January 2011

Walking to the Village School – January 2011

The first day of the New Year and we tramp through the village, past the Dutch barn and across the fields to Abbotts Ann Down for a late lunch with friends.  The landscape is bleak at this time of year – low grey skies and bare, skeletal trees.  There is very little, if any, colour around.  Our return walk is ‘sold’ to the Tribe as ‘a terribly big adventure’ when we realise that it is completely dark outside and we have perhaps outstayed our friends hospitality.  We borrow a couple of wind-up, eco-friendly torches and set off.  The littlest member of the Tribe on foot, is tired and we sing songs in an attempt to raise spirits and hasten our march home.  It works.  The eldest decides to make up some scary stories as we try and avoid tripping up in the dark – these torches are not great in these conditions.  Walking past the sports field however, is in fact quite spooky, particularly with the shadows of the overhanging trees.  Fortunately no one else is about.

With the start of a new term our walks to school are fewer, partially due to a pretty wet month, but on one morning as we do walk to school, the Tribe spot a couple of dead frogs along Mill Lane.  Apparently this winter has not been good for frogs – according to the organisation, Pond Conservation, ‘tens or hundreds of thousands’ of these amphibians have died in the UK.  And it seems that we are not alone – this is a worldwide phenomenon.  There does not seem to be a definitive reason for it at present.  On a rather happier note, late one afternoon, we see four beautiful swans flying over Cattle Lane.  They divide into pairs and appear to follow Pillhill Brook from on high.  Stunning.

The final day of the month, and given the name of this column, I feel that I should make an extra effort to walk the Tribe to school – it’s mild and it’s not raining.  We don wellies and I feel rather like a packhorse with the newest member in a front pack and a pack on my back full of school shoes and water bottles.  Now I remember why I’m not walking quite so frequently.  As we go down Mill Lane it feels good to be walking despite my load.   Stubby, pale green catkins are beginning to appear on hazel trees and the keys of trees that have long since lost their leaves are dancing in the breeze.  The keys that are joined in a straight line belong to the field maple – the classic ‘helicopter’ that the Tribe love to play with.  The Ash has bundles of single hanging keys that spin down to the ground – these appear to be plentiful right now.  The Tribe spot the first snowdrops poking through carpets of leaves under the hedgerow – the snowdrop season officially starts on the 26th of the month.  New life is returning to our natural world – our plants obviously think that winter is over.  After all the snow and freezing temperatures at the end of 2010, I think that a bit of warmth, sunshine and colour will put a spring in all our steps.

Mother of the Tribe

December 2010

Walking to the Village School – December

The first day of the month brings a blanket of snow across the entire country.  The Tribe are almost bouncing off the walls with this added excitement.  Our fabulous (and hardy) plumber arrives early and gets to work on the header tank – the temperature in the house plummets to near zero, as he starts work in the cramped attic space.  I take refuge in the kitchen with the littlest.  Father of the Tribe braves the elements and walks the Tribe to school.  The snow continues to fall and I wonder how the birds will fare in this freezing weather.  The bird feeders are all stocked with food.  It is very beautiful though, as I watch from my cocooned world.

The following day we take our first walk to school as a family of six.  The Tribe are togged up in ski gear and make snow angels in the garden.  The littlest is bundled up in a front pouch so no cold air reaches those tiny new lungs.  We start off in high spirits, but as the Tribe hop, skip, jump and slide along Mill Lane, we have several dreadful falls on the ice and the sound of small heads hitting the ground.  Maybe they should have worn their cycling helmets - I tread carefully and slowly with my precious cargo.  The Tribe leave their tears behind as they run across the old playing fields, leaving more snow angels in their wake.  The school corridor is full of children’s wet boots, jackets and trousers; most children have made it into school.  Our walk home is quiet.  The skies are low and grey, the only sound is the crunch of our boots in the snow.

At the weekend we buy our Christmas tree (tall trees are in short supply this year, due to the increased number of people buying real trees in the past few years; trees have also become snow-bound on their journeys down from Scotland).  The Tribe spend a happy afternoon decorating it – I sit watching whilst feeding.  They do a splendid job and they are very pleased with themselves as the lights are ceremonially switched on.  The following day, whilst they are at school, I hear a terrific crash and find the tree at a precarious 30 degree angle from the floor (held up rather dangerously by the strings of lights), water all over the floor, a curtain pole hanging off the wall and the three black cats guiltily watching from the balcony.  We finally sort out the mess three days later as I am continuously feeding.

