lingering camera shots of London, Glencoe and Bond's car and lots and lots of bullets. Bullet wounds, single shots, missed shots, small guns, big guns, bullets spraying all over the place, in fact... we get the message, this is a very man's man Bond movie.
There is the gorgeous Bond girl (Berenice Marlohe), her role as diaphanous as her lacy gown. She's the victim of the sex trade and human trafficking and, for a moment I thought here is a very modern plot for Bond but no, she is dispatched with quickly; for all Bond's recent gritty realism, it seems gritty, real issues are not a cinema seat filler.
There are quite extraordinary complex action sequences and beautifully crafted images that linger on the screen making the movie long and with half an hour of Bond merchandise adverts beforehand to sit through, choose a cinema with comfy seats! There are the odd throw away one liners but not enough to alleviate the leaden bullet fire and for the first time in ages in a Bond movie, I was nostalgic for THAT eyebrow to lift the mood.
The Bond franchise has to work doubly hard to grab the imagination of an audience grown up with Bourne, 3D non-stop action movies and console games and in this movie they have succeeded, my teen kids gave the new Bond movie four out of five stars, praise indeed.
Great cinematography, fab opening credits and song (Adele) and lots of Bond memorabilia make this a good, solid movie. For me, the baddie was too mad and not nearly bad enough and a big belly laugh to match the big bangs wouldn't have gone amiss but Daniel Craig is carving out a thoroughly modern Bond for the internet generation and I look forward to the next two movies. Four out of five stars.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

I Would Walk Again a Dorset Year

I would walk again those spring tides
The unsettling shift of shingle slides
And all the spray in rainbows spun
Against the high tide harbour flung

Dried seaweed crackles underfoot
A cuttlefish, a long lost boot
A razor-shell, and old, tarred rope
The beached turtle of an upturned boat

My steps are swamped by the shifting stones
The air pungent with bleached fish bones
And the sea is wild and free and rare
Shaking horses from his hair

I would walk again those summer lanes
With leafy boughs and murmuring streams
And overhead in the whistling sky
A lark song lost to cloudless eyes

White campion, ragged robin, cow parsley and wild garlic
All choke the low brook and wreathe a hedgerow garland
And underfoot the warm, worn tread of stile and chalkstone
Climbing up across the harvested flank of the hillside
To find the view all lost in a late haze
Sweet slumbering landscape on which to gaze

I would walk again those cold autumn cliffs
Towering above the wind drowned waves
Their buttress trees all torn into shapes
While scattered crows shout down the droves
As blackberry pocked and flinty scree
The valleys clamber to the sea

A sheepswool twist caught on the wire
The seagulls loud lamenting choir
The whip crack cold cutting through my coat
And sea salt burning in my throat

I would walk again those winter fields
The frost cracked branches bare of leaves
And slide across the frozen bow
To where the river slowly flows
Hugged by mist-hung willow trees
Catching dew-strung cobwebs about my knees
Across the bank a rook coughs twice
And beats a path home for the night

And under early stars and greenish sky
The first snowflakes fall and fly
And I am certain standing here
I would walk again a Dorset year

Monday, 15 October 2012

The Power of We

Today is Blog Action Day and the theme this year is the Power of We. It is easy to feel powerless as an individual when looking at the global issues of poverty. Most people can't donate huge sums of money and, as individuals, have limited resources but, the rationale is, even if we are only able to donate a small amount regularly and other people are able to do the same, then the Power of We takes over.  All those small actions add up and become a powerful force to help others.

One of my favourite charities is TreeAid, who works in Africa's Sahel region to help communities provide food and income from trees. You can read about their work here and see how it helps to secure families living off the land and help to combat drought and famine. Something as simple as planting a tree really can change a life.

Giving to charity can seem very disconnected if it is a bank transaction or tick in a box. Each year I try and encourage my kids to do one practical thing to remind ourselves of how we can help others still living in desperate poverty both here and abroad. Some really good schemes are run by great charities that deliver direct to those who need the help. In our local area there is Blytheswood Care who run a Christian Shoebox Appeal for Xmas. Toothpaste, soap, a pair of warm gloves, it really doesn't take much to help others and celebrate the spirit of giving.

These two charities are just an example of the small ways we can all help to make a difference. Small actions that can add up to be powerful tools for change equal the Power of We. And that's a great equation!
For more information on Blog Action Day and the Power of We, visit their website here.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Waiting for Bats

(Waiting for Bats was written for National Poetry Day 2012, on the theme of stars. It describes an evening in September.)

