Thinking Aloud on a Sunday


I woke up thinking about mud today. Nothing really surprising there, as I have thought a lot about mud since moving to Norfolk in 2012, and getting a dog. I even wrote a short blog post about mud, in January 2016. It features in my life a great deal, more than I ever imagined something like that would.

When you have spent most of your life in a city like London, mud is rarely an issue. It is something you almost never see to be honest, unless you have a very large garden, or go out of your way to leave the city, and go somewhere muddy. But why would I have ever done that?

In Beetley, my encounters with mud are daily, at least for six months of each year. A result of frequent heavy rain, melted snow, or the overflowing small river having burst its banks. I have become an expert on mud of all kinds, as well as coming to dread the mud, and often hate it too. I am told that one reason it is so bad, is that it is rarely cold enough for long enough to freeze the mud around here. Even after nights when the temperature has dropped to -5, a short burst of morning sunlight is guaranteed to melt just enough mud to make my walks treacherous, as well as unpleasant.

Cows don’t help either. When the small herd was kept on Hoe Rough for a few months, they left behind hoof-prints and breaks in the soil that soon filled with rain, turning into mini-mud pools overnight. Though the cows are long gone, replaced by less mud-inducing sheep, those holes and ruts are still there, and still full of mud. I also discovered that there are many types of mud. On the harder soil, slippery mud lays on the surface, resembling the shiny chocolate Ganache beloved of modern bakers. Walk on this at your peril, as it is as slippery as the surface of an ice rink.

Mud also dwells beneath what appear to be tufts of grass. They look solid enough to walk on, but the mud is waiting below, to suck the boots off of the feet of any unwary walkers. There is more obvious mud of course. The eight-inch thick stuff accumulated on the main paths, often turned into what looks like black soup, after more heavy rain. I would not usually choose to walk through that, but often a thick tangle of brambles either side gives me no other choice. Ollie is untroubled by mud of course. His light weight and delicate paws rarely break the surface, and he is oblivious to the wetter pools, splashing them over me, as he runs ahead.

I have tried various different types of boots to make walking in the mud bearable. My first sort were not up to the job. Lighter, thinner soles made them work like ice skates, and I had to resort to a large stick, just to stay upright. After trying some heavy-duty boots, I have finally settled on neoprene-lined knee-length boots, with soles almost as thick and rugged as tractor tyres. Even with such specialised and expensive footwear, I am unable to avoid the main problem, as I still have to actually walk in them. They disappear into the mud with each step, requiring considerable effort to lift my leg each time to continue my walk. It is like walking in weighted deep-sea diver’s boots.

This means the walks only get me half as far, in the same two hours or more, with Ollie constantly running ahead, then looking back to see why I am not keeping up. It is also more tiring to walk in mud of course, so I return feeling worn out most days at this time of year. The sun has been bright so far this morning, which means I can anticipate more mud when I take Ollie out later.
I doubt you ever think much about mud, and rightly so.

I don’t blame you at all.

Good to be alive?

You know those days when it feels good to be alive? Nice weather, blue skies, not too hot. There’s a gentle breeze, bees are buzzing, and the light is falling just right, illuminating your surroundings like an Old Master painting. Perhaps you feel like wandering beside a river, or popping down to your local bar to enjoy a drink at an outside table. You prefer to walk rather than take the car, as even the ground or path feels good under your feet. Food tastes better, sounds sound better, and everything smells nice too.

Well today is not one of those days. It is the very opposite of one, in fact.

This is the sort of day that makes you sorry that you woke up. Once you had woken up, you regretted leaving the comfort of your bed to stare at the rain hitting the windows. Listening to the driving downpour on the roof, and peering through the gloom of dull skies, and complete cloud cover. It starts to feel uncomfortably chilly very quickly, and there is no alternative but to switch on the heating. A look at the TV weather forecast confirms your worst suspicions. It is in for the day, and probably all day tomorrow as well.

If you have no reason to go out, the best thing to do is to go back to bed with a good book, or curl up on the sofa and watch a film on the TV. Spoil yourself with some edible treats, and later on maybe open a bottle of wine. Close the curtains, and hide from the outside. If you can’t see it or hear it, then maybe it isn’t there. But such decadence is not for me. I have a dog.

No point putting it off, Ollie has to go out, which means that I have to take him. In the future, it might be possible to train a dog to walk itself, heading home with a sat-nav attached to its collar, treading a familiar path. But this is not that future, this is now. I have to get ready, cover myself in waterproof clothing, and set off over the fields. Once out, it is even worse. The wind is cold, the rain even colder. Despite struggling with an umbrella, I am soon pretty wet, and the familiar environs of Hoe Rough are covered in damp leaves, and thick mud.

