Anyhoo, as a result, I am half-maddened with fatigue, and cannot find an original thought to call my own, so I have decided to re-visit some of my finer pieces. For many months, my inbox has been becrammed with requests, and so I will start by gratifying the whim of Mr Claud Thirst of Cookham Dean who writes: "What price the jolly old season of mists, eh, Mrs Pouncer? My wife, Muriel, and I would oft-times settle down with a steaming pot of Darjeeling and 120 Milibands of Pyridostigmine Bromide, the better to enjoy the reports of your rural rambles. Any chance of re-running your greatest work "Still Autumn", with a dedication to our dear friends Lillian and Gillian Raine? It will remind us of happier times, before Mrs Ulrika Jonson moved in and bang went the neighbourhood".
Mr Thirst, I am happy to oblige.
STILL AUTUMN by Mrs Clarissa Pouncer First published 23 September 2008
An old faker, whose name happily escapes me, once said it was important to "breathe native air", and I must say I agree. I return ever and anon to the dewy pastures along the A4 where my very character was built, and my very soul delights. I know how important it is to those of you who live in the squalor of our cities to share this with me.
I crossed over the county boundary past Maidenhead, past Cookham and into Buckinghamshire. Almost immediately, the beech takes over, and I can only hope that my humble pen can capture the true majesty of the trees in their splendour. These woods are regarded as the best of the ancient British woodlands, and some of the pollarded trees are over 500 years old. I can't tell you about magnificent Autumn colours, because beech trees are the last to turn, sometimes hanging on until late November, but the beechnuts were thick on the ground. Beech nuts were once known as "buck" which is how the county got its name, although the proper term is "beech masts". Needless to say, the whole place was aswarm with greedy squirrels, and almost as many mycologists peering at the fungi, and taking scrapings, which is technically illegal. I didn't say anything; I've benefited from enough mycology in the past, God knows.
I was surprised to see so much elder around the edges of the wood. Elders stink, quite literally; a strong antiseptic smell, which flies and other pests hate. A piece of split elder makes an extremely effective fly-whisk and cases of elder used to be shipped out to the colonies in the glorious old days. When I was a child, it wasn't unusual to see horses with elder leaves on their browbands to keep the horseflies off.
I became quite overwhelmed with nostalgia as I came back through Bourne End, hard by Hedsor, and saw the dear old river ahead. As a girl, and well into my twenties, I would swim off the gentle bank, losing myself in the gritty water, with my feet sometimes hopelessly entangled in the waving weeds. I once swam with a boy I loved all the way to the backwater at Bray, but noone shouted Health and Safety. We could all swim like mermaids, and those weaker ones could at least scream for rescue. These days everything is verboten, and I blame the lawyers. They have advised the agencies that permanent lifeguards are required to avoid litigation, and as a result river swimming is dying.
Immersion soothes muscles, relieves depressions and releases a natural endorphin high that elates the senses and creates an addictive urge. There is absolutely nothing to be lost by taking the plunge.