Monthly Archives: September 2015


Sometimes a word lingers. ‘Incorporation’ lingered for long after it came up in a chat with a chum.

The first inkling I got of what a corporation might be was from Grandpa Mole. After a long and sumptuous Sunday lunch he would take a big intake of breath and, patting his stomach, would say: ‘Well, that has certainly added to my corporation’. And then he would go to the kitchen whistling ‘Three Little Maids from School are we’, and turn the taps on to wash up.

Later, as he snoozed contentedly in his armchair, I would watch his paws rise and fall on what might have been a paunch on a chubbier mole, and imagine the roast beef and potatoes, the Yorkshire pudding and gravy and brussels sprouts, the steamed lemon pudding and custard, all encapsulated in this one corporation. They were always whole in my mind, unchewed.

I was quite a small mole then, certainly not yet versed in where tiny moles came from, and I had rather imagined myself to be more or less hermetically sealed like Tante Mole’s preserved apricots. But Grandpa Mole’s corporation gave me pause.

What if I wasn’t the only creature living in my pelt? The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became. Those voices that urged me to unravel Mathilde’s knitting or try out my new colouring pencils on the flyleaves of Great Uncle Mole’s encyclopaedias were not me. Nor for that matter were the voices that told me not to eat the chocolate buns, fresh from the oven and cooling enticingly on their racks in the scullery. My pelt was fairly straining at the seams to accommodate the imps, elves and scolds who had taken up lodgings in it.

I had further pause for thought when one hot summer’s day a stoat from the village came sweating to our burrow door to take our census details. She wouldn’t come in, she said, it was too cramped, but she wouldn’t half like a cup of tea. She sat down on the garden bench with a sheaf of papers and asked if Grandpa Mole was still the head of our household.

The head. If Grandpa Mole was the head, then what were my parents? What was I? A paw perhaps. Did an invisible pelt incorporate the household. Were we all just parts of some enormous mole. And who decided which bit of body we were? I could imagine bloodthirsty tiffs as my kin vied for prestigious parts. Was Uncle Ratty were counted in? He was one of us to all intents and purposes. Would the invisible pelt reveal a certain rattishness? No one could blame him if he preferred the autonomy of being counted, head, paws and tail as the one entity that made up his nesty household on the riverbank.

It was much, much later that I discovered you could conjure up a corporation; evolve a business into a separate legal entity; become the Dr Frankenstein to your very own monster. And that if, unlike Dr Frankenstein, you took your parental responsibilities seriously and nursed your dear monster through thick and thin, that entity could become an object of pride.
My chum told me he found he felt more inclined to nurture this separate entity than he had himself.

And that makes me wonder if, when the scolds who co-lodge within my pelt get too noisy, I might be able to imagine myself into a separate, benign moleskin; one that has no components to berate me or lead me astray; one whose composition is only of encouragement.


I am very happy being a mole. I love being snug in my burrow, love being surrounded by the warmth of darkness, love delving and slowly pondering. My molishness is so encoded into my being I have barely given thought to how it might be to inhabit a different body. But there are times when I am blindly groping that I am ever so slightly aware of some other being, fluttering within me; a being that is somehow able to rise above the task in hand, see the whole spread before me. A few days ago, when I popped down to the store-room for a light-bulb, I got an inkling of who that other being might be.

But I need to begin much longer ago on a warm June day at the beginning of the school holidays. I was staying at Great Uncle Mole’s with two of my cousins who, like me, were just at that point in our lives when the lure of adventure is not yet tempered by the caution of experience.

The three of us had been warned not to go to Trelawny’s field, and certainly nowhere beyond it, but one of us, I can’t remember which, dared the others to break into Trelawney’s cellar. This was very daring indeed. As I have mentioned before, this neighbour was quite mad and had an arsenal of blunderbusses. We had heard he had a still in the cellar, and although we had no idea what that was, we knew from the hushed and disapproving tones that accompanied any discussion that the still must be a very exciting thing indeed. It was. And after we had tip-toed around the tubes and coppers and glass jars and Bunsen burners, we thought we might try the liquid contained in the bottles. I think I was the first. I gasped. Tears streamed from my eyes. My throat was on fire. So I took another gulp to show I was unaffected, and passed the bottle to my older cousin. We dared and dared each other until the bottle was nearly empty and then we left the cellar, two of us giggling and carrying the youngest, who was feeling sick, between us. We reeled out into Trelawny’s field and laid down in the dark.

