Sunday Sunset over the pond. It’s around 5.30 pm, and I see from my handy weather app that we’ve gained more than an hour and a half of daylight since the beginning of January. For some reason I always find the longer days of February bleaker than the twinkly darkness of midwinter.
It’s as if longer light just makes it easier to see the cold greyness of the second month of the year stretching through the day: a bleary dawn, a baleful noon, and a pale and chilly dusk with none of those blistering sunsets you get in October, November and December.
But who’s complaining? The woodburning stove is blazing nicely. As we unpack our bags ready for a winter week’s work at Pond Cottage we switch on the telly to see more devastation flooding into the south of England. Oddly, Scotland is getting off very lightly and it isn’t even cold. ( The picture of the pond was taken almost exactly ten years ago). Perhaps we can thank Alex Salmond’s sunny nature?
Monday Ray’s out hedge-cutting and I’m hunkered down by the wood stove thanking my lucky stars that I have an editing deadline to meet. But I feel a little guilty. It’s wet and windy out there and hedges do not cut themselves.
Hard to believe that 20 years ago there was no thick and prickly boundary round Pond Cottage. Our parcel of land came with a legal requirement to put up a stock proof fence marking a clear line between us and the neighbouring field. As luck had it, we qualified for a generous agricultural grant scheme (the long extinct Tayside Treeplanting Scheme) which covered more than half the cost of planting 300 metres of blackthorn, briar rose, hawthorn and hazel plus Scots pine and oak as hedgerow trees. Along with a stock proof fence to stop animals eating them.
Now there are handsome Scots pine and oaks making their mark on the landscape, but Ray has to work hard every February to stop 300 metres of hedge becoming trees.
The tractor passes the window. I throw another log on the stove. Well, I did help to stack the wood pile.
Tuesday another bleary morning. It might be rainy here but Home Counties floods are still dominating the news. Swans are swimming down Staines high street.
Our swans are waiting for breakfast. Ray was up before them today and saw them both still asleep, heads tucked under wings, floating across the pond. It’s good to have them back. The pair returned in January and show every signs of settling in for another season. At this time of year they are almost friendly, snorting a kind of greeting when they see us coming with a scoop of grain.
Wednesday Day three. Ray’s more than half way along the hedge and I’ve met my deadline. Time to celebrate with a bonfire.
I come from a line of pyromaniacs and am generally pretty good at getting a blaze going but this wet winter is a real challenge for any fire lighter. And I’ve added an emotional complication: good fire equals good omen. Since helping to set up a small enterprise, I’ve begun to think of lighting a good bonfire as a metaphor for starting a successful business. You need a good supply of the right material, a helpful breeze and even then you can never let up.
It takes me three attempts today – more paper, more kindling, another firelighter – and I get fed up telling myself that trying to light a fire with damp wood in the rain is like trying to grow a business in the recession. In the end Ray comes to my rescue with a leaf blower and the fire leaps into life, sparks dancing in the dusk. That’s what my wee business needs, a leaf blower!
Thursday The outside world makes it’s way into Pond Cottage through the radio. Getting ready for a trip to Edinburgh, I hear Frank Field and Giles Fraser discussing the shameful growth of food banks in the UK. “People are going hungry”, says Field, angrily countering the coalition claim that welfare cuts will wean people off harmful dependency on the state. The real problem, he says, is an economy where people are paid such low wages they cannot meet the rising costs of food, housing and energy.
On the car radio Melvin Bragg’s guests are discussing Social Darwinism and the 19th century belief that it’s probably kinder to let the poor and weak die out. So much for progress.
Friday Wilma drops by with a present, a painting inspired by Ray’s bridge. She says it’s a thank you for the pleasure she gets from walking through the woods and watching our garden grow.
Saturday Snowdrops everywhere. This year there seem to be more than ever. One February, perhaps five or six years ago, we visited Cambo House, a woodland estate near St Andrew’s, to walk through the woods down to the beach trying not to step on the incredible blanket of snowdrops. We came back with a box full of 1000 bulbs (bought, not nicked) to add to an already impressive display at Pond Cottage. It’s good to see the Cambo collection is beginning to spread down our bank but I think our originals have decided to assert themselves this year, there’s a sprinkling of self-sown clumps all over the place.
Sunday Wind, wind and more wind. Oh, and some rain too. Perhaps we don’t mind too much. I remember that feeling when I had an allotment and woke to hear the rain battering on the window. An excuse to stay indoors and read the paper. After lunch, we walk through the woods and round the garden. Feed the swans, pack up to go home mentally listing what’s to do when we come back next week. There’s always more to do. But, we’ve gained another ten minutes of daylight and the hedge is cut.