To many, the end of summer and onset of autumn brings melancholy thoughts but for us in the nature diarist community it has many consolations as the season unfolds, bringing all the traditional customs still observed in our part of the countryside.
Old Seth the wasp-keeper, last of a dying breed, has now celebrated the age-old custom of “telling the wasps”, when he gathers his vespine charges about him and confides, with their buzzing approval, all the notable events that are taking place in our neighbourhood: actual and grievous bodily harm, rape, fraud and the formation of new gangs of hooligans of ever-increasing ferocity.
This is the season when late groups of water colourists invade our neighbourhood with their easels and brushes, under the aegis of the big ginger-haired old fellow who seems to hold them in a state of awe and even terror, making no secret of his utter contempt for their efforts.
“Now pay attention!” he can be heard roaring miles away. “First get control of your picture space. I well remember my old friend Jack Constable telling me that command of your picture space was half the battle, and you could forget all about composition, structure, tonal harmony, conceptual values and all the rest of the stuff you learnt at art school.”
His group of amateur artists, mostly pensioners and elderly people who have been advised by their psychiatrists to get something to do, and old ladies who seem unable to distinguish between paintbrushes and knitting needles, received his advice with reverence, positively elated that he should speak to them at all.
I felt rather sorry for them, but mindful of the belief, common among the village people, that any contact with these strange folk can bring misfortune, I did not intervene, even when a pathetic old pensioner with several hearing aids grasped my arm and begged me wordlessly for help.
The whole group disappeared over the brow of Mandelson’s Hill preceded by the ginger-haired leader, who is still shouting about “Bill” Monet and other eminent painters he had known, waving an outsized paintbrush, and I saw them no more.
Oddly enough, the country folk have great respect for him and seem to regard him as some kind of enchanter. Certainly they believe that all the creatures of the wild, from magpies to badgers, will come to his call. He lives in a big rambling old house with a large overgrown garden where he can be seen sitting and meditating on the secrets of nature. Old Frank the gamekeeper swears that once, peering through a gap in the garden wall, he saw him sitting amid the brambles and deadly nightshade with a huge Andean condor perched on his shoulder as he whispered his secrets to it.
The country folk call this enchanted garden “an European eco-habitat” and are agitating for an official warden with a degree in environmental studies.