In late August as the seasons were on the turn and the first leaves were starting to fall from the trees, the final heatwave of summer gave way to cooler days. Stepping out of the Co-op one evening, I unwrapped the white cotton scarf I had been using as a face covering from around my nose and mouth and walked down the steps from the square, passing by the big yellow salt bin that sits dormant by the roadside during the warmer months, waiting for winter. On its lid lay a soggy, misshapen pillow. Abandoned months before, it once belonged to a young man of about twenty who arrived on the streets in early January and took up a nightly residence in the square.
I remember him clearly, because the square lies just outside the city centre, and it’s not a common haunt amongst the homeless. From his age, appearance and demeanour I sensed that he was new to the streets, so I stopped to ask if he needed anything from the shop and if he knew of the places he might seek help, shelter, and hot meals in the local area.
This was before the pandemic, whilst the virus that has altered every facet of our lives was still largely confined to Wuhan in China. I haven’t seen him since April. When the UK shut down at the end of March to bring the national outbreak under control, funding was put in place to ensure that our sizeable homeless population could be put up in hostels and hotels. One day he was sat outside in the early spring sunshine, wrapped in his sleeping bag, dust mask around his neck whilst he rolled a cigarette, and the next day he was gone, leaving his pillow and his sleeping bag behind, draped across the salt bin.
Turning a conker in my hands I walk my usual loop of Edgbaston in twilight drizzle, passing by the regulars who walk the neighbourhood at the same time as me each evening. Dressed in trousers and coats rather than shorts and t-shirts, the seasons are changing but the ritual remains the same. Deep in the bellies of the Georgian mansions, lights illuminate front rooms and hallways, making the grand homes up long driveways and behind tall gates look ever so domestic and inviting.
I love how different cultures and languages describe the physical world and seasons. In Japanese, there’s komorebi to describe the phenomenon of light flickering through trees, and in Polish there’s a phrase to describe a particularly beautiful autumn – złota jesień – which translates as ‘golden autumn’.
My fascination with house plants continues. I love epiphytic cacti and so I am currently rooting some cuttings I bought on eBay for the equivalent of a pot of tea and a piece of cake in a café – some rhipsalis paradoxa and lepismium bolivianum. They are hanging out growing roots in a jam jar alongside a young (already rooted) selenicereus chrysocardium I am hoping will grow big and strong come spring. I just love these plants, they have such strange shaped foliage and really beautiful flowers if you’re lucky enough to get them to bloom, and they do well in bright, indirect light – which is just as well as that’s about all I can offer them in winter!
I’m writing this to pledge to myself that there will be no more plants – or cuttings – until at least the spring though. The light is fading fast now that October is here, and I don’t want to overstretch myself given that space is limited and I’m still very much a beginner when it comes to plants. I am really enjoying growing things from cuttings and small starter plants, it’s a cheap way to get in to house plants and it’s really rewarding to watch roots grow and new leaves emerge over time. Just this week my sansevieria masoniana has put out a new pup which is unfurling daily, much to my delight. It’s like watching paint dry in terms of action, but I find it strangely mesmerising.
Today I celebrate fifteen years of veganism. I turned vegan in the autumn of 2005 when I was nineteen and in my second year at university. Before turning vegan I ate a normal diet including meat, fish and dairy, and I didn’t pay too much attention to the non-food items I used either, other than to buy cruelty free cosmetics. The only thing I didn’t eat was beef which I stopped eating in the mid 1990s as a result of the BSE / CJD crisis in the UK. It was my decision to stop eating beef when I was ten, and I made that decision because I was so horrified by what I was seeing in the news and the knowledge that BSE was caused by feeding cows – herbivores – low quality food containing the remains of other animals. I was probably more aware of the BSE and CJD crisis than most children and teenagers would have been at the time because, after leaving midwifery in the late 1990s, my mum worked as a nurse and provided nursing home care for a young woman just a few years older than my brother and sister were who was dying from CJD. Knowing what I did, giving up beef was easy.