My house backs onto a path that runs down beside the river Gade, which encircles the common. Every summer around June the common is home to a herd of cattle. I think they are young heifers, I hope being bred for milk.

Pakka and I have always enjoyed them and when younger Pakka has sat at my feet on the common, whilst I sat on an old ant hill reading and they have come up to investigate…suddenly blowing down my neck, or gently chewing my jacket. If they came around in front of us Pakka would walk off to sit under one of the bramble bushes to watch whilst I made friends with that year’s mob.

Once one of them started to follow Pakka, not very fast, but with her head down, snuffling at her. Pakka moved away only to find the cow trotting after her. After a few seconds Pakka made her way back to the gate and slipped under and then sat and looked back at the curious cow.

We have used them, when a dog has persisted in following us, its owner overly inquisitive about my walking with a feline. ‘It’s fine, he doesn’t chase cats…’

Which it would be, if Pakka didn’t regularly chase dogs, and so we would move amongst the cattle and because dogs regularly don’t show cows respect, and get kicked for their trouble, so the owners would call and they would away.

I once had a lovely fifteen minutes or so talking to a cow that was braver than its peers. Having allowed me to rub its nose it then allowed me to run my hand down its jaw and thence down her throat. She then stretched her neck out and I was able to run my hand up and down whilst she half closed her eyes…quite extraordinary.

I like to believe my affinity with cattle comes from my ancestry – both sides had farmers, (though I don’t remember meeting my maternal grandfather), and that somehow some of his understanding of cattle came down to me. Anyway, I like bovines and like to claim the cattle on the common as ‘mine’.

I was returning from work one evening a few weeks ago and instead of climbing over the lock (I had a few bags with me), I walked over the lock bridge and noticed my cows milling around one of the gates onto the common and thought I would go across and look them over. I didn’t intend going on the common, as I had shopping, but nether the less went across and as I crossed the bridge over the river I noticed a man standing up on his bicycle just outside the perimeter of the group. Standing still. I didn’t think much about it but went up to the gate to make a fuss of the cattle. He didn’t move. Didn’t speak. Then I realised he was wanting to get to the gate, but the herd was blocking him. So I went through the gate and encouraged them to break the mêlée in half, almost to the point of pushing them apart, four on one side, and the remaining 20 or so on the other. At which point the cyclist perked up quite a bit and pushed his bike forward, only to have one of the smaller group decide she would rather be with the others. Which made him panic a bit. So he stopped again.

I sighed at the cow and encouraged them all to go over so that the herd was together…and the man promptly cycled hard up to the gate and through…

It has been a bit of a month for creatures… I watched a zebra spider hunt and eat a tiny fly in the bathroom whilst cleaning my teeth. He used a raised part of the tiles to sneak up on the fly and then jumped on him.

The number of moths has proliferated, much to Pakka’s enjoyment. I think she has eaten more moths than butterflies. She has a lot of fun leaping into the air to bat them down as they fly towards the path lights. I always think they must be very dry and dusty to eat. Some have very long antenna that they wave languidly. There is a large lilac that grows from the riverbank and I often stop and watch them with a torch whilst waiting for Pakka to finish mooching about by the river.

We have a number of bats that have recently taken to flying and gyrating around the garden, often inches above my head. Absolutely fantastic; I really love them. Three were flying the other night, seeming to chase one another.

This year there doesn’t seem to have been quite the number of snails we have had previously. Though those we do are beautiful. Some tiny, and I assume baby snails do grow. Some baby snails are really wonderful, though I wonder if they are just small snails, and not baby larger snails. I decided to look up the name for a young snail, and the computer maintains it is a ‘baby’; which is a poor excuse for a suggestion. Surely they deserve a better description. May be it is because know one really knows whether the snail in question is a baby snail, or just a very small one.

I then wondered about the growth of snails. If a shell grows with a snail, what is the growing point? Does the middle get tighter as the snail gets older? If the lip of the shell is where it grows, it must push the rest of the shell around from the front to the back…or is the centre of a large snail empty of ‘snail’… Mum believes the shell grows with them. I can’t see any other way either, but would like to know how snails develop. I must look it up.

Yesterday I had a friend visit from work and she was obviously taken very much by the common – we saw a heron fly over and a kestrel spent a little time hovering above the grass, only to drop down to pick up a vole or mouse and to fly off low and heavy carrying it away with him. Stunning.

