Category Archives: Bugwoman on Location

Bugwoman on Location – 120 Fenchurch Street Roof Garden

Dear Readers,  while London has many splendid Royal Parks and city squares, the City of London itself can feel like something of a desert to those of us who enjoy the hum of bees and the whispering of the breeze. Furthermore, some of the sites that sound enticing, such as the Sky Garden in the ‘Walkie Talkie’ building, are completely enclosed, and require pre-booking. I remember visiting this site and being extremely disappointed: the public were promised a garden (indeed, this feature was what finally got the planning permission for the building granted) , and instead they got, in the words of Oliver Wainwright, the architecture critic of The Guardian, ‘a meagre pair of rockeries, in a space designed with all the finesse of a departure lounge’.

So, it’s fair to say that I didn’t hold out a lot of hope for the new Roof Garden just along the road at 120 Fenchurch Street. First signs were promising: there is, of course, security in place (bags are X-rayed), but then a lift whooshes you up to the fifteenth floor, without any id or pre-booking required. The lift doors open, and there you are.

One of the views from the Garden at 120 Fenchurch Street

This place is all about the angles. It is a mass of triangles. The water feature zig-zags eastwards towards views of Canary Wharf and the building work around Whitechapel.

Toddle round a bit further and the Gherkin appears. This building has gone from ‘unsightly’ to ‘icon’ in the space of fifteen years, and indeed it now seems elegant and modest compared with some of the other skyscrapers that are being thrown up.

The Gherkin

And indeed you can see the Sky Garden from here. I rather like the perspective that fifteen floors gives you as opposed to thirty-six.

The Walkie Talkie

But what, I hear you ask, of the garden? Well, there are actually plants, and there is much about the design to like. I love the effect of the wooden shuttering on the concrete, for example – it reminds me of the same effect in Sir Denys Lasdun’s South Bank Centre, but here the concrete is a soft cream colour. I think it will look very fine when the myriad of vines have grown up. The concrete itself is covering the services and plant for the building, and has the effect of breaking the roof garden up into smaller, more intimate areas.

There are some plants in flower already, and I see a lot of bulbs just waiting to pop.


Astrantia and narcissi

Japanese anemone


There are a healthy number of species geraniums, which will be great for pollinators later in the year.

There are also rafts of ferns and ornamental grasses.

And there is a whole area of low hedging which echoes the angles of the pergolas. I am a little miffed at the waste of an opportunity to provide more plants for pollinators in this space, but then I am a bit monomaniacal on the subject, as regular readers will know. I will be interested to see if bees actually do pop up to this height once they discover that there’s food available, and will have to revisit in the early summer when things have grown up a bit. As a study found that bumblebees are quite happy at heights of 3250 metres in the mountains of Sichuan in China I’d have thought that a mere 15 floors would be well within their range, provided there’s an incentive.

Low hedging with the Lloyd’s Building in the background

Wisteria is being encouraged to climb the struts of the pergolas, and very pretty it will be too once they get going. At the moment I quite like the starkness of the design, but plants will soon change all those sharp angles to something softer and more natural.

So, I am cautiously optimistic about The Garden at 120 Fenchurch Street. It is an exposed site, but because it is broken into ‘rooms’ by the concrete there will be a little more protection for the plants. I am sad that it isn’t a little more wildlife friendly, but it is not all about human convenience either. It is certainly a fine place to visit if you are in the City, and at some point a swish restaurant will open on the fourteenth floor in case all that ‘fresh’ London air makes you hungry. When I went, at 10 a.m. on a cloudy Thursday, the security staff outnumbered the visitors, and were very happy to chat. Apparently the place has been overrun with bloggers (I seem to have become part of an infestation), but the time to avoid is between 12 and 2, when everyone pops up for their lunch, although they aren’t supposed to. I don’t blame them – this would be a magnificent spot for a sandwich on a sunny day. I shall definitely revisit later in the year to see how the garden is getting on.

Opening hours are currently between 10 a.m. and 6.30 p.m. until 31st March, when the evening opening times are extended to 9 p.m. There will soon be a coffee hut for any caffeine addicts. They are also currently trialling weekend opening from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Total capacity of the garden is only 207 people, so I expect that there will be queues when the weather is good, especially in the evening. If you want to see how busy it is, you can have a look here, which is rather cool.



