Joy in the Morning

Early Morning Oak

It’s possible that an observant reader might have noticed that I like to steal my post titles* from songs or novels or ..well wherever inspiration strikes. This one comes from a Jeeves and Wooster novel. I haven’t read it recently, but the first chapter from it was appended to the end of ‘Summer Lightning’ which I borrowed from Lancaster library as a stand in for ‘Uncle Fred in the Springtime’ which I need to read for out book group, but they didn’t have. ‘Summer Lightning’ was excellent – pure escapism, with a high chuckle count. I’m wondering now whether I still need to find ‘Uncle Fred in the Springtime’ for our book group, since reading any Wodehouse novel is much the same as reading any other. You expect high farce and the usual selection of stock characters – but it’s the fabulous dialogue and Wodehouse’s turn of phrase which keep me coming back for more.

So – why ‘Joy in the Morning’? In Howard Jacobson’s pitch for ‘Rasselass’ on Open Book’s neglected classics programme, he described ‘the pursuit of happiness’ as ‘one way or another….the story of every novel’. He makes great claims for ‘Rasselass’ and I must say that I enjoyed reading it this time much more than I can remember enjoying it when I read it before. I can see now why Jacobson described it as ‘chock full of wisdom’ and I can see myself turning to it again in the future. Curiously, it doesn’t have much to say about happiness except in a negative way – time and again the central characters meet or seek out people who they think are happy and then they (and we) discover why they aren’t happy – so we learn about happiness in a negative way: what happiness isn’t.

In Stephen Graham’s ‘A Tramp’s Sketches’ there’s a chapter: ‘A Thing of Beauty Is A Joy For Ever’ (he likes to poach titles too). After an opening which refers to Nietzsche, Kant, Stendhal, Bernard Shaw, Ibsen and Darwin he hits us with a paragraph of pure Graham:

… knowledge of the beautiful is an affirmation. Something in the soul suddenly rises up and ejaculates “Yes” to some outside phenomenon, and then he is aware that he is looking at Beauty. As he gazes he knows himself in communion with what he sees – and sometimes that communion is a great joy and sometimes a great sadness. Thus, looking at the opening of dawn he is filled with gladness, his spirits rising with the sun; he wishes to shout and sing. He is one with the birds that have begun singing and with all the wild Nature waking refreshed after the night. But looking out at evening of the same day over the grey sea he is filled with unutterable sorrow.

That “Yes”, the idea of a sudden and unexpected affirmation really strikes a chord with me. A feeling, a brimming over almost – intense well being, a broad smile, as Graham says: the need to shout and sing – that can sneak up on me in many circumstances but particularly on a walk. So when I left the house early this morning I had no clear idea where I was heading, but it was with a certain expectation – I was looking for a “Yes” moment.

Of course – going looking for the pot of gold is a fool’s errand and setting off expecting to be thrilled by a view or a moment is almost certainly counter productive. There were some pleasant views to be had…

Pre-dawn cloudscape.

But nothing to quicken the pulse or make the heart soar.

The sky was clear and, wanting to keep the light in the east in view, I set off toward it and toward Leighton Moss.

Reflected trees at Leighton Moss – spooky isn’t it?

After the astonishing rain we’ve been having the meres had spread and the paths were underwater. A sign warning of flooding and the need for Wellington boots was, rather ironically,  marooned on a dry island of path with flooding all around it – you had to get your feet wet in order to get close enough to read it. A huge group of coots and mallards were roosting on the islands just by Lilian’s Hide. I pottered around the edges of the reed beds – exploring almost submerged boardwalks, photographing leaves and reeds…

and then turned for home. A roadside hedge, heavy with haws was being plundered by several blackbirds…

and a thrush.

When I stopped to try to photograph them I realised that there were numerous other birds in the hedge too – great tits and blue tits, chaffinches…

and, in a small ash tree, a nuthatch tap tap tapping at a branch.

As I climbed the hill back toward the village the sun climbed above the horizon…

This turned out to be perfect timing since I was now heading west with views ahead of trees bathed in sunlight.

A tree stump by the road was host to…

some tiny earthballs…

…each hollowed with a jagged exit wound through which the spores had been fired.

