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The Birches

Tuesday 17th January, 2012. Another in a series of clear nights, shell-pink dawns in a blue sky. A weekend of real frost, this morning at seven both the pools had ice on them, first time I've seen that this winter. Interestingly, the two little fish in the smaller aka wildlife pool were visible for the first time in weeks, swimming just under the ice, maybe they were curious? Or the ice was shelter and the sunshine warmed them? Anyway now, it's a grey afternoon and the mild weather is supposed to be back tomorrow. It's the old pattern from before our run of ice and snow winters, brief cold snaps; long unhealthily mild stretches. But not enough rain for us down here. We need a lot of rain.

Christmas and New Year long over, our first walk of 2012 on Sunday, a clear, crisp, sunny day. From Balcombe to the magnificent great Ouse Valley Viaduct, designed by Urpeth Ridpath, occupant of the Engineer's Tomb, such a landmark in King Death's Garden, builder (all in Latin) of the London to Brighton Railway. We lingered there a while, then onwards to Ardingly Reservoir. Last time we came this way, January 2007, the year of the floods. The fields were full of standing water, the reservoir full to the brim. We sat in the birdhide on a dark day, shivering and eating Christmas cake, watching crested grebes, gadwalls and wigeon, mallards and of course masses of geese. The Christmas cake's all gone, and the water's gone too. Plenty of people about, visiting the nature reserve on a fine sunday, but no kayakers, no sailors, just one lone fisherperson in a rowing boat, far out, beyond horrible huge expanses of exposed bank. Warnings of "deep mud" but I don't think so, the mud is dry and moss-grown. Hasn't been under water for months. Overheard on the lakepath: there's going to be no fish left by the summer, if it carries on at this rate. Mm. And then what will go next? But nothing's going to stop us carrying on at this rate. Nothing

But we sat in the hide, for old sake's sake (disappointingly, I had forgotten to put even apples in the bag) and watched the little birds instead. A tree creeper in the birch stems, neatly using its tail as a third leg; long tailed tits in the thicket. Then further along, cormorants and a heron; on Balcombe lake, we found the crested grebes. And so back to Balcombe village and the Half Moon, in a still, rosy twilight. Fancy a pint, says I, hopefully? But Peter is strong, full of new year's resolution, and says no. Not strong enough to resist crumpets and honey at home, however.

...but we go on counting our losses, and closer to home (for me). ALCS is telling me I can probably expect no more income from educational use of my work. That's the fee they pay for photocopying snippets, mostly. And I haven't heard from PLR lately. Not since their revised date for the modest share-out of Public Lending fees, warning me this may well be the last time, as their future is uncertain. Petty as these cuts may be, they're going to hurt people in the writing trade.

Saw The Artist, and thought it cute enough to cuddle, slight enough to avoid all suspicion that it might be one of those highbrow foreign things. Did I detect the safest possible little sigh of comment, in those title cards, at the refusal of "Hollywood" to read subtitles? Well, maybe this is the answer! Saw Hugo, in Manchester as it happens, at Salford Quays, the night before my mother's funeral, in a huge, filthy and spooky Multiplex..and thought it very attractive, a lovely boy's adventure for all the family, and there's no point in telling you what I thought was wrong. Have not seen Dreams Of A Life, because so far the only showing at The Dukes has been a Director's Q&A session and you have to be sharp to get those tickets.

Have watched Sherlock #2, and find the 2ns series much more polished, a little bit fascist, & very true to the original, in that the quirks and Holmes's party trick are most of it, the "detective stories" are actually a bit rubbish. Very watchable; very entertaining. We call a woman with power over the power-brokers a whore these days, not an "adventuress", how progressive, how unlike 1895! Didn't think much of the Hound of the Baskervilles, but I never thought it was a great Holmes story. Nobody will come with me to see Guy Ritchie's slap bang wallop version, sigh.

Have been reading Dickens, but that will wait. Also A Fish Trapped Inside the Wind, Christien Gholson, sent to me by the author as a thank you (he liked Life). Surrealist, charming, recommended by Karen Fowler and deservedly so. Set in Belgium, naturally, where in a town called Villon, a lost poet's lost poems serve as the mcguffin.

The Russian-loooking birch grove is not from the Balcombe walk, they're in Lodgesale Wood, near Nuthurst; the pines there are also really beautiful.