Here on the Lleyn peninsula we’ve had to cut our cloth according to the southwesterly weather systems that (as always) brought periods of blissful sunshine punctuated by rain-bearing fronts that threw everything bar the kitchen sink at us. The gale even found the resonant frequency of the steel chimney and periodically filled the cottage with the sound of a full Brahmsian symphony orchestra tuning up. It was quite unnerving until we worked out what it was.
But it wasn’t the end of the world – or our break – because we both had indoor things to do; sharing the dining table, with me identifying plants from photos and Madame drawing. Just how interesting this is for anyone else is a moot point at the moment because the bill for the next two years of the Potwell Inn blog just arrived and I have been thrown into introspective maunderings as I try to interrogate my own motives.
If raw visitor numbers were the sole criterion the decision would be easy because I know that this is one of those niche blogs that tend to disappear beneath the waves of controversy and narcissism. I’m not, and would never want to be an “influencer” of any sort, neither would I dare to set myself up as an expert in any of the subjects I write about. I’ve covered over the years, for instance, the allotment; cooking – especially baking sourdough bread; growing, harvesting and preserving food; wildlife, especially wildflowers and then a few branches in the road towards art, poetry, philosophy and especially global climate catastrophe and ecological destruction. Not quite in the – “an ill-favoured thing, sir, but mine own” category – I’m rather proud of it in fact – but by no means essential reading for saving the earth. My unspoken aim since I first started this as a private journal nine years ago, was to try to reflect the arduous business of being human at a time when our humanity, our survival is under threat; and lest that sounds too worthy by half I’m bound to say that I just love writing. Three quarters of a million words don’t seem nearly too many to me. I’d like to get up to a million but ………. here’s the thing …….. I wouldn’t want to get there by just focusing on my most popular subjects because – frankly – I’m easily bored. I’m a grown up and I’m sure that my loyal readers are grown-ups as well, and can cope perfectly well with a bit of complexity. I even like to think that my occasional literary or philosophical references are part of the fun. And so my readership increases at the glacial pace that would make a sloth feel pleased with itself, and I’m denied the egotistical pleasures of boasting about my immense popularity.
However, that doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in numbers. The challenge, for me, is to give myself and my interests (OK obsessions!) space to evolve and mature. Right now I’m pretty busy with naming plants, but I’m nowhere near competent enough to set myself up as an expert. I rely on a whole network of fabulously competent people to referee and mentor my efforts. They could easily write their own field botany blogs but my interests are slightly divergent from the mainstream. For instance I’m enchanted by the English common names of plants, and today as we were waving goodbye to our son I caught sight of a ferm I didn’t recognise – a very small thing. So I turned to the books and came up with Black Spleenwort. Isn’t that just beautiful? Just as Vipers Bugloss, or Lungwort and Wolfsbane are beautiful, evocative and poetic words weeping with historical associations. But if I add the Latin names to them is that off putting to non specialists? – or should I press on with them because they add a whole new depth and dimension. As my interest and knowledge deepen I’ve had to learn about huge databases, ecological niches, brownfield and polluted sites – not to mention geology, and so it goes on.
A bellringer once tried to explain method ringing to me. We were in the kind of pub that – back in the day – had nicotine dripping from the ceiling when it got crowded. In order to explain his passion for bellringing, he upturned the ashtray on to the table and drew in the slurry with his finger to illustrate the sinuous complexities of the method. I was utterly lost after the first couple of sentences. That’s just what I don’t want to do! On the other hand I once drove a blind bellringer to a tower in Winford and they rang a method which I probably misremember as Bristol Surprise and which – like the song of a blackbird – almost broke my heart with its beauty.
How far do you go to communicate that intense feeling? Well I think I have half an answer to that question. I’ve never forgotten a “joke” cracked by Canon David Isitt while I was training. We were planning a service soon after our ordination, and he said “I want you each to bring a symbol of your ministry – I’m bringing a condom!” He was so right about all too many people except himself. Too much of any kind of ‘ology’ can shut an audience down in seconds. My (entirely personal) theory is that technique and deep technical understanding are absolutely essential to creative work – BUT they should always remain hidden. No-one needs to be told how clever you are, and showing off is fatal. On the other hand the best teachers draw you into their world and encourage you to try for yourself.
So the future of this blog is under consideration, but meanwhile here are some photos of the Black Spleenwort – Asplenium adiantum-nigrum, but don’t worry too much about that. More to the point is the fact that – with a small magnifier – the world becomes ever more intensely beautiful as you look more closely. British summer time began today. Make the most of every precious moment!