Bugwoman on Location – Borough Gardens, Dorchester

Clock tower in Borough Gardens

Dear Readers, this week I was in Dorchester, spending some time with Dad and doing the practical things that follow on when someone dies – going to the bank, meeting with the solicitor. I felt sad as I headed to the nursing home: Dad was always a quintessential patriarch, in command of himself and head of the family, and it’s hard to see him become more vulnerable as his dementia gets worse. So, I walked into the lounge with some trepidation.

‘They made us walk uphill! For 83 miles! And we’re all old-aged pensioners’, Dad announced as I sat down next to him.

A group of the residents had been for a nature walk in the nearby woods, and Dad had thoroughly enjoyed it, for all the  hard work involved. He’d also taken the opportunity to correct the unfortunate person who was leading the walk.

‘He said that the holly leaves are pricklier at the top than they are at the bottom of the bush, but that’s the Wrong Way Round’, said Dad. ‘It’s to stop the animals grazing so why would they be pricklier at the top!’.

Since it was largely Dad who piqued my interest in nature as a child, I was not the least bit surprised that he was right. He still wins in all the general knowledge quizzes too.

It’s strange how the brain works. Dad can remember the capital of Iran but not who he is, at least not consistently. He was moaning about my behaviour the previous night (when I had apparently been demanding tea and generally wandering about) even as I was sitting there, bemused. I have learned not to contradict or correct him, because that didn’t go down too well when he was compos mentis and there’s certainly no point in doing it now. Instead, I am learning to be curious about what’s going on for him, and where he is at this particular moment.

I am also aware that vascular dementia tends towards silence, towards the end of speech, and so I want to wring every drop of meaning out of my relationship with my Dad while I still can.

Dad was always such a raconteur – my brother and I used to find the way that his stories grew and grew hilarious when we were callow teenagers. He’d been to Venezuela when he was working as a gin distiller, sometimes staying for months at a time. While there, he’d eaten the best steaks he’d ever had. And the size!

‘They were the size of this table!’ he’d tell the assembled friends and family , while Mum got on with the carving of the much smaller piece of beef that she was trying to stretch out so that everyone got served. My brother and I would imitate him afterwards.

‘The steaks were the size of a football pitch!’

‘No, they were the size of Wales!’

We would weep with hysteria at our own cleverness. It was only later that we grew to realise that Dad’s exaggeration was the result of his never feeling quite good enough for the company that he kept, in spite of his extraordinary achievements. He left school at 14 to support his mum and sisters, but he ended up travelling the world, learning Spanish and, finally, running the heritage centre for Gordon’s Gin. For all that, he never felt that his true stories were interesting enough, and so they were embellished until they were unrecognisable.

Seen in this light, the 83 mile walk is typical Dad.

And outside, spring is pushing through. It seems almost an insult. How dare life be going on when I feel so frozen! Bloody crocuses, busting forth so hopefully! And look at those honeybees and bumbles, already bustling about and looking for nectar and pollen. Life goes on relentlessly, whether I want it to or not.

I take a walk to Borough Gardens, a tiny municipal park close to the nursing home, which has everything you might want, and a few other things besides. Like the fine clock tower in the first photo, and this lovely bandstand, surrounded by some ruthlessly pollarded trees.

But it’s the plants that get me, every time. I start off marching along and end up dawdling, my eye drawn to the buds and the patterns in the leaves, and the sheer abundance of life just waiting to burst out.


Witch Hazel

Sedum seed heads

A variety of pampas grass ?


Green hellebore

Robins sing their hearts out from every shrub

The herring gulls stand like sentinels, waiting for the rustle of a crisp packet.

Even in this tiny park with its swings and fountain and tennis courts and greenhouses, there is a sense of the natural world leaping into action, taking the opportunity to wake and breed and flower, and I feel that same force entreating me to take action, to move, to awaken to possibility. Part of me wants to linger in stillness, and part of me is filled with an urge to make something new, to carry the baton forward. And so I stand, oscillating, between two poles, eager for rest and called to movement. It’s an uncomfortable place to be, but also strangely exhilarating.