Overhead, as we wait for bats
The twilight sky is deepening
A jewel box of bright glittering gems
First one or two and then a scattered handful
Look there, is that Mars all milky red?

The moon hasn't risen yet and so
The stars shine bright instead
And then, as planes ply to and fo
With their knowing red/green wink
A satellite in regular transit
Tracks across our sightlines
We follow it for a while
In the absence of any bats
Until it disappears from view
Behind the neighbour's roof

Night falling brings a chill
But now the sky is all aglow
A billion stars singing
A high tide of bright luminescence
Sparkling above

No moon yet
Or bats
But, for all of that
I am wrapped in this richest cloth of night
It's cold now and the midges are starting to bite
Time to go in, never mind
Tomorrow, we'll try waiting for bats

Friday, 7 September 2012

The Desk (1000 word short story)

The light is clear, crisp and sea-washed bright as it falls through the bay window and across the desk. Perfectly lit. A stage setting, almost. The perfect light for the perfect desk in a writer's room. Not an office, no, not a some stuffy ashtray-coffee-cup-dog-end muddled cell. Not a library heaving with all the words you can never ever hope to write. But a clean, clear, quiet space. As hopeful as a blank page and as empty, apart from the desk.

I had bought the desk on a whim, who could resist such a thing? Its deep layers of varnish peeling, its grooved and pitted surface carved by years of neglect, rain-washed into ravines of broken misuse. Apparently it had stood outside for years until the previous owner thought there might still be some value to the desk Dracula was written on. Hoping it might still be ink-stained with the blood of terror. A touchstone for a writer. A memento mori for someone like me.

My publishers are kind to the point of indulgence. Like parents spoiling an only child. Another week, another month, another three? Fine, take all the time I need. Their smothering platitudes and mollycoddling deference only serving to bind me tighter in the self-loathing straight-coat of plot impotence. Writer's block. Twelve best-selling horror novels, worldwide sales in the millions, book signings, tours, literary festivals and after dinner speeches, a household name in the top ten best-sellers for years and now; now my adoring fans need a thirteenth book. Thirteen, unlucky for some.

My fingers rest on the deeply scored desk either side of my laptop keyboard. But no words fall from my fingertips. No magic today. As my wrists lie on the desk edge, I can feel the slow drum of my pulse, a deep and bruised vein of unwilling blood. The sunlight is too bright, my temples hurt, the fierce light making even my bones ache. There will be no writing today and I abruptly turn away from the desk feeling the drumming blood recede into a whisper as I walk away.

It is becoming a ritual now. Each day of this hot summer I enter the room and sit at the desk. Each day I try and write. A few hundred words, fifty, one. Each day nothing save the sound of my blood and the weight of my flesh on the desk. Weighing me down as surely as if I am drowning. Drowning in the sunlight, gripping the desk, a life-raft to my dead weight.

There is a heatwave outside, no rain for a month. A long hot dry spell. Tell me about it, now even the weather forecast is a perfect metaphor my writer's block. Still the calls from my publisher, from my agent, from my publicist, from all of those who feed off me, always wanting more. I am in the room, in front of the desk but the light through the window is too fierce and I don't even bother to sit down. I shall try again when it is cooler, darker, maybe an evening breeze from the sea will lift the air. Breathe new life into old words.

The night air is wrapping itself around me, I can feel the heat of the day leach out of the room and the desk, still warm from where the sun caressed it, soothes my nerves. Now the blood flows in my veins, now my eyes see clearly. Now I know where the story lies. My fingers find each key and words spill in bright clarity across the screen. One, fifty, hundreds.

Not finished yet. I'm only work at night, can they not understand that? These human leeches sucking the life from me. The phone always ringing. The story is not finished yet but the summer is nearly gone and the light, once sharp and clear is addled and fly-blown. Autumn lurches towards me with fistfuls of dead leaves and the skies are filling up with thunderclouds. A storm on the way.

The final chapter is within my grasp. Somewhere a clock chimes midnight, one, two, then three and still the words pour, my lifeblood in words. The whole desk drums with the rhythm of my typing, breathing life into my story. At last the final words and I am done. Exhausted, my head slumps to the still warm, worn desk and I sleep as outside rain finally starts to fall.