I had forgotten by now about my ‘mission’ and was thoroughly absorbed in an attempt to capture the way the low sun was emphasising the remaining autumn colour on certain beech, oak and hazel trees. Not with much success, but it was keeping me busy. In Clark’s Lot, a patch of colour seen distantly across the cleared area of limestone pavement caught my eye…

I thought that it was the rust colour which attracted me, but winding back the zoom on my camera, I realised that in fact it was the contrast between that rust and the white of the surrounding birch trunks which appealed…


…and there it was, quite unexpectedly…joy in the morning! It may not have yielded much of a photo, but I can tell you that this morning, with the sun picking out the leaves, it looked fantastic….and I could feel my smile muscles working overtime, and…is that me singing? I believe it is!

Then of course, Nature conspires to put more flashes of red in my way. A robin in amongst holly berries…too much – tone it down please. Haws against traveller’s joy…

…that’s the ticket!

Sprawling over the fence from the wood, a cotoneaster, presumably grown from a berry carried here by a bird from a garden?

This too is lacking in subtly with both leaves and berries a very rich red…

I think that I prefer the different greens on offer in the lichens (or liverworts?) on this small fallen branch…


* Some alternative titles for this post:

The Sun Also Rises

Happiness Makes Up in Height What it Lacks in Length

Its a new dawn, its a new day, its a new life for me
And I’m feelin good

OK – that last one’s getting a bit long for a title. (Great song though**) Any other suggestions? This is a game that anyone can play.

**When Nina Simone is singing it, not one of the pale imitations by the likes of Muse or Michael Buble. Actually, when the horns come in on this song – that’s another example of one of those face twitching encounters with ‘a joy for ever’.

Joy in the Morning

The Gentle Art of Blogging

Much of the weekend just gone was spent indoors on the seemingly interminable task of insulating the loft (still not finished). Actually, TBH did the bulk of the work, I was on hand to cut pieces down to size, pass things into the very tight spaces which TBH was negotiating and generally to offer tea and sympathy. Between times I got quite a lot of reading done – Radio 4’s Open Book has had a ‘neglected classics’ feature, mostly, as might be expected, about books I’ve never heard of. By coincidence the book group I used to belong to has recently restarted and during a lengthy discussion about books of various kinds we talked about short stories. A friend recommended Tolstoy’s stories, I confessed that I’ve never read any Chekhov and it then occurred to me that I probably have stories by both on my bookshelves. I have a collection – The Thousand Best Short Stories – in 20 volumes, picked up years ago, second hand naturally. I dug out the Russian volume and found stories by both Tolstoy and Chekhov, but also by Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Turgeniev and ‘A Fair Smuggler’ by Michail Lermontoff which I think is the opening chapter of his novel ‘A Hero of Our Time’ which is one of the recommendations from Open Book, and which after reading this chapter I shall be on the look out for. Listening to the authors make their cases also made me look out the two I was already familiar with – ‘The Snow Goose’ and ‘Rasselas’ – and reread them.

I also managed to fit in a visit to our local second-hand book emporium. I was hoping to find ‘Our Mutual Friend’ and/or ‘Uncle Fred In The Springtime’ the first two books which our book group have decided to read. No luck – but of course I did turn up a couple of other gems – old (1930s ish) hardback copies of ‘Babbit’ by Sinclair Lewis, ‘Scrambles Amongst the Alps’ by Edward Whymper a ‘A Tramp’s Sketches’ by Stephen Graham – all for about the price of a new paperback. I was particularly chuffed about ‘A Tramp’s Sketches’: I’ve recently finished reading the same authors ‘The Gentle Art of Tramping’, in a ‘print on demand’ edition, and enjoyed it enormously.

Anyway, by Sunday afternoon TBH was stiff and bruised and ready for a break. We took a direct route to the Wolfhouse gallery for tea and cake and a child-free turn around the gallery. Marvelous. After some prolonged wet weather the afternoon had turned unexpectedly fine. When we left the cafe the low sun was lighting the late autumn woods to great effect (not done any justice above).

TBH and I parted our ways – she to relieve her parents and I to head around the coast to the Cove.

This isn’t black and white – in the low light the colour just seemed to bleed away leaving this monotone scene. The birds were mostly oystercatchers I think, along with The Inevitable Heron mid-channel.

Walking round the coast here I overtook my friend R and his son. (Actually it’s more accurate to say my son’s friend C and his dad R – this is one of the features of parenthood: to be defined as _____’s Dad and to have friend’s who are parent’s of one’s children’s peers).

‘We forget that we have this is on our doorstep’ R opined, and I agreed, but actually I was thinking. ‘No – I never forget. Sometimes I don’t get out to see it as often as I would like – but I never forget that it’s here.’ In fact, as regular readers may have gathered, it’s never far from my thoughts.

