Friday 12th February 2016
I was very flattered that Matt compared me to Ernest Hemingway in his blog about ‘Harrison’s Wood’. I don’t think my missives are up to those high standards, but I would rather be regarded more of an Alistair Cooke, so for those of a certain age, here is my ‘’Letter from Norfolk’’.
It was a welcome return to Swardeston for me, partly because it is so close to where I live, but also because it is such a charming location. We met at the car park for the village hall which overlooks the cricket field. Such a quintessentially English vista. Man with lawn mower on the wicket, sight screens, thatched cottages in the background, a rookery close by with two score of birds talking to each other with their voices echoing overhead; (gosh the Americans would love it). To add to all this we had a heavy down pour. How English can you get.
Today we were working under the guidance of South Norfolk District Council’s ‘Community Asset Officer’ – Helen Sibley (that’s all a bit of a mouthful) to open up a pond which is adjacent to the car park. Over the years the pond has become smothered with reeds and other aquatic growth and surrounded by bramble bushes. Helen wanted us to cut down and burn the brambles so that there was access to the pond, and to create a path around it. There is also two largish areas of grass on two sides of the pond that needed a good haircut as they were covered in either tufted grass or a forest of dead nettle stalks. As this was the easier task, I immediately said to Matt that I would take charge of – what we can euphemistically call – the lawn mower. It is in fact an ‘All Terrain Mower’, with wide pneumatic tyres, and powered by a hefty petrol motor, and not a lot gets in its way. It does lack one feature though, and that is power steering (which some types of grass cutting machines have). Walking up and down the straight rows is fine, it’s the bit at the end of the row when you have to persuade this beast to turn through 180˚ when the fun starts.
The more prickly problem was the brambles. ‘Handle with care’ is an oft used phrase which aptly applies when cutting down blackberry bushes. If cutting by hand, the long branches will bite back, and wrap themselves around your legs or catch their barbs in your clothes, causing you to spend more time extricating yourself from their clutches than spent cutting them down. If attacking these plants by this method then tough leather gloves are a must. An easier method is to use a brush cutter fitted with a mulching blade. This makes short work of the densest thickets where there are lots of dead branches. (A bramble bush has a biennial growing cycle, so after the second growing year a branch will die and become ridged and brittle. The result of this is denser bush, more difficult to attack by hand). So a dual approach was adopted, and all the cut branches were gathered up and burnt as this thick vegetation is not good for composting.
Eventually, by a combination of mowing, brush cutting and hand cutting, we had an open pond again, so all we need now is to clear away all the reed and bulrush that are clogging up the pond, but that is for another day.
At the start of our day, another group gathered on the adjacent village hall play area to carry out maintained work on a boundary hedge, and it transpired they were Parish Council volunteers who were coordinated by Derek Barber. Their hard work resulted in an amount of grass and hedge trimming which we were able to add to our fire. With not a lot of wind blowing to fan the flames of the fire, the grass smouldered and smoked. Gradually all this smoke drifted slowly across the nearby fields creating a very autumnal misty morning outlook. Very bucolic.
Another good turnout of volunteers so we were able to accomplish a large amount of work around the pond, but more still has to be done on this site to bring it fully back to life. So I expect we will be back here again sometime in the future.
Written by Alan Rae, Norwich Fringe Project Volunteer