The next thing we knew it was dark. Great Uncle Mole and Uncle Ratty were standing over us with lanterns in their paws. They were not alone; there were others hovering behind them. They had been out searching for hours. One said we must be suffering from sunstroke. ‘Sunstroke, my eye’, said another. ‘Those nippers are drunk.’

We were put to bed, but early the next morning, although we felt horribly ill, we were led into the parlour and told to sit down. Great Uncle Mole looked furious. Uncle Ratty seemed unsure whether to be furious or commiserate with us.

‘Three little moles went out frolicking…’, Uncle Ratty began.

‘Stop!’, said Great Uncle Mole. ‘This is my story.’ Great Uncle Mole hardly ever told stories. It was Uncle Ratty who was the raconteur; his stories so drew you in, you could quite taste the salt in your snout, shiver at the frailty of your ship tossing in the howling, black-clouded storm, horribly aware that it would take only one more breaker and your ship would be smashed against the rocks and you would end up with the countless other ships and crews whose skeletal remains littered the ocean floor. But even though you could feel and taste and smell these tales you were somehow always knew that you were home and safe and that supper would be waiting.

Great Uncle Mole’s stories, on the other hand, were bare-boned and frankly alarming. Especially when he enacted the parts.

‘Three cousins’, he said, glowering at each of us in turn. He was not sitting in his favourite armchair, but standing with his back against the empty fire-place. ‘Three cousins went beyond Trelawny’s fence and into the fields beyond, WITHOUT THE PERMISSION OF THEIR ELDERS.’

Great Uncle Mole clambered onto the armchair, knocking over the what-not and only just saving himself from over-balancing by grabbing hold of the top of the dresser. Looming over us, he went on in a voice that we had never heard – a sort of boom, punctuated by squeals:

‘High above them, far out of sight, an eagle was circling, looking out for just such tasty morsels as these three DISOBEDIENT moles. It swooped down over the field beyond Trelawny’s fence, grabbed the middle one in its sharp talons.’ Great Uncle Mole leapt off his chair, grabbing one of my cousins by the collar and falling on top of him in the process.

‘That little mole never, ever saw its parents again’, he wheezed.

The cousin began to sob uncontrollably.

‘Oh, Mole’, Uncle Ratty said anxiously, trying to help his friend up and console the cousin at the same time. ‘You can’t leave it there. You have to tell them about the miraculous rescue.’

But Mole wouldn’t and limped out of the room. Uncle Ratty followed him.

We never went beyond Trelawny’s field again.

I had heard stories like this since and always rather thought them Burrow Myths, cautionary tales tweaked to suit the circumstances. But one day not long ago I was in the store-room looking for a lightbulb and got side-tracked by a box of albums that had belonged to Great Uncle Mole. One of these was a scrap-book filled with newspaper cuttings mostly, it has to be said, about engineering feats, especially tunnels. I’m sure, in fact, that I had glanced at it before and only kept it because Great Uncle Mole had such a passion for the subject. This time though, I saw a cutting that had been folded twice to fit. The paper was yellowing and brittle and I opened it carefully. It was the front page of the Burrow Bugle, and the headline read:

‘Roaming Mole-Child Snatched by Eagle.’

At the bottom of the page there was a photograph of two small moles wrapped in blankets and being led away. The caption read: ‘Trelawny Field. The remaining cousins.’ But what really caught my eye was the photograph that took up most of the top half of the page. The camera had caught the eagle as it rose into the sky. A small mole was clamped in its talons.

It was a terrible story. And I felt a retrospective guilt that we had forced Great Uncle Mole to relive his experience with our thoughtless adventuring.