There are lots of car journeys to school over the next couple of weeks – a few walks, but it is bitterly cold.  Our new record low is -11.2 and there are no bright blue skies to warm the air up.  This December is officially the coldest since records began.  There are very few birds around.  They must be suffering. 

As I’m still feeding in the kitchen, Father of the Tribe often drives them into school.  On one journey, as he walks down the path to the school door, the car alarm goes off.  Returning to the car he finds the aggrieved, only male of the Tribe locked in, banging on the windows to get out!  I find this highly amusing and decide that Father of the Tribe must be sleep deprived…

Term ends and there is a marvellous timely dump of snow.  We walk through our winter wonderland to the Village Shop for the seasonal arrival of Father Christmas who this year has had to use a 4x4 to arrive and had obviously been holidaying in the US for a while.  The Tribe enjoy talking to him whilst we enjoy the shop’s hospitality of mulled wine and mince pies.  We leave and walk to the Wyevale for hot chocolates and return home via the snow covered fields, attempting to avoid the rabbit burrows.  It’s a magical time and I feel truly blessed.

Before we know it, Christmas Eve is upon us and we set out to St Mary’s for Carols round the Crib.  Afterwards we take the Tribe to The Eagle for a quick festive drink with friends.  On our return home I notice that the internal doors are open and the cats, who had been locked in the kitchen, are outside.  We discover that we have been broken into and return to the safety of the car whilst we wait for the police.  Our calm evening has suddenly descended into chaos with police and CSIs arriving late into the evening.  We are astonished and touched by the number of friends contacting us – we’ve never had so many texts and phone calls on Christmas Eve!  The police are extremely efficient and the CSIs do a great job of amusing the Tribe taking all their fingerprints.  As we are up so late, Father Christmas visits the Tribe last of all and he gets things rather muddled.  Extraordinarily, he returns a couple of days later with gifts that he had found at the bottom of the sleigh!  Christmas is most definitely not spoilt.

The last few days of 2010 are quiet, but fun and family orientated despite everything.  Father of the Tribe begins to research the latest technological gadgets to protect his family and home.  New Years Eve is celebrated with friends and the house is full of children – just as it should be.  We toast the New Year in and reflect that the ups and downs of the last five weeks are just part of life’s rich tapestry.  But with the arrival of a new life, 2010 can only be remembered as a spectacular year.

Mother of the Tribe (aka The Milk Tanker)

November 2010

Walking to the Village School – November

What a month!  At the beginning of November the weather turns unbelievably mild and we walk up to school in hazy sunshine without even a fleece.  The Tribe kick there way through piles of dry, crackling leaves.  I huff and puff my way behind them, begging them to slow down ‘just a little bit’ – how the tables have turned! 

One morning, when temperatures have returned to normal, we walk up to school and find the trees showering their leaves on us, as if we are a happy couple having confetti thrown over us as we leave church.  By the end of the month, the trees are bare.  The maize in the fields behind us has finally been harvested – I have no idea why it has been left so late.  I will ask our farming friends when time permits.  The fields are later ploughed and I watch in awe as hundreds of wood pigeons land and then take off as one entity.  Standing below them, the beating of all their wings sounds like the soft and gentle fall of summer rain.  We have never seen so many pigeons as we have this winter.  Another late afternoon, when we arrive home in the half light, the Tribe notice great flocks of starlings in the trees along Cattle Lane – a rather noisier bunch of birds, as they start their spectacular twilight roosting.

The mornings are getting darker and darker, but when the sun does finally make an appearance, the Tribe have a fantastic view of the return of the birds to the feeders on the birch tree – great breakfast time entertainment and their knowledge of ornithology is definitely increasing!  Our record so far this winter is a dozen chaffinch, primarily on the ground below the feeders, ten great tits and goldcrests on the feeders and tree, a pair of collared doves, one robin (as feisty as ever), a pair of magpies (amazingly they haven’t frightened the smaller birds away – safety in numbers perhaps) and two male and one female pheasants (escaping the local shoots??).  The long tailed tits return later in the month.  Although this is an absolute confirmation that winter is here, they are always a joy to watch with their energetic acrobatics around the trees and shrubs.

