Monday Motivation: Saturday morning in the sun

 In Monday Motivation, Richard Beynon's blog, Tips for Writers

We met at La Piazza in St Paul’s Square, just a stone’s throw from the river, for coffee. The sun was shining. The crowds of people browsing for vegetables at the Saturday market, were dressed for summer. Every table at the little open-air Italian coffee shop was occupied.

In short, it was a lovely day in Bedford.

Over coffee, Trish and I decided on what we’d do at our allotment this afternoon.

I showed Trish the sketch I’d made of the growing frames I intended to build.

“They’re for the pumpkins, right?” she said.

“One for pumpkins, one for the gems.” Gem squashes are an exotic South African import whose seeds we’d smuggled into the country last year. We’ve got half a deckful back at the houseboat of vigorous seedlings of both the gems and two varieties of pumpkin waiting.

“What have you got planned?” I asked.

“Strim the pathways, weed the brassica cage – and I’ve had an idea for the bed between the brassica cage and the road. I think we should turn it into a mini-meadow.”

It’s a great idea. We’ve got the seeds for a medley of wild flowers that should flourish over the summer months.

Trish went off then to collect our car which was in for a service, and I briefly considered which route home I’d take on my mobility scooter. You can choose the road along the Embankment, which is pleasant enough. The Embankment is the jewel in the crown of the town, established by Victorian town planners, and featuring impressive avenues of willow and plane.

Or you can take the less travelled path on the far side of the river.

No contest.

This route runs along the river – that’s the River Great Ouse, as you should know by now – before joining the old railway track, now converted into a cycle and pedestrian path that leads all the way to Sandy, a nearby town.

At the end of spring, it is flanked on either side by huge stands of cow parsley, known also, more grandly, as Queen Anne’s Lace, which waves in the breeze, parting occasionally to reveal glimpses of the river beyond and, at one point, of a swan indolently drifting across its surface, one foot tucked comfortably on his back; and beyond it, his mate, sitting on her clutch of eggs.

I paused frequently to take photographs of wildflowers along the margins of the path. In the old days, I’d consult Harrap’s Wild Flowers to identify them. Today, my phone does it for me. I’m not sure that this is a good thing. It’s as though I’m outsourcing my memory…

Cow Parsley I knew, of course, but I took several pictures of it anyway because it is, in its lush profusion, quite beautiful. And it releases a subtle but distinctive scent of honey.

I snapped a very common wild flower, one of the first I’d ever identified on an early voyage on Patience: Red Campion it’s called, a small but vibrant pink bloom with five bifurcated petals. I learned from my phone that it’s also called Red Catchfly. Then I spotted an even more modest flower, almost concealed among the leaves of its parent. It’s ground ivy.

And a few metres on, a brilliant head of Hogweed florets.

In quick succession I photographed three members of the geranium family the first of which was a French Crane’s-bill. The flower itself is a pale blue on which is scrawled in red a sketch of another flower. The second was its cousin, the pink Hedgerow Cranes-bill; and the third, just a few metres on, was the humble Small Flowered Cranes-bill.

I hope I haven’t stretched your patience. What I’m trying to convey to you is the almost sublime experience of working my slow way back to our lake, each stop along the way offering something new, something exquisite.

By the time I reached the graceful arched pedestrian bridge that leads onto the old railway track, I can say that I was about as happy as one can be. An intimate voyage of discovery through the natural world, we all acknowledge, can have that effect.

Half way over the bridge, an old codger on a bicycle wobbled onto the other end. I came to a stop to reduce the chances of a collision. He had a great bush of a moustache and was neatly tucked into a tight jacket, which he kept buttoned.

As he passed, he said: “At least the sun is shining.”

Well, if ever you needed a single line of dialogue to plunge you to the heart of a character, that was it. That’s often all you need, in easing someone new into a story: a single significant detail to do with their appearance, or their attitude, or their mood. “At least the sun is shining,” does it for me.

Happy writing,


P.S. There’s something else I want to point out. I don’t think the old guy’s remark would have had the dramatic effect I was seeking, without the set-up that preceded it.

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