Friday, 15 May 2020


I sit in the blue painted rushwork chair in the shed. Behind me posters from Icelandic and Danish art exhibitions (mostly landscapes with cliffs) adorn the walls, relics of the time it was a writer’s den (it still could be, there’s power and light, but it’s become chocked with junk and garden materials).

The shed has also been an artist’s studio (but Margi needs to be part of a group, a collective, to function at her best so she took a studio in the centre of town) and now it’s a potting shed, one wall has a table with heated propagators all down it, currently occupied by the courgette plants. Maybe I can reclaim it once the summer comes.

Margi calls the shed “The Summer House” because on warm, sunny evenings we sit with the doors open and drink cold rose wine and eat oatcakes and ewes’ milk cheese and quietly chill. We can look out into the garden and watch the birds on the feeders. Goldfinches are particularly exotic little visitors with the flashes of gold on their wings, nuthatches throw seed everywhere, a boon to the dunnocks who like to ground feed. We only have the squirrel proof feeders in action now, we were inundated with squirrels, but the new designs mean we’ve lost our thrushes and most of our blackbirds. Is it worth it? We’ve hung fatballs from the viburnum which attract lots of tits each day. But I must not dally here….

I open wide the double doors and step out onto the decking area. The decorative bits of the back garden lie before me, ahead is the metallic red of the maple and the lush green of the hazel. Falling away down the slope is a mass of waving yellow poppies. On the flat terrace are two raised vegetable beds where spinach, dwarf beans and salad crops are just beginning to grow.

I turn to my left and start down the steps. The bay tree stands tall to my right, and alongside it are our rhubarb plants. Behind them is an area of soil, dug over but not yet planted – courgettes and kale will go here. At the bottom of the steps there is a flat area leading to the back door, I check it’s locked. We always keep it locked since the burglary three weeks back. I enter the narrow passage between the garage and the house. I jog slowly along it. My way is barred by an iron gate, which I unlock. Past the gate the front drive slopes steeply down to the road.

At the bottom of the drive, I turn and prepare to “sprint” back up the slope (make allowances here I’m 71). To my left is our raised front garden, dominated by a hydrangea and a tree heather. The stone wall is topped with the purple of thrift. A little further on, the first pale, yellow, roses are just coming into bloom.

As I run up the slope I pass the mini-greenhouse I built a week or two back, now filled with tomato plants. It nearly blocks the pathway that runs across the top of the front garden.

But for now I am trying to sprint up the drive, into the passageway and up the first flight of steps into the back garden. From this lower angle the garden is a wall of yellow poppies backed by the hazel and the maple and beyond them the fence and the woods beyond.

I pass the shed and turn sharp right along the path to the gate into the woods. There are three steep stone steps to climb, and on this first lap I have to unlock the padlock and open the gate (again the burglary has made us more conscious of this).

I pass through the gate and enter the cool, green shade of the woods. To my right is a pile of brushwood which we hope is (or will become) a home for hedgehogs. Our garden used to be visited most nights by three hedgehogs, we used to feed them. But last year they didn’t turn up, we keep hoping though that they will return. Some years ago there used to a fox living in the far right hand corner of this small piece of woodland. Glynis at the end used to feed it with chicken. Margi saw it once walking down the middle of the road. But it’s not been seen for a while now.

To my left is the large domineering sycamore that shades half our garden and threatens to push over our fence. The Council call it a feature tree, and will not accept that it poses a threat to ours and other houses so we just have to live with it. Some years ago we noticed that the way the bark on the trunk was twisted looked like some eldritch face, but last year the ivy grew so strongly over it that now all we can see is a mass of green foliage.

The path leads into the woods. I have in my head, a half remembered image of a painting, “Das Weg durch den Wald” – the way through the woods. I’ve always thought it was by one of the German Romantics but a google search can’t locate it, just modern US paintings and the poem by Rudyard Kipling. There’s nothing like the grandeur of the German forests, no home here for Armenius (Hermann the German as Simon Scharma called him) or even a haunt for Herne the Hunter (I come from haunts of “coot and hern”), but something about the shadows and the green always make me think of those German romantics. Maybe there’s a bit of Robert Frost’s “snow falling soft on cedars” when we hit winter. I’m getting a bit pretentious here I fear, and my memory isn’t what it was. It used to be legendary, like I was one of the Bene Geserit in the Dune novels, but there I go again. Get on with it, man!

