“Spring Walks and Stargazing”

Date of writing: 07/03/2015

There was a definite feel of Spring in the air as I came back from the chapel this afternoon. One unexpected benefit of the protracted demolition and re-erection of the library has been the scenic detours that are currently necessary to get to the temporary library, the gym, or indeed the chapel. The location of the construction work in what is essentially a central thoroughfare means that what would normally be a journey of around fifty yards is extended to probably closer to a thousand. Not generally having the opportunity to walk very far in a straight line, this is something I welcome. The 101 steps that make up a circuit of the yard take around 56 seconds, and I probably do this something approaching 300 times in a week. While this is much less boring than it sounds – particularly with good company – there are more interesting sights to be seen along the perimeter road.

There are two choices of route, which are much of a muchness in length, one roughly along the eastern perimeter, and the other along the western, forming most of a loop. The grounds are well maintained by a small army of semi-slave labour (while garden work is among the highest paid in the prison, this still works out at only a little over 83p an hour), and there are now hundreds of daffodils and crocuses starting to provide splashes of colour along the bases of fences and scattered through flower beds. The western road has a fairly unobstructed feel, affording views of open skies beyond the wall. It also takes us past the large triangle of gardens between B and C wings, which is intended to aid the rehabilitation of those prisoners recovering from alcohol and drug addiction. In addition to growing various food crops, this area has a number of ornamental sections, including a small pond with a wooden bridge over it. The temporary library is at the north end of this road, tucked between poly-tunnels, chickens, and the building that comprises the gym and the chapel.

The eastern road is perhaps the better used, leading as it does from the main administration blocks to the euphemistically titled ‘Care and Separation Unit’, better know as the Seg or the Block.   This route passes the remains of a significant section of half-dismantled railway line on a slight embankment, which was once used to train inmates in railway maintenance.   Opposite this, in another large triangle between wings, is an Astroturf pitch surrounded by grass, which in good weather is used for football and bowls. My new window looks out on this area, facing roughly to the south.   Between the railway and the Seg is a small shrubbery – with some minor attempts at topiary – which has a few benches that mostly only gardeners end up sitting on, as it’s in a red Band area.

Our wing’s yard is opposite the shrubbery and the Seg, and heading back today in the warm sunlight, the Catholic lay chaplain opened the gate and let me take a shortcut this way back to the wing. Larry was out on ‘exercise’ and after walking with him a while, we decided to sit on one of the yard’s benches and enjoy the sunshine.   As I had my guitar with me, I played a while and sang a little, enjoying for a change the way the sound flowed into the open air. I think the last time I played outside was about a month before I came to prison, when I spent a pleasant evening round a large bonfire at a friend’s firework party in the wilds of Norfolk. I hope that this guitar will get to see its share of campfires. All in good time.

Now as I sit in my cell writing this, I can see the Moon, slightly waning from the full, as it rises in the south east. Jupiter is shining brightly in spite of the moonlight, and there are a few scattered stars defeating the best efforts of the sodium floodlights. In the last few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of three planets being simultaneously visible in the early evening sky. Venus has been impressive, but the less common sight of the fainter and clearly red-tinted Mars I have found somehow more fascinating. There is also some poetry in the near-conjunction of the Roman gods of love and war.

Much as the lengthening days bring warmth and crocuses, when the clocks change in a few weeks, my evening walks will no longer be after sunset, and my stargazing will be limited again for a while. Autumn always was my favourite season, and now I’ve another reason to look forward to it.