Rain

Here in York, August is the wettest month. Followed closely by November but, nevertheless, August outdoes Fireworks Month by 68mm to 65.

The number of August days with any rain in them, however, is fewer: 14 rather than 17. It’s worth noting, though, that none of our months have fewer than 13 days with some rain (‘some’ here being a hundredth of an inch, or 0.25mm – hardly enough to ruin your garden party.)

August rain simply falls heavier – because warm August air is capable of holding more moisture.

Oh – and some stray tomatoes probably didn’t help.

Raindrops resemble tomatoes more than you might think: they are flattened spheres with a ‘skin’ of surface tension that ‘breaks’ on impact with anything – for example your least-favourite politician in the stocks.

When there are fewer people about, the street art is more noticeable (and it’s easier to get a clear shot.)

A giant deckchair materialised in St Sampson’s Square on Yorkshire Day. Just because. And yes that’s an actual person, for scale.

I love a shot of the steps up to the City Walls.

As I walked around in it last week on my way to the bookshop, I couldn’t help noticing that the mediaeval streets seemed to drain more effectively than many of the modern ones.

The path to Trinity Church and a tree which, like me, appreciates the rain.

The return of a Great Institution

Fulford Show is back!

At least, in part – the outdoor part. No ‘Midsomer Murders’ veggie, produce and craft competitions this year, because they take place indoors and, by the time August Bank Holiday rolls around (OK so it’s only a fortnight, but still…) there may be ‘restrictions’ – again.

So this year we shall be out on the field. I shall be walking through early morning mist to help put up gazebos – albeit fewer than usual. Then I have the Community Orchard stall to look forward to – and a turn round all the other stalls to see what’s on offer.

A new venture for the show this year is the ‘give-and-take’ – bring along any things you think others may use, and help yourself to any you fancy.

The Japanese drummers will be there, and the band – the New Notes – who played two years ago. So will the food, the bar and the Sports – including Fancy Dress and Tug o’War.

I’m raising a glass of wicked home-brew (not for exhibition this year) to the success of Fulford Show!

Places and non-places

Many years ago I used to follow architecture blogs. Not because I had any expertise in architecture, but because at least two of them (I’d been led there when participating in a discussion group about the future of Energy – specifically, where are we going to get enough of it to carry on being a Civilisation) were honestly predicting some sort of imminent collapse, and I was keen to find out how best to avoid such a thing. Aren’t we all?

In the course of all this I learned about the first ‘electric cars’ and why they died (sabotage, and about a hundred years ago now), Oswald Spengler, Peak Oil, the USA’s ‘hardiness zones’ (basically, the way climate is classified for anyone who wants to grow things), and ‘non-places’.

Non-places?

There are an awful lot of non-places, and architects exercise themselves enormously on designing them – and trying to avoid doing so. They are the places where nobody wants to be – we just want to get through.

Airports. Car parks. Everything in a ‘shopping mall’ except the insides of the actual shops.

It had never occurred to me before but the main shopping street in our city (York) is a bit of a non-place – pedestrianised though it may be, and graced with proper trees. Two yeas ago there were even giant concrete lego-shaped bollards with ‘stay, shop, socialise’ emblazoned on them – until the virus came along and put the kybosh on that sort of thing. But it’s… kind of flat there. Even when they organise a farmers’ market on it, or (I kid you not) the occasional Viking tent.

But last week as I walked through, something took me by surprise. Something you’d never expect to find in a main shopping street.

I couldn’t get this in the picture but there were actually a pair of lads using one of them for the purpose Nature intended.

Genius – an instant transformation from a non-place into a proper Place!

My only regret was that I was alone, a bit tired and hungry after a shift at the bookshop, and that the next time I came into town the tables had vanished as mysteriously as they’d appeared.

However, there are still the ones in Rowntree Park…

Howsham Mill in the summer

You can’t tell it by looking at these pictures, but the day we decided to revisit last October’s walk along the River Derwent, it topped thirty degrees.

The woods, though, remained pleasantly cool. There were even tangy wild redcurrants.

The field at the top was full of beans. More than can be said for me by the time we got there! The borders have been left for meadow flowers.

Further on, wheat harvest was in full swing.

The manor overlooks more fields of wheat.