Despite not walking quite so frequently up to school (two reasons – rain and heaviness), we take our last walk with a tribe of 3 about twenty hours before the arrival of the 4th member.  We briefly leave hospital before being admitted to Neo Natal for three slightly frightening days.  I miss the plummeting temperatures as I’m cocooned inside with the littlest.  She is finally given the all-clear and we return to the rest of the Tribe.  As we arrive home on the last day of the month, Father of the Tribe discovers a wet patch on the ceiling and the plumber informs him that the header tank is leaking and needs replacing … The Tribe are besides themselves with excitement – they have a baby sister and the forecast is snow – Christmas has come early!  I am just unbelievably happy to be home with all the Tribe amidst the continuing chaos of family life.

 The slightly smaller Mother of the slightly bigger Tribe

October 2010

Walking to the Village School – October

October begins with torrential rain and the Tribe huddle in the car to get to school.  Mill Lane is flooded and I imagine that the Old Coach Road will be a quagmire very soon.  I don’t think that the school will appreciate mud-covered shoes across the very smart new carpets.  This rain however, is followed by glorious warm weather and we walk to school in bright sunshine under pale blue skies.  The muddy path dries enough for us to avoid the Tribe tramping mud through the school and they kick their way through the fallen leaves.  On some days we dodge the falling conkers and a competitive spirit emerges as to who can catch the first conker – no one does and I think that we’re doing well if we avoid getting bashed on the head by the falling fruit!

One morning one of the Tribe’s kittens decides to follow us to school.  I become a little concerned when she decides to follow us beyond Mill Lane – it is one thing being responsible for three young children crossing Church Road, but having a cat (she’s almost a year old and apparently that’s when they become adults) to contend with is another matter entirely.  She follows almost the entire way, to the absolute delight of the Tribe, until we meet a Jack Russell towards the top of the Old Coach Road.  A little bit of chaos ensues (and who can blame the dog – what excitement to see a cat out on a morning walk!), but the Tribe arrive at school without a kitten following them into the classroom.  There is still part of me that wonders what entertainment the children could have had, had she done so …!  On my return home, I discover that the feline member of the Tribe has waited for me and she follows me back home.  Mary had a Little Lamb needs to be re-written for the 21st Century.

Towards the end of the month, we start taking a different walk to school across the old school playing fields – less muddy, and rather more importantly for me, a little bit shorter – imperative now that I’m carrying even more weight.  The grass that we walk across has several different species of fungi growing in it.

The weather suddenly turns very cold and we record -4.6 one morning – the first frost of the season.   This does mean that the sloes growing on the blackthorn bushes are ready for picking to make Sloe Gin and Sloe Vodka.  We still haven’t collected them by the end of the month but they still seem to be plentiful in the hedgerows.  I do, however, make batches of plum jam and lemon and grapefruit chutney in the hope of being slightly organised for the festive season. 

The end of the month sees the Tribe enjoying Halloween with other children in the village.  The origins of Hallowe’en are from the Celtic festival of Samhain, a feast for the dead, held on 31st October – it was believed that the difference between the living and the dead was at its closest at this time of the year and places were set at the table for the deceased.  Despite this rather spooky history, I always feel that we’ve just landed in some all-American family movie as we walk from house to house where carved pumpkins lit by candles illuminate the way and over-excited children compare their loot of sweets and chocolates – a big thank you to everyone who made the children so welcome.  The month ends and I make a mental note to book a dentist appointment for the Tribe.

(Very heavy) Mother of ‘the Tribe’

September 2010

Walking to the Village School – September

Clipped Oak treesThe start of another school year and the weather gods are smiling on us.  The first day of term and we walk up the Old Coach Road in the warm sunshine.  The field of crops has been harvested and the wild meadow topped.  The butterflies are still active and the bees lazily buzz around the hedgerows where the blackberries continue to ripen.  They make good snacks for the tribe on the way to school, although I curse myself for my constant ‘Come on, hurry up!’  It will not be the end of the world if they are a little bit late.  Superstition is that the devil marks blackberries that are eaten after the 29th September (Michaelmas), but I don’t think that this will deter the smallest member of the tribe.

The tribe have noticed dozens of ladybirds on the blackberry bushes.  Ladybirds mainly feast on aphids such as greenfly (very useful for those of us who love roses in the garden), but it seems that the orange ladybird, the 16 and 22 spot ladybirds feed on mildew and nectar.  According to a research team at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the weather in the spring of this year could have favoured these vegetarian ladybirds.  Very soon, they will all start hibernating for the winter.