Outside the park, there is an avenue where the crows are already starting to repair their nests. At the foot of each great tree there is an explosion of crocuses. I find that I am most moved by the damaged ones, those that have been trampled by passing dogs or crushed by a child’s foot. I suppose that they remind me of me, bruised and imperfect, but still trying to flower.

When I go back to see Dad, he’s leafing through one of the big lever-arch files that contain medical records. One of the nurses must have left it on the table. I watch him for a while. He seems to be trying to do something, but I’m not sure what. I see the man who used to organise conferences and dinners for the pensioner’s association after he retired, the man who used to run a whole distillery in a language that wasn’t his own. He seems very calm, contemplative even. I sit beside him as he ‘works’ away, and finally closes the file. The nurse comes by and collects it.

‘Thank you for helping us, Tom’, she says.

Dad nods. ‘You’re welcome’, he says.

It is possible to honour and respect someone even when it’s not clear what they know, or understand. It’s possible to meet them where they are. I am being shown that holding on to what someone was is not helpful, for them or for us, and that being curious can be a useful tool in trying to rebuild a relationship with someone who is in a state of flux. Just as the natural world is always cycling, changing, adapting, so is Dad, and so will I.

Mum’s Memorial

St Andrew’s Church, Milborne St Andrew

Dear Readers, on Saturday last week friends and family  gathered to say goodbye to my Mum, Sybil Esme Palmer. Many people had battled through the snow to get there, following a blizzard the previous night, and the inside of the church was so cold that we could see our breath. But the church was full, and the singing was hearty. We sang ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ and ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘Immortal, Invisible’, and my brother read the eulogy with a composure that was all the more impressive because I knew how devastated he had been by Mum’s death.

We had been very concerned about whether or not to bring Dad to the service. For weeks he hadn’t mentioned Mum, and seemed to have forgotten all about her, so we were worried that suddenly plunging him back into the reality of the situation – that his wife of 61 years had died- would distress him greatly when he was already so confused and frail. But then, a few days before the service, he began to talk about Mum again, and so we took the decision that he needed to be with us all. One of his carers from the nursing home came with us and Dad held her hand all through the service. I am so glad that he was able to come: it would have felt very incomplete without him. And I think he rather enjoyed the reception afterwards, which was beautifully arranged by my brother’s partner, and which had some very thoughtful touches, like the packets of forget-me-not seeds that everyone could take home with them.

Dad recognised his two sisters, and many people from the village. Everyone took the time to talk to him, in spite of the fact that what he was saying didn’t always make sense. Once this village takes you to their heart, you’re theirs for life. There was such a feeling of palpable love in the room, both for Mum and for Dad, that it seemed to lift a shadow from my heart. To have inspired such a spirit in such a diverse mix of people is a true memorial to the character of the people who are no longer with us.

And also, I might be biased but I cannot believe how handsome my Dad is. He seems to be being scoured away by dementia, but he reminds me now of an ageing film star. No wonder the ladies in the nursing home have a soft spot for him.

Bugwoman and her Dad

And then, of course, everyone goes home and here I am, with my memories and my sadness. I feel as if I have slowed right down to walking pace. I am finding great solace in cooking at the moment, and am baking bread as if the shops will soon run out. And then I was sitting at my desk writing, and happened to look up, to see this little chap.

Noddy, made by Mum

My Mum was such a creator, of toys and clothes and food and paintings. I mentioned to her that someone I knew was pregnant, and Noddy appeared a month later. He looks as defiant as my Mum often was, hands on hips and refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer. I love the laces on his shoes, his hair, his little belt and scarf and the bell on his hat. I must have ‘forgotten’ to pass him on, because there he was on the shelf, and I had no idea that he was there. When I took him down and cradled him he brought back everything that was fine about Mum, her generosity, her skill, her enormous heart. I don’t think I’d realised how much I missed her until that moment.

Everyone that I saw at the Memorial had received something handmade from Mum. Towards the end of her life she became very fond of making scarves, and giving them to anyone in the village who stood still for long enough. I remembered that I had gotten one from her, and went into my wardrobe to look. She’d made me four.

