Harbingers of Autumn ‘At Home’

Holidays cancelled or changed to the UK only. Some people got away over the summer but testing for Covid-19 brought hassle to airports and a hasty return from places like France to catch the last trains home through the Channel Tunnel before restrictions were put in place. Some of us stayed put – but reluctantly.

We wore masks to go into shops – hand sanitiser awaited us at the door. Some people couldn’t contain themselves when it was still warm and sunny and a photo of sunbathing crowds on Bournemouth beach showed that ‘social distancing’ was being completely ignored.

We preferred the calm and relative solitude of Richmond Park and Kew Gardens on our doorstep.

Kew Gardens

The warm weather continued as we enjoyed having lunch outside in our own garden. We had planted nettles after watching Chris Packham on television, urging people to leave wild corners to encourage natural habitats – particularly for insects, which aren’t always visible. I remember as a child seeing swarms of midges dancing in the sunlight and was aware that they didn’t seem to be around so much now. Few butterflies this summer, mainly white, a tiny blue, a brimstone, a comma, two peacocks and a lone red admiral – there are industrious bees but less of them – I must plant more bee loving flowers next year.

We watched David Attenborough’s film, ‘Extinction’, telling us that so many species in the wild had declined disastrously since the 1950s. We’re on a downward path … and yet there are good stories too. A great way of keeping up with both the bad and the good is to watch ‘Countryfile’ on Sunday evenings (BBC). It’s a window on what the rest of the country is doing, especially if you live in a city. There are a lot of inspiring projects and people out there …re-wilding is the word of the moment … both in cities and the countryside. ‘Wilding’ by Isabella Tree who talks about the Knepp estate in Surrey where she lives is an inspirational read. What she and her husband continue to do is impressive.

nettles caught in the evening sun
eucalyptus leaves and a small spider’s web
Japanese anemones – windflowers
the last apple – full of juice
a splash of sunflowers
Mexican grasses

I bought these dried grasses in the hopes that their upsurging habit would cheer me through the next few months. I had a bunch of alstroemeria in the kitchen and when it began dropping its petals I saved the few blossoms left.

complementary colours
our own ‘strawberry’ grapes

These grapes have pips and are small, yet have a great flavour. They cover one wall of our house. We juiced them and the juice freezes well. I’m using it to cook with Bramley apples instead of sugar for an excellent ‘home made’ dessert. Just add cream… and throw in a few sultanas for good measure.

It was time to stretch our legs and enjoy exploring further afield. Close by we have the river, the Common, our ‘village’ pond and its inhabitants – and even a welcoming Côte restaurant.

Bordeaux clock

This clock is shaped like the trays that bring food to the tables in Bordeaux restaurants. I’m missing crossing the Channel, eating French food, immersing myself in the ambience of a country I know well. But at the moment France is out of bounds. However, our local restaurant by the pond serves French food and has the atmosphere of a ‘brasserie’. And it’s still open! * But, as it turns out, not for long, with a second lockdown on the way …


The weather is unstable – either fiercely wet and windy with a low grumbling of thunder, followed by flashes of sunlight, and sometimes an unexpected and welcome perfectly clear blue sky day … I have purchased a wonderfully ‘fits in your pocket’ raspberry coloured umbrella from Peter Jones. It weighs hardly anything and can also be used as a sunshade – one of my favourite, successful ‘buys’. It also comes in blue and blows in and out without disaster when assailed by sudden gusts of wind.

changeable weather patterns

The river Thames is five minutes walk away and we cross over Barnes Bridge to the Chiswick side. The tide is going out. It smells of the sea – where it came from.

Barnes – the outgoing tide
Barnes Bridge – good spot for mudlarking?
on the shoreline
Barnes – evening light

There’s a small reservoir called ‘The Leg O’ Mutton’ by the Thames in Barnes, which makes for a great forty minute stroll around it – good to fit into a ‘lockdown’ day.

Leg O’ Mutton reservoir by the Thames in Barnes

Many herons can be seen perched on wooden rafts in the water. Their nests, in a huge plane tree, are very rough and ready – but enjoy great views over the river and the reservoir. I counted fifteen +.

One end of the reservoir often dries out in summer and has massive reed beds.

reed beds, Barnes
fallen leaves in a pool after rain …
Is it edible? I’m not sure but I won’t risk it!
Autumn leaves

The roads in Barnes are quiet and empty of people, except for the High Street and Church Road, where the shops offer almost everything you would need in lockdown. My formidable Scottish aunt said you could survive very happily on porridge, herrings and potatoes – and possibly a secret ‘wee dram’ – mine being red wine … and not so secret …

Strolling over the Common with conkers and chestnuts underfoot …

I’m going to plant this conker

Although we wear masks in all the shops and on public transport – otherwise, I don’t for the most part – spiky coronavirus lurks even though you can’t see it – I am reading a book about microbes …’I Contain Multitudes – the microbes within us and a grander view of life’ by Ed Yong. It’s fascinating and very readable. Best to know about them as you can’t get away from them. They inhabit everywhere – even inside you! We wouldn’t survive without them but sometimes some of them kill us. Such is life on this planet …

a witchy tree near Barnes pond
ripples on Barnes pond
Barnes – trees by the pond
Bright sun on Barnes Common – October 2020
Egyptian geese and mallard ducks – Barnes pond
Barnes pond – towards the end of the day

On the way home I buy a pumpkin for Hallowe’en. A small one will do as this year we may not get many visitors – I buy some ‘mad meerkat’ gums for ‘trick or treat’ – just in case and end up eating most of them myself …

Homeward bound …

I used to buy a swede or a turnip to make the Hallowe’en creepy mask but it’s much easier to carve the pumpkin.

a bit of a rough cut – but suitably scary to fend off witches on broomsticks

It happened to be a full moon on Hallowe’en and I somehow managed to get this photo, which surprised me – the night sky must have been very clear!

man in the moon

And so we carry on into November and the Trump nightmare we hope against hope to avoid …

face mask
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