The White Stuff

Monday, 21st February 2005
Wild West Yorkshire nature diary

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moorThere's been snow to the north and along the east coast. I catch sight of a gleaming white hill in the north west: snow-covered moors in a direction I'd never noticed moors before.

snow on the windscreenAs I set out to pick up Barbara from the library I drive into a brief snow shower. I'm driving into gently falling snowflakes that are drifting slowly towards me, emerging from grey gloom into the brightness of my headlights. It's like travelling into an expanding universe of snowy galaxies, the movement of the snowflakes giving an otherworldly illusion that I'm driving not only onward but also upward.

The Secret Life of Books

booksI started dusting the main bookshelf in the studio at the weekend and I find myself having to finish the job today because I hadn't realised quite how long it would take to go through the 40 feet of shelving to dust and reorganise 700 or so books.

Each one has its memories. I find it almost impossible ever to part with a book. Bookshops that I'd forgotten about come to mind when I pick up particular titles, I remember people I associate with some of the books and think of the periods in my life when I read avidly through certain subjects. I built up the basis of my collection as a student and most of what I've bought since has fitted into that scheme, one way or another. At that time I'd sooner spend 25 pence on a secondhand book than put the money towards a decent meal.


Atoms etc.









organic gardeningSo fiction doesn't really come into my great scheme of things, a scheme that is based on the contents of my first book A Sketchbook of he Natural History of Wakefield which I was working on, off and on, through most of the 1970s.

This title, Organic Gardening for City Dwellers by Walter Harter (Warner Paperback, 1973) is typical of that period when I thought that understanding the world around me would transform my life and, more idealistically, that as a wildlife illustrator, I could do my bit to transform the world.


No wonder it appealed to me! At the time I had a small room in the Royal College of Art's student accommodation in Evelyn Gardens, South Kensington, London. It might seem hopelessly impractical but, finding myself living in a city for the first time, I wanted to touch the earth and have a go at growing at least salad crops on my windowsill.

I made a plant box that I intended to extend into a Wardian case (a kind of mini-greenhouse) and sowed a variety of seeds in an assortment of recycled containers; tomatoes in an eggbox, sweet corn in cut down milk cartons. Not that I ever got as far as harvesting a crop from either! I might have managed a crop of mustard and cress grown on a flannel at some stage.

seed packetsToday I've got a garden to grow my crops in and better illustrated guides than this old paperback (which has no illustrations whatsoever) but I wouldn't pack this title off to the charity shop because it encapsulates that period in my life when the counter-culture of the time promised to give us control of our lives and ensure our survival on this planet.

All through keeping a compost heap in your living room.

The bestselling The Secret Life of Plants, by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, also published in 1973, is a heady mix of extraordinary facts and astounding speculations. Next Page

Richard Bell,

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