And then, I remembered The Bag. This was from an earlier period, when Mum was into patchwork quilting, and I think that it’s astonishing. I use it on special occasions, and have to wear something plain because it’s always the star of the show. Mum pieced together all those tiny pieces of fabric just before she started to get numbness in her fingers, and became unable to do such fine work. Life took so many things away from my mother, but she kept turning to the next thing, determined to create until the very last months of her life.

Ah Mum. What a lousy time of it she had over those past few years, coming down with one illness after another, gradually losing her mobility and, I fear, showing the first signs of dementia right towards the end. But she took such joy in things. A few weeks before she died, I bought Mum and Dad a box of Hotel Chocolat chocolates, and although Mum was barely eating at that point she managed three, each one cut into quarters. Later, she had a liking for toffee yoghurt, and the carers rushed to make sure there were enough in stock. Nothing that life threw at her could ever completely dent her spirit, and she found something to be glad about every single day. Her heart was full of love until the day she died, and for all I know she loves us still, as we do her.

RIP Mum. This poem was read out at the service. I hope you’ve found your Inn at last.


Does the road wind up-hill all the way?

   Yes, to the very end.

Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?

   From morn to night, my friend.


But is there for the night a resting-place?

   A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.

May not the darkness hide it from my face?

   You cannot miss that inn.


Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?

   Those who have gone before.

Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?

   They will not keep you standing at that door.


Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?

   Of labour you shall find the sum.

Will there be beds for me and all who seek?

   Yea, beds for all who come.

Christina Rossetti

Bugwoman on Location – The Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum, London

Dear Readers, I have always had a love-hate relationship with the Natural History Museum in London. I love the  building that houses the collection of over 80 million specimens; it has been described as a ‘cathedral to nature’, and it certainly repays close inspection. The outside is clothed in a mixture of pale blue-grey and golden  tiles, and everywhere you look, there are animals and plants. The entrance gate is decorated with reliefs of different creatures, and I particularly liked these rats.

Not to mention these iguanas

And how about this cobra?

I think that you could have a delightful time just looking at the decoration of the building without even going inside. The east wing is decorated with extinct animals, and the west wing with living species, at the request of the Director at the time, Richard Owen. It can be seen as a rebuttal to Darwin – Owen was unconvinced by Darwin’s theory of evolution as it stood, and wanted to show the separation of extant and vanished species, rather than their continuity. We can just enjoy being looked down on by rather menacing pterodactyls and sabre-toothed tigers.

The west wing features a few more familiar creatures, such as this splendid lion.

It’s not always so straightforward, though. The animal below is some kind of extinct mammal, but to the left there is what could easily be a coelacanth, a lobe-finned fish that was thought to be long vanished from the oceans until one was hauled up in 1938.

Photo One by By Alberto Fernandez Fernandez - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Preserved coelacanth found off the Comoros islands in 1974 (Photo One)

The decoration inside the museum is just as ornate. In the entrance hall, each niche is decorated with birds who forage up and over the arches.

As you go upstairs, the birds are replaced by monkeys clambering through vines, though they look rather more like little people to me, especially with their unnervingly human hands.

One of the wonders of the Museum is the ceiling of the Hintze Hall, which contains illustrations of plants from all corners of the world. With typical Victorian practicality, these are mostly ‘useful’ plants, such as coffee and the opium poppy.

So, really, what’s not to like? Well, as a child I was always extremely upset by all the dead and mounted animals, frozen in the act of flying and foraging and yet never to move again. On more than one occasion I had to be taken outside because I was so upset. It’s true that I was a tender-hearted child, but I suspect most children are this way, until they become inured to our ordinary cruelty.

I remember the Victorian display below from the first time that I saw it over 50 years ago, and it still disturbs me today.

Hummingbird display

There are over a  hundred separate birds in this case. The work to prepare and mount each of them must have been enormous. The species are not listed, and so this is purely for the delectation of those who stopped to admire it. I have no idea how quickly their colours faded, but the light in their eyes would have gone out quickly enough.

To the Museum’s credit, there are far fewer of these nineteenth century displays than I remember. There are also dodos here, and a pair of ivory-billed woodpeckers, last seen in the wild in 1944. Habitat destruction and hunting doomed both these species, and this is all that is left, a few stuffed birds in a glass case.

