It’s a shame that I broke a tooth but at least it gives me chance to take a close look at the goldfish in the tank in the dentist’s waiting room. I notice that each goldfish has a small, stiffish looking flap in front of each of its eyes, perhaps adding some protection or alternatively helping to stabilise the head as it moves through the water.
Since I discovered a pen that doesn’t bleed straight through the paper in my urban sketchbook I’ve been more tempted to draw in the odd vacant moment.
An ArtPen tin filled with a dozen Derwent Watercolour crayons replaces the watercolour box that I’d prefer to use, if the paper was up to it.
The colours were those included in a plastic pod (which didn’t stand up to being squeezed into my bag) so they’re not exactly the ones that I would have selected for the kind of subjects that I draw – there’s no grey for instance – but I feel that any attempt to indicate colour, however wide of the mark, records information that I couldn’t otherwise include and adds a bit of warmth to the starkness of pen and ink.
Some nature writing, Mark Cocker warns us, ‘like medicine, needs to be consumed in small doses’ but his Field Notes from a Small Planet slip down so easily that you’ll be tempted to OD.
His portrait of the wilder side of Claxton, a Norfolk village, like his favourite jazz improvisations, builds ‘steadily, patiently, minutely in rhythmic layers’, in encounters ‘where anything can happen and seldom does’.
He inevitably includes some of the rarities and the wildlife spectaculars that Norfolk is famous for but the appeal of this country diary is in meeting, as he reflects on a winter’s day, ‘so many of our living neighbours – the leafless trees, the dank grasses and flowerless plants, the expiring fungi and voiceless birds – [which] hardly ever acquire the foreground of our minds. Yet every single one of them is integral to that magical uplift in spirits, which is the great gift of a walk in wild space.’
Every parish should have a chronicler like Cocker and, if your parish hasn’t acquired one yet, this illuminating book might encourage you to set out on your own home patch, armed with notebook and pencil.
Claxton, Field Notes from a Small Planet by Mark Cocker, illustrated with woodcuts by Jonathan Gibbs, will be published in hardback later this year by Jonathan Cape.
Links; Mark Cocker, Jonathan Gibbs, Vintage Books, the trade department of Jonathan Cape