The cleaner unlocks the door to the house and lets herself in as usual. The writer who has rented the house for the summer has started to keep odd working hours, often working through the night so she is mindful to tread quietly up the stairs past his office. The house is very quiet and the air sharp after yesterday's storm. The cleaner guesses he must be out as there is no reply to her knocking on the door. She steps into the room to find it empty apart from the desk and a laptop computer, screen open onto the final page of a story. A fly buzzes near the window and, for a moment, she could have sworn the desk was wet, as though someone has spilled a bottle of wine over it, forgotten and coagulating into a pool of drying crimson. But is is just a trick of the light, patterns of yesterday's rain on the window, and the desk is dry and warm to her touch. She can feel her pulse, raised in sudden alarm, slowing where her skin touches the surface. There is no sign of the writer.

At the end of the summer, the writer's belongings are packed up and sent home but the desk is left behind. The new book is a literary success, not least because of the ensuing mystery surrounding the writer's sudden disappearance. When the summer house is rented out again, the desk is thrown out into the back yard where it waits, rain-washed into ravines of broken misuse, for a new story.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Review of Total Recall

Total Recall (12A)
Director : Len Wiseman

Website : Total Recall 

This remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarznegger/Paul Verhoeven sci-fi juggernaut places all the action back on earth as I sit through another visit to Philip K. Dick's short story 'We Can Remember it for You Wholesale'.
This time it's Colin Farrell who takes the lead as Douglas Quaid, the everyman who discovers he's more than just a factory worker after a visit to Rekall for some implanted dreams. Unfortunately for this movie, the 'dream within a dream' motif has recently been far more successfully used in Inception where the dream landscape was more creatively imagined. Although Total Recall is solid in its distopian portrayal of a future Earth, it is a vision bought to the big screen in Blade Runner fully thirty years ago. There are a couple of nods to the 1990 movie and a nice twist on space travel with a drop through the planet. The action is non-stop with Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel adding a touch of glamour to the fight scenes and Colin Farrell is always watchable although emotionally underused in this character. The slightly simplified dream plot probably helped to keep the age rating lower but does dent the full impact of the movie, more of an action-fest than a sci-fi state of mind. 
An action-packed three out of five stars.


Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Freaky Jet Stream Summer

As I type a small posy of sweet-peas are keeping me company with their scent. Outside, what promised to be a fine day earlier is clouding over, yet more rain on the way. I'm just back from the allotment. This year, I was determined to make it the most productive year so far but, despite my best efforts, all I have succeeded in is raising a bumper crop of slugs and snails.
It is just energy sapping to see all the damage this year's rain has done. Garlic, courgettes and cauliflowers have all disappeared without a trace. I'm down to two and half remaining squash plants. A few broad beans, climbing French beans, sweetcorn and peas are hanging on in there against the torrential rain and the potatoes are leggy and non-flowering, glowering at me from their muddy rows. The onions, such a good crop last year, are rotten. Only the rhubarb and the sweet-peas seem really happy. I console myself with the thought of the early strawberry glut, now in the freezer, and the hope that, should we ever get drier, warmer weather, I can indulge in some strawberry ice-cream making.
In the garden, the weeds and grass have loved this weather, along with the slugs and snails they are having a fantastic time. The jasmine and the buddleja are just starting to flower but the ominous lack of bees, crickets and butterflies makes for an oddly quiet time of year. Only the blackbirds seem happy, having a field day out on the soft, wet lawn.
I have resolved today not to fret any more over this washout summer. Now is the time to plan for winter. Clear back the jungle growth, blame it on a freaky jet stream and think about autumn sowing.

Torrential rain in the garden over weekend, rose 'Marjorie Fair' and nigella, sweet william and cricket, weed seed head.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Billy Childish: Frozen Estuary and Other Paintings the Divine Ordinary

(This review is in the form of a poem )

Unravelling Knots

Large turquoise skies
The colour of old urns
Turned into monolith slabs
Watching over those
Triangles in the snow
Unravelling into
Loose ends

The story unfolds
Canvas stretched to the bare bones
Of old boats

Now you are here
Reclining on a chair
Not a peeling orange chair
As I misunderstood
But peeling an orange
All but back there
In a bare room
High above
A small town in France

The story unfolds
Canvas stretched to the bare bones
Of cold ropes

Here, in this echoing hall
Full up with the sharing of
Accidental anecdotes
This Chatham sound
Some memories we carry with us
Some we throw, dead weights
Like divers to the bottom of the ocean
Pulling through the paint
At the knots and undercurrents

This pared down room
Skinned orange
Hung with so few pictures
A book on a settle to tell the rest
Tying it all together

While the paint drips
Unravelling knots

Billy Childish: Frozen Estuary and Other Paintings the Divine Ordinary runs from the 1st June to the 30th September 2012 at the Historic Dockyard, Chatham. 