A pair of Dodos (and a Giant Auk, bottom left)

Ivory-billed woodpeckers

But, things are changing. The Museum hosts the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, which gives visitors another way to view animals and to wonder at their complexity and beauty without harming them (though there is a discussion to be had on ethical wildlife photography as well). Many of the specimens that have already been collected are housed in the Darwin Centre, where they provide invaluable information for scientists, especially with regard to assessing the changes in distribution due to climate change. Existing specimens are also used in the exhibitions on different aspects of animal and plant life, such as the current exhibition on nocturnal animals.

This move away from collecting for the sake of collecting and towards conservation is best exemplified by the change in the entrance hall of the Museum.

Photo Two by By Drow male - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Dippy the diplodocus (Photo Two)

Until recently, the entrance hall housed a cast of the bones of Dippy the Diplodocus, and this had been the first thing that visitors saw when they entered the Museum since 1905. However,  they have recently gone ‘on tour’ and have been replaced by the skeleton of a young blue whale, who was found stranded in Wexford Bay, Ireland, after being injured by whalers in 1891. The bones have been in storage for all this time, but in 2017 it was decided to replace the dinosaur with the whale.

This is a stunning creature, 25 metres long, and it seemed to gaze down on me as I entered. The work of getting it into the hall was detailed in a recent BBC programme which I watched with great interest, but nothing prepares you for its size and presence. My previous visits to the Museum gave me a sense of voyeurism, as I spent all my time looking at these long-dead creatures. There is something of a challenge about these bones, however. I had the distinct sense of being gazed down upon and evaluated by those empty eye sockets. This is the largest animal that has ever lived on this planet, and we treat the world as if it were our playground and rubbish tip. If the bones could speak, how much rage and sorrow would that voice contain?

Photo Credits

Photo One by By Alberto Fernandez Fernandez – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Photo Two by By Drow male – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

A Return to the Barbican

Dear Readers, you may remember that I visited the planting at the Barbican Centre in London a few years ago, and was very impressed. Today, in an attempt to get back to something like normality, I went to see a matinee of Macbeth featuring Christopher (Dr. Who) Eccleston in the Barbican Theatre but before I settled down I wanted to see how the gardens were standing up, and what they looked like in the most uninspiring month of the year. By January, most gardens are looking a bit tired, and one is lucky to have more than a few things in flower. It’s all about texture, and these plantings have that in spades.

The light at this time of year can be strong but the sun is low in the sky, and this creates all kinds of strange effects between the tower blocks. It’s here that the grasses come into their own. The seed heads look molten, glowing with an unearthly fire. I felt as if my poor parched senses were drinking the beauty in.

The icy wind whistles between the buildings, but there were hardy souls weeding and tidying the beds. I told one man how much I enjoyed the gardens at any time of year, and he pointed out a few things that were in flower, a salvia and a little cranesbill. But strangely enough, it’s the starker delights of bark and twig that appeal to me at the moment.

I found one spot, sheltered from the wind, where I noticed the fur on this frosty-leaved plant. I love the way that each leaf has a centre-parting, like a damp-haired schoolboy.

The euphorbia and the Japanese Anemones are still going strong where they have some protection from the cold.

Because of the way that the sun reflects from the windows, there can be strange, fleeting puddles of light.

There is a pond under one of the buildings, and went to see if there was a yellow wagtail, as there had been on a previous visit. Today, there was nothing but reflections.

There are some big, concrete containers that have been planted with a wildflower mix. I was surprised to see cornflowers and mayweed and yarrow still in bloom. I have seen wildflower plantings in a number of other places, but have my doubts as to the provenance of the plants – near to my house in East Finchley, an area has giant yarrow and the largest-flowered creeping thistle that I’ve ever seen. Possibly these are cultivars, but they look remarkably like the wild plants on steroids. The plants here, though, look pretty much like the real thing.

I used to visit the Barbican regularly at lunchtime (I worked just across the road), and it was a most unimpressive place, with the beds full of regimented primulas and well-behaved geraniums. Today it’s a wild and woolly prairie, full of interest even at this time of the year. When I visit in summer the place is full of pollinators having a pit-stop for nectar and pollen. This is an exposed and variable habitat, where the wind scours the soil and the sun blazes down, but the garden is doing well. It just goes to show what can be done with a bit of imagination.