We have a few glorious mornings walking to school when the fields are covered in mist before the sun begins to burn it off.  The tribe run up towards the top of the path and the picture is truly reminiscent of Keats’ poem, To Autumn, ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness …’.  The light changes at this time of year and with the clear skies, Father of the Tribe manages to make the most of it with his camera.  The light is soft and has none of the harshness of summers’ light.  One morning, the tribe notice a huge and stunning fungus close to the base of a large old tree on the way up the Old Coach Road.  My knowledge of fungi is extremely limited – enough to know that it would be unwise to pick and attempt to cook any fungus that we find.  Father of the Tribe has a detailed (and very beautiful) photograph and I will, at some point, identify it.

treetrunk upThe mornings are darker now, but the birdsong has returned – a small compensation I think; I already miss the long days of summer.  A couple of tawny owls have also returned to the garden this month and I am woken by their calls several nights in a row.  In the stillness of the night their call is quite haunting.

The weather continues to confound us – from the early warmth we suddenly have a cold snap when temperatures dip into single digits – the tribe are a tough bunch and continue to have bare legs.  Fortunately this is a brief dip, as the thermostat rises to produce more balmy weather.  On the last day of the month, we are sitting in the conservatory after a brief rain shower on the way back from school.  We look across the paddock at the field of maize, when suddenly dozens of swallows appear, flying fast and low.  A faint rainbow can be seen in the distance and I’m fairly sure that these extraordinary birds are saying goodbye again for another year.


August 2010

Walking to the Village School – August

August should be high summer with the holidays in full swing – blue skies and high temperatures.  But, yet again, the weather gods have decided that the rain and wind should return this month.  For the first August in many years, we travel south with the Tribe in search of sunshine and warmth.  We are here at the start of the month when it is still warm, but gradually low pressure creeps over the country to bring another August characterised by cooler, cloudy weather with showers or ‘longer spells of rain’.  Some statistics for this month: the coolest since 1993; equal third wettest in the last 100 years (although similar to 2004 and 2006; fourth dullest in a series from 1929 (although 2008 was apparently duller!).

Leaving the sunshine of the continent behind I feel a certain poignancy returning home for the last week of the month.  The days seem so much shorter and the grass is damp underfoot as I collect towels from the line after the Tribe are deeply asleep.  A month ago and I would have been enjoying sundowners with Father of the Tribe basking in the last rays of the sun’s warmth.  Fortunately we still spend most waking hours outside, but there is definitely an end of summer feel.  The hedgerows are laden with unripe blackberries – I’m sure that in previous years we have already started to make crumbles, pies and jams at this time.  The rosehips are just beginning to colour and the sloes appear to be having another bumper year, but it will be several weeks before we start picking these dusty blue bloomed berries.

I have been sorting through some ‘stuff’ in anticipation of our new arrival towards the end of the year.  Having had a rodent infestation last year, we obviously found a few items that have been rather well shredded and beyond rescue.  One evening Father of the Tribe brought in a pile of more ‘stuff’ from the garage.  The Tribe were all asleep as I sorted through car seats, backpacks and an extraordinary array of pushchairs, in the hallway.  Right at the bottom of the pile was the pram.  And right at the bottom of the pram was … a perfectly preserved, mummified rat.  As an ex-city dweller, I feel that country rats are more like overgrown mice than the cat sized rats of the city.  Father of the Tribe disposed of it, although I did wonder if we should have kept it for the Tribe to study in the morning.

Mother of ‘The Tribe’

July 2010

Walking to the Village School – June

July has proved to live up to expectations, with the summer continuing warm, in fact many days have been hot and humid.  The tribe, together with mother and father, have been in their element (despite my rapidly expanding girth).  Before school, the tribe run about the paddock followed by their three black and white kittens.  I still get a kick from watching them and realise how very lucky we are.  The tribe, of course, know no different, but I hope that their childhood memories will be happy and innocent.

Despite only being mid-summer, the leaves are already falling from the trees due to lack of rain.  Crunchy carpets have been made as the leaves pile up on the parched, brown lawns.  The tribe are helping in the spot watering of the young trees that we planted two years ago.  The huge cherry tree is full of blackbirds and pigeons gorging themselves on the fruit.  This year they seem to have eaten everything, as there is no fruit on the driveway at all.  The pyrocanthas, after a magnificent flowering season, are now showing an abundance of berries.  Is this the first sign of another harsh winter to come?

The walks to school have been magical with the weather so dry and warm.  The fields are high, the path dusty and the nettles alive with butterflies.  The youngest is still enchanted by them and chases them on the way home. 