This is the largest of several posts which at one time were completely buried by the foreshore, but which have been revealed by the erosion over recent years. The posts are metal and this one is tall, perhaps twice my height. I have no idea why they were put here. Here are the others, about 4 – 5 feet in height:

You can also see here, beneath a natural iron-rich red blush on the cliff, an area which some nincompoop has splattered with red paint.

It was a short walk, but as ever – a privilege to be out and about. I leave the last word to Stephen Graham…

I listen with pained reluctance to those who claim to have walked forty or fifty miles a day. But it is a pleasure to meet the man who has learned the art of going slowly, the man who disdained not to linger in the happy morning hours, to listen, to watch, to exist. Life is like a road; you hurry and the end of it is grave. There is no grand crescendo from hour to hour, day to day, year to year; life’s quality is in moments, not in distance run.

If your curiosity is at all piqued, ‘The Gentle Art of Tramping’ can be extensively viewed on Google Books. Just reading the chapter titles would have me searching out a copy….for example…

The Art of Idleness

The Fire

The Bed

The Dip

Drying After Rain

Marching Songs


The Open

The Gentle Art of Blogging

Talking Crow, Rising Damp

As ever – I’m a bit late with this one. Remembrance Sunday, whilst the rest of the family were filling a pew, S and I were out on a spree, storing up memories for our futures. He was happy, in his impish hat, because to begin with at least he had many more puddles to explore. We knew well about these puddles because the night before we had been out in the downpours that created them, walking between firework displays, including one ill-advised trip through Eaves Wood in the dark – although it must be said that the show it took us to at Holgates Caravan park was spectacular. *

This morning wee were heading for the Cove, as suggested by TBH, because she had run round by the shore earlier and was surprised and impressed by the stream she found on the south side of the Cove. In fact that stream flows whenever it has been wet, which means pretty much all of the time in the winter.

First things first however – S knew that I was carrying snacks and had first demanded his share as we left the house, so we settled down for a minor munch…

S was happy with his ‘nack, the sun shone, what could be finer? A crow settled in the tree on the cliff top high above our heads and after some familiar cawing, began to issue clicking trills which called to mine nothing so much as the calls of dolphins. Quite surprising.

Anyway, S’s appetite momentarily appeased, we wandered over to examine the stream. That makes it sound easy when in fact S found the wet shale very difficult to walk on. But when we got there he had a paddle in the stream and in the mud of the bay and was very happy.

The stream is quite sizable for a temporary affair.

It rises up amongst the shale towards the back of the beach. It’s hard at the top of the beach to be clear exactly where the edges of the stream are and where all of the water is coming from, but there is one obvious spring where the water boils furiously…

S took me back to the bench, confident that I would have another snack for him secreted about my person somewhere (he was right). Then he wanted to look in the smelly cave…

The dark shape in the bottom right of the picture was a large rust coloured lump.

We’ve seen pieces of this stuff here before, but this was much larger then any we’ve found before. To give an idea of the scale, that’s a half brick poking out slightly left of centre. So this is man made? Or conglomerate of man-made waste, perhaps another remnant of the Victorian rubbish tip here?

Below the cave the sunlight was glinting on a vein of white crystalline material – quartz?

As we left the Cove via the cliff top path to the Lots, another (or the same) crow landed in a tree above our heads and emitted a series of very expressive soft squawks and moans quite unlike what I would expect to hear from a crow. Perhaps it was trying to tell us something?

We finished our walk with another autumn favourite – kicking up leaves.

*(And here I am on a Friday night, contemplating another early start tomorrow whilst the reading on the barometer plummets and the rain lashes down outside creating yet more water features.)

Talking Crow, Rising Damp

Rain Man

Posts (as you may have noticed if you’re still hanging in there) have been less frequent around these parts for some time. There are two principal reasons, the first is that I’m trying to find a balance between work, play, chores and blogging etc., and the second is that I simply haven’t been out as much. This year I haven’t been commuting on the train, as I did for a while last year, so don’t get a morning and evening stroll then. I’d like to use the train, but I’m too often required as a family taxi service immediately after work for that to be very practical. Another reason is that S is beyond the nap in a pushchair stage so I don’t have that excuse to get out. Also, although he still wakes early it’s no longer possible to bundle him up and take him out in the rucksack for a pre-breakfast leg-stretcher. (He would protest – he likes breakfast early and he doesn’t often like to be carried.) Meanwhile TBH has taken to setting off for early morning runs. Naturally, I’m jealous – I used to be the runner in the family.