But the little other being that I sometimes feel within me couldn’t help thinking how thrilling it would be to be lifted up high by an eagle, to suddenly feel the whoosh of air, the world expanding as you rose. How much more wonderful still to be the eagle, with eyes that could take in the whole and yet still hone in on the single mole morsel below.


I did a most unmolish thing this week. I left the burrow. No sense of duty drove me. I wasn’t provoked. I decided, just like that, to up sticks, head for wilderness and spend a few nights in a teepee.


Nearly impromptu.

I can see now that seeds had been sown. Two weeks ago my amanuensis withdrew all reading, telephoning, all Babbage-influenced contraptions, all messages and seductions coming through the ether. It was a spacious week, with no sense of clocks ticking or deadlines passing. It was calm. That week was a little test to see whether I could retreat while staying in my burrow, and it worked. But what I didn’t withdraw from were conversations and interactions with other beings. It was not a week of solitude.

That was one seed. The second was that I had become so emboldened by my journey to the north of the island, that I found myself toying with the idea of taking a bus to places I’d only ever seen on the map.

A third but vital seed was the unexpected loan of a car. Now a couple of particularly hairy episodes with Great Uncle Mole’s friend, Mr Toad aka The Road Fiend, had put me off motors and roads of any kind. But recently kind chums have offered me their cars, and I have used them, sparingly, to carry heavy things like bags of Epsom Salts or potting mix, or to get me to an appointment the other side of town, or to relieve myself from standing at a lonely bus stop after an evening out. This car, though, had been used to more daring outings.

And my dear neighbour offered to cater for Monsieur Boo.

Could it be that Spring played a hand in this? I felt a stirring in my tummy, a sort of sprouting seed sensation. It spread to the rest of my body and before you could say ‘Wild Wood’ my paw was on the dial and a teepee was booked for the very next day.

It was so sudden that although I deprived myself of the joy of anticipation, I also had no time for the corrosive panic of second thoughts. I cooked. I made big lists: a food list, a clothes list, a writerly list, a what-have-I-got-to-do-before-I-go list and a what-are-the-things-I-need-to-cancel list. Uncle Ratty never had need of lists. What he couldn’t fit into a small knapsack didn’t need taking. And his knapsack always was packed; penknife, torch, a bottle of stout, Captain’s biscuits, woolly socks, Sou’Wester, ginger biscuits, tobacco, maps, and his second-best mouth organ. Great Uncle Mole never had lists either. He would never have known what not to take, and he was such a hoarder he was happier staying at home in his burrow surrounded by all his home comforts.

The back of the car was spacious. I could indulge my Uncle Moleishness and pack my bothy rug, hot water-bottle, a jigsaw, my pyjamas, a teapot and tea cosy, coloured pens and the enamel mug my dear Mama bought me in Prague. I could take a bunch of daffodils and a vase and a bowl of mandarins and nuts, and a sturdy nutcracker thrown in. And perhaps that is all I ever really need to feel at home.

And then I took to the road. Broad and open at first, it became narrower, steeper, twistier, bumpier and wilder the closer I got to my destination. I could feel a little squeal of song coming on, a distant relation of the Shadows”We’re all going on a summer holiday’, I think, except that I remembered it as ‘jolly’; much more to my liking than’summer’.

The teepee was at the end of a winding mossy path, defined by dark green shrubby trees. It was not just any old teepee but had a covered porch with a table and a couple of chairs. It was a teepee with a wood stove and a fold-out bed.

It was a beautiful teepee but it did not begin to be my own until I had lit the fire, put the daffodils in a vase, spread the bothy rug on the not-yet bed, and made myself a pot of tea. It became more mine as I sorted the jigsaw pieces by the light of my head torch in the evening, but most of all it became mine when I woke up in the morning to the sound of wrens and honeyeaters. And nothing else. I was the only mole there for miles and miles.

