A few weeks ago I started walking my neighbour’s dog. The neighbour is ill and can’t do the long walks at the moment. For a while the neighbour was in hospital and the dog lived with us. The kids were excited, especially the boys. They loved the cuddles, the face licking and the hairs all over the place. Now my neighbour is back home and so my neighbour’s dog is back home too. Every day I aim to do one big park walk with him.
Part of me resents this intrusion on my personal time. Life is busy enough as it is and that Totally Uncommercial Great Lincolnshire Graphic Novel won’t write itself. But there is something about my neighbour’s dog… he is happy and he spreads happiness. Maybe all dogs are like this, I’ve just never noticed. Plus time seems to slow down when I’m with my neighbour’s dog. I have started truly noticing things again in the park, something I haven’t done since I used to walk small children (very slowly) around here.
Today I sat on the slopes in the middle of the park and threw a saliva covered tennis ball repeatedly for my neighbour’s dog to chase and bring back. My neighbour’s dog will do this all day if I let him. If I would play ball. But I do have other commitments, I say to my neighbour’s dog – but he doesn’t listen. I counted 100 throws one time recently, then got bored with counting and just concentrated on the basics – ball, saliva, throw.
My neighbour’s dog urinated 30 times today and did a massive shit. I successfully managed not to get dog shit on my hands as I was clearing it up. I’m learning. I am the pupil. My neighbour’s dog is the teacher.
It’s the last day of January. A high pitched, instantly recognisable call comes from down in the vale amongst the trees. Possibly it’s one of those new Samsung Galaxy phones, though I doubt it. It can’t be a cuckoo, can it? Surely it’s too early by about four months. It’s a sound that brings back memories of long early summers of childhood, of greenery and big skies. I consult one of my many gardening books and it looks like it might be a wood pigeon pretending to be a cuckoo.
Why would a wood pigeon do that?
A few years ago I read a book about medieval herbalism and, as I am wont to do, afterwards decided to make it a part of my life. I could be a herbalist! So I sent off for a load of seeds from a specialist shop and when they came, rather than sticking them in a drawer like I usually do, I scattered them all over the garden. All kinds of different seeds. Over the years various plants have come and gone but one seems to thrive but I don’t know what it is. It’s either Crimson Parsley, Herb Robert or Feverfew. Or a mixture of all three. The problem I have now is that, whereas Parsley is good for cooking, and Herb Robert is OK, Feverfew is, I think, poisonous. This is complicated further by the fact that there is no such thing as Crimson Parsley.
I’ve got be honest. I would be a really shit herbalist.
I’m woken from a dream by the sound of birds. It’s a multi-levelled effect, with blackbirds and starlings in the background, the odd heron (or is a goose?) flying around aimlessly but by far the most dominant noise is seagulls. It could be thousands of seagulls. Or maybe just four or five – they’re extrovert birds, after all. I’m being kind – they’re fucking annoying and very loud. I drift in and out of sleep for a while, washing back to holidays on the pebbled beaches of South Devon in the early 1970s, the sea pulling against the stones and the seagulls overhead. I try to imagine the sound of traffic is like the sea. Then I remember that film with Rock Hudson or was it Cary Grant where he’s blindfold and thinks he’s at a party but it’s just the sounds of birds at a lake.
Not too far away from here there were filter beds for Thames Water which were developed into a housing estate in the late 1990s. No-one has told the birds that. As far as they are concerned is is still an unofficial nature reserve.
A walk down to the
fairy fields at the end of the Cahermacrusheen boreen where we have a grand
picnic of cheese sandwiches and Tayto crisps and a flask of tea. The sea is
still and the Aran Isles look very close. Most of the land around North Doolin is
parched and the grass dry and brownish as if this was August rather than early
April. But here, on the way to the rocks at the edge of the Burren, the turf is
thick and wet like black gold and little patches of intense green burst out
from beneath the stones.
The kids do a cow
attracting dance that achieves its objective, expect these are bullocks not
cows. On the way back we see a thorn tree decorated with ribbons, materials,
toys, holy water and candles. Next to this is the dry stone wall part of which is
made up of massive horizontal stones, which I have a feeling had once been the lost
Between two smallish trees in Clissold Park there is a long length of red twine that somebody (conceptual nature artist or mischievous kitten with a ball of wool) has wrapped round and round many times. It's saying "we are connected in ways that we don't fully understand". It's also saying "imagine a world where red licorice grows from the trees. Yum!" It might also be an advert for the wool shop on Blackstock Road. Or perhaps it's saying "look how fragile is mortality" or "look how fragile is the Arsenal back four when a ball is played over the top".
Walking home along Riversdale Road I see the tall Irish bloke who’s always cleaning and painting his front yard. He’s standing in the road looking forlorn. As I get closer I can see rubbish – papers, bags, crap, clothers – strewn all over the place.
“How are you?” I say.
“Foxes.” he replies. “They can smell the dogshit. What a mess.”
I decide to help him clear up the rubbish. It’s in front of his house and he’s very proud of his place, I know. As if reading my mind he says “I like tidiness. I hate mess like this.”
I find a brown shoe. “It was a stylish one legged fox,” I say. He laughs. I find a copy of Marie Claire. “It was a stylish one legged fox who is into fashion and make up tips.” He laughs again.
I see him later in the day and he waves. He is once more cleaning his front yard.
A while ago (I can’t remember – was it three years or six months?) a wicker sculpture was placed on top of the remains of one of the old trees that had died after the 2003 drought. It seemed to be saying that the tree could continue to have a life after it had died.
Every day my two year old son and I walk through Clissold Park and go up to touch the Football Tree.
“Football Tree!” my son will say. We’ll then both have a quiet think about how great football and trees are, and walk on.
But the Football Tree is no more. The other morning as we approached it as part of our daily pilgrimage, we saw the wicker sphere lying smashed on the ground. Next to it was an iron pole, part of a nearby fairground display. Still fresh in the air was the sense that someone had decided that good stuff was rubbish and had to be ruined. Was this part of the artist’s planned trajectory for the sculpture – to hire a gang of bored and drunk idiots to destroy it?
My son said he wanted to fix the football tree. I told him that it couldn’t be fixed because it was a metaphor for the world’s problems. Or the problems of bored and drunk idiots hanging around in parks at night. Or the England football team’s problems. Or the problems of sentimentalising outdoor installation sculpture
The cherry blossom of Kingsbridge House, on Lordship Road, has gone, blown in the wind towards Seven Sisters Road. Up there amid the concrete they would have been greedily awaiting the annual visit of the pale pink swarms. The wind also trapped a red plastic kite in the branches of a Clissold Park plane tree, like a sliver of raw flesh hanging on thin ribs.
My kids find more blossom at the side of the road on Grazebrook. I explain that it’s probably 40% dog urine but they don’t care, and run down the path with it, letting it fly out of their hands behind them.