update on chalking

Thank you for your supportive comments about my chalking flower names on pavements. A few times people have seen me as I have been chalking names on Newmarket Road. I’ve asked them what they think. They’ve told me ‘its a good idea’, ‘makes the walk more interesting’, ‘children like it’. This is exactly what I had hoped for.

So I was really disappointed to see that yet again Newmarket Road verges have been cut. The verges look very neat and tidy – I think gradually, imperceptibly, we have become trained to think uniform short cut green is the ideal. Not so long ago we did not have the tools or money to have all this neatness. But this verge – and all the others that have been cut again like this – are ‘dead’. Yet again there are no golden buttercups, or other flowers; bees and butterflies have no food sources, as we walk we have no colours or humming music to lift our spirits; nothing to encourage children to get outside and see what they can see.

In lockdown we are walking more often, and more locally. There is also increasing debate about how we want our world to be post-lockdown. The value of nature around us has become more obvious.

We have choices to make about our world. These choices really matter: For ourselves and for the other ‘life’ that we share this world with. Tina’s windows, a joy as ever, are full of creatures, hedgehogs, bees. Do we want our children only to have these stuffed or crafted versions, as delightful as they are? Or do we want them to see them as they walk round our village – in time, hopefully, on the way to school. Hopefully, in all that word’s meaning.

Pound Hill buttercups

I was delighted to be told there may be a re-think next year about leaving the buttercups to flower on Pound Hill. To let the buttercups flower, will, I think, require a shift in our thinking, to once again enjoying the wavy edges, the longer grass, to recognise again the beauty in the gold of nature. I’d love to know what you think. Scroll to the bottom to the comments box and let me know…

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Chalking on pavements – illegal activity

I’ve just done a first – deliberately taken an illegal action. Unknowingly I committed the same offence as a child, chalking hopscotch squares on the pavement as I played with friends. This morning I knew what I was doing. My offence – to chalk names of flowers on the pavement. I have done this to encourage people to notice them, and, if they don’t know their names, to be able to identify them. I also added a smiley face. Partly for the joy of sharing my delight in these flowers with whoever may walk by. Partly as I think we all need a smile at the moment.

First I had to dig to the back of a cupboard to unearth a box of chalks, not used since my girls played schools, writing lessons with chalk on a blackboard. (Chalk, blackboards, school, for several reasons that seems a lifetime ago.) Then I started: purple for the delicate lilac flowers of field madder; yellow for golden buttercups; white for glorious, lavish May.

As I wrote, skylarks were singing so I added a suggestion for people to listen for them. I sometimes walk along too wrapped up in my own thoughts to raise my head to listen. Then their song catches my ear. As I listen to these birds singing as they rise, my heart lifts too. I remember too when I did not know the song of skylarks, and I would not have dreamt they could be heard from in our village. They were too ephemeral – birds of poetry and music – to be part of our prosaic world. Yet here they are. Our world is not prosaic at all… That is perhaps above all why I have been out chalking the pavements this morning…

To ‘get your ear in’ to skylark song you can listen here. The British Trust for Ornithology have produced a video which describes skylarks and their song. (This compares skylarks with wood larks. To see and hear woodlarks we will need to wait for when we can visit Thetford Forest again.)

I had been wondering about labelling wild plants round the village when I heard of botanist Boris Presseq of Toulouse Museum of Natural History chalking names on the pavements to highlight street flowers in his city. The simple video of him doing so has had 7 million views. He has understood this moment in time and the desire of people to see and get to know the world that is around them. He said: “I wanted to raise awareness of the presence, knowledge and respect of these wild plants on sidewalks. People who had never taken the time to observe these plants now tell me their view has changed. Schools have contacted me since to work with students on nature in the city.”

Boris Presseq and fellow botanists write chalk plant names on the pavement in Toulouse, France.
Boris Presseq and fellow botanists write chalk plant names on the pavement in Toulouse, France. Note, this is prior to lockdown in France. Photograph: Claire Van Beek/Handout

Dee Carlock, one follower put it very well:

It’s a great idea. When you know the names, the plants become more alive to you as individual beings.

People across Europe have started chalking names of plants on pavements. Sophie Leguil is doing this in Hackney.

Meanwhile, I have come back in, dusted chalk off my hands and am watching the rain come down. I hope a few people will enjoy my efforts and have understood their meaning before they are washed away…

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