~ It has occurred to me, since writing this poem, that some of the references to chairs and rooms in France might seem a little tenuous. For me, there was a painting in the exhibition of a person reclining on a chair. The chair in the painting immediately reminded me of a 'Van Gogh' chair and, of course, my family connection to the Dutch artist, Anton Hirschig, who stayed in the attic room next door to Van Gogh in the Auberge Ravoux at the time of his death. His description of Van Gogh's harrowing death has always chilled me. You can see the room/chair  in question withe the links below ~

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Across the Green Court

Evening stretches shadows
Across the green court
All to play for now
No longer the luck of the draw
Silence claims the crowd
At love, fifteen, thirty
Baseline, net, forty
The roar of approval
The polite applause
And then the chance to settle
Old scores
An ace for the game
New balls please
With the fading light and the keener breeze
All to play for now
No longer the luck of the draw
As evening stretches shadows
Across the green court

Thursday, 21 June 2012


Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld


In preparation for the taking the kids to see this, we watched the first two movies in the series on DVD. These two previous movies remain funny, endearing and innovative in their storyline but the special effects and action are starting to show their age. Could a third movie in the series capture the same offbeat humour and style of the first two but provide the non-stop fast-pace special effects that the kids expect today?
The answer is a resounding yes. After a really nasty alien, Boris the Animal (Jermaine Clement), escapes from a maximum security prison in order to travel back in time to kill Agent K and change the course of history, Agent J (Will Smith) has to travel back in time as well to save his partner Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones /Josh Brolin) and the universe. Josh Brolin steals the film as a young Agent K and the wry off-beat humour, zany aliens and fast pace delivers a great summer movie.

Fantastic Mr. Fox and UP 3D review (republished)

(This review for some reason has been lost from the website. I am republishing now but appreciate it is from late 2010. Both movies are still eligible for the 2014 Ripplestone Review Biennial Awards as they were originally reviewed after the 2008-2010 deadline and therefore fall into the 2010-2012 awards which were cancelled. There is also a review of Inception to follow. )

Fantastic Mr. Fox (PG)
Regency Enterprises/Indian Paintbox
20th Century Fox

UP 3D (U)

It is interesting to compare the two big animated films of this autumn, Fantastic Mr. Fox and UP 3D. While Disney Pixar's UP reaches for the sky with digital 3D dioramas of breathtaking beauty inhabited with the now familiar hyper-caricature3D cartoons, Wes Anderson's (The Royal Tenenbaums) Fantastic Mr. Fox opts for more traditional stop-motion animation, where models are photographed, moved, then photographed again to painstakingly build up a sequence of animation. Both movies have opted for quirky, low-key storylines which have added appeal to adult audiences and add sophistication to the genre.

UP 3D, written and directed by Pete Doctor (Wall-E) and Bob Peterson follows the adventures of a pensioner, Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner), trying to deal with old age and the loss of his wife by fulfilling a long-held promise to explore a lost land in South America. He does this by tying a huge amount of helium balloons to his house and a young boy-scout, Russel, manages to tag along too and very soon they are plunged into a dangerous adventure featuring a bird named Kevin, a really bad baddie voiced by Christopher Plummer and a pack of dogs which have all the funniest moments in the movie.

In Fantastic Mr. Fox, George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Bill Murray head up a cast of 'voices' for a storyline based loosely on a Roald Dahl book. Here the Fantastic Mr. Fox outwits three odious baddies while juggling a complicated family life. For me, the stop-frame technique hindered the storytelling in places, but there are plenty of awkward character interactions and 70's motifs to keep Wes Anderson fans happy.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Monday, 18 June 2012

Prometheus 3D

Prometheus 3D (15)
Director ~ Ridley Scott

Cast list on IMDB

This sci-fi/horror prequel squelches off to a leaky start with a hominoid ET disintegrating in a special effects spectacular that sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Each lingering close-up, panning, zooming, 3D visual shot turns this much-hyped prequel into a fashion shoot for cinematic techno-wizardry. H.R. Giger's gorgeous murals are the mainstay of the alien vision on a distant planet that mankind has been pointed to by ancient cave paintings. This is where the story echoes the first Alien movie in so much as a team is put together and sent out to find what is on this planet. They seek answers to human existence but find squidgy, wiggly, vicious alien bio-weapons instead.