Pakka has taken to climbing out of the bathroom and study windows to wander on the sloping roof. She doesn’t seem to feel very secure once she is out there, but seems to think the adventure worth the problem of getting down again. The last time she did it she landed up having to jump down at a funny angle onto a bit of wall. The first time I had to climb half out of the window of the study to grab her off the roof, a slightly ungainly and nerve wracking experience for both of us. Yesterday having got onto the roof she refused the wall system and wandered all over it until she went back up to the window ledge where she waited for me to go back upstairs to lean out (not as far as she was standing on the edge) and pull her in…sigh.

I visited Clare in Yorkshire and had a couple of walks with her and her dog whilst I was there – we took Imageher dog with us and enjoyed encouraging her to run into the sea to bring sticks back to us, once she got over the shock of the water stealing the first one!

Whilst in the North I visited a wood turner who runs courses from his home in Bingley, not far from my sister and had a lovely day making a box with a spinning top lid, and a captive ring, similar to those my paternal grandfather had made.

Beech and elm when turned can make the most beautiful curlicues, spiralling out from the wood in long trails curling back on them and over the lathe. In contrast ebony makes a fine black powder that settles deep into your finger ridges, making them stand out as though black talcum powder has been dusted over them.

Grandpa, made many small pieces of treen with captured rings on them that fascinated me as a child along with a wooden turned soldier, painted complete with bearskin that still stands on one of my bookcases.

He had two lathes one a small modern machine that stood in the corner of his garage, and a second, pedal driven contraption with a large wheel to one side, that drove the lathe with a rubber belt. On that I used to enjoy trying to keep an even tempo with the wheel without the lurch that regularly occurred. I’m not sure why it happened, but suspect it was the change from lowering the foot and pedal to raising it again. To be allowed to spin the wheel was wonderful and I still remember the pleasure it gave me.

When Grandpa died much of his garage made its way into my parents’ and the wheel lathe came too, tucked amongst the printing presses that are part of my father’s passion. A few months ago I came across it and realised that it would perhaps in time be sold or otherwise disposed of, and that seemed a pity – not only because of the family history, but also because it is actually rather beautiful, in a mechanical sort of way. Then I realised that none of us knew what it could do (if anything), and I wondered how difficult it was to turn wood as he had done, and from there it was an easy and obvious step to searching the Internet for someone who might be able to help.

This resulted in my contacting Bob Chapman (based conveniently in Bingley, Yorkshire, an easy distance from my sister Clare) to ask if he would consider introducing a complete novice to some of the secrets of turning and for a very reasonable charge he said he would be happy for me to visit him in his home to try.

Sadly the tools that Dad found in the garage were not for turning wood – and Bob confirmed what a friend suggested, that they were for carving wood rather than turning.

Still I was able (thanks to Clare lending me one of hers) to show Bob one of Grandpa’s ‘people’, as I have always thought of his pieces, and he seemed to think it would be possible for me to make one. Along with a top and box, which had been a speciality of his some years ago.

The first was a challenge close to my heart – if only because of Grandpa and to be able to emulate him was an idea that really appealed. I have also started to collect small spinning tops and felt that that might well be something that would be rather special as a project.

Safety was next on the agenda and Bob explained that it is essential to wear some sort of eye protection, and if I am to take it up at all seriously a mask that covers the mouth too to protect the lungs (though this is impractical for teaching) and as a result I found myself wearing a full face mask and to be honest was pleased to do so, particularly a little later in the day. His notice that ‘You are now using your last pair of eyes.’ was I thought pertinent and I had to smile to myself when I thought of Dad’s concern as I left London. When I start to get myself organised and set up my own lathe, I promised Bob I would purchase and organise extractors for the wood dust that is all pervasive. He said that everyone starts by buying a lathe, he had never heard of anyone buying an extractor before they had purchased one, and I promised to be the exception. Lungs suffer from the very fine dust that you can hardly see in the atmosphere when wood turning.

Bob went on to explain that the best drives were those with many small teeth, rather than those with just four as it makes the wood much more secure and will often prevent the wood from flying out of the lathe to strike the face…

We began by turning some wood, just removing the corners, which is I have to say one of the most therapeutic things I have ever done. I was soon covered in wood shavings; they fly like small flurries of snow and quickly cover everything.

