“To gather some mast it shall stand thee upon,
With servant and children, ere mast be all gone;
Some left among bushes shall pleasure thy swine;
For fear of a mischief, keep acorns fro kine.”
Well, here we are in October already and the idyllic week spent with my family in southeast Suffolk is now fading into a hazy, happy memory. It’s once again fitting that I open this posting with the words of Thomas Tusser, as one of his October verses from ‘His Good Points of Husbandry’ focuses on pigs, their upkeep, slaughter and the incredible bounty they provide; apt as one of the main land-uses for the area in which we stayed appeared to be pig farming.
Having personally long-since lobbied a succession of governments for the adoption of more compassionate care for all farm animals, and the banning of such as farrowing stalls, battery cages and veal crates, it was a delight to see wide-open acres given over to free-range pigs, enabling them to engage in their natural instinctive behaviour such as rooting. Yes, to fill our needs they’re destined for the abattoir, but their lives needn’t be hell.
Our week was a joy on so many levels. Suffolk must rank as one of England’s most beautiful counties; to turn off its main trunk roads onto narrow, leafy lanes is to step back in time – into a land such as that which my father knew, one that has not yet engaged in the widespread destruction of the countryside in the name of intensive farming. Its large areas of broadleaved woodlands and compact, hedge bounded fields were a stark contrast to those open prairies I’d left behind in Lincolnshire.
The sympathetic land stewardship was evident, too, in the profusion of wildlife; several evenings saw my family and me sat outside our cottage, simply listening to owls and watching the aerobatic display of bats.
Indeed, on the first morning of our stay, I opened the curtain to see a little owl sunning itself on a branch of the oak tree by our gate. Beneath this a green woodpecker was hopping across the lawn, probing the ground for bugs. As I watched him (or her) a flash of white drew my eye, to where a heron was wading through early morning mist in the paddock beyond our gate. This was a great start to the day, and typical of the week that was to follow. It was to be one that satisfied my three main interests: nature, history and books.
As I’ve already said, my love of nature was simply and amply satisfied without the need to venture far from our base at Iken. History interests were met first of all at Framlingham Castle – impressive with its high curtain walls and towers, once home to the scheming Howards, and also (Bloody) Mary Tudor.
Sutton Hoo, site of the UK’s only Anglo-Saxon ship burial, and one of the most significant archaeological sites in the country, was a place I’d wanted to see for years and did not disappoint. Our tour guide was excellent and the museum displays were stunning. To label the Anglo-Saxon period ‘The Dark Ages’ is to do it an injustice. Their art was nothing short of beautiful and is still much copied today.
And books? Well, a wonderful second-hand bookseller in Aldeburgh delivered the goods on that score. I spent some time browsing its shelves before discovering, and drooling over, a selection of attractive Folio Society editions. One, ‘The Name of the Rose’ by Umberto Eco, tempted me sorely, but I eventually opted for two others: ‘The Remains of the Day’ by Kazuo Ishiguro, and ‘The Diary of a Country Parson’ by James Woodforde.
The first is a beautifully told story of lost opportunity, which has been made into a remarkable film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. The film is British cinema at its very, very best and is the saddest movie I have ever seen – yet remains one of my all-time favourites. I now look forward to reading the book.
The Diary purchase was a mistake as I had foolishly confused this with Gilbert White’s ‘Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne’. Nevertheless, it hasn’t disappointed me and is another glimpse into times past. One entry, also dated October (the 15th of that month, 1774), made me smile and is worth noting here:
“I caught a remarkable large Spider in my Wash Place this morning & put him in a small Glass Decanter & fed him with some Bread, & intend keeping him.”
I’ve not yet come across an entry noting the death of the poor, ill-fated spider but, in the hands of the parson, I doubt whether it thrived for long.