Meanwhile, back in the real world

A marvellous piece of lettering by Welsh artist Jonah Jones, seen at an exhibition of his work at Oriel Plas Glyn y Weddw, Llanbedrog in March 2019

The good thing about coming away to this beautiful place to walk, read and try to put together all my thoughts in words is space; sheer space to expand into, free from distractions and chores. The bad thing about it could almost be the same sentence. There’s a point at which the way forward becomes so problematic a kind of paralysis sets in. The remedy, in this instance is to accept that the Jacques Ellul book I’ve been struggling with is not going to help, because its source materials and analysis are now sixty years out of date . Magnetic North moves about by a good bit and trying to find your way to the pole (no pun intended) without the right correction isn’t likely to end happily.

What exactly is the real world anyway? I sometimes wonder, since it seems to be a contested area of knowledge at the moment; but anyway I’ve forsworn any philosophy in this brief post and I’ll talk about the weather in the most descriptive and non blaming way I can manage.

The fierce south westerly gales haven’t given over for days and in the cottage the chimney roars, the vents flap and the occasional sheets of rain hammer at the windows. It’s all very cosy until, as we did this morning, you get a power cut. Yesterday’s photos of the beach at Porth Neigwl missed a couple of shots that would have needed a telephoto lens which in our case we have not got because it’s at the bottom of a bog on Mendip. Apparently there are exceptionally rare mason bees in the dunes there, except I’m not sufficiently experienced as an entomologist to recognise them. But on our way back down the narrow road we spotted around 30 curlew feeding on the marsh – enough to gladden anyone’s heart. When I say this place is a birders’ paradise I’m not exaggerating. Something else worth noting is the light. The good citizens of St Ives in Cornwall like to claim that their light is brighter and more clear than anywhere else on earth. Obviously they would say that because it keeps the artists rolling in; but the light here is equally if not more pure and luminous and it’s so much quieter. The south westerlies rattle the cold fronts across, and each time the rain is followed by glorious movements of intense light that bless the landscape, caressing and intensifying the autumn colours and leaving the artist in us joyfully mystified as to how it could ever be expressed.

Tomorrow morning at the crack of eight o’clock we’re off to Porthmadog to catch the wonderful Welsh Highland Railway up through the Snowdon range to Caernarfon and back. Last time we made the trip in brilliant weather but tomorrow’s forecast is makes grim reading with 20mm rain expected and 50 mph gusts of wind. In normal times you can wander about and get a very good Welsh rarebit from the buffet car but because of covid we’ll be locked into our perspex divided carriages and probably see almost nothing except rain and mist for the whole journey. It’s the last trip if the year so expect it will be crowded with steam train enthusiasts who may not have noticed that we’ll be taken across the hills by a diesel locomotive tomorrow. In the absence of any food from the buffet I’ve ordered a couple of hampers – which each contain a small bottle of prosecco, and so we’ll celebrate the autumn like a couple of budget class swells.

I’m sorry there are so many Welsh sounding names in these posts but Wales is a country with its own precious language. Luckily, Welsh is a completely phonetic language and so once you’ve learned the basics it’s pretty straightforward. The stress usually comes in the penultimate syllable. The only one I haven’t used is the proper name for Snowdon which is Yr Wyddfa which looks unapproachable but sounds like uhr-with-va. Welsh is the queen of languages and I’ve always wanted to learn to speak it properly but haven’t had the chance or anyone to practice with. Anyway it’s a courtesy to the people who cherish their language to be able to ask for directions, sounding as if at least you care.

Mistral? Sirocco? Equinoctial storm?

P1010770Here’s a photo I took when we stayed up in the hills on Cap Corse at the northern end of Corsica a few years ago. I suddenly thought of it during the night as I listened to the relentless sound of the wind outside. Of course, here in the South West we’re used to winds, but the Atlantic fronts usually rattle through for a few hours or maybe a day or two. However we’ve had this particular group of storms for two weeks now and the experience on the ground – as opposed to the weather charts – suggests that this is a bit of an outlier.

On Corsica we had our only experence of the Sirocco.  For two weeks a 20C (my guess) – wind blew continuously across the island.  We had access to a swimming pool but the wind was so unpleasant we barely used it.  Down in South East France they have the Mistral which apparently drives people quite crazy.  Elizabeth David wrote this in ‘French Provincial Cooking’.

“Provence is not without its bleak and savage side.  The inhabitants wage perpetual warfare against the ravages of the mistral; it takes a strong temperament to stand up to this ruthless wind which sweeps Provence for the greater part of the year.  One winter and spring when the mistral never ceased its relentless screaming round our crumbling hill village opposite the Lubéron mountain we all seemed to come perilously near to losing our reason, although it is, of course,only fair to say that the truly awful wine of that particular district no doubt contributed its share”

The fact is, too much wind can be pretty oppressive wherever you live.  But it’s 15th March today and the spring equinox is in five days time on the 20th so could this spate of storms come under the umbrella of ‘equinoctial winds’? Not according to the meteorologists who seem to be a bit sceptical about the whole idea that this wind is a seasonal visitor. Looking out over the green outside I can see that two waste  bins have been blown fully 50 yards across the grass during the night. Yesterday on the allotment a neighbour’s greenhouse rooflight had been bent back over itself as if it were made of  butter. In north Wales, where we were staying last week, the Guardian reported on Storm Gareth with this story:

“Meanwhile, the residents of Llandudno in north Wales had unexpected visitors as a result of the storm when a 122-strong herd of Kashmir goats were seen wandering into the town centre by local residents, having been driven from their home of Great Orme Park by the bad weather.

The animals were spotted eating flowers in people’s gardens, as well as walking out in front of traffic. A spokesperson for Conwy council said there was nothing it could do to keep the goats away from the town: “Goats going into town is nothing unusual, particularly at this time of year. There is no way of stopping them. It is more likely in foul weather as they look for lower ground and shelter.”

Probably the simplest explanation is that – having experienced a few days of warm sunshine – we lazily assumed that the winter was over when, in fact, we’ve barely entered the spring. We still had frost fierce enough to kill off our first sowing of runner beans here in the first week of May last year, so it’s not over yet. For us the weather raises the usual questions.  The potatoes are out in the hallway chitted and ready to plant and the bed is prepared, but when do we plant them out?  Some of our neighbours have already planted and others are adamant they won’t plant theirs for two or three weeks yet. The two propagators are now filled with the re-potted long-season capsicums and aubergines and we’ll have to get them out soon in order to sow tomatoes. As always the south facing windows in the flat will be brought into service as an improvised greenhouse and we won’t be able to move or close the shutters until May without moving them all. Life’s rich tapestry!

Yesterday we were on our way up to the allotment in our tatty gardening clothes.  We filled the lift with pots, ready sown half-trays, a potting tray, green kitchen waste (two small bins), and sack truck with a large bag of compost.  The lift was so full I volunteered to take the stairs, but we managed to arrange ourselves and went down together.  As the lift descended Madame said “do you wonder if the neighbours think we’re eccentric?”.  We travelled in silence, praying that when the lift doors opened the hall would be empty. Later we dined on on an improvised shepherd’s pie (clanger pudding in our family, because it includes any leftovers you can find in the fridge) with our own carrots, purple sprouting broccoli and rhubarb. The allotment is surviving the weather, the beds are all ready to go – what’s a bit of wind?