from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Saturday, 22 June 2013

pea beans, peacocks and books

Well, we had the sun – all blue day of it, hot and hammock-beckoning. Then we had thunder and the sky turned on its hydrants, and now we have a milky mist holding us in the palm of its hand, swallowing the moorland tor I catch a glimpse of from the high lane. And already we're past the solstice and the longest day.

The plants in the various bits of garden have almost doubled in size, visibly, in 36 hours. The new bee and herb garden is just on the cusp of flowering; I understand how Wallace Stevens felt when he spoke of being undecided which he preferred: the blackbird’s song, or the moment just after it. Here, though, it’s the anticipation or the actuality which is in question. Same uncertainty. I love these borderland moments.

Speaking of bees, there are plenty of solitary bumble bees around, thank goodness, appreciating the lavenders, rosemary, purple sage flowers, and blue cranesbill, the marigolds and stocks. However, I’ve seen almost no butterflies even out here in the unsprayed rural meadows and green lanes, and even fewer honeybees. If Mr Paterson has his way, the neonicotinoids, the pesticide undoubtedly at least in part responsible for bee decline, will continue to be sprayed on our crops and coat our seeds, GMO crops will be the way forward, and there’ll be no badgers left in the English countryside. (Thank goodness Scotland, Wales and Ireland don’t have to fall in on the latter, at least.)

At last the veg garden – if not exactly abundant – is showing signs that we might after all have something to eat this year: the early potatoes, the wonderfully tasty Colleens that we discovered last year, have flowered and we’ll be digging them at the weekend. My row of rocket is now harvestable, and the rainbow chard, static for so many weeks (months) have sent up fat fleshy new leaves.

The beans are a different story, though; very low germination rates this year. One neckar-king plant. One soissons. One borlotti. However, the cobra, new to us, and our only picking-green French bean if the neckar doesn’t get a move on, has filled its row beautifully. The cannellini, like the others above part of our winter harvest for freezing, has done OK. Yet again, though, third year running, the star of the legume bed is the pea bean. Despite being planted weeks behind the others it’s caught up, and I think now we’ll fill in the many gaps with more of these. It’s a pretty bean – once, as a child, I found at Loe Bar on the Lizard in Cornwall a beautiful jewel-like piece of serpentine, half-red and half-green. Pea beans are like that, and are also a tasty and substantial addition to a vegan meal.

I have to admit to a confusion in my mind of pea bean and field bean – the latter usually a green manure crop, or grown for animal feed. Sometimes the broad bean is known as a field bean. I call pea beans field beans too, but I don't know if they're actually interchangeable. Are they the same thing? Charlotte du Cann writing in a recent issue of EarthLines says, and I think she's referring to the pea bean: ‘Three years ago I wouldn’t have understood the significance of these beans. Unlike most pulses they can grow in the cold and damp of Britain. They need little input to flourish and little energy to cook. To live in harmony with the living systems we have to downshift our diet, and these versatile protein-rich beans are key staples for the future.’

In the lanes, the bluebells, campions and stitchwort have given way to purple vetch, tall belled wands of foxgloves, and those delicate little five-petalled emblems of the Goddess, the dog roses.


Driving across Dartmoor, you get used to navigating around pony mares and foals, cows and calves, sheep and lambs wandering across or snoozing in the middle of the unfenced roads. I’ve never had to brake hard for a peacock, immobile in front of my car on a bend, though. For a minute I was tempted to bundle it into the car, till I reckoned that very small space, big dog, peacock and several hours together probably wasn’t a good mix. And, OK, it may not have wanted to come with me.

Speaking of braking hard, it’s a good job I rarely meet (or are followed by) other drivers on our lanes, as on the four-mile journey back from Totnes this afternoon I braked six or seven times for fledglings – jays, rooks, robins, blackbirds, sparrows and – hooray – yellowhammers.


And to books. Apart from the usual stack of non-fiction, I've just finished, finally, Julian Barnes' Man Booker-winner The Sense of an Ending. It's an excellent exploration of the unreliability of memory and the fallibility of personal interpretation, and it's also a well-constructed plot that engaged me immediately, and even when I guessed, two-thirds of the way through, what was going on it didn't spoil it in the least.

And being Barnes he's good at inserting philosophical questions into the narrative or the dialogue. For instance, can history ever be truly objective (apart of course from a list of dates and kings), given that every recorder of history has their own perceptual bias as a result of their own history? This question in broader terms is something that concerns me when I hear people (including myself) speaking in absolutes and certainties, when none of us has access to the whole picture, or a hotline to The Truth. Everything we believe is going to be coloured by context: personal, psychological, behavioural, social, societal/cultural, historical, particular personal interpretative lens, current incarnatory burden (karma), some of us would say, etc. All this created a lively and long-lasting debate here with TM and myself, his son and my daughter, round the outdoor solstice fire and beyond.

Speaking of books, I see River Suite has now appeared on – ahem – Amazon (sorry to mention the unspeakable). If any of you reading wishes to purchase it I'd be delighted, of course; and if any of you who has bought it is willing to give it a small write-up in the reviews section I'd be equally delighted. Everyone who's seen it is hugely complimentary; it'd be so good if some of that were out there to persuade others!

I heard from my wonderful publisher yesterday. My new novel, The Burning Ground, is already being type-set despite the fact that they have a move on the cards and have had two big bereavements this year.

As with my previous novel, in addition to the fact that the land plays a big part in the story, I notice that there are two prevalent themes. One is the twin pulls of the heart towards on the one hand security and responsibility, what we think of as 'settling down', and on the other freedom and the rejection of routine-bound conventions in order to live more creatively. Inevitably these two clash; one of my preoccupations is if and how we can resolve these two aspects of our nature, and what happens if we don't, but instead repress one? A recurring theme for me is the axis of responsibility to self, and other; and what we do when they seem to be in conflict and questions of integrity and soul arise.

The other theme is the eruption of a community tragedy as a result of or through persecution or oppression (in Imago this was of a so-called 'heretical' sect, the Cathars; in TBG it's less obvious but, set as it is in part on Dartmoor during the foot and mouth crisis, we're looking at the wiping-out of thousands of cattle and the bankruptcy of a farming community, and the complete mismatch of understanding between the urban government and the needs of a rural farming population).

Yes, of course it's a love story. Love, sex, loss, death, hope, friendship, place/the land, the past, the future, and the place of memory... all the best stories involve these themes, don't they?

And the best best stories – well, I'm rereading Lawrence Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet, one of those books that had a huge impact on me in my twenties, to see if it still lives up to my memory of it*. I'm struck again by the depth and breadth of Durrell's intellect and erudition – is it me, or are there fewer novelists with such richness of imagination and learning in the C21st? Actually I know there are still many, but it's not the norm, to be expected, any more, perhaps. Have cultural mores changed, or do we simply care less about learning?

I flipped to the notes at the back of the (satisfyingly fat) book; I'd forgotten their existence. I'll leave you with this nice little quote: 'Art is not art unless it threatens your very existence.'

* First impressions: hmmm. Pretentious and over-written in places. I also don't like the characters very much. It's definitely 'of its time'; nonetheless, I think it's a tour de force.

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