Wedge Wood

I’ve been lucky enough recently to lend a hand with some woodland management at a small community woodland in Coventry. My brilliant friend Anna, who wrote the management plan for the wood, asked me if I’d like to write something for the noticeboard by the entrance. I fed some ideas in (mostly by pushing acorns up my nose) and this is what came out.

Some woodlands have always existed, ancient beyond memory and stuffed with old magic,
They are the origin of a thousand stories, the muse for countless poetic thoughts,
But all woods were young once; even the oldest magic had a beginning.

The desire to plant trees lives within us all, oft suppressed by the stresses of modern life.
The daily grind consumes our conscious minds, yet sometimes delicate bubbles reach the surface, faint echoes of our arboreal past.
And sometimes, when the wind blows right, these echoes take root.

The wind blew right in Counden as the end of the last century drew near, hazy whispers gathering momentum.
The need to plant trees grew and the old horse paddock called to the community, a willing host for their new creation.
Ideas merged into hope that stirred into action; Wedge Wood was born.

She was to be no pure-breed but a much-loved mongrel, a motley selection of species and hues.
Trees gathered from willing donors were planted with great enthusiasm, oak alongside cherry whilst birch neighboured pine.
Barely five acres, a modest new smudge of green on the city map.

Years passed and the trees grew tall, engaged in a perpetual tussle for sunlight.
Footpaths were established by fearless explorers, two-legged and four, as the community embraced the wood.
Birds and beasts took up residence, bringing with them the seeds of a new enchantment.

These seeds grow fast in the right conditions, but are are stifled by neglect.
Unseen wood sprites work hard to nurture them, a volunteer army rich in knowledge and skill.
Coppicing and thinning, laying and pleaching, each act of woodcraft providing kindling for the magic to spark.

Wedge Wood is still young, but already her pull is felt by those who cherish her.
The runners and dog walkers, ramblers and amblers, painters and poets.
For the worth of a woodland lies not in its size or age, but in the joy and awe it inspires.

This woodland belongs to all who take solace beneath her shade.

Dog with a Job

Dog with a job
Earning his keep
No time to stop
No time to sleep

Dog with a job
Works at the border
Sniffing for drugs
Maintaining order

Dog with a job
Works on a farm
Herding the sheep
Guarding the barn

Dog with a job
In a hi-viz vest
Rescues lost hikers
She’s simply the best

Dog with a job
Patient and kind
Warning the deaf
Guiding the blind

Dog with a job
Joined the police
Catches the bad guys
Who breach the peace

Cat with a job
Oh no. Oh god no
Why is the barn on fire?
Is that shit in the toaster?!
We should probably call an ambulance for that blind man, it looks like the car hit him quite hard
Cat fired from job

A bit of daftness inspired by my friend Griffin, the dog in the photo. Many thanks to Sarah for letting me use the picture (@sarah_hobbs_illustrates on IG) and to Michaela Collins (@mcscaninephotography on IG) who took the picture. Dedicated to the hard working dogs who make the world a better place – you’re all the goodest boys and girls.

Despair

Heartsick and weary I prowl the darkest holloways of my mind’s undulating terrain. A slow creep along the sunken lanes and hedgebanks marking long-forgot ways, the beauty and optimism of the celestial swathe concealed by somber murk. A hopeless search for reasons where only ghosts remain.

My thoughts are mired deep in mud and mulch, wet and cloying. My companions are the low beasts, eyeless and scuttling. A downward spiral, an oblique trajectory.

Endless paralysing black, until finally the slowest, most viscous of dawns.

Platypus

I’m different.

I’m a banjo in a string quartet.
Banana on a pizza.
I’m a fart in a rose garden.
A penguin in Ibiza.

I’m a squirrel with a law degree.
I eat my soup with chopsticks.
In the winter I wear hotpants.
I invite wasps to picnics.

I’m a claustrophobic hermit crab.
I’m forty-nine shades of grey.
I’m Savlon on your fish and chips.
I’m different, but that’s ok.

The lovely platypus sketch is by my talented friend Sarah. Check her out on instagram @ sarah_hobbs_illustrates

Berrow Beach, 1987

An old oak bench stood beyond the ruined pillbox, long forgotten and lost amid the marram. The old man sat there often, his regular perch a polished oval within the lichen-encrusted wood. Precious few ever noticed him, but that day I did. I saw him staring sadly across the bay, a faded photograph clutched tightly in his arthritic hands. I saw bright tears tracing a haphazard path down his weathered cheeks. I saw him silently talking to a companion unseen.

The tattered picture barely held together, glossy paper turned to fragile vellum by years of adoring study. The girl in the photo was beautiful, wide-eyed and happy. I asked him about her. They were in love, he said, long ago, before the bombs came. Nearly half a century past, and yet he still thought of her every day when he performed his lonely vigil. He never loved anyone as he had loved her. As he still loved her.