By day I packed a bag with notebook and pen and my lunch, and explored the ancient mossy rainforest. I slithered in the mud and clambered over trees that had come down in the heavy snowfall in the winter. I got lost and found myself among huge man-ferns and gushing waterfalls. At night I lay on my back in the dark and gazed up to the skies, gobsmacked by the constellations.

I had gone to the teepee to write – but it was really only on the second full day there that I began to find my way into it, and on the third I had to leave. But it was so much more than just a place to write, undistracted. As I drove home to my burrow I could sense a bit of Mr Toad suffusing my mole body.

What I had just had was an adventure!


Last Sunday I was at the market buying my favourite brew (black tea with roasted barley and ginger), and I got chatting to the chap behind the stall. It was the last day of winter. A chilly wind was blowing off the mountain and the air was soft with fine drizzle. He and I were both rugged up and beanied. ‘Beanies’, he said. ‘Where’d you be without them’. He said he wished you could have a beanie for your life – something snug and warm that you could contain it in.

Winter does that for me. It insulates. Long darknesses encase the day. Beyond the tunnels of my burrow brisk, cold walks invigorate my body and feed the soul, while the burrow itself and the hearth within it shape my internal world. I light a fire and make myself a pot of the above-mentioned tea. I find a book. I put a record on the gramophone. A bowl of walnuts and a nutcracker are positioned within easy reach. I wrap Uncle Ratty’s herringbone bothy rug around my shoulders, ease myself into the armchair and put my hind paws up on Great Uncle Mole’s Egyptian pouffe. Winter is a time for resting, musing and incubating.

We have had such a good winter this year: a number of frosts and even a snowfall. It has been cooler for longer, but still I am not ready for the spring.

I am not impervious to the new season’s loveliness. Today winter and spring, day and night are perfectly poised. This morning I set out in the still cool morning. There had been a frost in the night. It was not pitch dark. There was the slightest lightening of the sky already. It was a deep indigo and the stars were still bright. By the time I reached the reserve it was light enough to walk by the half-moon. The crunch of my paws scampering over twigs and leaves was accompanied by early birdsong, chirpier than it has been, trilling even. As the sun rose its beams caught the trunks and leaves of the gum trees, and the bright yellow of wattles in full bloom punctuated the needly silhouettes of casuarinas.

And September is such a delicious word. It’s the mb, I think: ember, embed, jumble, crumble amble, mumble, amber, rumble, tumbler, limber. Until recently, all my associations with it have been joyful. It is a yellow month. In the northern hemisphere it is filled with yellowing leaves and fields of sunflowers, and here, not only the wattle but daffodils.

My unease with the oncoming of spring is a manifold thing and perhaps I would do well to unravel it into its component parts of memory, time, season, and my own little mole body.

For most of my life this month has been filled with celebrations of birthdays and arrivals. Now those anniversaries are tinged with traces of death, departure and loss, although no longer enough to extinguish the warm-heartedness of September.

But while I am happy to embrace September on its own, it has undeniably foreshadowed the last quarter. It has felt like the beginning of the hurtle towards the year’s end which held for me the sense of life passing, a time of reckoning, a judgement on things intended but not done.

In the past as I have moved into spring and summer, boundaries have become porous. Spring has whispered distractions. My mind has leaked and and scattered. The unease has grown with the relentless increase of daylight hours, the march towards the glare and heat and noise of summer. A queasiness has infused me. My brain has begun to melt. Concentration, inspiration, focus, calm, and quiet energy have become distant memories.
It might have been the imminence of spring that made me yearn for the the breathing space my amanuensis so kindly imposed on me last week; a breathing space that made moments stand still and gave me a sense of space and quiet. I wonder whether this removal of distractions, this reduction of things to be absorbed might be a way of taking the sting out of the hurtle.

Maybe I could hold each month as I do September – as an entity with its own particular attributes, distinctive from the previous or the next; find some way to celebrate it in its own way. Or I could take a broader sweep and look forward to summer as the foreshadower of autumn and winter and beanie containedness.

And perhaps I could take my walks earlier and earlier so that it is always dawn when I reach the summit.