At this point fans of the Alien series might want lots of screaming, running down Giger-inspired corridors and sweaty knuckle-biting scares but instead the plot plods off into the ego of the man behind the Prometheus mission and his very dysfunctional family. The last remaining 'hominoid behind the aliens' shows little intellectual enlightenment when awoken, so the questions posed by the expedition remain unanswered. Why humans? Why aliens? Well... why not? What we do get at the end of the movie is a reason for the signal in the first Alien movie but that's it. To sum up, three out five stars, visually stunning but dull.  

Friday, 18 May 2012

The Willow Tree ~ music themes.

Haven't really looked at this project since 2009, so here's what there is so far~ 

Musical themes for The Willow Tree (long poem) ~ Moonlight over the promontory, Sunrise, Looking at the beach below and Wedding scene.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Avengers Assemble 3D (12A)

How do you pull together a group of disparate super-heroes and their super-heavy emotional baggage in one movie and make it watchable? It is the thought that intrigued me most about the new Marvel Avengers movies. How can you cram them all into 1hr. 42mins and still make a fast-paced action movie? Especially as some characters, notably Black Widow and Hawkeye are not well known to a mass audience.
Director Joss Whedon has managed the feat very well, giving each superhero just enough back-plot and cameo to flesh out a plot revolving around Tom Hiddleston's beautiful bad boy antihero Loki. The only sacrifice seems to be the pace, the first half of the movie slowly slots together like a jigsaw only to break up into a chaotic, super- fast CGI finale. This odd change of pace forces two effects. The back stories of the super-heroes who have to wait till the latter half of the film for their cameos get slightly lost (in particular Hawkeye played with ease by Jeremy Renner) and Loki and his evil master-plan become sidelined by the very impressive CGI action.
Slightly surprisingly, the Incredible Hulk steals the film away from his superhero buddies, with Mark Ruffalo playing both Banner and Hulk to great effect. His not-so-jolly green behemoth's rage is a great foil to the super-slick Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and squeaky-clean Captain America (Chris Evans). And then that still leaves several more superheroes to mention, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), as well Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury trying to inspire a bit of teamwork and keep their super-egos in check and whereas I've run out of time to discuss them, in the film they get a reasonably chunky bit of action and plot to themselves. And that is the genius of this movie, it's all your favourite super-heroes rolled into one big popcorntastic blockbuster of a movie. Go see it, it's what cinema and special effects were made for. It really won't be the same on a small screen.
That great big green belly laugh moment is still making smile, so a marvellous four out of five star rating.

Marvel Avengers website

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Happiness is flower shaped.

I should really be blogging about what is happening in the garden but after the most appalling weather it's pretty much been left to it's own devices this month. Which, quite frankly, as far as the wildlife is concerned, is just how it likes it. If you have a rain-free hour or so to venture out into the garden now, you'll start to see queen wasps looking for suitable nest sites. Male blackbirds will be defending their territories with gorgeous early evening arias. Ground beetles will be scrambling amongst the ground cover and, because of the rain-softened ground, starlings, blackbirds and robins will all be taking advantage of the easy-to-get worms for their chicks. Jays and thrushes will like the damp conditions for more daytime slugs and snails and ants will just be starting their foraging food runs as ladybirds start looking for a mate. Despite the frosts, rain, gales, sleet and flooding late Spring is here.

Bluebells in shady corner.

Robin on fence. 
Pasque flower.

So, instead of focusing on the rain I thought I'd focus on plants for bees, because for bees, happiness really is flower shaped. Here's my list of easy-to-grow plants that have been bee favourites in the garden over the years. :-

  •  Rosemary (Drought tolerant, early spring flowering, can be grown into hedging.)
  •  Lamium  (Ground cover, loves shady areas, tough as old boots.)
  • Wallflower (Spring flowering)
  • Borage (Self seeding annual, grows very large, spring through summer flowering.)
  •  Thyme (Late spring/summer flowering)
  •  Love-In-a-Mist (Early summer flowering self seeding annual)
  • Buddleja  (Late summer, called butterfly bush is beloved of bees too.)
  •  Lavender (Late summer/autumn flowering, drought tolerant.)
  • Sunflowers (Late summer, autumn flowering, extremely easy to grow.)
  • Clover (Often treated as a weed, great for a bit of colour in the lawn, you might be lucky and grow a four-leafed one!)
  • Valerian (Summer-long flowering, great for poor or shallow soils.)

