The only way is up

Many apologies for the long silence – 5 days is something of a record, almost Trappist on my part. We have been out and about doing the usual combination of walking, allotmenteering, grandparenting and so forth; but we’ve also been embracing a rather challenging fitness regime to shed the lockdown lard, so our walks have been both longer and quicker, and given that we live in Bath there’s no escaping some tough hills which are terribly character forming especially on an 800 calorie diet. I won’t bore myself, let alone you, by listing the sufferings mainly because it hasn’t been bad at all. We sleep like logs and always eat up everything on our very small plates.

So today we took ourselves up to the Skyline again, passing St Thomas a Beckett church on the way up, and later on from the top of the hill we could look down across Bath and see any number of towers and spires. I have very mixed feelings about churches. I remember being shocked, when we first went to France, to experience what a truly secular society felt like and yet it seems to me that we’re reaching the same kind of culture here in the UK by neglect. I always used to describe my own churches as “lost luggage offices” where people who were sometimes in great anguish could look for something quite intangible that they’d lost. The building itself seemed to do something very important but I never quite understood how it worked. I was just the keyholder. I would remind myself that Job’s friends were doing really well until they opened their mouths.

St Thomas a Beckett is a place I’ve never been inside. I’m fearful of churches now, fearful that they’ll smell musty and damp; fearful that some well meaning person will offer help and most of all, fearful of meeting my alter ego there. Silence is the only comfort. About ten years ago I was on a course at Canterbury Cathedral, and one evening after it was closed to the public and just getting dark, we were taken on a candlelit tour of the silent building. I think we all (it was a small group) – found the Great Silence when we came to St Thomas a Beckett’s tomb. On another occasion we (Madame and me, that is) went to Chartres with friends and against all my expectations of a kind of Disney/Blackpool experience, I was so powerfully moved that I took my shoes and socks off and walked with bare feet around the Cathedral for a couple of hours. The rest of our group went off for lunch and even in the midst of the crowds I found the Great Silence and I stayed alone.

I know it sounds a bit wacky but bare feet can channel that energy in a way that nothing else can. Because we don’t usually experience the world directly through our feet, it’s very hard to conceptualise what’s going on and it has to be taken on its own terms.

There’s something else that could be said about St Thomas and that’s the fact that he was prepared to make a stand. The capacity for confrontation should be counted as one of the virtues in my view.

But that’s enough of that because our walks haven’t been so focused that there wasn’t any time to stand and watch. Here’s a wasp, and this is the lovely thing about getting into nature because it’s not and ordinary wasp, the picnic spoiling type – although for all I know this one could be a demon when roused. But I noticed it nesting in quite the wrong place to be a common wasp – the rotten core of a felled tree. A quick look at the books when we got home and I discovered it’s called Vespula germanica – the German wasp – a bit bigger than the common wasp, and yes it does sting; so my courageous photo was made safer by the fact that only his bum was sticking out of the hole.

We’ve also spotted a kingfisher on the river bank a couple of times right next to a building site. Today we could hear some kind of raptors in the sky but couldn’t get a close enough glimpse of them to be sure what they were.The piercing peeeoo call, with two distinct ‘syllables’ sounded as if they could have been red kite, which I think have been spotted here; but it was impossible to be sure. However the robin was the winner with its sad, declining cadence. If robins sang in choirs they’d alway be in the minor key. Or perhaps it’s just the smell of autumn in the air getting into my imagination..

Just as we were leaving the Green and walking along the river bank I took a photo of the sun shining through the trees. Goodness knows why I found it so affecting but although I grumble about the loss of the summer, autumn is a season of great beauty and new beginnings – maybe it resonates better with my melancholic default. As I write I can smell another six litres of rich tomato sauce reducing on the stove. The allotment is so abundant at the moment that I could spend every day at the stove and feed the whole block.

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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