We exchanged the briefest of nods as he shuffled away. I took his place on the worn seat, continuing his solemn watch as I drifted into a reverie, mind filled with wistful notions of love, time and loss. Footprints in the undulating dunes were the only sign that the old man had ever been there, but the thoughts and feelings of that day still remain.

Warrior

Existing can be tough. Being a functioning human and getting through each day is a challenge, yet if you’re reading this you’ve succeeded. Every single day you’ve achieved a thousand tiny miracles that have made you the person that you are today. It’s one of those things that you’re programmed to take for granted, but it’s worth pausing to think about. You’ve made it, however much the odds were against you. However black some of those days and nights seemed, you’ve won.

You’ll win tomorrow too, whatever it brings.

Yellow Dog

A long drive west, chasing the sunset to the horizon. I blink back tears that blur my vision, red-faced and breathless. My heartbeat is ragged and broken, a chaotic oscillation on the cusp of ruin. I’ve driven this road many times, but this journey is different. I’ve left you behind.

The others thought that we were the perfect couple. Young. Beautiful. Fun. No, not fun. Not any more. I remember the beginning, the hand-holding, the way I could hear the rich timbre of love in your voice. The way our hearts and bones seemed locked together. I hid myself away from the slow dimming of the light, the fading of that fierce glow that once consumed us. You changed. We changed. The love went from your voice, replaced by cruel barbs amid a sea of disinterest. We exist, where once we lived. My hopes and dreams, once so real and tangible, now seem far-fetched and distant. I’m still in love with the idea of you, but it’s not enough. Not anymore.

Motorway gives way to minor road. Minor road gives way to the stony track to the coast. The yellow dog barks joyfully, his shiny eyes gazing at me in the rear view mirror. He’s excited by the sounds and smells of his favourite cove, but I like to think that he knows that things are changing. I park on the crunchy shingle, and we’re soon walking along the shoreline as the sun drips celestial fire on the darkening skyline. The dog bolts into the churning brine as I sink to my knees, overwhelmed. My fingers score the wet sand as my head sinks to my chest, body wracked with savage sobs. I never realised that freedom could hurt this much, or feel this beautiful.

Midsummer Musings

It’s been two weeks since the druids packed away their cloaks and stopped touching each other’s bottoms at Stonehenge, and the race downhill into the dark months has begun. It must seem like a strange thought process for any normal people reading this, but it’s one of the things that marks me out as being one of the mad folk. That and my bright orange scrotum.

I’m hyper-aware of time. I’ve written about it before and won’t bore you with the retelling, but I have two main trains of thought on the subject. Firstly, I obsess over the death of time and the passage of life into memory, and secondly I’m guilty of counting down the days until the veil of bleakness descends for another year. Cheerful eh? It’s not quite as grim as it sounds. I’ve recently made peace with my fears, but I’ve not quite managed to train my fecund mind to stop predicting catastrophe whenever the nights begin to draw in. Today is a great example of this; we’re currently experiencing an epic heatwave and I’ve spend the best part of the afternoon trying to work out whether I can hibernate between October and March. So far the planning hasn’t been hugely successful; I’m pinning my hopes on an injection of bear genes, however my pessimistic brain tells me that I’d probably be the subject of a terrible mixup and end up getting the skunk jab instead. They don’t even bloody hibernate.

I’ve had two awful winters and two average winters since I was diagnosed as an official mental. The awful ones are those where I descend into full on depression, where my brain switches to kamikaze autopilot and I float outside of myself like a grey balloon. In the average winters I retain control of my mental faculties and generally function well – I can get out of bed, dress myself, go to work etc. “But Tom, you handsome bugger, surely that’s a good winter?” I hear you ask. You’re right to ask; any time spent in control of one’s mind can only be a good thing, but it’s more complex than that. I can function, but I’m diminished. The best way to explain it is with a tedious car analogy – I’m like a modern car but my engine management light comes on and my engine switches to ‘limp home’ mode. Eco setting. Low battery. Clogged filter. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s a thousand times better than the alternative.

Maybe some of you reading this can recognise your own experiences in mine. Maybe your experiences are different but equally unhelpful. Either way, it’s clear that this tendency towards unhelpful thought processes holds us back, maybe even damages us. So what to do about it? I don’t have all the answers, but I want to share some things that have been helpful for me:

a. Train your mind to take joy in the small things. We’re forever bombarded by the big stuff and it takes a toll on us, but there’s much happiness to be found in the minutiae. When it all seems too much, narrow your world view and really focus on something. Ask yourself questions and try to work out the answer. I immerse myself in nature because I can find a million things to ponder, but you don’t need to go the full David Attenborough like me. Look around you. Take an interest in patterns. Try to figure out how things work. Dogs are weird aren’t they? What the fuck is electricity? Where do ducks come from, and what do they want from us? Is there a squidgier food than malt loaf?

