Dark, mysterious and magical time of year now, as the sun dips low and the trees edging the quarry rattle and creak in the wind. I walk through the copse to emerge into the watery fields, where Katy breaks into
a joyous circling run, then stops, panting, to drink at the brimming pool.
On my way to London the eve before solstice, I listened to Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors, as I do every year on the days before Christmas, and drifted into another world – shutting out the noisy train. I’m always so moved by this opera, sentimental though it may be, with its tale of the Three Kings visiting a poor crippled child and his mother, and the blessings that follow. I heard it for the first time during my first year of
grammar school, where music and singing were studied and taught very seriously. There were the older girls, so grown up with – with what seemed to me to be such rich pure voices. I was captivated. Have you seen a child...the words and the music still bring tears to my eyes, and I am eleven years old again, enchanted by the mystery and beauty of Christmas.
Time is a wealth of change, but the clock in its parody makes it mere change and no wealth - Tagore.
We were sitting round the table, a little drunk, wondering what the time was, so we all guessed. Two of us were accurate within minutes, and I was spot on, which led to talk of the internal body-clock. I’m always either close within a few minutes, or wildly out. This implies a nervous, uptight disposition – an inability to relax, someone had heard. I don’t know about that, but we got to talking about whether or not animals have a sense of time. The cat Domino seems pretty clueless, but every dog I’ve lived with has livened up on
the dot of five o clock feeding time, with much confusion when the clocks go forward or back.
Today, visiting Haddon Hall, we heard about the Turnspit Dogs – short, muscular animals, with strong legs and much stamina, bred to turn the meat spit over the kitchen fire by running for hours in a wheel – dog power. They were described as ugly, unhappy looking creatures. Poor things, why wouldn’t they be miserable, trundling round and round, so close to the delicious scent of forbidden food? These dogs if not relieved when their shift was up, would leap down from the wheel and force their dog companions to take
Tonight I was rehearsing songs for a concert, and making the same mistakes with rhythm again and again, getting more frustrated and inaccurate the harder I tried. I thought how a sense of rhythm and a sense
of time are different. But how would I describe that difference – sound and silence, movement and stillness, breath? What is time anyway?
With that the mind spins off, and I call it a day.
See the Turnspit Dog running in the wheel, with a ham hanging on either side of it.
This week I saw a photograph of my little cousin (twice removed), Sam, taking his first steps - far away in New Zealand – barefoot in the sunshine. Here in Derbyshire the days are sharp and short, and my hand freezes to my shopping bag as I walk home after posting his Christmas parcel. Strange to think of the other side of the world where day is night and winter is summer. How I miss my son and my cousins, and wish we could spend a few hours together.
December – so still now the wind has dropped, infolding, the world's whole sap is sunk. The roads have turned that curious dry white of cold days, sounds are sharp and thin, and the dew pools brim with water.
Today I walked from Old Lane into the lead-mining fields above Middleton-by-Wirksworth. Here the land is rough with hummocks and dips, and there are warnings to stay on the path as the earth may be unstable.
There are places where the ground has opened up overnight and it's riddled with underground soughs, mines and caverns. (There’s a story of an old man who used to walk from Godfrey Hole to the pub in Wirksworth (about a mile) through underground tunnels). In the summer there are cowslips and orchids, and great crested newts spawn in the pools. Today it was unrelentingly bleak.
Instead of taking the familiar route past the allotments, and over to road to Middleton Moor, I took an unfamiliar track that skirts the edge of the huge redundant limestone quarry, and drops down to Cromford. The track led through copses of silvery ash saplings, past a flock of untidy sheep resting under the hawthorn, through long empty fields bounded by stone walls. Below me the quarry was a barren cavity filled with machinery like calcified ancient animals. I walked for two hours and met nobody.
This evening the sun emerged, only to set soon after, striking the hills with brilliance, filling the house with coppery light – silhouettes of trees against a sky that changed by the minute - brush streaks of blue and rose, the yellow of stretched silk. Until nightfall and the sound of the owl in the orchard.
Tricia Durdey dances, writes, and teaches Pilates.