Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney died a year ago today.

I never met him but one afternoon in a large classroom in Longslade Upper School in Birstall we shared the same space.  It was 1972, 1973, and I was an English teacher, it was my first proper job.  Seamus Heaney, at the start of his career, came to the school to read his poetry.  In a large room with windows looking out over the Leicestershire countryside, I sat at the back on one of the hard school chairs, and as the children filed in, hoped that the students from my classes would behave themselves, even if nobody else did.

I had never heard of Seamus Heaney, but as soon as he began to read I was enthralled by his soft, Irish accent, and the strange, other-wordliness of his subjects.  So were the students, listening hard, all quiet and respectful, until he said the word ‘bog’.  And said it again.  There was no stopping them – there were snorts and giggles. Bog.  I set my face to look firm and serious, to show him he was appreciated and to show the students this was how to behave.

He read on, unperturbed, and the laughter settled.

For years after, I followed his progress, bought his books, watched with motherly pride his rise and rise, thought often ‘I must write to him and ask him if he remembers Longslade.’  But I never did.  Probably for the best.

Extreme Gardening

Garden plan
This is the plan of my garden, created by old chum Annie Morgan, 12 years ago.  She designed something lovely in the space that was a typical London back garden, 35 feet long and 15 feet wide.
Since then the garden has grown and developed. Ivy has grown up on all sides and regularly taps at the windows of the ground and first floor of the house.  In a later planting plan that Annie also constructed, four circular box hedges appeared as pathways to the lawn.

It was a great design and it has served me well – low maintenance, varied style, colour co-ordinated.  The weak link is of course – the gardener (ie me).  My gardening experience can be described by the letter T.


A gardening essential.


Note how clean it is, one might almost say unused…


Those box hedges, added to the pathways of the lawn.  And what do hedges require?  They require regular attention and shaping.  Topiary.

topiary 3

Tragic topiary.  Assisted by rather blunt shears, insistent pigeons and fox pee.

topiary 1


The apple tree which Annie incorporated into the plan, in the top left corner, Garden plan no longer exists. It didn’t grow in my garden in any event, but the branches leaned over into my plot of land, an integral part of the secret garden with the bench and the small lily pond.  In spring the blossom was foamy and white, in summer the leaves gave us shade, and in autumn there were apples.  And then one day, the neighbour whose garden the tree was in, cut the tree down.  Oh no!  And not only did he cut it down, but he then pushed it over into my garden.  Extraordinary.


But there are consolations.  One day, sitting in the summer sunshine, eating lunch, there was a rustle in the ivy.  And there it was.  Shuffling in the sun to find a shady spot.  I love the fact a toad is living in the garden.

2014 013

And Tigers

Well, they’re not in the garden – they’re at the end of the road.  But they begin with T…