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Monday Memories – Beginnings #3: Making Hay

Why is it that we mostly remember only the happiest moments of childhood? I am aware, of course, that for some children – those who suffer abuse or grow up surrounded by the effects of war or famine – there are no happy memories to take into adulthood. But for the rest of us, the fact is that childhood consists of a series of events which are capable of creating good and bad memories. Hugs and slaps, pleasure and pain, joy of desires fulfilled and disappointment at hopes dashed. In other words it is a sampling of the real life we will experience in adulthood.

My memories of my childhood in that cottage by the stream are mostly happy ones. But they are, I now realise, coloured by my mother’s response to the changes it represented in her own fortunes.

I imagine that in the first while there was a sense of relief. In part a continuation of the relief that must have accompanied her departure from London a year earlier. London, devastated by then by almost a year of nightly bombing raids by the Luftwaffe. She worked in Air Raid Precautions so would have seen first hand the destruction of homes, the loss of life and the injuries inflicted. She worked, too, in a clothing factory which was also destroyed in a raid.

In Herefordshire she was safe from all of that. And yet, life in other people’s homes would have presented its own problems, problems I tried to reflect in that imagined conversation with her mother as they climbed the hill. Now, at last, they had time and space to themselves. Time to look forward to the possibility, however remote, of peace.

I can’t help wondering at what point the stark reality of life with none of the facilities to which they must have been used sunk in and began to fester. Certainly life in London in the nineteen thirties would have been very different to city life today. But their home would have had electricity and piped water. There would have been cinemas, dance halls, libraries and theatres within easy reach. There were friends, work colleagues, uncles, aunts and cousins a bus ride away.

At the cottage there were none of these things. And, on top of all of that, there were the exigencies of war that effected everyone – shortages of almost everything and rationing of food and clothing.

For a child, however, the things you experience are taken to be normal even though to everyone else they might seem anything but. So for me our days, surrounded by meadows in which we were free to roam and play, often seem idyllic.

I remember making hay. In that place and time horses were still used for some aspects of farm work. Tractors were small, slow and simple, nothing like the monsters that speed around the lanes near my Irish home. Once cut, the mixture of grasses and herbs that grew in the meadows surrounding the cottage were left to dry, a process that might take a week. After two or three days the flat swathes would be tossed and turned manually, using two-pronged forks called pikes, an activity that my mother and I assisted with. This exposed the still green underside so that, too, could dry. Eventually these rows of dried grass were pulled into small piles, called “cocks” in the local dialect. Next a trailer was towed around the field and the cocks loaded to be carried to the Dutch barn. The smell of the new mown hay filled our nights, changing, as the days passed, from the sweetness of the first cut to the mellow dustiness of the final product.

Image shows a traditional mechanical hay rake parked at a junction between two roads. Daffodils grow along the field boudary and through the tines of the machine.
A hay rake similar to the one that featured in an anual summer pantomime at the cottage. Image from geograph.org.uk

There was, then, the annual pantomime as the mechanical hay rake arrived and had to be threaded through the gate into the meadow. The problem was that the rake, a contraption consisting of a row of metal tines bent into three quarters of a circle and housed between two huge metal wheels, was wider than the space between the walls of the cow shed and the former pig sty we used as a chicken house. The farmer, our landlord, and his son, perspiring in the heat of a July afternoon and accompanied by curses, manoeuvred this beast in a series of arcs, until the machine was translated from cobbled yard to hay meadow where it would be drawn around to gather up all the wisps of hay left behind.

The cattle would have been removed several weeks before, presumably sold to a local butcher. As soon as the sward recovered, a new set of young animals were brought to spend the autumn grazing and the winter consuming the hay.

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A Date With . . . Denzil Walton

Denzil Walton is a freelance writer who lives near Brussels, a place that has a poor image among many of his fellow English men and women, although that has more to do with the institutions based there than the actual place. I began by asking him what he likes about the city and what, if anything, he dislikes.