On the morning of the formal school opening ceremony, we cycled up to the school (with mother praying that there would be no mishaps before the ‘big event’!).  The day could not have been more perfect – the sky a brilliant blue, the beautiful, homemade bunting adorning the fencing around the school.  Our guest speaker, Chris Packham, was blown away by our school (and he loved the bunting – pure ‘rural village’ school!).  Taking Chris on a very rapid tour of the school before the ceremonies began, he noted how lucky we were to have a school with such amazing outside space – he heard six different species of birdsong on our two minute tour, including a skylark, impossibly high in the sky.  An inspirational speaker, he confirmed how important the environment is, particularly for our children.

At home, the rapidly growing kittens have developed a penchant for shrews (which I’m sure that Mr Packham would take a rather dim view of).  Shrews are feisty, tiny creatures, have a high pitched squeal, are known to bite their attackers and personally, I prefer to keep my fingers away from them.  Not so the tribe.  They have successfully begun a shrew rescue mission.  I haven’t yet admitted to any guests (my parents included!) that one of these creatures escaped from its convalescence box in the downstairs guest bathroom – to where, I have absolutely no idea.  We also have plastic tubs of ladybirds, spiders and various other mini-beasts adorning most rooms, although I drew the line at the attempts of the youngest at nursing a shrew in her bedroom.  Never a dull moment and it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry!

(rather larger) Mother of ‘the Tribe’

June 2010

Walking to the Village School – June

Oh so glorious!  Our walks to and from school have been magical this month – walking from bright, hot sunshine into the dappled, cool shade of the tree canopy.  This is what I call a perfect British summer.

Up until mid-June the tribe collect huge sprays of creamy, white elderflower that are certainly more abundant than in previous years.  One warm morning on our walk to school, the tribe run ahead of me picking the low hanging flowers within reach.  The youngest, in her enthusiasm, excitement and speed, went flying over a dog lead belonging to one of our dog walking friends.  Despite landing flat on her face and a loud yelp from the dog, both appeared unscathed and her determination to pick more than her siblings, undiminished.  The dog rose in the hedgerows are also now in flower and they too are more plentiful and spectacular this year.  The delicate white and pink blooms are so very quintessentially English.

The heat of this month has brought out the best in our beautiful countryside.  Our chalky soil encourages a fabulous display of wild flower colour in the meadows and fields around the village.  The long days of sunshine means that the tribe are spending almost all their time between sleep and school, outside.  The ‘stew’ that the youngest has brewed has been overcooked in the heat and smells particularly bad.  The tribe, however, are delighted that life has been found within the oozing mass – the life is in the form of some black, wiggly, worm-like things, that I have absolutely no idea what they are.  Father of the tribe and I are both ignoring it in the hope that the other will eventually dispose of it – rather like the crying baby syndrome in the middle of the night (other than wanting to dispose of it, of course).

With the lack of rain, the ‘lawns’ in people’s gardens are no more than brown patches (unless you’ve been watering them).  The only things growing on our ‘lawn’ are daisies, clover, dandelions and a number of other wild flowers – or weeds as Father of the tribe complains.  The name ‘daisy’ began as ‘day’s eye’, referring to the bright yellow centre that is revealed at the start of each day as the white petals open.  The Latin name is ‘bellis’ meaning beautiful.  Sitting in glorious sunshine before bedtime, I make daisy chains with the tribe - an evocative pastime of years gone by, that we don’t do often enough today.

Ever expanding, Mother of ‘the Tribe’

May 2010

Walking to the Village School – May

May has certainly been a month of contrasts.  The beginning of the month has seen temperatures plummet and the cold return.  I have been tempted to put the tribe back into woolly tights and long trousers, but they are made of sterner stuff and have refused.  Many of the dog walkers that we pass on the way to school have more sense and have returned to hats, gloves and boots.  We have been informed that it is the coldest May in 15 years – so much for the long hot summer!  But I will remain optimistic.

Garlic mustard has returned under the hedgerows and I am delighted that the tribe now recognise it as easily as the cow parsley that is also just flowering.  I am also reliably informed by the youngest that it is ‘rather excellent’ for the ‘stew’ that she is brewing outside!  Carpets of bluebells are finally exploding everywhere – definitely late this year, but this fabulous wild spectacle is worth the wait.  Apparently no other country in the world has the number of bluebell displays that we have – the UK has between a third and a half of the world’s bluebells.  Blossom from the cherry trees is still falling mid-month and the chestnuts are finally in flower.  The long domes of white blossom are made of delicate flowers.  Each one has a yellow mark in it, which eventually turns a pinkish red.  These marks are honey guides for the bees that gather round the trees.