And Macbeth was pretty good too, with the part of the witches taken by three scary children in identical red dresses, and Christopher Eccleston giving it his all in a northern accent and body armour. I get a bit fed-up with the handbrake turns that the characters take, but I think we have to blame Mr Shakespeare for that rather than the performance. It sometimes feels like one of the few Shakespeare plays that could actually do with being a bit longer to allow for the deterioration in the characters’ states of mind. But still, if you fancy a couple of hours of supernatural goings on, the descent of one of the lead characters into madness and all manner of surprising goings-on, this is your play.


Bugwoman on Location – Weymouth

Dear Readers, on Tuesday we went to Weymouth for my Mum’s cremation. We are having a bigger gathering in Milborne St Andrew, where Mum and Dad lived, in February. But Mum wanted to be cremated and, unlike in London where crematoria are ten a penny, in Dorset the nearest one was in Weymouth, a place to which none of us have any connection.

Events like this always put our own choices into the spotlight. My plan is to be buried in a cardboard coffin in a woodland somewhere  – I have no worries about insects munching my bones and helping to recycle me. But Mum was never one for creepy crawlies, and she had been graveside on too many cold, rainy days to want to inflict that on us, so cremation it was. She also thought that it was cleaner, somehow, simpler. I think that she missed a trick by not wanting to be fired into the stratosphere in a rocket, like Hunter S Thompson, but there is still something about the thought of her body, which had been the cause latterly of so much pain, being reduced to its simplest elements that I find comforting. I am so glad that we managed to have some of these conversations before Mum died, so that at least some of what she wanted was clear. It’s never too early to have these discussions with those we love. Life is hard enough after you’ve been bereaved without having to second guess what the person who has died would have wanted.

We went for a walk around the town of Weymouth before the service. It is a fine little town, with a working harbour and its own lifeboat. Everywhere, people were going about their business – walking their dogs, mending nets, sitting on benches and gazing out to sea. It’s surprising how often I glimpse Mum in the colour of a stranger’s hair, the way that they walk, a certain tilt of their head. She seems to be everywhere.

The cliffs that make up the Jurassic Coast peered through the early morning mist. Mary Anning found the fossil of an ichthyosaurus not far from here. It is an interesting part of the world. However, all I could think of was those last few weeks with Mum as her life ebbed away, and my mood coloured everything grey. But then I remembered that the day before Mum went into the Nursing Home, an ice-cream van had parked up outside the school opposite their bungalow, and Mum had been able to enjoy one of those Mr Whippy icecreams with a flake in it. I had never noticed an icecream van there before, so it seemed like fate. Mum adored those soft icecream cones, and even without her teeth, she managed to eat it all. There is grace everywhere, but it’s easy to overlook it.

Everything seemed unreal, as if I was in a dream and would soon wake up to find everything as it should be. But as usual, it took nature to bring me back to reality. Perched above a pile of nets was a pair of herring gulls.

They seemed watchful, and I soon realised why. There was a young herring gull picking through the fish scales and guts on the quayside below, and I suspect that he was their chick.

Like all young birds, young gulls seem so witless, so vulnerable.  This one looked around, and emitted the most plaintive, sad little cry, half way between a squeak and a wail.

‘Oh’, I said, ‘he’s crying for his mother’.

And then, I realised what I’d said, and finally I could lean on my husband’s shoulder and cry for mine. At last I could be present with what was going to happen, the end of my mother’s physical presence on this world, and I could start the remembering that would be the work of the rest of my life. My mother is always with me, in the shape of my eyes, the length of my fingers, my skill with roast potatoes and my love of colour. There is a particularity about each person who walks this earth which comes into the sharpest focus in the weeks and months after they’ve died. They are unique, and they will never come again, and that is what is so, so hard.

