Spending a day with a sycamore

Yesterday I spent the day with our sycamore. This is the longest amount of time I have ever spent with a sycamore, or indeed any tree. I am quite sad that I only spent the day with the sycamore because I was cutting off its glorious crown in a pollard. I had a good lament as I was going along, on the theme of ‘why do we only ever give this amount of time to trees when we need to do something to them, or occassionaly for them.’ Could we not spend a day simply looking, touching, climbing, watching, enjoying, basking in, reverentially meditating on, the tree. Maybe you already are.

Eight years have passed since our sycamore was last pollarded, and in that time the sycamore has grown into a dominant force overshadowing the lawn, overhanging the neighbours sheds and garages, and creeping ever outwards towards the fabric of our polytunnel. In only eight years it has transformed itself, and along with it the feel of the garden. Now removed, the garden feels very different. Traditionally a tree is pollarded for animal fodder or for wood. In suburbuan gardens like ours it also achieves the effect of allowing more light into the garden and preventing wind damage.

At lunch, in between reading Jan Morris’ Wales – Epic views of a small country and drinking hot tea, I took some time being with the tree. Doing all those things we never do.
This act of destruction has brought us closer. It feels right to read Wales whilst meditating on one of its tree’s. We are how we relate to the land around us.

As I looked at the tree I tried to see the pollard I had just comitted upon it as nothing worse than an overdue haircut. Even so I can’t help thinking I have committed a brutalist assault. I have removed the tree’s winter structure. And its glory. And when summer rolls around, the sycamore will not quite be the home it has been, to all the things that rely on it: moths, ladybirds, bees, hoverflies, birds. There is loss.

Never-the-less this is the cycle of life and something else will bloom with it diminished. And the sycamore wood itself should have another life, carved into ‘love spoons’ as is the Welsh tradition, or made into furniture. At the very least warming the four souls that inhabit our house.

I console myself that there is nothing in this day’s work that humans haven’t been doing since Roman times

Some practical thoughts
A pollard should not be attempted with any weather present. Such days in Wales are rare, and should be grabbed with both glove protected hands. Yesterday was such a day. No wind, no rain, no fog, no snow, no ice pellets. Just one long blue sky and fire ball tracking through it. Ahhh, even the memory of it is worth savouring. You’ll see from the photographs that I haven’t finished. That’s because I was doing the job on my own with an electric chain saw with grab jaws. The jaws grab each piece of wood safely but can’t reasonably tackle thick branches. These need to be roped and sawed with a hand saw and friends present to help. Even so I wore steal toe caps, appropriate grippy gloves and a helmet, mask, ear muff combo.

Caution is a watch word for tackling a job like this, especially on your own
without ropes to guide the branch fall. Tackle only branches you are confident will not damage you or anything around you (if you’ve never done any tree work before don’t tackle a job like this). Take your time. If you need to, have regular breaks to clear away what you’ve done and take a look at what you need to do. Do the job one branch at a time. Lean as little as possible.

I loved this part of the job, even though I had a couple of moments when I didn’t feel that confident about my own skills and safety. Thinking things through carefully you can problem solve your way through the job, and before you know it you have a large pile of branches on the floor, and a sense of pride.

Once all the wood is down on the ground cut lengths for fire wood and branches for kindling. Make sure you know what length of wood will fit in your log burner. The kindling you see here are the side shoots taken from the logs I cut. The tops of the branches have yet to be processed.

Men need to pledge to end violence against women

Many of you will have been sickened by Donald Trump’s abusive comments about women, but men also need to call out people like Piers Morgan, who this week called for a Men’s March. He said “I’m planning a ‘Men’s March’ to protest at the creeping global emasculation of my gender by rabid feminists. Who’s with me?”. Not me, Piers. You should be standing by women not cry babying. Men don’t need a march to protect their own rights. They have a patriachy doing that quite nicely. So today I made a pledge to the white ribbon campaign. This is a campaign specifically aimed at men to speak out against violence towards women. I hope you’ll join too.


How to prune an apple tree


Weekend apple tree pruning following Chloe Ward’s great book How to Prune an Apple Tree, available from https://www.amazon.co.uk/How-Prune-Apple-Tree-imperfect-ebook/dp/B01B67ZCNU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1485170228&sr=8-1&keywords=how+to+prune+an+apple+tree

I was actually using the ebook edition on my tablet so could read and take photos at the same time. Currently a bargain at £2. It has loads of 5 star reviews on Amazon and it really is easy to follow. Suitable for young and old trees.

Pruning on a garden scale is a lovely meditative experience and gives you a chance to get to know your trees better, as well as your garden wildlife. This robin was following me round the garden for an hour.

Celebrating delayed gratification

http://www.slow-journalism.com/ is the website home of the brilliant magazine Delayed Gratification. Delayed Gratification tells the news three months after it happens, after the frenzy has passed and we can reflect with some disctance on what actually happened. It also comes with some really cool infographics and no adverts! Because there are no adverts it costs £10 for each copy, which is expensive, but then again it must be worth it to support a magazine which is both extremely good and free from commercial influence. It must be one of the very few magazines in the world that is content only. Pick up a subscription and get it delivered to your door.

The purpose motive

Check out this great animated talk from the RSA looking at what motivates people at work. The science tells us that beyond the completion of simple mechanical tasks people are motivated not by reward but by purpose. This is the purpose motive. Worth watching at any time but especially now if you’re starting the new year with a dilemma about what work to do next.