We made this path by our (almost) daily transits over the years to our allotment to tend our crops and the beehives in the days before the fires. The path provided a short cut through to the minor road and across it to the allotment site. Margi says the path is a drawing made on the landscape by our feet. In all the years we’ve been walking it we’ve never met another person on it.

The path floor is covered with beechmast and dried twigs. The pathway is lined by “lords and ladies” their fleshy leaves standing tall. Later in the year the spikes of their red berries will grow, there’s something fleshy and evil about them, like ingredients for a witches brew.

I start to jog along the path, following it as it curves to the left running parallel to the stone wall that marks its northern edge. The path twists and turns round ash and beech trees, avoiding holly bushes and the occasional sycamore. Further back a lone ash tree stands like flagpole rising from a pool of white ransome flowers.  

As I round a corner a bird shoots across my path, too quick, too small and too dark for me to recognise what type. Around another corner I surprise a squirrel that runs up the trunk of a welcoming beech seeking the safety of the upper branches.

As I reach the stone wall that marks the western edge of the woods, a pack of magpies descends, crashing and banging into the brush below the path. This is an area where one winter a couple of years back we surprised an overnighting deer.

The path is straightening, the trees are sparser, the light is breaking through.  The ground is carpeted with the white flowers of ransome, its garlic scent is rising up as I move through. Further back there are scattered patches of bluebells.

I stop and stand on a large square flagstone above which steps climb to a locked gate that leads into what was once the walled garden of the House. This is the furthest point of my walk.

From here the path will lead out onto a “square” behind the houses that now fill the House’s site. The square contains a couple of garages and there is the danger of running into other people here. In these times of lockdown, I can’t risk that. Margi is in the shielded group, total isolation. This walk / run is all I can risk, I’ll turn back now.

I retrace my steps, back through the woods, and in through our garden gate. I rest for a moment outside the shed. One circuit done, only another 14 to go.

Dave Jackson May 2020

Saturday, 13 April 2019


Hi Everyone

Just to let you know that our two publications to date - Tales from the Plots and Caging the Stars - are now available through Lesley Atherton at - this is a "proper" website so we're feeling a bit more professional

We'll still respond to any orders place at however

Dave Jackson

Wednesday, 26 July 2017



Rob has now fitted the "PayPal" Button to this blog.

Apparently this will enable you to buy a copy of "Tales from the Plots" for £4.50 (which includes postage and packing).

"Tales from the Plots" is a 48 page book which contains two allotment-related pieces -

"Gates of Eden" - which is a sort of miracle / mystery play set at a modern day allotment site in the North of England

"A Life in the Year" - which charts the trials, tribulations and triumphs of an Allotment Site Secretary over (roughly) a 12 month period.

There are fictional stories about fictional people on fictional sites - though you may feel you know them! - and the stories are about people and the things they do and the way they behave to one another. There isn't much about planting or harvesting and the 'plots' don't always refer to a piece of ground.

We hope you enjoy them

Dave Jackson

Tuesday, 27 June 2017


Hi - the Slug Society Exhibition entitled "re-Allotted" is at the Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal from July 28th to Sept 1st

David and Rob's slim volume - "Tales from the Plots" will be on sale there - or you can order from this blogsite - see previous post

Thursday, 4 May 2017

New Stuff

David's short book "Tales from the Plots" has now gone to the printers - it will be available in conjunction with the Slug Society's exhibition at the Brewer Arts Centre in Kendal in July and August.

It will also be available through this blogsite once Robert puts the PayPal button on!

