I haven't baked much bread recently - it's too much of a battle when the weather is cold. The tiny Hovel kitchen is draughty and the dough sulks. But now the temperatures are picking up I've been getting my kneading hands back in action and it is wonderful to have a decent loaf again. Even the deli bread is not as good as this baby made with flour from Matthews Mill down the road.
But, with our British climate being a bit unreliable, it's all change again - we are forecast rain. Lots of it. So like everyone else in the village I was up and down to the little supermarket this morning, to get my 'Times' before the heavens opened. It was a bright but cloudy morning and the shop was bustling. I was at the back of the queue with a couple of ladies I know. 'It's like the Pear Tree roundabout in here' I remarked; they laughed and agreed. (trivia note for Inspector Morse fans - you will hear the PTR mentioned in some episodes, as it is a notorious Oxford traffic jam area, used by locals and Lewis everywhere as a genuine - or not - excuse for being late) Naturally we discussed the weather. I remarked that I was going for a walk that morning so I hoped the rain would hold off. It was generally agreed that rain was a pesky nuisance. Now, one of the ladies has recently suffered the loss of her closest friend. They went everywhere together and even wore outfits which complimented or matched the other's. Let's call this lady Peggy and her friend, Ivy. Peggy leaned over her trolly, her eyes shining with memory. She had a story.
"But walking in the rain is lovely" she said. "Me and Ivy, we were walking in the fields across the way once, and we were wearing no more then this" - she plucked at her light knitted top, which seems to be de rigeur for elderly women in the country. "And then there was this cloudburst! We was drenched! And Ivy, she didn't care, she just laughed. And we went on with our walk, even though my glasses were running with rain. And do you know - we didn't even catch a cold! "
I smiled at the thought of the two feisty old ladies striding across the wet fields in their summerwear. Laughing. And realised that after all there are worse things than getting wet.
So I hurried home and dragged Hercules off to the woods, parking him under his favourite hawthorn tree.
It being Saturday there was no one around but myself, the birds and a thousand fat squirrels. The birds were having a jamboree and didn't seem to mind me too much. I trod softly and cautiously, delighted when a blackcap warbled its bubbling song from a nearby holly bush. (the link has an audio clip of this modest little creature, singing its heart out). The woodpeckers were still thrumming away and cuckoos were - well, cuckooing. As they do. The elderflower is blossoming now, its wizened grey fingers offering the most delicate of posies. Winding round the slender limbs of the birch trees, the honeysuckle (always a bit of a strumpet I think) is blasting out a sensuous perfume from lascivious horns. It is almost-summer. But not quite. I was so close to some of the birds that I got rather frustrated with my poor old camera. It does its best, but by the time it has cranked itself up and puttered forth its puny zoom, the most I ever catch is a blob.
Despite expecting a drenching, the sun was now out and dappling the woodlands. Crossing a wooden bridge, I just caught sight of a basking Common Lizard, before it whisked into the grass. These little fellows belie their name. they are not at all common and I have seen very few in my life. Ruminating on this, I almost missed the still but alert form of a roe fawn in a clearing. Past the gangly cute stage, it stood quivering, unsure of what to do. Just a few metres away, I have never been this close to a deer. Such a soft, buff coat and such dark, liquid eyes. We watched each other for a few seconds before instinct took over and it fled through the undergrowth. I was quite overwhelmed with this abundance of wildlife encounters - all it wanted now, I thought greedily, was to see a fox or a badger. And then a lithe form sprang up from the bracken, almost under my feet and charged into the woodlands, leaping into the air like the Babycham character. Yet another fawn. Seconds later, a strange barking noise echoed from beyond and I wondered if it was the mother calling her young, somehow sensing that they were frightened.
I returned to Hercules with a fragment of eggshell and a handful of elderflower blossom. The rain clouds were sliding in like fat slugs, and it was time for home and tea. It hadn't rained on me. But I wouldn't have minded if it had.
While writing this I have been watching live-streaming webcams of birds nests from the BBC nature site - the buzzards are incredible. There are microphones too, so turn your speakers on.