I don’t recall wheat being a thing in Yorkshire when I first learned about it – you associated it with East Anglia. It only takes very little change in climate though – less than half a degree – to shift things miles further north. Half a degree in half a century.

Howsham Mill’s Archimedean Screw water turbine is still working well. You can hear it as a soft, slow, ‘thud, thud’ from across the river.

On the way back to the Priory, another weir awaits. We speculated about whether you could kayak down it.

Back at the Priory, people were enjoying a swim. We dipped our feet in to cool off.

Walk to Work

The River Path and the walk into town are a regular part of my life. It’s 2 miles – forty minutes – to walk into town. You’re supposed to be able to cycle this path too, but I’ve found that’s no faster and you lose the right to daydream. So walking it is.

The path by the Allotments – today with a very-lost London Black Cab.

Rain has fallen on blackberry flowers.

Plants grow in our Flood Prevention walls…

Flowerbed next to the Blue Bridge, looked after by Friends of New Walk. The little mechanical bridge features in ‘The Price of Time’ and ‘The Evening Lands’.

Nature fighting back.

An illuminated ginnel.

A stall in the Market selling – I kid you not – Viking drinking horns.

And finally The Portal – LGBT Speculative Fiction bookshop (Every town should have one!)

Morning Glory

Summer warms the soil all around. All hope, all work, now coalesces to a single point: the meristem. Nourishment passes along thick, pale rhyzomes sleeping in the earth – stores that could stay fresh through forty winters. Everything is ready for the push.

The pressure at the tip can rearrange earth, heave aside metal; fracture stone. Behind, construction work begins in earnest: the first tiny purple leaves unfold, stiffen, then green, and turn like hearts to catch the light. The race is on – on and up, twining against the course of the sun.

Stems elongate and curl, but never stiffen: why trouble with the costly complexities of Lignin when someone else nearby has done it for you? A bine twists around – embraces – loves a dupe.

A bine strangles the strong and overruns the weak – outgrows the sluggish and robs them of their light. Below the surface, unseen roots push into rivals, dissolving their matrix, stealing their supplies. Flesh, bone and metal may tear at the periphery but a bine will endure. There is no death. There is only growth – each day; each year.

There is no other way.

(Inspired by my constant struggle against bindweed on the allotment, and will likely feature in the next novel.)

There was no Spring

On 31 May the weather changed from single figures (9 degC – that’s below 50
in old money) to something like the height of summer (mid-20s, also known as
mid-70s). Also, the rain – practically a constant throughout May, stopped,
without a by-your-leave.

The allotment, as a result, went completely berserk.

The Globe Artichokes (pale green frondy foliage in the centre of the picture) generally come up in November, sit-out the winter in a sort of low-profile state and then carry on growing from about April. This year they sat tight till 31 May.
The chard (foreground) had looked to all intents and purposes dead until about the same date. Now we can’t eat it fast enough.

Broad beans have burst into bloom (that’s enough B’s) overnight. Again, I
thought the rain would beat them down into a mush before they had a chance to
grow.

Note the bindweed making an appearance in the lower left: we have to start
digging that up as soon as it shows – sadly I don’t think we’ll ever be able to
get rid of the matrix of white tubular roots that undergird our plot – we just
have to plant things that can outgrow it!

Rhubarb is artistically translucent in the sunshine.

One thing that did manage to flourish in the rain was our little apple tree (‘Sunset’) – here it is from a couple of weeks ago.

The currants must have flowered, too, at some point – but perhaps just for
the one sunny day of last month, and I blinked an missed it. At any rate, the
bees seem to have done their stuff.

Talking of bees, ‘No-Mow May’ has finally become a thing, and people are
beginning to leave roadside verges and other such places alone, so mid-spring
flowers can bloom and bees don’t have to suffer a ‘hungry gap’ between the
early bulbs and the summer flowers.

Book Review: ‘Murder in Keswick – A Sherlock Holmes Mystery’ by William Todd

Murder in Keswick: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery by William Todd

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Arriving in Keswick for a well-earned rest from sleuthing in the grimy metropolis, Holmes and Watson find the town abuzz with rumours surrounding the murder of a local landlord – much to Watson’s consternation and Holmes’ quiet delight.

The puzzles come thick and fast: Why that particularly effortful means of murder? What about the well-worn left sleeve? And how could such a fate befall a fellow who seemed not to have an enemy in the world?