When the walk started to feel like a punishment, I cut it short, giving Ollie one his shortest walks ever, at under fifty minutes. I was happy to be home again, but the long dull evening stretched ahead. With Julie over at her daughter’s, babysitting her grandson, I decided to do something out of the ordinary. I will go to the cinema in Dereham, and watch a film. Not only will it pass a couple of hours during the late afternoon, it will be a reward to myself for enduring the weather, and never letting my dog down.

I will let you know how it works out.

The wettest place in England.

I expect that you all think I have gone a bit soft after my holiday.

Nice posts about the Lake District, and lots of photos taken on my trip.

No complaints about the weather, and no moans about mud and rain.

I went to the area that boasts the wettest spot in England.

And it was dry 98% of the time.

Then I came home to the driest county in England.

And it has rained every day since.

I am thinking of challenging the claim about that wettest place.

Surely Beetley must be in contention?

Back to so-called ‘occasional showers’.

In TV news speak, that means heavy rain for most of the time.

Back to trudging around in the mud, watching the raindrops on the river.

Just in case you had thought I’d forgotten…

At least I have all the wet weather gear that I didn’t need.

Up there in the wettest place in England.

Fed up with being fed up

I really do wish that I had something interesting and appealing to write about. Unfortunately, I do not. The persistent cough and lethargy are ruining my days (and most nights) and not for the first time, they are being ably assisted by the weather.

You know that feeling, too hot one minute, too cold the next? That seems to be my current curse, as I trudge around with Ollie, shedding my top coat, only to scrabble to put it back on again, minutes later. The April weather is running true to form. Heavy rains followed by hot sun, blue skies followed by ominous clouds. Those clouds seem to be in pursuit of me, as I try to exit the gate at Hoe Rough, before the next downpour catches me out. Ten minutes later, my coat wet from the rain, I am baking in the sudden heat of a warm afternoon, unable to guess what to wear, and when not to wear it.

The heavy showers have brought the mud back to life too. Just as it had started to dry, it is reinvigorated in its slickness, deep pools sucking at the uncomfortably warm boots that I still have to wear, despite the sunshine. Frequent pauses are necessary too, to facilitate nose-blowing, endure fits of sneezing, or just to cough and splutter whilst standing still. Back home, there is scant relief. The same coughing and sneezing dominates the lighter evenings. More tablets, more cough medicine, and little taste in the food from our meal. I can hardly be bothered to concentrate on the TV, and there are a few good dramas on at the moment. Similarly, the computer has little appeal, as it is hard to type with tissues in your hand, and constantly pausing to cough.

The thought of going to bed later fills me with the dread of knowing that I will no doubt be awake in the early hours, sleep banished by coughing or choking, unable to get the temperature right as well. Too hot under the duvet, too cold in the night air outside of the covers. It is making me fed up.

And I am a bit fed up with being fed up, as my title suggests.

The Beetley Blizzard

I had to write this post whilst the snow was still falling.

Venturing out on a miserable afternoon with Ollie, I took the umbrella. It had been raining since lunchtime, and looked pretty dismal. The Meadows and Hoe Rough were muddy once again, a result of the recent rain on the ground that had hardly dried from constant downpours. It was hard going; skidding about, lurching into deeper mud, feet sucked into unseen pools a foot deep.

After one circuit of the Rough, Ollie was still going strong. I had to put the umbrella up again as the rain got heavier, and decided that thirty minutes more would have to do. On the main path, in the open, we were suddenly battered by an unexpected hail shower. Tiny pellets of ice, hammering down in the north wind. The temperature had fallen considerably, and my cheeks were icy to touch, hands cold even in gloves. Ollie uncurled his tail, a sure sign that he was no longer enjoying his romp.

I turned for home, and was relieved that the hail stopped as I did so. I thought that I might be able to dispense with my umbrella, but as I considered this, it began to snow. Not gentle flakes, fluttering down from above. No, real snow, blizzard snow, huge chunks of the stuff coming in sideways, whirling around in the strong wind. Even with the umbrella, I was soon covered, and wet through. Ollie’s back was white with snowflakes, and I could hardly see the path to get to the exit. It didn’t let up as I fought my way back across the bridge, speeding up for the short journey back to the house. It had settled on the cars, on the tops of hedges, and in front gardens too. And it’s still coming down.

I thought of two expressions about the weather that are often used here. “It’s too cold for snow.” How stupid is that? Ask the Russians or Norwegians, Canadians, or Inuit. It snows when it’s cold. That’s an end to it. The other old saying is, “March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb.” Well, the first part is true today, let’s hope the last part is accurate too.