Bob showed me how to make the basic shapes that to be honest I would have been happy to have tried to perfect all day, though it would have meant no project being taken home at the end which would have been a pity.

Remembering to keep the tools flat on the rest, a metal bar against which the wood turning tools are laid, seemed to be a necessity that I regularly failed to do, though I soon learnt, or began to learn when I wasn’t doing it – so I suppose that was a lesson in itself.

We turned wood that Grandpa had marked using the holes he had made to turn a most tactile piece. I wondered what he had been thinking as he marked the wood and what had made him stop and not follow it though. I really wish I had had the sense to talk to him about it when he was alive. I would have loved to turned wood with him.

We used a piece of Bob’s stored wood, a lump of beech to make my piece of treen and had spent some time turning the wood to make the captured ring when I caught the edge of the tool against the wood and it was twisted out of the lathe with the ring broken and a gouge taken out of the base of the wood. Thankfully we were able to just ‘move along a bit’ and make a second try. This time I was able to break through under the ring and allow it to move along the base. It is enormously satisfying – and the ring spun happily as we turned the piece to finish it, with a small rounded top.

We discussed my collection of tops and I told him about the first that had caught my interest. It has an almost spherical bowl from which the turning stem rises, and when spun it starts by standing on the bowl, but then rolls to one side and then up on the point of the stem. (See this site to see one spinning –

http://www.grand-illusions.com/acatalog/Tippe_Top.html

Bob informed me that it spins then in the opposite direction as it turns on the stem.

He had never made one, but would be interested to try… This resulted in him turning an upside down spinning top, without a plan or one to view in a very short time. We then spent some time fine-tuning the piece with the top being hollowed out at least twice and the stem being shortened before the top span with success on the floor. Linda, Bob’s wife came in at some point to find us both on the floor spinning the top and discussing the weight and its distribution in the top – covered in wood shavings…

Bob’s top boxes are beautiful – The spinning top makes the lid of the box and the boxes and spinners are gorgeous to handle. We made mine from a piece of elm and a small slither of ebony for the handle. The spinning top’s widest part was made from the top of the box so that when used as a lid the grain of the wood flows down from it. After turning the wood to turn it into a cylinder we cut a piece from the end and hollowed out the remainder. We then started on the spinning top itself and all was well till I caught the edge of the tool and damaged the spinner so much that Bob decided it was best to halt the proceedings whilst he made up another box (which took a fraction of the time I had spent) and brought us back to the same state we were in before I damaged the lid. The handle of the spinner was made with ebony, and this made the fine dust like wood shavings, dark against the pale wood of the elm and beech.

I am so pleased with the pieces I came away with – we polished the spinning top box so that it glows andImage I now have a second upside down top, a box into which I can drop earrings at the end of the day (the base of the spinning top box that failed), and last but certainly not least my captured ring piece – a little larger than many of Grandpa’s but none the less one I am very proud of.

I was touched too when Bob told me he thought I probably had the same amount of talent as my grandfather… a lovely thing to say.

Now I have to just rearrange everything and find Grandpa’s more modern lathe – there is no way I would be able to keep the foot peddle working whilst trying to keep my tools flat against the rest…take another course…and find a dust extractor, or two…

It is quite extraordinarily satisfying and I could see myself just spending the afternoon turning wood…not necessarily making anything, just practicing techniques and just turning wood…

Grandpa’s foot lathe, what ever happens, will find a home in my garage…

Pakka’s first sortie as a kitten, out of our garden was through the hole Dad kindly sawed into some of the planks in the fence at the bottom of the garden. It is remarkably concerning the first time a cat leaves for its first solo adventure and I do remember distracting myself with the garden. At that time it was considerably wilder (it is in a sort of feral state now, I suppose) and I remember clearing large quantities of stones as a sort of continual job when I first moved into the house. It was a peaceful day and apart from being aware that Pakka had gone, I was enjoying the garden. It was some time later when I heard a loud cacophony of sound coming from the woods over the other side of the river. I remember stopping to listen and then realised Pakka had been gone for about three hours. I was just about to close up the garden and house to go out and see if I could find her, when a brown streak shot up the garden, running full pelt straight up the lawn towards the open French windows, closely followed by an irate crow, flying a foot above the ground just behind her tail. Thankfully when she reached the shelter of the house he banked away and flew back to the woods. Pakka promptly sat down and washed. Corvidae  and she have never got on ever since.

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