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The Spring Garden

Squirrel in the snow with bird food and the snow-covered garden.

This February, the garden has been covered in a blanket of snow, freezing fog and bitter wind, with some of the coldest temperatures I have noted in the last twelve years (-9.6ºc). So I am skipping straight to March, as last week's high temperatures (+17.4ºC) are much more in keeping with Spring than Winter and the sudden thaw and heat has bought about a transformation in the garden.
Everywhere are buds; leaf buds, flower buds, green shoots and early spring flowers all desperate to cash in on the early start before the tree canopy above kicks in. Expect crocus, primrose, daffodils and snowdrops all at once this year. I even spotted a brave daisy or two in the lawn mistaking the heat for summer.

As the days lengthen the birds are also quick to cash in on this bonus heat. The dawn chorus is under way. Robins, dunnocks, tits and blackbirds are all vying for territory and pairing up and the robins are busy collecting nesting material from the lawn. Bumble bees and butterflies are starting to emerge. Look even closer and you'll see young spiders on the hunt.

I've been removing weeds from emerging perennials before the plants grow too big, and finishing any pruning left over from last year, though I will still watch out for late frosts! Because December and January were mild, many plants continued to grow and were burned by the cold wind and frost. Now the roses, clematis, jasmine and honeysuckle are putting on new growth which will soon outstrip those frost damaged leaves. As flowering is under way with the camellia and new buds are on the hydrangea I have given them a good feed and have started a weekly water of all the pots and hanging planters. This winter has been very dry, so I consider this a drought Spring and am keeping an eye on them. The wallflowers have stalwartly not buckled under the weight of snow and have emerged with flower buds and, if this warm weather continues, Spring should be along any minute now...

Daffodil after the snow, chaffinch in the window bird feeder, Crocus and hoverfly, budding Camelia japonica 'Angel' and early daffodils in the sunshine.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

The January Garden

Outside, as I write, a grey squirrel is busy collecting grass and dead leaves from the untidy margins of the garden. Stuffing it all carefully into a manageable, squirrel pillow-sized mouthful, she then scampers away along the fence with it. She makes a good half dozen runs within a few minutes so I think her dray cannot be too far away, perhaps in the neighbour's trees.

On the bird table the robin is on guard, the squirrels and he are locked in a dirty swearing match over the bird seed, despite the fact that the seed is regularly topped up and, what with the squirrels and now the influx of overwintering tits, the robin's lot is not a happy one in midwinter.

January is a hard month in the garden, and it is hard to love the cold winds, rain, the rotting dank of last year's annuals, the scratching bare branches and ankle-wrenching slippery lawn. Yet it is not the garden itself that commands attention now but the weather and the wildlife.
This January is a mild, wet, gale-strewn affair, punctuated with big fleeting bright days and crisp frosts. After a dismal growing season last year, it is a relief to focus on something other than the plants. With dark mornings and early evenings, the brief daylight hours are crammed full of wildlife-watching opportunities. Being situated near woodland, the early mornings (4.30 to 5.30am) are a good time to hear tawny owls hunting. Their calls are clear in the winter air whereas in summer, these hours are full of the dawn chorus of other birds.
Bird tables, water baths and the last of the berries on bushes are busily frequented by the garden's winter birds. This year, there are blue, great, coal, willow and long-tailed tits all visiting the garden. It's easier to spot some of the larger woodland visitors; jays, woodpeckers, squirrels and foxes all pass through for the easy pickings from the feeders and bird table.
January is all about the weather too. From silent, cold mists to fierce, bright days, the low sun lends itself to the dramatic lighting of bare trees, frosts and dews. Rainbows, late morning scarlet and gold sunrises, huge moons, dramatic storm clouds and eerie, swirling low fog sweep through the garden as each day slowly creeps out longer and longer. One day a storm, the next a still blue sky.

If the garden is to be enjoyed at all, it is in the detail, the tracery of last year's leaves, the slowly emerging bulbs, the lush green of the mosses, the old seed heads and berries still clinging to bare twigs; the dry rattle of long-dead grasses and the swelling of new buds, reminding me that Spring, with a bit of luck, is just around the corner.