The Settings

A sudden vision of daytime woodland, summer foliage cascading downhill, sunlight dappling through. At any moment we will rise above the tops of the trees growing on the valley floor. I can remember leaping down here, taking perilous shortcuts across the switchbacks of the path, digging the sides of my shoes into the peaty ground to slow my descent. If I stop now, when dawn comes I ought to be able to look out through bare branches, across to the other side of the valley, brown and grey with a tiny silver nick of sea showing at the end.

Woodcut: Liz Somerville

At the head of our valley a grassy slope swept round in a tight arc, creating an open-sided bowl, sides far too steep for cultivation or even for walking, but slashed across with sheep paths. At the top, hunched against the sky on a landlocked headland, were shadowed contours said to belong to a Roman camp. When the fog blew in from the sea you could hear the legions marching along from Dorchester.

Eggardon Hill fort, Dorset

Outside, books are laid out on trestle tables, wedged spine up in rows. People are stopping to examine them, bending forward, turning their heads to read the titles. Now and then someone picks up a volume to leaf through the pages while the rest of the row slumps slowly sideways into the gap.

Bookstalls on the South Bank
Bookstalls on London’s South Bank
Picture: Graham Ettridge

That stretch ran dead straight for a couple of miles, flanked by an avenue of beeches, huge mature trees meeting overhead and slicing the sunlight as you drove between them.

Beech avenue at Kingston Lacey, Dorset
Picture: Jason Pizzey

Then the lights and the boards. Len crosses to his drum kit and the rest of us move, Ian first, then Steve and Bridie, then me, stepping over cables, threading our way between boxes and equipment to the front of the stage. I look out over the heads of the audience and pick out a few faces. A bright scarf on the aisle. Down at the front somebody’s glasses catching the stage lights. I settle my chin on the fiddle and raise the bow. This is going to be all right.

Picture: Salisbury Arts Centre

The Hotspur. I experienced a flash of childhood, more than memory, gone before I could fix it. Kneeling on a slatted bench which hurt my bare knees and leaning over a glossy black bulwark, greasy with salt, looking down at the green splash of the bow wave. Smell of brine and diesel. Everything huge.

The Hotspur

Two birds are strutting across the grass. One for sorrow, two for – not joy, certainly. These are crows, birds of ill omen, roadside carrion eaters with scabby beaks and a knowing look. One for trouble, two for more trouble. The collie launches itself from the path, its claws scrabbling for a purchase on the gravel, but the birds hop into the air and in a couple of beats lift their dangling feet clear. The dog slows to a canter and circles as the crows drift downwind, then lunges at them again. Still no joy.

Bird of ill omen
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