Somehow, it’s already time for the end-of-year musings known in these parts as Shadows and Reflections. Since so many of our lives were lived in thematic overlap this year, we’ve asked our contributors and friends to focus on the small, strange and specific as they look back over the last 12 months. First off the blocks is Cally Callomon.
I’ve always lead a life of routine; some may say I’m a creature of habit, and barely have I missed a step this last year. Days fall into patterns; becoming weeks; months, and now a year. Crikey. Each day starts with a lengthy run across fields, over ditches and through woods with Horace, the anything-but-standard poodle towing me, and then a swim in my self-made pond. Each swim lasts five circuits, during which I play three seven-inch singles. I’ve been collecting records since 1964. My father died ten years ago and left his extensive fossil collection in such a fine order I had no problems placing it into the right hands. I fear I may owe the same ease to our daughter when I decide to abandon ship, so three years ago I pledged to play each seven-incher, A and B side, one at a time on my 1963 Alto record player — a Dansette copy that sits by the pond — as I flail through the clear water. I started at A; I’m up to the letter D: Desperate Bicycles become Dexys who strangely sound so much like Kaiser Chiefs. The songs grow warmer as the water gets colder.
Thirty years ago we built the first hen run out here on our ex-farm, set in Suffolk bewilderness, proudly boasting that it would stand forever. It didn’t, and neither did the second run or the third version. The weather, wet rot, the mink, the fox and disinterest all took their toll on each construction. Undaunted, I vowed that this new version will last forever, and taking a cue from Stalag Luft III, I built an interior keep divided into three pens, all built on a massive ancient glassless greenhouse that once sat here. Around this went a compound of fencing, making double defences. All that is missing are machine-gun towers, searchlights and Donald Pleasence forging passports in Block 24. This new edifice was built on a paddock hitherto ignored (I’d like to say ‘rewilded’, but that would be pushing it). This plot was thick brambles and elms. Elms still grow out here, to a decent height before the lurgy lands on them and they die in their boots where they stand. Standing dead wood is about the best fuel one can have for winter fires, and elm burns bright, slow and hot. We blame the Dutch for this disease, which sounds familiar in 2020. One day these elms will continue to grow, but for now we name the plot Deadwood — just like the TV series, only without the swearing and lawlessness.
The lawlessness abounds here though. 25 years of paying a mortgage came to an end — the land is now ‘mine’, and no government decision to leave the EU had any effect on our land, our home: Marlinspike.
Besides, if Pimlico could do it why not me? (Passports at the ready please).
All good hen runs surely need a feed barn, and whilst shirking at the cost of buying in a ready-made self-assemble soon-to-rot expensive box, I opted for the more entertaining self-build, using only materials abandoned by others. Barn doors were donated, roof trusses came from a fellow cycling chum, corrugated roofing from the friends up on the hill, wall panels from a neighbour about to demolish and burn his old garage — and so a shed is born, all built on top of concrete walls that once formed a row of pigsties. This is a far more rewarding experience than cursing a kit of ill-fitting parts that burned vast holes in both bank account and ozone layer.
Forseen precedented circumstances forced my newspaper, The Wanderen Star, to take a back seat, and so printed paper was replaced by daily digital bulletins to an understanding constituency of willing readers. Some have become welcome contributors as well, a gang of many, unfettered by the limits of technology.
The soundtrack to all this activity consisted of the third part of John Luther Adams’ trilogy, Become River — a fine ending to Become Ocean and Become Desert. So many good things come in threes. Cinder Well were a great new discovery for me; their album No Summer (odd, as we had a great summer!), largely the work of Amelia Baker, blurred the boundaries between her own startling ancient compositions and tracks deemed ‘Traditional’. Photos on her sleeve were by Jim Ghedi, who sent me his latest epic In The Furrows Of Common Place, which will tide me nicely over into a new year. All around me are furrows, ploughed into the soil by farmers yet to react to the damage these deep scars make. Hold Fast, the new album by Stick In The Wheel, is every bit a haunting delight it should be, with a guest spot from John Kirkpatrick, and a further nod to Wolf People’s Jack Sharp, who also left his debut solo album in my lap (not laptop). The flood of amazing music never abated: along came Jenny Sturgeon, Westerman, Anrimeal, Marlais, Kathleen Edwards and the delightful Canadians: Sea Oleena and Owen Pallett. Ireland (all 32 Counties) seems to be an absolute hive of buzziness, and landmark releases came from the amazing Lankum, Joshua Burnside, Alana Henderson, and Varo. I know these are only tips of icebergs (which reminds me to follow up on Z Berg).
Those quiet evenings enable my own personal book club, where a huge backlog can be quietly and slowly digested. So many of the titles come to me from reading Caught by the River, but one that didn’t, Tim Bouverie’s Appeasing Hitler, did more about setting 2020 into perspective than any other book I read. Words matter today as much as they ever did and so many books I read seem to be taking that extra care over the choice so wide in this elastic English language — none more so than poets Adelle Stripe and Ben Myers taking time off from the discipline required for long-form novels and the like.
Ever wary of the obfuscation caused by the cunning mis-use of words, I amassed a yearlong list; a series of phrases in need of rescue, wherein Nature is now to be replaced by The Living World (of which we humans are equal members) where the neutral Climate Change can now be the more honest Climate Breakdown or the catchier Ecocide, and where there is no place for Skillset, Ecosystem, Metric, Uptick, Takeaway-Message, Robust, Cohort, Disruption; where cliché means cloudiness when all we crave is clarity.
This year’s handy catch-all catch-phrase to be employed at all times of the day:
“Look Up in Lock Down”
All washed down with a shot of Suffolk Comfort.