The Return of the Sun


After days of cold rain and grey skies, it has been refreshing and restorative to see sunshine and feel warmth on my face. I fear it may not last until Sunday when the weather map on the television shows another swathe of wind and rain hit the west coast, so time to head back east……

An Urban Bluebell

One of the pieces of advice I received on the first writing course I attended was to make descriptions of place as selective and telling as possible.  If a room is a bedsit with grimy windows and an unmade bed, then you don’t need to go into each detail of the overflowing ashtray and the tide mark in the sink.

Every reader will have an idea of what a run down bedsit will look like, once you’ve put the basic idea in their mind’s eye, after that you need only mention the odd things, the things that diverge from that ‘expected’ picture, for example, if the sink has gold taps, or if there is a top of the range computer on the desk.

I often think of those gold taps in the imaginary bedsit whenever I notice something incongruous.  As a couple of days ago when I came across this little woodland grove.  It’s beside a busy road in north London, and as I was leaning over the wall to take the photos, buses and traffic roared along the street behind me, and passing pedestrians paused to watch what it was I could possible be photographing in that place.  There’s a story in it somewhere.

It’s a constant source of wonder to me how little bits of nature manage to flourish in even the smallest, most unlikely urban corners.  It gives truth to the belief that plants will outlast us all.

A Springtime Journey

When I set off from London the cherry blossom in the nearby church had been in tumultuous bloom for nearly a week, providing that brilliant lift to the eye and the spirit, especially when they leaven the grey stonework and when I’d forgotten that the trees were even there.

Driving north up the A1 many of the hedgerows and hillsides beside the road were light and bright with May blossom and daffodils already blowsy before shedding their petals.

As promised by the news reports, the traffic wasn’t as heavy as on some other holiday weekends, fear of fuel shortages and its extravagant price may have deterred drives.

My experience suggests, however, that they simply delayed their departures, as by the time Friday came all evidence suggested that lots of people were on the move.  So I had ample opportunity to observe the change in landscape and weather when I was stationary on the A66 (not really like its US namesake, apart from the fact that they’re both roads) going over Bowes Moor, one of the high points( in terms of altitude) of my journey.

It’s about 300 miles from London, but could be a different world.  I loved the way you could see the trace of the field divisions by the snow collected there, and track the direction of the prevailing wind from the angle of the grass at the side of the road.

And if there hadn’t been so much traffic, I’d never have stopped to take a photo.

The Return of Normal Spring

After a week of brilliant sunshine and warm air, yesterday I was back in my jumper, and the central heating came on again in the evening.

To prolong the memory of the premature summer days here is one of the photographs I took on Wednesday afternoon when I was at the British Library to meet a friend.  Our arrangement was to meet in the small cafe, a sort of box in the outside courtyard, so I started out there, but only until the heat became unbearable, akin as it was to an oven.

It felt cool by comparison when I first went outside, as at least there was a small circulation of air, but within a quarter of an hour or so I had started to simmer again.  So was relieved when J arrived and agreed it was too hot to sit in the sun and we repaired to the shaded area usually the year round preserve of the smokers.

It is so rare for us to see cloudless deep blue sky in London that I kept taking photos of it, although I never quite manage to capture its unexpected depth and brilliance.

It was almost like being abroad.

Spring Patterns

Maybe it’s the unseasonably warm weather in London, and the uplifting bright blue skies, but I find myself stopping frequently to first admire, and then photograph the signs of the arrival of Spring.

I love the change in the season, be it summer to autumn, or winter to spring, but this year the enjoyment feels especially heightened.  I’m fascinated by the patterns things make, especially the shapes of trees and the intricacies of their branches

But it seems that my taste may always have been similar, and maybe it’s just that I’m more aware of it now.

I took the photo above last week on my way to the station, and it is one among many similar, but it was only this morning I noticed its similarity to this – a Van Gogh poster I bought in Amsterdam at least 25 years ago and which has been on my bedroom wall ever since.

Spring is sprung

What is it about Spring?  It comes every year, and yet I feel surprise and pleasure when I notice the signs of its arrival.

I’m in Edinburgh for a few days and the sun has been shining, and the sky is a brilliant, hard blue, and although the air is still cold, I want to be outside.  I walked around the Botanic Gardens for a bit yesterday morning, along with quite a few of Edinburgh’s worthy citizens.

I’d taken my camera with me thinking I might catch a couple of shots of the friends I’m staying with, but instead, found myself taking shots of snowdrops and crocus.  Really.  As if I’d never seen them before.

Even though the Winter here was very severe and cold, it seems that the bulbs have survived and are blooming and sprouting according to their usual timetable; even some of the rhododendron are already out.

It’s a cliché, but it does illustrate the resilience of natural processes.  Our every day man-made life may grind to a halt with a bit of snow, but the energy in the plants and trees is regrouping, merely sleeping peacefully, waiting for the right time to return.  Patience is all that is required.

But not every climate has room for Spring.  When I lived in Moscow it took me some time to understand that there are only two seasons there: Winter and Summer.  When the increasingly brown snow rose in piles in every corner, and the surface of every pavement was slimy from the chemicals used to clear the ice, it was impossible to imagine that anything could grow in the hard stone of the city.

Yet when May arrived there were fully grown trees where none had been the day before, bursting into green leaf.  Everything had such a short window of opportunity to grow that there was never any hanging about; no slow start of tiny green shoots peeping through the earth, instead there was a sudden great combustion of life, colour and growth.

The other sure sign that the season was changing was the appearance of old ladies on the steps of the Metro stations selling pussy willow from their dacha gardens.  Soon they would be there selling herbs and vegetables, but it was the branches with the tiny furry buds that seemed to be the most anticipated and appreciated.

At the time in Moscow we were also much more dependant upon the season for the availability of fresh produce.  There was no history of being able to buy summer fruit out of season, no huge scale horticulture that produced tomatoes under plastic for all year round consumption.  So when the summer fruit and vegetables did arrive they were tasty from the sun and more than usually welcome.

One of the most striking sights when I first arrived in the city in early 1995 was seeing stalls on each street corner selling bananas, people walking along the road eating bananas and piles of skins in the gutter.  Scarcity had created demand and appreciation.

I suspect you can get bananas whenever you want in Moscow now, but some other sign will herald the change of the season and people will cast off their boots and hats and turn their faces to the sun.

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