The Lord of Misrule

By the end of wednesday – day four of 2017 – top earning CEO’s in Britain had already earned as much as the average person earns in a year. This means that for 361 days of the year they are just adding on wealth the rest of us have to get by without. This wealth inequality has been growing every year for several decades so presumably the fat cat date is moving closer to January 1st. I had a conversation with someone in their mid-seventies recently who blamed the younger generation for causing the loss of interest on their savings by taking out mortgages they could not afford and thus causing the financial collapse and the credit crunch. This seemed to me to be topsy-turvey economic thinking of the worst kind. Who were the bankers and politicians who facilitated the collapse – certainly not poor young people trying to get a toe-hold on the fabled ‘property ladder’ (what ever happened to buying a home). They were greedy speculators who created a credit system that helped them get rich but put all the costs when it went wrong on society. This wealth has been sucked out of society never to be seen again most likely. His generation by in large hold all the wealth, they also benefited from the welfare state, received free university education, experienced wealth equalisation in a period of stable growth and  made money from government give aways such as the council-house sell offs and privatisation. No one younger than me is likely to see the kind of wealth equalisation policies experienced after the second world war, brought in by the great reforming labour government of 1945 and sustained through the post-war consensus by all political parties until 1979. The social fabric, the idea that we are truly ‘all in it together’ hardly exists in government policy, or in the media that sustains in. Margaret Thatcher said there was no such thing as society, and did her best to make sure that became the truth. But all that is left without society is self interest and empty loneliness. This conversation made me think ‘do many older people think like this’. Are they angry for the wrong reasons. Are they punishing the young by voting for governments and policy decisions that the young by in large simply do not want. If so this is a double tragedy. Last night we celebrated 12th night, a tradition to end mid-winter festivities stretching back thousands of years. 13 people gathered around a table made heavy with shepherds pie, plum cake and wassail ale, and made light with candles and conversation. We read the new Christmas poem by Carol Ann Duffy (The King of Christmas), passing a mobile phone around the table, each in turn reading a verse. In it she describes the Lord of Misrule tradition of 12th Night whereby the person who finds the bean in the plum cake turns the world upside down: ladies become gents, lords beggars, husbands wives. For one night only, we step in to the world of the other and see how the other lives. We see the pleasure and misery that comes with another’s life, and revel or reveal in the new light we have been afforded. This is the journey we are all on, to find the magnitude of character to look beyond ourselves. It is not easy. It will sound old-fashioned to some but simple virtues like faith, hope and charity should not lose their lustre as time passes. They are gifts well remembered on 12th night, as gold, frankincense and myrrh. And who was the Lord of Misrule in our house last night? Well, in our case no one found the bean, perhaps baked somehow into the cake, or more likely swallowed mistakenly. There’s a lesson in that too I’m sure.

The media is the kitchen table we all sit around

The last two mornings I’ve woken up wanting to make a juice. I’ll report back whether this toadish enthusiasm for the early morning liaison with Red is habitual or a short lived fad. At the moment it feels good to start my day watching whole vegetables have the dear life crushed out of them. And the juice that comes out of Red really does wake you up and make you feel alive. Much better than any juice I have ever bought. Today I made two juices and put them one each in small bottles in the fridge with labels for me and my house mates to enjoy later. I live with three other people and it feels great that the whole house will benefit through the day. 2016 was a year of political disappointment for those of us who occupy centre, left and even centre right politics. 2017 is going to be a hard year. One positive thing we can do to keep ourselves alive to the possibility that better times will come is to cherish our friendships, community, family and our own individual wellbeing. We need to be strong for whatever lies ahead of us. Following the oil pipeline protests of the first nation peoples of America I listened to one reporter describe the media as the kitchen table around which we all sit. If what arrives at our kitchen table is an unhealthy vested interest diet of negative distorted news stories we become bloated with fable. Community and friendship become subsumed by a violent anger that is disproportionate to what most people actually feel given the opportunity to breathe and reflect. I am fortunate to sit around a kitchen table that includes critical thinkers, who are able and determined not to take news stories at face value but to look behind them and see how they are framed to distort the truth. Feels like we can nourish one another whilst creating opportunities to challenge the dissemblers. The vested interest is not and cannot be as great as the human spirit. Juice number one: several small carrots, 3 apples, 1 lemon, handfuls of kale and ginger. Juice number two (a thing of aniseed beauty): 2 apples, half a bulb of fennel, 2 oranges. Have a great day!

Happy juice year

I’m on a two month sabbatical from work at the moment and one of the things I wanted to do with my time was work on my mental and physical wellbeing. Lots of people have raved to me about juicing over the years and as a vegan who loves veg and fruit it makes total sense. Armed with some christmas money from my mum (yes still happens at 46!) I’ve invested (and it is an investment) in a JR-8000 whole slow cold press masticating juicer (quite a mouthful before you even touch a drop of juice). Henceforth known as Red. Unlike some juicers it has a soft purr but with a huge crushing capacity. Sounds like a cat, juices like a lion. Two days in I’m loving it. Taking inspiration from my friend Zoe my aim is to ditch some of my toast and cereal breakfast habits for a fresh juice and smoothie most days. Here’s my juice recipe over the last two days: two carrots, two apples, good handfuls of kale and a lemon. It’s a sweet tasting juice. I also made almond milk in Red and a smoothie in a smoothie maker: banana, pear, grapes, satsuma, rice milk and water. So that’s already 8 of my 5 a day!

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