In this blogposting…* 50 Things To Do…
* AGM XLI
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50 THINGS TO DO BEFORE YOU’RE 12
Here’s the next ten items on the National Trust’s list - they are headed ‘Ranger’.
1 Pick blackberries growing in the wild
2 Explore inside a tree
3 Visit a farm
4 Go on a walk barefoot
5 Make a grass trumpet
6 Hunt for fossils and bones
7 Go star gazing
8 Climb a huge hill
9 Explore a cave
10 Hold a scary beast
I was delighted with this batch - because, for the first time, I can report that I’ve done them all.
We used to pick a lot of blackberries when I was young. They’re everywhere, so it cost nothing to get to them. And it was always a huge (and painful) adventure to get to the unpicked ones at the top and at the back.
Bilberries (like the luscious ones at the top) were a favourite, too, although they’re not nearly as common and grow inconveniently low. Picking them can feel strangely unrewarding, too - you spend all day gathering them and end up with barely a cupful - although this could partly be because so many of them never made it to the bag.
I’ve carried the taste of blackberries and bilberries with me all my life. I love them and genuinely bemoan the fact that bramble and apple (or bilberry and apple) pies don’t grow on trees, too.
The best tree to do this in is the Ancient Yew in the churchyard at Much Marcle, in Herefordshire. (What a gloriously English place-name - Much Marcle.)
It’s at least 1,500 years old, has a girth of 30ft and even has a seat inside it so you can shelter from the Herefordshire rain - which is exactly what I had to do when I was there.
I’m glad to say I’ve been to quite a few farms but the most memorable was the one I visited to make a recording for the Nightshift. It was at Christmas-time and the themes of my pre-recordings were the twelve days of Christmas. I was at the farm - near Heddon-on-the-Wall - to see cows being milked, although it was far too early for the eight maids to join me.
One of my happiest memories of holidays on the Greek islands is the barefoot walk I did across part of the exquisite little island of Symi. I was so inspired that I named one of my cats after it.
In my salad days, I made lots of grass trumpets. None of them ever worked.
It’s like whistling. If you can’t do it, you’re a sissy or a prat. Or both.
As a matter of pure curiosity, I’ve just been into the garden and tried it again for the first time in over 50 years. I still can’t do it.
I still can’t whistle either.
There’s no question at all about the best place in England to go fossil-hunting; the cliffs and foreshore around Lyme Regis in Dorset - the Jurassic Coast.
I was there a few years ago with my friend Sue, along with a few other hardy folk scrabbling amongst the rocks and shingle. Naturally, we didn’t find anything, although other people did.
Townies like me are rarely in a place that’s light-free enough to see the stars in all their glory.
The first time I was able to do this was on a narrowboat holiday over 30 years ago. We had moored up for the night in the proverbial ‘middle of nowhere’ and I can remember putting out all the boat’s lights and sitting outside on the foredeck, gazing up to the heavens in complete darkness.
It was a revelation. I’d simply never seen this gobsmacking display - or never noticed it or never even looked. I suppose that’s what happens if all you’re used to is urban light-pollution.
Nowadays, I can redress this omission from my past each time I visit France. Serge’s house is remote and alone; a late-evening glass of wine in the garden, looking up at the sky, is one of the many great pleasures of being there.
In the late 70s I was daft enough to walk up Snowdon, which is about as huge as you can get on our unmountained island.
I lived in Sheffield for over a decade and, as any Sheffielder will confirm, the city’s ‘golden frame’ makes it a very special place indeed.
The Peak District hills to the west of the city are pierced by several natural caves and caverns. There’s even an underground lake in one of them. When you take a boat trip there, the guides turn off the cavern lights for a moment so that you can experience utter and complete darkness. They say that ‘you literally can’t see your hand in front of your face’ and then switch the lights back on.
Each person in the boat is holding a hand in front of their face.
We visited the Wildlife Rescue Centre at Ulgham on the Blue Bus. And that’s where I handled my first and only snake.
I was nervous but I needn’t have been. It was a tremendous and very calming experience which I wouldn’t mind repeating some time.
In fact, the more I think about this National Trust list, the more I am inspired to make it the business of the Honourable Company to get out there and do some of these things…
In the meantime - please get in touch with any memories you’d like to share.
(Writing this blog transported me so deeply into the past that I forgot I’d put some potatoes on to boil. I had to stop drafting it halfway through when the sickly burning smell reached my computer table. They’d boiled completely dry.)
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I think we’re homing in on a date and venue for the next AGM.
Thursday 30 May.
How does that sound?
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