Snow on the roof

After an unusually cold and wet night, we awoke this morning to snow on the roof. We had heard the hail and sleet, but thought little of it. It felt a bit chilly in bed, but it is February, after all.

The snow was something of a shock. Even after it had melted on the house, it remained on the shed roof, and in the grass over at the Meadows. My dog walk was muddy and annoying, accompanied by unpleasant showers of hail and sleet, pattering against my coat. I could have done without it, that’s for sure.

The sleet turned to rain, late in the afternoon, and soaked the furry collar of my coat. I was happy to get home, to get into the warm, and not to be walking through the slick mud. It would appear that winter has come late to Beetley. I can do without that, thanks very much.

Mud, glorious mud

I haven’t been posting much about my walks with Ollie recently. To be honest, they have become little more than a daily chore, devoid of the usual diversions and enjoyments. The ground is churned into a depressing mud pile, slick underfoot, and treacherous in places. Except for the harder paths, venturing alongside the river, or into the woods in Hoe Rough, has become an unpleasant conflict with deep sticky mud.

Even Ollie finds it unpleasant now. Where once he plodded on regardless, he now seeks the drier sections of path, or at least those that don’t involve sinking up to his belly in mud or water. If I venture into the deeper areas, he stands forlornly behind, reluctant to follow, and I have to find an alternative route. There are less doggy friends around too, as other walkers are deterred by the mess, or the fact that walking across it is so arduous.

Once home, I have to spend ages cleaning the mud from his paws, digging deep into the pads to get it all off, before he is allowed into the house. I neglect this at my peril, as his muddy paw-prints would soon cover the carpets otherwise. This season is trying, in many ways, and with more heavy rain forecast for tomorrow, there is no sign of the mud diminishing any time soon.

Hopefully, normal reporting of more interesting walks will resume soon.

Weather: Taking it personally

I know, another moan about the weather. But you don’t have to read it…

Julie headed off to Norwich this morning, so I had an early lunch, then watched the news. The sun was so bright, I had to slide one half of the curtain over, to stop the reflection making the TV screen impossible to see. After catching up on world events, I decided to go out earlier with Ollie, and make the most of the bright afternoon.

I got ready, and chose to wear my short waterproof coat over a T-shirt, and take my trusty stick, instead of the umbrella. It seemed unlikely that I would need an umbrella. Not only was it bright enough to contemplate sunglasses, the BBC weatherman had predicted sunny periods for the east. As usual, Ollie was up for the walk, and we headed out to Beetley Meadows, me using one hand to shield my eyes from the sun. Emboldened by the conditions, I decided to head across to Hoe Rough, for a bigger walk.

As soon as were we through the gate, the sun disappeared. It was as if someone had switched off all light over Norfolk. It was as dark as evening, and almost other-worldly in feel. Then the rain came. There was no warning patter, no drop that says “I’m on my way,” just a deluge from out of nowhere. Torrential, icy, sleet-laden, and decidedly unpleasant. No point sheltering under the trees, as most of the leaves have gone now. The sodden ground turned to slick mud in seconds, and I soon had trouble staying upright. The sleet and hail was actually painful against my head and face, and the temperature dropped a few degrees in seconds.

Up ahead, Ollie was trotting along unconcerned, looking for all the world as if he was enjoying a stroll along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, on a warm July afternoon. I caught up with him, but by now I was having trouble seeing, as the water cascaded down my head into my eyes, stinging them with the cold. I rested against a tree trunk for a while, hoping the ‘shower’ would pass, and cursing the smug BBC weatherman for his impish forecasting. I am sure that they secretly know roughly what time I go out with Ollie, and deliver false predictions to catch me out.

Of course, it didn’t pass. It just rained harder. The coat was keeping my body dry, but my legs were soaked, so I just carried on. At the riverside, I had to hold onto the wire fence to stop from slipping over, so I headed back to the thicker clumps of grass in the centre. The ground around these was strangely spongy, so it was like walking on the mattress of a bed, wearing heavy rubber boots. This is very disconcerting, I can assure you. After seventy-five minutes of this torture, I had seen enough, and turned for home. Ollie would have to lose out on forty minutes or so of his walk, or there was a good chance that I would take a tumble, and spend the night on Hoe Rough.

As I got back and opened the side gate, the rain stopped. By the time I was in the house, changed and dried off, the light from the setting sun was illuminating the street. I shook an angry fist at the sky, and cast a spell on all weather presenters.

Is it any wonder I take it so personally?

Wind from the north.