But there is solace, nonetheless, in the universality of death, at least for me. Someone described the loss of a parent as an initiation, and it feels like walking through fire. I will not be the same on the other side, but maybe I will be more compassionate and perhaps even wiser. Grief is the price that we pay for loving with all our hearts, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Bugwoman on Location – Christmas in Dorchester

St George’s Church, Fordington

Dear Readers, it was a strange, sad Christmas this year, without my Mum. We stayed in Dorchester (at the excellent Westwood House if you’re ever in need of a place to rest your weary head) – the owners, Tom and Demelza, have been so kind, and sensitive to my emotional turmoil too. We have walked up and down to the nursing home where Dad lives, and have found that his mental state has gone from bad to worse. When shown a picture of Mum of he furrowed his brow and asked if it was my brother’s girlfriend. He has regressed to a point where he seems to think that he is in his early twenties, and is planning on running a truck business, and maybe it is a strange kindness that he no longer seems to remember Mum, or the misery of the past few months. It is brutal to have lost both my parents, one to death and one to dementia, and some days I honestly don’t know how I get out of bed. But this time has also shown me that the web of connections between people, both in ‘real life’ and on the internet, is as resilient as spider silk. It has held me when I was afraid that I would fall, and I am so, so grateful.

But life goes on, and on Boxing Day I went out for a walk to Fordington with my husband, an area that I first discovered last week when I went to pick up Mum’s death certificate from the GP’s surgery. I was roused from my sorrow by the enormous church of St George’s standing on the hill, and seeming out of all proportion to the village around it. I loved the mixture of modest houses and massive mansions, and wanted to explore further.

The lane up to St George’s church

The church dates back to the 15th Century, but has some much earlier features: a Roman commemorative stone was found under the porch, and one of the pillars is actually a Roman pillar turned upside down. We can assume that a Roman temple stood on the site originally (Fordington was known as Durnovaria to the Romans, and was separate from Dorchester). Sacred sites are often used and re-used, as we know.

The Roman commemorative stone to Carinus, a nobleman, that was found under the porch in 1908

The upside-down Roman pillar, with the Capitol at the bottom

And as you know, I have always found solace in graveyards, so, after inspecting the inside of the church, we headed to the cemetery. Here, we found the only memorial to German prisoners of war of the First World War in the UK. Most of the prisoners died  during the Influenza epidemic of 1918, and were given full and solemn burial rites. They are honoured in a service on the afternoon of Remembrance Sunday every year, although the bodies have now been moved to the German War Cemetery in Cannock Chase, Staffordshire.

The Memorial to German Prisoners of War in Fordington Cemetery

The memorial was designed by another German POW, Karl Bartholmay and carved by Josef Walter. After the war, Walter emigrated to America, where he worked as a sculptor and made pieces for many public buildings.

By now, we were losing the light, and so we headed back through the churchyard and towards home, past the magnificent yew trees.

Fordington cemetery

And we were nearly home when I spotted something that made me laugh, for the first time in weeks.

This is a rather handsome herring gull ‘puddling’. It always reminds me a little of the Irish Jig. The theory is that the sound made by those big rubbery feet makes the earthworms think that it’s raining, and that their burrows are about to be flooded out, so they come to the surface, whereupon they are grabbed by the gull. There is something about the serious expression of the bird that always amuses me. Sometimes they manage to look slightly embarrassed when observed too.

I have been reading a wonderful book about gulls called ‘Landfill’ by Tim Dee, which discusses all manner of things gull-related. In particular, Dee discusses how landfill sites, formerly a beacon for seabirds, contain less and less edible matter, which is either buried immediately or goes off for biofuels. The ever-adaptable gulls are moving on to other sources of food, such as the icecreams of toddlers or the chips of the casual stroller, and have hence been demonised, as any creature does when it doesn’t ‘know its place’. I rather love these piratical, vaguely menacing birds, with their icy eyes and predatory beaks, and I blessed this one as I passed. He or she had been very obliging with their dance, and topped it all off with a most impressive greeting or threat to another bird passing overhead.

Ah, Dear Readers, what a year it has been. But a walk in nature usually persuades me that life goes on, with all its trials and joys and moments of unexpected comedy. I wish a slightly less tumultous ride for me for 2019, and a cornucopia of good things for all of you lovely people. And here, to finish 2018, is a most handsome dove, one of a group of white birds performing outside the Town Hall. May we all find the peace that the bird represents.