On Saturday morning I decided to take a leaf out of her book and get out early once S had woken up. As you can see above, at 6.30am it was still fairly dark, but getting lighter, and the eastern sky was promisingly blue. Naively perhaps I half expected to hear a rousing dawn chorus as I did on an early outing some time ago, but aside from the spluttering calls (not songs) of a few blackbirds it was fairly quiet. From the direction of Hagg Wood I did hear an owl calling though.

I followed the path up the side of Potter’s Field and was surprised in the wood that although it was light enough to see, it seemed to be a little misty. Perhaps an illusion caused by the low light I wondered? A Gamelan orchestra of secondary rain drops splashing from leaf to leaf provided the music which I had hoped the birds would supply. But…..was it secondary rain drops or had it started to rain? Under the trees it was very difficult to tell, but I began to suspect the latter . As I reached the edge of a clearing close to Castlebarrow summit, the hiss of a really fearsome downpour striking the canopy of trees overhead confirmed the worst. I hunched under the the low branches of a yew, which gave reasonable protection. Standing waiting and hoping that the deluge would subside soon, it was interesting to hear not just the percussion of water on leaves but also the gurgle of running water, although I’m not aware of any streams in Eaves Wood at all.

When the rain did ease a little, I continued to the Pepper Pot.

From Castlebarrow the lights of Silverdale, and Morecambe in the distance.

I had envisaged finding a sheltered spot to sit down and watching a spectacular sunrise from the hilltop, but that seemed like an unlikely hope and a daft idea all round now. I could still see one bright spot to the east and….perhaps, just maybe, a patch of blue out over the Bay. Maybe it would head this way. I set-off towards home, just in case things weren’t going to brighten up.

But, it stopped raining, and so I took a right turn towards Cove Road and the Cove.

Looking out over the Bay and…that patch of blue!

There were lots of crows…or perhaps rooks out on the mud. Black-headed gulls paddled in the channel, where the water was not even knee-deep on the gulls. A curlew picked at the mud and loosed the occasional burbling cry. A cormorant winging low over the Bay was perfectly reflected in the wet mud.

As I crossed the Lots, causing a large flock of black-headed gulls to lift and wheel away, I noticed that some of the clouds were tinged with pink, and that the sun was probably still to rise. In fact when I rounded the final corner on to the lane past our house, a view opened up to the east and I could see that the sun was just above the horizon. If I’d stayed out a little longer perhaps I could have enjoyed some sunshine…

But, that would have meant a very late breakfast, and we had things to do….

It was sunny for a while, but it was a very changeable day, with the showers getting longer and heavier as the day wore on. Later we even had hail for a while.

Our bird-bath during the hail shower.

I was back in Eaves Wood last night, in even less light and even more rain, and back at the Cove enjoying some sunshine today, but more of that another time.

Rain Man

Puddle Plodging

Last Sunday. After some unseasonably mild weather, Friday night had brought payback: torrential rain, proper stair-rods; roads running with streams, huge new puddles in the drive. The weekend brought further heavy showers accompanied by strong winds.

A brief bright spell on Sunday afternoon saw S and I out enjoying the after effects of the storms.


We weren’t out for long – once we were out of the shelter of enclosing walls and hedges S found the wind was pushing him into a jog. ‘Too windy Dad’ so we had to beat a hasty retreat.

But he did love those puddles.

Especially running through them kicking up a good splash in the process.

Puddle Plodging

Donna Nook


Whilst visiting my parents in Lincolnshire, we took a trip out to the coast, to a reserve (and bizarrely bombing range) where Grey Seals pup and then mate. This photo (heavily cropped) shows the only pup born so far this year (on the right). Last year around 1200 were born there. In around a month there will be thousands of seals on the beach at Donna Nook, but it’s early in the season – I counted 37 at present. The females come onto the beach to give birth and then to feed the pups until they are ready to take to the water. The males come to mate with the females once they have given birth – they take no part in raising the pup. The really striking thing about the seals was how big they are – and how quickly they could move about the beach. I’m guessing that the seal in the middle here is a male and the one on the left is the pups mother, but I could be wrong.

If you are in the Cleethorpes area in the near future I would recommend a visit, but – the car park is very small, the roads are very minor single track lanes and the reserve is quite a draw – if you can go midweek I suspect your visit will be a lot less stressful.

Donna Nook