We had a pleasant lull recently, when most days were accompanied by bright sunshine, even though it was cold. It was January after all, so to be expected. Then the wind changed.
Norfolk sticks out into the North Sea, so when the winds come from due north, they are on their way from Norway and Sweden, so you can imagine what that brings. It brought snow, which was nice to look at, and fortunately didn’t hang around for too long. Then came the colder mornings, and frosty nights. The freezing rain that followed wasn’t too pleasant, I could have done without that.

Yesterday, it began to snow quite heavily in the morning; like white cornflakes, tumbling rapidly from the sky. It was heavy enough to obscure the view across the road, and I felt certain that we were in for a good covering. By the time it came to take Ollie for his walk, I considered it necessary to prepare for the conditions. I found my Russian hat, long stored in a wardrobe, and got out my warm-lined trousers, still not worn, reserved for the snow and ice. The larger scarf, longer parka, and gloves of course. By the time I had squeezed myself into this getup, the snow had been replaced by heavy rain. It was drumming on the rooftops, and when I stepped out, I could feel it was icy cold rain too.

I changed hats. No point getting all the fur wet on the Russian one, so it was swapped for the waterproof cap that I really hate. I eventually trudged off into the downpour with Ollie, and as usual, he took no notice whatsoever. The ground over the Meadows was like a quagmire. Melted snow, driving rain, all on ground that was hard underneath, made for a sticky and slippery mess. At times I had trouble keeping on my feet, as I watched Ollie bounding off toward the river, oblivious. After a couple of miserable circuits, I decided to head off to Hoe Rough. There were no other dogs out for Ollie to play with, so a longer walk would be required.

It wasn’t much better over there. Lots of water still standing on the ground, and thick mud on the paths near the river. I did my duty by Ollie, and continued to wander around in the driving rain, trying to feel happy for him, and for being out in the fresh air. It wasn’t working though. I just felt miserable and wet, with the rain so hard it was getting through my coat, and beginning to make me feel damp and tired. After being out for over ninety minutes, I turned for home. Ollie’s fur was soaked, and the only other person we had seen brave enough to venture out had been across the other side of the river, so we couldn’t accompany them. We had to settle for shouted greetings across the water, both complaining about the weather of course.

Once home and dry, I prepared the wood-burner for a nice fire. Not that it was cold inside, as the heating was on. It is just nice to have that flame, and feel the direct warmth. After all the problems with that burner, covered in detail on previous posts, it finally seems to be working properly, with no issues. (Yes, my fingers are crossed!) Once it was glowing magnificently, and throwing out a delicious heat, we settled in for the evening, with a nice meal, some TV shows, and lots of basking in the glow.

No need to go out again anywhere that night, fortunately.

Ollie and The Mole

After another flirtation with fiction, I have decided to give it a much-needed rest, and return to what is actually happening!

When he was small, Ollie liked to dig in the garden. As he usually made holes in the lawn, we soon discouraged him from doing this, and made it clear that it would not be tolerated. Although he still rooted around for acorns, and other windfall of interest, he stopped digging completely, which was a great relief. After some heavy rain a while ago, he was let out for his usual late night excursion, just before we go to bed. He was let back in later, and trotted past as normal, rushing into the living room to see Julie. As I locked up, I suddenly noticed muddy paw prints on the tiled floor of the kitchen, and realised that this was a lot more than usual, even after some rain. I looked out of the back door, and switched on the outside light. Next to the shed, he had obviously been digging. This was not a normal dig, that you might expect a dog to indulge in, it was more like a trench, a substantial excavation.

The damage was considerable. It stretched for a length of two feet, and was at least a foot deep. We were angry with the dog. He was cleaned up, told off, and sent to bed. Luckily, the mud was able to be cleaned up easily enough, once it had dried. Sure enough, the next day, he was at it again. He came in from a trip to the garden, with mud caked on his paws, and in the large jowls that surround his mouth. No amount of chiding would stop him, it seemed. I was constantly cleaning him up, before going outside, to fill in the holes that he insisted on digging. There must have been a reason, surely? I couldn’t think of one. We had no mice in the shed, and there had been no sign of hedgehogs, or other animals that might cause Ollie to dig. We continued to tell him off, and to consign him to the shame of his bed.

After a few days, he had stopped the digging, so we felt vindicated. Leaving for a trip away, Ollie stayed with neighbours overnight. On our return, we discovered a large molehill next to the water butt. A day later, another appeared, two feet into the lawn. The mole damage originated near the shed, so it was plain to see that Ollie had detected the mole, hence his previous digging. After this revelation, we no longer felt justified in scolding him. After all, he was only trying to rid our garden of disruptive moles. They are still here. Notoriously difficult to discourage, I have decided to just live with them. Hopefully, Ollie will too.