Off on an organised walk in half an hour or so, I’ve got people at work sponsoring me for the “Dani Hayman Fund.” This is the social workers’ own charity, local to Swindon – though I expect other social work departments all over the country must have their own version – so that we can access small amounts quickly for immediate needs of our clients. We can use it for all sorts of situations where official funding wouldn’t apply. For example, a teenager who was carer for her dying mother who wanted to buy her mum a Christmas present for her last Christmas. She didn’t get pocket money because the household finances were too tight, and obviously, she couldn’t have a paper round because she was doing things for her mum until she went to school. Or a coffee machine for a lady with a very painful chronic illness whose painkillers were so numerous and difficult for her to swallow that a cappuccino was the only thing that helped her to take them! But the most frequent use is just when people who are isolated are found unwell at home, to enable us to rush out and get them milk and bread and tomatoes, some cheese and fruit – you know – the perishables which have gone off in their in their fridge. Perhaps fish and chips or a takeaway to cheer them up with something hot.
It has been raining, but the walk will be beautiful anyway, or parts of it – through the bluebell woods. It’s the Mayday Beating the Bounds walk round the parish boundary, an old tradition for all the villages round here. It’s got moved from the traditional Mayday to the nearest Sunday, and it will be 23 miles altogether, which I have done in the past, but I’m not getting any younger and a touch of arthritis so I’m only doing half.
The bluebell woods are lovely, but I’ll tell you what isn’t – oilseed rape fields in the rain are disgusting to walk through, they look yellow and bright but they are amazingly sticky underfoot and against your clothes, and they smell of over-boiled cabbage. Not looking forward to that so much!
This is a poem about woods: specifically a wood where American airmen carved their names during WW2.
Words in a Wood
Scattered words in a wood dropped at random like rabbit droppings like spiders thread
leaf drift of thought fallen here many lives of woodmice ago
in a time of legend to squirrels when huge birds that thunder flew from the wood
trees remember: to them it is only a few seasons in their long lives, but words
were carved into their bark careless of the risk of fungal invasion
trees are strong, stern and survive The carvers
mortal as burrowing beetles vanished soon after in an armada of fuel vapour.
So the trees say.
Where BUCK twigs like finger-bones clatter on the silver B. BILLSON trunks of beech
BUTCH BETTY JOE MATIN
BALLIN CAIRN XXX X
USA CASEY MARY JO
Barbed KILROY wire etched deep round the perimeters hurtful JEAN wounds on wood
WAS HERE MARIE USAAF
The history of men and wood rots together in the understory,
stories of women written on leaves sink into the mould.
What is battle, what heroes, what fear and excitement, what is the struggle for justice
or the fate of living people and nations, to a wood?
Bones clutched in the roots,
a plane’s skeleton slowly twisted under the soil
as the trees grow, irresistible as the passing of years,
but mortal to the axe, to chainsaws just as we are.
Then why is a wood so comforting, why does it feel a place of peace?
It is in balance, lives without fear in the moment.
It sways and roars to the storms, the crows that whirl overhead, exulting.
It spreads new green to the sun after every war, after dire winters.
Words in a wood:
wounds accepted, life grows, bluebell throngs breathe perfume;
one may feel the breath of God in a wood, sometimes, in the wind or the stillness.
Let those incomprehensible wounds of war heal, let them heal: so the trees say.