open the curtains

take a look out the window if you want to know what the weather's like

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The Trouble with Ruins


Glastonbury Abbey – the Abbey House from the ruins of St Mary’s Chapel

Rain was spotting as we descended from the summit of Glastonbury Tor. By the time we got back into the town it was raining properly, presenting the conundrum of where to eat lunch. I suggested we had for the abbey, much to the protestation of Cee who was convinced they wouldn’t let us eat sandwiches inside the abbey despite my attempts to persuade her that it would be more ruins than anything else. The trouble with ruins is, though, that there’s not much shelter from the rain. Continue reading


Malvern Spring

2016.05.13 (17) British Camp

the north Malvern Hills from Herefordshire Beacon

Travelling northbound on the M5 the long ridge of the Malverns looms close on the westward horizon: a line of undulating peaks like the back of a great geological beast embedded in the land running North-South along the Worcestershire-Herefordshire border. One day, while wandering through the livestock exhibits of the Three Counties Show in Great Malvern right at the feet of the hillss Cee looked up and saw people walking along the top of the ridge and decided she wanted a go. Ok, I said, let’s do it. When do you want to go? Continue reading


Mind the Gaps: Notes from an Irish Island

2011.05.07 Aran (7)

It’s St Patrick’s Day today – not something I celebrate having absolutely no Irish connection whatsoever, but it made me think about Ireland and the only time I’ve ever been there, which in turn made me dig out the notebook I made during that visit. I spent a windswept and hilarious ten days with my MA team wandering around Dublin and Galway and the largest of the Aran Islands off Galway Bay, eating cheese and biscuits, free-wheeling our bikes down empty Aran roads, making a campfire made from a pallet we had to stamp on and throw rocks at to get it into small enough pieces, and scribbling who-knows-what in our fieldbooks in the guise of practising writing nature and place. Here’s a little snippet from mine. It’s a bit random but that’s the whole point of a notebook…

My overwhelming first impression of Araínn, Inishmore, Inis Mór, this largest of the Aran Islands off the west coast of Galway is the colour grey. I used to associated grey with all the negative things in life: Bracknell Town Centre and School, our head-to-toe concrete colour uniforms, the 1970s concrete architecture of the town, dank concrete underpasses, tower blocks, roundabouts and kerbs… Cornwall taught me a different sort of grey: granite, slate and raincloud, the sea under a lowering sky. Inis Mór is grey in both the Cornish sense and totally differently grey. Continue reading

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A Journey in the Dark

“There is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of Space except that our consciousness moves along it.”   – H. G. Wells ‘The Time Machine’ (1895)


It was a dark time of year. Here in the Northern Hemisphere we’d just passed the Winter Solstice and the nights were about the longest they could be. The weather, although not seasonably cold, was fairly grim too. I could think of better things to be doing with a stormy Boxing Day evening than sitting for eight hours on a bus from London Heathrow to the bottom of my road in my Cornish hometown.

Night travel is different. There is a sense of dislocation induced by the surrounding darkness. Continue reading


Counting Counties: or How Well Do I (Not) Know My Own Country


Along with millions of other people I quite enjoyed looking at the attempts made by some anonymous Brits to label the states on a blank map of the US, whilst simultaneously sympathising with their lack of knowledge and the sheer number of segments of land America is parcelled up into. While the Americans’ attempts to label a blank map of Britain seemed a more pertinent comparison than their attempts at Europe, I did wonder how well the average citizen of the United States would fare in all honesty at labelling their own country: or for that matter, how well could the average Brit label Britain? And by that I don’t mean England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, which one could only hope would glean a fairly high success rate. I wondered how many people could successfully fill in a blank map of Britian’s – or even just England’s – counties?

So here’s a challenge if you choose to accept it. Below is a blank map of the Counties of England. Click to englarge/download/copy and do your worst. If you’re feeling clever/brave/stupid post your results in the comments section. I will post a link to the answers at the end of the article if you want to cheat/check how you’ve done. Continue reading


A Dragon for George

It is a truth universally acknowledged that very few of the English can tell you when the feast day of their patron saint falls. St George’s Day is of course, for anyone who doesn’t know, 23rd April: the day the saint was martyred in 303 AD. (A handy way to remember the date is 23-4.)

George was not English. He was a Greek soldier of Palestinian descent in the Roman army, and although he has become one of the most venerated military saints in Europe there is much fantasy and little solid evidence about what it is he actually did. He is most famous for the legendary slaying of the dragon, a part of his mythology that became entangled in his hagiography around the 8th Century and was brought back to England from the Middle East by Crusaders.

As a child I loved dragons. I vividly believed in their existence and was as disappointed to find out that they were actually mythical beasts as I was to discover that my country’s patron saint was most famous for dispatching one. Continue reading

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Paper Trains

Six days.

Three rail journeys.

A thousand and one thoughts from here to there to here and back again.

Two thousand words, fourteen hours and twenty three minutes.

Sometimes I sit thinking on trains.

Tuesday. On the train again. I get out my notebook to write down what I see, and to reflect on what I’ve experienced during the train journeys of the past few days. It’s a long way from Reading to Par. That’s a lot of landscape and a whole lot of thoughts in four hours. Continue reading