stories and illustration

Harvesting 2013 Harvesting 1940 (Artist’s Impression)


Great machines are shouldering their way down the narrow border roads at this time of year, their sound heralded by what seems a shaking of the earth. I am walking through the little wood above the barley field next to the Tweed, and I think I see rain on the horizon, which is strange because it is a fine day, if cloudy.  Then I think it is smoke, like when that ambulance caught fire last year due to an electrical fault, the heavy dark smoke of which I could see over the horizon.  But this smoke is a fawn colour, and as I continue down the path I hear a thunder of machinery, which make me feel insecure, as this is a tiny path. Though reason tells me, yes, it is a tiny path.  You won’t get machines down here.  Then as I come past the copse where the rabbits run, and the long tailed tits hang out, chittering like truants, a large machine comes cruising noisily down on the other side of the hedge, and I cotton on that the harvesting of these fields has begin:


There are different machines in the field. The crop is cut in wide swathes. The source of the smoke (or dust clouds) is the big machine on the other side of the field. The Main Machine:


As I walk down the path I look down at the still unharvested barley field below, where the heads of the barley, when I walked there yesterday, were heavy and hanging, no longer swaying in the wind:


August is turning towards September, and scarcely any flowers remain, only the husks and seeds of flowers:


The big machine is turning back towards where I am, having cut the top line of the field. I decide to try and take a picture of it as it approaches. As I hear its rumble coming towards me, a black dog runs up behind me, and a small rabbit runs across the path, scared of the dog (which doesn’t notice it) and me. Hopefully the very small rabbit will scuttle way from the approaching machine as well, or turn down the small patch of undergrowth between the field and the path. The machine approaches, and I lean out and watch it:







Walking on down through the high path I come out on the lane which leads back up to the road.  I see tracks on this lane that stretch from one side to the other, and So I listen hard, because I do not want to meet one of these giant machines coming towards or behind me, as there would be nowhere to escape. Back out on the road, I look back at the half-reaped field:harvest19


It really does feel like the turning of the year.  Quite by chance I see in a Postcript catalogue a lithograph by John Nash called Harvesting:


Lithograph by John Nash.

What a different scene.  The bicycles against the hedge (alack for the rabbits, or maybe the hares), the boys idling, the strange shape of the cut crop, the dogs, the lovers leaning against the rick, the energy and human involvement in the scene,  let alone the difference in the way of cutting the field. This lithograph  was made in 1940 as part of the Pictures for Schools project, and even taking into account artistic license, this is a very different, so much more communal a scene than is the case nowadays with these big machines, which just deal with the fields, and then go on their way, so that strangely, for all their bulk, they are hardly noticed.

The next day the heavy clouds are low on the horizon, the fields are cut, crows and pigeons are in the stubble. Next it will be the ploughing, and the new crops put into the earth. The year is on the turn towards autumn.

August 28, 2013 Posted by | Illustration, Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Shadows over the Barley


The week of celebrations and commemorations is over, the travellers (unaccredited) have left the green beside Penitents Walk, and the welcomed visitors have left Tweed Green, where they erected front rooms under canvas beside their caravans. Three portaloos were destroyed by fire, using accelerant, before Civic Week started, and the rubbish container was set on fire by mistake, at the end of Civic Week. In Sunderland in the devastated 90s cars would be twoked and set on fire at the top of the hill and rolled flaming down towards the estate (what larks, Pip), so this was rather mild by comparison (Phone rings.  Policewoman: We have found Mr Manesh’s car. Myself: Oh good, he will be pleased. Is it alright? Policewoman: Not really…. (Pause) What colour did it used to be?)

The sun shone nearly all of Civic Week. Now August is nearly half over, the barley and the wheat are ripening, some of the barley has been swept by storms, but mostly it is undamaged.  I go out for a quick walk in the late afternoon, climbing up the steep path beyond the Leet:


There isn’t much time for walking today, so I decide to just walk along the greensward at the edge of the barley and come back in front of the fishing lodge:


The stream beside the wider path is almost dried up, in spite of some bursts of rain. There have been swans walking across the Tweed, with their cygnets behind them, the water has been so low:


The green way goes up towards the river:


I see the small hill with the copse of trees on its top, a landmark in all seasons.  This season, the hill is gold. The clouds look as if they are rushing towards the horizon:


Towards the bend in the path, the shadows of the trees lie across the barley:


The undergrowth on the edge of the field is twisted and curled like something out of Rackham, or an illustration by Angela Barrett, in the background to a folk tale.


As I approach the place where the path goes up towards the Tweed, I see the truly free-range guinea fowl running away beyond the fence:


The Tweed is calm today, with few waterfowl in sight, though it is probably teeming with invisible life. If I pointed the camera up-river towards the sun, which is the best view from here, I would get the impression of a dark day, so instead I point it downwards towards the purply-brown water:

looking down

Then I look up, towards England on the opposite bank:


I walk on past the small, crumbling temple beside the Tweed:


And then spot a small outcrop of Scotland’s other favourite flower:


Time to head for home. I don’t wear a watch, but when walking by the barley one can hear every quarter of an hour sounding from the town clock; whereas, though we live only a few yards away, up in my room I don’t even hear the hours chime. Sound is strange that way.

August 13, 2013 Posted by | Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

River, Crows, Flowers, Herons


Crow Over Cornfield

Whenever I get near the crows, they hop away just too far, or fly away just too quickly – I wanted to get an Adieu Vincent image, but instead managed to capture this serene-looking crow flying  on its lonesome high above the barley. The swallows zip about, coming out in photographs like flyspecks.