Our walk from the Church car park to the Old Coach Road takes us along a narrow path covered by a canopy of tall trees where a colony of rooks are nesting.  As we walk underneath the rookery, we quicken our pace as we hope to avoid any unfortunate offerings from above.  So far there has only been one direct hit!  Rooks differ from crows in that their face and beak are a blackish-grey colour.  They are also very sociable; the cawing above our heads informs us that the rookery is a busy place right now.  The eldest has been shown the site of a greater spotted woodpecker’s nest close to the path and we take a detour for a few days in order to watch the parents fly to the nest in a hole high up in the tree trunk to feed the noisy chicks.  The parents are easy to spot as they fly to the nest as they have a splash of red under their tails – the males can be identified as they also have a touch of red on the back of their heads.  Spring is most definitely in the air!

Mid-month we suddenly return to sunshine and blue skies.  The dawn chorus can be heard through our open windows when it is still dark – not yet light enough for the songbirds to find food so they use this time to sing in the hope of attracting a mate. 

Towards the end of the month (while it is still warm!) I am sitting outside in the early evening with father of the tribe and we can hear the unmistakable call of the male cuckoo (it is only the male who makes the ‘Cuckoo!’ call).  The call continues and, for the first time, we see and hear the cuckoo fly overhead before landing in a tree.  In flight the cuckoo is reminiscent of a hawk (and apparently often mistaken for one, hence the old country saying ‘The hawk never strikes when the cuckoo calls’.)  It has a long tail and long, pointed wings – sleek and fast. 

As the last bank holiday weekend comes round, so the weather deteriorates again – never a dull moment!

Mother of the Tribe

April 2010

The tribe return to school mid-month and with the late arrival of spring we walk under a perfect, clear blue sky.  The majestic horse chestnuts along Church Path are wearing their fresh, new, lime green leaves that remind the tribe of the skirts of some fairy tale maiden.  By the end of the month the flower buds will have emerged.  The pupils all meet in the old school’s playground, congregating in their classes, excited to see each other after the holidays.  After a quick alfresco register, they begin the short walk up the hill to the spectacular new 21st century school.  A handful of parents walk up behind the crocodile line of children.  A few villagers are there to watch them leave.  I will admit to having a slight lump in my throat as I watch.  A big moment in the history of the village and we are certainly very fortunate to be part of it.

The end of the holidays coincide with the erupting Icelandic volcano and the skies over our village have been quiet and full of birdsong – no helicopters to be seen or heard.  A pleasant change.  We discover one morning that our windows upstairs are covered in a fine layer of dirt.  Volcanic ash perhaps?

So, the second day of term and our route is changed.  We still walk along Mill Lane (vital for trout spotting), but now we continue up along the Old Coach Road, which means that the tribe, along with their village friends, can hop, skip, jump and run without the constant parental refrain of ‘Stop!  Be careful!  Watch out for traffic!’  It is still an idyllic walk.  As April has been so dry and warm (what relief!), the ground is hard and dusty.  Underfoot there are piles of beechnut husks that have a satisfying crunch as we walk along the path.  The sudden greening up of everything is very welcome and we are enjoying the most vibrant and stunning spring display of blossom for many years.  This will perhaps make us forget the long and cold winter that we have endured.  There are still some naked parts of the hedgerows and the sky can still be seen above the Old Coach Road, but the tribe have bare legs that are beginning to have the tell tale signs of warmer weather – cuts and bruises!  It is a glorious start to the new term.

Towards the end of the month I spot three swallows swooping and dancing high in the sky having returned from Africa and I remain ever hopeful of a long, hot summer.

Mother of the Tribe

March 2010

On the way to school this month we have been practising alliteration with the youngest member of the Tribe (she’s just turned 5).  Rather ambitious you may think, but having been in the classroom one morning just after register, I heard one of the Reception teachers asking the class firstly, what day it was, and secondly, what could they say about that particular day.  Inspirational!  Our walks to school, even on the grumpiest of mornings have been transformed!  March has seen plenty of mucky, muddy, miserable, mad Mondays, terrible, terrific, tickling Tuesdays, wonderfully wet, wicked Wednesdays, thinking, threatening Thursdays and finally, fantastic, fabulous, funny, fishy Fridays!