“I actually live in a small Flemish town about 20 km to the east of Brussels, near Leuven. It’s a totally different world there from Brussels. However, I do like Brussels when I visit it for business. It has a certain energy about it, undoubtedly linked to the major decision-making institutions there. I like the wonderful diversity of the city, and of Belgium as a whole. For example, recently I attended an English Carol Service. It was in a Flemish church with a South African choir leader and readings in English, Danish, French, Dutch, Polish and German. For me, that event encapsulated much of why I enjoy living on continental Europe: not just the diversity but the interdependency. It’s not all wonderful, of course. I get frustrated sometimes with the bureaucracy here, a lot of which is linked to there being three official languages and a stunning complexity of federal, regional, provincial and municipal governments.”

For most of the people I interview on this site, writing is a secondary source of income or a career path adopted following retirement. Denzil has made his living as a writer for many years. How does he view those people who take up writing alongside, or after, a different occupation?

“With total respect. I admire anyone who takes up a new skill or develops an old one after retirement, whether it’s writing or something else. There’s certainly no thought of ‘competition’. There’s always more room for more authors and more books!”

On his business writing website he says: “I love writing, whether it’s to convince, encourage, inform, or simply make complicated subjects understandable.” Which of those aims does he regard as most important?

“They are all equally important, depending on the writing task and target audience. If I’m writing a newspaper article on self-driving cars then my primary goal may be to explain how they work and the potential benefits and challenges of this new technology. If I’m writing a more technical blog post on electricity grid networks then the readers will be fully acquainted with the subject but might be more interested in me informing them of the latest developments or political discussions in that area.”

Does he see a potential for danger in “writing to convince” which could be construed as propaganda? How would he view the difference between the former and the latter?

“In the Business-to-Business sector in which I work, my ‘writing to convince’ is focused on convincing a potential customer that a particular product is going to meet their requirements. In other words, it starts by defining what a customer needs. For example, they might need a ½-inch air operated diaphragm pump for a particular application. The product brochure I write will hopefully convince them that my client’s ½-inch air operated diaphragm pump fits the bill perfectly. It’s not a case of selling them a 1-inch pump just so that my client can earn more money. That practice belongs more to the Business-to-Consumer sector where there is more writing to convince consumers to buy something they don’t really need. I am not active in that area.”

Denzil makes no secret of his great love of nature. That’s what inspired his series of books and the website he created to “encourage a child” to participate in various nature related activities. What was his own inspiration for this passion?

“I think I was inspired by nature herself. At a young age I suddenly became fascinated by the birds and butterflies in the garden and wanted to know more about them. I don’t remember being inspired by a person. In fact, as my interest in nature developed, it was me who inspired my parents to show more of an interest in nature! However, once I began to show an interest in nature, I was inspired by some of the great nature writers that I read when I was young. My first inspiration was Henry Williamson. His most famous book is Tarka the Otter but he wrote a series of nature books that I found wonderful. Then I discovered the delightful books of Gerald Durrell. These days my favourite inspirational nature authors are John Lewis-Stempel, Patrick Barkham and John Lister-Kaye.”

What does he see as the dangers that children face from spending too long glued to their screens?

“There is increasing scientific evidence that over-use of screens can lead to children experiencing behavioural problems, attention difficulties and sleep disorders. As being in front of a screen is a sedentary occupation,obesity is a risk. And if the screen-time is exposing a child to violence, there is the risk of bullying or even greater aggression. I believe that adults can experience negative side-effects from too much screen time too. I started avoiding screens in the evenings after realizing they were affecting my own sleep patterns.”

And what are the benefits of engaging with nature?

“In this respect I’m indebted to the work and books of Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle in which he coined the phrase ‘nature-deficit disorder’. He describes the benefits of connecting children with nature as including improving mental acuity, enhancing creativity, reducing depression, fighting obesity, and simply promoting overall health and wellness. Oh and simply having fun!”

Are there benefits also for the adult who takes up the challenge of “encouraging a child”to engage with nature?

“I think being with a child in nature can help an adult discover their ‘inner child’ and enjoy a welcome break from the stresses and anxieties of their life. It’s also a great ‘natural medicine’ in the fight against depression – and time outdoors is actually being increasingly prescribed by doctors! Encouraging a child to engage with nature – for example by watching birds together, as I describe in my book – can strengthen bonds between adults and children. And as I mentioned above, being in nature is such fun! Adults can’t fail to be inspired themselves when they see and share in a child’s amazement and wonder at the natural world around us.”