We are also working on a new volume based on our experiences of lecturing in Further and Higher Education - this should be available later this year


An Anglican Canon died and found himself standing at the Pearly Gates. Having given his name to St Peter, he was warmly welcomed in and a passing angel was delegated to show him round. They had been walking for perhaps half-an-hour when they came to a large high wall, which encircled a small enclosure. A large sign on the wall said “Tost na h-oidhc!”
‘What’s the wall for, and what does that writing mean?’ asked the Canon.
‘The writing means ‘Be Silent!’ It’s Gaelic, and inside the enclosure are the ministers of the Wee Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, Presbytery of Lewis.’
‘But why do you keep them walled in like that?’ asked the Canon, ‘Surely they’re not dangerous in any way.’
‘No, it’s for their own peace of mind,’ said the angel. ‘In life they believed they were the only ones who would ever get here and it so upsets them if they see other souls!’
I speak as one who was once condemned from the pulpit of the Wee Free in Benbecula for attending morning service in an anorak. It didn’t seem odd. After all, my own dear grandmother had her own very firm ideas about appropriate dress in church, particularly when applied to the clergy, but more of that later.
This piece is largely about my lifetime’s experience with the clergy or at least with the ‘religious’ as Sister Ursula, a nun with whom I once taught at a provincial university, called them.
Once when introducing her colleagues at an induction session for a group of Catholic students Sister Ursula had pointed to herself and a young nun beside her, and said ‘I’m afraid I must tell you that we’re what you call ‘religious’!’ Then she paused ‘But we’re not sure about Sister Mary.’
Sister Mary was a Manx woman of indeterminate age, who ruled the Administration section in my department. She decided to take me under her wing when I joined and to protect me against what she saw as the malign influence of the evil sisterhood of feminists who she believed were taking over the institution.
Sister Mary was very free with her advice. On being told of the appointment of a new parish priest she asked if he drank.  ‘It’s best to have a parish priest who drinks, that or the gambling. They’re the only things keep their hands off the little boys!’
‘Really Sister!’ said the departmental secretary, ‘what an evil thing to say!’
‘So report me to the old bitch,’ said Sister Mary, the “old bitch” being her customary name for the Mother Superior at the Convent where the nuns lodged.
Ah, Sister Mary, in the words of the Jake Thackery song ‘a bloody funny nun you were!”
Anyway, to move on, for Sister Mary is a diversion, albeit as Michelin guides are wont to say “one worth a detour”.  She isn’t even one of the 14 nuns referred to in the title and besides this piece is mainly about priests. I tried to find a suitable collective noun for priests – there’s a superfluity of nuns, even a dignity of canons, but apart from convocation and college nothing for priests.  So I’ve chosen the title you’ve got.
I’ll start at the top. I once had an encounter with an Archbishop in a gents’ lavatory. Before anyone becomes worried this is not a confession story which might lead to evidence being placed before Operation Yewtree or its ilk or even the making of a film starring Judi Dench. Sorry to disappoint you all.
No, it was back in the University mentioned earlier.
At the time we were very short of lecture room space and the rooms were in use for about 14 hours a day, so much of my teaching was done to mature part-time students in the evenings. As I passed through the foyer on my way to my lecture theatre one evening I noticed a largish group had gathered and on enquiring found that there was a meeting of the University Senate that evening.
Needing a pee, I headed into the gent’s toilets. The toilets off the foyer had an odd layout. Although the end room itself with the sinks, urinals and cubicles, was brightly lit, there was a long, narrow unlit corridor leading to the room. As I started along the corridor I found myself faced with an apparition silhouetted in the far doorway. His vestments trailed to the floor making it look like he was floating just above the ground. With his mitre on his head and his crozier in his hand the Archbishop looked like a gold-plated Dalek about to invade earth. He should have shouted ‘exterminate’ but he just smiled and I stepped back into the foyer and let him out. He went off to the Senate and I went to teach Basic Business Finance, each to his own.
Grandmother would never have gone for golden vestments, she believed in austerity in religion (she’d have got on well in the Presbytery of Lewis, except they don’t allow women, which might have been an obstacle.) Plain black was in her view the only correct attire for the clergy. I remember a young vicar arriving at our church and taking the service wearing a white surplice over his black cassock. ‘Popery!’ cried Gran.  Summoning a convenient daughter to push her wheelchair to the front of the church, she faced the clergyman. ‘My grandfather didn’t build this church for you to swan about like a prancing Jessie,’ she informed him.
Forty years later I went to that priest's retirement service. In his speech he remarked how in his early years in the parish he’d been terrorised by an elderly woman parishioner. ‘Every home visit was an ordeal,’ he said, ‘she’d quiz me on scripture and on interpretation. She’d heard every bit of malicious gossip about my shortcomings and behaviour and she’d demand that I account for them. I still break out in a cold sweat to this day to think of it!’
Gran would have been so pleased to hear that.  I imagined the vicar going up to heaven when his time came.  He’d be stood before St Peter waiting to know his fate, when they’d be approached by a woman all in black, six feet tall, with iron grey hair pulled back in a bun. ‘Well I’m satisfied,’ says the saint, ‘but I’ll just have to check with Mrs White before you can come in. She has a few points she wishes to clarify!’
Gran had little time for the workings of the Catholic Church. When young I assumed that this was for reasons of doctrine, but I later learned it was more a reaction to the doings of my Catholic Grandfather, Jimmy. I never met Jimmy, I always assumed he’d died before I was born, but in actual fact he was living with a new woman and family in a nearby town. I must have driven past his house a dozen times.
Gran herself had passed on before the events I’m about to recount. It was perhaps for the best. What she’d have thought of me working with a Catholic Diocese in the North of England I don’t know. 
