Free For All


Here in England, the weather has turned really wintry. Every morning involves scraping ice off the car windscreen, or piling onto public transport with hordes of other people, all swaddled up and steaming.

If you believe in taking responsibility for your own actions and refusing to blame others, you’ll be tucking newspaper behind the wiper blades each night, or catching your rides outside of peak times. Better still, you’ll be getting off a few stops earlier, to build some exercise into your day.

And these days are short. Around here, the official sunrise is around seven thirty am, while sunset is just after four pm. That’s if we’re lucky—when clouds sweep in from the southwest, sometimes it doesn’t get light all day.

This blog doesn’t concentrate on the best things in life for nothing. We all need cheering up at this gloomy time, and there are some things that are free for all. Take a minute or two to stop, look and listen at what’s going on beyond the thrash and bustle of commuter life. See how the city lights are reflected in the ever-present puddles. Watch them shatter and reform as raindrops stipple the surface. Listen to the starlings, wagtails and redstarts overhead, flocking in to find a warm city roost for the night.  Breathe in, and before you get high on traffic fumes you might pick up the fragrance of honey. A few plants such as viburnum and petasites manage to flower in winter, and attract any pollinating insects still around by offering a sweet treat with an unmistakeable smell.

Talking of petasites, its big, soft leaves used to be used as a wrapping for butter, in the days before refrigeration. That gave it the old country name of butterbur. Useful as it was, and despite the way it pushes up lots of pretty, sweet-smelling flowers at this darkest time of the year, petasites is a thug. The smallest fragment dropped by a bird, or carried along in a culvert will root and grow into a thick carpet of greenery, choking everything in its path for eleven months of the year before it comes into its own on November.

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