I certainly wish Denzil the very best of luck with this new and exciting project. Here is my review of the first book in the series:

Do you know a child who spends too long glued to some kind of screen? Be it smart phone, tablet, lap top, gaming machine or the TV in their room, we can all agree that too much screen time is bad for them. Do you wish there was something you could get them excited about that would have the benefit of separating them from their screens whilst providing fresh air, exercise and a new outlet for their natural curiosity?

Freelance writer and nature lover Denzil Walton may have the answer. His new little book entitled “Encourage a Child to Watch Birds” is a delight. It is, too, the first in a series of books that have the aim of encouraging us adults to encourage children to take part in activities other than spending time attached to their screens. Yet to come are: “Encourage a Child to – study small mammals”, “– enjoy creepy-crawlies”, “– learn about trees”, and “– care for the planet”.

Meanwhile “ – Watch Birds” contains 10 increasingly advanced suggestions for ways to interest children aged from 7 to 12 in discovering facts about birds by observing their behaviour and listening to their songs. From watching ducks in the local municipal park to feeding the birds that visit your garden or balcony, to constructing nesting boxes, the book explains the dos and don’ts of caring for wild birds. Written in accessible language, it would suit a grandparent, uncle or aunt who wants to help their grand child, niece or nephew to develop outside interests.

It takes about 30 minutes to read the book but it will provide hours of pleasure for you and that special child as you progress from watching (not feeding) the ducks to using binoculars to observe birds of prey in action or dissecting owl pellets to identify the kinds of animals they feed on.

Buy at Amazon.co.uk
Buy at Kobo
Buy at Amazon.com


Something to Warm Your Heart on a cold December Day

I didn’t set out to do this at first, but the notion of sharing one post each day from the many that arrive in my in-box seems to have grown on me. Some might say it’s a lazy way of blogging, but when there’s material to delight like this story from Sally Cronin’s collection “What’s in a Name” I can’t help feeling I’m providing a useful service.

via Guest Author #SallyCronin ~ Grace, a Christmas Story from What’s in a Name?

The Long Hot Summer of 1947

My second Novel, Summer Day, was originally published in the spring of 2012. Earlier this year I re-issued it with a few changes and a revised cover, thanks to Sharon Brownlie (cover) and Katherine Hamilton Pfiel (editorial suggestions).

As it is set in July 1947 I’ve decided to make the Kindle version free for the first 5 days of July 2017. Here’s a link to a blog post about the book’s genesis: http://cassandra2012.blogspot.ie/2012/04/england-after-war.html

Blue

prompt11One of my earliest memories is of peeling wallpaper from the wall next to my bed. The paper consisted of random patterns of tan squiggles on a pale cream background. A small part had become detached from the underlying surface and it was that which stimulated my enthralled activity. Many years before, someone had painted the wall a deep blue. A blue with the same intensity as the sky or the areas of ocean on a map. And that was what I was doing. By removing sections of wallpaper I was creating a world of islands and seas, a world of my imagination.

I remember the feel of the paper under my finger nails as I fretted at the edges to free them. I recall the joy when a section peeled away easily, the excitement of seeing how far it would go, what new shape would appear as the tide of blue raced into the parched ‘land’.

I remember the hurt, not the pain of the slap you understand, no, the bitter hurt at my mother’s inability to enter the world of my imagination. I could not see the hurt she must have felt at the destruction of her real world surroundings that my endeavours represented to her.

Perhaps that is the origin of what would become, over the years, a difficult relationship between us: a relationship that probably underlies much of my present day creative activities in which I often feature women, women I hope are portrayed as strong and independent.

The above post suggested by a prompt posted at Endever Publishing

If you’re up for the challenge, write your take of this prompt on your own blog. Be sure to tag Endever by including the above picture and a link to their original post so that they can find and read the creative interpretations you come up with! They will be re-posting their favorites for all to enjoy so give it your best!

(Specifics– Write using 500 words or less. There is no limit to the amount of stories you write per prompt. Copy and paste these writing challenge details when you share with friends so others can join.)