The birdsong has continued to grow in intensity this month and the Tribe has noticed that our little wren that has resided amongst the shrubbery under the kitchen window since we have lived here is beginning to sing again.  Despite their size (9cm long) they are a very feisty, in-your-face bird, with an incredibly loud and powerful song.  Many wrens died in the big freeze this year, but the survivors will breed in huge numbers when the better weather comes and makes good the losses.

As we walk along Cattle Lane, Mill Lane and Church Path, the Tribe point out that the elder is finally beginning to show its first leaves.  The elder can be a semi-evergreen tree, but this year the trees have been quite bare.  Their twigs are hollow and used to be used by children as pea-shooters.  The Tribe thinks that this will be a cracking idea to keep grown-ups at bay in the summer!  I wonder if there will be another bumper crop of flowers this year.  The beech hedges and trees that we pass are beginning to show signs of new life with the long, pointed buds growing fatter.  They are protected by last year’s leaves that are still hanging from the branches, rustling in the wind.  Later this month the rich yellow flowers of the winter aconite can be seen below the still bare hedgerow – a welcome splash of colour.

Walking to school for the final day this term, the Tribe notice that the majestic horse chestnut along Church Path is just beginning to unfurl its bright green candle-like buds.  The chestnut in our garden is still covered in tightly shut sticky buds.  The end of an era for the village, but the future for both the village and the new school is incredibly exciting.  Happy Easter!

Mother of ‘the Tribe’

I hope it stops raining by Christmas

February 2010

Birdsong has finally returned.  As I walk with the Tribe to school, it lifts our spirits and I dare to dream of long and lazy summer days to come.  The birds sound as if they are celebrating their survival of the big freeze last month.  Many birds were killed during the prolonged cold snap and we notice that the flock of long tailed tits that frequent the bird feeders outside the kitchen appears to be somewhat depleted.  These delightful birds are small with a black and white tail that is longer than their body, a pale pink, fluffy underbelly and a striped face like a badger!

As we walk down Mill Lane early in the month, the Tribe remark on the appearance of squashed frogs on the road.  Certain weather conditions awaken frog hormones, and get them hopping again, in the hope of mating and laying their spawn.  I’m pretty certain that if they hadn’t been flattened by cars, these early frogs would probably have been killed by the harsh frosts that returned later in the month.

Despite the continuing bitter cold (that north easterly wind has been raw walking to school), signs of Spring have appeared with the first green shoots of snowdrops in the churchyard.  The Tribe always takes pleasure in their arrival.  They notice how, on the really cold mornings, the snowdrops collapse and wilt, but by the time they return from school, the plants have been warmed by the sun and are once again upright with their delicate, white bobbing heads.

Another noticeable change this month is that the hazel catkins are no longer hard and brown, but soft and yellow, jauntily swinging in the wind.  This feeling of relief that the biting cold has passed is obviously felt even in the plant world!  The Tribe smudge the yellow pollen on their fingers, but usually the pollen is blown on the wind from the catkins onto the female flowers.  These are quite inconspicuous on the hazel twigs – they are tiny crimson stars on top of a small bud.

Everything in nature is late this year and we are all living in hope of a spectacular Spring – this month we have certainly seen the glimmers of new life.

Mother of ‘the tribe’

January 2010


December 2009

Walking to the Village School – December

The last month of the year and what an exciting and rather musical month this was!  The beginning of December saw the continuation of mild temperatures, torrential rain and wind resulting in over-use of the car for the very short journey to school.  I am convinced that it takes longer to get the tribe strapped into a car, drive to school, try and find somewhere to park, eventually park at the end of Duck Street, get the tribe out of the car and get soaked anyway, running up to school in the rain, than it does to walk.  Not to be recommended if you are hoping for a calm and relaxed start to the day.

The school’s Nativity and Victorian Music Hall Review created enormous excitement for a week amongst the tribe and I became word perfect in songs ranging from ‘Welcome, welcome, this is the Christmas Story …’, to ‘An Angel appeared in the sky, spreading her wings, spreading her wings …’ and not forgetting ‘Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside …’!  Any wildlife that we might have seen on the way was certainly hiding as we occasionally managed to walk to school when the rain did subside.  The ‘puddle’ outside the Village Hall where the performances took place, deserves a special mention as it was so vast that the children should have been issued with waders to cross it.

On 10 December I believe that the rain finally stopped and it began to feel rather colder.  Perhaps it was beginning to feel a little Christmassy??