b. Try to live in the moment, and don’t take the amazing things that you do every day for granted. This is a tough one as it’s often very hard to control how you feel, but it’s rewarding if you can. For example, yesterday I went to London to watch a magnificent set by one of my favourite ever bands. Yet I began today by stressing about distant winter instead of reflecting on a wonderful experience. We are constantly making incredible memories but are too often guilty of letting them go, like a balloon release that ends up choking a swan.

c. No matter what, never be afraid to talk. Talk constantly, talk loudly. Write things down and share them with the world. Let the people around you know who you are, let them see your humanity. Your brain might tell you to keep everything inside, but it’s truly never the answer. Those internal musings are often much easier to see as the lies that they are in the cold light of day, whereas they’re infinitely more convincing when you hold them in. Unpack the unhelpful thoughts from your mind, and make room to let the beauty in. Don’t be scared, and don’t be disheartened. Tell your story.

I’m still getting to know myself, but every day I learn new tactics that help me to better understand who I am. I’m a strange aubergine, but I’m learning to like me.

Ode to an Island

Awoken by birdsong on midsummer day,
The solstice dawn mere moments away,
We walk from our cabin to the eastern bay,
To watch the sun rise over Vrångö.

Our burning star ignites the sky,
The light reflected in your eyes,
That dance in my mind like fireflies,
Two hearts entwined on Vrångö.

The winding path to our wooden shack,
You make us coffee, bitter and black,
I load treats into my canvas sack,
For today we explore Vrångö.

This pristine rock, this perfect island,
With its forest, reedswamp and coastal sands,
Our secret retreat from the crowded mainland,
Our paradise, our Vrångö.

You take the lead along the stony path,
I follow behind through the coastal flats,
We pause to rest amid the cotton-grass,
My naturalist’s heart beats for Vrångö.

We skirt the rocks where the eider call,
Where oystercatcher feed and the seals enthral,
Sea holly and aster bloom on the jetty wall,
A magical place, this Vrångö.

Our route emerges by the western road,
Into a cheerful hamlet of wooden abodes,
A bustling hub where the fishing boats unload,
Although it’s never really busy on Vrångö.

I’ve seldom known peace like this before,
Since we first stepped on this granite shore,
An island I love with the one I adore,
Twin souls cast away on Vrångö.

I know I’ll never forget this place,
This perfect moment, your perfect face,
Footprints in the sand were the only trace,
That we left, of ourselves, on Vrångö.

The Glamour of Decay

I stand in the shadow of the old power station,
An iron monolith, unravelled by time and neglect,
Hulking rust, flaking lead paint,
A coastal breeze makes the ferrous corpse howl,
The clangs and screams of a building gone feral.

Twenty years have passed since they last shut the gates,
Twenty years since mankind last asserted control,
Nature now thrives, unshackled and wild,
An erratic caretaker with a cubist’s eye,
Order erased and replaced by chaos.

Birds claim dominion over this mangled fortress,
Each corner of the inglorious ruin an avian metropolis,
Pigeons ubiquitous, gulls rampant,
Cacophonous flocks flooding the sky,
A clumsy murmuration of the unloved ones.

Dragonflies dance above the glaucous saltmarsh,
An old wooden jetty sways with the tidal ebb,
River barges were once unloaded here,
Yet now the hardwood timbers are left to rot,
Watched over by the ghosts of the wharfmen.

Few structures persist in this forgotten place,
Yet relics of the service yards and car parks remain,
Cracked and fissured, asphalt ruptured,
Colt’s-foot, horsetail and beard grass encroaching,
The ephemeral vanguard of a pioneer invasion.

A green-fingered crew once cared for these grounds,
Grasslands mown and manicured with pride,
Their box-cut hedges are now long gone,
Lost to leggy avenues of glorious disorder,
Verges transformed to a paradise of wildflowers and anthills.

Rusted and warped, a railway track leads north,
Through unkempt scrublands where the nightingales dwell,
Past dusty fuel ash sidings,
Fiercely alkaline, slate-grey and barren,
Dotted with bright orchids and hardy halophytes.

I rest at the gates of a tumbledown outhouse,
The broken sign still reads “nature education centre”,
Even a celebrity endorsement,
Couldn’t prevent this place from being forgotten,
When the numbers in the balance sheets stopped adding up.

I walk slowly back to the tarnished metal gates,
Through grasslands teeming with a rainbow of insect life,
A basking lizard darts away,
Her gravid body catches my eye as I squeeze past the chainlink fence,
Through a gap the local kids made years before.

As I slink away a sheet of paper catches my eye,
Stapled to a telegraph pole at the roadside,
“Planning permission granted”,
The machines are coming to undo twenty years of natural process,
Shiny new homes to replace a brownfield monstrosity.

It’ll all be gone soon, my secret place,
They don’t value this stuff, but it’s richer than any wild place I’ve ever known,
They’re wrong.
They’re wrong.
They’re wrong.