The seasons turn

Catton Park - 21 December 2014

Catton Park – 21 December 2014

Autumn has played its final card, a chilly breeze on an otherwise mild December day. No sunshine, instead plenty of low cloud which seems to have drained Catton Park of any colour it may have had left.

Beneath my feet, where once I walked on golden leaves, the first frosts of the winter and much rain have turned the ground spongy and muddy brown.

Now the skeletal trees offer little cover for the birds and squirrels. A dash of red catches my eye as a plump Robin hops from bush to bush gathering food. The ground rustles with  Blackbirds turning over the dry leaves like cooks preparing roast potatoes. Nature has brought them a feast for the Winter Solstice.

The park seems both bigger and smaller. The bare trees open up the views and you can see from one side to the other but you also get a sense how close the paths are to the road and how much the shrubs and trees, when in their glory, silence the traffic.

Now the splendour of the vibrant plants, the summer blooms and the autumn fruit have given way to the beauty of decay. Winter is coming.

Blessed be.

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Autumn Oak leaves

I wanted to capture the changing colours of Oak leaves during my weekly(ish) trips to Catton Park. I think you get a general idea here of how they have changed over several weeks.

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Flaming Birch

The glorious Silver Birch in Catton Park

The glorious Silver Birch in Catton Park

It’s two weeks since I last visited Catton Park and much has changed.

Autumn has really taken a hold and even with the gentlest of breezes leaves fall in abundance, but gently like the first flakes of snow.

Any danger of the real white suff falling just yet is far, far away as we continue to have above average temperatures.

The sunshine is warm and the morning dew on the leaves sparkles like glitter.

Occasionally when I come to the park I see a man close to the pond with a camera. Today he’s set himself up on what looks like a bale of straw. His camera is on a tripod and he looks set for the day. At his feet his dog is curled up. If I get the chance, I will ask the man what it is that requires so much patience. But for now he’s best left undisturbed.

Suddenly the Park is ablaze with the leaves of an old Silver Birch. It looks like a fiery beacon against the blue sky. I’ve only ever studied the impressive roots of this fine tree in the past, but now, high above me is the most amazing display of yellows and reds and orange. I must have been here for about ten minutes, wishing for someone to come along and enjoy this moment with me.

Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley

Much of the ground in the woodland is covered in leaves now and the fungi is hard to find. But it is there if you know where to look.

It’s not just the fungi that’s growing, there are new shoots of green too as, what I presume to be, Cow Parsley  pushes its way up, nourished by the warm sun.

I have a route around the Park that I try and stick to so as not to miss anything. The down side is that now, as I approach the final pathway my heart sinks a little as I know I’ll soon be stepping back out on to the busy Mile Cross Lane.


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If only

I want to retire. I want to retire and spend my days travelling and writing about travelling.

I have this image in my mind of me sitting in the window of a pub overlooking the beautiful village where it is situated. I’m sitting enjoying a pint of ale while exchanging stories of my travels with the locals who are telling me all the ins and outs of village life.

Suddenly they burst into song. A local ditty made more joyous by their local dialect. I buy them all a drink and the landlord tells me about a local character who I should talk to. The evening eventually ends with me standing on a table singing a raunchy sea shanty taught to me by the retired fishermen of Cork who were featured in chapter seven of my third travelogue.

The next morning I’m up early and following a ‘Full English’ I set off to meet up with Bert. He’s got plenty to say about the village and even more about the folk who live and lived here. I’ve taken lots of notes and I’m just about the leave when Bert asks if I’d be interested in hearing about his grandfather. I’m already running late for a meeting with my publisher but it would seem rude to leave now that Bert is in full flow.

“My grandfather was on the Titanic. He’s one of the few crewmen that survived.” He worked in the engine house and his story of survival is astonishing. Bert shows me a letter from his grandfather written to his son, Bert’s father, detailing exactly what happened.

When Bert’s father died thirty years ago they found all sorts of documents and letters about the Titanic in the attic. No one had any idea they were there. There was even an unpublished memoir which finally set the record straight about what the orchestra were really doing when unsinkable did the ultimate in not doing as it was told.

Bert tells me he’s read all my books and wants to hand all of his grandfather’s archive to me to, “do with it what you see fit”.

Friday night on Colchester Station

Friday night on Colchester Station

He offers me his collection of First Day Cover stamps, a 1933 penny, the formula for Coca-Cola and the recipe for Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls. In fact there’s a load of other stuff he wants me to have also. The only condition is that the Picasso is given to the National Gallery. I can “do whatever” with the Monet and Lowrys.

Of course in the real world I’ve been stuck on a freezing cold Colchester Station for two and a half hours listening to people exchange stories of past fatalities on the line and their long nights of Hell waiting for replacement buses. But still I dream of travel writing.

As for Bert, he’s probably warming his hands on a log fire, sipping a 25 year-old malt and wondering what on earth he’s going to do will all that crap in the attic.

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Cafe Leffe, Lille

A huge glass of Leffe Brune

A huge glass of Leffe Brune

I’m at the Cafe Leffe in Lille. What to choose? Leffe De Saison, Leffe Blonde, Leffe Royale, Leffe Rituel, Leffe Brune, Leffe Ruby.

A smartly dressed elderly couple sit down at the next table. They’re typically French. I can tell by their language. I’ve still no idea what to have, so when in France and all that… He orders a Bloody Mary. It’s not on the list.

I have a Brune. Large. When the waiter steps away I notice a poster advertising Leffe De Noel. My Leffe Brune arrives. It’s in a punch bowl.

It’s hard to describe how it feels to be in a cafe surrounded by people talking in languages you don’t understand. I’ve never been good at learning languages, ask Miss Hunter my French teacher. So told me to master my own language before atempting to conquer another. I dropped French.

But sitting here listening to people’s stories is like enjoying songs for their tunes not their words. French is beautiful to listen to when you’ve no idea if they are talking about the Christmas market that’s just opened or all the atrocities in the world. (My auto-correct suggested that what I was actually trying to type then was ‘auto cities’. See it knows me so well and my ability not to grasp the way we spell words correctly).

That'll be the steak and chips

That’ll be the steak and chips

I’ve finished my large glass of Brune and have now asked for a steak and a small Blonde. The waiter brings me a bowl of nuts. I didn’t ask for them. I eat them anyway. He brings me another one. I eat them too. He brings me another one but I’m saved by the steak.

I never used to be one for sauces with my steak. I think it goes back to my own waiting days when Steak Diane was all the fashion and having it cooked at your table was the meme of the day. But recently I’ve been having Bearnaise sauce with my steak. It’s just seems to work. Although lettuce drowning in mayonnaise isn’t my idea of ‘salad’ But I guess when you come to a place called Cafe Leffe it’s the Leffe more than the Cafe you’re after.

Having said that the food is flavourful and plentiful.

Now if you excuse me I have nuts to eat.

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