The characters and prose – with the possible exception of Watson’s too-fulsome admiration of Holmes’ deductive abilities – are true to the original ‘Adventures’, and the landscape and interiors realistically and sympathetically portrayed. Some reviewers have mentioned Americanisms creeping in but a quick bolt down an etymology rabbit-hole reveals it’s perfectly possible that ‘server’ (in a restaurant) and even the dreadful ‘gotten’ were indeed used as words by real people in the nineteenth century when our two languages were less diverged.

The plot and clues of this short novel are well put together such that I, at least, kicked myself (metaphorically!) when ‘all was revealed’ at the end in the classic style.

A touching author’s note completes the read: the author is American, and thanks the people of the online community who have helped him achieve such a true-to-life portrait of the Lake District (disclaimer: I admit I take the place for granted a bit too much – my parents live there!)

The final mystery is – how did this particular book come to be where I found it – namely, abandoned wedged in some railings in York? Somebody either missed a trick or decided to pass-on a good read!




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Book Review: ‘Roadside Attractions’ by Eric Lahti

Roadside Attractions by Eric Lahti

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The story opens with what, under normal circumstances, would be a tragic death – but the victim’s attitude is refreshingly different. Having spent her brief adult life in the margins of Hollywood – as repeated victim of typical Hollywood men, and being driven to drugs as a consequence – she finds in death the blessed release of no longer having to deal with the burdensome liability of a tangible female body.

The cynicism is darkly hilarious. But the characters are still (nearly) all ones you would root for. Even when you find out, at the mid-point, what the most enigmatic one has in mind, you still feel a brief temptation to take their side after all the torment they’ve been put through…

The backdrop, as the two unlikely main protagonists first ply their trade chasing troublesome ghosts from people’s houses and then become drawn ever deeper into an all-encompassing supernatural conflict between evil and, er, even more evil, is reminiscent of ‘American Gods’. But with the difference that here we have realistic (even though mainly supernatural) relatable characters, each with something to fight for, in a well-woven plot. I mean, these characters are so true-to-life that you even catch one of the women grumbling about the inadequate size of jeans pockets.

If you like an all-American road trip with a difference, including atmospheric landscape, crackling magic, and some long-drawn-out and marvellously gruesome fight scenes (immortal characters can sustain so many more injuries than the rest of us) then this is the read for you.



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North York Moors, Saxon church, and sundial

“I want to drag you all out for a walk.”

Nobody reacted.

“There’s a Sundial.”

It also has to be said that the temperature had finally reached the upper realms of single figures, and the weeks-long gruesome wind had died down; so off we all went.

The Moors are heather and peat, and sparsely inhabited. At night, they offer some of England’s darkest skies.

The milestone here was put up in 2000. We sat for a bit of a rest and noticed the lamb near the sheep on the left there wasn’t moving – the sheep kept returning to it hoping for better luck each time. Eventually the lamb got up on shaky legs and started to feed. Life isn’t always easy.

This hole i’th wall was Lastingham’s village well.

Lastingham village.

The land for Lastingham Church was originally consacrated by St Cedd, who also took part in the Synod of Whitby (which, among other things, set out how the date for Easter is calculated.)

Cedd died of the Plague in 664. Of a party of monks who travelled all the way from Essex to mourn him, all bar one met the same fate. What with that and the Saxon crypt, the church is kind-of Metal…

The village, under the moors. Ever noticed how it’s the most recently-built houses in Northern villages that have the best views? The older ones nestle to keep out of the wind – and their inhabitants would probably have had enough of the Great Outdoors by the time the working day comes to an end!

Vintage postbox (Note ‘V : R’ embossed at the top!)

We now come to one of the flatter parts of Yorkshire…

…which led us, finally, to Kirkdale, and the 11th century sundial whose inscription mentions not only Edward (‘the Confessor’) but also Tostig, at that time Earl of Northumbria. Tostig’s later support of Harald Hardrada at the Battle of Stamford Bridge contributed to King Harold’s defeat at Hastings in the same year.

In the wake of that battle, and wanting to stamp out any possibility of Northern rebellion, William I sent mercenaries north. They exterminated three quarters of the population here.

Like I said – dark skies.