After a week of performances we then had more excitement, fun and utter chaos in the morning, of dressing up in Victorian costume as part of the school’s farewell to the old school building in the village.  For the better part of a week the tribe morphed into three Victorian children complete with a fox fur once owned by their great grandmother.  Definitely no wildlife to be seen on these days!

The last day of term dawned and with it, snow.  These two events resulted in the tribe being completely over excited. Understandably so – there is something totally magical about looking out of the window in the morning and unexpectedly finding the world covered in a pure blanket of white.   The tribe’s first crunchy footsteps in the snow, the littlest one slipping, sliding and falling along Mill Lane like Bambi and all of us singing ‘It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas …’ on the way to school that day, will be remembered for a long time.  Collecting the tribe plus friends when school had finished, I watched six happy, innocent and excited children walk, skip and jump, some hand in hand, along Church Path singing ‘It’s snowing!’ – their music teacher would have been very proud.  A lovely ending to the school term and I’m allowed to be sentimental, it’s Christmas!

Mother of ‘the tribe’

November 2009

Walking to the Village School – November

And I thought that October was wet!  What an extraordinarily wet month we’ve had.  Sitting here in the kitchen on the first Monday in December thinking back to our walks to school in November, the weather forecaster on Radio 4 has just informed me that this is the 50th consecutive day of rain.  I remember now, the tribe didn’t do much walking to school in November.

By the end of the month, most of the trees we walk past (when we have braved the elements), are bare.  Few leaves can survive the violent battering the weather has thrown at us this month.  The leaves now lie in big wet piles; not quite as much fun as the dry, rustling mounds from last month.  The delight of winter that can be seen so much better without the trees’ cloaks of leaves, are catkins.  On our few walks, we can see them swinging in the wind on the hazel and birch.  They are brown and hard right now, but will gradually soften and turn yellow, filled with pollen.  The tribe know the catkins then as lamb’s tails.  The ash trees are one of the last trees to lose their leaves, but their twigs are still covered with bunches of seeds (known as keys) hanging from them, providing food for smaller birds until well into next year.

We have noticed more of our native birds returning to the bird feeders and flitting amongst the hedgerows.  The small robins and tiny wrens have very close fitting feathers making them very waterproof.  However, like us, there is only so much rain that they can take and in the very heavy rain they need to shelter amongst bushes to keep them from getting cold.  Blackbirds and thrushes have definitely benefitted from the soaked ground as they feed on worms.  The tribe have also learnt to recognise the largest of our woodpeckers, the green woodpecker, with its low, undulating flight and striking red head and black eye. They are also unusual in that they are most often seen feeding on the ground, not for worms but for ants.  They use their beaks to dig into ants’ nests and a long tongue – nearly four inches (just over 10 centimetres) – to get the ants out.  And that is my fascinating fact of the month!

October 2009

Walking to the Village School – October

Autumn is finally here – the rain arrived and Mill Lane’s flooding prevented us walking to and from school on a number of days.  As we have discovered on previous wet walks, the depth of the puddles is greater than the height of the tribe’s wellies …. But then we did have a true Indian summer at the end of this month with the thermometer soaring into the 20s and night time temperatures remaining in double figures.

On our walk to school this month, we have seen the trees turning from green through red and orange to yellow and brown.  The American term ‘Fall’ is definitely most apt.  The reason that leaves change colour is that as the days shorten there is less sunlight and the chlorophyll pigment making leaves green drains away to leave other colours that are caused by other chemicals – carotenoids creates reds and oranges, flavenoids creates the yellows.  If the tribe remember this, I will be very impressed.  Church Path has been taking rather longer to walk up recently as not only do the tribe continue to collect conkers, but now there are fantastic piles of dry, rustling leaves to kick their way through.  (Note to self: leave the house ten minutes earlier.)

Another delight along Church Path on these glorious blue skied, clear, crisp mornings, are the stunning, perfect and miraculously intricate spider webs.  When there has been a frost or the webs are touched with dew, the tribe run from one to the next marvelling at the patterns and how the spiders are possibly able to create these extraordinary creations.

After the clocks have gone back towards the end of the month, we notice on our way back from school that the sun is lower in the sky and it is getting dark earlier.  The thought of short days and long dark nights for the next three months is not one that I relish.  Although curling up with a good book, in front of a roaring log fire together with a glass of red wine, when the children are fast asleep upstairs does have its attractions!  Talking of which ….

Mother of ‘The Tribe’






























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