I am walking late in the afternoon, feeling a need for some fresh air.  I climb up the muddy path to the Lees, and there is the rustic signpost in the distance.


Close-up it looks more sinister:


I take some pictures of the hills beyond the barley, beyond the curve of the river, as when I do the illustrations for The Midnight Hare I want to use authentic scenes, even if I move things around, as there is a difference in atmosphere when real places are used.  I use a kind of generic shorthand for horizons, and I think it is about time to get rid of this generic shorthand way of dong things.

I like the way the coloured fields fold into each other, and the way every angle changes the light:




This contraption has been sitting at the edge of the barley for some time. The crows perch on it.  What is it for?


Down by the river, my thoughts change, and I think about other work. Last year I painted a canvas, now sold, based on the flowers that grew on a bank on the other side of the Lees.  Seeing the flowers along the river bank, an idea comes to me to paint a similar canvas, but with for background the deepest colour of the river at the top, fading down to an earthier but still darker colour at the bottom, with some of the pale grasses thrown over this canvas, and the names of the flowers painted on top of this: marsh woundwort, rosebay willow herb, st John’s wort, balsam, ragwort, sorrel, peppermint … won’t think or talk about ths any more, as if I work something out completely beforehand I lose interest in the process and don’t get round to carrying it out….

The High Bank, August Acrylic SOLD




It is at this pont that I see a heron (that grey blob behind the grasses):


As I creep nearer, I see that there are two herons, standing on stones in the river shallows:


Now I am fairly close, but my camera doesn’t have much of a zoom, and also there are all these grass stems in the way.  I am nearly on top of the herons,  going creepy-creepy softly-softly, and am just gtting ready to rise slowly above the grasses and at last get a shot of some herons close up, when a woman and her dog go by on the path above the riverbank, and with a clatter of wings, the herons fly off across the river, and of course when I try to photograph them all I get is empty water.  A tad peeved, I walk on, and just as I get to the spot where the two herons were standing, a third heron flies up from its shelter in the lee of the bank. Off guard, I just shrug and move on.  Foiled again.

By mistake, I take a photograph that is of somethig unrcognisable, but is like some delicate voile in natural dyes, or an abstract watercolour:


Time to go home. Grass is growing thick and flaxen, it bends in the wind, I wonder how to paint this abundance:



The fields at ths time of year remind me of opening lines of “The Lady of Shalott”:

                                                 On either side the river lie

                                                 Long fields of barley and of rye

                                                 That clothe the wold and meet the sky

                                                  And thro’ the field the road runs by

                                                  To many-tower’d Camelot….

Nice one, Tennyson.

August 5, 2013 Posted by | Illustration, Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Barley, the Tweed and the Thunder


The washing is rigged up high above the beans on those poles that ex-seaman use (they abound in Portsmouth, but I guess ours is a one-off in Coldstream), and the sun is baking hot.  “That washing will be dry by now” “Nah, I’ll take it in when I get back.”

Decide to go along the track that lies between the barley field and the Tweed. No swans resting up this year, creating a welter of droppings and feathers by the river bank, waddling in a disgruntled fashion into the water when people approach, which isn’t often

The colours of the barley are extraordinary:




Earlier I thought it was wheat, but that shows what I know  There is a wheatfield at the end of a different walk, through a wood full of rubbish so I don’t walk there so often. When looked at close, they are pretty different.  The barley is really elegant, more streamlined than the wheat, I can’t take my eyes off it:


But then I do take my eyes off it, and see a butterfly, a humble  butterfly to be sure, but any butterfly these days is a cause for rejoicing. And the cabbage white has very beautiful markings (I presume this is a cabbage white, but after the wheat/barley fiasco I am not so sure – not to mention the muddle between himalayan balsam and comfrey):


The balsam is still in flower:


But the phacelia has been cut from the field across the river. The river is very empty today, no swans, no ducks rising up in a flurry and a squawk as one comes near:


Enjoying the quiet walk, the heat, the summer, seeing some bees and butterflies, when I hear a rumble, and think it is those low-flying planes practising their manoeuvres, but it doesn’t diminish and it doesn’t get nearer, it just goes a-growling again, and when I look to the right, there, over the barley, is the sky of storm:


I take a picture of the approaching storm, then I think of the washing.  I see my husband coming down the Duns road thinking about how I don’t listen to his advice. I take some more pictures of the storm as I head for the road, which is quicker than meandering back through the woods (past horses, and rabbits, and the sound of the invisible barn owl ,and the bands of long-tailed tits). The sky is definitely saying that some serious rain is on its way:



When I get to the road, I can’t resist taking some farewell pictures of the other side of the sky:




Then I head for home, not quite running, because I don’t do running, but at a reasonable pace, get in through the back gate, walk up to the vegetable garden, lay my hand on the rigging of the washing line, undo the knot, and then as the line zips downwards, the first drops of rain start.  Within two minutes the summer is rain is a torrent. I hurry down the garden, not having time to pull back the line, and put the washing into the house, as my husband walks in through the back gate, his straw hat cascading water, his clothes dripping, but inside those clothes his person snug and dry, as this is a man who knows how to dress for all eventualities.  And the first thing he says is: “Have you got the washing in?”  ” Ha! I knew you were walking down the Duns road thinking about that.   Yes, I have. Surprise!”

August 1, 2013 Posted by | Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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