We were engaged in the forward planning of primary and secondary schools provision in a newly created borough. Part of this work involved forecasting the numbers of pupils who would opt for a Catholic-based education rather than a go to a ‘state’ school. To do this accurately required a major data collection exercise from baptismal records and school rolls across the parishes within the Borough. To gain access to those records we had to visit every parish priest individually and arrange the data collection exercise with him. This meant that over a fairly short period I met a large number of priests. I must admit that during this time I came to agree with the late Pete McCarthy’s remark about the Catholic Church of his childhood. ‘I could understand the Catholic bit, it was where Rome came in I couldn’t get. Everyone seemed to be Irish!’
Generally the priests could be divided into three groups, young priests who were mainly based out on the large Council estates to the south of the Borough, older priests in the traditional areas along the river, and a small group of “unclassifiables”.
The young priests were a pretty uniform bunch, you’d turn up at their house, sit in a dimly lit front room on shabby second-hand furniture, probably donated by a parishioner, and drink bad instant coffee while listening to a catechism of statements about Catholic education policies which you were sure had been sent them by the Diocese. There was always a side table in the room on which a large photograph of the priest standing with a proud mother on the day of his ordination took centre stage. These pictures had usually been taken by the local photographer in some small town in Ireland.
They were often morose, earnest young men, rather like Father Stone in the “Father Ted” programme, I felt a bit sad for them. I never met a Father Dougal or a Father Ted on those visits or maybe I’d have been the one to write those stories, I can dream can’t I?
But I did come close to a few Father Jacks, and this is where we come to the old fellers in the heartlands. Memory is an unreliable thing but I seem to see an endless stream of elderly men, all of whom could have been played by Barry Fitzgerald in a 1930s movie, sitting in comfy presbyteries, being brought endless tea and cakes by middle aged ladies.
Their opening remark was invariably, ‘And are you a Catholic yourself?’ This was usually followed, unless the meeting was very early in the morning, by ‘Will you take a glass with me?’  
They didn’t spout the Diocesan line, having more than enough lines of their own. I remember one old priest  saying ‘All them buggers is on the pill, they think I don’t know….. but I do, and I’ll catch them!’ Another popular joke was ‘have you heard that the Vatican’s approved a birth control pill for Catholic women at last? It’s six foot round and weighs ten stone and they roll it against the bedroom door so their husband can’t get in.’ None of them, though, ever told me the tale of the fourteen nuns in the minibus.
Anyway the exercise went along nicely, and a team assembled at the Town Hall to analyse the findings and present them to Council and Archbishop. I was working with Father Simon, a tall gaunt man, who had all the warmth, charisma and passion of the born tax accountant. He was of course a Jesuit.
The results were clear, but some of the findings a little uncomfortable. Part of the exercise had been a major opinion poll amongst parents in the Borough and it turned out that only 70% of Catholic parents were likely to opt for a Catholic secondary school and the percentage was even less for primaries. Many held that factors such as proximity to home and not having to cross major roads were more important, and that’s before we got to ‘subjective’ opinions about the quality of the education provided, these being the days before Ofsted. I remember Diane Morgan talking of the occasion when her parents had to choose her secondary school. There were two options, the first had a terrible reputation for teenage pregnancies, the second was across a dangerous road and there’d been many casualties. Diane was sent to the former, ‘Better knocked up than knocked down!’ being her parents’ stance.
‘The Archbishop won’t accept this!’ said Father Simon as we surveyed the results. And so we wrestled with conscience and professional integrity as to whether to tell the unvarnished truth or find some way to spin the data.
One day, whether seeking divine guidance and simply to get out of the office, the two of us went on a trip to Durham Cathedral. As we stood in the nave under those vast vaulted ceilings, Father Simon turned to me. ‘Whenever I stand here,’ he said, ‘I give thanks to God.’
‘That’s good,’ I replied, ‘for anything in particular?’
‘Yes, that we don’t have to pay for the maintenance anymore!’
I said he was a born accountant.
In the end we, as my Gran would have put it, “told the truth and shamed the devil”. The result was predictable, my contract was terminated and Father Simon was transferred to be an Assistant Priest in a small rural parish on the north-east coast of Scotland.
I remember telling this tale to Martin, an ex-priest I got to know some years later, who’d left the priesthood, married and re-trained as a Social Worker. Judith, his wife, was a local woman with a keen interest in local church history and a number of stories that she was very willing to share. She’d carefully compiled the records of young women who’d been brought over from Ireland to be housekeepers, you could hear the inverted commas in her voice, to the local parish priests during the 19th century. The vast majority of these women had left some months later, under what might be called a cloud and did not seem to have been able to return to their families in Ireland. Judith had no doubt as to the reasons for these departures nor about who was responsible.
Anyway, Martin and I were sat having a pint (Guinness inevitably) in a pub one lunchtime and he remarked on the fact that I was, unusually for me, wearing a suit and tie. I explained that I had in fact had to spend all morning in meetings with local councillors and that I’d had to buy suit, tie and white shirt especially for the occasion on my last trip to Dublin, the suit and shirt from Penny’s and the tie from Cleary’s on O’Connell Street. This lead to joint reminiscences about days and nights out in Dublin City, and it was then that I first heard the story of the fourteen nuns and the minibus.
Unfortunately it’s far too rude to repeat here, so I’ll just have to leave it.


Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Dark Nursery Rhymes - an extract

Yesterday upon the stair

I met a man who wasn’t there

He wasn’t there again today

Oh, how I wish he’d go away

I lie in bed but sleep won’t come

I stare out into the darkness of the bedroom

Turning onto my side, I face the windows

In the moonlight, the shadows of the forest trees that surround the house

Wander across the blinds

It’s going to be a stormy night

But then I sense him standing behind me

Beside my bed, leaning forward slightly as if trying to see my face

I turn towards him,

He seems to be there, but now no more than a shadow

I stretch out my arm, but my fingers go right through him

My arm thrashes, I seem to stir his being.

Like washing up liquid in a bowl of hot water.

In spirals of red, blue, green and yellow, he is gone

In the morning as I wander, half asleep

Along the corridor to the bathroom

I see him again,

Out of the corner of my eye,

Though now he seems to be like my reflection in the mirror

And yet I sense him,

Watching me, always watching me

What does he want? Why is he here, why now?

Whatever his message, whatever he wants to tell me,

I don’t want to know

I just want him to leave me alone.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017


We've been out of circulation a bit lately, BUT David now has a short piece of work in an exhibition called "Re-allotted" at the St George's House Gallery in Bolton, called "Gates of Eden"

He's creating a much longer work - working title "A Life in the Year" which chronicles the triumphs, trials and tribulations of an allotment site secretary through a calendar year. This work will be part of the next Slug Society exhibition which takes place at Brewery Arts Kendal, dates to be confirmed.

Both "Gates of Eden" and "A Life in the Year" are being illustrated by Rob Jackson.

Robert Eldon is hoping to have some poetry and prose to go into that exhibition. He has been trying to get on with Groken and with his SF piece.