Dear Readers, it hardly seems possible but five years ago, in February 2014, I started Bugwoman’s Adventures in London following a most excellent course run by the Gentle Author, whose masterwork Spitalfields Life has been published every single day since August 2009. One of the Gentle Author’s most helpful rules was to establish exactly what you were going to do as a blogger, and to make this public. And so, on my page, I wrote the following:
‘Bug Woman is a slightly scruffy middle-aged woman who enjoys nothing more than finding a large spider in the bathroom. She plans to spend the next five years exploring the parks, woods and pavements within a half-mile radius of her North London home, and reporting on the animals, plants and people that she finds there. She will also be paying close attention to the creatures that turn up in the garden and the house. She promises to post every week on a Saturday, and more often if she can tear herself away from the marmalade making. She looks forward to finding out what’s happening in your half-mile.’
Well, I have kind of kept that promise. I have certainly posted every Saturday, and indeed every Wednesday with the Wednesday Weed. To start with I was strictly local. I shared Coldfall Wood, and Cherry Tree Wood, and then there was the saga of the foxes who lived in the cemetery.
What I could not have anticipated was how my ‘half-mile’ was going to spread to encompass Canada, Austria, Monterey Bay, Costa Rica, and Milborne St Andrew, where my parents lived until very recently.
Nor could I have anticipated how my subject matter was going to spread. To start with, it was very strictly the birds and the bees and the weeds. Here, for example, is a link to my very first blogpost. At that point, I thought that it was all going to be about the writing, and that the photos were secondary. Later, I rediscovered my love of marrying image to text. I sometimes think of this blog as the equivalent of the nature table that I looked after when I was at school, a rather magpie-ish collection of things that I’ve found interesting, and hope that the reader will too.
Once, when I was desperate for subject matter (and I feel that I underestimated the pressure that a blog creates), I did a post on the foster cats that I used to look after. It remains one of my most popular posts, to my chagrin.
However, it was this post from 2016 that really changed the focus of the blog. My mother and father had come to stay with us for Christmas. While she was here, Mum became ill with a chest infection that developed into sepsis, and she nearly died. It was one of the worst times of my life, and it brought home to me what a solace the natural world can be during these times. It isn’t just that it provides beauty and distraction and in doing so it pulls us back into the present moment – it also provides much-needed perspective. Nature carries on doing her thing regardless of our worries and troubles. Strangely enough, I find that very comforting.
The next few years were full of trips to Dorset to nurse Mum and Dad through their various crises. As regular readers will know, Mum and Dad both went into a nursing home last year, and Mum died in December. Throughout this period my walks around the village were a constant source of relief and inspiration. Last summer I remember standing under a lime tree that was heavy with blossom. The bees buzzed around it and the scent was enough to make me want to recline underneath and sink into slumber. For a few blissful moments I could drop everything that was weighing me down.
And then, of course, there has been the Wednesday Weed. In spring and summer this has been an easy piece to write, but it has become more and more difficult in the winter. I have gradually moved on from plants that everyone would agree was a weed, to plants that are wild but desirable, to plants that are happily growing in someone’s front garden. At Christmas this year I even did a piece that I am rather proud of on brussels sprouts. I have loved finding out about the plants that pop up on the waste ground of East Finchley, but I fear that, after 250 ‘weeds’ I may have to expand my area of interest even further. Still, the one thing about doing a biweekly blog is that, at least twice a week, I have to go outside, open my eyes and see what’s happening. I honestly think that the process of creating the blog has kept me sane over the past few years. The combination of looking and walking, taking photographs and writing is to be highly recommended to anyone who wants to try out their creative wings. And it has kept me accountable. I don’t know if people are exactly hanging on my every word, but I do suspect that some people would notice if I stopped posting, and so I feel a responsibility which has kept me going when nothing else would have done.
So, the question now is, whither Bugwoman? I shall be considering my plan for the next five years, but I would be grateful for your comments and ideas. Is there anything that you have particularly enjoyed, or would like more of? Does anything stick in your memory? I would quite like to expand my writing to include some of the nature books that have inspired me or piqued my interest. Part of me wants to have some more expeditions to interesting places in London and beyond, but part of me also wants to root back down into the very local. Part of me wants to deepen and research my pieces more thoroughly, while another part loves the broad brush stroke, the overview. Whatever I decide, I can bet that the next five years will throw up opportunities and challenges that I can’t even imagine at the moment. Thank you all for coming along for the ride so far, and I look forward to your company as we gallop into the future.